The Rapture. One in the Field. 1795. Jan Luyken, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The bible talks about an event which in Greek is termed ἁρπάζω or Harpazo. This can be translated as “to seize”, to “carry off by force”, “to claim for one’s self” or “to snatch away”. The event is often referred to as “The Catching Away” and most commonly as “The Rapture”. The main bible verses relating to the Harpazo are 1 Thessalonians 4:16 - 17
[1Th 4:16-17 KJV] 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.
There is a lot of information available on this subject. My main purpose here is to show that the event of the Harpazo or The Rapture is something which has been taught since the beginning of church history.
Peter preaching at Pentecost. Benjamin West, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Traditional belief is that the church was started on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached and his hearers were “pricked in their heart”. 3,000 believed his words and were baptised and received the Holy Ghost. This is recorded in Acts chapter 2 and it was only the power of the Holy Ghost that enabled the church to start. Since that time the church has continued to grow throughout the world. The church age will eventually finish and God will no longer restrain lawlessness on the earth. The church will be removed and the man of lawlessness will be revealed.
[2Th 2:7-8 KJV] 7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth [will let], until he be taken out of the way. 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
The church which is a work of the Holy Ghost will be taken out of the way, the Wicked who is also known as the Antichrist will be revealed and will have a period of power on the earth although his eventual destruction has been decided.
Picture Credit. Wolfymoza, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
So, the church age started with Pentecost and will end with the rapture. The apostle Paul wrote about how the final catching away will happen
[1Co 15:52 KJV] 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.
For the first three centuries after Christ this remained the standard teaching. The early church fathers believed this. One of them, Irenaeus (ca. 125-202) was bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, which is now Lyons, France. Irenaeus was born in Smyrna in Asia Minor, where he studied under bishop Polycarp who in turn had been a disciple of the Apostle John. In his work, "Against Heresies" (Book5, Chapter 29), Irenaeus said the following:
And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, “There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be.” For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome they are crowned with incorruption. (Translation by Peter Schaff)
Cyprian. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
So Irenaeus is saying that the church will be caught up before the time of tribulation that God is bringing on the earth. Cyprian, a man of Berber descent, was the Bishop of Carthage (approx 250 AD) and a notable Christian writer. He taught a similar message to Irenaeus and wrote of the coming rapture in “The Treatises of Cyprian”.
And do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an earlier departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent? 26. We should consider, dearly beloved brethren—we should ever and anon reflect that we have renounced the world, and are in the meantime living here as guests and strangers. Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence, and sets us free from the snares of the world, and restores us to paradise and the(4) kingdom. From Cyprian’s Treatise VII. On The Mortality. Paragraph 25-26.
Ephrem the Syrian. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Cyprian was expecting the Antichrist to come but he expected the Lord to deliver the church out of his hands. Other teachers of the same era such as Victorinus taught the same thing. In the fourth century around 373 AD a work was produced entitled “On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World A Sermon by Pseudo-Ephraem”. The author was probably Ephrem the Syrian, a prominent theologian of the time but this is not definite. In any case the work shows that the teaching of the pre tribulation rapture was prevalent in this period. Below is an extract from the work:
“For all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins.” On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World A Sermon by Pseudo-Ephraem. Section 2.
There are other examples of the teaching of the catching away, or the rapture, from the early church. However as time went on this original teaching was gradually forgotten and not really rediscovered until the reformation. Some have said the “rapture” is something invented by John Nelson Darby, the 19th Century Plymouth Brethren teacher. However this is clearly not the case.