“Rapture”, although the word in English now means an emotional state, something akin to a frenzy or trance, originally just meant “snatched away”. It occurs in several Bible verses, but the one that is the base of some Protestant churches’ teaching about a “rapture to heaven” is based on a misreading of these two verses:
1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (NIV)
Clearly all the other New Testament and Old Testament teaching which talk about an angelic gathering show that the destination of the gathering is not the air (nor “heaven” which is not even mentioned in Paul’s verses above), but Jerusalem for judgement:
Matthew 24:31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
Mark 13:27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
See context of Matthew 24 and Mark 13 above to see that the destination is Jerusalem, not heaven. This connection to Jerusalem is shown also in John 19’s use of Zecharian 12:
Zechariah 12:10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.
John 19:37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
This interpretation also agrees with Acts 1:11 where the angels tell the disciples that Jesus will come in the same way that he left. So: Acts 1:11 : Mount of Olives -> clouds -> Heaven, reversed becomes (1 Thessalonians 4:17, Mark 24:31, John 19:37) Heaven -> clouds -> Mount of Olives.
See also the answer by Ron Abel, from Wrested Scriptures:
- 1 Thessalonians 4:17
- “Caught up . . . in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
- This passage is the foundation text for the Evangelicals doctrine of the “rapture of the church”, i.e., that at the second coming, Christ will gather the saints together, take them to heaven, and rule over, but not on the earth.
- Nowhere does this pasage state that the saints are taken to heaven. The evidence is the other way, since “the Lord shall descend from heaven” (vs. 16).
- “And so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Where? On the earth, not in heaven. This is the testimony of the Apostle Paul elsewhere in his writings. (Rom. 4:13 cf. Gen. 13:15 and Gal. 3:27-29) and the teaching of scores of Biblical references (E.g. Dan. 7:18-27 esp. verse 27; Psa. 37:11, 22, 29; Matt. 5:5; Rev. 5:10.)
- Even if the passage be taken literally, the meeting of the Lord and the saints is said to be in the air. But the air extends upwards for 600 miles (a generous estimate). Are the saints to spend eternity suspended in mid-air? If it is contended that the saints only meet the Lord and are then taken up to heaven, then proof that such is the case is required. It does not come from this passage.
- The Greek word, “harpazo” translated “caught up” does not in itself denote direction (either up or down). It simply means, “to snatch away.”1 Its usage is illustrated in the following references where the same verb occurs:
- “The spirit of the Lord caught away Philip.” (Acts 8:39).
- “The wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.” (John 10:12).
- “No man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:29).
- What is meant by “the clouds”? Three possibilities exist. These are as follows:
- The saints are caught away in literal clouds. Jesus was taken from the disciples’ gaze by a cloud. (Acts 1:9). He will return with the same literal clouds. See Rev. 1:7 cf. Dan. 7:13; Matt. 24:30.
- The clouds refer to large numbers of saints. The Greek text does not contain the definite article. The passage reads, therefore: “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught away in clouds” (i.e., clouds of saints). Support for this interpretation is found in Heb. 12:1 where a similar image is used: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses. . . ” (i.e., the faithful listed in Heb. 11). Saints are compared with the innumerable water droplets comprising a great cloud. Some have seen the further image of the saints being exhaled from the sea of nations by the powerful beams of the Sun of Righteousness.
- The clouds are those of divine glory, indicating the Divine Presence. It is stated in Matt 24:30 that the Son of man will come “in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory”, but it is not certain that the great glory refers to the clouds of heaven. One disadvantage with this interpretation is that the divine cloud is invariably one cloud.2 The word “clouds” in 1 Thess. 4:17 is plural. It was the cloud which covered Mt. Sinai (Ex. 34:5) and guided Israel during the wilderness journeyings. (Ex. 13:21; 14:19). Similarly, it was the cloud of glory which filled the Tabernacle (Nu. 9:15,16) and the Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 8:11).