A Catholic View of the Rapture
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
May 4, 2005
In the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians, Sacred Scripture tells us about the rapture:
For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess 4:15-17, RSV)
The phrase “shall be caught up together,” in the Latin is “simul rapiemur.” The word 'rapture' comes from the Latin of this passage. The verb 'rapio' refers to carrying something away quickly. Since this passage is a part of Sacred Scripture, the idea of a rapture cannot be dismissed as being non-existent. However, the exact meaning of this passage and of “shall be caught up together ... to meet the Lord in the air” must be carefully considered.
There is a widespread idea among Protestants that the rapture is an event whereby God takes a select group of faithful Christians out of the world before the tribulation. This idea of the rapture is incorrect and contradicts Sacred Scripture.
Christ will return in the year A.D. 2437, at the end of the Antichrist's reign of nearly seven years, which is the last week of years of Daniel's seventy weeks of years. This first Return of Christ soon ushers in a time of deep peace and profound holiness over all the earth, a time called the Millennium of Peace and Holiness. Concerning this time period, the Book of Revelation says:
Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the Word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years. (Rev 20:4-6, RSV).
This passage refers to the dead who were killed during the reign of the Antichrist because of their faithfulness to Jesus and to Sacred Scripture (which will be outlawed at that time). But what about those who are still alive, who were persecuted but not killed? Such as these will receive the same benefits as those who died and who are given the gift of the first resurrection. These receive the same benefits of the first resurrection, without dying and rising. They will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. This is the first rapture. It is only for a select few who remain faithful to God during the Antichrist's reign and who survive.
After the first Return of Christ, He punishes the wicked, establishes His kingdom on earth, and then He ascends to Heaven (Second Ascension). Next He sends out the Holy Spirit in the Second Pentecost, which occurs worldwide. After this, there will be a long time of over a thousand years of true peace and holiness over the whole world. Christianity will be the only religion on earth. Those risen from the dead in the first resurrection will not die. Only holy and devout persons will be leaders of the Church and the world.
This passage (Rev 20:4-6) also refers to the time of the general Resurrection, which occurs many centuries after Christ's first Return, and at the end of a long period of peace and holiness on earth. At the general Resurrection, the souls from Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell each rise from the dead and receive resurrected bodies. The faithful from Heaven and Purgatory receive glorious bodies like the glorified bodies of Jesus and Mary. Whereas the wicked from Hell receive horrible bodies befitting the horrific sins from which they never repented. And, at that time, those faithful who are still alive on earth do not die and immediately rise. Instead they receive the benefits of the Resurrection without ever having died. They will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. This is the second rapture. It is for all those very many faithful Christians who will still be alive at the time of the general Resurrection. They, along with the resurrected faithful, will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
In summary, the rapture is not an event whereby the faithful are removed from the world before a time of suffering. As Christ suffered, so also must the Church suffer. Truly, there will be a rapture, for Sacred Scripture describes it. But the true meaning of the rapture is a sharing in the Resurrection (the first resurrection and, later, the general Resurrection) for those faithful who are still alive on earth in each of those times.