Answering Questions About the Rapture: Nature and Timing
By Nathan Jones
What is the Rapture and when will it occur?
Is the Rapture of the Church a biblical reality, or is it just the result of hopeful imaginings that believers might be able to escape the horrors of the Tribulation? Is the Rapture fact or fiction?
These and other questions sent in to us about the Rapture were answered by Dr. David Reagan, Nathan Jones, and Tim Moore on our television program Christ in Prophecy.
What is the Rapture?
Dr. Reagan: Before we get into answering specific questions about the Rapture, let’s first define the Rapture.
Tim Moore: The Rapture, as we believe, is the moment when the Father says to the Son, “Go and get your Bride!” And so, in a twinkling of an eye, Jesus calls for the Church. Our bodies are transformed, and we are caught up to meet Jesus in the air. We will then spend the rest of the Tribulation period with Jesus in Heaven. The Rapture is a promise made to believers in Christ who are here in this Church Age that we will be gathered up to Jesus Christ. Jesus said that He does what the Father tells Him, and so He’s waiting for that word from the Father to go and get His Bride. I believe that will happen soon and very soon.
Dr. Reagan: Will the Rapture include Old Testament believers? The Rapture is, after all, just for the Church, the Bride of Christ, right?
Tim Moore: Correct. The Old Testament believers will not be raised at the time of the Rapture. The Rapture is an event reserved just for those who are alive on the earth at that moment and those Christians who have passed away. Old Testament believers will be resurrected when the Lord returns at the Second Coming at the end of the seven-year Tribulation.
Dr. Reagan: Does that mean the Rapture is part of the Second Coming or something separate?
Tim Moore: That depends on how you look at it. Yes and no. Yes, it is, in that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ comes in two stages. The Rapture occurs before the Tribulation, then seven-plus years pass, if there is a little gap, and then the Second Coming happens at the end of the Tribulation. But, you could also consider the Rapture a separate event, one that is meant for the Church alone. The Rapture catches up the Church, meaning those who are saved, up to Heaven before the Tribulation begins. So, one could consider the Rapture to be a separate event as well. So, I tell people, yes and no.
Dr. Reagan: I think that’s a very good answer because the world has got about seven years in between those two events. The Rapture is not necessarily the beginning of the Tribulation, so there could be a gap of a few months or even a few years after the Rapture occurs and the Tribulation begins. That provides some time for the world to be thrown into chaos, and the Antichrist arises and says, “I’ve got the answer to all of the world’s problems.” Then he makes a peace treaty with Israel.
I think your concept is very well stated that the Second Coming occurs in two stages: first the appearing of the Lord in the heavens to catch up His Church, and then later His return to set up His reign over the earth.
When will the Rapture occur?
Dr. Reagan: There are so many concepts concerning the timing of the Rapture, leaving some to find it all very confusing. That’s a very common reaction to the teaching of the Rapture. When do you think the Rapture is most likely to occur, and why?
Tim Moore: We have to almost go back to the origin of the word Rapture. A lot of people claim that word is not even in the Bible. Not true. The word “rapturo” or “rapio” can be found in the Latin Vulgate version in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The word expresses a quick action such as a snatching away. That’s why some translations say that we will be snatched away, or caught up, originally in the King James Version, expressing a quick, forceful action.
All of us who look forward to the Rapture as the next major prophetic event realize that it will happen very quickly. Jesus promised, “Behold, I come quickly,” meaning “I come suddenly,” obviously for those of us who are saved and therefore can claim to be members of the Church.
I liken the Rapture to a pregnancy. When my wife was pregnant, we knew that that baby was going to come about nine months after the conception. We certainly didn’t know exactly when. The signs of the approaching due date were very evident, but we still didn’t know the exact moment. We could sense it was getting closer and closer. Like a delivery date, I believe that the timing of the Rapture is getting closer and closer. The due date could occur at any moment, but then it could take a little bit longer. Why, the Rapture could happen even today!
So, to answer your question, the timing of the Rapture can be said to happen, “Soon and very soon.”
Dr. Reagan: Is the Rapture going to occur before the Tribulation, at the middle of the Tribulation, or at the end of the Tribulation?
Nathan Jones: Let’s clear this up first. You’re not asking us what the exact day the Rapture will occur because nobody can know that. Jesus said that nobody can know the day or the hour. As a matter of fact, when Jesus was here at His First Coming, even He said that He didn’t know, which boggles the mind. Clearly, since His ascension, He now knows. So, we know that we can never predict the date or the exact time of the Rapture.
What we do know from the Bible is that the Rapture is a separate event from the Second Coming. Read the passages about Christ’s return in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, Zechariah 14 and Revelation 19. These talk about the Second Coming. But, read the Rapture verses such as 1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 15 and John 14. All these verses when compared reveal the Bible is telling two different stories. The Rapture and the Second Coming are clearly separate events.
Okay, now that we know they are separate, how then how do they relate to each other? Well, there are four major views that explain the differences. The Pre-Tribulation Rapture view believes the Rapture will happen before the seven-year Tribulation begins. The Mid-Tribulation Rapture view believes the Rapture will happen three and a half years into the Tribulation. The Pre-Wrath Rapture view places the Rapture happening just before the Bowl Judgments, about five-plus years into the Tribulation. And then the Post-Tribulation Rapture view claims Jesus comes back at the end of the Tribulation, and the Rapture happens at the same time. You’re raptured up, do a u-turn, then come right back to the earth with Jesus. Those are the four main views. There are other fringe views, but these are the four main views about when the Rapture is going to occur as it relates to the Tribulation.
As for me, I believe the Pre-Tribulation Rapture view has it right because we can look at the Rapture passages and we can look at the Second Coming passages and they tell two very different stories.
Tim Moore: Yes, they do. The contrast between 1 Thessalonians 4 and Revelation 19 are telling. Thessalonians talks about Jesus appearing for the Church as a deliverer in grace, bringing salvation and deliverance for those of us who are His. Jesus arrives as if He was a Bridegroom. Whereas, in Revelation 19, the Lord comes in great wrath. He returns and lands on the earth, not just stays up in the clouds, as He does at the Rapture. At the Second Coming Jesus arrives as a warrior ready to rule as a King. Obviously, as told in Revelation 19, the Church comes with Him.
There are many pictures of these differences in the passages. Even in the book of Revelation where the Lord is dictating to John His letters to the seven churches, in chapter 4 John is caught up, he is snatched up and translated up to Heaven. In Revelation 5-18, John is there witnessing things going on in Heaven and describing future events that will happen on the earth. The Church is not mentioned until Revelation 19 when the Church returns to the earth with the Lord. So, that’s why we think the Rapture comes for the Church in an instant, and the Church is snatched away before the Lord returns subsequent to the Second Coming.
Nathan Jones: I would add on top of that great answer that not only do we see the differences between the verses that deal with the Rapture and the Tribulation, portraying two totally different stories, but we have the iron-clad promise of God that the Church is never destined to endure the wrath of God. Revelation 3:10 and 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9, and other verses all say that the believer in Christ is not destined to endure the wrath of God. Not little “t” tribulation, but big “T” Tribulation, meaning that seven-year time period when God will judge the earth for the people’s sins and bring a remnant to redemption.
Dr. Reagan: A person who believes in a Mid-Tribulation Rapture would agree with everything you said, but they interpret the wrath of God as something different than you and I would. They do not consider the Seal Judgments or the Trumpet Judgments to be the wrath of God. They claim those first 14 or so judgments are the wrath of Satan and the wrath of man. They would say, “Yes, we believe that Christians will be raptured before the wrath of God.” But, they don’t believe the wrath of God falls until the Bowl Judgments during the second 3.5 years of the Tribulation.
Then there’s the Pre-Wrath position, which I think is misnamed, for it should be called the Two-thirds Tribulation Rapture. They argue the same thing as the Mid-Trib folks, believing that the wrath of God falls only during the Bowl Judgments. They believe Christians are going to be raptured just before the Bowl Judgments some five years into the Tribulation.
Nathan Jones: Their counters are very easy to answer. Two verses really make it clear that the entire seven years covering all of the 21 judgments are indeed the wrath of God. The first reference is to who opens the Seal Judgments. It’s Jesus Christ! He’s the one who takes the seven-sealed scroll from the One on the throne. Jesus breaks all of the seven seals which encompass all 21 judgments which follow. Therefore, all seven years and 21 judgments are the wrath of God, and the Church is promised not to have to endure the wrath of God.
Dr. Reagan: Revelation 6 covers the first series of Tribulation judgments — the Seven Seal Judgments — and they are opened by Jesus at God’s throne. Then, right at the end in Revelation 6:16, the people cry out that these judgments are indeed the wrath of the Lamb, meaning Jesus Christ. They scream, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!” That means these Seal Judgments cannot originate as the wrath of man or Satan. No! These judgments are the wrath of the Lamb.
Nathan Jones: God certainly uses Satan and man in order to fulfill His purposes during the Tribulation, but the wrath originates at God’s throne. After all, just look at the Fifth Seal Judgment and all those martyrs who die. God isn’t going out and killing all of those people, rather the Antichrist is killing the martyrs. Satan can’t do whatever he wants to do, for God has him on a very short leash. God will use Satan’s wrath as an instrument in pouring out His own wrath, but the wrath originated with God.
Tim Moore: Revelation 15:1 reveals that John saw another sign in the heavens, great and marvelous signs, where seven angels carry seven plagues, and these are the last of the plagues, because in them the wrath of God is finished.
I will give grace to those who differ on the exact timing of the Rapture because I don’t put my trust in my own understanding, rather my trust is in the Lord. These folks can declare that the Lord is coming mid-way or part-way through the Tribulation, but then they are not looking for Jesus Christ, rather they are looking for the revelation of the Antichrist. They are looking for the rebuilding of the Third Jewish Temple. They are looking for other signs that in their understanding have to precede the Lord’s return.
Dr. Reagan: They’re also destroying the imminence of the Rapture because certain events then have to occur before the Lord can come back and rapture His Church.
Tim Moore: Exactly right, for over and over again we are told in the Bible to look for the Blessed Hope which is Jesus Christ, and not for the Antichrist and not for any of the other signs. This principle of imminence is why we believe the Rapture has nothing that precedes it. We don’t have to look for other signs, we just have to look for Jesus Christ.
Dr. Reagan: Dr. Ron Rhodes is a Bible prophecy scholar and writer whom we’ve had as a speaker at several of our conferences. He’s just a wonderful presenter. One year he was talking about the Rapture and he was talking about people who believed the Rapture and the Second Coming were both one event. They think the Rapture works kind of like a yo-yo; you go up and then you come right back down with the Lord. He said what they are really saying is this: “You, the Church, are going to face seven years of horrible Tribulation, suffering, torture, just unspeakable horrors. Now, comfort one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4’s teaching about the Rapture ends with, “Comfort one another with these words.” What words? The fact you’re going to be taken out before all of the Tribulation judgments happen, not that you’ll have to live through them. That wouldn’t provide much of a comfort.
In the second segment where we answer your questions about the Rapture, we’ll see if the Rapture teaching is just “too new to be true.”