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.
- 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 arrives in glory he is not going to 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.