Rapture and Tribulation

Sunset Over City

Then 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” (Matthew 24:40-41).

The “rapture” is a popular doctrine among “Christian” denominations. The common doctrine of the “rapture” in the religious world is rooted in the theory of Premillennialism – the idea that we are awaiting the return of Christ in which He will come back to earth and establish His kingdom. However, we are not waiting for a future kingdom; Christ is reigning now (Acts 2:29-36). His kingdom (church) was established on the day of Pentecost (Mark 9:1; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4, 47; Colossians 1:13).

There are different variations of the theory of Premillennialism and the “rapture.” We will discuss those in a moment. But all of them have the “rapture” occurring before the millennium. In other words, many “Christian” denominations believe and teach that Christians will be caught up sometime before the reign of Christ on earth.

This is all based upon some fanciful interpretations of Matthew 24. People often try to fit current events into Jesus’ discourse, even though that was not at all what He was discussing. Yet people will point to “wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6), “famines and earthquakes” (Matthew 24:7), “a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” (Matthew 24:21), and the existence of “false Christs and false prophets [who] will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). Religious people will take passages like these and apply them to all sorts of current events and various religious and political leaders.

However, Jesus was primarily discussing the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:2-3). Yet the proponents of Premillennialism believe that these events are yet to come, or are unfolding before us, and claim that Jesus was talking about their version of the “rapture” when He described one person being taken and another left (Matthew 24:40-41). Then, they claim that the Lord will return with these ones who were taken and establish His kingdom on the earth and reign with these individuals.

Yet as we will see, the “rapture” in which Christians are caught up and taken to heaven will occur when the Lord returns and from that point forward, the faithful will forever be with the Lord.

Different Theories Regarding Tribulation and the “Rapture”

For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:21-22).

While many in the religious world believe in the concept of the “rapture” as we have just discussed, there are variations on the theory as it relates to tribulation. The “tribulation” refers to the period of intense hardship and turmoil immediately before the return of Christ.

There are three variations within the theory of Premillennialism regarding how this “tribulation” fits in with the “rapture”:

  • Pre-tribulation Premillennialism – Most in the religious world believe in this variation of the theory of Premillennialism. As they believe the period of tribulation will occur before the reign of Christ, they place the “rapture” before the tribulation.
  • Mid-tribulation Premillennialism – This variation has the “rapture” occurring during the tribulation, which means the faithful will have to endure part of the tribulation before being caught up.
  • Post-tribulation Premillennialism – This variation has the “rapture” occurring after the period of tribulation.

Again, all of these variations have the “rapture” occurring before the millennium (reign of Christ).

The problem with all of these variations is that they combine two events into one. They take the tribulation that was to occur surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Matthew 24:4-35) and the faithful being “caught up” when the Lord returns at the end (1 Thessalonians 4:17; Matthew 24:36-51) and merge them together into one series of events. Yet the visible signs that Jesus described that would signal the tribulation that would come when Jerusalem was destroyed would not exist when the final judgment and the end of the world would come (Matthew 24:36-39).

What the Bible Teaches About “Rapture”

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Though the word “rapture” is not used in the Bible, the term is derived from a word that is. We need to understand the “rapture” in a way that is in harmony with the Bible, not the way that the religious world generally uses the term.

The concept of the “rapture” begins with Paul’s letter to Thessalonica in which he described the faithful as being “caught up” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). This Greek word (harpazo) means “to seize, carry off by force” or “to snatch…away” (Thayer). The Latin Vulgate translation uses the word rapiemur, which is from the verb rapio, meaning “to catch up” or “take away.” The etymology of the term is that rapture is a Middle French word derived from raptura, a Medieval Latin word from the Latin word raptus (a carrying off). Other times this Greek word is used in the New Testament it is used to describe taking by force (Matthew 11:12; John 6:15; Acts 23:10), to catch or catch away (Matthew 13:19; John 10:12; Acts 8:39), or being caught up (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4). Therefore, to be “raptured” means to be caught up. We look forward to this as Christians (1 Thessalonians 4:14, 17).

Understanding what the term “rapture” means, what does the Bible say about this “rapture”? Christians will be “raptured” in the sense that they will be taken up with Christ. We will be “caught up…to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). When this happens, we will not be with the Lord temporarily; instead, we will “always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). When the Lord returns, He will be coming “with His mighty angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:7), not with Christians.

When the Lord comes back from heaven, Paul said at that point “the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Therefore, it will be at the resurrection when those who are “alive and remain will be caught up” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Christians will not be leaving the world that will then continue without us. Rather, when we are taken from the earth to be with Christ, the world itself will be destroyed (2 Peter 3:10, 12).

So while there will be a “rapture” someday, it will not be like most envision it. We need to be careful about using the term, lest we give others the wrong impression about what will happen in the end. On the other hand, we should not go so far as to say there will not be a “rapture” (being caught up to be with Christ). It all depends on how we define our terms. In discussions with others, we may not want to say there will be no “rapture”; instead, we can say that the “rapture” will not be how most people think it will be.

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