The Rapture Question

After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them [the dead] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (v. 17).

- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Believers are positioned in union with Christ. United to Him, we have died, we are raised, and we have ascended in the Spirit to heaven and are seated with Him in His rule (Ephesians 2:6). This is already true of the “inner man,” and it will someday be true of the “outer man” also. The future ascension of the saints into heaven is spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

This verse, however, has been used to teach a curious doctrine called “the Rapture,” which is less than 200 years old. To understand it, we have to look at four ways of understanding New Testament prophecy. The first way is called preterism. Preterism says that most of the predictions in the New Testament found their explicit fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 and in the fall of Rome. The preterist says that the principles still apply, but the events are past. Preterism was common among Reformed theologians a century ago and is experiencing a revival today.

Historicism, once the most common view, says that New Testament prophecy predicts all the major events of the gospel age. Historicists see the fall of Rome, the tyranny of the popes, the advance of Islam, and the rise of the Enlightenment all predicted in the book of Revelation. Now that Christianity has spread well beyond Europe, this Europe-centered approach has largely been abandoned.

Futurism, which is currently in favor in most churches, says that most New Testament prophecy concerns events immediately prior to the final return of Jesus Christ to the earth. For most futurists, the Great Tribulation spoken of in Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation does not refer to the fall of Jerusalem or to the continuing problems of the church in all ages, but is a period just prior to Christ’s return, usually of seven years in duration.

The Rapture doctrine says that Christ will “rapture” His saints from the earth before the outbreak of this seven-year tribulation, or at least before the last three-and-a-half years of it. Christ will not let His people go through these events. The problem with this popular opinion is not only that 1 Thessalonians 4 says nothing about such a tribulation as the context for the ascension of the saints, but also the fact that many Christians have suffered horribly in the past without being “raptured.”

Coram Deo

Where is your faith? Is it in the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, or is it in a hope that you will be “raptured” out of suffering? Remain confident in Christ’s ultimate triumph, remain willing to take up your cross daily and suffer for your king.

Passages for Further Study

Daniel 9:20–27
Matthew 24:1–25
Philippians 1:27–30

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