Updated: Dec 19, 2020
At this point, we may ask ourselves where the rapture theory comes from, and that’s where we need to take a look at 1 Thess. 4:13-18, which is the most commonly used passage to support it, as it uses the word “rapture.” Here is the passage:
But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
The passage says how Christians will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air when He comes, and will be with Him forever. Christians are raptured from this earth to be with Christ. Now, we as Catholics agree with that, but the problem is that they think this is a description of a secret coming of Christ to preserve Christians from the tribulation. They think this description is not the same as the normal “end of the world” descriptions, for it does not speak of the tribulation nor of the end of the world. So, they think that Jesus will come again to earth later - after the tribulation. The problem with this is that rapture enthusiasts are dividing up passages which all speak of Christ coming at the end of time into different comings of Christ simply because they are spoken of in slightly different ways. 1 Thess. 4 does not speak of the tribulation nor of the wicked, however that does not mean that this is a different coming of Christ. For the passage uses the same language as any other description of Jesus’s coming at the end of the world. The common themes of a loud trumpet, resurrection from the dead, and Christ returning to earth upon the clouds with power are there. Scripture says Jesus will return to earth on a cloud – just as he left the earth – in Acts 1:9-11. Matt. 24:26–31 speaks of the trumpet and Christ on the clouds, John 5:28-29 speaks of the resurrection of the righteous and wicked, and Matt. 25:31-45 speaks of Christ coming to separate (judge) the sheep from the goats and to send them to their eternal destinations. All of these things occur once and at the end of time, and should not be broken up into separate events that occur at different times throughout history. It’s like how John’s Gospel says Jesus had a spear thrust into his side when he was on the cross, whereas the other gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke omit that detail. Were there multiple crucifixions? We should conclude that if 1 Thess. 4:13-18 is discussing something other than the typical description of Christ coming to judge the world at the end of time. We should not look at two passages of the end of the world and say that one of them describes things slightly differently, so there are two events. Misunderstanding 1 Thess. 4:13-18 is nothing new, however, as Paul points out in his second letter to the Thessalonians not to think Jesus was returning immediately. He says in 2 Thess. 2:1-12 that Jesus will not come until the tribulation occurs first,
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
As we can see, when Paul was speaking of Christ coming on the clouds in 1 Thess. 4, he was referring to His coming at the end of time after the tribulation. 1 Thess. 4 does not support a pre-tribulational rapture.