8 - The Rapture Mystery

The event I will be discussing in this chapter is probably the most controversial of all the end-time prophecies. The controversy lies not in the fact that this event will take place but rather the dispute arises as to when this event will occur.

The New Testament declares that close to the end of the current age we live in, Jesus Christ will appear in the sky and remove His followers from the earth. Christians call this event "the Rapture".

The Christians in the Church of Thessalonica in Greece were concerned that they had missed the second coming of Jesus Christ.1 The apostle Paul tried to assuage their fears by telling them in a letter exactly what would happen toward the end:

"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren,

concerning those which are asleep, that you sorrow not,

even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that

Jesus died and rose again, even so those also which sleep

[i.e., are dead] in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this

we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are

alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not

prevent those which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall

descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the

archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in

Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain

shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet

the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."

- I Thessalonians 4:13-17

Paul states that Jesus will appear in the sky and that at His command Christians "shall be caught up" to meet Him in the air. We get the term "rapture" from the last two words of this phrase.

The New Testament was originally written in the Greek language of that era. The words "caught up" are the English translation of the Greek word "harpazo". It means to "seize suddenly" or to "snatch away". When the Fourth Century scholar Jerome translated the New Testament into Latin he rendered the Greek word "harpazo" as the Latin word "rapiemur". It is from this Latin word that the event, described by Paul in the passage above, came to be known as "the Rapture".

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian Church, describes what the Rapture will be like:

"Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep [i.e.die],

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. 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."2

Paul writes that God will transform the physical bodies of the believers in Christ Jesus in an instant from a mortal body into an immortal body. At that point Christians will have entered into a new dimension, the eternal dimension.

Earlier in this same letter Paul had explained his theological position to the Corinthian Church concerning what happens to Christians when they die: 

"Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, while we

are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord...We

are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from

the body, and to be present with the Lord."3

According to Paul the spirits of Christians who die go immediately to be with the Lord. When Jesus comes to rapture His followers He will appear in the sky, an archangel will shout, and a trumpet will sound. This trumpet is probably a shofar (made out of either a ram's or an ibex's horn) which was blown for assembling the Jewish people and for other important events. The spirits of those Christians who are already dead will come down with Jesus and will be reunited with their bodies (albeit different from the fleshly bodies we have currently) which will be resurrected from the earth. These bodies will be in a glorified or eternal state so that they can function in eternal dimensions. Paul mentioned this in the passage above where he says, "For this corruptible [body] must put on incorruption, and this mortal [body] must put on immortality".

It is interesting that after Jesus' resurrection He told the disciples to touch His resurrected body which still bore the marks of His crucifixion.4 He said to them: "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see Me have."5 As we read earlier in this book, God stated that the life of flesh is in the blood.6 Here, Jesus states that His body was flesh and bone. After we die blood will no longer be the sustainer of life. Although our resurrected bodies will be of a physical nature and will have substance, it is the spirit and power of God that will sustain them. The disciple John wrote: "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever lives and believes in Me shall never die."7

Therefore, born-again Christians who are living on the earth at the time of the Rapture will immediately have their mortal bodies changed into immortal or eternal bodies. They will be snatched off the earth to meet the Lord "in the air" and will be with Jesus forevermore. 

The theological position that one holds concerning the timing of Rapture determines whether it will be a "mysterious or secret" event or whether the world will recognize it as part of God's end-times plans once it takes place.

If the Rapture takes place at the beginning of the end-times events then it will catch the world by surprise. People's friends, relatives, and acquaintances will suddenly disappear from the earth. A shocked world will be looking for explanations as to what exactly took place. Chaos will ensue after this disappearance of millions of persons because of all the accidents that occur from those who were driving cars, flying airplanes or performing other types of human activities. One would not be amiss in stating such a scenario as bizarre at the least and too fantastic to believe at the most. Yet the Bible records that the Rapture is going to take place in the future.

However, if the Rapture occurs after God begins the end-times events then the world may have a better grasp as to what happened. This would be due to the fact that the people on earth would have already witnessed other supernatural events that had occurred.

The Timing of the Rapture

When might the Rapture take place? Both the Old and New Testaments speak of a time of trouble coming upon the whole world at the end of this age. The Bible uses different expressions to describe this period but most Christians refer to it as the "Tribulation Period". I will be examining this time of trouble in the next chapter but for now I will mention that it will last seven years according to the Bible. The timing of the Rapture revolves around this seven-year Tribulation Period.

There are three major theological positions that most Christians adhere to as concerning when the timing of the Rapture will take place. They are that the Rapture will take place before the Tribulation Period starts, in the middle of it, or at the end of it. Christian terminology refers to these positions as the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, the Mid-Tribulation Rapture, and the Post-Tribulation Rapture

There is a fourth position that an individual suggested in a book8 but it has not gained a foothold in Christian circles. This theory states that the Rapture will take place between the middle and the end of the Tribulation Period. That author refers to it as the Pre-Wrath Rapture.

The Pre-Tribulation Rapture

Let us look first at the Pre-Tribulation doctrine. This teaching had its beginnings early in the Nineteenth Century though there may have been some allusions to it before that in other Christian writings.

The basis for this belief is rooted in several Old and New Testament passages. The primary reason for believing in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture is that if God is going to judge the world because of its rebellion and opposition toward Him then He would spare His faithful followers this judgment.

The apostle Paul wrote in the same letter to the Thessalonians that they were "to wait for His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, Who delivered us from the wrath to come."9  There are two ways to interpret this verse. Either the wrath to come refers to the Tribulation Period when God pours out His wrath on the earth or it refers to the very end of time when God will judge those opposed to Him by casting them into Hell. Later in this letter, Paul writes, "For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him."10  This verse seems to associate salvation with being spared from God's wrath that will come upon unbelievers when He casts them into Hell. Those who believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture believe the wrath spoken of in these verses refers to God's wrathful judgments that occur during the Tribulation Period. Consequently, God will remove His people before He begins His judgment of the earth and its inhabitants.

Another reason that Pre-Tribulationists believe that Christians are going to be raptured before the Tribulation stems from a curious statement that Paul wrote in his second letter to the Thessalonians, "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sits in the Temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember you not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now you know what withholds that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity does already work: only he who now restrains will restrain, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming."11 Pretribulationism teaches that "he who restrains" refers to the Holy Spirit. Thus, before the wicked Antichrist can be revealed the Holy Spirit has to be removed from the earth. Since the Holy Spirit resides in the followers of Jesus Christ, they too must be removed by the Rapture from the earth. Then the Tribulation Period can start and the Antichrist can come to power.

There are a couple of Old Testament stories that indicate God may indeed act in this manner. The first is the story of Noah's flood.12 In that event God declared that the world had become irrevocably wicked. He determined that He would judge the whole world for its evil by bringing a flood against it and thereby cleanse the earth. However, there were a few righteous followers of God whom He did not want to destroy. Thus, He had Noah build an ark or ship by which he would be safe from God's judgment. Indeed, God did flood the earth after He13 closed the door of the ark behind Noah and his family. God protected His followers by putting them in a place of refuge where His wrath would not harm them.

The other story involves God's servant Abraham and his nephew Lot.14 In the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah wickedness reigned supreme. God was determined to destroy those cities because of their evil. Abraham was concerned for his nephew Lot who lived in Sodom. He pleaded with the Lord not to destroy Sodom if He could find fifty righteous men living there. Eventually Abraham reduced the number of righteous men down to ten. Sadly, not even ten righteous persons lived in Sodom. Thus, God declared that He would destroy both cities but before He did this He would remove Lot and his family from its midst. God held back His judgment until Lot and his family were safely out of the city and then the He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. However, His people were saved from His wrath.

Both of these stories indicate that it may very well be God's plan to remove His followers from the earth before He judges it one final time. If this is the case then Jesus will come down to earth, seven years after the Rapture, to judge the nations of the world and set up His kingdom on earth. 

Pre-Tribulation Christians make a distinction between Jesus' appearance in the sky to rapture His followers and His second coming to earth when He will begin His reign as the King-Messiah.

Pre-Tribulationists believe that there are no more prophetic signs that must be fulfilled before Jesus comes to rapture the Church. They refer to the belief that Jesus could return at any moment like a "thief in the night" as the doctrine of Imminency.

I want to mention one further note concerning the biblical end-time events. Both the Old and New Testaments frequently use the phrase "the Day of the Lord". There is a disagreement among some Christians as to what time frame constitutes "the Day of the Lord". Pre-Tribulation and Mid-Tribulation Christians believe it starts with the Rapture of the Church. Others hold to a different view that I will point out in the following sections.

The Mid-Tribulation Rapture

Those who believe in a Mid-Tribulation Rapture do so because of whose wrath will be involved during the Tribulation Period. As I show in the next chapter, a wicked human world ruler will dominate the first part of that seven-year period. He will eventually persecute and destroy many people by his own personal wrath. According to this belief, it will then be during the second half of the Tribulation Period that God will supernaturally bring His wrath down on the world.

Mid-Tribulation Christians make a distinction between God's wrath and man's wrath. They believe that since Christians have always suffered persecution from mankind they would not be experiencing anything different under the reign of an evil world leader. However, they also believe that God would not pour down His wrath on His people so He will remove them before the second half of the Tribulation Period begins.

This removal or Rapture would take place at the sounding of the seventh-trumpet judgment listed in the Book of Revelation. Mid-Tribulationists base this belief on the fact that Paul said the Rapture would take place at the "last trump".15

This teaching came into prominence around the middle of the twentieth Century.

The Pre-Wrath Rapture

The teaching of the Pre-Wrath Rapture came to the fore in the early 1990s. The basis of this theory is rooted in the Book of Revelation. In the next chapter I will be discussing this prophetic book in more detail though at this time I need to allude to it here in order to discuss this theory.

Revelation uses descriptive language in laying out God's entire plans for the end-times. It lists three sets of judgments that are going to take place during the seven-year Tribulation Period. Respectively these judgments are referred to as the "seven seals", "seven trumpets", and "seven bowls". Each of these events unleashes a different type of calamity that is going to happen to the earth and its inhabitants.

According to the Pre-Wrath Rapture teaching, the "Day of the Lord" begins after the opening of the sixth seal. It is at that time when God pours out His wrath on the earth. The scriptural basis for this belief is found in the prophetic Book of Joel where the prophet speaks about the Tribulation Period: "I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible Day of the LORD come."16 The first five seals seem to indicate that the earth will suffer as a result of human causes. However, when the opening of the sixth seal takes place, cosmic judgments come upon the earth that only God could implement.

The opening of the seventh seal puts into motion the seven trumpet judgments which in turn start the final seven bowl judgments. Therefore, the Pre-Wrath Rapture will take place at the opening of the seventh seal. According to this belief the opening of the sixth and seventh seals does not take place until some time during the second half of the seven-year Tribulation Period. If this doctrine is correct then the time frames listed in the Book of Revelation indicate that the period of time between the Rapture and Jesus' second coming to earth could be anywhere from six months to one and one half years.

The Post-Tribulation Rapture

The last doctrine concerning the timing of the Rapture appears to be the historical position held by the early Church (although this teaching has been refined in recent years).

This belief states that the Rapture will take place in conjunction with the second coming of Christ, which occurs at the very end of the Tribulation Period. This doctrine is referred to as the Post-Tribulation Rapture.

This teaching is based on several issues. One is that Jesus' disciples asked Him to tell them what the signs would be leading up to His second coming.17 Jesus explained to them that several events would take place before He came again. This raises the question that if the disciples or future Christians were going to be raptured before the Tribulation Period why would Jesus give them signs to watch for if they weren't going to be around to see them?

Another basis for Posttribulationism is the fact that persecution of Christians has been going on since Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. Therefore, it will be no different during the Tribulation Period since it will be a continuation of the suffering that has been going on for two millennia.

The apostle Paul in a second letter that he wrote to the Thessalonian Church also seemed to say that there are some signs that would take place before the Rapture: "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him, That you be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sits in the Temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember you not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?"18 Here Paul uses the personal pronoun indicating that he and other Christians would not be raptured until after the wicked world ruler appeared on the scene. I will be speaking to the issue of this world leader and the timing of his appearance on earth in the next chapter. Suffice it to say now though that it seems as if Paul is saying that the Rapture would take place toward the end of the Tribulation Period and therefore would occur at Jesus' second coming to earth.

Lastly, those who adhere to the Post-Tribulation position believe that the "Day of the Lord" cannot start until Jesus destroys the nations of the world at the battle of Armageddon and sets up His Messianic Kingdom. They quote from the Book of Isaiah, which says, "The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. For the Day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low."19 This is the first mention in the Bible of the "Day of the Lord". Isaiah states that only the Lord will be exalted in that day. Since the wicked world ruler is to be exalted by humankind before the Messiah comes, the "Day of the Lord" has to be reserved for Him until the end of the Tribulation Period. Therefore, those Christians who say the "Day of the Lord" begins with the Rapture or at the beginning of the Tribulation would be in error according to this teaching.

Post-Tribulationists also reference other scripture verses in which the "Day of the Lord" revolves around the battle of Armageddon, which occurs at the very end of the Tribulation Period.20

Though there are many other reasons why Post-Tribulationists believe that the Rapture will take place at Jesus' second coming to earth I will not take the time to list them here.


Each of these teachings does have some problems associated with their particular stance on the timing of the Rapture.

For example, Pre-Tribulationism has to deal with a prophecy given in the Book of Malachi: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful Day of the Lord."21 The dilemma here is that if the "Day of the Lord" starts with the Rapture then the doctrine of the imminent return of Jesus is untenable. The prophet Malachi states that the prophet Elijah must appear before the Day of the Lord takes place. So there would be a prophetic sign that would have to occur before the Rapture takes place.

The Mid-Tribulation Rapture belief has a problem in its assumption that the seventh trumpet judgment is the "last trump" spoken of by Paul. The seven trumpet judgments are not blown for the believers' sake but to announce various judgments upon the unbelieving world.

The Pre-Wrath view declares that the wrath of God does not start until after the opening of the seventh seal. However, the Book of Revelation states that none of the "seal" judgments starts until Jesus Christ opens them. If the opening of the first five seals unleashes the wrath of man upon the world, it only happens because Jesus unseals the judgments. Therefore, it is God through His Son who initiates these judgments.22

Post-Tribulation has to account for the verse that the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians in which they are "to wait for His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come."23 If this verse is referring to the wrath that God is going to pour out on the earth during the Tribulation Period then Christians will not have to go through the entire seven years of judgment.

Since the prophecies of the Old Testament do not mention the Church Age, there does not seem to be any reference to the Rapture taking place before, during, or after God judges the earth. However, the Old Testament does illustrate truths about God that indicate the principles by which He abides. A passage in the prophetic Book of Isaiah expresses the principle of God's protection of His people from His wrath:

"Come, My people, enter you into your chambers, and shut

your doors about you: hide yourself as it were for a little

moment, until the indignation be passed over. For, behold,

the LORD comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants

of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose

her blood, and shall no more cover her slain. In that day

the LORD with His sore and great and strong sword shall

punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that

crooked serpent; and He shall slay the dragon that is in the



There is one final aspect concerning the Rapture and the timing of it that I wish to point out. In Chapter 6, I mentioned that God ordained the Jewish people to observe seven feasts on specific days of the Jewish calendar. These seven feasts were divided into two seasonal periods of the years. The first four feasts were to take place in spring/early summer and the final three feasts would take place in the autumn or fall. These fall feasts were the "Feast of Trumpets", the "Day of Atonement", and the "Feast of Tabernacles". I want to discuss the Feast of Trumpets at this time.

In the Book of Leviticus God issued His ordinances for the seven Jewish feasts. Concerning the feast of Trumpets He said:

"Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh

month, in the first day of the month, shall you have a

Sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy

convocation. You shall do no servile work therein: but you

shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD."25

     This observance was to take place on the first day of the Jewish month Tishri. In modern times, the Jews celebrate Tishri as the first month in their calendar. The first day of Tishri is now called "Rosh haShanah" which means "head of the year". Hence, the Jews celebrate it as their New Years Day. In biblical times though, they called it "Yom Teruah" which means "the day of the sounding of the shofar [i.e., trumpet]".

Jews actually celebrate the Feast of Trumpets on the first and second days of Tishri. This is because the Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycles. Each month begins on the new moon. In times past the Jews declared the new moon by observation. When the Sanhedrin (i.e., the Jewish ruling council) saw the new moon they declared that a new month had started. They then sent out messengers to tell people when the month began. However, they could not always notify those Jews who lived in distant communities in time to tell them that the new month had started. Since sending out messengers took some time these distant Jewish communities might not hear the announcement until the second day of the month. Therefore, the Jews celebrated the holidays on both days so that they would be faithful in obeying God's Law.

All God says about the Feast of Trumpets is that it is to be celebrated as a memorial by the blowing of trumpets. The Bible gives no other reason as to why God told the Jews they must observe this holy day. I believe the answer could lie in prophecy.

As we saw in Chapter 6, Jesus fulfilled each of the spring feasts on the specific days that God had ordained. He was crucified on Passover, buried on Unleavened Bread, resurrected on Firstfruits Sunday, and poured out the Holy Spirit upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. Since God was so meticulous in fulfilling the spring feasts with the Messiah's first coming, I believe it is entirely possible that the Jesus Christ will fulfill the fall feasts with His second coming.

Why then did God order the blowing of trumpets on the first (and now second) day of Tishri for a memorial? I believe it was foretelling of the day that the Messiah would appear in the sky and sound the trumpet to rapture His followers. If this is so then the Rapture may take place on the first or second day of Tishri, which is in the autumn. For two reasons however, this does not violate Jesus' statement that "...of that day and that hour knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father."26  The first is that we still don't know the year in which the Rapture will take place and therefore wouldn't know the date. The second is that the Feast of Trumpets is celebrated on two successive days of Tishri. Thus, we would not know which of these days the Rapture would occur.

I am not dogmatic about this theory but it would seem consistent with God's plans for the Messiah and His fulfillment of the spring feasts. The apostle Paul seems to allude to the idea that the holy or feast days had a deeper meaning than revealed in the Old Testament:

"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in

respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath

days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of


In conclusion, I will point out that as with many doctrines of the Christian faith, the Rapture teaching has resulted in some serious disputes among Christians. There are many books and web sites that discuss, defend, and examine at length each of these positions on the timing of the Rapture

The only thing that I am adamant about concerning this issue is that one day (or night) Jesus Christ is going to appear in the sky and rapture His followers off the earth. The Bible states that this event is going to happen in the future.


1   II Thessalonians 2:1-3

2   I Corinthians 15:51-54

3   I Corinthians 5:6, 8

4   John 20:26-29

5   Luke 24:39

6   Leviticus 17:11, 14 - In these verses the Jews were not to eat any blood

    from the sacrificial animals that they killed. Therefore, the blood from

    the sacrificed animal had to be completely drained before the Jews

    could eat that animal. Since Jesus was the sacrificial offering for the

    sins of mankind, all of His blood would also have been removed. Not

    necessarily at the cross but at the time of God's acceptance of His

    sacrifice on behalf of humans. The Book of Hebrews states that Jesus

    entered into the heavenly Temple and offered His blood in the Holy

    Place as a sacrificial offering for the sins of humankind: "...by His own

    blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal

    redemption for us"(Hebrews 9:12). Paul, in speaking of the change of

    our mortal bodies into immortal bodies, states clearly that blood cannot

    be a part of our eternal bodies: "Now this I say, brethren, that [human] flesh

    and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit

    incorruption."(I Corinthians 15:50)

7   John 11:25-26

8   "The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church"; by Marvin J. Rosenthal;

    (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990)

9   I Thessalonians 1:10

10  I Thessalonians 5:9-10

11  II Thessalonians 2:3-8

12  Genesis 6:1-8:22

13  Genesis 7:16

14  Genesis 18:16-19:28

15  Revelation 11:15-19

16  Joel 2:30-31

17  Matthew 24:1-51

18  II Thessalonians 2:1-5

19  Isaiah 2:11-12

20  Isaiah 13:9; Joel 2:1-11; Zechariah 14:1-9

21  Malachi 4:5

22  Revelation 5:1-8:1

23  I Thessalonians 1:10 

24  Isaiah 26:20-27:1

25  Leviticus 23:24-25

26  Mark 13:32

27  Colossians 2:16-17

Next Chapter
Back to Contents page
Back to Homepage

3wc valid xhtml icon

3wc valid css icon