‘Caught Away to Meet the Lord’—How?
THE countdown to the end of the present wicked system continues irrevocably. With the passing of every hour, every minute, every second, we approach striking events prophesied long ago. Is the rapture one of these? If it is, when and how will it occur?
The word “rapture” does not appear in the Bible. But those who believe in it cite the apostle Paul’s words at 1 Thessalonians 4:17 as the basis for their belief. Let us examine this scripture in its context. Paul wrote:
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant concerning those who are sleeping in death; that you may not sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope. For if our faith is that Jesus died and rose again, so, too, those who have fallen asleep in death through Jesus God will bring with him. For this is what we tell you by Jehovah’s word, that we the living who survive to the presence of the Lord shall in no way precede those who have fallen asleep in death; because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first. Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Consequently keep comforting one another with these words.”—1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
The congregation in Thessalonica was relatively new when Paul addressed his first letter to Christians there in about 50 C.E. Members of the congregation were distressed that some of their number were “sleeping in death.” However, what Paul wrote comforted the Thessalonians with the resurrection hope.
While confirming that faithful Christians then dead would be resurrected, Paul also said: “The living who survive to the presence of the Lord shall in no way precede those who have fallen asleep in death.” (Verse 15) Noteworthy, indeed, is the apostle’s reference to the Lord’s “presence.” Here the original-language text uses the Greek word pa·rou·siʹan, which literally means “being alongside.”
When a foreign head of State visits a country, the dates of his presence there are generally announced. This has been true of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Watchtower has consistently presented evidence to honesthearted students of Bible prophecy that Jesus’ presence in heavenly Kingdom power began in 1914. Events since that year testify to Jesus’ invisible presence. (Matthew 24:3-14) So by saying that certain Christians living during the Lord’s presence would be “caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” Paul meant that those survivors would be meeting Christ, not in earth’s atmosphere, but in the invisible heavenly realm where Jesus sits at God’s right hand. (Hebrews 1:1-3) But who are they?
“The Israel of God”
The Scriptures say much about fleshly Israelites and also speak of the spiritual “Israel of God.” Jewish and Gentile believers were to make up the full number of this group anointed by God’s holy spirit, or active force. (Galatians 6:16; Romans 11:25, 26; 1 John 2:20, 27) The book of Revelation shows that the total number of spiritual Israel is 144,000, all of whom are depicted with the Lamb, Jesus Christ, on heavenly Mount Zion. Along with Christ, they would be kings and priests in heaven. (Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-4; 20:6) Included among them would be individuals who had been associated with the congregations in Thessalonica and elsewhere, whatever their racial or national background.—Acts 10:34, 35.
Before any faithful members of spiritual Israel could receive a heavenly reward, they would have to share a certain experience. Just as Jesus’ death on the torture stake preceded his resurrection to life in the heavens, so Christians with the heavenly hope must die before receiving their reward. (1 Corinthians 15:35, 36) That would be true of members of spiritual Israel living in the first century C.E. and of such individuals alive today.
After mentioning “the presence of the Lord,” Paul pointed to the time when faithful spiritual Israelites who had died would receive their heavenly reward. He wrote: “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first.” (Verse 16) Therefore, once Jesus’ presence as King began, we would expect the heavenly resurrection to start, commencing with those of spiritual Israel who had already died as integrity keepers. (1 Corinthians 15:23) They now serve alongside Jesus in heaven. But what of the comparatively few anointed Christians still living on the earth? Do they await the rapture?
After referring to anointed Christians who had died, Paul added: “Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (Verse 17) “The living” would be those alive during Christ’s presence. They would be “caught away” to meet the Lord Jesus. As in the case of faithful early Christians, death as a human is necessary for them to be united with Christ in heaven.—Romans 8:17, 35-39.
In writing to Christians in Corinth, Paul stated: “This I say, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom, neither does corruption inherit incorruption. Look! I tell you a sacred secret: We shall not all fall asleep in death, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, during the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised up incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:50-52) Upon dying in faithfulness during Christ’s presence, each one of the remnant of spiritual Israel instantaneously receives his heavenly reward. “In the twinkling of an eye,” he is resurrected as a spirit creature and “caught away” to meet Jesus and to serve as a coruler in the Kingdom of the heavens. But what about all others worshiping Jehovah? As the end of this wicked system approaches, will they also be caught away to heaven?
Survival—But Not by Rapture
Inasmuch as Jesus’ royal presence began in 1914, we are now deep into this world’s “time of the end.” (Daniel 12:4) Paul warned: “As for the times and the seasons, brothers, you need nothing to be written to you. For you yourselves know quite well that Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. Whenever it is that they are saying: ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them just as the pang of distress upon a pregnant woman; and they will by no means escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3) But alert Christians will escape. How?
The cry “Peace and security!” is a precursor of the period Jesus called the “great tribulation.” Describing “a great crowd” of faithful ones who have the hope of living eternally in an earthly paradise, the book of Revelation says: “These are the ones that come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9, 14; Luke 23:43) No, theirs is not the prospect of a rapture. Rather, they have the hope of survival right here on the earth. To prepare for it, they must remain spiritually awake. How can you do this and survive the end of this system?
You need to ‘keep your senses and have on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet the hope of salvation.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8) Now is the time to pay attention to God’s prophetic Word, the Bible. As the seconds tick away until the end of this system, heed Paul’s counsel: “Do not treat prophesyings with contempt. Make sure of all things; hold fast to what is fine.” (1 Thessalonians 5:20, 21) Thus Jehovah’s Witnesses welcome you to their Kingdom Halls, where you can share with them in the study of Bible prophecies and other features of God’s inspired Word.
As you grow in accurate knowledge and faith, you will discern the outworking of Jehovah God’s purpose to rid the universe of his foes and restore the earth to a paradise. By exercising faith, you may also be among the survivors of the great tribulation, privileged to welcome back the millions who will be resurrected to life on earth. And what a joy it will be to live under God’s Kingdom in the hands of Jesus Christ and his corulers, who will have been ‘caught away to meet the Lord’ by being resurrected to life in the heavenly realm!
For obedient mankind in general, then, what is the true Scriptural hope? It is not a rapture. Instead, it is eternal life on earth under the rule of God’s Kingdom.
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Survivors of the great tribulation will welcome resurrected ones to life on a paradise earth under the rule of Jesus and those “caught away” to heaven