I’ve been doing a series on the end days, specifically the beast from the sea. Before I continue on that line, I will need to take a brief interlude to discuss the ‘rapture of the church.’ As it is commonly known. I am often asked questions about the timing of the ‘rapture,’ and I know it is a widely discussed topic of interest among many evangelical Christians. Thus I’ll use this post to address the topic. (This series on the end days starts more or less here, though if you are an avid reader, and interested in the whole thought the very first in the series is this one. Each post contains a link to the next in the series at the bottom should you want to read through from start to finish.)
I first will start with this point: I don’t like using the term ‘rapture’ because it is not a biblical term. When ever we widely use an unbiblical term to define a biblical event, there is room for confusion. The definition can be stretched to mean any number of things based upon assumption and other events could be credited to it, which in fact are something entirely different. I grew up in church believing in the ‘rapture’ as it was taught, and knowing some of the biblical passages that seemed to give definition to the word – but I also grew up with a great deal of confusion about it, and an uncertainty as to the particulars of what was taught. I simply believed what was taught on the rapture because it was commonly held, and adamantly taught by ministers who seemed to have understanding. Thus my point here is to flush out greater biblical understanding, and give a full understanding of the event known throughout the evangelical world as ‘the rapture.’ (This is also pertinent preliminary to the continuing series discussion.)
Let’s look first at the word ‘rapture,’ and then go on to a clarifying discussion of what terms, and events are clearly described in the bible.
In fact, the meaning of the word ‘rapture’ at its ENGLISH origin has nothing to do with Christ’s calling people to heaven – you may find this idea in modern dictionaries, but that is only based upon the fact that the word has been used to describe said biblical event so that it is now in common usage. Here I quote from Webster’s 1828 dictionary, the word ‘rapture’:
RAP’TURE, noun [Latin raptus, rapio.]
1. A seizing by violence. [Little used.]
2. Transport; ecstasy; violence of a pleasing passion; extreme joy or pleasure.
Music when thus applied, raises in the mind of the hearer great conceptions; it strengthens devotion and advances praise into rapture
3. Rapidity with violence; a hurrying along with velocity; as rolling with torrent rapture
4. Enthusiasm; uncommon heat of imagination.
Prior to modern times, generally ‘rapture’ was used according to Webster’s second and fourth definition – to be transported into an ecstatic state of worship.
Now, while I don’t like the term because it isn’t used in scripture, it has now become a commonly used word, and I will of necessity employ it occasionally as I continue. I will also contrast it with terms which are biblical, and their meaning so that we can understand exactly what it is we are talking about.
So what is ‘the rapture’ in biblical terms? The biblical term which is most commonly used for the supernatural gathering of the saints of God unto Christ is the first ‘resurrection of the dead.’ According to the book of Revelation, there are two resurrections (Rev 20:5 & 6). The FIRST resurrection coincides with Jesus Christ’s return to the earth. The second resurrection is the eternal judgment in which the remaining dead are judged according to the lamb’s book of life.
In fact, the resurrection of the dead is one of the first six principal doctrines of Christianity as described in Hebrews 6:1 & 2. Surely understanding the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead will give us greater clarity on what the rapture is (and isn’t)!
When Jesus returns, the first resurrection takes place. According to Paul, the dead in Christ are raised first, then those who are alive and remain are caught up also to meet Christ ‘in the air’ (1 Thess. 4:16 & 17).
So, when does the return of Christ, and the resurrection of the dead take place? Is it before, during, or AFTER the tribulation?
The answer to this question is actually very clear to define as there are several direct plain statements in scripture which indicate the answer to that question. Although no one knows the day, or the hour of the Lord’s return (Matt 24:36 & 37; Mark 13:32 & 33), yet Jesus, and the Apostles Paul, and John make plain statements declaring that the first resurrection takes place AFTER the tribulation.
Let’s start with Jesus.
In Matthew 24, Jesus describes the end days to his disciples. He declares all manner of things that will take place, and that will be done to His disciples, which they will have to patiently endure during the period he calls ‘the beginning of sorrows’ (v.4-14). In verse 14 Jesus declares that the Gospel will be preached to all nations, THEN the end will come.
Has the rapture happened yet? No, there had to be saints in the earth to preach to all nations, by verse 14, the rapture has not taken place.
In verse 15 Jesus begins describing what He means by: ‘THE END.’ THE END begins with the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place (I will need to discuss that in greater detail and clarity later, but for now know He is saying that THE END begins, essentially, with the reign of antichrist.) At this point stuff gets REALLY bad – worse than in the beginning of sorrows (v. 4-14). Things get so bad that Jesus warns His disciples to flee to a safe place AS SOON AS THEY SEE THE SIGN (:THE ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION).
He declares that these will be days worse than any which have ever taken place, and that many false Christs, and false prophets will arise in order to quote: ‘deceive the very elect.’ (v. 15-25)
Now, has the rapture taken place yet? If it has, He has not mentioned it in the entire chapter up to this point. Furthermore, He plainly indicates that ‘the elect’ will still be in the earth (some may argue that these are those saved AFTER the rapture, but again, Jesus has not mentioned the rapture at all up to this point). The rapture has not yet happened, Christians are still in the earth.
Then in verse 27, Jesus begins to describe His return, and the the first resurrection of the dead. He declares two parables about what His return will be like (v.27 & 28), then He describes the literal technical details (not parable) of His return (v.29-31). Here is what He says:
29 IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE TRIBULATION of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
30 AND THEN shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
This event described in modern
Christianese vernacular as the ‘rapture’ – the event in which the saints are gathered unto Christ from the earth – is plainly stated by Jesus Christ to take place immediately following the tribulation of the days He has described in Matt 24:1-25. According to Jesus, this event is AFTER the period called the ‘beginning of sorrows,’ (v.4-14) and AFTER the time which Jesus calls the ‘time of the end’ (v.15-25). Indeed it is – according to the Lord, Jesus Christ – ‘Immediately AFTER the tribulation of THOSE DAYS’; those days which He has just described in verses 14-25.
In our day there is a doctrine (or ‘teaching’) called the ‘imminent return.’ The imminent return doctrine means that Christ could return AT ANY MOMENT. It is based upon something Jesus said about the resurrection of the dead in Matthew 24:36. Let’s look at the verse.
Speaking of His return, and the resurrection of the dead, Jesus said:
But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
Jesus said that no one knows the day, or the hour of His coming. I’ll leave it to the reader to assess this question: Is that the same thing as saying: ‘It could happen at any moment.’?
God knew that even with the plain statement of Jesus Christ on the timing of the resurrection, that there would arise confusion, and questions about it in the church.
There was also confusion on this point in the days of the early church. The Thessalonians had come to believe that the
rapture resurrection of the dead could happen AT ANY MOMMENT – they believed in the ‘imminent return’ as we call it today.
Paul plainly defines this as a faulty doctrine, and corrects it in no uncertain terms to the Thessalonians:
2 Thess 2
1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by  the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and  by our gathering together unto him [What is Paul talking about? He defines it: 1. the coming of Jesus Christ, 2. our gathering together unto Him. Here Paul is PLAINLY speaking of the rapture – the resurrection of the dead, even as described by Jesus Christ, Himself, in the above passage],
2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, AS THAT THE DAY OF CHRIST IS AT HAND. [Paul clearly defines, and negates the faulty doctrine: the idea that the day of Christ is ‘at hand,’ i.e. ‘within grasp’ ‘immediate’ – that it could happen at any moment. Paul is directly speaking to the ‘imminent return’ doctrine, which the Thessalonians had come to believe.]
3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for THAT DAY SHALL NOT COME, except there come  a falling away first, and  that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
Paul speaks in such clear, adamant terms that there should be no doubt to the Christian: ‘LET NO MAN DECEIVE YOU BY ANY MEANS.’ The rapture will not come until 1. there be a falling away first, and 2. the man of sin be revealed.
Of course the ‘man of sin’ is the phrase that Paul uses to describe the ‘antichrist.’ (In fact, the Apostle John (writer of the Gospel of John, the epistles of John (1,2,3 John) and the book of Revelation) is the only scriptural writer who actually uses the word, ‘antichrist.’ It is a part of John’s special revelation regarding the end days – His understanding in this is immensely enlightening; we will discuss it in a later post.)
Paul adamantly declares that the rapture will not take place until AFTER the arrival of the antichrist. This affirms the teachings of Jesus, who declared that the coming of the son of man, and our gathering together unto Him takes place ‘IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE TRIBULATION of those days’ (Matt 24:29).
But again I am forced to ask – because our modern evangelical teachings demand it – couldn’t there be an event which takes place BEFORE the tribulation, wherein the church is caught up to meet Christ? No – the only time in which the saints are to be gathered unto the Lord in the air is at Jesus’ SECOND coming (which both Christ, Paul, and John the apostle declare to take place AFTER the tribulation.)
So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear THE SECOND TIME without sin unto salvation.
There is only ONE second coming. Jesus does not come back two more times, one to snatch away the church, the other to raise the dead at the end of the tribulation. In fact, again addressing the Thessalonians, Paul gives other clarity to the
rapture resurrection of the dead, stating that the dead are raised BEFORE the living Christians in the earth:
1 Thess 4:16 & 17
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven [SECOND coming] with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: AND THE DEAD IN CHRIST SHALL RISE FIRST:
17 THEN [AFTER THE DEAD ARE RAISED] we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Once again, the teaching of Paul leaves no doubt: if the DEAD rise first – before any of the living are caught up to meet Christ in the air, then CERTAINLY, without any shadow of doubt, THERE IS NO RAPTURE OF LIVING SAINTS PRIOR TO THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD.
As biblically defined – by Jesus Christ – all of Matthew 24:4-25 takes place prior to His return, and the first resurrection. Paul confirms this stating plainly that no rapture of saints will happen until there is first a falling away, and that the antichrist is revealed, further clarifying that no living saints will be caught up from the earth until AFTER the dead are raised at the second coming of Christ.
Because so much of the church is now deceived, I cannot emphasize this enough: as Paul adamantly declared: ‘LET NO MAN DECEIVE YOU BY ANY MEANS.’
This deception of the imminent rapture closes the mind of believers to essential Truths of the latter days.
Let me point this out: why would Jesus think it so important to teach us what is going to come in the end of days if we won’t be here for the experience? Jesus Christ appeared to John the Apostle in order to give him a clear prophetic picture of the tribulation in all its details. The book is so important to Christians that it is called ‘THE REVELATION of Jesus Christ,’ (Rev 1:1) readers are admonished to take to heart everything written in it ‘because the hour is at hand’ (Rev 1:3). What hour? The hour of the rapture? No, Paul declared that the hour of OUR ascension is NOT at hand – the hour which John declares is at hand is the hour of testing that will come on the whole earth: the tribulation.
Why would Jesus Christ call John the Apostle up to the heavenly realm to teach him the intricate details of events which the church would not be a part of? THE Revelation is frivolous information if there is a pre-tribulation rapture. Matthew 24 is full of frivolous teachings if the church is not going to be in the world for what He describes. Furthermore it would make Jesus an outright liar if the church will not be present for the tribulation because He declared to His disciples: ‘Then shall they deliver YOU up to be afflicted, and shall kill YOU: and YE shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. (Matt 24:9)… When YE therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet (v. 15)… pray YE that YOUR flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be (v. 20 & 21) …’
To whom is Jesus speaking, when He uses the terms ‘YOU,’ and ‘YE’ (‘ye’ is King James for: ‘you’ plural), but to the disciples – to the Christians?
How about this one: ‘And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened’ (v. 22)
If the elect are caught up out of the world in a pre-tribulation rapture, who could Jesus possibly be speaking of?
Now I digress, because many would say that there will be those who realize they have missed the rapture, and turn to Christ after the saints are caught up – and that Jesus refers to those who are saved AFTER the pre-trib rapture. (But then, how can they get saved with no ministers in the earth to preach to them (Rom 10:14 & 15)? Will Christ, indeed draw His body out of the world, and not give them for witnesses to the lost sinners of the end days? Will He who spared not His own Son so that YOU could be saved, retract His own body as witnesses in the earth, leaving no witness to seek and save lost sinners? Does God forget the Gospel, and the burden of the Word of the Lord in the latter days?)
Let me also point out two principals that Jesus revealed in the book of John:
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.
This one statement holds an astounding principal from the Son of God: ‘if it were not so, I would have told you.‘ Contextually (in fact) Jesus is talking about the gathering of saints together to Himself. He states plainly that He wants to dispel deceptions from our minds on the matter. If there was to be a pre-tribulation rapture BEFORE the resurrection of the dead, why is there no PLAIN STATEMENT from the mouth of Jesus declaring so? Why is it that the recorded plain statement of Jesus regarding the gathering of His saints together He declared to take place IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE TRIBULATION? By the principal of this statement: ‘if it were not so, I would have told you,’ should He not have clarified when He spoke of this event that there should be another one like it which come BEFORE the tribulation?
Another interesting principal from the mouth of Jesus which applies directly here comes when Jesus is praying for His disciples in John 17. Much of Jesus’ general will for the church is laid out in John 17.
I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
Here Jesus is praying for His disciples. He declares plainly before God the Father, that it is NOT His will that His disciples should be taken out of the world in order to be spared evil, but that God would keep them from evil while they remain IN THE WORLD. Here Jesus makes plain that it is not even in His will to take the church out of the world. Why would God go against His own revealed will in order to ‘rapture’ the entire church out of the world before the hour of tribulation. Again: ‘if it were not so, I would have told you.’ Instead He has plainly declared the opposite of the prevalent rapture teaching.
I may stop here, as I think I am beginning to beat a dead horse. I pray the readers who feel so will have grace, because this rapture heresy (that is ‘false teaching’) is so prevalent that many will need even much more biblical proof than I have laid out here.
I have not even pointed out that the Word declares that when Jesus returns THE second time, that every eye will see Him (Rev 1:7). How is it that we have a teaching, then, which proclaims that only those who are saved will see Him when they are caught up in the pre-resurrection rapture? No, but when we understand the principal doctrines of the faith (the resurrection of the dead is not a doctrine of eschatological preference, but is plainly called one of the first six principal doctrines of Christianity (see Heb 6:1 & 2)), we will not be deceived by teachings ADDED to scripture.
I’m sure I will need to do a followup post on this, but to those first discovering what the Word declares about the resurrection do not be dismayed: there are promises of God’s provision for the days ahead – further there are teachings in scripture about how to be in the best possible situation throughout the trials of the end. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Gospel is as True in the end of days as it always has been. God will not forsake His own. I discuss this topic as preliminary to certain other points we’ll get to as we continue.
I’ll leave off with, again with the words of Paul:
2 Thess 2:3-5
3 LET NO MAN DECIVE YOU BY ANY MEANS: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
(See also: The Rapture Challenge:)