Trying to Get the Rapture Right (2)

Part One

The Main Verses

In this installment all I want to do is to set down the main verses which are used in discussions about the rapture.  Let me make it clear that this is not to say that many other passages must be considered so as to understand the doctrine.  As I will be at pains to show, the rapture is not a teaching that can be established by simply comparing proof-texts.  The doctrine excites many passions and this can lead to wishful thinking in exegesis.  Some of the verses listed below are brought very hardly and reluctantly to bear on the doctrine we are considering.

We have already taken a quick look at 1 Thessalonians 4:17, but there are other salient passages.  1 Corinthians 15:50-58 is often brought in to help.  Then Jesus’s words in John 14:1-3 must be considered. Also joining the fray are 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and 13, Matthew 24:36-44, 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9, and Revelation 3:10.  Let’s try to situate each one of these.

1 Thessalonians 4:14-18

The main purpose of this passage is to give comfort to anxious saints who were concerned about loved ones dying off before the return of Christ.  To do that Paul tells the Thessalonians about something they seem not to have known (4:13).  This appears to be in contrast with what they knew very well, that is, the doctrine of the Day of the Lord (5:1-2).

There is no doubt that the snatching away of the saints described in this passage is for the purpose of finalizing the work of salvation begun at regeneration.  The Lord is described as coming from heaven amid the calls of a trumpet and of the archangel.  The meeting of all Christians with their Lord, including those who had been deceased for a long time, takes place “in the air”.  Nothing is said about which way Christ and His saints go from there, whether returning to heaven or continuing on to earth.  However, from the viewpoint of a taking out of people this passage is a direct statement (a C1 for the proposition that Christians will at some future time be ‘caught up’ to meet Christ in the air).

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

This passage is included in Paul’s resurrection chapter and comes only after Paul has spoken about the logic of resurrection; “as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” (15:49).  This “must” language is then given a terminal point in the next section where the Apostle writes,

Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. – 15:51-52.

This passage is revealing something new (a mystery), which speaks about a transformation of all Christians in an instant.  This “change” refers to the receiving of our resurrection bodies – those which will “bear the image of the heavenly.”

The language is clearly culminative, and one naturally connects it with Paul’s rapture teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4.  But there is no actual removal mentioned, only transformation.  This is not problematical since it fits nicely with Paul’s earlier argument.  But it is at best supportive of 1 Thess. 4:17, adding some new information about what occurs at the rapture.  Hence, it is a C3 statement for the rapture: if the the text coincides with 1 Thess. 4, as it seems to do, it declares that a change happens in an instant as the saint is caught away.

John 14:1-3

This passage is proleptic in that the “you” to whom our Lord refers is not primarily the disciples; for He says,

If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also – Jn. 14:3

Jesus cannot just be referring to those to whom He spoke but would intend His words to be taken in the context of His Second Advent (rather like the Preterist ‘proof-text’ in Matthew 10:23).  But what has this passage to do with the rapture?  Well notice that Christ is coming for “you”, which I take to be His people.  He comes to take them back to heaven (where He has been preparing places), although nothing is stated in regards to a transformation.

As for the timing of this gathering, it may appear cut and dried that it speaks to the Second Coming.  But if so, there is a problem created by our being with Christ in heavenly mansions (or rooms if you prefer) and Christ’s earthly reign.  If Christ is ruling on earth and we are in heaven the latter part of Jn. 14:3 cannot be true.

This leads to an inquiry over whether there will be an earthly reign of Christ.  If not, then there’s no problem.  But I’m going to step right over that question and just assume (for present purposes) that there will be one (in line with many OT passages and with Matt. 19:28).  Some may say that’s unfair and stop reading, but I am content to call the likes of H. Bonar, Ryle, Chafer, Bultema, Scroggie, R. Thomas, T. Garland, and even A. Hoekema to witness for me and move on regardless.

The timing of this event is obviously important to settle.

Those are the major rapture passages, but there are several which demand inclusion.

1 Thessalonians 1:10

This verse says we “wait for His Son from heaven” who “delivers us from the wrath to come.”  The mention of Jesus coming from heaven matches 1 Thessalonians 4 and John 14, but the “wrath” must be identified.  If it refers to the seven year Tribulation (derived, as we shall see, from Daniel 9), then the verse favors a pre-trib rapture.  However, if “wrath” bears a more restricted and technical sense, it could refer either to the last three and a half years of the said Tribulation (in which case it would argue for a mid-trib rapture), or the last part of the Tribulation when the bowls of God’s wrath are emptied out upon the planet (Rev. 16).

In any case this verse must be retro-fitted to an already established teaching to be of any corroborative help.

1 Thessalonians 5:9

God has not appointed us to “wrath”, but the same question of identification as above needs to be addressed to utilize this verse well.  It is not unfair though to mark the fact that these two verses are written to the Church.

Matthew 24:36-44

This passage must be understood in context, especially the “coming” of verses 27, 30, 37, and 39 must inform the meaning of “coming” in verse 44.  There can be no serious doubt that Christ is talking of His Second Coming in terms strongly reminiscent of OT prophecy (e.g. Dan 7; Isa. 63), and the parables of Matthew 13, especially verses 40-43.  This is after the Tribulation.

The question is, what does the Lord mean by “one will be taken and the other left” in 24:40-41?  Because of the close association with “the days of Noah” in 24:37-39 many expositors believe that the ones “taken” are whisked off to judgment.  Is this so?  Is there enough in the passage to come down on one side?  Furthermore, if those “taken” (paralambano) in verses 40-41 are actually raptured, doesn’t that pretty much seal a post-trib rapture?

More next time..

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12 comments

  1. Hi Dr. Henebury,

    A couple of question concerning your comments on Mat 24…

    A am not a Greek scholar, so I do not have the ability to evalulate, but what would you say to those scholars who say the Greek suggests a possibly change of subject in Mat 24:36?

    Here is an abbreviated quote from the moody Bible commentary (I posted a much longer quote in the comments on the previous blog entry):

    “But (v. 36) is actually two words, “but concerning” (peri de; see the ESV), and frequently indicates a move to a new thought (Mat 22:31; Mar 12:26; Mar 13:32; Act 21:25; 1Co 7:1; 1Co 8:1; 1Co 12:1; 1Co 16:1; 1Co 16:12; 1Th 4:9; 1Th 4:13; 1Th 5:1). In this case the shift is away from the discussion of Jesus’ coming during those days (note the plural; see vv. 19, 22, 29) at the end of the tribulation (vv. 29-31) to the suddenness of the beginning of the day of the Lord”

    This possible change in subject also seems to fit with Luke 21. Jesus possibly changes the subject in Luk 21:34-36, where He begins to shift from talking about the events immediately preceding the 2nd coming, to talking about escaping “all these things”. The question is what does “all these things” refer to? There is possibly a shift at the end of the discourse to talking about all of the events as a unit, and not just the 2nd coming. Could not this also being happening in Mat 24:36?

    To me, it is a stretch to imagine disciples not expecting his return (Mat 24:44) if the events described in Mat 24:4-26, 2 Thess 2, Revelation 6-18, and the OT prophets have any kind of parallel to what saints alive at the time are experiencing. Maybe Jesus is referring to the 2nd coming here, but if the passages describing the great tribulation have meaning it is certainly hard to understand why He would say that. But then again, there is always Revelation 16:15 to completely destroy the argument I just made :).

    Thanks for a great discussion. There is nothing like a discussion on the rapture to generate lots of debate!

    Peter

  2. Peter,

    The phrase Περὶ δὲ is not a technical phrase in Greek as some pretrib teachers would have you believe. Context determines the meaning of this phrase. And in v. 36, or take 1 Thess 5:1, as an example, there is a shift in thought but the parousia is still the subject matter. So when Hart and others argue that it is a technical meaning of some radical shift of thought, they are mistaken since context determines that semantic value, and making it fit their preconceived notion that Jesus in v. 36 is completely shifting to a pretib rapture that happens seven years earlier.

    Regards,

    Alan E. Kurschner

    EDIT: Alan, I have removed your two other comments because I don’t allow people to ‘push’ their works on my blog. However, i invite readers to visit your site and ponder your pre-wrath views.

    Regards,

    Paul H

    1. Hi Paul,

      I guess I am a bit confused. I can’t direct people to an article that I have written that is apropos to this discussion? And I cannot mention the title of a book that I have written in reply to someone inquiring into prewrath?

      That does not sound like meaningful interaction on your part. Am I suppose to post the entire article on this site and lose all the rich text editing?

      Please advise.

      Regards,

      Alan E. Kurschner

      1. Alan,

        I am writing here as as pretribulationist (albeit not a dogmatic one). You are a convinced pre-wrath rapturist with a site mostly devoted to that viewpoint. The issue I have is one of propriety. You did not engage me with your references to your work, but another visitor to this blog. In other words, you came on this blog to advertise your blog etc.

        I am in the first part of this series and am not ready to jump into surveying the pre-wrath position, a position which Peter did not inquire about. I agree with your response to the peri de question which you left here, but I do not encourage people to advert books and such on this blog. I did intend to reference you later, and still will probably link to your work, but that preference lies with me, just as it does with you at your site.

        Kind regards,

        Paul H

      2. Mr. Henebury,

        I did not comment on your blog to “advertise” my blog. I could care less about that.

        I came here to spark some meaningful interaction with what I thought would be, refreshingly, a sober-minded pretrib teacher and not some pop-pretrib teacher who is not interested in meaningful interaction.

        The fact that, for example, I reference my six-part well-thought out response to Hart should had conveyed to you that I am well-informed on this issue and not some drive-by prewrather.

        Whether or not you are ready to survey the prewrath position as a whole, that’s fine. But I was responding to specific issues that has already been address; e.g., peri de, Noahic illustration, etc.

        Regards,

        Alan E. Kurschner

    2. I was really hoping to see Kurschner and Henebury interact with each other. You both seem committed to allowing sound exegesis form your systematic theology. Please don’t let your initial misunderstanding of what should be linked to hinder the helpful discussion.

      1. Jon,

        Please do not misunderstand me. I think Alan Kurschner’s work on the Pre-Wrath position is very valuable. He is the guy I would direct people to to grasp that position. My only issue is that I have always made a point of not encouraging folks to advert their sites here; especially if their views are not shared by myself. Alan said he wasn’t doing that but I saw things differently. I would not do likewise on his site for the same reason. However, I shall direct readers there at an appropriate time.

        I have no interest in debating the timing of the rapture, but careful discussion of views is encouraged.

        Kind regards,

        Paul H

  3. Thanks Alan and Dr. Henebury,

    At this point, I would only like to add one comment in regards to context. I think we are often inconsistent here. We can pull the context card when we try to get around certain wording that we find difficult, but in other cases we can acknowledge that the wording seems to shift to some future context (which the historical context often foreshadows in some way). There are numerous examples of this in prophetic passages. I am not saying that is happening in this case, but I think it should be kept in mind.

    One example from the book of Matthew itself (Mat 10:19-23). Dr. Henebury, I cannot recall if it was in a class lecture or in your Matthew sermon series, but I recall that you said pretty emphatically that the wording here seem to shift from the disciples immediate context to an end times context. I agree! Many interpreters have big problem with this. In Luke 21, it is especially difficult to know when Jesus is changing from a near context to an end time context because of the “before all these things” in Luk 21:12.

    If it was not for Mat 24:44, I might be prepared to concede that the normalcy could still be a second coming context. However, this still does not sit well when you consider the magnitude of the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments and how they impact the entire world. Maybe these are more localized to the middle east as Dr. H. suggests in the next post? However, Jesus saying that He might come at an hour that they do not expect does not make seem to make any sense to me whatsover in light light of Mat 24:15-31. He is addressing disciples here. How could they not be expecting His coming in light of the events and conditions He described? He specifically told them “when you see”..

    I am open to being convinced otherwise.. I am looking forward to more detailed discussions as the blog entries progress.

    Blessings,
    Peter

    1. Peter,

      You make good observations which I shall attempt to deal with within the scope of these presentations. As for Hart’s peri de, the problem is that it presupposes what it is supposed to prove. The “normalcy” problem will again be discussed, but our conceptual difficulties do not give us licence to draft in pretribulationism.

      Anyway, I’m going to annoy people, but I also hope to bring a perspective which will help situate the issue for some.

      God bless,

      PH

      1. I am certainly not annoyed!

        I have decided over the past couple of years or so that I would not get worked up over the timing of the rapture. The emphasis of the NT is watchfulness and readiness. By this I certainly don’t mean reading the news and engaging in newspaper exegesis!

        I am trying to learn to respect the various views on this issue, without feeling the need to have it all figured out. This is hard for me! I am excited that some of these bothersome passages are being discussed. However, I need to remember that the emphasis is not on placing every passage at the right spot in the prophetic timeline, but it is on repentance and being ready spiritually to meet our LORD!

        Rev 3:3 “So remember how you have received and heard, and hold fast and repent; because if you do not watch I will come upon you like a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” (PNT)

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