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The Last Trump

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The apostle Paul explains the Rapture of the Church in two places in the New Testament, and in both places a trumpet is mentioned. This trumpet is often thought to be identical with the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11. If this were the case, however, the Church would still be on earth at the time of the judgment of God. Is this true?



Regarding the last trump, there are many theories. Is it the seventh and last trumpet in Revelation 11? Or did Paul mean something else?

The apostle Paul explains the Rapture of the Church in two places in the New Testament, and in both places a trumpet is mentioned (1 Corinthians 15:51-53 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). This trumpet is often thought to be identical with the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11. If this were the case, however, the Church would still be on earth at the time of the judgment of God. Is this true? To find an answer to this, we should consider the historical environment in which the people were living, to whom the apostle addressed his letter. We will soon see that Paul had the military scene in view and connected the Rapture with this.

1. The military scene. Paul wrote to the Gentile Christians in two Roman provinces (Thessalonica in Macedonia and Corinth in Achaia), not in the first place to Jews (Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, Romans 11:13 and 2 Timothy 1:11). We must also take into consideration that Paul wrote his letters to mainly Gentile Christian churches, which were strongly permeated by Romans and were influenced by Rome. The Roman culture, as well as the Roman military scene, was very familiar to them; it was part of their daily lives, so to speak. It is said of Corinth, for instance, that many retired Roman soldiers resided there:

The Roman soldiers received citizenship after the end of their time of service and were given land in a newly-founded city so that they could settle there. Such colonies existed in all the regions of the Roman world empire, and soldiers whose service was over, who had won this citizenship through faithful service, formed the backbone of this city.1

Paul wrote in his words on the Rapture of a trumpet which would sound, without any further explanation. Why was the explanation lacking? Perhaps because it was not necessary? He knows of the Roman background that the inhabitants of Corinth and the Thessalonians were quite familiar with. They knew the customs of the Roman army full well, as many veterans lived among them, and they were continually surrounded by the Roman troops. The book of Revelation had not yet been written. The sound of the trumpet must have been something, therefore, that the Gentile Christians were quite familiar with. 

When the Lord comes, the trumpet will sound. The trumpet was an important signal instrument in the Roman army, and was used daily to issue commands. The Greek historian and writer Polybius describes among other things under the Roman military system:

The following is their manner of breaking up camp. Immediately upon the signal being given they take down the tents and everyone packs up. No tent, however, may be either taken down or set up before those of the tribunes and consul. On the second signal they load the pack animals, and on the third the leaders of the column must advance and set the whole camp in movement.2

With the background of this description, it is interesting to note that in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 it says, “…and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds.”

The third signal was the last. Is it not possible that the apostle built his message about the Rapture on this background knowledge that the recipients of the letter were familiar with?

2. The order. When the apostle speaks of the resurrection and Rapture in the first letter to the Corinthians, he speaks of these in direct connection with a definite order: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:22-24).

Literally, the word for “order” here means “rank” or “turn.” Again, Paul had taken this from the military terminology, as it was a common military expression.3 Everyone who has served in the armed forces knows, for instance,the command: “Company halt!” If Paul uses military terms in his chapter on the resurrection, i.e. the Rapture, then we can also see the last trump in this connection (verse 52), which clearly fits this context. 

3. A command.
In the chapter of the first letter to the Thessalonians on the Rapture, Paul writes of a command: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, NIV). This term also comes from the military vocabulary.

4. The voice of the archangel. “…With the voice of the archangel” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). This statement also can be compared with the military terms of that time, as we will see in the next point.

5. The trump or trumpet.
“…And with the trump of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Surely, it is not by chance that Paul speaks here of a command that is directly connected with the voice of the archangel and the sound of the trumpet. Here, the commanding term is used, which was normal in the Roman army:

1. the command of the government.

2. the command of an officer.

3. the sound of the trumpet for the issue of the command to the army, whereby the third trumpet signalized the departure.

Something else occurs to us in this connection, however, namely:

6. The military equipment. After writing about the Rapture, and explaining that the Church does not belong to the night of the day of the Lord, the apostle mentions the following: “But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do” (1 Thessalonians 5:8-11). The words “breastplate” and “helmet” also belonged to the terminology of the Roman army, namely the equipment.

7. The army tent. It is not without significance either that the taking down of the tents, which also comes from the military scene, is explicitly used for the Rapture when Paul says, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle (NIV: tent) were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5). 

At that time, people no longer lived in tents, but only the soldiers. Paul compares the body to a tent (a military tent?), and he would rather be clothed upon, that is, raptured, than unclothed, which means to die. This is the desire of every Christian, and if Paul had this longing already then, how much more should we have it today?

If the apostle had the military trumpet before his eyes when he explained the Rapture, then he probably meant the third trumpet. And if he meant this, then the seven trumpets of Revelation 8-11 are other trumpets.

(MR1111/477)




ENDNOTES

1 Auslegung des NT, p. 11

2 Polybius, History VI, 40 

3 Note 6 concerning 1 Corinthians 15:22, Elberfelder Bibel

 
Norbert Lieth

Norbert Lieth has amassed valuable experience at several missionary assignments in South America, after graduating from Bible college in Uruguay. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of Midnight Call Ministries, which has its international headquarters in Switzerland. 

A central theme in his worldwide ministry is the biblical prophecy found in Scripture, from which the imminent return of Jesus shines forth. He has written numerous books, of which several have been translated into other languages.

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