“Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (I Thessalonians 4:17). What a day that will be! When in Hebrews 8:6 the writer tells us that the better (new) covenant is established on better promises this day must have been in mind. Every child of God watches and waits for this great day, hastening its coming (II Peter 3:12). Everyone that has this hope in them endures every trial, even the passing of dear loved ones in the Lord, knowing that it won’t be very long until Christ returns to receive His own. It is no wonder then that I Thessalonians 4:18 reads, “Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
Every Bible student recognizes that God’s Word reveals much less about this day then they would like. We are told exactly what we need to know. We are told enough to give us hope. This is one of the purposes of scripture (Romans 15:4). What is revealed should be enough to make us strive towards that goal. However, there is so much speculation and misinformation (which only begets confusion) regarding that day it is worthwhile to reexamine a couple key passages that are central to the debate. Time does not permit me to consider point by point what many teach about this day so we will stick to what the passages I’ve chosen reveal. It is my endeavor to point out some relevant facts that will, hopefully, propel your own studies in seeking the truth.
Let’s begin with a brief look at I Thessalonians 4:13-17. The purpose of the passage is to allay the fears of brethren regarding those who “sleep in Jesus” (v.14), which is to say Christians who die before the Lord’s return. Paul then reveals a sequence of events that will transpire when Christ comes: 1) Christ will descend 2) the resurrection of the dead 3) living Christians will be “caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air” 4) we will be with Christ forever. The most relevant part of this for our present consideration is usually forgotten when the rapture is discussed. Living Christians will be “caught up with them”—“them” can only refer to the resurrected dead in Christ. All that are His (living or deceased) will meet Christ in the air at the same time “and thus we (living and deceased when He descends) shall always be with the Lord” (v.17). There are only two groups of brethren, or Christians, discussed in the entire passage—the dead in Christ and those who remain when He comes. Both groups, not either/or, will meet Him simultaneously. There is no “taking” of some and the rest being “left behind”.
One word, central to all debate regarding the Lord’s return, appears in this passage. The phrase “shall be caught up” (v.17) is the Greek word harpazo (it appears as raptus in the Latin Vulgate). The Greek word means: to seize (in various applications):--catch (away, up), pluck, pull, take (by force) according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary (SGD hereafter). Birds of prey are called “raptors” because of the way they hunt and “seize” their living meals (perhaps why this word was used). Disregarding the current, widespread belief of the rapture, in I Thessalonians 4:17 the word describes the moment when all living Christians are seized or caught up by Christ as opposed to the dead in Christ who will rise (Greek anistemi: to stand up (literal or figurative, transitive or intransitive):--arise, lift up, raise up (again), rise (again), stand up(-right)—SGD). In sequence (according to I Thessalonians 4) the dead in Christ will be lifted up then the living in Christ will be taken up (one word for the dead and another for the living). Then both groups will “meet Him in the air” and will ever after “always be with the Lord”.
While a different Greek word is used in Matthew 24:37-44 this passage is often cited as further evidence of the so-called rapture. The passage does contain interesting information about the coming of the Son of Man—Jesus. The emphasis is to be ready for His appearing just as Noah was ready for the flood. For the sake of brevity we’ll consider just a couple things. Those who believe in the doctrine of the rapture view this passage as a confirmation of their belief. This is because of vs.40-41. It is believed that those who are “taken” are the raptured Christians and those “left” are Christians who must survive the Great Tribulation. The Greek “taken” is paralambono. It is similar in meaning to haireomai from which the Greek word airo is taken. This is important to know when studying this passage because airo is used twice in v.39 in connection with the wicked that were destroyed by the Flood. The Flood “took” (airo) them all “away” (airo). This is contrasted to Noah who entered the Ark and was ready for the Flood although he was not sure of the exact day it would come. This parallels what will take place when Jesus comes again—some will be ready and some will not. Of two men in a field one will be ready and one will not. The same is true of the two women grinding at the mill. Just as the Flood “took” to destruction those not ready in the days of Noah so will the man and woman be “taken” to destruction at the Judgment. The man and woman not destroyed are both said to be “left”. This does not mean left behind, per the rapture doctrine, it means to be left alone or let be (Greek aphiemi: forgive, forsake, lay aside, leave, let (alone, be, go, have), omit, put (send) away, remit, suffer, yield up--SGD). In other words, they will be spared the fate of the wicked because they were prepared to meet Jesus!
Although there is much more to say I think I’ve given you enough to chew on for a bit. Considering the meaning and usage of these Greek words alone is a study unto itself. I hope you are encouraged to read these passages and endeavor to know the truths they reveal. I would love to know more about that day than is revealed, but I’ve learned to be content with what we’ve been given. The Bible emphasizes being ready for that day just as in Matthew 24. I hope you look to Jesus and His Word, putting your faith in Him and wait patiently for His appearing. We are told in I John 3:2-3, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” God bless you all.