The Rapture Occurs at the Last Trump
Copyright 2010 by Raul E. Lopez, MD, MDiv
The sounding of the eschatological trumpet has a prominent place in descriptions of the coming of the Lord in both the Old and the New Testament. Pretribulationalists hold that there are three distinct versions of the eschatological trumpet, one associated with the rapture at the beginning of the seventieth week, one associated with the re-gathering of Israel at the end of the seventieth week (the one in Matthew 24 and in the Old Testament) and the seven mentioned in Revelation. They base this distinction upon the differences in the description of the events associated with each trumpet. We shall see that this distinction actually reflects a difference in authors rather than a difference in the event being portrayed. A look at the use of the trumpet throughout the Bible shows that such a distinction is invalid and that the eschatological trumpet (or trumpets) always refers to the announcement that occurs moments before the second coming of Christ to earth.
In the Old Testament the sounding of the trumpet is connected with the arrival of an event called the day of the Lord. We will show later that this is the same as the second coming of Christ. Many passages associate this event with judgment upon Israel. In Joel 2:1 God says "Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the LORD cometh, for [it is] nigh at hand;" Zephaniah in 1:14-16 says "The great day of the LORD [is] near, [it is] near, and hasteth greatly, [even] the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. That day [is] a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers." (probably a reference to the use of the trumpet in the conquest of fortified Jericho.) Other passages connect the trumpet with judgment upon the gentiles. These passages prove that a trumpet is clearly associated with the day of the Lord.
Pretribulationalists consider the day of the Lord to be the totality of the seventieth week (which seems to distort the idea of 'day'). Some even include the millennium as part of the day of the Lord. If this were so, then the trumpet of the day of the Lord would, indeed, be the trumpet of a pretribulational rapture. However, the events surrounding the day of the Lord make it clear the it cannot be interpreted as the beginning of the tribulation. Let us recall, that the beginning of the seventieth week is a short time of peace which is followed by the beginning of sorrows. However, several Old Testament passages place it after events identical to those described in the sixth seal of the Apocalypse, which occurs at the end of the seventieth week, at the end of the Great Tribulation. First of all Joel and Zephaniah state that before the day of the Lord the inhabitants of the land shall tremble and the mighty men will cry out (see passages quoted above). In the chronology found in Revelation this does not occur until the sixth seal. "And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and . . . And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" (Revelation 6:12, 15-17).
Secondly, cosmic signs precede the day of the Lord according to Joel and Peter (Joel 2:30-31; Acts 2:19-20,) and these events are also included in the sixth seal in the Revelation chronology. " And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places" (Revelation 6:12-14). Zephaniah above also describes "darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness," These are all events associated with the cometary impact of Revelation. Therefore the trumpet mentioned by the Old Testament prophets must find its place after the sixth seal in Revelation. It so happens that in the chronology of Revelation the trumpet judgments immediately follow the cosmic signs and the universal panic of the sixth seal. The seventh seal, which, of course, follows the sixth seal, produces the seven trumpet judgments: "And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets" (Revelation 8:1-2.) Therefore, trumpets occur at the same point in time in all of these chronologies. A straightforward reading of these Old Testament passages demands that the Old Testament trumpet be equated with the trumpet judgments of Revelation. Consequently, at least two of the trumpet judgments are clearly the same. We will see that the "last trump" of the rapture is the same trumpet as well.
In the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:30-31), Christ teaches that the second coming of Jesus Christ is accompanied by four other events: "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, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. These four events consist of (1) the manifestation of the glory of God in the form of the clouds of heaven, (2) the sending forth of His angels, (3) the sounding of a great trumpet, and (4) the gathering of the elect. We shall see that Paul and John also present the same events when they speak of the eschatological trumpet.
It is important to keep in mind the fact that at the time when the New Testament writers were writing, it was the Old Testament which served as the primary scriptures used by the church. When a New Testament writers used a specific term, the reader would assume that a connection existed with the term as used in the Old Testament. Therefore, the Old Testament trumpets form the backdrop for that term when it is used in the New Testament. Furthermore, many New Testament believers were familiar with the teachings of Jesus. Many people were still alive who had heard Jesus teach. Many of these men would surely have the opportunity to teach and preach in the early churches and would use these recollections in their preaching. Therefore, the congregations would be familiar with terms used by the Lord in His teaching. Consequently, when Paul speaks of a trumpet at the rapture, the first century reader would naturally assume that he spoke of the same trumpet mentioned in the Old Testament and described by Jesus in the Olivet discourse. Therefore, it would be strange that Paul would not make a distinction if these were indeed different trumpets.
Paul says: "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.) Notice that Paul does not qualify this trumpet. Rather, he is referring to a definite, known trumpet, the trumpet which marks the end, the eschatological trumpet. One with which the readers were familiar. Since the Apocalypse had not yet been written, he is not referring directly to the seventh trumpet of Revelation but to the trumpet mentioned in the Old Testament passages above and by the Lord in His preaching. Some point out that Paul was revealing a mystery, something not before revealed. However, the mystery is clearly stated, it is the fact that living people would also be "resurrected," so to speak; they would be "changed." Otherwise, one would assume that at the resurrection the dead in Christ are given glorified bodies, but that the living believers would go into the millennium in their natural bodies. Paul teaches that all believers are given glorified bodies at the same time, both those who are living, as well as those who had died.
Paul also mentions a trumpet in I Thessalonians. 4:16 where he calls it the trumpet of God. This is an interesting passage (I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11) because Paul again equates the rapture with the day of the Lord.
13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive [and] remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16 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:
17 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.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
6 Therefore let us not sleep, as [do] others; but let us watch and be sober.
7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
11 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do. (I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11)
This passage has two sections. The first section deals with the relationship between the rapture, the resurrection, and the second coming. The second section, starting in chapter 5, deals with the timing of the second coming in relation to current history. Therefore, Paul first explains the events connected with the rapture as a way to comfort Christian's whose loved ones had died. He says "I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope" (4:13). His purpose is to assure them that the resurrection and the rapture occur together so "that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him" (5:10). In this first part of the passage Paul again associates the same four events: Christ's descent from heaven, the voice of an archangel, the trumpet of God, and the rapture of the church in clouds. He explains that the rapture includes the resurrection of the dead in Christ. This is very similar to the four events Christ described in Matthew.
After making this point, then, in chapter 5, he looks at the same event from a different angle. He now explains the timing and contrasts the Christian's perspective with that of "others who have no hope" (4:13). Those who hold to a pretrib rapture consider that chapter 4 deals with the rapture while chapter 5 deals with the day of the Lord. However, notice that the first of chapter 5 does not introduce a new topic, but elaborates the same topic from a different angle. He does not say "now concerning the day of the Lord," but rather, "But of the times and the seasons, brethren," (5:1). Both chapter have to do with the day of the Lord, but one focuses on the resurrection associated with the day of the Lord (which includes the simultaneous transformation of living believers), while the next chapter has to do with the timing of the day of the Lord and the effect on unbelievers.
For unbelievers the day of the Lord will be a day of destruction which comes as a thief in the night, but for believers it will be the long awaited day of deliverance and gathering with our savior. "For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief" (5:2-4). This is to be a source of comfort to believers. The same event brings destruction upon the unbelievers and glorification for believers. Furthermore, it is a day that will not catch us by surprise, because we will be aware that it is approaching.
It is important to note, that although this passage identifies the rapture with the coming of the day of the Lord, it does not define at what point in time within the seventieth week the day of the Lord falls. It can only be used to support a rapture before the seventieth week (pre-trib.) if one assumes that the day of the Lord is the whole seventieth week. However, the evidence of scripture supports the idea that the day of the Lord is the day that Jesus returns to Earth. It is more natural and literal to interpret the term ‘day' in the phrase "day of the Lord" as a literal day rather than to stretch its meaning to mean seven years and perhaps even a millennia.
The only reason to interpret the term day of the Lord as referring to the whole seventieth week is to preserve its temporal unpredictability. The passage says that they day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. However, if a person knows when the seventieth week begins, and if one assumes that the Lord returns at the exact end of the seventieth week, 2520 days after the period begins, one can determine the exact day that the Lord will return once the seventieth week begins. There are several fallacies inherent in that argument. First of all, the passage is explicit in stating that it will come as a thief in the night only for those who are asleep and drunk (5:7). In contrast to the world, believers are watching and sober (5:6) in order that that day does not "overtake you as a thief" (5:4). This suggests that they will have an approximate idea of when this will occur.
Furthermore, the point in time at which the seventieth week begins it is not necessarily clear. We will analyze this idea more carefully under the section about the doctrine of imminence, but a short discussion is appropriate at this point. Daniel says "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week:" (9:27). The term ‘many' may mean that it will be ratified gradually by many different nations. Which of those ratifications marks the beginning of the seventieth week may be hard to determine. This covenant is called "the covenant" so it appears to be a pre-existing covenant, one which has been ratified previously. This may make the starting point of the seventieth week even fuzzier. Also, I know of no passage that conclusively teaches that the Lord returns exactly at the end of the seventieth week. There may be a period of time between the end of the seventieth week and the coming of Christ. More importantly, it seems that the seventieth week flows naturally from the events leading up to it in such a way that most people are not going to be sure that it has been going on until an extinction level asteroid is discovered hurdling towards the Earth at the end of the seventieth week. That is the sign of the Son of Man. At that point everyone will know that Christ is about to return as they wait for the impact of an asteroid which will come close to causing the extinction of the whole human race. However, by that time the thief, so to speak, has broken into the house, the bullet is on its way to its target.
John reveals that the sound of the great trumpet of the end is not just the blast of one trumpet but of seven. This is similar to the blowing of seven trumpets at the fall of Jericho. The wording of the original allows overlap in the sounding of the trumpets so that they could blend into one, so to speak. Shortly before the first trumpet, at the end of the sixth seal, Christ becomes visible to those on the earth. This could refer to His descent from heaven described in I Thessalonians. 4:16. Angels are associated with blowing of the trumpets. In the parenthesis which precedes the blowing of the first trumpet there is mention of a multitude in heaven. Unlike the specific statements concerning the individuals mentioned in the fifth seal these individuals are not called souls nor are they said to have been martyred. They are simply those who came out of the great tribulation. If they are neither souls nor were martyred, then the only way they could have arrived in heaven is through a rapture. Since this passage is in a parenthetical section it does not necessarily precede the first trumpet chronologically, but is logically associated with it. Consequently, we find the same four events which were described by Paul and Christ. The only item missing are the clouds. However, in the parenthesis located after the description of the trumpets Christ is described as sitting on a cloud above the earth, ready to harvest the earth. If it was His arrival at that position which the inhabitants of the earth saw in the sixth seal, then clouds were indeed associated with that event. Therefore, we see that all the trumpets mentioned in the New Testament are associated with a manifestation of Christ, with clouds, great angels, and with a rapture. The only difference is that John describes them in much greater detail. The events associated with these passages are so similar that they should be regarded as references to the same event unless strong evidence can be furnished to the contrary.
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