Over the years, I have received many e-mail asking about The Village’s understanding of the timing of the rapture. For those unfamiliar with the various views, I highly recommend the article on eschatology (the study of the end times) available in our resource library as this post assumes at least a basic understanding of eschatological concepts and terms.
As the article states, “The Village does not currently have a formal position on the timing of the rapture. Therefore, we are not officially pre-trib (meaning the church will be raptured before the final tribulation), mid-trib, pre-wrath, or post-trib.”
In a recent sermon, Matt alluded to a popular evangelical author who writes from a pre-trib position and commented that the Church will not be raptured prior to the tribulation. Though this is perhaps not the position of all of the elders or pastors of the church, it is the one with which I personally agree. I would call myself post-trib. This means that I believe that the church will be raptured when Christ returns which is after the period of great tribulation.
For those wishing to study of the issues of the timing of the rapture, you might consider checking out the Counterpoints Series book, Three Views on the Rapture which allows scholars in three camps (pre, mid, and post) to defend their own view and critique both of the opposing views. If you would like to study particularly the post-trib position in contrast to the pre-trib theory that has permeated western evangelicalism over the past century, I highly recommend George Eldon Ladd’s The Blessed Hope. You might also consult chapter 55 of Grudem’s Systematic Theology if you have it.
Rather than going into all of the intricate details of the debate, I want to simply address 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which is often used as the proof text for the pre-trib position and is the text from which we get the word “rapture” (from the Latin term used in the Vulgate to render our being “caught up”). The question is therefore whether or not 1 Thessalonians 4:17 teaches a secret rapture of the church prior to the time of tribulation as is often taught in churches today.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 For 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 Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Proponents of a pre-trib rapture teach that the church meeting the Lord “in the air” is evidence for rapture prior to Christ’s return.
However, it is interesting to note that the Greek word here translated “meet” often has a distinct nuance attached to it. The word was used to refer to the custom of publicly welcoming a ruler or dignitary upon their arrival in a city. According to the custom, it was proper to go outside of the city to meet the ruler before he arrives. Once one met up with the ruler, the one who went out of the city would then turn around and both would enter the city together.
This particular word is used only three times in the New Testament. In addition to the Thessalonians passage, we see it in Matthew 25:6 and Acts 28:15. Contextually, both of these other passages contain this customary nuance. In Matthew, Jesus refers to Jewish tradition which states that when the guests go out to meet the bridegroom they immediately turn around with him and reenter the city with him. In the Acts passage, the men go out to meet Paul on the outskirts of Rome and then immediately turn around and return to Rome with him.
If this nuance is being reflected in Paul’s use of the word, then he is describing the rapture of the church as the saints going to meet Christ in the air and then immediately returning with Him to earth. This would not therefore teach a secret rapture, but rather a rapture that occurs at the time of Christ’s ultimate return.
Beyond this lexical issue, we also have the events surrounding the “catching up” of those “who are alive” and “are left.” The text says that at this time there will be a “cry of command” as the Lord descends from heaven and a voice of an archangel and the sounds of a trumpet will be heard. In addition, those believers who have died (“the dead in Christ”) will rise from the dead. All of these events seem really overt and public and thus make it really hard to demonstrate any sort of “secret” rapture as is often taught in evangelical circles.
In the end, I think that the Scriptures explicitly link the rapture of the church with the return of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, Matthew 24, e.g.) and thus any attempt to divide what the Scripture has joined seems hermeneutically unwise. The hope of the Christian is not that that we will be removed from suffering, but that we will one day share in the promise of resurrection, the redemption of our bodies. The hope of the Church is not a secret rapture, but rather the glorious appearing of our LORD Jesus Christ. It is this event for which we long in eager anticipation.