By David Feddes
When is the rapture going to happen? When will followers of Jesus be caught up in the clouds to meet their Lord in the air? So far nobody’s come up with the right date, but it’s not for lack of trying. Back in the 1980s someone wrote a book titled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988. Apparently those 88 reasons didn’t persuade the Lord. 1988 came and went. For a while, the book sold like crazy, but nobody buys it anymore.
Someone else predicted Jesus would come for his people in the 1990s. Harold Camping, head of the Family Radio network of stations, wrote a book titled 1994 and said that Jesus would almost certainly come in October of 1994. When October of 1994 came and went, did Harold Camping admit he was dead wrong and repent of his bad prediction? No, he simply adjusted his views to say that we had arrived not at the end of the world but the end of the church. True followers of Jesus would endanger their souls if they stayed in churches. There should be no more baptism, Lord’s Supper, elders, or pastors. All true Christians must flee organized churches and form their own little groups that would no longer call themselves churches. Meanwhile, true believers should continue listening to Family Radio and keep sending money there.
Another person who made precise predictions was Charles Taze Russell. Russell was certain Jesus would come in 1914, and when it didn’t happen, Russell explained that Jesus really had returned, but he had done so invisibly. Later he would come visibly. Russell broke with historic Christian teachings to found a group which became known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Russell’s successor as head of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower Society was Joseph Rutherford. He said, “Millions now living will never die” and predicted 1925 would be the year the world would end. However, 1925 passed uneventfully, and Rutherford died in 1943.
There have been many attempts to set a timetable for Jesus’ coming and the rapture, and they’ve all been wrong. To some people, the failed predictions are proof that they don’t need to take Jesus’ return seriously at all. However, bad predictions don’t prove Jesus wrong. They prove him right. Jesus said plainly, “You do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42). “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). The only way anyone could be right about the exact date of the rapture is if Jesus himself turned out to be wrong.
And then there are those who don’t fix a precise date, but who offer instead a blow-by-blow description of the precise sequence of events associated with the Second Coming. The Bible is treated as a jigsaw puzzle, with prophetic pieces scattered throughout its pages. In the hands of a self-proclaimed expert, these pieces can be interlocked to form a clear picture. Pluck a sentence from Ezekiel, a number from Daniel, a phrase from one of Jesus’ sermons, a word from Thessalonians, a paragraph from Revelation–take a variety of pieces from very different parts of the Bible, fit them all together, and you supposedly have a clear picture of how everything will be at the end.
These “experts” specialize in matching the symbols of prophetic visions to exact political events in the world today. Somehow, the various heads and horns of symbolic beasts, and obscure biblical entities such as Gog and Magog, allegedly fit today’s news or to predict tomorrow’s headlines. The nation of Israel is a big part of all the speculation, but many other nations allegedly fit into the puzzle as well. One piece represents Russia, another China, something else matches the European Economic Community, the United Nations, and so forth.
Of course, whenever the political situation changes, new books need to be written and new videos need to be produced. With the end of the cold war, some modern prophets of Armageddon seem almost disappointed. The scenario they predicted hasn’t unfolded the way they thought it would. Their disappointment won’t last long, however. As soon as the next political crisis comes along, they will again be scurrying to match the latest headlines with a new and revised version of biblical predictions.
This constant stream of revised and updated prophecy may generate money for religious marketers, but it often leaves Christians busy matching political events with biblical symbols rather than living right now as citizens of the Kingdom of God and getting ready to meet their King. And as each new scenario is discredited, it leaves those who aren’t Christians more skeptical than ever about Christ’s return.
Maybe you’re a person who thinks the rapture will never happen and Jesus will never come again. If so, please think again. Although date-setters have made lousy predictions, Jesus will surely come again and his people will surely be caught up to meet him. God tells us about the rapture, not so we can calculate exactly when it’s going to happen, but so that we will be ready at all times. Our response shouldn’t be speculation but preparation. Jesus said, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44).
The rapture is an event so astonishing that some people can’t imagine it will really happen, while others let their imaginations run wild, rather than sticking to what the Bible says about the rapture. To avoid these errors, let’s focus on four main things the Bible says about the rapture: it will be public, it will be overwhelming, it will be sudden, and it will be final.
First of all, the rapture will be public. When it happens, everyone will know it, both those who go up to meet Jesus and those who don’t. It won’t be a secret. Jesus emphasized the public nature of his return so that people wouldn’t be fooled by phonies. Jesus said, “If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it… For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:23,27).
When Jesus comes again, it will be in great power for all to see. If a person pops up here or there with messianic claims, whether it’s Rev. Moon or someone like him, don’t believe them. When the true Messiah comes again, it won’t be a secret revelation but a public coronation. Every eye will see him and every knee will bow. Jesus says,
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matthew 24:30-31).
Jesus’ coming will be public, and the rapture of believers will be public. Some Christians don’t believe this. They think that before Jesus returns for all to see, he will first come secretly. At that point, they think, followers of Jesus will vanish from earth and be caught up to Christ. He will take them bodily into heaven with him and leave everyone else behind, wondering what happened to those who vanished. Speculation on such a scenario led to the bestseller Left Behind and other popular books. It’s interesting fiction, but the whole notion of a secret rapture is fiction.
I’m not bashing fellow Christians who believe in a secret rapture. Many have hearty faith, deep love, and lively hope that Christ will come for them, and that matters far more than getting every detail exactly right. I honor their faith, hope, and love, and I too believe in the rapture. But I believe that the rapture is part of the visible coming of Christ at the end of the world, not a separate, secret event even that takes place earlier.
According to the Bible, the rapture will be part of something noisy enough for all to hear and obvious enough for all to see. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, the Bible says:
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.
Now, if this rapture, this being caught up to meet the Lord in the air, is preceded by a loud command from the Almighty, the thunderous voice of the greatest angel, and the trumpet call of God, how can it be hidden or secret?
The notion of a rapture in which Christ comes unseen to take believers away secretly, and only later come back yet again for everyone else publicly—this whole approach is quite new to the Christian church. It was almost unheard of until John Nelson Darby formulated it in the 1800s as part of a new approach to the Bible, sometimes called “dispensationalism.” C. I. Scofield published a study Bible with notes teaching the dispensational system. But before Darby and Scofield, few churches taught a secret rapture and few Christians believed it.
Through many centuries of proclaiming the Bible’s message, Christian churches taught that Christ would come just once, publicly, for all to see, that he would then raise the dead, and that he would confirm his verdict of eternal life for his people and eternal punishment for all who have rejected him. This has been the teaching of the historic Christian faith, and it is still the best way to understand what the Bible is saying.
The whole world will know when King Jesus has arrived. The whole world will see bodies rise from graves, living believers transformed, and all of them rushing upward to meet their Savior. Those who are not caught up to meet Christ will desperately look for somewhere to hide, some way to escape, but they will find none. Those who don’t rise up to meet Jesus will be left to face his fire. But whether a person is delighted or terrified, each one will know the King has come. The rapture will be very public.
These events will also be overwhelming. Jesus’ coming and that marvelous moment of rapture will occur after terrible tribulation and persecution by the Antichrist. The rapture won’t happen before the tribulation, as some believers in a secret rapture have thought; it will happen after the tribulation.
Bible scholars sometimes disagree over whether humanity will be getting better or worse when Jesus returns. The answer is “both.” The bad will keep getting worse; the good will keep becoming better. God’s enemies will be at their cruelest, but God’s friends will be at their bravest. The world will have horrors such as it has never seen before and heroes such as it has never seen before. Just when the horrors are trying to make an end of the heroes, the King of kings will appear on the scene. The Antichrist and his evil forces will be utterly overwhelmed.
Jesus’ appearance on the scene would be enough in itself to devastate all enemies. And Jesus won’t be alone. Angel armies will be with him, millions of heavenly warriors, each angel strong enough to devastate hosts of humans. Joining those armies will be all God’s people from every age.
The souls of dead believers who have gone to heaven will accompany Jesus when he comes to earth, and those souls will enter their resurrected, glorified bodies. Resurrected believers will then physically rise up to meet the Lord. Right after that, all believers who are still living will be transformed, glorified, and added to the Lord’s army. One moment they may be hunted, surrounded, on the verge of being wiped out, but the next moment they will be liberated, not only from the power of Antichrist, but from the very force of gravity. They will rise up to meet their Lord as he comes down to save them. They will join Jesus in triumphing over evil, in judging the world, and in ruling over a new heaven and a new earth. This will all happen “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).
You may wonder why Jesus’ followers will rise up to meet him in the air. The answer is found in the overwhelming nature of Jesus coming: believers will be so overwhelmed with joy that they want to meet him as he comes, and Earth will be so overwhelmed with fiery judgment that believers need to be evacuated before the fire hits.
Believers will be overwhelmed with joy when they hear the voice of the Son of God and see him coming. Almost every night when I get home from work, my little sons fly out the door to meet me. They don’t just sit around waiting for me to come into the house; they rush outside, even though they know I’m on my way in. Why do they do this? Because they love me, they’re delighted to see me after I’ve been away, and they’re eager to welcome me. They know that we’ll be hugging, playing tag, reading stories, doing things they enjoy. For a similar reason, believers will rush upward to meet the Lord Jesus. His return is the moment they’ve been waiting for, the time for them to be with the one they love and to enjoy many delights with him.
In ancient times, there was a custom that when a king came to a city, his loyal subjects would go out to meet him and welcome him and accompany him into the city. If you didn’t come out to meet him, it meant you weren’t happy to see him, and you weren’t loyal to him. When Jesus comes to earth, millions will rush to meet him because they love him and are loyal to him. The instant he appears, they will have transformed bodies like Jesus’ glorified body. As Christ is not limited by gravity, so his people won’t be held down by gravity. They will race upward to meet their dear Lord and accompany him on the last part of his return to earth. They will join him in judging the world and in transforming it into a new creation.
Overwhelming joy is part of the reason for going up to meet Jesus in their air; another part of the reason is overwhelming judgment. Believers will be taken up to the Lord in order to get out of the line of fire. The Bible tells Christians, “God is just. He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8). When God’s people rise from the dead, wicked people will also rise from their graves in bodies that cannot die, but those bodies will suffer God’s eternal punishment on their rebellion. The fire of judgment will sweep the godless away into hell.
The fire will also clear the earth for a fresh start. Scripture says, “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:12-13). After demolition comes rebuilding. After rebels against God are cleared from the earth, the meek will inherit the earth. But first the fire of judgment and cleansing must rage across sky and earth. Raptured believers are taken out of the way in order to be overwhelmed by joy and not judgment.
The rapture will be public, it will be overwhelming, and a third biblical fact is that it will be sudden. If you’re not on the lookout, you won’t be ready. “Therefore, keep watch,” says Jesus, “because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him (Matthew 24:42-44). Jesus will come like a thief in the night. Unlike a thief, he won’t sneak in and out secretly; but like a thief, he will come suddenly and unexpectedly.
Maybe you don’t take Jesus’ return and the rapture seriously. You just go on as you see fit. You may work side by side with followers of Christ, but you don’t follow Jesus yourself. You are in danger of being among those who will be going about business as usual, when suddenly the trumpet will sound and the Lord will appear. As the rapture occurs, some people will go up to join Jesus, but the others will remain on the ground. Two men will be working in the same area. “One will be taken, the other left,” says Jesus. Two women will be working side by side at the same task. “One will be taken, the other left” (Matthew 24:40-41).
The Lord’s coming will be sudden, and only those who are already prepared will be taken up to meet him in joy. The rest will be left on earth to shrink from him in terror. If you’re not ready, you can only await his judgment. Despite signs and events which lead up to the rapture and fulfill biblical prophecy, the actual event will be unexpectedly sudden. Rather than try to figure out dates and times, we must be ready at all times. Right after the Bible tells about believers being caught up to meet the Lord in the air at the end of 1 Thessalonians 4, it goes on to say in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3,
Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
In Matthew 24 Jesus compares the time between his ascension and return to a master leaving for a considerable time and putting one of his servants in charge. When the master comes back, if the servant has been doing a good job, he will be rewarded and promoted.
But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 24:48-51).
The sudden coming of Christ means that the date-setters should give up making predictions, but even more seriously, it means that skeptics had better stop scoffing and start getting ready.
The rapture will be public, it will be overwhelming, it will be sudden—and it will be final. Anyone who is not caught up to meet the Lord will never be saved. There will be no second chance. Before the great flood, God gave the people years and years to repent in response to Noah’s preaching, but then one day, Noah entered the ark, and God shut the door. After that it was too late for anyone to change their minds.
The same is true of the second coming. When the Lord delays his coming, it’s not because he is slow. “He is patient with you,” says the Bible, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (2 Peter 3:9-10), and when it does, it will be too late for those who aren’t already prepared.
Once Jesus comes back, there will no more time to get ready. God will shut the door to his Kingdom, just as he shut the door to Noah’s ark, and there will be no more opportunity to enter. There won’t be any people left behind on earth who will have another chance to repent during a time of tribulation. The reign of Antichrist and the time of tribulation will occur before the rapture, not after. In fact, the Antichrist will be massing his forces to wipe faith from the earth when Jesus will suddenly appear. The dead will be raised, living believers will be instantly transformed, and as Jesus comes down to earth, his people will all rise up—be raptured—to meet him. The Lord will defeat and scatter the forces of evil. Then the Lord will sit on his throne and separate those destined for glory from those who are destined for hell (Matthew 25:31-46). The rapture is final. If you’re not caught up to meet Jesus, you will never be with him for all eternity.
If you’re alive at the time of the Lord’s coming, the door will close the moment he appears. If you die before Jesus comes again, the door closes for you at the moment of death. The Bible says that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Either way, you need to be ready to meet Christ at all times, and you need to be living each moment in anticipation of his return.
Jesus’ coming isn’t a topic for speculation and mind games. It is the ultimate horror for all who are not right with God. It is the ultimate hope who for all who know the Lord. Scripture speaks of it as “the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Jesus tells us that he is coming again, and that his coming will be public, overwhelming, sudden, and final. He tells us this, not to make us curious, but to make us ready. Are you ready?
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.