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

Why Rapture Predictors Are Always Wrong (Revelation in a Nutshell) July 31, 2017

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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  • 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.

    • Chris D

      God took Enoch. Enoch is dead. God gave him a quick death, but didn’t as people think take him alive up to heaven with him as that would contradict a good 40 other important biblical verses. Remember to the Hebrew there are 3 types of heaven: the sky, space, and the spiritual dimension where God the father, aka Yahweh exists (not some space ship in space or something ridiculous, but a higher dimensional plane as Yahweh has no physical body but is a living spirit being). Just like the prophet Elijah was taken, but is dead despite what people claim; he was merely swept away in front of his apprentice Elisha and taken elsewhere since god needed him there and quick transport wasn’t available back then. He wrote a letter and had it delivered to a Jewish king years later as recorded in the Bible.

  • 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.

    • “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.

          • So none of it is true. And yet you choose to make it work through allegorizing? How unspecial. Your allegorical methods are as old as St. Clement of Alexandria. And like him, clearly the author’s original intent means little. Make it whatever you like, which makes it nothing at all.

  • 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?

    • Chris D

      No, he didnt. He predicted that AND the end of time. Most modern humans are so linear. The bible didn’t have numbered chapter and verse until a couple hundred years ago. Also ANY extreme prophecy worth its salt will have more than one relevant meaning. Part of Revelation of John pertains to when the temple fell and Rome killed a bucket load of Jews. The rest is an end of time play by play.

      It’s easy for a non christian to look at a couple things and come up with an improper debunk theological argument. It takes years of study to know how the bible interprets itself, to know what is iconic imagery, to discern fact from parable and divide poetry from history. Just like it’s common for many a misled Christian to cherry pick verses to back up their own warped and wrong theology. You can study the bible on your own, sure, but only if you know what you’re doing. Sadly.. most don’t. That’s what churches are for; they’re not to tell you what is the truth which is sadly what most do. Gotta fill those seats somehow! Churches are to help you discern the truth on your own.

      • “How the bible interprets itself.” You’ve outed yourself, fundie. Back on a spherical planet: That Paul was wrong about the timing of The End, that Paul thought it would arrive during his lifetime, is not some turd I’m leaving in your glass. Any pastor who has studied at a high level seminary or divinity school knows this to be true. That Paul was wrong about the timing of The End is noncontroversial and mostly accepted by scholars of the SBL (Society of Biblical Literature, the largest body of biblical scholars in the world, and 90+% Christian). But of course like the flat-earthers of Wesminster or Dallas Tehological Seminary, there are ways to make failed prophecies, not failed prophecies. There’s a way to make the spherical planet seem flat. “The Bible interprets itself.” Wherever you learned that from, that’s fundamentalist garbage. But maybe you wanna be a fundie.

  • 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.

    • Chris D

      God isn’t going to be so blatant. Many believers of any religion will be persecuted hard during the tribulation, hence why the bible says there will be a giant falling out in the end days when God allows people to be martyred horribly just like the early Christians were. People being caught up in the air are simply the resurrected saints that will help Jesus rule and reign over a 1000 year reign of perfect justice and a peaceful and prospering world.. but only in exchange for giving up some of our free will. The tribulation is to see which followers of Jesus will be in control with him; it is a 7 year long test of virtues scared christians have been trying to run from for centuries.

  • 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?

    • Chris D

      No, because it’s silly. God performs miracles and the bible says he confounds the wise on purpose. Besides, in the last hundred years, the age of the universe has changed a hundred times. Two years from now the theory we’re part of a computer program and the universe is actually only two hundred years old could be the reigning scientific theory for all we know. The bible states that the miracles even Jesus himself is supposed to have done would have required countless books to write down. So all the miracles done through all time are incalculable, thus science and religion will never, ever be compatible.

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    The doctrine of the Rapture was first invented by Increase and Cotton Mather and adopted by a few others in the late 17th century, although it did not become popular until the 19th century.

  • Chris D

    The rapture, so called, is for the end of the millennial reign of Jesus. During that time we will likely use the discoveries that AI will uncover, or that Jesus will provide, to banish sickness, war, crime, and give people the lifespan of Adam and his first descendents of up to a thousand years. There will be billions if not trillions of normal people being born and will live up until the end of said reign when the devil, who will likely use uncovered films and the Internet to claim Jesus and his ruling saints are nothing but evil alien/zombie dictators who abolished human free will (which is..kinda true as perfect free will leads to things like the abuse and rape and murder of tiny children; even one child being harmed should convince us all that humans don’t deserve to be able to do whatever they want whenever they want, even with consequences. Jail and capitol punishment are nice and all, but a child is still destroyed. Anyone even remotely human should see it’s well worth giving a few rights up when it purchases no war/famine/sickness/natural disasters, a thousand year lifespan, the end of pollution and extinction of species, etc etc. On the flip side, if the bible is b.s. and the world is left to continue, do you really think the God of AI once the singularity occurs will be even remotely as kind and merciful?).

    After the reign the people will be deceived just as Adam and Eve were and try to destroy Jesus and anyone who follows him. That’s when the rapture is supposed to happen. When New Jerusalem and God descend there will be a sea of untold billions on either side about to slaughter each other and an attack on Israel and it’s allies will begin. That’s when the wicked will be destroyed by fire and that whole Revelations end of time judgement thing occurs.

    Before Jesus returns, the tribulation happens, and only for a few years. God didnt stop millions of early Christians from being martyred, and he won’t stop it when it happens again. This is why the bible says that in the end days even a lot of so called, but not true Christians will willingly give god the middle finger because he will let the government and the antichrist/beast/false prophet do their thing and ban religion on pain of death as hate speech and the cause of all the world’s woes.. in spite of humans always finding ways to justify war and greed; just look at the Bush administration. Even the crusades were about trying to own land, using religion as a scape goat. Same as Cortez invading for land and gold used religion as a hollow excuse to slaughter entire civilizations.

    There will be an enormous falling away from following Jesus when AI and robotics becomes the ultimate human made God, and all these TV evangelists teachings will be revealed as the fraud most denominations of Christianity really are.

    Teaching of escapism fantasy in rapture nonsense, feeling superior and smug by thinking you’ll laugh in heaven as those mean sinners who mocked you in life burn screaming forever in hell…. these are all tools invented by man to feel superior and the devil to drag gods creation down to oblivion with him, and none of it is Biblical.

  • David

    I used to think that the rapture camp was wrong, but harmless. I was wrong. When you have the President talking with nuts like John Hagee, about military strategy in the middle east, you’ve got problems. As far as biblcal interpretation, each book in the Bible must be intrepretated as it was written. For example, you cannot interpet Proverbs like you would Acts. To understand this, you have to know why the book was written, when, etc.