For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17—NKJV)

It is quite common for Christians to confuse the Second Coming of Jesus Christ with the Rapture of His Church. One reason is that both are about the Lord and His saints. The distinction is that the rapture is only for saints identified with the church whereas the second coming events are for the saints awaiting the kingdom of Christ to be instituted in Jerusalem for His millennial rule on earth prior to the heavens and earth passing away.

As our study will explain, there are some general differences to be observed when taking a short overview of principle texts such as Matthew 5:24 & 25, 1 Corinthians 15, 2 Thessalonians 1:7–10, and Revelation 20 & 21. You will find that the second coming is for the institution of the promised Kingdom to Israel; Christ touches down on the earth and remains here administrating His kingdom; the unsaved are removed while the saved remain (as in the days of Noah); judgment is meted out to those who have not accepted Christ; and its effect will be limited to one thousand years. By contrast you will see that at the rapture the unsaved are left behind while the believers are taken away; that Jesus never touches down on the earth but catches the church age saints up into the air; that the believers are called into His presence for reward; and that the Kingdom is not mentioned in any rapture text.

To help illustrate the fine points you may want to take a quick survey of the way both kingdom and church are used in the New Testament. From my study I found that once Paul is called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles in Acts 9–13, the teaching concerning the Kingdom becomes much more general and the teaching concerning the church becomes highly specialized. Once the rapture occurs, the church is essentially relegated to a former age (Revelation 1–4) and the Kingdom once again is highly specialized allowing all the promises of God to the Israelites to be concretely and completely fulfilled (Revelation 4–22).

The rapture of the church gets its name from the Latin word used to translate the two words in our text (caught up). To be raptured is to be taken forcibly, caught, plucked up, seized, and “to be claimed for oneself eagerly.” The same Greek word is used in Philippians 2:6 where it may be translated to cling, clutch, and grasp after a thing highly prized. It is full of rich instruction to think that the self-veiling of the glory of Christ and the humbling submission which He undertook in His incarnation, relinquishing the self-directed use of His attributes (did not grasp after such a highly prized prerogative), is the way He won for us the prospect and precious hope of being prized and caught up at the rapture.

In our text the Thessalonian church was being treated to an explanation of the next event on the prophetic calendar. There will be a day when the Lord will bodily descend from heaven with a commanding shout of summons. He will be accompanied by the voice of an archangel and with a trumpet of God (like 1 Corinthians 15:52 where a marshalling call goes forth as in a call to assemble for the hearing of an important announcement or in the call for an army to break camp and march).

Quick as a wink the dead in Christ will be raised to their feet and then all those saints then living will also be raptured together with them. This great assemblage of the church age saints will rise into the air, leaving this old world behind, to meet the Lord in the clouds. Paul concludes by telling us that this glorified state is the way we will be forever before our Lord!

This grand, ambitious hope is the heritage of all who have been granted new birth through faith in the finished, redemptive work of Jesus Christ. We are living in significant days for believers. Where would you like Christ to find you at the trumpet’s call? How significant is the blessed hope of the rapture in your daily walk in this sin-blinded world? Trust and obey.