Only Church-age believers are involved in the Rapture. Believers in this age of grace who have died, and believers living on earth at that moment of the Rapture, are caught up together to meet their Lord in the air. There follows their individual judgment before their Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ, before they return to earth with the Sovereign to share His throne of glory. As the Church itself is not the subject of OT prophecy, it is not expected that either of these events will be found in the prophetic dateline. What should be found is a reference to the time when OT believers will be raised from the dead. Careful readers will observe that it is OT believers, and not just Israel, who will be judged. The reason for this change will become apparent as we examine Scripture.
Part 1: Scripture confirms that only the Church is involved in the Rapture and Judgment Seat of Christ (1Thes 4:13-18).
Most believers are clear that the expression “dead in Christ” in this passage confines resurrection here to the bodies of believers of the Church age. The expression “in Christ” is almost a technical expression to define believers of this dispensation who have responded and will yet respond positively, to the message of grace sounding forth after Pentecost. From the moment of conversion, the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer links us with Christ and every other believer, putting us into the Church of the dispensation from which no one can ever be put away. Such believers are “in Christ,” a term not used of any other company of believers. Other believers are described under the more comprehensive term and spoken of as “they that are Christ’s” (1Cor 15:23).
The details of the Rapture never fail to thrill the heart of the believer. “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout.” Heaven is alerted by the “voice of archangel;” saints on earth respond to “the trump of God.” Far from being at any disadvantage because they “have fallen asleep” (RV), as some Thessalonian believers seemed to think they would be, as with tear-stained faces they buried loved ones, these are the very persons who have been granted absolute priority in the resurrection. Scripture is plain “and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” Paul now brings himself into the picture as he writes “Then we …” The plural pronoun is emphatic, as Paul links himself with the living believers as the Lord steps into the air. These believers are identified by two present participles, “living” and “remaining,” and instantly they are “caught up together with them (the risen ones) to meet the Lord in the air.” The explanation is simple, sweet and satisfying!
The church at this moment is complete in the presence of her Lord with the completeness for which the Lord prayed before the cross. “That they be one, even as We are one: I in them and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:22-23). In that divine oneness, every believer of this age meets their Lord in the clouds. The Lord had prayed “Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am” (John 17:24). Now that prayer is answered! What a glorious moment for the Church!
The Church, as presented in Scripture, is neither a continuation of Israel nor a replacement for Israel. It is seen in Scripture as a unique company of saved sinners won by Christ during the years of His rejection by the nation of Israel. This uniqueness is highlighted by the fact that the metaphoric figure of “bride” is applied to the Church (Rev 21:2, 9; 22:17). As the Lord takes His bride into the Father’s House they enter upon what the NT identifies as the Day of Christ (Phil 1:10), the Day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6) or the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1Cor 1:9). In this day, which is always linked with heaven, two events follow each other. The first event is the Judgment Seat (bema) of Christ when the lives of believers of this age are revealed, reviewed and rewarded by Christ Himself (Rev 22:12). That the Judgment Seat takes place before the marriage ceremony is acknowledged in the “Hallelujah Chorus” in heaven. The voices in glory cry “For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,”¹ let us be glad and rejoice and give honor to him; for the marriage of the lamb is come and his wife hath made herself ready” (Rev 19:6-7). The verb “made herself ready” includes the willing submission of the bride to the assessments of the Judgment Seat. As a consequence, the bride may now put on her wedding dress. The bride will be “arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (Rev 19:8). The righteous actions of believers standing out against the immorality of their times have been revealed by the blaze of holiness in the scrutiny of the Judgment Seat, and it further reveals: the fidelity of saints bearing names unknown on earth but well known in heaven; the reality of crowns won by saints (1Cor 9:24-27) soul-winners (Phil 2:19), servants (2Tim 4:8), sufferers (Jas 1:12) and shepherds (1Peter 5:4). All the trials, the troubles, and tears of earth are over. Now, rewarded by the smile of the Lord’s approval, she stands forth in all her beauty. Metaphorically speaking, the Church dons her wedding garment. Although woven in the gloom of earth amidst the tears, she now wears it in the glory of heaven to His triumph, as she moves to take her place at the side of her bridegroom.
¹ Time wise, this is anticipatory, as after the marriage ceremony in heaven, Christ comes back to earth with His bride to set up the Kingdom. It is then the marriage supper takes place (Rev 19:9).
– To be continued