When Will the Rapture Happen?

February 14, 2024

By Scott MacGregor

In 2011, Harold Camping, an engineer-turned-Christian radio broadcaster, had predicted that Jesus would return on May 21, 2011, at 6:00 p.m. He arrived at that date through a calculation involving various number values given in the Bible. The product of his calculations was supposed to be the number of days between the crucifixion and the second coming.

So, in early 2011, Harold Camping predicted that on May 21st all believers would be raptured to heaven. Since the Rapture did not occur on May 21st, Camping claimed that Jesus did come spiritually on May 21st, though later he would admit his error and issue an apology.

The word rapture has become popular in recent times in fiction and in movies, and it is helpful to explore what the term means. Long ago, a monk named Jerome was translating the Bible from Greek to Latin. He used the Latin word rapio to describe the way Jesus returns to bring believers to heaven. It is a term that would usually be attributed to the actions of a raider. He was implying that Jesus would swoop down and grab the loot—that is, us believers—and take us back to His home—heaven. It was from this term, rapio, that the word rapture is derived.

It is helpful when hearing predictions or reading popular fiction about the Rapture to know what the Bible actually says about it and the end of the world. Following is a quick rundown, based on the Bible, on what we know with a degree of certainty regarding the timeframe for the end time and the Rapture.

The first thing we can know for sure is that we don’t know the specific date of Jesus’ return. Jesus said clearly in Matthew 24:36, “No one knows the day or [the] hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” I think we have to take that statement at face value: No one now knows the exact timing of Jesus’ return.

However, the Bible does say that there is going to be an event from which we can start to calculate when Jesus is coming back. That event is the breaking of what is mysteriously referred to as the holy covenant (or the covenant), by the banning of what is called “the sacrifice and the offering” (Daniel 9:27), and the setting up of what the Bible calls the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15).

We know a bit about this covenant from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. We know that the person we popularly refer to as the Antichrist is very involved in the signing of this covenant, and then he breaks it 1,260 days (nearly three and a half years) before Jesus’ return. When that “breaking” happens—and it seems it is a public event, since it involves the banning of public religious ceremonies—then we can, with a measure of certainty, start counting down the days until Jesus’ return.

This 1,260-day period crops up in several places in the Bible, and those references have to do with the final period of this epoch of world history, the climactic period known as the great tribulation. Sometimes the number is rendered in “sevens,” other times in months, and yet other times cryptically as “times.” One thing to note is that in John’s day a year was 360 days long and a month 30 days. So 1,260 days equals three and a half years or 42 months.

Let’s first look at some verses in the book of Revelation, authored by the apostle John. John had been exiled to the island of Patmos, and during that time he saw a lengthy vision about the future. In the vision, an angel tells John, “They [apparently an invading army] will trample the holy city for 42 months” (Revelation 11:2). The angel then says, “I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth” (Revelation 11:3).

In the next chapter, Revelation 12, we read about a beautiful woman who is being chased by a dragon. This woman is symbolic of believers, and the dragon is the devil. Revelation 12:6 says, “The woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.”

Then it goes on to say, “But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time” (Revelation 12:14).

In Revelation 13:5 we hear more about the Antichrist, who is referred to as “the beast.” “Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months.”

The book of Daniel also talks about the Antichrist’s three-and-a-half-year reign of terror: “He will defy the Most High and oppress the holy people of the Most High. He will try to change their sacred festivals and laws, and they will be placed under his control for a time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 7:25).

So, clearly it is not until after this three-and-a-half-year period that Jesus returns, as Jesus Himself stated in Matthew 24. In this chapter, Jesus answers the disciples’ question of “what will be the sign of Your coming and the end of the age” (Matthew 24:3)?

Jesus refers to the writings in the book of Daniel to respond to this question: “When you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place… then there will be great tribulation” (Matthew 24:15, 21). He explains that after this “abomination” is set up—which we know from the book of Daniel happens after the breaking of the covenant—there would follow a period of anguish, especially for the followers of God.

He then says, “Immediately after the anguish of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming [in] the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven” (Matthew 24:29–31).

Jesus was making it clear to His disciples—and us—that His return and the Rapture would not happen until after this 1,260-day period of Tribulation takes place. Notice He also makes it clear that the Rapture would be a very visible and widely noticed thing—“all the peoples of the earth” will see it.

Paul taught us more about the Rapture in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, where he wrote: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17).

So to summarize all this:

1) No one now knows the exact day or hour that Jesus will return.

2) However, it seems that the timing of His return can be calculated in the future when events leading up to it start to take place, as His return happens 1,260 days after the “holy covenant” is broken.

3) That 1,260-day period is a time when the Antichrist will be in power, a time often referred to as the great tribulation.

4) And the good news is that immediately after this, Jesus returns and all the world will see His return, and all believers will be raptured (taken up to heaven)—both those who have already died and those who are living.

So the Bible has outlined some concrete events that have to take place before the countdown to the Rapture occurs. We don’t know when Jesus will return or whether it will occur in our lifetime, so the wisest thing to do is take to heart Jesus’ counsel at the end of Matthew 24 where He says: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Matthew 24:45–46).

In other words, the best thing we can do now is to do our best to love God and others, and be faithful to His great commission to share the good news of the gospel, make disciples, and teach people to observe Jesus’ teachings (Matthew 28:19–20).

We don’t need to worry about the end of the world. In fact, Jesus said to not even worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34)! There’s so much to do here and now—and a life lived for Jesus and others is the best preparation for whatever will come tomorrow. The good news is that Jesus has promised, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Adapted from a Just1Thing podcast, a Christian character-building resource for young people.

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