Why I Do Not Believe in the “Rapture”
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What is “the rapture?” For many conservative Protestants, especially fundamentalists and evangelicals, the rapture is the mysterious removal of all true followers of Jesus Christ from the earth BEFORE (or, in some cases, in the MIDDLE) of the “Great Tribulation” as that is described in the New Testament (especially Revelation).
I grew up with this belief and everyone in my home church, including my parents, strongly believed it would signal the beginning of the end of world history as we know it. They distinguished it from the visible “parousia,” the return of Christ to judge the nations and usher in his millennial, messianic reign for a thousand years. (Pretty much all who believe in the rapture are premillennialists but not all premillennialists believe in the rapture in this sense.)
I attended the premier showing of the rapture movie “Thief in the Night” which you can watch on Youtube. And I read most of the famous books promoting belief in the rapture. I was taught belief in the rapture in Bible college. I still find it taught in many books, movies, Bible studies, even sermons. So common is the belief that it is biblical that it has become virtually orthodox for fundamentalist and conservative evangelical Christians, even though many conservative evangelical scholars have disputed it.
When I was taking a class in “Daniel and Revelation” in Bible college, many, many years ago, the rapture was so taken for granted, almost without argument, that I decided to delve into scripture to see if I could find it there. I couldn’t. I stopped believing in the so-called “pre-tribulation rapture of the church” then and have never found reason to return to believing in it.
Most who believe in and teach the rapture appeal first to 1 Thessalonians 5:9 “For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” A previous verse (2) says that the “day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” However, the verses between 2 and 9 say that Christians, true followers of Jesus Christ, do not need to worry because for them/us it will not be a “surprise…like a thief.”
Now, most defenders of the rapture doctrine will skip over to 2 Thessalonians to support their belief. Chapter 2 is crucial here. It begins with “the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together with him.” Then the author, presumably Paul the Apostle, cautions his readers that that day cannot happen until “the lawless one” (apparently from the description the “great beast” of revelation, the “Antichrist”) is revealed. (Read the chapter!)
Apparently, Paul is cautioning the Thessalonians (and others who read this epistle) about going through the “great tribulation” and being ready for that. What happens during that time will be the signs of the soon coming of Jesus Christ.
Believers in the rapture then point to vs. 6 and 7 that refer to someone or something that will be “restraining” the “lawless one” until he, she or it will be removed. They claim this refers to the church. Hardly. Most likely it refers to the Holy Spirit. There is no reason here or elsewhere to think the restraining power that will be removed is the church. In fact, the thrust of this chapter is that Christians will recognize the lawless one and know that their Lord is about to return—after he is revealed as the lawless one.
Much of the book of Revelation is about the so-called “great tribulation” with the expectation, implied, is that Christians will go through it and many will be martyred for their steadfast loyalty to Christ. There is no hint of a “secret rapture of the church” there. Yet, many books about Revelation assume that, somehow, Christians will be absent during this time (even if some convert to faith in Christ through the “two witnesses,” etc.). That simply doesn’t appear in Revelation. It is read into the book.
Then, believers in the pre-tribulation rapture turn to Matthew 24, the so-called “Little Apocalypse” of Jesus to his disciples, but there’s no reason to think the ones “taken” are raptured and the ones “left” are left to go through the tribulation. It could be the opposite! The ones left behind might be those who lived through the great tribulation; they are left behind to go into the millennial kingdom with Jesus!
My point is there is nothing in scripture that clearly teaches the rapture doctrine.
Two more arguments militate against belief in the rapture.
First, wouldn’t it be best, given how unclear scripture is about it, not to count on escaping the tribulation in a “rapture,” and then be happy if one should happen? What if it doesn’t and you are “left behind” to go through the tribulation because there was no rapture?
Second, belief in the rapture does not seem to have been widespread, if it existed at all, before the 1830s when Margaret McDonald gave her prophecy about it and John Nelson Darby picked up on that and turned it into a doctrine. See the book “The Incredible Cover Up” about the history of belief in the rapture. The title (and the book was also published under a different title) refers to how some believers in the rapture doctrine knew about its origins but hid them from their followers.
Almost nobody today would believe in the rapture were it not for Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren denomination(s), and C. I. Scofield, author of the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible, and Clarence Larkin who published books of charts of history based on the Bible including the “end times.” Irenaeus of Lyons, who was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of John of Patmos (author of Revelation), wrote much about the end times and the meaning of Revelation but never mentioned a “rapture.” In his five books Against Heresies, Irenaeus included eschatology based on biblical apocalyptic literature, especially Revelation, but did not mention a rapture which he surely would have known about if it were taught by the authors of scripture.
What annoys me very much is how some good Christians have elevated belief in the rapture to the status of an item of biblical orthodoxy such that if you deny it, as I did, you are ostracized as lacking in knowledge or in faith. Denying the rapture was one of the main reasons I was “invited” to leave the denomination in which I was born, converted, filled with the Holy Spirit, and ordained. The other was that I stopped believing that speaking in tongues is the “initial, physical evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
I am satisfied if people believe in the rapture as a matter of opinion as long as they do not claim it is clearly taught in scripture and do not elevate it to doctrinal status. It is not and should not be.