Bible Question:

After the rapture, do non-Christians go to hell or into the tribulation? 

Bible Answer:

After the rapture, do non-Christians go to hell or into the tribulation? The answer to the question is given in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18.

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.  1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 (NASB)

Rapture of The Church

What Group Of Individuals Is Raptured?

1 Thessalonians 4:14 defines dead Christians as those who have fallen asleep. The Greek word “asleep” is koimao. This word is often used to refer to those who are dead (Matthew 27:52; John 11:11; 1 Corinthians 7:39; 11:30; 15:6, 18, 20, 51). Verse 15 helps us understand that the word “asleep” refers to the dead since “those who are alive” is compared to “those who have fallen asleep.”

Then in the verses that follow ( v. 14-18),  the apostle teaches that at the rapture these dead Christians will be resurrected first. Then those who are alive will be caught up. The phrase “caught up” is translated from the Greek word harpazo. The word refers to being “seized by force.” It often has the sense of violent action (Matthew 11:12; 12:29; John 6:15; 10:12; Revelation 12:5).

1 Corinthians 15:51-53 describes the same event as occurring in the twinkling of an eye. The message is that those Christians who are dead and alive at the rapture will be forcefully removed in a twinkling of an eye from this world.

What Group Of Individuals Are Not Raptured?

What happens to those who are left? It is important to remember that the apostle Paul did not include chapter and verse divisions when he wrote the letter of 1 Thessalonians. Therefore, there was not a break between 1 Thessalonians 4:18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1. It is important to notice that the Day of the Lord occurs next in 1 Thessalonians 5:2. The Day of the Lord starts with the tribulation (see the studies “Prophecy of The Future” and “Day of the Lord is Near”).

1 Thessalonians 5:3 describes what follows the rapture.

While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. 1 Thessalonians 5:3 (NASB)

Notice that the world will think that “Peace and safety” had finally arrived but it will be a false peace. While the world will be thinking peace and safety then destruction will come! Daniel 9:27 prophesies that destruction will follow a period of peace. Jesus refers to the events described in Daniel 9:27 and in Matthew 24:15 when He refers to the abomination of desolation. Then Jesus continues describing the people fleeing to the mountains and other horrors. He calls this period of destruction the great tribulation (Matthew 24:21). Revelation 6-19 describes what will happen during this time period. For more information read “Thy Kingdom Come,”  “Does the rapture occur before the tribulation period?” and “Will people be saved during the tribulation?”

Rapture Is Next In God's Timeline

In summary, the rapture occurs before the tribulation and the events of Daniel 9:27. Both Christ and the book of Revelation reveal that during the tribulation people will be living on planet earth. This means that the rapture removes Christians and the rest of the people on the planet will remain to go through the darkest time that the world has experienced. The rapture does not send people to hell. They remain to go through a terrible time of horror as described in Joel 2:28-3:17; Zechariah 12:10-14:8; Matthew 24:15-28 and Revelation 6-19.


The purpose of the tribulation is twofold.

First, it is the fulfillment of the dream given to King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:36-45. Read especially verse 44. The dream describes the Gentile nations that would control the Promised Land given to Israel. Verse 44 reveals that God will defeat the Gentile worlds and establish the kingdom promised to Israel. The promise is called the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3). 2 Samuel 7:14-16 describes the Davidic Covenant which provides additional information. The promise is repeated throughout the major and minor prophets. Here is one passage that speaks of the tribulation. In it the name Jacob refers to the nation of Israel, since Jacob was the ancestral parent of the descendants called Israel.

. . . it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. Jeremiah 30:7 (KJV)

At the end of the tribulation Christ establishes the kingdom promised to Israel and He rules as king.

The second purpose of the tribulation is to punish the unbelieving world. Daniel 9:24 says this way,

. . . to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in  everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and  prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. Daniel 9:24

Isaiah 24:3-5 prophesies of the utter destruction that will occur.

But Revelation 3:10 promises that Christians will be rescued from this horrible time,

. . .I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Revelation 3:10 (NASB)

This statement requires people to remain on the earth after the rapture.

Suggested Links:

Searching For God
Prophecy of The Future
Day of the Lord is Near
Future Day of the Lord, part 1
Future Day of the Lord, part 2
Does the rapture occur before the tribulation period?
Will people be saved during the tribulation?
When Will the End of the World Occur?
Book of Revelation
Study of the Future - Eschatology