“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
We believe that one day the Lord Jesus Christ will return to earth, reunite departed believers with their bodies and call living believers into His presence; we call this the Rapture. This event will take only a moment, quicker than we can blink an eye. With this on the church calendar, it is surprising that Christians today do not feel in any way concerned, nor are they preparing for it. Maybe they believe it is the stuff of science fiction rather than Biblical truth, but the Lord is coming if we are ready or not!
Who will be raptured?
It might come as a shock to many Christians who study the issues of the last days, but Scripture makes it clear that only church-age believers will be taken in the Rapture. The Rapture is not for any believer prior to the Day of Pentecost, for the Church of Christ was established when the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 in the Upper Room (Acts 2:3). The first Baptism with the Holy Ghost signified that the believers were now members of the Body of Christ, the Church. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). The idea that Old Testament believers are not included in the Rapture might not ring true at first glance, but 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 tells us exactly who will be raptured, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: 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.” The phrase “in Christ” reveals who will participate in this event. Therefore, plainly stated, only believers since the Day of Pentecost will be raptured. This makes sense because Jesus is only coming for His Church, His Bride, to escort us to Heaven.
What about Old Testament believers?
Since only church-age believers will be raptured when Jesus returns, what will happen to those who lived prior to the Day of Pentecost? We know that there are two phases to the Second Coming of Christ. The first being what we call the Rapture, and the second being His actual, physical appearance on earth at the end of the seven year period of Antichrist’s dictatorship. It is at this point, as He sets up His Millennial reign, that the Old Testament believers will be resurrected, that is, their spirits reunited with their bodies. “LORD, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them. Like as a woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery, is in pain, and crieth out in her pangs; so have we been in thy sight, O LORD. We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth; neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen. Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” (Isaiah 26:16-19). The prophet Daniel states the same thing about the resurrection being after a time of severe trouble for the Jews, “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:1-3).
We cannot ignore the fact that this resurrection of believers takes place after the worst distress that the Jews have ever experienced. Notice too that Michael will stand up for Daniel’s people, the Jews, at the end of the ages. Thus this event is not the same as the Rapture. If we can put all this into a timeline, it would look like this: The Rapture, Jewish Tribulation at the hands of Antichrist’s regime, the actual Second Coming of Christ, the Resurrection of Old Testament believers, and finally, the establishment of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom.
What happens at the Rapture?
Or more precisely, how long will the Rapture take? “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52). The word used for “moment” in Greek is ‘atomos’ from where we derive the word ‘atom’. The word originally spoke of something that could not be divided. Today we might use the word ‘nanosecond’ to express the quickness or speed of something. The Rapture will happen quicker than that though! Then Paul amplified the thought with the words, “in the twinkling of an eye”. The Greek word for this is ‘rhipe’, and it is used to describe the time it takes for us to blink an eye. Why was this phrase used? Blinking an eye is the fastest thing the human body can do. “I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left” (Luke 17:34-36).
Paul is making the point that the Rapture will happen so fast that it will not be perceived by the human eye, no TV camera will be quick enough to catch it happening. There will be no bodies floating towards the sky for all to see. Believers will be fully aware of what is happening, for they will hear Christ calling them into His presence. The texts we are reading breaks down the event into segments so we can take it in. It is like a super fast film viewed in slow motion, but in reality it will be unobservable to our eyes or any device. Nevertheless, the after effects of the Rapture will traumatise and shock the world until the Antichrist explains it away. The Rapture will change everything though.
One day the Rapture will take place. It might be at some distant date, but it could just as well happen in our lifetime. Are we ready to be caught up when the Lord returns for His own? If we are ready and prepared, then it will not take us by surprise! Let us not be like the foolish church of today, which believes that the Rapture is not coming just yet. “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 24:44).
In our final study on the Rapture we will look at why it is called a mystery.