Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Last Trumpet and the Timing of the Rapture

I have seen some people explain they believe the Rapture will come at the end of the tribulation because of what we read in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, "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."  The logic used is that since Paul says "at the last trumpet", that must be a trumpet that happens at the end of the tribulation and, therefore, the Rapture too must happen at the end of the tribulation.

On the surface, those verses do suggest the Rapture is coming at the end; however, we must understand that trumpets are found throughout scripture and, therefore, we must carefully study the reference to them before assuming one is the same as another: especially when asserting that the "last trumpet" refers to a trumpet that happens at the end of the tribulation.  Upon examining the verses, we actually learn that the last trumpet mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 is not the same as the trumpet that happens at the end of the tribulation.  

First, we can quickly rule out it is the same as the Seventh Trumpet we read about in Revelation 11:15, for we can easily see right away the Seventh Trumpet is used to make an announcement.  As we study further, we also learn that many other tribulation events happen after the Seventh Trumpet in Revelation 11 is sounded by the angel; thus, it can not be the same "last trumpet" that Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians 15.

There is another place in scripture where we can clearly find a discussion about the same event (the dead will be raised, those still alive will be raptured, and it's all done at the sound of a trumpet).  We clearly see 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 describing that same event.  To point further to the fact it is the same event, we see that it is the same author, Paul, writing a God-inspired letter to two different churches.  In his letter to the Thessalonians we read, "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."  

The reference in 1 Thessalonians gives us additional clues, for he describes the trumpet sound as being the trumpet call of God, which is not the same as the trumpets being sounded by angels in Revelation 11:15.  In fact, if we go to the very next verse (Revelation 11:16), we also read that elders are already present in heaven at the time the Seventh Trumpet is sounded, providing further evidence that the Church had already been raptured before the Seventh Trumpet of Revelation.

Actually, if we are going to compare the trumpet mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15 with references to trumpets in Revelation, we find another trumpet in Revelation that better corresponds to that one, namely the one referred to in Revelation 4:1-2.  There we learn that John was taken up to heaven, which is a scene that many that study the subject (including me) believe could be representative of the Rapture, for there we read, "After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, 'Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.'”   

From reading that we learn that John does not have his vision about the tribulation events until he is first called into heaven.  Another thing we notice is that he has written 3 chapters of Revelation up to that point, and the previous chapters are all about the Church.  Yet when all the tribulation events are described, not once is the Church mentioned.  The symbolism can not be ignored: the Church is addressed abundantly in the first few chapters of Revelation; John is then taken into heaven (at the sound of a trumpet); and then, after being taken into heaven in what seems to symbolize the Rapture, John witnesses all that will happen in the tribulation.

I believe we're left with one other important location in scripture that discusses trumpets, which can be found in the Olivet Discourse wherein we read about the Second Coming in Matthew 24:30-31, "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.  And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other."  Again we note how angels are sounding that trumpet, which is being sounded at the end of the tribulation to announce the Second Coming.  The difference is subtle, and yet it quite obvious once you begin to examine the verses.

So, then, what does Paul mean by "the last trumpet"?  My research of scripture and what some other respected eschatologists have written has turned up only a few answers, and the best is the simplest: the last trumpet represents the last event of the Church.  That is, the Church is raptured into heaven and the events that remain to be fulfilled are what we read about in Revelation and elsewhere, where we see God dealing with unbelievers and with the remnant of Israel.  God is going to bend the Jewish people to their knees, for in Matthew 23:39 Jesus said to them, "For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

We must also understand that the Second Coming is what is going to happen at the end of the tribulation.  Thus, we can not place the Rapture at the time of the Second Coming, less it's some bizarre "yo-yo effect".  The following chart provides a more detailed contrast between the Rapture and the Second Coming, which are two distinct events:

The Rapture
The Second Coming
Christians will be taken from earth and will join the Lord in the clouds.
1 Thessalonians 4:17
Christians will return from heaven to the earth with the Lord. Revelation 19:14
Occurs before the Tribulation.  The specific timing of the Rapture is beyond the scope of this article, but is carefully described in the book, Pray That You May Escape.
Occurs at the very end of the entire tribulation period.
Revelation chapters 6-19
Will happen in an instant (in “the twinkling of an eye”).
1 Corinthians 15:50-54
Will be an event that is visible to everyone.
Revelation 1:7, Matthew 24:29-30

Is imminent 
Titus 2:13, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18,
1 Corinthians 15:50-54, Luke 17:26-36
Will not occur until after certain other end-times events take place.
2 Thessalonians 2:4, Matthew 24:15-30
Revelation chapters 6–18

The Precise Timing of the Rapture

  • “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)
  • “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:42)
  • “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:44).
  • “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matthew 25:13). 
  • “Be always on the watch, and 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)

As you examine the preceding verses (all quoting Jesus Himself) you will notice a couple of resounding themes:

1) Jesus repeatedly explains we must be watchful.  That means being aware of what is happening in the world around us.  It also gives us a clear sense of urgency to help spread the gospel, to encourage fellow believers to be ready, and to ensure we ourselves are spiritually prepared.  

2) We are told that it will come at time that it is not expected.

As for the general timing of the Rapture, the view one subscribes to is rather important because it determines whether we, as Christians, will have to prepare to live through the tribulation, some part thereof, or no part of it at all.  Furthermore, this is especially important for today’s Christian, if we believe we may currently be living near the end days.

We are told by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse to “Be always on the watch, and 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).  Notice that Jesus says that we are to pray and that He is saying, “Pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen”, not just certain parts, and certainly not only the end!  As with anything, our Lord wants to hear from us, and during the end times, that will be especially true.

To substantiate this idea of prayer, we need only note that immediately after Jesus discusses the days of Noah—wherein He is very clearly describing the Rapture (where life is going on as usual and one of two people mysteriously disappear)—He gives us an important parable about prayer.

Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  He said, “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’  “For some time he refused.  But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?  Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

As we study this portion of Scripture, we can infer contextually that the aforementioned parable of the persistent widow is referring to the end times, because, as I noted earlier, it occurs immediately after Jesus talks about the Rapture.  Also notice the first sentence that introduces the parable.  It says, “Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”  Obviously that transition is indicating the parable is definitely related to what had just been discussed, which was the Rapture!  I believe that when the tribulation starts, we are going to need to cling to those important words, along with Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse telling us to pray that we may escape all these things.  Moreover, if the contextual relation to the Rapture is not enough, we also see that this parable is most certainly about the end times, for the last sentence of that parable says, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

We should appreciate that God loves His people very much and will be merciful to the Christians who are living their lives according to His Word (and, therefore, have an open channel of communication with Him).  The precedent is clear, for God mercifully spared Lot, Noah, and their respective families.  Additionally, Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Thus, we can rule out that the timing of the Rapture is in such a way that God's people will endure God' wrath.

Remember, I am quoting Jesus, who said, “Be always on the watch, and 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). 


No comments:

Post a Comment