Note: I don’t agree with Tim about the age limit. Our souls have been in existence much longer than this life only. We are born with personalities which have been developed. These personalities do continue development as we go through this life. A new body which remembers our total personality will be given for use in the Kingdom for the 1000 years. For development of these concepts see: Edgar Cayce, David Wilcock, Reincarnation.
1 Thessalonians 4:17 (HCSB)— Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord.
The Greek word meaning “caught up” or “taken by force” is harpazo. The word rapture comes from the Latin word rapio which itself appears in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible for that verse. So the progression is:
(Greek) => (Latin) => (English)
harpazo => rapio => rapture
This verse then gives us our definition for what the rapture is: it is a sky gathering of the freshly glorified saints.
If you look at more verses, you will find that the rapture is actually the fourth event following three other steps.
Thessalonians 4:15-17 (HCSB)—15 For we say this to you by a revelation
from the Lord:, We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have
no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the
Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice,
and with the trumpet of God , and the dead in Christ will
rise first . 17 Then we who are still alive [3-almost]
will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the
air  and so we will always be with the Lord .
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 (HCSB)—Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed 52 in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound , and the dead will be raised incorruptible , and we will be changed .
The four steps marked in the verses with brackets above are as follows:
1. The last trumpet blast by an angel (1Cor 15:52=1Th 4:16).
2. The resurrection of the dead in Christ to incorruptible glorified bodies (1Cor 15:52=1Th 4:16).
3. The quickening of the “alive” in Christ to incorruptible glorified bodies (1Cor 15:52=1Th 4:16).
4. Rapture: all glorified saints rise with the help of angels to a gathering in the clouds where Christ meets them (1Th 4:17).
What's missing from these verses? A highly desirable 5th event mention would be the Great Tribulation!
If these clear rapture passage only mentioned the rapture's relationship to the Great Tribulation then the rapture timing controversy would be nonexistent. However, they unfortunately do not. Nevertheless, they do firmly establish there is a catching up gathering to the clouds, or rapture. Other rapture passages we will show later do mention the Great Tribulation, however they do not as clearly describe the rapture as these.
“Behold I Show You a Mystery...”
This, then, is where it gets hard. I say this because it is helpful to set the right expectations. Given its centrality to the end time discussion, you would think that the rapture timing question would be pretty clear and easily established. Not so. By comparison, it is not nearly as obvious as the Bible's teaching that the Millennium follows the Great Tribulation.
On the contrary, the Bible states that this subject is a mystery:
Corinthians 15:51 (HCSB)—Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We
will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed 52 in a moment,
in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and
the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.
Revelation 10:7 (ESV)—but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.
Mysteries are advanced doctrines. They require great care or there is going to be misunderstanding. You cannot figure them out without some serious foundational wisdom from the entire Bible.
Part of what makes this doctrine such a mystery is that it has little coverage in the Old Testament, and vague coverage at that. Like with the resurrection of the dead (Dan 12:2), there is only one or two clear reference to it in the OT. Here are the two rapture verses I could find in the OT.
26:20 (HCSB)—Go, my people, enter your rooms and close your doors behind you.
Hide for a little while until the wrath has passed. 21
For look, the LORD is coming from His place to punish the inhabitants of the
earth for their iniquity. The earth will reveal the blood shed on it and will
no longer conceal her slain.
Psalms 50:3-7 (HCSB)—3 Our God is coming; He will not be silent! Devouring fire precedes Him, and a storm rages around Him. 4 On high, He summons heaven and earth in order to judge His people. 5 “Gather My faithful ones to Me, those who made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.” 6 The heavens proclaim His righteousness, for God is the Judge.
It is important to note for later that both of them relate the gathering to heaven with the coming wrath of God on the earth. Revelation tells us the wrath of God is the seven bowls that follow the 7th trumpet (Rev 15:1) while the Great Tribulation is Satan's wrath (Rev 12:12).
Timing: When is the Last Trumpet?
Just as I said at the start, the key to establishing the timing of the rapture in relation to the Great Tribulation lies in understanding the end time framework in which it fits. We need to know what is this “last trumpet” that the rapture happens at? Given that Revelation has seven trumpets that precede the seven bowls, the natural conclusion is that the last trumpet is the 7th trumpet. But is it?
Let's look again at a verse we quoted earlier on the rapture. Notice that it says the rapture happens at the last trumpet also when the resurrection of the dead happens:
1 Corinthians 15:52 (HCSB)—in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.
In other words, for there to be a pretrib rapture there must be a pretrib resurrection. Now notice what Revelation tells us about when the resurrection of the righteous is:
Revelation 11:15-18 (HCSB)—15 The seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven saying: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign forever and ever! 18 The nations were angry, but Your wrath has come. The time has come for the dead to be judged and to give the reward to Your servants the prophets, to the saints, and to those who fear Your name, both small and great, and the time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth.
This passage clearly says that the resurrection of the just and rewarding of the saints is at the 7th and last trumpet, the same as Paul told the Corinthians about the resurrection and transformation of the just. The 7th trumpet is after the Great Tribulation and leads into the wrath of God. This means the rapture, too, must be after the Great Tribulation at the 7th trumpet.
This happens to be just what Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse:
Matthew 24:29-31 (HCSB)—29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days: The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the celestial powers will be shaken. 30 “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
I mentioned this passage earlier as less clearly identifying the one and only rapture of the saints. The trouble with this one is the word elect. Pretribbers claim the elect are the Jews. If you don't want to fall for that one, go investigate yourself the New Testament usage of that term. You will find that it refers to any saint, Jew or Gentile (1Pe 1:1-2; Col 3:12; Tit 1:1; Lk 18:7; Rom 8:33; 2Jn 1:1,13).
A Brief Glimpse of the Newly Raptured Saints In Heaven
Now witness how this rapture position fits like a puzzle with other pieces of the puzzle given in Revelation. We can see what happens to us right after we are raptured, and right before the wrath of God falls. Revelation 15 shows it:
Revelation 15:1-3 (HCSB)—1 Then I saw another great and awe-inspiring sign in heaven: seven angels with the seven last plagues, for with them, God’s wrath will be completed. 2 I also saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had won the victory over the beast, his image, and the number of his name, were standing on the sea of glass with harps from God., 3 They sang the song of God’s servant Moses and the song of the Lamb... 8...and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.
Here we find the raptured saints exactly where you would hope: in the throne room of heaven where earlier are shown our brothers the 24 elders (Rev 15:2=Rev 4:4-6). There is no doubt we have both the “Old Testament saints” and “New Testament saints” represented here. This is implied by their singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb, respectively. (God has the same opportunity and salvation plan for all saints of all time regardless of whether they lived a life in service to God before Jesus came or after. Don't let anyone tell you different.)
The Overlooked Reason for the Rapture
While these raptured saints watch from the throne room, the seven angels with the seven bowls of God's wrath walk out of the temple past them to deliver their payload on the inhabitants of the earth.
However, do not get the wrong idea. The rapture is not about escaping God's wrath. Nor anything else including the Great Tribulation (as pretribbers think). This escape idea is one of the errors that serves as “tape” for the pretrib positioning of the rapture puzzle piece.
Let's look again at a previous passage again to note what it says is the real purpose behind the rapture:
Revelation 11:15, 18 (HCSB)—15 The seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven saying: The kingdom of the world has become the ⌊kingdom⌋ of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign forever and ever!...18 The nations were angry, but Your wrath has come. The time has come for the dead to be judged and to give the reward to Your servants the prophets, to the saints, and to those who fear Your name, both small and great, and the time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth.
Notice that it is all about giving the reward to the saints. What reward is that? Eternal life. And the timing is perfect. Because we find immediately after this comes the Millennium when Jesus will reign with his saints for 1000 years. You cannot rule even 100 years without eternal life, so that is why even those of us who are alive must be changed to “incorruptible” bodies right before taking our part in the Millennial reign. I do not agree
Revelation 20:4-6 (HCSB) — 4 Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. ⌊I⌋ also ⌊saw⌋ the people, who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of God’s word, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. 5 ...This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of the Messiah, and they will reign with Him for 1,000 years.
Did you notice another clincher that rules out a pretribulation resurrection and with it a pretribulation rapture? It says that this resurrection of the just to rule is the “first resurrection.” This leaves no wiggle room for another resurrection before this post-tribulation resurrection.
Left Behind – Not Just For the Wicked?
And now for the last of the finer points of the rapture. This point is only possible to see after you fully internalize the previous points on timing and reason behind the rapture.
For, if the rapture is not about saving anybody but is about rewarding saints who are ready to rule, then what about the saints who are not ready?
See, the pretrib rapture teaching puts Christians in fear of being “left behind” and suffering alone on an earth engulfed with the Great Tribulation. However, when you think about it, protecting us on the earth from Satan is not a problem at all for God. And, in fact, God must leave behind plenty of otherwise righteous saints as we will see.
The first thing to consider is that there is no requirement for anyone to leave the earth to survive God's wrath (or Satan's wrath in the Great Tribulation for that matter). It is a straw man argument that pretribbers have invented.
We can know this from another precedent of God's wrath (which is far worse than anything Satan can do). The precedent of the Ten Plagues of the Exodus (Ex 7:14-11:10). They were called God's wrath (on Egypt) as well. Yet God was able to spare Israel from most of them in the midst of the Egyptians who suffered them all. God made a “difference” for the Israelites he wanted to save (Ex 11:7). He did not have to rapture Israel then and he will not need to rapture anyone he wants to protect on earth from the last seven plagues, either.
The second thing to consider has to do with who those people left on the earth are. We would think after the righteous are raptured that the only people left must be wicked.
However, you have to understand what is in store for the raptured before you conclude that. All of the raptured become the Bride of Christ and attend the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:6-9). They are given thrones and will rule on the earth over the survivors (Rev 19:5; Zech 14:16). No one raptured is going clean latrines or be a bell hop, as wonderful even those jobs may be in the Kingdom. All will be kings and priests (Rev 1:6;5:10).
While they indeed are given new glorified bodies, nothing is said about a change of personalities, minds or understanding. We have to expect that to remain intact and not suddenly transformed, filled, and expanded and corrected. God uses organic growth of character and knowledge consistently. Our minds are already spirit-based so changing the venue for them from physical to spiritual bodies does not imply a concurrent mind change, except perhaps in abilities (perfect memories?). We can expect to continue learning in our new bodies for eternity which is a good thing to prevent getting bored with eternal life. Therefore after we are raptured into a new glorified body, we can expect to be only as mature and ready as we were before in our physical body.
Given that our knowledge does not change at the rapture, note what it says about those who are raptured, besides the fact that they of course are righteous and faithful to get there:
19:7 (KJV)—Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage
of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
Revelation 14:4 (HCSB) ...These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They were redeemed, from the human race as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb.
Firstfruits are those harvested first because they came to maturity first. Immature grain is not harvested. It's not ready. Those who are young and immature are also not "ready" yet and do not fit the picture of firstfruits. There will be lots of babies and children of the saints who are simply not ready to be in the harvest. Then there are the teens who may have more maturity, but they have not finished developing mentally or are not yet competent to rule. Scientists tell us that the human brain does not finish developing until the early 20s. (Yes, King Josiah ruled at age 8, but not because he qualified, rather because Amon his father was assassinated.)
In America and many countries you are considered a minor under adult authority until the age of 18. In the Old Testament a similar precedent is set for an age of accountability. We deduce this from the fact that you were not allowed to serve in the army until 20 (Nu 1:3). Likewise those under 20 were not held accountable for doubting God and believing the false report of the ten spies of the land of Canaan. They survived the punishment of 40 years of wandering the desert while their accountable parents or elders of 20 and older all died (except Joshua and Caleb).
Therefore, I believe that it would be inconsistent if there was no age of accountability cut off for the rapture (and first resurrection) as well or God would have a double standard. However, it may not be as simple as being 20 in this case. God knows the hearts and can use discretion in this judgment that the human judges over Israel could not (they only judged by outward appearances and needed a simple test like age). I can imagine exceptions for those who packed more into their minor years than is typical. Minors, children and babies will remain on the earth (probably with assistance from angels) while their older righteous parents, siblings or peers will go on (but don't worry, they will return shortly to rule on the earth and glorified people who never sleep and who teleport should have plenty of time to continue being parents). They will have their chance later in the post millennial resurrection period (Rev 20:5,11-15).
(Note: don't misunderstand the difference between salvation and reward: not all the saints will have the reward of being firstfruits who get to rule with Christ, but all will have the salvation of eternal life sooner or later.)
I know some will be offended by me saying it would make sense for there to be a maturity requirement to be raptured. But before you reject it as a grave error or adding to Scripture, think it through. Everyone who is raptured is the bride, marries Christ and rules as a king-priest. To reject that there is a rapture age/maturity requirement is to say that babies, toddlers, children and the immature will all be raptured, marry Christ, put on thrones and responsible for ruling and teaching people per Revelation 20:4. Now ask yourself which of these two scenarios is more plausible?
The rapture is a certified mystery of God's plan from the Bible which means we cannot expect to explain correctly without understanding God's plan. The rapture will happen at the 7th and “last” trumpet, after the Great Tribulation and the resurrection of the righteous. This timing fits the purpose behind the rapture perfectly. It is about rewarding the living and dead saints with eternal life so they can rule in the Millennium that immediately follows. Those "left behind" on the earth might not be just the wicked, but the immature righteous and children of the righteous do not seem to fit the term "ready" given to the Bride. The righteous will be protected on the earth during the seven bowl plagues just as the Israelites were during the Ten Plagues.