What Is the Rapture? Biblical Meaning in End Times Explained

The word “rapture” is taken from the Latin “rapio” for the two words “caught up” used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. It has come into popular use today to refer to the Lord Jesus coming for the church, to lift her up into the heavens.

Updated Jun 03, 2024
What Is the Rapture? Biblical Meaning in End Times Explained

It's true that the word rapture is not in the Bible. But neither will you find the Trinity by name in the Bible, nor the word mission and a number of other terms we use to describe theological concepts clearly taught in Scripture.

The word “rapture” is taken from the Latin “rapio” for the two words “caught up” used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The word "rapture" has come into popular use today to refer to the Lord Jesus coming for the church, to lift her up into the heavens. One raptured is “lifted up” in love.

 The concept of the rapture is one of the most discussed and debated topics in Christian eschatology - the study of the end times, focusing on events such as the return of Christ, the final judgment, and the ultimate destiny of humanity. The term comes from the Greek word "eschatos," meaning "last" or "final," and "logia," meaning "study of." Eschatology deals with the "last things" or the end of history from a biblical perspective. Let's take a look at what the rapture means according to a Biblical worldview, different interpretations of when the rapture will happen, misconceptions about the rapture, and how believers of Jesus Christ can prepare for this event.

What Does Rapture Mean?

When you are studying the rapture of the church, there are several things you need to keep in mind. First of all, the second coming of Christ is in two parts, separated by a period of seven years.

The first part is sometimes referred to as the “Rapture” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 1 Corinthians 15:52-58). The second part occurs when Christ physically, bodily returns to this earth on the Mount of Olives from which He ascended. The interval between these two events, known as the Tribulation and Great Tribulation, is divided into two, three-and-a-half year periods each. The seventy weeks described in Daniel 9:24-27 speaks of this.

The rapture, as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, is a moment when believers, both deceased and living, are "caught up" to meet the Lord in the air. This event is often viewed as a sudden, transformative experience where Christians are taken up from the earth to be with Christ. It symbolizes a gathering of the faithful, a divine rescue from impending tribulation, and the beginning of eternal fellowship with the Lord. The rapture is characterized by its immediacy and the profound hope it offers to believers who anticipate being united with Christ without experiencing death.

In contrast, the second coming of Christ, detailed in passages like Zechariah 14:3-4 and Revelation 19:11-16, involves Jesus' return to earth to establish His kingdom and execute judgment. Unlike the rapture, where Christ meets His followers in the air, the second coming is a visible and triumphant descent to earth. Zechariah 14:4 specifically mentions that Jesus will stand on the Mount of Olives, causing a significant geographical and spiritual transformation. This event marks the culmination of human history, the defeat of evil, and the beginning of Christ's millennial reign on earth.

The Great Tribulation is the “wrath to come” from which the believer is delivered by the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). The children of God, “because they have kept the word of His patience, will be kept from that hour of trial.” (Revelation 3:10).

We believe that the Scripture teaches that Christians will not be judged with the world when God pours out His wrath in the day of the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 5:9 says, “God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” Scripture teaches us to look for the Lord’s return, not for the tribulation (1 Thessalonians 1:10 and Titus 2:13).

Jesus said regarding His second coming, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” We should live like Jesus is coming today. It may be closer than we dare dream.

This view is referred to as premillennialism. However, there are different interpretations of the Rapture, so let's take a look at a few together.

Different Interpretations of When the Rapture Will Happen

As Christians, we eagerly anticipate the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, the Bible's descriptions of the rapture—when believers will be caught up to meet Christ—have led to various interpretations. These differing views are primarily about the timing of the rapture in relation to the tribulation period, a time of severe trials and divine judgment. Here, we'll explore the three main perspectives: Pre-Tribulation, Mid-Tribulation, and Post-Tribulation.

Pre-Tribulation View

The Pre-Tribulation view holds that the rapture will occur before the seven-year tribulation begins. This perspective is rooted in the belief that God will spare believers from the outpouring of His wrath on earth.

1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 supports this view - "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him." - and those who hold to pre-tribulation view of the rapture believe:

  • Believers will be taken up to heaven before the tribulation starts.
  • This view offers comfort that Christians will not endure the severe judgments described in Revelation.
  • It emphasizes the imminence of Christ's return, meaning it could happen at any moment.

Mid-Tribulation View

The Mid-Tribulation view posits that the rapture will occur halfway through the tribulation, at the three-and-a-half-year mark. Proponents believe that the first half of the tribulation will be marked by lesser judgments, with the more severe judgments beginning after the rapture.

The key passage for mid-tribulation view is Daniel 9:27 - "He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering." and this view of the rapture is

  • Believers will endure the first half of the tribulation but will be raptured before the most intense period of suffering.
  • The rapture will coincide with significant prophetic events, such as the breaking of the covenant and the rise of the Antichrist.
  • This view highlights the purification and preparation of the church through tribulation.

Post-Tribulation View

The Post-Tribulation view argues that the rapture will occur at the end of the seven-year tribulation, coinciding with the second coming of Christ. This perspective suggests that believers will go through the entire tribulation period.

The key passage for tribulation is Matthew 24:29-31 - "Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other." The beliefs of this view are:

  • The rapture and Christ's visible return to earth are a single, simultaneous event.
  • Believers will endure the tribulation but will be protected and strengthened by God.
  • This view underscores the perseverance and faithfulness required of believers during the end times.

Understanding these differing interpretations can help you navigate the complexities of end-times theology. Whether you lean towards Pre-Tribulation, Mid-Tribulation, or Post-Tribulation, the essential truth remains: Jesus Christ will return, and as believers, we are called to be ready, living in faith and obedience. 

Why Do Christians Talk about the Rapture So Much?

The rapture is not a word that's found in Scripture, but it's a Biblical idea and a Biblical concept, which is that at the end of the age, Jesus returns and calls his people to him in the air so that as Paul talks about in 1 Thessalonians chapter four, those who are dead are raised first, and then those who are still alive are caught up with the Lord Jesus in the air. 

Where Christians disagree is not over whether or not there is a rapture, all Christians of every stripe believes there is a rapture. The question is when? And so, most Christians in the history of the church have believed in one singular coming of the Lord Jesus, the second coming of Christ, where believers are called to join Jesus in the air and return together to the earth. There are some Christians in the history of the church, dispensationalists they're called, who believe in something called a pre-tribulational rapture. So these people believe that because God is going to restore Israel and keep His promises in a literal, earthly fashioned Israel, that he's going to do this during the seven year tribulation period. So God ends His working with the largely Gentile church by removing the church out of the world. So believers are raptured away in the secret coming of Jesus, taken to heaven for seven years, and then there is a public, visible coming of Christ. 

I don't think the Bible teaches that, but that doesn't mean that I think that's heretical. The people from whom I learned the Gospel believed in a pre-tribulational rapture and they believed it because they believed the New Testament taught it. So it's not the kind of thing that I would divide a church or even a Sunday school class over. And what I say to my pre-tribulational friends in my church is, "I hope you're right. I hope I'm wrong and that Christians don't go through the time of great tribulation. And if so, I'll be willing to acknowledge that as we're sailing through the air. You were right about that." 

But I think the most important issue, though, is not whether or not somebody holds to a pre-trib or a post-trib rapture, it's why. And so, somebody who says, "I believe that the Scripture teaches a secret rapture of the church for a variety of reasons, maybe because you have to ... It would give the immediacy, the more thief in the night kind of approach that Jesus gives when he teaches about this." Okay. I think that's different than someone who argues, "Well, obviously God is going to remove His people from the earth because God would not allow His people to go through a time of great tribulation." Which even if you hold to a pre-trib rapture, somebody who is in Christ is going through the great tribulation because there are people in the accounts in the book of the Revelation who are believers. Maybe they come to faith in Christ after the rapture in a pre-trib scheme or the 144,000 Jews in a dispensational understanding. Somebody who believes in Christ is going through tribulation. And if only one person is going through tribulation, that means it can't happen. 

But more importantly, I think, is that we have to understand the normal pattern of the Christian life is persecution and tribulation. And so, we need to be preparing our children and grandchildren for tribulation, even if it's not the great tribulation. We have brothers and sisters in Christ right now in Sudan, in China from whom it must seem like great tribulation right now, very difficult to discern between the kind of persecution they're enduring on an everyday basis and the picture that they see in Revelation chapter 13. We need to be preparing our children no matter where we are, to face spirit of Antichrist and to face tribulation. Because John tells us there is one ultimate Antichrist, but there are many Antichrists between now and then, and there's a spirit of Antichrist that's always at work. 

Same thing is true with tribulation. There's a final time of intense trouble, but that's just an intensification of what's already going on. It's not something new, it's not something different. So we need to be sure that we're not teaching people, "If you encounter Antichrist, if you encounter tribulation, that must mean that God is not with you." No, it means you stand strong and you stand firm and you confess Jesus, even to the point of having your head chopped off because Jesus can put heads back on. (Transcript from the video above featuring Russell Moore edited for readability)

What Will the Rapture Be Like?

A prevalent misconception involves the nature of the rapture—whether it will be a secret or a visible event. Some interpretations, particularly those popularized by fictional series like "Left Behind," suggest a secret rapture where believers vanish without warning, leaving the world bewildered and searching for answers. This depiction has captured the imagination of many, but it might not fully align with biblical descriptions.

A closer examination of biblical texts indicates that the rapture may be far from secretive. For instance, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 describes a sequence of events that are decidedly loud and visible: a loud command, the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet call of God. This passage suggests that the rapture will be an event marked by divine fanfare, making it impossible to miss. Such a vivid and audible occurrence contrasts sharply with the idea of a quiet, unnoticed disappearance.

Similarly, Matthew 24:30-31 speaks of the return of Christ with great power and glory. This passage describes celestial disturbances, the sign of the Son of Man appearing in the sky, and a loud trumpet call accompanying the gathering of the elect. These descriptions imply a dramatic and public event, one that would be witnessed by all, believers and non-believers alike. The imagery here is not one of secrecy but of undeniable, glorious revelation.

This interpretation aligns with other biblical passages that depict the end times as a period of great and visible upheaval. For example, Revelation 1:7 declares, "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him." This Scripture highlights the idea that Christ's return and the rapture will be seen by everyone, contradicting the notion of a secret event.

How to be "Rapture Ready"

Below is a checklist to prepare for the trip of rapture. Being "rapture ready" means living in a state of spiritual preparedness, anticipating Christ's return at any moment. This readiness is emphasized by Jesus' warnings to always be prepared, as highlighted in Matthew 24:42-44, where He says, "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come...So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."

Here are practical steps to ensure you are spiritually ready for the rapture:

1. Cultivate a Personal Relationship with Christ

  • Daily Prayer: Engage in regular, heartfelt conversations with God. Prayer strengthens your relationship with Christ and helps you stay spiritually alert (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  • Bible Study: Immerse yourself in the Scriptures to understand God's will and promises. Studying the Bible deepens your faith and provides guidance for righteous living (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

2. Live a Life of Obedience

  • Follow Christ's Teachings: Strive to live according to the teachings of Jesus, embodying love, compassion, and integrity in your daily life (John 14:15).
  • Repentance: Regularly confess your sins and seek God's forgiveness. True repentance leads to spiritual renewal and keeps your heart aligned with God's will (1 John 1:9).

3. Stay Vigilant and Watchful

  • Be Alert: Keep watch for signs of the times and remain spiritually awake. Jesus cautioned His followers to be vigilant and ready for His return at any moment (Mark 13:33-37).
  • Discernment: Develop spiritual discernment to recognize false teachings and stay true to the gospel. This helps you remain steadfast in your faith (1 John 4:1).

4. Engage in Christian Community

  • Fellowship with Believers: Regularly gather with other Christians for worship, encouragement, and mutual edification (Hebrews 10:24-25). Community support strengthens your faith and keeps you accountable.
  • Serve Others: Actively participate in serving your church and community. Serving others reflects Christ’s love and fulfills His commandments (Galatians 5:13).

5. Maintain a Hopeful and Expectant Attitude

  • Hope in Christ's Return: Keep the hope of the rapture alive in your heart. This hope inspires you to live a holy and godly life (Titus 2:13).
  • Encourage One Another: Share the hope of Christ's return with fellow believers to build each other up and remain focused on the eternal reward (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

6. Pursue Holiness and Righteousness

  • Sanctification: Seek to live a holy life, set apart for God's purposes. Holiness is essential for those who await Christ’s return (1 Peter 1:15-16).
  • Moral Integrity: Uphold moral and ethical standards in all areas of life. Righteous living is a testament to your faith and readiness (Philippians 1:27).

By following these steps, you can ensure that you are spiritually prepared for the rapture. Living a life characterized by faith, obedience, and anticipation of Christ’s return not only prepares you for the rapture but also enriches your spiritual journey, bringing you closer to God and His eternal promises. Remember, readiness for the rapture is about a continuous, committed relationship with Christ, lived out daily in faith and obedience.


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