The book of Revelation describes a series of seven trumpets that will sound in the last days, each of which will herald a significant event predicted to occur just before Christ returns. However, the Seventh Trumpet, which is the final trumpet, is far different from all those that come before it. The last trumpet is the transition between the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God. It sets in motion the wrath of God, the Return of Christ, and the rescue of His people. This section will investigate exactly when this will occur and what it means for Christians living in the final generation.
The Rapture Controversy
The return of Christ will herald one of the greatest transformations of life and society human beings will ever experience. The doom and gloom of the vast nuclear holocaust of World War III will suddenly give way to the brightness of a new age of prosperity and peace that will be unparalleled in history. The violent ruination of the Great Tribulation that will nearly destroy all planetary life is going to be abruptly halted by the power of God himself. According to the prophets, the entire earth will then be cleansed and restored to the ecological perfection which existed only in the Garden of Eden.
However, if all life is really going to be threatened in the coming nuclear war, who will survive, even among the followers of Christ, to repopulate this great new world? The answer to this question involves an event that should be the greatest hope of every believer—the literal and bodily resurrection of the dead in Christ. According to the Bible, having faith in Jesus does not just result in temporal benefits during a believer’s current lifetime, but also carries with it the tremendous promise of eternal life in the ages to come. This vision of immortality is not the Hollywood version of an ethereal or spiritual existence in heaven that many people imagine of life after death. The true Biblical notion of everlasting life will only be realized at the Second Coming.
The Bible says that when Jesus appears every person who has ever believed in him, no matter when they may have lived, will be instantly raised from the dead and given new, immortal bodies. In addition, any Christians who may have survived in the world until the Lord comes back will also have their mortal bodies spectacularly changed. This means that when the Bible speaks of salvation it is not merely referring to “going to heaven” when you die. That view is a common misconception that many people make concerning the Bible. Rather than leaving the dead on a cloud in heaven living some kind of ghostly existence with harps and wings, the Bible points directly to a literal and physical resurrection that will involve new super-bodies, which will be incorruptible and never able to fall away or die again.
The verses that describe this event refer to it variously as the resurrection, the harvest or reaping of the earth, or simply as the gathering together of the believers at the end. In our day, this same event is commonly known as the “rapture”. In reality, however, the term rapture is not even found in the Bible. It became attached to the event through a description in the New Testament relating to the “catching up” of believers when Christ returns (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Regardless of what it is called, the promise of victory over the grave is the very essence of every believer’s faith.
However, this one topic also has become a major point of disagreement among Christians. There are relatively few subjects within the scope of end-times prophecy that can generate the same degree of controversy than a discussion of the rapture. Indeed, entire books have been written on just this one subject. The main point of contention has not been whether there will ever be a rapture, but exactly when it will occur in relationship to the other major events of the last days.
At first glance, this extreme emphasis on the chronology of a single end-time event may appear trivial. However, when the full consequence of the relative timing of the rapture is considered, the impact it will have on a Christian’s life suddenly becomes enormous. For instance, it is only in this one prophecy that we find the promise of God to rescue believers from the terrible events of the end. With an immediate future filled with such fearful prospects as the Antichrist’s rise to power, the Mark of the Beast, persecution, and thermonuclear war, there certainly needs to be an understanding of the hope the Lord has left for those who decide to follow him.
Unfortunately, the promise of Christ’s coming to save his people has been obscured by the constant debate over exactly when this is supposed to happen. Over the years there has developed at least three main camps as to the timing of the rapture—each group being equally adamant that their view is indeed the correct one.
The first group maintains that Jesus will come before any of the major events of the end occur. In this respect, the followers of Christ will not have to experience the evils to come, but will be divinely delivered by the Lord himself before they happen. According to those who hold to this view, Jesus will suddenly and secretly return in the air to gather all Christians into the safety of heaven. Proponents also say that this momentary visitation by Christ is not the ultimate Second Coming, but is rather a mysterious prior event. In fact, most people believe that this event will occur so rapidly that it will seem as though Christians throughout the world have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Those unfortunate enough to be left behind will then have to suffer through all the terrible events of the last days, beginning with the revealing of the Antichrist.
Since this position places the rapture immediately before the final seven years of Daniel’s 70th Week, it has become known as the “pre-tribulation rapture”. [Note: actually this terminology is a misnomer since only the final 3-1/2 years are properly called the Great Tribulation, but nevertheless the name stands].
A second major position on the timing of the rapture places the event sometime in the middle of the last seven years. Usually those who hold to this view say that it will occur after the Antichrist rises to power, but just prior to the destructive fury of the last half of Daniel’s 70th Week. Some even maintain that it will occur precisely at the 3-1/2 year mark. For this reason, it has become known as the “mid-tribulation rapture” theory. Except for the difference in the timing of the event, all the other details of how it will occur basically remain the same as that of the pre-tribulation rapture theory.
The third major belief as to when the rapture will occur places it immediately after the tribulation period entirely. People who hold to this theory say that it will not only happen after the Antichrist comes to power, but also after the world has experienced all the destruction prophesied to occur at the end. Logically, therefore, this belief has become known as the “post-tribulation rapture”. Notice, however, that unlike the previous two positions, this last theory is unique in that it does not require Christ to come back twice. Instead of having one secret coming and then a second visible and dramatic return, the predominant post-tribulation view merges the rapture and the Second Coming into essentially one event that will be apparent to everyone.
So which of the three positions is Biblically correct? All else being equal, most people would probably hope for the pre-tribulation view to be right simply because it eliminates the possibility of Christians having to endure the trials of the final seven years. With our current prophetic knowledge of what will occur in the Great Tribulation it’s not too hard to want to lean toward a divine deliverance before any of the bad things happen. Even a mid-tribulation position for the rapture would allow for escape before the wars of the end begin.
Surprisingly, even though these theories vary widely as to their timing and consequences and have many strong advocates for each of them, the Bible actually does provide all the information required to determine precisely when the rapture will really occur. So which of these theories is correct? To discover the answer, we need to carefully study all the prophecies which may have a bearing on the truth. Let’s begin by looking at the teachings given by the Lord himself on this subject.
Next: Christ’s Predictions