I recently posted some thoughts on why I believe the rapture of the church will occur before the tribulation (click here). I know there are a lot of debates out there about the phrase “the last trump” of 1 Corinthians 15:51 which states, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” I thought I’d just add in my two cents.
This “last trump” is sometimes confused with the last of the seven trumpets of Revelation (Rev 8:2) and some conclude based on this assumption that the rapture of the church will occur in the middle of the tribulation. But this is very unlikely since Paul wrote of “the last trump” some thirty years before the details of the Revelation (and the seven trumpets) were given. In other words, not even the apostle, Paul, knew about the seven trumpets of Revelation when he wrote 1 Corinthians. So if “the last trump” is an allusion to anything at all, it must be to something else. And I believe it is.
The book of 1 Corinthians is actually full of references to the Feasts of Jehovah. These seven feasts are described in a few places in the Old Testament. See Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16 for some very clear descriptions. In order, they are: the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Pentecost (AKA Feast of Weeks), the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles (AKA, Feast of Ingathering).
Here is a list of some of the references to these Old Testament feasts within the book of 1 Corinthians.
- The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
- The Feast of Firstfruits is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. … But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” It is also referred to in 1 Corinthians 16:15 in a more incidental way, “… ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, …”
- The Feast of Pentecost (or Feast of Weeks) is mentioned explicitly in 1 Corinthians 16:8, “But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.” It is also alluded to implicitly in 1 Corinthians 16:2, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, …” Compare this to Deuteronomy 16:10, “And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee:”
- The Feast of Trumpets is what Paul is referring to when he speaks of “the last trump” in 1 Corinthians 15:51, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
- The Day of Atonement was the most solemn day in the Jewish Calendar. To the believer, the Lord’s Supper is the most solemn time. Although in many ways the Passover is reflected in the Lord’s Supper, the Day of Atonement is also reflected just as much. Compare Leviticus 23:29, for example, with 1 Corinthians 11:29-30. In a later post, if the Lord permits, I hope to explore this further.
- The Feast of Tabernacles is alluded to in 1 Corinthians 3:16 to the assembly, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”, to the individual believer in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, …,” and the final fulfillment of this “Feast of Tabernacles” is referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:24 (compare to Revelation 21, especially verse 3).
Features of the Feast of Trumpets:
Now to focus on the Feast of Trumpets which Paul is referring to when he speaks of “the last trump.”
- For some Old Testament references to the Feast of Trumpets see Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1, Numbers 10:10, and Psalm 81:3. The trumpet would be blown on the first day of every month and at least according to tradition, a long blast would be blown on the first day of the seventh month to signal the Feast of Trumpets.
- The Feast of Trumpets is the only feast that begins on the 1st of the month. The exact day was, therefore, uncertain until it happened. The Israelites had a calendar based on the cycle of the moon (a lunar calendar). The first observation of the crescent of the new moon would signal the start of the next month. They could only predict this to within a couple of days so they would have to wait and observe the evening sky when the time approached in order to know exactly when the feast was to begin. This is also why the day for the Israelite was sundown to sundown rather than what we have (midnight to midnight). Therefore note there was uncertainty associated with when the Feast of Trumpets would be. Just as we wait for the Lord Jesus and know not “the hour or the day.” We know the day of the rapture is coming; we await the imminent return of our Lord to receive us in the air. But we don’t know exactly when that day will be.
- Other than the blowing of the trumpets there appears to be little instruction beyond this for Israel to do on the day of this feast. It would be a Sabbath day and they would offer a burnt offering (Lev 23:24-25) and that’s all. It appears to be mainly a signal that the 7th month has begun (a very important month in the Jewish calendar). Likewise the church simply waits for it and will have nothing special to do on that day (other than see the Lord Jesus who is the fulfillment of all burnt offerings). It is out of our control and we simply wait for it to happen. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: 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, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Importance of the Feast of Trumpets to Israel
For the church “the last trump” is the signal of our home-coming. For Israel it is a signal that the day of Atonement is at hand (which happened 10 days after the Feast of Trumpets) where Israel must “afflict” its soul (see Leviticus 23:26-32). Prophetically speaking the Day of Atonement illustrates the seven-year tribulation period where the world and Israel will be tried. By the end of those days, two thirds of Israel will be lost and all those who remain of Israel will be saved (Zechariah 13:8-9, Romans 11:26).
Below are two verses that are sometimes confused with “the last trump” mentioned in 1 Corinthians. When these verses are confused with “last trump” people conclude the rapture of the church will happen at the end of the tribulation because the context of these verses are clearly in that time frame.
Isaiah 27:12-13: And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem.
Matthew 24:30-31: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
But the trumpets mentioned in these verses are not an allusion to the Feast of Trumpets at all. They are an allusion to the trumpet mentioned in Leviticus 25:8-10, which is connected with the Day of Atonement in the year of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee was a very special year in Israel where all property returned to its original owner, as the context of these verses from Isaiah and Matthew seem to depict.
Leviticus 25:8-10: And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.
Finally, in Matthew 24:36, where the Lord Jesus says, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man,” some have claimed this phrase was commonly used in connection with the Feast of Trumpets. And though I have no reason to doubt this, if the Lord Jesus is speaking of the rapture here He is doing it indirectly. He is talking about a time of judgment which Israel will face – the beginning of which will likely coincide closely with the rapture of the church. The context of the verses that follow His statement (Matthew 24:36-42) describe those “taken” as being taken for judgment rather than taken to be with the Lord. So once the rapture occurs there will be no escaping the judgment that will come. To those caught up in the things of this world, who have no interest in God or the salvation He offers, the Lord Jesus warns, “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:34-36).
I believe it is important for us to try and understand how the Scriptures would have been understood by those who first read them. Recognizing that Paul is using the Feasts of Jehovah in the course of his teaching throughout 1 Corinthians helps in this case to see what “the last trump” would have meant to those early believers, many (maybe even most) of whom were very familiar with these “Feasts of Jehovah” (Acts 18:8). It’s not always easy for us and the answers rarely come quickly, but humbly seeking to understand the Word of God and how it was understood by those who first read it will always be instructive. May we prayerfully seek the Lord that we may obey where He tells us to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (1 Tim 2:15). Let us always seek by the power of the risen Lord Jesus Christ to rightly divide His Word of Truth.