ASK BISHOP BONSU
Question by Naomi Nunoamesi:
“I really want to thank you, bishop, for your numerous lessons and teachings. I just want to know the answer to this question to be able to educate a few others. What is the Church’s teaching and position on the rapture?”
Dear Naomi, I have answered this question before, so I will reproduce the answer below:
The Church’s teaching and position on the “rapture” is that found in the Bible. By “rapture” is meant a mystical experience of being transported into the spiritual realm, sometimes applied to the second coming of Jesus Christ when true believers are expected to rise to join him in heaven. In the Christian tradition, the idea of rapture is found in 1 Thess. 4:13‑18. In many places, there is a view being propagated by some evangelical and Pentecostal groups with regard to the rapture. The view is that at the coming of Christ true believers will be “raptured” or snatched from the earth and thus will escape the gruesome destruction of the rest of humankind that will follow the rapture. But, as will become clear from an examination of the passage, this view is incorrect. The passage speaks only of the resurrection of the deceased brethren and the rapture which will affect both the newly resurrected and the living. There is no idea in the passage of the destruction of those who are not true believers. Such a view is not supported by the exegesis of the passage.
According to 1 Thess. 4:13 Paul does not want the Thessalonians to grieve “as others do who have no hope”. The grief of the Thessalonians seems to have been caused by a misunderstanding concerning events at the Parousia (i.e. the Second Coming of Christ): will the dead be excluded from the glorious moment of the Parousia, or will they have an inferior position at the Parousia? It seems that Paul had already instructed the Thessalonians that at the Parousia believers would all be assumed (i.e. taken up) and be with the risen Christ forever. For this reason, the death of some of them seems to have been the cause of grief among them. They naturally supposed that the dead would be excluded from the Parousia, since one had to be alive to be assumed. Thus, in v. 16 Paul states that the dead brethren will be raised first, and then together with those still alive, will be taken up by the cloud to meet the Lord.
Paul’s instruction in these verses concerns “those who sleep”. As in Mt. 27:52, the term “sleep” is used metaphorically of death, so that “those who sleep” is a metaphor for “the dead”. Specifically, Paul has dead Christians in mind, namely “the dead in Christ” (1 Thess. 4:16). Paul does not want the Thessalonian Christians to grieve about the dead brethren as the rest “who do not have hope”, i.e. non-Christians. The specifically Christian hope, which non-Christians lack, includes the resurrection of the body and the glorious union of believers with Christ at the Parousia.
According to v. 14, the basis of this Christian hope is the death and resurrection of Christ. At the Parousia, God, through Jesus, will bring the deceased brethren with Christ. Christ is thus the means whereby God brings about the salvation of humankind.
In v. 15 Paul says that those who survive until the Parousia will have no temporal advantage over those who have died. 1 Thess. 4:16 states that the Lord himself will “descend” because the early Christians viewed Christ as occupying an exalted position at God’s right hand in heaven (cf. Rom. 8.34; Acts 2.33; Eph. 1.20; Col. 3.1; 1 Pet. 3.22, etc.). In his descent, the Lord will be accompanied by “a command”, “the voice of an archangel”, and “the trumpet of God”.
In 1 Thess. 4.16, we are dealing with a command given to “the dead in Christ” either by God or by Christ. The second theme, “the voice of an archangel”, suggests that angels will accompany Christ at the descent (cf. 1 Thess. 3.13; 2 Thess. 1.7). Christ thus seems to be viewed as the leader of the heavenly army. The third motif is that of “the trumpet of God”, also found in 1 Cor. 15.52 in connection with the resurrection and the End. The idea here seems to be that the dead are summoned to rise from their graves.
v. 16a speaks of the resurrection of “the dead in Christ”. The phrase “in Christ” shows that the dead are Christians. It implies that they were Christians during life and died as Christians. The resurrection of “the dead in Christ” is the first thing that happens at the Parousia, and this is underlined by the emphatic “first”, v. 16. The second event of the Parousia is distinguished from the first by meas of the emphatic “then”: “And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (vv. 16-17).
This second event is the rapture of the faithful. In 1 Thess. 4:16b-17, we read “And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord”. The idea of “being caught up” (hence the idea of “rapture”) and carried through the air is found in Acts 8.39, and that of being caught up to heaven in 2 Cor. 12:2, 4; Rev. 12:5. But the rapture in 1 Thessalonians is the only example of a rapture of God’s people that is linked with the Parousia. Both groups of the living and the resurrected Christians are carried “in the clouds”. Clouds were a common feature of Old Testament theophanies (i.e. appearances of God to people), and indicate the presence of God (cf. Exod. 19:16‑25; Ps. 97:2). Clouds also function as a vehicle for the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13;cf. Mk. 13:26; 14:62; Rev. 1:7; Acts 1:9). Here in 1 Thess. 4:17 the clouds function as a vehicle for believers.
Those who experience the rapture are to meet the Lord. The Greek word translated “meet” was used technically in the Greek world for the meeting of dignitaries by citizens outside the city gates. The dignitaries thus met would be escorted by the citizens back into the city. Some scholars think that the word is used in a similar way here, so that the faithful leave their earthly city to escort the coming Lord to the earth (cf. also Acts 28:15; Mt. 25:6). Other scholars think that they escort the Lord to heaven. Paul concludes by saying that the living and the resurrected will always be with the Lord forever.
One aspect of the Greek verb translated as “caught up” is that of suddenness (cf. Acts 8:39; Rev. 12:5). Similarly, the transformation in 1 Cor. 15:52f. is sudden: “we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye”. The element of suddenness in both experiences suggests that rapture and transformation are similar themes in Paul.
The resurrected faithful and those still alive are taken up in rapture by means of clouds. They are carried into the air in order to meet the Lord. The words “and thus we shall be with the Lord always” (1 Thess. 4:17b) show that those who experience the rapture have entered into a new mode of life in the same sphere as the risen and glorified Christ. Thus, the translation or rapture seems to involve a transformation that makes it possible for those taken up to live in this new state with Christ. The rapture seems to imply the same idea of transformation as found in 1 Cor. 15:51: “we shall all be changed”.
Relevant in this connection is 1 Thess. 5:23: “May the God of peace sanctify you wholly: and may your spirit, soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Paul wants the body to be kept sound and blameless for the Parousia, and so it seems that the body has a part to play in the new age. Thus, Paul most likely envisages the rapture not of bodiless spirits, but of bodily beings who are carried on the clouds.
In conclusion, it is clear from the foregoing that there is no basis for the view that at the coming of Christ true believers will be “raptured” or snatched from the earth and thus will escape the gruesome destruction of the rest of humankind that will follow the rapture. It must be pointed out that the idea of an elect minority being snatched and taken to the safe regions of the upper air while a vindictive Christ destroys those who are not true believers on earth is not Christian and is not supported by a careful study of 1 Thess. 4:13-18.