Thanks largely to Dr. Tim LaHaye’s popular Left Behind series of books and videos, most Christians are familiar with the doctrine of the rapture of the church, which finds its basis in the following two verses:
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump [trumpet] 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.” (I Thessalonians 4:16,17)
“Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (I Corinthians 15:51,52)
For the sake of those very few who may not be aware of this teaching, I will briefly summarize (give or take) what is commonly believed. There is one day (perhaps soon) coming a time of economic and ecological devastation upon planet earth. In fact, things will get so out of hand that a third world war will erupt. Out of the ashes of this war, a charismatic world leader will arise with answers to the world’s major problems. He will broker a seven-year peace treaty between the Palestinians and the nation of Israel, thereby ending the age-long conflict. With the Jews and the Palestinians now living peacefully among one another, the nation of Israel will now be allowed to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. Once rebuilt, this world leader will claim the temple as his own, and seek to be worshiped as God. But before any (or most) of this happens, Christ will return to take believers to heaven during this devastating seven-year period of time. At the end of the seven years, Christ will return with His church to establish the thousand year kingdom (the millennium), where righteousness will rule.
Now I will not dispute that there is coming a time of great tribulation upon planet earth. After all, Jesus Himself did mention it (Matt. 24:21). Those “preterists” who say all prophecy was fulfilled in 70 AD will have a hard time explaining to me why the Son of Man did not come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory immediately after the tribulation of THOSE days (Matthew 24:29,30). Although the prophecy concerning the destruction of the Jerusalem temple was fulfilled, the rest of the prophecy was not. Those things must be yet future.
When it comes to the timing of the rapture, there are basically three schools of thought:
- Christ comes for His saints before the seven years (pre-trib)
- Christ comes for His saints during the midst of the seven years (mid-trib)
- Christ comes for His saints at the conclusion of the seven years (post-trib)
So why is there such controversy over this issue? Mainly because theologians do not follow the Scriptural rule of comparing spiritual with spiritual. So let’s see if we can resolve this issue by following this simple rule. What do these two passages have in common?
- the resurrection of the dead
- the sounding of a trumpet
So let’s see if we can gain more insight by searching out all relevant verses. But first, let’s see how trumpets were symbolically used in the OT. The following insights come from the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (p. 900):
In the OT, the trumpet was primarily an announcement device; for example: the terrifyingly loud voice of the LORD at Sinai was said to be like a trumpet (Exodus 19-20). Its symbolic value was to stress thepublicness of an event, for example:
- as a summons to war (Job 39:24; Jeremiah 4:19)
- to mark the commencement of an attack (Judges 3:27; 6:34)
- to warn of a coming attack (Jeremiah 6:1, 17; Ezekiel 33:3-6)
- to proclaim military victory (I Sam. 13:3)
Trumpets also called public attention to other events as well:
- claims to kingship (II Samuel 5:10; I Kings 1:34)
- public disavowals (II Samuel 20:1)
- oath takings (II Chronicles 15:14)
- special celebrations (Psalm 81:3; Joel 2:15)
- and rejoicing (II Samuel 6:15).
There was even a special feast day marked by trumpets (Leviticus 23:23-25). But the trumpet’s most abiding function was on the Day of Atonement, where it was blown at Yom Kippur, in the Year of Jubilee, to announce liberation and restoration. This is, of course, an OT type, symbolic of the “times of the refreshing” mentioned by Peter (Acts 3:19), when Christ will return to liberate man from the power of sin and death and restore all things (v. 21).
The following segment from the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery is worth quoting verbatim:
“In the NT a trumpet serves in particular as an eschatological image to declare the coming of Christ in judgment. This appears to combine a number of the trumpet functions: summoning, warning, call to arms and announcement of kingship. In Matthew 24:31 the angels are sent out ‘with a loud trumpet call’ (NIV) to gather the elect. Paul extends the image to include a summoning of the dead to life (I Cor. 15:52; I Thess. 4:16). The trumpet ensures that these events are extremely and unambiguously public [emphasis added].”
Christ Himself also seems to refute this notion that He will stage a covert operation to secretly remove his church:
“Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:26,27)
Hmmm… Now didn’t Jesus just say not to believe those who teach that He is in the secret chambers? Could this be a reference to this “secret rapture” doctrine? Hmmm… I find it quite ironic that of all the books and articles I have read over the years promoting this belief in a secret pre-trib rapture, they all seem to overlook this little tidbit of information.
So are we told WHEN this trumpet sounds? Absolutely:
“Immediately AFTER THE TRIBULATION OF THOSE DAYS shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a TRUMPET [there's that trumpet again!], and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matt. 24:29-31)
Does anybody out there know what the word “after” means? The trumpet sounds AFTER the tribulation of those days, not during, not before, but AFTER! And what happens at the sounding of the trumpet? Let’s read it again:
“And … his angels … shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
So the trumpet sounds, signifying the gathering of God’s elect. Hmmm… didn’t we already read that somewhere? Of course we did. Read the verses we already cited from I Corinthians 15 and I Thessalonians 4 one more time. Don’t these Scriptures also allude to the gathering of God’s elect at the sounding of a trumpet? Of course they do. This is how we compare spiritual with spiritual. If only our learned theologians would practice this simple rule!
Now let’s see if we can put the proverbial icing on the cake concerning this matter. Since the book of Revelation deals primarily with judgment and the revealing of Christ to the nations, it stands to reason that we should also be able to find some mention of trumpets here as well. Can we? Well of course we can! In fact, any prophecy teacher can show us this:
“Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets were made ready to blow them.” (Revelation 8:6)
- The first angel blew his trumpet (8:7)
- The second angel blew his trumpet (8:8)
- The third angel blew his trumpet (8:10)
- The fourth angel blew his trumpet (8:12)
- And the fifth angel blew his trumpet (9:1)
- Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet (9:13)
A cursory reading of these two chapters seem to indicate that the first six trumpets are blown to signify various plagues, trials, and tribulations upon mankind. But a total of seven trumpets will sound (8:6). And what is significant about the number seven? Why, doesn’t seven denote perfection and/or completion all throughout Scripture? Of course it does. Is there an eighth angel waiting in the wings to sound an eighth trumpet? If there is, then the Holy Spirit failed to inspire John to write about it. So if there is no eighth trumpet, then the seventh trumpet must be the final trumpet, the LAST TRUMP (I Corinthians 15). Please notice what takes place after the seventh trumpet sounds:
“And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15)
The seventh trumpet sounds to signify the conclusion, the finish, the END of this present wicked age. I see no evidence of a three-and-one-half or a seven-year waiting period here, do you? The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery seems to agree:
“The book of Revelation depicts a series of seven trumpets, six of which announce various disasters and judgments (the onset of spiritual battles) coming upon the earth. The seventh, climactic trumpet signals the complete investiture of Christ and the beginning of His total and eternal dominion of the world.” [Emphasis added]
Seven means finished; it’s a DONE DEAL. Christ gathers together His elect for the purpose of taking control of planet earth. It is now that Christ’s promise is fulfilled, that the meek shall inherit the earth. This is the glorious event that all of the prophets wrote about:
“For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:19-23)
“This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:5a,6)