The Rapture of the Church:
(How does it appear in Scripture?)
© 2023 C. O. Bishop
1st Thessalonians 4:13-18; 5:1-10
13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; THEN sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
Paul says he shared these truths (in chapter four) with the Thessalonian believers for a reason. It was to provide them with comfort and hope in the face of death. In earlier passages, he had also referred to the abuse they had suffered for their faith. And, in the next chapter, he addressed the coming judgment on the unbelieving world and Israel.
When reading any of the epistles, remember that they were originally letters. The writers addressed them to churches, mostly, although a few seem to have been addressed to an individual believer. The original manuscripts had no chapter or verse divisions. Why is that important? Because, sometimes, the idea being taught in one chapter moved directly into the topic of the next chapter. Thus, when we read 1st Thessalonians 4, we remember that chapter five flows directly out of chapter four.
The “Catching Away” of the Church
Chapter four gives the most complete description of what we call the “Rapture of the Church.” 1st Corinthians 15:50-53 also describes the event. It adds the fact that our bodies will be instantly transformed from “flesh and blood” bodies to the supernatural bodies we will inhabit for eternity. Read it:
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
What “Last Trumpet?”
Notice that the “last trumpet” of the Church age is not the “last trumpet” of the Tribulation period. But the trumpet in 1st Corinthians 15 is identical to the one in 1st Thessalonians 4.
The seventh (and last) trumpet in the Tribulation (Revelation 11:15) announces the next stage of judgment on earth! There is nothing “good” happening. (In fact, Revelation 4:1-3 says that a “voice like a trumpet talking” calls the Apostle up to the Throne of God. The Revelation makes no mention of the Church being on Earth, from that point on. Many Bible students see this as a veiled picture of the Rapture of the Church. (I share this view.) We will be called up, out of the Earth, before the Tribulation begins!
Revelation 5:9, 10 describes a group of “24 elders” who evidently represent the church. They say, “You have redeemed us by your blood out of every kindred, and tongue and people and nation.” And, “You have made us unto our God kings and priests…”
Only the Church is “redeemed out of every family, language, ethnic group and nation.” Only the church is called to become “kings and priests.” (Israel is called to become a “kingdom of priests:” That is not the same thing.) Therefore, we see that the Church is in Heaven, and gathered around the throne of God, before the Tribulation begins in Revelation 6:1.
The “Thief in the Night” Prophecies:
1st Thessalonians 5:2 says that the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.
2nd Peter 3:10
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
Matthew 24:42, 43
42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.”
Revelation 16:15 says, “15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.”
We see several warnings, mostly given to Israel. Each states that the Day of the Lord would come as a thief in the night. Matthew says the character of this event is that “the world (including Israel) wakes up” to find that they have been “invaded,” and that something is missing.
What will be Missing?
If we read 1st Thessalonians 4 and 5 as a unit, (which they are) we find that the Church has “gone missing!” We also see that the Tribulation begins immediately after that event. Paul says that “they knew perfectly well that the Day of the Lord will come as a Thief in the night.” But one of the characteristics of the whole “thief in the night” concept is that you do not know when he is coming. All of the rest of the Day of the Lord is fully laid out: choreographed by God, through prophecy. All except the Rapture of the Church!
Why is “the Rapture of the Church” a Secret?
The Rapture of the Church was a secret because the whole concept of the Church age was kept secret. It was not revealed until after Jesus’ crucifixion, His death, His burial, His Resurrection and His ascension! The first human to be shown the revelation of the Church was the Apostle Paul. It was a brand-new thing that God did on planet Earth!
And, since the Old Testament prophets were not even allowed to know of the existence of the Church, they obviously could not be told about how it would be removed.
What are the “Seventy Weeks of Daniel?”
In Daniel 9:21-27 the prophet Daniel (at about 607 BC)gives us a very important timeline:
“21 Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. 22 And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. 23 At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision.
24Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.
25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.
26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.
27 And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”
We see that the 70 x 7 years (490-year) prophecy began with the command to rebuild Jerusalem. (Not the Temple: the city!) King Artaxerxes gave that command in Nehemiah chapter 1, about 446 BC. He made that decree almost 160 years after Daniel’s prophecy. But it covers the first 69 “weeks” (483 years), and culminates in the crucifixion. Then it skips to the 70th “week” (7 years.) It gives a brief, but clear description of the Tribulation, including the antichrist.
But, What happened to the Church Age?
The Church is not included!
We are not part of the judgment spelled out in Daniel 9:24. He clearly says that the judgment has a purpose, and it has recipients. The recipients are Jerusalem and all Israel. The unbelieving World is involved as well, as the World is the means by which God is judging Israel. And there will be terrible judgment poured out on the entire World. But we are not part of that prophecy at any level. We simply are not included.
What is The Big Secret? Why the Mystery?
Ephesians 3:1-11 lets us know just how great a secret it was (Paul speaking:)
1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: 7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. 8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;
9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, 11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:
An Object Lesson
God is teaching the Holy Angels something they had not known, (which we absolutely do not know.) He is using the Church-age believers as an “object lesson” to show His Eternal Wisdom to the Angelic host who had not followed Satan in his rebellion. (Do I understand this? No! Emphatically, No!) But, there it is! The Church age believers are in a special category. We are separated from the world and from Israel, for a purpose far beyond our comprehension. God says so!
Why is it so surprising that He would complete that separation? He will do so by pulling us out of harm’s way before He brings the Judgment of the Tribulation upon Earth. God separated Noah from the judgment of the Flood on the Earth, by means of the Ark. The result was that the judgment of the world excluded Noah! God sent angels to separate Lot from Sodom, so that the judgment of Sodom excluded Lot! He separated Israel from Egypt, by the blood of the Passover Lamb, and by the miraculously selective judgments upon Egypt, so that the judgment of Egypt excluded Israel!
He separated us from the World already, through the Blood of Jesus, and He has seated us with Him already in the heavenly places, in Him! Why would He not “complete the transaction” by moving us out of harm’s way before executing judgment on the rebellious World and Israel?
There is far too much here, for one message: We will have to complete this message over the next few weeks. Next week we will talk about the “Day of the LORD.”
Lord Jesus, please fix our attention upon the Light of Your Written Word, recognizing that it is the printed message of You, the Living Word. Help us to walk in the light You provide!