What is the rapture?
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
The most well-known verse about the Rapture of the Church is 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Firstly, this verse is intended to bring comfort to one another. Paul reassures the Thessalonian church that they should not grieve for those who have passed away, for the departed will rise again in the future and live. Subsequently, the living and the deceased are united, and together, we are caught up in the clouds to meet Jesus in the air. An argument against the Rapture is that this text is meant for comfort and does not explicitly mention a catching away. However, this reasoning is overly simplistic, as Paul essentially conveys: 'Take comfort, for we will be caught up in the air and forever be with Jesus and the departed believers.' If I say to someone, 'Take comfort, for next week we are going on vacation,' my words are intended to provide comfort. Likewise, it would be odd if I said a week later, 'No, we are not going on vacation; that wasn't the point of my words. They were meant for your comfort, nothing more.' Paul's words are meant to console and provide essential information about the Rapture. In this chapter, we address the question 'What is the Rapture?' We examine key Bible verses and how the Rapture will occur. We won't delve into the question of when the Rapture will take place or whether it happens before or after the Great Tribulation; these topics are covered in chapters 5 and 8.
The New Testament was written in Greek. Paul wrote his letter to the Thessalonians in Greek, which means we must employ the Greek context to understand Paul's intention. We focus on 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
‘Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.’ (1 Thessalonians 4:17)
Being Caught Up
While the phrase 'the Rapture of the Church' is not found verbatim in the Bible, the principle of the Rapture is present. This is also the case for the Last Supper or the Trinity of God. Instead of 'being caught up,' we can use another term found in the Greek original text.
Returning to 1 Thessalonians 4:17, the Greek phrase 'harpagēsometha' is used, derived from 'harpazō.' This Greek verb can carry various meanings: to snatch quickly, to seize hurriedly, to carry away forcefully, to kidnap (obtain by robbery), and to be caught up (as in a snatching away). The term 'harpagēsometha' stems from 'harpazō' and is in the future tense, indicating that the subject (we) will experience this action. In a literal sense, it translates to: 'We shall be raptured,' 'We shall be quickly taken away,' or 'We shall be snatched away.' We are snatched away from the Earth to meet Jesus in the air. It's crucial to read the word 'harpazō' in its context, as it holds various meanings and is used differently throughout the Bible.
The term 'a meeting' is essential to understand in the Greek context. What exactly does a meeting entail? Paul used the word 'apantēsin,' derived from 'apantēsis,' which means: to meet, to go out to meet, and to welcome warmly. It's important to examine the Bible verses where this word appears.
"Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom."(Matthew 25:1)
"And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!" (Matthew 25:6)
"From there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns." (Acts 28:15)
Two verses speak of a wedding feast with a bridegroom, and one verse speaks of brethren meeting Paul to encourage him. Opponents of the Rapture argue that 1 Thessalonians 4:17 implies that we are caught up into the air and then immediately return to Earth with Jesus. It's as if we are yo-yos, going up to meet Jesus, and then coming back to Earth. Supporters of the Rapture argue that we meet Jesus in the air and ascend to heaven with Him. The parable of the ten virgins speaks about the coming of Jesus, and in this parable, Jesus uses the term 'apantēsin' twice. Jesus likened His coming to the arrival of a bridegroom, and thus, we need to understand the wedding feast. Not the modern Western weddings with vows, cake, reception, and a church ceremony, but the Jewish weddings during the time of Jesus. The pivotal question is: 'Do the virgins go with the bridegroom to his house, or does the bridegroom go with the virgins to their house?' In other words, do we go with Jesus to heaven, or does Jesus come with us to Earth? Let's first read the entire parable of Jesus and then explore where the wedding feast took place in ancient Israel.
‘Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps but took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!' Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise answered, saying, 'No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.' And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!' But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.' Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming’ (Matthew 25:1-13)
The virgins went with the bridegroom to the wedding. Where did the wedding feast take place in the time when Jesus spoke this parable? It was not at the virgins' homes but at the father of the bridegroom's house. In this context, the wise virgins, symbolizing followers of Jesus, went to meet the bridegroom, representing Jesus, at the house of the father, in other words, God the Father's house in heaven. Jesus' disciples understood this immediately, but it can be challenging for us to grasp because we live in a different time and culture. That we are going to the Father's house is stated in the Bible:
"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. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." (John 14:2-3)
We are going to the Father's house, which the Jewish wedding in Israel reflects. In this house, the bride and groom celebrated for seven days, and we will celebrate in the Father's house for seven years. In chapter 6, we will study the wedding feast.
Meeting means a place where we encounter the Lord Jesus. The virgins met the bridegroom on their way, and then they followed the bridegroom after reaching the father's house. Similarly, during the Rapture, we will meet the Lord Jesus in the air and ascend with Him to the heavenly Father's house.
How Long Does the Rapture Take?
When the Lord Jesus was taken up into the air, the disciples could see it happen. The Lord Jesus ascended and gradually disappeared into the clouds. Does this also apply to Christians during the Rapture? Will those left behind see the Christians ascending slowly?
"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)
In 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, it states that we, the living, will be changed in an indivisible moment. This transformation occurs when the trumpet sounds, and the dead are raised as incorruptible (immortal) beings. This passage refers to the Rapture of the Church. Our transition from perishable to imperishable bodies takes an indivisible moment and lasts no longer than the blink of an eye. Within one second, our bodies change from perishable to imperishable. This clearly shows that humans do not participate in this change; it is solely and entirely a miracle of God. People will not have time to think; suddenly, we will see the Lord in the air with our imperishable bodies, and no one on Earth will witness us ascending.
The Body Becomes Imperishable
In the previous section, we briefly touched on this topic. During the Rapture, our bodies are transformed from perishable and mortal bodies into imperishable and immortal bodies. Our renewed bodies do not wear out, are free from illness, and do not die. This phase consists of two parts. First, the departed believers receive new bodies, and immediately after, the living believers receive theirs. Let's take a closer look at both phases.
Unperishable Bodies for the Deceased
"And the dead will be raised incorruptible" (1 Corinthians 15:52)
One of the most dreadful things on Earth is human death. Through the fall of man, death entered the world, and so far, all people have died, regardless of how holy they may have lived (with a few exceptions, as discussed in Chapter 3). Many believed that death was the end, and that humans would not be resurrected. This is not true; every person will rise again! However, there is a difference in when a person rises. Jesus Christ was the first to rise in an imperishable body. During the Rapture of the Church, the first to receive new bodies will be the deceased believers who have gone before us.
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” (1 Corinthians 15:22-23)
Everyone who belongs to Christ will be resurrected at His coming. During the Great Tribulation, which follows the Rapture, many people will come to faith. Will they also receive new bodies?
"And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection." (Revelation 20:4-5)
These individuals will live after Jesus' return and will reign with Him. The order of receiving new bodies is as follows:
- Jesus Christ as the firstfruits.
- Deceased believers at the Rapture.
- Living believers at the Rapture (see the next point).
- Believers who come to faith during the Great Tribulation after Jesus' return.
There is one group left, those who do not belong to Christ. Will this group remain dead, or will these people come to life? It is essential to understand that this group remains spiritually dead. They have not chosen God, and this means they will not participate in the Millennial Kingdom and the new heaven and earth. They will rise from the dead and be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
"And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt."(Daniel 12:2)
"that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust." (Acts 24:15)
Unperishable Bodies for the Living
During the Rapture of the Church, the living believers will also receive new bodies.
"Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed," (1 Corinthians 15:51)
Someday, a group of people will not experience death. Their bodies will transform within a single second into bodies that cannot die. In the Netherlands, there is a saying: 'There are two certainties: death and paying taxes.' It turns out that one certainty is eliminated because it is no longer certain whether someone will die. Our bodies will change during the Rapture of the Church and become like the body of Jesus Christ.
"But our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself." (Philippians 3:20-21)’
The Lord Jesus has power over death (Revelation 1:18), and He determines when someone will pass away. God decides when the Lord Jesus may call us to be with Him forever.
Who will be raptured?
Who actually experiences the Rapture of the Church? A question many ask is, "Do all children go?" At the same time, the Bible does not provide a clear answer to these questions. Let's begin by studying the clearest Rapture passage.
"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Paul speaks of "We." Initially, he is referring to himself and the church in Thessalonica. Paul speaks of born-again Christians, which means born-again Christians will be caught up, both the deceased and the living.
As for children who cannot make their own decisions, the Bible does not directly mention whether they will be raptured. An answer to this question is speculative, meaning no one knows it for certain. Nevertheless, let's look at various Bible passages concerning children.
The purpose of the Rapture of the Church is to escape God's judgment and wrath. During the wilderness period of the Israelites, God became angry with His people. God wanted to bring His people to the Promised Land, and twelve spies thoroughly examined the land. Ten of them returned, claiming that they would never be victorious because powerful and large people lived there. Only Joshua and Caleb trusted in God and said that God would give them the land. The people sided with the ten spies and wanted to leave. That's when God said the following.
‘Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me. Say to them, 'As I live,' says the LORD, 'just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above, except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. Your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised.’ (Numbers 14:26-31)
The unbelieving Israelites did not enter the Promised Land because they did not trust in God. None of the adults, except for Caleb and Joshua, would leave the wilderness alive, and everyone would die in the next forty years. God's wrath was poured out on all the Israelites, and only the children under twenty (and Caleb and Joshua) were spared. Here we read that in the time of the Exodus, God spared the children, and they entered the Promised Land forty years later.
In the New Testament, we see that Jesus had a special bond with children, particularly in Matthew 19.
“Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.” (Matthew 19:13-15)
I grew up in a religious family, and it certainly had its benefits. When I was a small child who couldn't make decisions yet, I was already holy to God and belonged to Him. This is stated in 1 Corinthians 7:14. Even if one parent in a family believes, the children are considered holy, and this applies until a child can make their own decision to follow Jesus.
‘"For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy."(1 Corinthians 7:14)
Please note that in Greek, a different word for “holy” is used for the unbelieving husband and wife. Children of a believing parent (or one believing parent) belong to God and are saved. The unbelieving husband or wife is transferred from a non-Christian family to a Christian family and holds a special position, even though they are not saved.
Children have a unique position in God the Father's grace. I believe that children of believing parents (or one believing parent) will be raptured in the Rapture of the Church.
And what about the children of unbelieving parents? In 2014, the movie Left Behind starring Nicolas Cage was released. Everything was normal until, in an instant, all believers were caught up. Not only the believers, but also all children were caught up. Is this biblical or purely speculative? Will God take the children of non-believing parents, or will they be left behind? The answer is not directly in the Bible, so let's explore whether children always escape God's wrath and judgment. We'll start with the prophet Jonah. Jonah called upon the people of Nineveh, proclaiming that God would destroy the city. Nineveh repented all together, and God decided to relent from His wrath. Jonah was angry about this, and God responded as follows:
"Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?" (Jonah 4:11)
Some argue that this is evidence that God spares unbelieving children, particularly those who cannot discern between their right and left hand. I have two questions regarding this text:
Question 1: Were these one hundred and twenty thousand people spared because they were children, or because the entire city repented? What happened to the children if the city did not repent?
Question 2: How many inhabitants did Nineveh have? According to GeoGraphixs, Nineveh had over a hundred thousand inhabitants around 700 BC. According to Wikipedia, Jonah lived from 786 to 746 BC. Does this text mean that God was referring to the adults and that they spiritually did not discern between their right and left hand?
This text only states that God spared the city and had compassion on the one hundred and twenty thousand people and the livestock. Let's see if God had previously poured out His judgment and wrath on the Earth. The Great Tribulation is not the only moment of judgment and wrath. In the past, God had already pronounced judgment, and then a great flood covered the Earth, causing a worldwide deluge. Every living creature on Earth perished. Only Noah, his family, and the animals on the ark survived the flood, and the children of unbelievers were not spared during the flood.
‘"So all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive." (Genesis 7:21-23).’
A few chapters later, we read about God's judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot and his daughters were rescued from the city because Lot was the only righteous man there. Here we can see that Lot's daughters were spared because of the righteous Lot. Then the following happened to the city:
"Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground." (Genesis 19:24-25)
The children in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were not spared. Does God always take away all the children when He passes judgment? No, this did not happen, for example, with the Great Flood and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. However, it did happen with the children of the Israelites in the book of Numbers (please note that God had made a promise to Abraham, which prevented Him from destroying the entire people). Will God take the children of unbelievers during the Great Tribulation? This question cannot be answered definitively. God makes a just decision Himself. In the past, He has both taken children and not taken them.
Lastly, there's one more group to consider, the Old Testament believers. These are the people who believed in God before Jesus had come to Earth and died on the cross. Think of individuals like Abel, Abraham, David, Daniel, and John the Baptist. Will their bodies be resurrected during the Rapture of the Church? One thing is certain: they will be resurrected, as stated in Daniel 12:2, and this promise also applies to Daniel, an Old Testament believer.
"But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days." (Daniel 12:13)
However, there's a debate about when this will occur. Is it during the Rapture or after the millennial reign? When we read the Bible, we see that Old Testament believers longed for the millennial reign. Why would they long for it if they wouldn't experience it? Consider Abraham, who longed for the city with foundations.
"For he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God." (Hebrews 11:10)
Additionally, the Bible doesn't specify a separate moment when Old Testament believers are resurrected. During the Rapture of the Church, it's believed that those in Christ are caught up, followed by those who died during the Great Tribulation, and after the millennial reign, the dead are thrown into the lake of fire. It seems logical that Old Testament believers would be caught up during the Rapture of the Church.
The Sound of the Rapture
"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God." (1 Thessalonians 4:16)
"At the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound," (1 Corinthians 15:52)
During the Rapture, three sounds are mentioned. It's possible that these sounds occur simultaneously or successively. First, the Lord Jesus comes to call His followers. Every follower on Earth, whether alive or deceased, is called by the Lord Jesus Himself. This is the wonder of the Lord Jesus. He doesn't send angels to call us or a video message; He comes Himself. In fact, the word 'call' isn't quite the right translation. The Lord Jesus doesn't call us; He issues a command for us to come to Him. Our time on Earth is over; we have fought the good fight, and now it's time to depart to the Lord Jesus.
Next is the voice of an archangel. An archangel is a chief angel that leads other angels. In the Bible, only one archangel is mentioned by name, and that is the archangel Michael, who is a prince over the people of Israel. If the Thessalonians passage refers to Michael, it could mean that this is a special event for the people of Israel. God has promised that this angel will assist the Israelites during the Great Tribulation. The voice of an archangel will sound during the Rapture, and perhaps Michael will play a significant role in the catching away of Old Testament believers, or he will (spiritually speaking) come to Earth during the Rapture of the Church to help protect the people of Israel.
“At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:1-2)
"And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."(Revelation 12:7-9)
Michael has an important role during the Great Tribulation. The angel fights against the devil and protects the people of Israel.
Finally, a trumpet of God is mentioned. This trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised, and the living will be changed. The voices of God and Jesus are described by John as a loud voice, like a trumpet (Revelation 1:10 & 4:1). The Israelites, during their time in the wilderness, heard this voice and pleaded that they would never have to hear it again.
"For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore."(Hebrews 12:19)
When God speaks, remarkable things happen. God's trumpet sounds, and all the dead who are in Christ are raised. God's trumpet sounds, and He will wage war (Zechariah 9:14). The trumpets sound, and God will achieve victory (Joshua 6:1-5). Moreover, trumpets (or trumpets) are used on holidays (Numbers 10:10) and to call the people of Israel together.
“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 'Make two silver trumpets for yourself; you shall make them of hammered work; you shall use them for calling the congregation and for directing the movement of the camps. When they blow both of them, all the congregation shall gather before you at the door of the tabernacle of meeting”" (Numbers 10:1-3).
God's trumpet will sound during the Rapture of the Church, and all His followers will break “camps” and gather to the Lord Jesus.
Where Are the Believers After the Rapture?
Finally, let's consider where the believers are after the Rapture. In chapter 6, we'll delve deeper into this, and in this section, we'll examine two Bible verses that tell us more about our future destination.
"Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 4:17)
Before the Rapture of the Church, we are in our current locations. For some, it might be in bed, for others at school, and for another on an airplane. Suddenly, we are called by the Lord Jesus and transported from Earth, through the clouds, into the air. Here, we see the Lord Jesus, and we will be with Him forever. But we don't stay in the air; this is just the place where we meet the Lord Jesus. Together, we go to another place.
"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. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also."’ (John 14:2-3)
We are going to the Father's house, which is in heaven. We will explore this further in chapter 6.
Someday, the followers of Jesus will be caught up into the air. The Lord Jesus gives us the command to come to Him; a voice of an archangel (likely Michael) and a trumpet of God sound. In response to these sounds, the dead are first raised, receiving renewed bodies. Immediately after that, the bodies of the living are transformed, and the dead and the living are caught up in the blink of an eye into the air to meet the Lord Jesus. Together with the Lord Jesus, we go to the Father's house in heaven, and we will be with the Lord Jesus forever.
This chapter is in the book A Revelation of the End Times. Read this book right now, so that you don't miss anything about the end times, live in expectation and your faith is increased. The rapture of the church is a special prophecy from the Word of God. Due to the many theories and ideas about this event, many no longer know what is and what is not Biblical. Timo Groot takes you through the Biblical data about the rapture and why the rapture is more relevant today than ever before. The rapture is the hope of escaping the terrible things that are going to happen on earth and is the moment when the church will see the Lord Jesus face to face in the father's house of God.