What Rapture?

Discussions on the doctrine of the Rapture normally revolve around the question, ‘When the Rapture will occur?’ That is, for example, before the “Great Tribulation,” at its midpoint, or at the end of the Tribulation? But this question misses a fundamental point. Nowhere does the New Testament even mention any ‘rapture’ at all, or at least, not by that term if by it we mean the physical removal of the church from the Earth and its transportation to “heaven,” presumably, someplace outside of the present space-time continuum.

The New Testament does not describe a day when followers of Jesus are whisked off the Earth to a timeless reality, whether as resurrected saints or disembodied spirits. This is a popular assumption that we read into the main passage used to teach this doctrine.

Graves in sunlight - Photo by Krisztina Papp on Unsplash
[Photo by Krisztina Papp on Unsplash]

This doctrine is dependent almost exclusively on an interpretation of a single passage in Paul's first 
Letter to the Thessalonians. But to find it in that passage, Rapture proponents must make several assumptions - (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).


First is the idea that as Jesus descends from heaven, he suddenly reverses course and returns to heaven with his church in tow, something the passage never describes. It only ends with the statement, “And so will we be with the Lord forevermore.” It never states where this happy condition will be beyond it being “in the air.”

The conclusion of the passage can just as easily fit a scenario in which the saints accompany Jesus as he continues his descent to the earth.

Second, the Pre-Tribulation view sees the passage as evidence that this is a “coming” of Jesus distinct from his arrival in glory at the end of the age. Most often, this conclusion is assumed because the text says nothing about the judgment of the wicked when Jesus appears “on the clouds.” However, that is an argument from silence.

Third, the preceding argument ignores the larger context of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. In the very next chapter, he warns that the unprepared will be overtaken by the events of this same day - “Like a thief in the night.”

The Apostle labels this the “Day of the Lord,” an event elsewhere associated with God’s judicial punishment of the wicked. And in his second letter to the Thessalonians, he declares that the day Jesus is “revealed from heaven” will mean vindication for the righteous but everlasting destruction for the wicked - (1 Thessalonians 8:1-9, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

A further problem is the consistent picture elsewhere in the New Testament of the “coming” of Jesus. He is always “coming” to the Earth and never depicted as departing from it. And the New Testament always refers to ONE future “coming” of Jesus, never two or more.

When any direction is provided by a passage, he is always coming “from heaven” and descending to the Earth - (Matthew 16:27, Matthew 24:30, Matthew 25:31, Matthew 26:64, Acts 1:11, 2 Thessalonians 1:7, Revelation 1:7, 1 Corinthians 15:23, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:16).

And every passage in the New Testament that refers to his future return always uses nouns and verbs in the singular number. There is one and only one coming of Jesus. No single passage covers every aspect of his “coming,” but between the related passages, consistent features emerge.


The most comprehensive list of things that will occur when Jesus arrives is provided in First Corinthians. His “arrival” will include the resurrection of the dead, the cessation of death (the “last enemy”), the final subjugation of all hostile powers, the consummation of the kingdom, and the transformation of the saints still alive from mortality to immortality - (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

And that event will result in the separation of the righteous from the unrighteous. It will mean joy to the prepared but disaster to the unprepared - (Matthew 13:30. 25:13, 25:31-46, Luke 12:33-39, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6).

His “revelation” from heaven will mean vindication for his people but “everlasting punishment” for those that persecuted them. At his “arrival,” the “Man of Lawlessness” will be destroyed, and that day will mean the end of the old order and the inauguration of the “New Heavens and the New Earth” - (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, 2:8-10, 2 Peter 3:10-12).

And this sequence of events rings with great finality. Death will cease forever, and the New Creation will commence. Resurrected believers will be with the Lord “forevermore,” but the unrighteous will receive “everlasting” separation from the presence of the Lord - (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, 2 Thessalonians 2:5-10).

The finality of that day leaves no room for several other popular interpretations, including the Millennium when death and sin both continue to occur, however rare.


Christian hope is not found in escape from the physical creation but in the raising of the dead and the New Creation. The Gospel is about redemption, not abandonment, and this will include the resurrection of the righteous dead - (e.g., John 5:29, Romans 6:5, 8:19-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Philippians 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

At the end of the Book of Revelation, New Jerusalem “descends” from heaven to the Earth. The saints do not ascend to it. And in that holy city, the redeemed live forever in the presence of God and the “Lamb” free from all sorrow and suffering - (Revelation 21:1–22:5).

In short, not only does Scripture never mention the ‘Rapture,’ this common and popular interpretation is incompatible with the biblical hope of redemption, which includes the bodily resurrection and the New Creation.



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