Why Rapture Predictors Are Always Wrong (Revelation in a Nutshell)

rapture predictors pangea

I remember it well.

Billboards were being purchased with warnings: The Rapture will happen in 2011.

Do you remember this?

Christian radio host, Harold Camping, sincerely believed and taught that the rapture was coming in May 2011.

He was wrong.
He changed the date by several months.

He was wrong again.

When he passed away shortly thereafter, he was dumbfounded.
Never for a minute did I doubt his sincerity.
But that isn’t always enough.

The problem lies in predicting.


One of the problems is that we’ve inherited a couple hundred years of reading Revelation poorly. And the gospels poorly. And Paul poorly. Etc.

It is amazing how quickly ideas become convincing in one particular time and space… and then quickly become tradition… meaning… the right view.

One person or group’s innovative view becomes the ‘correct’ perspective for many persons and groups, within a short span of time.

A view that is innovative at in one moment becomes second nature the next moment.

This is true of the modern conception of the rapture.
The rapture is a new idea.
It originated in the 1800s (no joke!).

You can look this up. Google it.

But back to our main idea: rapture predictors always get the timing wrong.
Why is this?

Well…

Because no matter how well someone is at making a guess, you will never correctly predict something that isn’t actually in the Scriptures.

Jesus didnt’ teach it. Paul didn’t teach it. Neither should churches. I wrote a full article at Theology Curator that breaks this claim down.

I also have several articles here at Patheos on the subject of the end times and Revelation.


Now perhaps I should make clear that the word rapture (and the concept of a rapture) also never appears in the book of Revelation.

Those who try to fuse all of the apocalyptic sounding passages of the Scriptures into a roadmap toward the End Times (rapture, anti-Christ/7 year tribulation, final judgement, cosmic destruction, and remaking of heaven/earth) will push back.

I get it.
We read the Bible differently.
We can respect each other.
Love each other.
And challenge each other.

Although I won’t go into details about it today, I don’t see anything futuristic in Revelation with the exception of the return of Christ (not a rapture away from the earth), the final judgement, and the restoration of creation as God brings the heavenly city down to earth.

So, if the book of Revelation isn’t primarily about future events like the rapture and a Great Tribulation, what is it about?

Here’s my summary of Revelation in a nutshell…


Revelation speaks to seven Churches in the 90s CE who are facing pressures in ancient Asia Minor where the Roman Imperial Cult is in full force.
Since before the time of Jesus, the people of the region had been worshipping Caesar Augustus, Julius Caesar, Pax (the god of peace and ‘pax romana’) and Roma (the goddess of imperial flourishing) as gods.
Systems of buying and selling were predicated on offering incense at altars as acts of devotion to the imperial cult.

Altars and/or temples to the imperial gods existed in each of the seven cities where the churches were located.
And being Christ-followers who refused to participate in what they considered ‘idolatry’ was a real present threat.

Thus, in Revelation 17 you get the great “whore,” Babylon, with seven hills (which tells us that this is really an image for the city of Rome–since Rome literally has seven hills around it and several ancient sources outside of the Bible highlight this fact).
The “harlot’s” excess created real hardship for the poor, especially the lower-class Jewish Christians in the area. And by the way, the whore/harlot/Babylon/Rome character is supposed to be a way to disgrace a Roman goddess, Roma: the deity of imperial conquest. John calls her a harlot!

Not only so, but verse 18.4 says “come out of her my people,” which is a sexual euphemism for the infidelity that some Christians had metaphorically engaged with by giving into the imperial system as a compromise.

The way of Jesus, the one who is covered in his own blood (not that of his enemies) invites his followers to a subversive pattern of life in the midst of the Empire.
This may lead to social pressure, persecution, or death, but they can know that the Beasts (emperor and his cult/priests) and the dragon (the satan) have been defeated by the slaughtered baby lamb, Jesus.

And this defeat will ultimately be fully present, when their hope (those in Asia Minor following Jesus) comes to its final consummation: the renewal of creation as the heavenly Jerusalem descends on the earth, for eternity. Notice the trajectory… heaven come down… we don’t go up. That’s Revelation in a nutshell.


I hope that this summary is helpful. I’m so passionate about this issue that I’m giving away a free Revelation Bible Study Cheat Sheet.

I realize that this summary is incomplete in many ways, but I’m convinced that many of us simply need to start with new narratives about what Revelation is actually trying to communicate.

When we get the rapture out of our heads, while keeping in place the second coming, we can see the first century picture with greater clarity.
When the basic storyline is improved, we no longer expect things to show up that don’t belong in there.

Rapture predictors are wrong, not only because they try to “predict,” but because what they are predicting isn’t actually part of the story.

God’s story moves from creation, to crisis, to covenant (Israel), to Christ, to church, to creation renewed! It is a movement for and toward creation, not a movement away from it.

Revelation is about resisting evil and being empowered by hope!

We need some more hope in and for our world.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Frank Blasi

    It is true that the word “Rapture” does not appear anywhere in the New Testament, nor for that matter, the Bible. Some Christian scholars prefer to use the word “Translation” instead, in referral to two incidents, both occurred during Old Testament times. The first was that of Enoch, the seventh generation from Adam, who “walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24). The writer of the letter to the Hebrews confirms this (Hebrews 11:5) although he did not actually say that he was translated to Heaven, nevertheless, it is implied. The other incident concerned the seer Elijah, who was certainly translated to Heaven in a fiery chariot, this spectacular show was for the benefit of his successor Elisha, (2 Kings 2:11) which was a confirmation that he was to take over Elijah’s ministry. I personally believe that the mysterious two witnesses of Revelation 11:3-12 may indeed be Enoch and Elijah, who have yet to die physically, although I can’t be too dogmatic on this.
    Writers such as Hal Lindsey has predicted that the Rapture will occur before 1990, and as you say, there were other writers who made very similar dated predictions. However, there are two passages which seems to give indication of this future rapture or translation – 1 Corinthians 15:51-58, and 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18. Other verses may hint on this, such as John 14:1-2, Matthew 24:40-42 – although many scholars would disagree on this referring to the rapture – and possibly Revelation 4, where John sees the 24 thrones in Heaven, the first dozen possibly of the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel and the other twelve being the apostles who headed the Church after the Ascension of Christ. The “sea of glass like unto crystal” could be the assembly of every redeemed believer who has ever lived – both from Old and New Testament times, standing before the Throne of God, fully cleansed from every impurity. If all these are true, then it looks as though there is a vast assembly of the redeemed in Heaven some time before the Return of Jesus Christ to Earth.

    • Guthrum

      Thanks for that. A lot of information and references there.

  • Rebecca Kennedy

    Excellent article. May I recommend Michael J. Gorman’, “Reading Revelation Responsibility: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation? (CASCADE Books, 2011, Eugene, OR). This book is a good adjunct to Kurt Wollem’s article and his “Revelation Bible Study Cheat Sheet”.

  • Phil Stout

    Great synopsis. Thank you so much. I agree with you, Kurt, that this topic is so very important. Dispensationalism has wreaked havoc in our eschatology and has destroyed so much — especially our witness for peace and justice in this world.

  • Matt Woodling

    Or, you could investigate the much more plausible possibility that none of it is true – not the divinity of Christ, not the end times, not the second coming.

    • https://vimeo.com/87820143 Zeke Piestrup

      “The Second Coming is myth” certainly supersedes & solves the problem of date-setting. 5 words that make the avalanche-of-nothing above, moot. Got to fire up those blog entries, though. This ain’t twitter.

    • Paetchee

      Of course it is not “true”-true. But I don’t think anyone here seriously believes it is, anyway.
      It is an allegory about life and the nature of existence which reveals itself to you only if you look behind the literal meaning of the words. Christ wasn’t more divine than you and me. Because we*re all divine, it’s just that Christ was more aware of that fact than average people are.

      • Matt Woodling

        How do you decide which bits to read literally and which to interpret as allegory or metaphor?

        • Paetchee

          I don’t read any parts as literally true.
          Even if some parts probably have some historical truth in them – truth (in a literal sense) isn’t the point of the whole endeavor to begin with.
          It is about getting to know yourself, or rather your self. Some passages resonate with me, others don’t, and I’m fine with that.

  • https://vimeo.com/87820143 Zeke Piestrup

    To say Paul never falsely predicted The End just reveals your purely apologetic intent. Paul clearly preached The End would arrive back in the 1st century. He was wrong, just like Harold Camping. Even if he did mot assign an exact date, 1 Thess 4:17 is just as wrong as May 21. Most all SBL beleiving scholars admit Paul was wrong about the timing of The End. And surely you cheat your followers by not even mentioning the Apocalyptic Jesus. Albert Schweitzer, dude! But since Jesus is the ultimate celeb, He can’t do one thing
    wrong, we’ll leave Him be. But now you wanna make Paul perfect, too? Does all of Christianity, whether it be Paul, Jesus or The Bible, does it all have to be drenched in purfume? If you could show Paul as a model of failed precictions, might Christians be less vitriolic to those that make failed predictions?

  • Nan Aposhian

    Back in 1981 after graduating from college, my pastor predicted that the rapture was going to happen the following spring. I was getting ready to start graduate school, so I decided to take out a student loan based on the idea that I would never have to pay it back. Of course the rapture never happened and I was stuck with 10 years of student loan payments with huge interest rates. LOL

  • Linnea912

    Great article. Might I also recommend “The Rapture Exposed” by Barbara Rossing? Excellent book that goes into greater depth on this topic.

  • Mark

    I can’t believe that Harold Camping would forget that Jesus Himself said that no-one knew the time or the day that He would return.

    • Kevin R. Cross

      I’ve found that many preachers, especially ones that have large followings, are less interested in what the Bible says than in what they have to say, and then cherry-pick verses to support their personal hobby-horses. The fundamentalist side has this worse, but it’s anything but unknown among progressive Christians.
      Sadly, I’ve seen the same among Jews, Muslims and Hindus.

  • Guthrum

    I well remember the Mayan calendar end of days thing and the infamous 4 Blood Moons. Fascinating and good conversation, but way off.
    There is indeed an increase in interest concerning Biblical prophecy. A local church hosted Bible prophecy seminar a while back and had to turn people away. It was taught by some pastors and a college professor.

  • Adam King

    What’s with all the one-sentence paragraphs?

    Do you think you’re writing poetry?

    It’s annoying to read.

  • Satanic_Panic

    Why Rapture Predictors are Always Wrong…

    Because the entire ‘rapture’ concept is made up hogwash.

  • guerillasurgeon

    You read them poorly because they are written poorly. Your God is a really bad communicator.

  • Annie Jean

    Scott Hahn “The Lambs Supper”

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    The doctrine of The Rapture actually originated in the 17th century, with Increase and Cotton Mather, but was rarely preached and did not become popular until the 19th century.

  • Guthrum

    If you want a lively debate, discussion, or exchange just give that thought in any number of churches. Remember that the rapture is connected with the great tribulation and the millennium.
    I am not up on all of that, but everyone tells me that “you don’t want to be around for the great tribulation”. So I need to be ready to go.

  • BrotherRog

    Also because they generally don’t even know what the exact year is. They tend to think it’s four years earlier than it actually is. FYI, This isn’t actually The Year of Our Lord, 2017, it’s actually 2021.
    Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2011/12/2012-is-the-end-its-the-beginning-or-its-just-another-year/#YK0tOSyqh0BzRp6w.99

    Roger Wolsey, author, “Kissing Fish”

  • John Beasley

    Speaking of theological novelties from the mid 19th century, anyone want to discuss young earth creationism?