There's a common theme I've seen popping up in social media lately--lots of talk of the rapture. I see people worried about the things that are happening in the world around us, seeing the mess as a sign of the end times. Honestly, I see the same thing. I look at the wars and diseases and the blatantly evil things that are being called "good" and I see what Jesus described as the beginning of labor pains.
It's right there that people like to turn to two verses from Paul:
"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. Fort the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." ~1 Corinthians 15:51-52
"For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night." ~1 Thessalonians 5:2
As is so often the case, though, we get ourselves into trouble when we handpick verses and don't compare them to the rest of Scripture. In this case, it leads to a common comforting belief--God's people being "raptured" before any of the truly terrifying things that are outlined for the tribulation. Like I said, it's a comforting thought. The things outlined in Revelation, Daniel, the words of Jesus in the gospels, and the other prophets are awesome and terrible. We're told that nothing this earth has ever seen--no earthquake or tsunami, no Genghis Khan, Stalin, Mussolini, or Hitler--can even start to compare to what will happen during that time. Who would want to be here for that?
Here's a question I would ask you to consider, though: If God didn't spare His own Son from suffering the agony of the cross, why should we think we will be spared from suffering?
I'm not saying I'm an expert on end time prophecy. There is still so much I don't understand and so many questions I just can't answer. However, there are some things I think a pre-tribulation rapture ignores. These verses make me think that, despite the popular teaching, we will be here and will be asked to stand against the powers of darkness during those terrible times.
First, in Paul's letter to the Corinthians he mentioned that believers will be changed "at the last trumpet." So that begs the question, when is that trumpet? To answer that we need to skip to the back of the book and look at Revelation. The seven trumpets start in chapter 8, but the final trumpet doesn't get mentioned until Revelation 11:15, where it is followed by voices in heaven crying out, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!"
Okay, so at first glance that doesn't necessarily seem to contradict anything. But the seven trumpets? They don't even start until after the seven seals--the first four of which release the famous "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." The sixth seal is when all the people of the earth are hiding in the mountains and begging for the rocks to fall on them to hide them from God.
The trumpets themselves signal terrible things--natural disasters that wipe out 1/3 of our natural resources, demons that rise from the abyss to torture mankind for 5 months, 200,000,000 soldiers who kill 1/3 of humanity with plagues, the two witnesses who are killed for their testimony and are raised from death and called up to heaven in front of everyone. It's only after all of that that the last trumpet is sounded.
What about the verse in 1 Thessalonians, though? First, let's just read a little bit further. Verse 4 says, "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief." Paul goes on to say that as believers we won't be caught off guard because we know the signs to look for, and we will be expecting Christ's return. His second letter to the Thessalonians gives us more information:
"Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." (chapter 2, verses 3-4)
Jesus Himself spoke of His second coming. In Mark 13 we get to listen in as He explains to Peter, Andrew, James, and John. He outlined the troubles that would come--false prophets, wars, earthquakes, and famine. He spoke of His followers being betrayed, hated, and executed for their faith. He told them they would see the "abomination of desolation" Daniel warned about. In 13:19 He said, "For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be."
I strongly encourage you to read the whole chapter, but for now let's move on to verses 24-27: "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven."
Jesus told His disciples that before His return, there would be a great tribulation. He spoke of the sun and moon and stars being darkened, all of which are outlined in Revelation 8 as events heralded by the trumpets. Revelation also talks about the multitudes who will be martyred during the tribulation, a number John couldn't even begin to count, people from every tribe, nation, people group, and language. The beast of Revelation 13 is given permission to wage war against God's people and to conquer them. How is that possible if God's people aren't here?
Despite the gloom and doom, though, we have a promise to which we cling: "Therefore, we were buried with Him through this baptism into death so that just as God the Father, in all His glory, resurrected the Anointed One, we, too, might walk confidently out of the grave into a new life. To put it another way: if we have been united with Him to share in a death like His, don't you understand that we will also share in His resurrection?" Romans 6:4-5
Because of that, we get to join with all those who will be victorious over the beast and sing, "Great and amazing are Your works, Lord God, the All Powerful. Right and true are Your ways, King of all nations. Who will not fear You, Lord? Who will not glorify Your name? Because You alone are holy, all the nations will come and worship before You, For Your righteous judgments have been revealed." ~Revelation 15:3-4
The judgment of God isn't a fluffy thing to look forward to. In Hebrews 10:30-31 we're reminded, "For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. And again, 'The Lord will judge His people.' It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Throughout the Scriptures we're given pictures of God's judgment being poured out on Israel, and it's never an easy thing to read.
As is always the case, God doesn't stop at judgment. Instead, He follows it with restoration, and that's no different at the end of the book. In Revelation 21:7 God tells us, "To the victors will go this inheritance: I will be their God, and they will be My children."
And like John, may we be able to say with faith, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus."