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Many believe that, as the return of Jesus Christ draws nearer, Christians going about their daily business will suddenly disappear and be raptured away to heaven. They imagine families being shocked by the strange disappearance of a father, mother or child and extreme scenarios have portrayed planes crashing because the pilots have vanished and driverless cars colliding in the streets. But is this what the Bible actually teaches?
The most popular and widely-believed version of the rapture theory has Jesus Christ miraculously rescuing His people from an earth on the brink of tribulation. It's a comforting belief, since it offers the promise of peace and safety in heaven while the earth below is immersed in turmoil and destruction.
Yet while God does offer protection for His people during the time of the Great Tribulation, nowhere is it stated that this will be in heaven. Rather, the prophetic outline makes it clear that believers do not ascend to meet Christ until He returns at the last of seven trumpets (see our free booklet The Book of Revelation Unveiled).
As for this most popular concept of the rapture, the Bible doesn’t teach it. It should be clarified, however, that the English word “rapture” itself literally just means being “suddenly caught up,” and the Bible does mention that happening. The apostle Paul states in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 that at Christ’s triumphant return to the earth, living believers “shall be caught up together with [those who died in the faith] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
Yet while the catching up of believers to meet Christ is certainly biblical, where many have placed the timing of this event with the rapture doctrine is not.
Most who espouse “the rapture” are more technically described as “pre-tribulationists” who believe in a “pre-Tribulation rapture”—typically mistaken in thinking the Tribulation is seven years, with it turning “Great” at the halfway point. There are also “mid-tribulationists” who believe in a “mid-Tribulation rapture,” thinking the catching away occurs at that supposed halfway point, 3 1⁄2 years before Christ’s return. Finally, there are “post-tribulationists,” who believe in a “post-Tribulation rapture,” wherein the catching up of believers to meet Christ in the air comes at the end of the 3 1⁄2-year Great Tribulation period. While the latter position is closer than the others to what the Bible teaches, the term rapture is still problematic, given all the false conception surrounding it.
To be clear, the popular rapture doctrine is false. There is no rapture of believers months or years in advance of Christ’s actual second coming. Rather, believers will be caught up to meet Christ as He returns to the earth—after having been alive on earth through the 3 1⁄2-year Tribulation period.
Bible Study Guide