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What it is, and what it isn’t.
When the word Rapture is mentioned, responses differ. Some people know it refers to Christ coming to take the church to heaven. Others incorrectly associate the rapture with Christ’s Second Coming. Still others have no idea what the Rapture is.
Confusion prevails, primarily because many churches seldom teach the subject today or lack biblical clarity when they do teach it. In some circles, people even dislike or ridicule the doctrine. Often the Rapture passages are spiritualized, stripping the text of its true meaning.
The Rapture of the church is a major doctrine in Scripture, and it is incumbent on us as Christians to understand the meaning of this important prophetic event.
The Rapture Defined
The word Rapture does not appear in the English Bible. It is a Latin word, raptura, that means to “seize, snatch, or be carried away.” The Greek word harpazō does appear in the Bible (1 Th. 4:17) and means the same thing as raptura. Thus the Rapture is clearly taught in Scripture.
Two central passages describe the Rapture: 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50–54. The Rapture refers to when Jesus Christ will descend from heaven with a shout, the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of God to gather all true Christians to heaven. Those who already died and those living will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air (1 Th. 4:16–17).
The event will happen suddenly, without prophetic signs or warning. When we are transported to heaven, we will be physically transformed in the twinkling of an eye to receive glorified bodies preparing us for life in eternity. The apostle Paul wrote, “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” (1 Cor. 15:52–53). Our “corruptible” sin natures will be instantly eradicated, and we will experience perfection in body, soul, and spirit.
Paul said Christ will “transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). Every believer’s body will be refashioned in a resurrected form (but still recognizable), as was Christ’s body. The apostle John assured us that we “shall be like Him” (1 Jn. 3:2).
What was Christ like in His resurrected body? He could appear and vanish (Lk. 24:31); and He could walk, talk, eat, and rise into heaven (Jn. 21:21–25; Acts 1:11). He was not bound by gravity, time, or space; and He could travel at will from one place to another instantly. When we are raptured, we will possess the same abilities in our glorified bodies, but we do not know yet to what extent.
The Relationship Described
Our relationship with Jesus Christ resembles that of a bridegroom and his bride. John the Baptist first used this analogy in John 3:28–30. He taught that Christ is the Bridegroom, and the church is His bride.
Although the phrase bride of Christ is not in the New Testament, the idea appears throughout Scripture (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23–27; Rev. 19:7; 21:9), providing great insight concerning our unbreakable union with Christ. It pictures the intimacy we enjoy with Him, like that of a husband and wife (the most private, personal bond possible in life).
This union is a “great mystery” (Eph. 5:32), something unknowable unless God reveals it. Paul said specifically he was speaking in Ephesians 5:23–29 about more than human marriage; he was speaking about “Christ and the church” (v. 32).
The Rapture Distinctives
Many Christians associate the Rapture with Christ’s Second Coming. This is a mistake because these events are distinct from each other; and it is important to understand the differences:
- At the Rapture, believers meet Christ in the air (1 Th. 4:17). At Christ’s Second Coming to Earth, no meeting takes place (Zech. 14:4).
- At the Rapture, only born-again believers will see Christ come (Jn. 14:3). At the Second Coming, the entire world will see Him (Mt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7).
- At the Rapture, believers are taken to heaven (Jn. 14:3). Unbelievers remain on Earth to endure the Tribulation. At the Second Coming, believers return to Earth with Christ to enter the Millennial Kingdom (Mt. 25:34). Unbelievers who survive the Great Tribulation will never enter the Kingdom; they will be purged and thrown into everlasting fire (v. 41).
- At the Rapture, Christ returns for His church (1 Th. 4:17). At the Second Coming, His church returns with Him to rule on Earth during the Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 19:14).
- The Rapture is imminent. No signs or events must precede it. Many signs and events occur before Christ’s Second Coming (Mt.24:4–30).
- The Great Tribulation—when God unleashes His wrath on Earth—will not affect believers because they will already have been raptured (1 Th. 5:9). The Great Tribulation will torment unbelievers, all of whom will be left on Earth (Rev. 6—18).
- Although the church is mentioned 19 times in the first three chapters of the book of Revelation, it is not mentioned again until Revelation 22. In other words, Scripture does not mention the word church when dealing with God’s Tribulation wrath in Revelation 6—18, but it does talk about unbelievers and how they will suffer and die (6:8; 8:11).
The Rapture Deliverance
The Rapture’s major mission is to deliver the church from God’s wrathful judgment of sinful humanity, which will afflict the entire earth. Paul told the Thessalonian church, “Wait for His [God’s] Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Th. 1:10).
After speaking of the Rapture (4:16–17), Paul said, “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:9). Notice, God did not “appoint” (destine) Christians, who possess salvation, to experience His eschatological wrath. That event is planned for sinners who reject Him.
Many ask, “If God is going to pour out His judgment on sinful humanity, and Christians are still sinful even after we have received Christ, why would He deliver only Christians from His wrath in the Great Tribulation and not others?” Because Christ’s sacrifice of Himself was applied as payment for our sin when we accepted Him as Savior; we received Christ’s righteousness: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). So God sees us as having His righteousness, obtained through faith in Christ.
However, if we reject Him, He does not see us that way, and “the wrath of God abides on [us]” (Jn. 3:36). If we receive Christ as our Savior, Christ’s sacrifice is laid on our account and pays for our sin. We are no longer under God’s condemnation or wrath (Rom. 8:1; 1 Th. 5:9). If we do not receive Christ, we must pay for our sin ourselves, and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
God showers His mercy and grace on repentant sinners and withholds the punishment we deserve. In addition, in His grace, He provides the unmerited favor we do not deserve.
Today we live in the age of grace, or the Church Age. It is so named because Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Mt. 16:18). The Church Age began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and will end at the Rapture (1 Th. 4:13–18). But God’s program continues through the Great Tribulation and into the Millennial Kingdom and eternity.
Church saints will return with Christ at the Second Coming, clothed in pure white linen that symbolizes their righteous acts, and they will rule and reign with Him for 1,000 years (Rev. 19:8, 14; 20:4; cf. 2:26–28; 3:21).
What a glorious plan God has established for those who put their faith in Christ for salvation. Have you?