This article considers details revealed in scripture of the event often referred to as the Rapture. It is the sudden removal of God’s people from earth to heaven.1 We will see that the Rapture is also associated with resurrection and the two truths are often seen together. We will concentrate on the event itself more than its timing, which will be dealt with in more detail in a future article seeking to establish the case for the so-called pre-tribulation rapture.
As Paul indicates, this event is ‘a mystery’, that is, something not previously revealed, and it is important to move in chronological order from the Lord’s teaching and Paul’s earlier letters to the Thessalonians.2 It is very significant that most of the earliest references to the Rapture are found in the Lord’s teaching recorded in John’s Gospel. It is very distinct from the other Gospels with much of its content, including six of the eight miraculous signs, not recorded elsewhere. Its extensive coverage of the Upper Room discourse and omission of the Sermon on the Mount and Olivet discourse also distinguish it. The eight signs involve five in Galilee, an area with Gentile association, which result in adulation and three in the area of Jerusalem which result in opposition. These three involve a man impotent for 38 years, a blind man, and a decomposing corpse. These clearly depict a Jewish nation which in early days wandered impotently for 38 years in the wilderness and, after centuries of disobedience, were now spiritually blind and dead. The Upper Room ministry in chapters 13-17 outlines the beginning of much New Testament church truth, including the indwelling of the Spirit, the unity of His people, love for one another, being in Christ, hatred from the world, and the believer’s eventual removal from this earth. This, along with the location of the ‘upper room’, separate from the Jews, as with the similar circumstances after the resurrection, and the subsequent removal to the seashore at Galilee, all paint a picture of the embryonic New Testament church separate from Judaism. In the other Gospels, the Lord speaks to the same disciples about His return to earth and the end times, but in John we will see He speaks instead of taking them to heaven.
John chapter 7 verses 33-34 Here, talking to the Jews, the Lord tells them He is going to His Father and they cannot come. This will be referred to again in John chapter 13.
John chapter 10 verses 16 and 27 In His teaching re the Good Shepherd the Lord tells the Jews of ‘another flock’ and that they will ‘hear His voice’. In between, He speaks of His resurrection.
John chapter 11 This is no doubt the climax of the Lord’s public ministry. This seventh sign mirrors the first one. In Cana of Galilee, at the behest of His mother and for the benefit of a bride, He accelerated nature by turning water into wine. At Bethany, at the behest and for the benefit of two more women, Mary and Martha, He now reverses the effect of nature by raising and restoring a decomposing corpse. This goes further than His two previous resurrections where the dead were either on their deathbed or on the way to burial; here it is an out resurrection from among the buried dead. Throughout this chapter the first inkling is given of new truth to be further revealed in the New Testament letters. In verses 11-14, ‘sleep’ is three times referred to in relation to Lazarus, although the Lord also makes it clear he was ‘dead’. Sleep, of course, is temporary and always subject to imminent awakening; it is used specifically of dead saints. In verses 20-27 the Lord has a discourse on resurrection with Martha. It is evident she knew of ‘the resurrection of the last day’, Dan. 12. But the Lord now reveals new truth. He declares that He is the ‘resurrection and the life’, and, when He ‘comes’, not only ‘he that believeth in me, though he were dead, (like Lazarus) yet shall he live’ but also the prospect is raised that ‘whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die’. Here is surely not only a reference to spiritual life but the first direct revelation of the possibility of an event where some are raised from the dead and others removed from its potential grasp. This is the Rapture. The Lord then goes on to demonstrate this imminent out resurrection by specifically calling with a loud voice, or shout, for Lazarus to ‘come forth’ from among the dead, to which he immediately responds. Notice also throughout the chapter how often Jesus is referred to as ‘coming’ or ‘he came’, thus emphasizing that this passage illustrates His future coming.3
John chapter 13 verses 33-36 Here, the Lord refers to John chapter 7 above and informs the disciples that they also cannot go with Him now, but unlike the Jews they will follow the Lord where He is going afterwards.
John chapter 14 verses 1-3 The Lord immediately follows this with the first explicit reference to the Rapture as the answer to distress with the prospect of the Lord coming not to reign on earth, but to remove His own to His Father’s house and His presence.
John chapter 17 verse 24 This verse concludes the Upper Room ministry by confirming the promise made at its beginning, above. In His final request to His Father the Lord Jesus declares His desire that all who will subsequently believe on Him ‘be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory’. Again, this indicates a scene in heaven not on earth.
John chapter 21 verse 22 Here, the Lord allows for the possibility that the writer of the Gospel could live until the Lord’s coming, thus indicating an imminent event.
Now, having seen the ‘seed plot’ for the Rapture in John’s Gospel, the details can be found in the Epistles of Paul.
First Thessalonians This is one of the earliest New Testament letters. It is written to a young church of relatively new converts and repeatedly refers to the Lord’s coming to encourage them.4 In chapter 4 verses 13-18, Paul deals with their concern that some of their company had died and may, in some way, miss out as a result. This is the prime passage on the Rapture and builds upon John chapter 11. For example, the dead saints, like Lazarus, are three times described as ‘asleep’ or those who ‘sleep in Jesus’ and once called the ‘dead in Christ’. As indicated in John chapter 11, the Lord’s coming not only raises the dead but removes His living saints without death. The Lord descends from heaven but only to the air, not to the earth. The saints are then taken to His place rather than He coming to theirs.5 The ‘shout’ causes ‘the dead in Christ to rise first’, just as the ‘loud voice’ raised Lazarus. The Archangel is rarely found in scripture, but where he is it is in relation to spiritual warfare in the aerial heavens (contending for Moses’ body, Jude 9, and assisting Gabriel, Dan. 10. 13). How fitting, then, that the archangelic voice of the Lord clears the way for His people to ‘meet the Lord in the air’. Satan is described as the ‘prince of the power of the air’ but the Lord tells us concerning His church, ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’. The third aspect, ‘the trump of God’, is the call home and corresponds to ‘so shall we ever be with the Lord’. Well might this truth cause us to ‘comfort one another with these words’!
2 Thessalonians chapter 2 verses 1-12 This also concerns the Rapture but more specifically deals with its timing so will be considered in the next article.
1 Corinthians chapter 15 This is primarily about the subject of resurrection but, as already noted, this truth is often combined with the Rapture. In verses 20-28 the apostle outlines a sequence of events involving: Christ’s own resurrection; His ‘coming’; the raising of those that sleep; Christ reigning; putting an end to death; and establishing God’s eternal state. In verses 35-50, Paul establishes the truth that we will need changed bodies for heaven and, in verses 51-58, He reveals the previously hidden ‘mystery’ of how we will get these new bodies. Some will get them by resurrection but ‘we shall not all sleep’, so how will the living be fitted for heaven?6 Well says Paul, ‘we shall all be changed’. This will take place ‘in a moment’ and its timing will be ‘at the last trump’, no doubt the ‘trump of God’, 1 Thess. 4. 16.
We have already seen that the Rapture is a truth to counter distress and bring comfort. Paul concludes here by reminding us that the truth of the Rapture should also cause us to ‘be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord’. The ‘twinkling of an eye’ is also mentioned, 1 Cor. 15. 52, and perhaps more light is cast on this by other passages. Paul tells us these changed bodies will be ‘like unto His glorious body’, Phil. 3. 20-21, and John confirms ‘we shall be like him’, adding, ‘for we shall see him as he is’, 1 John 3. 2. The Lord will appear, in the twinkling of our eye we will ‘behold his face in righteousness’, ‘see him as he is’, and be transformed into His likeness. God willing, this will be considered in a future article.
As indicated particularly by the Lord Jesus in John’s Gospel and in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians and First Corinthians.
1 Cor. 15. 51.
This event is followed by a scene in chapter 12, where Lazarus sits at supper with the Lord. The parallel passages in Matthew and Mark suggest that Simon the Leper, no doubt cured of leprosy, is also present. So we see the Lord sharing His presence with one who slept and one who was changed.
See 1. 10; 2. 19; 3. 13; and 5. 23.
As with John chapters 14 and 17. Notice also the Lord’s threefold call and the threefold response in verses 16 and 17.
As revealed in John chapter 11 and 1 Thessalonians chapter 4.