(Some of the many Q&A's and Bible articles on the "Wielding the Sword of the Spirit" web site at www.matthewmcgee.org)
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Bible Questions and Answers: The Rapture

Matthew McGee

Q: How can a person get to heaven (become saved)?

A: To be saved from eternal torment, one must believe the gospel of grace. The gospel of grace is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, freely gave His life as the perfect sacrifice to pay for all of our sins, was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead on the third day.

Please see my article, Roman Road to Salvation, which provides more detailed discussion on this topic as well as scriptural support.

Q: What happens when we are raptured?

A: At some future time (we don't know when), before the tribulation, the trump of God and the voice of the archangel will signal the catching away of the true church. Then all of the souls of the Christians who have died will return to their dead bodies, which will be instantly changed to immortal, incorruptible, eternal bodies and come out of their graves. Then we who are left alive will not die, but our bodies will be instantly changed into immortal, incorruptible, eternal bodies. Then we will be caught up into the clouds to meet our fellow Christians who have died and our Lord Jesus Christ in the air. Then we all shall be with the Lord forever.

We know this from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 which are the two places in scripture which speak the most about our being caught up into heaven (commonly referred to as the rapture). This is not to be confused with the second coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation at which times Christ's feet will touch down upon the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4).

Q: What is the purpose of the catching away or rapture of the church?

A: The rapture has several purposes: (1) It brings the all true grace age believers, whether living or dead, together forever. (2) It is "that blessed hope" (Titus 2:13) which will bring us together with our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the head of the body. (3) It motivates us to watch in faith, love, and hope (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8). (4) It is a comfort to us as 1 Thessalonians 4:18 says. It rescues us from the wrath that God is about to pour out upon those that dwell upon the earth in the tribulation. (5) It fulfills the prophecy of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. When God says He is going to do something, it has to happen. (6) It ends this dispensation of grace by removing the church from the earth. Then, the Old Testament form of worship and the kingdom program can resume, with God's focus being on the nation of Israel the seven years which is the last week of years in the 70 weeks or years described in Daniel 9:24-27. This is yet another of God's prophecies which must be fulfilled.

There may be purposes other than those listed above.

Q: Will the rapture occur before the tribulation, in the middle of the tribulation, at the end, or when?

A: The rapture of the church will occur before the seven year tribulation begins. Please see my article Four views of End Times Prophecy which discusses these views from a Biblical perspective.

Q: Isn't it safer for a Christian to believe in a post-tribulational rapture than a pre-tribulational rapture?

A: First of all, the question we should be asking is, "which belief is scripturally correct?" But no, it is not "safer" for Christians to believe that we have at least seven years to lead our friends and loved ones to our Lord Jesus Christ when we may not have until tomorrow. Satan would like us to believe that we have all the time in the world so that we will relax more. Some Christians may be above that attitude, but many are not. Besides, the "which is safer" question is irrelevant when one understands that the pre-tribulational view is the view that agrees with the scriptures. It is always safest to just take God at His Word.

Q: In 1 Corinthians 15:52, Paul refers to the rapture occurring at the "last trump". Was Paul referring to the seventh trumpet in the book of Revelation? And if so, would that mean that the rapture is at the end of the tribulation?

A: The answer to both questions is "No". Paul wrote the epistle of 1 Corinthians several years before John wrote the book of Revelation. So the Corinthians could not have known there would have been seven trumpets in the tribulation. It would not be logical for Paul to try to explain the rapture to the Corinthians using terms from a scriptural concept which had not yet been revealed. So the "last trump" which Paul mentioned is not any one of the seven trumpets blown by the seven angels in the book of Revelation. Instead, it is the last trump of this age of grace, "the trump of God" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). All of Paul's epistles are to Christians in this age of grace, but the book of Revelation is about the tribulation, when the Law of Moses will be reinstated. We must differentiate between Law and Grace. For a detailed study on why we know the rapture is before the tribulation, see For Views of End Times Prophecy.

Besides, the seventh trumpet in Revelation will not occur at the end of the tribulation anyway. The first six trumpets occur in the first half of the tribulation (Revelation 8-9), and the seventh trumpet will be sounded at mid-tribulation (Revelation 11:15). The seventh trumpet will then be followed by the three and a half years of great tribulation clearly stated in Revelation 12:6, "a thousand two hundred and threescore days" and in Revelation 13:5, "forty and two months".

Q: Can people who reject Jesus Christ before the rapture still get saved during the tribulation?

A: Referring to the Anti-Christ, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 says he will come, "... with all power and signs and lying wonders. And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." Those that "received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved" must be those who rejected the gospel of grace prior to the rapture. From this passage, it looks like those who have rejected the gospel of grace before the rapture, do not get another chance after the rapture. I will not go so far as to be dogmatic about this doctrine for which I only know of one passage of scripture. But I must admit that this does look very clear. They will believe the lie, and accept the mark of the Beast, if they live that long. Even so, there will be many from all nations saved after the rapture, during the tribulation. I believe these are those who did not hear the gospel of grace before the rapture. These tribulation saints are those that will respond to the gospel of the kingdom preached by the 2 witnesses and the 144,000 young, virgin, men of Israel.

Q: Will all children be raptured? And does scripture teach that there is an "age of accountability"?

A: Those Christians who are alive when the rapture occurs will all be raptured. Any adult who does not believe the gospel of grace will not be raptured. But the question of whether children who are too young to believe the gospel will be raptured or not is a difficult one, which I cannot answer completely. However, there are some scriptures that provide some insight. On the surface, there seem to be 3 possibilities for any one particular child: (1) The child will be raptured and go to heaven, (2) The child will remain on earth and be saved during the tribulation. (3) The child will remain on earth and not be saved during the tribulation.

We know that King David (himself a prophet), after the death of his infant child, said "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (2 Samuel 12:23). David was not acknowledging some sort of age of accountability doctrine. Rather, since he was a prophet (writer of many prophetic Psalms) he was able, by God, to tell the future of himself going to where his son that had died would be. We know that King David went to paradise (the place of comfort where the old testament saints went prior to the resurrection of Jesus Christ), and later, to heaven. From this we know that at least some babies and young children who die, will go to heaven. This does not necessarily mean that all babies go to heaven. Nor does it say that some babies will be raptured. But this passage does tell us that some babies that die will go to heaven. It therefore seems reasonable that some babies and very young children might be raptured.

We must keep in that mind God is all-knowing, even about the future. Even before creating the earth, God knew what clothes you would wear today and how many hairs would be on your head. So God knows what an infant will turn out to be when he grows up. Would it have been just for God to have taken the life of Adolph Hitler when he was an infant and to have sent him to hell? Or would it only have been just for God to have waited until Hitler had killed millions of people first? Obviously, God, in His sovereignty, did the latter. However, I see no reason, as far as justice is concerned, why the all-knowing God could not have done the former, if He so chose.

We do know of many instances in which children were put to death along with their parents by God, as in the great flood (Genesis 8:21), or by His orders, as in the conquest of the land of Canaan (Joshua 6:21). This was the punishment for evil people whom God knew would get more and more evil with each successive generation. Because of passages like these, I believe that some babies will not be raptured.

Some churches and denominations have traditions in which they believe there is an "age of accountability". That is, they believe that all children younger than a certain age or level of maturity, who die (or come to the time of the rapture) will go to heaven. However, support for that doctrine is not found in the Bible. The "age of accountability" appears to have been fabricated by people, based upon their own thinking of what they feel would be just. The scriptures do not indicate that a person's soul can be saved simply due to their age or maturity level at the time of their death or the rapture.

The Bible does teach of young children being capable of good and of evil. 2 Chronicles 36:9 says, "Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign (as King of Judah), and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem: and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD." Contrast that with 2 Kings 11:21 and continuing on to the first two verses of the next chapter, 2 Kings 12:1-2, "Seven years old was Jehoash when he began to reign (as King of Judah). In the seventh year of Jehu Jehoash began to reign; and forty years reigned he in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Zibiah of Beersheba. And Jehoash did that which was right in the sight of the LORD all his days wherein Jehoiada the priest instructed him." So here we see the clear distinction between "that which was evil in the sight of the LORD" and "that which was right in the sight of the LORD" even among children of seven and eight. It is also interesting to note that when Mary visited Elizabeth who was in her sixth month, John the Baptist lept for joy in her womb (Luke 1:36-44).

There are some who believe that the faith of one or more of the parents covers the child until the child reaches a certain age or level of maturity. This belief largely based upon a misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:13-14. God may indeed use a believing spouse or parent to share the gospel with an unbelieving spouse or children. But the unbelievers are by no means guaranteed salvation just because a parent or spouse is a believer.

It may very well be that God, with His all-knowing, future-knowing wisdom, will make His decision based upon what that child would have become, had he been allowed to remain on earth. Paul tells us about Jacob and Esau in Romans 9:11-13, "(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her (Rebecca, their mother), The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." This brings up the question, what if the pregnant Rebecca had been a Christian at the time of the rapture? Would she and unborn Jacob have been raptured to heaven and unborn Esau transported directly to hell? Who can say? But I would certainly not discount that possibility.

One thing is absolutely certain. God is just and will do the thing that is just. We must be careful that we do not try to put ourselves in God's shoes and try to make the judgment for Him. I think this is what some people do when they try to say that "all babies will go to heaven" based upon their unscriptural opinion of "the character of God" and their own opinion about what would be just. God said in Isaiah 55:8-9, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

It is certainly understandable that no parent (or anyone else) wants to even conceive of the possibility that a young child that died did not go to heaven. And the scriptures do indicate that there are specific instances where a particular baby would be saved. But we cannot know that a particular child that dies today will go to heaven from what we are told in scripture.

Some people argue that Israel's days of wandering in the wilderness is an indication of an age of accountability. Those that were under 20 years old when they left Egypt got to go into the land of Israel, while older Israelites died off in the wilderness over 40 years. However, it is also true that God did not spare the Canaanites of any age, which we will examine further in a moment. Also, the great flood of Noah's day took untold millions of all ages. There were also likely many children in Sodom and Gomorrah when those cities were destroyed by God. And certainly the horrors of the tribulation will not be just for adults (Matthew 24:19).

Some point to God not destroying Ninevah and saying there are many who "cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand" (Jonah X:X) as being an indication of an age of accountability. But this passage says nothing about their ages. God was saying that the people of Ninevah were were ignorant (of God's word). The context indicates God was referring to all of the people of Ninevah, not just to children.

Consider that God had Israel kill everyone in Jericho (save Rahab and her family). Joshua 6:17, "And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house ...." And verse 21 says, "And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword." It is very hard for us to imagine that God would direct such a thing, but for a better understanding of God, we need to come to grips with it. (His ways and thoughts are much higher than ours.)

What was different between Ninevah and Jericho? It was not that there were no children in Jericho like there were in Ninevah. It was that Ninevah repented, and Jericho did not. Now one might think that was not fair, since no prophet like Jonah was sent to warn Jericho to repent. But that would be to incorrectly assume that Jericho (or any city or anyone) was or is deserving of a prophet to warn them. God owes no one anything. But He keeps the promises He makes.

Consider what was done to city after city after city in Joshua 10:28-42 as they "utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded" and "the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel". Joshua 10:28-42, "28 And that day Joshua took Makkedah, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and the king thereof he utterly destroyed, them, and all the souls that were therein; he let none remain: and he did to the king of Makkedah as he did unto the king of Jericho. 29 Then Joshua passed from Makkedah, and all Israel with him, unto Libnah, and fought against Libnah: 30 And the LORD delivered it also, and the king thereof, into the hand of Israel; and he smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls that were therein; he let none remain in it; but did unto the king thereof as he did unto the king of Jericho. 31 And Joshua passed from Libnah, and all Israel with him, unto Lachish, and encamped against it, and fought against it: 32 And the LORD delivered Lachish into the hand of Israel, which took it on the second day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls that were therein, according to all that he had done to Libnah. 33 Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish; and Joshua smote him and his people, until he had left him none remaining. 34 And from Lachish Joshua passed unto Eglon, and all Israel with him; and they encamped against it, and fought against it: 35 And they took it on that day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls that were therein he utterly destroyed that day, according to all that he had done to Lachish. 36 And Joshua went up from Eglon, and all Israel with him, unto Hebron; and they fought against it: 37 And they took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and the king thereof, and all the cities thereof, and all the souls that were therein; he left none remaining, according to all that he had done to Eglon; but destroyed it utterly, and all the souls that were therein. 38 And Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to Debir; and fought against it: 39 And he took it, and the king thereof, and all the cities thereof; and they smote them with the edge of the sword, and utterly destroyed all the souls that were therein; he left none remaining: as he had done to Hebron, so he did to Debir, and to the king thereof; as he had done also to Libnah, and to her king. 40 So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded. 41 And Joshua smote them from Kadeshbarnea even unto Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, even unto Gibeon. 42 And all these kings and their land did Joshua take at one time, because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel."

As shown above, there are many, many examples of young children being slain along with their wicked parents, but here is an example of young children being slain when their parents were not around. 2 Kings 2:23-24 says, "And he (Elisha) went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them." Note that they were "little children". It is not reasonable to assume that these children all went to the place of comfort (Abraham's Bosom), who were cursed in the name of the LORD and then slain by wild beasts.

God will always do what is just, not necessarily what we think is just. When we find ourselves questioning the justness of what God's Word says, we should instead question our own judgment and understanding. While some babies do go to heaven, the frequently taught doctrine of an age of accountability is not supported by scripture. Instead, the weight of the scriptural evidence is very heavily against any such doctrine.

Q: Okay, so all Christians, whether dead of alive, are raptured according to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. But who then are the good souls who will be called from the grave during the first resurrection at the beginning of the 1000 year reign of Jesus Christ?

A: The old testament believers are in heaven in soul and spirit form, without their bodies. The Christians will be resurrected in their bodies at the rapture, before the seven year tribulation. At the end of the seven years, at the beginning of the 1000 years, the old testament saints and the saints killed in the tribulation will be resurrected. See Daniel 12:1-3, 13 and Revelation 20:4-6.

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