The Rapture of the Church
What is it and when will it take
Dr. David R. Reagan
is a glorious event which God has promised to the Church.
The promise is that someday very soon, at the blowing
of a trumpet and the shout of an archangel, Jesus will
appear in the sky and take up His Church, living and
dead, to Heaven.
The term, Rapture, comes
from a Latin word that means to catch up, to snatch away,
or to take out. It is a Biblical word that comes right out
of the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. The word
is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. In the New American
Standard Version, the English phrase, “caught up,” is used.
The same phrase is used in the King James and New International
Promise to the Church
The concept of the Rapture
was not revealed to the Old Testament prophets because it
is a promise to the New Testament Church and not to the
saints of God who lived before the establishment of the
The saints of Old Testament
times will be resurrected at the end of the Tribulation
and not at the time of the Rapture of the Church. Daniel
reveals this fact in Daniel 12:1-2 where he says that the
saints of that age will be resurrected at the end of the
“time of distress.”
The first clear mention
of the Rapture in Scripture is found in the words of Jesus
recorded in John 14:1-4. Jesus said, “I will come again,
and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may
The most detailed revelation
of the actual events related to the Rapture is given by
Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. He says that when Jesus
appears, the dead in Christ (Church age saints) will be
resurrected and caught up first. Then, those of us who are
alive in Christ will be translated “to meet the Lord in
the air.” Paul then exhorts us to “comfort one another
with these words.”
Paul mentions the Rapture
again in 1 Corinthians 15 - his famous chapter on the resurrection
of the dead:
“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep,
but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling
of an eye, at the last trumpet.” (verses 51 and 52)
Paul’s reference here
to being changed is an allusion to the fact that the saints
will receive glorified bodies that will be perfected, imperishable
and immortal (1 Cor. 15:42-44, and 50-55).
The most controversial
aspect of the Rapture is its timing. Some place it at the
end of the Tribulation, making it one and the same event
as the Second Coming. Others place it in the middle of the
Tribulation. Still others believe that it will occur at
the beginning of the Tribulation.
The reason for these
differing viewpoints is that the exact time of the Rapture
is not precisely revealed in scripture. It is only inferred.
There is, therefore, room for honest differences of opinion,
and lines of fellowship should certainly not be drawn over
differences regarding this point, even though it is an important
Those who place the
timing at the end of the Tribulation usually base their
argument on two parables in Matthew 13 and on the Lord’s
Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24.
In Matthew 24 the Lord
portrays His gathering of the saints as an event that will
take place “immediately after the tribulation of those
days” (Matt. 24:29). This certainly sounds like a post-Tribulation
Rapture. But it must be kept in mind that the book of Matthew
was written to the Jews, and therefore the recording of
Jesus’ speech by Matthew has a distinctively Jewish flavor
to it as compared to Luke’s record of the same speech.
Note, for example, Matthew’s
references to Judea and to Jewish law regarding travel
on the Sabbath (Matt. 24:15-20). These are omitted in Luke’s
account. Instead, Luke speaks of the saints looking up
for deliverance “to escape all these things” when the end
time signs “begin to take place” (Luke 21:28 and 36). The
saints in Matthew are instructed to flee from Judea and
hide. The saints in Luke are told to look up for deliverance.
It appears, therefore,
that Matthew and Luke are speaking of two different sets
of saints. The saints in Matthew’s account are most likely
Jews who receive Jesus as their Messiah during the Tribulation.
The saints in Luke are those who receive Christ before
the Tribulation begins. Most of those who accept the Lord
during the Tribulation will be martyred (Rev. 7:9-14).
Those who live to the end will be gathered by the angels
of the Lord (Matt. 24:31).
The parable of the wheat
and tares (Matt. 13:24-30) and the parable of the dragnet
(Matt. 13:47-50) can be explained in the same way. They
refer to a separation of saints and sinners that will take
place at the end of the Tribulation. The saints are those
who receive Jesus as their Savior during the Tribulation
(Gentile and Jew) and who live to the end of that awful
There are variations
of the mid-Tribulation Rapture concept. The most common
is that the Church will be taken out in the exact middle
of the Tribulation, at the point in time when the Antichrist
This concept is based
upon a statement in 1 Corinthians 15:52 which says that
the Rapture will occur at the blowing of “the last trumpet.”
This trumpet is then identified with the seventh trumpet
of the trumpet judgments in the book of Revelation. Since
the blowing of the seventh trumpet is recorded in Revelation
11, the mid-point of the Tribulation, the conclusion is
that the Rapture must occur in the middle of the Tribulation.
But there are two problems
with this interpretation. The first is that the last trumpet
of 1 Corinthians 15 is blown for believers whereas the seven
trumpets of Revelation 8, 9 and 11 are sounded for unbelievers.
The Revelation trumpets have no relevance for the Church.
The last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15 is a trumpet for the
righteous. The last trumpet for the unrighteous is the
one described in Revelation 11.
Another problem with
this interpretation is that the passage in Revelation 11
that portrays the sounding of the seventh trumpet is
a “flash forward” to the end of the Tribulation. Flash
forwards are very common in the book of Revelation. They
occur after something terrible is described in order to
assure the reader that everything is going to turn out
all right when Jesus returns at the end of the Tribulation.
Thus, the eighth and
ninth chapters of Revelation, which describe the horrors
of the trumpet judgments, are followed immediately by a
flash forward in chapter 10 that pictures the return of
Jesus in victory at the end of the Tribulation. The mid-Tribulation
action resumes in chapter 11 with a description of the
killing of the two great prophets of God by the Antichrist.
Then, to offset that terrible event, we are presented with
another flash forward, beginning with verse 15. The seventh
trumpet is sounded and we find ourselves propelled forward
to the end of the Tribulation when “the kingdom of the
world becomes the kingdom of our Lord.”
The point is that the
seventh trumpet of Revelation relates to the end of the
Tribulation and not the middle. It is therefore no basis
for an argument in behalf of a mid-Tribulation Rapture.
The cornerstone of this
concept is that the terrifying events during the first half
of the Tribulation are due to the wrath of Man and Satan,
and not to God. Since the Church is only promised protection
from the wrath of God, the Rapture will not occur until
near the end of the Tribulation when God will pour out His
wrath on the world.
This concept raises
a serious theological problem because it questions the sovereignty
of God. It assumes that Man and Satan can act apart from
God’s will, when the fact of the matter is that neither
can do anything God is not willing to permit. The Bible
often portrays God carrying out His will through evil persons
or nations. One of the classic examples is when He allowed
the evil nation of Babylon to discipline Israel by destroying
Jerusalem and the Temple and by carrying the surviving Jews
away into captivity. It was an action that prompted the
prophet Habakkuk to ask why God would punish those who are
evil with those who are more evil (Habakkuk 1:13).
Any carnage wrought
by Man or Satan during the Tribulation will still constitute
the wrath of God. They will simply be His instruments. The
Bible says God sits in the heavens and laughs over the plots
and deeds of evil men, not because He does not care, but
because He has everything under control (Psalm 2:1-6). The
point is that He has the wisdom and power to orchestrate
all evil to the triumph of His will in history. That’s why
the psalmist wrote that “the wrath of man shall praise You
[God]” (Psalm 76:10).
I think it is also important
to note that when God pours out His wrath, He does not always
do so directly. One of His most common ways is to simply
back away from the nation or person and lower the hedge
of protection around them. This is clearly spelled out in
Romans 1:18-32. That passage says that when people rebel
against God to the point that they begin to worship the
creation rather than the Creator, God “gives them over”
to the evil in their hearts. In other words, He just steps
back and lets evil multiply. The passage further states
that if they still refuse to repent, He steps back again
and “gives them over to degrading passions.” And if they
persist in their rebellion and sin, He finally “gives them
over to a depraved mind” at which point the society destroys
itself. Such destruction could be viewed as the wrath of
Man, but it is really the wrath of God working through Man.
There is another serious
problem with the pre-wrath Rapture concept. It relates to
the fact that all the wrath of Revelation is specifically
portrayed as the wrath of God. Where do the seal judgments
originate? The answer is from the throne of God as Jesus
opens each seal of the scroll that was in the Father’s right
hand (Revelation 6:1). And where do the trumpet judgments
originate? The same place — from the throne of God (Revelation
8:2). When we arrive at the bowl judgments in Revelation
15:1, we are told that with them, “the wrath of God is finished.”
Another problem with
the pre-wrath concept is that it does violence to the chronological
order of Revelation. The seal judgments are viewed as the
wrath of Man and Satan, occurring during the first half
of the Tribulation. The trumpet and bowl judgments are considered
to be the wrath of God. They are lumped together at the
end of the Tribulation. There is no justification for putting
the trumpet judgments at the end of the Tribulation. They
are clearly placed in the first half of the Tribulation
in the chronological layout of the book of Revelation.
One final problem with
the pre-wrath concept of the Rapture is that it disputes
the fact that there is no purpose for the Church being in
the Tribulation. The Tribulation is the 70th week of Daniel,
a time devoted to God accomplishing His purposes among the
Jewish people, not the Church.
I believe the best inference
of Scripture is that the Rapture will occur at the beginning
of the Tribulation. The most important reason I believe
this has to do with the issue of imminence. Over and over
in Scripture we are told to watch for the appearing of the
Lord. We are told “to be ready” (Matt. 24:44), “to be on
the alert” (Matt. 24:42), “to be dressed in readiness” (Luke
12:35), and to “keep your lamps alight” (Luke 12:35). The
clear force of these persistent warnings is that Jesus
can appear at any moment.
Only the pre-Tribulation
concept of the Rapture allows for the imminence of the Lord’s
appearing for His Church. When the Rapture is placed at
any other point in time, the imminence of the Lord’s appearing
is destroyed because other prophetic events must happen
For example, if the
Rapture is going to occur in mid-Tribulation, then why
should I live looking for the Lord’s appearing at any moment?
I would be looking instead for an Israeli peace treaty,
the rebuilding of the Temple, and the revelation of the
Antichrist. Then and only then could the Lord appear.
This raises the issue
of what we are to be looking for. Nowhere are believers
told to watch for the appearance of the Antichrist. On the
contrary, we are told to watch for Jesus Christ. In Titus
2:13 Paul says we are to live “looking for the blessed hope
and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior,
Christ Jesus.” Likewise, Peter urges us to “fix our hope
completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation
of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). John completes the apostolic
chorus by similarly urging us to “fix our hope on Him” at
His appearing (1 John 3:2-3).
Only Matthew speaks
of watching for the Antichrist (Matt. 24:15), but he is
speaking to the Jews living in Israel in the middle of the
Tribulation when the Antichrist desecrates the rebuilt
Another argument in
behalf of a pre-Tribulation Rapture has to do with the promises
of God to protect the Church from His wrath. As has already
been demonstrated, the book of Revelation shows that the
wrath of God will be poured out during the entire period
of the Tribulation.
The Word promises over
and over that the Church will be delivered from God’s wrath.
Romans 5:9 says that “we shall be saved from the wrath of
God through Him [Jesus].” 1 Thessalonians 1:10 states that
we are waiting “for His Son from heaven . . . who will deliver
us from the wrath to come.” The promise is repeated in 1
Thessalonians 5:9 - “God has not destined us for wrath,
but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Some argue that God
could supernaturally protect the Church during the Tribulation.
Yes, He could. In fact, He promises to do just that for
the 144,000 Jews who will be sealed as bond-servants at
the beginning of the Tribulation (Rev. 7:1-8).
But God’s promise to
the Church during the Tribulation is not one of protection
but one of deliverance. Jesus said we would “escape” the
horrors of the Tribulation (Luke 21:36). Paul says Jesus
is coming to “deliver” us from God’s wrath (1 Thess. 1:10).
There are several prophetic
types that seem to affirm the concept of deliverance from
Tribulation. Take Enoch for example. He was a prophet to
the Gentiles who was raptured out of the world before God
poured out His wrath in the great flood of Noah’s time.
Enoch appears to be a type of the Gentile Church that will
be taken out of the world before God pours out His wrath
again. If so, then Noah and his family are a type of the
Jewish remnant that will be protected through the Tribulation.
Another Old Testament
symbolic type which points toward a pre-Tribulation Rapture
is the experience of Lot and his family. They were delivered
out of Sodom and Gomorrah before those cities were destroyed.
The Apostle Peter alludes
to both of these examples in his second epistle. He states
that if God spared Noah and Lot, then He surely “knows how
to rescue the godly from trial and to keep the unrighteous
under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 4-9).
Another beautiful prophetic
type is to be found in the Jewish wedding traditions of
Jesus’s time. After the betrothal, the groom would return
to his father’s house to prepare a wedding chamber for his
bride. He would return for his bride at an unexpected moment,
so the bride had to be ready constantly. When he returned,
he would take his bride back to his father’s house to the
chamber he had prepared. He and his bride would then be
sealed in the chamber for seven days. When they emerged, a
great wedding feast would be celebrated.
Jesus has returned to Heaven to prepare a place for His
bride, the Church. When He returns for His bride, He will
take her to His Father’s heavenly home. There He will remain
with His bride for seven years (the duration of the Tribulation).
The period will end with “the marriage supper of the Lamb”
described in Revelation 19. Thus the seven days in the
wedding chamber point prophetically to the seven years
that Jesus and His bride will remain in Heaven during the
of Revelation, the structure of that book also implies a
pre-Tribulation Rapture in a symbolic sense. The first
three chapters focus on the Church. Chapter 4 begins with
the door of Heaven opening and John being raptured from
the isle of Patmos to the throne of God in Heaven. The Church
is not mentioned thereafter until Revelation 19:7-9 when
it is portrayed as the “bride of Christ” in Heaven with
Jesus celebrating the “marriage supper of the Lamb.” At
Revelation 19:11 the door of Heaven opens again, and Jesus
emerges riding a white horse on His way to earth, followed
by His Church (Rev. 19:14).
rapture of the Apostle John in Revelation 4 appears to
be a symbolic type of the Rapture of the Church. Note that
it is initiated by the cry of a voice that sounds like the
blowing of a trumpet (Rev. 4:1). Since the Tribulation
does not begin until Revelation 6, the rapture of John
in Revelation 4 appears to be a symbolic type that points
to a pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church.
counter this argument by pointing out that although the
Church is not mentioned in Revelation during that book’s
description of the Tribulation, there is constant mention
of “saints” (for example, Rev. 13:7). But that term is
not used in the Bible exclusively to refer to members of
the Church. Daniel uses it to refer to Old Testament believers
who lived long before the Church was established (Dan. 7:18).
The saints referred to in the book of Revelation are most
likely those people who will be saved during the Tribulation,
after the Church has been taken out of the world.
interesting argument in behalf of the pre-Tribulation timing
of the Rapture can be found in 2 Thessalonians. The church
at Thessalonica was in a turmoil because someone had written
them a letter under Paul’s name stating that they had missed
the “gathering to the Lord” and were, in fact, living in
“the day of the Lord” (2 Thess. 2:1-2).
attempted to calm them down by reminding them of his teaching
that the day of the Lord would not come until after the
Antichrist is revealed. He then stated that the Antichrist
would not be revealed until a restraining force “is taken
out of the way” (2 Thess. 2:3-7).
has been much speculation as to the identify of this restraining
force that Paul refers to. Some have identified it as the
Holy Spirit. But it cannot be the Holy Spirit because there
will be people saved during the Tribulation, and no one
can be saved apart from the testimony of the Spirit (John
16:8-11 and 1 John 5:7).
have identified the restrainer as human government. It
is true that government was ordained by God to restrain
evil (Romans 13:1-4). But the governments of the world are
in rebellion against God and His Son (Psalm 2), and they
are therefore a contributor to the evil that characterizes
the world. Furthermore, the Tribulation will not be characterized
by a lack of government. Rather, it will feature the first
true worldwide government (Rev. 13:7).
my opinion that leaves only one other candidate for Paul’s
restrainer - and that is the Church. It is the Church that
serves as the primary restrainer of evil in the world today
as it proclaims the Gospel and stands for righteousness.
When the Church fails in this mission, evil multiplies,
as Paul graphically points out in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Paul
says that society in the end times will be characterized
by chaos and despair because “men will hold to a form of
religion but will deny its power.” When the Church is removed
from the world, all hell will literally break loose.
pre-Tribulation concept of the Rapture has often been condemned
as “escapism.” I think this criticism is unjustified. The
Bible itself says that Christians are to “comfort one another”
with the thought of the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:18). Is it a
comfort to think of the Rapture occurring at the end of
the world’s worst period of war instead of at the beginning?
of when the Rapture actually occurs, we need to keep in
mind that the Bible teaches that societal conditions are
going to grow increasingly worse the closer we get to the
Lord’s return. That means Christians will suffer tribulation
whether or not they go into the Great Tribulation. And
that means all of us had better be preparing ourselves
for unprecedented suffering and spiritual warfare.
you are a Christian, you can do that on a daily basis by
putting on “the full armor of God” (Eph. 6:13), praying
at all times in the Spirit that you will be able to stand
firm against the attacks of Satan (Eph. 6:14-18).
you are not a Christian, your only hope is to reach out
in faith and receive the free gift of God’s salvation which
He has provided through His Son, Jesus (John 3:16).