What does the Bible say about the Rapture?
The majority of Christians believe in the rapture. For decades it’s been a staple teaching in the western Church. But I suspect most can’t actually support their belief, they don’t know where it’s found in the Bible. Many just believe the rapture because that’s what was taught to them (which was my story for years). So, few people actually question it or explore what the Bible actually teaches about it.
So, let’s explore the rapture. Let’s ask the question, is the rapture Biblical?
The rapture is tied close with the topic of the last days. I’ve already written about the last days and what the Bible says, you can read that here: Are We Living In The Last Days (what the Bible really says)
If you are unfamiliar with what the rapture is let me give you a very brief definition.
The Rapture, as commonly viewed today, is the belief that Jesus will remove (rapture) the church before the great tribulation. This will be suddenly and without warning. One moment Christians will be going about their business and the next, gone. They will be taken to heaven while the rest of the world is plunged into a terrible tribulation. Following the great tribulation is the Second Coming of Jesus in which He will return to earth in a triumph entry defeating His enemies.
There are some that view the rapture differently than this description. But for the sake of clarity this is how I will use it through this article.
This is a touchy subject for some, because this belief is held tightly. I know that because whenever I mention something that has to do with ends times I get a slew of emails, comments, name calling, and plenty of accusations about my intentions. Few topics bring as much heat and opposition as this one. (and that’s okay with me, email me here: [email protected])
So, before we go any further let me clarify a few things that typically come up.
First, I firmly believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. And I strive to uphold it and help people understand it.
Second, I believe in the Second Coming of Jesus. However, this article is not about that. It’s about questioning whether the pre-tribulational rapture is Biblical.
And finally, I want to show my cards early on. I do NOT believe in the rapture. Okay, deep breath…
Why don’t I believe in the rapture? Two reasons:
- Church history doesn’t support it
(and more importantly)
- It’s not found in the Bible
If you are still with me, let’s take a deeper look. First we will look at how rapture theology came to be and then we will dive into what the Bible says about the rapture.
How Rapture Theology Was Popularized
Arguably, the time when the rapture really started getting it’s roots was in 1830. This concept was brought about by a woman named Margaret MacDonald in the United Kingdom.
Margaret MacDonald put herself into a self-induced trance so that she could have a prophetic utterance. During this trance she had a vision that the church would be pulled out of the world as things were getting bad. She later wrote this vision down in a letter and a man named John Darby caught wind of it.
John Darby took the vision that Margaret MacDonald had and put some theological study, some weight, behind it. What level he was influenced by MacDonald is debatable, but there seems to be at least some level of influence. Darby traveled from the U.K. to the U.S. and taught this new theology in many lectures. His work left such a legacy that eventually C. I. Scofield was influenced.
Maybe that name sounds familiar. Scofield published the first-ever reference Bible towards the end of the 1800s. It quickly became the best selling Bible. People loved it.
In the footnotes of this Bible Scofield explained what rapture theology was. And as the Bible sold and grow in popularity so did this belief of a rapture. What we should take note of is this theology grew because of what was in the footnotes of the Word of God, not the Word itself.
From there famous evangelists bought into this theology and started spreading it further and further. Maybe the two most famous being D.L Moody and Billy Graham, although Graham later recanted his belief in the rapture.
All this paved the way for the book The Late, Great Planet Earth in the 1970s. Which outsold the Bible for much of the decade. And then the infamous Left Behind Series that solidified rapture theology as mainstream in the western Church.
That of course is the abbreviated history, but I think it’s important we understand how this belief became so prevalent in today’s churches.
The Rapture In Church History
The point that I’m trying to make is about Church history. Rapture theology has only been popular for 180 years. It is largely a new theology, a new concept. While some will argue there are instances in the early church that support a pre-tribulational rapture I have yet to see any clear proof. There’s certainly not enough proof to say it was a commonly held belief.
All this doesn’t make it false, but it should make us pause.
If belief in the pre-tribulational rapture has only been popular, commonplace, since 1830 that means it wasn’t talked extensively about by the very people who laid the theological foundation for the Church. Again, that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Be it should be a red flag whenever a “new” theology is brought into the picture. It should cause us to dig a little deeper.
So, what does the Bible say about the Rapture?
What Does The Bible Say About The Rapture
I want to look at three major texts that are often used to point to the rapture. There are a few others, but these are the primary sources that are considered the clearest explains of the rapture in the Bible.
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” Revelation 4:1
Some say this is the clearest description of the rapture in the Bible.
This view holds that the voice is Jesus speaking to the Church saying come up to heaven. The problem is for this interpretation to work you have to ignore the context of this verse.
Go back to the beginning of the verse… After this I looked. Who’s the “I” that’s being referred to in this verse. It’s John, the one who’s receiving this revelation. To then insist that the next sentence is about the church being raptured is totally ignoring the pronoun that started off this verse.
When you ignore the context in which the Bible is written you can quite literally make it say whatever you want. In context this passage has nothing to do with the rapture, rather its a continuation of the vision that John is receiving. It’s not addressing the Church and it’s certainly not talking about the rapture.
Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Matthew 24:40-41
Sure sounds like the rapture doesn’t it?
But hold on a minute… What’s the context?
Back up and read Matthew 24:36-41. What’s Jesus talking about here? Many Christians assume He’s describing the rapture and unbelievers being left behind to enter the tribulation. But that’s reading into the text. The context tells us that Jesus is talking about His Second Coming, not the rapture.
This passage also shows an error in rapture theology. According to the rapture the good people are taken and the bad people are left. But Jesus paints a different picture in this passage. Matthew 24:37-39 compares Jesus Second Coming to the days of Noah. And who was taken away in the story of Noah, the good people, or the bad people? The bad people right? Look at the verse. The good people were put in the ark, in safety, while the waters came and took away (raptured) the bad people.
In the days of Noah the good people were left on the earth and the bad people were taken away. In fact, you will find this picture painted time and time again in Jesus’ parables. The good is left and the bad is taken away. One of the main problems with the rapture is they have the wrong people leaving.
The point of this passage isn’t about the rapture. Rather the message is Jesus is coming back. When? No one knows. Therefore be prepared. Always be prepared so that you do not get caught off guard.
If you still aren’t convinced go read the 4 parables that follow this passage. They all say the same thing. You don’t know when Jesus is coming back. So be ready. That’s the point of Matthew 24. In context it does not support the rapture and actually pushing back against some of the core beliefs the rapture holds.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18
Many read this verse and go straight to the rapture. I mean it sure sounds like it doesn’t it? But remember, you have to read it in context. This passage was written to a real people, a real church. Paul says that these words should encourage them. So, however we interpret this verse it has to be seen through the lens of encouragement for that church.
Here’s the context. The church in Thessalonica has Christians that are dying. They are dying before Jesus returns. And the question they are asking about is those who have died. Will they miss out on the second coming of Christ?
What Paul is doing in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16 is encouraging them and offering them hope. He’s telling them that those who have died before Jesus comes back are actually in a better position because when He comes back they will come back with Him. Paul says that we, the dead and the alive, will meet Jesus in the clouds when He returns.
The greek word for meet (apantésis) is the same word used when you would go meet an emperor or official who was coming into your city. You don’t wait for an emperor, or someone special, to come to you. You go to them, you meet them at the city gates and walk them in. That’s the picture of this verse. That they are going to meet with Jesus as he descends on the cloud. But they aren’t going somewhere else. They are walking with him into the “city”, they are coming back to earth.
For the church in Thessalonica when they first read these words and saw this picture they weren’t thinking of a rapture. They were thinking of hugging their loved ones. This passage meant for them the hope of reconnecting with those they lost. It was an encouragement to stand strong in the face of death because for all who follow Jesus there is still hope.
For us today this is a beautiful picture of hope that one day all who follow Jesus will meet Him in the clouds. It’s a hope to not give up, to keep following Jesus even when things get tough. This passage isn’t talking about the rapture, it’s talking about Jesus second coming. It’s a challenge and an encouragement for all who follow Jesus.
The Bible simply does not support a rapture theology.
It’s a dangerous practice to ignore the context of the Bible. And that’s exactly what rapture theology does. It has too. The Bible has to be twisted and context ignored for the rapture to be supported.
And damage has been done. The book (or letter) of Revelation has been butchered. People’s faith shattered. And many falsely believe they will escape the trials of this world.
But why would Jesus take the Church out of the world when the world needs the Church the most?
Jesus even prayed in John 17 that the Church, His followers, would not be taken out of the world, rather that they have the strength to endure. It was a prayer that Jesus himself would soon face. With the cross in front of Him, He asked His Father for an other way. And in response God said trust me.
That’s the message for us today. When the struggles and trails (the tribulations) of life come, we are asked to trust God. We aren’t promised an easy life. No, the Bible makes clear we will face many trails. And the history of the Church is one soaked in blood. And even today millions of Christians are facing persecution that we in the western Church can’t imagine. We are in the great tribulation.
But despite that, we have hope. It’s not hope that we will be raptured before it gets really bad. No, it’s bad right now. We have hope that despite what we are facing God is still in control and His plan will work out for all who trust in Him. So, trust God.
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