We’re going to talk about the “rapture” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, but we’re going to take the long way to get there. The Greek word for “caught up” in this verse is harpazo (har PAHDZ oh). (The Latin translation uses the word rapio, from which our word “rapture” comes.)
In the word harpazo are stories of love and war, acts of violence and rescue. Homer tells how Paris “seized” lovely Helen from ancient Sparta and carried her off to Troy, starting the famous Trojan War. Herodotus tells how an Egyptian princess was “kidnapped” by merchant sailors. Elsewhere, a mountain lion “catches” a heifer in its powerful jaws; a storm “carries off” a ship and its crew. So often is the word associated with violent plunder that men who “carry off” are known as robbers (see Matt 12:29).
But by the time of the New Testament the word began to have softer overtones. Sinners can be “snatched” out of the fire in an act of rescue (Jude 23) When a dragon tries to devour a male child, the baby is “snatched up” to the throne of God (Rev 12:5). The word is even used by Paul to tell how a man he knew was “caught up” to the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2). This brings us very close to the idea of “rapture.”
Before we return to the “rapture” passage, however, we should consider one more ancient use of harpazo. Hippocrates, known as the Father of Medicine, describes a magnet as “a stone which snatches up iron.” What an interesting and beautiful picture it makes to think that when Jesus returns we will be irresistibly drawn to Him, “caught up” to meet Him in the clouds.