I met a pastor once who gave me his business card, on one side it had the typical business information about the church, on the other side it had the question, “Are you rapture ready?” with an image of people flying to heaven.
I remember the first time I heard of the rapture. I was in third grade, it was during an election year. Walter Mondale was running against Ronald Reagan. The rhetoric at the bus stop among third and fourth graders went something like this:
Christian friend: “Why would you vote for Mondale?”
Me: “Because Reagan will lead us into WWIII, you don’t want to die in a nuclear explosion do you!”
Christian friend: “Well, if WWIII happens then we know we are in the End Times and the Rapture would happen before a nuclear explosion so I wouldn’t be here anyway.”
Me: “Wait, what’s the Rapture?”
Christian friend: “It’s when Jesus takes all the Christians from this world so they don’t have to suffer under the Antichrist.”
Me: “Wait, who is this ‘Antichrist’ – what are you even talking about!?”
Christian fiend: “The Antichrist is probably Walter Mondale. If you’re parents vote for him you would be left behind.”
Me: “Wait, what!?#%”
This is the level of discourse I remember from that election season, and since then I have been curious about the Rapture, the End Times, the Great Tribulation, and the concept of being “left behind.”
But is any of this true? If so, how will it happen? When will it happen? And does the Bible explicitly talk about these issues or is it Christian fiction?
First let us define the rapture. The word rapture is never used in the Bible. The closest we come to this concept is in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The words say that Christians will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…”
The words “caught up” is arpazoe in Greek, meaning – “to snatch up, to seize, to carry off” and denotes “a sudden swoop, and usually that of a force which cannot be resisted” (see Cleon Rogers Jr., The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, p. 497). The word was translated as raptus in Latin, which means rapture in English.
So this verse does convey the idea of a rapture, but who are these Christians “caught up together with”?
It is very clear in the verses before v. 17 that the rapture will happen in conjunction with the resurrection of the dead in Christ who rise first (1 Thess. 4:16) and that this will happen at the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 4:15-16). It is very clear, in multiple texts of Scripture, that the Second Coming of Christ will happen right before the Battle of Armageddon at the very end of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 19; see also Matthew 24:3-31, specifically vv. 30-31).
The above paragraph is loaded with Christianese, so let me explain.
The Old Testament (pre-Jesus) has this concept of the “resurrection of the dead” at Judgment Day (see Daniel 12:2; see also Revelation 20:4-6 and 20:11-15). The Bible teaches that it is not only one’s soul that is saved unto eternal life, but that one’s body will be miraculously resurrected with a heavenly body that will not fade or perish (see 1 Corinthians 15:25-57). Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead in that He literally was raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-11). And if Jesus had not been raised, then Christianity is a farce (1 Corinthians 15:12-28).
The resurrection of the dead is not only for Christians, but also for non-Christians for judgment (see Daniel 12:2 and Revelation 20:11-15). Everyone will be judged according to what they have done, whether they had Biblical knowledge (Romans 2:6-12) or not (Romans 2:13-16). And the only ones who will escape judgment are those who put their trust in Christ alone (Romans 3:21-26; see also Revelation 20:11-15 – those with their names in the ‘Lamb’s book of Life’ will be saved; i.e., those who trust in the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ who is Jesus, see John 1:29).
People ask, “Why a Second Coming of Jesus?”
Because His first Coming was to be the perfect lamb of sacrifice to satisfy God’s wrath against sin; this is called atonement.
Sacrifice and atonement seems so archaic, what gives?
Well, if Jesus didn’t come the first time we would still live in a world that sacrifices to idols and gods. So this was completely normal for thousands of years until Christianity took over as the Roman religion (FYI – some religions in Asia and Africa still have sacrifice, even today I saw watermelons and a Starbucks drink offered to a Buddha in West Seattle). In the Old Testament blood sacrifice was required as an offering for sin (among other offerings like grain or tithes and such). The basic idea was to “cut a covenant” between two parties through sacrifice, and as the covenant was ratified the two parties would walk through the middle of cut up animals and say, “May this happen to me if I do not fulfill me end of the covenant.”
In Genesis 15, God carried a smoking pot through the middle of cut up animals as God cut a covenant with Abraham, promising: land, a king, and a people if Abraham would believe by faith. Abraham did believe. This is the “faith of Abraham” and the result was the promise of Israel to be God’s representatives on earth and through Israel would come a Christ (Messiah) who would become the world leader (King of kings and Lord of lords) to make everything right again. But notice that Israel failed time and again. So technically, Israel should have been destroyed by God for their failure. But God came in human flesh to perfectly live by God’s law and to die on the cross as promised in “cutting a covenant” in Genesis 15. The point was God sent His Son to die in the place of humans because God loves us. So Jesus took the punishment to uphold the Covenant with Abraham and for those who walk by faith in Jesus, they are forgiven in Jesus without ever needing to sacrifice again.
So no more animal sacrifices were needed. Pagans and Jews stopped sacrificing post-cross of Christ because people realized in the cross was the final sacrifice. So the ancient, weird ritual has ceased in the West (unless people in the West start to embrace Eastern religion).
In Christ was made peace, this is why He came at His first coming.
So why a Second Coming?
To fulfill the other part of the Covenant cut with Abraham, God’s representative King (Christ) would reign in this world. And when Jesus comes a second time, He will not come to make peace with man (that was the purpose of His First Coming), rather His Second Coming is to reveal He is King, Lord, and destroy the enemies of God and reveal those who are a part of His Kingdom (Christians – see Revelation 19-22).
So when will this “Rapture” happen? And why?
There is this idea of a “Great Tribulation” in Matthew 24:21. In Revelation 13:5 it says this “Great Tribulation” will be ruled by the Antichrist for 42 months, meaning 3 1/2 years (see also Daniel 7:25; 9:27, 12:7, 11; and Rev. 11:2). It says in Matthew 24:3-14 that tribulations will happen, meaning: famine, earthquakes, wars, rumors of war, the love of many will grow cold, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ as King will be preached to the whole earth, and then the end will come. The end is referring to the “End Times” or the “Day of the Lord,” which conveys the Old Testament idea of the final “hour” or time period before Judgment Day (see many of the Prophetic books in the OT, especially Daniel 12 and Zechariah). But Jesus said in Matthew 24:15 that the end, referring to the “Great Tribulation” time will take place when the “abomination that causes desolation” is revealed (Matthew 24:15).
Who is this “abomination that causes desolation”?
Daniel 9:27 very clearly states there will be a military leader (a prince) who will set up this abomination in the wing of the temple in the middle of a “seven” and put an end to sacrifice.
The word seven refers to Daniel’s 70 sevens, meaning a time period prophesied about the coming of the Messiah. Many scholars believe this refers to a seven year tribulation time period. And this may be the case. But if it is, then notice a few things:
- Sacrifice is happening in Daniel 9:27, implying the Temple exists (which it doesn’t, now).
- In the middle the “prince” puts an end to sacrifice and sets up an abomination, implying this seven is cut in half, meaning a 3 1/2 year time period.
- And that this “prince” will pursue the destruction of the people of God (see Daniel 9:27 and Matthew 24:16-31).
What does all this mean? And how does this relate to the timing of the “Rapture”?
Notice, first, that 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 says the “Rapture” and “Resurrection” will happen in conjunction with the Second Coming. And notice His Second Coming is at the end of the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:30-31; see also Revelation 19-20, specifically verse 20:4-6, which talks about the “first resurrection” – and notice this happens right before judgment).
What about the “left behind” argument?
Notice Revelation never uses the word “Rapture” and notice the saints are on earth during the Great Tribulation, being tested and killed by the Antichrist in Revelation 13 (specifically 13:7-18). Revelation 13 is describing Daniel 9:27, Matthew 24:15-31, and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-11. Notice in all four of those passages the “prince” (Daniel 9) also known as the Beast (Revelation 13) or the Man of Lawlessness (2 Thess. 2) is the Antichrist who sets up the “abomination that causes desolation” and who makes war on the saints (Christians) until the Second Coming of Christ. And notice all of this is during the Great Tribulation for 3 1/2 years (i.e., the second half of Daniel’s seven).
There is no illusion to a “Rapture” before the seven years, in the middle of the seven years, but rather when Christ comes at His Second Coming (1 Thess. 4:15-17; Matt. 24:30-31; and Revelation 19-20).
What about Christians not facing the wrath of God?
Revelation 7 says the 144,000 will be marked out for protection from God’s wrath. But the Bible never says Christians will not face trials and martyrdom, in fact the Bible says the opposite – specifically that Christians martyrs will receive the the highest honor (see Rev. 2:10-11; 12:11; 14; 15; 20:4-6).
The Bible does, however, say that Christians will not face God’s wrath (see Daniel 7, which begins to be poured out in Revelation 16, after Revelation 13).
What will this look like?
That is the great mystery of Scripture. We saw Abraham’s cousin Lot delivered from wrath, but he wasn’t raptured. We saw the Hebrews delivered from Moses and the ten plagues without being raptured. We see suffering in the Old Testament. We see suffering in the New Testament. We see suffering in Syria today as ISIS leaders rape Christian women and put rats in their cavities to torture them while they are still alive!@#$%
So why do we assume Christians will be raptured to not face suffering from the Antichrist when Scripture and history teach the exact opposite?
What about the imminent return of Christ and our rapture to Him?
There is a Scripture that says “no one knows the day or the hour” (1 Thess. 5:1-11). Notice the context is 1 Thess. 4:13-18, which talks about the Second Coming and the Resurrection and Rapture of Christians.
- The tribulation is 7 years.
- Sacrifice is happening (means Temple exists – which it doesn’t now currently so it needs to be built).
- Antichrist puts an end to sacrifice in the middle.
- Antichrist wages war against saints, still here during the 3 1/2 Great Tribulation.
- Rapture isn’t used in Revelation.
- The concept of Rapture happens right before Armageddon at the end of Revelation.
- And the Rapture happens in conjunction with Christ’s Second Coming.
All the above seems to point to the “imminence” of the “Day of the Lord” meaning the above time period, not the actual literal Day Christ returns.
There are too many holes in the “pre-tribulation rapture” argument. It seems to be based more on fear tactics or reasoning apart from what the Bible actually says. And the Bible seems to point to a post-tribulation rapture or at least right before the final wrath is poured out at the end of the Great Tribulation in Revelation 16-20. Plus you need to throw in there how time is understood in Revelation, it is not 100% sequential, it does not make 100% sense.
So why is the “Left Behind” or “Pre-Trib Rapture” perspective so popular?
There is a man named John Nelson Darby who in 1827 began to write about this topic. He developed “Dispensationalism” – a theological system that shows the different ways God has governed man in Scripture (works, faith, law, grace, etc.). The Dispensational Pre-Tribulation Rapture perspective charts out the End Times and Tribulation time period. His theories were rejected by his compatriots and he moved to America to teach his system among the Plymouth Brethren. His perspective of a pre-trib rapture was not taken seriously until people like Dr. Walvoord, Zuch and Ryrie started adopting this perspective as theologically viable in the 1950s. These writings became popular in Evangelical science fiction books like “Left Behind” and the rest is history. So this is a relatively new perspective.
So what do you believe Ryan?
I am an Historical Pre-Millennialist. This means I believe what has been believed by a majority of scholars for close to 2,000 years. There will be a Second Coming and Rapture/Resurrection, and this will happen right before Christ sets up His Millennial Kingdom. If the Rapture does happen prior to the Second Coming, it would be because the words “meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17) refer to a delay from rapture to visibly being seen by humanity. This word “meet” is apantysis in Greek, meaning, “related to the visits of dignitaries to cities where the visitor would be formally met by the citizens, or a deputation of them, who went out from the city and would then ceremonially escort him back into the city.” (Cleon Rogers Jr., 479)
So the “Rapture” and “Resurrection” would be to meet the Lord in the air as dignitaries or a deputation to accompany Christ back to earth…for…Armageddon (see Revelation 19).
Now notice in Revelation 19, there is a “wedding feast of the Lamb” that will take place right before Armageddon. It is my theory that the “Rapture” and “Resurrection” would happen for this feast, and then return for this battle.
In all this I recognize there is much here that is not 100% clear. No End Times position is 100% clear. In fact, to make it clear one has to ignore certain scriptures or infer a perspective not found in the Bible. But what is clear is Jesus Christ is Lord and will return, and those who are members of His Kingdom will be revealed at that moment.