Some believe it will be the ultimate "great escape." And that it could take place at any moment. But what does the Bible say?
MANY AN average person on the street may never have even heard of it until watching religious programs on television or reading the newspaper. The "rapture"? What's that? But large numbers of churchgoers in various religious denominations hear all about it — often. They live in constant expectation of it. "Christ may come tonight and snatch the church away to heaven," the minister assures in revival meetings, in Sunday church services and on television. Such a snatching away or "rapture" of the church, it is claimed, will be the next great prophetic event. And it may take place at any moment. It is generally supposed to happen this way: Strife, crime, evildoing in the world will become increasingly worse. Civilization will plunge headlong toward a time of intense trouble. Suddenly, just before the world arrives at a period of calamity called "the tribulation," we are told, Jesus will return invisibly and snatch away — "rapture" — all "born-again" Christians. Some add all dead Christians — and, some say, all babies and young children. Jesus, we are assured, will take them to heaven, away from world turmoil, for perhaps 3½ or seven years. It will be a sudden, yet secret event. No one will see it happen. Only the effects — empty cars, empty houses, workers missing from their jobs — will be apparent. Some suggest what the newspaper headlines will be the day after: "Millions Mysteriously Vanish!" "Graves Found Open and Empty" "Massive Traffic Snarls Due to Missing Drivers" "All Children Have Disappeared!" They go on to describe how all the people who are left on earth will have to go through 3½ — some say seven — years of terrible trouble and punishment. Then, according to this teaching, Christ will return from heaven once again, bringing all His saints with Him. This time it will not be in secret. The whole world will see it happen. That's the way the "rapture" is usually presented. But is that how Jesus announced He would return? Will He come back in two phases — one, secret and unexpected, for His saints, to snatch them away, and a second, publicly with His saints? What does the Bible really say?
Pinpointing the Time
Make no mistake about it! Jesus did promise to return to this earth to restore the government of God and to bring peace to the world. "I go to prepare a place for you," He said, "and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again [He did not say 'again and again' in two phases; He just said 'again') and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:2-3). Notice it. The resurrected saints go as far as the clouds in the atmosphere to meet Jesus. Jesus will return and when He returns, His followers will be wherever He is. Where will Jesus be? Dashing away to heaven? On earth? Somewhere in between? Isn't it time we opened our Bibles to see what is plainly revealed? Jesus' Second Coming is described in I Thessalonians 4:16-17. Here we find that it is not invisible nor secret. It is announced with great sounds: "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout [this is not something done in secret!], with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God [the voice of an archangel and the blast of a trumpet will be heard!]: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." Here is no secret rapture! The return of Jesus is spoken of again in I Corinthians 15:51-52: "Behold, I shew you a mystery [the mystery is not a quiet rapture as some say it is. Notice!]: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound [here is the same event we have already read about], and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." Here again, Christ's Second Coming to meet His saints will be accompanied by sound — a great sound. Furthermore, it all happens at the "last trump," blown by a mighty angel. When is that last trump or trumpet sounded?
Time Order of Events
It is important at this point to briefly note the order of events leading to Christ's return. We find these events laid out in the book of Revelation — the last book in the Bible. The entire period included in the prophecy is divided into seven segments, each covered by a "seal" (5:1). The first four seals are, in order, false prophets, wars, famines and disease epidemics (6:1-8). The sixth of these seals consists of great signs in the heavens. These heavenly signs come right after the tribulation, which is the fifth seal (see Matthew 24:29). Still no trumpet has sounded. After the heavenly signs comes the prophetic "Day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31). This is the seventh seal. It is the time when God intervenes directly in human affairs. Here is where trumpets — seven of them — finally come into the picture (Revelation 8, 9, 11:15-19). The seventh of these is the "last trump" the apostle Paul referred to in I Corinthians 15:52. It is not sounded, as the book of Revelation shows, until the climax of the day of the Lord, which is the Second Coming of Christ. The trumpets sound after the heavenly signs, which in turn come after the tribulation, not before, as those who believe in a rapture claim. Here is where many have erred. They claim there are two "last" trumps — one "last trump" when Jesus is supposed to return silently and secretly to rapture away His followers, and another "last trump" after the period of tribulation, when Jesus returns visibly to earth with His saints. But this is not what the Bible says! There cannot be two "last trumpets." The last trump is just that: the last trump. There can be only one "last" trump, just as there can be only one last person standing in a line. The "last trump" is described in the Bible in Revelation 11:15: "And the seventh angel sounded [the seventh and last prophetic trumpet mentioned in the Scriptures]: and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever." In no way is this talking about a "secret rapture" where the saints are silently, noiselessly, whisked off to heaven. To the blowing of the last trumpet and great voices, Jesus returns to this earth to conquer and then rule all nations. "Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives [on earth! That is where Jesus will be, and that is where the saints will be also]... and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee [because they have just met Him in the air].... And the Lord shall be king over all the earth..." (Zechariah 14:3-5, 9). Christ's return and the resurrection of the saints mark the beginning of 1,000 years of divine government on this earth some call it the Millennium, a word derived from the Latin for thousand years (Revelation 20:4-7). But somebody is sure to ask about I Thessalonians 5:2, which says "the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night." Does this verse prove Jesus will come secretly? This verse is not speaking of how Christ returns. It is plainly speaking of the day of the Lord when God first intervenes in world affairs by great signs and wonders after the great tribulation and after the heavenly signs (Joel 2:31). The day of God's intervention followed by Christ's return will surprise the world as does a thief in the night. But when these events happen, everyone will know. "Behold, he cometh with clouds: and every eye shall see him..." (Revelation 1:7).
Way of Escape
Matthew 24:29-31 reveals that when the "elect" (defined as true Christians in Colossians 3:12 and other scriptures) are gathered together at the sound of the seventh or last trumpet, the great tribulation and the heavenly signs will already have passed! How can some read right over these verses without understanding them? Does this mean Christians will have to go through the tribulation? Not necessarily! Many will escape (Revelation 3:10). But not by a fictitious "rapture." The Church those who "keep the commandments of God and have the testimony [gospel] of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 12:17) is promised protection. Not up in heaven, though. Rather, it will be a special place on this earth (verses 14 and 16)! But others will have to be purified in the tribulation (Revelation 3:18 and 12:17). The idea of a "rapture" up to heaven is utterly false. It has led and will lead only to disappointment and disillusionment for those who foolishly believe in it. If you would like further information as to what the Bible teaches about this important subject and how you can prepare yourself for the future, read of The Secret Rapture — Fact or Fiction? and The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last!