Why do we believe there will one day be a rapture? And why do we have these differences in beliefs on whether there will be a pretribulation, mid-tribulation, or a post-tribulation rapture? The famous scripture to have sparked this debate among believers is 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. And before we get carried away, let us examine the scripture, and what the Apostles were trying to say to the early Church and us today as we prepare ourselves for the return of Jesus Christ.
Now, we will begin with the reading of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:” Reading this verse, we are to take into context the reason Paul wrote to the early Church, and why it is important for us to understand these things. But the most notable thing we are to take into consideration is the statement, “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven.” Because while we are fighting over the issue of a pretribulation or a post-tribulation rapture, here we have is a statement suggesting the Lord will descend from heaven.
The message to the established Church was, they are to remember we are a people looking toward the greater day when we shall be with those in Christ who had beforehand passed away. And in light of this truth, Paul wrote, 1 Thessalonians 4:13 “But I would not have you be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” Because upon the return of Jesus we will be united with them in the kingdom of God.
Therefore, as we come to the remaining verses, we are to understand Paul was not speaking of a coming rapture or a catching away of the saints. And understanding the message of the prophets, Paul would have not proclaimed such things. Because Daniel the prophet also wrote concerning the return of Jesus Christ, and what he wrote, by the hand of his scribe was the reality of the saints standing in opposition against the prince of perdition the beast and the final rebellious king to come.
Daniel 7:21-22 “I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them; Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High, and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.” Paul said, “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven.” Daniel prophecised, “I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them, but only until the Ancient of days came.”
This would imply, for the saints to take the kingdom, they will need to be present on the earth to take possession of the kingdom. And in agreement with Daniel, Paul wrote we are to comfort each other in the hope that one day we will see our loved ones again in the kingdom of God. Therefore, as we live, we are to avoid defrauding one another and are to love with the love of Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 4:2-6 “For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour. Not in the lust of strong sexual desires, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.”
Now, looking at the statement written down concerning the return of Jesus Christ and how we will forever be with the Lord, we are to understand it is not that God will take us away from the earth, but that we will forever be with the Lord in his everlasting kingdom on earth when he will have come and established his kingdom through the obedience of his saints. When Paul wrote to the established Church, 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18 “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.”
We are to understand he was not speaking of a taken away, or a coming rapture of the Church away from the tribulation. Instead, Paul was speaking regarding the coming established kingdom, the return of our Messiah, “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven” and Daniel, “I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them, but only until the Ancient of days came.” And with this in mind, the apostles are expecting us to comfort each other that one day we will forever be with the Lord in his kingdom forever. “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”