What the Bible Has to Say About the Rapture

Should Christians believe in the rapture or not? I've been reading and hearing a lot about this in Christian fiction and on evangelical talk shows. Is there a scriptural basis for this popular teaching?

A great deal depends on what you mean by the word “should.” If you’re asking whether Christians ought to believe in the rapture or have to believe in it in order to be saved, the answer is no. Despite everything that can be said in its favor, the doctrine of the rapture cannot be considered one of the indispensable essentials of the Christians faith. When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

If, on the other hand, you want to know whether it’s reasonable, sensible, or biblically supportable to believe in the rapture, we would have to say yes. This teaching is based upon two important New Testament passages. The first and plainest is I Thessalonians 4:13-18:

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

The second, I Corinthians 15:51-52, is similar in content:

Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

In light of these passages, several other portions of Scripture have traditionally been understood as referring to the rapture. See, for example, Matthew 24:36-42, Luke 17:20-37, and John 14:3. But the two we’ve cited are the most significant. They provide the most solid biblical basis for the doctrine.

It’s important to add that scholars have interpreted these texts in a variety of ways. This in itself reflects the ambiguity of the scriptural teaching on the subject. This is obviously one of those issues which, in the words of The Westminster Confession, is “not alike clear unto all.”

We can relax with the thought that there is legitimate room for disagreement here.


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