In recent years the rapture has been brought to popular attention through the Left Behind series of books and movies. The rapture is a doctrine that has caught the public’s attention time and time again since the mid-1800’s. Though some opponents claim the rapture is a recent theological development, church history reveals the rapture was believed and taught very early in the second century just decades after the death of John, the last living apostle.
The rapture is the event when Jesus resurrects the bodies of believers who have passed away and carries off the earth all living believers. The rapture is the next event of world history that has been foretold in Bible prophecy. When the rapture happens every Christian on the earth will suddenly be gone. Some teach that the rapture will take place in waves, with faithful Christians going up at the beginning and others at later times during the Tribulation depending on how faithful they have been. The Bible gives no hint of a partial rapture. In every place it discusses the catching away of Christians the promises includes all believers. None of God’s children will be left behind. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “We which are alive and remain shall be caught up together”. All living believers will be caught up with the Lord when He comes for His church. This is indeed a great comfort to Christians.
Three passages in the New Testament speak of the rapture: John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15: and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Two of the three passages are intended to give comfort to Christians and the third encourages faithfulness in Christian service. As a result, many questions about the rapture cannot be answered from direct Biblical teaching, Those who think about the rapture make many deductions based on other Bible doctrines and logical reasoning. When describing the rapture, great care needs to be taken to separate deduction and speculation from Biblical teaching.
The Bible describes the rapture as taking place with the shout of an archangel and the sound of an angelic trumpet. Jesus will descend from heaven into the earth’s atmosphere, but He will not descend all the way to the earth. All believers, living and dead, will then ascend into the air to be united with Jesus. At the rapture, all the saved will be transformed. Their physical bodies will be replaced with glorified, spiritual bodies. The change will happen more quickly than the eye can see. The raptured saints will then be taken into heaven and begin to enjoy eternal joy with the Lord.
The return of Jesus will be preceded by a seven year period of time called the Tribulation. The book of Revelation gives significant detail about the events of that time. The tribulation is a time of God’s judgment on the world. Aside from the flood, the tribulation is the single greatest outpouring of God’s judgment on mankind for sin. The tribulation is the last great judgment of the nations of the earth. God promised in Gensis 9:11 that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood. Of all the horrible things that happen during the tribulation catastrophic flooding is never mentioned. Is the judgment of the tribulation like the judgment of the flood?
During the flood in Noah’s day, God destroyed every breathing thing on the earth except those in the ark. The flood began with 40 days of violent rains and the breaking up of the earths crust to release the fountains of the deep. The waters continued to rise for about six months until they covered the whole world. A little over a year after the beginning of the flood the earth was sufficiently dried and recovered for those on the ark to come out onto a transformed world.
Unlike the flood, the tribulation will last for seven years and none will be escape the horrors of that day. Unlike the flood, the tribulation will be made up of many different kinds of terrors. Some of the terrors will be natural, some economic and some demonic. Some will involve massive war, some will be men persecuting men, all will be the supernatural judgment of God. Revelation describes the catastrophes of the tribulation in such a way that it appears they will be a series of horrible events, some overlapping the others. The judgments of the tribulation will move the world forward to the final world war that will immediately precede the return of Jesus.
The troubles of the tribulation will be varied. They will include horrible famine, extensive war, earthquakes that overthrow mountains and rearrange geography, hundred pound hailstones that fall and fire that destroys a third of the trees and all grass on earth. One third of the ocean will be turned to blood, killing a third of the sea creatures and destroying a third of the ships on the seas. One third of the fresh water will become poisonous killing a third of humanity and later all the water in the oceans and rivers will be turned to blood. Men will be afflicted with horrible sores, burned by extreme heat from the sun and then terrified by the fall of sudden, painful darkness. The destruction will be celestial. The stars will fall from the sky, the sun will be blotted out, the moon turned red as blood, The horrors of that day will be so great men will hide themselves in caves and mountains to try to escape the destruction. God will release demons from their imprisonment to bring torments upon men and to lead massive armies into battle.
Estimates of the death tolls during the tribulation reach as high as 85% of humanity. Like the flood God’s wrath will wreak havoc on the world. As in the days of Noah God’s judgment on sin will be unleashed on humanity. The tribulation will be very different from the flood in its disasters, but most importantly it will be different in its purpose. The tribulation will not just be the execution of God’s wrath. The tribulation will bring about the restoration and repentance of the nation of Israel. The tribulation will prepare the world for the kingdom of Jesus and the final fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. The flood was the second great earthly judgment on mankind, and the tribulation is the last. They share many similarities but have some very important differences that makes the tribulation a unique event in human history.