The "Rapture" Passages
Perhaps the most well known passage setting forth the second coming of Christ is found in 1 Thess. 4:15-17,
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep [those who have died]. 16 For the Lord Himself will 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. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up [Greek: harpazo] together with them in the clouds to meet [Greek: apantesis] the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with the Lord.
Verse 15 makes it clear that Paul was focusing upon the order of events. His primary point is to show that the first event will be the resurrection of the dead. This, he says, will precede the catching up of the living ones who will meet Him in the air.
Many assume, of course, that these events will occur nearly simultaneously, but the feast days of Israel show otherwise. Paul says nothing about timing in this passage, except for the very general word "then," by which he means "next."
As I will show in a later study, the feast of trumpets occurs on the first day of the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar. It prophesies of the resurrection of the dead. The actual catching away (harpazo) occurs during the feast of Tabernacles, which does not even begin until the 15th day of the seventh month. Thus, these events will occur at least two weeks apart.
And, by the way, the archangel who blows the trumpet to raise the dead will be Michael, not Gabriel. I believe that Daniel 12:1-3 makes it clear that Michael is the angel of resurrection.
Getting back to Paul's statement in 1 Thess. 4:15-17, he tells us that we will "meet" the Lord in the air. The Greek word used is apantesis, which means "to meet and return with (as an escort)." This Greek word is used four times in the New Testament. It is used in Matt. 25:1 and 6, where the arrival of the Bridegroom was announced and the ten virgins were told to go out "to meet" Him.
Five of them were "foolish," and had to go out to buy oil for their lamps, and when they returned to the place where they had all been waiting, the door was shut, and they were too late for the wedding. It is obvious that the wise virgins had gone out to escort the Bridegroom to the wedding and were now back where all of them had been waiting.
In other words, the Bridegroom did not come to snatch away the wise virgins and take them back to heaven with Him. Instead, they escorted Him back to the place where they had been waiting. Thus, "to meet" means to meet and return with.
The other place where apantesis is used is found in Acts 28:15. Paul was being taken as a prisoner to Rome.
15 And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and the Three Inns TO MEET US; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.
The story makes it clear that the believers did not go with Paul back to Jerusalem from whence he had come. Instead, the believers met Paul and escorted him back to Rome from whence they had come.
It is clear, then, that when Paul said the believers would go out to meet the Lord in the air, he did not mean to say that Jesus would then take them all to heaven with Him. He was telling us that we would go out as an escort to accompany Him in His return to the earth. This is the word picture described by the prophetic story of the ten virgins.
Many have assumed that Jesus was coming to catch away the saints so that they might escape "the great tribulation" that is said to be coming. As proof of this, Rev. 7:14 is brought out, where it says, "these are the ones who come out of the great tribulation." Yet this verse says nothing about ESCAPING tribulation.
In fact, they had to go THROUGH tribulation, for Jesus said in Matt. 24:29-31 that His coming to "gather together the elect" will occur "immediately after the tribulation of those days."
What is most confusing is when Bible teachers say that "gentile" Christians will escape the tribulation, while Jewish Christians will go through the tribulation on the earth. This artificial distinction makes it possible for rapturists to apply Matt. 24:29-31 to Jews, and yet apply Rev. 7:14 to non-Jews.
That view assumes that the Jews are either Judah or Israel--neither of which is true, as I showed in my book, Who is a Jew? The Church is the continuation of the tribe of Judah (the "good figs" portion of Judah). And the twelve tribes in the dispersion of the House of Israel were never identified as Jews from the beginning. See my book, Who is an Israelite?
Another passage often used to prove the rapture is Matt. 24:37-39.
37 For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 For as in those days which were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage; until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.
The passage clearly tells us that the UNBELIEVERS were the ones "eating and drinking," and "marrying and giving in marriage" and "did not understand until the flood came and took them all away."
Jesus was not telling us how Noah and His family were taken away in the ark. He is telling us how the unbelievers were taken away by the flood. And yet the rapturist teachers twist this to teach that Noah was taken away!
Likewise, in the next verses, we read further,
40 Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.
Which one was taken? Which one was left? Because this is in the same context as in the days of Noah--and explains the days of Noah--we have no option but to see that the ones "taken" are the same unbelievers "taken" by the flood. It is certainly NOT the case that the believers are to be taken by the flood. Such a teaching twists the Scriptures to say the opposite of what Jesus was saying.
This is the passage from which the "Left Behind" movie and books derive their name. Supposedly, the unbelievers were left behind, while the believers were taken away in the rapture. The entire concept rests upon a false premise that twists the plain Scripture.
The truth of the matter, as I see it, is this: Christ is coming to rule His Kingdom, and we will go out to meet Him in some way to escort Him to the earth. The overcomers will then rule with Him as priests (Rev. 20:6). The purpose of the first resurrection is to raise those overcomers from past generations who qualified to rule with Him. Their resurrection will be the first event on the feast-day calendar, the Feast of Trumpets.
This event will spark a world-wide repentance ("Days of Awe") leading to the Day of Atonement (repentance) on the tenth day from the resurrection. Five days later the living overcomers will come into immortality on the first day of Tabernacles. After seven days of cleansing, according to the law, the Sons of God will then be presented to the Father on the eighth day of Tabernacles.
I will give more details as we continue this study.