At least seven years before He sets His feet on planet Earth once again, Jesus Christ will descend from heaven. The bodies of Christians who have died during the Church Age will then be resurrected to join their spirits, already with the Lord. Church Age believers who are still alive will follow with new, glorified bodies. Both will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. All of this will happen in a moment, as quickly as the twinkling of an eye.
This event is known as the Rapture. The primary texts describing it are John 14:1–3; 1 Corinthians 15:50–52; and 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18. (For nonchurch raptures, see Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11; Hebrews 11:5; Revelation 11:12.)
The word rapture is not in the English Bible. It is derived from the Latin translation of “caught up,” found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Both the Latin and the original Greek word mean “to snatch or take something away by seizing it suddenly.” Being snatched in this passage are both resurrected and living believers in Jesus Christ.
Even though the Church Age, or Age of Grace, does not technically end until the Second Coming of Jesus, the true church—the Body of Christ—will be raptured before then. The results are these:
- Through the Rapture, Jesus will receive His bride (the church), which will forever remain with Him.
- The church’s salvation will become experientially complete by the glorification of each person’s body.
- The “fullness of the Gentiles” will have come in, opening the way for God to continue His program with the nation of Israel (Acts 15:14; Rom. 11:25).
- The Holy Spirit’s ministry of baptizing individual Jews and Gentiles into the Body of Christ will cease.
- The church’s stewardship for this age—walking under the control of the Holy Spirit, making disciples, and preserving the faith—will end. People will still become saved during the subsequent Tribulation, but they will not be part of the unique, spiritual union known as the Body of Christ.
- With the true church gone, only a false, apostate church will remain on this earth.
There is strong evidence the Rapture will take place before the Tribulation. For example, Scripture says the church is to be delivered from the “wrath to come” because God has not destined the church for wrath (1 Th. 1:10; 5:9). Since God pours out His wrath during the entire seven-year Tribulation, the church will be raptured before it. (See also Revelation 3:10; also note the church’s conspicuous absence from the earth in Revelation 4—18.)
Also, the writers of the New Testament believed the Lord could return at any moment, without precursory signs (Phil. 4:5; Ti. 2:13; Jas. 5:8–9).
The Tribulation completes the remaining seven years of Daniel’s 70-weeks prophecy for Israel (Dan. 9:24–27). Since God’s programs for Israel and the church are distinct, it is fitting that the church be removed before God’s program for Israel begins anew.