“Behold! I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”1 Corinthians 15:51-52
With the COVID-19 crisis in full swing, I have seen several memes circulating in social media circles referring to the rapture. Most of these memes are comparing the surprising nature of this virus outbreak with the supposed surprising element of the rapture.
In other words, if Coronavirus took you by surprise, imagine what the rapture will do.
The popular Christian view is that the rapture will be a secret, surprise event when Jesus suddenly removes the church from the earth, leaving the entire world behind to face the great tribulation. Furthermore, this view proposes that the rapture could happen at any minute and that the removal of the church from the earth will be the prophetic sign that triggers the seven-year tribulation period. That is why the popular view has been labeled the “pre-tribulation” rapture of the church.
But as surprising as that would be, what many well-meaning Christians don’t realize is that the Bible does not teach a “pre-tribulation” rapture. You will not find one verse in all of Scripture that teaches a secret removal of the church before the tribulation.
Although I have written more extensively on this topic in the past, I wanted to use the COVID-19 crisis as reason to revisit this topic because I do believe the timing of the rapture matters. Feel free to go back and read these previous posts I have written for a more in depth study
- Three Comings of Christ? — https://days-of-noah.com/2019/06/04/the-pre-tribulation-rapture-and-three-comings-of-jesus-christ/
- Will Jesus Just Appear? — https://days-of-noah.com/2019/06/05/will-jesus-secretly-appear-at-the-rapture-and-come-again-later/
- The Timing of the Rapture — https://days-of-noah.com/2019/06/13/jesus-tells-us-the-timing-of-the-rapture/
What is the Rapture?
For starters, I do believe in the rapture of the church because the Bible clearly teaches it. Although the English word rapture — derived from the Latin word rapturo — is not found in the original Greek text of the New Testament, the concept is clearly portrayed in Scripture.
Biblically, the word rapture comes from the Greek word, harpazo, which simply means to “catch up” or to “snatch away.” The primary text for the rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which we will look at in a moment, but there are other passages that convey the same idea.
For example, after Philip was sent down the road toward Gaza to share the gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch, he was raptured out of sight. The Spirit of the Lord supernaturally snatched Philip away and relocated him.
“When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.”Acts 8:39 – NASB
Another example is when the Apostle Paul was “caught up” to the third heaven and given a vision of paradise. The same greek word — harpazo — is used to describe Paul’s supernatural experience.
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise —whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. “2 Corinthians 12:2-4 – ESV
These two examples help us better understand what the term rapture really means. We see that the rapture involves the Spirit of God supernaturally snatching away or catching up individuals from the earth into another dimension and then bringing them back to earth.
Now that we have defined the word rapture, let us look more closely at how and when this future event will take place.
Rapture, Resurrection, Return
As I mentioned earlier, the primary passage of Scripture that describes the future rapture of the church is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, although the Apostle Paul also implicates the rapture in 1 Corinthians 15:50-52. There are many other passages that speak of the “gathering” of God’s people at the return of Jesus, such as 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 and Matthew 24:29-31. I believe these passages also describe the rapture event, but we will save them for another day.
Let’s focus on 1 Thessalonians 4 for now. I encourage everyone to take the time and carefully read how the Scriptures describe the rapture.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For 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. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.”1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
So what can we learn by this one famous passage?
This passage clearly involves the visible, triumphant, return of Jesus Christ from heaven to earth in the clouds in power and great glory
I have said before and I will say it again. There are only two comings of Jesus Christ. He appeared the first time on earth to suffer and die and be raised to life. He will appear a second time to judge the living and the dead and establish His kingdom on earth.
No one will ever convince me that this passage is describing some secret event where Jesus comes “halfway” to remove the church and then takes everyone back to heaven and then comes again later to the earth. Read it again. That is not what the Bible says.
This is one of the most vivid descriptions of the return of Jesus Christ to earth in power and great glory. It certainly is not a secret event. Every eye will see Him return. It certainly could never be missed any more than a lightening storm flashing across the night sky.
Consider just a few of the elements in this passage.
- This is the “coming of the Lord”
- The Lord will “descend from heaven” in the clouds
- There will be shout, a cry of a command from heaven at the voice of the archangel
- There will be the sounding of the trumpet of God
- This is the bodily resurrection when all believers of all time receive their glorified bodies to inherit the kingdom
- This is the rapture of the church — those who are alive on the earth to witness the return of Jesus.
There is so much more I could say, but I at least will mention that when we compare this passage to other second coming passages like Matthew 24:29-31 and Revelation 6:12-17, it is clear that the rapture takes place when Jesus returns as King to the earth.
This passage clearly involves the bodily resurrection of the righteous saints
Jesus tells us multiple times that the resurrection occurs “on the last day,” and Paul also confirms this in 1 Corinthians 15.
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”John 6:40
“But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.”1 Corinthians 15:23-24
This passage teaches that there will be a generation of believers who live to see the return of Jesus
The generation that lives to see the return of Jesus this side of heaven will be raptured, which simply means that they will received their resurrected bodies in the twinkling of an eye.
Jesus reminded us about this unique generation.
“So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”Matthew 24:33-34
What have we learned?
- The rapture is not a secret event but rather it coincides with the visible, glorious, triumphant return of Jesus to the earth
- The rapture coincides with the resurrection of the righteous at the end of the age on the last day
- Jesus returns at the end of the great tribulation (Matthew 24:29-31) and therefore the timing of the rapture is after the tribulation … NOT BEFORE!
Maybe the biggest surprise will be when the church realizes that we all must go through the great tribulation and face Antichrist and endure in faith to the end — whether that be our death or the Lord’s return.
Even so … come quickly Lord Jesus!