Respected theologians N.T. Wright and Ben Witherington take issue with the popular and relatively modern teaching regarding the Rapture, particularly the “Left Behind” series. I have attached links to some short videos of N.T. Wright and Ben Witherington discussing the doctrine of the Rapture.,, My own viewpoint is somewhat different from all of the above. The reader is encouraged to do his or her own investigation and come to his or her own conclusions.
Paul first preached to the Thessalonians around AD 50. As stated by Scholar Craig Keener, both of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians were written within several months of his initial preaching to the Thessalonians. As Paul explained, the Thessalonians had dramatically turned from idols to serve the true, living God (1 Thess. 1:9). In part, Paul wrote his letter to address the concerns of the Thessalonians about their loved ones who had already died (1 Thess. 4:13). Perhaps, a few of their friends and relatives had died during the short interval of time between when Paul left Thessalonica and when he wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians. However, being that they had just recently turned from idols to serve the one true God, the Thessalonians would have had far greater concerns about their friends and relatives who had died before Paul even came to Thessalonica. This was the far bigger concern on the minds of the Thessalonians.
As the reader may have noticed, I most commonly quote from the NASB translation. However, in this case, I will utilize the English Standard Version to make my argument. The ESV seeks to be “an essentially literal [word for word] translation of the Bible in contemporary English.” First Thessalonians 4:13 states, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you might not grieve as others do who have no hope.” As noted by Keener, “‘those who are asleep” was a common euphemism for those who had died. Most Gentile pagans (unbelievers) believed “in a shadowy afterlife in the underworld” after death. Paul provided meaningful and encouraging words to the Thessalonians about all of their dead, both the believing and unbelieving dead. In contrast, the unbelieving pagan has no words of consolation for those grieving the loss of loved ones or those with loved ones imprisoned in Sheol (aka Hades).
At 1 Corinthians 4:14, we read, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Many have assumed that Paul was referring to just believers, but that is not what the text says. Paul actually wrote that Jesus will bring with him those who have “fallen asleep.” The text does not make a distinction between those who believed and those who did not believe while alive on Planet Earth. Of course, the Thessalonians, like many of us, were also concerned about the many who never believed while living. Therefore, Paul’s words were extraordinarily comforting. Jesus is going to completely resolve the problem of death and the problem of there being millions, if not billions, imprisoned in Sheol (aka Hades).
At First Thessalonians 4:15, we read, “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, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” The resurrection of all of the dead (whether believer or unbeliever) will occur before the resurrection of those who are alive at the time of His coming. In other words, the dead will receive their resurrection bodies before the living. Paul then adds further clarification. At First Thessalonians 4:16, we read, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” As between believers and unbelievers, the dead in Christ (believers) will be resurrected first.
At First Thessalonians 4:17, we read, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, so we will always be with the Lord.” Paul used the Greek verb harparzo, which means “to seize, pluck, take by force.” At 2 Corinthians 12:2, Paul recalled a time when he was snatched up or taken up to the Third Heaven. As he recalled the event, he did not know whether or not he was in or out of his body (2 Cor. 12:2-3). However, in describing the event, Paul used the Greek verb harparzo. As an important distinction, at 2 Corinthians 12:2-3, Paul was snatched up to the Third Heaven. However, at First Thessalonians 4:17, the believer is described as being snatched up to meet the Lord in Earth’s immediate atmosphere (aer), not Heaven (ouranas). This is an important distinction.
I agree with N.T. Wright that this verse is not describing Jesus taking us to Heaven. In fact, Jesus will bring other believers from Heaven with Him to meet other believers from Earth for the purpose of retaking Planet Earth. He is coming to stay. This verse describes the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Then, there is going to be a confrontation with the disobedient humans left on Planet Earth. The disobedient on Earth include believers and unbelievers. Jude 1:14-15 (NASB) describes the scene:
It was also about these people that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord has come with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
Throughout history, most Christians have had hope only for those who believed. Yes, there will be great consequences for the decisions we make. Whether we believe or not, whether we remain faithful or not, will dramatically affect the quality and quantity of our blessings in our eternal future. However, we will all be here together (in this Universe). We have over-literalized the Biblical image of the Lake of Fire, which is simply a synonym for the wrath of God (or the negative consequences for disobedience).
Interestingly, some might argue that I am guilty of an over-literalization of the supposed texts supporting a Rapture. For me, the historical examples of Enoch and Elijah tilt the scales of evidence in favor of a literal rapture event. The examples of Enoch and Elijah are the types, and a future rapture event is the antitype. Enoch walked with God, and then he simply disappeared. God took him (Gen. 5:24). At Hebrews 11:5 (NASB), we read, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death, AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for before he was taken up, he was attested to have been pleasing to God.”
On the other hand, Elijah was taken to Heaven in a chariot of fire (a vehicle) (2 Kings 2:11). He also did not die. Therefore, the Scriptures provide two concrete examples of believers who did not die. However, it should be noted that both Enoch and Elijah were obedient and faithful believers. Therefore, in my opinion, I believe that only obedient and faithful believers will be raptured to meet with the Lord in the air. This is consistent with Paul’s description of the Thessalonians. Paul described them as being “sons of light and sons of day,” who were “not destined for wrath” (1 Thess. 5:5,9). Paul warned that the Day of the Lord was coming like “a thief in the night.” This was true in regard to the calamities of AD 64-AD 70, and it will also be true in regard to the Second Coming of Christ. However, as to the faithful, who did not live in darkness, they would not be caught off guard. The Day of the Lord did not and will not overtake them (the faithful) like a thief (1 Thess. 5:4).
 Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Second Ed. InterVarsity Press, 2014, pp. 581, 594.
 Keener, p. 589.
 “G726 – harpazō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (esv).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 14 Nov, 2022. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g726/esv/mgnt/0-1/>.