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Insight #78 — The Rapture (in-depth study)

They tell us planes will fall out of the sky. Automobiles will careen and crash. Surgeries will be halted mid-way. Communications systems will be in shambles. Husbands will frantically search for their wives. Why? Because all believers instantly and mysteriously vanished. In spite of such chaos, they tell us life on earth will continue for years. They call it the rapture.

Some people emphasize that the word “rapture” is not found in the Bible. This is true; but it is not the real problem. First Thessalonians 4:17 says that believers “shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord.” “Caught up.” The dictionary gives one meaning of rapture as “the carrying of a person to another place or sphere of existence.” If by “rapture” one simply means that Christians will be carried up to be with Christ, then there is little objection to the word “rapture.”


However, “rapture,” as used by religious teachers today, means far more than the simple definition given above. Indeed, there is a whole body of doctrine wrapped up in today’s word “rapture.”

One obvious problem with the modern rapture theory is the portraying of dramatic scenes of plane crashes, missing babies and all such. There is not one verse in the Bible that hints at such a scenario. No verse teaches that after the “rapture,” regular life will continue in this world. One of the most cited texts, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, is totally silent about conditions on earth when the saints are lifted up.

Another frequently cited text is Matthew 24:37-42. But did Jesus have the modern rapture scenario in mind? Let the context decide. Starting just 5 verses earlier, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away… but as the days of Noah [were]… the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two [men] will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.” Jesus’ return will be like Noah’s time. The flood was the end of that old world. Either you were safe in the ark or you perished under the wrath of God. That is how it will be when Jesus returns.

The context of “one will be taken and the other left” is “as the days of Noah [were], so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” The rapture will be like Noah’s time. Did Noah mysteriously disappear? When Noah entered the ark, did the world continue with normal daily life? We all know better. “The world [that] then existed perished” (2 Peter 3:6).

Jesus did not have the modern rapture doctrine in mind. Rather, He said that when He returns, the earth will pass away.


If the popular rapture theory were correct, Jesus would have used totally different examples. Jesus would have said, “As the days of Enoch were,” “as the days of Elijah were.” Righteous Enoch disappeared out of this world and the world continued on. Elijah’s case is even more striking. After the whirlwind took him up into heaven, 50 men went searching for him for three days. Now there is the flavor of today’s rapture doctrine! There is only one problem. Jesus never said, “as the days of Elijah were”! Jesus said, “as the days of Noah [were].”

Jesus never said, “As the days of Enoch were.” However, He did say, “Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot… it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed [them] all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:28-30).

The comparisons that Jesus made are with Lot and Noah. Both involved the immediate destruction of the wicked, while the righteous were saved. Both canceled out any possibility of second chances. Both were the end. The case of Sodom, of course, was not the end of the world; but it certainly was the end of Sodom and Gomorrah. Those cities have never been found. Those people never lived long enough to wonder what happened to Lot. There were no chariot wrecks or search parties. God simply blotted them off the face of the earth with fire and brimstone. Jesus said His coming would be like that.


The “secret rapture” theory uses as a proof the statement that Jesus will come as a thief. Yes, but what does this mean? Figures of speech can be tricky. Both Jesus and Satan are likened to lions. A red flag goes up: “Interpret with caution.” Jesus is called both a lion and a lamb. Another red flag. We dare not wring every possible meaning out of any figure of speech. To do so is to make the Bible a plaything for our every imagination.

How do thieves come? Consider two ideas. A thief may come and go secretly, without being detected at the moment. On the other hand, a thief may come openly, but suddenly, without warning. Which of these two ideas does the Bible teach regarding Jesus’ coming? If the figure were never explained in the Bible, your guess would be as good as mine.

Out of six New Testament texts that use this figure, only one does not state which meaning is intended. In the other five, the idea is always lack of warning. Secrecy is never an issue. Example: “If the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:39,40). The message is clear: Jesus will come as a thief, when you least expect Him. Be ready at all times.

Notice 2 Peter 3:10: “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” “Thief… great noise… earth… burned up.” Hardly secret. It is the end of the world!

No Bible text hints that “coming as a thief” contains the idea of secrecy. No Bible text hints that Jesus’ coming will be hidden from the eyes and understanding of the masses. When Jesus comes, there will be no secrecy and no second chances. Eternity will have arrived. Everyone will know it.


The well-known text that speaks specifically of being “caught up” (raptured) makes it clear that it is anything but a covert operation. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive [and] remain shall be caught up” (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17). Shout! Voice of an archangel! Trumpet of God! Jesus coming certainly will not be secret.

In fact, Jesus specifically warned us not to believe those people who claim His return is a private, secret, hidden affair. “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; [or] ‘Look, [He] [is] in the inner rooms!’ do not believe [it]. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:26,27).

If someone tries to explain to you that Jesus has come again, don’t believe it. If he tries to convince you that Jesus came in 1914, don’t believe him. If he tries to convince you that Jesus will secretly rapture away the believers and the world will not know what happened, don’t believe him. No TV newsperson will have to tell anybody of the return of Jesus. Neither will any self-appointed prophet have to explain it to anybody when Jesus returns. It will be like the lightning from the east to the west. All will see for themselves. Everyone will know.


Today’s rapture theory says that Jesus is going to return to earth two more times: once before and once after “the tribulation.” Some refer to the supposed two future events as “the rapture,” followed by “the second coming.” Others prefer to teach “two phases” to the “second” coming. None seem willing to openly admit that they really believe in: a “second” and “third” coming.

Various arguments are used to sustain the concept of two future comings. For example, it is said that two comings are required because the Word says that Jesus will come “for the saints” and also that He will come “with the saints.” They say “for the saints” refers to the next time He comes, to take Christians to heaven. They say that “with the saints” refers to seven years later when He returns with those same saints.

Although no text uses the exact expression “for the saints,” there is no problem here. All believers have as their hope that Jesus will return to receive us unto Himself.

But 1 Thessalonians 3:13 talks about “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ WITH all His saints.” Jude 14 also says, “Behold, the Lord comes WITH ten thousands of His saints” (upper case emphasis supplied). The problem is to understand what coming “WITH His saints” means. Does it mean that Jesus will first come to get His saints and then bring them back with him seven years later? Or, is there some other explanation?

With the Souls of the Dead Saints. Some believers find in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 the explanation of Jesus coming “with” the saints. “Even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” They believe Jesus will come to earth bringing with him the souls of the departed saints in order to unite those souls with their bodies in the resurrection.

Some, however, object to this view of “bring.” The Thessalonians text does not say that “Jesus will bring with Him to earth.” It says, “God will bring with Him.” “Bring” depends on the viewpoint involved. Jesus, not the Father, returns to earth. The Father will bring the resurrected saints with Jesus to heaven. Just like John 14:3: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, [there] you may be also.” Both expressions–“bring” and “receive”–are from the viewpoint of heaven.

With the Holy Angels. This may be a better explanation of “with the saints.” In 2 Thessalonians 1:7, Paul speaks of “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels.” Mark 8:38 says, “when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Clearly Jesus will come with the angels and the angels are “holy.”

For the benefit of “the common man,” I seldom appeal to the original Greek. In this case, however, it is especially helpful for English readers. Spanish, by the way, requires no Greek explanation here, because the Spanish closely follows the Greek. The Greek word “hagios” is always translated into Spanish “santo(s).” But in English, it is sometimes translated “saint(s)” and sometimes “holy.” In other words, the two English words, “saint” and “holy” come from just one Greek word.

Angels are “holy.” Thus, they are saints (same word in the Greek). Therefore, when Scripture says that Jesus will come WITH the saints–the holy ones–we have a book-chapter-and-verse clarification that this may well refer to His holy angels.

It is debatable whether Jesus will come “with the souls of the dead saints.” It is not debatable whether Jesus will come “with the holy angels.” Whichever view seems the best, Jesus’ coming “for” and “with” the saints in no way necessitates two more comings. “For” and “with” easily harmonize with just one future second coming of Christ.

No verse of Scripture says that Jesus will come a third time, bringing “with” Him human saints whom he came “for” some seven years earlier. The Bible clearly says of Jesus, in Hebrews 9:28, that “He will appear a second time.” No verse says he will appear a third time.


According to the rapture theory, there will be several future resurrections of the body from the grave. They claim 1 Thessalonians 4:16 teaches that Christians will be raised long before the wicked are. Paul indeed wrote that “the dead in Christ will rise first.” But, “first” what?

If I tell you, out of the clear blue sky, “I am going to the mall first,” you have no clue about where I will go next. But put some context to it. Such as, “Are you going to the post office?” “Yes, but I am going to the mall first.” Now “first” has meaning.

So with Paul’s text. Do not try to guess what is second unless you look at the context. “The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds.” “First. Then… ” Paul is not talking about dead saints and dead sinners. He is talking about dead saints and live saints. He is saying that before the live saints are caught up in the clouds, the dead saints will first be raised. Nothing whatsoever is said about two resurrections.

Jesus did speak of two resurrections, but not in reference to time. He spoke of the condition of two groups. Some participate in “the resurrection of life,” while others experience “the resurrection of condemnation.” However, these two resurrections will take place at the same time. “The HOUR is coming in which ALL who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28,29; upper case emphasis supplied).

Revelation 20, on the other hand, does speak of “the first resurrection.” However, since no text speaks of a “second resurrection,” care must be exercised in determining the identity of the “first.” (Space does not permit a full discussion of Revelation 20:1-7. Watch for future article(s) on the millennium.) Suffice it now to point out the following:

1) Revelation is highly figurative. Who takes literally the dragon, the key, the chain or the seal?

2) Futurists believe that the resurrection of Revelation 20 will occur after “the tribulation.” According to them, that is seven years after the resurrection of “the rapture.” Therefore, by their own doctrine, this “first” resurrection is actually the second.

3) A better explanation seems to be found in New Testament first principles. “Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were RAISED with [Him] through faith in the working of God… If then you were RAISED with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is” (Colossians 2:12; 3:1; upper case emphasis supplied). “Raised”–past tense. See also Romans 6. Just as conversion is “a new birth,” so is it also “a death, burial and resurrection.” For the Christian, this is the first resurrection.


The rapture theory holds that “the day of the Lord” (or “day of Christ”) is neither the Second Coming nor the Third Coming. Rather, they say, it is something in between the Second and Third. As in many other matters, they lean heavily on Old Testament usage to uphold their claim. In the New Testament, however, how did the apostle Peter use the term? “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). Clearly, “the day of the Lord” to Peter was the end of the world.

Follow Peter’s argument throughout chapter 3. He warns of “scoffers” who will mock Jesus’ return by saying: “Where is the promise of His coming?” Peter replies by arguing that these men “willfully forget” all about the flood in Noah’s day. Then Peter affirms that the earth will next be consumed by fire on “the day of judgment.” Peter further says that “The Lord is not slack concerning [His] promise.” What promise? In the context (verse 4), it’s “the promise of His coming.”

Peter continues (verse 10): “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise.” Since this is so, we should be prepared for “the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat.” You see, Peter builds his argument about the “coming” of the Lord by discussing “the day of the Lord,” which is the end of the world.


The expression “the last day” appears six times in Scripture, all in the Gospel of John. Four times in the sixth chapter, Jesus says of the believer, “I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40,44,54, and with slight variation in verse 39). In 11:24, Martha affirms her belief in this truth: “I know that he [Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” The resurrection of the righteous clearly will take place “at the last day.”

According to the modern “rapture” doctrine, the resurrection of the righteous is followed by the tribulation and the millennium. Only after that, so the theory goes, will there be a resurrection and judgement of the wicked.

However, the remaining “last day” verse in John denies such a scenario. Again Jesus is speaking–this time, not of the righteous but of the wicked. He says, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him–the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). Thus Jesus taught that both the resurrection of the righteous and the judgment of the wicked would take place in “the last day.”

The parable of the tares in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, teaches the same truth. Notice in verse 38 that the field is the world. This parable is not a contradiction of Jesus’ teaching on church discipline. It is a parable about the entire world. It is a parable about good people and bad people living together until the end: “the harvest is the end of the age” (verse 39).

“Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn’ ” (verse 30). Saint and sinner are in this world together until the end. I do not understand it all; but did you notice who is taken out first? The popular rapture theory says, “First gather the wheat.” However, Jesus said, “First gather together the tares.”

We may not understand it all, nor may we be able to explain the exact sequence and timing of all the events. Nevertheless, if the parable of the tares teaches anything, it teaches that the righteous and the wicked live together until the end of the world. At that time, the wicked are cast into “the furnace of fire.” Their judgement has come; they are finished forever. It is truly “the last day.”


According to the modern rapture theory, Jesus’ next coming will just be the beginning. According to the theory, most of the book of Revelation and large amounts of both Old and New Testament prophecies cannot be fulfilled until after the rapture. They say the rapture is just the beginning of at least 1007 years of world history.

A careful look at Scripture, however, presents a totally different picture. Jesus’ next coming (there is only one more coming) will be the end of this world, the end of history, the end of time, the end of “life as we know it,” the end of the wicked living unpunished, the end of tears and death, the end of the battle between God and Satan, the end of the antichrist, the end of opportunity to get right with God.

On the other hand, His return will be the beginning–the beginning of eternity. “Prepare to meet your God!” “Watch and pray!”

(Scripture in the preceding article is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)