Do you remember September 11, 2001? I’m sure that many of you do. I remember very vividly one of the secretaries at the church saying that someone had called and said planes were crashing everywhere. I had a small TV in my office and so I immediately turned in on and watched in horror what was happening throughout our land. Like many of you, my emotions were varied. Part of me was afraid. Part of me was extremely patriotic and ready to fight. It was horrific and I guess it’s similar to what a generation before us felt when they heard the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. With that in mind, try to imagine what it will be like when people turn on their televisions some day and discover that thousands, if not millions of people are missing around the world. In some homes children will be gone. In other homes it will be a husband or a wife. Workers will not show up for work and pilots will be missing from the cockpits of airplanes while vehicles run out of control and crash. What am I talking about? I’m talking about an event that is to take place sometime in the future, perhaps in the near future, known as the Rapture. I think that the most dramatic thing I ever saw was a video portraying what it would be like if Jesus returned one Sunday morning during church. One moment the church was full and the next moment only a handful of people would still be here. Would you be one of those who was taken or would you be one of those who was left behind?
I. The Promise of a Rapture
A. The Word ‘Rapture’ Not in an English Translation of the Bible
If you opened up your Bible and searched for the word ‘Rapture’, you wouldn’t find it. It’s not in an English translation of the Bible. Why then do we talk about the Rapture? Where did this word and concept come from?
B. Biblical Teaching About the Rapture
Look with me at 1 Thessalonians 4.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 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 them which are asleep. 16 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: 17 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. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
The New Testament was originally written in Greek. Because many of the early Christians lived in the Roman Empire and Latin was the language of Rome, the Bible was first translated from Greek into Latin. Centuries later the Bible was translated into English for Christians living in Europe.
If you and I were reading from a Latin translation of the Bible today, the Latin word for “caught up” would resemble the English word ‘rapture.’ Therefore, in the early centuries of the church, the word ‘rapture’ began to be used to describe the event of when Christ returns for His church.
II. The Process of the Rapture
Paul tells us that Christ is returning one day to take His church from this world so that we may be with Him forever.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 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: 17 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.
A. The Dead in Christ Shall Rise First
The Rapture will begin with Christ resurrecting the bodies of believers who have already died. Scripture teaches us that when a Christian dies, their soul goes immediately to be with the Lord while their body remains here on earth. Jesus told the thief on the cross, ‘Today thou shalt be with Me in paradise.’ (Luke 23:43) We should note that soul of the thief was with Christ, but not his body.
What happened to the body of Jesus after His crucifixion? They took it and laid it in a tomb where it remained until the Resurrection. The thief’s soul went to be with Christ in paradise; but like Jesus, his body remained here on earth. Actually the thief’s body was probably thrown into the city dump and there it was burned to dispose of it.
But one day that man’s body is going to be resurrected and reunited with his soul.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 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 them which are asleep. 16 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:.
Note, part of this man is going return with our Lord, and part of this man is going to be raised by our Lord. His soul is going to return and his body is going to be raised and in the clouds of glory they are going to be reunited.
The Bible tells us that the man’s new body is going to be a glorious body. John tells us when Christ returns for His church, all of Christ’s followers will receive a new glorified body just like the resurrected body of our Savior.
B. Then We Which Are Alive Shall Be Caught Up
Immediately after the resurrection of the believer’s body will the rapture of the living saints.
1 Thessalonians 4:17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up (raptured) together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
III. The Placing of the Rapture
1. 1st Coming (Advent) of Christ and the Cross
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Two thousand years ago Jesus came to this world in the form of a tiny baby. He did so that He might obtain a human body and therefore become the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
We call this the 1st Coming or 1st Advent (coming) of Christ.
2. The Church
The book of Acts tells us of an amazing event that took place shortly after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell every believer and thus establish what scripture calls ‘The Church.’
The church is comprised of every born again believer of all the ages. Why did God establish the church? The church accomplishes many things, but primarily the church is God’s tool for taking the Gospel to the nations. Some of the last words Jesus said to His followers were:
Mark 16:15 Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
It’s the church’s duty to take the gospel into all the world. Matthew records Christ as saying:
Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
3. 2nd Coming (Advent) of Christ
Jesus is coming back to this earth again. The prophecy of Zechariah says –
“On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. The Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, forming a huge valley, so that half the mountain will move to the north and half to the south.” (Zechariah 14:4 CSB)
The Bible says that at the end of the Tribulation Period, Jesus is literally going to set His foot on the Mt. of Olives and when He does, the mountain will split and form a valley. Some believe that it will be in this valley that God will judge the nations. We read from the book of Jude –
Jude 1:14… Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, 15 To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard [speeches] which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.
I call to your attention that at the end of the Tribulation Period, Jesus is not coming ‘for’ His saints, but ‘with’ His saints; indicating that His saints are already with Him before He comes.
4. Millennial Kingdom
After the Battle of Armageddon, Jesus is going to set up an earthly kingdom here on earth. According to Revelation 20, this earthly kingdom will last for 1,000 years. Why is it necessary for Christ to set up an earthly kingdom? There are at least two reasons:
a. For God to fulfill His covenant with Abraham that his seed will possess the Promised Land
b. For God to fulfill His covenant with David that his seed will rule over the house of Israel
I believe in a literal physical Millennial Kingdom because the Bible says that the day is coming when – “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat… and a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6 NIV)
5. Tribulation Period
There is another great event to occur during the final days, just before the Second Advent of Christ and the Millennial Kingdom. There will be a time period here on earth known as the Tribulation. Jesus said:
“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Matthew 24:21)
We learn from the book of Daniel that this time period will last for seven years and central to it will be a peace treaty formed with the nation of Israel. The Bible says that during the middle of the Tribulation Period, the man known as the Antichrist, will break this peace treaty with Israel and command that all the world worship him as God.
6. The Rapture
There is another major event to take place as well. It is what we call the ‘Rapture.’ Jesus said:
John 14:1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
B. The Placing of the Rapture
Most Christians agree that there will be a Rapture of the church. The only ones who don’t are those who believe that the book of Revelation and all the events of the End Times are merely symbolic and not literal.
The problem for most is not ‘Will there be a Rapture’, but ‘When will it take place?’
1. At the End of the Tribulation?
There are some who believe that the church will go through the Tribulation Period and be raptured out to meet the Lord in the air just moments before He comes at His Second Advent to judge the world.
One big struggle I have with that theory is that the Lord has promised to deliver His people from wrath.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ…
The Tribulation Period will be a time of great wrath. We read from the book of Revelation that the men of the earth will cry out – “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Revelation 6:16-17) The wrath they are talking about is not the violence promoted by the Antichrist, but the wrath of Almighty God. I do not believe that the Lord is going to subject His church whom He has redeemed to His divine wrath.
If we look at God’s working in the past, we will get an idea of His working in the future. Consider how God dealt with Noah. God warned Noah of the flood and told him to prepare for deliverance. Then, just before the rain began, God took Noah into the ark and closed the door. Consider how God dealt with Lot. The Bible says that Lot was a just man who was vexed in his righteous soul because of the wickedness going on around him. Then, just before God rained down fire and brimstone upon Sodom, God delivered Lot. In reference to these two men and their deliverance, Peter says – “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:” (2 Peter 2:9)
Sometimes I have people say to me – “But doesn’t the Bible say that Christians will have tribulation and suffer persecution?” It sure does. Jesus said – “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer ; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And Paul said – “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Tim 3:12)
Christian have in the past, do in the present, and will in the future suffer tribulation and persecution. However, a person does not have to be IN – THE Tribulation in order to suffer tribulation. At the same time, Christians have in the past, do in the present, and will in the future suffer persecution for their faith. At least 14,000 Christians are put to death every year for their faith. By some estimates, that number is much greater; perhaps as many as nearly 100,000 per year. There were more Christians put to death for their faith during the 20th century than all the 19 centuries prior to this put together. Something else, who is to say how terrible the world will get before the Rapture takes place? But that does not mean that the church will go through the time of God’s wrath.
2. At the Middle of the Tribulation?
There are some who believe that the church will go partially through the Tribulation Period and be raptured out before the last half, or the Great Tribulation Period begins. One of my problems with this theory is that the Bible says that the Tribulation Period is:
(1) the Time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jer 30:7)
(2) and the fulfillment of Daniel’s 70th week as determined upon the nation of Israel.
I do not believe that the Tribulation Period is about the church, but instead it is about Israel.
In addition to this, the Bible indicates that something major must happen in God’s dealings with the Gentiles before He can begin His work once again with the Jews. Paul writes –
Romans 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. 26 And so all Israel shall be saved…
According to much of the Old Testament prophecy concerning the Tribulation Period, this will be a time when Israel will be re-gathered not only to their land, but to their God.
In addition I would have to say that if the church goes through part of the Tribulation Period, then that removes the need for the encouragement to always be ready for our Lord’s return.
Many of us today are familiar with the use of ‘passwords.’ We have to have a password for almost everything we do. The early church had a special password they often used to greet each other. It was the word ‘Maranatha.’ I have read that they would whisper it to each other as a means of identification when they met and as a means encouragement as they parted. “Maranatha.”
3. Before the Tribulation Period Begins
I believe that the church will be raptured out before the Tribulation Period begins and here are some of the reasons why:
a. God has promised to deliver His church from His wrath
b. Christ is first going to come back ‘for’ His saints, and then ‘with’ His saints
c. The Tribulation Period is about the nation of Israel and not the church
d. The church is never mentioned once in Revelation chapters 6-18 which gives us the details of the Tribulation Period. Although the church is never mentioned, the nation of Israel is mentioned extensively. In addition, it appears in Revelation 5 that the church is already in heaven even before the first seal is broken.
Revelation 5:9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
Adrian Rogers once said after a controversial message – “Now I know that some of you have gotten upset with me this morning over my message. If you come to me after the service and apologize, I will forgive you.” I say that somewhat – “tongue in cheek.” As far as I’m concerned, where you and I place the Rapture should not break our fellowship. If you come and try to tell me that Jesus is not the Son of God who died for our sins, then we’ve got a problem. But if you and I differ on the placement of Rapture, that’s OK. The truth is – we both may be wrong.
Here’s what I’ve noticed about the New Testament’s teaching on the Rapture and the end of time: the emphasis of scripture is not on helping us to determine the exact day or hour, but to encourage us to faithful and ready, and to continue to do God’s Will until that time comes. Consider Christ’s conversation with His disciples.
Acts 1:6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
The disciples asked – “Is it all about to end and are You ready to set up the kingdom?” Jesus said, “It is not for you to know the dates or the times; the Father has kept these under his own authority.” What happens and when it happens is under the authority of God alone.
Here is what we need to be concentrating on – Are we doing what the church is supposed to be doing at this time? “You shall receive the ability to be My witnesses to the uttermost parts of the earth.” The primary focus of the church should be on taking the gospel to all those who are lost; whether it’s someone across the street or someone around the world.
I leave you with this verse of scripture:
Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
If we want to see the Lord return soon, then we need to get busy taking His gospel to all the nations of the world.