October 2, 2013

Eschatology 102: why I believe in the rapture

by Jesse Johnson

I was going to write today about why I believe in the pre-tribulational rapture, but as I began that, it occurred to me that something more basic often needs to be proved. I have talked to many amillennialists that find the way premillennialists describe the rapture to be unconvincing. So before getting to why I believe in the pre-trib rapture, I wanted to explain why I believe in a rapture at all.

Scripture describes the rapture as the physical removal of believers from the earth, where we are caught up into the air to meet the Lord, and then we will be with the Lord forever.The word rapture is a biblical word, the Latin translation of harpazo in 1 Thess 4:17, which in English gets translated as “caught up” or “suddenly caught up” (NET).

Some think this sounds fantastical, or that it is too extreme to be plausible. I remember reading a Nathan Wilson book that mocked the idea of a rapture (he joked that people must by necessity leave their clothes and appendixes behind, both being useless in our new bodies). But the fact is the Bible does describe this event in at least three places. 

1. In John 14:3, Jesus tells the discouraged disciples that he is going to leave them and return to his father. But he tells them that when he arrives in glory he will not be idle. Instead, he is going to be busy preparing a place for believers to dwell. He says, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.” In this passage, Jesus describes an act of removing Christians from the earth, and taking them to heaven—or wherever it is that he is preparing a place for us.

2. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Paul uses very similar language. He explains that when the Lord comes in the air with the souls of those who have already died, he will raise their bodies from the earth.  And: “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” Both Paul and Jesus describe a physical removal of believers from the earth. And notably both say that their new home will be with the Lord, in glory, forever.

3. First Corinthians 15:51-54 is the most detailed account of this rapture. Here, Paul describes it as happening in an instant, “in the twinkling of an eye” (v. 52). He says that the trumpet will sound (cf. 1 Thess 4:16), our physical bodies will be “raised” and “changed” (v. 52), and our mortal flesh will put on “immortality” (v. 54).

Other passages hint at the reality of the rapture. The day of the Lord is described as both a time of judgement on the earth and a time of rescue for believers. Revelation 3:10 pledges that believers who endure the trials of this age will be kept from the time of tribulation to come. First Thessalonians 5:9 says that despite the coming judgment in the Day of the Lord, that believers will be spared that wrath. Those verses all paint this picture of escape from judgment, but don’t exactly describe how.

But John 14:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:17, and 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 make clear that there is coming a time when believers will be physically removed from the planet, meet the Lord Jesus in the air, and be with him forever.

empty suit

Maybe not, but Jesus did leave his grave clothes behind.

Will this be like the Left Behind books? Will planes with Christian pilots crash into the ocean, and cars veer into ravines? That is more the stuff of fiction than scripture. Scripture does not detail the how—and it definitely doesn’t tell the when!—but it does give us enough to say that those of us who are alive when the Lord returns will by physically caught up into the air, where we will meet Jesus.

The Old Testament describes this happening twice before. Enoch did not die, but rather “God took him” and he was no more (Gen 5:24). Elijah likewise escaped death, and instead of the grave, Yahweh “took Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:1, and again in v. 11).

Will the rapture of believers be anything like that? Scripture doesn’t say, but it does make clear that while we will not all sleep, we will all be changed.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • kevin2184



    Thanks, Jesse. John Walvoord has an old and hard to find book on the subject that is very helpful: The Rapture Question. Worth procuring if you can!

  • mreed

    Never had an issue with the rapture, just don’t think it will be unnoticeable or secret. Shouts and trumpets wouldn’t fit.

    • We agree with you. But we don’t think a pre-trib rapture is necessarily “secret.”

      From Clint: “It bugs me when people refer to a ‘secret rapture.’ The use of the term is outmoded and ambiguous. It stands like a scarecrow with a target painted on his chest, inviting straw man attacks.”

      • mreed

        Not trying to be sarcastic, but how would we tell the church in China or Egypt that they won’t suffer tribulation? I’m definitely a pre-millennial guy, but I’m not sure about pre-trib.

        • Nobody says that the church — whether in China, Egypt, or in the United States — won’t suffer tribulation. Quite the opposite actually (Acts 14:22).

          But the tribulation spoken about in the Book of Revelation is not just “tribulation in general” but “a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” (Matt 24:21). It’s distinctive. And it’s that particular “great tribulation” that pre-tribbers believe the church will be kept from (Rev 3:10).

          Jesse is hoping to make the case for pre-trib in his upcoming posts, so hang around for that more full-orbed defense. I wasn’t trying to jump the gun on the discussion. Just wanted to clear up the oft-repeated misconception and mischaracterization that pre-tribbers think the rapture will be a secret, and now, I guess, that pre-tribbers think the church won’t ever go through suffering. You can hold to a pre-trib rapture consistently while rejecting both of these things.

          • Matthew Abate

            For me, the following is an unsurmountable problem for the pre-trib view. You stated that the tribulation period recorded in Revelation is the Great Tribulation rather than a general tribulation. It seems like you’re suggesting that all of Daniel’s 70th week is the Great Tribulation. I don’t think that can be supported by the scriptures.

            Daniel 9:27 identifies the appearance of the abomination of desolation as occurring at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week. In Matt. 24:15, Jesus quotes Daniel’s prophecy about the abomination of desolation, and then in verse 21, Jesus says, “then there will be great tribulation,” which occurs after the appearance of the abomination of desolation or in the middle of Daniel’s 70th week.

            From my perspective, that doesn’t sound like a seven-year great tribulation. It sounds like three and a half years to me. In the book of Revelation, the Gentiles trample the holy city for 42 months while the two witnesses prophecy for 1,260 days in Rev 11:2-3. In Rev. 13:5, the beast is given authority for 42 months, which is the same time period referred to in Daniel 7:25 as a time, times, and half a time.

            Finally, I do believe that Daniel’s 70th week is seven years in length; however, I don’t believe the great tribulation spans the entire time. It’s only 3.5 years long, and it’s relegated to the 2nd half of Daniel’s 70th week. The other thing to mention is that the seals, trumpets and bowls seem to either cover similar events and/or end at the same place: examples: (Rev 8:5, 11:19, 16:18, 21), (Rev 6:14, 16:20, 20:11) & (Rev. 16:14-16, 19:19).

        • Mark Olivero

          Hi mreed,
          In Rev 3:10 you see that the letter was not actually addressed to the church at Philadelphia in the 1st century as you might think. This is an easy literal mistake to make. The church at Philadelphia is actually symbolic of the end time Church Age.

      • Yes, the early pre-trib rapture idea (Darby’s group) did focus on the
        rapture being “secret” or silent, an “at any moment” coming without any signs. The current day pre-trib position considers the 1 Thess 4 passage and agrees about the loud noise and trumpet sound. The weakness in the pre-trib view is that the only (future) time that God’s word describes as associated with loud noises and trumpets is during the 3 1/2 year Great Tribulation period (Revelation 6-18).

        However, 1 Thess. 4:15-17 also tells us that the resurrection occurs first, then the rapture. So if the rapture occurs 7 years before Christ’s return (at the end of the Great Trib), there are two “first resurrections,” since other passages describe a resurrection that occurs immediately before the millennial kingdom — and nothing in scripture supports the idea of two first resurrections (or three resurrections total).

        Good scriptural arguments for the post-trib view include 2 Thess. 1:7-8 — Paul describing the time when the believers will be relieved of their afflictions and persecutions — “to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us” — “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God.” If the rapture really occurs seven years before that, why did Paul instead say this (to NT believers) in reference to the time when the believers would be relieved of their afflictions? Also, 1 Cor. 15:51-57 speaks of the time of the resurrection / rapture, and the Old Testament passages that Paul references — Isaiah 25 and Hosea 14 — are clearly speaking of the Second Coming at the end of the Great Trib, not seven years before that, showing that this was what Paul had in mind.

  • I was planning on saving the pre-trib view for next week. My goal above was not to argue for it, but to start by arguing for the rapture in general. So go ahead and hold your post-trib horses–even the pale ones.

  • Martin

    Thanks for this helpful series. I grew up attending a small “Bible” church in a rural community, thinking that all Christians of course believe in a pre-tribulation rapture and a literal milennium (and read a King James Bible!). Then my hard-working parents paid my way through Calvin College. There, while getting an Accounting degree, sincere and persuasive professors debunked these end-time teachings I had grown up with.
    That threw me off course for a while, unfortunately. But the Lord blessed me recently with several helpful books, written at the level of a layperson such as myself, inlcuding Christ’s Prophetic Plans for the Church and prior to that a small volume of end-times sermons by JC Ryle. These books have helped me start to get back my bearings on end-times teachings of the Bible.
    I appreciate this blog. I don’t invest much time reading a lot of blogs, only a small handful, but this one gets my regular attention. It has helped to put some Scriptural backing to the good teachings I inherited from my church tradition, but until now had largely simply taking for granted as true.

    • Michael

      What are those books by Ryle, Martin?

      • Martin

        The title of the Ryle book is “Are You Ready for the End of Time?” It’s available through Amazon. If you have a Kindle, you can probably find a free or inexpensive e-book edition. It was originally published under a title something like “Coming Events and Present Duties”, so cheap Kindle editions / reprints might be found under that title.

  • Jonwards


    Many evangelicals believe that
    Christ will “rapture” them to heaven years before the second coming and
    (most importantly) well BEFORE Antichrist and his “tribulation.” But
    Acts 2:34, 35 reveal that Jesus is at the Father’s right hand in heaven
    until He leaves to destroy His earthly foes at the second coming. And
    Acts 3:21 says that Jesus
    “must” stay in heaven with the Father “until the
    times of restitution of all things” which includes, says Scofield, “the
    restoration of the theocracy under David’s Son” which obviously can’t
    begin before or during Antichrist’s reign. (“The Rapture Question,” by
    the long time No. 1 pretrib authority John Walvoord, didn’t dare to even
    list, in its scripture index, the above verses! They were also too hot
    for John Darby – the so-called “father of dispensationalism” – to list
    in the scripture index in his “Letters”!)
    Paul explains
    the “times and the seasons” (I
    Thess. 5:1) of the catching up (I Thess. 4:17) as the “day of the Lord”
    (5:2) which FOLLOWS the posttrib sun/moon darkening (Matt. 24:29;
    Acts 2:20) WHEN “sudden destruction” (5:3) of the wicked occurs! The
    “rest” for “all them that believe” is also tied to such destruction in
    II Thess. 1:6-10! (If
    the wicked are destroyed before or during the trib, who’d be left
    alive to serve the Antichrist?) Paul also ties the
    change-into-immortality “rapture” (I Cor. 15:52) to the end of
    trib “death” (15:54). (Will death be ended before or during the trib? Of
    course not! And vs. 54 is also tied to Isa. 25:8 which Scofield views
    as Israel’s posttrib resurrection!) It’s amazing that the Olivet
    Discourse contains the “great commission” for the church but not even a
    hint of a pretrib rapture for the church!
    Many don’t know that before
    1830 all Christians had always viewed I Thess. 4’s “catching up” as an
    integral part of the final second coming to earth. In 1830 this “rapture” was
    stretched forward and turned into an idolized separate coming of Christ. To
    further strengthen their novel view, which evangelical
    scholars overwhelmingly rejected throughout the 1800s, pretrib teachers in the early
    1900s began to stretch forward the “day of the Lord” (what Darby and
    Scofield never dared to do) and hook it up with their
    already-stretched-forward “rapture.” Many leading evangelical scholars
    still weren’t convinced of pretrib, so pretrib teachers then began
    teaching that the “falling away” of II Thess. 2:3 is really a pretrib
    rapture (the same as saying that the “rapture” in 2:3 must happen
    before the “rapture” [“gathering”] in 2:1 can happen – the height of
    desperation!). Google “Walvoord Melts Ice” for more on this, and also Google “Pretrib Rapture Pride.”

    Other Google articles on the 183-year-old pretrib rapture view include
    “X-Raying Margaret,” “Margaret Macdonald’s Rapture Chart,” “Pretrib
    Rapture’s Missing Lines,” “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “The Unoriginal
    John Darby,” “Catholics Did NOT Invent the Rapture,” “The Real Manuel
    Lacunza,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Wily Jeffrey,” “The Rapture Index
    (Mad Theology),” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Roots of
    (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “Scholars Weigh My Research,” “Pretrib
    Hypocrisy,” “Appendix F: Thou Shalt Not Steal,” “Pretrib Rapture
    Secrecy,” “Deceiving and Being
    Deceived,” “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty,” “Famous Rapture Watchers,” and
    “Morgan Edwards’ Rapture View” – most by the author of the bestselling
    book “The Rapture
    Plot” (the most accurate and documented book on pretrib rapture history
    which is obtainable by calling 800.643.4645).
    PS – For some final shocks Google “The Background Obama Can’t Cover Up.”

    [Hello, TC. The foregoing piece seen on the surprising web. Any reaction?]

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