The Truth About the Secret Rapture
A popular bumper sticker confidently declares: “In Case of Rapture This Vehicle Will Be Unmanned.” Those who believe in the rapture are convinced that the most exhilarating experience of their lives could happen at any moment, without warning. They suppose that they, along with multitudes of people from all over the world, will suddenly disappear—be “translated”—to heaven when Christ returns invisibly and in secret to whisk away the church right before the world is plunged into the Great Tribulation that He foretold. Some include dead Christians brought back to life to be in this group. This momentous event, they believe, is only the first phase of Jesus Christ’s return.
During the Tribulation, according to this teaching, Christ and the saints remain in heaven (some say for 3½ years, others say for 7 years). Then, after the Tribulation, the second phase is implemented and Christ returns visibly, in power and glory, with the saints who were rescued or resurrected in the first phase. This time, the whole world will see Him return.
This is how the “rapture” is usually taught.
What about it? Are there two phases to the Second Coming of Christ—one in secret to snatch away His saints, followed by a second “public” return with His saints? What do you believe; or, more importantly, what should you believe? The truth is found in the Bible (John 17:17). Does the Bible speak of a secret rapture? Many thousands think it does. Let’s examine the Word of God and understand whether this widespread belief is true or not.
The Way of Escape
The word rapture is not found anywhere in the Bible, yet God does reveal that there is a way to escape the Great Tribulation that’s coming soon. Jesus said: “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass …” (Luke 21:36). Notice that we must be “accounted worthy” to escape.
Jesus repeated this same promise to His true Church today in Revelation 3:10. Again, it is conditional: “Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial [the Great Tribulation] which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth” (Revised Standard Version).
The surrounding verses of the scriptures quoted above shed even more light on exactly who will be “accounted worthy” to escape the horrors of the Great Tribulation. It is those who are not encumbered by the cares of this life and diligently paying attention to their spiritual condition (Luke 21:34-35)—praying continually—carefully obeying God’s Word and supporting His work—patiently enduring the trials, steadfast in all these things to the very end (Revelation 3:7-9). These are the ones who will escape the terrifying troubles about to be unleashed in the world.
But how and where will true Christians be protected? It’s not by way of a secret rapture to heaven!
The proof is found in chapter 12 of Revelation. To understand it, you need to realize that a “woman” is sometimes used as a symbol for a church (see 2 Corinthians 11:1-2 and Ephesians 5:23-32). In Revelation 12, the woman referred to is a symbol for God’s Church.
Notice how the true Church is protected from the coming Tribulation: “And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness,into her place, where she is nourished for a time [one year], and times [two years], and half a time [half a year—a total of 3½ years], from the face of the serpent [Satan]” (Revelation 12:14). So the Church is not taken to heaven but to a specific place in “the wilderness” here on Earth! “And the earth helped the woman …” (verse 16).
Scripture indicates that Christ’s true followers will be gathered in Judea just prior to the onset of the Great Tribulation (Amos 7:12; Matthew 24:16). Jesus plainly tells them that when the time comes, they will have to flee: “[P]ray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:20-21). Obviously, if there were to be a “secret rapture,” Christ’s followers would not have to be concerned about fleeing in winter or on the Sabbath!
Jesus never advocated the “rapturing” of His followers out of the world to protect them (see John 17:15). God’s true Church will be on Earth during the Great Tribulation—protected in a place of safety—not up in heaven as proponents of the rapture theory believe. Christ always promises His people protection here on Earth, never up in heaven.
Do Scriptures Affirm the Rapture?
Before we explain the truth about the Second Coming of Christ, let us first address the scriptures used to support the rapture theory.
Matthew 24:27 reads: “For as the lightning cometh … so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” Those who insistently adhere to the rapture theory claim that the Greek word parousia, translated coming, does not mean coming at all. They say it refers to His “secret nearness.” Thus, when Jesus’s disciples asked Him for the “sign” of His coming, they were actually asking for a sign of the “rapture.”
However, the Greek word parousia is translated coming in many different scriptures. For example, 1 Thessalonians 3:13 refers to “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.” How could Christ come with His saints if the word coming is supposed to refer to a secret coming for His saints, before He returns openly “with” them?
Notice, too, that 2 Thessalonians 2:8 speaks of “the brightness of his coming,” at which time “that Wicked” one will be destroyed. Clearly, Christ’s coming to execute judgment is His parousia—His visible, powerful and only future “coming” to this Earth.
1 Thessalonians 5:2 states: “… the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” This does not say that Christ will come secretly or invisibly. When thieves or burglars rob a home, they come unexpectedly, usually when the household is away or asleep. To those who are watching, however, Christ’s coming will not be a surprise (verses 4-6). On the other hand, those who are asleep—expecting a rapture, or not watching—will be caught off guard (Luke 21:34-36).
“And the armies which were [should be are] in heaven followed him …” (Revelation 19:14). These are not armies of raptured saints, but of angels—as Matthew 25:31 and Mark 8:38 attest. Other scriptures, such as Jude 14 and 1 Thessalonians 4:14, do affirm that Jesus returns with the saints—but not from the heaven of God’s throne after they have been raptured! They meet the returning Christ in the clouds of the Earth’s atmosphere after they are resurrected at the last trumpet and then descend with Him the same day, to the Mount of Olives. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; Zechariah 14:1, 4, 7, 9).
In John 14:2-3, Christ said: “In my Father’s house are many mansions …. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Rapture proponents assume this means the saints will be in heaven with Christ once He has prepared “a place” for them and “come[s] again” to rapture them away. Notice carefully that Jesus did not say that. He said the saints would be with Him wherever He would be. As we’ve proved, that will be here on this Earth!
The “place” prepared in heaven may refer “metaphorically … [to the] station held by one …; opportunity, power” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). The word mansions is better rendered in modern translations as rooms or dwelling places. It signifies offices or positions of authority. These are indeed reserved in heaven (1 Peter 1:4), but they are conferred on the saints when Christ returns to the Earth! (Revelation 22:12). As such, the saints will have “power over the nations” (Revelation 2:26) and will as “kings and priests … reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10).
“Now we beseech you, brethren … by our gathering together unto him.” This passage in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 is assumed to be the rapture. However, the context, which refers to “the day of Christ” (verse 2), and “that day” (the day of Jesus Christ’s return) in verse 3, indicates that the gathering occurs at Christ’s return, not before. This gathering coincides with Matthew 24:31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17, when the saints are resurrected and meet the returning Christ in the air. We have shown that this occurs at Jesus Christ’s one and only Second Coming to the Earth.
“Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left” (Matthew 24:40). This is another example of reading something into a verse that isn’t there—instead of letting the Bible interpret itself. Only those Christians in God’s Church who are “accounted worthy” (Luke 21:36) to escape the Great Tribulation will be taken to the place of safety on Earth, while others will be left behind to contend with Satan’s wrath (Revelation 12:14, 17).
Revelation 4:1-2 state: “… a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice … said, Come up hither …. And immediately I was in the spirit ….” Supposedly, this represents the rapture. The Apostle John was given a glimpse of God on His throne and watched events unfold in heaven, but it was in a vision. No man has ever actually seen God (John 1:18). This passage has nothing to do with a secret rapture, nor are there any other scriptures that would substantiate it.
Pinpointing the Time
Now what about the time frame? Does the Bible teach that Jesus returns in two phases and that a rapture could occur “at any moment”—the so-called first phase of His return? Or, did Jesus Himself give a timetable of events that must first take place before His one and only Second Coming?
A big mistake that supporters of the rapture theory make is that they assume the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord refer to the same time period. Remember that the Church is prophesied to flee from Satan’s wrath. The devil is the one who is enraged with God’s Church, and he instigates the Great Tribulation (Revelation 12:16-17).
On the other hand, the Day of the Lord is the time of God’s wrath toward all evil (Revelation 6:15-17). That one-year period will culminate in Jesus Christ’s return. Christ will be angry at the sins of mankind when He returns. To save the human race alive (Matthew 24:22), He is coming to punish in love. Otherwise, man would destroy all life upon the Earth! The Day of the Lord is the period when God directly intervenes in world affairs. Jesus Himself gave the chronology of events that would lead up to it.
When the disciples asked Christ, “what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world [age]?” (Matthew 24:3), they exhibited no notion of a two-phase coming. They simply asked Jesus about His Second Coming—understanding it to be a singular event. He acknowledged their question and went on to outline the signs to watch for—never once implying that there would be two phases to His return! Jesus warned of false ministers, wars, famine, pestilences, earthquakes (verses 4-8) and the Great Tribulation (verses 9, 21). Notice what He prophesied would happen next.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” (verse 29). Now compare how the Prophet Joel describes these same heavenly signs: “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come” (Joel 2:31). This is crystal clear!
After the Great Tribulation (the time of Satan’s wrath—lasting 2½ years), the heavenly signs serve as a transition into the Day of the Lord, which spans one year. The account Jesus gave in Matthew 24 corroborates the time order: first the Tribulation, then the heavenly signs, followed by the Day of the Lord and the return of Christ (verses 29-30).
The next verse in time sequence (verse 31) shows that true Christians (including the dead in Christ) will be gathered together at Christ’s return—not before the Great Tribulation as rapture adherents believe! (See also Mark 13:27). Furthermore, His angels gather together His elect “with a great sound of a trumpet.” This certainly contradicts the teaching of the rapture. How can anything be a secret when it’s accompanied by the great sound of a trumpet?
The book of Revelation pinpoints when this particular trumpet blast will occur in relation to other events. The period leading up to Christ’s return is divided into seven segments, each covered by a “seal” (Revelation 5:1). The false ministers, wars, famine and pestilence that Jesus warned about in Matthew 24 are depicted as the first four seals of Revelation 6:1-8. These are popularly known as the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The fifth seal (verses 9-11) is the Great Tribulation; the sixth seal (verses 12-17) is the heavenly signs. No trumpets sound during any of the first six seals.
Only after the Great Tribulation and the heavenly signs do trumpets finally begin to sound—during the Day of the Lord, which is the seventh and last seal. The Day of the Lord is comprised of seven consecutive “trumpet” plagues (Revelation 8, 9, 11:15-19). Each plague is introduced with the sound of a trumpet. The seventh, or last, trumpet announces the return of Jesus Christ! (Revelation 11:15).
The Apostle Paul wrote about the last trumpet in his first epistle to the Corinthians: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep [die], but we [true Christians alive at Christ’s return] 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” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52, New King James Version).
Clearly, the resurrection of the dead in Christ takes place when the last trumpet blows—at the return of Jesus Christ, not before. Right on the heels of that resurrection, true Christians who are alive at His return will instantaneously be changed from flesh-and-blood mortals into immortal spirit beings, and they will rise, along with those resurrected, to meet the returning Christ in the air! (verses 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Only One Second Coming
In an attempt to adhere to the rapture theory, some claim that the last trumpet Paul referred to is different from the last trumpet of the Day of the Lord that announces Christ’s visible return as penned by the Apostle John in Revelation 11:15. However, the events John described a few verses later, in verse 18—including the dead receiving their reward at the seventh and final trumpet—could apply only to the time of the resurrection.
In Revelation 11, John is describing the same momentous event Paul did in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4: the resurrection of the saints to immortal life at the return of Christ! There can’t be two “last” trumpets—one “last trumpet” that the world doesn’t hear when Jesus supposedly returns silently to secretly whisk away His followers before the Great Tribulation; and, years later, another “last trumpet” that everybody hears announcing His visible return. That’s ridiculous. The last trumpet is just that—the last trumpet! There can only be one last trumpet, and it will make a great sound (Matthew 24:31) that everyone will hear.
Those who hold to the rapture theory believe, in effect, that there is a Second Coming followed by a third coming. The Bible does not in any way substantiate a third coming or a two-phased Second Coming.
Here is further proof that there is only one, singular Second Coming. It has to do with the first time Christ came to the Earth and how He left after He was resurrected. As His disciples were watching Him leave, “a cloud received him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). They were looking at Him as He went straight up from the Mount of Olives (verse 12) into the atmosphere of the Earth and disappeared into the clouds on His way to heaven. Two angels who were standing by conveyed a message from God: “… 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” (verse 11, New International Version). That’s very plain language—easy to understand.
Jesus Christ will return the same way He left—coming down out of the clouds of the air to the solid ground of the Earth. And He will be seen, just as He was seen when He left. “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:27). There is no indication whatsoever of an invisible, secret rapture that precedes His visible return to Earth.
Moreover, God reveals through the Prophet Zechariah that Christ will return to the same spot that He departed from: “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh …. And His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives …” (Zechariah 14:1, 4). Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives visibly and He will return to it visibly—this time as King of kings to assume rulership of the Earth! (verse 9).
The day He returns is the same 24-hour period that His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives (verse 7). He will not make a “near miss,” turn right around and go back to heaven for 3½ or 7 years with His saints.
It is clear that there is no secret rapture before the Great Tribulation or at any other time. During the Tribulation of Satan’s wrath and until Christ returns, God’s true Church will be protected in a place of safety here on Earth. After the Tribulation, followed by the heavenly signs, God will set about to directly intervene in world affairs with seven “trumpet plagues” unleashed during the Day of the Lord. At the sound of the seventh, or last, trumpet, Jesus Christ will visibly return to Earth. At the same time, the dead in Christ will be resurrected to immortality, and true Christians still living will be changed into immortal spirit beings. Together, they will meet Christ in the air and descend with Him to the Mount of Olives in the same day that He returns. That is what the Bible reveals. Nothing is said about a secret rapture, although some twist certain scriptures and read into them a meaning that is just not there.
A Final Warning
If you believe in the rapture, you are being deprived of the knowledge and understanding of how to escape the soon-coming Great Tribulation and the plagues of the Day of the Lord! If you think you can wait for the rapture to take you away, you will not have an opportunity to flee from the most horrendous suffering ever experienced on planet Earth—because the rapture will never come. Jesus warns that you will be caught suddenly and unexpectedly, like an animal entrapped by a snare (Luke 21:35). That is exactly what Satan wants to happen to you.
The devil knows that the true Church of God will be taken to a place of safety during the wrath to come, but he doesn’t want you to know this truth. That’s why the rapture teaching has been promulgated throughout Protestantism. Millions of professing Christians around the world have accepted this false doctrine. Is it possible that when Jesus returns, many of them will think that He’s an alien invader or “the antichrist” because the rapture will not have occurred?
The idea of a secret rapture was unknown to any Christian group before the 16th century! At that time, the basic rudimentary belief was first proposed by some Jesuit priests (see McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, article “Antichrist”). Later, around 1825, Samuel R. Maitland, the librarian to the archbishop of Canterbury, embraced the theory. Then, around 1830, the belief began to take on its modern definition when it was espoused by J.N. Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren. It was popularized in the Scofield Reference Bible.
The first few advocates of the rapture theory fervently believed that they were living in the last 3½ years of Earth’s history. When that length of time was exceeded and Christ still had not “caught them away,” they were forced to alter their doctrine to a general expectancy that Christ might return—unannounced—at any moment!
So we see that the false doctrine of the rapture is a relatively recent concoction of men. The early New Testament Church of God never heard of it, and it was obviously not a doctrine of the original Church that Jesus founded. It was never taught or believed by Jesus or His disciples.
Christ condemns those who adhere to the doctrine of men rather than the truth of God. He said, “[I]n vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7). How about you? Are you worshiping God in vain? Will you go on clinging to a false hope—blindly believing a tradition of men—or will you carefully prove the truth from your Bible? God expects you to prove all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Your very life is at stake.