THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH

 

 The first in the series of last-day events is the "Rapture" of the faithful (i.e. genuine) Christians in the church age. There is no way to know when it will occur. The Grand experience of being Raptured at the time of Christ's coming is obviously a major aspect of a faithful Christian's expectation of future events. The transformation that will take place as believers exchange our present bodies for bodies suited for heaven and leave our present abode on earth for the glories of being in the presence of Christ in heaven is completely beyond description. Unfortunately, many believers know little about the Rapture, or else are not living in anticipation of its fulfilment.

This passage is a detailed analysis of the doctrine of the Rapture of the church. It is divided into the following thirteen divisions:

  1. the definition of the word Rapture;

  2. the purpose of the Rapture;

  3. the precedent cases of Rapture in the Old Testament Era;

  4. the implication of the Rapture in John 11:25-26;

  5. the first revelation of the Rapture in John 14:1-3;

  6. the description of Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18;

  7. the reference to the Rapture in 1 Corinthians 15:51-58;

  8. the participants of the Rapture;

  9. the Rapture will be sudden and unannounced;

  10. the Rapture will be happened before the Tribulation period;

  11. the resurrection of saints; 

  12. the glorified bodies; and

  13. the application of the Rapture for Christians.

1. The Definition of the word Rapture

Professing Christians, false teachers and corrupted church leaders have asserted that the Rapture is not a Biblical doctrine because, they argue, the word "Rapture" is not mentioned in the Bible. However, the word "Rapture" comes from the Latin translation (rapio) of the Greek verb  ἁρπάζω for "caught up" in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

It usually refers both to the resurrection of the corrupted bodies of dead church saints to heavenly incorruption and to the translation of living church saints from earthly mortality to heavenly immortality at the end of the church period and prior to the commencement of the Tribulation period. In other words, Christians will be caught up, "snatched" away from the earth scene, to meet their adorable Saviour - the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. The Purpose of the Rapture

The primary purpose of the Rapture is to remove the church from the earth to avoid the horrors of the judgments of the Tribulation period (Revelation 3:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10). By contrast, the purpose of the Tribulation is a time of judgment on the sinful world (Deuteronomy 4:26-31; Isaiah 13:6-13; 17:4-11; 24:20-21; Jeremiah 30:3-9; Ezekiel 20:33-38; Daniel 12:1-4; Joel 3; Zephaniah 1:15-18; Zechariah 14:1-20; Matthew 23:22-39; 24:6-30; Mark 13:4-32; Luke 21:9-27; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-11; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Revelation 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19) and a preparation for the millennial kingdom (Revelation 19:11-16).

It is significant that there is neither a translation of saints nor a catching away of saints from the earth to the heaven at the time of the Second Coming, although there must be a resurrection of the martyred dead, apparently a few days after the Second Coming (Revelation 20:4-6), to fulfill the promise to the martyrs in Revelation 6:9-11.

3. The Precedent Cases of Rapture in the Old Testament Era

Professing Christians, false teachers and corrupted church leaders have asserted that the Rapture is not a Biblical doctrine as there is no precedent cases in the Bible, it is merely a recently invented false doctrine. However, the concept of Rapture is nothing new in the Bible, it is already mentioned in the Old Testament. Enoch (Genesis 5:21-24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) who are the faithful servants of God, are raptured in the Old testament era:

  1.  21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. 22 After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. 23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24 And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him (Genesis 5:21-24). By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God (Hebrews 11:5).

  2. Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:11).

In the following sections, we will look at the following New Testament passages which refer to this event:

  1. John 11:25-26;

  2. John 14:1-3;

  3. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; and

  4. 1 Corinthians 15:51-58.

4. The Implication of the Rapture in John 11:25-26

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Jesus tells Martha that he is the resurrection and the life. Then there follows what I believe is the first reference ever made to the Rapture. The words, "Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live," refer of course to resurrection from the dead, but the words, "and whoever lives and believes in me will never die," pertain to the Rapture. More often the words "whoever lives and believes in me" are interpreted to mean whoever believes and lives the Christian life will never die. This would require the words "lives ... in me" to be evidence of the believing, and "shall never die" mean never die permanently, which, in my estimation make much less sense than seeing "never die" as a reference to Rapture. Jesus simply knew that a whole generation of future Christians would be alive at the time of the Rapture according to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

5. The First Revelation of the Rapture in John 14:1-3

On His last night with the disciples before His crucifixion, Christ revealed for the first time that His purpose in coming back would be to take the disciples, who were still alive, to be with Him in heaven (John 14:1-3).

5.1. Background

The disciples were deeply troubled because Christ, after more than three and a half years of kingdom teaching, was not bringing in the prophesied kingdom as they had expected. They were further confused when He announced that He was going to leave them (John 13:36-37). It did not fit their thinking at all that He would leave them before the kingdom was brought down to earth as prophesied in the Old Testament. Since the disciples did not understand the difference between the coming of Christ at the Rapture and the resurrection of the dead (including: Tribulation martyrs and Old Testament saints) at the Second Coming.

5.2. Christ's explanations

1“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 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 14:1-3).

The disciples were greatly troubled when Jesus said He was about to leave them (John 14:1). Then Christ told the disciples not to worry for:

  1. He is going to prepare a place for them (John 14:2).

  2. He would come to get them that they might be with Him in that place so prepared (John 14:3).

The words, "will come again and will take you to be with me (John 14:3)," refer to the Rapture and coincide with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

5.3. Facts regarding the Rapture

The passage reveals several things regarding the Rapture:

  1. It is a planned event, at the time of His departure Christ anticipated returning for the disciples.

  2. It concerns Christ's own, His followers. Christ was speaking only to the disciples when He gave the promise.

  3. Christ's return for His own will be personal. He Himself will come for them, not sending some angel.

  4. The Rapture results in the end of the church age. Jesus said that He would come back and "take" the disciples, that there where He had made the preparations. The true church (i.e. consists of all the faithful Christians) will not remain here on earth, then, merely in some improved status, but will be taken away from the earth to heaven.

Although the promise was given by Christ in John's gospel, the full revelation of the Rapture of the church was given to the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-58.

6. The Description of the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 provides the most complete description of the Rapture. This passage calls for special attention. God does not want Christians to be ignorant concerning the Rapture. The reason God gives us is that He does not want them to grieve when Christians die, because they have the certain hope that Christ might come at any time and take them all to heaven.

6.1. Background

According to Acts 17:1-9, Paul encountered opposition while preaching in the synagogue at Thessalonica and was forced to leave after only a few weeks of ministry. He left behind a small band of believers who had the wonderful joy of Salvation as well as the hope of Christ's return. They were under terrible persecution, however, and because Paul could not go back to Thessalonica, he sent Timothy to see how they were getting along (1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5). Timothy visited them, encouraged them, and then reported back to Paul. He told the apostle Paul that the Thessalonians were standing firm in spite of persecution (1 Thessalonians 3:6-9) and were looking for the Lord's return. But they had many theological questions; this was understandable in view of the short time they were under Paul's instruction. One of these questions was occasioned by the fact that some of their church members had died, due to the continuing persecution within the city, since Paul had left.

Their question concerned the status of these at the time of Christ's coming. They seem to have been at ease regarding their own prospect of being taken to heaven at the time but they wondered what would happen to the believers who had already died. They apparently had the idea that somehow they would have to wait for something after the Rapture before their resurrection. In other words, they worried that the dead believers may miss the Rapture.

Regarding their particular question, Paul gave them a chronological account of what will happen at the time of the Rapture. He assured them that they would not have to wait for their dead loved ones to be resurrected later because their loved ones will be resurrected before they themselves are caught up with the Lord Jesus.

6.2. Paul's explanations

13 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. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to 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. 16 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. 17 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. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Paul sets forth the answer in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. He begins by assuring them that they have no need to be anxious (v. 13). All those "who have fallen asleep in Jesus" will be caught up to meet the Lord at the Rapture. This will involve their resurrection from the dead, an event which will be similar to the resurrection of the Lord Himself (v. 14). Paul then gives the assurance, which is "by the word of the Lord," that those still living at the time will not even "precede" them which are asleep (v. 15). Rather, "the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first" (v. 16). Then those "who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (v. 17).

In other words, Christ returns with a shout, including the “voice of an archangel” and “sound of the trumpet" and all believers are gathered together to meet him in the air. Christ brings "with him" those who have died and they are the first to receive new bodies by way of resurrection. Believers who are alive at that moment in history are "caught up" next to meet him.

6.3. Facts regarding the Rapture

Facts regarding the Rapture should be noticed:

  1. A resurrection will be involved, those who have previously died in Christ will be raised.

  2. Those resurrected will be caught up to meet Christ prior to those still living.

  3. Both the raised dead and the living will meet Christ in the air and not somewhere on the earth's surface.

  4. This coming of Christ will be accompanied by audible signs, namely “a shout”, “the voice of the archangel” and “the trump of God.”

The Greek word κέλευσμα translated "shout," is used only here in the New Testament, and it means a "word of command," it refers to Christ's command for the Rapture of saints. Since only Michael is called by the term "archangel" in Scripture (Jude 9), he is probably the one who accompanies Christ. The "trump of God" is best identified with "the last trump" mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:52, both expressions likely referring to a trumpet sound of deliverance.

Sometimes Bible scholars use the designation "secret Rapture." The term is somewhat misleading, however, for, though the time is unknown beforehand, these audible signs will occur. Certainly, all saints will hear them, and it is likely that the unsaved will, as well. The signs would let the unsaved know of the significant occurrence and that they have indeed been left out (Matthew 24:40-41).

7. The Reference to the Rapture in 1 Corinthians 15:51-58

One of the two main passages on the doctrine of the Rapture in the New Testament is found in 1 Corinthians 15:51-58. In many respects, this passage complements the other major passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the question was whether those who had died in Christ would have the same benefits and experience as those who were translated. In 1 Corinthians 15:51-58, the question is whether those who are translated will have the same experience and benefits as those who have died and who are resurrected. The two passages together give a complete answer to the basic questions concerning the Rapture as an important prophetic event.

7.1. Background

The Corinthians' denial of the resurrection for believers was behind Paul's discussion of Rapture and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-16). They were influenced by the Greek concept of the immortality of the soul, and possibly a Gnostic idea of the evil of physical matter. They believed that Jesus rose from the dead, perhaps realizing that a triumph over death must be demonstrated by a bodily rising from the dead. In other words, they must have viewed Jesus' resurrection as a unique, one-time event merely to establish His deity and triumph. Paul's approach starts with Jesus' resurrection and works his way to the relationship which it has with the believer's Rapture and resurrection.

7.2. Paul's explanations

51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 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. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

      “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

55    “O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:51-58).

Paul explained, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.". The fact that we will not all sleep shows that an entire generation of believers will never see death. In other words, believers alive when the Lord Jesus Christ returns will never die (1 Corinthians 15:51; John 11:26). Instead, the Lord Jesus will take them directly to Heaven.

The “dead in Christ” will be “imperishable,” and we shall be “changed.” Those “changed” are those caught up and translated. Paul uses the first personal plural, “we,” to refer to those changed, which implies that he expected to be included in that group (1 Corinthians 15:52). This is the idea of the imminency of the event. Here also a reference is made to a trumpet as in 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

7.3. Facts regarding the Rapture

Facts regarding the Rapture should be noticed:

  1. One generation of believers will never die by translation (Rapture) of living believers.

  2. All believers will be given bodies that will last forever.

  3. The Rapture will be happened at any time.

  4. Death will be overcome by either translation of living believers or resurrection of dead believers.

  5. The Rapture will be signaled by "the last trumpet."

The Rapture will be signaled by "the last trumpet" (1 Corinthians 15:52). This reference to the last trumpet confuses some people because they try to link it with the seven trumpet judgments in the Book of Revelation.

In Bible times, trumpets were blown as a signaling device. In Israel, a trumpet sounded when the nation began its marches in the wilderness. Another trumpet sounded when they stopped marching. Each series would have a first trumpet and a last trumpet. But the last trumpet for one event would not be the last trumpet for another. So here, the last trumpet at the Rapture is not the last trumpet ever to be sounded in history, because seven trumpets blown by angels will signal great catastrophes God will pour out in judgment on the earth (Revelation 8:6-9:21; 11:15-19). Later the "loud trumpet call" in Matthew 24:31 will signal the gathering of all the saints to enter the millennial kingdom (Revelation 19:11-20:6).

The last trumpet at the Rapture may be analogous to the last trumpet used in the Roman army. Soldiers were awakened by a first trumpet blast early in the morning, which served as their alarm clock. A second trumpet assembled them for instructions for the day. At the third and last trumpet they marched off to their assignments. Similarly, receiving salvation is like hearing a trumpet call. Then God's call to service is like hearing a second trumpet. And the last trumpet believers will be raptured to heaven.

8. The Participants of the Rapture

Strictly speaking, only the "church age saints" will participate in the Rapture. The Rapture will consist of three phases:

  1. The resurrection of the dead saints at the end of the church age before the Tribulation period.

  2. The translation of the living saints at the end of the church age before the Tribulation period.

  3. The resurrection of the two witnesses during the Tribulation period.

Please note that some Bible scholars do not include the two witnesses as the participants of the Rapture due to the fact that they are not church age saints.

8.1. The resurrection of the dead saints in the church age

The "dead in Christ shall rise first" (1 Thessalonians 4:16) to meet their Saviour. When Jesus returns, the bodies of believers will be transformed, made like unto the body of His glory (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Corinthians 15:49, 50, 52, 53), and caught up to be with Him. This is "the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:23).

At this time those raised will be the church saints, that is, all who have been saved during the period of the church, from its beginning on the day of Pentecost until the moment of Rapture. The number of people involved will be very large, much larger than the number of living saints at the time. The latter group will include only the one generation then alive, while the resurrected saints will include all the many generations since the Pentecost at early first century.

8.2. The translation of the living saints in the church age

Then "we which are alive and remain" (1 Thessalonians 4:17), that is the generation of Christians living on earth at Jesus' return, will be transformed (1 Corinthians 15:52) and will rise to meet our Lord.

8.3. The resurrection of the two witnesses during the mid-point of the Tribulation period

The other occasion of Rapture will yet occur, namely that of the "two witnesses" who will live and die during the Tribulation period (Revelation 11:3-12). These two people will witness for God in Israel for 1,260 days and then will be killed by "the beast" (the Anti-christ) at the close of that time. Their bodies will lie openly on the streets of Jerusalem for three-and-a-half days, since no one will dare to bury them. At the close of these days, they will suddenly be brought to life, after which they will ascend directly to heaven.

9. The Rapture Will be Sudden and Unannounced

36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. 37 But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:36-44).

Christ's coming for His church will be sudden and no advance notice will be given (Matthew 24:36-44; 25:1-13; Mark 13:32-37; Luke 12:36-40; 17:26-36). Christians will not be able to make up for lost time in their service.

36 and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. 38 And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 40 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:36-40).

Jesus was saying pointedly that all men need to be ready for Christ's coming beforehand. Christians need to be busy for the Lord, truly living for Him at all times, so that they will not be ashamed when they see Him. All evidence in the Scriptures points to the conclusion that the Rapture is imminent, continues to be the hope of the church today.

10. The Rapture Will be Happened Before the Tribulation period

There are certain passages of Scripture which promise the group of faithful Christians will be exempted from the Tribulation period:

  1. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth (Revelation 3:10). Lord Jesus is promising the faithful Christians will have a full exemption from the Tribulation.

  2. 1Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne (Revelation 12:1-5). The woman is the virgin Mary, and her child is the Lord Jesus Christ. Satan desired to destroy Him at birth (Matthew 2), but God protected Him and finally took Him back to heaven. In group sense, the woman also typifies the nation of Israel (Genesis 37:9; Micah 4:8-10), and her child also typifies the group of faithful Christians (i.e. the body of Christ) who will rule nations with a rod of iron (Revelation 2:27). Satan desired to persecute them at the Tribulation, but God will protect them by the Rapture.

  3. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10). Paul clearly teaches that the expectation of Christians is not God’s wrath, but “we should live together with the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Furthermore, there is the pattern of the types:

  1. Was Enoch raptured before or after the flood? It was before (Genesis 5:21-24).

  2. Was Noah and his family entering the Ark of Noah before or after the Flood? It was before (Genesis 6:1-8:19).

  3. Was Lot delivered from Sodom before or after the doom of the city? It was before (Genesis 18:20-19:29).

  4. Was Israel delivered from Egypt before or after the destruction of their enemies at the Red Sea? It was before (Exodus 14:1-31).

No serious Bible scholar will question that Enoch, Noah, Lot and Israel illustrate the faithful believers.

11. The Resurrection of Saints

When the Lord comes at the Rapture, all church age believers will be introduced to new experiences far different from the present life. Each believer will receive a resurrection body, a body without sin, aging or death.

11.1. Misconception about the resurrection of the just and the unjust

The idea of resurrection in the last days is frequently mentioned in the Scriptures. A few passages refer to the resurrection of both the just and the unjust in a way seeming to suggest that both groups will be raised at the same time. For example, Jesus states, "Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15).

11.2. The just and the unjust will be resurrected at different times

Other passages, however, where the context calls for more detail, the two groups, then, are raised at different times. It is the case in Revelation 20:12-14, where reference is to the other group, the unsaved. This passage states, "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works." This resurrection clearly follows Christ's millennial reign, this occasion of resurrection is called the "second death" (Revelation 20:14), which earlier in the chapter (Revelation 20:4-6) is said to have no power over those of the first resurrection.

11.3. Different groups of saints will be resurrected at different times

The idea of such a sequence of resurrections is set forth in 1 Corinthians 15:20-24:

20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power (1 Corinthians 15:20-24).

Paul speaks of Christ's own resurrection and then states that in the same pattern "all shall be made alive." He immediately explains that this will be according to a schedule: "each one in his own order." That is, all will not be made alive at the same time. For example: Christ is the "firstfruits," the pattern for the rest, and others will follow in a planned sequence.

Actually, two other resurrections of righteous follow Christ's resurrection (Matthew 27:52-53):

52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many (Matthew 27:52-53).

The purpose of this resurrection was apparently to provide a further credential in support of Christ's resurrection. Those raised likely were people who had died not long before and were well known by acquaintances still living. Bible scholars commonly believed that these people did not die again. They probably were raptured directly to heaven after performing the mission intended in their resurrection.

According to the above Scriptures, different groups of saints will be resurrected at different times, including:

  1. The two resurrections of righteous follow Christ's resurrection (Matthew 27:52-53);

  2. When Christ return, the church age believers will be raptured to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58); and

  3. At the end of the Tribulation, when Christ return with the heavenly armies to establish the earthly Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 19:11-21), the Tribulation martyrs will be resurrected (Revelation 20:4-6).

11.4. The two distinct resurrections

The Bible teaches two distinct resurrections:

  1. the first of which affects all the righteous (i.e. believers); and

  2. the second of which affects all the unrighteous (i.e. unbelievers).

11.4.1. The first resurrection

The first is of "life" and embraces "the just"; the second, of "damnation," and embraces "the unjust" (John 5:28-29). And there are at least one thousand years between them (Revelation 20:4-6). They differ both in character and time, therefore they must be clearly distinguished. The first resurrection actually includes three major stages:

  1. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus;

  2. The resurrection of the saints at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18;1 Corinthians 15:51-58); and

  3. The raising of the Tribulation martyrs (Revelation 20:4-6) and Jewish believers from Old Testament era (Daniel 12:2) at the end of the Tribulation period.

These are not three resurrections, but one, though experienced in three stages. This is illustrated in Israel's crop-harvest of old:

  1. The farmer first cut the sheaf of firstfruits and presented it before the LORD (Leviticus 23:9-14);

  2. After which he reaped his main harvest; and

  3. This was followed by the gathering of the gleanings by the stranger and the poor (Leviticus 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19).

The firstfruits answers to the personal resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23), while the harvest corresponds to the great ingathering at the Rapture of church age saints. The subsequent raising of the believing martyrs (Revelation 20:4-5) and Jewish believers from Old Testament era (Daniel 12:2) at the end of the Tribulation period answers to the gleanings.

11.4.2. The second resurrection

The last group to be resurrected will include the unredeemed dead of all time, and they will be raised at the end of the millennial kingdom to stand before the Great White Throne in a judgment that will sentence them to the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-14).

11.5. The order of resurrections

The Bible carefully outlines the order of resurrections. "Every man in his own order" (1 Corinthians 15:23). The sequence of events of the resurrection of the just and unjust are listed in the following chronological order:

  1. the resurrection of the dead saints in the church age during the Rapture before the Tribulation period;

  2. the translation of the living saints in the church age during the Rapture before the Tribulation period;

  3. the resurrection of the two witnesses during the Tribulation period;

  4. the resurrection of the Tribulation martyrs at the end of the Tribulation period;

  5. the resurrection of the saints in the Old Testament era at the end of the Tribulation period; and

  6. the resurrection of all unbelievers at the end of the Millennium period.

Strictly speaking, only the church age saints and the two witnesses (i.e. the above items 1 to 3) will participate in the Rapture. The Rapture will include two actions:

  1. the saints will be resurrected or translated; and

  2. the saints will be taken up to the heaven.

The rest of the saints (i.e. the above items 4 to 5) will be resurrected but will not be Raptured (i.e. taken up) to the heaven.

12. The Glorified Bodies

Nothing is said in the Scriptures regarding raised bodies of the unsaved, but much is said regarding bodies of the righteous. In 1 Corinthians 15:35-54:

35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. 39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. 40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. 50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—52 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. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 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” (1 Corinthians 15:35-54).

Paul states that:

  1. the righteous dead will receive glorified bodies at the time of their resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:35-44); and

  2. those yet living will receive glorified bodies, but through sudden change, “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).

Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:23).

Paul refers to the change of body for the righteous. Saints whose spirits have experienced renewal, anticipate eagerly the time when their bodies will also be made anew (Romans 8:23). In this life, the existing old body still acts as a hindrance to the redeemed spirit. It needs the change which the resurrection will provide.

Paul makes use of three parables from nature to describe the glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:35-54):

  1. One from the vegetable (1 Corinthians 15:35-38);

  2. One from the animal (1 Corinthians 15:39); and

  3. One from the celestial kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:40-44).

12.1. The vegetable kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:35-38)

35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body (1 Corinthians 15:35-38).

In dying, the seed does not cease to exist but rather relives in a body that is the same, and yet different, from that which is the parent kernel. Thus, there is both identity and distinction. It is man that dies, and it is as man that he will be raised. But his new body will be as different as is the flower from the seed that produced it.

12.2. The animal kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:39)

All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds (1 Corinthians 15:39).

Here are four types of bodies, all distinct, there is:

1.     the human;

2.     the bestial;

3.     the marine; and

4.     the feathery body of the fowl.

Each one can only adapted to its unique environment. Obviously, our present material flesh-and-blood body is suited to earthly life only, for even when our astronauts go aloft into space they have to take with them all the necessary supplies, such as atmosphere, clothing, etc., to maintain them. When the believer receives his resurrection body it will be the perfectly adapted clothing for his received Holy Spirit and the environment of the New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation 21:1-27).

12.3. The celestial kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:40-44)

40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:40-44).

Heavenly bodies differ as do earthly ones in their composition, function, and glory. Each member of the solar system plays the special part assigned to it by its Creator. There is no monotonous uniformity; each is distinctive. Each believer will receive a real body-clothing that is incorruptible, glorious, powerful, and spiritual.

12.4. The glorified bodies of believers will be like Christ's glorified body

Several Scriptures state that the resurrection body of believers will be like Christ's glorified body (Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2). The details of the glorified bodies are summarized below:

  1. It will be a real body, for it could be touched (John 20:27) and is capable of speaking (Luke 24:17-32).

  2. It will not need food for sustenance, though being capable of eating (Luke 24:30; John 21:12-15).

  3. It will not be composed of flesh and blood (1 Corinthians 15:50). Christ took on him flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14), but after His resurrection He speaks of His body as composed of flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). Thus, He was not pure spirit, and neither shall we be pure spirit at the resurrection.

  4. It will neither marry nor is given in marriage (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35).

  5. It will be incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:42, 53).

  6. It will be a heavenly body (1 Corinthians 15:47-49). Paul speaks of a "building from God" and "eternal in the heaven" (2 Corinthians 5:1).

  7. It will be a glorious body (1 Corinthians 15:43). We may get some idea of what that means by thinking of the description of the glorified Christ in heaven (Revelation 1:13-16).

  8. It will not be limited by either ordinary physical matter or natural laws. In that body, Christ could enter a room when the door was shut (John 20:19, 26); vanish from sight while talking with others (Luke 24:30, 31); remain unknown to others until special perception was granted (Luke 24:15, 16, 31; John 20:15, 16); and to defy gravity for upward movement from the earth to the heaven (Acts 1:9).

  9. It will be powerful (1 Corinthians 15:43).

  10. It will be recognizable (John 20:16). When Jesus replied to Mary by simply calling her name, she immediately recognized His voice and responded, “Rabboni!”

  11. It will be a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44). It is meant that its life is that of the spirit.

13. The Application of the Rapture for Christians

The Rapture not only confronts individuals with the challenge to receive Christ before it is too late; it also challenges Christians to live with eternal values in view. Since the Rapture can occur at any moment, and believers' lives on earth will thus be cut short, we need to maximize our commitment to Christ, doing all we can for the Lord in upright living and service to Him and others.

The Rapture is important both theologically and practically. Those who understand and believe this great truth will be energized and transformed by the expectation of Christ's glorious return. While many prophetic truths are of great importance, the Rapture is the most important for believers in Christ.

The Rapture will be a tremendous event, an event worthy of our constant expectation. Knowledge of our future life helps to cast light on our present life goals, encouraging us to consider how our actions will be seen from the viewpoint of eternity.

 

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