Is the Rapture a Rescue from the Great Tribulation?

Is the Rapture a Rescue from the Great Tribulation?

A Book Review by S. Douglas Woodward of Jacob Prasch’s
Harpazo: The Intra-Seal Rapture of the Church

Upsetting the Applecart

Talk about controversy: mention the term ‘rapture’ to a room full of biblically oriented Christians and within a few minutes, the room is bound to erupt in debate. Everyone has an opinion. And usually those opinions are strong and hot. The rapture discussion inflames sentiments that separate the sheep and the goats quickly! But which are goats and which are sheep is a matter of which group you choose to be a part. Those with whom you disagree suddenly become unreasoning profligates of the first order!

Book Cover of Jacob Prasch's Harpazo
Book Cover of Jacob Prasch’s Harpazo

A new book just recently released by author/lecturer Jacob Prasch is sure to throw some more fuel on the fire.   Aptly entitled (but awkwardly subtitled) Harpazo: The Intra-Seal Rapture of the Church, Prasch’s work may be the best rapture exposition (certainly the most thorough) since the days of John F. Walvoord (former President of Dallas Theological Seminary—DTS for short) and J. Dwight Pentecost (1915-2014, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Exposition at DTS, 1910-2002). In the 1970s, Walvoord wrote the popular book, The Rapture Question and Pentecost Things to Come. Both books were landmarks in the dispensational presentation of the apocalypse. With due deference to Tim LaHaye and Hal Lindsey, all that comes after Walvoord and LaHaye is, as they say, epilogue.

Well, maybe that was true until we come to Jacob Prasch’s work. His new book is something special and from my vantage point worthy of careful consideration.

The Word Harpazo

Harpazo is the Greek word Paul uses to describe the event popularly known as the rapture, which comes from the Latin word that Jerome (c. 327-420 AD) chose in translating his Vulgate version of the New Testament, rapturae, which means ‘to snatch up’ or ‘seize with force’—that is, ‘quickly rescue or pull someone from the destruction’ as it were.   The verse in question is 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “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.” (I think of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who was rescued by his mother Susannah whereupon she called son John “her brand snatched from the fire.”) I have pointed out elsewhere (see my book, Blood Moon: Biblical Signs of the Coming Apocalypse) that the validity of the notion of rapture is undeniable in Scripture. It is virtually synonymous with resurrection. Rapture and resurrection happen at the same time, well that is, if the time length of the twinkling of an eye stands impossible to detect.

Recall the key verses from 1 Corinthians 15:51-52:

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. 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.

The phrase ‘be changed’ comes the Greek word, allasso, meaning ‘to be transformed.’ The teaching is straightforward: not all of us will sleep—some will go from one form of living to another without passing through death. As Paul goes on to teach, the corruptible shall put on the incorruptible and the mortal shall put on the immortal. Then death will have been swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:53-54). Therefore, denying the rapture constitutes denial of the resurrection. As The Apostle’s Creed asserts: Jesus shall come to judge (both) the quick and the dead.

Rapture and Rsurrection -- Concurrent Events?
Rapture and Rsurrection — Concurrent Events?

Prasch discusses this connection between the doctrines of the rapture and resurrection while discussing the two ‘rescues’ in the book of Daniel (first, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace; second, Daniel from the Lion’s Den). He offers these vital words:

It is altogether necessary for us to understand that as the Harpazo and Resurrection are one event, the Resurrection from the dead is as much a rescue as the Harpazo is. Jonah also foreshadows Christ, being three days and three nights in the gut of the great fish. Yet the likelihood is that Jonah did die yet was rescued from the power of death. We cannot properly understand the full meaning of the Harpazo unless we understand the full meaning of its counterpart, the Resurrection; they are one event and in both we come out alive with no distinction or differentiation. This harkens back to the Mount of Transfiguration; although Moses died, his transfigured state was indistinguishable from that of Elijah who was raptured. The tomb represented by the lion’s den could not contain Daniel because the tomb could not contain Christ. Likewise, and for the same reason, the great fish could not contain Jonah. [1]

No doubt Prasch chose to use the word harpazo instead of the Anglicized version of the Latin term since the notion of the rapture is often criticized just because the word rapture does not appear in the Greek text.   Of course, that is the weakest of weak arguments against the rapture.[2]  Harpazo comprises the very same concept in the original Greek New Testament; indeed, Prasch points out that in the Old Testament Hebrew, the same concept of a last minute escape is encapsulated in a single Hebrew word as well—natzel. Once again, Prasch’s insight into the parallels (indeed the agreement) of the term natzel with harpazo is stunning.   He conveys this connection in a later passage relating once again to the rescues depicted in the Book of Daniel. Quoting Prasch:

It is clear, however, that in both of the rescues in Daniel they were preceded by an already established trend seen in law, politics, religion and worship and in society that seemed to climax at first with their destruction, but rather ended with their rescue. The term used in Daniel 3 is “shazah”, a Chaldee term having a close Hebrew equivalent in the tem “shafel”, meaning “to deliver physically”. Our rescue shall not be merely spiritual, but shall be literal and physical be it by Harpazo or by Resurrection.

In Daniel’s experience in the lion’s den, the Aramaic term “netzel” is used for rescue three times. This Aramaic term has its Hebrew equivalent in the term “natzel”. The pronunciation is almost identical and they mean the precise, same thing. Remarkably, “natzel” means “to rescue by snatching away” or “to be snatched out in order to be saved or delivered”, matching the definition of the Greek term “harpazo.” The term is also used in the rescue of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3: 29. There is no other God who is able to “natzel”—that is, “rescue by snatching away.” [3]

Therefore, the choice of the Greek word harpazo sets up Prasch’s entire argument since this notion of a ‘last-minute rescue’ of many of the Bible’s most noteworthy subjects runs throughout the scripture.  (In fact, the first third of the Harpazo deals with the typology of rescue and due to limited space in this review will be our primary focus.)

Sizing Up Those Who Dispute His View

Prasch follows in the footsteps of dispensationalists—but not uncritically. For instance, Prasch minces no words in labeling John N. Darby (1800-1882), founder of the Plymouth Brethren and the undisputed father of Dispensationalism, a crazy cult leader.   He cites Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) and George Müller (1805-1898)— contemporaries of Darby (and famous pillars of the 19th century church), who determined that despite his many contributions, Darby went off the deep end on many core doctrines. No space here to consider the validity of that condemnation, but it is illustrative that Prasch comes across, in a word, brash. Indeed, Prasch is brash; more so in his speaking but in his writing too. And yet, he is also brilliant in his treatment of scripture and the breadth of his knowledge.  Thus, we shouldn’t let his passion for his position prohibit our appreciation of his exegesis.

Jacob Prasch Lecturing on the Harpazo (Rapture)
Jacob Prasch Lecturing on the Harpazo (Rapture)

Prasch, however, saves his best ammunition not for dispensationalists but for those who deny the importance of eschatology. Many are cited for failure to conform to the traditional evangelical understanding of Bible prophecy. Rick Warren leads the list of many so-called evangelicals Prasch condemns, having denied that prophetic study comprises a worthy endeavor for Christians. For my money, Prasch is most certainly correct in this condemnation. Likewise, I wholeheartedly agree with Prasch on his negative assessment of Dominionism, the Emergent Church, and the unscriptural teachings of ‘replacement theology’ and ‘preterism.’ Dominionism and the Emergent Church totally miss the essence of Jesus’ ‘Kingdom’ message. To clarify: the coming of the Kingdom of God means that when Jesus comes, he will set things aright. And so personal and social implications abound. To quote Sam Cook from his 1963 song by the same title: “A change is gonna come,” it’s high time to pick sides if you want to be a part of that kingdom King Jesus will inaugurate.

My only other criticism on this topic is that it might have been better for the author to compile his offenders’ list in one place rather than repeatedly pointing out their offenses throughout his narrative. The diatribes against his theological opponents make his presentation seem excessively harsh. Again, I don’t disagree with Prasch’s appraisal—I only question his tactic for dispensing such disapproval.

Having now mentioned these limited shortcomings, its time to shift my review to what there is to like about the book. And there is a lot to like. Unfortunately, we only have time here to discuss the typology of rescue and its bolstering the view of a harpazo or rapture as a ‘snatch and grab’ mission—a seizure of those who believe in the Lord and look for His coming just prior to the outpouring of the wrath of God as described from the sixth seal of revelation onwards, to the seven vials of wrath and the seven trumpets.

Typology Reinforces but Does Not Define Doctrine

Prasch offers very a compelling argument that the stories of both Old and New Testaments typifies the harpazo as having been prefigured for us in many instances (prefigured means “to show or represent beforehand”—Dictionary.com). These Bible stories constitute a thorough typology. What pray tell is that? Merriam Webster defines a typology with these words: “a doctrine of theological types; especially:  one holding that things in Christian belief are prefigured or symbolized by things in the Old Testament.” In our case, Prasch puts forth a typology involving accounts of historical events in both Old and New Testament that reinforce a doctrine defined elsewhere in the Scripture through propositional statements.

However, Prasch proceeds carefully. He wants to make sure that the typology buttresses biblically articulated doctrine and does not create or define that doctrine. He articulates this concept at the summary of part one:

As always, it remains fundamental to our hermeneutic and the eschatology we derive from it that any doctrinal conclusion must begin, in the final analysis, as inductive and exegetical, not deductive and eisegetical. It is imperative we avoid the deviation from this principle that has framed other eschatologies and opinions about the timing and sequence of the Harpazo. We also enjoin a summary and reiterate the twin caveats concerning the issue of typology. It is not simply the more obvious shortfall in seeking a 100% correspondence between type and antitype (as no type is absolutely identical to what it foreshadows, but it is more like naturally born identical twins who are still not 100% identical, among other things having different fingerprints and iris signatures). We venture beyond this, additionally stating that type can never be the basis for defining doctrine because of the potential of subjective meaning being ascribed instead of objective meaning being derived. [4]

A perfect example of the typology to which Prasch calls our attention is found in the Genesis account of Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Jacob. Prasch provides an elegant treatment of this type using these words:

  • Joseph went from a place of condemnation to exultation in a single day and took a Gentile bride, as did Jesus, the son of Joseph, taking the Gentile Church as His Bride.
  • Joseph was condemned with two criminals and, as he prophetically predicted, one would live and one would die, as was the case of Jesus on the cross.
  • Joseph was betrayed by his brother Yehuda—that is, Judas— for silver as was Jesus, the son of Joseph.
  • Joseph’s cloak was brought to prove he was not in the pit as Jesus’ shroud was brought to prove He was not in the tomb.
  • Joseph was accepted by Gentiles after being rejected by his own people as was Jesus, the son of Joseph.
  • And Joseph’s Hebrew brothers did not recognize him at the first coming, but at the second and wept bitterly, as shall be the case with Christ. (Zech. 12: 10)[5]

As many conservative scholars have proffered, Joseph was a type of Christ. And as Prasch goes on to expound, his marvelous story offers a typology for the rapture.

Prasch cites another wonderful example regarding Rahab the Harlot. Rahab lived in the city of Jericho within the land of Canaan. She is highly regarded because she aided the two Israelites who came ahead of Joshua and the Hebrews to spy out the land. Prasch summarizes the typology in this account as follows:

  • When Jericho was approached, there had to be total silence; (Josh. 6: 10) and so, too, in Revelation there is total silence. (Rev. 8: 1)
  • With the conquest of Jericho, the Hebrews were to march around seven days. On the seventh day, however, there was a subset of marching around seven times. (Josh. 6: 12-15) Likewise, in Revelation there are seven seals, but from the seventh seven is a subset of seven trumpets. (Rev. 8: 1-2)
  • In Joshua, two spies then prepared the way for the coming invasion; (Josh. 2) so in Revelation we see the Two Witnesses corresponding to them in figure. (Rev. 11: 1-13)
  • When the last trumpet is blown in Joshua, the city is given to the people of the Lord; (Josh. 6: 16-21) likewise in Revelation, when the final blast is heard, we read, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever”. (Rev. 11: 15)[6]

Other Old Testament types regarding rescue from times of great tribulation include Noah and his family, Abraham, and Abraham’s nephew Lot. Elijah’s being snatched up to heaven is another. Mentioned earlier, the rescues in the Book of Daniel also constitute types. In the New Testament, we read about the resurrection of Jesus, the rescue of Peter from prison, and the survival of Paul in the shipwreck (in the book of Acts) all of which contribute to the typology of the rapture. Prasch deals with each carefully, drawing out the ways in which each reinforces the notion that the rapture is indeed a rescue by God of his servants ‘at the last minute’ when no other possible source of salvation seems possible. Thus, the biblical typology demonstrates that the rapture is a rescue—it is a consistent pattern of the Lord to ‘snatch’ his servants out of impossible circumstances and save them when no other possible help can be found.

However, just as it is a mistake to base doctrine on these types since their interpretation remains ambiguous (that is, how they prefigure the harpazo), it is also a mistake to ignore them completely and to look past their similarities and the implications regarding the Harpazo. Prasch asserts this methodology using these words:

It is not reasonable to negate the divinely inspired inclusion of so many rescue narratives in Scripture, particularly when Peter in his Epistles specifically indicates to us that such are included in the canon of Scripture as examples to us, and he states this with eschatological context and reference. Neither is it reasonable to observe so many uses of the term “ harpazo” and individual harpazo experiences in both Testaments, but especially in the New Testament without regarding that the Lord has placed them there for good reason. [7]

Conclusion: No Free Lunch

But Prasch is adamant that the rapture requires readiness. If so-called Christians could care less about the rapture, then the rapture may not be for them! We read:

There was a process of preparation for the flight that needed to take place in a harried manner to prepare for the rescue. The same will be true with the Harpazo of the Church. The misguided impression that faithful believers simply need to passively anticipate their ‘snatching away’ without taking appropriate preparatory action must be dismissed as an erroneous and potentially religious fantasy. Perhaps above all else, this constitutes the practical purpose of this book. In order to get out of here, the faithful Church must prepare and be prepared to get out ahead of time.[8] (Emphasis added)

In other words, the church cannot blithely await its salvation. To do so, negates the call of Jesus to costly discipleship and to evangelize the world that we might make as many as possible ready for His return. The time of tribulation preceding the revealing of the ‘abomination of desolation’ (by the action of Antichrist declaring himself God) predicted to happen by the prophet Daniel, John the Revelator, Paul in his epistles, and by Jesus Himself in Matthew 24 (and paralleled in the other synoptic gospels), is intended to purify the church and make the Jews jealous regarding the salvation of the Lord for His believing people. Prasch admonishes his readers, “A final major recurrence in the rescue narratives prefiguring the Harpazo is that the people of God who are rescued are not immune from the pangs of tribulation preceding it. Both the ramifications of the early phase of divine judgment and the opposition the people of God received from the unbelieving afflict them, often severely.” [9]

Therefore, the exact timing of the Great Tribulation in relationship to the timing of Day of the Lord is a matter for another discussion at another time. Clearly Prasch believes that there is a gap between the Harpazo that transpires between the sixth and seventh seals (as his subtitle asserts plainly). That is to say, some time elapses between (1) the Harpazo (in which we join with one another and with Christ ‘in the clouds,’ 1 Thessalonians 4:17 [10]) and (2) the ultimate return of Jesus Christ at the conclusion of the Great Tribulation, aka the so-called Battle of Armageddon. This means that the ‘hidden’ harpazo of 1 Thessalonians, and the appearance of Christ at the second coming in which “every eye shall see Him” (Revelation 1:7), are two distinct events. Thus, this strongly implies that the Church will experience some measure of tribulation but of a sort that is distinctive and occurs prior to the wrath of God which will be poured out during (what is generally labeled) The Great Tribulation (perhaps commencing upon the abomination of desolation at the midway point of Daniel’s 70th Week). This wrath constitutes judgment against unbelievers who have accepted the mark of the Beast and therefore, will not be directed at Christians whatsoever since they have not accepted the mark. This is what most scholars (and Prasch) assert Paul means when he says, “God hath not appointed us to wrath but to the obtainment of salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

Likewise and in conclusion, Prasch assures us that we who are called to be His disciples will withstand the tribulation associated with the end of days. Secondly, we should expect some alleviation of the difficulty during this unique season of trial. And finally,

There is the divine assurance that (Christians) shall be rescued before the full thrust of divine judgment is outpoured [again please note the ambiguity here] and their suffering, no matter how traumatic, will not only wax shallow in comparison to the blessing and reward which awaits them, but will wax shallow in contrast to the plight of those who rejected their message of repentance and who persecuted them. We may simply conclude that it will be very difficult, but as we again see in Daniel 11: 33-35, this difficulty will have a purifying effect making the Bride spotless and they will be spared from the worst of it which is (still) to come. What is to come on those who did not believe will be far worse than anything the people of God have had to endure. [11]

Notwithstanding the need for clarity regarding the nature of tribulation that Christians experience during these last days (its source and timing vis-à-vis The Day of the Lord and The Great Tribulation), Jacob Prasch has contributed substantially to the argument that the rapture (the Harpazo) is a distinctive event from the visible Second Coming of Christ, that it is indeed scriptural to speak of it as a ‘rescue mission,’ that the language and typology emphasize the ‘saved at the last minute’ nature of the rescue—being snatched from destruction at the very moment when all hope seems lost—and that the Harpazo comprises a sacred pattern woven throughout the Bible (it is not a cock-eyed, nutty interpretation drawn from only one or two passages of Scripture as its critics often allege).   Those of us who believe in either the Pre-Tribulation view of the rapture or the Pre-Wrath view, should both be encouraged by the biblical support Prasch adduces strengthening their respective points of view.

After considering Harpazo, to this reviewer the burden of proof shifts away from Pre-Trib advocates who argue that the events of Harpazo and Second Coming are distinct, to Post-Trib supporters who argue that the rapture does NOT comprise a separate event from the appearing of Christ. In other words, Christians who are preparing for the coming of the Bridegroom should truly consider the rapture ‘the blessed hope’ (as described in Titus 2:13), wherein we anticipate avoiding the horrific judgments of the trumpets and the vials of wrath disclosed in Revelation, and instead look eagerly for the Parousia (our coming together in the clouds of heaven with one another and with Christ, 1 Thessalonians 4:17) rather than looking ahead with apprehension to probable torture and martyrdom, hoping that we can endure until the final, physical appearing of Jesus at Armageddon.

Yes, tribulation does lie ahead. But the horrors of God’s wrath are not the destiny of Christians but those who reject the message of Christ and refuse to accept the provision God offers by accepting Jesus Christ into our hearts and being cleansed from the guilt of sin by His redeeming blood.

* * * * * * *

S. Douglas Woodward is an author of nine books, including the most recent,
Uncommon Sense: A Prophetic Manifesto to the Church in Babylon. Woodward speaks at conferences, frequently appears on radio and television, and may be contacted through his email: doug@faith-happens.com. His website is www.faith-happens.com. His books are available in print at Amazon.com and digital formats at iBooks, Nook, LuLu and Kindle.

 

[1] Prasch, James Jacob (2014-10-10). Harpazo: The Intra-Seal Rapture of the Church (Kindle Locations 2825-2831). Moriel Ministries. Kindle Edition.

[2] The real criticism of the rapture isn’t the actual concept of the rapture itself, but the timing of the rapture and the near simultaneous resurrection of believers. Critics get sloppy and take shots at the rapture when they are usually referencing the pre-tribulational belief that the rapture happens before the final seven years, known as Daniel’s 70th week. Of course, the timing of the rapture in relation to the tribulation or more precisely, The Great Tribulation, is what spawns the various positions of Pre-Trib, Mid-Trib, Post-Trib, and the more popular present day teaching, Pre-Wrath, which asserts that the rapture happens sometime during the final seven years but certainly before the Day of the Lord (when God’s wrath comes pouring out on an unbelieving world then without the restraining effect of all believers who have been ‘harpazoed’ or ‘raptured’ from the earth).

[3] Prasch, Ibid., Kindle Locations 2850-2858.

[4] Prasch, Ibid., Kindle Locations 3580-3587.

[5] Prasch, Ibid., Kindle Locations 2076-2089.

[6] Prasch, Ibid., Kindle Locations 2175-2186.

[7] Prasch, Ibid., Kindle Locations 3652-3656.

[8] Prasch, Ibid., Kindle Locations 3145-3150.

[9] Prasch, Ibid., Kindle Locations 3675-3677.  The delineation of what Prasch means by ‘early phase of divine judgment’ suggest either that the tribulation before The Day of the Lord are in part the Lord’s wrath that is impacting His saints, or, that the wrath of Satan, cast down to earth is in some sense being used by the Lord as a means of judgment against the world including believers prior to being ‘harpazoed.’ This statement is therefore in need of clarification.

[10]“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.”

[11] Prasch, Ibid., Kindle Locations 3678-3685.

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