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RAPTURE

What do we Mean by “Rapture”?

The Final Judgement has become a staple of Christianity’s interaction with pop culture. Whether through cinematic depictions of apocalyptic natural disasters, or literary references to the Four Horsemen, many today, whether Christian or not, have developed some sort of idea about what the last days will look like.

Popular Conception of the Rapture

Chief among those ideas is some working understanding of a rapture of believers, where Christians around the world will be taken up into heaven prior to the unleashing of the cataclysmic events that most associate with the end times. Images of empty piles of clothes and cars whose drivers had suddenly disappeared have been a part of the popular understanding of the rapture for decades, and many do not question whether such an event plays out like this. But how did we get here? Where did these popular understandings of the rapture come from, and how do they compare to what the church historically taught regarding the rapture and Final Judgement?

Let’s begin by examining the origin of the term, “rapture,” itself. Like much of our modern vocabulary, the English word is derived from a Latin word used in the Latin translation of the Bible, called the Vulgate. The word in question is mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (NIV)

The Latin word, rapio, is used in verse 17 when Paul says “will be caught up”, and it is from this association with being “caught up” or “carried off” that we get the word, rapture. Long before this word was ubiquitous in modern culture, however, the early church fathers wrestled with the concept of the rapture (if they didn’t necessarily call it by that word) by examining the above-mentioned verse and other scriptures relating to the end times.

¹ From Commentary on the Gospel According to John, Book 20
² From Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, 46
³ From Homily on 1 Thessalonians, VIII
⁴ From City of God, 20.20

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