The concept of the rapture – when true believers will supposedly be ‘caught up’ to meet Christ in the air – has captured the imagination of many Christians. But where exactly in the Bible does it talk about this event?
If you’re looking for a thorough, scripturally-grounded answer, you’ve come to the right place.
In short, while the word ‘rapture’ itself does not appear in scripture, the event is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. We’ll take an in-depth look at this key rapture passage as well as other relevant verses that give context and meaning to the doctrine.
The Main Rapture Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
Exegesis of the Key Verses
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is considered the seminal passage describing the rapture of the church. Let’s break it down phrase by phrase:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. This verse says Jesus himself will return from heaven and there will be audible signals announcing his arrival – a shout, archangel’s voice, and a trumpet blast.And the dead in Christ will rise first. When Christ returns, the first thing that will happen is believers who have died will be resurrected and their bodies will be raised from the graves.Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, After the dead saints are raised, then living believers will follow by being “caught up” into the clouds to meet Jesus.
The Greek word for “caught up” is harpazo, which means to be snatched or taken forcibly. This is where the term “rapture” comes from.
and so we will always be with the Lord. After being raptured, believers will remain with Christ forevermore.
Different Interpretations and Perspectives
While most evangelical scholars agree 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 refers to the rapture, there are three main perspectives on when the rapture occurs in relation to the tribulation period:
- Pretribulationism – The rapture happens before the tribulation (the most common view).
- Midtribulationism – The rapture occurs in the middle of the tribulation.
- Posttribulationism – The rapture happens at the end of the tribulation.
Each perspective interprets certain details differently. For example, the identity of “we who are alive” in verse 17 varies:
|“We who are alive”
|Church age believers
|Those alive in the middle of the tribulation
|Those who survive the tribulation
While interpretations differ, most agree 1 Thessalonians 4 gives crucial details about the rapture event. Consulting other passages provides a more complete biblical picture.
Other Relevant Verses
In John 14:1-3, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them in heaven and will return to take them there: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
This passage indicates that Jesus will return to gather his followers and bring them to heaven.
1 Corinthians 15:50-54
1 Corinthians 15:50-54 describes the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of living believers at the second coming of Christ: “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 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 be changed.
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.'”
This passage indicates that believers will receive glorified bodies at Christ’s return.
In Matthew 24:30-31, Jesus describes what will happen when he returns: “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, 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.” This passage indicates that Jesus will return visibly and send out his angels to gather his followers from all over the earth.
Passages on the Timing of the Rapture
The pre-tribulation view states that the rapture will occur before the tribulation period begins. This means believers will be “caught up” to meet Jesus in the air before the emergence of the Antichrist and the terrible judgments described in Revelation 6-18.
Key Biblical passages used to support this position include:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 – This passage describes the rapture event when the Lord will descend from heaven and believers will be caught up in the clouds to meet Him. There is no mention of judgment or tribulation in this passage.1 Thessalonians 5:9 – “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This verse seems to indicate that believers will be delivered from the coming wrath of the tribulation period.Revelation 3:10 – Jesus says, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world.” This could suggest a pretribulational rapture in which the church is kept from even entering the tribulation period.
The mid-tribulation position proposes that the rapture will take place around the midpoint of the 7 year tribulation period. Passages used to argue for this view include:
Daniel 7:25 – The saints will be given over to tribulation for “a time, times, and half a time.” This prophetic reference to 3 1/2 years fits with a rapture occurring halfway through the tribulation.Revelation 11 – This chapter describes two witnesses who prophesy for 1,260 days before being killed. Their resurrection could picture the rapture occurring in the middle of Daniel’s 70th week.2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 – Some argue these verses teach the Antichrist is revealed before the rapture, but there is debate around the proper interpretation.
Post-tribulationists believe the rapture will come after the tribulation period and will coincide with the Second Coming of Christ to earth. Verses cited by post-tribulationists include:
Matthew 24:29-31 – This passage has Jesus returning “after the tribulation” and gathering his elect from the heavens and earth.1 Corinthians 15:51-52 – While describing the rapture, verse 52 says it will occur at the blowing of “the last trumpet.” This reference to the last trumpet is interpreted as meaning after the trumpet judgments in Revelation.2 Thessalonians 1:6-7 – God will grant relief to his people at the revelation of Christ from heaven, when He comes “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance.” This depicts Christ returning to earth in judgment.
Old Testament Foreshadowing
One of the first hints of the rapture in the Old Testament is the account of Enoch in Genesis 5. Enoch walked faithfully with God for 300 years before God “took” him, so that he did not experience death (Genesis 5:24).
This miraculous transportation of a man from earth to heaven foreshadowed the rapture of the church.
Just as Enoch was taken by God before the judgment of the flood, so shall believers be caught up by the Lord before the terrible outpouring of God’s wrath during the tribulation (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
Enoch serves as a stellar example of a true believer who longed for the coming of God’s promised salvation.
Elijah Taken to Heaven
A second prophetic picture of the rapture in the Old Testament is Elijah being swept up into the clouds by a chariot of fire in 2 Kings 2. Before he was raptured, Elijah mentored Elisha to carry on his prophetic ministry.
Similarly, Christ’s ascension to heaven was followed by the sending of the Holy Spirit to empower the church to preach the gospel.
Just as Elijah did not experience the sting of physical death, at the rapture living believers will be transformed and transported directly to heaven. Their mortal bodies will be changed into imperishable ones (1 Corinthians 15:51-54).
Like Elijah, raptured believers will not have to face death or the grave.
These Old Testament stories give us hope that just as God spared certain saints from wrath and judgement in the past, so He will miraculously deliver His church from the tribulation soon to come on the whole earth (Revelation 3:10). What a blessing that day will be!
While eschatology remains a debated topic, we have aimed to thoroughly cover the key rapture passages that serve as the basis for this doctrine. Studying these verses in context along with scholarly perspectives allows us to have a grounded understanding.
The rapture offers hope and encouragement to believers, though the exact timing continues to be disputed. In any case, we can find assurance knowing our risen Savior has prepared a place for us.