There is a great deal of controversy about the word “rapture.” Should we say rapture or gathering together when referring to this event?
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The word “rapture” doesn’t appear in the Bible. It is derived from the Latin version of the Greek word “harpazo” which is found in Paul’s description of this event in 1 Thess. 4:16-17:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together (Gk: harpazo) with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:16-17)
No one can deny a very unique event occurs here. The resurrection of the righteous dead occurs and then the newly resurrected and the survivors of the Great Tribulation are “caught up” together into the air where they meet Jesus.
Other articles have discussed the destination of the saints which some may argue, but no one can deny an incredible event occurs at this point. The question in this article is what we should we call this event. Which word did Jesus use? Which word did Paul use? And what do these words teach us about the event when we meet the Lord in the air?
Should We Say Rapture?
“Rapture” is the word that our culture uses for this event. Whether it is the most appropriate word or not, it is well understood. So it is my opinion that we should continue to refer to it in this way in our writings and discussions because people understand it. But let’s examine all choices so we comprehend the issues behind the use of each word.
Let’s discuss “harpazo” first. First of all, this word is a verb, not a noun. So it is an inappropriate choice from that aspect. We should not describe an event (a noun) with a verb! That is pretty obvious. However, as a verb, it does a satisfactory job of describing the action that takes place during this event. HELPS word study defines it this way:
726 harpázō – properly, seize by force; snatch up, suddenly and decisively – like someone seizing bounty (spoil, a prize); to take by an open display of force (i.e. not covertly or secretly).
The best definition for our purposes is a rescue that is forceful, sudden, and visible. This last aspect creates problems for the pretribulation rapture theory as they demand a rapture that is invisible and silent; quite the opposite of what this word means.
Harpazo is used several times in the New Testament in relation to this type of rescue. In Rev. 12:5, Jesus’s ascension is a harpazo. In Acts 8:39, Phillip was horizontally raptured (harpazo) away from the Ethiopian eunuch. In 2 Cor. 12:2, Paul was raptured into heaven by a harpazo. There is an amazing usage of this word in the Old Testament in relation to both the ascension and the rapture in Hosea. We will discuss that usage in a future article.
So in conclusion, harpazo (or rapture) is a very descriptive word for the action of the translation of believers into the presence of Jesus.
Should we say “Gathering Together?”
When we looked at the word harpazo, we indicated it was a verb. Is there a word that is used in scripture to describe this event that is a noun? There is! In 2 Thess. 2:1, Paul refers to this event as the “gathering together.”
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming (Gk. parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together (Gk: episunagoges) to Him (2 Thess. 2:1)
So when Paul wished to describe the “event” (not the action) of the rapture, he uses the term “the gathering together.” This Greek word, episunagoges, is the noun form of the verb episunago which means “gather together in an upwards direction.” The Greek word sunago also means gather together. However, adding the prefix “epi” gives direction to the gathering and that direction is upwards.
This later verb was the term Jesus used to describe the rapture as well:
And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together (Gk.: episunago) His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven. (Mark 13:27)
So it is pretty obvious that “the gathering together” is a better biblical term for the rapture. It is the term both Jesus and Paul preferred.
Now some will say that this event in Mark 13:27 isn’t the rapture, that it is an “up and then down” movement of the saints upon Jesus’s return. Others say this is a gathering together of the Jewish remnant at the physical second coming of Jesus. But neither of these ideas is correct.
Please notice that in Mark 13:27, the destination of the gathering together is given as “the farthest end of heaven.” Now some will argue that this refers to the atmospheric heaven, the sky, and not to the abode of God and his angels. The Greek word ouranos translated “heaven” has three possible meanings. It can mean “the sky” or “outer space” or the “spiritual heaven.” In order to decide, let’s look at the context which says the “farthest end” of heaven. The ancients believed the spiritual heaven was the furthest away, the highest heaven. So the text strongly implies the destination of the gathering together is the spiritual heaven, the farthest end of heaven. This makes it abundantly clear that the event in Mark 13:27 and Matt. 24:31 (which is a parallel account) is the rapture and NOT the physical second coming of Jesus to the earth as is commonly taught.
Now many also claim that this “gathering together” in Mark 13:27 is the regathering of the Jews to Israel, and that this happens via angels. The Old Testament, however, is very clear that the regathering of Jews to Israel after the return of Jesus is done by very human means:
Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites,” says the Lord. (Isa. 66:20-21)
And the ships of Tarshish will come first to bring your sons from afar, Their silver and their gold with them. (Isa. 60:9)
So as it can be seen, although it is commonly taught that that Mark 13:27 and Matt. 24:31 are the physical second coming of Jesus to fight Armageddon and the regathering of the Jews, neither theory is correct.
This Greek word, episunagoges (the gathering together upwards), is used one other place in Scripture, and it is a most interesting usage.
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together (Gk: episunagogen), as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25)
The writer of Hebrews calls our church services an episunagoges. I don’t think this is an incidental use of the word. Notice the writer in encouraging this meeting all the more as we see the Day of the Lord approaching. Is the writer of Hebrews suggesting our church service gatherings should be small reflections of the ultimate gathering before the throne of God? I think he is. Later in Hebrews he discusses this ultimate assembly. In fact, he says we are there already:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant. (Heb. 12:22-24)
As we discussed in an article in our blog series on Amillennialism, there is a heavenly Mount Zion and Jerusalem as well as an earthly version. The writer of Hebrews says we have already come to and been enrolled (written in the Book of Life) in the assembly that will one day take place there. This is depicted in Revelation 7. Notice the presence of the Father and the Son and the myriad of angels just as in this passage in Hebrews.
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God. (Rev. 7:9-11)
This worship is what our episunagogen here on earth should look like!
Now the Hebrews to whom the writer was speaking would understand this “assembly” or gathering together. In Hebrew the word is miqra or “holy assembly.” This is what Israel was instructed to do during the Feasts of the Lord (mo’edim).
In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation (miqra). (Lev. 23:24)
So in conclusion, I think “rapture” is a very useful term. It is understood by the masses and that understanding is basically correct (although the timing of the event is not well understood). This basic understanding makes it the preferred term when we are discussing this event in our teaching or discussions. Why force a term that others don’t understand? And it is a biblical term of sorts. At least harpazo, the word it is derived from, is biblical.
The “gathering together upwards” is probably a better biblical term for this event. So why isn’t it used? Why is “rapture” used? The answer is that episunago is found in Matt. 24:31 and Mark 13:27. Using “gather together upwards” as the word for the rapture event would cause great problems for the pretribulation rapture crowd. For instance, Dr. Thomas Ice, their leading spokesman, must now claim the use of this word in 2 Thess. 2:1 is the rapture but its use in Matt. 24:31 isn’t. Imagine the difficulty if this was the word our culture used for the event!
However, there are much more important issues than cultural word usage. Our brothers and sisters who ascribe to a pretrib thinking have the “Mind of Christ” just as we do. Our goal should be prayer that Jesus will instruct them through his Word and Spirit as to proper timing. We should not demand the use of a certain cultural “word”, it is His Word we should stress.