The Rapture is perhaps the most important piece of prophecy for us to understand since it could very well impact us personally. We will examine what the Rapture is, defend it biblically, and explain its personal and practical importance.
In summary, the Rapture is an event where all who have put their trust in Christ, living and deceased, will suddenly be caught up from earth, be joined with Christ in the air, and taken to heaven. Paul describes the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
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. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Rapture is derived from the Latin translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which translates the Greek harpazo (to catch up or carry away) as rapiemur from the Latin rapio. The Greek harpazo occurs fourteen times in the New Testament with four variations of meaning, each of which contributes to our understanding of what Paul is describing in verse 17: “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with [the dead] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
First, harpazo can mean “to carry off by force.” Christ will use His power to remove living and deceased believers from the last enemy, death.
Second, harpazo can mean “to claim for oneself eagerly.” Christ purchased us with His blood, and He will return to claim those who are His.
Third, harpazo can mean “to snatch away speedily.” The Rapture will occur “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52).
Fourth, harpazo can mean “to rescue from the danger of destruction.” This meaning supports the idea that the Rapture will save the Church from experiencing the terrors of the seven-year Tribulation.
This coming event is the first part of Christ’s two-part return to earth. First, He’ll remove the Church from the world. Second, seven years later, He’ll establish His Kingdom on earth. For every prophecy in Scripture about Christ’s first advent, there are eight about His second. The 260 chapters of the New Testament contain 318 references to the Second Coming of Christ.1
The Difference Between the Rapture and Christ’s Second Coming
Will the Rapture occur at Christ’s Second Coming? The short answer is, “Yes, but….” The Rapture sets in motion the End-Time events leading to Christ’s Second Coming. The two stages, Rapture and Return, will be separated by a seven-year Tribulation on earth. The purpose of the Rapture is to spare Christ’s own from the horrors of the Tribulation according to Revelation 3:10.
The prophets saw what appears to be the Tribulation—“the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7)—not the Rapture. But that is not surprising; they didn’t differentiate clearly between the First and Second Advents of Christ. The prophets “inquired and searched carefully” (1 Peter 1:10-11), but they saw more of the big picture than the details. And they didn’t see the Church at all, which is who the Rapture affects. The prophets saw the future like seeing successive mountain peaks through a telephoto lens. They saw the peaks (events), but not the distance that separates them.
Three New Testament passages tell us about the Rapture: John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:50-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians are the most complete and form the basis for this discussion.
First, we must note that Paul gained his understanding of the Rapture via special revelation from God—he called it a “mystery” in 1 Corinthians 15:51, meaning a truth not previously revealed. The revelation was “by the word of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15).
Second, Paul shared this revelation in order to meet a practical concern of the Christians in Thessalonica. They were concerned about the fate of Christians who died before Christ’s Second Coming (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and about the timing of the Rapture—whether it had already happened (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
- Think about the circumstances of the believers in Thessalonica. How do they compare to your situation as a believer in Christ?
- How do Paul’s words to the Thessalonians bring comfort and understanding to you?
Three Reasons the Rapture Could Happen Today
Reason 1: The Rapture is a signless event.
Unlike the Second Coming, no signs will precede the Rapture. This is called the doctrine of imminency—that is, the Rapture is imminent; it could happen at any moment. Specifically, nothing in God’s prophetic program must take place as a prerequisite to the Rapture. Things may happen but nothing must happen. That means we don’t know when it could happen. It could be today or years from today.
Without any warning, Jesus Christ will return to rapture His saints and take them to heaven. Christians must live prepared lives, ready to meet their Savior at any moment.
Reason 2: The Rapture is a surprise event.
While many through the years have predicted the date of the Rapture and Jesus’ Second Coming, Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:36-39 should be taken literally: No one, including Jesus and the angels, knows the time of His return. Only God the Father knows. Not knowing when Jesus will come for His Church causes us to be ready at all times.
Reason 3: The Rapture is a sudden event.
Paul wrote that the Rapture will take place “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). “Twinkling” likely refers to the amount of time it takes for light, traveling at 186,000 miles per second, to be reflected on the retina of one’s eye. In less than a nanosecond, the Lord will call believers to Himself!
- Many people have tried to predict the date of the Rapture. Based on Matthew 24:36-39, what would you say to them?
- The Rapture could happen today! Do you feel prepared to meet your Savior? If not, what changes could you make to better prepare for the Rapture?
- 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.” These are not three distinct sounds, but one sound described three different ways.
This sound will be like a shout, ringing with commanding authority like the voice of an archangel. It will also be like the blare of a trumpet in its volume and clarity. And the sound will be heard only by those who have trusted Christ as Savior. Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come forth!” in John 11:43. His shout of “Come forth!” at the Rapture will not name a single individual, but will be heard by every believer in every grave around the world.
At the moment of the Rapture, God’s people from every era—the disciples, the martyrs of the ages, your godly ancestors, and many more—will rise from their graves. Who do you most look forward to seeing? Spend some time in prayer thanking God for the hope we have in the Rapture.
The Rapture Isn’t for Everybody
Each of the three major passages that teach about the Rapture indicate that it involves believers only (including innocent children too young to believe). Anyone who does not trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior will not be raptured into the Lord’s presence and will be left to suffer the horrors of the Tribulation.
Jesus’ words in John 14:1-3 were spoken to His disciples—men who were obviously believers. He assured them that He would prepare a place for them in His Father’s house; they were members of the family of faith in the same way Christians are today. “I will come again and receive you to Myself” (verse 3) describes what we call the Rapture—the uniting of Jesus Christ with His faithful followers.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul talked about “those who are Christ’s at His coming” (verse 23). Verse 1 informs us that the passage was written to “brethren,” and verse 58 concludes the passage by talking about “abounding in the work of the Lord,” an obvious reference to Christian believers.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul refers to believers as “brethren” (verse 13), as those who “believe that Jesus died and rose again” (verse 14), and as the “dead in Christ” (verse 16).
These passages are clear: the Rapture is restricted to believers. Only those who are followers of Christ will be taken up into heaven when He returns.
- Read John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:50-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. What do these passages say about who will be raptured?
- Were Jesus and Paul talking about you? Will you be a participant in the Rapture? What about your family and friends?
- Commit to praying for the salvation of at least one person.
Living in Anticipation of the Rapture
The Rapture can change our life; it is a source of personal comfort and hope. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about it to ease their concerns about their departed loved ones. Death is not final. The resurrection of believers who have died will reverse the effects of death. All who have lost loved ones to the sting of death can be comforted in the knowledge that they will see them again. But it is also a source of strength. Jesus promised His disciples, on the night He was arrested, that He would return for them (John 14:1-3).
It is no wonder that Paul told the Thessalonians to comfort themselves with the truth concerning the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:18). The Rapture can impact our life now, in three ways, while we wait for it to happen.
The letter from Paul to Titus puts into words how the expectation of the Rapture should impact our life:
I am told that Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a brilliant young Scottish preacher who died at age 29 in 1843, wore a watch with the words “The Night Cometh” engraved on its face. Every time he checked his watch, he was reminded that time is marching on. We won’t always have time to win souls for Christ or to consecrate our own life for His service. The apostle John exhorted his readers “not to be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28). The imminent return of Jesus for His Church is life’s greatest stimulus for living a consecrated life.
Jesus warned that He is “coming quickly” (Revelation 22:12). That means we should live every day as if He were coming that day. But will we be ready? Will we be found with heart and hands dedicated to serving Him at the moment we see Him face to face? Even more important, have we committed ourselves by faith to Christ, so we are assured of being part of His Church that is called into His presence at the Rapture? When the Rapture occurs, there will be no opportunity to decide. Be sure that you have said “Yes” to Christ so that you will be prepared to rejoice at His appearing.
- According to Titus 2:14, Jesus “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed.” What lawless deeds do you need to confess to Him? Take a few minutes to do that now.
- How ready are you for the Rapture? If Jesus Christ returned today, would you welcome Him or fear Him?
- What is one change you will commit to making, in light of the Lord’s imminent return?
For deeper study of Revelation and prophecy, visit Dr. Jeremiah’s Prophecy Academy where you will find a panoram of prophetic materials to enhance your understanding of God’s plan for the end of the world.
1“The Second Coming of Christ,” preceptaustin.org, updated December 1, 2018, www.preceptaustin.org/the_second_coming_of_Christ.htm, accessed September 19, 2019.