Harpazo: The Scriptural Concept of Rapture
"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"
"Harpazo" (har-pad'-zo) is the Greek word which the New Testament translators
have rendered as "caught up". "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 knoweth;) such an one caught up [Greek, harpazo] to the Third Heaven"
(2Corinthians 12:2). "Rapture" is taken from an obsolete French word, which
means "abduction" or "to carry off". Though Greek scholars
may refrain from using "rapture" to translate "harpazo", it is
not a wresting of Scripture for the honest Christian to see the connection between
the two. "According to your faith be it unto you" (Matthew 9:29).
Many honest-hearted Saints have never read Hal Lindsay's popular paperback, "The
Late Great Planet Earth" (1970), never have listened to a Bible teacher expound
from J. Dwight Pentecost's study in Biblical Eschatology, "Things to Come"
(1958), or have never examined a copy of Dave Hunt's more contemporary paperback,
"Global Peace and the Rise of Antichrist" (1990), but the "rapture"
word has found it's way into the popular vocabulary of Professed Evangelical Christianity.
"After this I looked, and, behold, a Door was opened in Heaven: and the First
Voice which I heard was as it were of a Trumpet talking with me; which said, Come
Up Hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter" (Revelation
4:1). Even the dictionary suggests that "rapture" may be defined as the
"transporting of a person from one place to another, especially to Heaven"
(from the American Heritage Dictionary). "And they heard a Great Voice from
Heaven saying unto them, Come Up Hither. And they ascended up to Heaven in a cloud;
and their enemies beheld them" (11:12).
It should not surprise even the newest searcher of Bible Prophecy, that even those
who believe in a Rapture, have many and various positions as to the timing of the
event, i.e., Pre-Tribulational Rapture, Mid-Tribulational Rapture, Pre-Wrath Rapture,
Post-Tribulational Rapture, etc. Differences also exist as to the subjects of the
Rapture (who will be raptured), i.e., anyone who has been Born Again (backslidden
or not), or only those who are walking in obedience. Some even believe that there
will be more than one Rapture. Though it may seem laughable to skeptics to note such
a variety of Rapture positions, the LORD inspired the Apostle Paul to record that
the integrity of our faith is based upon what we have been persuaded is true. "One
man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every
man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Romans 14:5). And, the integrity of
our faith is vital to our very Christian existence, as witnessed by Abraham's believing
of God to give him a promised son in his old age. "And being fully persuaded
that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform" (4:21).
Nearly 50 years ago, J. Dwight Pentecost wrote: "The present age, in respect
to the true church, terminates with the translation of the church into the Lord's
presence. The doctrine of the translation of the church is one of the major considerations
of the Eschatology of the New Testament (John 14:1-3; 2 Thess. 2:1; 1 Thess. 4:13-18;
1 Cor. 1:8; 15:51-52; Phil. 3:20-21; 2 Cor. 5:1-9). It is one of the questions on
which Bible students are most in disagreement at the present time. Interpreters of
the premillenial school [that Christ would return before a thousand year period known
as the Millennium] are divided into such camps as the partial rapturist, who raises
the issue of the subjects of the rapture, and the pretribulationist, midtribulationist
and posttribulationist, who raise the issue of the time of the rapture in relation
to the tribulation period" ("Things to Come", p. 156). "The thing
that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall
be done: and there is no new thing under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
Harpazo: Caught Up
Without debating the timing of the Rapture, the subjects of the Rapture, or the number
of Raptures... the Scripture is unequivocal about the concept of the Rapture. "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 [Greek, harpazo] together
with them in the clouds, to meet the LORD in the air: and so shall we ever be with
the LORD" (1Thessalonians 4:16-17). This reference to the Resurrection of the
Just is found in conjunction with a definite Rapture event. In addition to this reference,
the Apostle Paul mentions his experience of being "caught up [Greek,
harpazo] into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a
man to utter" (2Corinthians 12:4), using the word "harpazo" twice
(12:2, 4). Also, "harpazo" is translated "caught up" in the Revelation,
when describing the Ascension of the LORD Jesus Christ back into Heaven after His
Resurrection. "And she brought forth a Man Child, Who was to rule all nations
with a Rod of Iron: and her Child was caught up [Greek, harpazo] unto God,
and to His Throne" (Revelation 12:5).
Harpazo: A Word Study
In addition to the four times that "harpazo" is translated as "caught
up" (in the King James Version), there are nine other verses in which the Greek
word "harpazo" is found in the New Testament. The LORD Jesus used "harpazo"
to describe the ministry of John the Baptist. Even while in prison, Jesus compared
the ministry of John the Baptist as godly "violence", and John as "violent"
with his ministry of "force". "And from the days of John the Baptist
until now the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it
by force [Greek, harpazo]" (Matthew 11:12). Seizing something by force
is part of the meaning of "harpazo". It does mean that the LORD
will forcibly take His people Home, whether they know, have been taught, understand,
or even honestly-but-ignorantly disagree with the Rapture concept. "But that
on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard
the Word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience" (Luke 8:15).
In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23), the LORD described the Seed, which
is the "Word of the Kingdom" (13:19), i.e., the Word of God, falling into
four kinds of ground:
- (1) the evangelized-but-lost world: "by the way side"
(13:4), which are those who "heareth the Word of the Kingdom, and understandeth
it not" (13:19),
- (2) those who confess to any kind of Christianity: "stony
places" (13:5), which "dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution
ariseth because of the Word, by and by he is offended" (13:21),
- (3) the even better taught, but still not saved professedly
Evangelical Christians: "among thorns" (13:7), but the "thorns sprung
up, and choked them" (13:7), and
- (4) the True Saints: "good ground" (13:8), who
"brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold"
Describing the vast majority who "heareth the Word
of the Kingdom, and understandeth it not" (13:19), Satan "catcheth away
[Greek, harpazo] that which was sown in his heart" (Matthew 13:19). The events
surrounding the Rapture are by stealth to the ungodly, i.e., the "Day of the
LORD so cometh as a thief in the night" (1Thessalonians 5:2), but not to the
Godly. "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake
you as a thief" (5:4).
"Harpazo" is used to describe the great multitudes of people who were ready
to "come and take Him [Jesus] by force [Greek, harpazo], to make
Him a king" (John 6:15). Though they had the base design of wanting to force
Jesus to be their benefactor for selfish reasons, it does remind us that the LORD
will take His own by force for His own pleasure. "Thou art worthy, O LORD, to
receive glory and honour and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy
pleasure they are and were created" (Revelation 4:11). It is the pleasure
of our King to rapture His people, that "where [King Jesus is], there ye may
be also" (John 14:3).
The Good Shepherd teaches us that He cares for us as His sheep. "I am the Good
Shepherd: the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep" (John 10:11). Compare
the LORD Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd to the Antichrist as an "hireling"
(10:12). "But he that is an hireling [Antichrist], and not the shepherd, whose
own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf [Satan] coming, and leaveth the sheep, and
fleeth: and the wolf catcheth [Greek, harpazo] them, and scattereth the sheep"
(10:12). Again, Satan will catch those who "received not the love of the Truth"
(2Thessalonians 2:10), and these will "be damned who believed not the Truth,
but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2:12).
Continuing with His analogy of Shepherd and sheep, Jesus assures us that no one is
capable of seizing us by force out of His hand. "28 And I give unto them Eternal
Life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck [Greek, harpazo]
them out of My hand. 29 My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no
man is able to pluck [Greek, harpazo] them out of My Father's hand" (John
10:28-29). In this instance, it is with great relief that we are not snatched away--
by Satan. "The Name of the LORD is a Strong Tower: the righteous runneth into
it, and is safe" (Proverbs 18:10).
Philip the Evangelist was directed by the angel of the LORD to go to Gaza. He met
an Ethiopian, who was a chief officer of Queen Candace, reading Isaiah 53. "6
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and
the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and He was
afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth" (Isaiah
53:6-7). Expounding these Scriptures concerning Jesus the Messiah, the Ethiopian
eunuch believed, and was baptized. "And when they were come up out of the water,
the Spirit of the LORD caught away [Greek, harpazo] Philip, that the eunuch
saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing" (Acts 8:39). In this instance,
Philip was caught away to other earthly employments. About twenty years later, the
Apostle Paul stayed over at Philip's house in Caesarea (21:8). But, to be caught
away by the LORD means to be repositioned for higher service-- Earthly or Heavenly.
When Brother Paul was seized by the Romans in Jerusalem, he had an audience before
the Sanhedrin of the Jews. There he attempted to make a defense of the LORD, as well
as himself. "And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren,
I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day" (Acts 23:1).
They demonstrated that they were in no mood to listen by ordering him to be struck
on the mouth, i.e., "And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by
him to smite him on the mouth" (23:2). Paul, then, acted as the LORD Jesus taught.
"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise
as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16). He divided the Sadducees
from the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin by bringing up an issue on which the two disagreed,
i.e., "Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope
and resurrection of the dead I am called in question" (23:6). The resulting
division between the Pharisees and Sadducees, allowed him to be extracted by the
chief captain of the Romans. "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 him by force [Greek, harpazo] from
among them, and to bring him into the castle" (Acts 23:10). In the same way,
the LORD will rapture us with a strong arm from our enemies. "For in the time
of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His Tabernacle shall
He hide me; He shall set me up upon a Rock" (Psalm 27:5).
The Epistle of Jude offers us a final glimpse at this Greek word "harpazo".
"And others save with fear, pulling [Greek, harpazo] them out of the
fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 23). An emergency
rescue worker pulls people out of the fire, while attempting to keep himself from
also being injured. Christians have the same ministry, but towards those who are
spiritually lost. "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which
was lost" (Luke 19:10). This depicts to us a ministry that pulls sinners from
the error of their sins. "Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner
from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude
of sins" (James 5:20). But, it also recognizes the great danger of the rescuer
to be harmed by the contagion of the sinner's sin, as well as the "sin which
doth so easily beset us" (Hebrews 12:1). "But I keep under my body, and
bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others,
I myself should be a castaway" (1Corinthians 9:27). So, the LORD has a "mighty
arm: strong is [His] hand, and high is [His] right hand" (Psalm 89:13) to pull
[harpazo] us out of this world with the strength of Omnipotence.
The Apostle Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians assures us that there will
be a Rapture, and his first epistle to the Corinthians reiterates that thought. "51
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall
sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed"
(1Corinthians 15:51-52). Debates may rage as to the timing, the subjects, or even
the number of Raptures, but the Scripture is clear that the Rapture is not a machination
of modern Bible Eschatology. "13 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 [literally, precede] 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" (1Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Until the Harpazo, Maranatha!