“Hello, my name is Lidia, I listen to you daily from Argentina. My question for Pastor John is, What are your thoughts about the rapture of the church and what should we do to prepare?”
I wrote a piece about this a long time ago with a lot of definitions and arguments that you could check out at desiringgod.org, so let me be brief here.
Snatched up into the Clouds
The rapture refers to the rising of the church to meet the Lord Jesus in the air at his second coming. So here is a description of it in 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17: “The Lord himself will descend from heaven” — this is the second coming — “with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ” — so all your dead friends who are believers — “will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, 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.” That is what is referred to as the rapture, the word rapture meaning to be snatched up, or snatched up into the clouds.
So my first thought about the rapture is that it is true and wonderful and encouraging. In fact, Paul concludes that paragraph in 1 Thessalonians 4 with these words: “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). Encourage one another with these words. Jesus is coming. You are going to be caught up to meet him — both the dead and the living. You won’t miss out if you have died and you won’t miss out if you are alive. You will be caught up and meet him in the air. Just like he ascended on the clouds, you will rise to meet him in the clouds. He is coming. And whether we are alive or dead, we will live and rise and meet him. So be encouraged. We are going to be a great assembly of worshippers.
In fact, according to 2 Thessalonians, we are going to marvel and exult in his glory at that moment. Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:10, “He comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.” Human beings were made to marvel. And never have we marveled in this life like we will marvel on that day. This will be the great climax of all our Christian hedonism. We will experience our greatest joy in marveling the way we were finally made to marvel. And Christ will be magnified in our marveling as never before. It will be a glorious consummation of history.
The Great Tribulation
Now the question that conservative evangelicals have raised over the years is, Does this event of rising to meet the Lord in the air happen after or before the season of great tribulation at the end of the age that Jesus refers to in Matthew 24:21 and John sees in Revelation 7:14? Do we rise to meet him and get taken away from the earth for seven years of tribulation which we skip waiting in heaven, or do we go through the tribulation and exult in his coming at the end of history to destroy all his enemies?
My understanding of the New Testament is the second alternative. It is called “post-tribulation” because it comes after. The second coming and our rising to meet the Lord in the air come after that terrible season of suffering at the end of history. And I have given nine reasons in that article I referred to at Desiring God.
Come, Lord Jesus
Let me just give you one final word as we wrap this up. The wording of 2 Thessalonians 1:5–9 is the key. Here is what it says:
[Your suffering] — so the Thessalonians had been suffering — is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering — since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
Here is my conclusion from those verses. It seems clear to me that Paul expects believers on earth to get rest from their suffering at the same time and in the same event that their enemies get punishment — namely at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Let me read that part again: “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you” — that is one — “and to grant relief to you who are afflicted” — that is two. And when do both of those things happen? When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire. And that revelation of his mighty angels in flaming fire is not the snatching of the Christians out of the world and taking them away for seven years and coming back seven years later to do that kind of punishing work at his second coming. So I think there is only one second coming — not two stages, but one. And it happens after the church goes through that period of suffering and affliction at the end of the age.
So my answer to the question of how to prepare is, Pray for the Lord to come. This is what we long for. This is our great and blessed hope. We want the Lord Jesus to come. Let’s pray, “Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.” And the way to get ready for it is to trust the promises of God to turn all of our sufferings — we are not promised to escape suffering — for our good, and then to be about the will of God so that when he comes, he will find you faithful at your appointed task.