What Is the Rapture – and When Will It Be?

The Rapture was pushed to the forefront earlier this year when Harold Camping falsely predicted that it would occur on May 21, 2011.  Amidst all of the hubbub over the false prophecy, the question is still asked: what is the Rapture?

You won’t find the word “rapture” in any of your English Bibles.  We actually get the word from the Latin translation of the New Testament, when a form of it appeared in 1 Thess 4:17.  That verse reads, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…” (NKJV).  When the phrase “caught up” was translated from Greek into Latin, it appeared as “rapiemur” – which evolved into our modern word: rapture.  So, the word comes from the Latin, and means to be “caught up.”

…but, what does that mean?

Beginning around verse 13 of 1 Thess 4, Paul begins to address a concern that some of the Thessalonians had regarding their brothers and sisters in the faith who had died before Jesus returned.  Paul reminded his readers that they will see their loved ones again with “the coming of the Lord” (vs. 15).  Regarding the coming of the Lord, Paul told his readers that there is an order of events on that day.  First, the faithful dead will rise from the dead (the resurrection).  Then, those who are still living at that moment will immediately be “caught up” – or “raptured” to meet the Lord in the air.

In my opinion there is really only one other passage that indisputably describes the same event: 1 Cor. 15:51-52.  The same author (Paul) writes: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, 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.”

Again, Paul describes two groups of people: the faithful who had died, and the faithful living.  Paul also gives us the same order of events; the dead rise first, and then those who are “not asleep” (alive) are changed.  Paul doesn’t actually mention being raptured, but he gives us some additional detail that we did not have in the Thessalonian passage: the living are permanently changed.

By combining the data in these two passages we can know that when the Lord returns those who have died faithfully will rise first (the resurrection).  Then, those who are alive and faithful will be changed and caught up in the air to meet the Lord and the other faithful.

There are some who try to spiritualize these passages – that is, they see them as being figuratively fulfilled.  I find no reasonable merit to their arguments.  In my opinion, the language employed by Paul suggests that the Rapture will be a literal event that will occur in space and time.   Obviously it is an event that has not yet occurred.  The Church still waits for its fulfillment.

So, when will the Rapture occur?  (Don’t worry; I won’t go Harold-Camping on you!)  I believe the Bible gives us a clue …

In John 6 Jesus is interacting with the Jews.  Four times in His discourse He makes reference to raising up – or resurrecting – His faithful on “the last day.”  This is found in John 6:39, 40, 44 & 54.

If we combine the information from Paul’s passages, and the statements from Jesus, we can tell that the resurrection will occur on “the last day.”  Since the resurrection happens just before the Rapture, we can reasonably deduce that the Rapture will occur on “the last day.”

So, the Rapture is the living faithful being caught up with the Lord on the last day.  When is the last day? Well, it is the day following the next-to-last-day, of course…





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