Is the word Rapture in the Bible?
“Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.” [ Matthew 24 ] …. “Because you have kept My word of perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing which is about to come upon the whole world.” [ Revelation 3 ] …. “One is taken into God’s immediate protection: and one is left to share the common calamities.” [ John Wesley ]
No. The word ‘rapture’ is not in the Bible. But major New Testament texts teach that followers of Jesus (Hebrew: Yeshua) are suddenly “taken away” to meet Jesus “in the air”. This is a friendly taking! The Greek word translated “taken” in the Bible is ‘paralambano’, which means ‘to take into close association with oneself’, in a loving positive sense. So, not surprisingly, this mysterious event is often referred to as the ‘rapture’, the term being derived from the Latin verb ‘Rapere,’ meaning ‘to snatch’ or ‘take away’, link.
How do Christians view the Rapture?
Liberal View: A fundamentalist end-time view is that it is the true followers of Christ who are mysteriously “taken away” from the earth, leaving unbelievers – and a false church – to suffer God’s wrath! Not surprisingly, such fundamentalist theology is rarely preached in institutionalised churches, which tend to lean towards liberal theology. There are several reasons for this:
- it is seen as a fringe subject not essential to fundamental Christian beliefs
- the key rapture texts seem ambiguous, especially in the timing of the rapture
- such a mysterious, literally ‘out of this world’ event takes the average believer out of their comfort zone
Fundamentalist View: In contrast, belief in the rapture is widely accepted in less formal Christian groups. And for very good reasons. A well-argued theological view (see later) is that, between ‘the taking’ of believers and Jesus’ actual return to the Mount of Olives opposite Jerusalem there will be a short time of great trauma as God judges the rebellious, godless nations. This is the time of the Seals, Trumpets and Bowls of Revelation. The good news is that, from the Gospels to the Book of Revelation, we find promises of deliverance to today’s true believers aka the true end-time church.
So many of those who trust their lives to Jesus today seek refuge and hope in the mystery of the rapture. It provides a hope of miraculous, ‘out of this world’ deliverance from the coming end-time tribulations of an increasingly chaotic, dangerous and godless world.
But is this fundamentalist view theologically justified, or is it wishful thinking?
Unlocking the Rapture: Daniel’s Week 70
Daniel’s prophecy in chapter 9 sets the context of the mysterious rapture. It is logical to adopt prophetic interpretations that agree closely with reality i.e. with what we observe in the world today. In this respect, the Futurist view of Bible prophecy appears particularly relevant and so we adopt that here. This view sees Christ’s return as tied to what happens to Israel at the end of the age. Here’s Daniel’s key prophecy:
Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people [Israel] and your holy city [Jerusalem], to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy placeDaniel 9:24, annotated
Here Daniel is using scripture’s ‘prophetic years‘, where each month has 30 days, each year has twelve months [360 days] and each “week” has seven 360-day years.
The Futurist View
Futurists see a gap between the end of Week 69 (the crucifixion of Christ) and the start of Week 70 (seven 360-day years). After all, if Week 70 elapsed around the time of Christ (Historicist view) there is no framework within which to fit many end-time prophecies, such as Jeremiah 30:4-7; Daniel 7:23-28; Daniel 11:21-45; Daniel 12:11-12; Matthew 24; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Revelation 7:3-8; Revelation 12:6 and Revelation 13. See Week 70 and End Time Pilgrim for detailed theological discussions of the Futurist view.
The gap between weeks 69 and 70 is essentially a period of grace – the so-called church age. Comparing today’s world scenario with end-time prophecy suggests that the end of the church age and the start of Week 70 is relatively imminent. Then, at the end of Week 70, Jesus returns to earth to establish Himself as “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11-21). According to Daniel’s prophecy He comes to “bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up the vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place”. Christ reigns from Jerusalem as “King over all the earth” (Zechariah 14:8-9) and this so-called “Kingdom Age” lasts for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:4-6).
The importance of the rapture is underscored by what happens during Week 70. You would not want to be there!
What happens during Week 70?
The Book of Revelation clearly states that the last seven years of this age (Week 70) will be traumatic as God judges a rebellious, godless world that worships Satan (Revelation 13:4). The horrific detail is described in the Seal, Trumpet and Bowl judgements of Revelation 6-16. There will be demonic activity, cosmic terrors (asteroid impact?), widespread water pollution, global famine, plagues, global war, crushing (controlling) world government, extreme heat, extreme drought, extreme hail, and great earthquakes. Jesus likened this awful time to a “snare” (like a trap or a noose):
For it [the end of this age and the return of Christ] will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of ManLuke 21:35-36, emphasis added
Clearly, it would be traumatic to be on earth at this time! But in Luke 21 is Jesus offering hope to the believer? Hope of escape? After all, the Bible says believers are not destined for God’s wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
The Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church
A common Futurist view is that the true church – the Philadelphia-type church that Jesus loves in Revelation 3 – will simply not be on earth at the start of week 70. As in Luke 21, it seems Jesus promises to deliver this relatively small group of faithful believers from the horrors soon to come upon a rebellious, godless world:
Because you have kept My word of perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of the testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who live on the earth.Revelation 3:10, emphasis added
Revelation 3:10 gives strong scriptural justification for placing the rapture at or near the start of Week 70, before earth’s “hour of testing”. This is the so-called Pre-Tribulation View. The term “will keep” means “to guard (from loss or injury)” [Strong’s G5083]. So here the risen Jesus is promising the faithful end-time churches like the ancient Philadelphia church that He will protect them when the world’s hour of trial comes.
This is why many who have trusted their lives to Jesus see an assurance (or at least a ‘hope’) of miraculous protection from the end-time traumas. They may well not see the tribulation that happens during Week 70. Instead, they will be with Christ! They will have been “snatched up” from the earth and “taken away”, rather like Noah was taken away from a rebellious world.
The Rapture and the Spirit
The prophecy in Daniel 9:27 also supports the Pre-Tribulation view. Here, the beast or “lawless one” (2 Thessalonians 2:8) or world dictator signs a seven year (one “prophetic week”) covenant with Israel. This is Week 70. But Israel’s rulers fail to see they are making a “covenant with Hell” (Isaiah 28:15), and the dictator breaks it “in the middle of the week” (Daniel 9:27).
Clearly, at some point just prior to the signing this despicable person must be revealed to the world. But many believe that this revealing cannot happen until the Holy Spirit (and by implication the true church) has been “taken out of the way”:
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He [often read as the Holy Spirit] who now restrains will do so until He is removed [out of the way]. And then the lawless one [the beast of Revelation 13:1] will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming2 Thessalonians 2:7-8, amplified
A common interpretation is that, at the rapture, God’s restraining power over evil (the Holy Spirit) is suddenly removed, permitting the identity of “the lawless one” to be revealed and a seven-year treaty to be signed with Israel. Clearly, if the church experiences the appearance of “the lawless one” and the signing of the seven-year treaty with Israel, then she will know that Christ returns to earth seven years from that time. But the day or hour of Christ’s return to earth is not revealed (Matthew 24:36,44).
Concluding, it appears that the true church is removed at the start of Week 70, and this view is also supported by considering earthly life before Week 70.
Life just before ‘the Taking’
Normality: It seems that up to the end of the so-called ‘Church age’, or ‘Age of grace’, believers will still be able to meet (as in church groups or house churches) and preach the gospel (albeit with increasing persecution, Matthew 24:9-14). And whilst there will be a falling away from faith (2 Thessalonians 2:3), some believers will still be “watching” the signs (Luke 21:34-36) whilst other believers, like foolish virgins (Matthew 25:8-13), will be ignoring the signs.
As Jesus puts it, life in the world will be like Noah’s day, with pleasure seeking, marrying, buying and selling, building, and so on. And, as in Noah’s day, people today will be oblivious to, or skeptical of, the impending judgement of God.
When it comes to work, both Matthew 24 and Luke 17 imply that believers are working within a normal social environment alongside unbelievers up to the instant when they are suddenly “taken”. Jesus said:
Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left
Personal ID: But what about a work permit – personal ID? In today’s hi-tech world it is becoming increasingly necessary for each worker to have a personal ID on some computer system. In China an 18 digit ID card is mandatory for all adults. If you work in Germany you need an 11 digit tax identification number (TIN). In Australia worker ID is via a person’s Tax File Number (TFN), and in the UK its via the National Insurance number and Government Gateway. In the last few years of this age no one will be able to work without the ultimate ID – the mark of Revelation 13:17.
The significant point is this: in Jesus’ example of workers in the field or at the mill, there is no suggestion of such a working restriction. The pre-rapture scenario is not compatible with severe persecution under the two beasts of Revelation 13 and their imposition of the mark for buying and selling. So, as discussed, it seems the rapture must occur before the revealing of the two beasts of Revelation 13 and the ensuing tribulation. This is the Pre-Tribulation rapture.
The Rapture is a Supernatural Event
Let’s expand on the previous discussion. When referring to His return, Jesus said:
For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. At that time there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left (Mat 24:37-41, emphasis added)
It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, and they were building; but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed (Luke 17:28-30)
By referring to the days of Noah and Lot, Jesus implies that it is the believers who are “taken” out of a godless world, just as Noah and Lot were “taken” out of godless societies. In both cases God’s people are taken prior to God’s judgement on unbelievers. Here, the Greek word for ‘taken’ is ‘paralambano’, which means ‘to take into close association with oneself’, in a loving positive sense. The Greek word for ‘left’ is ‘aphiemi’ and means ‘to leave, forsake, omit or lay aside’.
So just as Noah was taken out of the world before the judgement of the Flood, and Lot was removed from Sodom before its destruction, so it seems the true church at that time will be taken to be with Christ. The preacher John Wesley summed it up like this:
One is taken into God’s immediate protection: and one is left to share the common calamities
The discourses in Matthew and Luke are perhaps the clearest and most direct reference to the sudden separation of living believers from unbelievers. Sadly, as mentioned, many Christians find this supernatural concept too hard to contemplate; it takes them out of their comfort zone! But is it any different to the supernatural concept of the God of all creation being found in the form of a baby in Bethlehem? Or the spectacle of the risen Christ rising into the clouds in full view of His disciples?
The Harvest – Resurrection and Instantaneous Immortality
Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle … So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reapedRevelation 14:14,16
This is a vision of Jesus reaping the good harvest of the earth – from a cloud. There is no mention of Jesus actually coming to stand on the earth at this point in time! Believers are separated from those who are about to suffer the wrath of God (Revelation 14:19) and taken to meet Christ in the clouds:
For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel and with the [blast of the] trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain [on the earth] will simultaneously be caught up (raptured) together with them [the resurrected ones] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord!1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, AMP
It all happens instantaneously, and unexpectedly (Matthew 24:44):
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. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality1 Corinthians 15:51-53
Unpacking 1 Corinthians 15
This supernatural and mysterious event corresponds to the first resurrection, when those raptured take on immortality. There is a lot in these verses! Let’s summarise the key points:
- The Trumpet: Paul refers to “the last trumpet’ – a translation of the Greek ‘sálpigks‘ meaning a quavering or reverberating trumpet [Strong’s 4536]. The Orthodox Jewish Bible refers to “the last shofar blast”. The implication in both texts is that there is more than one trump of the trumpet. Some see two trumps – the first calling the dead in Christ to immortality, the last calling those who are alive at His coming to immortality, link. It is incorrect to see ‘the last trumpet’ as the seventh (and final) trumpet in Revelation 11:15, link. In verse 52 it is God sounding the resurrection trumpet (1 Thessalonians 4:16), whereas in Revelation it is the the seventh angel trumpeting the final judgements.
- The Church Age ends: It seems the so-called Church age suddenly ends – the door that leads to salvation through the work of the church suddenly “shuts” (Matthew 25:10, Luke 13:25). In Christ’s parable, those who have heard the Gospel but have not responded (the unwise virgins) lose out and don’t go on to “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9). There will be much “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
- The Tribulation saints: The mysterious instantaneous removal of millions of people will be a shock to the world. It seems that, through the witness of God’s chosen Jewish servants (the 144,000), multitudes come to believe in Jesus after the rapture of the church. Millions from all nations come to salvation. These saints suffer in “the great tribulation”, but are also resurrected to be with Jesus (Revelation 7:9-17), link.
Other New Testament Scriptures
The concept of a “taking way” of believers can also be seen in the following scriptures:
In My Father’s house are many mansions … I go to prepare a place for you … and I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also [the “taking” of the saints] (John 14:2-3)
And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other [the “gathering” of the saints] (Mat 24:31, NKJV)
When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory [the “return” of the saints] (Col 3:4)
These texts suggest a period of rest with Christ for resurrected, immortal believers before they return to earth with Him. Rewards for believers and the Lamb’s marriage come to mind. Believers have first been taken up to be with Christ before they return with Him. Jesus’ words here imply that, at the end of Week 70, those saints who have previously been taken up to meet Him in the air will be gathered together from their dwelling places in heaven to return with Him to earth.
The Key Question
Does the resurrection, the meeting in the clouds, and the return of the saints with Christ all happen in an instant (Postribulation view)? The implication being that the true church experiences all the end-time traumas as God judges the world.
Or do the resurrected saints rest for a while with Christ (as implied in John 14:3) and experience rewards and the marriage of the Lamb (Pretribulation view)? Taking this view, the time with Christ in heaven could correspond to Week 70, some seven years, and believers are raptured around the start of Week 70.