That phrase "caught up" in our English comes from the Greek word "Harpazo" which means "to seize and carry off by force, to snatch away." When the word "Harpazo" was translated into the Latin Bible, the Latin word that was used was later transliterated into the word "Rapture" and in time, the word "Rapture" became the catch-all label for the day of Resurrection to those "who are alive and remain on the Earth."
Here's the big question: WHEN???? When will that day come?
Volumes upon volumes of books have been written by countless scholars with more initials after their last name than there are letters in the alphabet, attempting to answer that very question with advanced mathematical equations and flowcharts with historical parallels and reasonings that are so difficult to follow and understand that no one can refute them, until after their proposed date has come and gone and we're all still here.
Why the question of WHEN has become such a hot topic of debate makes very little sense to me considering Jesus has saved us hours of research and homework by giving us the answer to these questions after one of his disciples asked him point blank in Matthew 24, "When will all these things take place and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the world?" Whichever disciple this was, he asked all three important questions in a single breath. 1. WHEN? What's the date on our calendar? 2. What are the signs of Jesus' coming? 3. What are the signs of the end of the world? These three questions were asked to Jesus' face at point-blank range and everything Jesus had to say in response to those questions have been recorded for us in Matthew 24. So we don't need a 3000-paged book of theories from scholars and we don't need number-crunchers with their calculators. We have Jesus Himself answering that question in one chapter, and it's elaborated elsewhere all throughout the New Testament.
The Beginning Of Sorrows:
Let's just look at the question that was asked and Jesus' immediate response to it in Matthew 24:3-12. In those 10 verses, Jesus gave his disciples a sweeping overview of history leading up to (but not including) the time of the Great Tribulation. Jesus labeled this period of history, "The Beginning Of Sorrows" and I recently wrote an article attempting to prove that we are living in those times right now. So I won't go over that again here in this article.
The Great Tribulation & The Return Of Christ:
Following those 10 verses, Jesus then expounded upon the signs of "The Great Tribulation" in Matthew 24:13-35. Jesus spoke of endurance until the end of the tribulation as the gospel is spread throughout all the earth, he mentioned the "abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" which was a reference to Daniel's prophecy recorded in Daniel 9:27. In that single verse, Daniel was given a prophecy about a 7-year period, in which the abomination that Jesus spoke of, would take place in the middle of that 7-year period. Paul elaborated upon that event in 2nd Thessalonians 2:3-9 and then the Apostle John (who was among those listening to Jesus in Matthew 24) confirmed this in his own prophetic writing in Revelation 13:14-18.
In summary, after Israel is temporarily deceived by the Antichrist, they will become the leading missionary nation which spreads the gospel to the rest of the world, during a time of world-wide apostasy under the reign of the Antichrist, for it was prophesied that a future generation in Israel would one day acknowledge their offense against their Messiah and request His return. When they do, God said "I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son."
Israel's Messiah is prophesied to return to the planet earth and fulfill all those promises at the request of a future Israel, to imprison Satan in chains and establish God's Kingdom. That is why Satan has done everything he possibly can to wipe out the Jews to stop that prophetic generation from being born. If there are no Jews on earth to request Jesus' return, then Jesus can't fulfill His promises. God also promised, that he would pour the spirit of grace upon, not just the house of David but upon THE INHABITANTS OF JERUSALEM! That is why Satan has done everything he possibly can to keep Jews out of Jerusalem so that God can't fulfill that promise.
During the time in which Israel becomes the world leading missionary nation, the Antichrist will set up a 3-dimensional, animated image of "the beast" in the middle-room of the Jerusalem Temple and demand that it (and himself) be worshiped as God. (This happened once before on a smaller scale during the Maccabean Revolt and many thought it was a fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy until Jesus brought it up again in Matthew 24, indicating that Daniel's prophecy was speaking of a much greater abomination of desolation which has yet to be fulfilled.) As soon as the Antichrist sets up his image in the Jerusalem Temple, the remaining Jews are forewarned by Jesus in Matthew 24 to then flee to the mountains. It is at that particular moment in history that the planet earth will begin to experience great tribulation that it has never known before or ever will again.
The Jews will hide in the mountains and wait for the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. It was foretold that Jesus would tread down the wicked, establish an earthly Kingdom bringing in universal peace, not only between peoples and nations but even among all the animals. This coming kingdom was promised by God to King David to be a Jewish Kingdom. As the Jews wait for all these things to come to pass, Jesus warns them in advance in Matthew 24, not to leave their hiding places because of false reports of Jesus' return, but rather to continue waiting until they see lightning flash from the east to the west and they see the sign of the Son of Man descend from the clouds in great glory with the angels swooping down to collect up all the members of the elect in hiding, gathering them together as Jesus wanted to do in Matthew 23:37 but couldn't. But NOW, Jesus does just that, thus ending the great tribulation and establishing the Messiah's Kingdom from Heaven upon the earth, ending the reign of the antichrist and putting Satan in chains.
When Will All This Happen?
After giving his disciples the signs of His return and the end of the age, he then addressed the timing of these events in Matthew 24:36-44. Notice the very first thing he says: "Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but My Father only." Let me just break that down for those of you out there who seem to wanna argue with Jesus about this. If Jesus said no one knows, then that includes you. If Jesus said that not even the angels know, then you couldn't have gotten any information from any angelic vision because Jesus said that even the angels don't know. If you think you received a personal revelation from Jesus, you would be wrong because Jesus Himself said that he doesn't know. Some scholars believe that it doesn't matter that Jesus didn't know, because they assume they have a higher knowledge now than they did back then. But from what place of authority is their research? Is their Biblical research of the same prophetic Scriptures that were available to Jesus, Peter, James, John and Paul in the first century? Jesus would never have said "of that day and hour no one knows" if the secret of that date had been embedded somewhere in the Scripture.
Some attempt to get around this by usurping the idea that Jesus is merely talking about the timing of the rapture. But Jesus hasn't even addressed the rapture yet. Some think that the angels gathering the elect in verse 31 is speaking of the rapture, but if you'll continue reading in Matthew 24, you'll find that Jesus doesn't mention the rapture until verses 40 and 41. Besides, there's nothing said about the rising of the dead in verse 31. The elect that was gathered in verse 31 were made up of the living Jews who were hiding in the mountains during the Great Tribulation. By the end of verse 35, Jesus had completed a sweeping overview of prophetic history starting with "The Beginning of Sorrows" and ending with the return of Jesus to gather the hiding Jews who fled when they saw the abomination of desolation standing in the Holy Place. So with the conclusion of verse 35, Jesus had completed the chronology of all the signs of His return and the end of the age.
With verse 36 and onward, he's turned his attention away from chronology, and specifically answers the question of the timing and says, "Of that day and hour no one knows, not the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but my Father only. But just as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and they did not know or understand until the flood came and swept them all away — so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming."
With those last statements, Jesus again reminds them that the timing of these events cannot be known in advance, but then he added something new to the chronology of events. He mentioned a sudden disappearance of individuals while going about the activities of their daily lives. They aren't hiding in the mountains waiting for lightning to flash from the east to the west or for the angels to gather them up while the Antichrist is searching for them or while the earth is being subdued under the full weight of God's wrath. These individuals in verses 40 and 41 are living on a pre-tribulational earth going about their daily lives. And then in verse 42, Jesus said, "Watch therefore: for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the watchmen of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him." Jesus said this again later in Luke 12:35-40 stressing upon the urgency of continual watchfulness, "for the Son of Man is coming at an hour and a moment when we do not anticipate it."
I do believe that Jesus has made it perfectly clear at this point that it is impossible to know WHEN all these things will take place. He gave us a list of signs to be watchful for and he's given us a basic chronology of events that are confirmed and reconfirmed elsewhere in Scripture such as Paul's description of the rapture in 1st Thessalonians 4:16-17. But then immediately afterward in 1st Thessalonians 5:1-11, Paul says, "But of the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need for anything being written to you. For you know perfectly well that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction will come upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape."
How does a thief come in the night? He comes unannounced. The thief doesn't call ahead and tell the people of the house what hour he's coming, or what night he's planning to come. Jesus told us that He is returning in the same way. Jesus is coming specifically at a date that we don't know, that we couldn't possibly know. He's made sure of it. God has not given us, or even hinted at or hidden in code, anything whatsoever about the timing of the rapture, the tribulation, or the end of the world. Nothing! Put down your calculators, put down your number-crunchers, quit counting years and writing things down on your calendar. Jesus left us NOTHING TO GO ON pertaining to the date of His coming.
Notice something else about Paul's words in 1st Thessalonians 5, he says "...the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. For when THEY shall say, 'peace and safety'; then sudden destruction will come upon THEM, as travail upon a woman with child and THEY shall not escape. But YOU, brothers, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake YOU as a thief. YOU are all the children of light, and the children of the day! Let US watch and be sober for God has not appointed US to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ."
In other words, Christians will not go through the Great Tribulation. They were saved from God's wrath when Jesus hung on the cross. After the rapture of the church, it will be Israel's time to shine, not the church. Israel will fulfill all her prophetic destiny and once again represent the God of the universe to the pagan earth in the most dramatic sci-fi epic of all time.
But we can't date the rapture, the tribulation, or when any of these things will take place. All we have been given are signs to be watchful for. We don't watch for the signs of a thief with a clock or a calendar, we do it sitting watchfully by our windows, looking for the signs of a thief. No thief announces his coming, but everyone knows what the signs are and watches for them. Likewise with the coming of our Lord. We have no dates, but we have a Bible full of signs for us to study and learn and be watchful for.
Luke 12:35-40... "Keep your loins girded and your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to return home from the marriage feast, so that when he returns from the wedding and comes and knocks, they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake and alert and watching when he comes. Truly I say to you, he will gird himself and have them recline at table and will come and serve them! If he comes in the second watch (before midnight) or the third watch (after midnight), and finds them so, blessed are those servants! But of this be assured: if the householder had known at what time the burglar was coming, he would have been awake and alert and watching and would not have permitted his house to be dug through and broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour and a moment when you do not anticipate it."