Why the Rapture and Santa are Both Fairy Tales: a theological explanation

The RaptureAre you still believing that the world is getting worse and worse, and that one day you’ll get raptured out of here?

Well, there’s good news and bad news: the bad news first: you’re not going anywhere. Good news? Well, the world is actually getting better and better.

Recently I wrote a piece about the ways that believing in the rapture creates poor social ethics, which may actually create destructive forces in the world (you can read the original article here). In response that article I have received e-mails from many readers asking for a deeper theological explanation as to why they should abandon their belief in the rapture, so this post will briefly explain why you should abandon this view.

First, as discussed in my previous article, belief in the “secret rapture of the church” is not part of historic, orthodox Christianity. This position was completely invented by John Nelson Darby in the 1800′s, and caught on in the US around the time of the first world war. Prior to Darby, the idea that there would be a secret rapture of the church did not exist, so it is important to understand that this belief is very, very new on the historic scene of Christianity.

However, simply being new theology isn’t reason alone to reject it– new theology is developed all the time, and it’s always good to find new ways to see and understand God. This theology, as I explained in my previous piece, is incredibly dangerous because of how it impacts our social ethics and serves as a deterrent to investing in long-term social progress. Instead, there are sound theological and biblical grounds to completely dismiss the rapture and everything that typically gets lumped into the end times nonsense so much of us grew up on.

rapture1992First, it is important to understand that in some ways, it is difficult to refute the concept of a secret rapture of the church because there aren’t any verses to refute– the concept does not appear in the Bible. Believers who embrace rapture/end times doctrine are actually following the teachings of Darby instead of Jesus, so they don’t have any smoking guns from the Bible that one can refute. As I’ve said before, there are no verses in the Bible which describe Kirk Cameron assembling a post-rapture tribulation force– I can’t refute what doesn’t exist in the Bible to begin with.

Before we actually tackle the rapture, it’s important to understand that rapture theology flows out of theology of a “great tribulation” which actually is described in scripture. Jesus describes the “great tribulation” in Matthew 24, which Jesus states will be (a) regional not global (he tells them to go to the mountains outside the city to find safety) (b) would happen during the lives of the people he was talking to (“this generation”) and (c) would happen at the same time as the destruction of the temple, which occurred in AD 70. Furthermore, Jesus promised that things would be so bad during the tribulation that resulted in the destruction of the temple, that the world would never be that bad again. So, from a straight reading of the passage, we see that the “tribulation” is a past event, and that because this is a past event, we can accept what Jesus says when he promises things will never get that bad again. Furthermore, there is no verse in all of the Old or New Testaments which state there will be a 7 year tribulation– even believers in the tribulation admit this.

Furthermore, the verses and reasoning rapture believers use to justify their un-biblical position are weak at best. Here’s the argument, and why it’s outlandish:

The only passage end timers have which may appear to support the rapture is 1 Thess 4:13-18, which they claim describes the rapture:

“13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

However, when one actually reads the passage and accepts it at face value, one notices that it doesn’t teach any sort of secret rapture where millions of people disappear. Instead, it teaches of an event when Christ returns that happens in plain view of everyone, following a loud trumpet call of God. And, it doesn’t describe people being taken away, but rather people welcoming Christ back to the earth.

There’s nothing secret about it– this is a very PUBLIC event. The rapture you’ve been taught? That’s something that happens in secret.

The way Paul describes this is by way of comparison for his audience; many would have understood that this is word imagery of children running to the end of the driveway to welcome back a parent who has been gone. It is NOT describing planes falling out of the air and Kirk Cameron trying to find his next meal.

The next argument they will use is an argument of word-thing-fallacy. It is argued by MacAurther and others that since the word “church” appears multiple times in the first three chapters of Revelation but never after, it is to be assumed that the church is gone– which necessitates a “rapture” (term rapture is not in the Greek scriptures, though it is used in the LXX to describe the event in 1 Thess 4). So, this argument claims that simply because the “word” is not there this is part and parcel to saying the “thing” is not there. This is faulty, faulty logic to build theology on– we are only able to go based upon what is in scripture, one cannot just make up their own explanations and call it orthodox truth.

The only other verse that could be seen as remotely compelling is John 14:3 when Jesus tells his disciples that he will “come again”.

raptured3To which, my reply is: thank you Captain Obvious. We know that Jesus is coming again– the point is, that Jesus will come again in plain view for everyone to see, and that those who remain will welcome him back with a high-five in the sky. That’s a far cry from taxi’s careening of the George Washington Bridge, and folks on earth trying to figure out what just happened.

In short, believers argue that a secret rapture is “implied” in scripture. And, I would caution anyone on building an entire worldview on something they think is “implied” in an ancient document which quite often, is unclear on many matters.

The secret rapture of the church? It’s just not in the cards– it’s not taught in scripture. The only way to believe it is to choose to read into scripture what your grandma taught you, instead of taking scripture at face value.

And, while Grandma’s are nice, their theology is frequently off.

If you’d like to read a quick book by a conservative, evangelical scholar which will debunk the rapture in three moves or less (and can be read in an afternoon), I suggest this one here.

In closing, I leave you with a beautiful rendition of Fall to Pieces with Slash… because, well… I don’t want you to be worried that you’ll miss the rapture and fall to pieces.

You won’t, because the rapture isn’t happening– we’ll both be back here tomorrow.

But, truth is, I still believe in Santa.

In the meantime, enjoy this tune: 

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About Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey is an Anabaptist author, speaker, and blogger. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Theology & Missiology), is currently a 3rd year Doctor of Missiology student (a subset of practical theology) at Fuller Seminary, and is a member of the Phi Alpha Chi Honors Society. His first book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, is available now at your local bookstore. He is also a contributor for Time, Sojourners, Red Letter Christians, Evangelicals for Social Action, Mennonite World Review, has been a guest on Huffington Post Live, and is one of the CANA Initiators. Ben is also a syndicated author for MennoNerds, a collective of Mennonite and Anabaptist writers. Ben is also co-host of That God Show with Matthew Paul Turner. Ben lives in Auburn, Maine with his wife Tracy and his daughter Johanna.

You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • http://www.reflectionsandmeditations.com daniel

    Thanks for the post as it’s a great help to some of the questions being launched at me as a result of my sharing your previous anti-rapture post.

  • Mark

    What is your opinion about Margaret McDonald and the Scolfieid Reference Bible?

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com Benjamin L. Corey

    Darby had the rapture concept 3 years before she allegedly had hers, so I think most scholars would give him the credit instead of her. Plus, Darby rejected charismatic gifting, so I don’t believe he would have stolen the idea from her (which came during a trance)– though some allege he in fact, did plagiarize the idea.

    The Scofield reference bible was designed to teach Darby. The dispensational teachings were originally put in the margins, but the way it was printed they were not adequately separated and many people did not realize that this was just commentary, not inspired scripture. As a result, folks who grew up using this bible were indoctrinated into the teachings of Darby unwittingly.

  • http://Theirishatheist.wordpress.com The Irish Atheist

    And here I was all excited for the new Left Behind remake with Nicholas Cage. Well, there’s always the Hunger Games I suppose.

  • Ethan W

    What about the (forgive my lack of knowledge as I perform a massive paraphrase) verse that states that one moment a person will be there and the next gone. Isn’t this a verse that is commonly used to support the rapture? Also, congrats on the move to Patheos.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com Benjamin L. Corey


    You are right, there is another passage from Luke 17 as you describe where “one will be left and one will be taken”. This passage is describing the same thing that Paul does– a very public welcoming back of Jesus. In verse 23, Jesus actually warns them NOT to believe in a secret second coming (like the “rapture” would be) but instead tells them that when he returns, he will “light up the sky from one end to the other”, which indicates a very, very public return.

    All these verses point to a very public return of Christ, visible by everyone– nothing points to a secret disappearance of people.

  • Mike M

    I have a few questions regarding some references….

    1. How do we know that in Matthew ch24, when Jesus spoke of “this generation”, that He wasn’t referring to the one that would experience the events he was describing, as in a future generation….?

    2. Isn’t the great “falling away” of the church (2Thessalonians ch2) referring to the rapture in the end days? I have heard this refers to the Greek “apostasia” which some have said means “departure of the truth”, but I’ve heard actually means “disappearance” of the faithful…

    3. How can the great tribulation be a past event when there are various other prophecies that are tied in with it which have not taken place, for instance the 7 yr covenant and the rebuilding of the 3rd temple in Daniel ch9, the destruction of Damascus in Isaiah ch17, the mark of the beast, etc..? (Also, there is the prophecy of St. Malachy- which indicates that our current pope is to be the final pope, btw)…

    4. As believers, we are all baptized into one Spirit, but does that mean we are all led by the same Spirit? To each of us is given a different gift, including the gifts of discernment and prophecy, for some, but not all (1 Corinthians ch 12). How can you be sure that those who have predicted rapture are not correct in their perceptions? If God is omniscient, wouldn’t He have known that certain prophecies would need to survive until the “end times” (including any “new theology”) as barometers of faith?

    5. Besides the Book of Revelation… the entire Bible is actually an unfolding prophecy of Messiah and the coming Kingdom of God. There is no new Heaven and Earth to date. If we are to assume that it has not been completely fulfilled (because quite frankly, we have not experienced 1Thessalonians ch4 yet, or much of John’s Revelation), then why should we believe that these so-called past events are not actually archetypes for larger events to come? Sorry for all the questions, I’m just curious…

    Thanks! peace & blessings

  • Mike M

    PS- Sorry, I needed to add something… I checked on my prior question (#2) regarding 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, and the original meaning was a “departure” of the church rather than “falling away”… sorry for the misstatement (above). I also wanted to know, how can we dismiss rapture & claim that these events are past when it clearly states “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” This not only refers to rapture, but to the unveiling of the Anti-Christ. From what I understand, this is all part of the prophecy of Daniel, which describes the Tribulation (in Daniel 9:24… the 70th “week” of Daniel, which resumes to complete the Jewish prophecy after the Christian “church age” {or fulfillment of Pentecost} concludes with rapture of the Church/bride of Christ) Also, I was under the impression that rapture is SEPARATE from the 2nd coming of Christ, in that the rapture is the Church going to meet Messiah in the air, while the 2nd coming when He returns to defeat the “man of perdition” or Anti-christ. Please try to explain how these interpretations are erroneous, as I am still trying to understand how yours resolve the prophecies….. thanks!

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