One of the top topics voted on in our Hot Topics survey was End Times and the Rapture. The Rapture is connected to the Second Coming of Christ – when Jesus comes back, those who believe in Him will be “caught up” or “raptured” into the air to meet Jesus as He comes back on the clouds. The whole idea of the Rapture is meant to give Christians hope, especially in times of suffering and persecution. In fact, all of the teaching in the Bible about the End Times is meant to give warnings and HOPE. Unfortunately, many have used the warnings to create fear. I want to give a brief overview of the teaching on the End Times.
The best place to start is with Jesus (imagine that!). In Matthew 24, Jesus gives a basic time frame:
- A general time of unrest in the world – persecution and wars and famines – but this is only the beginning (the “birthpains”; v.8).
- An intense time of suffering for Christians: “the calamity” (v.22). There will be false “christs” with false miracles that will seek to deceive everyone.
- Jesus will return in the sky. It will be obvious to everyone so you don’t need anyone to tell you (v.30). He will send out His angels and they will gather His people with a trumpet call (v.31).
Christ has two main points connected with this time frame (which are reinforced by the parables in chapter 25):
- Keep watch! (v.42). No one knows the time. There are signs, but it will take longer than you think. Things will get worse, but He will return – so we can have hope in our suffering.
- Be ready and doing what God has called you to do (v.45). Be ready to endure hardship and persecution. The coming of Christ does not mean we sell everything and do nothing; it means we keep working and following Him – right up to the moment He returns.
Starting with Jesus allows us to have a great basic time frame and clear points about the End Times. Paul has the same time frame and basic points in 1 Thessalonians 4-5, where he talks about believers dying, Jesus’ Second Coming, and believers meeting Jesus in the air at the trumpet sound. He tells the readers to encourage each other with this teaching (4:18). 2 Thessalonians 2 talks about the “man of lawlessness” (the anti-Christ). 1 Corinthians 15 talks about the type of bodies we will have when we resurrect. Jesus is returning to earth – and not leaving again. This is the world He created, and He has not given up on it. He will reign here, and we will rule with Him, as He originally called us (Gen 1:28).
If we start with Jesus and Paul, by the time we get to Revelation, things are clearer. Revelation, after giving letters to 7 churches, follows the same time frame as Jesus: general unrest (the seals, chs.5-8), then terrible suffering and persecution (the trumpets and bowls), then the Second Coming of Christ, who will judge the nations. Revelation makes the same basic points – to endure through suffering and not follow the ways of the world that is passing away. Satan and the Antichrist will be defeated and destroyed. Even death is not the end – because those who are faithful will be resurrected. A new heaven and new earth will come, and heaven will descend and God will live on earth and wipe away every tear from our eyes. And the fruit from the trees of life will bear fruit for the healing of the nations (Rev 20-22).
God tells us about the End Times to give us hope. He is in control, even in a world that is often turned against Him. We need to endure, share His Good News, and keep watch for His coming.
So when is the Rapture? There are two basic options:
- The first option sees the trumpet blown in Revelation 8 as the same trumpet mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24. Believers would be caught up in the clouds and called to heaven before the Second Coming, and before the time of suffering known as the Tribulation. This is known as the “Pre-Tribulation” view.
- The second option sees the Rapture happening after the Tribulation, and is known as the “Post-Tribulation” view. This would mean that believers endure the time of suffering and persecution, and are caught up in the sky when Jesus Himself returns.
I think the second option is the better understanding of the Bible, because Jesus intentionally warns His followers to be ready to suffer and endure (one of His two main points). Also, in Revelation, at the trumpet sound (ch.8), there is no mention of the Rapture. Finally, Paul says that when the trumpet sounds we will meet the Lord in the sky – as Jesus is coming down (1 Thess 4:16-18). Believers of good faith hold to both options, and there are variations as well.
The most important message of all, as I end, is to remember the points Jesus made. First, we need to be watchful. His coming is a good thing, and He will bring in true justice and peace to this world. We have a holy longing for the fulfillment of His Kingdom. Second, be ready for His coming. There will be suffering and persecution, but we are to do His will and work for His Kingdom come, even now. We work with hope, knowing our work is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58), and knowing evil and selfishness will be defeated. Death and sin will be defeated – so we do not need to be afraid of them. We can work with hope, knowing the ending. At that End, all things will be made new (Rev 21:5) – it will be a new creation, we will take care of this planet and each other, and we will walk with the Lord forever.