Imagine pilotless airplanes plummeting to earth, empty cars crashing, and those "left behind" anxiously searching for their loved ones who disappeared, as depicted in a recent major movie. Many proclaim that this will happen—but is this idea of "the Rapture" biblical?
Many Bible believers realize that we are fast approaching a time of massive war, disease epidemics and natural calamities. This will lead into what Bible prophecy refers to as the Great Tribulation, followed by the terrible calamities of the Day of the Lord. The book of Revelation tells of this latter time when seven angels will successively blow seven trumpets, each one heralding great events during the time leading to the return of Jesus Christ as the King of Kings (Revelation 8-9; Revelation 11:15).
If you are waiting for the return of Jesus Christ, it's important that you understand the great steps in God's plan of salvation, including the resurrection of believers at Christ's second coming. Don't let an unbiblical teaching undermine your entire faith and belief in God!
Some believe they will be spared from these worldwide calamities by the Rapture—taking place, depending on who you ask, 7 years, 3 1/2 years, or a few months before Christ's return. As commonly conceived, the doctrine of the Rapture—or, more technically, the pretribulation rapture—is the teaching that Christ comes to take Christians away into the safety of heaven before the years of Tribulation start.
What about you? Do you expect to hear the blast of a trumpet and immediately rise to meet Jesus in the clouds—before the great calamities of the end time?
On the other hand, how devastated would you be if these things begin to happen and you and others are not raptured? That could undermine your entire faith and belief in God!
So we must ask: What does the Bible actually teach about the Rapture? Let's explore four biblical passages to see if the Bible can answer the question, Is the Rapture real?
The pretribulation rapture story is compelling, and it is easy to see why people want to believe it. Nevertheless, if we search the Scriptures repeatedly, and grasp the proper overview of the seven trumpets, we will see that the common Rapture teaching does not fit with what God tells us in the Bible.
Caught up into the air after a trumpet blast
Of course if you believe in the Rapture, you may be saying at this point: "This publication is wrong. The Rapture is mentioned in the Bible by the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians."
Let's consider that passage. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 Paul writes to the first-century church in Thessalonica:
"But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 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.
"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. 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."
This is the predominant passage used to support the typical Rapture teaching—as the word translated "caught up" in verse 17 could be translated "raptured" in English, since "raptured" simply means "suddenly caught up." But the context in the pretribulation rapture teaching is all wrong. Notice the mention of the trumpet here. To really understand this passage we must compare it with three other New Testament passages that describe the same events.
Christians gathered at Christ's return with a trumpet after the Tribulation
Let's now look at what Jesus taught about His second coming and the gathering of the saints in what is known as the Olivet Prophecy, as it was spoken on the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21). Many people will tell you that the Rapture and Christ's second coming are two separate events with years in between. However, the Bible reveals the error in this teaching. Christ's followers will be saved, but not in the way the common teaching of the Rapture depicts.
Here's what Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 24:29-31: "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. 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. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect [or chosen people, true Christians] from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."
Some would claim that this applies only to those converted during the Tribulation period—not to believers supposedly raptured before the Tribulation. Yet we elsewhere see, and we'll look more closely at this shortly, that all believers who've died and those alive at Christ's return will rise in the resurrection to eternal life together, with merely a moment separating these two groups. There is no scriptural identification of another group rising to immortality a while before this.
There are remarkable similarities between what Jesus taught in the Olivet Prophecy and what Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians. Recall that in 1 Thessalonians Paul wrote that those who are alive up to the time of Christ's second coming will not rise before those who have died in the faith, because the dead in Christ will rise first.
We also saw that Jesus in the Olivet Prophecy talked about gathering His followers from the "four winds," or from all areas of the globe, after the Tribulation.
Do the passages in 1 Thessalonians and the Olivet prophecy describe the same or different events? The matter should be clearer now—but let's consider two more passages to help us put together the pieces of this puzzle.
Resurrection and change at the last trumpet
The third passage we'll look at is also written by the apostle Paul—1 Corinthians 15:50-53: "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."
Notice that this occurs at the last trumpet. The pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fit together. The three passages of Scripture we've read (in 1 Thessalonians, Matthew and 1 Corinthians) are all describing the same event—what happens at the last trumpet! We have one more passage to add to the picture.
The resurrection follows the seven trumpets of Revelation
Just as Matthew 24 showed that ominous heavenly signs would follow the Tribulation, so does the book of Revelation (compare Revelation 6:9-14). And Revelation further shows that this introduces the great day of God's wrath (Matthew 24:17), elsewhere referred to as the Day of the Lord, which will add another year to the preceding calamity (see Isaiah 34:8).
Revelation 8 and 9 then describe six major events that will happen during the Day of the Lord—followed by a seventh in Revelation 11:15. As mentioned earlier, these events are heralded by the blowing of seven trumpets. At the last, or seventh trumpet, Christ is proclaimed the world's new ruler and returns to resurrect and meet His followers.
Here is what the apostle John was inspired to write in Revelation 20:4-6 about those raised at the time of Christ's return:
"I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands.
"They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years" (New International Version).
Note that the first resurrection, which is only one resurrection, includes all of Christ's followers from the past as well as those who are martyred at the time of the Great Tribulation. The end-time rising of believers does not occur at both ends of the final Tribulation and Day of the Lord period—it occurs only afterward.
All of the passages we've examined are describing the same events. Those who are caught up to meet Christ in the air in 1 Thessalonians 4 cannot precede those who are dead, because the dead rise first. The dead are raised at the sound of the seventh trumpet when Christ returns after the Tribulation period—and those alive in Christ are changed in the next moment to be part of the same resurrection.
The biblical conclusion
When we look at these scriptures, it is plain that there is no real biblical support for the pretribulation Rapture. The followers of Jesus Christ will be caught up to meet Him, but this will be after the Tribulation and the trumpets of the Day of the Lord, at the sound of the last, or seventh, trumpet, when all true Christians who've died or are still alive are changed together.
The supernatural trumpet supplies a key to understanding the events leading to Christ's return to establish God's Kingdom on the earth.
The dead in Christ will be resurrected, and His followers who are alive will be changed and "caught up together in the clouds." However, they will not stay in the clouds—or return permanently to heaven to dwell, as some imagine. Jesus Christ is coming to earth to save humanity and establish God's Kingdom over all nations. This is the hope for all those who anticipate His return!
If you are waiting for the return of Jesus Christ, it's important that you understand the great steps in God's plan of salvation, including the resurrection of believers at Christ's second coming. Then you will not be devastated when you and others are not raptured. Don't let an unbiblical teaching undermine your entire faith and belief in God!
Thankfully there are many scriptures that, on careful study, show that God does provide protection for His people and will do so in the calamitous last days (Matthew 24:13; Luke 21:36; Revelation 12:14)—but that protection will be here on the earth, as we await the joyful rising to meet our Savior that will come at the end of that terrible time!