We discussed the rapture in church the other day, and I learned a new passage that describes when in God’s timeline it will happen. It always helps me to talk through what I learn to make it stick in my mind. So, here it goes…
What is the Rapture
The word rapture is nowhere in the Bible. The concept on the other hand is. This passage describes what we call the rapture:
Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 15:51-57 [KJV]
Thessalonians is the other passage that describes the rapture:
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. (I Thessalonians 4:13-18 [KJV]
When is the rapture?
When we are following John through the Revelation story, John is taken to heaven between the “church age” and the tribulation. Chapters 1 – 3 are the letters to the churches. While I believe that each of those churches was a real church, I think they each also refer to an age in the progression in the church age. After the last of these, John is taken up to heaven.
After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. (Revelation of John 4:1-2 [KJV]
I admit that this isn’t strong proof. The Bible doesn’t specifically say that everyone is raptured at this point. It is only John, and it could just be for the sake of explaining the revelations that God was communicating through John. Still, I think it is a pretty good indication that the rapture takes place directly after the church age.
Another passage that gives an idea of when the rapture would be is in Thessalonians:
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, (I Thessalonians 5:9 [KJV]
The tribulation is God’s pouring out His justified wrath upon mankind. I believe it is with the intention of bringing that last remnant to accept Jesus’ free gift of salvation. But, if that wrath is not meant for those who have already obtained that salvation, then, it stands to reason that we would need to be raptured out before the tribulation comes.
That leads into the last and best evidence in my opinion. In I Thessalonians, Paul speaks of the rapture first, and then of the Day of the Lord. We tend to miss that because of the chapter break.
Then 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. (I Thessalonians 4:17-5:3 [KJV]
The sequence of events is right there. We are “caught up” into heaven and after that the “sudden destruction” comes.
What is the “Day of the Lord”?
The day of the Lord is when God pours out His wrath on the earth:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (II Peter 3:10 [KJV])
In Acts, we get the impression that the New Testament is pulling the term from the Old Testament.
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:16-21 [KJV])
This is a quote from Joel:
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call. (Joel 2:28-32 [KJV]
So, when the Bible uses the term “Day of the Lord”, it is talking about the this 7-year period that we call the tribulation.
The Bible isn’t extremely clear on when the rapture is supposed to happen. (Actually, it is supposed to be a surprise, like “a thief in the night”.) The important part is that the fact of the rapture is to be a comfort to us. I believe it is clear enough though that it is scheduled to happen just prior to the beginning of the tribulation.