The Rapture  by Joel Smith

The so called “rapture” passage, which was written by the Apostle Paul and is found in First Thessalonians 4 in the New Testament, is one of the most misunderstood statements in the entire Bible. Fortunately the Apostle Paul clearly explained what he really meant in this passage in the two subsequent commentaries that he wrote about resurrection.

First Thessalonians was written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians of Thessalonica, Greece. It was only about a year before he wrote this letter, in 50 AD, that Paul had established the Christian community there.

Paul begins this letter by praising the Thessalonica Christians: "We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember... your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ... You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering." -1 Thessalonians 1:2-6 NIV

Paul continues by reminding them that he too suffered persecution in Thessalonica. He wrote: "we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition." -1 Thessalonians 2:2 NIV

What kind of opposition did Paul face in Thessalonica? In the Book of Acts it says that Paul was only in Thessalonica for three Fridays, or for three Sabbaths, before his teaching efforts there caused a riot which forced him to escape from the city under the cover of night. (see Acts 17:2-9)

So, to summarize what Paul has written so far, he wrote that he knew that the Christians of Thessalonica were suffering extreme persecution from their enemies, and he praised them for remaining steadfast and for not abandoning their faith. Paul continues by promising that the faithfulness of "the believers" was going to be rewarded. What kind of reward did Paul offer these new Christians? The answer is found in the rapture passage of First Thessalonians 4.

Here the Apostle Paul begins to explain his promise of a reward: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. -First Thessalonians 4:13

From this introductory statement we can see that the Apostle Paul wanted the Christians of Thessalonica to understand what was going to happen to each and every one of the believers after they die.

Paul continues: “For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him (to heaven) the believers who have died... For the Lord (Jesus) himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever (in heaven). So encourage each other with these words.” -First Thessalonians 4:14-18 (New Living Translation)

To summarize what Paul wrote in his First letter to the Thessalonians, Paul promises that as a reward for remaining faithful in the face of strong opposition, severe suffering and persecution... after they die, the believers will rise from their graves, or they will come back to life. Next Jesus himself will come back down from heaven and he will personally take them back up to heaven with him where they will get to live with Jesus forever.

Evidently this statement caused some confusion among some of the Christians back then. They wondered whether Paul was speaking here of flesh and blood bodies literally coming back to life in the flesh or whether he instead was speaking about being raised back to life in bodies made of spirit. They also questioned in what way Jesus was resurrected.

Fortunately the Apostle Paul answered whatever questions they might have had in the next two letters that he wrote.

There are 27 books in the New Testament and Paul is credited with writing as many as 14 of these books. Many people today don't know that the Apostle Paul's writings are the very first books of the New Testament that were written. This means that First Thessalonians was not only the very first book that Paul wrote, but it also was the very first book of all of the New Testament books that were written. The four Gospels were probably all written after Paul was dead... after he was executed.

Even more interesting is the fact that Paul's entire collection of writings were endorsed in writing by the Apostle Peter. Writing as the head of the Church, Peter wrote: Jesus' "patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." -Second Peter 3:15

Paul was the only person who was ever endorsed in writing by Peter. And here Peter characterizes Paul's writings as: "wisdom that God gave him". Peter also warned that Paul's writings were being "distorted" by "ignorant and unstable people" with the result that these misinterpretations were leading them "to their own destruction."

So, to get an overview, First Thessalonians was the very first letter that Paul wrote. And it contains Paul’s first ever explanation of what happens when believers die... or the first ever mention of resurrection. First Thessalonians also contains the very first mention of Jesus' resurrection in all of the New Testament.

Throughout his letters, Paul repeatedly refers to Jesus’ resurrection. But he only explained what he meant by this one time in all of his writings.

In First Corinthians 15, in his famous resurrection commentary, the Apostle Paul refers to Jesus as the “last Adam”... evidently Paul was saying here that Jesus was humanity’s second chance at Eden.

In this same passage Paul described Jesus’ resurrection as: “If there is a natural body (of flesh, blood and bone), then there is also a spiritual body (a body made of spirit). So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam (who was Jesus), became a life-giving spirit.” -1 Corinthians 15:45

The Apostle Peter, in his own writings, mirrored Paul's explanation of how Jesus was resurrected. In First Peter 3:18 Peter wrote that Jesus “died in the flesh and was raised in the spirit.” This was Peter's only explanation of how Jesus was raised from the dead.

So, to summarize these two statements, Peter wrote that Jesus “died in the flesh and was raised in the spirit.” And then, the Apostle Paul wrote that when Jesus died he “became a life-giving spirit.”

Where did Peter say that Jesus’ dead physical body miraculously came back to life? Where did Paul write that Jesus’ flesh and blood body was literally, physically resurrected? Nowhere.

Neither Peter nor Paul ever taught that Jesus was resurrected in the flesh. Quite the opposite. They both taught that Jesus was resurrected in a spirit body... in a body made of spirit. Paul explains this body of spirit in more detail elsewhere in his writings. And we'll take a closer look at this soon in this article.

Some people may ask, if it is true that Paul and Peter both wrote that Jesus was resurrected in a spirit body and not in a flesh body, then how can it be explained that people saw Jesus after he was dead? The best example of these appearances was the time that Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus where they even had a "back and forth" conversation. In Acts 26:19 Paul describes Jesus’ appearance to himself on the road to Damascus both as a "light from heaven" and as a “heavenly vision”. According to Paul, Jesus did appear to himself, but Jesus was not physically there. Paul taught that Jesus was resurrected in a spirit body and that when Paul saw Jesus on the road to Damascus, it was a "heavenly vision".

So these were the answers that both Peter and Paul gave to Christians who wondered... in what way was Jesus resurrected? Again, and this is very important, Paul and Peter were not speaking here of flesh and blood bodies literally rising from the dead. Instead they clearly were speaking about resurrection bodies made of spirit, and it was in these kinds of bodies that rose from the dead.

Remember where Peter warned that Paul's writings were being misinterpreted by "ignorant and unstable people"? Despite these explicit, almost unmistakable explanations from both Peter and Paul, there still was confusion amongst the Christians about how "the believers who have died will rise from their graves". So, in an attempt to try to more clearly explain what he was saying, Paul eventually wrote two commentaries on resurrection... or what happens when people die.

Back in First Thessalonians 4 again, where the Apostle Paul wrote that the resurrected Jesus was going to return to escort the resurrected believers back to heaven, Paul evidently was paraphrasing another well known story in which Jesus himself made a similar promise to the Apostle Thomas.

In this story, Jesus told Thomas: “My Father’s house (God’s house in heaven) has many rooms... I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (in heaven). You know the way (road or highway) to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way (highway) and the truth and the life.” -John 14:6 NIV

As you can see in this verse, Jesus promised that he was going to go to his Father’s house in heaven to prepare a place for Thomas. Jesus next promised that he was going to come back down from heaven and personally take Thomas back to heaven with him where Thomas would then get to live forever with Jesus in heaven.

Thomas, of course, got very excited when he heard this and he wanted leave right then to go to God’s house. When Thomas asked Jesus to tell him how to get to God's house, Jesus replied that he was the way (road) that he could take to get there.

At first glance, when reading Jesus’ promise to Thomas here in John 14:6 and then comparing this to Paul’s statement in First Thessalonians 4, we can see that both passages were essentially saying the exact same things.

Both stories promise that when Jesus returns from heaven "the believers who have died" will rise from the dead, and then they will be "caught up" into the sky to "meet the Lord in the air" where Jesus will welcome them and then escort them up to heaven.

This raises the question... was it possible for Thomas, or for anyone else, to go to heaven while they were still alive in their physical, flesh body? The answer to this question was no, as it was explained by Paul in First Corinthians 15.

At the time when Paul wrote First Corinthians 15, he was living in Ephesus, Turkey. It was in Ephesus that Paul had received the disturbing news that some Christians in Corinth, Greece were saying that there was no such thing as resurrection (or afterlife). In response, Paul wrote another, even more explicit, commentary on “what will happen to the believers who have died”.

Remember back in First Thessalonians 4 where Paul wrote: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope." -First Thessalonians 4:13?

Compare this passage with First Corinthians 15, where Paul begins his commentary on resurrection by asking a rhetorical question, “someone may ask, ‘How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?’”

Note the similarities between these two statements.

Paul answers the question “What kind of bodies will they have?” by explaining that, just as there are different kinds of bodies for animals, birds and fish, so will the bodies that believers will have in heaven be different than the bodies that they currently have here on earth. Paul wrote “there are different kinds of flesh—one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are also bodies in the heavens and bodies on the earth.”

The bodies we have here on earth are different than the bodies we will have in heaven.

Paul continues his commentary on resurrection by using the analogy of a seed to explain that we are transformed at death from one bodily form to another. He says: "What you sow [a seed] does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be... So is it with the dead... It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Lo! I tell you a mystery... we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." -First Corinthians 15 (RSV)

And then, so we don’t misunderstand what he was saying, Paul said that “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (heaven), nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet (of our lives).”

To summarize what Paul has explained so far, when a believer dies, they are raised back to life. They are “changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." Their earthly, physical body of flesh, blood and bone is changed into a heavenly body made of spirit. Jesus then descends from heaven and escorts them back up to God’s house in heaven. Paul then very clearly says that bodies made of flesh and blood can’t go to heaven. According to Paul, bodies made of spirit can go to heaven. Bodies made of flesh cannot.

These explanations seem to be pretty unmistakable. Nevertheless, there still were people back in Paul’s day who still didn’t quite understand what he was saying. So, Paul wrote yet another commentary on what happens “to the believers who have died”.

in Paul's third commentary on resurrection or afterlife, which is found in Second Corinthians 5, he says: “For we know that if the earthly tent (our physical bodies) we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven (our spirit bodies), not built by human hands... Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord... We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

This couldn’t be any more clear. Here Paul unmistakably wrote that when believers die, they have to leave their physical bodies behind before they can go to heaven in their spirit bodies.

The Apostle Peter also mirrored these statements of Paul. Shortly before Peter was executed, he wrote "I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as out Lord Jesus made clear to me..." -2 Peter 1:14 (English Standard Version)

Notice that Peter describes his own death as the "putting off of my body". When Peter was killed, he left his physical body behind and he went to heaven in his spirit body.

Somehow many Christians today have completely misunderstood these explanations and they still mistakenly interpret these passages literally.

What would Paul have thought about these literal interpretations? Ask yourself, after reading Paul's commentaries on resurrection is there any mistaking what Paul actually meant when he spoke of being "caught up... to a meeting with the Lord in the air"? Can literal, physical, fleshly interpretations of these statements be supported anywhere in Paul’s writings? How about in Peter's writings? The answer is no. Never. Nowhere. Paul and Peter never taught that resurrection was literal or in the flesh.

Jesus knew that "false prophets" were going to arise within the church to mislead his followers. Jesus predicted that: "many false prophets will appear and deceive many people... false Christs, and false prophets will appear and shall perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect (EKLEKTOUS= chosen of Christians)." -Matthew 24:24 (NIV)

A similar warning was also given by the Apostle Peter. Peter wrote: "Israel had false prophets as well as true; and you [Christians] likewise will have false teachers among you. They will import disastrous heresies... They will gain many adherents to their dissolute practices, through whom the true way (HODOS) will be brought into disrepute... They have abandoned the straight road (HODON) and lost their way (HODOS)." -2 Peter 2:1 (New English Bible) 

The word that is translated here as "way" comes from the original Greek word HODOS. A HODOS is a "road" or "highway". Remember when Jesus said: "I am the way (HODOS) ... no one comes to the Father, but by me”? -John 14:6 (RSV) 

Jesus said that he was the true road or highway that leads to God’s house in heaven. In 2 Peter 2:1, Peter warned that because of "false teachers" who will "import disastrous heresies" into Christianity, this true road of Jesus will actually be "abandoned".

Continuing on in the same letter, Peter offered a way for Christians to not be, as Jesus said, "deceived".

To avoid being misled by "false teachers" Peter advised Christians to turn to the writings of "our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him... His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." -Second Peter 3:15

Again, Paul's epistles were the only ones ever endorsed in writing by the Apostle Peter. Does Peter endorse any other writings? No. If any of the four Gospels were written during Peter's lifetime, he certainly didn't mention them. And then, Peter ends his second and final letter by warning that Paul's writings were being misinterpreted by "ignorant and unstable people" "to their own destruction."

The Apostle Paul gave similar warnings in many of his letters. For example, to the Galatians Paul wrote: "I am astonished to find you turning so quickly away from him [from Paul] who called you by grace and following a different gospel. Not that it is in fact another gospel; only there are persons who unsettle your minds by trying to distort the gospel of Christ." -Galatians 1:8 (New English Bible)

In the very next verse, Paul tells us what he thinks of these "ignorant and unstable people" people. He wrote: "As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches a gospel to you beside what you received (from Paul), let him be accursed (ANATHEMA)..." -Galatians 1:9 (Interlinear Bible)

So, some Christians were preaching a gospel that was different than what Paul taught and in doing so they were "trying to distort the gospel of Christ". Paul advises us to have nothing to do with these people --- to avoid them at all costs. To treat them as anathema.

At the beginning of his famous resurrection commentary in First Corinthians 15:2, the Apostle Paul warned: “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” The Greek word that is translated here as “believed in vain” is EIKE. The word EIKE means “nothing”.

In other words, Paul was saying that believers are saved IF, and only IF, they have retained Paul’s version of resurrection... otherwise they have nothing.

Peter and Paul both warned that some Christians will become "deluded" and "deceived" by false teachers. They both warned that Christians will "fall away" from the true path and that they will be seduced into following a "lie". Paul said that if anyone teaches anything other than what he taught, then let them be ANATHEMA. Paul also warned that unless Christians have retained his version of resurrection, then they have nothing.

Could it be that these terrible things have actually happened in our time? Ask yourself, did Jesus, Peter and Paul know what they were talking about? Have modern Christians abandoned the true road of Paul’s teachings regarding what happens “to the believers who have died”?

It seems that most churches today teach the exact opposite of what Paul taught. How can modern Christians who reject Paul's teachings still claim that their Faith is valid? How can Christians believe the exact opposite of what Paul taught concerning resurrection and rapture and still believe that their faith is not EIKE or empty?

Jesus warned that when the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch. Once you are aware... well, it’s not too late to get back on the road.

There is a "rapture" passage in the Baha'i writings too. Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote about those believers who have “taken flight in the air of My Compassion“... evidently referring to a re-awakening after they become aware and are spiritually raised from the dead.

"Verily the Tongue of the Ancient gives glad tidings to those who are in the world concerning the appearance of the Greatest Name... Verily, He is Myself; the Shining-Place of My Identity; the East of My Cause; the Heaven of My Bounty... The one who hath turned to Him hath turned to My Face and is illumined through the lights of My Beauty... The one who hath denied Him hath been deprived of the Salsabil of My Love, of the Kawther of My Grace, the cup of My Mercy and of the Wine by which the sincere ones have been attracted and the monotheists have taken flight in the air of My Compassion, which no one hath known except him whom I have taught the matter revealed in My Hidden Tablet..."---Baha'u'llah, Baha'i Scriptures, p.255 quoted in The Covenant p.10

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Joel Smith is a member of the Baha'i Faith living in the United States. Much of the material on this homepage consists of extracts from existing Baha'i publications, but also included are a number of insights and comments about prophecies which are entirely the author's own understanding and, as such, do not necessarily represent the official position of the Baha'i Faith or its teachings.