Bible Studies/rapture

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Question
What does the Bible say about what happens
after the rapture to the person who was raptured?

Is there any judgment after the rapture?

Thanks for your help.

Answer
Dear Jennifer,

This is an excellent question and not an easy one to answer. I've taken a good little while to think it through.

The concept of the rapture—that faithful believers in Jesus will be caught up in the clouds with the resurrected faithful to meet him in the air when he comes in glory (1 Thess. 4:16-18) doesn’t seem to link in any clear and explicit way with Paul’s statement that “we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10) and Jesus’ statement that “the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Mt. 16:27). Indeed, many places in the NT affirm that Jesus, when he comes in glory, will be the judge of all humanity: of the living and the dead (Mt. 25:31-46; Acts 10:42; 17:31; 1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1, 8; 1 Pet. 4:5; Rev. 11:18; 22:12).

So the question arises:

If the rapture is before the judgment of the living and the dead, isn’t that incongruous, because being raptured seems to indicate that God has already found in your favor, so that you are chosen to be part of Jesus’ welcoming party? On the other hand, if the rapture comes after the judgment, wouldn’t that imply that the judgment of the living and the dead happens concurrent with the last few moments of history (the flow of life and events in human mortal life on earth), rather than (as usually conceived in the Christian imagination) as a review of history after history has been brought to an end?

In my view, the solution to this paradox lies in understanding that Paul in 1 Thess. 4:16-18 (“this we say to you by the word of the Lord,” v. 15) is referencing the words of Jesus in Mt.24:30-31:

Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

In turn, Jesus himself in Mt.24:30-31 is referencing the vision of Daniel 7:9-14:

9 “As I looked,
thrones were placed,
   and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
   and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
   its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
   and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
   and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
   and the books were opened.

13 “I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
   there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
   and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
   and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
   should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
   which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
   that shall not be destroyed.*

What we get from the Daniel 7 vision as a whole (7:1-28) is the concept that the judgment of all humanity—at least all the living—does indeed function to bring history to a close, rather than taking place after history has been brought to an end. Concerning the last emperor of the last great and evil empire of the world, symbolized by a prominent horn on the head of the fourth beast (cf. Dan. 7:1-8, 11, 19-24), Daniel writes this:

25 He shall speak words against the Most High,
and shall wear out the saints of the Most High,
and shall think to change the times and the law;
and they shall be given into his hand
for a time, times, and half a time.
26 But the court shall sit in judgment,
and his dominion shall be taken away,
to be consumed and destroyed to the end.
27 And the kingdom and the dominion
and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;
his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey him.

Verse 26 above explains that the destruction of the last great empire of this world-age will occur as a consequence of the judgment (i.e. trial) pictured. The trial, which will consider all the evidence in “the books” (Dan. 7:10), representing records of everything ever done by every created being, will result in a divine verdict of “guilty” against the fourth beast, and a sentence of fiery destruction will be passed upon it and then executed. In contrast, the divine verdict of vindication will be pronounced in relation to the “saints of the Most High,” the living members of which group the fourth beast had nearly succeeded in wiping out (Dan. 7:21-22, 25; cf. Mt. 24:22; Mk 13:20). The Court will decree that they be given the kingdom "for the age, and for the ages of the ages” (Dan. 7:18).  This great trial or judgment event thus effectively decrees the closure of this evil world-age of human history and the inauguration of a world-age ruled by the saints—followed by an endless succession of such ages (Dan. 7:18; cf. Rev. 20:4-5; 22:1-5).

Jesus, in another teaching, links the Daniel 7 vision to the promise of resurrection to life in Dan. 12:1-3, implicitly affirming that the same trial/judgment that will rule in favor of the living “saints” will also make a determination as to who among the dead of all time are “those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead” (Lk. 20:35).
 
I think that it is reasonable to assume (1) that Paul was aware of the visions and teachings of Daniel 7 and 12 and the Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24; Mk 13),** and (2) that Paul understood the teaching of Jesus about the Son of Man “sending forth his angels to gather his elect from the four winds” (Mt. 24:31; Mk 13:27) as having its basis in (or at least being entirely congruent with) the vision of Daniel 7:13-14. If both of these assumptions are correct, then the following answer can be given as to what happens next for those “caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:16-18):

After joining him and their resurrected fellow faithful ones in the air, they will come down to reign with him for the age, and for all subsequent ages, on the earth (Dan. 7:14, 18, 27; Rev. 5:10; 22:1-5).
If you are a participant in the rapture, no judgment lies ahead of you; the fact that you are chosen to be caught up to greet the Lord Jesus on his glorious return shows that you have been tried and vindicated in the great courtroom scene of Daniel 7.


*All Scripture citations in this answer, unless otherwise noted, are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

**For detailed evidence of Paul's awareness of the teaching of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24 || Mk 13), see my essay, "Are Matthew 24 and 1 and 2 Thessalonians Talking about the Same Thing?"  

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J. Webb Mealy

Expertise

Qualified to answer questions about the New Testament, including ones that require expert knowledge of Greek, New Testament History, and New Testament Theology. Particular area of expertise is New Testament eschatology (teachings on the end of the world), the Book of Revelation, and the Gospel and epistles of John. Questions about English translations--how they are arrived at, whether they are accurate, and whether there are alternative possibilities. Textual criticism.

Experience

Have taught the Bible and New Testament to lay people for 20 years. Translator of the Spoken English New Testament (www.sentpress.com), author of After the Thousand Years: Resurrection and Judgment in Revelation 20 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992). Senior Biblical Studies Editor, Sheffield Academic Press, 1990-1995.

Organizations
Instructor, Seminary of the Street, Oakland, CA

Publications
See my online publication, www.simplegospel.net, which gives an easy-to-understand but thorough introduction to the Christian Good News. See www.sentpress.com, home of the Spoken English New Testament, the most accurate available translation of the New Testament into natural contemporary English.

Education/Credentials
PhD, Biblical Studies, Sheffield, UK MA (Honors), Humanities, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY BA (Cum Laude), Religious Studies/New Testament, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA

Awards and Honors
Research Paper, "Tracing the Rise of Modalism in Rome," named best graduate paper of the year, Western Kentucky University, 1981

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