According to a prominent strand of Christian teaching, believers in Jesus are awaiting a future in which they will be transported to heaven in an event known as “the Rapture.” The most popular biblical passage used to support this view is Paul’s eschatological discourse in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. Despite common interpretations of this text in terms of an end-time elevation from the earth, the apostle does not describe a “rapture” out of our world. To the contrary, rather than describing believers being herded to heaven, Paul details events that will occur on this earth in tandem with the Messiah’s arrival.

In his presentation of the Parousia, Paul declares, “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God, and the dead in Messiah will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up (ἁρπάζω; harpadzo) with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (4:16-17). While some read a “rapture” into these verses, Paul’s language and context argue against such a reading. First, among the Greeks of Paul’s day, “caught up” (ἁρπάζω; harpadzo) was used as a euphemism for an untimely death (see Plutarch’s Letter to Apollonius 111C-D, 117B); the apostle repurposes ἁρπάζω, not as another word for death, but as a description of eternal life upon the Lord’s return.

Second, the context does not describe Jesus (or his followers) ascending to heaven, but rather coming down to earth on the “clouds” (νεφέλαις; nephelais), which are common vehicles for divine visitation (e.g., Num 11:25; 12:5; Dan 7:13; Mk 13:26; Rev 10:1). Moreover, Paul’s reference to Yeshua arriving with the sound of a “trumpet” (σάλπιγξ; sálpigx) recalls the shofar blast that accompanied God’s descent onto Sinai: “As the sound of the trumpet (שׁופר; shofar/σάλπιγξ; sálpigx [LXX]) grew louder… the Lord came down onto Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain” (Exod 19:19). Once God alighted on this earth, “the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up” (19:20). Just as Moses goes up to meet the Lord in the rarified air of the mountaintop, Paul asserts that believers will meet the descending Lord in the “air” (ἀήρ; aér)—not in a rapture to “heaven” (οὐρανός; ouranós).

Finally, just as Moses eventually comes back down the mountain (see Exod 19:25), those who meet the Messiah in the air will also come back down to this earth. Paul’s picture is of an emperor on his way back from a military campaign: in the ancient Roman world, victorious emperors would return to the capital along with a massive train of foreign prisoners, wealth, and other spoils of war. On hearing of the emperor’s return, the Roman citizens would meet their triumphant leader along the way and follow him back into the city as part of the celebratory procession. Paul envisions a similar scenario at Jesus’ Parousia: The Messiah will begin his descent on the clouds and his followers will meet him at a midway point in the air so that they can follow their conquering King back down to this earth.

Although it is common in certain Christian circles to read a “rapture” into 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, this conclusion does not account for Paul’s literary and cultural contexts. Instead of describing a portal to heaven, the apostle offers a window into the eternal life that comes with the resurrection of the dead and Jesus’ everlasting reign in the Kingdom of God.

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

234 COMMENTS

  1. I'm amazed at how much we Gentile believers read into Scripture. I've been in the ministry a lot of years and have never seen or heard this explanation. Thank you for enlightening our understanding stretching our minds.

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    • Everyone reads out of scripture based on their own hermeneutic. The clearest expression by our Lord on the pre-tribulation rapture, the "harpazzo", is in John 14:1-4. But I can't enter into an intelligent conversation with you on this since you allow only a few words in these replies.

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    • In the Latin Vulgate, one of the oldest Bibles in existence, the appropriate tense of rapio appears in verse 17. (Raptus is the past participle of rapio, and our English words "rapt" and "rapture" stem from this past participle.)

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    • My former pastor, Peter Shebley, now deceased, described this verse in the same manner. This is how he taught the second coming.

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    • I think our minds have been stretched out of proportion and all we have to do is simply believe what the bible says. Consider evolution or G-d created the world in 6 days. If G-d is so powerful can't He do exactly what He says! Amazingly yes!
    • Thanks for your question, Steven. Yes, the two texts are connected insofar as both 1 Thess 4 and Revelation discuss the resurrection of the dead the descent of God's kingdom from heaven to earth.

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    • Steven, N.T. Wright's work: Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church should prove helpful in expanding Dr. Schaser's brief excellent explanation.
  2. Shalom Blessings to all. We’re truly grateful for all that is shared thru these deeper looks into the scriptures from a Hebrew perspective.

    Question: In that this is a deeper look, why not honor the Lord by calling Him by His birth name Yeshua/Yahshua rather than Jesus?
    • Thanks for reading, Cj. I'm glad to hear that you're finding our articles useful. To your question, see the third paragraph of the above article for my use of "Yeshua." When writing in English, I feel that it's usually more appropriate to use the English name, Jesus, but I'm not opposed to using Yeshua. That being said, I should stress that English speakers (who often don't know any other Hebrew or Aramaic words) don't get extra points for using "Yeshua," rather than "Jesus."

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  3. Hi Dr Schaser
    2 Peter 3:10: KJB. But the day of the lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with a fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are their in shall be burned up. Revelation 21: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the old heaven, and the old earth had passed away. Can you please explain when this takes place.
    Kind regards, Bronwyn.
    • Thanks for your question, Bronwyn. Unfortunately, I don't have an answer: even Jesus doesn't know when these things will take place (cf. Matt 24:36; Mk 13:32), so I can't speculate.

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    • The way I see this verse, the verse spans the full 1000 year millennium the new heavens and earth ? occurring at the end
  4. Hi, Explain the difference between the "rapture" and the second coming. Point for point, and back it up with scripture from Old testament and New Testament.
    • Hi, Alex. Since the Bible doesn't speak of a "rapture," it's going to be difficult for me to compare a non-biblical idea with the biblical second coming. Whereas Scripture consistently notes that Jesus will come to earth a second time (e.g., Matt 25:31; Acts 1:11; 2 Thess 1:7-8; Rev 22:20), there are no scriptural references to a "rapture." So, I suppose the difference between the two is that "the rapture" is an evacuation from earth, which doesn't appear in the Bible, and the second coming is the Messiah's return to earth, which does appear in the Bible.

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  5. This is a fantastic article Dr Nicholas. I came across this concept a few months back while reading some of N.T Wright's work and I must say the ensuing study was quite eye opening and humbling! I think the summation that an established "kingdom of heaven" looks less like "evacuation" and is more about "occupation" lines up with scripture in a far more impacting and meaningful way. The Olam Ha-ba seems to have very little to do with "going to heaven when we die" in Jewish thought; quite contrary to the doxa of a modern Christian church!

    My next read on the topic will probably be "Apocalypse and Allegiance" by J. Nelson Kraybill. Excited to dig into articulations surrounding the reign of Domitian and how he (and the deified Caesars in his family tree) were the subject of The Revelations.

    Seems to me that as much as the book is apocalyptic in nature, it is as Jewish resistance literature against Roman oppression (proclaiming the risen Christ as the true ruler and King of everything). Also mind blowing to think the majority of the events have already played out after years of teachings to the contrary!
    • Thanks for your comments, Shaun. Yes, I've also seen some of Wright's responses to "rapture" interpretations. Indeed, Revelation is an apocalyptic text insofar as it constitutes a divine "uncovering" of what will take place on earth prior to the inbreaking kingdom of God. More, much of the visionary material in the Apocalypse pertains to John's ancient Roman world -- though, certainly, some of it has a future application, and all of it remains useful for the present. Thanks again for contributing to the discussion.
    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
  6. I agree. For most of my adult life I have thought that the prevailing popularity of the dispensational rapture scenario was displaying an unwarranted optimism that reflected the American exceptionalist mentality and spirit of manifest destiny of the mid 1800's far more than sound and careful exegesis.
    • You're right that "rapture" theology is particularly modern and Western, Dan. You're also right that a close look at the text(s) shows that they do not support the idea. Thanks for your input.
  7. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus, while not knowing when the time would come, does mention that one would be taken and the other left. Also, the judgments of Revelation don't seem to be for the church. I think these things need to be considered, as well.
    • You're right that these other texts need to be considered within this discussion, Brian. Originally, I had wanted to include both the Olivet Discourse and Revelation in the above article, but it just became too long for a single post. Hence, I am planning to write another article on both of the texts you mentioned, neither of which refers to the rapture.
    • Brian. Rev 20 cover both events. The first When Jesus comes and is joined by us to begin the Kingdom of Heaven. The other 1000 years later when the dead not in Jesus is raised and judged.
    • if you study both the olivet and revelations they do speak clearly about this.. 1 will be take and 1 won't just means 1 is saved and the other has not accepted Christ. and yes you are right the Judgements are not for the believers even though we will be
    • Thanks for this comment, Bill. Yes, like 1 Thess 4, Matt 24:30-31 also gets misinterpreted as a reference to the rapture. I am planning to write an article on Matt 24:30-31 next.

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