LCG Article

Will There Be a Rapture?

The Bible teaches that true Christians will be protected, but they will not be raptured.

John H. Ogwyn (1949-2005)

Most evangelicals who write or speak on the subject of biblical prophecy assume that the key end-time event for Christians is “the rapture.” What exactly is the rapture? What does the Bible teach concerning it? Is it the only hope for end-time Christians?

There is a great deal of confusion about this—and many other aspects of prophecy—in the professing Christian world. However, the real truth is both knowable and provable when we look to the plain, clear teachings of the Bible rather than to the ideas and theories of men.

The Rapture Teaching and Its Origin

What is the teaching of the rapture? Simply put, it is the teaching that Jesus Christ will return twice. First, it is supposed that there will be a secret, unheralded return in which He will whisk all Christians, both living and dead, off to Heaven to be there during the time when the Great Tribulation is taking place on earth. This secret coming supposedly could occur at any moment and will come without any advance warning to anyone. Seven years later—or three and a half, according to some—Christ will supposedly return openly in power and glory to destroy the wicked and to establish His kingdom.

The term “rapture” is used nowhere in the Bible. It is a term that has been invented by men and applied by them to what they term “the first phase” of the Second Coming. The Bible itself, however, nowhere says that Christ’s coming will occur in phases.

A nineteenth-century British preacher, John Nelson Darby, was the one who developed the rapture teaching and began to promote it in the 1830s. He was the founder of the Plymouth Brethren Church and developed a scheme of scriptural interpretation called dispensationalism. The idea of dispensationalists is that God has had different rules for different groups at different times—for instance, “the law for the Jews and now grace for the Church.”

Darby’s teachings were refined and popularized by C. I. Scofield, an American lawyer and minister who authored the noted Scofield Reference Bible at the beginning of the twentieth century. Primarily through Dr. Scofield, Protestant evangelicals came to generally accept the teachings of both dispensationalism and the rapture. These two ideas go hand in hand to blind many sincere people to God’s real message to Christians in the end-time.

Proponents of the rapture point to 1 Thessalonians 4 as their primary proof of a “secret coming.” They then proceed to divide all scriptures that discuss the return of Jesus Christ into two categories. First are the scriptures that discuss the resurrection of the saints and their gathering to Christ; second are the scriptures that discuss Christ taking vengeance on wicked and rebellious people and nations. Their idea is that these events are separated by a period of years. Let’s carefully look at 1 Thessalonians 4 and see whether that is so.

The Seven Trumpets of Revelation

Around AD 50, Paul raised up a Church of God congregation in the Greek city of Thessalonica. Because of intense persecution, he was forced to leave the city and move on to other parts of Greece. While in Athens, he sent his assistant Timothy back to Thessalonica, bearing a letter with which Paul intended to comfort and encourage the fledgling Christian community. In this context, he mentioned those who had already died in the faith. Some in Thessalonica seem to have wondered, Since they’re dead, how will they benefit from the return of the Messiah?

We wish you not to remain in ignorance, brothers, about those who sleep in death; you should not grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again; and so it will be for those who died as Christians; God will bring them to life with Jesus. For this we tell you as the Lord’s word: we who are left alive until the Lord comes shall not forestall those who have died; because at the word of command, at the sound of the archangel’s voice and God’s trumpet-call, the Lord himself will descend from heaven; first the Christian dead will rise, then we who are left alive shall join them, caught up in clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13–17, NEB).

This passage is taken by rapture proponents to describe a secret coming of Christ that will take Christians off to Heaven. But notice—we are told that preceding this resurrection, the trumpet of God is blown. What is that and when will it occur?

The Apostle Paul added more details when he wrote a letter to the Corinthian Church, located in a neighboring Greek city. “Behold, I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51–52). The specific supernatural trumpet that will be blown prior to the resurrection of the saints is dubbed “the last trumpet.”

Does the Bible anywhere speak of a series of supernatural trumpet blasts? The answer is a resounding yes! Revelation 8:1–2 describes the opening of the seventh and last of the seals that had closed the book of Revelation until they were removed one at a time by Jesus Christ. When the seventh seal was opened, the Apostle John saw in a vision seven angels standing before God and each receiving a trumpet. The angels proceeded to blow these trumpets one at a time, signaling terrible ecological disasters followed by horrible warfare.

Now, let’s notice Revelation 11:15: “Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.’” Verse 18 connects this seventh and final trumpet blast with the time when God’s wrath has come and when He rewards the true Christians. Clearly, when we look at these three sections of Scripture, it is very apparent that the seventh and last trumpet signals both the resurrection of the true Christians as well as the time when Christ returns to judge the nations. These are not two different phases of the Second Coming separated by seven years, as most evangelical writers contend. Rather, the resurrection of the true Christians to immortality and the pouring out of God’s wrath on the nations begin at the same time—and are both signaled by the same event, the blast of the seventh and final trumpet.

Another important set of verses to look at in this context is Matthew 24:29–31. In verse 29 we learn that the tribulation and the heavenly signs occur prior to the return of Jesus Christ.

Verse 30 emphasizes that His return, far from being secret, will be seen by people everywhere and will provoke mourning and grief from the unrepentant. Then verse 31 states, “And he will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Let us understand the real significance of this verse.

From 1 Thessalonians 4 we learned that when the last trumpet blows, the true Christians—both living and dead—will rise from the earth to meet Jesus Christ in the clouds. Matthew 24:31 talks of the angels gathering the “elect” from the four winds of heaven. The Bible uses the same word, heaven, in reference to three different locations. From which heaven are the true Christians to be gathered?

The first heaven is the heaven of the earth’s atmosphere, where the birds fly and where the clouds are. The second use of the word heaven is for what we call outer space; the stars, the sun, and the moon are located in this second heaven. The Bible also refers to the realm of God’s throne as heaven, characterizing it in 2 Corinthians 12:2 as “the third heaven.”

The wind blows in the first heaven, the heaven where the clouds are—not in outer space or the environment of the throne of God. The angels would have no need to gather Christians from around the throne of God. Rather, Matthew 24:31 describes the resurrection of the true Christians, which clearly occurs at the time of Christ’s return in glory. When the true Christians rise, they go straight up. Since we live on a round earth, people in Australia who go “up” head in a different direction from those who rise “up” in Europe or in North America. What is described is the very practical way in which God is going to ensure that all of the resurrected true Christians meet Jesus Christ; He will simply send angels through the sky to gather “His elect” from all the points of the compass where they are rising, in order to assemble them in the clouds over Jerusalem to greet their returning Savior. How simple!

Christ’s Return Will Not Be Secret

The Bible uses the Greek word parousia to refer to the return of Jesus Christ numerous times. It is a word that was often used in a secular context to refer to the coming of a king.

Parousia carries with it no connotation of a secret coming. Four occurrences of the word are in Matthew 24. In verse 3, Jesus’ disciples ask Him for the “sign” of His parousia, His coming. In verse 27, Jesus compares His parousia to the visible spread of light from east to west when the sun rises. In verses 37 and 39, He compares His coming to the time when God’s judgment came on the world in the days of Noah. None of these verses are descriptive of any secret or clandestine coming.

The word parousia is also used in 1 Corinthians 15:23 to refer to the event that will accompany the resurrection of the true Christians. In 1 Thessalonians 4:15, it is again used to refer to the event that accompanies that resurrection. 2 Thessalonians 2:8 describes Christ destroying the final false prophet—"the lawless one”—at His parousia . Clearly, His parousia will not be a secret event, but rather a time when He will begin to execute judgment on the ungodly.

In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul explains that true Christians will be able to know the time when Christ’s parousia is approaching. He explains that there were events that have to precede the coming of Christ (v. 3). He simply is not going to be coming “any minute.” Earlier, Paul points out to the Thessalonians that the world as a whole will not be expecting the Messiah’s return. However, he goes on to state that true Christians have no excuse for being caught unaware. Since they live in spiritual light and not darkness, they should be alert to the signs of the times and not taken by surprise (1 Thessalonians 5:1–4).

Which True Christians Will Be Protected?

Does the fact that Christ’s return occurs after the Tribulation (Matthew 24:29–31) mean that all Christians will have to go through that time of suffering that is to come? Christ certainly commanded His disciples to pray that they might be accounted worthy to escape that time of trouble (Luke 21:36). If there is not a rapture prior to the tribulation, then what did Christ mean by that statement?

Let us understand the difference between the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. Revelation 6:17 makes plain that the day of God’s wrath follows the heavenly signs mentioned in verses 12–16. The heavenly signs are the sixth seal and the Day of the Lord is the seventh. The events that happen earlier do not represent God’s wrath; they represent Satan’s.

The fifth seal, described symbolically in Revelation 6:9–11, describes a future martyrdom of true Christians. Jesus Christ refers to this in Matthew 24:9–21, talking about a time when His disciples will be persecuted and even killed. But notice that the events of the Tribulation are not only directed against the Church. In Jeremiah 30:7 we read of a time called “Jacob’s trouble,” described as the worst time ever. Daniel 12:1 also describes a “time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time.” This is an almost identical expression to that used by Jesus in Matthew 24:21. There surely cannot be several times that are each the worst ever. These verses are all describing the same event!

This time is Satan’s wrath against the modern-day descendants of Israel as well as spiritual Israel, the Church. This is made plain in Revelation 12, where we read of the Church being described with the metaphor of a woman. It was the Old Testament Church that brought forth the Messiah (v. 5). After He was caught up to Heaven to be with the Father, the Church—now in its New Testament phase—fled from persecution into the wilderness.

In verse 13 we find that after Satan is cast back down to the earth—still a future event—he will launch all-out persecution upon the Church. At this time, we are told, the Church will be taken to a place in the wilderness to be supernaturally nourished and protected during the final three-and-a-half-year period preceding Christ’s return. Note, however, that not all Christians will be taken to this place of safety. Rather, we learn in verse 17 that Satan will then go to make war with the “rest.” These clearly will be true Christians, because they are described as those who “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Why will some not be protected from Satan’s wrath?

The answer is found in a careful study of Revelation 3. Here, in messages to the last two of the seven churches, those at Philadelphia and Laodicea, we find a contrast between two different groups of God’s people at the end-time. The church at Philadelphia is used to characterize those who are zealously going through the open door to preach the Gospel that Christ has set before them. The church at Laodicea is characterized as being lukewarm, lacking in zeal. They are complacent and self-centered. It is upon this group, characteristic of the final phase of the Church of God, that God will allow Satan to pour his wrath. This will be a last resort on God’s part, as these people have not been stirred to repent of their lack of zeal by any prior event.

When God prepares to pour out His wrath, the events of the Day of the Lord, He will first set apart those who have come to repentance during the preceding time of Tribulation (Revelation 7:1–3). This is a future event designed to protect those who have surrendered to God in the midst of persecution and terrible pressure to conform to Satan’s system. There is a clear distinction between the Tribulation—Satan’s wrath—and the Day of the Lord, which is the time of God’s judgment on those who give their allegiance to the coming Beast system.

A rapture? The Bible teaches no such thing. It does teach, however, that Jesus Christ is going to come back in power and glory to rule this world and to bring salvation to His true servants. We can and should be aware of the signs of the times, not oblivious to the events that are going to plunge the world into the most hellish time in its history.

Also, we are commanded to be zealously seeking God in prayer and putting our hearts into the work of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom to the whole world. Those who are zealously doing so will be protected by God, while those who are not will be confronted with a hard lesson.

“Seek the Lord while He may be found,” and “call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6).