Bible Prophecy in Chronology series (post #3)
When it comes to God’s prophetic schedule, the next event due up is the Rapture. You won’t find the word “Rapture” anywhere in our English translations of the Bible, but the best passage on the subject is 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18. In these verses, the apostle Paul makes a promise to the Christians of Thessalonica, and it’s a promise that extends to all Christians. He writes:
But I do not want you to be ignorant (uninformed), brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep (died), lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if (because) we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus (died as Christians). 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 (dead). 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.
The Greek word that is translated as “caught up” in this passage is harpazo, and it means: to catch, to force, to pluck, to pull, to seize, to take, or to snatch. My favorite description of the Rapture is “the great snatch.” As for the actual word “Rapture,” before the New Testament was translated into English it was translated into Latin, and the Latin translation of harpazo is rapere. From the Latin rapere we get the English rapture.
The sequential order for the Rapture is laid out very clearly in scripture. It goes as follows:
- Jesus descends from heaven and into “the clouds.”
- The deceased bodies of all the Christians who have died from the beginning of the church age (the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:1-47) until the moment of the Rapture are resurrected, glorified, and snatched up to meet Jesus in the air. There they will be reunited with the souls that once inhabited them, Jesus having brought those souls with Him from heaven.
- The Christians who are alive on the earth at the time will be caught up to meet Jesus in the air. Even though their bodies will have no need of resurrection, the bodies will be transformed into glorified ones just like the resurrected, glorified bodies of the deceased Christians. Likewise, since the souls of the living Christians will still be inside their bodies, there won’t be any need for those bodies to be reunited with the souls that once inhabited them.
- All Christians, now in glorified bodies that are fit for eternity, will return to heaven with Jesus and will never again be separated from Him.
Now, the vital thing to understand about the Rapture is that it is not the same thing as Christ’s second coming. They are two completely different events. At the Rapture, Jesus comes only to earth’s sky; at the second coming, His feet literally touch down upon the earth. At the Rapture, Christians are snatched up to be with Jesus; at the second coming, Christians come back down to earth with Him. At the Rapture, Jesus comes with salvation; at the second coming, He comes with judgment. At the Rapture, the world won’t really know what just happened; at the second coming, every eye will see Him as He is.
“But why,” you ask, “won’t the world know what just happened at the Rapture?” It’s because the entire Rapture will play out in less than one second! The New Testament’s other classic Rapture passage is 1 Corinthians 15:51-53. In these verses, Paul writes to the Christians of Corinth:
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep (die), 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 immortality.
The Greek word that is translated in this passage as “moment” is atomos. As you can see, it’s the Greek word from which we get our English word “atom.” This means that the Rapture will play out in an atom of time. That’s why Paul can say that it will be over and done with “in the twinkling of an eye.” You see, Paul is describing an event that will strike so unexpectedly and be over with so instantaneously that the world’s population won’t know what hit it. Christians will literally be here one second and gone the next. For this reason, the Rapture is sometimes called “the secret Rapture.”
If you think I’m exaggerating the miraculous rapidity of the Rapture, let me point you to the story found in Acts 8:26-40. I won’t retell the whole story, but it’s the story of Philip baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch. What we need to focus upon is what happens immediately after Philip baptizes the eunuch. Verses 39 and 40 say:
Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.
Wow. Did you catch what just happened there? As soon as Philip and the eunuch came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit “caught Philip away.” Guess which Greek word is used there for “caught away.” You got it, it’s our word harpazo, the same word that is used for the Rapture. Therefore, we might say that Philip was raptured sideways to Azotus, which was located some twenty miles north of where Philip and the eunuch were. As for how Philip left the eunuch, the passage merely says: “the eunuch saw him no more.” Do you know what you call that? You call it being unexpectedly snatched in an atom of time and being suddenly caught away in the twinkling of an eye.
Alright, now that we have a good understanding of what the Rapture is and how it works, I want to close this post by answering some commonly asked questions about the Rapture. Since the number seven signifies completion in scripture, I’ll go with seven of these.
- Do the bodies of the Old Testament believers get resurrected and glorified at the Rapture? No. Those bodies get resurrected and glorified at Christ’s Second Coming, not the Rapture (Job 19:25-27, Daniel 12:1-3).
- If Jesus descends from heaven “with a shout,” “with the voice of an archangel,” and with “the trumpet of God,” how will earth’s inhabitants not hear all that? Evidently they will hear something in that split second, but everything will happen so quickly that they won’t have time to mentally process what they hear.
- Will Christians literally just vanish off the face of the earth? Yes. Illustrations about cars crashing as they suddenly lose their drivers or planes crashing because they lose their pilots really aren’t far-fetched. Such things could happen.
- Will children under the so-called “age of accountability” be taken in the Rapture? I believe they will. Just as I believe that the souls of children that are miscarried, aborted, or die very young go to heaven (2 Samuel 12:22-23, Jonah 4:11), I believe that children under the age of accountability at the time of the Rapture will be taken in the Rapture.
- How will God be able to resurrect and glorify Christian bodies that have either long ago turned to dust or experienced some kind of dismemberment (lost a leg in a war, lost a finger in an accident, got blown up in an explosion, got eaten by a shark, etc.)? All I know is that the God who created Adam out of the dust of the ground and Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs can handle any procedure involving the human body. No Christian will be forced to spend eternity in a body that is in any way lacking.
- What appearance of age will the Christian bodies have after resurrection and glorification? It’s impossible to answer this question with certainty because the Bible simply doesn’t tell us. There is some speculation that since Jesus was 33 when His body was resurrected and glorified this is the appearance of age that every Christian body will have in eternity. While this idea makes some sense, it’s mere speculation. All we can say for sure is that a glorified body will be perfect, pristine, and eternally awesome. Surely children will be “grown up” in eternity and the elderly will be “young” again.
- Will graveyards, cemeteries, and mausoleums be disrupted by the Rapture? When we think about the aftereffects of the Rapture, the natural inclination is to envision graves blown out from the inside, mausoleums with the roofs torn off them, and church cemeteries that look like fields of open pits. However, we need to remember that Christ’s resurrection didn’t alter His tomb in any way. Yes, the circular stone that served as the entrance to it was rolled away by an angel, but that was to let eyewitnesses in, not to let Jesus out. Jesus, in His resurrected, glorified body must have simply passed straight through the rock of that cave. So, if His glorified body could do that, I suppose we should assume that every glorified body can.