1 Thessalonians 4:16-18: 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. 17 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
There are many believers who have taken the time to study their Bible and actually know a great deal about what we refer to as the rapture of the Church. However, there are many other believers who are confused and uncertain about that glorious day when Christ will return for His body of believers, the Church. After a lengthy time of study, I am writing to explain my beliefs about the events surrounding the rapture of the Church. I hope that it will encourage you to open up your Bible and study more about that blessed day when Christ returns to gather His Church. As the Apostle Paul reminds us in Thessalonians 4:18, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
The word rapture means to be “caught up” or “taken away.” The only place that we find this reference in the Bible is from the Apostle Paul, as he was writing to the Thessalonians. Paul describes believers being “caught up” in the air to meet Christ. Although the word “rapture” is not found in the Bible, this phrase “caught up,” from v.17, is a clear reference to the rapture of the Church. The rapture will bring to a close the Church Age and the Age of Grace.
What is the Church Age? This is the period of time from Pentecost to the Rapture of the Church. This encompasses the complete period of time that the Church is on the earth. The Church Age will come to a close when Christ returns “in the air” to gather His Church. Paul writing in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 tells us what will occur when Christ returns: 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. Our weak and decaying human body will be changed in a instant. We will be given an eternal, glorious body and we will be with the Lord forever.
This will certainly be a public event, not a secretive one, because Paul tells us that the “trumpet will sound” and “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” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Those of us who believe in Christ will be taken up to heaven and we will come back with Christ at His Second Coming, at the end of the seven years of tribulation. William E. Blackstone in his book, Jesus Is Coming (chapter 9 – Rapture and Revelation), writes: “At the Rapture, Christ comes into the air for His saints. At the Revelation (Second Coming), ‘He comes to the earth with them. He certainly must come for them before He can come with them…”
When will the rapture of the Church occur? While we don’t know the exact date or time that this will happen, Paul tells us from Romans chapter 11 that the rapture will occur when, “the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” In other words, when the last person has been saved and completes the Body of Christ, the rapture will take place. Romans 11:25: I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in…
The “full number of the Gentiles” refers to the Body of Christ. From Pentecost until now, we have had the out-calling of the Gentiles into the body of Christ, which is the Church. During this time, the nation of Israel has been spiritually blinded, but that will end with the rapture of the Church.When the last believer has been brought into the body of Christ, the Church Age will end and the seven years of Tribulation will begin. This is why I believe that the rapture will occur just before the period of Tribulation. Jesus confirms this for me in Revelation 3:10: “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” That “hour of trial” will be the seven years of tribulation. This is Jesus’ promise that the Church will not have to endure this terrible time of testing.
In Matthew 24:36, Jesus says, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” And in Matthew 24:50, Jesus in telling the parable of the servant whose master left him in charge says, “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.” Think about that for a moment. If the Rapture occurred during the mid-point or at the end of the tribulation, we would know exactly when Jesus would return. However, with the rapture at the beginning of the Tribulation, that could occur at any moment.
I leave you with the words of Jesus from the Gospel writer Luke about what the world will look like just before Jesus returns to rapture His Church. You could certainly make a strong case that this is what our world looks like today. Luke 21:34-36: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”