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The word “rapture” is from a Latin word that Jerome used when translating 1 Thessalonians 4:17 into Latin,
17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up [Greek: harpazo; Latin: rapto] together with them [i.e., the resurrected ones] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
Before we expound on the meaning of being “caught up,” we should understand that the important thing is not so much how the word is translated into various languages but rather how we construct the word picture that is presented to us. Many who object to the common rapture theory have declared war on the word rapture instead of focusing on the meaning of harpazo in regard to the second coming of Christ.
Because so many Christians in the past 170 years have been influenced by the Dispensationalist view of the second coming, and because they have settled on the Latin word rapture to describe it, I have hesitated to use the term in my teaching. The reason is that my definition of the catching away differs in some ways from the church’s concept. Hence, if I use the term, what many will hear is not what I was really saying.
Redefining the Rapture
I prefer to redefine the rapture according to a proper understanding of the circumstances surrounding Christ’s second coming, rather than to say, “there is no rapture.” The fact is, there IS a rapture (Latin), because there IS a harpazo (Greek), and because there IS a catching up or catching away (English). We all can agree on this, because Paul tells us that it is so.
Our disagreement is rooted in the fact that the Dispensationalist view was developed in the 1850’s and beyond by those who did not see this event in terms of the Autumn feast days. Neither Darby nor Scofield, his spiritual successor, had a clear understanding of the feast of Tabernacles and how it prophesied of the second coming of Christ.
Being handicapped by this, they developed an entire theory without seeing that the “rapture” was linked to the prophecy of the eighth day of Tabernacles. This was the number one problem. Their success in convincing the evangelicals, fundamentalists, and Pentecostals of their theory was due to the fact that very few in the church had any understanding of Tabernacles. Hence, their theory seemed plausible.
It was practically unknown prior to the 1950’s that the Spring feasts (Passover to Pentecost) prophesied of Christ’s first mission, while the Autumn feasts (Trumpets to Tabernacles) prophesied of Christ’s second coming. That revelation alone is revolutionary and carries the weight of glory sufficient to alter one’s eschatological view.
The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that was begun about 280 B.C. It standardized the Hebrew-Greek equivalents by which one might express Hebrew concepts using Greek words. Hence, when Paul used the Greek word harpazo in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, we should see how the word was used in the Septuagint, as this will give us a proper word picture. In my Concordance to the Septuagint (a rare book), I discovered that there are very few examples in the Old Testament where harpazo was used:
2 Chronicles 26:21 (Septuagint) says,
21 And Ozias the king was a leper to the day of his death, and he dwelt as a leper in a separate house; for he was cut off [harpazo] from the house of the Lord….
In other words, Ozias (or Uzziah), being a leper, was separated from others—in this case because he was said to be unclean. But in Paul’s more positive example in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, it is the believers who are separated from others when they are caught away to be with the Lord. Harpazo comes from haireo, “to choose, take for oneself, prefer.”
This seems to point to the idea that those who are caught up are chosen by God. Being chosen connects to Romans 11:7, where Paul (using a different word with a similar meaning) to describe the chosen remnant. They are hand picked and are separated for divine service, and in that sense are “cut off” from the general public.
Jesus’ use of the word Harpazo
Another New Testament example is in John 10:28, 29
28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch [harpazo] them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch [harpazo] them out of the Father’s hand.
These chosen ones cannot be separated from Christ, because His Father, who gave them to Him, “is greater than all.” This provides us with another word picture of the meaning of harpazo, rapto, or the catching away—whatever language one wishes to use.
The Sequence of Events
Without some knowledge of the feast days, people cannot possibly understand the timing of events, because the feast days themselves provide us with the revelation of timing. In order to really understand the catching away on the eighth day of the feast of Tabernacles, one must learn the sequence of events leading up to that moment.
We know from the Spring feasts that Christ’s death on the cross was prophesied to occur on the feast of Passover. He was, after all, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). On the third day, He was raised from the dead and presented alive to the Father at the third hour of the day at the moment that the high priest in the temple was waving the sheaf of barley, according to the law (Leviticus 23:11). The Holy Spirit was sent seven weeks later on the feast of weeks, or Pentecost (Acts 2:1).
The same can be said about the Autumn feasts, which occur over a period of three weeks from the first day of the seventh month to the 22nd day of the same month. The events surrounding the second coming of Christ will not happen on the same day but over a period of three weeks. The revelation of timing, established by the feast days, was unknown to those who developed the modern rapture theory. So they lumped everything together into a single moment of time.
Paul understood the prophetic significance of the feast days. He showed us that God’s “chosen” ones will be caught away to meet the Lord in the air (as opposed to underground). In my view, he was describing the eighth day of Tabernacles, which is the culmination of the Autumn feasts.
Yet the sequence of events is prophesied to begin three weeks earlier with the feast of Trumpets, which prophesies of the resurrection of the dead when “the trumpet of God” sounds, “and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). These resurrected ones, however, are unable to “meet the Lord in the air” by themselves. They must wait until the living overcomers are changed and united with them, so that they may meet Christ as a complete body.
These overcomers will be raised from the dead “first,” Paul says. He was giving the order of events and was not intending to tell us that everything would happen at the same time. Two weeks later, on the first day of Tabernacles, the living overcomers will be “changed” from mortal to immortal and from corruptible to incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52). When the living overcomers share the same quality of life and immortality that the resurrected saints were given earlier at the feast of Trumpets, then the two groups will truly be united as one body.
At that point, the only thing that will be lacking is the Head, who is Christ. A headless body is still not faultless, even if it is immortal and incorruptible. The purpose of Christ’s coming is to make this body eligible to be presented faultless. The Son of God is the Head; the sons of God make up the body. Christ is the High Priest; the sons of God (His children) are the “priests of God and of Christ” (Revelation 20:6).
The Coming of Christ
There is only one passage in Scripture that records where Jesus kept the feast of Tabernacles. It is found in the seventh chapter of John. The story begins in John 7:2,
2 Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths [or Tabernacles], was near.
We are then told that Jesus sent His disciples ahead of Him to Jerusalem. Jesus then came to the feast “in secret” (John 7:10). He did not show Himself until the middle of the feast. John 7:14 says,
14 But when it was now the midst of the feast, Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach.
Why did He come in secret? Why did He wait until the middle of the feast to teach in the temple? Is it because Malachi 3:1 prophesies, “And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple”? Malachi says nothing of the timing of this event, but John’s record puts it squarely in the middle of the feast of Tabernacles.
The culmination of Jesus’ teaching came on the eighth day of the feast and is recorded in John 7:37-39,
37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’.” 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Jesus was quoting Isaiah 12:3,
3 Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs [or “wells,” KJV] of salvation [Yeshua].
The Hebrew word translated “salvation” is Yeshua, which is Jesus’ Hebrew name that we translate into English as Jesus. Jesus interpreted Isaiah’s prophecy, applying it to Himself, Yeshua.
This prophecy was first applicable to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But the timing of a revelation always tells us the greatest meaning and application. Jesus spoke those words on the last great day of the feast, the eighth day of Tabernacles. Pentecost was an early prophetic type of the second coming of Christ. It was not the full coming, because God withheld the heavenly garments from the church (2 Corinthians 5:1-3).
Jesus’ statement in John 7:37-39 about the Holy Spirit being given (fully) on the eighth day of Tabernacles links the coming of Christ to the coming of the Holy Spirit. Some say that Christ came on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was given. That is partially correct, but Pentecost was only the end of the Spring feasts. More was yet to come.
The Holy Spirit filled Solomon’s temple on the eighth day of Tabernacles, though we must piece together a number of verses to reach that conclusion. (See 2 Chronicles 7:1, 8, 9, 10). Jesus’ statement in John 7:37, 38 was made on the anniversary of Solomon’s dedication of the temple, when the Spirit was poured out. After the morning ceremony on the eighth day, the people “went to their tents joyfully and glad of heart” (1 Kings 8:66), having seen the glory fill that temple.
Hence, while Pentecost was a great event, there is yet a greater event coming that fulfills the requirements for the second coming. We read of this as a future event in Hebrews 9:28,
28 So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
Again, Philippians 3:20 says, “we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul again makes an astounding claim in 2 Thessalonians 1:10,
10 When He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.
If you thought that the people were astonished at Christ’s Pentecostal appearance in the form of the Holy Spirit—seeing all the signs and wonders being manifested—wait till you see how the people will marvel at those saints who stand before them in their heavenly garments, fully glorified by the power of the Spirit!
This will be the start of the greatest time of world evangelism the world has ever known.
The coming of Christ appears to be timed for the midst of the feast of Tabernacles in some unknown year. But the actual "rapture" is an event for the eighth day of Tabernacles, the last great day of the feast. We will discuss that topic in Part 2.