Here are two of the principles that guide me as I study and teach the Scriptures:
- The Bible cannot mean what it never meant.
- If we don't understand the Scriptures in their historical context, we'll never understand them at all.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
This really seems to be the perfect description of the rapture, but as I've written here, a little bit of historical context will help us to understand what Paul is writing about here. In order for this to be the rapture as we popularly understand it, the second coming of Christ must pause halfway between heaven and earth, somewhere in the sky. Then, all believers will fly up to meet him and stay with him there, in the sky, for either 3 1/2 or 7 years. But Paul calls it "the coming of the Lord", so we know that he won't turn around and go back into heaven. He is coming here. There must be a better explanation.
Thessalonica was a Roman colony at the time Paul wrote this letter to the Christians there. Whenever a high-ranking Roman official, or even the emperor himself, visited a colony or a city, the inhabitants of that city would go out to meet him and escort him back into the town. In other words, they didn't wait until the emperor got to the city walls to throw open the gates. They're not going to make him ring the doorbell. How much more will we do the same for Jesus, when he returns from heaven? Surely we will go up to meet him (which means we'll be able to fly! Awesome!) and escort him back to earth, where he will take his place as the rightful king of creation. This, not a rapture or a half-return, is what Paul has in mind in this passage.
Okay, this one is obvious, right? Well, as I've explained here, no. In this passage, the controlling metaphor is the great flood, where all who suffered the judgment of God were "taken away". As it was in the flood, so will it be at the return of Christ. In fact, it may not even be a literal "taking away"; Jesus may just be using the language of the flood to talk about the punishment of the judgment of God. Regardless, being taken away is not being rescued from tribulation, but being fully judged by God apart from the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
I never thought of this passage in John as a rapture passage, but a friend of mine did, so I commented on it here. It's a bit too complicated to break down briefly, but I highly recommend you read that post to get a sense for what is going on in this passage.
I believe that I've demonstrated that there is no rapture in the Bible. This was an unfamiliar concept to every NT author. In fact, each one of them was intimately familiar to suffering within the various tribulations of their lives. You might even say that suffering, not escape from it, was one of God's most assured promises.
So much of what drives our belief in the rapture is fear. We are terrified of the Great Tribulation, and we want desperately to escape it. So when someone offers us a rapture out of suffering, we greatly rejoice. But we are not promised escape from troubles. Jesus didn't get it. Paul didn't get it. Millions of Christians today aren't getting it. The power of Christ is most clearly seen in us when we persevere through the suffering caused by trials and tribulations.
Now let me say a word about the book of Revelation.
The book of Revelation is not simply about the future; it is about the past, the present, and the future. Let me put it this way: There have been thousands of antichrists and Great Tribulations, there are presently thousands of antichrists and Great Tribulations, and there will be thousands of antichrists and Great Tribulations. The book of Revelation is about the Great Tribulation that Rome inflicted on the Church, but it is also about every tribulation and persecution that has been waged against the Church because it presents Christ Jesus as Cosmic Victor and us, his Church and Bride, as victorious in him. The book of Revelation was written to encourage all persecuted believers, in every place and in every time, to persevere under the weight of their persecution because, in Christ, we are eternally victorious over the forces of Satan and his antichrists.
You're not meant to be taken out of the arena; you're meant to win the fight, kill the beasts, and overcome your opponents because that is what Christ has already done, and what he will do fully when he returns. A rapture would undermine everything. A rapture would surrender the earth to Satan. God has no intention of giving any ground to hell.
I hope that what I've presented here both reassures and encourages you. Whether you're convinced or not doesn't matter much to me. This is my view. Ember Church takes no official stance on this issue. People of all eschatological persuasions are welcome! But whether you believe in the rapture or not, I want you to hear this: Do not fear the end. The end is glorious. The end is victory for all who are in Christ. The end is bliss. Make sure you get there. Don't try to escape your trials, but persevere through them.