When will the church be raptured? The church, rapture, and end times are hotly debated issues. We have just seen the abuse of the rapture doctrine in the Camping fiasco, and this failed prophecy stresses the need to study the Scriptures for ourselves if we want to examine the true timing of the church’s rapture. To know when the Rapture occurs, we must carefully examine the Biblical timeline of the end. This timing, I believe, is indicated by passages in Matthew, Paul’s letters, and Revelation:

First, here are two rapture verses that are foundational to the discussion:

1 Cor. 15:52: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible.”

1 Thess 4:16-17: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven … 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.”

Notice how this description of the rapture is strikingly similar to what we find in Matthew 24 in Jesus’ description of the end times. When the Son of Man appears in the sky (Mat. 24:30), “He will send forth His angels with a great sound of a trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other” (v. 31). Interestingly, Jesus mentions that just before these events, there will be a tribulation of believers and that His people must flee (vv. 16, 21), and then the sun, moon, and stars will turn black (v. 29). So the sequence is tribulation → sun, moon, stars go black → Son of Man in sky → trumpet → gathering of elect in rapture

This same pattern unfolds in Revelation 6, where the fifth seal reveals that there are martyrs in Heaven, “those who had been slain because of the Word of God” (v. 9). They are crying for God’s justice and God says that they must wait until the rest of their brethren are killed in tribulation before He would enact justice. Immediately following this event, the sixth seal is broken and “the sun became black … and the moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth” (vv. 12-13). Following this event, the sky splits open and people cry out for the mountains to “hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne” (v. 16). Clearly, these frightened unbelievers have seen “the sign of the Son of Man … in the sky” (Matt. 24:30) and “the Lord in the air” (1 Thess 4:17).

Following this event, in the very next chapter of Revelation, we are told of “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation” (7:9). Tracing the breadcrumb of end-times events, we can see that this great crowd can easily be the great masses of the “elect” (Mat. 24:31) that has “[met] the Lord in the air” (1 Thess 4:17) after the transformation of the sun and moon and stars.

Interestingly, this crowd of believers is described a few verses later as “the ones who come out of the great tribulation” (7:14). Thus, Revelation 6-7 lines up perfectly with the established sequence of tribulation → sun, moon, stars go black → Son of Man in sky → trumpet → gathering of elect in rapture. And it lines up perfectly with the previous statement of the martyrs in Revelation 6, who asked God, “How long … will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (6:10), the martyrs who had to wait “until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed … would be completed” (6:11). If Revelation 6 were God’s wrath, then He would be pouring out His great and final judgements upon believers, His people. But what if Revelation 6 and previous chapters were the manifestation that “the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time” (Rev. 12:12). What if the tribulation described in Revelation 6 is the devil’s (the Antichrist) “great wrath” in the final countdown to the end of the world?

The wrath of God occurs after the rapture of the Church in Revelation 6, as displayed in the trumpet and bowl judgments. It is at the end of Revelation 6 that the people will recognize this and plead for the rocks to “hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev. 6:16-17).

We will have signs before the rapture, since we “are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light … We are not of night” (1 Thess 5:4-5). We won’t know the exact day and hour, but we’ll have some prior warning since we are children of God. (These warnings are the tribulation and sun-moon-stars signs.) We won’t go through God’s wrath, but only the final persecution of the evil one.

P.S. — written with the superb editing help of inhonoredglory