The Rapture



John Hoole - December 18, 2011



(Note:  click on charts and maps for larger versionsd) 



The last words of a dying friend or family member are always full of meaning.  And the last words of the Lord Jesus are no exception.  The scene is the Upper Room, the night before Jesus is crucified.  It is the night of his betrayal by Judas.


Jesus was having dinner with His disciples (called “the Last Supper).  His disciples were clueless as to what was about to happen.  In fact, they thought He was about to lead a political revolt and overthrow the Jewish religious leaders, as well as the Roman military.  This scene is recorded in John 13.


Jesus shocked them by announcing his betrayal by Judas (verse 21).  Then He really shocked them with the news that He was going to die (Matt. 26:31).  But, He adds that He would rise from the grave (Matt. 26:32)  After that, He tells them He must leave them for awhile (John 13:33).


As usual, Peter reacted first….in this case with a question.  “Where will You go” (verse 36)?  And then in the next verse, Peter asks, “Why can I not follow You, wherever it is?”


It is against this backdrop that the Bible gives us one of the primary references with regard to the tremendous event which we call the Lord’s return.


It is not hard to imagine the feelings of the disciples, and how they must have felt when they heard Him say He was going to leave them.  As far as they knew, this might be the last time they would see Him.  But Jesus wanted them to know that He was not abandoning them.  So, to comfort them, He promised to come back and get them.  These words of comfort are found in the first 3 verses of the following chapter.


John 14:1-3 NKJV


1       Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.

2       In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

3       And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.


As mentioned earlier, John 14 is part of a larger address known as the Upper Room Discourse.  This meeting occurred the night before His crucifixion.  In this, the last meeting with His disciples before the cross, Jesus announced the coming of another "Companion," the Holy Spirit, who would take  His place.  But He also assured them that He Himself would later come to receive them to Himself.  This was a statement that He would take them to His Father's house.  Jesus was going to His Father in bodily form to those mansions, "abiding places" that He will prepare for them in the Father's house.


As a good bridegroom, the Lord announced His intentions to prepare a dwelling place for His bride.  Also, as a good bridegroom, He wants His bride with Him.  So He assured the disciples that He would return to take them to be with Himself.


It is important to notice that all the Lord promised on this occasion was the simple fact that He would return for His followers.  In other words, they would see Him again.  He did not elaborate with much detail at this point.  His intention was to provide comfort to his disciples about His leaving them.  He did not want their hearts to be troubled.


But He did not say anything about HOW he would come, or WHEN His coming would occur.  This is the beginning of the disciples understanding of what is called the Rapture.




The Rapture is the term used to describe the supernatural moment when Jesus Christ will transform the bodies of all living and departed believers into their new spiritual, immortal bodies as they “rise to meet Him in the air.”


As I mentioned in an earlier lesson, the word rapture is not found in our English Bible.  But the event known as “The Rapture” is clearly taught there.  One thing is absolutely sure – Jesus will keep His promise to come back for His bride.  Although Christ does not tell His followers when or how He will return, He does provide a 4-part promise that must be kept in mind when studying the Rapture.


That 4-part promise is:


         1.      He is preparing a place for his people.


         2.      He will come back from heaven.


         3.      His purpose for returning is the retrieve his followers.


         4.      His followers will spend all eternity with Him.


All four of these promises will be fulfilled when the Rapture occurs.  Other writers of the New Testament books provide other details, not given by Jesus in John 14.  However, none of them tell us WHEN.  No one knows when it will happen, but it WILL happen.  Soon there is going to be a mass exodus of Christians from planet earth.  A rendezvous with Christ in the upper atmosphere (in the clouds) will take place.


Let’s once again briefly define the word RAPTURE.




The word “rapture” come from the Latin root word “Rapturo” or "Raptus."  This is the Latin translation of the Greek verb “harpazo” (pronounced harpadso).  This Greek word is used 14 times in the New Testament.  It literally means… seize, to catch away, to suddenly remove.  Specifically, in eschatology, it refers to the catching away of the Church to meet Christ in the air.




         1 Thessalonians 4:13-18


         1 Corinthians 15:50-55


These two passages complement each other. Both enlarge greatly of what Jesus mentions about the Rapture.  Of these, one deals with the question of who would be included.  The other describes the resurrection of the church and how the dead are raised. 


         1 Thessalonians speaks of our "transportation" to be with the Lord.


         1 Corinthians tells of our "transformation" to be like the Lord.


Let's first look at Paul's description of the Rapture found in his first letter to the Thessalonians.  Of all of Paul's books this was the first to be written.  In it he stressed the need for holy living.  He did this by including reminders of the Lord's coming. He obviously was not adverse to feeding this young church on the prophetic message.  Every chapter in both of his letters to this church records something about the coming of the Lord.


It is obvious from what he says in his first letter that he had emphasized these truths when he was with them.  This of course made them quite "rapture-conscious."  After He left them, some of their group had died, giving rise to the question as to whether the dead would miss out on the Rapture.  Would saints who die miss the glorious "meeting in the air?"  And Paul's response was a clear declaration that all believers in Christ will take part in the Rapture.


1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 NIV


13     Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.

14     We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

15     According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.


For the next two verses, let me show you a chart I used in the very first lesson of this series.


1 Thessalonians 4:16-17  (NKJV)


16     For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

17     Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.


The Greek word “HARPAZO” is used in verse 17, and is translated “caught up” in this version of this verse.


There is a striking resemblance between the two Rapture passages we have studied thus far.  Let's compare Paul's description of the Rapture and that of Jesus in John 14.



         John 14:1-3                                                   1 Thessalonians 4:13-17        


Trouble                       v. 1                               Sorrow                                      v. 13

believe                        v. 1                               believe                                       v. 14

God, Me                    v. 1                               Jesus, God                                 v. 14

told you                      v. 2                               say to you                                  v. 15

come again                 v. 3                               coming of the Lord                     v. 15

receive you                 v. 3                               caught up                                   v. 17

to Myself                    v. 3                               to meet the Lord                        v. 17

be where I am            v. 3                               always be with the Lord             v. 17


The two passages are remarkably similar, even to the exact order of words and phrases.  In the context of John, Jesus is announcing the Rapture of the church, which Paul will later discuss in greater detail.


When we examined 1 Thess. 4:16-17, we should have noticed that the Church will consist of two distinct groups.


         1.      Those who have previously died in the faith  (the dead in Christ),


         2.      Those Christians who are still alive when the Rapture occurs.


When we turn to the other Passage where Paul gives the Corinthians the details of the Rapture, you will find a similar description.  Let's turn to the Resurrection chapter of the Bible – 1 Corinthians 15.


1 Corinthians 15:50-52 NIV


50     I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

51     Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-

52     in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.


Before examining the details of the rapture given by Paul to the church in Corinth, I think it is necessary to give some background.


The problem Paul dealt with in 1 Corinthians 15 was a bit different than with the Thessalonians.  The Corinthians Christians lived in a culture steeped in the philosophy of Plato.  The Platonic philosophy did acknowledge some kind of spiritual resurrection.  However, the philosophy of Platonism considered "matter" to be evil, and because of this, they denied the possibility of a bodily resurrection.  By the way, this was, in part, also the problem the early church had with Gnosticism.  The Gnostics integrated the philosophy of Plato into their brand of Christianity.  But this denial of a bodily resurrection challenges one of the core doctrines of the Church.  Christianity is based on the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.


To the congregation in Corinth, Paul wrote his classic passage on the resurrection of the church and how it would take place.  He writes the 15th chapter of his first letter to Corinth by arguing first from the fact of Christ's bodily resurrection.  To add weight to his argument, he point to many witnesses of Christ's resurrection who are still-living.


He proceeds to show the logic of a physical resurrection.  One problem he had to confront was how a decomposed body could be recomposed and raised to life again.  This problem is further complicated where cremation has taken place with ashes strewn in the ocean.  Just how will God be able to reassemble all the pieces, and put "Humpty-Dumpty" back together again.  The apostle then gave one of the strongest statements on this doctrine, defending the future resurrection of the body.


To display the logic, Paul used an illustration from nature.  A new sprout can only grow as the seed is sown in the ground and dies. (1 Corinthians 15:36).  Like that sprout, the believer's body will one day arise out of death in a new form.  While retaining many features of the old, the new body will also be different.  It will be incorruptible, glorious and powerful.  It will be similar to Christ's resurrected body in which He entered rooms without opening doors and ate food, though He didn't need to.


With this explanation, however, Paul had a further word of revelation.  The principle that death is necessary to bring about the rising of a new transformed body will have one outstanding exception.


What happens to those still alive at the coming of Christ?  Will they have to undergo a quick death to resurrect?  Or, will they just be caught up in their mortal bodies.  Paul's answer is that those still living when Christ returns will experience instant transformation.  Since verse 50 tells us that "flesh and blood" cannot inhabit God's kingdom, they must receive incorruptible and immortal bodies.


Again, beginning in verse 51, Paul reveals there are two possible ways by which a corruptible body can be transformed into an incorruptible.  One way is by resurrection from the dead - the other is by translation.  The dead in Christ will be resurrection, while those still living will be translated, that is, changed.  It is this latter truth that is referred to as a "MYSTERY."


Flesh and blood cannot cope with the challenges and enjoy the delights of heaven's glories.  Only a changed body can.  Instead of passing through the death process, they will be transformed in an "atom" of time.  That is, this will transpire in the smallest fraction of a second. By a special miracle, living believers will be changed "in a twinkling of an eye," as they rise to meet the Lord in the air.  Though not resurrected from the dead, they will be completely transformed to prepare them for that eternal relationship in God's house.


Let’s keep looking at this passage a moment more.  Paul makes several points in this short Passage.




       He is speaking about death.  In the New Testament, death is often described as “sleep”.


Let's quickly review what Paul tells us in this passage.


The first point Paul makes is that not all Christians will die.  This is consistent with the fact that many believers will be alive in the final generation when Christ comes for his followers.


The second point Paul makes is that the blowing of the trumpet will accompany this Rapture.


The third point Paul makes is that Christ will first resurrect the bodies of those believers who have already died.


The fourth point is that the translation of the living believers, is in the “twinkling of an eye.”


The fifth and final point is that all believers – both dead and alive – will be changed into their new immortal, resurrection bodies.


I now want to discuss the "mystery" in this passage a little more.  It should be clear that it is NOT a mystery that saints who die will be raised again from the dead.  That is mentioned a number of times in the Old Testament.  It was over this one point that the two major religious sects in Jesus' time debated.  The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection - the Pharisees did believe.  In the oldest book in the Bible, Job declares that in the "latter my flesh I shall see God."  The resurrection was not a hidden truth.


Also, the idea that there would be saints living at the time the Messiah would come to set up His kingdom was also something taught in the Old Testament.  But, the viewpoint of all Old Testament prophecies is that saints on earth at the time of the second advent, will enter the millennial kingdom alive, as mortals, "in the flesh."  Old Testament prophecies speak of mortal people tilling the soil, raising crops, having children born to them, during this future reign of the Messiah.


The idea of a generation of believers that will not die and yet be translated from mortal to immortal, is a mystery truth that is not mentioned in the Old Testament.  And there are no passages in either the Old or New Testaments which speak of the translation of saints occurring at the second coming of Christ to set up His kingdom.


We are told, in Daniel 12:1-2, when the resurrection of Old Testament saints occurs, and yet, there is no mention of the living having their moral bodies changed to immortal.  And we are also told, in Revelation 20:4, when the Tribulations saints are resurrected, but again, there is no mention of living saints whose bodies are changed immortal.  To say it another way, there has been no prophecy for Old Testament and Tribulation saints, which promises a translation for those living at the coming of Christ.


This makes the entire event, called the Rapture, a mystery, which was never mentioned in the Old Testament.  In a previous lesson, we investigated the passage in Ephesians 3 and elsewhere, that the Church is also called a "mystery."  This is something not mentioned ever in the Old Testament.  Everything about the Church is a New Testament revelation.  That includes its ending - the Rapture - as well.


There is yet another truth mentioned to happen at the rapture of the Church that also is never mentioned in the Old Testament.  We read it a few minutes ago, when we read the passage in 1 Thessalonians 4.


1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NIV


13     Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.

14     We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.


Do you see it?  Verse 14 tells us that when Jesus comes back at the Rapture, He is going to bring with Him those believers who have previously died.  That truth also is never mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament. 


In what sense will Jesus bring with Him those who have fallen asleep?  This refers to Christians who have died and the expression of falling asleep is used to emphasize the fact that their death is temporary.


When a Christian dies, his/her soul goes immediately to heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8).  On the occasion of the Rapture of the church, Paul declares that Jesus would bring with Him the souls of those who have fallen asleep.  They would be brought with Jesus and reunited with their resurrected and changed bodies.


Now let’s summarize what we have learned thus far about the Rapture of the Church.  Let’s put what we know into the sequence in which they will occur.


1.      Christ will literally descend bodily from Heaven with a shout.


2.      He will be bringing all the spirits of the Christians who have died.


3.      The voice of the archangel will be heard.


4.      A trumpet blast will occur.


5.      The bodies of all Christians who have died will be raised from their graves, and will, in an instant, “in the twinkling of an eye,” be transformed into incorruptible bodies.


6.      The spirits of those who have died will be reunited with their now immortal bodies,……


7.      Those believer alive at the time of the Rapture will never experience death, but their bodies will also be changed into new immortal, resurrection bodies.


8.      Next there will be a brief reunion between those who were dead and those who were alive as they proceed upward.


9.      All believers making up the Church, and having their bodies changed to be like Christ’s glorified body, finally meet Christ in the air.

10.   Thereafter, these people making up the Bride of Christ will never die, and will always be with Him wherever Christ is.


Actually, all of this takes place in a very short timeframe.