The rapture is described in the Bible in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. It’s when Jesus will gather His people to Himself, catching us up to Himself and giving us, in an instant, our new eternal bodies without death having to come first.
It’s linked to the end times, the end of the world as we know it, when Jesus will return and reign on earth and ultimately create a new heaven and earth. The end times come with a time of intense tribulation, persecution, and wrath. This intense tribulation and persecution is known as the Tribulation. One general understanding is a period where there is revival and tribulation (violence, economic depression, plagues) and persecution of the saints in the last three and a half years.
Let’s look at Scripture to learn about it.
God’s wrath is for the unbeliever. God’s wrath is destruction. The Flood is an example of God’s wrath being poured out.
Colossians 3:6 For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience.
God’s wrath is not for His children.
Romans 5:9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The rapture seemingly will happen before God’s wrath is poured out or as it is beginning to be poured out. We will be protected from it, for sure, as the Israelites were protected from the disasters that came on Egypt.
However, in contrast to God’s wrath, we are promised persecution and tribulation. Tribulation is trouble. There are famines, wars, economic downturns, oppressive governments. These have been around since before Christ and they have continued to today. Paul was shipwrecked, arrested, beaten, and eventually martyred, like most of the apostles.
2 Timothy 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (from the NASB translation unless otherwise noted)
Acts 14:22 [Paul and Barnabas were] strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
The apostles weren’t spared tribulation.
Revelations 1:9 I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 1:6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
He doesn’t spare us from tribulation because He loves us.
We can rejoice that we go through tribulations because they are for our good.
Romans 5:3-4 And not only this, but we also exult (rejoice) in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope….
Tribulation prepares God’s people to be with Him.
Daniel 12:10 “Many will be purged, purified and refined….”
There’s no promise that we will escape tribulation. We are promised tribulation. Tribulation is something we can rejoice about!
However, the Bible does say that we will be spared God’s wrath. That’s something different. God’s wrath is His punishment of the unbeliever. It’s destruction, whereas tribulation is for our refining into the image of Christ.
The rapture isn’t a secret event where a lot of people suddenly disappear. It’s about God pouring out His wrath on those who have rejected Him and saving His people out of it, like Noah being lifted up in the ark to be spared God’s wrath.
The phrase “thief in the night” appears several times in the Bible; it is referring to God coming in His wrath to destroy the wicked.
The day of the Lord is what comes as a thief and it is the day of the earth’s destruction.
1 Thessalonians 5:2-6 “For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.”
These verses are very clear that when the day of the Lord comes like a thief, it will mean the destruction of the people. We are told we should not be surprised by a “thief” bringing sudden destruction because we should be awake and alert. (Some of you may be thinking, “How could they be saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ if they were in the Tribulation?” The first half of the Tribulation is death (violence), famine, and economic depression. Then it seems the anti-Christ leader rises and unites the world against a common enemy, the saints (i.e., followers of Christ). They will claim that now they will have peace and safety because they’re getting rid of the troublemakers, just as Hitler promised a better world if they got rid of the undesirables.)
We may have images in our head of what the rapture is going to be. We picture a man waking up to find his wife’s pajamas in bed, but she is gone. These ideas are put in our heads by the Christian media, not the Bible. Look at what the Bible really says about who is “taken” (note what I’ve underlined):
Matthew 24:37-42 “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.”
Do you see who is being “taken away”? It’s not the believer. Noah was safe in the ark when destruction came and “took away” the unbelievers.
We are warned repeatedly in Scripture to wake up and be alert. If we are alert, we will be prepared at His coming like Noah. We won’t be surprised and caught off guard.
Even those who believe the rapture will happen before the Tribulation acknowledge that we will know the signs and seasons and not be caught off guard. But there may be some who argue that if the rapture is after the Tribulation, then we will know when it’s going to be, but that the Bible tells us “no one knows the hour or the day.”
Matthew 24:36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”
When Jesus spoke these words, no one except the Father knew the day and hour of Christ’s return. Every generation since Christ has been able to wonder if it will happen in their lifetime.
The very next verse says that “the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.” Noah knew God’s wrath was coming and was obediently preparing for the day he would escape God’s wrath. We are to be doing the same. Noah didn’t know when the flood would come while he was building the ark. But, seven days beforehand, Noah knew.
Genesis 7:4 “For after seven more days, I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights; and I will blot out from the face of the land every living thing that I have made.”
Like Noah, we will know ahead of time. If we realize when the Tribulation starts, we will know that in seven years the rapture will take place. But even though we will have a pretty good idea when the rapture will occur, I’m not sure if we will ever know the exact hour or day. Even if we believe it will happen on “the last trump,” which is the name of the last trumpet blown on the Feast of Trumpets, we will not know the exact time as we don’t know when the Feast of Trumpets is. It is celebrated over two days instead of one because they can’t tell exactly when it is.
Hopefully you can see straight from the Scriptures that it’s possible that the rapture could be after the Tribulation instead of before.
Now let’s look at the Scriptures that tell us when the rapture will occur in relation to the Tribulation.
The rapture is after the resurrection of the righteous dead.
1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
The “first” resurrection takes place after the Tribulation.
Revelation 20:4-6 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
This Scripture shows that the resurrection happens after Christians are martyred for not taking “the mark,” which is what happens during the second half of the Tribulation.
And the previous Scripture shows that the rapture will happen after the resurrection. Since this is the “first” resurrection, there can’t be another earlier one connected with the rapture.
With all these things in mind, read these verses and see how plainly Jesus tells us when the rapture will occur in connection with the Tribulation.
Matthew 24:29-31 “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.”
Mark 13:24-27 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.
If you are still unsure because of what you’ve been taught about the pre-Tribulation rapture, here are some more verses used to defend the pre-Trib position. Maybe you have heard some of the arguments below. (The important thing is to not use the “pre-Tribulation” position as a justification to take the mark. People may say that it can’t be the mark because we haven’t been raptured yet, and use it to justify their taking the mark out of fear. It’s also important to not think it strange to have to go through fiery trials; it doesn’t mean God’s rejected you, abandoned you, or stopped loving you.)
- Revelation 3:10 “Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world.” (NLT)
- Where this translation says, “protect,” there are others that say “keep you from.” “To keep” in the Greek is τηρέω, or tay-reh’-o. It means to watch, as in to guard. It doesn’t have any definition related to being removed. God will guard us, protect us, be our shield. Scriptures tell us that the evil one cannot touch us and nothing will harm us. These have always been promises to Christians, but they’ve never meant that nothing bad will ever happen to us. No matter what is going on around us, we are “kept.” He is a shield around us, our guard. The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and our safe.
- 1 Thess. 4:18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
- Here’s a fuller portion of the Scripture from that section.
- 1 Thess. 4:16-18 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
- One pre-Trib teaching is that these words about the rapture wouldn’t be comforting if it didn’t mean we’d miss the Tribulation.
- The verse I quoted about being comforted is the last verse of the paragraph. Here’s the first verse of the paragraph to give you the context. Verse 13: 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.
- While the next chapter is about the Day of the Lord, the command to comfort one another is not connected to tribulation or any bad things happening. It’s not mentioned at all in the paragraph. The context clearly focuses on comforting those grieving a lost loved one.
- Luke 21:36 “But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
- Why would you need “strength” to be raptured, unless you had to persevere and hold on until that day?
- Let’s look at the context.
- It’s exactly like in Matthew, when Jesus comes back and the powers of heaven will be shaken (also Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:25) and people will see Him coming in the clouds (also Matthew 24:30, Mark 13:26). We’ve already seen in Matthew (and Mark) that we are told exactly when it is that we will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds. It’s the same description, the same phrasing, the same event. It happens “immediately after the tribulation of those days.” God will gather His people to Himself and then pour out His wrath with and destruction.