The dispensation of the grace of God (Eph. 3:2), which we are presently living in, will be brought to a close by what is commonly referred to as the rapture of the church. Although the term “rapture” is not found in Scripture, it is an appropriate word to describe the coming of the Lord for His church. The word comes from the Latin word “rapere” which means “to seize” (Webster’s New World Dictionary), and thus can be used to refer to the time when the Lord will “catch up” or “carry away” His church into heaven. When the apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonian believers, they were experiencing much tribulation and persecution from the unbelieving Jews of their city (Acts 17:5,13; I Thess. 2:14-16). The apostle Paul made known the truth of the rapture to them to comfort and encourage them and to give them hope.
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (I Thess. 4:13-18)
When we use the expression, “the coming of the Lord,” we must take care to distinguish between the two events this one expression refers to: (1) the coming of the Lord for His church and (2) the coming of the Lord back to the earth to establish His kingdom. These two events are distinct and occur at different times.
An Unprophesied Event
The coming of the Lord to the earth, when he was born of the virgin Mary, was prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures (Micah 5:2; Isa. 7:14). The coming of the Lord back to the earth a second time was also prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures (Zech. 14:4-7), as well as by the Lord Himself while He was here on earth (Matt. 24:27-31). The coming of the Lord for His church was not the subject of Old Testament prophecy, nor was it mentioned by the Lord while He was here on earth.
Paul introduces the subject in I Thessalonians 4:13 with the words, “I do not want you to be ignorant,” indicating that Paul was about to reveal something to them they did not know. In writing to the Corinthian believers concerning this same subject, Paul refers to it as “a mystery” (I Cor. 15:51), something that was kept secret until God chose to reveal it. Since God’s plan and purpose for the church, the body of Christ was a mystery that was “hid in God” (Eph. 3:1-9) until He made it known to and through the apostle Paul, it follows that the rapture, which is the “blessed hope” of the church (Titus 2:13), was also a secret until God made it known through Paul’s teaching and writing. The rapture is the unprophesied end to an unprophesied period.
Our Blessed Hope
The rapture is the blessed hope of the church, the body of Christ. We have this hope because of the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:19-23). Just as God raised the Lord Jesus Christ up from the grave, even so, God will raise us up also.
In I Thessalonians, chapter 4, Paul wrote words of comfort to those whose beloved family members and friends had already died. There is no need for us to sorrow as those who have no hope, for we do have the blessed hope that one day the Lord Jesus Christ will descend from heaven with a shout and a trumpet call of victory—victory over death! When He comes, the dead in Christ shall rise first, then those who are still alive and remain on earth, will be caught up together with the dead in Christ, and we shall all meet the Lord in the air.
When we are caught up, we will meet the Lord “in the air” (I Thess. 4:17). When Jesus comes for His church, He will not come back to the earth, but will come (or appear) in the air. While Israel’s hope is His coming to earth to establish His kingdom, the hope of the church, His body, is in heaven. Colossians 1:27 describes it as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 3:4says that, “when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Christ will descend in the air, catch us up to be with Him in glory, and “thus we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4:17). What wonderful words of comfort!
We Shall be Changed
Before we can enter into the glorious presence of our Lord though, our bodies must be changed. The bodies we currently live in are bodies of flesh and still have a sin nature (Rom. 7:18), and as such, these bodies are not fit for glory or eternity. I Corinthians 15:51-54 describes the transformation that must occur before we can enter into glory.
“Behold, I tell you a mystery: 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 incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.'”
Our bodies of flesh were never intended to last forever. Paul describes them as a tabernacle, or a temporary dwelling place (II Corinthians 5:1). They are corruptible; that is, they are subject to corruption or decay. They are mortal; that is, they are subject to death. When the Lord Jesus Christ comes for us, He will
“… transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (Phil. 3:21)
What a blessed hope we have—to be made like unto our glorious Lord and to dwell with Him forever. May we each look forward to that day with great expectation (Tit. 2:13).