Have you heard of the Rapture? It’s an event that will supposedly cause millions of Christians to suddenly disappear because they have been “raptured” to heaven by Jesus Christ. Headlines are predicted to read: “Multitudes Missing, Chaos Sweeps Globe!&rdquo “Massive Traffic Jams Due to Evaporated Drivers!” “Planes Crash After Pilots Vanish!” Perhaps you’ve seen bumper stickers reading: “In case of Rapture, this vehicle will be unmanned.”
Is this teaching biblical?
Let’s take a closer look.
First, the Holy Bible certainly does teach the exciting truth that Jesus Christ will someday return to earth for His people. “I will come again,” our Savior promised, “and receive you to Myself” (John 14:3, NKJV). Therefore, yes, Jesus will come again; and, yes, Christians will be taken to heaven.
But will Jesus return invisibly? Will His church disappear? Does God’s Word really teach vanishing Christians? Without a doubt, the most quoted passage used to support the Rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which says that believers will someday be “caught up . . . in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” But does “caught up” mean “disappear”? Is Paul describing a silent return of Jesus to snatch His church that will be followed by media reports inquiring, “Where did all those people go?”
Have you ever driven down a highway without realizing how fast you were going, and then, when you finally glanced at your speedometer, you suddenly realized, I must slow down? That’s what we should do with 1 Thessalonians 4:17. We must slow down and take a closer look.
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” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).
what is the meaning of this passage?
Rapture teachers interpret these verses to mean that Jesus will return in a secret, silent manner. Yet doesn’t this passage seem rather loud and visible? There is a shout, a voice, and a trumpet. Have you ever heard of a silent trumpet? The truth is, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 describes one of the noisiest events found in the entire Bible! Our Savior descends from heaven, shouting and blowing a trumpet. The dead rise. True believers are “caught up.” Honestly, do you see anything about vanishing Christians? Rapture promoters interpret “caught up” to mean disappear, yet it must be admitted that this Bible verse itself doesn’t say anything remotely like this.
At the end of His earthly life, Jesus Christ was also “taken up” (Acts 1:9). But He didn’t disappear, leaving His clothes on earth. Instead, in front of His wondering disciples, He “was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight” His ascension was highly visible. Then clouds are mentioned, just like believers are “caught up . . . in the clouds” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
Here’s the full context of Acts 1:9:
“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
“They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’ ” (Acts 1:9–11; emphasis added).
Holy angels—in the form of men in white robes—explained the simple truth about our Savior’s return. Just as Jesus was literally and visibly “taken up” into the clouds, He will also “come back [return] in the same way [they had] seen him go into heaven.” Although these two angels never attended a seminary, there’s no doubt they had their theology straight. They taught no secret coming or vanishing Christians. Everything will be highly visible, just like the ascension of Jesus Christ.
the meaning of “a thief in the night”
But doesn’t the Bible also say that Christ’s coming will be like “a thief in the night”? Doesn’t that imply a silent return of Christ to snatch His people off of earth? Once again, let’s take a closer look. Immediately after describing Christ’s noisy return to take true believers to heaven in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17, the Bible continues “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” (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3; emphasis added).
Here Jesus’ return is compared to the arrival of a midnight thief. Rapture teachers interpret this to mean that Jesus will come like a silent thief to snatch believers—then driverless cars will crash, and pilotless planes will collide because Christian pilots have been whisked up to heaven.
Is this what the Bible is really saying?
Again, let’s slow down and take a closer look at our biblical speedometers. First, the day when Jesus comes “like a thief” is the same day on which He descends with a shout and trumpet blast. Second, He only comes as “a thief in the night”to the unprepared. When that day comes, “destruction will come on them [the lost] suddenly . . . and they will not escape” (verse 3).
Got it? Jesus’ coming like “a thief” doesn’t mean He will return invisibly to steal believers out of this world. Rather, it means He will come unexpectedly, bringing “sudden destruction” upon the lost. Thus, it’s not a secret coming but only a sudden one. Will the unprepared get a “second chance” to be saved?
The Bible’s answer is crystal clear “They will not escape” (verse 3).
It continues: “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (verses 4, 5).
These words speak to us today. We must be ready so that this day of the Lord’s return doesn’t burst upon us like an unexpected, destructive thief.
Hmm . . . you may be thinking. But what about that other verse where Jesus Himself stated that someday “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left”? (Matthew 24:40). What about that?
Again, the answer is in the context. In Matthew 24:26, Jesus warned about those who teach that His coming would be “in secret.” In verse 27, He illustrated what His return will really be like “as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west.”
Three verses later, the Master clarified: “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” (verses 30, 31).
this event is far from secret
Just like Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17, Jesus also stated that His return would be a noisy event that includes loud reverberations from “a great sound of a trumpet” (Matthew 24:31, KJV 1). When that booming blast echoes around the globe, multitudes of shining angels will descend into earth’s polluted atmosphere to “gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Thus, true believers will be “caught up” into the air—which is exactly what the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 4:17!
Now, back to Matthew 24. The Truth-Teller continued: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. . . .
“So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:36–44; emphasis added).
Here Christ compared His return to the sudden descent of billions of tons of water in Noah’s day. Those ancient people thought Noah was a crazy old man until “the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (verse 39; emphasis added). Jesus continued, “two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left (verse 40; emphasis added).”
See the point? The words, “That is how it will be,” apply to Jesus Christ’s visible second coming!
Jesus basically said, “My return will be like Noah’s day” (verses 37–39). Think about it. Did Noah and his family vanish before the Flood? No, they walked visibly into the ark. What about those who were “left behind” after the door of the ark shut? Did they have a second chance to be saved? No again. How were they left? They were left dead; they did not escape. According to Jesus: “That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (verse 39).
The truth is, Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 4 perfectly complement each other. Both describe a noisy, visible, trumpet-blasting, glorious return of Jesus Christ in the clouds. Both describe believers being transported into the air. Both declare this great day will come with thief-like suddenness upon sleeping sinners. Both also describe the fate of the lost. Again, the Bible says, “They will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
The bottom line is that Jesus Christ is coming loudly and visibly with billions of holy angels. No one will miss it. At that time, it’s ready or not, here I come. Those who are ready will be transported to glory. But, for those who aren’t, it’s too late.
A certain minister acquired a reputation for telling his church members, “It could be worse,” during times of great trial. One day, a troubled soul told the pastor, “Last night I dreamed Jesus came on the clouds with shining angels. The horrible thing was, I was lost!”
Shockingly, the minister replied, “It could be worse.”
What! thought the man in disbelief. What could be worse?
Solemnly his pastor whispered, “It would be worse if it wasn’t a dream.”
How true! Thankfully, the loving arms of Jesus Christ are still open to lost sinners. Let’s respond now to God’s goodness and to the pleading voice of the Crucified One before He returns.
Steve Wohlberg is the speaker/director of White Horse Media and the author of over 40 books, including Rapture Myths. His ministry website is whitehorsemedia.com.
1. Bible verses marked KJV are from the King James Version.