I burned the cinnamon rolls on Christmas Day. I thought I had set the timer correctly, but it’s a relatively new oven, so I guess I didn’t. When my husband asked about breakfast, I pulled the rolls out. He saw them and said, “When you have something in the oven, you have to watch it.” Now, he’s the one who does most of the cooking in our house (for a good reason!), and I knew he was right. Still, I just kept thinking to myself, “But, I set the timer!” All of a sudden, the correlation between that situation and the timing of the rapture hit me. Just about everyone has “set a timer” in their minds for when the rapture will take place. But what if that timer is wrong?
The timing of the rapture is a contentious topic among Christians. It’s not a matter of salvation, but as we get deeper and deeper into these last days, people are understandably thinking about it. Before we get to that, though, there are a few terms that I would like to explore just so everyone understands the vast array of beliefs about the end times.
Amillennialism Vs Premillennialism
Amillennialism teaches that there is no literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. Revelation 20 is taken figuratively. Those who subscribe to this position believe that we are in the (figurative) millennium now. Christ will return at the end for a final judgement when heaven and the earth will be destroyed and remade.
Premillennialism teaches that Christ will literally return to the earth for His reign. He will bind Satan, and physically reign for a thousand years on earth. After that, God will loose Satan for a little while for one more rebellion. Jesus will then defeat him forever, judge the lost in the Great White Throne Judgement, and then bring in the new heaven and the new earth.
Preterists, Historists, Idealists, and Futurists
Whether or not there will be a literal reign of Christ on earth is just the beginning of the discussion. Next, there are four different ways to interpret scriptures pertaining to end times.
First, the preterist position teaches that all the events of Matthew 24 (including the rapture) occurred in the first century. The final event was the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Since all these events have already happened, there is no need to look for a future fulfillment.
The historist position, also called the continuous historical view, teaches that the Bible prophetically reveals the entire history of the church. They see books such as Daniel and Revelation as prophesying future events of the church in their time. But, for us right now, all the events are past (or history).
Idealists (or spiritualists) take the whole book of Revelation symbolically. They see it more as an allegory and not literal at all. They believe the antichrist figure is more of a symbol of societal injustice. The kingdom of heaven is established when society generally improves.
Futurists, on the other hand, believe that the prophecies in Revelation are literal events that have yet to be fulfilled. Many believe that some events may have already happened once in a limited way in the past but will also take place in the future. (This is called dual fulfillment and is also sometimes contested among even those who agree on the futurist position.)
A Literal, Futurist Approach to the Rapture
Since the vast majority of Bible-believing Christians are literal futurists, I will now focus the remainder of the article on the rapture. The word is never actually used in the Bible even once. Instead the Greek word harpazo (ἁρπάζω) is used. We understand that word to mean a “seizing” or a “snatching away.” The word was translated as “rapio” in the Latin Vulgate. The past participle of “rapio” is “raptus,” which is where we get the word rapture. Here are two Bible verses describing the event.
- 1 THESSALONIANS 4:16: “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. 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
- 1 CORINTHIANS 15:52: “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.”
Literal futurists do not dispute the event as happening at some future date. The disagreement comes at the timeline of events, the way that God will protect us from His wrath, and the participants who will be involved. (All agree that the Church is not appointed unto wrath). There are four basic rapture beliefs: pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, pre-wrath, and post-tribulation.
“Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming–in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning — lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.”Mark 13:35-36
Disclaimer: There are so many different opinions even among advocates of the same rapture timing beliefs that I can’t possibly include them all. These are the ones I see from researching online and from personally hearing from believers. It’s meant to be a general overview, not an exhaustive list.
Pre-tribulation Rapture – Separate from Second Coming of Christ
The pre-tribulation rapture adherents believe in the immanency of the rapture. They believe that there is literally nothing else that must be fulfilled for the rapture to occur. Therefore, it could happen at any moment. When it does happen, this will be an event that is completely separate from the Second Coming of Christ. The rapture will cause a commotion as millions of believers disappear from the earth. It also signals the start of God’s wrath, the seven year tribulation. Being raptured at this time is a reward for true believers in Christ. They will be taken to heaven to experience the Marriage Supper of the Lamb during the tribulation period. Unbelievers and lukewarm Christians will be “left behind” on earth. But, they can still be saved during the time of tribulation. They just need to believe on Jesus and refuse to take the mark of the beast.
The Mid-Tribulation Rapture View – Separate From Second Coming of Christ
Mid-Tribulation believers think the first three and a half years of the tribulation are Satan’s wrath, not God’s. God’s wrath, they say, doesn’t begin until the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11. The church will remain on earth during that time, also called the “beginning of sorrows.” The church will see all seven seal judgements and the first six trumpets before we are called to the clouds to be with Him. They still see the rapture event as separate from the Second Coming of Christ. Only believers will hear the trumpet and see Him in the clouds. They believe that the Church will be in Heaven having the Marriage Supper of the Lamb during those last three and a half years when God brings His wrath.
The Pre-Wrath Position – One Event: The Second Coming of Christ
Pre-wrath believers think that the rapture will occur sometime after the midpoint of the tribulation but before God’s wrath (the bowl judgements) is poured out on unbelievers. The church will face the antichrist and have to choose whether or not to take the mark of the beast. They believe that at some point, Jesus will cut short the rest of the time of tribulation and rapture the Church. This is the kick-off event to the Day of the Lord. When Jesus appears, all eyes will see Him in this ONE event: the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. At this point, like when God closed the door of the ark, nobody else gets in. He will take His church to Heaven while wrath is poured out on the earth. (This is in contrast to the post-tribulation view in which believers immediately fight the Battle of Armageddon before touching down on earth with Jesus in Jerusalem.) The church comes back to earth with Jesus after God’s wrath is poured out.
Post-Tribulation Position – One Event: The Second Coming of Christ
Post-Tribulation believers also believe that the rapture and the Second Coming of Christ are one event. Protection from God’s wrath during this time will be individual to the believers. Like the three Hebrew boys put into the furnace, Jesus will be there in the tribulation fire with them. The meeting in the air, the rapture of the church, is for those who remain alive plus the martyrs who died during the tribulation. They welcome their Lord to the earth where they will fight the Battle of Armageddon and then reign with Jesus for a thousand years.The rest of the dead will not live again until after the one thousand years. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb will take place in New Jerusalem with all believers of all times.
What They Say
Pretribulation believers say, “Post-trib believers are wrong.” They also say things like, “I will see you on Sunday if the Lord tarries.” They are watching every moment for the Lord to return. They also say, “Make sure you aren’t left behind” because they see facing the tribulation as a punishment for those who are not right with God at the moment He comes to take the Church.
I have also heard them say, “Would Jesus ‘beat His bride’ before He marries her by leaving her to face the tribulation?” Or, if they are feeling snarky, they say, “I guess post-trib believers don’t love Jesus as much as we do because we want Him to come now.” Also, when asking them about preparation (even the spiritual kind) for future hard times, many say, “We don’t have to worry about it because we’re gonna be outa here!”
Mid-Trib, Pre-Wrath, and Post-Trib believers say things like, “Pre-trib believers are deceived.”They also say, “The early church had to go through terrible trials for their faith. Why should the modern church be any different?” Or, I have heard, “America is the only country that still believes in the pre-trib rapture. Christians in other countries are already facing persecution.” Finally, many are preparing physically, mentally, and spiritually to go through very hard times, so they say things like, “Settle it in your hearts NOW what you will do when persecution comes.”
What If They Are Wrong?
I know Spirit-filled believers who know their Bibles and hear from God in virtually every camp. They simply interpret the scriptures differently. This is what makes me believe that right now, for whatever reason, God is not revealing the timeline to everyone. Otherwise, we would all be on the same page. It would be prideful to say that any one of us could not be wrong on any number of items in these last days. Even the disciples who walked with Jesus didn’t fully understand everything when He came to earth the first time. Since this is the case, I think it is important to understand the consequences of getting too attached to any one particular rapture doctrine.
Pre-Trib: If the antichrist shows up on the scene and Christians are still on earth, this could cause some pre-trib believers to lose faith in God completely. Some might think He doesn’t really exist, and some might question His goodness for allowing His children to face this time of great trial and testing. Their grave disappointment coupled with the pressure to take the mark of the beast could be too much for some. On the other hand, those who are used to continually watching for Christ’s return will never be caught off guard if they continue to do so.
Mid-Trib, Pre-Wrath, Post-Trib: If the pre-trib timeline holds, other believers might be caught unaware. Instead of watching for the Lord, they are watching for events that may or may not look like what they expect them to in these last days. They could also assume that they have much more time to get done the things God has called them to do. Procrastination could become an issue if their timeline is found to be in error. On the other hand, their spiritual preparations are appropriate for all times, and their physical preparations would come in handy if indeed there are those who are “left behind.”
The Lesson In the Cinnamon Rolls
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”Titus 2:13
No matter when the rapture takes place, it is still our blessed hope. We can all look forward to that day when our Lord will come again to reign on the earth. Whether the rapture happens pre-trib, mid-trib, pre-wrath, or post-trib, just like when something is in the oven, we all must watch. We can’t just count on our “timers.” We must keep our eyes and ears open to what is happening on earth and what the Holy Spirit is telling us. Luke 12:37 says, “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when He comes, will find watching…”
We must watch with open minds that allow for the possibility that we could be wrong. Proverbs 27 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” If things don’t happen exactly like we thought they would, we have to pray to ask God for eyes to see things as He would have us to see them. The Bible is the Word of God and is truth, and we can’t take it lightly. Matthew 24:44 is talking to every one of us when it says:
“Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Want to hear more about how God deals with His people during times of judgement? Try The Waves of God’s Judgement and the Child of God. In it, God gave me an analogy that shows how true believers should respond when our nations are judged.
Like to read more from Evangelical Christian sisters who “tell it messy, true, and wonderful because we are His”? Check out Telling Hearts.