The Rapture of the Church
Prof. Fernando D. Saraví, DiplTh, MD, PhD
Iglesia de los Libres (Iglesia Cristiana Evangélica )
Perú 1472, Las Heras 5539 Mendoza, Argentina
"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope ... 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. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." (1 Thess 4:13,16-17).
Some Christians believe that the text reproduced above teaches that the Church of Christ will not go through the final outburst of evil, led by the Antichrist, that is to happen just before the coming of the Lord in judgment (2 Thess 2:1-12). They tell us that believers will be snatched up about seven years before Christ comes visibly to the unbelieving world. The Second coming, they further teach, will occur in two stages: A first stage (sometimes called a "secret" one) to rescue His saints, i.e. the Church, and a public second stage when He will come with His saints -those previously raptured-, this time to judge the world. Is this teaching Biblically sound?
1. The Rapture will be no secret
Christians at Thessalonica were eagerly waiting for the Second Coming, but they feared that believers already dead at the time of this event would not have a share in the future glory. Paul carefully explained them that deceased Christians would not only have a share, but that they indeed would go before those believers still alive at that time to meet the Lord in the air, an event that would be announced by "One word of command, one shout from the archangel, one blast from the trumpet of God and the Lord himself will come down from heaven! (Phillipsí translation). The authoritative divine command (Greek keleusma), is transmitted by the shout of a powerful angel, and echoed by Godís trumpet. This seems to be a very noisy event!
Of course, trumpets were used to usher public events (see Lev 25:9; Num 10:8; Jer 4:5; Matt 6:2) and later they came to be used as a symbol of the announcement of judgment and of the end of the Age (see Isa 27:13; Zeph 1:14-18; Rev 8:2,6-13; 11:15). Indeed, trumpet calls were used to make sure that everybody would pay attention! Our Lord Jesus himself taught that the trumpet would announce the Lordís Day: "And he [Christ] will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds..." (Matt 24:31). Paul taught the same when he wrote "...we will all be changed ... at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed." (1 Cor 15:51-52).
From the above it is crystal clear first, that the rapture will be a noisy, public event, and second, that it will happen in a one and only Second coming, since it occurs at the last trumpet. It should be obvious that there cannot be any trumpet after the last one! (see also Rev 11:15-19).
2. A single Second Coming
The belief in a split Second Coming seeks support in Dan 9:24-27. However, this text announces an already past 490-years period (Seventy "weeks" of years). In the last 7 years Ėthe last "week"- Messiah would come, according to the Scriptures (see Luke 24: 25-27, 44), bringing eternal righteousness and making an atonement for sin. Messiah would confirm the new covenant with the true Israel (see Romans 9: 6f, 27-29) and His death would put an end to the Levitical system of sacrifices (see Hebrews, Ch. 9-10). Those who rejected this covenant would be punished (see John 3:18). All these things came to pass, as they were foretold, in the first century of the Christian era.
It has been rightly said that "Scripture teaches clearly that this [Second] Advent will be personal, visible, sudden and unexpected, glorious and triumphant": Personal, 1 Thess 4:16, "The Lord himself"; visible, Acts 1:11, "This same Jesus ... will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven" ; sudden and unexpected, 1 Thess 5:1-3, "the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (see also Matt 24:42-44; 2 Pet 3:10); glorious and triumphant, 2 Thess 1:7-10, "when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels ... on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people..." (see also Hebr 9:28; Rev 1:7).
The Holy Scriptures witness a single Second Coming and a single physical resurrection for the blessing of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked. This bodily resurrection is depicted in Rev 20:11-15, "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened ... The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done." It should be noted that the "first resurrection" mentioned in Rev 20:4-6 is the present blessed life of those that have died witnessing about Christ. To the world they are just losers, but in fact they have truly conquered and reign with God and Christ for a period that is very long (a thousand years) when compared with the time of their suffering. Although all believers have been reborn and qualify as royal priests (Matt 8:22; Luke 15:24; John 5:24-25; 11:25; Rom 6:13; Eph 2:1,5; Col 2:13; 1 Pet 2:9,24), martyrs already enjoy Godís full peace while their brethren must still suffer for "a little while".
About the judgment to take place at the Second Coming and its consequences, our beloved Lord said: "then they [the wicked] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matt 25:46) ; "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his [Christís] voice and come out Ė those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." (John 5:28f). And Paul asserted: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ..." (2 Cor 5:10); "and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." (Acts 24:15, see also Acts 17:30-31; Rom 2:5-16). The teachings of Peter, John and James are also consistent with these truths: see 1 Pet 4:5,17; 2 Pet 3:7; Acts 10:42; 1 John 4:17; Rev 20:12; James 5:8-9.
Everyone will see Jesus in His Second Coming: " all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory and ... his angels ... will gather his elect..." (Matt 24: 30f). From 2 Thess 1: 6-10 it is plain that the hour of mourning of "all the tribes of the earth" is the very same hour of the rapture and joy of believers!
3. The tribulation of the Church
Those who believe that the Church will be spared from the end-time tribulation argue that "God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess 5:9; see 1:10, "Jesus ... rescues us from the coming wrath"). But it seems clear that these passages do not refer to a satanically launched persecution against the Church, but to Godís righteous punishment against the wicked ; it goes without saying that by definition, believers will not pass through this.
On the other hand, the sufferings and persecutions that we Christians must endure because of our witness of Christ are in fact tribulations. The Greek word thlipsis, translated "trouble", "suffering" , "tribulation", etc., appears 45 times in the New Testament, and it usually refers to the hardships that believers must endure for Christís sake. Some examples follow: "In this world you will have trouble [thlipsis]..." (John 16:33); "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22); " we also rejoice in our sufferings" (Rom 5:3; see Rom 8:35-39; 12:12); "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ... who conforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble..." (2 Cor 1:4); "we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring." (2 Thess 1:4); "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation" (Rev 7:14). In Revelation, John identifies himself with those persecuted Christians to whom he addresses the book, and styles himself as their "companion in the suffering" (Rev 1:9).
The Church must endure right to the very end of the world as Christís witness to all the nations (Matt 28:18-20). Our Lord did not ask His Father to have the Church raptured before the end, but protected from the evil one (John 17:15). Real believers and unbelievers are to remain together up to that great Day of the Lord when their separation will take place: "At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn." (Matt 13:30).
To some confused believers who thought that Jesusí return could happen "at any time", Paul wrote: "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy ... saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Donít let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion [parapipto] occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction." (2 Thess 2:1-3). Therefore, the manifestation of the end-time Antichrist and the apostasy Ėparapipto, i.e., defection from the Christian faith by many- are things that true believers will see and suffer before our Lordís coming in glory and their gathering together with Him.
4. Summary: Our blessed hope
A Rapture that will supposedly deliver the Church from end-time persecution is never styled as "our blessed hope" in the New Testament. Paul taught Titus that our blessed hope is the eternal life (Tit 1:2), and admonished him to live according to this hope "while we wait for the blessed hope Ėthe glorious appearing of our great Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ." (Tit 2:13).
The New Testament teaches that the Church will be the witness for Jesus Christ until the day when her Lord returns for the blessing of His people and the cursing of His foes. Before that day, the Church will have to endure great tribulations, and particularly, right before the end of the age, the apostasy and the persecution led by Antichrist, the Man of Lawlessness. As during all her history, the true militant Church will fight "the good fight" until the Lord comes. No specific sign will announce the imminent coming of Jesus Christ (Luke 17:26-36). It will be as a thief in the night, since not even believers know on what day the Lord will come (Matt 24: 42-44; 25:13, 1 Thess 5:1-3; 2 Pet 3:9-10). This is why we are repeatedly called to be alert: real Christians do not need to be prompted by signs, since as good Christís soldiers they are always ready.
Peter spoke of our Lordís patience, "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Pet 3:9) . Here is the reason why Jesus is delaying His coming; and if this Ėeveryoneís salvation- is the Lordīs sovereign wish, then it must also be important for us. But, how will unbelievers repent and believe, if there is nobody to preach them the gospel? (Rom 10:13-15) And who on earth will preach if believers, the temple where the Holy Spirit indwells, have been raptured? (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; Eph 2:21). To eagerly expect a safe evacuation before the final battle is tantamount to plainly refuse to do what the Lord has specifically commanded us to do!
Therefore, we must be ready to be His faithful witnesses to all nations right to the end, knowing that on that Day we will receive the crown of life from the very hands of our beloved God and Saviour, Jesus Christ (Tit 2:11-14; Rev 2:10-11). Meanwhile, we cry Amén! Come, Lord Jesus!
July 1985 (last revision September 1998)
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.[end]