What happens to the physical body in the rapture and when do we receive our new heavenly bodies?
Paul discusses what will happen to us during the rapture in a couple of different places. First, if we look at Paul’s teaching on the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the Thessalonians wrote a letter to Paul because they thought they had missed the second coming of Christ.
So he wrote 1 Thessalonians in part to explain to them that they had not missed it. Along with the second coming of Christ is the rapture, the “catching up” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) of the Saints to be with the Lord. “Rapture” is the Latin word for “catching up.”
He writes to straighten the Thessalonians out on the procedure for the rapture. First, Jesus will descend from the clouds (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Everyone will notice because it will be a very loud reunion with the church.
The dead in Christ will rise first with him (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Finally, we who are alive in Christ will then be “caught up” in the air with those who were dead in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:17). We will be with the Lord forever.
But the key to connecting the passage about the rapture with the passage about resurrection is that both mention the sound of the trumpet (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:52). Paul discusses resurrection and the mystery of how we will be changed.
First, he lays out the principle that the bodies must be changed because the perishable cannot take on the imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:50). He introduces the mystery that we won’t all die (“sleep” is a New Testament euphemism for death for Christians) but we will all be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51).
He talks about being changed, a transformation, that happens in the air “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). We know he was referring to the same event because of all of the parts that match with one another.
He says the trumpet will sound and then mentions the same procedure. First the dead in Christ rise and then those who are living (1 Corinthians 15:52). He says that the dead will be changed to imperishable and so will we.
So this is a transformation that occurs in the air for both the saints who have already died in Christ and then we who are living. It happens at the sound of a trumpet that will alert the world to the return of Christ. No one will miss this event. What people will not know is where we went because it happens so fast.
What will the transformation from the perishable to the imperishable look like? Nobody truly knows, even Paul. That’s why he calls it a mystery. He describes the change as an agricultural one where the seed we plan is not the end result of the growing plant (1 Corinthians 15:36-38).
Our bodies will be transformed by Christ in the blink of an eye in the air as we meet with him. It will be an incredible experience that I look forward to. No one knows what kind of abilities we will have in these new bodies. If the things that Jesus was able to do after his resurrection are any hint, it’s going to be fun to discover their abilities.