End Times - Putting the Pieces in Place
Chapter 8: The Rapture
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NKJV) For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
In several passages, the Bible describes a time when Jesus will gather the people of God and remove them from the earth. This gathering is sometimes called the Rapture of the Church. Rapture is not a biblical term, therefore it is important that people clearly understand what is meant by the term. In this book, Rapture is used to refer to the gathering of God’s people when Jesus comes (Mat. 24:29-31; 1 Cor. 15:51-56; 1 Thes. 4:14-17).
It seems that one of the most frequently asked questions concerning End Times is, "When does the Rapture occur?" The following Scriptures show that the Rapture occurs when Jesus comes (see also 1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Thes. 5:23; James 5:7-9; and 1 John 2:28). [Emphasis added to the following passages.]
1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (NKJV) For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
2 Thessalonians 2:1 (NKJV) Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, ...
Matthew 24:30-31 (NKJV) "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 "And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 (NKJV) and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
John 14:2-3 (NKJV) "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. 3 "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
This coming of the Lord is His promised return (John 14:3). Since the promise was given after His first coming to earth as a child born in Bethlehem, this coming of Jesus will be His second time. Therefore, some people refer to this as the Second Coming of Jesus. However, other people call the start of Jesus’ millennial reign His second coming. (The Millennium occurs at least five months after Jesus comes.) Some theories about the End Times incorrectly teach that the gathering of Christians (i.e., the Rapture) will occur sometime before (typically 3½ or 7 years before) the second coming of Jesus. However, as shown in the Scriptures quoted above, the Rapture takes place at the coming of Jesus (which is technically His second coming). The Bible does not use the term second coming.
Matthew 24:23-31 says that the coming of Jesus and the gathering of His people (the elect) will take place immediately after the Great Tribulation. It is extremely important to understand the difference between the Great Tribulation and the Wrath of God before attempting to understand the correct timing for the Rapture. Much of the confusion about whether the Rapture occurs before, after, or in the middle of the Great Tribulation stems from confusion about which events occur as part of the Great Tribulation. It is also important to understand that the Rapture takes place when Jesus comes to judge the earth.
The Rapture is described in several passages in the Bible. Probably the most familiar to Christians is that in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (quoted above). This passage explains that when Jesus comes, those Christians who have died (those who are asleep in Jesus) will be resurrected and rise first to meet the Lord. Then those Christians who are still alive will rise up to join the others and Jesus in the clouds. (According to Acts 1:9-11, these are probably literal clouds.) This passage also shows that the coming of Jesus will be a very dramatic event with a shout, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God. Matthew 24 also describes the Rapture of the Church as follows.
Matthew 24:29-31 (NKJV) "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 "And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
This passage clearly explains that the Rapture will occur immediately after the Great Tribulation (compare verse 21 with 29). The Rapture also occurs after certain signs in the sun, moon, and stars (vs. 29). Jesus will come on the clouds of heaven and send His angels to gather His people from all the earth (vv. 30-31). Christians will rise into the air (i.e., the heaven) and then be gathered.
Another description of the signs in the sun, moon, and stars is provided in Revelation 6:12-14. Soon after these signs occur, a very large number of people appear before the throne of God (Rev. 7:9-10). These people went through the Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:14). This passage in Revelation shows that the Rapture occurs after the Great Tribulation, but before the Wrath of God (see Rev. 6:17, chapter 8 and following passages). Christians will be in Heaven (before the throne of God) during the plagues of the Wrath of God. (Some people teach that Christians do not go to Heaven at the Rapture. Instead, when they meet the Lord in the air, the Lord and the Christians return to reign on earth. This passage in Revelation 7:9-14 shows that this teaching is incorrect since people are in Heaven after the Rapture.) Following is another passage that describes the Rapture or gathering of the Church.
Revelation 14:14-16 (NKJV) Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. 15 And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, "Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe." 16 So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.
This passage describes Jesus ("one like the Son of Man") sitting on a cloud wearing a golden crown and carrying a sharp sickle. The harvest is ripe indicating that it is time to gather the people of God from the earth. This reaping or gathering (the Rapture) is described using the illustration of a harvester (Jesus) who uses a sickle to gather the grain (the people who belong to God).
Evidence that this passage is describing the Rapture rather than some other event is provided by comparing the surrounding verses with parallel descriptions provided in Revelation 6:12 through 11:19. First, this gathering of the harvest occurs after the Great Tribulation (Rev. 14:9-13). Immediately after this harvest, those who remain on the earth (the grapes) are gathered and thrown into the winepress of the wrath of God (Rev. 14:17-20; 15:1). Next, a great multitude of people who obtained victory over the Beast are shown worshipping God before the throne in Heaven (Rev. 15:2-4). This is describing the same scene shown in Revelation 7:9-17 where a great multitude is shown who came out of the Great Tribulation. Finally, events of the Wrath of God are described following this great multitude’s appearance before the throne (Rev. 15:1, 5-8, 16:1-21).
As mentioned earlier, it is extremely important to understand the difference between the events of the Great Tribulation and those of the Wrath of God. Failure to understand the differences can lead to three of the more common erroneous theories about when the Rapture occurs. These three theories are sometimes called the pre-trib, mid-trib, and post-trib rapture theories.
These three rapture theories appear to have their roots in a failure to correctly distinguish the difference between the Great Tribulation and the Wrath of God. While the following explanations are over-simplified, they can help show how each theory can be derived by mistakenly mixing the events of the Great Tribulation and Wrath of God.
Pre-Trib Rapture. This theory teaches that Christians will be raptured before the Great Tribulation. The following two Scriptures are sometimes used to support this popular theory.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 (KJV) For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
1 Thessalonians 1:10 (KJV) And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
The problem is a failure to distinguish the difference between the Great Tribulation and the Wrath of God. Those who hold this theory typically include the seven plagues (of the Wrath of God) in with the Great Tribulation. Then they reason that since we are not destined for wrath, we must not be here during the Great Tribulation. It is true that Christians will not suffer the Wrath of God. However, the plagues of the Wrath of God are not part of the Great Tribulation.
Mid-Trib Rapture. This theory teaches that Christians will go through the first half of the Great Tribulation. They will be raptured to avoid what is taught as the more severe second half of the Great Tribulation. Often, the total length of the Great Tribulation is given as seven years with the Christians going through three and one-half years of it. Some people call the first 3½ years the Tribulation and the last 3½ years the Great Tribulation.
The problem in this theory is also caused by a failure to distinguish the difference between the Great Tribulation and the Wrath of God. In this case, the plagues of the Wrath of God are included as the last half of the Great Tribulation. This rapture theory teaches that Christians will be taken out of the earth before the plagues, but they will suffer some under the Beast. This theory is correct in its teaching that Christians will suffer under the Beast. It is also correct in teaching that Christians will not suffer during the seven plagues. However, it is incorrect in claiming that the Great Tribulation is seven years long and that the seven plagues are part of the Great Tribulation.
Post-Trib Rapture. This theory teaches that Christians will be raptured after all of the so-called Great Tribulation is completed. The events of the Great Tribulation and Wrath of God are incorrectly lumped together and called the Great Tribulation. This theory is incorrect when it teaches that Christians will go through the seven plagues of the Wrath of God. (Note: Many who consider themselves post-trib also correctly believe in a pre-wrath Rapture. This can be confusing at times.)
Each of these three incorrect theories about the rapture can be logically traced to a failure to distinguish the difference between the Great Tribulation and Wrath of God. (Even though there are probably other factors that contribute to the confusion.) Therefore, it is vitally important that a clear distinction is made between the Great Tribulation and Wrath of God.
So when does the Rapture occur? The Rapture takes place after the Great Tribulation but before the Wrath of God. This teaching is sometimes called the Pre-Wrath Rapture to prevent confusion between it and the Post-Trib Rapture theory. As established in the early part of this chapter, the Rapture takes place at the coming of Jesus. The coming of Jesus takes place immediately after the Great Tribulation and before the Wrath of God (see the Chronological Relationships chapter.). Therefore, the Rapture must take place after the Great Tribulation and before the Wrath of God.
Jesus will come to gather (rapture) God’s people and to bring judgment (i.e., wrath) on the other people like what occurred in the days of Noah (Mat. 24:36-39). Noah and his family in the ark rose above the waters of judgment. When the judgment was completed, Noah and his family returned to the earth’s surface. In a similar manner, Christians will rise above God’s wrath in the Rapture. They will return to the earth’s surface after the judgment is completed—at the beginning of the Millennium.
When Jesus comes, it will also be like the days of Lot (Lk. 17:26-29). As soon as Lot was safely outside the city, God’s judgment rained down from heaven destroying Sodom and Gomorrah with all their inhabitants (Lk 17:29; Gen. 19:12-29). In a similar manner, as soon as Christians are removed from the earth, God’s wrath will fall on all the earth’s inhabitants (Rev. 14:14-20; Rev. 15:1-8; Rev. 16:1-21).
The Rapture is a non-biblical, but commonly used term that refers to the gathering of Christians from the earth when Jesus comes.
Significance of the Rapture:
The Rapture is very significant in that it marks the end of suffering for Christians during the Great Tribulation (Mat. 24:29-31; 2 Thes. 1:6-10). It also marks the end of mortal life for Christians (1 Cor. 15:50-52). For the Beast and non-Christians, the Rapture marks the beginning of the judgment poured out on them during the Wrath of God (Rev. 14:14-20).
Source of the Rapture:
Jesus is the one who sends His angels to gather the Christians (Mat. 24:30-31).
Length of the Rapture:
The exact length of the Rapture is not given in Scripture. However, it appears to occur in a very short time, possibly less than a second (1 Cor 15:51-52). However, its effects will last through eternity (1 Thes. 4:16-17).
Events Prior to the Rapture:
The Rapture occurs at the coming of Jesus (1 Thes. 4:15-17; 2 Thes. 2:1; 1:7-8; Mat. 24:30-31; John 14:2-3). The Rapture will not occur until after there is a major falling away of believers (see Mat. 24:12; 1 Tim. 4:1-3). The Beast is also revealed before the Rapture (2 Thes. 2:1-4). The Beast is exposed for who he is when he establishes the Abomination of Desolation. Therefore, the Rapture will not occur until after the Abomination of Desolation. Scriptures demonstrate that the Rapture occurs between the Great Tribulation and Wrath of God (see beginning of this chapter, the chapter on the coming of Jesus, and the Chronological Relationships chapter).
Events of the Rapture:
Dead Christians will be resurrected, and living Christians will be given new bodies at the Rapture (1 Cor. 15:50-52). Both groups will rise up to meet Jesus in the clouds (1 Thes. 4:16-17).
God During the Rapture:
Jesus will be very active as He returns to gather His Church (Mat. 24:29-31; Rev. 14:14-16).
Christians During the Rapture:
Christians are removed from the earth and taken to Heaven (i.e., before the throne, Rev. 7:9-17; Mat. 24:29-31). There will be 144,000 people sealed to protect them from the plagues of God’s Wrath (Rev. 7:1-8). Apparently, these 144,000 people will participate in the outpouring of the Wrath of God (Rev. 14:1,4,7; 19:13-15).
Satan During the Rapture:
Scripture does not indicate what Satan is doing during the Rapture.
Beast During the Rapture:
Scripture does not indicate what the Beast is doing during the Rapture.
Non-Christians During the Rapture:
When Jesus comes back to gather the Christians, His return will be as visible as the lightning that lights up the entire sky (Mat. 24:27). The non-Christians will see Jesus and great fear will come upon them. They will seek to hide from the anger of the Lord (Mat. 24:30; Rev. 6:15-17).
Events Following the Rapture:
Following the removal of God’s people from the earth, they show up in Heaven (Rev. 7:9-17). Also, 144,000 people from the twelve tribes of Israel are sealed to protect them from the plagues of the Wrath of God (Rev. 7:1-8). After these events, the seven plagues of the Wrath of God are poured out on the Beast and those people who were not removed from the earth (i.e., the non-Christians).
Scripture references for Rapture:
Mat. 24:23-31; Mat. 13:36-43; Mat. 13:47-50; Mat. 24:42-51; Mat. 25:13; Mark 13:21-27; Mark 13:32-33; Luke 17:22-24; Luke 21:25-28; Luke 21:34-35; Jn. 14:2-3; Acts 1:9-11; Rom. 8:11, 23; 1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Cor. 15:50-56; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Thes. 4:13-17; 1 Thes. 5:1-9, 23; 2 Thes. 1:6-10; 2 Thes. 2:1-4, 8; Jas. 5:7-9; 2 Pet 3:4, 7, 10-13; 1 Jn. 2:28; Rev. 1:7; Rev. 3:3; Rev. 6:12-17; Rev. 7:9-17; Rev. 14:14-20; Rev. 15:1-4; Rev. 16:15; Isa. 27:12-13; Dan. 12:1-3; Joel 3:13-16; Zech. 14:4-5
Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. NKJV indicates quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. KJV indicates quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible. Numbers associated with Greek (italic) or Hebrew (upright) words refer to the corresponding words in the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, by James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D.
Please make copies of this book to give to your friends. (A searchable and printable version in Adobe Acrobat format is available for download.) Your comments and suggestion are also welcome. Thank you for helping others to understand the Bible teachings on the End Times.
God bless you.
If you have questions or comments, please contact Sonny Bowman.