The Rapture: a Mystery about to Unfold
Christians often point out that the English word “rapture” is not found in the Bible. The word derives from the Latin verb ‘Rapere,’ meaning ‘to snatch’ or ‘take away’, link, and it is used by evangelicals in the context of the return of Christ to this earth (the Second Coming of Christ).
A popular end-time view is that it is the true followers of Christ who are mysteriously “taken away” from the earth, leaving unbelievers to suffer God’s wrath! Not surprisingly, such a radical concept is rarely preached in institutionalised churches, possibly because it is seen as a fringe concept not essential to fundamental beliefs, and that texts sometimes seem ambiguous. Also, undoubtedly, such a mysterious, literally ‘out of this world’ event takes the average believer out of their comfort zone!
On the other hand, the concept of the rapture is commonly accepted in less formal evangelical groups. And for very good reasons. Study of end-time prophecies (eschatology) in, for example, Daniel and Revelation point to times of great trauma in the nations, and extreme persecution and martyrdom of Christians and Jews. And New Testament texts speak promises to today’s true believers aka the true end-time church (as opposed to the false end-time church). So many of those who trust their lives to Jesus today seek refuge and hope in the mystery of the rapture. It provides a hope of miraculous, ‘out of this world’ deliverance from coming end-time tribulations. But is this justified, or is it wishful thinking?
Week 70: A Prophetic Key to Unlock the Mystery
Daniel’s prophecy in chapter 9 sets the context of the mysterious rapture. It is logical to adopt prophetic interpretations that agree closely with reality i.e. with what we observe in the world today. In this respect, the Futurist view of Bible prophecy appears particularly relevant and so we adopt that here. This view sees Christ’s return as tied to what happens to Israel at the end of the age. Here’s Daniel’s key prophecy:
Seventy weeks [1 week = seven 360-day years] have been decreed for your people [Israel] and your holy city [Jerusalem], to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place (Dan 9:24, annotated)
Futurists see the 70th week as still future, and so this week is of particular significance here. After all, if Week 70 elapsed around the time of Christ (Historicist view) there is no framework within which to fit many end-time prophecies, such as Jer 30:4-7; Dan 7:23-28; Dan 11:21-45; Dan 12:11-12; Mat 24; 2 Thes 2:3-4; Rev 7:3-8; Rev 12:6 and Rev 13.
Furthermore, Futurists assume that, at the end of Week 70, Jesus returns to earth to establish Himself as “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev 19:11-21). According to Daniel’s prophecy He comes to “bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up the vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place”. Christ reigns from Jerusalem as “King over all the earth” (Zechariah 14:8-9) and this so-called “Kingdom Age” lasts for 1,000 years (Rev 20:4-6). So now we ask: “What happens during and at the start of Week 70?
Why are Believers “Taken”?
The answer lies in what takes place during Week 70. The book of Revelation clearly states that the last seven years of this age (Week 70) will be traumatic as God judges a rebellious, godless world that worships Satan (Rev 13:4). The detail is described in the Seal, Trumpet and Bowl judgements (Revelation 6-16). There will be cosmic terrors (asteroid impact), widespread water pollution, famine, demonic activity, plagues, global war, crushing world government, extreme heat (from the sun), extreme hail, and great earthquakes. Jesus likened this awful time to a “snare” (like a trap or a noose):
For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man (Luke 21:35-36, emphasis added)
Clearly it would be traumatic to be on earth at this time! But in Luke 21 is Jesus offering hope to the believer? Hope of escape? After all, the Bible says believers are not destined for God’s wrath (1 Thes 5:9).
The PreTribulation Rapture
A common Futurist view is that the true church – the Philadelphia-type church that Jesus loves in Revelation 3 – will simply not be on earth at the start of week 70. As in Luke 21, it seems Jesus promises to deliver this relatively small group of faithful believers from the horrors soon to come upon a rebellious, godless world:
Because you have kept My word of perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of the testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who live on the earth. (Revelation 3:10)
The term “will keep” means “to guard (from loss or injury)” [Strong’s G5083]. So here the risen Jesus is promising the faithful end-time churches like the ancient Philadelphia church that He will protect them when the world’s hour of trial comes. So many who have trusted their lives to Jesus see an assurance (or at least a ‘hope’) of miraculous protection from the end-time traumas. They may well not see the tribulation that happens during Week 70. Instead, they will be with Christ! They will have been “snatched up” from the earth and “taken away”, rather like Noah was taken away from a rebellious earth.
The Pretribulation View: Revelation 3:10 gives strong scriptural justification for placing the rapture at or near the start of Week 70, before earth’s “hour of testing”. The prophecy in Daniel 9:27 also supports this view. Here, the beast or “lawless one” (2 Thes 2:8) or world dictator signs a seven year (one “prophetic week”) covenant with Israel. This is Week 70. But Israel’s rulers fail to see they are making a “covenant with Hell” (Isa 28:15), and the dictator breaks it “in the middle of the week” (Dan 9:27). Clearly, at some point just prior to the signing this despicable person must be revealed to the world. But many believe that this revealing cannot happen until the Holy Spirit (and by implication the true church) has been “taken out of the way”:
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He [often taken to be the Holy Spirit] who now restrains will do so until He is removed [out of the way]. And then the lawless one [the beast of Rev 13:1] will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming (2 Thes 2:7-8, amplified)
Here, God’s restraining power over evil is suddenly removed, permitting the identity of “the lawless one” to be revealed and a seven-year treaty to be signed with Israel. Clearly, if the church experiences the appearance of “the lawless one” and the signing of the seven-year treaty with Israel, then she will know that Christ returns to earth seven years from that time. But the day or hour of Christ’s return to earth is not revealed (Matthew 24:36,44).
Concluding, it appears that the true church is removed at the start of Week 70, and this view is also supported by considering earthly life before Week 70.
Life Before the Rapture
Normality: It seems that up to the end of the so-called “Church age”, or “Age of grace”, believers will still be able to meet (as in church groups) and preach the gospel (albeit with increasing persecution, Matthew 24:9-14). And whilst there will be a falling away from faith (2 Thes 2:3), some believers will still be “watching” the signs (Luke 21:34-36) whilst other believers, like foolish virgins (Matthew 25:8-13), will be ignoring the signs.
When it comes to work, Matthew 24:36-41 and Luke 17:26-37 imply that believers are working within a normal social environment alongside unbelievers up to the instant when they are suddenly “taken”. As Jesus puts it, life in the world will be like Noah’s day, with pleasure seeking, marrying, buying and selling, building and so on. And, as in Noah’s day, people today will be oblivious to, or skeptical of, the impending judgement of God.
Personal ID: Here is some comfort to believers. Note that in today’s hi-tech world each worker usually has an ID on some computer system. In China an 18 digit ID card is mandatory for all adults. If you work in Germany you need an 11 digit tax identification number (TIN). In Australia worker ID is via a person’s Tax File Number (TFN), and in the UK its via the National Insurance number and Government Gateway. In the last few years of this age no one will not be able to work without the ultimate ID – the mark of Revelation 13:17. But in Jesus example of Noah and workers in the field or at the mill, there is no suggestion of such a working restriction.
It is a Supernatural Event
When referring to His return, Jesus said:
For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. At that time there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left (Mat 24:37-41, emphasis added)
It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, and they were building; but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed (Luke 17:28-30)
The discourses in Matthew and Luke are perhaps the clearest and most direct reference to the sudden separation of living believers from unbelievers. Sadly, as mentioned, many Christians find this supernatural concept too hard to contemplate; it takes them out of their comfort zone! But is it any different to the supernatural concept of the God of all creation being found in the form of a baby in Bethlehem? Or the spectacle of the risen Christ rising into the clouds in full view of His disciples?
By referring to the days of Noah and Lot, Jesus implies that it is the believers who are “taken” out of a godless world, just as Noah and Lot were “taken” out of godless societies. In both cases God’s people are taken prior to God’s judgement on unbelievers. Here, the Greek word for ‘taken’ is ‘paralambano’, which means ‘to take into close association with oneself’, in a loving positive sense. The Greek word for ‘left’ is ‘aphiemi’ and means ‘to leave, forsake, omit or lay aside’.
So just as Noah was taken out of the world before the judgement of the Flood, and Lot was removed from Sodom before its destruction, so it seems the true church at that time will be taken to be with Christ. The preacher John Wesley summed it up like this:
One is taken into God’s immediate protection: and one is left to share the common calamities
The Harvest: Instantaneous Rapture and Immortality
Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle … So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped (Rev 14:14,16)
This is a vision of Christ reaping the good harvest of the earth – from a cloud. Believers are separated from those who are about to suffer the wrath of God (Rev 14:19) and taken to meet Christ in the clouds:
For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel and with the [blast of the] trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain [on the earth] will simultaneously be caught up (raptured) together with them [the resurrected ones] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord! (1 Thes 4:16-17, AMP)
It all happens instantaneously, and unexpectedly (Matthew 24:44):
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. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (1 Cor 15:51-53)
This supernatural event corresponds to the first resurrection, when those raptured take on immortality. It seems the so-called Church age suddenly ends; the door that leads to salvation in this age suddenly “shuts” (Matthew 25:10, Luke 13:25). In Christ’s parable, those who have heard the Gospel but have not responded (the unwise virgins) lose out and don’t go on to “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).
Other New Testament Scriptures
The concept of a “taking way” of believers can also be seen in the following scriptures:
In My Father’s house are many mansions … I go to prepare a place for you … and I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also [the “taking” of the saints] (John 14:2-3)
And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other [the “gathering” of the saints] (Mat 24:31, NKJV)
When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory [the “return” of the saints] (Col 3:4)
These texts suggest a period of rest with Christ for resurrected, immortal believers before they return to earth with Him. Rewards for believers and the Lamb’s marriage come to mind. Believers have first been taken up to be with Christ before they return with Him. Jesus’ words here imply that, at the end of Week 70, those saints who have previously been taken up to meet Him in the air will be gathered together from their dwelling places in heaven to return with Him to earth.