“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”1 Thessalonians 5:13, ESV
Movies, art, and literature heavily influence what people believe about the Rapture. Sometimes what we see and hear is accurate, but other times our eyes and ears are deceived by culture’s misrepresentation of this significant event. While certainly entertaining, we need to know what the Bible says about the Rapture. So let’s find out.
Like many today, the Thessalonians had the wrong idea about Christ’s return. After Paul left Thessalonica, the Thessalonians began to worry because Jesus hadn’t come yet, and their brothers and sisters were dying. They feared they would never see them again – they were lost forever. In 1st Thessalonians Chapters 4 and 5, Paul sets the record straight about the Rapture and offers believers hope in Christ’s return.
Rapture in the Bible
English speakers have coined the term “Rapture” to describe the moment Jesus removes believers from the earth and takes them to Heaven. The Bible never actually uses this word, however. “Rapture” comes from the Latin raptis, which translates to the Greek word “harpazo.” The idea behind the word is “to suddenly remove or snatch away.” Harpazo is used to describe how Philip was suddenly “carried” away (Acts 8:39) after ministering to the eunuch, how Paul ended up in the third Heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-4), and Christ’s ascension to Heaven (Revelation 12:5).
Paul talks about the Rapture in detail in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-53. But, this was not the first time the Bible addressed the idea of Christ returning for His followers. The day before Jesus died on the cross, He revealed to His disciples that believers would be removed from the earth before He set up His kingdom. He says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3). The disciples knew Jesus was returning and waited in anticipation of His arrival. The Thessalonians also waited for His return, as Paul had encouraged them to do, but at some point in their waiting, fear and doubt about their future began creeping in.
Setting the Record Straight about the Rapture
You will recall that the Thessalonians were persecuted because of the Gospel. Some Thessalonians may have even died because of this persecution. The Thessalonians were worried. They were scared. They knew their lives were in danger. They wondered what would happen to those who died before Jesus came back. Would they be lost forever? Paul addresses their fears in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-14; when he says:
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. “
Paul did not want the Thessalonians to be like the rest of the world – without hope. Death seems final without Christ and His promise of eternal life. Paul helps the Thessalonians understand their security in Christ by using the term “asleep” when he refers to death.” If you sleep, presumably, you wake up and continue living. Using the word asleep takes the permanent sting away from death. It evokes the imagery that death is temporary, like sleep.
Rapture: Dead or Alive
Paul continues to explain to the Thessalonians what happens when Jesus gathers His Church to Himself. He says:
“For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 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, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
Paul tells us more about the Rapture in 1st Corinthians 15:51-52:
“We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
When we view death as permanent, we feel hopeless. The Bible tells us that Jesus overcame death, and if we believe in Him, so will we. The Thessalonians had been misled either by their own worries or false teaching. Whatever the source, they needed the truth. They needed hope. Paul set the record straight. He cleared things up. He ended Chapter 4 by saying, “Therefore, encourage one another with these words.” The words he was referring to were the details of the Rapture: that Christ would come back for everyone, sleeping or awake – the dead would live again! Paul gave the Thessalonians hope through the details of the Rapture.
So what do these Scriptures taken together tell us about the Rapture? First, we see the return of Christ. It will happen quickly, in the “twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Corinthians 15:52). Christ will descend from Heaven with a shout, the archangel’s voice, and a trumpet. Second, there will be a resurrection. Christ will bring with Him the spirits of those believers who have already died. They will be resurrected and united with their now glorified bodies! Third, there will be a reunion in the clouds of all believers who will meet in the air with Christ. Finally, we are reassured that we will be with the Lord forever from then on!
The Day of the Lord – Christ’s Return
Many believe that Christ’s Second Return comes in two phases, first the Rapture and then the Day of the Lord, where Jesus appears with the Saints and judges unbelievers. See “The Rapture and His Glorious Appearing” here. Whether you believe His return is in one phase or two, the Rapture is just one piece of it.
In Thessalonians 5:1-11, Paul reassures the Thessalonians that they, as believers, will not experience God’s wrath. He assures them they will not suffer this “day” because they no longer walk in darkness but are children of the light destined for salvation. We can also be reassured that as children of the light, we will not experience God’s wrath. Paul ends this passage urging the Thessalonians to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
Paul wanted to encourage the Thessalonians and build them up in the Lord. He also wanted to set the record straight on Christ’s return and remove any false notions causing them to fear and worry. Paul sprinkled this encouragement throughout the Epistle. He mentions Christ’s return at the end of each of the five chapters.
In the first chapter, he lets the Thessalonians know they are doing the right thing by waiting for God’s son from Heaven, whom God raised from the dead (1 Thessalonians 1:10). In the second chapter, Paul laments how the Thessalonians are his crown in which he will glory in the presence of Jesus at His coming (1 Thess. 2:19). In the third chapter, Paul prays that God establishes the Thessalonians’ hearts “blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thess. 3:13). In the fourth chapter he reassures the Thessalonians that asleep or awake, they will meet Christ in the air and go where He is at. In the fifth chapter, he reminds them that they are not children of the darkness, therefore, not subject to God’s wrath.
Not only is this message of hope for the Thessalonians, but it is for us too. We are Christ’s elect. We can eagerly await the trumpet call signaling that He is returning. He will gather us from our graves or our beds, wherever we happen to be. Because we have this eternal hope, we should always keep our eyes on Heaven and be ready for His return!
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Answer the following questions:
- The Thessalonians were misinformed about Christ’s return. In what ways have you been misinformed about His return, the Rapture specifically? How can you guard against misinformation in the future?
- In Titus 2:13, Paul calls Jesus’ return our “blessed hope.” Based on what you read in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5, how can the truth about Christ’s return encourage believers today? How does it encourage you?
- In what ways have you failed to walk the walk and talk the talk? Looking back, what could you have done differently? What can you do now to ensure that your actions represent Christ? The Day of the Lord will come on suddenly, and unbelievers will experience God’s wrath. Paul does not use this truth to motivate believers to live for Christ. Instead, he reminds them of who they are in Christ and that believers are not subject to wrath. In what way has the fear of God’s wrath motivated you? Do you think that motivation was right or wrong? Why?
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28