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1 Thessalonians and The Rapture

Since we have just finished Paul’s discussion of the Final Return of Jesus in 1 Thessalonians, I think it is a good time to deal with the Rapture. I say this because 1 Thessalonians 4:16 is a common used verse when discussing the rapture.  Below are Dr. Dan Owen’s comments on this section.

Some people have come up with an erroneous theory called “the Rapture” based on misreading a couple of different New Testament passages. First, they have misread 1 Thessalonians 4:16, which says, “the dead in Christ shall rise first.” They have read this to mean that the Christian dead will rise first, before the non-Christian dead. They believe that the dead Christians will rise and the living Christians will join them to meet the Lord in the air. This is the “Rapture”. If one examines 1 Thessalonians 4 a bit more carefully, one gets a completely different picture. The non-Christian dead are not even discussed in that passage except to say that they “have no hope.” When it says “the dead in Christ shall rise first,” it means “first, before all the Christians are caught up in the clouds,” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). The unsaved dead are not discussed in that passage as they are in many others.

Those who support the “Rapture” theory believe that some will be literally be taken from their cars while they are driving them, while others will be left behind (Matthew 24:40-41). A fairer reading of the Matthew text would indicate that as the angels descend to take vengeance on those who reject Christ, those who follow Jesus will be taken to be with him, while those who do not follow Jesus will be left to endure the vengeance of God and his angels.

The “Rapture” advocates also misread Revelation 20:4-6. In this passage, it talks about the “first resurrection.” They see this as referring to the Rapture. In fact, a careful reading of the passage shows that it refers to the special treatment of the Christian martyrs, who “live and reign with Christ”, and has nothing to do with a “Rapture”. So, the Rapture theory says that there will be a resurrection of the Christian dead, then Christ will take the Christians to heaven. Then will follow the millennium. Then there will be the resurrection of the rest of the dead, and the final judgment.

Hope this helps! If you have any questions about the rapture feel free to ask.  Also feel free to add your own thoughts, criticisms, or encouragements.

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  1. so all christians will go thru the tribulation?

  2. Wesley

    February 18, 2012 at 10:36 am

    I think what is commonly called the tribulation is a misreading of the book of Revelation. My interpretation of the Revelation of John is that what took place is imagery not in our future, but in our past. Specifically it has to do with the persecution faced by Christians in the Roman Empire and how God would act on their behalf.

  3. @Wesley: Same here (for what it’s worth). I had the oddest experience reading Revelations for myself and wondering where everyone had got their rather exotic interpretations. It seems fairly obvious to be dealing with events back then, but is important not because it predicts our future, but because it gives us hope and encourages us to persevere. I do think it’s a lesson for us to be better versed in Ancient and Church history, and not just the popular narratives we get told at school by well meaning but ultimately unqualified (int hat area) preachers/pastors/priests/ministers/etc

  4. Always interesting to see different views, for me the problem always stems from not discerning whom scripture is about and 1 Thessalonians 4 is not about Christians today. It is important to know that Thessalonians was one of Paul’s earliest epistles and the hope contained therein is the hope of Israel and not the hope of the church. The hope of Israel is earthly, concerning the kingdom rule of the Lord on the earth in which He will rule the nations with a rod of iron and Israel will take their rightful position ruling as a nation of Kings and Priests with Him. This has always been the hope of Israel…

    Compare this with the hope of the church, which is found in Ephesians one of Paul’s last epistles written after the close of the book of Acts, where the hope is heavenly… where the believer is seated together with the Lord in the heavenly places, (Ephesians 2:4-7) not on the earth.

    That Paul was still laboring for the hope of Israel is evident even until the last chapter of the book of Acts where he declares that “for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain” (Acts 28:20). Or look at Romans 15, one of his later epistles written 6 AFTER after Thessalonians, where he talks in verses 4-13 about hope, then look up every reference he mentions in the OT, (there are at least 5 and) all are the hope of Israel… not the church. It all changed after Acts 28:28 when Israel and their hope was set aside… for a season.

    To see the so called rapture in it’s correct setting foreshadowing the return of Christ to establish the new covenant read Exodus 19. It’s all there, the Lord descending, the trumpet, the thundering, the voice, the clouds the remnant rising to meet him in the air and in ch. 20, there is the giving of the first covenant. This is a foreshadow of what 1 Thess. ch. 4 is, i.e. the second coming of the Lord to establish His kingdom on the earth. Nothing to do with the church whatsoever and nothing said about anybody going back to heaven with Him.

  5. Wesley

    May 9, 2012 at 10:23 am

    I wish you could prove that theory from the text of 1 Thessalonians. It appears as if you have a certain theory and then you force it upon the text to make your point. Paul is writing to the “church” at Thessalonica. The same greeting he gives in Ephesus. Thus, it would be logical to assume he has the same audience in mind, the church that belongs to Jesus and not Israel. Also the church at Thessalonica was primarily a Gentile congregation, which again seems to go against your theory. Your theory, although interesting, lacks merit from the text.

  6. Wesley…

    To explain… the theory is derived from the time of writing of both 1 Thessalonians and Ephesians. Thessalonians is one of Pauls first epistles and a look at what was happening at the time of writing and a comparison to what was happening at the time he wrote Ephesians makes all the difference. Bearing in mind that church simply means a called out group of people, that, he was writing to a church in either Thessalonians or Ephesians does not necessarily mean that it was the same group of people with the same purpose, no more that the church in the wilderness mentioned by Stephen in Acts 7 could be called the same church as Thessaloninas or Ephesians. That aside, I believe that the “church” during the Acts and the church in Ephesians are different, this because a shift had taken place in Gods plans and purposes. That change was the setting aside of Israel as the primary nation in Gods plans, which took place at Acts 28:25-28. After this Paul wrote 7 epistles that are different in nature than those he penned during the Acts and of course the mystery that the Gentiles and Jews were now on equal footing was revealed previously kept hidden in God.

    A reading of Pauls Acts period epistles will show that there was still a difference between the Jew and the Gentile during this time, this is especially evident in Romans 11 which shows how the gentiles of that time were only grafted into the Olive tree. Hence my reference to the timimg of Romans and the fact that Paul’s hope in chapter 15 was still the hope of Israel, not the heavenly hope outlined in Ephesians.

    Paul writes in Romans 15:4, that the “things that were written before were written for our learning,” for the purpose of providing hope, and he closes this subject in verse 13 with a prayer that “the God of hope” would fill them with joy and that they may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
    Reading on from verse 5 to 12, it could not be any clearer which hope Paul was referring to. He shows in verse 8 that “Christ was a minister to the circumcision,” meaning Israel only, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, again Israel only. He then proceeds to quote a number of Old Testament references that leave no doubt as to the nature of the hope he had in view. Here are some of them:

    Romans 15:8,9 quoted from Psalms 18:49 – Looks forward to the kingdom rule of God where gentiles will be included, but not equal.

    Romans 15:10 from Deuteronomy 32:43 – The Song Of Moses. Shows the vengeance of God on behalf of His people Israel and their land. Also that the Gentiles will rejoice with Israel.

    Romans 15:12 from Isaiah 11:10 – And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious. This is the great millennium chapter that shows the Messiah coming to rule in wisdom and righteousness and slay the wicked. (3,4). There will be no hurt in the kingdom. (6,9) And the gentiles will seek him (10) and Israel will be regathered. (11)

    All these things are the hope of Israel, so sheer logic dictates that if Paul was still writing about the hope of Israel and speaking about the same Kingdom that John the Baptist declared as late as Acts 28, that the events of 1 Thessalonians 4 must be a part of the hope of Israel and not the new hope revealed much later in Ephesians. Hence Exodus 19 foreshadowing the rapture for Israel, note also there in nothing about anyone going back to heaven with him in 1 Thess. 4, this is interjected into the text. He comes and establishes the kingdom just with the new covenant, just like the first covenant followed His rapture in Exouds 19, see Ch. 20.

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