"But 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. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For 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. 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 which are alive and remain shall be caught up (raptured) together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (I Thess. 4: 13-17)
This is the chief passage dealing with the "rapture" of the church. It is, of course, not the only passage which deals with it. Here are some other passages where it is mentioned.
"And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matt. 24: 31)
"Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him." (II Thess. 2: 1)
"And 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." (John 14: 3)
The rapture or catching away of the elect is that time when they are "gathered" or "reaped." The Greek word for "receive" (John 14: 3) is "paralambanō" and means "to take," as with the hand. Some translate the Greek word for "caught away" by the word "snatch." Thus, the rapture is when the Lord takes or snatches away believers. This catching away includes two groups of believers. There are those who are "alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord" and those who have died in the Lord. These two groups ascend in the air at the same time, as one group. The former group are "translated" as was Enoch. Of Enoch we read - "Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him." (Heb. 11: 5)
It is also evident that the rapture of believers occurs at the time when the Lord comes and when the righteous dead are resurrected. The translation of the living saints occurs at the same time as the resurrection of the righteous dead. So, the question of whether the rapture occurs before the day of the Lord begins, or before the day of judgment and great tribulation, is also a question of whether the resurrection of the just occurs before the great tribulation. Paul discusses this same subject in I Corinthians. He writes:
"Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In 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." (15: 51-52)
When Paul says "we shall not all sleep (die)" he means that some of the elect will be alive when Christ returns and will not die. By these words he refers to the same two groups of believers as in I Thessalonians 4. But, though not all believers will die, "all will be changed." The living believers will be changed (transformed) by a translation while dead believers will be changed by a resurrection. The change is the same, though the means of the change are different.
At The Last Trump
In our opening passage Paul says that Christ returns "with the trump of God." It is at the sounding of this trumpet that the living saints are translated and the righteous dead are raised. In the passage cited above from Matthew 24, Jesus says that it is "with a great sound of a trumpet" that the rapture and resurrection take place. In the passage in I Corinthians 15, however, Paul says that this trumpet will be the "last trumpet." Now, a "last" trumpet implies other trumpets. For one to teach that the rapture and resurrection of believers takes place at the sounding of the first trumpet, or at the sounding of a trumpet that is not "the last," is an error. What other trumpets does Paul allude to by his reference to "the last trumpet"? Who can doubt that the "seven trumpets" of the Apocalypse are pointed to?
In our previous series on "The End is Near," we showed that the Book of Revelation is the book of the Second Coming of Christ. We showed that the time period involving the opening of the seven seals is called "the day of the Lord," "the day of judgment," "the day of redemption," and "the revelation of Jesus Christ." The opening of the seventh seal involves the seven angels who sound the seven trumpets of the day of the Lord. According to Seiss and others of the pre-trib school, the rapture and resurrection of believers occurs prior to the opening of the first seal, prior to the sounding of the first angelic trumpet. Yet, this is to be rejected because Paul clearly says that such will occur "at the last trumpet." This is detrimental to the pre-trib view!
When we read of what occurs when the seventh and last Apocalyptic trumpet sounds, we find that it is the very rapture and resurrection that Paul had discussed in I Thessalonians chapter four and I Corinthians chapter fifteen.
"But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets." (Rev. 10: 7)
"And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever...And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth." (Rev. 11: 15, 18)
Who can deny that what takes place at the sounding of the seventh and last trumpet is the very thing Paul talked about in I Thessalonians chapter four and I Corinthians chapter fifteen? And what Jesus talked about in Matthew twenty four? Paul called the resurrection and translation of the saints a "mystery." John says that it is at the sounding of the seventh and last trumpet that "the mystery of God" is "finished." It is that time when saints receive their reward.
In the next posting we will continue our review of I Thessalonians 4: 13-17.