“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that this day should overtake you like a thief.” 1 Thessalonians 5:4
Written by Jeff Exner
I have struggled with the question of the rapture for many years, sometimes sure of what I believed in regards to its timing and purpose, only to sense that uneasy feeling of uncertainty and doubt creep in. If you are like me, you don’t like to stand on uncertain ground in regards to the Bible, truth, and things of the future. We are talking about a very important subject and no one wants to be wrong. A certain amount of uncertainty is always going to be present when we are dealing with events of the future, but how much is allowed before we discard a view? Far too often, we take the “I’ll just wait and see what happens, and then I’ll know for sure” attitude and think we are on moral high ground. The reality is that’s really not solid ground at all.
After placing the rapture question on the shelf for many years, I began to find that world events and rampant false teaching would no longer afford me the time to play around with the rapture question. I needed to know the truth in order to determine how I should view and prepare for the impending conclusion of our age. I began to seek the Lord and asking only for His truth in this matter, and not man’s opinion. I can say with a clean conscience that it really didn’t matter what I found, Pre, Mid, Post, none at all; I just wanted to know. After much study, prayer and seeking the mind of Christ, I believe I can answer the rapture question with certainty and peace of mind and soul. Having come to my own conclusion on this matter, I found that many others were also struggling with this issue, and felt compelled to help by sharing the information that brought me to my conclusion. I therefore offer the following document to those who are seeking the truth in this matter. I hope it helps you as it has helped me.
I do not intend this to be an exhaustive treatment of the rapture question, but I do intend this to settle the question once for all in the minds of those who are honestly and openly seeking the truth. With this in mind, let us begin.
The first thing we need to do is define just what the rapture is.
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. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NKJV)
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-- 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of
an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 (NKJV)
So we see that a simple definition of the rapture is that those who are alive when Jesus descends from heaven will be changed after the dead in Christ have been changed and raised, and we will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet Christ in the air, to be with Him forever. Seems pretty straight forward and doesn’t appear to be too controversial. The obvious question may be asked at this point, and that is: “why must there be a rapture?” Scripture answers this in simple language as well.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 1 Corinthians 15:50 (NKJV)
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." 55 "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:53-57 (NKJV)
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2 (NKJV)
So we see that there must be a rapture to change our bodies into immortal bodies like Jesus has, so we can live forever without dying. Again, pretty simple and straightforward. We should also note that regardless of when we think the rapture will occur, it must occur; because there will be people alive on the earth when Jesus returns, and those people must be transformed into their new bodies.
Interestingly enough, there is evidence that Jesus Himself spoke of this. Speaking to Martha about the resurrection just prior to raising Lazarus, Jesus said to her:
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25-26 (NKJV)
Notice that Jesus is speaking about two distinct groups of people. The first group consists of believers who have died: He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. The second group consists of believers that are alive, and do not experience death: And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. So the only way for people who are alive when Christ returns to get their resurrection bodies, would be to be changed into their resurrection bodies without experiencing death.
Now, in order to get into the question of when the rapture occurs in regards to end time events, we need to lay some foundational groundwork. I’ll try to make this as easy as possible, while not skipping anything essential.
It is necessary to address the methods of interpretation before we can get into the proper understanding of prophecy. There are only really two methods of interpretation; the literal method and the allegorical method.
The allegorical method can be defined as the method of interpreting a literary text that regards the literal sense as the vehicle to a secondary, more spiritual and more profound sense. In this method the historical meaning is either denied or ignored and the emphasis is placed entirely on a secondary sense so that the original words or events have little or no significance.
The obvious dangers inherent in this system are that it takes away the authority of Scripture, leaves the reader without any basis on which interpretations may be tested, and reduces Scripture to what seems reasonable to the interpreter, and as a result, makes true interpretation of Scripture impossible. Scripture is no longer the authority, man as the interpreter usurps the Scriptures’ authority and tells Scripture what it does or does not say. With this method, man becomes god, and Scripture simply is a device by which man pretends to be speaking for God. Those who employ this method usually do not advise the average person to read and interpret Scripture for themselves. They reserve this privilege for themselves as the enlightened, educated, and initiated.
The literal method can be defined as the method of interpreting a literary text that regards the grammatical and historical, customary, socially-acknowledged designation of a word to be the literal meaning of that word, with any secondary meaning, be it allegorical, typical, or any other, to be dependent on, and subservient to, the literal meaning of the words. This places God as the authority, and man subservient to His Word. In the literal method, Scripture can be compared with Scripture, and thus the average individual can understand Scripture for himself. No amount of elitism or education insulates anyone from being subject to the authority of the Word with this method.
A quick review of the history of interpretation is in order. It is generally agreed that interpretation began at the time of the return of the Israelites from Babylon under Ezra as recorded in Nehemiah 8:1-8. It is also accepted that the method employed by Ezra, and those who followed, was the literal method. Unfortunately, over time, the Rabbinical use of the method circumvented any secondary or spiritual aspects of the law. It was not the method itself, but the misuse of the methods, that lead to this hyper-literal approach, which was the cause of spiritual blindness and lead to many rebukes by Christ, who restored the method to its proper use. It is important to add what might be considered the proper understanding of Hebrew hermeneutics. It required the interpreter to agree to a rigorous moral standard of unbiased, truthful translation. Nothing can be added or subtracted. Scripture is 100% true, exactly as written. The goal is to recognize and understand that truth.