THE RAPTURE (What, Why, Who, When & How)
This is the fifth and final article in our series on The Rapture.
HOW WILL THE RAPTURE TAKE PLACE?
For those who are quite familiar with the Biblical passages on the Rapture, or even those who know very little, you may be thinking, “What do you mean how will the Rapture take place? Doesn’t it take place “in the twinkling of an eye?” Isn’t that how the Bible portrays it, and isn’t that what we’ve always been taught? The answer is, “Yes.” And the answer is, “No.” Please, you say … not one of those yes and no answers! First, I completely agree with the yes part of the answer: It will be in the blink of an eye or even faster. But, in support of the no part of the answer, we need to examine the two main passages on the Rapture with microscopic magnification and intensity. And let’s see if we can pinpoint exactly what the twinkling of the eye refers to and what it doesn’t refer to.
While we’re at it, let’s scrutinize the prevalent view held by many Christians, including pastors, teachers and Bible scholars; who propose that the Rapture is only seen and heard by believers. That unbelievers left behind won’t see or hear anything except the shocking after effect of, “I can’t believe it … where did they go?” Several Christian movies and a couple of secular movies also have depicted this sudden disappearance of believers, who, one second were there, the next second gone. This view is one I held until a few years ago, and flows somewhat naturally and logically from the concept that the Rapture involves a sudden change, therefore, a “vanishing” of believers from the earth. So, here we go:
I Corinthians 15: 51-52. (Which is the 2nd revelation of the Rapture, chronologically … with the 1st revelation presented in I Thessalonians Chapter 4). We read the amazing description as follows: “But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.”
This is the second key passage where the Apostle Paul reveals another aspect of the astonishing mystery (of the Rapture), and this text explains how this spectacular event will transpire: “in the blink of an eye.” For the past several decades, every commentary, sermon, book, or article that deals with this passage–at least everything I’ve heard and read–consolidates, by default, the dynamics of this passage on the Rapture with the other main passage found in I Thessalonians Chapter 4. With a resulting conclusion that the entire scope or sequential events of the Rapture will transpire at warp speed … blink of an eye. For sure, the two passages are intricately related; but there is also a specific variance found in I Corinthians 15, that is profoundly distinct from the companion passage in I Thessalonians Chapter 4.
Second Bible Passage, I Thessalonians 4 (Which is the 1st chronological revelation of the Rapture): Let’s examine this first reference to the Rapture so we can see what it is that many students of the Bible have condensed into a microsecond period of time. Here it is: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up (harpazo) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever” (I Thessalonians 4: 15-17).
To Exactly What Does the Blink (Twinkling) of an Eye Refer? (Back to I Corinthians 15)
Here is where we students of the Bible (I’m including myself) overlooked or took for granted one little (impersonal) pronoun. Because we skimmed over this two-letter word, we missed or dismissed the important textual relationship of this pronoun to the antecedent that immediately precedes it And shame on me in particular, as my major in college was English/Literature! I’m sure you just thought or said something to the effect, “What in the world is he talking about?” Very reasonable question; I’ll answer it, by first defining “antecedent.” Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines antecedent as: “One that goes before … a substantive word, phrase, or clause referred to by a pronoun …a word or group of words replaced and referred to by a substitute…”
The substitute is almost always a pronoun found immediately after the “substantive word or phrase”, which is the case in I Corinthians 15: 51-52. So let’s break it down.
First, the phrase in this passage: “…but we will all be transformed!”
Second, the pronoun, “It“, which begins the very next verse, “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye….” Can you make the connection? What specifically is “it” referencing or taking the place of in the text? You got it: It is referring to and the same thing as what Paul just said would occur which is, “…but we will all be transformed.”
Next, the Apostle Paul elaborates on “it” (meaning the actual transformation itself, which as you already know is the transfiguration of our earthly body to that of our brand new heavenly, resurrected body) by explaining how it (the transfiguration) will take place. What does he say? He says, “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye” When will it happen? “…when the last trumpet is blown.” For added emphasis and understanding, what will happen in the blink of an eye? You’re right: “It.” And again, what does it refer to? Right again: It refers exclusively to the just mentioned clause, “we will all be transformed!”
In the New American Standard translation, we read, “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet….” (I Corinthians 15: 51-52). Notice, that the pronoun (it) is not found in this translation. Why? Because the connection between the action of “changed” (transformed) and the how of the change (twinkling of an eye) is inseparable, irrefutable, and exclusive. Both passages contain essentially the same composition; with the New Living Translation and other translations (such as the Jewish Bible) accurately and emphatically reinforcing the translation from Greek to English, by use of a pronoun that substitutes for the mystery of the transformation itself.
Please bear with me … I hope you see this as much more than just a boring exercise in grammar and syntax. It is exceptionally significant that we understand what is going on in this passage. Saying it another way: The only thing that will happen in a moment or blink of an eye (at the instant the last trumpet is blown) is the actual physical transfiguration of our earthly bodies. The “it” does not apply to anything else in this passage; nor can “the transformation” specifically apply to the events so majestically portrayed in I Thessalonians Chapter 4. In fact, I Thessalonians 4 doesn’t say anything about the blink of an eye transformation at all. But we’ve inadvertently extended or expanded the instantaneous change found in I Corinthians 15 to include the entire sequence of events described in I Thessalonians 4.
As alluded to, somewhere along the prophetic highway, we made a wrong turn; because we missed a little warning sign that effectively said, “Detour Ahead. Watch for Pronouns.” Meaning that we stayed on the four-lane highway with a bit of tunnel vision, thinking that everything said about or encompassing the Rapture in both of these Biblical passages would take place in the twinkling of an eye. We missed the little detour that, as we’ve just seen, would have narrowed the highway (for a short distance) down to one lane–with the blink of an eye referring only to the physical transformation of our earthly bodies. All the other component parts of the Rapture will also take place in actual time/space sequence, but this real-time is not the blink of an eye. What kind of time-frame or sequence, then, am I talking about?
The Real-Time Sequence of the Entire Rapture (Before and after the Last Trumpet is Blown):
The Apostle Paul conveys the active sequence of the Rapture in I Thessalonians Chapter 4.
First: “The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel…” (I Thessalonians 4: 16a). Many scholars believe this shout could very well be the same words used by Jesus to call John to heaven where John would be given the astounding revelations of the end times. In Revelation 4:1b, Jesus commanded John, “Come up here…” Equally significant is how Jesus commanded John. In the first part of the verse we read, “Then as I looked, I saw a door standing open in heaven, and the same voice I had heard before spoke to me like a trumpet blast” (Rev. 4:1a, italics for emphasis). The similarity between this shout from Jesus (like a trumpet blast) is too strong of a parallel to consider it a mere coincidence with I Thessalonians 4.
Second: In addition to a commanding shout and the voice of the archangel, our Lord will also descend, “with the trumpet call of God.”
Third: What happens next? The dead in Christ rise, then those believers alive are caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. (See I Thessalonians 4:7)
With regard to the real-time lapse of what is happening, we need to interject a healthy dose of common sense to the reality of what is taking place. We all know that “common sense” is and can be one of the best ways to look at real life experiences in order to understand what they are and what they mean. A good many people swear by common sense as a superior teacher in life, even more so than formal education. What does common sense tell us in the context of these three steps of how the Rapture will occur?
It’s fairly simple: Think about it for a couple of minutes (or longer). Does it make any sense that the entire sequence of events (first, second, and third steps listed above) could happen in “the blink of an eye?” Or a companion question: Why would it happen in a microsecond? Or, how could we as believers possibly “process” and experience in real-time (not virtual time or reality) the entire progression –the Lord descending, the trumpet call of God, the dead rising first, then those alive being caught up in the air—in a tiny fraction of a second?
There is no evidence, whatsoever, in these two passages that the Lord will set aside time, or otherwise stop the clock. In fact, wouldn’t the Lord want us to absorb (take it all in) the majesty and wonder of the whole thing in real-time? If the sequence of I Thessalonians is over in the twinkling of an eye, then why would the Lord even bother to explain the amazing order or arrangement as described in Chapter 4?
Of course, the Lord could do all this in a split second, if he wanted to. But why would he inexplicably reduce such an astonishing and majestic event to a microsecond and, thereby, deprive us of the awesome splendor of his glory and the ensuing sensory, spiritual, mental, and emotional real-life, real-time experience? (If the Lord does temporarily change the hands of time, I actually hope that it might be in slow-motion!) Wouldn’t you agree: It makes much more sense that these events–from the moment Christ descends from heaven to the instant our bodies are transfigured and everything in between–would transpire in actual time, i.e. at least a few minutes? Yet, the prevailing consensus in the Church is that all these things are over in an instant. But, if you prefer more evidence or rationale than just common sense, we have that, too!
Biblical Precedents & Jewish Tradition:
Here, we need to focus on the trumpet call, which is (not just coincidentally) mentioned in both of these Rapture passages. I Thessalonians tells us that the third and last part of Messiah’s descent from heaven comprises, “the trumpet call of God.” Now we need to return to I Corinthians 15, specifically verse 52: “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of any eye, when the last trumpet is blown … For when the trumpet sounds….” Now the Apostle Paul is telling us when “it” will happen. It—referring to the instant transformation of our earthly body–will happen, “when the last trumpet is blown.”
I placed “last trumpet” in bold letters and italics to make a reflective emphasis on and a vital examination of trumpet call(s). Why is the trumpet call in I Corinthians 15 classified as the “last” trumpet call? Why the modifier, “last?” Why not just the trumpet call as we find in I Thessalonians Chapter 4. What might “last” suggest to you? You’ve probably already thought about it. The adjective qualifier last wouldn’t be used unless it was just that, the last trumpet call. With a clear inference that there must be other trumpet calls preceding and leading to the final one. Once again, there would be no purpose whatsoever for Scripture to tell us that the transfiguration of our bodies would take place at the last (final) call, if there was only one trumpet blast. Thus, in I Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul is giving us more details on the trumpet blast first mentioned in I Thessalonians 4.
Why, then, are there two or more, or a series of trumpet calls? The answer is found primarily in the Old Testament, but also in modern-day Israel. *Note: A thorough treatise on the method and significance of the use of the trumpet and/or shofar in Jewish history would take far too much space than a blog article allows. Thus, I must condense this into a few sentences. If you like, do some research on the ancient and modern use of the Shofar in Israel.
Also, to quickly emphasize that the last trumpet call referenced in I Corinthians 15 can’t possibly be the final trumpet call of all time; thus giving possible meaning that it is the last and, therefore, only trumpet call to herald the Rapture. Reason: There are many more trumpet calls during the Great Tribulation (after the Rapture occurs) as found throughout the Book of Revelation.
Purpose of Trumpets and the Shofar:
The shofar (normally made from the horns of a ram), but also trumpets crafted from beaten silver were an integral part of Israel’s customs and heritage. In fact, trumpet blasts were a requirement by God during the Feast of Trumpets, one of the seven festivals given by God to the Jewish people, still celebrated to this day (See Leviticus 23: 23-25). Several blasts of the shofar announced other festivals, and the shofar also was used to warn the Jews of an impending attack by their enemies. And, let’s not forget the mighty shofar blasts that accompanied God’s Ten Commandments proclaimed at Mt. Sinai!
The blowing of trumpets in the book of Revelation will announce spectacular happenings, including seven of God’s judgments. Trumpets have also been used throughout Gentile history, especially during battle. Can you imagine the Calvary coming to the rescue in a Western movie without first blowing a trumpet! And they will play a huge role in the last days of this age. If you ever have the privilege of traveling to Israel, you will hear the sound of shofars throughout the year, especially during Rosh Hashanah (New Year Feast of Trumpets). Israel and the shofar are inseparable, as are trumpets and the Rapture, followed by the tribulation trumpets.
Here’s where we’re going with this: Normally, the blowing of the shofar wasn’t a simple quick, one-time burst of sound. Rather, it entailed a series of blasts lasting several minutes, with each part of the series different from the others, and sometimes each component part repeated again. That is still true today in Israel or wherever the shofar or a trumpet is sounded for Biblical reasons. Are you getting the connection to the last trumpet of the Rapture? “Last” overwhelmingly implies that there are other blasts that precede the final trumpet call. And, references to the shofar/trumpet in Scripture are very consistent, in terms of the how and why they are used. There’s every reason to believe that the trumpet call(s) of the Rapture will be the same: that is, a series of blasts. Especially when Paul stipulates that the instant change of our bodies from corruptible to incorruptible is directly connected to the “last” trumpet.
At the top of this blog article, you’ll find a link to videos that accurately depict the (four-part) blowing of the Shofar. The second (lower) video in particular could very well simulate the Rapture sounds; albeit, the Trumpet calls at the Rapture will be infinitely more powerful and extensive (world-wide).
Who Will Hear the Trumpet Calls?
Nowhere in Scripture do we find that only God’s people heard trumpet calls or the blasts from a shofar. All within earshot, including their enemies, heard the shofar sound. In the Bible, we also see events in which God’s prophets and sometimes the people saw and heard angels or the pre-incarnate Christ, but so did unbelievers. Remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel. Those three were thrown into the hotter-than-hot furnace, but how many men did Nebuchadnezzar see when he peered into the furnace? That’s right: Four. And the fourth was none other than the pre-incarnate Messiah.
Was it only Saul who heard the voice of Jesus on the road to Damascus? No, his accomplices also heard the sound of the voice that spoke to Saul. They didn’t actually see Jesus, but then neither did Saul; he only saw the blinding light that caused him three days of blindness. My point and premise: I’m wondering how we ever arrived at the notion that those left behind at the Rapture won’t hear the trumpet calls, and not see perhaps a flash of light or afterglow or radiance or some tangible evidence at the precise spot where a believer miraculously changed in front of them when the final trumpet call was sounded. Why would God close the ears or the eyes of the unsaved? Seeing and hearing is often times believing.
With the Biblical precedents and parallels to support the premise that the entire world will hear the trumpets and, conversely, the lack of reference in Scripture to say otherwise, why wouldn’t God want the world to see and hear the Rapture? I’m convinced that many will immediately fall down on their knees and call upon the name of the Lord to save them. This applies not only to the trumpets, but also to the Lord’s shout and the voice of the archangel. Why wouldn’t they be heard the world over?
The Shout Heard Around the World:
Most know about, “the shot heard around the world,” that started the American Revolutionary War. At the Rapture, it will be the “shout heard around the world.” The shout of Christ, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet call of God will shake the world like it’s never been shaken before. It will give a whole new meaning to “shock and awe.” And, the entire sequence of events involving Jesus descent from heaven, loud shout, voice of the archangel, trumpet call(s) of God that lead to the last blast of the trumpet, will take several minutes. This literal lapse of time needed for a literal series of visual and audio events to occur will NOT take place in a blink of the eye. Only the grand finale of it all will happen in the twinkling of an eye. Which is, as you know by now, the supernatural transformation of our earthly body.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more inclined I am to propose that those left behind may even witness our newly resurrected (the dead) and transformed (the living) bodies ascend to heaven. Why not? Isn’t that part of the whole sequence? We’ve mistakenly (meaning without any direct support or evidence from Scripture), assumed that the microsecond change of our bodies’ means that those bodies instantly vanish or disappear from sight. Since the blink of an eye phenomenon relates only to the actual transfiguration itself, why do we also equate that with a split second disappearance?
I Thessalonians 4 tells us that we will be “caught up” in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Why would caught up necessarily equate to an instant vanishing? Remember how Jesus ascended to heaven as described in Acts 1: 9-11? All who were with him saw him rising into heaven, until they could no longer see him. One of the two angels who showed up even said, “Why are you standing here staring into heaven?” There was no vanishing going on. Picture watching a hot-air balloon ascending. Why wouldn’t our meeting Jesus in the clouds be just like His ascension to heaven? Our transformed bodies will be like his … why not our rising to meet him be similar or identical?
Thus, I believe that common sense, reinforced heavily by Biblical precedents and even more so by accurate examination of the Rapture passages (that we’ve done in this article) lead to a very convincing conclusion: The entire episode of the Rapture from start to finish will take several minutes. This will allow time for such things as: pulling cars over to the side of the road; awaking in the middle of the night from a deep sleep; turning off the T.V or loud music; stop the yelling at someone; hugging your un-believing spouse or friend good-bye; the short, but most intense praise and worship ever experienced by Christians on this earth; and, hopefully, a few minutes for some foxhole conversions all over the world.
Do you see what difference it would make and how it could enhance and expand our view of and increase even more our enthusiasm for the Rapture, if the order of events in the Rapture took place over several minutes? It would be far more than just a “poof” one second here, next second gone type of experience. Next to the triumphant resurrection of Jesus Christ, it will be the greatest celebration of joy ever experienced by believers in Christ. And in real-time and space no less; no special effects, no suspension of time, no virtual reality … just the real thing. None of which (except for the transfiguration of our bodies) can or will take place in the twinkling of an eye.
This is the way the Lord intended it to be, and this is the way that the Bible passages on the Rapture tell us it will be. I believe the evidence—as summarized in this article—conclusively demonstrates that the blink of an eye relates only to the miraculous transfiguration of our mortal bodies. Whereas, the progression of events that culminate in this instantaneous change will take several minutes of actual time.
In closing, let’s put the proverbial icing on the cake by reading Isaiah 18:3 from the New American Standard: “All you inhabitants of the world and dwellers on earth, as soon as a standard is raised on the mountains, you will see it, and as soon as the trumpet (shofar) is blown, you will hear it.” This is one of many end-times prophecies found in Isaiah. Did you catch the first word of this verse?
Things to Ponder:
– Given the length of time to sound the series of trumpet calls, plus the time it will take for the other aspects of the Rapture to take place, would you care to make a guess as to how long it might take? To do so, you might want to break down all of the sequential parts of the Rapture. My own thought is that God could very well utilize the number 7 (as he does so often in the book of Revelation and other books of the Bible). I’m thinking the whole process could take seven minutes, with, perhaps, three or four minutes needed for the trumpet calls.
– Can you imagine the exclamations from the lips of those about to be transformed? Such as, “Lord you’re here!” Or, “I’m going home!” Or, “It’s actually happening!” What other shouts of joy (or sorrow from the left behind) can you think of?
– Can you think of some other things that people might do during the few minutes span of the Rapture?