Benjamin Franklin once quipped that nothing is certain “except death and taxes." While his point is well taken, the Bible says that at least two people have escaped the certainty of death. In the book of Hebrews we read, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him” (11:5). And then there was the spectacular departure of the prophet Elijah, who was scooped up by “a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11).
Just imagine being busy with your daily tasks one moment, then suddenly being taken directly into Heaven the next, bypassing all the infirmities of old age and even death itself! Jesus associated just such a scenario with His own return when He said, “As it was in the days of Noah … that’s is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:37-41).
As fantastic as it sounds, the Bible says that at the Second Coming a whole generation of believers will be taken directly to Heaven, just like Enoch and Elijah!
The first hint that some would be taken to Heaven came from Jesus Himself as He sought to comfort the disciples in the face of His own impending death. After promising to go ahead and prepare a dwelling place for them in Heaven, Jesus added this remarkable comment: “And if I go … I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).
This parallels the ancient Hebrew wedding tradition in which the groom would leave the bride to prepare a home for her, only to return and take her to that home. This is in keeping with the language employed by the Apostle Paul who wrote to the Christians at Corinth, “For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Paul not only described the Church as the Bride of Christ, he had much to say about the moment Jesus would return for His Bride. Again to the Corinthians, he wrote, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
First, notice that Paul refers to this event as a “mystery,” meaning that the details being disclosed were not previously revealed in the Scripture. The specific mystery he revealed was the fact that at the return of Christ “not all” would “sleep” (a euphemism for death), but “all [would] be changed.” In other words, instead of having to endure the arduous process of aging and death, in the “twinkling of an eye,” our sinful, perishable bodies will be instantly transformed into sinless, “imperishable” bodies!
The brief statement “we will be changed” is wonderfully elaborated on in Ephesians 5:25 where were read, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” This passage affirms that the moment of “change” will be the very moment Christ presents the Church “to himself” at His return. That’s when we will be made “holy and blameless,” without “stain or wrinkle”!
The Apostle Paul added yet another important detail in his epistle to the Thessalonians when he wrote, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
The Apostle Paul’s description of believers being “caught up … to meet the Lord in the air” has famously been called “The Rapture.”
An acquaintance once shared with me that when she first heard about the Rapture it troubled her. So she went to her priest and asked him whether she should be concerned about it. To quiet her fears he said, “Don’t worry about it. It isn’t real. The word Rapture doesn’t even appear in the Bible.”
I must admit, I marvel at such a response. It’s like trying to comfort a bride by assuring her that her groom isn’t really coming for her on her wedding day! Strangely, there are people who consider themselves Christians, yet are uncomfortable with the idea that Jesus might actually return to take them to be with Him in Heaven. If they genuinely love Jesus, shouldn’t they be excited by the prospect? Paul certainly thought so when he characterized believers as those “who eagerly look forward to his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8, NLT).
Does The Word “Rapture” Appear In The Bible?
Beyond the unnatural resistance some who claim to be Christians have to the idea of Jesus’ return, what about the claim that the word Rapture doesn’t even appear in the Bible?
While it may be true that the actual word Rapture doesn’t appear in any of our English translations of the Bible, it does appear in the Latin Vulgate. In fact, the cognate raptus (meaning to be seized, taken or carried away) was the Latin word chosen to translate the original Greek word harpazó, which also means to be seized or snatched away (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
So, whether we call it rapture or harpazo or being caught up, the idea is clearly taught in the Greek, the Latin, and yes, even in the English Bible. The ironic truth is, the theological term Rapture wouldn’t even exist in our modern vocabulary were it not derived from … wait for it … the BIBLE!
Yet I’ve heard this dubious claim many times over the years, and I have often responded by asking the person making the argument whether they, as a Christian, believe in the Trinity. Of course, every orthodox believer acknowledges the doctrine of the Trinity, even though, as I’m quick to point out, the actual word never appears in the Bible!
All things considered, it really doesn’t matter whether a theological term actually appears in the Bible. What matters is whether or not what is meant by a term is actually communicated in the Bible. In the case of the Rapture, the cognate of this term is found in the Latin translation of the Bible, and it’s meaning is clearly communicated in the original Greek and in the English Bible, as well.
Why Will Some Be “Taken” To Heaven?
All of this begs the question: Why? Won’t all believers eventually end up in Heaven anyway, through the natural process of death? Doesn’t the Bible, in fact, state that we are appointed by God to die, and that when we are absent from the body we are immediately received into the presence of God? (Hebrews 9:27; 2 Corinthians 5:8). So, what is the point of Jesus returning to take us directly to Heaven? Won’t that happen as a matter of course anyway?
Jesus will come back to take us to Heaven not because we wouldn’t have joined Him there anyway, but in order to save us from what is about to take place on the earth. As the Apostle Paul explained, we “wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). According to this verse, the necessity of the imminent removal of God’s people from the earth will be precipitated by the threat of the imminent outpouring of God’s judgment.
This is consistent with what we find elsewhere in Scripture. In every period of biblical history, when divine judgment is about to fall, God intervenes in order to protect those with whom He has a covenant relationship. We see this in the example of the protection of Noah and his family before the judgment of the flood, with the protection of Abraham and Lot before judgment fell on the lands of Sodom and Gomorrah, and with the protection of the Israelites in Egypt the night of the first Passover.
Thus, it shouldn’t surprise us to discover that God has promised to deliverer the Church at the end of this age, just prior to His wrath falling on the latter-day world. To the believers in Thessalonica who, due to the intensity of their persecution, feared that they had somehow entered into this foretold period of great tribulation, the Apostle Paul offered the reassuring promise that God “did not appoint us [believers] to suffer wrath” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). This is not to suggest that believers are excluded from the everyday trials and hardships of life; they aren’t. But when it comes to the outpouring of God’s wrath, the Bible emphatically declares that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Nevertheless, many balk at the idea of the sudden removal of large numbers of people from the planet. Yet when we carefully consider just how universally devastating the judgments of the Tribulation Period will be, the idea of the removal of those to whom exemption has been promised begins to make more sense. Of this time, Jesus said there would be “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matthew 24:21).
When the four horsemen of the apocalypse have run their course, when the seven seals of judgment have been opened, when the seven trumpets have been blown, and when the seven bowls have been poured out; the land, the sea, the air, the vegetation, the wildlife, the upper atmosphere, and even the people of the earth will all be devastated. There will be no place to hide or find protection from these judgments. The only way of escape will be for God to do exactly what He has promised … to take His people to Heaven before the Tribulation judgments begin!
It’s for this reason Jesus promised the believers of the ancient city of Philadelphia that, regardless of when He might return, they would be kept “out of the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 3:10). Notice the promise wasn’t to be kept from the trial of this period but to be kept out of the hour of testing. Logically, the only way to avoid an entire period of time on earth is to be physically absent when it happens!
In fact, elsewhere in Scripture Jesus encouraged those who await His return to, “pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). What Jesus described as “about to happen” in this passage is the Tribulation Period, described as coming, “on all those who live on the face of the whole earth” (vv. 35). Since God has not appointed the believer to experience His wrath, the prayer that Jesus references here is obviously a prayer for salvation. For only those who have put their faith in Jesus as Savior are promised deliverance “from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
This Is “The Blessed Hope!”
Contrary to the denial of some, the Bible hails the expectation of “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” as “the blessed hope” of the Church (Titus 2:13). It is blessed because it is the hope of seeing Jesus face to face, of going directly to Heaven with Him, of escaping the trials and tribulations of this life, of once and for all putting aside the frailties of our mortal bodies, of escaping the impending Tribulation judgments, and of being one of those rare souls who is allowed to escape death itself. Compared to any other hope, this is the hope of hopes! And it is the certain expectation given to every Christian who waits expectantly for the Lord’s return.