The main positions on the rapture place it sometime around the beginning, the middle, or the end of the Tribulation of the End Days. I will argue that the rapture will take place just before the combustion of the world at the end of time. There are problems with each of the mainstream positions on the rapture, and I admit there are reasonable arguments against the rapture theory here. However, my theory seems the most logical for at least two reasons: the others are in contradiction with the account of the First Resurrection in Revelation, and also, the arguments against my theory do not preclude it. There is also significant positive evidence for a rapture after the age of peace and some may find that it amounts to proof.
First of all, let’s just establish that the rapture does occur. Paul describes it clearly in 1 Corinthians 15, particularly in the first verse when he says, “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” The only way that change is possible in such a context is if we are transfigured before we die.
1 Corinthians 15:51-53
Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
Paul also gives a clear description of the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4. Here Paul emphasizes that all Christians have a place with Jesus: the dead will be resurrected and then the living will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” (v.17)
1 Thessalonians 4:14-17
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel,and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.
So from these two passages in Paul we must notice a few things.
1) in a twinkling of the eye, God will transfigure the living (this is what we call the rapture)
2) the order is first, that Christ will return (accompanied by certain signs) (1 Thessalonians 4:16)
3) and then the dead will be resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:16)
4) and after the resurrection, then those alive will be transfigured (1 Thessalonians 4:17 and Corinthians 15:51-53)
One more significant scripture on the rapture, though we will not analyze it yet, is Matthew 24 in which Jesus speaks somewhat cryptically. That is one of the places we hear of two people together, ‘one taken, another left.’
So what is the controversy? Paul has explained clearly that there will be a rapture for believers. The issue in this essay is the timing. Revelation’s detailed treatment of the End Times does not give much clear information on the rapture. If the rapture came before tribulation or during tribulation, why does the passage above in 1 Thessalonians 4 tie the resurrection and rapture to the coming of Christ?
We read He comes first, and with a trumpet, a shout and the voice of an archangel. Would one say that such a coming is either before the tribulation or during the tribulation? Matthew 24:27 says that “like the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so the coming of the Son of Man will be.” Then can we say He comes publicly in glory before the tribulation to resurrect and rapture, or in the middle of the tribulation in that way, and then He returns again to win the battle of Armageddon? I don’t think so. But let’s look more at Matthew 24, because it is so valuable. In it, Jesus addresses His disciples for one of the last times.
Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now, or ever will happen. And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’or ‘There he is!’ do not believe him.
For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Remember, I have told you ahead of time. So then, if someone says to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe him. For just like the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. “Immediately after the suffering 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 heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven unto the other.
We see here
1) Some who are elect will be there at the end. Why else would the days need to be cut short? (v. 22)
2) Jesus’ anticipated return is “immediately after the suffering of those days” when the “sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light.” (vv.29,30) In other words, the one whom many will be waiting for, wishing He were even in the wilderness or the inner room, will not come until at the end, with those signs.
We are many times told to wait on the Lord. We are told to wait on Him and expect Him for a coming at the end of Tribulation. Read how Luke 21 has the matter.
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand.
And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
So the pre-tribulation and mid-tribulation theories are very hard to support when 1 Thessalonians 4 places the rapture with the return of Christ, and the return of Christ according to Matthew 24 and Luke 21 seems to be at the end of the Tribulation period. However I don’t believe in a rapture at the end of the Tribulation period either, despite the seemingly strong indications we have seen to expect it then. The following passage is crucial and proves all three popular theories of the rapture wrong.
I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection…[they] shall reign with him a thousand years. And when the thousand years are expired…And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
1) For a thousand years the only dead to be ressurected will be the martyrs of the Tribulation who live and reign with Christ. (v. 20:4) This selective resurrection is called the First Resurrection. (v. 20:5)
2) After a thousand years is the general resurrection. Then we are judged for life or death. (vv. 20:7,11,12)
As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:15,16, the “dead in Christ shall rise first,” and “we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep.” That means that the rapture must take place at the end of the Millennial Reign just after the general resurrection of those “dead in Christ”.
In fact it appears the only option for the time of the rapture is when the “rest of the dead” are raised, after the thousand years. And there is actually very strong evidence that this interpretation is correct. The following verses show that the resurrection of the dead is at Christ’s Coming and that this is at the end of creation. That essentially decisively settles the issue of when the rapture takes place because it must take place at the time of the resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:22b-26
in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
So we see above that Christ comes at the end, turns the kingdom over to His Father, and His rule in power is different then. At the end, when death is to be destroyed, and this will be further validated below, all will be resurrected and made alive. The rapture cannot occur until then. Notice that this affirms the Parable of Lazarus, that we won’t be immediately transplanted to Heaven on our death. (To this point see 1 Peter 5:4 and 1 John 3:2.)
The vivid picture of the rapture as occurring in a “twinkling of an eye” is found in this same 15th chapter in verses 51 and 52. Then Paul says this,
1 Corinthians 15:53-57
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This passage concerns the exchange of a corruptible body for a body of spirit. It occurs when “death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54) But as Paul says here “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) Paul is giving clear testimony that the rapture occurs when death has come to an end. Thus, death ends when our immortality begins. That is the end, after the thousand years are finished, after the combustion of the universe, when we are all judged. People are still dead and not resurrected until after those thousand years according to Revelation 20, so death is only then “swallowed up in victory,” as Paul puts it here in 1 Corinthians 15:54,55. This conclusion is further verified by the fact that in Revelation 20:13,14 John describes how death and Hades give up the dead in them and are then thrown into the Lake of Fire. This takes places after the thousand years at the Last Judgment of all mankind.
There are intuitive reasons this makes sense.
1) A rapture at the Second Coming would remove all believers from Earth just when He begins the founding of the glorious Peaceable Kingdom. Instead, the world, which will be rallying to God in righteousness, will benefit from the leadership of those who believe.
2) People will call on the Lord in mourning just before He arrives. But not all who call on the Lord will be saved, but those who do His will. (Matthew 7:21) To remain on Earth gives them a chance to prove their fidelity, thereby giving more meaning to that verse.
3) The glory of the Lord will cover the Earth as the waters cover the sea. People will know Christ and be filled with the Spirit. For one thousand years the wicked powers that be, including the Devil, will be thrown down, and the world will live much closer to the way God has always desired. So Christ will want to show His triumph and favor to those who worship Him in Spirit and Truth. Facing the worst and overcoming it by relying on Him, Christians (not everyone) will be spared the final combustion of the world at the end because they do not deserve that destruction. God will show the difference in how he treats the righteous compared to the rebels.
While this theory makes sense intuitively for those 3 reasons, and while it appears to be a necessary view for those who believe scripture, there are certain objections that are reasonable.
Rapture just prior to the total combustion of the world seems objectionable because
1) Matthew 24 and other places in the Gospels sound as though the rapture is at the Second Coming.
2) Shouldn’t scripture indicate this theory more clearly if it is right? When does it speak of a Third Coming, since He must after all, come back for the rapture to take place?
There may be more good objections but I will try to address at least these two.
Because this article is long I will just review the argument quickly.
The snag on the theories of pre, mid, or post-tribulation rapture, comes out prominently in Revelation 20 where we learn that the Peaceable Kingdom of Isaiah occurs for a thousand years during which time none are resurrected except the martyrs. Since the rapture is inseparable from the resurrection, the rapture must wait until the general resurrection at the end of the Peaceable Kingdom.
We saw how in 1 Corinthians 15, the Lord’s [Third] Coming is the time of the end of this Creation, the end of Death itself, [“the last enemy”], and the time we receive immortality in body. This establishes Paul’s agreement with Revelation 20, that the transfiguration we expect in Resurrection and Rapture comes when there is no more death.
There are two major objections to this view. First, that Matthew 24:30,31 sounds as though the rapture occurs as soon as Jesus returns to defeat the Anti-Christ. My response was to show how prophets commonly condense time, foreshortening things in the distant future the way that clouds on the Western horizon can give the appearance of lighting up as one mass. Secondly on this point Matthew 13:37-43 seems to speak of the same rapture as Matthew 24:31 but such a harvest there coincides with the last judgment.
The second objection is the notable silence in the Bible on a late rapture or Third Coming. My response is that the Bible does indicate that Jesus will come back a third time, and that the rapture must occur then. Examples of these indications include that Matthew 24:40-25:46 portrays the rapture, (“one will be taken, another left,” (24:40,41)), as a piece of the final judgment. In that passage there is a separation of the righteous and wicked in four different parables of eternal judgment. The Bible thereby indicates that “the Son of Man is coming” at the time of the final judgment, while also pointing out that the same is the time of the rapture.
We also saw how the “Day of the Lord”, that time of His “appearing” or “revealing” is the time of the destruction of Creation, (2 Peter 3:10), the Judgment of the dead, (2 Timothy 4:1), Judgment Day, (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10), and moreover, comes at a time of peace and safety, (1 Thessalonians 5:2,3). 2 Peter 3:10 and 1 Thessalonians 5:2,3 also compare this Coming to “a thief in the night”, just as Matthew 24:43 does, showing that Christ’s prophecy in Matthew 24, which speaks of the Rapture, is in agreement with the prophecies of Paul and Peter.
The Peaceable Kingdom is a time of untold righteousness on Earth when the glory of the Lord will cover the Earth as the waters cover the sea. The world will have been worshiping God and Jesus and bringing Him great pleasure and delight. His longsuffering to see His vision for peace and righteousness on Earth will reap a harvest of glory for the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This is His vision from the beginning. (See Genesis 1:28-30.) Israel will be holy and its territory will be enlarged. For these reasons it seems natural that God would prefer to translate the entire Church into the Spirit, giving them honor rather than the humiliation of destruction, as though God had failed. At the end, God will be resurrecting all, should He then destroy His Church before resurrecting them too?