What Do the Scriptures Say?
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 describes the raising of the saints at Christ’s second presence. Note the sequence of time between the resurrection of the “dead in Christ” and the living saints being “caught up.”
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven…and the
dead in Christ
shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them…to meet the Lord…
This scripture states that Christ first resurrects the saints who are “dead,” having fallen asleep in death since his first advent. “Then” (afterwards, Greek
epeita, “thereafter”) the living saints are “caught up” to meet the Lord. The contrast of “first” and “then” denotes a difference of time. Paul doesn’t tell us here how long the time difference is, but other scriptures do. Note another important point. Evidently the phrase “caught up together with them”
does not denote the time, but rather the place of their being together. In 1 Thessalonians 5:10, the same Greek word
hama is again translated “together” and clearly denotes
place. “That whether we wake or sleep, we should live
together with him.” Thus, nothing in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 indicates that the “dead in Christ” and the living church are taken at the same time.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 also describes the two parts of the resurrection of the saints. “We shall not all
sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at [during] the last trump.” The word “at” is a poor translation. Rotherham correctly translates it “during.”
The phrase “the last trump” implies previous trumpets. The only other trumpets in the New Testament are a series of seven trumpets found in Revelation. Some mistakenly believe that the trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:51 sounds during a “secret rapture” to be followed by a “seven-year tribulation” during which, among other events, the seven trumpets of Revelation literally sound. However, since the trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:51 is called the last trumpet, it corresponds with the last of the seven trumpets of Revelation. This would mean the previous six trumpets have already sounded. Evidently, the sounding of these six trumpets is not literal, since such a literal sounding would have aroused worldwide attention. We can reasonably conclude that the six trumpets are symbolic. And if the first six are symbolic, then the seventh trumpet is also symbolic. scriptural proof that the symbolic meaning of the trumpets is a proclamation of truth will be dealt with at a later point. It is during this period of the sounding of the last trump that the resurrection of the church will occur.
The “day of the Lord” is also the “day of the trumpet.” (Zephaniah 1:15-16) This symbolic trumpet, proclamation of truth, sounds during the whole “day of the Lord.”
“We Shall Not All Sleep,
But We Shall All Be Changed”
Some will have slept in death before their resurrection at Christ’s return. However, Christians living during Christ’s presence will be changed in the twinkling of an eye without sleeping in death. Will all the living be changed at the same time, or will each be raised to immortality at the instant of their dying?
Revelation 14:13 gives the answer: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth:…that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”
All the saints, even those living today, are, in this text, considered “dead.”
“Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3) These “dead” do die. A point of time is indicated by the word “henceforth.” The point of time is Christ’s return. Preceding verses describe events during Christ’s presence. Then Revelation 14:13 speaks of something that happens from “henceforth,” that is, from the return of Christ onward. “Henceforth” refers to a period of time that follows, not a moment that follows. “Blessed are the saints” who die from that point on because, though they “rest from their labours” in the flesh, they will not have to wait in the sleep of death. Their “works” follow immediately with them as they are raised to meet the Lord. These scriptures teach the resurrection of the sleeping saints at his return—then, an individual resurrection of the remaining living saints occurs over a period of time as each dies and is changed “in the twinkling of an eye.”
The Problem of a Partial Quotation
A set of verses in our Lord’s Great Prophecy is frequently used to prove the instantaneous gathering of the living saints to Christ in the air. However, they have nothing to do with the living saints being taken to heaven.
Luke 17:34-36 — “I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” 
This is an example of the danger of a partial quotation. Upon the basis of this limited citation, it might be reasoned that the ones that are taken are caught up to heaven, but verse 37 rules out this possibility:
Vs. 37 — “And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles [Greek, eagles or vultures] be gathered together.”
The curiosity of the disciples was aroused by Jesus’ statement that two people would be in various situations and one would be taken. The disciples specifically asked where “the one” would be taken. Notice that Jesus did not say they would be caught up together with him at his return. His answer is “wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.” Some feel the body here referred to is the body of Jesus. However, Matthew 24:28 specifies that the body to which the eagles are gathered is a dead body or carcass.
The lesson of the eagle in Job 39:30 corroborates this usage of a slain body. Further, if the body is referring to the literal body of Jesus, then eagles must also be literal and this would render the passage meaningless. Both the body and the eagles are symbolic. Jesus evidently based his lesson on two characteristics of eagles found in Job 39:27-30: the eagle’s ability to see her prey (food) afar off; and her willingness to travel a great distance to secure this food—where the body (food) is, there the eagles will be. The Scriptures compare faithful Christians to eagles in this respect. They have the ability to see or discern spiritual food afar off, and they will travel great distances to secure it.
A Rich Feast
The lesson of Luke 17:34-36 is beautiful. Remember, Luke 17 and Matthew 24 are accounts of our Lord’s Great Prophecy in which he gave signs of his
parousia, presence. The living church cannot be caught up at the moment of Christ’s return, for they will be here on earth discerning the signs of Christ’s presence. But their relationship to the returned Lord is blessed and unique.
Chapters two and three of Revelation describe seven churches. Many Bible-believing Christians hold the concept that these represent seven stages of the church down through the Christian Age.
 To the Philadelphia or sixth stage, the Lord said, “Behold, I come quickly.” (Revelation 3:11) But, to the Laodicean, or seventh stage of the church, the Lord says, “I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20
At the close of the sixth stage of the church’s history, the Lord is imminently coming (“Behold, I come quickly”). But the Lord is actually here during the seventh or Laodicean stage of the church. If someone is knocking at our door, he is no longer coming — he is present. We might refuse to hear the knock, or we might refuse to open the door, but this does not disannul the fact that he has arrived.
So it is with the returned Lord. The fulfilled signs of our Lord’s Great Prophecy prove that we are in the Laodicean or seventh stage of church history, the period during which the Lord is present and some of the church remain here on earth. We might refuse to hear his knock. We might refuse to understand the truth of his presence, or even refuse to open the door of our hearts to the returned Lord. Nevertheless, he is present whether we accept it or not.
To those who do accept it, there is a great spiritual feast. They sup together with their returned Lord. This feast of truth that is to be the blessed portion of the church on earth when the Lord returns is also discussed in Luke 12:37-40:
Luke 12:37-40 — “Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.”
The faithful church will be watching for the Lord’s return. When he returns, they will recognize it, and he will serve them with a special feast of truth. This feast is not in heaven—it is
 enjoyed by watchful servants on earth. These verses depict the blessed conditions of faithful Christians who remain on earth for a period of time after our Lord returns. “Feasting” is one aspect of the two-fold lesson of the eagles. When the Lord returns, the eagle class, faithful Christians, will be gathered to this rich spiritual feast. The second lesson is that the eagle can see food afar off and will travel great distances to secure it. Revelation 18:1-5 explains what is involved in this traveling.
— “And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.”
Many believe the mighty angel of verse one is our returned Lord. The Greek word
aggelos, here translated “angel,” means “messenger.” Revelation 20:1-3 also used the word “angel” or “messenger” when referring to the returned Christ coming down from heaven and binding Satan. Malachi 3:1-3, a parallel passage to Revelation 18:1-5, speaks of our returned Lord as the “messenger of the covenant.”
Our returned Lord, the mighty angel of Revelation 18:1, enlightens the earth with his glory. (Other scriptures show a great enlightenment of truth along every line—scientific, humanitarian, philosophical, religious, etc., which causes the earth to tremble. Psalms 97:1, 4)
Revelation 18:2-4 reveals that the returned Lord has a message against Babylon. Most agree that Babylon is a false Christian system. Revelation 17:5 indicts both a mother system
 of Babylon and daughter systems. Therefore, Babylon represents a number of false Christian systems. Note the difference between the fall of Babylon in Revelation 18:2-4 before her plagues come, and the destruction of Babylon in Revelation 18:8 when the plagues come. Therefore, the Lord is present for a period of time before the destruction of Babylon.
Throughout the age, before his return, the Lord tried to “heal” Babylon (Jer. 51:9), but she refused to be “healed.” At his return, he casts her off from favor. Revelation 18:2-4 refers to Babylon’s fall from divine favor. Then in Revelation 18:4, our returned Lord has a message for all true Christians in Babylon: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”
Note again the lesson of the eagle. The returned Lord has promised a great spiritual feast of truth, yet most Christians are in Babylon when he returns. Just as the eagle can see food far away and travels a great distance to secure it, so faithful Christians will discern the lack of spiritual food in Babylon and will leave. They must flee Babylon (Jeremiah 51:6) in order to enjoy the spiritual feast from the returned Lord.
The confirmation of applying Revelation 18:1-5 to the beginning period of Christ’s presence, during which the living saints are gradually caught up to the Lord, is found in Revelation 14. The time element and message of Revelation 14:8 is exactly the same as Revelation 18:2.
Revelation 14:8 — “And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”
It is during the period of this proclamation of the fall of Babylon from favor that we are given our “henceforth” period of Revelation 14:13, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from
henceforth.” We have already seen that Revelation 14:13 proves the individual resurrection of the living church over a period of time. The synchronizing of the time element of Revelation 18:1-5 and Revelation 14 is further proof that when our Lord returns there is a gradual resurrection of the living church, not an instantaneous gathering to Christ.
The lesson of Luke 17:34-37 is important to all Christians now living during our Lord’s presence. The
eagles of verse 37 are symbolic of faithful Christians. The
bed, mill and field of verses 34 through 36 are also symbolic. They represent
different spiritual conditions in the nominal churches. The ones in the mill, the field, and the bed who are taken represent faithful Christians.
When the Lord returns, He will call His people out of Babylon. He will attract them as eagles are attracted by food for which they have a keenness of vision and appetite. The watching and worthy are taken; that is, they leave Babylon. The others are left to experience the plagues that destroy Babylon. The food of “present truth” now provided by our present Lord is having its intended effect of gathering his saints to it. It is not the gathering by one man or many men unto themselves or into a new denomination, but a gathering unto a spiritual feast of prophetic truth provided by the returned Lord.
A Further Proof
A further proof that the one in the bed, the one in the mill and the one in the field (Luke 17:34-36) do not picture the living church caught up to heaven is found in Luke 17:30-33.
Luke 17:30-33 — “Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.”
If, as some feel, the living Christians are “raptured” instantaneously, then those who are taken have no time to make a choice or do anything else. This is contrary to verses 30 to 33. When the Son of man is revealed, the one in the field has the choice of turning back and the one upon the housetop can decide to go down into the house to take his belongings. These verses harmonize with Luke 17:34-37 where, like the eagles, the one in the bed, the mill, and the field are gathered to a spiritual feast of prophetic
 truth to strengthen them in the troublous experiences of “that day” of Luke 21:34-36.
When the Lord returns and calls his people out of Babylon (the nominal churches), those on the housetops (Christians with a higher degree of spirituality) should leave immediately without taking any Babylonish encumbrances with them. Even when the flight from Babylon has begun, none should turn back as did Lot’s wife, verse 32.
Luke 17:33 further confirms that these verses refer to a condition of separation here on earth. Notice it is after one is taken that he still has the choice to turn back. After the gathering begins, his course of action will determine whether he loses or saves his life.
From the foregoing scriptures discussed in this chapter, it becomes evident that the instantaneous change and resurrection of both the living and dead in Christ at the moment of his return is not a scriptural concept. 1 Corinthians 15:50-51 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 reveal that all faithful Christians who died before the Second Advent will be raised to be together with their Lord at his return. From that time onward, “henceforth,” Revelation 14:13 reveals that members of the living church on earth will be caught up individually to their returned Lord as they complete their course on earth. Many scriptures show that the returned Lord will reveal himself in a very special way to faithful Christians on earth and provide a rich feast of spiritual truth.