The secret rapture—usually just called the rapture of the church—is the idea that Christ will come to take believers out of the world before His return with them at the second coming. The secret rapture is “secret” in that no one will see Jesus coming except believers; this is in contrast to the second coming of Christ after the tribulation, when “every eye will see him” (Revelation 1:7). There is considerable disagreement among Christians regarding the timing of the secret rapture. Some believe in the pre-tribulation rapture, which occurs before the beginning of the seven-year tribulation. Others hold to a mid-tribulation rapture, and still others to a post-tribulation timing.
Secret rapture is a term frequently used as a pejorative by those who deny the idea that the rapture of the church is separate from the second coming of Christ. Those who believe the rapture and the second coming are one and the same event often use the term secret rapture in derision and refer to those who believe in the rapture as “rapturists.”
“One-coming believers” who deny the rapture put themselves in conflict with the Bible and biblical scholarship, as well as the majority of the evangelical world. Among the arguments they pose are that the word rapture doesn’t appear in the Bible. While it is true that the English word rapture doesn’t appear, the concept of the rapture of the church is certainly present.
First Thessalonians 4:16–17 (the definitive passage on the rapture of the church) says that the Lord will descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive and remain will be “caught up.” The word rapture is derived from rapio (“to catch up or snatch away”), a form of which is found in the Latin Vulgate Bible. To say the rapture won’t happen because the word isn’t found in Scripture is a specious argument. The phrase second coming isn’t found in the Bible, either, but the reality of it certainly is.
Whatever we believe about the existence and/or timing of the rapture, there are two realities all Christians must keep in mind. First, no difference of opinion among Christians justifies unkindness or hostility toward those who hold different views. Jesus commands us to love one another, just as He loved us. He also said that by our love for one another all people would know that we are His disciples (John 13:34–35). Wrangling and name-calling over issues such as the timing of the rapture does not exhibit Christ’s love.
Second, the most important aspect of eschatology is not a secret rapture but the absolute certainty of the return of Jesus Christ to the world in the last days (Acts 1:11; Revelation 19:11–16). The timing of that event doesn’t alter the fact that those who belong to Him will enjoy eternal life and those who do not will experience everlasting condemnation (John 3:18). Faith in Christ as the only Savior from sin will distinguish the saved from the unsaved, regardless of our views on the rapture.