"Rapture" is a term used by Christians to explain an event described by the Apostle Paul who wrote: "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, emphasis added).
The Greek term meaning "caught up" is harpazo, which means to seize suddenly or snatch. In Latin the word is rapio, which means to seize and carry away; it is from this Latin word that the term "rapture" comes.
Paul teaches that Christ will come at some future point in time for those who belong to Him. Those who are the "dead in Christ" will experience their resurrection first and be gifted with glorified bodies when He comes. Those believers in Christ who are alive at that time will then be instantly transformed from their earthly state to their eternal state, and will not experience death. Instead, they will be caught up to be with all those who have previously gone on to be with the Lord and be transferred to heaven. Paul speaks about this generation of believers who will not taste death when he says, "Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51).
There is no debate among Bible scholars as to whether there will be a rapture, but much discussion has occurred over when the rapture will occur. There have been five main theories put forward as to the timing of the rapture and they all surround what is known in prophetic biblical teaching as the "tribulation" period, which is mentioned by Christ in Matthew 24 and described in great detail in Revelation 4—19. The five hypotheses are:
1. Post-tribulation – believers are raptured at the end of the tribulation period, when Christ returns in judgment (cf. Revelation 19).
2. Pre-wrath – believers are caught up somewhere between the sixth and seventh seals described in Revelation.
3. Mid-tribulation – living believers are taken in the middle of the tribulation period.
4. Partial rapture – only faithful believers are taken to be with Christ at the beginning of the tribulation, with unfaithful Christians being left to endure it.
5. Pre-tribulation – believers are caught up to be with Christ before the tribulation begins.
It should be understood that sincere and learned believers can be found holding to each one of these theories. However, we at CompellingTruth.org believe that when Scripture is examined as a whole, the pre-tribulation rapture position appears to have the most biblical evidence in its favor. You can read more about that in our article entitled "Is pretribulationism right? Will the church be raptured before the tribulation?"
The pre-tribulation view states that, at present, all believers are living in the Church age, which has no specified time period given to it in Scripture. At some point in the future, Christ will return for His Bride, the Church, and evacuate believers from earth before the start of a seven-year period in which God will pour out His wrath on an unbelieving world. The tribulation will climax with the bodily return of Christ, after which He will establish a perfect reign that lasts 1,000 years. Once that reign has concluded and one final rebellion crushed, God creates a new heaven and earth and the eternal state begins.
There is no debate of whether or not a rapture will occur; the Bible is clear on that question. As to when the rapture will take place, no one knows the exact timing of the event. Jesus confirms this in Luke when He says, "You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Luke 12:40).
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