People have many ideas about what the Rapture might be like.One cartoon shows two fathers, the one opening the door to his backyard where several kids are seen jumping on a trampoline. He says to the other father, “You’re just in time for rapture practice!” Or there’s the bumper sticker that reads: “In case of the rapture, can I have your car?” Today’s passage is the only place in the Bible that directly discusses this important topic.
The Thessalonians were troubled about believers who had already died. Apparently, they were so concerned that some had become like those “who have no hope.” It’s likely that this confusion arose in part because the Christian teaching about the resurrection was difficult for many pagans to understand. Unlike Jews who hoped for a final resurrection of the Jewish nation, most Gentiles had only vague ideas about the immortality of soul.
It’s clear that Paul had already instructed the Thessalonians about bodily resurrection. (Verse 14 probably reflects an early creedal statement.) Yet apparently some mistakenly felt that believers who had died before the Lord’s return had missed out. To offer assurance and correction, Paul appeals to a “word of the Lord” (v. 15). This teaching of Christ isn’t explicitly recorded in the Gospels (but see John 21:25), although it parallels Matthew 24:30–31 and Mark 13:26–27.
When considered with the rest of biblical teaching about the end times, this passage indicates that the Rapture will occur before the Great Tribulation, followed by Christ’s return. Some Christians believe that the Rapture and Christ’s return will occur together, but what’s undeniably clear—and a great encouragement for all believers—is that Jesus is coming back for His own. After those who have died in Christ are raised (v. 16), then those who are still alive at that time will join with them and with Christ. The archangel and the trumpet (v. 16) reveal the glory that accompanies this great event.
Apply the Word
The Rapture of the church merits further study. We suggest the following three resources, available online or from your local bookstore. Three Views on the Rapture (published by Zondervan) has contributions by noted Bible scholars Paul Feinberg, Douglas Moo, and Richard Reiter and is edited by Gleason Archer Jr. Additionally, the following books contain chapters or sections on the Rapture: Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns and The Great Doctrines of the Bible by William Evans (both from Moody Publishers).