The “rapture” is a belief among some Christians about what happens to believers before Jesus’ return in glory. They use the phrase “the rapture of the church” to refer to their belief that Christians will be “caught up” to be with Christ sometime before his glorious return. The rapture event is said to protect the church from a period of great tribulation. Those who believe in a rapture rely mainly on one passage of Scripture, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17:
According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
The rapture teaching seems to have originated with John Nelson Darby in about 1830. He divided the time of the second coming into two stages. Darby said Christ would come for his saints (the “rapture”) before the tribulation and he would come with his saints after it, which he thought was Jesus’ true coming in glory or second coming.
Those who believe in the rapture disagree as to when it will occur in relationship to the “great tribulation” before Christ returns. They are divided over whether the rapture will happen before, during or after the tribulation. These groups are called pretribulationists, midtribulationists, and posttribulationists.
What is our view on the rapture? If we look at 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, the apostle Paul seems to say that at “the trumpet call of God” the dead in Christ will rise first and those believers who were alive would be caught up together with them “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” There is no discussion of the church, or a part of the church, being raptured or taken away before, during or after a tribulation period.
Matthew 24:29-31 seems to be describing a similar event. In Matthew, Jesus says that the saints are caught up “after the distress of those days,” which includes the tribulation. They are caught up at Jesus’ second coming. From such Scriptures, it’s hard to see the details that are essential to the rapture theory.
For this reason, we have historically chosen the straightforward reading of the Scriptures mentioned above, which do not describe a special rapture. The verses in question simply say that the dead saints will be resurrected and will be joined by those who are yet alive when Jesus returns in glory.
The question of what will happen to the church before, during and after Jesus returns in glory is not clearly addressed in Scripture. What we can be sure about is what Scripture is clear and dogmatic about: Jesus will return in glory to judge the world. Those who are found in allegiance to him will be resurrected and live with him in joy and glory forever.