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An Introduction to Bible Prophecy (2): The Rapture

J Hay, Comrie

The previous article explained the strict meaning of the word "rapture", that is, a seizing and carrying away. That concept is enshrined in the words "caught up" in 1 Thessalonians 4.17. However, we are inclined to call the whole occasion of the Lord’s coming to the air and the coinciding events, the Rapture.

The Rapture was promised by the Lord Jesus on the eve of His sufferings: "I will come again, and receive you unto myself" (Jn 14.3). The Rapture was pictured in the first and last books of the Bible: "And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him" (Gen 5.24). "A door was opened in heaven…Come up hither" (Rev 4.1-2), and in an instant John was viewing events around the throne. The Rapture was predicted by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, the main passage on the theme.

Will the Rapture Precede the Tribulation?

Is it conceivable that believers of this church age will experience the horrors of the Great Tribulation or will they be removed before that "great and terrible" day dawns? In Scripture there are various pointers to the fact that members of the body of Christ will be in heaven before the storm of wrath breaks.

Imminence. First century believers were taught that His coming is imminent, that is, it is at hand, it could happen at any moment, it will be unannounced, no signs will herald it. Listen in to some of their distinguished teachers. Paul: "The night is far spent, the day is at hand" (Rom 13.12). Peter: "But the end of all things is at hand" (1 Pet 4.7). James: "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh" (James 5.8). John: "Little children, it is the last time" (1 Jn 2.18). Jude: "looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Jude v.21). Anonymous: "For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry" (Heb 10.37). Add to that list the promise of the Lord Jesus: "Surely I come quickly" (Rev 22.20). That final promise of the Bible agrees with the promise He made in the Upper Room, where the verb tenses indicate this, "I go…I come again", as if there were nothing to intervene between His departure and His return (Jn 14.3, RV). While there are constant warnings to believers to expect tribulation from men, nowhere does the New Testament instruct them to expect the dreadful age of divine wrath to intervene before the Rapture.

The Wrath to Come. Jesus is said to be the One who "delivered us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess 1.10). "God hath not appointed us to wrath" (1 Thess 5.9). In Scripture, the word "wrath" is generally, though not exclusively, connected with divine judgment on the earth rather than eternal punishment, and it is a concept that is clearly linked to Tribulation days. "Vials of the wrath of God" will be poured out "upon the earth" (Rev 16.1). The Great Tribulation is incorporated in a period of time called "The Day of the Lord"; that day will be "a day of wrath" (Zeph 1.15). We are promised that we will be preserved from that era of divine wrath. When it is pending, we will need someone to save us from it, and so "we wait for a Saviour" (Phil 3.20, RV), whose timely intervention will rapture us before the storm breaks.

A letter, allegedly from Paul, had led the Thessalonians to believe that their present woes were an indication that they were in the Day of the Lord. In 2 Thessalonians 2 Paul addressed that misunderstanding. He urged them to discount any thought of being in the Tribulation, and the basis of his appeal was this: "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and…our gathering together unto him" (v.1). In other words, they could not possibly be in the Day of the Lord, for by the time it dawns Christ will have come and we will have been snatched from this scene. He provided further markers that proved that they were by no means experiencing Tribulation wrath, including the fact that the man of sin had still to be manifested.

Kept from the Hour. The Lord Jesus promised the assembly at Philadelphia that He would keep them "from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world", a reference to the Tribulation (Rev 3.10). We extend the promise to every believer, for, in the context, the Spirit was speaking to the churches. In Jeremiah 30.7 the Tribulation is described as "the time of Jacob’s trouble", Jacob being synonymous with Israel. There the promise is, "he shall be saved out of it". To be saved out of it, Israel will first of all have to be in it, but the terminology of Revelation 3.10 is different: kept from the hour. Believers of this age will be preserved from entering the Tribulation altogether. It is significant that after many allusions to the church in the early chapters of Revelation, there is no reference to it in the central section of the book that deals with the Tribulation period. She makes her reappearance in ch.19 as the Lamb’s wife, and emerges from heaven with Him. How will the church get to heaven in order to appear from it? By means of the Rapture; the whole scenario demands that the Rapture precedes the Great Tribulation. The pictures referred to earlier are in agreement with the doctrine. Enoch was raptured before the flood came. John was in heaven before even the first phase of tribulation wrath.

The truth of the Rapture is a great source of comfort for the believer (1 Thess 4.18). Hope would be destroyed if there was the feeling that we have to face the terrors of the Great Tribulation before meeting our beloved Lord.

What will Take Place at the Rapture?

As has been stated, 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 is basic to the subject and unique in its coverage of certain aspects of the event. There are no references to the Rapture in the Old Testament or in the great prophetic sermon that we call the Olivet Discourse (Mt 24-25). That is why Paul stressed that he spoke "by the word of the Lord" (v.15). His teaching was new, but he had received a direct revelation from the Lord regarding it. Critics of the teaching of a pre-tribulation Rapture allege that it is so new that it emerged in the 1800s, and the argument is, if it is as new as that it cannot be true! There is no doubt that for centuries it was obscured in the mists of Romish doctrine, but then, so too was the doctrine of justification by faith. There have never been any protests from the evangelical world about the re-emergence of that glorious truth!

The descent of the Lord Jesus will signal the resurrection of sleeping saints. At death their bodies went to corruption, but He received their spirits (Acts 7.59); they were "at home with the Lord" (2 Cor 5.8, RV). (The metaphor of "sleep" relates exclusively to the body, and the thought is that there is always an awakening from sleep; there is no such thing as "soul sleep".) That awakening, that resurrection, will take place at the Rapture. It will be the first event before living saints are "caught up". The manner of that resurrection and the nature of the resurrection body are dealt with in 1 Corinthians 15.35-58.

Following the resurrection of sleeping saints there will be the rapture of living saints (1 Thess 4.17); living, and believing on Christ, they shall never die (Jn 11.26). Their bodies will be changed in an atom of time to be made suitable for the new environment to which they will be transported (1 Cor 15.51-52).

Obviously, all believers will be entranced with their first sight of their Saviour, but the thought of reunion is embedded in the verses, for we shall be "caught up together with them". The thought of being caught up with resurrected believers whom we loved, and together meeting the Lord in the air and being forever with Him should be a tremendous source of comfort in a sad world (v.18).

Chaos? Inevitably, when the sudden disappearance of millions of people is contemplated, the practicalities are raised. Driverless cars? Pilotless aircraft? Parentless children? Overturned gravestones? The list of questions goes on. Will there be chaos, or will the event pass in an orderly fashion? Scripture is silent, but on balance, the fact that "God is not the author of confusion" and that He encourages things "to be done decently and in order" (1 Cor 14.33,40) would lead us to suppose that in His own sovereign way He will orchestrate the event so as to obviate disorder. However, no matter how hard people may search, like Enoch, raptured believers will not be found, for God will have translated them (Heb 11.5).

To be continued.


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