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

Why the Rapture and Santa are Both Fairy Tales: a theological explanation September 23, 2013

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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