Another important source for information concerning the rapture and the Return of Christ is from the testimony of the Disciples. The Apostle Paul probably had more to say about the gathering together of believers at the end of the age than any other New Testament writer. Some of his words are among the most well-known verses concerning the rapture in the entire Bible. They also are among the most misinterpreted prophecies concerning the Return of Christ. This is not due to the difficulty of Paul’s word’s, but due to the unfortunate teachings of some churches and Christians who are swayed by many modern authors and speakers.
Don’t be Deceived
In the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians, Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica to correct their mistaken belief that the Great Tribulation had already begun. The people were experiencing such tremendous persecution at the hands of the Romans, even to the point of some of them being put to death, that it was only natural to think that the coming of Christ was near. They likely even believed that Caesar was the antichrist and for this reason, the end was near. Paul teaches them, however, that certain specific events must happen before they could expect Christ to return. In the middle of his teachings he also gives an important fact concerning the timing of the rapture which, as he indicates, would be intimately associated with the Second Coming. This is the way he put it:
“Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
“That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of the Lord is present.
“Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come the falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition…”
2 Thess. 2:1-3
How could anyone state it more plainly? Paul even warns Christians not to be deceived as though he somehow knew future generations would be confused in this matter. He says in no uncertain terms that the return of Christ and our gathering together unto him (i.e., the rapture) will not occur until after the Antichrist is revealed (see the section on the Antichrist for further details on his rise). At the very least, this fact totally eliminates any possibility of a pre-tribulation rapture—especially since we already know the Antichrist will not be revealed to the world until the very beginning of the final seven years. In other words, Paul is predicting that Christians will definitely be around to experience the coming of the one-world government with all its evil and deception. Even though Paul doesn’t give us the exact timing of the rapture beyond this one fact, his prophecy still agrees with the words of Jesus who predicted that our gathering wouldn’t occur until after the tribulation period entirely.
With the Trump of God
Paul also made other important prophecies about the rapture. Probably the most often quoted verses with respect to the rapture come from Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica. In this reference he tries to encourage the church concerning those believers who have already died by directing the people toward the greatest hope of all—the resurrection of the dead. This is what he taught them:
“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them who are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope.
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them who are asleep.
“For 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;
“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 so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
1 Thess. 4:13-17
It is primarily from this one scripture that people have concluded that Jesus will come back only into the air but not to the earth when the rapture occurs. Though it’s true that our gathering together with Christ will definitely happen while the Lord is still in the air over the earth, this prophecy really says nothing about the direction he will travel after the rapture is completed.
The pre-trib and mid-trib rapture theories state that Christ will subsequently return to heaven with his people and remain there for a period of 3-1/2 to 7 years before the actual Second Coming occurs. However, none of the prophecies we have considered thus far say anything about Jesus delaying his return after the rapture—at least not with respect to a delay of years. In addition, since Jesus has already settled the matter of when the rapture will occur (e.g., after the tribulation) we must conclude that the pre- and mid-trib positions are simply wrong—especially with regard to the rapture’s timing and the supposed long delay in-between it and Christ’s Second Coming to the Earth. Though this scripture has been used time and time again as a major proof for the pre-trib rapture position, Paul’s prophecy here really says nothing about the timing or chronology of this event relative to the other events of the end times.
What can be discovered in this prophecy, however, are some of the mysterious details concerning the resurrection. Paul tells the Thessalonians that they should not be without a hope for their dead friends and family members who believed in Christ, for they shall not remain dead forever. He promises that when the Lord returns all dead Christians (those who “sleep”) will rise to live again. In fact, at the time of Christ’s coming those believers who are already dead will actually be raised and gathered together with the Lord even before the living Christians are gathered. Paul states very clearly that only after the dead are resurrected and gathered will those who have survived to that time be caught up together with them. Remember, too, Jesus told us (as we discussed in the previous section) that angels will actually perform the in-gathering of the believers and be visibly seen by everyone then remaining on the Earth.
Notice that Paul also says the Lord will come with a shout and with the trump of God. This description correlates perfectly with the words of Jesus who said that his angels would be sent forth with the great sound of a trumpet. The corroboration in these prophecies proves that they are indeed talking about the same event. In fact, all of the predictions that we have so far considered have each been adding additional details to our understanding of the rapture while at the same time keeping the overall terminology and chronology consistent.
From Paul’s words in the books of 1 & 2 Thessalonians we can now add these additional characteristics to the description of the rapture:
7) The Antichrist will definitely arise before the gathering of believers takes place (e.g., Christians will be around to experience his reign).
8) The resurrection will occur at the same time as the rapture with dead believers being raised and gathered just before the living ones.