It is commonly believed that the rapture was a mystery hidden in God that no one knew about until it was revealed in the New Testament. But there are several Old Testament scriptures that can apply to this event including Psalm 27:5; Zeph. 2:3; and Isa. 57:1.
The strongest Old Testament passage containing a reference to the rapture is Isa. 26:19-21. This passage presents a chronological outline of Jesus’ two future comings. Verse 19 presents the resurrection (which immediately precedes and is a co-event with the rapture). It 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." Verse 20 presents the rapture: "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 must be a reference to the rapture, the removal of living believers, because the dead have no need to hide. Further, the word 'indignation' is a reference to the activities of man and Satan, not the judgments of God. Believers are to be hidden until the indignation is finished. Verse 21 speaks of the second advent: "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."
Jesus did teach on the rapture, but not in the Olivet Discourse as recorded in Matt. 24 & 25 and Mark 13. Those passages do speak of "one being taken and the other left behind," but those are references, not to the rapture, but to the wicked being taken as Jesus taught in the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matt. 13:24-30 and 37-43.
Jesus directly taught the rapture in John 14:1-4. "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." When Jesus left he went to heaven where he is preparing a place for us. There is no reason for him to prepare a place for us in heaven if he is not coming for us to take us there. Obviously he is coming to take us to the Father’s house and this will happen at the rapture. Notice he referred to mansions. In the Greek the word is defined as a staying, residence. It is a home. A very wonderful home. It is exactly the same place that was called ‘chambers’ in Isa. 26:20.
Jesus also made a reference to the rapture in John 11:25-26, and because Luke 21 is a single prophecy with a double fulfillment, Luke 21:28, 34-36 have reference to the rapture.
It is worthy of note that the passages in which Jesus did address the rapture contain NO STATEMENTS regarding no man knowing the time. This includes the gospel of Luke, which does give the parable of the fig tree, but does not contain the 'no man knoweth' statement.
In the Bible the word mystery means, not something that cannot be known, but something that includes a supernatural element which is being revealed for the first time. The word is used in I Cor. 15:51-53. This passage is often used as a rapture passage, and, in a sense it is. However, the main subject of the entire chapter is the resurrection. In fact, this chapter does not say anything about anybody leaving the earth. The mystery revealed in this passage is not the departure of the church, but the supernatural growth of a living seed: the resurrection of a group of believers who have not died.
The most direct teaching on the rapture is found in I Thes. 4:13-18. This passage begins with teaching on the resurrection then addresses the rapture. Missing from this passage is any reference to living believers being changed before their departure. It should be noted that the word mystery is not found in this passage. While we understand that Paul had already been to this church and had well taught on the subject (II Thes. 2:5), this is not why the word is missing. While the letter was addressed to the Thessalonians, it is also part of the inspired word of God thus it was written to all generations of Christians. Therefore, if the rapture really was a mystery until this point, the word should be found here. It isn’t. Why? Because it wasn’t a mystery. The rapture was addressed in the Old Testament and, even though his listeners did not have a revelation of the significance, Jesus did teach it.
Chapter and verse numbers in scripture are not part of the inspired word of God, they were added by men for reference purposes. In I Thes. chapter 4 Paul addressed the rapture and chapter 5 begins with the words "But of…", a connector phrase indicating that what is about to be discussed is a continuation of the matter just addressed. In this case, the rapture.
The passage begins, "But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly…" Paul did not write that people reading this letter could know nothing about the times and seasons of the rapture (thus also the coming of the day of the Lord), only that they had no need that he write about it because they already had perfect knowledge of what he was about to address. From II Thes. 2:5 we learn that Paul himself had already taught on the subject of the endtimes to the people in Thessalonica. We should be able to understand from these verses that not only did Paul NOT tell the Thessalonians that they couldn’t have certain information, he personally had taught it to them.
In this letter Paul uses the word we regarding those who would be raptured. He clearly includes himself among those who would be "alive and remain" until the coming of the Lord. This means that Paul believed and taught that the rapture was imminent: in fact, that he thought that it would occur in his own lifetime. The people in Thessalonica believed this. I Thes. 4:13-15 implies that those people were so sure they were going to be raptured that they were concerned about those of their group who had died. Since God does not hold out on his people, we should be able to learn more about what Paul taught by studying scripture.
I Thes. 5:1 says, "But of the times and seasons…" The word "times" is from the Greek word chronos, defined as a space of time, and the word seasons is from the Greek kairos, defined as an occasion, a set or proper time. God does have a schedule with set times for events that are yet to occur. We understand that the words times as used in both Daniel and Revelation refers to years, but the word seasons is a little different. Jesus had taught that a certain generation would know the season.
The word summer appears only three times in the New Testament, each of those usages being in the Olivet Discourse and each referring to the coming of the kingdom of Heaven, i.e. the millennium.
It is significant to understand the occasion of the Olivet Discourse. In Matt. 22 Jesus is in the temple being questioned by first the Herodians, then by the Sadducees, and finally by the Pharisees and he gives each group a response which puts them to silence. In chapter 23 Jesus pronounces woe and judgment on the religious leadership and upon Jerusalem, in verse 36 he states that it would fall on that generation, and that judgment did fall forty years later, in 70 A.D.
As they leave the temple the disciples remark on the grandeur of the temple and other buildings. Jesus responded with a prophecy that not one stone would remain upon another, and this statement led to the further questions which resulted in the entire prophecy. While the prophecy had an initial fulfillment in 70 A.D., there is a greater fulfillment yet to come. As evidenced by the western, or wailing, wall, all of the stones have not yet fallen. That wall will fall during the tribulation, the greater fulfillment of the prophecy.
In Luke 21:7 we find two questions that led to the prophecy. The disciples asked, "Master, but when shall these things be? And what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?"
The question, "When shall these things be?" is recorded in all three accounts of the Olivet Discourse. It is worthy of note that Jesus does not rebuke them for asking when the temple would be destroyed. He does not say, "Sorry boys, you can’t know anything about the time." Jesus simply goes ahead and gives a prophecy that answers the questions that had been put to him, including, "When shall these things be?".
While the second question in Luke 21:7 is similar to the follow-up questions in Matt. 24 and Mark 13, there is a slight difference. Matt. 24:3 says, "What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the END OF THE WORLD?" and Mark 13:4 says, "What shall be the sign when ALL these things shall be fulfilled?". These questions indicate that the response will deal specifically with the end-times. But in Luke 21:7 the second question is, "What sign will there be when these things shall come to pass?" Nothing said here about Jesus’ coming, the end of the world, or a final fulfillment because what is recorded in Luke 21 would occur twice: once during the church age and again during the tribulation. (Click here to visit the live web cams at the Western Wall.)
The prophecy is centered around the destruction of the (second) temple in Jerusalem (fulfilled in 70 A.D.) and around a third temple that will be built in Jerusalem in the endtimes. (Click here to visit the Temple Institute website and see the garments and vessels that are ready now for use in the third temple.) I believe that temple will also be destroyed. The connection between the two temples is the western, or wailing, wall. I believe that wall will fall during the tribulation. (Ezekiel tells us that during the millennium there will be a fourth temple built.) In the Olivet Discourse as recorded in Luke 21 Jesus addressed what would happen from the time the prophecy was given until the second advent.
The first fulfillment of Luke 21 covers events that occur during the church age and the second deals with the tribulation. In Luke 21:20-21 Jesus warned those in Judaea to flee when they see Jerusalem surrounded with armies. The first application of this prophecy was fulfilled in 68-70 A.D. when the city was under siege and eventually fell to Rome. Verse 24 says, "And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." This verse presents the Jewish diaspora then skips ahead 1897 years to June 7, 1967 when Israel recaptured the old city of Jerusalem.
Verses 25-28 give us the signs of the Lord’s coming, both at the rapture and at the second advent. In verse 28 Jesus said, "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." Our redemption is Jesus himself, and as we shall see, these things have definitely begun to come to pass.
Verses 29-32 contain teaching about the season called summer. Jesus said, "Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand." In these verses Jesus tells us that the shooting forth of the fig tree is the great sign that we are to look for.
It is commonly accepted that, in the Bible, trees are symbolic of nations. The fig tree identifies Israel (Hos. 9:10; Joel 1:7; Luke 13:6) thus the other trees mentioned would be other nations in prophecies such as Eze. 38 & 39, Rev. 9, Jer. 50-51, etc.
In this verse Jesus said to watch Israel and other nations. His last previous reference to Israel was to Jerusalem being trodden down by the Gentiles until the times (years) of the Gentiles be fulfilled. A Jerusalem that is not trodden down by Gentiles is a Jerusalem that is under Jewish control, as it has been since June 7, 1967. That was the day that the fig tree shot forth leaves, that was the day that these things began to come to pass, that was the day that the season of spring began.
The sign of the fig tree is given in all three gospels that record the Olivet Discourse and in all three Jesus said that those who saw this happen would know of themselves that summer was near. This is, therefore, to be taken as the great sign of the impending fulfillment of endtime prophecy and the answer to the "when?" question recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. While Matt. 24 and Mark 13 outline the tribulation, the Bible teaches that the rapture will occur first, therefore signs of the coming of the tribulation also point to the even sooner coming of the rapture. As someone said, "When you see the Christmas decorations go up, you know it’s almost time for Thanksgiving."
The natural season of summer has a specific starting point – it is called the summer solstice and it usually falls on June 22. While I am emphatically not stating that the millennium will begin on June 22 of any given year, I do believe that just as God himself has determined the starting points of the four natural seasons, we should recognize that he has also set a time for prophetic seasons to begin. While man can recognize the change of the seasons, natural or prophetic, he is powerless to alter any of them.
Jesus went on to say, "So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled." Jesus made it clear that a certain generation would recognize the sign of the fig tree and would know from their own observation that prophecy was about to be fulfilled. As we shall see, in scripture a generation equals forty years. Later there will be additional information provided regarding this final forty years.
Another scripture that leads me to believe that Christians will indeed know when the rapture will occur is Rev. 3:3. In his rebuke of the church at Sardis Jesus said, "Remember therefore how thou hast heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come upon thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." This letter was written to a church and a church is made up of believers. Believers have been promised the rapture and scripture teaches that the rapture occurs before the revelation of antichrist. Believers are to be living righteously before the Lord and watching. This verse implies that those who are watching WILL know the hour of the Lord’s coming at the rapture.
In I Thes. 5:1 Paul indicated that he was speaking of the time of the rapture, but then he changed the subject to the coming of the day of the Lord, which is another name for the tribulation. In verses 2-3 he said, "For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape." Here the coming or beginning of the day of the Lord is compared to a pregnant woman entering into travail, or labor.
In Matt. 24:8 Jesus used the same terminology. In verses 5-7 he gave the signs of the beginning of the tribulation. He said there would be false Christs, wars and rumors of war, nation would rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there would be famines, earthquakes and pestilences in divers places. In verse 8 he said, "All these are the beginning of sorrows." The word translated sorrows is the Greek word odin, defined as a pang or throe, especially of childbirth. It is the same word that is used in I Thes. 5:3 regarding the beginning of the day of the Lord.
Isaiah used the same terminology. Isa 13:6-9 says, "Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty. Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man's heart shall melt: And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames. Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it."
In Rev. 12 we see this pregnant woman again, this time at mid-tribulation. According to Joseph’s dream (Gen. 37:9-10) she is Israel.
In I Thes. 4:13-5:10 Paul gave a sequence for endtime events. The teaching is that the resurrection occurs first, followed immediately by the rapture, and these are followed by the coming of the day of the Lord. In I Thes. 5:3-8 Paul makes several references to believers not being surprised by the coming of the day of the Lord, thus also by the rapture which immediately precedes it. Verse 4 is a strong statement: "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief." It seems clear to me that Paul believed and taught that the rapture would be the opening event of the tribulation and that it would not be a surprise to those who are watching, as we were instructed to do by Jesus himself.
Luke 21 also addresses the issue. In verse 28 Jesus said, "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." These things BEGAN to come to pass on June 7, 1967 when Israel captured Jerusalem. Jesus cautioned those who saw this great sign to not be caught up in the affairs of this world "so that day come upon you unawares", ‘that day’ being the day our redemption draws near, i.e. when Jesus comes. For us (pre-tribulation) he is coming at the rapture. He told Christians to "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape ALL these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man." The ‘these things’ referred to is the tribulation. The only way to escape that is to have already died before it begins or to be taken out of the earth at the rapture.