If you’re a Christian, you’ve likely heard of the idea of a future “rapture,” whether from your church, friends, or the Left Behind series. But what’s the rapture? The word “rapture” means to seize or snatch away and has the same meaning as the Greek word harpazõ in 1 Thess. 4:17, which is translated “caught up” in the ESV. Everyone believes in the rapture one way or another. But what is usually conveyed today by the idea of a future rapture is that prior to God pouring out wrath on earth as part of a final, heightened tribulation, the church is “raptured” off the earth. There are four main views on the rapture (explained well here), but the main disagreement is about whether the rapture event, which at its root points to our bodily resurrection and when we meet King Jesus, is distinct from Christ’s second coming. The view briefly mentioned above—the argument for a rapture of the saints prior to the “great tribulation” (believers being taken off the earth prior to greater judgment and tribulation)—is known as the pretribulation position, and it represents one of those four positions.
Below are eleven brief arguments from Scripture (with helpful sources listed after) against a pretribulation rapture and in favor of a posttribulation rapture. A posttribulation rapture equates the “rapture” with the second coming of Jesus—i.e., they are not two separate events. The saints are raised from the dead, and it is not a “secret” rapture event as described by others. We rise to meet Christ but return to earth for his earthly reign. In this view, 1 Thess. 4:17 refers to the bodily resurrection of the saints.
One’s position on this subject is not determinative of orthodoxy, and there is room for Christians to study the text, consider the positions, and land on a position on the spectrum with freedom of conscience. As I conclude with more detail below, all of us share an assured hope of future glory and can await the bodily resurrection of the saints with joy. (Also, check out the bottom of this post for some insight into ideas that I may be exploring soon on this blog!)
Why texts like 1 Thess. 4:17 and Rev. 4:1 do not depict a pretribulation rapture, and how Scripture points to the posttribulation view
- Many think that because “church” (ekklēsia) is not referenced between Rev. 3:22 & Rev. 22, the church is removed from tribulation and the world, and God focuses on either “Israel” and/or judgment. However, Rev. 4:1 is a switch to a focus on the universal church, while chs. 2-3 had been on the local churches; John most likely does not use ekklēsia to discuss the universal church (ekklēsia = ‘assembly’). The points below this one will be briefer—here I just wanted to add a worthy and helpful quote. Even noteworthy pretribulationist, dispensationalist preacher John MacArthur does not agree that the beginning of Rev. 4 is the rapture: “Now, some have equated ‘come up here’ with the Rapture of the church. They see in this some – some symbolic Rapture. I don’t think this is the church going up, I think this is John going up. I don’t think he’s going up for the purpose of glorification, I think he’s going up for the purpose of revelation. This is not a picture of the Rapture of the church, at least that I can see. It would be nice if it were because it would seal the pre-tribulation Rapture for those who so desperately want some Scripture to do that. But I don’t see here a Rapture of the church to glorification, I see here the transcendent trip of one man for the purpose of revelation.”
- God’s people in the Bible are not taken out of judgment or hardship. Rather, they are protected through it (Noah, Israel and the plagues, etc.). (This theme also fits with my own interpretation of Rev. 12: the triumph of God over Satan is symbolized in Satan the dragon being thrown down from heaven, but the war continues even today as Satan makes war with the “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” Chapters 7 and 14 depict how believers endure the tribulation now in the “last days,” which is our present age: we are sealed, and as some commentators suggest, that sealing is perhaps a sealing with the Holy Spirit. If you are not familiar with the NT emphasis that we live in the last days, see Acts 2:17-21; 1 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet. 1:20; Heb. 1:2). This biblical theme of God delivering His people through tribulation, rather than taking them out of it altogether, then flows to my next point, which is the theme’s application to a much-discussed verse in Rev. 3.
- To be “kept from” (Rev. 3:10) God’s wrath or tribulation/suffering elsewhere does not mean to be removed; it just means to endure it and be protected through it (cf. Jn. 17:15; Rev. 6:9-11).
- Tribulation language nowhere points to God’s wrath coming upon believers, so this isn’t the point here; we would be sheltered and under the persecution of the Antichrist.
- Paul comforts and encourages the Thessalonians that Jesus’s return hasn’t happened yet, saying that the Antichrist has not been unveiled (2 Thess. 2)—but a pretribulation rapture view would say believers are taken away before the Antichrist ascends to power.
- Paul’s use of “meeting” in 1 Thess. 4:17 occurs twice elsewhere in the NT (Matt. 25:6; Acts 28:15) to denote a meeting where people go out of a city or place to meet someone and return to the original place.
- In 1 Thess. 4:15-17, “coming” (parousia) is used; elsewhere in the NT & 1-2 Thessalonians it signifies the second coming of Christ (Matt. 24:27; 1 Cor. 15:23; 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 Thess. 2; and more).
- The elect believers are gathered when Jesus returns (Matt. 24:30-31). This gathering appears to be after the tribulation in Matt. 24:29. Parousia likely is posttribulational in Matt. 24:3, 27, 37, 39.
- The idea of a “secret” coming of Christ isn’t thoroughly taught in the NT. For example, how are a loud voice and trumpet in 1 Thess. 4:15-17 a secret? Words about this (e.g., “be eager,” “keep watch”) are telling believers to be expectant and alert, traits of living with spiritual urgency.
- Even the pretribulation view would say some saved people go through the “great tribulation,” as redeemed Jews & post-rapture-saved Gentiles would be there. The argument from many people is that God removes the church so as to not endure His wrath, but many who belong to the church would be there.
- Parallels between 1 Thess. 4:13-17, Dan. 12:1-2, and the Olivet Discourse in Matt. 24 imply that the church endures tribulation.
There are actually lots of great resources on this topic (and correspondingly, many not-too-great resources). I’ve found several books and writers helpful, including Three Views on the Rapture, George Ladd’s The Blessed Hope: A Biblical Study of the Second Advent and the Rapture, and multiple writings each by John Piper, Russell Moore, and Jim Hamilton. I compiled the arguments above from those resources and my own reading of Scripture.
Many believers probably hear about this subject and roll their eyes. In many contexts (particularly as it pertains to fictional books and movies), that eye-rolling is well-deserved. But there are lots of genuine, Bible-loving believers on all sides and on all parts of the spectrum in this debate. And we all believe that Jesus is returning for His people and will usher in the eternal state, in which we enjoy God forever without the presence of sin. Our similarities are much more significant than our differences when it comes to this subject, and that’s good news as we await Rev. 22:4—”They will see [God’s] face.”
Potential blog post topics for the near future:
- The third and final post on what Protestants can learn from Catholics
- How the church judges too little and how the church judges too much
- Reading history with Daniel’s worldview
- The need for biblical theology for Christians reading and learning the Bible
- The role of the Lord’s Supper and baptism in helping us overcome sin (an insight from Calvin)
- Judgment and great joy: the book of Zephaniah
- Rethinking how we approach applying the Bible
- More on the book of Revelation: interpretation of the book in the Middle Ages, specific interpretive questions, etc.
- Arguments for the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper (spiritual presence)
- Analyzing insightful and some potentially unusual comments from Thomas Aquinas on Romans 8
 In The Apocalypse, J. A. Seiss writes, “That door opened in heaven is the door of ascension of the saints. That trumpet voice is the same which Paul describes as recalling the sleepers in Jesus. . . . And that ‘COME UP HITHER’ is for everyone in John’s estate” (quoted by Keith Essex in his article “The Rapture and the Book of Revelation”).