This article will attempt to illustrate several significant considerations contained within the Word of God that demonstrate that the Rapture of the Church will indeed take place before the Tribulation.
Let’s first take a look at the mystery of being changed in a moment as taught by the apostle Paul:
“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 immortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).
A key point to observe in relation to the “mystery” that Paul revealed in these verses is contained in the prior verse:
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:50).
There will be people who are still alive in the flesh when Jesus returns for His true Church. Our bodies that are made of flesh and blood are prohibited from entering heaven. Therefore the fleshly bodies of the true believers who are still alive at the return of Christ must be changed into glorified bodies authorized to enter heaven.
The fact that these verses are contained within a very important letter written by the apostle Paul to a prominent church in that day demonstrates that the true Church is in view.
The last trumpet referred to by Paul is the last trumpet sounded for the true Church. The Lord often uses the blast of a trumpet to signify action for His people. There are over 200 verses containing references to the sound of horns and trumpets contained in the Bible!
Here are two such verses that are very significant to the true Church:
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet” (Revelation 1:10).
‘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” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
The similarity of the voice of the angel shouting behind John like a trumpet on the “Lord’s Day” and the voice of the archangel shouting when the “Lord Himself” descends from heaven as described by Paul, cannot be missed.
It is very significant that after the apostle John heard the voice like a trumpet, his own spirit, and not his flesh (see 1 Corinthians 15:50), was immediately taken to heaven.
“After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, ‘Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.’ Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne” (Revelation 4:1-2).
Another very significant point is that John viewed the future events of the Tribulation after he was taken to heaven. This fits the model that the Church will be translated to heaven prior to the Tribulation.
After the true Church hears the last trumpet sounded for her, those who are not part of the true Church are going to hear more trumpets sounded only for them.
Another very important point not to be overlooked is that the Rapture equals a resurrection. The Lord will bring with Him all true believers who have already passed away when He returns for the true Church.
“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” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
These verses in 1 Thessalonians portraying the dead in Christ rising are a clear description of a resurrection. However, there is no mention during this resurrection of Jesus coming to the earth to tread the winepress of the wrath of God as described in Revelation chapter 19.
“And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Revelation 19:14-15).
Likewise, there is no mention of a resurrection at all in these verses or in the rest of Revelation chapter 19 and who can deny that the second coming of Jesus is described in Revelation 19?
Is there then a resurrection to take place after the Lord Jesus treads the winepress of His wrath at the end of the Tribulation? Yes indeed:
“And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:4-5).
It’s all about the resurrection! The “first resurrection” takes place in stages with the first fruits being Christ Jesus at His resurrection and the Rapture of His bride before the Tribulation, with the last stage taking place after the events of Revelation chapter 19.
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
This demonstrates that those who were martyred for their witness to Jesus and who rejected the mark of the beast are resurrected at the end of the Tribulation and are not part of the same group who will return with Jesus when the members of the true Church are changed in the twinkling of an eye.
Those true believers who have passed away before the Rapture will have the amazing experience of returning twice with Jesus to the earth.
First on their way to reunite with those of us who are still alive at the Rapture and the second time joined with us at the second coming of Jesus after the Tribulation.
“And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses” (Revelation 19:14).
When Jesus returns he will bring with Him those who have died in Him (born-again Christians) for they are with Him in heaven now. But they, too, still await the resurrection of the body to receive their new spiritual body. The spirit and soul of these believers will then be united with their new body through this resurrection. Then both those who have been resurrected and those believers who are alive when the Lord returns will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
Another significant consideration is how the Lord compared the unexpected suddenness of His return to the unexpected suddenness of the judgment of the Flood in the days of Noah.
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:36-39).
It is obvious that the sun and the moon were still giving their light before the judgment of the Flood of Genesis, isn’t it? But what will happen to the sun and the moon after the judgment of the Tribulation?
“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” (Matthew 24:29-30).
Do you see the difference between the coming of Jesus before the judgment of the Tribulation and His coming after? Before the Tribulation judgment, while the sun and moon are still shining, Jesus will return for His true Church and at the same time He will catch the rest of the world by surprise.
“For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
Then after the judgment of the Tribulation, when the sun and the moon are no longer shining, the entire world will see Jesus return with the light of His great glory shining brighter than the sun!
Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!