- THE RAPTURE
The Rapture of the church is the first phase of Christ’s coming and entails two events: the resurrection and transformation of the believers who died in Christ, and the transformation of living believers. In the twinkle of an eye, they will be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and He will escort them to heaven to live with Him forever. This transformation is the “mystery” of the Rapture.
The Rapture includes only believers who lived between the Day of Pentecost and the day of the Rapture. These people are called church-age believers. The last trumpet of the Rapture is the final trumpet of this church age, and it will summon God’s people to the great reunion in the sky.
The signs of the times are indications that the Second Coming of Christ is near. However, no sign is specifically given with regards to the rapture of the church. The Rapture is an imminent, sign-less event. It’s an event that could occur at any moment without warning.
Isaiah 26:16-19 and Daniel 12:1-3 in the Old Testament place the resurrection of Old Testament believers at the end of the Tribulation period.
THE TERM RAPTURE
The term Rapture is derived from the words “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The phrase “caught up” is in Greek harpazo, which means “to snatch, to seize, or to take suddenly and vehemently.” Harpazo appears thirteen times in the New Testament. In those passages, harpazo is variously translated as “take by force,” “snatch,” or “caught up” (NASB). In Revelation 12:5, harpazo refers back to the Ascension of Jesus to heaven (Acts 1:9-11).
Our English word Rapture is derived from Latin. The Greek word harpazo was translated into the Latin word raeptius. The Latin word rapio means “to seize, snatch, or seize away.” This word was eventually brought into English as Rapture.
THREE MAIN RAPTURE PASSAGES
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:1-3)
“What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.
Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:50-57)
“Dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
FOUR VIEWS OF THE TIMING OF THE RAPTURE
The timing of the rapture in relation to the tribulation is one of the most controversial issues in the church today. First, it is important to understand the purpose of the tribulation. According to Daniel 9:27, there is a seventieth “seven” (seven years) that is still yet to come. Daniel’s entire prophecy of the seventy sevens (Daniel 9:20-27) is speaking of the nation of Israel. It is a time period in which God focuses His attention especially on Israel. Although this does not necessarily indicate that the church could not also be present, it does bring into question why the church would need to be on the earth during that time. There are four main views.
They believe that the Rapture will occur before the Tribulation. Raptured believers will escape the wrath of God poured out during the Tribulation. There are clear statements that He is coming to deliver His people from the coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9; Revelation 3:10). More will be discussed about the pre-tribulation rapture later in our study.
This view teaches that believers will be caught up to heaven at the midpoint of the Tribulation. Some place it at Revelation 6:12-17, others at Revelation 11:15-17, and still others at Revelation 14:1-4. This inconsistency is a major weakness for this view.
One of the arguments for a mid-tribulation rapture is the belief that the trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 is the same trumpet mentioned in Revelation 11:15. But the trumpet in Revelation 11 is a trumpet of judgment, declaring doom on the wicked. The trumpet in 1 Corinthians is a call to those elected by God through His Grace. In addition, even though Revelation 11:15 identifies the trumpet as the seventh and final trumpet in that series, chronologically it is not the “last” trumpet. That trumpet is found in Matthew 24:31 when it sounds to commence God’s kingdom.
According to Mid-tribulationists the wrath of God only refers to the second half of the seven-year tribulation period. For the wrath to only refer to the second half would limit the wrath to the bowl judgments, completely ignoring the judgments that took place in the seal and trumpet judgments which, include famine, poisoned waterways, bloodshed, torment, earthquakes, untold numbers being killed and a darkened moon.
This argument falls when one looks at Revelation 6:17 which reads, “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?” (NLT) Some argue that the wrath prior to Revelation 11 is Satan’s wrath and not God’s. But they completely forget who is directing all the events. Any wrath is clearly coming from God who allows Satan to do his worst evil deeds.
There are many believers who hold this belief, including Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and many Protestant denominations. This view holds that the Rapture will occur at the end of the Tribulation in conjunction with the second coming of Christ to earth. Revelation 19 constitutes a major problem for post-tribulationists. Revelation 19:11-21 is the most comprehensive and detailed account of the second coming of Christ found anywhere in the Bible. Yet it contains no mention of a resurrection or rapture. If the Rapture were post-tribulational, why would this key feature be totally missing?
They confuse the “saints” being in the tribulation, as mentioned in Revelation 13:7 and 20:9, with the church. They also argue that the reference to the “first resurrection” in Revelation 20:5 provides proof that the rapture cannot occur before after the tribulation. They blindly ignore the fact that those who are in Christ are not under condemnation and will never experience the wrath of God (Romans 8:1.)
The pre-wrath view holds that the Rapture will occur 5½ years into the Tribulation. The calamities up to that point, in this view, result from the wrath of man and the wrath of Satan, not the wrath of God. As with the mid-tribulationists, they forget that it is God who allows Satan to do his evil deeds. The seal judgments in Revelation 6 are opened by the Lamb (Jesus Christ) at the very beginning of the tribulation (Revelation 6:1-2). He is therefore the source of these judgments.
SEVEN REASONS FOR THE PRETRIB RAPTURE
Place of the Church in Revelation
If the church will experience any or all of the Tribulation, then one would expect that Revelation 6–18 would include an account of the church’s role on earth during that time period. But remarkably, Revelation 6–18 is silent about the church. Revelation 1–3 specifically mentions the church nineteen times. In Revelation 4:1 the apostle John is lifted up to heaven and transported into the future, where he sees visions of the end of days.
The church doesn’t appear again until chapter 19, where she is pictured as a bride returning to earth with her glorious Bridegroom. Revelation 22:16 refers to the church again for the final time.
The “twenty-four elders” represent the church in heaven throughout Revelation 4–19, enthroned and crowned, dressed in white, and worshiping the Lamb (Revelation 4:4, 10; 5:5-6, 8, 11, 14; 7:11, 13;11:16; 14:3; 19:4). The elders appear twelve times in these chapters.
Rapture versus Return
The New Testament describes two phases of Christ’s second coming: (1) He will come for His church to take her to His Father’s house (John 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:16), and (2) He will come with His saints when He descends from heaven to judge His enemies and establish His one-thousand-year Kingdom on earth (Zechariah 14:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 3:13). Between these two stages, the Tribulation happens.
The Rapture is imminent and signless and could occur at any moment (1 Thessalonians 1:10). The Second Coming, on the other hand, will be preceded by all kinds of signs (Matthew 24:1-29).
Exemption from Divine Wrath
Jesus Himself told His disciples, “In the world you have tribulation” (John 16:33, NASB). The apostle Paul said, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22, NASB). But the wrath during the seven-year Tribulation is wrath in a specific sense.
Part of what salvation in Christ means is that God saves us from the wrath we deserve (Ephesians 2:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:9). This has been God’s pattern—not to judge the righteous with the wicked. Lot and his family were rescued from Sodom when God poured out His wrath on the cities of the plain (Genesis 18–19). Also, Enoch’s rapture to heaven before the Flood illustrates this biblical principle as well (Genesis 5:23-24). God saves His people from His wrath upon principle as well (Genesis 5:23-24).
The Bible promises that church-age believers will be exempt from the coming wrath of God during the tribulation (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 5:9; Revelation 3:10). The entire tribulation is made up of consistent judgment from God Himself against a rebellious world.
Evidence for Exemption in 1 Thessalonians
The chronology of 1 Thessalonians 4–5 supports the pre-tribulation position. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 addresses the rapture while 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9 relates to the Day of the Lord (Tribulation). There’s a clear shift from “you” and “we” (the believers) to “they” and “them” (the unbelievers). One group will be raptured and escape the wrath, and the other will remain on earth and face its full force.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 clearly says, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (NASB).”
Evidence for Exemption in Revelation 3:10-11
“Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. I am coming quickly.” (Revelation 3:10-11)
Time Gap between the Rapture and the Second Coming
Revelation 19:7-10 pictures the church as a bride who has been made ready for marriage to her groom. When Christ returns in his second coming, the bride is dressed and ready to accompany Christ back to the earth (Revelation 19:11-18).
If all saints were caught up in a post-tribulation rapture prior to the Millennium, there would be no people in natural bodies to enter the one-thousand-year reign of Christ. Isaiah 65:20-25 suggests that, during the Millennium, people will carry on ordinary occupations such as farming, planting vineyards, and building houses, and they will bear children, populating the messianic kingdom.
If the Rapture and the Second Coming occur together, as post-tribulationists believe, and all living believers are caught up to meet Jesus and escort Him back to earth, then there won’t be any sheep left on earth when Jesus arrives. All that would be left are goats.
Removal of the Restrainer
2 Thessalonians 2:1, 3-8 describes the revelation of “the man of lawlessness.” The Holy Spirit is omnipresent and cannot be removed from the earth. The Holy Spirit uses the church and its proclamation and portrayal of the gospel as the primary instrument in this age to restrain evil. The rapture will change everything.
Verses such as 1 Corinthians 1:7, 1 Corinthians 16:22, Philippians 3:20, Philippians 4:5, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 9:28 and Revelation 22:17, 20 serves as examples. All these Scriptures refer to the Rapture and speak of it as though it could occur at any moment. An imminent event is one that is certain to occur, but the timing of it is uncertain.
The early church adopted a special password to identify themselves and to greet each other: Maranatha (1 Corinthians 16:22).
Titus 2:13 says, “We look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.” After describing the Rapture, Paul concludes with this gentle reminder: “Encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PRETRIB RAPTURE VIEW
One of the key objections to the pre-tribulation rapture view is that it can’t be right because it didn’t arrive on the scene until the 1830s through the ministry and teaching of an Irish preacher named John Nelson Darby.
The earliest extra-biblical evidence of the pre-tribulation rapture position surfaced in the early medieval period in a sermon titled “On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, or Sermon on the End of the World.” This powerful sermon was written sometime between the fourth and sixth centuries. The sermon is often attributed to Ephraem the Syrian, but most scholars believe it was the product of someone known as Pseudo-Ephraem.
In AD 1260, Gerard Sagarello founded a group known as the Apostolic Brethren in northern Italy. In 1300, Gerard was burned at the stake, and a man named Brother Dolcino took over leadership of the movement. Brother Dolcino died in 1307, and in 1316 an anonymous notary of the diocese of Vercelli in northern Italy wrote a brief treatise in Latin, called The History of Brother Dolcino, in which he addressed the pre-tribulation rapture..
Morgan Edwards (1722–1795) was a Baptist who founded Brown University. Edwards believed in a distinct rapture 3½ years before the start of the Millennium. Edwards first wrote about his pre-tribulation beliefs in 1742 and later published them in 1788.
John Asgill authored a book in 1700 “about the possibility of translation (i.e., rapture) without seeing death.” Peter Jurieu wrote the book Approaching Deliverance of the Church (1687). There were also Philip Doddridge’s commentary on the New Testament (1783) and John Gill’s commentary on the New Testament (1748). James Macknight (1763) and Thomas Scott (1792) followed.
SIX HISTORICAL RAPTURES
Rapture of Enoch (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5)
Rapture of Elijah (2 Kings 2:1, 11)
Rapture of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-3)
Rapture of Jesus (Revelation 12:5)
Rapture of Philip (Acts 8:39-40)
Rapture of Paul (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)