In our previous lessons, we discussed the differences between the major prophecy interpretation methods, the millennium timing, and dispensations and dominions. I have explained why I believe the Futurist, Premillennial, Dispensational teachings fit in best with a literal, cultural, historical, contextual Bible interpretation method. Within this position, there are 4 different possible timings suggested for the rapture of the church, and that is what we will now start to discuss. But first, we need to define what the “rapture” of the church is!
I believe the next major prophetic event is going to be the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the transformation of living saints into resurrection bodies. This will be followed by a literal “catching away” of those who believe in Jesus, taking them to heaven. This is commonly known as the rapture, from the Latin translation of “caught up” – rapiemur (from rapio). The Greek word is harpazo. Both mean “we are caught up” or “we are taken away”. From Gotquestions:
Question: “What is the rapture of the church?”
Answer: The word rapture does not occur in the Bible. The term comes from a Latin word meaning “a carrying off, a transport, or a snatching away.” The concept of the “carrying off” or the rapture of the church is clearly taught in Scripture.
The rapture of the church is the event in which God “snatches away” all believers from the earth in order to make way for His righteous judgment to be poured out on the earth during the tribulation period. The rapture is described primarily in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50–54. God will resurrect all believers who have died, give them glorified bodies, and take them from the earth, along with all living believers, who will also be given glorified bodies at that time. “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 together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17).
The rapture of the church is a glorious event we should all be longing for. We will finally be free from sin. We will be in God’s presence forever. There is far too much debate over the meaning and scope of the rapture. This is not God’s intent. Rather, the rapture should be a comforting doctrine full of hope; God wants us to “encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
Pretribulation, Midtribulation, Posttribulation, and Prewrath
In the futurist view, there are 4 rapture positions: pretribulation, midtribulation, posttribulation, and prewrath. In Rapture? Which Rapture?, Jack Kelley briefly compares the differences between these rapture positions. I was willing to consider each one of these, not caring which was correct, but just wanting to know which was true. I am fully prepared to die for my faith, so I wasn’t approaching this study from an “escapist mentality” as is sometimes assumed.
I ordered books by the most popular authors from each view, and studied these prayerfully. Each were compelling in their own ways. I ended up taking every passage and verse related to end times prophecy, from Genesis to Revelation, printed them out, and pieced them together in different ways over many months as I read each view.
Basically what it came down to for me were a number of what I call “Special Puzzle Keys”. I knew I was trying to weave together a big picture, that needed to be consistent from Genesis to Revelation. These keys helped me to rule out several views, and piece together several others. I encourage you to do the same, and not just take my word for it! In the meantime I will give a brief overview of each of these views!
The pretribulation rapture position places rapture timing before the start of the 7-year “tribulation” period (the 70th Week of Daniel). This view generally considers the Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls to be the wrath of God. There is a small subset within this view that suggests the Seals are not wrath and occur before the “tribulation” begins.
Because the church is not appointed for wrath (Revelation 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:9), we must be taken away from the Earth before any of the judgments begin. A common teaching within this view is that the rapture is “imminent”, in that it could happen at any moment.
The midtribulation rapture belief places the rapture timing at the Abomination of Desolation event halfway through the 7-year “tribulation” period, right before the beginning of the Great Tribulation. While there is considerable variation within this view, in general, the midtribulation belief stems from equating the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 with the last trump blown at the time of the rapture per 1 Corinthians 15:51-53.
They view the Seals and Trumpets as “tribulation” that the Church is specifically meant to suffer, and places these in the first half of Daniel’s 70th week. The Great Tribulation, or the period of greatest persecution, occurs during the 1260 days of antichrist rule. They believe church will escape the period of what they call “satan’s wrath”, or the period of “great tribulation”, only. During this time period of Great Tribulation, the Bowl judgments will also take place. The midtribulation rapture position defines the Bowls as the wrath we are not appointed to suffer as the church (Revelation 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:9).
The posttribulation rapture position states that the trumpet mentioned in Matthew 24:31 is the “last trump” mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51-53. When the seventh trumpet of the Trumpet Judgments is blown, they believe the Lord will command His angels to gather the Church, the dead in Christ will rise, we will all be transformed, and we will meet Him in the air together. From the air, we will join Jesus in His return to earth in power and glory. The posttribulation view sees the resurrection/rapture and the Second Coming as part of the same event. This view suggests that the Church is meant to undergo tribulation and will not escape any of what is to come on the Earth.
The pre-wrath rapture position is the most variable in its’ rapture timing. This view sees the rapture as occurring at Seal 6, but then places the opening of Seal 6 at either midtribulation or posttribulation. Those who place it posttribulation, suggest that Matthew 24:29 (sun darkened, moon not giving its light) is the same event as Revelation 6:12 (sun darkened, blood red moon), similar to the Posttribulation position. They view the newly raptured Church as pictured in Revelation 7:9-17 between the sixth and seventh seals. This view overlaps the Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls in order to place Seal 6 later in the sequencing of the book of Revelation.
The prewrath view places the rapture of the Church right before the wrath of God, which it defines as only the Bowls (similar to midtribulation). It is variable in when it sees the Bowls being opened, from the time of midtribulation during the Greatest Tribulation, to the Second Coming, or even post-second coming. Some within this view consider the Trumpets to be part of God’s wrath and thus place the timing of their blowing after the rapture. What seems to be most consistent in this view is that it places the rapture at some point in the Great Tribulation (last half of the “tribulation week”).
In considering which rapture timing view is most correct, we need to examine the scriptures for ourselves.
First, passages that promise to spare the saints from wrath:
Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. Revelation 3:10 ESV
“But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:36 ESV
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. Romans 5:9 ESV
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 ESV
For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 ESV
Second, examining the passages talking about our transformation from temporal to eternal:
Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed [allasso], in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. For this corruptible must beclothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal must be clothed with immortality. When this corruptible is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place:
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Death, where is your victory?
Death, where is your sting?
1 Corinthians 15:51-55 ESV
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Philippians 3:20-21 ESV
Third, the passages predicting the “harpazo” of the saints:
Just as man is appointed to die once, and after that to face judgment, so also Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him. Hebrews 9:28 ESV
“She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne” Revelation 12:5 ESV (see HERE for a thorough discussion of the “birth” and rapture connection. )
“Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.” John 14:1-3 ESV (Note how Jesus will receive us unto Himself as you read the next passage)
Two men will be in the field; one will be taken [received] and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken [received] and the other left. Matthew 24:40-41; Mark 13:34-35 ESV (Interestingly, the word used, paralambanetai, is used elsewhere to represent “received” – as in, the ones taken will be received unto the Lamb)
Fourth, passages containing the transformation, catching up, and sparing from wrath:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. [their souls] For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. [their souls will rejoin with an eternal resurrection body] Then we who are still alive 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 ESV) (The trumpet in the Old Testament (shofar) was used to summon for worship or to summon to battle. To believers, this trumpet blast will mean – Come Up Here! To angels, this trumpet blast will mean prepare for battle! This is well described in Revelation 12)
As a pregnant woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pains, so we were before You, Lord. We became pregnant, we writhed in pain; we gave birth to wind. We have won no victories on earth, and the earth’s inhabitants have not fallen. Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust! For you will be covered with the morning dew, and the earth will bring out the departed spirits. Go, my people, enter your rooms and close your doors behind you. Hide for a little while until the wrath has passed. For look, the Lord is coming from His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. The earth will reveal the blood shed on it and will no longer conceal her slain. Isaiah 26:17-21 ESV
Fifth, Other Passages Where People are Harpazo’d:
And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried [harpazo] Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. Acts 8:39 ESV
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up [harpazo] to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up [harpazo] into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 2 Cor 12:2-4 ESV
And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force[harpazo] and bring him into the barracks. Acts 23:10 ESV
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch [harpazo] them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch [harpazo – pluck, seize] them out of the Father’s hand. John 10:28-29 ESV
Prayerfully consider the above scriptures. I truly believe that God has not destined us for wrath, but for salvation. Church age believers will be snatched up into the Day of Christ, while those left behind on earth will continue on into the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord.
We are supposed to encourage one another with the words of our blessed hope – that we will be changed and received (snatched, seized by force, suddenly and without our consent) unto Jesus, to be with Him forever. We will be worthy to escape all these things that are coming upon the earth, through the blood of the Lamb. Yes, the church age is one of trials and tribulations. But I believe that God clearly is not going to pour his time of intense wrath and judgment upon His children.
As far as WHEN?
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 ESV
We will continue to examine the rapture positions more fully in subsequent lessons.
This lesson series is a brief walk through the studies I have undertaken to get to the understanding of End Times prophecy that I have. This isn’t meant to be all-inclusive so I provide links for further learning.
Rapture, Which Rapture? – Grace Thru Faith
How to Interpret the Bible – Grace Thru Faith
How Should We Interpret the Bible. Part 1: Principles for Understanding God’s Word – Answers in Genesis
Why is Sound Doctrine so Important? – Gotquestions
Are you CERTAIN of your Salvation, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Do you KNOW that no matter when the rapture occurs, you will be counted worthy to escape? If not, please read What Must I do to Be Saved.
What I post here is my best understanding from Scripture, but it is a human understanding, and thus will be flawed in some points. I am continually pleading with God for truth and clarity, and will update posts as my understanding improves. I urge you to search the Scripture for yourself to see if these things are so, praying for wisdom and understanding!