Recently, Pastor Eric taught on one of the more debated passages in Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and it is in this section that Paul addresses the fate of Christians who have already died (1 Thess 4:13). In doing so, Paul gives the Thessalonians hope that those who are dead in Christ will be raised first, and then those who are still alive will be “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess 4:16-17). This section has been commonly interpreted as the rapture of the church.
It is true that the word “rapture” is not found in the Scriptures, but it comes from the expression “caught up,” which is translated in Latin as “raptura” . This is where our English word “rapture” comes from. To understand the necessity of the rapture, we must first consider several promises of the Old Testament, as well as define several terms.
Before understanding terms such as “premillennialism” and “tribulation,” one must first understand two key Old Testament promises. In Genesis 13:14-15, God promises Abram that the land He will give his offspring will be their’s forever. Likewise, in 2 Samuel 7:13-16, God promises that He will establish the throne of David forever. As can be seen from history, this has yet to happen. Israel never fully possessed the land God promised them before being exiled from it, and there has not been anyone to reign from the throne of David for forever. Thus, as we look forward, one should expect that God will fulfill these promises. We will come back to this subject later.
The book of Revelation gives us a clearer understanding of what the end times will look like. Revelation 20:4b reads:
Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
Notice that this passage speaks of Christ reigning for a period of a thousand years. This period is also known as the millennium. There are several ways this time period has been interpreted, but the most common views are known as amillennialism and premillennialism. Staring with the former, the prefix “a” means “no,” while “millennial” means “a thousand years,” as mentioned previously. Thus, amillennialists claim that the thousand-year reign of Christ is not literal . Instead, they claim that it is a symbol for Christ’s current reign from heaven. Conversely, premillennialists claim that Christ will literally reign from the throne of David on Earth for one thousand years. This is the view we unashamedly proclaim at Laurelglen Bible Church.
There is good reason for believing that Christ will reign on Earth for a literal thousand years. One of the most significant reasons is that Christ literally fulfilled the prophecies that spoke of His first coming . For example, Isaiah 53:3-8 describes the suffering Christ would endure on our behalf, Zechariah 9:9 speaks of the Messiah coming on a donkey, and Isaiah 7:14
speaks of Immanuel being born of a virgin. Since Christ literally fulfilled these prophecies about the coming Messiah (and many more), it is completely reasonable to believe that the prophecy concerning His second coming will also be fulfilled in a literal manner.
Additionally, a literary argument can be made from the fact that the phrase “thousand years” is used six times within seven verses in Revelation 20. It is common throughout the Scriptures for authors to repeat phrases to draw the reader to their significance. For example, this can be seen from Ephesians as Paul repeats the phrase “in him” and also as the angels repeat the word “holy” three times while praising God (Eph 1:3-14; Rev 4:8). Likewise, it is unlikely that the biblical writer would continue to repeat a number that was supposed to be interpreted as an allegory. In all honesty, this would be an incredibly confusing way to communicate that a number is an allegory because the repetition draws attention to the number. Therefore, if the thousand years is not literal, the repetition of the number is self-defeating. Consequently, in the plain reading of the Scripture, there is no reason for the thousand years to be interpreted any other way than literally.
Now that we have established a literal millennium where Christ reigns on Earth, we can move forward to a deeper understanding of the rapture by looking at the words “premillennialism” and “tribulation.” The prefix “pre” means “before,” thus, premillennialism asserts that there is something before the literal thousand years. The event before the millennial kingdom is known as the tribulation. It is during the tribulation that God will pour out His judgement and wrath against unbelieving Israel and the unbelieving world (Dan 9:20-27; Rev 3:10). In doing so, Jews and Gentiles during this period will be brought to repentance and into a genuine relationship with Christ (Rev 7:9-14).
With Israel being brought to repentance and reconciled to God, she will finally possess the fullness of the land God promised with Jesus reigning from the throne of David. Thus, the millennial kingdom will signify the start of Israel possessing the land forever with the throne of David also being established forever. In this way, God will be faithful to keep His promises to Israel just as He has been faithful to keep every other promise of Scripture.
With the focus of the tribulation being on unbelieving Israel and the unbelieving world, it makes sense that the church would be raptured (1 Thess 4:13-18) before the tribulation. This is supported by numerous verses throughout the New Testament as Paul encourages believers that Jesus will save them from the coming wrath (1 Thess 1:10, 5:9-10). Revelation 3:10 is one of the clearest passages to suggest this. It reads, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on earth.” Notice the passage says “keep you from,” indicating that those who have believed in Jesus before the tribulation will not have to endure it. This is the hope that Paul encourages the Thessalonians with! May we also be encouraged with his words.
In conclusion, the rapture is a necessary part of God’s plan to save believers from His wrath while also bringing Israel and the unbelieving world to repentance. In doing so, God will fulfill His promises to Israel in that she will possess the land forever with David’s throne also being
established forever. To say otherwise is to challenge the very faithfulness of God. He has always kept His promises, and we may be assured that He will continue to do so. For more reading on this subject, see the resources below.
1. Richard Mayhue, 1 & 2 Thessalonians: Triumphs and Trials of a Consecrated Church (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2005), 127.
2. “What is Amillennialism,” Got Questions.org.
“What is Premillennialism?” Got Questions.org.
“What is the Great Tribulation?” Got Questions.org.
“When is the Rapture going to occur in relation to the Tribulation?” Got Questions.org.
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