As Christ ascended into heaven, two men in white apparel were standing by. They told His disciples that this same Jesus, whom they watched being taken up into heaven, would so come again in like manner as they had seen Him go.
And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. Acts 1:9-11
The return of the Lord, as promised above, is described as follows by the Apostle Paul: For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (precede) them which are asleep (the dead in Christ). For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up (snatched away) together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. I Thessalonians 4:16-18
According to the Analytical Greek Lexicon (Zondervan Publishing House – sixth printing 1970), the word translated caught up is from the Greek word harpazo. The form of this word in this context is harpagisometha which means we shall be caught up or taken away suddenly.
Why do we call this event the Rapture? According to Wikipedia the word “Rapture” is derived from Middle French rapture, via the Medieval Latin raptura (“seizure, kidnapping”), which derives from the Latin raptus (“a carrying off”). The American Heritage Dictionary definition #3 defines rapture as; “The transporting of a person from one place to another, especially to heaven.” At what point, in church history, was this use of the word rapture applied to the return of Christ? I am not sure.
The idea of the rapture or being snatched away is not without precedent in Scripture. Enoch walked with God and was not for God took him (Genesis 5:24). Elijah was taken up bodily to heaven in a whirl wind (II Kings 2:11). Philip was snatched away by the Holy Spirit after he had witnessed to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:39) and Paul speaks of being caught up to the third heaven or paradise in II Corinthians 12:2&4.
Just as the OT Jews had difficulty in distinguishing the Messiah’s coming as The Prince of Peace from His coming as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, so there are many in Christendom today that cannot distinguish between Christ’s coming in the Rapture and His coming in judgment to rescue Israel from the Great Tribulation and set up His Kingdom. Many believe the two are the same event.
The key to distinguishing The Rapture from His Second Coming in judgment is to compare all the verses in the NT that deal with the Lord’s return. This comparison will reveal that there are different characteristics of His coming among these verses. This can only mean that these are separate events regarding the return of Christ. See John MacArthur’s NKJV study notes on I Thessalonians 4:17.
Some of these verses are all about Christ’s coming in judgment. These would apply to His return to save Israel and set up His kingdom. See Matthew 13:34-50, Matthew 24:24-44, Revelation 19:11-21.
The other verses are encouraging to believers and are spoken to comfort Christians. These verses would apply to the Rapture. See John 14: 1-3, I Corinthians 15:51-52, Revelation 3:10. See John MacArthur’s NKJV study notes on I Thessalonians 4:17.
The Rapture is imminent. It can happen at any time. All believers will be removed from this world in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Even so Lord Jesus, come quickly!
Are you ready?