The Rapture of the Church

The Bible teaches that the Church was concealed in the Old Testament and revealed during the first advent of Christ. It had a definite beginning, often disputed, and will continue to exist throughout eternity; however, its role will change.

The Scriptures tell us that its current role here on earth is to preach the gospel, minister, and edify the body of Christ. In the book of Romans, Paul states that another group will replace the work of the Church on earth.

 “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” (Rom. 11:25-26, NKJV).

The Greek word “pleroma,” translated as “fullness,” means that the Church is full – no more will be added to it. It refers to a specific number. At that time, God will give the saints of the Church new glorified bodies and take them into heaven as the bride of Christ. The role of the Church will change as it reigns with Christ as His bride and joint heirs.

The doctrine of the rapture of the Church, also known as the bodily resurrection of the Church saints and their translation into heaven is confusing to many people.

The early Church believed that the tribulation occurred during the Roman persecution of the Church. Therefore, the doctrine of the Rapture, the Great Tribulation, and the Millennial Reign of Christ on Earth has been confusing throughout the history of the Church. Over the years, different views were taught about “End Time” events – many refused to study it. They believed that God had rejected the Jews because they refused to accept their Messiah during His first advent. Even today, some believe the Church will go through the Tribulation.

Any discussion of the Rapture must be based upon our view of what the Bible teaches about “End Times” and the earthly return of Christ. It must also be interpreted in light of our view of God’s future plans for Israel. The line is usually drawn in the sand over this view. To those who believe that Israel forfeited God’s promises in the Old Testament when they rejected Christ as their Messiah, the concept of the Rapture, Tribulation, and Millennium is unclear and perhaps irrelevant. 

However, for those who believe that God’s promises are unconditional and will eventually be fulfilled, these future events are very relevant and should be studied carefully. Due to a lack of understanding, these two views have many confusing crossover beliefs, resulting in different opinions of the Rapture.

Beginning with the Roman influence on Christian doctrine, the Church believed that most of the visions of Revelation took place within the Church. This view, called the amillennial theory, teaches that much of chapters four through eighteen of Revelation took place at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and during the Roman persecution of the Church. This theory teaches that there will not be a literal millennial reign of Christ on earth, and the doctrine of the Rapture of the Church appears to be irrelevant.

There is another view, the postmillennial theory, which advocates that the teaching and discipline of the Church will eventually overcome evil, resulting in a period of peace and utopia on earth. They see this as an evolutionary process where people get better and better. Finally, everyone will become a member of the Church, and the Church will evolve into the Millenium. However, some people who believe this theory see the millennium as a spiritual kingdom where Christ rules supremely in the people’s hearts.

Those who believe these theories teach that the millennium will occur before the Second Advent of Christ, and the concept of the Rapture of the Church is unclear.

Since the Scriptures teach that the Church will continually go through suffering and tribulation, the postmillennial view is very contradictory. The Scriptures state repeatedly that evil will become more rampant as we approach the Second Coming of Christ (2 Tim. 3:1-7, 2 Peter 3:3).

The Rapture of the Church must be viewed and discussed in light of the premillennial theory. This view teaches that God has not finished His program with Israel and that, one day, He will return to earth to set up the promised Messianic Kingdom of one thousand years, and many Jews will accept Him as their Messiah.

This theory teaches that the Old Testament prophecy of the future role of Israel will be literally fulfilled and should not be spiritualized as many have done. Paul tells us that we must rightly divide the word of God (2 Tim. 2:15). This means that we must interpret the Rapture of the Church, the Great Tribulation and the Millennium in light of Biblical prophecy.

Part of the confusion comes from not understanding the unique role that the “The Church” or “Bride of Christ” has in God’s grand plan for the ages – we don’t know who we are. We are told to “rightly divide the Word,” but often, we do not do that because we do not have the Biblical knowledge to understand it properly.

When the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he said this about the future of the Church. “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, – but we shall all be changed 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. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the written saying: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:51-55a, NKJV).

Paul says this is a mystery. A Biblical mystery is something that has not previously been revealed in the Scriptures. Paul also says that this will happen in the twinkling of the eye. Since the soul does not sleep after death, this refers to a bodily resurrection. We will be given new, glorified bodies like Jesus and be taken into heaven. Spiritual bodies are invisible to people who are still in their natural bodies, but they can see glorified bodies. Glorified bodies are the bodies we will get and need when we return with Christ to reign on earth.

In First Thessalonians, Paul gives us these words. “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope, for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 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. 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18, NKJV).

When Christ returns, those who died previously (the dead in Christ) receive their new resurrected bodies, and those who are living will be transformed with the same type of bodies, like the resurrected body of Christ, and they will all return with Him to heaven. We shall always be with the Lord – in heaven and on earth.

We need to contrast this appearance of Christ with the Second Coming of Christ as recorded in Matthew Chapter twenty-four. “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt 24:27, 30, NKJV).

In Revelation chapter one, John writes these words. “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen” (Rev 1:7).

When Jesus ascended into heaven, the angels appeared unto the disciples. They said: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Act 1:11b, NKJV).

The Second Coming of Christ is not a mystery, and He shall return to the Mount of Olives, and every eye will see him. In contrast, at the Rapture, when Christ returns for the Church, He will come in the sky, and only the born-again Christians will see him.

The marriage of the Lamb is presented in the book of Revelation. Christ is the bridegroom, and the Church is the bride. “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7, NKJV).

This scene occurs in heaven after the Rapture and before the Second Coming of Christ. It would be impossible for the marriage to take place if the bride was not in heaven.

Jesus must come again for His bride, The Church before the consummation stage of the marriage begins. The beginning phase of the consummation is the rapture when the Church will be taken to meet her Groom in the air.

In the nineteenth chapter of Revelation, we read these words: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:7-8, NKJV).

This scene occurs in heaven after the Rapture and before the Second Coming of Christ. It would be impossible for the marriage to take place if the bride were not in heaven.

The prophet Zechariah says that the Lord will return and bring all his saints with him. “Thus, the LORD my God will come, and all the saints with You” (Zech. 14:5b, NKJV). At the Second Coming of Christ, the bride will return with Jesus to the earth.

Now we come to the question of when the Rapture will take place. There are four views of this: (1) Pretribulation, (2) Posttribulation, (3) Midtribulation and (4) Partial Rapture. The pretribulation theory teaches that the Church will be raptured before the Tribulation period begins. The posttribulation view advocates that the Church will go through the Tribulation period and will be raptured at the end of the Tribulation. The midtribulation view assumes that the Church will go through the first three and one-half years of the Tribulation and then be taken to heaven.

During the last century, there have been some people who believe in a partial rapture view. This theory teaches that some of the most faithful will be raptured before the Tribulation, but others will go through it. The partial rapture theory implies that the timing of the Rapture of the saints will be based upon their good works or fruit bearing. Those who adhere to this Partial Rapture view believe that they personally will be raptured.

The following is given in support of the pre-tribulation view:

  • Jesus promised that his church would not see the wrath of God. During the tribulation, the wrath of God is poured out upon the world. “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Rev 3:10, NKJV). Most believe this verse refers to the great tribulation because it refers to the whole world.
  • The apostle Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, gave us these words about our protection from the wrath of God. “And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10, NKJV). “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9, NKJV). Since God’s wrath will be poured out upon the unsaved of the world, Paul taught us not to fear this wrath.
  • In the first three chapters of Revelation, the emphasis is placed upon the Church. But beginning with the fourth chapter, the church is not mentioned again until it is implied in the nineteenth chapter. Therefore, we can assume that the Church is not on earth during the Tribulation.
  • In the first verse of Revelation chapter four, John is invited to heaven to view the Tribulation which will take place on earth. “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, ‘Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this’” (Rev 4:1, NKJV). Many believe that John represents the Church in this verse and if this is true, the Church will view the tribulation from heaven.
  • In Daniel chapter nine, we read about what is called “the seventy weeks of Daniel.” During this Jewish time period, the tribulation begins when the Antichrist enters into a covenant with Israel. If God works with only one group of people at a time, as He has done previously, then God only has Israel in view during the tribulation period. Therefore, the church must be in heaven at the beginning of the tribulation.
  • Paul tells us in Romans that when the days of the church are complete, God will turn back to the nation, Israel. “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob. For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins’” (Romans 11:25-27, NKJV).

At the Rapture, the Church will be given new glorified bodies and taken to heaven to reign with Christ forever jointly.

For more information on the wrath of God, click on the following:

The Wrath of God

Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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