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The Rapture Explained: A Doctrinal Abstract

By Rev. Michael L. White
(Copyright 2010-2011. All rights reserved.)

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The Rapture Defined

You won’t find the word “rapture” in the English translation of the Bible, nor even in the original Greek or Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible. So, why do we use that word to describe a doctrinal teaching about Jesus’ return for His Church? To answer that, we need to consider the origin of the word.

The English word “rapture” is derived from the Latin word “raptus,” but it is also related to the Latin word “rapiemur,” which is the word St. Jerome used for “caught up” (KJV) when he translated 1 Thessalonians 4:17 in the Latin Vulgate Bible. While the use of the word “rapture” in casual conversation has changed in meaning since St. Jerome’s time, its original definition and application to Jesus’ return for His Church has remained.

In the classic sense, the word “rapture” means “to snatch away,” as a raptor (bird of prey) seizes its prey from the earth. Since that describes how Jesus will remove His Church from the earth prior to the Tribulation, we continue to use that word to describe the event of Jesus’ return for His Church.

The Rapture Described

There are a number of Scripture references we can use to describe what we can expect to happen at the Rapture. While we may not mention them all in this brief abstract, we will certainly try to cover some of the most supportive ones.

Perhaps the two most frequently used and acknowledged Scripture references for the Rapture are found in the Apostle Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and Thessalonians. In 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 (KJV), Paul says, “51Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” In these two short verses, we learn that both the righteous living and the righteous dead will be changed in our physical appearance (body) “in a moment,” or instantly, when Jesus returns to gather us unto Himself.

However, Paul is even clearer when he writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (KJV) “13But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

In this passage, we learn that the spirits of the righteous dead will come with Jesus (v. 14) and will receive their resurrected bodies before the righteous living are changed (v. 15; the word “prevent” here is an Elizabethan English way of expressing “precede” in contemporary English), but we will all be changed in the blink of an eye and “be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (v. 17).

As we have already noted, the phrase “caught up” here means “raptured,” or “snatched away.” Therefore, we see that Jesus will come quickly and call up His Church, both the living and the bodies of those previously dead, to meet Him in the clouds, and we will return to Heaven with Him for the Marriage Supper (Feast) of the Lamb (Revelation 19:5-9).

Since Jesus will not step foot upon the earth at this time, the Rapture is not to be confused with Jesus’ Second Coming. Jesus’ Second Coming to the earth will take place at least seven years after the Rapture, at the end of the Great Tribulation (the second half of the Seven Year Tribulation).

The Rapture Defended

For those who may argue that Jesus never taught about the Rapture while He was on earth at His First Coming, and who thereby claim that we have misunderstood and misinterpreted Paul’s teaching on the subject, here are a few Scriptures to demonstrate that Jesus did, in fact, refer to the event of the Rapture, though He did not use the same language as the Apostle Paul to describe it. In John’s Gospel, Chapter 11, we read the story of Lazarus’ death and Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus. Just prior to raising Lazarus from the dead, however, Jesus and Lazarus’ sister, Martha, had a very interesting discussion about life, death, resurrection from the dead, and everlasting life. The central point of Jesus’ explanation about life, resurrection, and eternal life are found in John 11:25-26, where He says, “25... I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die....”

To understand what Jesus is saying in these two verses requires some careful reading and consideration. When Jesus says in verse 25, “he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live,” He is speaking of the resurrection of the righteous dead, and when He says in verse 26, “and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die,” He is speaking of the righteous who are living at the time of His return for His Church, which we call the Rapture. That means that those of us who are among the righteous living at the time of Jesus’ rapture of His Church will never die a physical or a spiritual death!

Another Scripture that may arguably be used to support Jesus’ reference to the Rapture is found in John 14:2-3 (KJV), where Jesus tells His disciples on the night before His crucifixion, “2In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Jesus is obviously speaking of a time when He will come and gather His Church unto Himself to spend eternity with Him. Thanks to the Apostle Paul’s revelation in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, we can ascertain that “[Jesus] will come again, and receive [us] unto [Himself]” at the event we call the Rapture.

Yet another Scripture reference we can use to support the premise that Jesus taught about the Rapture is found in both Matthew 24:40-42 and Luke 17:34-37. In each of these passages, we read that Jesus describes an event where two people are sleeping together or working in a field or grinding, and one of them is (mysteriously and unexpectedly) taken, and the other is left. When we research Strong’s Concordance for the Greek word which is translated as “taken” in these verses, we find it is Greek word #3880, “paralambano” (παραλαμβάνω), which means to “receive near, that is, associate with oneself (in any familiar or intimate act or relation).” With that insight, we can understand that Jesus is referring to the time when He will receive unto Himself His Church at the time we call the Rapture.

The Rapture Delimited

Besides the misguided claim by some that there is no Rapture at all, there is the claim by various others that it occurs at a time other than prior to the Tribulation. We call these viewpoints the Pre-Tribulation Rapture (for those who believe it will occur before the beginning of the Tribulation), the Mid-Tribulation Rapture (for those who believe the Rapture will occur in the middle of the Tribulation), and the Post-Tribulation Rapture (for those who believe it will occur at the end of the Tribulation). A careful review of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-15 (KJV), however, reveals to us that the Rapture must occur before the Tribulation, because the “son of perdition” (a.k.a. the Antichrist) will not be revealed until “he who now letteth [or holds down, Strong’s Concordance Greek word #2722] will let, until he be taken [literally, until he is, Strong’s Concordance Greek word #1096] out of the way” (v. 7). The literal translation of this passage in today’s English might read, “he who now holds down will hold down, until he is out of the way.”

Since we believe this One who “holds down” is the Holy Spirit, and He is holding down by His Presence in and through the Church, He will be “out of the way” when the Church is “out of the way.” This does not mean the Holy Spirit will no longer be in the world, however, for, as Omnipresent God, He is everywhere at once. He will continue to influence the world during the Tribulation, but He will cease to restrain the evil one to the degree He has since the first Christian Pentecost. Therefore, if the “son of perdition” will not be revealed until the One Who holds him down is “out of the way,” and since the “son of perdition” does not appear until the very beginning of the Tribulation, it stands to reason that the Church will be removed from the earth prior to the beginning of the Tribulation, thus supporting the Pre-Tribulation viewpoint.

Moreover, Jesus provides further support for a Pre-Tribulation Rapture in two different Scripture passages – Luke 21:36 and Revelation 3:10 – where He says essentially that His obedient Church will not suffer through the Tribulation. Did you catch that qualifying word “obedient”? Although Jesus does not use that word in His message to His disciples, it is implied by the qualification He uses for escaping the coming tribulation. Based upon these two Scriptures, as well as Jesus’ words to the seven churches in Revelation Chapters Two and Three, we can discern that only the obedient Church will escape God’s wrath (judgment) during the Tribulation. It stands to reason then that the disobedient Church, those not fully following His Word and waiting and watching and preparing for His return, perhaps even scoffing at the very idea of Jesus’ return (see 2 Peter 3:4-5), will not escape the Tribulation.

In Luke 21:36 (KJV), Jesus cautions His disciples to “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass....” What are they to watch and pray for? They are to watch for the signs of His coming; they are to watch how they live their lives, so that they may live in accordance with His Word and will; and they are to pray for His Spirit to guide them into obedience along the way. After all, guiding into truth and righteousness is one of the roles of the Holy Spirit in our lives, according to Jesus’ explanation to His disciples on the night before His crucifixion, which we read in John 14:26 (KJV): “he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

In Revelation 3:10, Jesus says to the Philadelphian Church, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” What is “the word of my patience”? It is Jesus’ commands for living a godly, Holy Spirit-filled life that endures to the end (see Matthew 10:22). Escaping the Tribulation ought, therefore, to be a magnificent motivator for all of us to watch and pray!


In this brief abstract, we have defined and described the Rapture as a catching or snatching away of the Church prior to the beginning of the Tribulation, and we have defended this doctrinal teaching as coming from Jesus as well as the Apostle Paul, with several Scriptural examples from both. Furthermore, we have explained that this is not only a Biblically-based doctrine, but it is to be taught as a comfort to all the saints (1 Thessalonians 4:18). Therefore, in obedience to Jesus’ command in Luke 21:28 (KJV) “...look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” HALLELUJAH!

Other Resources

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