The Rapture Is Before the Tribulation Period
When is the rapture? The rapture is that glorious event when the dead in Christ will rise, living Christians will be instantly translated into their glorified bodies, and both groups will be caught up to meet Christ in the air and taken back to heaven (John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). This means that one generation of Christians will never pass through death’s door. They will be alive on earth in their mortal bodies, and suddenly, in an instant, they will be with Christ in their immortal bodies. What a moment that will be!
The Bible provides clear evidence that the rapture will take place before the tribulation period. This means that the church will not go through the judgments prophesied in Revelation 4–18. This view seems to be most consistent with a literal interpretation of Bible prophecy.
Kept from the Hour of Trial
In Revelation 3:10, Jesus promises the church in Philadelphia, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” Notice the definite article (the) before the word hour in this verse. This indicates that a specific and distinct period of time is in view, not just any “hour of trial” in church history. The context clearly points to the future seven-year tribulation, which is described in detail in Revelation 6–19. This is the hour of trial from which the church is to be kept.
This verse reveals that church saints will be kept from the actual hour of testing, not just the testing itself. If the Lord meant to communicate that He would preserve them in the midst of the testing itself, He would have omitted the words “the hour” and simply said, “I will keep you from the testing.”
The Greek text supports this view. The Greek preposition ek (translated “from”) carries the idea of separation from something. This means that believers will be kept from the hour of testing in the sense that they will be completely separated from it by being raptured before the period even begins.
Notice that Revelation 3:10 promises only that church saints will be kept out of this hour of trial that will come upon the whole earth. Those who become believers during the hour of trial itself (those we might call tribulation saints) will go through tribulation. Tribulation saints will suffer under Satan and the antichrist during the tribulation period. Church saints, by contrast, will be exempted from all this.
The Church Is Absent from All Bible Verses on the Tribulation
No Old Testament passage on the tribulation mentions the church (Deuteronomy 4:29-30; Jeremiah 30:4-11; Daniel 8:24-27; 12:1-2). No New Testament passage on the tribulation mentions the church (Matthew 13:30,39-42,48-50; 24:15-31; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 5:4-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-11; Revelation 4–18). The complete absence of the church seems to indicate that it is not on earth during the tribulation.
The Church Not Appointed to Wrath
Scripture assures us that the church is not appointed to wrath (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9). This means that the church cannot go through the great day of wrath—the tribulation period (Revelation 6:17; 14:10,19; 15:1,7; 16:1).
First Thessalonians 1:9-10 specifically states that Jesus “delivers us from the wrath to come.” The Greek word translated delivers means “to draw or snatch out to oneself, to rescue, to save, to preserve” from some evil or danger or enemy. This clearly refers to the rapture of the church before the beginning of the tribulation period.
First Thessalonians 1:9 fits perfectly with the description of the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:
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.
The phrase “caught up” here literally means “snatched up or taken away.” Moreover, the Greek preposition ek (“from”) is used in this verse, just as it is used in Revelation 3:10. As we have seen, the term carries the idea of “separation from.” Believers will be delivered from this wrath by being completely separated from it, which requires the rapture.
God Always Delivers His People Before Judgment Falls
Throughout Scripture, God delivers His people before judgment falls (see 2 Peter 2:5-9). Enoch was translated to heaven before the flood. Noah and his family were in the ark before the flood. Lot was taken out of Sodom before the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. The firstborn of the Hebrews in Egypt were protected by the blood of the Paschal lamb before judgment fell. The spies were safely out of Jericho, and Rahab was safe before judgment fell on Jericho. In the same way, the church will be safely delivered (via the rapture) before judgment falls during the tribulation period.
The Rapture Is Distinct from the Second Coming
The rapture involves Christ coming for His saints in the air before the tribulation, while at the second coming He comes with His saints to the earth to reign for a thousand years (Revelation 19; 20:1-6). The fact that Christ comes “with” His “saints” (redeemed believers) at the second coming presupposes that they have been raptured beforehand. (He cannot come with them until He has first come for them.)
We also read in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 that the rapture will take place “in the twinkling of an eye.” This phrase is Paul’s way of showing how brief the “moment” of the rapture will be. The fluttering of an eyelid, the blinking of an eye, is extremely quick. By contrast, the second coming is more protracted, long enough for the antichrist to gather his armies as they witness Christ’s approach from heaven to earth (Revelation 19:19).
The Rapture is a Blessed Hope
The rapture is called a blessed hope in Titus 2:13. This event is blessed in the sense that it brings blessedness to believers. The term carries the idea of joyful anticipation. Believers cannot wait for it to happen! If believers were required to first go through the tribulation period and experience the seal judgments, trumpet judgments, and bowl judgments, this would be more of a blasted hope.
Jesus Does Not Beat Up His Bride
It is interesting to observe that in Bible times, after a man became betrothed to a woman, he would go to his father’s house to prepare a place for them to live. Then, at an unannounced time, he would come to fetch his wife so that they could go to his father’s house. This is a beautiful picture of the rapture. Scripture portrays Christ as the Bridegroom (John 3:29) and the church as His bride (Revelation 19:7). Jesus told His betrothed bride, “I go and prepare a place for you” (John 14:3). He then said, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also”—in the father’s house (John 14:3).
Lest you miss my point, if the rapture were to occur after the tribulation period, this would amount to Jesus becoming betrothed to His bride, the church, and then allowing His bride to be severely ravaged in the judgments of the tribulation period. Such a view does not make good sense. It makes much more sense that the Bridegroom (Jesus) comes to claim His bride (at the rapture) before the tribulation period, and then takes her to heaven, where He has prepared a place for her (John 14:1-3). The marriage ceremony then takes place in heaven (Revelation 19:6-16).
When is the Rapture? The Rapture Is Imminent
The term imminent literally means “ready to take place” or “impending.” The New Testament teaches that the rapture is imminent, meaning that nothing has to be prophetically fulfilled before the rapture can occur (see 1 Corinthians 1:7; 16:22; Philippians 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 1:13; Jude 21). The rapture is a signless event that can occur at any moment. This is in contrast to the second coming of Christ, which is preceded by seven years’ worth of signs in the tribulation period (see Revelation 4–18).
We have good reason to affirm that the rapture will occur prior to the tribulation period:
• Jesus promised to deliver His people from the hour of testing that is coming upon the whole world.
• The church is nowhere to be found in any passage dealing with the tribulation period.
• The church is not appointed to wrath.
• God always delivers His people before His wrath falls.
• The rapture is distinct from the second coming.
• The rapture is a blessed hope.
• Jesus does not beat up His bride.
• The rapture is imminent.