Recently, I have been accused of heresy because I believe Scripture teaches the rapture of believers will take place at the end of the Tribulation. Normally, I let these kinds of things go but that’s a serious charge and never one to be made lightly. Since I stand on the words of Christ alone in Matthew 24, I’m compelled to offer a response because it is ultimately an attack on Christ. I hope to do so in humility.
In the past, a question I have asked those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture is this:
In 1 Corinthians 15, is Paul teaching about the resurrection or the rapture?
I have a couple of very good reasons for asking this question in this way. One reason is because I like for people to discover answers for themselves. It’s how we learn and it’s our responsibility to study the Word for ourselves [Acts 17:11]. The other reason is because Paul is teaching about both. They are part of the same event. No matter what answer person gives they are correct. If they say “resurrection” you can also point out the rapture. If they do find the rapture you can also show them the entire chapter teaches about the resurrection. They will hopefully come to realize that the resurrection and the rapture are not two events independent of each other. I will explain below.
I would like to rephrase the above question, slightly, to this:
Can you find the rapture in 1 Corinthians 15?
(If you want to take a few moments and read through the chapter now, please do.)
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is teaching about the resurrection of Christ and all believers.
Near the end of the chapter, in verses 51-52, he says this:
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will 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 imperishable, and we will be changed. [1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NASB]
Paul says we will all be changed, as in resurrected, and some of us will be alive when it happens. This is why he says “we will not all sleep”. This is the rapture or, as Scripture better describes it, the gathering of those who will be alive at the time of Christ’s return to Him.
Let’s break it down a little.
In verses 51-52, Paul is describing the rapture – the gathering – within the context of the resurrection of believers which he has just spent the whole chapter teaching. So, Paul is teaching about the rapture within the context of the resurrection. Since we know there is only one resurrection of believers and that it takes place at the end of the Tribulation [Revelation 20:4-6], then so does the rapture since it is a part of the resurrection – the part for those who will be alive.
The gathering of the believers to Christ
Thank you to all of the people who have reminded me that the word “rapture” is nowhere to be found in Scripture because the best way to illustrate the above is to call the rapture what Scripture calls it – the gathering. In getting at the truth, it is of great benefit for us to do so.
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, [2 Thessalonians 2:1 NASB]
Considering this, let’s think through these questions.
Why is it called a gathering?
This implies there will be believers who will need to be gathered.
Who is Christ gathering?
In order to know this, we must first establish that Scripture says those who are dead in Christ are already with Him.
And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” [Luke 23:43 NASB]
we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. [2 Corinthians 5:8 NASB]
But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; [Philippians 1:23 NASB]
In fact, this is what Paul is reassuring the Thessalonians about.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NASB]
See also John 17:24 & Acts 7:55-59
Does Christ need to gather those who are already with Him?
No. So, it stands to reason that the only believers who will not be with Him are those who will be alive at the time of His coming.
So, who’s the gathering for?
The gathering is for those who will be alive at the time of His coming because they will not be with Him.
Inversely, those who will not be with Him are those who will be alive at the time of His Coming.
So, indeed, it is properly called the gathering. When we give it a different name, some of us are inclined to think of it as a different event.
A biblical definition for the gathering (rapture)
The rapture is the part of the resurrection for those who will be alive at the time of Christ’s return to be gathered to Him. Those who are dead in Him are already with Him [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18].
This, of course, reveals what few of us ever think about. If we die before He returns, we will not participate in the rapture because we will already be with Him. You need to understand that.
On Christ I stand
As I said above, ultimately, I stand on Christ’s words alone on the matter and I don’t think it is even necessary to look anywhere else. So, why did I write all of this about 1 Corinthians 15? I wrote it to show it is in line with Jesus’ words in Matthew 24. It has to be because His words are the standard by which we judge the rest of Scripture. In other words, all of the other passages concerning the gathering necessarily support Christ’s teaching and so we must interpret the other passages in light of Christ’s own words. They can’t be in disagreement. For us, practically, this means Christ always has the last word.
Let’s go to Matthew 24 and read Christ’s own words.
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. “And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. [Matthew 24:29-31 NASB]
He restates it again here:
“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. “Then 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. “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. [Matthew 24:37-42 NASB]
Jesus places the gathering (rapture) within the context of His Coming after the Tribulation [Matthew 24:29-31, 37-42].
Matthew 24 is a sequential timeline of events. Who of us ever tells a story out of order? Why do you want to pull out the verses that begin with “But immediately after the tribulation of those days” and place them before the Tribulation starts?
May we never overlook Christ’s own words!
“This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” [John 6:39-40 NASB]
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. [John 6:44 NASB]
“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. [John 6:54 NASB]
See also John 11:24
The day of Christ’s return is a literal day
How do we know? Zechariah tells us it has an evening.
In that day there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. For it will be a unique day which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but it will come about that at evening time there will be light. [Zechariah 14:6-7 NASB]
Jesus returns here between the 6th and 7th bowl judgments.
The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”) And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon. Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” [Revelation 16:12-17 NASB]
The bowl judgments take place in one literal day.
“For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong. [Revelation 18:8 NASB]
It’s the same day.
So, I would ask my accusers what, exactly, is heretical about Christ’s own words?
I’ve written a supplemental to accompany this article entitled “On Paul & The Thessalonians”. I encourage you to read it.