The Great Snatch?
By Chuck Missler
We continue to receive many questions concerning the “Rapture of the Church” and its apparent contrast with the “Second Coming” of Jesus Christ. Where does this view come from? Is the term “rapture” even in the Bible?
The mysterious event known as the Rapture is most clearly represented in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which encourages the grieving Christians that, at the “great snatch,” they will be reunited with those who have died in Christ before them.
In verse 17, the English phrase “caught up” translates the Greek word harpazo, which means “to seize upon with force” or “to snatch up.” The Latin translators of the Bible used the word “rapturo,” the root of the English term “Rapture.” At the Rapture, living believers will be “caught up” in the air, translated into the clouds, in a moment in time to join the Lord in the air.
There are many that still hold to the view that emerged in the Medieval church (Catholic and Protestant) that the “Second Coming” of Christ and the “Rapture” are somehow the same. Yet there seems to be a number of indications that these are distinct and separate.
There is also predicted an unparalleled “time of trouble” that Jesus called the “Great Tribulation.” Many hold to the view that the Rapture of the church will occur after that specific period of time, thus, closely associating it with the Second Coming. This is known as the “post-tribulation” view.
There are at least four distinct types of post-tribulational views:
1. Classic post-tribulationism (J. Barton Payne, et al);
2. Semi-classic post-tribulation ism (Alexander Reese);
3. Futuristic post-tribulationism (George E. Ladd);
4. Dispensational post-tribulationism (Robert H. Gundry).
These differing views are based upon different approaches, presuppositions, and argumentation. In fact, they substantially contradict each other. As one insists on literalness, each of these views must embrace in creasing difficulties. Those of us who cling to a very literal view of the Scriptures believe that the church will be removed prior to the tribulation period (the “pre-tribulation” view). Why? What is the basis for this view?
The Pre-Tribulation View
The Rapture is characterized in the New Testament as a “translation coming” (1 Corinthians 15:51- 52; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) in which the Lord comes for His church, taking her to His Father’s House (John 14:3). However, at Christ’s Second Coming with His saints, He descends from heaven to set up His Messianic Kingdom on earth (Zechariah 14:4-5; Matthew 24:27-31). The differences between the two events are harmonized naturally by the “pre-trib” position, while other views are not able to account comfortably for such differences.
A New Testament Mystery
Paul speaks of the Rapture as a “mystery” (1 Corinthians 15:51-54), that is, a truth not revealed until its disclosure by the apostles (Colossians 1:26). The Second Coming, on the other hand, was predicted in the Old Testament (Daniel 12:1-3; Zechariah 12:10; 14:4). In fact, the oldest prophecy uttered by a prophet was given before the flood of Noah and was of the Second Coming! It was given by Enoch, quoted in Jude 14-15.
The movement of the believer at the Rapture is from earth to heaven; at the Second Coming it is from heaven to earth. At the Rapture, the Lord comes for His saints (1 Thessalonians 4:16), while at the Second Coming the Lord comes with His saints (1 Thessalonians 3:13).
One of the strengths of the pre-trib view is that it is better able to harmonize the many events of end-time prophecy because of the above distinctions. There are some awkward difficulties with the post-tribulational view:
1) The post-tribulation view requires that the church be present during the 70th week of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27), even though it was absent from the first 69. This is in spite of the fact that Dan 9:24 indicates that all 70 weeks are for Israel. We believe the church must depart prior to the 70th week, before the final seven-year period (see our briefing package, Daniel’s 70 Weeks, for further study).
2) The post-tribulation view denies the New Testament teaching of imminency–that Christ could come at any moment–since there are intervening events required in that view. We believe there are no signs that must precede the Rapture.
3) The post-tribulation view has difficulties with who will populate the Millennium if the Rapture and the Second Coming occur at essentially the same time. Since all believers will be translated at the Rapture and all unbelievers are judged, because no unrighteous shall be allowed to enter Christ’s Kingdom, then no one would be left in mortal bodies to start the population base for the Millennium.
4) Similarly, post-tribulationism is not able to explain the sheep and goats judgment after the Second Coming in Matthew 25:3- 46. Where would the believers in mortal bodies come from if they are raptured at the Second Coming? Who would be able to enter into Christ’s Kingdom?
5) The Bride of Christ, the church, is made ready to accompany Christ to earth (Revelation 19:7-8, 14) before the Second Coming, but how could this reasonably happen if part of the church is still on the earth awaiting the Second Coming? If the Rapture of the church takes place at the Second Coming, then how does the Bride (the church) also come with Christ at His Return?
While many diligent scholars disagree, most of their views derive from their presuppositions about the Scripture. The more literal a view, the more there is an adoption of a pre-millennial pre-tribulation position. We encourage you to review the various passages yourself and develop your own conclusions. This is our “Blessed Hope,” and you will not find a more exciting and rewarding discovery. This is just a brief overview of a complex subject, so apply 2 Timothy 2:15:
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
This topic is perhaps the most demanding from the point of view of requiring the greatest amount of integration of many portions of Scripture. Remember Acts 17:11:
“Receive the Word with all readiness of mind, but search the Scriptures daily to prove whether those things be so.”
A more comprehensive treatment of some of these topics is included in our Expositional Commentaries on the book of Daniel and the Thessalonian epistles. And if you don’t happen to hold our views, don’t worry about it. We’ll explain it to you on the way up! Incidentally, Enoch is a model. He was pre-flood, not mid-flood or post-flood!