Elon, North Carolina
Some have called I Corinthians 15 one of the most important chapters in the whole Bible. Tonight, we come to one of the most important subjects I have ever shared with you. I look at what the Bible teaches about the rapture. Let’s begin by reading the three main passages on the rapture in the NT (I Corinthians 15:50-58; I Thessalonians 4:13-17; John 14:1-3).
1. What does the word “rapture mean?
What does the word “rapture” mean? The Greek word for rapture is ἁρπάζω. It is used thirteen times in the NT and it means to take or seize by force (e.g., John 6:15; 10:12, 28; Acts 23:10). It does not always imply the direction upward, although it can mean that. Our English word “harpoon” comes from this Greek word. A weapon used to snatch whales out of the water.
2. Is the idea of a rapture completely ridiculous?
To us the rapture may seem like a wild idea. It seems crazy that at some time in the future millions of people will suddenly and mysteriously disappear off the face of the earth but did you know that there are other raptures in the Bible.
This is something that has already happened in biblical history six times. Six people in the Bible were ruptured – Enoch (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5), Elijah (II Kings 2:1-11), Jesus (Revelation 12:5), Philip (Acts 8:39), Paul (II Corinthians 12:2, 4), John (Revelation 4:1-2). These are types of the rapture of the church.
3. Why are there so many views on the rapture?
The topic of the rapture evokes strong responses by people. There are many people who absolutely hate the doctrine of the pre-trib rapture. They call it a hoax. They call it Christian fiction. They argue that the word is not in the Bible and is false doctrine.
They see it as something that was manufactured in the 1800s by the Plymouth Brethren. There are some who not only believe it is biblical; they write books on fifty reasons for the pre-trib rapture of the church. In some circles any other view on the rapture is almost regarded as heresy. Let me try to put this into perspective. I would point out a couple things here.
The Rapture Basics
1) There many different views on the rapture by Christians.
There are not just one or two, there are four views on the rapture. Some Christians believe it will take place before the Tribulation (pre-trib). Some will think it will take place in the middle of the Tribulation (mid-trib). Some think it will take place between the middle and the end of the Tribulation (Pre-Wrath) and some think it will happen at the end of the Tribulation (post-trib).
2) These four views are all held by conservatives who believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God.
They are not held by liberals. Liberals do not even believe in the rapture. Gleason Archer, for example, was an arch conservative. He wrote the book on biblical inerrancy and was part of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. He believes the rapture will take place in the middle of the Tribulation.
Wayne Grudem, another evangelical who also signed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978, believes the rapture will take place after the Tribulation. Other conservatives hold to the Mid-Trib or Pre-Wrath Rapture of the church.
3) Whatever your view of the rapture, whenever you believe it will take place, should not be a test of fellowship.
Even Charles Ryrie agrees that the rapture question should not be a test of fellowship. It is not an essential doctrine of the faith. Some doctrines are essential (Deity of Christ, Virgin Birth) . The Bible is clear on these doctrines and all Christians agree. Other doctrines are non-essential.
The Bible is not as clear and Christians who love the Lord and believe the Bible to be inspired and inerrant have different views. There is a famous quote that says, “In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In all things love”. Because of this, I believe that this is an area that we need to have a little grace with other believers who disagree with us.
The Second Coming is an essential doctrine of the faith. If you deny that Jesus is coming back, you are denying an essential doctrine that is at the core of the Christian faith. It is in some of the earliest Christian creeds. As for the rapture, the FACT of the rapture is clear in the Bible. I would call that an essential doctrine. All Christians can agree that one day Jesus will return and the church will be ruptured in the clouds to meet him.
What is not an essential doctrine is the TIMING of the rapture Exactly when it takes place is not as clear. There is no argument about IF the rapture will take place. The argument is WHEN it will take place (before the Tribulation, after the Tribulation, in the middle of the Tribulation).
For example, what happens immediately after the rapture? Where do we go after Jesus comes and gets us and we meet him in the clouds? Does Jesus take us back to heaven or does he take us to earth?
Neither passage on the rapture says explicitly. All Paul says is, “And so we will be with the Lord forever” (I Thessalonians 4:17). After Jesus says that He is going to go and prepare a place for us and come back and get us, He says, “that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).
There reason these verses didn’t tell us where they went next is that it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that at the rapture we will be with Jesus. Where he takes us is irrelevant. Scripture focuses on what is important.
The tragedy of the church is that the doctrine that was intended to be a source of comfort and encouragement (I Thessalonians 4:18) has become a source of division, disunity and controversy.
Let’s look at seven things that the Bible says about the rapture of the church and how this doctrine applies to us practically.
Facts About the Rapture
1) This coming is a Revelation
The doctrine of the rapture of the church is a called in the Bible a “mystery”. That is the biblical word for a divine revelation (Gk. μυστήριον). It means new truth that was never before revealed. It was not even revealed in the OT.
It was a secret. A secret is not something that is necessarily mysterious. You just don’t know it until someone tells you what it is. None of us would have known about the rapture if God had not revealed it to Paul. Paul got this doctrine by special revelation.
When Paul begins to talk about the rapture he said, “This we say to you by the word of the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:15). That should not surprise us that OT saints did not know about the rapture of the church, because they also did not know about the church at all. The whole concept of the church as the body of Christ made up of Jew and Gentile is also a mystery (Ephesians 3:1-9).
2) This coming will involve ALL Believers
There are two main parts to this promised coming of Christ. It will involve both the living and the dead.
First, dead believers in Christ will be resurrected from the grave.
Paul said, “The dead in Christ will rise first” (4:16). This resurrection will be selective. It will not affect everyone just Christians, those “in Christ”. Dead Christians been in the grave for hundred if not thousands of years will all of the sudden come to life. Bodies will be flying out of tombs all over the place.
Second, living believers in Christ will be raptured.
Millions of people on the planet will suddenly disappear. The last generation of Christians will go to heaven without dying. That is a mystery. It would be cool to receive a resurrection body while you are still alive, to be totally and permanently transformed into his image without even dying. It might also be a little scary. You go to the bathroom and start flying up to the clouds.
Both I Corinthians 15 and I Thessalonians 4 deal with the rapture. They describe the same event but they emphasize two completely different things. I Thessalonians 4 emphasizes DEAD believers who will be raised. The emphasis in I Corinthians 15 is different. I Corinthians 15 emphasizes LIVING believers who will be changed and transformed at the rapture. Both will happen when Jesus returns to get the church.
The question for Christians in Thessalonica was whether believers who DIED would share in the glory of the Second Coming. Are they going to miss out on the rapture of the church? Paul said, No. They will share in the Second Coming. God honors dead Christians.
Psalm 115:16 says, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints”. He is not going to forget them. They will be first. They will be given a new body before we get one. How cool will that be to meet for the first time some of our own relatives, our ancestors who were Christians.
The question for the Christians in Corinth was different. The question is Corinth was whether those who are ALIVE would receive the same benefit as those who died. Paul taught that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (15:50).
We can’t go directly to heaven in these bodies. Even the most spiritual Christian on earth is not ready to live in heaven. Paul says that we will receive the same benefit as deceased believers. Our bodies will go through a transformation from mortality to immortality at the rapture.
3) This coming will affect ALL Christians
Whether they are living or dead, all Christians will be changed ((not some or a few or most). Living Christians will be raptured. Dead Christians will be resurrected and far more Christians will be resurrected than raptured. All Christians at the time of the rapture will change from one body to another. Paul says, “We shall not all sleep but we shall all change”.
Every single believer on earth from the baby Christian to the most mature saint (and including true believers who have fallen into sin) will be taken up into the clouds. Death is the general rule for humanity. The Bible says, “It is appointed unto man to die and after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27) but there is one group of people (actually a whole generation of people) who will NOT die.
4) This coming will be very SUDDEN
The change will be instantaneous. It will not be a gradual process. It will be quick and sudden in less than a second. It will take place fast, so fast you may not even see it (in a “moment” and in the “twinkling of an eye”).
5) This coming will be UNEXPECTED
There will be no warning. There will be no announcement. It will just happen (Matthew 24:44). No one knows the day and no one knows the hour. We don’t know that month it will take place. We don’t know what year it will take place and we don’t know what time of the day it will take place (late at night or early in the morning).
Jesus said, “The angels don’t know and I don’t even know when it will take place” (Mark 13:31). The Second Coming will also be unexpected. It will take people by surprise. Jesus said, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44). The same is true of the rapture.
Harold Camping said it would take place on May 21st. If Jesus didn’t know when the day would be, then Camping doesn’t know when they day will be. Harold Camping does not know more than Jesus or the angels in heaven. Camping was wrong about May 21 and everyone else who has set a date for the rapture has also been wrong. It is a secret. It is not revealed. God hasn’t told us when it will take place.
In fact, there are six verses in the Bible which specifically prohibit setting a date for Jesus’ return. There is not one or two. There are six (Matthew 24:36, 42, 44; 25:13; Acts 1:7; I Thessalonians 5:1-2).
The interesting thing is that there was a way to predict when the first coming would be. There was a mathematical calculation in Daniel 9 which predicts the first coming of the Messiah but there is no mathematical calculation for the second coming of the Messiah.
6) This coming will be AUDIBLE
I am not sure if this is the view that Tim Lahaye portrays in his Left Behind series. I believe he portrays the rapture as something that happens quietly as millions of people secretly and mysteriously disappear. The rapture will actually be a loud event, a sound which John Calvin said “which will be heard throughout the whole world”.
It will not be a silent affair. That does not mean that unbelievers on earth will know necessarily what is happening. They may or may not know what is happening but they will hear something to be sure. The rapture is associated by three audible sounds. What are the three audible sounds? I Thessalonians 4:16 tells us.
First, Christ will return with a LOUD command. Who is the one speaking here? The text does not say but it must be Jesus. Jesus said, “a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live” (John 5:28-29). If you remember, when Jesus raised Lazarus the text says that he “called out with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43).
Second, there will be the VOICE of the archangel. Michael is the archangel (Jude 9). He is the head of all of the angels and has his own group of angels (Revelation 12:7). Angels are the highest created beings and this is the top angel. When Jesus returns, Jesus will say something. The top angel in heaven will say something.
Third, we will hear the SOUND of a trumpet. Why a trumpet? When a king would come, a trumpet was often sounded. The trumpet sound is mentioned in I Thessalonians and in I Corinthians 15. The Trumpet is sounded when Jesus returns to earth and it is said to be a “LOUD trumpet call” (Matthew 24:31).
7) The event will occur at the LAST TRUMPET
Paul does not just say what will happen, he tells us how and when it will happen. What will happen? We will all be changed. How will it happen? It will be in the twinkling of an eye. When will it happen? At the last trump.
When will the last trump be? Not all Christians agree on that question. Many believe this is a strong argument against the view that the rapture will be seven years before the Tribulation period starts because all kinds of trumpet sounds take place throughout the Tribulation (Rev. 8:2, 6, 13; 9:14; et al).
If the last trump is sounded around Revelation 6 at the rapture, then what are the other trumpets that are sounded a few chapters later?
Pre-tribuilationists point out that other trumpets will be sounded in the Millennium. Even if the post-tribulationists are correct, it will not be the last trumpet sounded, because a trumpet will be sounded in connection with the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles which will be celebrated in the Millennium (Zechariah 14:16-19).
It is the last trump as far as this world is concerned. When Jesus returns and the Millennium begins, the world will go through radical changes. It will be a completely different world.
Some argue that there is a difference between the trumpet of an angel and the trumpet of God (I Thessalonians 4:16) and many of the trumpets in the Tribulation are sounded by angels but this argument is weak, because God often does things through the agency of angels. God often uses them to do his work.
If you read, Genesis 19, you will see two angels were sent down to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and yet the text also says that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
How Should This Doctrine Change My Life?
1. This doctrine should serve as an ENCOURAGEMENT to believers
That is what Paul said in I Thessalonians 4:18, 13. How can the doctrine of the rapture be an encouragement to believers?
• It is an encouragement to know that Jesus may return in our lifetime, that this may be the generation of believers that gets caught up in the clouds. Jesus said that he is coming soon (Revelation 22:20).
• It is an encouragement to know that when Jesus returns we will miss death. That is what you call cheating death.
• It is an encouragement to know that when Jesus returns we will get a new body that is sinless and immortal.
• It is an encouragement to know that when Jesus returns his reward will be with him (Revelation 22:12; I Corinthians 4:5; 15:58). Even if everyone else think your labor is vain or appreciate what you do for Christ, Paul reminds us that our labor in the Lord is NOT in vain (Hebrews 6:10).
• It is an encouragement to know that when Jesus returns people will see Christ and be reunited with believers who died. When Paul talks about the rapture and says “comfort pone another about these words,” he is not saying take comfort that you will escape persecution, suffering and tribulation. In the context, he is saying that you can take comfort that you will see your loved one again who knows the Lord.
• It is an encouragement to know that when Jesus returns, the rapture will affect all Christians, not just some of them.
2. This doctrine should serve as an WARNING to believers
Why would this doctrine be a warning?
• Some Christians may not be ready to see Jesus.
They are not prepared spiritually. What percentage of the church do you think will actually be ready when Jesus comes? Many Christians are carnal, living lukewarm lives. They are not living for the Lord. They are not using their talents or serving Christ. Some are living in sin.
Many have absolutely no interest in biblical prophecy and are not even looking for his coming. They are more interested in advancing their career or moving up in society. The Bible says that when Jesus comes some will be ashamed (I John 2:28) and I believe that this includes some Christians.
• In fact, some may be surprised at the rapture, because they think they are believers but when Jesus comes back, they will be left behind.
Ready or not, Jesus is coming. Whenever the rapture happens, the question is, Will you be left behind? Watch http://www.godvine.com/Are-You-Ready-for-Jesus-to-Come-Back-Shocking-Must-See-Video-198.html
3. This doctrine should serve as an EXHORTATION to Christians.
There are some moral implications to the rapture (I John 3:2-3). Because Jesus is coming, we need to get ready (Matthew 24:44). How do we do that?
• We shouldn’t be too tied to this world. Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:19-20).
• We can leave this world at any time. Are you living as if today could be your last day?
• We should be laboring for Christ now. As Paul says, we should be “always abounding in the work of the Lord” (15:58)
This is a good, clear treatment on this topic. I’m very glad to have found it. I tend to think you did not have someone proofread it before publication, as there are several errors, or perhaps typos, in the text. It seems I see and hear this every day anymore, both in published material and even from news announcers. It is a sign of the times, I suppose, but it especially grieves me when I see it in a Christian publication.
Thank you again, however, for the well-stated and thought-provoking article!
Sincerely in Christ,
Thanks for the letter. All of these lessons were originally presented in a small group setting and then are posted online. They were originally designed for speaking, not writing. Sorry about the occasional errors. I correct them whenever I see them. I need to spend more time editing but do not always have the time, since I have a full-time job.
It is encouraging to see a small group of fellow Christians diligently searching the Scriptures then documenting their studies. Keep at it! Acts 17:11
This article on the Rapture closely follows SOME of the biblical teaching but I must disagree with the comment: “Where He takes us is irrelevant” in the face of our Lord clearly explaining to His disciples exactly where we are going!…to His Father’s house.
I submit that the root cause for falling into this thinking is failure to appreciate that the Holy Bible is a Jewish book focussing on God’s dealings with His earthly people Israel thru whom our Saviour came. Christians as belonging to Christ’s Church are a heavenly people and we have a few letters written to us, primarily by apostle Paul. We must learn from Israel’s story (1 Cor 10:11) but not hijack what is not written to us and confuse Israel with the Church. This happens with Matt 24. You may find a series I blogged useful – here is the link to the last article of 7: http://hotspuds.blogspot.com.au/2015/08/scoffers-beware.html. It is important to get this right cos Satan is attacking the truth and lulling us to sleep when we should be watching! Glad to discuss further by email. God bless you all.