The idea of a pretribulation rapture has been around for awhile, and gained popularity when the fictional “Left Behind” series was written. The idea is that Jesus will come snatch his people from earth before all of the final tribulation and plagues detailed in the book of Revelation, thus saving us from having to endure these events. The people who are “left behind” will then either repent and be saved at the second coming, or face hellfire in the end. Let’s investigate to see if this idea is scriptural.
Adherents to the rapture theory cite mainly two texts. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, and Luke 17:34-36. The passage in Thessalonians promises, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (As a side note, this text also disproves the common misconception that we go to heaven immediately when we die, because why would the dead in Christ need to rise first to be taken, if they were already there? See the "After Life" section for more on this topic.)
Back to our text, the context is actually about comforting people (verse 18) whose loved ones have died, and show that those who are asleep (dead) will be raised with us who are alive when Christ returns. What this text does not tell us is that there will actually be two “second” comings of Christ – the rapture before the tribulation, and again at the end of time, which would really be a third coming if it were true.
The text in Luke (paralelled in Matthew 24:40-41) reads in part, “Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” But what does the very next verse (Luke 17:37) say? The disciples asked Jesus, “Where, Lord?” and he replied that “wheresoever the body is, there will the eagles (vultures) be gathered together.” Question: where do vultures gather? Over dead carcasses, right? Does that sound like the people not going to heaven will be given a second chance to repent and be saved? No, it is clear that the people not going with Yeshua are dead and being fed upon by vultures? 2 Thessalonians 2:8 tells us that the wicked will be destroyed with the brightness of Jesus’ coming. Revelation 19:21 says that the rest will be slain by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and all the fowls will be filled with their flesh. Revelation 20:5 says that they live not again until the thousand years are finished. If you want to refer to Jesus’ second coming as a rapture, fine, you can use that terminology, but realize also that everyone not taken to heaven with him is dead, not left behind for a second chance.
Let’s also look at the teachings of Jesus to see if he teaches anything similar to a rapture prior to his second coming. Matthew 13:24-30 compares the kingdom of heaven to a field, where the farmer sowed good seed, and the enemy sowed weeds, but rather than pulling the weeds and taking the chance of dislodging the roots of the good plants, they let all grow until the harvest. Verse 30 tells us that at harvest time, the reapers will gather and burn the tares, and take the wheat to the barn. Then, in verses 36-43 Jesus further explains this parable to his disciples. Again, he says that at harvest time the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, the wheat gathered into his barn, and that this is how it will be at the end of the world. No indication that the wheat is harvested (raptured) first, and then the field burned later. Quite the opposite: the tares are burned before the wheat is taken to the barn. According to this teaching, the “rapture” is the second coming, not something that happens before it.
Matthew 13:47-50 compares the kingdom of heaven to a net which gathers everything, draws it to shore, then gathers the good and casts out the bad. Verses 49-50 say, “So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Again, no indication that the good fish are saved (raptured) before the destruction of the evil. The wicked are severed first.
Matthew 25:31-46 teaches this same concept, using an analogy of a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats. Those who did good (sheep) are on his right hand, those who did evil (goats) were on the left hand. Verse 46 tells us that the wicked go to punishment, and the righteous to eternal life. Yet again, no indication that the sheep are given eternal life (raptured) before the punishment of the wicked. Everything happens at once, at His second coming.
But what is probably the easiest to understand, because Yeshua tells us the sequence very clearly, is in Matthew 24:29-31. Here we hear from the mouth of Yeshua himself, "Immediately after the tribulation...he shall send his angels...and they shall gather together his elect..." Anyone who tries to teach a pre-tribulation rapture is teaching contrary to this passage. It could not be more plain. It is immediately AFTER the tribulation that the saints are gathered.
None of these teachings give any indication that the saved are taken away prior to the end, but rather show that both the saved and wicked are dealt with at the same time. As in the examples of Noah, Daniel, and Daniel’s three friends, all teach that God does allow his faithful to endure trials of their faith. When we go through the tribulation, God will see if we hold fast and firm to him, or if we give in to the beast power and renounce our faith. I pray that you are not deceived into thinking that you will be magically taken away from the trials before us, but rather that you face those trials in the same manner that Yeshua faced his, and that you will stand firm until the end. My fear is that people who expected to be raptured and then realize it didn’t happen will lose heart, thinking they were destined to be unsaved, and thus give in to the enemy. I believe the whole rapture theory is a plan of satan for this very purpose. Don’t be fooled. Hold fast to your faith no matter what trials you face.