The witness of the Old Testament actually confirms the New Testament’s timing and characteristics of the rapture and of the Coming of Christ. Some people are surprised to learn that the concept of the resurrection and the gathering of believers to the Lord can be found in the ancient writings of the Old Testament. Long before the birth of Jesus, a few of the prophets saw the future rapture in such detail that they prophesied not only of the dead being raised and the believers being gathered, but they also foretold the wrath of God being poured out upon nonbelievers at the end of the age.
Thy Dead Shall Live
Isaiah was one such prophet, and he saw these events with such clarity that he even predicted them in proper chronological order, as compared to the Book of Revelation. This is how he wrote of that day:
“Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.
“Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation is past.
“For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.”
In some respects this passage is metaphoric, but for the most part it is straight forward and easy to understand, especially from what we have already learned about the Lord’s Return from other prophecies in previous sections. Isaiah simply says that someday he and everyone else will come forth out of their graves to live again. He says that even though every dead body now lives in dust, one day in the future the entire earth will literally cast out its dead. This is obviously a clear description of the resurrection—an event that we have already associated both with the rapture and the Second Coming.
But Isaiah also goes on from that point to describe the “hiding” of God’s people. He tells them to shut themselves in their “chambers” and hide themselves for just a moment until the “indignation” is past. What does he mean by this symbolism? The explanation can be found in the last verse. The indignation that Isaiah refers to is nothing less than the wrath of God with all its fury falling upon the evil people of the world. He predicts that the Lord will one day “come out of his place and punish the inhabitants of the earth”. What better description could Isaiah possible give of the coming judgment upon the wicked at the end of the age? And just like all of the New Testament references we have already studied, Isaiah also indicates that believers will be protected or “hidden” in that day.
The whole passage is a perfect description of what will happen at the Return of Christ, and even in proper chronological order: first the resurrection will occur (the dead bodies in dust will live again), then the Lord will gather his people into his protection (the believers are hidden for a moment), and finally the wrath of God will be poured out upon a disobedient world (the Lord comes forth to punish the inhabitants of the earth). At a basic level, this account exactly parallels the more detailed descriptions of events within the Book of Revelation.
Isaiah also continues by encouraging his people in the same way the Apostle Paul did—by telling them to place their hope solely in the coming of the Lord. This is what he said:
“Say to those who are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God, with a recompense; he will come and save you.”
Once again, the Return of Christ is not looked at in terms of two separate events occurring at two different times (the rapture and the Second Coming), but essentially as one seminal event with earthshaking consequences, but consisting of several major parts. Isaiah says that the Lord will come back to raise the dead, save the believers, and to render vengeance upon the evil people who have dared to harm his followers and destroy the world. In every description of the rapture, whether it is in the New Testament or from the witness of the Old Testament, the Lord is constantly pictured as coming back with great power and glory both to save and to judge. Nowhere does the Bible indicate that there will be any kind of secondary secret return or a snatching away of believers that somehow results in an instantaneous disappearance of Christians prior to the Second Coming. Rather, in every reference we have seen, the Bible has been extraordinarily consistent in both its terminology and meaning. The coming of the Lord and the rescue of believers will be seen by everyone and will not be secret. It will be the most dramatic and monumental event in the history of the world. The brightness of the Lord’s Return will be the salvation for a world spiraling down to extinction. It will completely alter the course of history from that moment forward. It will be received with great joy and celebration by Christians and with great fear and terror by nonbelievers. The only logical conclusion we can reach with respect to this consistency throughout all parts of the Bible is that the rapture and the Second Coming are going to happen during the same event—when the Lord visibly and powerfully returns with all his angels at the end of the age.
Hidden from God’s Anger
In an indirect way, the prophet Zephaniah also saw the protective aspect of the rapture for Christians. In a tremendous verse which actually reveals the true meaning behind the whole Bible, he too speaks of Christians being “hidden” from the Lord’s wrath at the end:
“Seek the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, who have kept his ordinances; seek righteousness, seek meekness; it may be ye shall be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.”
Zephaniah said that by following the Lord and doing what is right a person can totally escape the judgment and wrath of God. This is precisely what we find as the basic doctrine of the New Testament. Anyone willing to repent and seek the ways of Christ will be delivered at his return and protected (hidden) from God’s wrath.
The Lord also goes on in the book of Zephaniah to encourage his people who may be undergoing current trials and tribulations. He tells believers to have patience and to wait for him, for one day he will truly gather the nations to judgment, and the present cycle of evil will end forever:
“Therefore, wait upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey; for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger; for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.”
Notice the Lord does not try to encourage his people by promising them some secret day of deliverance as is common in recent views of the rapture. He tells them to wait until the very day that he rises up for judgment. In other words, the witness of the Old Testament indicates that believers will not be delivered until the very day God’s wrath comes upon this world. And that will not happen until the very moment when the Second Coming of Christ occurs.
The Lord also indicates in Zephaniah that the rapture will not happen until he fully assembles the nations. As we learned within the sections on World War III, this description obviously speaks of the final Battle of Armageddon where all the kingdoms of the world will be assembled to do battle in the Middle East. Therefore, Zephaniah’s prophecy implies that God’s people will not be delivered until somewhere around the time that the final battles are fought. This correlates perfectly with the prophecies of the Apostles John and Paul. They said that the rapture would occur at the last trumpet, not before. It also corresponds with the statement Jesus made in Matthew 24 that his return will not happen until the very end of the tribulation period.
The prophet Joel indirectly confirms these facts by saying that when the Lord eventually draws the nations to battle, he will…
“…roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shall shake; but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.”
If the Lord’s people were really going to be gathered many years before Christ returns, then Joel could not have said that the Second Coming will still be the hope of all believers. Some have tried to get around this problem by saying that the people pictured as hoping to see Christ’s return at this time will only be Jewish believers and others who come to believe during the last seven years. In this scenario, Joel’s description represents the so-called “tribulation saints” who supposedly become followers of Jesus only after a secret rapture removes all the true Christians (usually viewed as taking place before the last seven years begins). However, with this explanation, there is also a need to have two raptures—one before the tribulation (or properly called Daniel’s 70th week) and another at the time of the Second Coming. In reality, though, there’s not even a single verse in the entire Bible which substantiates this position—not even one! In every case, the rapture is pictured as taking place only once—at the very end of the age—where Christ returns to deliver his people just before he pours out the wrath of God upon a disobedient world.
At the Time of Trouble
Daniel probably foresaw the resurrection clearer than any other prophet within the witness of the Old Testament. He too placed the event at the time of the final battles of the end. After prophesying of the rise of the Antichrist and then describing how the wars will begin at the midpoint of the last seven years, he went on to describe the rapture in virtually the same terms as the New Testament writers:
“And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince who standeth for the children of thy people, and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
“And they that be wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars forever and ever.”
In this passage, Daniel saw the timing of the rapture very similar to the way Jesus described it in Matthew chapter 24. First he prophesied of the Great Tribulation as being a period of unparalleled trouble. Then he said that the people of God will be delivered “at that time”. Although he didn’t actually mention when the rapture would occur in relation to the Tribulation (e.g., before, during, or after), the fact that it’s correlated with the general time period of the great wars indicates that it must occur very close to the end of the age. Thus, Daniel’s timing eliminates any hope of placing the rapture prior to the rise of the Antichrist because that would be at a point of relative peace several years before the wars begin. In addition, since Daniel speaks of the deliverance of God’s people immediately after he prophesies of the Tribulation, perhaps he too foresaw the true order of events.
However, Daniel did predict one aspect of the rapture that none of the other references have yet touched upon. Daniel actually saw two resurrections—the first one resulting in eternal life and a second one resulting everlasting damnation. At first glance, this prophecy might seem to refer to the separation of the tares from the wheat as described by Jesus. However, in the Lord’s prophecy only one of these groups (the wheat) was seen to undergo a resurrection, while the tares merely went on to destruction.
So what is Daniel referring to in this prophecy? As we will learn in greater detail in the sections on the Kingdom Age, the second resurrection will primarily involve the raising from the dead of the wicked and those who have rejected Christ (see Rev. 20). Although Daniel mentions both of these resurrections in the same prophecy as though they would occur at the same time, in reality the book of Revelation provides additional detail and tells us that they will actually be separated by the thousand-year kingdom of Christ. Thus the rapture (or the first resurrection) will exclusively involve the raising of believers to immortality and will occur at the return of Christ, while the second resurrection will pertain mainly to those who were nonbelievers and will occur 1000 years later.
With the knowledge we have gained from these Old Testament references, the following points can now be added to the characteristics of the rapture (see previous sections for other parts of this list):
16) Christ will return with power and vengeance to save his people and to destroy those who destroy the earth.
17) The rapture corresponds to the first resurrection (for believers only) and will be separated from the second resurrection (for nonbelievers) by a period of 1000 years.