St Paul Preaching to the Thessalonians, Gustave Dore (1832-1883) Source: The Doré Bible Gallery Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
In 1830, Margaret MacDonald from Port Glasgow, Scotland, prophesied the Church should not fear the great tribulation because the ‘rapture’ would take place prior to it. This prophecy became world-renowned, taken up (pardon the pun) by Edward Irving and endorsed by J N Darby of the Plymouth Brethren.
The doctrine demands two-second comings, the secret rapture of the Church, followed by Christ’s return seven years later. C I Scofield promulgated this theory by including notes in his ‘Scofield Bible’.
Jesus explained to the disciples the events leading to His return. Howbeit, He never mentioned a physical rapture of the Church seven years before the ‘day of the Lord’.
The Church never taught the rapture theory until the 19th century.
Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians
The purpose of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians was to confirm what he had previously taught them concerning the ‘end times’… 2 Thessalonians 2:5
A Quote from Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary
1 Thessalonians 4:13 ‘The leading topic of Paul’s preaching at Thessalonica having been the coming kingdom (Act_17:7), some perverted it into a cause for fear in respect to friends lately deceased, as if these would be excluded from the glory which those found alive alone should share. This error Paul here corrects (compare 1Th_5:10)…….’
1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 and the ‘Word of the Lord’
1Th 4:14-17 KJV For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up (harpazo) together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
This particular portion of Scripture is Dispensationalism’s ‘candy stick’ and used to support Margaret MacDonald’s ‘rapture’ prophecy. Nevertheless, the rapture doctrine necessitates a two-stage second coming of Christ not found in the Scriptures.
What exactly was ‘the word of the Lord’ to the Thessalonians?
Paul said he was speaking ‘by the word of the Lord’ like the phrase used by the Old Testament Prophets ‘thus saith the Lord’, meaning by direct revelation.
False teachers had caused doubt in the hearts of believers by proclaiming those who had recently died would miss the glorious return of the Lord. The Lord reassured the Thessalonians ‘the dead in Christ shall rise first’.
‘we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord’ The Thessalonians clearly understood their generation would witness Christ’s return.
‘caught up’ This phrase was translated from the Greek word ‘harpazo’, more on this later.
If Paul received additional revelation from the Lord regarding His return, surely it would not contradict what He told the disciples in Matthew 24.
Paul did not reveal a new two-stage return; on the contrary, he alluded to Matthew 24:31.
Mat 24:31 KJV And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
‘they shall gather together his elect’ Jesus never taught rapture as described by Dispensationalism, but He did teach the gathering together of His elect.
1 Thessalonians 5:2-6 and the ‘Day of the Lord’
Can we learn from Scripture what the Church in Thessalonica actually believed regarding the events surrounding the return of the Lord? It may come as a surprise to some, but yes, we can.
1Th 5:2-6 KJV For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
A careful study of these verses will show that Paul had only one day and one single event in mind, the ‘day of the Lord’.
‘let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober’ If the Church was to be ‘rapture ready’ at the beginning of the seven years great tribulation before the ‘day of the Lord’, the second coming of Christ, why did Paul encourage the saints to be diligent and not to sleep, if they were not going to be around for the ‘day of the Lord’.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 and the ‘Day of the Lord’
2Th 2:1 YLT And we ask you, brethren, in regard to the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of our gathering together unto him,
‘our gathering together unto him’ Once again, Paul alluded to Matthew 24:31.
2Th 2:2-3 YLT that ye be not quickly shaken in mind, nor be troubled, neither through spirit, neither through word, neither through letters as through us, as that the day of Christ hath arrived; 3 let not any one deceive you in any manner, because—if the falling away may not come first, and the man of sin be revealed—the son of the destruction,
False teachers had convinced some believers that the ‘Day of the Lord’ had already taken place, but how could that have happened if Paul had taught them the popular 21st century ‘end times’ concept:
The physical rapture
The physical resurrection with open graves
Jesus physically descending on a cloud with the sound of the trumpet
Every eye beholding the physical and visible return of Jesus
Destruction on a cosmic level
All they had to do was look around, everything continued as before!
If a physical rapture had taken place, surely they would have noticed the disappearance of at least some believers. Not to mention the event was supposed to have happened seven years earlier.
Paul did not correct their understanding of the spiritual manner of the second coming of Christ; rather, he built on their knowledge and only corrected the timing issue… 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4
Therefore their concept of the ‘day of the Lord’ and the spiritual manner of the coming of the Lord must have been the correct one.
Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians
1 Corinthians 15:50-52 and ‘We Shall Be Changed’
1Co 15:50-52 KJV Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
During Paul’s exposition on the resurrection, he told the Corinthian Church ‘but we shall all be changed’ he did not say we shall all be physically ‘raptured’, nor did he mention a two-stage return.
2 Corinthians 12:1-4 and Paul’s ‘Harpazo’ Rapture
2Co 12:1-4 KJV It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up (harpazo) to the third heaven. 3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) 4 How that he was caught up (harpazo) into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
‘caught up’ This was not a physical but a spiritual ascent; God took Paul into the realm of ‘the third heaven’.
Paul used the same Greek word ‘harpazo’ translated ‘caught up’ as he did in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. In my opinion, his physical body did not leave the ground.
Paul’s spiritual ‘harpazo’ may shed light on the experience of the saints who were alive and remained at Christ’s Parousia … 1 Corinthians 15:52
The Gospel of Matthew
Matthew 24:30-31 and the ‘Imminent Return of Christ’
Mat 24:30-31 KJV And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Mat 8:11-12 KJV And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The gathering of His elect was to take place concurrently as the children of the kingdom (Old Covenant Israel) were to be cast out. This took place at the destruction of the temple, Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jews in AD 70.
Mat 3:9 KJV And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
The Jews thought they had a natural right to the privileges of the Kingdom because they were Abraham’s descendants, but natural birth did not bring spiritual sonship.
Matthew 24:16 and ‘Flee into the Mountains’
Mat 24:16 KJV Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
Again, Jesus did not teach a physical rapture. On the contrary, He told the disciples to ‘flee into the mountains’.
Believers in Jerusalem subsequently fled to Pella prior to the city’s destruction in AD 70. Pella was the site of one of Christianity’s earliest churches.
According to Eusebius of Caesarea it was a refuge for Christians fleeing from Jerusalem during the Roman/Jewish war.
The Trump of God
Rev 11:15 KJV And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
1Co 15:52 KJV In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
The Scriptures we have considered so far, and in particular 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:52; Matthew 24:31; and Revelation 11:15 have a common denominator; ‘the Trump of God’.
If there is to be a two-stage return with a seven-year gap in between, how can there be two last trumps? There can only be one ‘last trump’!
If we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture we will find that Christ’s return was a single and glorious one.
Only one last trumpet is mentioned in these Scriptures, Matthew 24 placed the sounding of that trumpet at the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, before that generation passed away… Matthew 24:31-34
‘The Hour of the Trial’
Dispensationalism teaches, although the ‘rapture’ is never mentioned in the Scriptures, it is between Revelation chapters 3 and 4!
Compare King James Version vs Young’s Literal Translation:
Rev 3:10 KJV Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
Rev 3:10 YLT `Because thou didst keep the word of my endurance, I also will keep thee from the hour of the trial that is about to come upon all the world, to try those dwelling upon the earth.
This verse is taken out of context to endorse the theory the Church was promised a physical removal from the world prior to the great tribulation. The letter was addressed specifically to the Church at Philadelphia in Asia Minor during the 1st century.
The King James Version of the phrase ‘which shall come upon all the world’ should read ‘that is about to come upon all the world’ according to Young’s Literal Translation, this verse contains the Greek ‘mello’, which means ‘about to’.
It is interesting to note, ‘all the world’ is the Greek word ‘oikoumene’ meaning the Roman Empire, and ‘upon the earth’ is the Greek word ‘ge’ meaning region or land.
The time indicator renders impossible the idea that the promise was to saints 2000 years in the future.
Rev 1:20 KJV The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
C I Scofield, Clarence Larkin, and other writers of Dispensationalism, held the view that the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 represent seven consecutive chronological periods in Church history.
If true, then why is the so-called ‘rapture’ passage in the sixth Philadelphia period and not the seventh and last period?
‘Come up hither’
Rev 4:1-2 KJV After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. 2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
John was told to ‘Come up hither’, he didn’t bodily go to Heaven but ‘in the Spirit’.
Although Dispensationalism teaches this Scripture supports the rapture theory, one of their leading proponents John F Walfoord was not convinced.
‘The invitation to John to ‘come up hither’ is so similar to that which the Church anticipates at the Rapture that many have connected the two expressions. It is clear from the context that this is not an explicit reference to the rapture of the Church, as John was not actually translated; in fact he was still in his natural body on the island of Patmos. He was translated into scenes of heaven only temporarily.’ — John F Walfoord
Dispensationalism holds the view that Enoch and Elijah were examples of those who have already been ‘raptured’ to heaven.
A Quote from a Website Promoting Dispensationalism
‘Enoch and Elijah are two Old Testament examples of men taken live into heaven…
The Bible doesn’t describe their destination specifically, but some scholars have speculated that they were raptured just as the church will be…’ (Source available on request).
Gen 5:24 YLT And Enoch walketh habitually with God, and he is not, for God hath taken him.
Heb 11:5 YLT By faith Enoch was translated–not to see death, and was not found, because God did translate him; for before his translation he had been testified to–that he had pleased God well.
Heb 11:13 YLT In faith died all these, not having received the promises, but from afar having seen them, and having been persuaded, and having saluted them, and having confessed that strangers and sojourners they are upon the earth.
‘In faith died all these’ The Scriptures do not actually state Enoch was translated alive to Heaven, according to Hebrews 11:13, Enoch was included with those who died, not having received the promises… Hebrews 11:5
2Ki 2:1 YLT And it cometh to pass, at Jehovah’s taking up Elijah in a whirlwind to the heavens, that Elijah goeth, and Elisha, from Gilgal,
King Jehoram forsook the God of his fathers and did wickedly; consequently he received writing from Elijah the prophet… 2 Chronicles 21:12 Elijah wrote to Jehoram telling him the judgement of God would come upon him for his actions. However, Jehoram did not begin his reign until sometime after Elijah was physically caught up in the whirlwind! Did Elijah write his letter from heaven?
Act 8:39-40 KJV And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away (harpazo) Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.
‘caught away’ Once again the Greek word ‘harpazo’ was used. In my opinion, Elijah was not caught up into ‘third heaven’ but simply physically caught away. Philip had a similar experience, he was found later at Azotus.
Eph 1:10 KJV That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
A Quote from Geneva Bible Translation Notes
Ephesians 1:10 ‘The Father exhibited and gave Christ, who is the head of all the elect to the world, at that time which was convenient according as he most wisely disposed all times from everlasting. And Christ is he in whom all the elect from the beginning of the world (otherwise wandering and separated from God) are gathered together. And some of these elect were in heaven, when he came into the earth, that is, those who by faith in him to come, were gathered together. And others being found upon the earth were gathered together by him, and the rest are daily gathered together. The faithful are said to be gathered together in Christ, because they are joined together with him through faith, and become as it were one man.’
‘and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other’…Matthew 24:31. When Jesus returned He gathered the elect of all the ages past and the 1st century remnant into His Kingdom. The final barrier between God and mankind was removed as He took away the last vestiges of the Law that held the power of sin. The gathering was in the heavenly places in Christ, the spiritual Kingdom of God.
It is impossible to escape the conclusion that either the Trumpet of the Lord sounded during the 1st century generation or Jesus failed and mankind still has no escape from sin and separation from God.
The good news is the trumpet sounded and the faithful in Hades were ushered into God’s presence, those who were alive and remained were spiritually translated into the Kingdom of God.
Joh 5:24 KJV Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
What do you think?