There have been lots of books written on the subject of the rapture and I doubt if I could improve on most of them. But it occurs to me that in a study addressing the timing of such an important doctrine, a few words ought to be written regarding the main event itself. So here goes. This will not be a discussion of John Darby or Margaret MacDonald or the Plymouth Brethren: instead we will focus directly on what scripture has to say of this doctrine.
First, we need to understand that while most are aware that the Bible speaks of the return of Jesus, it may not be so well known that there are actually two "comings": one for his saints at some point, and one with his saints at another point. In one coming he comes in the air, does not step a foot on earth, and there is no description of judgments and destruction. (This is the rapture.) In the other coming he will be seen by everyone worldwide, his feet shall stand on the Mt. of Olives, and great judgment will occur. (This is the second advent.)
As many a skeptic has pointed out, the word Ďraptureí is not found in the Bible, but that doesnít mean the doctrine itself is missing. It is clearly found in II Th. 4:16-17: "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 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." The phrase Ďcaught upí in the above passage is from the Greek word harpazo, which was translated to the Latin rapere, which became the English rapture. So while the word Ďraptureí really isnít found in the Bible, the doctrine is there and there is a basis for the usage of the word 'rapture'.
While the Old Testament does not include a detailed description of the rapture, it does include what appear to be references to the event.
Psalm 27 is a passage that teaches Godís deliverance of his people from their enemies. Verse 4 lists three things the Psalmist desired: (1) to dwell in the house of the Lord ALL his days; (2) to behold the beauty of the Lord (to actually SEE him); and (3) to enquire in his temple.
Verse 5 says, "For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock." The tribulation is also called the "Time of Jacobís Trouble" and it is characterized as being a time of unprecedented persecution of the people of God. This verse says that God will hide the righteous in HIS pavilion. The word hide is the Hebrew word tsaphan and is defined as "to hide by covering over, to hoard or reserve." Because it is HIS pavilion, it appears that this hiding place is not on earth. The verse says, "In the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me." The word hide appears again, but this time from the Hebrew cathar defined as "to hide by covering, be absent, keep close, conceal." Again, this verse is speaking of the righteous being totally hidden, absent, concealed by God during a time of unprecedented trouble. The implication is that this hiding will occur in heaven and while these verses could be a reference to death, we are not looking for God to kill all the righteous at some point in the near future, we are looking for God to deliver us bodily.
Isaiah 26:19-21 is a sequential passage that contains the resurrection, the rapture and the second advent of Jesus. Verse 19 says, "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead." This is clearly a reference to the resurrection of the righteous dead.
Verse 20 says, "Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast." This verse is not speaking to the righteous dead because they are currently in heaven, a place which the indignation cannot approach. This verse is speaking about humans living on earth where they will be very much in harmís way. It invites them to enter into their chambers until the indignation is finished. Those who believe in the rapture are expecting the Lord to catch them up to heaven at a given point, where they will remain until the end of the tribulation and then return to earth with Jesus Christ at the second advent.
Verse 21 says, "For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain." This is clearly a reference to the second advent of Jesus.
So in Isa. 26:19-21 we not only see the doctrine of the rapture recorded in the Old Testament, we see the same sequence of events which is followed in New Testament passages.
Jesus taught on the rapture, but not in Matthew 24 as is commonly believed. Jesus taught the rapture in John 14:1-4. In that passage he made a promise to all believers of all time. He said, "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know."
In this passage Jesus did not specify that he would come again to receive only the dead or only the living. Instead, he made a general statement that there would come a time when he would come again, not to the earth, but to receive his own, that where he is, there they might be also. Further, he stated that the place to which he was going and in which he would prepare mansions was in the Fatherís house. Not on earth, but in heaven, which is where he is today. Notice that the reason for this activity is "that where I am, there you may be also." Clearly, Jesus is speaking about preparing a place for his own in heaven. The only way for a living believer to get there is via rapture.
How did Jesus learn about the rapture? He came to earth as a man and lived and ministered as a human. But he was (and remains) God the Son, and he was a great prophet, but he was also a student of the scripture. He read about it in Isaiah 26.
In John 11 we see the story of the raising of Lazarus. In the context of a physical resurrection we see this conversation between Jesus and Martha. (vs. 23) "Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. (24) Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. (25) Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: (26) And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?" In verse 26 Jesus could not have been referring to physical death because Christians have been dying down through the ages. He could have been referring to eternal life, but the context of the discussion was a physical resurrection. I believe that his statement in verse 26 refers to those Christians who are alive on resurrection day, which Martha had stated was Ďthe last day.í That group of Christians, who are alive at that time, will never experience physical death.
The two main passages of scripture that are considered rapture passages are I Th. 4:15-18 and I Cor. 15:51-53. There are some differences between these two passages. I Cor. 15 speaks of people being changed but there is no departure. I Th. 4 speaks of people departing but there is no changing. I Cor. 15 uses the word mystery while I Th. 4 does not. In scripture the word mystery means something that involves a supernatural element that is being revealed for the first time. The word is used concerning the changing of our bodies but not the departure. As we have already seen, the resurrection of the righteous dead and the departure of the righteous living were mentioned in the Old Testament. The changing of our physical bodies prior to the departure was not mentioned. It was a mystery until the time God chose to reveal it, which was the letter known as I Corinthians.
These two passages also contain some similarities. Both mention a trumpet, but most importantly, both are first and foremost resurrection passages. It is the resurrection that ties these two sets of scripture together; the rapture is a co-event with the resurrection. The two events cannot be separated.
I Cor. 15:50-53 says, (50) "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. (51) Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, (52) 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. (53) For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."
This passage thrills me to the bone. I love the way scripture speaks of dead Christians as being merely Ďasleepí because the implication is that someone who is asleep can be awakened. Itís not the spirit and soul that is sleeping - they are very active and alert in heaven - it is the body that sleeps in the dust of the earth. Thereís coming a moment, a twinkling of an eye, when those sleeping bodies are going to be awakened. The bodies of all of the righteous dead of all time up to that point are going to be raised in a portion of time so small it canít be divided any smaller. So much for reincarnation - God doesnít recycle, he resurrects.
Job knew this. Job 19:25-27 says, "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me." Job had a very clear understanding of a physical, bodily resurrection.
While there are those who hold that the resurrection, even of Jesus, is purely spiritual, this is not the record of scripture. In Luke 24 when Jesus appeared to his disciples in the upper room they were frightened and thought they were seeing a ghost. I can understand why: Jesus had just entered the room without using the door or a window - the door was locked! (John 20:19) Jesus said to them, (Luke 24:39) "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." He then asked for food and they gave him a piece of fish and a honeycomb, which he ate before them. Jesusí resurrection was of his body, as ours will be also. I John 3:2 says, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." That is one of the most amazing statements of all time. When Jesus, the Son of God, appears for Christians, the sons of God, it will be at the rapture. And we will be like him.
I Cor. 15:50 had said that flesh and blood could not inherit the kingdom of God, neither does corruption inherit incorruption. Then it told us that all Christians will be changed, all will receive glorified, resurrection bodies, even those who have not died at that time.
Thereís a great deal more that could be said about I Cor. 15 but the subject here is the rapture. So letís move on to I Th. 4, the main rapture passage.
I Th. 4:13-18 says this: "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
The people who lived in Thessalonica believed in the rapture. They were so sure of this teaching that they became concerned that those of their number who had died would miss this momentous event. Through Paul, God assures them that this is not the case - the dead will rise before the living.
God informs us in these verses that he does not want us to grieve as do those who have no hope. Why? Because we do have hope - in fact, we have a BLESSED HOPE. I Cor. 15:19 says, "if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." In I John 3:2-3 the appearing of Jesus and our being changed to be like him is referred to as a hope. Eph. 1:18 refers to us knowing what is the hope of our calling - that hope is the resurrection. I Pet. 1:3 refers to a lively or living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. I Cor. 15:12-15 teaches that the resurrection of Jesus guarantees ours. Titus 2:13 says we are to be looking for two things that happen at the same time: "that blessed hope AND the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ".
I Th. 4:13-14 speaks of the certainty of the resurrection and then in verse 16 we learn that Jesus himself is coming for us. He is not sending angels or UFOs, he is coming personally into the air, the very atmosphere around the earth, to receive his own.
When he descends from heaven he will shout out something. I personally believe that just as he said, "Lazarus, come forth," he will shout out, "My people, come forth!!!" On the other hand, he is Jesus, God the Son: he could call each one of children by name at the same instant.
There will also be at least one archangel present who will also have something to say. Scripture does not specify who this angel will be or what he will pronounce. It is interesting to note that the dead in Christ will rise - nothing and no one can prevent the resurrection - then we which are alive and remain will be caught up together with them. The Greek words are different in meaning. Rise is defined as "stand up" while harpazo refers to a violent, forceful seizure. Together with the resurrected dead, we will literally be torn from the earth. Since we are willing to go, it seems pretty clear to me that someone else is going to try to stop the catching away of all the resurrected/changed believers.
That someone is Satan. Every human alive on this earth has a sin nature flowing through the veins of his body. That sin nature excludes a person from physical entrance into heaven. Due to this fact, it seems reasonable that at the moment of the rapture Satan may try to exercise some legal claim on us and try to prevent our departure. This is one of the reasons our bodies must be changed first. (There are also the issues of life support systems, gravity, temperature, etc. - we are going to be physically traveling through outer space.)
At any rate, there is a scriptural precedent for Satanís interference. Jude 9 says, "Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee." Apparently Satan tried some kind of interference regarding the (presumably dead) body of Moses and Michael the archangel said "The Lord rebuke thee." I think itís entirely possible that the same archangel will pronounce the same message to the same fallen spirit on resurrection/rapture day.
Thereís one other point that needs to be made: scripture does not speak of multiple raptures. There is only one evacuation and we all need to be prepared against that soon-coming day.
For our purposes we can define rapture as: the singular event in conjunction with the resurrection when living believers will experience a change from a mortal body to a glorified, resurrection body and will travel into the air to meet the Lord Jesus, then will accompany him, without means of a space vehicle or any natural life support system, into heaven.
I Th. 4 gives us the sequence for events: the dead in Christ will rise (Greek: anistemi - to stand up, i.e. resurrection) first then together with them the living will be caught up in the clouds, then together we meet the Lord in the air. There are other wonderful things that will happen in conjunction with this event but they will be addressed elsewhere in these articles.