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What Is the Rapture? - Biblical Meaning and Significance

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 22, 2023
What Is the Rapture? - Biblical Meaning and Significance

Meaning of Rapture

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. It 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.

When is the Rapture?

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 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. Learn more historical and theological details of this end times view in "What is Premillennialism?"

Why Do Christians Talk about the Rapture So Much?

(Transcript from the video above, edited for readability)

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.

How to be "Rapture Ready"

Below is a checklist to prepare for the trip of rapture provided by Anne Graham Lotz on

1. Abounding in Love

Where does the command to love others come from? See John 13:34-35 and 1 Thessalonians 4:9.

Give aspects of this love from the following verses: Romans 12:10; Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 1:22; 3:8; and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

What is our motivation to love, as shown in 1 John 3:23 and 1 John 4:11?

Who do you know who needs to hear of God’s love as expressed in John 3:16 before you leave?

2. Established in Faith

How is faith established, in Romans 10:17?

What do you need to do to make sure your faith is established … rooted … grounded?

Who do you need to help establish authentic faith before you go?

Will genuine faith be a common characteristic of people before Jesus returns? Read Proverbs 20:6; Luke 18:8; and Matthew 24:10.

How critical is our faith as we prepare for the trip? Read Hebrews 11:5-6; Romans 5:1-2; and 1 Corinthians 15:13-20.

As life becomes more difficult in the last days before we take our trip, what difference does our faith make? Read Matthew 7:24-27.

What do you need to do to obey the commands in 1 Corinthians 16:13?

3. Confident in Hope

What is our hope, as given in Titus 2:13?

How does Peter describe our hope in 1 Peter 1:3-5?

Is Biblical hope half-hearted? Read 1 Peter 1:13.

Put Psalm 33:20 into your own words, as a prayer.

Putting 2 Peter 3:9 with 3:15, why have we not left yet?

Who do you know who seems hopeless concerning the future? How can you share your confidence with him or her?

4. Unblamable in Holiness

Define holiness from 2 Corinthians 7:1 and 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7.

Explain in your own words what it means to be holy.

How important is it to be found holy when Jesus returns for us? Read Hebrews 12:14 and 2 Peter 3:11-14.

Is holiness optional? See 1 Peter 1:15-16 and 1 John 2:28.

What do you need to do now to be more holy today than you were yesterday? More holy tomorrow than you are today?

5. Steadfast in Service

As the time for our trip draws near, what two types of servants does Jesus describe in Matthew 24:45-51?

Why are some servants not steadfast? Read 2 Peter 3:3-7 and Matthew 25:5.

What encouragement do you receive from 1 Corinthians 15:58? Galatians 6:9? See also 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 and Matthew 25:21, 23.

What is your service for Jesus? How can you serve Him even more as the time for departure draws near?

© 2006 Love Worth Finding Ministries

Dr. Adrian Rogers, preacher/teacher of Love Worth Finding Ministries, and one of America's most respected Bible teachers. Under his 32 years of pastoral leadership, Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, grew from 9,000 members in 1972 to more than 29,000. 

Most important to Dr. Rogers have been the tens and thousands of believers who have had their faith strengthened and thousands of others who have for the first time entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Dr. Rogers passed away on November 15, 2005.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/AaronBurden

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