|Study 4: God and Death
The Nature of Man | The Soul | The Spirit | Death Is Unconsciousness | The Resurrection | The Judgment | The Place of Reward: Heaven or Earth? | Responsibility To God | Hell | Digressions (Purgatory, Ghosts And Reincarnation, With What Nature Are We Raised?, The "Rapture") | Questions
Digression 14: The 'Rapture'
There is a widespread belief amongst the 'evangelical' churches that the righteous will be 'raptured' up into heaven at Christ's return. This belief is often associated with the idea that the earth will then be destroyed. We see in Digression 9 that this is an impossibility. We have also shown in Study 4.7 that the place of reward is earth, not heaven. These erroneous beliefs are based around a mistaken interpretation of 1 Thess. 4:16,17: "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven...and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord".
Apart from the evident danger of basing such a major belief on just one passage of Scripture, it should be noted that there is no mention here of the righteous being caught up to Heaven. Christ descends from heaven before the believers meet him. Christ will reign for ever on David's throne in Jerusalem, and we will be with him, here on earth. It is therefore impossible that we should spend eternity with him suspended in mid-air. 'The air' extending only a few kilometres above the earth's surface means that it cannot refer to Heaven, the dwelling place of God.
The Greek phrase translated "caught up" really means to be snatched away; it does not carry the idea of any specific direction. It occurs in Lev. 6:4 and Deut. 28:31 in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint) to describe the 'snatching away' of goods in a robbery. It also occurs in Acts 8:39: "The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more...But Philip was found at Azotus". This records how Philip was miraculously transported from one place on earth to another.
When Christ comes, the responsible will be gathered together to the place of judgment; they will not be left to make their own way there. It is possible that our means of transportation to that place will be literally through the air.
Jesus said that "in the day when the Son of man is revealed...two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left" (Luke 17:30,36). This gives the same picture of a sudden snatching away. The disciples earnestly asked, "Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together" (Luke 17:37). As the eagles fly instinctively through the air and then land on earth where the carcase is, so the responsible will be brought to the place where they will meet their Lord in judgment.
We must again emphasize the importance of the doctrine of the judgment seat of Christ; the responsible must first appear there, before the righteous amongst them are rewarded. A superficial reading of 1 Thess. 4:16,17 could lead us to conclude that all the responsible will be snatched up into the air, and remain there with Christ for ever. Instead, we know that the responsible will be gathered to the place of judgment, possibly by being transported through the air, and then receive their rewards.