The Rapture of the Church

The Rapture of the Church will be the most startling event to happen in all of human history. Millions will disappear in "the twinkling of an eye." Great confusion and bewilderment will occupy the minds of those left behind. Many explanations for the disappearance of those missing will be entertained. In the meantime the Church will have been "caught up" in the air to appear before the Lord at the "judgment seat of Christ" (2 Cor. 5:10). This will be a judgment of rewards based on the believer's works. It will be a time of great joy for many as they hear the Savior's "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:41). For some it will be a time of shame and regret (1 John 2:28).

Many writers see John's "come up hither" as being typical of the church being caught up at the Rapture with chapters 6-19 disclosing the seven year tribulation. From this point on the Church is not mentioned again until we come to Revelation 19:7, where we see the Church preparing for the "marriage of the Lamb" and her return to earth.

According to John F. Walvoord, "The term rapture itself is derived from the Latin Vulgate version of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 where the expression 'caught up' is translated by the Latin rapturo." According to Scripture, the saints living at the time of the Lord's coming will be translated to meet the Lord in the air. It will be a glorious time of reunion with our loved ones who have gone before us, and best of all, as John proclaimed, "They shall see his face" (Rev. 22:4). No wonder that Paul described the Lord's coming as the "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13).

At the Rapture the Lord will descend bodily in the air for his saints, both for the dead and for the living (1 Thess. 4:16-17). This will be seven years prior to the Revelation or the second stage of His coming. In the first stage at the Rapture the Lord comes for His Church; whereas, at the end of the tribulation period He comes back with His Church. At this event "every eye shall see him" although at the Rapture He will come "as a thief" and only believers will see Him (1 John 3:1-3).

At the Rapture the Lord will return to resurrect the dead and translate those saints then living on the earth. Only those who have been born again by the blood of Christ will hear the "shout" that will complete the Church age and begin the Day of the Lord. Our bodies will be fashioned after our Lord's resurrection body. Although our resurrection bodies will be different in quality, we will be recognizable. According to Allan R. Killen, "Christ arose in the body in which He had suffered, leaving an empty tomb. His new body had 'flesh and bones,' and yet, though He was absolutely recognizable, its qualities were gloriously changed. The believer's new body is not to be 'flesh and blood,' for this is the nature of his mortal body. He will be like the angels in that he will neither marry nor give in marriage (Matt. 22:29-30). This new body is described in 1 Cor. 15:35-50."

Paul, writing to the Corinthians concerning the resurrection event, explains: "But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at His coming, Then cometh the end" (1 Cor. 15:23-24). John Phillips comments that "the first resurrection is actually in three stages, corresponding to the stages of the Jewish harvest: (1) the first fruits were reaped and presented to God; then (2) the harvest was reaped; and (3) the gleanings were gathered in. The resurrection harvest will take place at the rapture, and the gleanings will be collected at various times during the great tribulation period."

Within premillennialism there are differing views concerning the Rapture of the Church. The five most common views are (1) the partial-rapture theory; (2) the midtribulation rapture; (3) the posttribulation rapture;(4) the pretribulation rapture; and, (5) the pre-wrath rapture. We will look briefly at each view beginning with the partial-rapture theory.

(l) Partial-rapture theory. In this view the issue is not the timing, but the subjects of the Rapture. Advocates of this view believe the Rapture of the believer will be based on reward for the individual's faithfulness.

(2) Midtribulation Rapture. The midtribulation rapture theory seems to be a compromise between the pretribulation and the posttribulation views. According to this view the seven-year tribulation is divided into two halves; the first half described as the wrath of man, and the last half as the wrath of God. The Rapture of the Church will take place at the middle of the tribulation period three-and-one-half years prior to the Second Advent.

(3) Posttribulation Rapture. The majority of those holding this view believe the Church will enter the seven-year tribulation and just prior to the Second Advent be raptured and return immediately to the earth with the Lord. Some posttribulationists view the entire present age as the tribulation, although the majority accept the literal interpretation of the tribulation period as a portrayal of actual events preceding the Second Advent.

(4) Pretribulation Rapture. According to the pretribulation view of the Rapture, the Church will be translated prior to the seventieth week of Daniel and return with the Lord to the earth at the Second Advent. Hand in hand with this view is the doctrine of imminency, which emphasizes that the Lord can return any moment without regard to signs. All signs are for Israel and therefore relate to the Revelation (Rev. 19:11-21), when He will come with the saints at the end of the tribulation period.

(5) Pre-Wrath Rapture. According to the pre-wrath rapture view the church will be raptured three-quarters of the way through the seventieth week between the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord prior to the outpouring of God's wrath and before the sounding of the seventh trumpet. This view has been popularized by Marvin Rosenthal, former executive director of Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.

The Rapture is spoken of by Paul in the Scriptures as a "mystery." Paul states: "Behold, I shew 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 trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1 Cor. 15:51-52). This concept was something that was unknown to the Old Testament saints. The general teaching of the resurrection is a well-known fact both in the OT as well as the NT. The fact that saints will be alive at the Second Advent is also a well-known doctrine. Yet as Walvoord states: "The precise mystery is the added revelation of the fact of translation without dying in connection with the coming of the Lord." According to Donald W. Burdick, "the NT concept of the 'mystery'... [is] a divine truth, formerly hidden but now supernaturally revealed to men, which can be fully understood only by the saved individual through the illumination of the Holy Spirit." Many students of the Word still neglect the New Testament doctrine of the Rapture of the saints.

Finally, a word concerning date setting. Jesus told His disciples: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matt. 24:36). David Allen Lewis states: "The Rapture will be an escape, but the doctrine is not for escapism." We can avoid the "escapist" mentality and yet still be vigilant in our endeavors to make known this vital truth. Let us realize the urgency of the hour that we are living in, and make the most of every opportunity God sends our way. Paul states: "Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:12-13).

Rev. Larry W. Cockerham is best known for his prophetical teaching ministry based on the inspiration and authority of the Bible. The foundation of his ministry is helping others understand the Scriptures as they relate to the "blessed hope" (Tit. 2:13).

Bro. Larry graduated from Andersonville Baptist Seminary with a Bachelor of Theology degree and is presently working on his Masters of Theology. He has been teaching and preaching Bible prophecy, typology and related studies in churches for over twenty-four years.

He has written one book: Revelation: Prophetic Addresses to the Seven Churches, Vol. 1 and is the editor of Prophecy Forum Newsletter, a monthly ezine which includes Bible studies related to Biblical prophecy, eschatology and endtime studies as well as news from Israel by Jerry Golden. Please visit his site, ProphecyForum.com at http://www.prophecyforum.com

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