THERE IS A LONG-STANDING history of competing beliefs regarding when Jesus will scoop up the church of believers during the end of days. This event is typically referred to as “the Rapture.” The word “rapture” is an English version of the Latin word rapio, from which we get the word “raptor,” a kind of bird that comes down from above and “snatches” or “grabs up” its prey. The Greek word harpazó (ἁρπάζω) is a passive verb. You have to be raptured; something has to happen to you. The word rapture does not appear in the Bible, but this does not mean it is not biblical truth. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17 we read, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (emphasis mine). It would seem the “elect” (the true believers in Christ) will not remain on earth for any part of the Tribulation period.
Discussion about the Rapture often causes confusion and anxiety for a lot of people. Specifically, where in the Tribulation does the Rapture fit? This is one of the most contentious issues in the church today. The three primary views are pre-Tribulation (the Rapture occurs before the Tribulation), mid-Tribulation (the Rapture occurs at or near the mid-point of the Tribulation), and post-Tribulation (the Rapture occurs at the end of the Tribulation). A fourth view commonly known as pre-wrath has entered recent conversations about the Rapture. It is a slight modification of the mid-Tribulation position, whose proponents believe God will snatch up the church of believers just before He pours out His wrath on the earth.
The Rapture is understood as Christ’s secret return for the church, which will happen imminently like a thief in the night. Followers of Christ will suddenly vanish without any warning and those left behind will not know what happened to them. I saw the movie A Thief in the Night(1) for the first time at age 14 on a Thursday night at my church shortly after becoming a Christian. I watched it again yesterday on YouTube. Admittedly, the film uses fear as a powerful motivator when depicting the Rapture. The soundtrack includes the lyrics, “The Son has come and you’ve been left behind.” The ending of the film leaves the viewers wondering whether it is indeed “too late.” Incidentally, Left Behind is a popular film series based on books by Tim Lahaye and and Jerry B. Jenkins regarding the Rapture and the many “seasons” of the Great Tribulation.
During the Rapture, when Jesus comes in the air for His Church, His feet will not touch earth. By contrast, the Second Coming of Christ takes place a few years later, when Jesus comes back to earth with His church and He stands on the Mount of Olives (see Jude 14; Zechariah 4:14; Revelation 19:14). Jesus uses angels as His agents for the Rapture. Matthew 16:27 says, “The Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” Christ does not promise merely to keep the church from the trials of the Tribulation, He promises to keep it from the hour of the trials. The events of the Tribulation, the purpose of the Rapture, the meaning of 1 Thessalonians 5:9, and the interpretation of Revelation 3:10 all give clear support to the pre-Tribulational position. If the Bible is interpreted literally and consistently, the pre-Tribulational position is the most biblically based interpretation.
Alan Brady writes, “Premillennial eschatology seeks to integrate and harmonize all biblical prophecy into one comprehensive scheme, which is primarily based on Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation.”(2) Eschatology is the doctrine of “the last things.” Premillennial eschatology, therefore, is distinguished by emphasis on a literal reading of biblical prophecy. Brady continues, “In the book of Revelation, the term ‘church’ (ekklēsia) does not occur again until 22:15. Pre-Tribulation adherents conclude that the reason is because Jesus removes the church at the beginning of the Tribulation so that he may return to dealing with Israel. This particular understanding of the Rapture is at the core of the pre-Tribulation rapture view.”(3) Jesus said, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:10, 11, and 13).
First Thessalonians 4:13-18 states that all living believers, along with believers who have died, will meet the Lord Jesus in the air and will be with Him forever. Accordingly, the Rapture is God’s removing of His people from the earth. Paul writes, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thes. 5:9). The book of Revelation is a prophetic message of how God will pour out His wrath upon the earth. It seems inconsistent for God to promise believers that they will not suffer wrath and then leave them on the earth to suffer during the Tribulation.
Reverend Charles Seet identifies the Rapture as “a supernatural event where millions upon millions of born-again Christians will suddenly disappear from the earth. It is that moment in time when we will finally be united with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Seet believes the Rapture will begin when Jesus appears in the clouds above the earth. Christians who have already died will resurrect from their graves and be brought up to Him. Next, those believers who are still alive at that time are transported right off this earth and are also taken up to meet Him. Then there will be a huge, joyful reunion in the sky, of Christians from all nations and from every age in history with the Lord, who will then lead them to their home in Heaven.(4)
Jesus promised those who follow Him that they will suffer and be hated by the world as it hated Him. However, He did not suggest that believers will be subjected to a “…great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matt. 24:21). From the description of the Last Days in many Bible passages, we see that God’s purpose for the Rapture is to keep believers safe from suffering all the awful plagues and judgments God will bring upon the world because of sin. When God’s wrath is poured out on the people of the world (see Revelation 16), everyone on earth will be smitten with painful sores; seas, rivers and streams of the world will turn to blood; the heat of the sun will scorch people with fire! These judgments are only meant for unbelievers. God, the great Judge of all, is not unrighteous so as to punish the righteous alongside the wicked (see Gen. 18:25). God’s children are dear to Him, so He will take them out of the world before His judgments go forth on the wicked.
I possess a copy of The Course of Time: From Eternity to Eternity, by A.E. Booth, first published in 1896. My copy once belonged to my great grandmother, who was an extremely devout and anointed believer in Christ and a dispensationalist. Dispensationalism is a form of biblical interpretation that predominated the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It rejects the belief that the New Testament church fulfills and replaces Israel in the divine plan. Instead, OT Israel and the NT church serve as a successive institution—conjoined by the progressive thread of redemption seen throughout the Bible. Dispensationalism is a form of premillennialism especially known for belief in a pre-Tribulation Rapture. C.A. Blaising says Dispensation refers to “an arrangement or administration.” It comes from the Greek, oikonomia, which properly means “household management.”(5) It can also suggest “stewardship.” In Galatians, Paul speaks of the Law as being”…under guardians and managers until the date set by his father” (Gal. 4:2). It is Christ who came to fulfill the Law under the New Covenant.
A.E. Booth wrote, “Eve came from Adam’s wounded side, in his deep sleep: Christ slept the deep sleep of death, and God is building from His wounded side a bride to be the fit companion for His Son through eternity. To His wounded side, whence His life-blood flowed, the Church can look back and say, ‘By His death I have life; through that blood I was cleansed’ …this sixth day prefigures the Millennium—the sixth dispensation, the golden age, to which so much prophecy points, when Christ and His bride will rule the whole earth.”(6)
Booth continues, “But the beginning of that dispensation must begin with judgments, as seen in Rev. xix. when, accompanied by all His saints who have previously been translated, all His enemies will then be put under His feet (see Zech. 19:1-5; Col. 3:4; Jude 14).”(7) Therefore, I believe events during the Tribulation, the purpose of the Rapture, the meaning of 1 Thessalonians 5:9, and the interpretation of Revelation 3:10 all give clear support to the pre-Tribulational position. The church will be caught up to heaven by Jesus just before the Tribulation period.
In The Revelation: Part 10, we will continue the discussion on the seven seals.
Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theological Studies
(1) A Thief in the Night, Donald W. Thompson, director (1972) Mark IV Pictures, Hamburg NY.
(2) Alan S. Brady, “The Rapture Question,” TGC, 2022, accessed Oct. 21, 2022, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/the-rapture-question/
(3) Brady, Ibid.
(4) Rev. Charles Seet, “Why Do I Believe in the Rapture?” Life Bible-Presbyterian Church, accessed on Oct. 20, 2022, https://www.lifebpc.com/index.php/resources/treasury-of-sermons/47-1-2-corinthians/522-1-corinthians-15-51-53-why-do-i-believe-in-the-rapture
(5) C.A. Blaising, “Dispensation, Dispensationalism,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing, 2017), 248.
(6) A.E. Booth, The Course of Time: From Eternity to Eternity (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc.), n.d.