Are there Three Raptures in Revelation?

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“There are many Christians who believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ will be in two phases. First, He will come for believers, both living and dead, in the “rapture” (read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). In this view, the rapture—which is the transformation and catching up of all Christians, dead or alive, to meet Christ in the air—will be secret, for it will be unknown to the world of unbelievers at the time of its happening.” ~ Answers, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

“Everything that John sees in the Revelation, he sees from a grandstand view in heaven after being raptured.” ~A Modern Day Prophetic Teacher

If John was “carried away in the Spirit,” and, to be “carried aways in the Spirit” means to be raptured, then it might be argued that John was raptured three times in the Revelation.

The First Rapture was to Heaven. “After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this. 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne” (Rev. 4:1-2).

The Second Rapture was to a Wilderness. “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns” (Rev. 17:3-4).

The Third Rapture was to a High Mountain. “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:10).

Of course, the term “rapture” is not a Biblical term, in the sense that it is not found in the Greek text. The word comes to the English by way of the Latin, rapio, which is used in the Catholic Vulgate to translate the Greek term of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, harpagesometha, which means, “to seize (in various applications: catch (away, up), pluck, pull, take (by force).

The Rapture Theory and Harpazo

“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 3)

The Meaning of Harpazo

Those who believe in the Rapture appeal to 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and the Greek word harpazo (to seize; to snatch; to catch up) to defend their position.

The Rapture is generally understood as that particular event when the Church is caught away from earth in order for a seven-year period of tribulation to begin. It is believed by many that the Church is going to escape this special period of great tribulation, though there is no verse in the Bible using the word, tribulation (Gk. thlipsis), to support this idea.

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Paul taught that, “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  

The great tribulation that Israel was prophesied to endure in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 is a historical reality, for Jesus said that everything which He predicted during the Olivet Discourse would happen within the generation to which He spoke. “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matt. 24:34). “This generation” refers to the people to whom Christ was talking.

History confirms that what Christ predicted in AD 30 occurred between AD 66 – 70 with the fall of Jerusalem.

Jesus was a Priest, a King, and a Prophet. The sign of a prophet was to be correct. All that Jesus said would happen, did happen.

A good place to begin the consideration of the position of Dispensational Theology on this matter is with a definition. Strong’s Definition of harpazo: verb, to seize (in various applications): AV, catch (away, up), pluck, pull, take (by force). Notice that the word harpazo, as used in the NT, is a verb, not a noun. Also, there is no definite article in any Biblical verse which uses harpazo.  And no one disappears.

The following Scriptures (Septuagint, LXX) contain the word, harpazo. 

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take [harpazo] it by force [harpazo]” (Matt. 11:12).

“When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away [harpazo] that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side” (Matt. 13:19).

“When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take [harpazo] him by force [harpazo], to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone” (John 6:15).

“But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth [harpazo] them, and scattereth the sheep” (John 10:12).

“And I give to them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck [harpazo] them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

“My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck [harpazo] them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29).

“And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away [harpazo] Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39).

“And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take [harpazo] him by force [harpazo] from among them, and to bring him into the castle” (Acts 23:10).

“I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows) such an one caught up [harpazo] to the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2).

“How that he was caught up [harpazo] into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4).

“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up [harpazo] together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so, shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).

“And others save with fear, pulling [harpazo] them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 23).

“And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up [harpazo] to God, and to his throne” (Rev. 12:5).

In none of these verses does the word harpazo speak of going away from earth for seven years, only to return with Christ again.

Dispensationalists like to speak of Christ coming for His Church in the Rapture, and then returning with His Church at the Second Advent proper.

Historically, the Christian Church has consistently affirmed that at the Second Advent of Jesus, believers shall be caught up suddenly to greet the descending Christ who has promised to come again, the second time, for all who believe.

“So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28).

Christ shall return in the same manner in which He ascended into heaven following His resurrection, slowly, visibility, and bodily.

“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 1:11).

What the historic Christian church has never officially believed or stated, in any Creed, in any Confession of Faith, or discussed in any ecumenical council is the idea of a “rapture” being a separate event from the return of Jesus according to promise. In no Biblical passage where harpazo is used is there the idea of Christians disappearing from earth for seven years, only to return again.

It can be argued that the modern, and popular, Dispensational teaching of the Rapture is the figment of human imagination, and not a clear exegesis of Scripture.

The Rapture theory finds no support in any Creed of Christendom, or the church Fathers. Christians, who want to embrace the simplicity of Scripture, and a historic faith, should be concerned, because the Rapture theory transforms every other facet of Christian theology. It changes what the Church has taught historically about salvation, Israel, the Moral Law, and the people of God.

If John is a symbol of the Church, and the Church is Raptured, then some Dispensationalist should be consistent and notice that the Church, represented by John, is Raptured, not once, not twice, but three times.

Of course, such a teaching would absurd, but then, out of error comes more error. All that is needed is a fertile imagination.

To be biblical on the matter of the return of Christ and the going forth of the saints to greet Him, attention is drawn once more to Acts 1:11, Hebrews 9:28, and 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13; 4:13-18

Jesus will Return Visibly and Slowly.

“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 1:11).

Jesus will Come the Second Time (but not in Stages or Phases).

“So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28).

Jesus will Come Again with all the Saints.

“Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. 12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: 13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints” (1 Thess. 3:11-13).

The Church will Greet the Returning King.

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 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 them which are asleep.  

16 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:  17 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.  18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

The Biblical doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ, for all who believe is enough to satisfy the soul.

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