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What Does the Bible Say About the Rapture?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Rapture?

The word Rapture does not appear in the Bible. It comes from the Latin word rapare which means "seize", "snatch" or "take away." The term Rapture is used to refer to the faithful believers being taken up to meet Christ in the air as described in this passage written by the apostle Paul:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so 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 died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. (NRSV, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17)

Apparently, doubts had arisen among the Thessalonian Christians regarding the fate of those Christians who had died before Christ returned. Would they miss out on the glorious events of Christ's second coming and the resurrection? Paul assured them in this way that God would save those who had already died, as well as those still living.

Interpretation

Paul did not provide any other details of this event, and it is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. Questions about the details and timing of the Rapture are not answered in the Bible. The lack of details has led to different theories and interpretations.

Majority Interpretation

There are many other New Testament passages describing the resurrection of the dead and the gathering in of the faithful when Jesus comes again (Matthew 16:27, 24:30-31, 25:31-32, 26:64, Mark 12:18-27, 13:26-27, Luke 17:26-35, John 5:21, 5:28-29, 1 Corinthians 4:5, 6:14, 15:12-32, Philippians 3:20-21, Colossians 3:4, 2 Peter 3:8-10, Revelation 1:7). These other passages use various descriptions and images to describe wondrous events that we cannot fully understand (1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13:9-12). None of these other passages use the image of the faithful being caught up in the clouds and meeting the Lord in the air, nor did Paul use that description in his later writings. Therefore, most Christians do not place any great significance on the particular imagery Paul used in 1 Thessalonians. Most Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias do not mention the Rapture at all.

Dispensationalism

A theory of Bible interpretation known as Dispensationalism was developed in the 1700s and 1800s, primarily by theologians Pierre Poiret (1646 - 1719), John Edwards (1637 - 1716), Isaac Watts (1674 - 1748) and John Nelson Darby (1800 - 1882). Dispensationalism favors a very literal interpretation of Bible prophecies and gives unique interpretations and special significance to end-times events. These theories were popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible, first published in 1909.1

In Dispensational theology, the Rapture will be the centerpiece of Jesus' second coming - a glorious, dramatic event with Jesus coming to literally take believers up into the sky. There are several theories about the timing of the Rapture:

The Rapture in Popular Culture

The Rapture and other ideas about events surrounding the second coming of Christ have spawned a whole industry in recent years. Hal Lindsey's 1970 book The Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins have been at the forefront. Besides the many books, there are websites, TV evangelists, lecture series, movies and videos. Some of these feature imaginative and vivid embellishments of Bible prophecies mingled with contemporary political and social theories. Most of these works go well beyond anything revealed in the Bible and are properly classified as fiction - not as Bible prophecy.

Will the Rapture Happen Soon?

Over the past 2000 years, countless groups and individuals have compared events of their time to Bible prophecies and come to the conclusion that Jesus would be returning soon. Some have set a specific date and led their followers into the wilderness to wait for Christ to come. Every one of those predictions turned out to be wrong, but that has not deterred people from making modern-day predictions that Jesus will be returning in the near future. Most mainstream Bible scholars, however, do not think current world affairs are evidence of the imminent return of Christ.

Jesus, Himself, said,

However, no one knows the day or the hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. (NLT, Matthew 24:36)

Jesus also said we should not believe anyone who claims to be the Messiah or anyone who claims to know when He is coming again. The second coming of Jesus will be sudden, unexpected and unmistakable, like lightning flashing across the sky (Matthew 24:23-51, Mark 13:21-23, 13:32-37 Luke 17:20-37). The important thing is not to know when or how the end will come, but to be spiritually prepared when it does (Matthew 25:1-13 Matthew 24:42-44, Luke 21:34-36, 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).

Related article: What does the Bible say about the Second Coming of Jesus? summarizes events surrounding the second coming of Christ and the end-times and includes Bible references.

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1Enns, P. P., The Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Press, Chicago, IL,1989, pp. 515–516.