The Coming Year and the Coming Rapture

When we hang that new 2024 calendar on the wall or door, we tend to wonder, at least momentarily, what the new year might bring. For many Bible believers, included in that wondering is whether we might exit the earth via the Rapture. Will we meet Jesus in the air sometime in 2024? And this is a good thing for us to think about. The rapture could, of course, happen in 2024 given that the world looks a lot like the world of the end of times. 

What has caught my attention this year is the number of pastors and Bible teachers who have come out to deny that there is such an event as the Rapture. In looking at their many objections to the rapture, there are four common ones. But why should we spend any time thinking about these? Partly because we need to know why we believe something and be able to give a reasonable response to these objections. We will do this briefly and then end this article with a review of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. How would you respond to these four common objections to the concept of the rapture?

  1. The Bible does not teach a secret, silent coming of Christ. Their point is that Christ’s coming is one that is anything but silent and secret. It is an event that all in the world would know about. They are thinking about Second Coming scriptures. And while some who believe in the rapture event have seen it as secret and silent, the Scriptures do not teach that. In fact, Paul says (1 Thes. 4:16) that there will be three rather loud sounds in connection with the rapture: namely, the shout of Jesus, probably commanding the dead in Christ to come forth (John 5:25); the blast of God’s trumpet; and the voice of Michael the Archangel, perhaps shouting out a word of victory as the church saints pass through the air which is the domain of Satan. It is quite likely that unsaved people will be aware that something momentous has happened but they will not understand its significance. Perhaps it will be like the event on the road to Damascus when Saul met the glorified Christ. Those with Saul/Paul knew something had happened but did not understand it. Since most do not teach that the rapture is a silent event, this objection carries little weight.
  2. The rapture doctrine is new and was not taught throughout the history of the church. The contention is that the rapture doctrine began around 1830 being formulated by J.N. Darby, based on a vision of one Margaret MacDonald. Darby is seen as the father of both the pre-tribulation rapture and the dispensational approach to biblical interpretation. The basic assumption is that if it is “new” then it is most likely not true. Of course, the issue is not newness but rather if a doctrine is true to the Word of God. 

This objection fails to remember that there has always been development of doctrines in the life of the church. Each era of church history has been occupied with a particular doctrinal discussion which has brought about refinement of the details within that doctrine. The discussions go on until there is clarity. As a recent example, take the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and His ministries. Around 1900, the modern charismatic movement was born and this brought about much debate on the matters of being filled with Spirit, speaking in tongues, prophesying, anointing and many other details within the area of Pneumatology. As a result, there emerge a much more defined doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In eschatology (future things), within the last century and a half there has been much attention to detail and great refinement within this doctrinal area. Many “new” subjects within eschatology have been proposed. But the issue is not is it old or new, but “is this what the Bible teaches?” 

But getting back to MacDonald and Darby. Margaret MacDonald, whose revelation, and sanity are both suspect, was not the source of Darby’s pre-tribulation rapture view. Her rapture views are unclear and there is no evidence that Darby knew her. The idea that there was a rapture which came before the Second Coming was something seen long before Darby. It was Darby, however, who developed and refined the pre-tribulation rapture view based on his study of Scripture. There is clear evidence that others, long before Darby, had suggested that there was a rapture that was distinct from and prior to the Second Coming.

  • In 1687, Peter Jurieu, in his book “Approaching Deliverance of the Church” taught that Christ would come and rapture His church out of the world before Armageddon and then would come again in glory.
  • Commentaries by Philip Doddridge (1738) and John Gill (1748) spoke of the rapture as an imminent event. Both believed the rapture came before Christ’s coming to the earth at His Second Coming. The purpose of Christ’s coming for His church was to preserve it from the time of judgment.
  • James MacKnight (1763) and Thomas Scott (1792) did not give a detailed chronology of future events but did see a distinction between the rapture and the Second Coming.
  • Others would follow. But why were some now seeing a rapture that was distinct from the Second Coming? The answer is that the church was beginning to leave centuries of the spiritualization of Bible prophecy and to return to a literal approach in the interpretation of Scriptures. Literal interpretation leads to these observations.
  • Somewhere in the 4th to 7th century, more than a thousand years before Darby, the writings of one known as “Pseudo-Ephraem” spoke of the saints being taken from the earth before the time of tribulation judgments and the Second Coming. 

So, these examples that we know about certainly tell us that J.N. Darby was not the first expositor to see a rapture and Second Coming as distinct events.

  1. Jesus never taught a rapture event in His prophetic teaching. The point that is made is that in Luke 17 and Matthew 24 Jesus spoke of “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 left” (Matt. 24:40-41). These who are taken are not raptured but are taken in judgment. And in the contexts that is a correct understanding. These are not rapture passages, but passages that speak about coming judgment. At the time of this prophetic discourse Jesus had not yet spoken to His apostles about the rapture. (I believe He hinted at it in John 14, but even that was after these discourses). And when the disciples asked Jesus about future events, they knew nothing about the rapture and were asking questions about His Second Coming and what would happen to Israel. The rapture was an unknown subject at that point in time. It should be remembered, however, that Paul does say that he got his rapture teaching from Jesus (1 Thes. 4:15), probably in those years of instruction in Arabia right after his conversion.
  2. The rapture doctrine has diverted Christians from seriously working to bring about God’s restoration of all things and has given them an escapist mentality. It might be true that some believing in the rapture have gone to live in their theological bunkers and have not engaged the needly world. But this objection reflects a post-millennial theology where the church will bring about the Christianization of the world and prepare the world for Jesus’ Second Coming. The church will not clean up the world and make it ready for Jesus to come again. Jesus will take care of the world when He returns. But many believers, looking for Jesus’ return at the rapture, are seriously engaged and motivated in serving Christ and sharing the gospel in this world.

A Quick Review of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

As most of our readers know, this portion of Scripture is the central passage on the doctrine of the rapture. Here are the essential teachings in these verses.

  1. CONTEXT. The believers at Thessalonica were deeply concerned that the believers who had recently died (“fallen asleep”) would miss out on the rapture. They are assured that believers who had died, and were with Jesus, would be a part of the rapture, sequentially rising first.
  2. RAPTURE TRUTH COMES DIRECTLY FROM THE LORD. Paul’s discussion is based squarely on that which Paul received from Jesus.
  3. JESUS HIMSELF COMES TO GET HIS BRIDE (CHURCH). Following the marriage ritual of that time, Jesus, the bridegroom, comes to get His bride and to return to the Father’s house where the wedding will take place (John 14:1-3). In Revelation 19, the scene is in heaven and this is where the wedding will take place. It is before the Second Coming. The bride is there, which means that every church age believer will be there. (There is no wedding if only 2/3 or 7/10 of the bride is there!). The rapture is a very personal moment for Jesus because He comes to get His bride. The word “Parousia” is used for this coming at the rapture (4:15). There are three primary words used in the New Testament for the Lord’s return: (parousia—“coming”); (apocalupsis—“revealing, unveiling”); and (epiphania—“appearing”). Some have tried to use these words to prove some theological point, but they are not technical terms and cannot be used that way. The text is simply saying that Jesus will come and take His bride with Him, so they she may be where He is.
  4. PAUL PUTS HIMSELF AMONG THOSE WHO ARE ALIVE AT THE RAPTURE. Twice Paul speaks of himself as among the living at the rapture. A plain reading of the text shows that the rapture was an imminent event, possibly occurring in Paul’s lifetime.
  5. THE RAPTURE INVOLVES THOSE WHO ARE “IN CHRIST.” Being “in Christ” meant being in the church, the body of Christ. Old Testament believers and the unsaved are not “in Christ” and will not be participants in the rapture. The rapture is for believers of the church age.
  6. SOUNDS OF THE RAPTURE. As noted earlier, there are three sounds (4:16) that are part of the rapture event. There is a high probability that these sounds will be heard worldwide. The rapture may be unexpected, but it is neither secret or silent.
  7. THE CHURCH WILL BE “CAUGHT UP” TO MEET JESUS IN THE AIR. Jesus will snatch away His bride out of the world. The word used is “harpazo”, and it conveys the idea of a force that is suddenly exercised to snatch something away, and it is an irresistible force. The Latin word is rapturo, which is where the word “rapture” comes from. Jesus will snatch up the church to meet Him in the air but He does not return to the earth at this time. And it is in the clouds of glory, in the air, that we meet Him. No such thing takes place in passages that speak of Christ’s Second Coming.
  8. BELIEVERS WILL PERMANENTLY BE WITH THE LORD. Once the rapture takes place, the church age believers will never be separated from the Lord. The marriage of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-8) pictures this permanent relationship. From the rapture onward, where Jesus goes, His bride goes.
  9. THE RAPTURE TRUTH IS A TRUTH TO BRING COMFORT TO THE BELIEVER. The truth that Jesus is coming for us is designed to encourage believers. The knowledge that we are not abandoned and that we will again be with our believing loved ones brings such comfort. The rapture doctrine reminds us that our best days are yet ahead of us. As the darkness deepens in our world, this doctrine gives us perspective and is an encouragement to us to be a light for the Savior who is coming for us. And as we again think about the rapture, believers need to ask “do I love His appearing.” In other words, do we long to see the Savior.