The Certainty of Jesus' Return

The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus Christ will return to Earth in the near future. The expectation of the arrival of God's Messiah by the Jewish people, which was prophesied in the Old Testament, was realised in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The New Testament emphasises throughout, the return of Jesus to resurrect his followers and set up his rule on Earth. Jesus himself said he would return (John 14:3; Rev 22:20) and the writer to the Hebrews states the same (Heb 9:28).

Jesus came the first time in fulfilment of Genesis 3:15 as the 'offspring (descendant) of Eve' and will return to defeat Satan and all evil (John 12:31; Rev 12:12; 20:1ff, 10). 1 Timothy 2:15 refers to this promise by stating that women (and men) will be saved through a particular birth,  the birth of Jesus. God himself would live among the Jewish people (Genesis 9:27) and be of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10; Hebrews 7:14), from the family of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1ff; Matt 1:2f), and the line of King David (2 Samuel 7:12f; Matt 1:6f) and all peoples would be blessed through him (Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:16). The Old Testament is full of prophecies concerning Jesus. He would be a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15; John 6:14). A high priest (Psalm 110:4; Heb 5:10). He will be an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:1ff; Acts 8:32ff). He will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matt 1:18ff) and come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matt 2:5f). He will heal (Malachi 4:2). He will be king (Psalm 2:6ff; Isaiah 9:6f; Luke 1:31ff). He will arrive on the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7:13f; Matt 26:64).

As Hermon Hoyt points out in his book 'The End Times'. The coming of Christ follows a pattern: He is coming; he has arrived; he will return again.

So what does the New Testament teach about the return of Jesus? Firstly it will be real. Jesus himself will return (1 Thess 4:16). It will be literal (Acts 1:11). It will be physical (1 John 3:2; Rev 1:7). Unlike his first appearance in obscurity (Phil 2:5ff) he will return in glory (Matt 16:27; 25:31; 24:30) and power (2 Thess 1:7, 9) and accompanied by the innumerable angelic army (Matt 25:31; Rev 5:11). It is unstoppable and swift (1 Thess 5:2; Heb 10:37). It will be unexpected by the world, inescapable and destructive (1 Thess 5:3; Matt 24:50; Luke 21:35; Rev 22:7,12,20). The world will be in spiritual darkness and evil when he arrives (1 Thess 5:2ff; Rom 13:12) and most will be unbelievers, holding on to the myth of evolution (2 Peter 3:3-4).

The return of Jesus is future and the exact time is not revealed (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7). This is because God is patiently waiting for the gathering together of those who turn to Christ in faith (the Church) and is working out his purpose for the nation of Israel (2 Peter 3:9-10,15; James 5:7; Acts 15:14; 3:19ff). Nevertheless, we are told that there will be general signs showing the imminance of Jesus' return and that believers should watch (1 Thess 5:1; Mark 13:32ff; Luke 12:40; Phil 3:20; Heb 9:28; Titus 2:13; 1 Thess 5:6).

The return of Jesus is a process covering a long period of time which will culminate in two phases: The taking of believers from the Earth in a much misunderstood event called the rapture (1 Thess 4:13ff. See below). Then the visible return to Earth of Jesus with his church (believers) to set up his kingdom on Earth for a millennium (1 Thess 3:13; 2 Thess 1:7ff; Rev 1:7).

The rapture will be the beginning of a series of events over a seven year period. Believers will be judged by Christ in heaven (2 Cor 5:10) and God will pour out judgement upon the Earth (Revelation 4-19).

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In 1 Thessalonians 4:17 ἁρπάζω (harpazō) means snatch, seize....a rapture to God and glory (Ac 8:39; 2Co 12:2, 4; 1Th 4:17; Rev 12:5 [1]...‘to seize, to snatch away, to take away.’ [2]) ...(to snatch away, carry off ... to seize hastily, snatch up ...to seize, overpower... [3]) ...(to snatch away, to seize... Common Translations - seized; seize; snatch away; snatched away; seizing; carried off; snatch [4]).
The ancient Peshitta version uses the word ܚܛܦ (chataph) which again, means, to seize or take away. [5]
The Latin translation of  ἁρπάζω is raptus (rapere, rapui, rapio) = snatch; seize, carry off. [6, 7]. Raptus is the Latin root of the word rapture and so to claim that it is non-biblical is baseless. Both the word and the idea behind it are firmly grounded in the New Testament.

FF Bruce states: “After the dead in Christ have been raised, we … shall be snatched away together with them” (ἅμα σὺν αὐτοῖς ἁρπαγησόμεθα). The force of the preposition σύν is strengthened by the preceding ἅμα. From the Latin equivalent of ἁρπάζειν (rapere) this incident in the Parousia is sometimes called the “Rapture” (snatching away) of believers. The verb ἁρπάζειν implies violent action, sometimes indeed to the benefit of its object, as when the Roman soldiers snatched Paul from the rioters in the Jerusalem council-chamber (Acts 23:10) or when the male child in the apocalyptic vision was caught up to God to preserve him from the great red dragon (Rev 12:5). It is used in Acts 8:39 for the Spirit’s snatching Philip away after his interview with the Ethiopian chamberlain and (more germanely to the present passage) of Paul’s being caught up to the third heaven or paradise (2 Cor 12:2, 3)." [8]

NET tranlates it: "will be suddenly caught up (Or “snatched up.” The Greek verb ἁρπάζω implies that the action is quick or forceful, so the translation supplied the adverb “suddenly” to make this implicit notion clear."

It would be perfectly acceptable to translate it "...we who are alive and remain will be raptured..."

[1] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament)
[2] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 220.
[3] H.G. Liddell, A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon.
[4] The Lexham Analytical Lexicon to the Septuagint (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012).
[5] George A. Kiraz, Analytical Lexicon of the Syriac New Testament: Based on the SEDRA 3 Database of George Anton Kiraz
[6] William Whitaker, Dictionary of Latin Forms (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012).
[7] J. M. Harden, Dictionary of the Vulgate New Testament (London; New York: Society of Promoting Christian Knowledge; The Macmillan Co., 1921)
[8] Bruce, F. F. (2002). Vol. 45: Word Biblical Commentary : 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary (102). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.