I’ve come across a few references to “the rapture” over recent weeks, in blog articles, YouTube videos and even from an elder of the church I attend – it seems some people are looking to the current virus situation as an indication that “the rapture” will be soon.
I want to address these expectations (hopes?) by looking at what the Bible says about this event, and especially the timing of it, by looking at specific references and what they actually say, without (hopefully) projecting meaning onto them that is not genuinely there.
If I miss a “rapture” reference – please let me know.
What do the following say about “the rapture”, what do they indicate about it’s timing, particularly with regard to the “timeline” of Revelation?
Gospel of Matthew
Immediately after the tribulation 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 the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 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.
Gospel of Mark
But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.
- These two gospel accounts state that the gathering of Jesus’ elect happen after the tribulation. The account in Matthew mentions it is accompanied by the sound of a great trumpet – something also mentioned in the first of the Thessalonian quotes below as well as the one from 1 Corinthians.
- Both gospels say it is also preceded by the darkening of the sun, changes in the moon, and falling stars.
I recall that a few years ago I read a pre-tribulation believer expressing surprise that Jesus didn’t mention the rapture in His Matthew 24 discourse. I wonder how he could have overlooked the above references.
Letters to the Thessalonians
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thess 4: 13-18) NIV
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed. (2 Thess 2: 1-3) NIV
From these two references we learn the following:
- The gathering to be with Him will not occur before the man of lawlessness is revealed.
- There will also be “the rebellion” before that day. This “rebellion” is described in the NKJV as “the falling away” other translations use the word “apostasy”.
- The catching up of the saints, the rapture, will occur after the resurrection of the dead.
Another Thessalonians reference.
you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. (1 Thess 5: 2)NKJV
While this doesn’t specifically refer to a catching up of the saints, it has been used by pre-tribulation believers to convey the secret and unexpected nature of their version of Jesus coming to catch up His saints. It was also used as the title of a popular Christian film from the 1970s portraying a post rapture world in which those left behind had to live through the tribulation.
From 1 Corinthians.
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)NKJV
This also mentions a trumpet sound but specifies that it is the LAST trumpet. How many trumpets are there after the last one? That suggests that all other trumpets related to prophecy would come before this one.
Now, where does the rapture occur within the Revelation timeline? There are many claims made by supporters of a pre-tribulation rapture, but they are very questionable – such as suggesting it is represented here:
I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” (Rev 4:1)NKJV
While there is a kind of “catching up” of John, and there is a mention of a trumpet, it clearly isn’t the last trumpet mentioned in other references to the catching up of the saints.
While pre-tribulation proponents struggle to provide a convincing Revelation reference to support their belief, there ARE references in Revelation that fit with the “rapture” occurring later in the end time narrative as disclosed in other parts of scripture
The signs of a darkening sun, blood red moon and falling stars, mentioned in the gospel references, happen at the opening of the sixth seal in Revelation 6: 11-13.
I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind.
The last trumpet sounded in Revelation and therefore in scripture as a whole, is the seventh trumpet in 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!”
Any trumpet before this can therefore not be a “last trumpet” as per the rapture reference in 1 Cor 15, so the rapture needs to be after Revelation 11 and the trumpet judgements.
Finally, the reference to the day of the Lord coming like a thief, used by pre-tribulation adherents, is actually included in Revelation 16.
Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.(Rev 16: 15) NIV
This comes after the pouring of the sixth bowl judgement.
So in the above I believe I have shown how none of the references to the catching up of the saints, (the rapture) support belief in that event being prior to the tribulation.
Why is this so important?
Apart from the need for truth, especially regarding prophecy, one of the Thessalonians’ references above speaks about a falling away from the faith, and Jesus warned:
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other. (Matt 24: 10) NIV
Could the shock and disappointment of realising they hadn’t been raptured before they faced the terrible events associated with the tribulation be enough for people to abandon the faith?