The Rapture by Joel Smith

Do Baha'is believe in "the rapture"? It's my understanding that Baha'is believe exactly what Paul wrote about it. The modern Christian doctrine of the "rapture" teaches that "dead" and "sleeping" Christians will be physically "caught up" to heaven when Christ returns in the flesh. This doctrine is derived from 1 Thessalonians 4, in the writings of the Apostle Paul, which reads:

"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. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 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 them which are asleep. 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: 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. 5:1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as [do these] others... ."

At first glance, when reading the fourth chapter of Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, it would appear that Paul was telling us that when Christ returns from heaven those Christians "which are asleep" and those who are "dead" will both awaken and rise from the dead and then be physically "caught up" into the sky "to literally "meet the Lord in the air."

Most Christians today have been taught to interpret this passage literally... in terms of its fleshly meanings. Is this what Paul originally intended? Or was he instead trying to convey a less obvious, spiritual message? How can we know for certain? Does Paul tell us how to interpret his writings? Can we find related statements elsewhere in Paul's writings which help us to better understand what Paul was trying to tell us here? The answer, of course, is yes. Paul clearly tells us how to interpret his writings. And Paul clearly illustrates what he meant when he spoke of people being "caught up" into heaven.

Referring to the issue of interpretation, Paul instructed his listeners to: "earnestly study to show yourself approved to God, a workman unashamed, rightly dividing (ORTHOTOMEO) the word of Truth." -2 Timothy 2:15 (IB)

Paul wants us to do two things. First he wants us to "earnestly study" the "word of Truth" . In other words, he wants us to know what his writings actually say. And then, secondly, he wants us to "rightly divide" or to correctly interpret what he was saying.

How can we know how to "rightly divide" the Christian message? That's not too difficult... Paul tells us how. Paul wrote: "we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught us by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." -1 Corinthians 2:14 (NIV)

According to Paul, the "word of Truth" must be "spiritually discerned." The phrase "spiritually discerned" is translated from the original Greek PNEUMATIKOS ANAKRINETAI. The word ANAKRINETAI is derived from the original root Greek word... KRINO, which means judged, determined or interpreted. In other words, this passage can also be correctly translated as spiritually judged, spiritually determined or spiritually interpreted.

What Paul was trying to help us see is that literal minded people cannot correctly understand "spiritual truths" expressed in spiritual language. If Paul's teachings are to be "rightly divided" they must be spiritually perceived or, in other words, they must be interpreted in terms of the spiritual message that they contain. Nowhere in his writings does Paul even remotely suggest that passages such as 1 Thessalonians 4 should be interpreted literally.

Paul clearly tells us that his teachings need to be spiritually interpreted. and that if we interpret his teachings literally... we will not understand what he was actually saying. What does this mean in actual practice? And how can we know if we are, in fact, correctly interpreting Paul's "spiritual words" ?

To help us get a clearer understanding of what Paul was trying to tell us in 1 Thessalonians 4 let's begin by taking a closer look at Paul's statements concerning "those [Christians] who "sleep" and the the "dead" Christians who will "rise again."

First, ask yourself, how did Paul use these terms elsewhere in his writings? And then ask, how were such terms used elsewhere in the New Testament?

The New Testament writings contain a number of statements concerning topics such as... sleep, death, awakening, resurrection and rebirth. For example, in Peter's writings we find a statement which says that: "the gospel was preached also to them are dead, that they might... live according to God in the spirit." (PNEUMATI) -1 Peter 4:6 (KJV) If we were to interpret this statement literally, then we would have to conclude that Peter was telling us that the Gospel was preached to "dead" people in an attempt to convince them to rise from their deadness.

The same is true of Paul's writings. For example, Paul told the Christians of Rome to start acting like they are alive. He wrote: "yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead." -Romans 6:13 (KJV) Later on, in this same book, Paul again tells these Christians: "it is now the hour for you to be aroused from sleep."-Romans 13:11 (IB)

While Peter and Paul both advised their listeners to wake up and to rise from the "dead" ... Jesus told people that they had to get "born." Jesus said: "I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God... That which is born of flesh is flesh (SARX), and that which is born of Spirit is spirit (PNEUMA). Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." -John 3:3-7 (KJV)

Peter and Paul clearly were not writing to people who had ever been physically dead, while Jesus was speaking to people who had obviously already been physically born. In another place, we can see where Jesus again used the analogy of "death" to refer to someone whom he had characterized as spiritually dead, spiritually misdirected or spiritually unaware. When Jesus told the man to "Let the dead bury their dead" (Luke 9:60-KJV) he certainly was not speaking of people who were physically dead and who were going to a funeral. Instead, Jesus again clearly was speaking symbolically. He was using a parable to describe people who had become spiritually misdirected.

In his letters, Paul also repeatedly employs Jesus' symbolic parable of death. For example, in Ephesians Paul was speaking to Christians who were obviously very much physically alive, and yet, he advised: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead."-Ephesians 5:14 (NIV) In what way were the Roman Christians asleep and dead? Certainly not literally.

If Paul was speaking in these other passages of something other than physical sleep or a fleshly death, then wouldn't it be consistent to also apply the same principle of spiritual interpretation to 1 Thessalonians 4?

Consider, back in 1 Thessalonians 4, when we take a closer look at the entire context of Paul's rapture passage, we can clearly see that Paul intended these passages to be interpreted spiritually. Here Paul concludes his statement about "those who sleep" by advising: " then, we should not sleep as the rest also do."-1 Thessalonians 5:6 (IB)

If Paul actually did intended for his statement about "those who sleep" to be interpreted literally... then to be consistent, wouldn't we also have to conclude that his other statement just a couple of verses later "so then, we should not sleep as the rest also do" should also be interpreted literally? Was Paul trying to tell us that he doesn't want Christians to ever physically sleep again? Of course not. This is not physically possible. Even Jesus had to sleep. (see: Matthew 8:24) So, if Paul wasn't speaking here of literal, physical sleep, then what was he actually saying?

Apparently the Christians back in those days were not "rightly dividing" Paul's teachings so Paul was telling them to wake up spiritually, to open their eyes to spiritual realities and to begin to "spiritually discern" his writings.

Paul continues by providing us with some even more specific examples of what he meant when he spoke of "sleep" and "death" . Two thousand years ago, the Jewish people had failed to recognize the fulfillment of their prophecies. By not recognizing the return of Elijah from heaven as John the Baptist and similarly by rejecting Jesus as their Messiah they demonstrated that they had lost the true spirit of their teachings. This is what Paul meant when he called these people "blind", "asleep" and "dead" .

In the Book of Romans Paul explained that some of these "dead" people were raised from their spiritual deadness when they awoke to the fact that the promises contained in their scriptures had indeed been fulfilled and that Jesus truly was the Messiah. Referring to these newly awakened people, Paul wrote: "A few have [recognized Jesus as the Messiah]... but the eyes of the others have been blinded. This is what our Scriptures refer to when they say that God has put them to sleep, shutting their eyes and ears so that they do not understand what we are talking about when we tell them of Christ... it is even more wonderful when the Jews come to Christ. It will be like dead people coming back to life." -Romans 11:7 (Living Bible- Catholic Edition)

Can you see what Paul was saying here? The Jewish people of Jesus' day obviously were very much physically alive. However, according to Paul, as a result of their misunderstanding and denial they were characterized as being dead... not physically dead but spiritually dead or spiritually unaware. Then, Paul explains that when these people finally began to understand the inner spiritual message hidden in their scriptures and when they woke up to the fact that Jesus truly was the Messiah... Paul says that this was like "dead people coming back to life" . This was something that was so wonderful that, metaphorically speaking, it was like coming out of the grave of denial and rejection and being carried up to the heaven of belief and certitude.

This is also what Peter meant when he wrote that: "the gospel was preached also to them are dead, that they might... live according to God in the spirit (PNEUMATI) ." -1 Peter 4:6 (KJV)

This is what Peter and Paul both meant when they wrote of those who are "asleep" and those who will "rise again".

Paul continues his statement in 1 Thessalonians by next promising that the newly awakened Christians and those Christians who had risen from the dead will next "be caught up (HARPAZO) together... to a meeting with the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord."

The literal interpretation of this passage has inspired the birth of the modern Christian dogma of "the rapture". Most people have seen the bumper stickers which read: "Warning: in case of rapture this car will be vacant." There actually are people who literally believe that they will physically disappear from their cars and that there will be accidents because these cars will no longer have drivers behind the steering wheel.

What would Paul have thought about this literal interpretation? What did Paul actually mean when he spoke of being "caught up... to a meeting with the Lord in the air" ? Ask yourself, what are the examples of history? How were people raptured into heaven in the past? The answer, once again, can be found in the writings of Paul and the other Apostles.

The original Greek word which has been translated here as "caught up" is HARPAZO. The word "rapture" actually is a human invention and appears nowhere in the Bible. Paul only uses this word twice in all of his writings. . . in 1 Thessalonians and in 2 Corinthians.

In Second Corinthians, Paul reveals that he too was raptured or "caught up (HARPAZO ) as far as the third heaven... and heard words so secret that human lips may not repeat them." -2 Corinthians 12:1 5 (NEB)

Notice here, that Paul was telling us that he, himself, was "caught up" into heaven two thousand years ago. Was Paul telling us here that he physically ascended into heaven while he was still alive? If we can believe what Paul told us back in 1 Corinthians 15, we should already know that that "flesh and blood" can't go to heaven. So, if Paul's writings are consistent... the answer is NO! Paul was not physically raptured or "caught up" into heaven two thousand years ago. So, ask yourself again... what was Paul trying to teach us here?

As you probably already know, before he became a Christian, there actually was a time when Paul was an enemy both of Jesus and of Christianity. Paul had rejected Jesus' claim to be the Messiah and Paul was actively working to destroy the infant Christian Church.

When Paul woke up to the fact that Jesus truly was from God and that Jesus truly was the Christ, Paul describes this spiritual awakening as being "caught up (HARPAZO) as far as the third heaven..." -2 Corinthians 12:1-5 (NEB) Once again, Paul's being raptured or his being "caught up" into heaven while he was still physically alive was a spiritual and not a literal, fleshly reality. Paul's rapture symbolized his awakening to the inner spiritual realities which are concealed in the Jewish scriptures.

In the Apostle John's writings we can see that he too claimed to have ascended into heaven while he was still alive. John wrote: "After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice... said, 'Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.' At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven".-Revelation 4:1 (NIV)

When John was "caught up" into heaven he explains that this happened "in the Spirit" . And again, later in the same book, John explains that he saw these things "in my vision (OPASEI)" .-Revelation 9:17 (NIV) Once again, when John was "caught up" or when he was raptured... this clearly was not in the flesh.

Are there any other examples in the Bible of people being raptured into heaven? In the Book of Hebrews we are told that the Old Testament Prophet Enoch was also "translated" into heaven. Paul (if he indeed was the author of the Book of Hebrews) explained that Enoch's "translation"... or his being "carried over" into heaven, again was not physical. He wrote: "By faith Enoch was translated (METETETHE= carried over) so as to not see death, and was not found, because God translated him. For before his translation he had obtained witness to have been pleasing. But without faith it is impossible to please God." -Hebrews 11:5-6 (KJV) Enoch's translation into heaven was "by faith" ... it was a faith experience and had nothing to do with the literal flesh.

Later on, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul clearly explains what he meant by being "translated" into heaven or being "caught up" into the "kingdom of God". Paul wrote: "we do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding... giving thanks to the Father... who delivered us out of the power of darkness and translated (METESTESEN= carried away) us into the kingdom of the Son... who is the image of the invisible God." -Colossians 1:9-14 (IB) Notice here that Paul was telling us that when we combine "knowledge of his will" with "spiritual understanding" , only then is it possible for us to be "translated" out of the "darkness" of ignorance and misinterpretation into the light of the true "faith" . This is a spiritual and not a physical reality.

This is Paul's spiritual interpretation of how people can be "caught up" or "translated" into the "invisible" spiritual realm of God... This is Paul's interpretation of "the rapture".

What does this actually mean to us today? In the past, we know that Jesus and his Apostles characterized those people who were caught unprepared and misdirected as being spiritually "dead", "blind" or "asleep". Furthermore, Jesus characterized the so-called Jewish religious experts of his day as "blind leaders of the blind" . Jesus explained that he called them "blind" because they "teach for doctrines the commandments of men". In other words the rabbis had misinterpreted what the Jewish scriptures were saying and yet they were passing off their viewpoint as the authoritative "doctrines" of God. In simpler words, they had become false teachers and they were misleading others. Jesus concludes this statement by warning that "if the blind lead the blind both shall fall into the ditch."-Matthew 15:14 Both will lose their way.

What lessons can people today learn from these mistakes of the past? Can we be certain that we're not repeating the same mistakes ourselves right now? What did Jesus and his Apostles tell us? Are there any statements in the Bible which promise that Christianity won't also be corrupted by the "leaven" of false interpretations? What did Jesus tell us?

Jesus knew what the future was going to bring and, sadly enough, he knew that his followers too would be deceived by "false prophets" . 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)." -Matthew 24:24 (NIV )

A similar warning was also given by 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 (NEB)

The word that is translated here as "way" comes from the original Greek word HODOS. This word means "road" or "highway". Remember, in one of his more famous statements, Jesus declared: "I am the way (HODOS) ... no one comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14:6 -RSV) In other words Jesus was saying that he is the true road or highway that leads to the Father.

Consider next, what Peter was saying here. He first reminds us that "Israel had false prophets" and then he predicts that Christianity will likewise have false teachers who "will gain many adherents" . Peter further warns that, like the "blind leaders of the blind" in the past, "false teachers" will likewise "import disastrous heresies" into Christianity. And he concludes by sadly predicting that because of these "disastrous heresies" the "true way" or true HODOS of Jesus will actually be "abandoned" .

Is this what Paul was actually trying to warn us about in 1 Thessalonians 4 when he spoke of Christians who will be found "dead" or "asleep" at the time when "the Lord" returns? In Paul's second letter that he wrote to these same Christians in Thessalonica, Greece... in 2 Thessalonians, Paul further warns: "that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first... and for this cause God shall send them a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie..." -2 Thessalonians 2: 3

What did Paul mean by this? Was he truly warning that Christians in the last days, like the Jews of two thousand years ago, will likewise have become "deluded" and "deceived" by false teachers? That Christians too will "fall away" from the truth and instead will be seduced into following the "lie" ? Could this actually be possible? Ask yourself, did Jesus, Peter and Paul know what they were talking about?

Back in 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul states that when Christ again comes down from heaven he will come like a thief in the night. In the 24th chapter of Matthew, Jesus explains what this term means. Here, Jesus tells a parable of a servant who was left to guard his master's house when the master went away. The servant falls asleep and a thief breaks into the house. The thief was in the house and had gone before anyone had even realized that he had been there.

What does this parable mean? How does it relate to the return of Christ? Ask yourself, how was this parable fulfilled in the past? Were John the Baptist or Jesus recognized by the people of their day? Did they too come like a "thief in the night" ? What can we learn from this lesson of history?

Jesus continues in Matthew 24 by telling another parable... the parable of the "ten virgins." In this story, ten future brides were waiting at night for the coming of the "bridegroom" . Half were foolish because they didn't bring enough oil to light their way. Half were wise because they had come prepared. Jesus tells us that as they waited, they all fell asleep. Later, when the "bridegroom" finally did come, only those who had come prepared were admitted into the wedding, while those who were not prepared with the oil of insight were sent away. By their actions they had deprived themselves from the marriage to the "bridegroom" . Once again, isn't this exactly what had happened two thousand years ago with John the Baptist and Jesus? The Jewish people who, because they weren't properly prepared, had deprived themselves of the opportunity of recognizing Jesus the Messiah. What does this mean to us today. Are people today, like the Jews of the past, also in danger of failing to recognizing the Messiah when he comes? If religious history is any indication, this definitely IS a possibility. Not one of God's prophets in the past has been appropriately recognized by the very people that the came to save. What does it take for us to have the "oil" of spiritual insight? How can we avoid missing the "bridegroom" this time?

We could start by learning the lessons of the past. In the past the Jewish religious leaders were waiting to see the Old Testament prophet Elijah descend from heaven to herald the appearance of the Messiah... the Christ. When Jesus claimed to be the Christ they immediately concluded that this could not have been possible because obviously, no one had yet seen Elijah return from heaven. Jesus however explained that the actual fulfillment of this return of Elijah prophecy was much different that what they had been led to expect. The return of Elijah was John the Baptist... not in the flesh, but in the spirit. Jesus also explained that he himself had come down from heaven two thousand years ago... again, not in the flesh, but in the spirit. These incorrect interpretations of the rabbis carried a high price. They cost John the Baptist his head and they got Jesus nailed to a cross. How could this possibly affect us today?

Today we see Christians making the exact same mistakes of interpretation that the Jewish people made two thousand years ago. Back then, the Jews were expecting to literally, visibly see the return of Elijah from heaven. Today, Christians are expecting to see Jesus literally, physically, visibly descend from heaven in the flesh. Why? Have the ominous predictions that "false prophets" will appear within Christianity come true? Has the "true way" again been "abandoned" ? Did Jesus, Peter and Paul know what they were talking about? Most Christians either hope that somehow this hasn't really happened or they hope that Jesus and Peter couldn't possibly have been talking about them. How realistic is this? What do you think?

The prophecies foretelling the return of the Christ have already been fulfilled. So, where is he? Is it time to wake up again? The prophecies weren't wrong. The Promised One actually did appear in Israel about a hundred a fifty years ago. His name is Baha'u'llah. He had a fore-runner who assumed the title of the Bab... the Gate.

Baha'u'llah came as a "thief in the night" "with a new name" just as predicted by Jesus. He fulfills more prophecies than all the prophets of the past combined. Two thousand years ago those people rejected Jesus without even considering the possibility that he might actually have been the Messiah. Can you afford to do the same today? If the Baha'i story is true it just may be the most important event in the last two thousand years. Can you afford not to know more? Your spiritual well-being may very well depend upon it.

If you would like to know more about the dramatic fulfillment of the prophecies... please continue to the other articles found in this "prophecy fulfilled" homepage.

"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. The opinions expressed in this article constitute his own personal understanding and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Baha'i Faith or its teachings.