What is the Rapture and when will it happen?

In Christian end-times theology, there can be a large amount of confusion over the subject of the Rapture. Some Christians don't think it will happen, and others argue over the timing of when it will happen. But I believe there is plenty of evidence in the Bible that teaches us all we need to know about the Rapture. As an introduction, let's first discuss what the Rapture is and the Bible verses which refer to it.

What is the Rapture?

The Rapture is the next major event that Christians are waiting for. In the last days before Jesus returns to rule the earth, there is going to be a 7 year period of time called the Tribulation. This is a time when God will send disasters to earth to try to convince people to repent from their sins and turn back to Him, as well as to judge those who don't repent. At this time Satan will give power to a man who is called the Antichrist who will rule over a significant portion of the world. The Antichrist will attempt to conquer the world through treaties and war, will sign a 7-year peace treaty with Israel, will declare himself to be God, and will persecute and kill many Christians who won't worship him. Some Christians believe that the Rapture will happen before this Tribulation period starts, some believe it may happen part-way through the Tribulation but before the more serious disasters start, and some believe it won't happen until the very end of the Tribulation, if it happens at all.

Some Christians claim that the teaching about the Rapture is false, and that all Christians will have to suffer through the Tribulation and probably die for their faith. I would like to see how these people explain these two verses below, which clearly describe the Rapture:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 : "I will explain a mystery to you. Not every one of us will die, but we will all be changed. It will happen suddenly, quicker than the blink of an eye. At the sound of the last trumpet the dead will be raised. We will all be changed so that we will never die again. Our dead and decaying bodies will be changed into bodies that won't die or decay. The bodies we now have are weak and can die. But they will be changed into bodies that are eternal." (CEV)
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:16 to 5:2 : "With a loud command and with the shout of the chief angel and a blast of God's trumpet, the Lord will return from heaven. Then those who had faith in Christ before they died will be raised to life. Next, all of us who are still alive will be taken up into the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the sky. From that time on we will all be with the Lord forever. Encourage each other with these words. I don't need to write you about the time or date when all this will happen. You surely know that the Lord's return will be as a thief coming at night." (CEV)

So based on these two verses, we can see that the Rapture is basically when Jesus comes back to instantly resurrect all the dead Old-Testament saints and dead Christians, to lift them along with all the Christians who are still alive into the clouds, and to transform their bodies into new eternal bodies. Then all these people goes from there to heven where they stay for seven years, while the Tribulation happens on earth.

But the word "Rapture" isn't in the Bible?

The word "Rapture" never appears in most English translations of the Bible. This leads many people to say the Rapture a false teaching and that it won't happen. However, the word "rapture" actually comes from the original Greek manuscript which uses the word "harpazo", which was translated into Latin as "rapturo", which means "caught up" or "snatch away"[1]. The people who reject the Rapture just because of a translation really need to look at all the other Bible verses which support the idea of the Rapture. Some of these are listed below:

  • 2 Thessalonians 2:1 : "When our Lord Jesus returns, we will be gathered up to meet him. So I ask you, my friends, not to be easily upset or disturbed by people who claim the Lord has already come." This shows that the Rapture will happen before the Tribulation. This is why the early Thessalonian church was disturbed - they thought they had missed the Rapture and would have to suffer in the Tribulation, and they were afraid.
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 : "You already know what is holding this wicked one back until it is time for him to come. His mysterious power is already at work, but someone is holding him back. And the wicked one won't appear until that someone is out of the way." Many scholars have wondered who the "someone" is that is referred to in this verse. Some have suggested it is the Holy Spirit - but this doesn't make sense because without the Holy Spirit's influence no one could be saved during the Tribulation period. I believe it makes more sense for it to be the Church (i.e. all Christians). This could be because many Christians pray for God's will to be done in our countries' governments, and this hinders Satan's ability to influence them. So the Church must be removed before Satan can have enough power over the governments to produce the Antichrist and begin creating an empire.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:9 : "God doesn't intend to punish us, but to have our Lord Jesus Christ save us.". We're not destined for punishment like the rest of the sinful world. Some Christians actually want to live during the Tribulation to prove their faith, but this verse shows God has other plans.
  • Revelation 3:10 : "You obeyed my message and endured. So I will protect you from the time of testing that everyone in all the world must go through." This is a promise from Jesus to the Philadelphia Church, which some scholars believe represents the true Christians from the last 250 years [2]. Note that it doesn't say "protect you during the time of testing" it says "from the time of testing", so this is more proof that Christians will be taken to heaven before the Tribulation happens.
  • Luke 21:36 : "That day will surprise everyone on earth. Watch out and keep praying that you can escape all that is going to happen and that the Son of Man will be pleased with you.". Again, this emphasizes the idea of escaping the Tribulation, not having to endure through it.

So we can clearly see from these verses above that current Christians will not have to endure the Tribulation. All of these verses talk about escaping, saving, protecting from the time of testing, etc. But there is even more evidence for the Rapture happening before the Tribulation, and so let's look at that next.

A Comparison to Noah and the Flood

Jesus said "When the Son of Man appears, things will be just as they were when Noah lived. People were eating, drinking, and getting married right up to the day that the flood came and Noah went into the big boat. They didn't know anything was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man appears."(Matthew 24:37-39).

The example of Noah and the flood is very interesting to look at (Genesis 6:5-22). God saved Noah and his family from the flood by instructing them to build a large boat, then sent the flood and wiped out everyone who was not on the boat. However, there was a man named Enoch who lived before Noah was born. "Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away."(Genesis 5:22-24, NIV). When God "took him away", this seems to say he was taken to heaven in the same way that Christians will be taken to heaven at the Rapture (we don't know if Enoch received a new body at this time, or if he is in heaven also waiting for the Rapture for that).

So we can see that the story of Noah and the flood fits well with what will happen before, during, and after the Tribulation: The Church consisting of all current believers (represented by Enoch) is taken to heaven in the Rapture a small time before the Tribulation begins. Then after the Rapture, people who are left behind will convert to Christianity and will believe in Jesus (same as how Noah was born and was a good person after Enoch was taken). However, these people who convert after the Rapture will have to go through the Tribulation, and some may die in the disasters or be killed for their faith - same as how Noah had to go through the flood. Yet God saved Noah - so God will also save some Christians from dying in the Tribulation. Then after the flood was over God told Noah to repopulate the earth - just as the Christians who survive the Tribulation will repopulate Earth in the Millennium where Jesus rules the earth for 1000 years.

A Comparison to a Jewish Wedding

There is another interesting comparison of the Rapture to ancient Jewish wedding traditions. The Church is often described as Christ's bride, and Christ is described as the bridegroom (2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:23-27, Mark 2:19-20). In Revelation 19 it describes an event in heaven called the Marriage Supper of the Lamb: "The wedding day of the Lamb is here, and his bride is ready. She will be given a wedding dress made of pure and shining linen. This linen stands for the good things God's people have done." (Rev. 19:7-8). And God says that those who are invited to this event are especially blessed (Rev. 19:9).

It seems there is an entire Psalm about this event - Psalm 45, which describes the mighty king/glorious ruler and says "You are God, and you will rule forever as king"(Psalm 45:6, CEV), and later discusses his bride wearing a wedding gown and bridesmaids and daughters of kings attending the wedding.

In this Youtube video series [3], Mark Blitz, a Jewish-Christian scholar mentioned that when Jesus said "No one knows the day or time...only the Father knows" (Mark 13:32-37), this was actually a reference to what a Jewish groom would say when people asked him when the wedding would be. The groom's father was traditionally responsible to oversee the wedding preparations, and so only he would know how much more had to be done before it was ready.

This article [4] by David Reagan discusses the similarity between the Jewish wedding traditions and the Rapture. He says that back when Jesus lived, a Jewish wedding would go like this: The bride would be engaged to the groom, then the groom would return to his father's house to make a room ready for the bride. Then when the room was ready, the groom would unexpectedly return for the bride (she had to be ready to go at any time), and would take her back to his father's house. They would stay in the wedding room for 7 days and then come out and celebrate a huge wedding feast.

This matches with how Jesus told his disciples "There are many rooms in my Father's house. I wouldn't tell you this unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together." (John 14:2).

So we can see the same pattern for the Church as for a Jewish wedding: Jesus returns unexpectedly for the church after being in heaven preparing rooms for us. Then The Church (the bride) is suddenly taken to heaven, stays there during the Tribulation for 7 years (like the bride staying in her room for 7 days), and then celebrates the wedding feast (Revelation 19:6-9) and returns to earth with Jesus at the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:14).

The Rapture in the Old Testament

The Rapture was prophesied in the Old Testament as well: "Your people will rise to life! Tell them to leave their graves and celebrate with shouts. You refresh the earth like morning dew; you give life to the dead. Go inside and lock the doors, my people. Hide there for a little while until the Lord is no longer angry. The Lord will come out to punish everyone on earth for their sins." (Isaiah 26:19-21). Here again we see the order of resurrection of the dead, of the resurrected people hiding in a safe place with the doors locked (perhaps the rooms in heaven that Jesus mentioned), while God punishes the evil people on earth during the Tribulation.

The Guests at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb

An interesting side note is about the identity of the guests at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Kent Crockett [6] suspects that the guests may be those people who believed in Jesus during the Tribulation and were killed by the Antichrist, and also the 144,000 Jewish witnesses who are rescued/raptured from the earth when their mission is done (Revelation 14:3). Since they are not part of the Church (the bride), they are guests, but the guests are still blessed because they are invited (Rev. 19:9). Jesus told stories such as the one about the Ten Girls going to a wedding in Matthew 25:1-13, as well as the wedding guests in Matthew 22:2-14, where many people are invited to a wedding but some either aren't ready or are too busy doing other things to attend. Perhaps these stories are meant to represent the people who hear the preaching from the 144,000 witnesses during the Tribulation but ignore it or reject it.

The Elders in Heaven

The Rapture is also clearly found in the book of Revelation. In John's vision, after describing the seven different church ages (Revelation 2-3), then John says "After this, I looked and saw a door that opened into heaven. Then the voice that had spoken to me at first and that sounded like a trumpet said, 'Come up here! I will show you what must happen next.' Right then the Spirit took control of me, and there in heaven I saw a throne and someone sitting on it. The one who was sitting there sparkled like precious stones of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow that looked like an emerald surrounded the throne. Twenty-four other thrones were in a circle around that throne. And on each of these thrones there was an elder dressed in white clothes and wearing a gold crown" (Revelation 4:1-4, CEV). This seems to indicate that John experienced a vision of the Rapture. There is a voice which sounds like a trumpet, which matches the "loud command and with the shoud of the chief angel and a blast of God's trumpet" from 1 Thessalonians 4:16. Then John saw the door open in the sky and he went up to heaven through it - this could be how the Raptured Christians will enter heaven after meeting Jesus in the clouds.

There is also confirmation that the "Come up here" shout is the command used for the Rapture. If we look in Revelation 11:12, once the Two Witnesses are killed and resurrected, then "The witnesses then heard a loud voice from heaven, saying 'Come up here'. And while their enemies were watching, they were taken up to heaven in a cloud.". So they too are Raptured, although after they have completed their mission during the Tribulation. This matches nearly perfectly with what John saw in Revelation 4:1, and with the descriptions of the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians!

This is confirmed because in Revelation 4:4, just after the Rapture, in heaven John sees a vision of God's throne, and "Twenty-four other thrones were in a circle around that throne. And on each of these thrones there was an elder dressed in white clothes and wearing a gold crown.". As explained in more detail in this article by Ron Graham here, these elders are the Church (not angels - since angels are spirits and so don't sit, wear clothes, or wear crowns). More interesting information about the elders is written by Jack Kelley here. He says: "There are four Old Testament views of the Throne of God. Those in Isaiah 6:1-4 and Ezekiel 1 and 10 don't include these 24 elders. The one in Daniel 7:9-10, an end of the age vision, hints at multiple thrones but offers no detail. But in the Book of Revelation the 24 elders are mentioned 12 times. Some group has arrived in Heaven that wasn't there in Old Testament times, and 12 is the number of government. It's the Church, come to rule and reign with Christ."

So with all of this evidence, we can clearly see that the Rapture occurs at the start of Revelation chapter 4, after the seven church ages are over, and just before the Tribulation begins in Revelation chapter 6. Therefore, we can be confident that those who are Christians now will never have to worry about being in the Tribulation. We won't even see the Antichrist appear, since that occurs in Revelation chapter 6:1-3.

But what about the "saints" mentioned in Revelation?

Some people claim that the Rapture can't possibly happen before the Tribulation, because the book of Revelation talks about the "saints" or the "elect", which they assume are the same as the Church. However, the Church and the saints/elect are different groups of people. The Church is made of all believers from the time of the disciples to the Rapture. The saints/elect are the people who accept Jesus after the Rapture and live during the Tribulation. Here are some of the major differences between these two groups:

  • The Church will not be defeated by Satan. Jesus said to Peter "So I will call you Peter, which means 'a rock'. On this rock I will build my church, and death itself will not have any power over it." (Matthew 16:18, CEV). However, Satan is allowed to conquer the saints: The beast (the Antichrist) "was allowed to fight against God's people and defeat them." (Revelation 13:7). A large number of the Tribulation saints will die for their faith, as shown in Revelation 20:4 "I also saw the souls of the people who had their heads cut off because they had told about Jesus and preached God's message. They were the same ones who had not worshiped the beast or the idol, and they had refused to let its mark be put on their hands or foreheads.". This does not match with the promises that the Church will not be overcome by death, or the promises to the Philadelphia church that they will be protected from the Tribulation (Revelation 3:10).
  • The Churches are mentioned in letters beginning in Revelation chapter 2 and 3, but as soon as Chapter 4 starts and Jesus says "Come up here" to John, then the church is never mentioned again. Many scholars believe this is the point in Revelation where the Church is Raptured (see above 'Elders in Heaven paragraph), and then only the Tribulation "saints" are discussed in the rest of Revelation.
  • As explained earlier, the Church is Raptured, resurrected/given eternal bodies, and then participates in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb as the bride (Revelation 19). However, the Tribulation saints are not resurrected until Revelation 20:4 - after the battle of Armageddon. Therefore, the Tribulation Saints are not part of the Church.

Also, when Paul wrote of the Rapture to the Christians in Thessalonians, he told them to "Encourage one another with these words." (1 Thessalonians 4:1). The Rapture would not be encouraging if the Church knew it would have to suffer and die in the Tribulation before the Rapture happens. Some Christians seem to want to die for their faith, and want to go through the Tribulation to prove how "spiritual" they are. They claim that the Christians who believe in the Rapture will be so disillusioned when the Rapture doesn't happen that they will all be deceived by the Antichrist, and only the Christians who are not expecting the Rapture will see the truth.

However, there is absolutely no basis for this in the Bible, and I doubt that all the pastors and Christians who believe the doctrine of the Rapture would instantly lose faith and ignore all the other signs about who the Antichrist is. Those Christians who want to suffer and die in the Tribulation should think twice about what they want. It's easy to be courageous when you're posting on the internet sitting in a nice safe house, but Jesus says "This will be the worst time of suffering since the beginning of the world, and nothing this terrible will ever happen again. If God doesn't make the time shorter, no one will be left alive." (Matthew 24:21-22). So this will be worse than the Great Depression, or the Plagues of Egypt, or the Middle Ages with all the horrible diseases. It will be worse than World War 2 and the Holocaust. Would these Christians really want to live through it when they see it happening in person? I highly doubt it.

When will the Rapture happen?

I believe that we are able to see the signs rapidly approaching that indicate that the Rapture is near. When Paul was teaching the Thessalonians about the Rapture, he said "I don't need to write you about the time or date when all this will happen. You surely know that the Lord's return will be as a thief coming at night. People will think they are safe and secure. But destruction will suddenly strike them like the pains of a woman about to give birth. And they won't escape. My dear friends, you don't live in darkness and so that day won't surprise you like a thief." (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4, CEV).

I believe this verse says that if we are paying attention to world events, then Christians will know approximately when the Rapture may occur. I suspect it may be like how when a person has a birthday approaching, and knows there is a surprise party planned for them. As the birthday gets closer, the person will become more and more suspicious of when/where the party may happen, and will see signs here and there that something is up. Then when the party does happen the person will be surprised, but not in total shock, since they knew it had to be around this approximate time and had some hints that it was near. Christians need to watch world events and be ready for Jesus to return at any time.

I don't believe anyone will ever know the exact date of the Rapture. This is because while we know the Rapture must occur before the Tribulation, it is not set to happen on a specific date. Instead, it is based on the total number of Christians who have accepted Jesus throughout history:

Paul writes "My friends, I don't want you Gentiles to be too proud of yourselves. So I will explain the mystery of what has happened to the people of Israel. Some of them have become stubborn, and they will stay like that until the complete number of you Gentiles has come in."(Romans 11:25). A "gentile" means a non-Jewish person. Jack Kelley here says that the terms "complete number" and "come in" were ancient Greek nautical terms referring to the amount of crew that was needed to operate a ship before the ship could set sail. Only God knows how many Christians are needed to run His government during the Millennium, and when that number is fulfilled then the Rapture will happen. Then Israel will return to following God and rebuild their Temple, and the Tribulation will begin.

Theoretically, this means that the Rapture could happen any amount of time before the Tribulation begins. Peter wrote: "You should look forward to the day when God judges everyone, and you should try to make it come soon."(2 Peter 3:12). We can try to make the Rapture come soon by spreading God's word and trying to teach others to love and follow Jesus. If there had been enough Christians in ancient Rome to fill the number of the church, the Rapture could have happened then. However, I believe God knew how many people in the Church He would need, and knew that this number would take the next 2000 years to achieve, and would be filled just a short time before the Tribulation.

False Explanations for the Rapture

When the Rapture happens, I believe that there will be some sort of explanation made up by the governments or the Antichrist to convince everyone that it was not actually the Rapture, but some other event. There are many resources on the internet which discuss a new age "consciousness shift" which is described as a large amount of people suddenly vanishing from the earth to live in a "higher dimension" [7]. I suspect one or more of these arguments may be made after the Rapture happens.

Personally, I'm betting on the "alien rescue/abduction" explanation, where aliens come to rescue/abduct people from earth before horrible disasters start. This is based on the increasing amounts of UFO sightings in the past few decades, as well as hints in popular movies such as the 2009 film "Knowing" starring Nicholas Cage (see my article here) and the 2010 film "Skyline" (see commentary here). Perhaps Satan is getting ready to deceive everyone with this explanation and is trying to work it into our culture so when it happens it will be easily accepted.


As we have seen from these Bible verses and analysis, it is very clear that the Rapture will happen before the Tribulation begins. This is why Paul says we should encourage each other by remembering the coming Rapture (1 Thess. 4:16-5:2). Some Christians think they are so hardcore that they want to suffer for their faith by saying there is no Rapture, and this removes the great encouragement which Paul described. Instead, we should feel grateful that we are being spared the horrible things coming in the Tribulation. We should be so happy that we will be part of the bride married to Christ, given new bodies, and get to participate in all that God has planned for eternity. If you're not a Christian now, you still have time to decide now whether you wish to ask Jesus to be a part of your life, and can then participate in the Rapture and all the blessings promised to Christians. For a lot more information and discussion on the Rapture and end-times, I'd suggest the site www.raptureready.com.


[1] http://www.raptureready.com/faq/faq417.html
[2] Revelation Illustrated and Made Plain - Tim Lahaye
[3] Watch for the Rapture:Amazing Discovery 1 - Youtube.com
[4] http://raptureready.com/featured/reagan/dr20.html
[5] http://www.raptureready.com/featured/crockett/pretribrapture.html
[6] http://www.raptureready.com/featured/crockett/wedding.html
[7] New Age Rapture