Is the rapture in the Bible? Wallace Smith examines 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and other commonly cited verses to answer if the rapture is even real, or part of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, or mentioned in Bible prophecy.
[The text below represents an edited transcript of this Tomorrow’s World program.]
A vast portion of professing “Christianity” is obsessed with a myth—a myth that clouds their understanding of the end-times, that obscures other doctrinal truths of the Bible, and that provides a false hope concerning the Great Tribulation and the days before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. And yet, it is widely believed! When I travel to various cities giving public presentations concerning the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and what to expect before Christ’s return, some of the most common questions I receive are centered around this myth.
So, it’s about time we put that myth to rest.
Join me for this episode of Tomorrow’s World, where we’ll debunk the Rapture myth.
Warm greetings, and welcome to Tomorrow’s World, where we work to help you make sense of your world through the pages of the Bible.
You know, if I had a dime for every time I’ve been asked about the Rapture, I’d be a wealthy person. When is it coming? Is it before the Great Tribulation, during the Tribulation, or after?
At the heart of most of these questions is a more fundamental one: Is the common belief in the Rapture actually true?
Today, we’re going to tackle that question, and we’re going to do it with irrefutable evidence from your Bible.
Now let’s begin by being as clear as we can. Before we can address what the Bible does or does not say about the “Rapture,” we first need to define what we mean by the word “Rapture”—because people use it to say many different things.
Most use the word to indicate their belief that before Jesus Christ returns to rule the world, and before the time of trouble and suffering known as the Great Tribulation, Christians all over the world will be “raptured” into thin air—taken to heaven. Those who are NOT Christians will simply see that many people have suddenly vanished without explanation. Planes will plummet as their Christian pilots disappear, non-Christian husbands or wives will despair as they wonder where their Christian spouse has disappeared to. And as the world sorts through the mass disappearance, the Great Tribulation will be unleashed on those who are “left behind”—as the book series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins worded it. Then, 3 or 7 years later—depending on who’s explaining—Jesus begins His reign on earth.
This idea of the Rapture as being mysteriously and mystically whisked away from the earth is often associated with the words of the Apostle Paul, who says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17,
“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.”
This is an important passage for those who believe in the “Rapture” because in the Latin Vulgate translation of verse 17, the word for “we shall be caught up” is rapiemur /ra-pee-Ā-moor/, from rapere / rah-PEHR-ay/. Thus, the “Rapture.”
But is Paul describing what many think of as “the Rapture” or is he talking about something else entirely?
God wants us to read His word CAREFULLY, putting the details together to get the most complete picture we can, and that takes diligence. As Paul told the evangelist Timothy,
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Similarly, the prophet Isaiah wrote the following:
“Whom will he teach knowledge? And whom will he make to understand the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just drawn from the breasts? For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:9–10).
Let’s do that. Let’s “rightly divide the word of truth” and put the WHOLE of God’s word together to help us see the truth about the Rapture theory and to understand what to truly expect of the end times.
And since ideas differ so widely in their details concerning the Rapture and what it really means, we are going to focus on Bible passages that will help us clarify the most common elements that are central in most people’s beliefs about the Rapture. So, as the program progresses, keep in mind these three crucial questions:
Will Christians vanish around the world without explanation?
Will Christians be caught up into the air years before Jesus returns?
[And] Will Christians spend the Great Tribulation in heaven?
Remember those questions! And as we look into what the Bible says will ACTUALLY happen with true Christians at the return of Jesus Christ, you will see each of these questions answered plainly and simply in God’s word. And when you do, you will see that the popular idea of the Rapture is little more than a popular myth.
So, does the Bible teach that YEARS BEFORE Jesus returns in visible glory to rule the world, Christians around the world will VANISH and secretly be caught up into heaven right before the time of global horrors known as the Great Tribulation?
No, it doesn’t. We can begin to see this if we go back to 1 Thessalonians 4. But this time, let’s begin in verse 13.
“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).
Too many are so “enraptured” (pun intended) with seeing the “Rapture” in this passage that they skip right over those elements that prove Paul is NOT talking about their idea of a “Rapture.”
For instance, Paul says that this is the time of the RESURRECTION of those who died in Christ—those he describes as “asleep”—saying, “the dead in Christ will rise first.” He also says that “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.”
This doesn’t seem like a quiet, mysterious vanishing to me—more like a triumphant event announced to the world by the returning Christ.
But my personal opinion doesn’t matter—and neither does yours. Instead of settling for opinion, let’s look into additional Bible passages that describe this event—as we read earlier, “precept upon precept… line upon line… here a little, there a little….”
For example, the Apostle describes this EXACT SAME event in another passage 1 Corinthians 15. Let’s read there starting in verse 50:
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 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 mortal must put on immortality.”
Now notice: The dead are raised in incorruptible glory and the living will be transformed at that time, as well, just as we read in 1 Thessalonians. Now, is this done quietly? No! AGAIN just as we saw earlier, this happens with the sound of a mighty TRUMPET:
“…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” (1 Corinthians 15:50–53).
In fact, read that again CAREFULLY: It happens not just at ANY trumpet, but at the LAST trumpet. This implies that there is a SEQUENCE of trumpets, and the resurrection and glorification of the saints occurs at the LAST of these trumpets.
So, ask yourself: Is there any passage of Scripture that describes a series of trumpets in the end times? Because if there is, then we have located the time of this resurrection and transformation of faithful Christians!
And, in fact, YES, the Bible DOES describe a sequence of trumpets! We don’t need to guess, or theorize, or debate about it. The Bible makes it plain! And as it does, we will see the answers to our three questions beginning to take shape as well.
The book of Revelation gives us a specific sequence leading up to Jesus’ return and the commencement of the Kingdom of God. Revelation chapter 6 reveals the Seven Prophetic Seals of Revelation, which the Apostle John sees in vision, opened in sequence by Jesus Christ to reveal the end-time events ahead. The FIRST FOUR SEALS represent the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, symbolizing global Religious Deception, Warfare, Famine, and Disease. Verse 8 says, that “power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.”
The prophetic pathway continues with the FIFTH SEAL, describing a martyrdom of many true Christians. In Matthew 24:21, Jesus describes this time, saying, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.” This is a time so terrible that no time before nor after will ever compare.
After two and one-half years of this Tribulation, the SIXTH SEAL is opened, and the Heavenly Signs take place: a great earthquake, the sun darkened, the moon red as blood, the stars falling from the sky, and every mountain and island on earth shaken! These announce that GOD AND JESUS CHRIST are about to PERSONALLY INTERVENE in world affairs! That time is described by the prophet Isaiah as “the day of the Lord’s vengeance, the YEAR of recompense for the cause of Zion” (Isaiah 34:8).
This year-long Day of the Lord begins when the SEVENTH SEAL of Revelation is opened. We read of this in Revelation 8:1–2: “When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given SEVEN TRUMPETS.”
Finally, we see where a SEQUENCE OF TRUMPETS appears in end-time events—exactly what Paul’s description told us to expect! AFTER the end-time rides of the Four Horsemen, the Great Tribulation, and the Heavenly Signs, we come to the series of Trumpets indicated by the Apostle Paul!
And those first six trumpet blasts are devastating. One-third of earth’s vegetation is burned up; one-third of the seas become blood; one-third of ships and marine life are destroyed; one-third of the planet’s waters become bitter; and one-third of the sun, moon, and stars cease to shine. Then, in the most destructive military exchange in history, one-third of mankind is obliterated.
Joel 2 calls the Day of the Lord “great and very terrible” (v. 2) for a reason! It represents God’s wrath unleashed on unrepentant mankind! Yet, these terrors are only the first SIX of Seven Trumpets! The Seventh, Last Trumpet is described in Revelation 11:15: “Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!’”
Paul says that at THIS TRUMPET—the SEVENTH, declaring the authority of the Kingdom of God over the world—the Resurrection occurs, when faithful Christians, past and present, are gathered, glorified with immortality, and brought to meet Christ to become His Bride and to participate in the vanquishing of His enemies and the inauguration of the reign of God’s Kingdom!
All of this PROVES that this no secret “vanishing!” In fact, Jesus Christ personally described this moment to His disciples to make the PUBLIC nature of this event very clear. Read it yourself, starting in Matthew 24:29: “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. And He will send His angels with a GREAT SOUND OF A TRUMPET, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:29–31).
My friends, these passages are inseparable. Their descriptions of the end-time events are consistent and in perfect sequence: The Great Tribulation, the Heavenly Signs, the Seven Trumpets, the revealing of Christ to the world at the Last Trumpet, and the resurrection, gathering, and glorifying of true Christians as the Kingdom of God commences its glorious reign.
And where will that reign begin? Not in heaven! Rather, as Revelation 5 [v. 10] says, those glorified Christians will have been made kings and priests to [their] God; and [they] shall reign on the earth.
No one will vanish into thin air as unsaved loved ones wonder where they went. All eyes will see, and all ears will hear. The Rapture is simply a misunderstanding that conceals the magnificent truth of Scripture.
Still, that might leave some worried. Does this mean that every Christian must go through the Tribulation?
We saw in the pages of the Bible that, no, they will not. Christians will join Christ at the first resurrection at the same time when ALL the tribes of the earth will see Jesus returning.
Again, no they won’t. The resurrection of true Christians occurs at the very Last Trumpet when Christ is inaugurated as Ruler of the world, only days before Satan is bound for 1,000 years, as described in Revelation 20.
Again, no! They rise to meet Christ at the commencement of His reign, AFTER the Tribulation. Indeed, from that moment on, they will reign alongside Him, ruling ON THIS EARTH, with Him, for 1,000 years.
At the same time, some Christians WILL be protected during the Tribulation—but they will be protected HERE ON EARTH. While God reserves many details to Himself, He does make this plain in a number of passages. For instance, in Revelation 12, we read of the Church in the end times, symbolized by a woman, persecuted by Satan the Devil, symbolized by a dragon-like serpent. Starting in verse 14, we read, “But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.” The “time, times, and half a time” here is the two-and-one-half years of the Great Tribulation before the Heavenly Signs, followed by the year-long Day of the Lord we read about earlier.
This passage makes plain, too, that while a portion of the Church is protected, she is NOT protected in heaven. Note that the passage says she is protected in “the wilderness”—a word which is never used by God to describe heaven in the Bible, but which He does use to describe locations here on earth.
If we’re going to let God interpret His own word, then we have to agree that Christians are going to be protected during the Great Tribulation, but that protection is NOT going to be in Heaven as many Rapture fans would have us believe. It will be right here, somewhere on planet earth.
But notice, too, not all Christians are protected. As we read in verse 17, “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Yes, some Christians, “the rest of her offspring,” must endure the trials of the Great Tribulation and the anger of Satan.
The distinction—one group protected and one sent into the Tribulation—is reflected in Christ’s comments to the two prophetic End-Time Churches of Revelation 3. The zealous Christians of Philadelphia are told by Jesus that He will “keep [them]from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world” [v. 10], while the lukewarm Christians of Laodicea are told that they must “buy… gold [from God] refined in the fire [of persecution]” [v. 18] and that they need His “chasten[ing]” [v. 19].
Those Laodicean Christians who must go through the Tribulation are described as those unable to see their need to repent and to change—too self-satisfied in what they already believe they know, and too willing to compromise in their actions.
There is a reason that Jesus Christ says to all of us concerning the times to come, “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted WORTHY TO ESCAPE all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).
Yes, there will be protection during the climactic, earth-shattering events of the end times—not in a Rapture off to heaven, but right here, somewhere on earth—for zealous, faithful Christians who are unwilling to compromise on the truth God has shown them.
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