In the Bible, 1 Corinthians describes our final victory:
Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52
Paul says this occurs at the last trump, which the Bible tells us is the seventh trumpet. 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 11:15 are referring to the same thing. For the trumpet shall sound, the dead shall be raised, and we shall be changed.
At the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, all born again Christians will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). At the sound of the “last trumpet,” the dead who were born again during their lifetime will be resurrected from the dead. At the same time, those who are born again and still alive on earth will be transformed instantly, from mortal beings to immortal beings. Romans 8:11 tells us that our mortal bodies will be made alive if we have God’s spirit living in us.
It is often taught that at the rapture all of us will instantly disappear, but that is not what the Bible says. It says we will be changed in a moment and in the twinkling of an eye. When Jesus Christ was caught up, He was seen leaving the earth. Just as they were able to see Jesus go, so will people be able to see the church go.
“But of that day and hour no one knows,” Jesus said to His disciples on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:36). Some say we cannot know the day and the hour when Jesus will return and gather His church to Himself. But others claim that Jesus was speaking only to people living in the first century, not to people living today.
Just before He was caught up to heaven, Jesus’ disciples asked, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus replied specifically about what would happen “at this time.” In other words, His response was particularly directed to the first century generation in which they were living. He said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power.” (Acts 1:7) Will we also, then, be unable to know the times and the seasons?
The answer to this question is found in Matthew 24:34, in which Jesus says, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” “This generation” refers specifically to the people who live to see all of the terrifying events that Jesus had just mentioned as increasing immediately before His return; such as wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes in various places, widespread famine and disease, and the Antichrist’s rise to power. Paul validates this view, saying,
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5
We will know, according to Paul, the times and the seasons. If we pay attention we will see the day of the Lord coming. This settles the controversy about knowing the times and the seasons, but what about knowing the day and hour?
1 Thessalonians 5 and Matthew 24:42-43 teach us that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. The master of the house will not know what hour the thief will come. The thief clearly represents the Lord. The master of the house was living in darkness and was not ready for the coming of the Lord. Unbelievers are the ones who will not know the hour of the Lord’s coming. Paul explicitly states that the coming of the Lord would only be a surprise to those living in darkness. 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5 indicates that, unlike the situation with unbelievers, the day of the Lord will not overtake His children of light as a thief in the night. If we keep studying the scriptures, and strive to understand current events in light of Bible prophecy, we will know the generation and the times and seasons. And as the time draws nearer, we may not only begin to understand the day of His return, but the hour also.
In chapter 14 of Revelation we see a vision of Christ reaping a harvest.
And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped. Revelation 14:14-16
Jesus compares souls to a harvest in John 4:35. The reaping of the good harvest of the earth is the rapture of the church. This harvest that He reaps is immediately before the wrath of God, described in Revelation 14:17-20. Thus, the rapture of the church occurs just prior to God’s wrath.
The harvest signals the end of this age, at which time Jesus Christ will come back for the rapture of His church and the Battle of Armageddon. Jesus prophesied of the harvest. We call it the “rapture,” although the word “rapture” is not found in the Bible. It is merely a word we use that means “the catching away”. 1 Thessalonians speaks of this “catching away.”
“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:17
Those of us who have been taught a pre-tribulation rapture cannot read Matthew 24 without concluding that Jesus placed the rapture immediately after the tribulation of those days.
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: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matthew 24:29-31
The timing of the rapture seems to be the most controversial of all prophecy teachings. However, whether it will occur before, during, or after the tribulation has no bearing on your salvation. God can come for any one of us at any time. Jesus said in Matthew 24,
Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Matthew 24:42-43
Whatever you believe about the timing of the rapture, or whether you even believe in Bible prophecy, if you were to die right now, you would be immediately removed from the earth to stand before your Creator for judgment. The Bible says, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). “And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Peter 4:18) This is not the time to emphasize only the parts of the Bible we like, to make us feel good. But it is time for us to make sure that our lives are in line with all the teachings of God’s Word. If ever there were a time to walk closely to God, this is the time, as we see the day of the Lord drawing near.