No aspect of premillennialism creates more excitement than the rapture. You’ve heard the stories—cars abandoned by their drivers, people vanishing from parties, etc. What happened? Christians were secretly caught up to be with the Lord while the rest are left behind.
That those in Christ will be caught up in the air to be with Him is not questioned: the Bible plainly says so (1 Thessalonians 4:17). But when will that occur, and in what relation to unbelievers? Premillennialists always tie the rapture to the tribulation, the seven-year period of extreme misery they say will immediately precede Jesus’ thousand-year reign. Some have the rapture at the end of the tribulation, others at the midpoint, most at the beginning. Let us look at the two major proof texts.
1 Corinthians 15:50-55
“Behold I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet . . .” Premillennialists tell us this change takes place at the tribulation. When did Paul, the inspired author, say it would occur? He gives three time indicators.
1) At the last trumpet. A trumpet blast is a summons. Paul said it is the last one. Premillennialists have a problem here: they tell us the final summons does not occur for another thousand years after the rapture. Some try to avoid the difficulty by saying last means last in a sequence. But there is no sequence of trumpets in this text.
2) When the dead are raised. Premillennialism has multiple resurrections. This one, they say, is the resurrection of New Testament saints; the wicked do not rise until after Jesus’ thousand-year reign. The Bible knows but one future bodily resurrection. Jesus said an hour (the hour, KJV) is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice and come forth, both the good and the evil (John 5:28-29).
3) When death is swallowed up in victory. Paul says that when the change he is describing occurs, “then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” Is death swallowed in victory at the beginning of the tribulation? Hardly! It is a time of much death, including the death of some who become believers during that period. Besides, according to the theory, believers who lived in the Old Testament era and all dead unbelievers are not yet raised. Death is still quite active!
Paul is discussing the resurrection throughout this chapter. These verses make the point that when it occurs, the dead will be raised with an imperishable body to prepare them for eternity, and those then living will be instantly changed into that same form. All of this will occur at Jesus’ second coming. Having then conquered the last enemy, death, He ceases His reign (vv. 24-28). If anyone is left behind, either dead or subject to death, death is not conquered and Paul’s argument fails.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
The Lord’s shout, the voice of the archangel, the trumpet of God—that sounds mighty noisy to me. Do you really think folks will not hear it, then later wonder where all the Christians went?
Premillennialism assumes that when Paul says the dead in Christ will rise first, that implies the dead out of Christ will rise later. But consider the context. Paul is not contrasting those who rise first and those who rise later, neither is he comparing the dead in Christ with the dead out of Christ. The comparison is between those in Christ who have died and those in Him who are still living when He returns. The former will not miss anything, as some of the Thessalonians evidently feared (v. 13). No, they will rise first, then those who are alive will be caught up together with them. All will share alike. Those out of Christ, dead or alive, are not in view in this paragraph.
Notice also 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10. It says those who afflict God’s people will pay the penalty of eternal destruction when He comes to be glorified with His saints, not 1,000 or so years later. Folks, the thing that is left behind in all this talk about the rapture is the truth