The Rapture Idea
The idea of a Rapture – the secret “taking away” of believers before a Great Tribulation of seven years and the coming of Christ to punish the unrighteous of the Earth – is one presented to new Christians from the earliest days of their faith. An unbeliever might even know about the Rapture long before he comes to the faith. Many evangelizers will use the idea of the Rapture as a way to “till the soil” where the seeds of the Gospel message will be planted.
It’s an idea with significant “mind share,” occupying plenty of space in the brains of believers and in the pulpits of preachers. Often even the youngest children in an Evangelical congregation can draw a picture of what they’re told will happen in the very near future:
- Millions of true believers disappear from the Earth ... raptured, “caught away.”
- Governments panic at first, and then make convincing excuses for the disappearances.
- An Antichrist arises and brings a false peace to the world.
- A one-world religion forms to spread faith in the Antichrist.
- People are forced to receive a mark that shows belief that Antichrist is a god.
- Millions upon millions die in horrible plagues released by angels.
- Christ and His army finally come in the clouds and utterly destroy the last of His enemies.
That’s the sequence: Rapture, Panic, False Peace, Heresy, Global Death, Final Defeat of Enemies. Keep it in mind.
It’s a heck of a story. You may have even seen it on the big screen in The Omen and Left Behind or on the small screen in the series Sleepy Hollow or any number of Discovery Channel retellings The secular world eats up this story as much as many Evangelicals do.
To separate faith from fiction, however, we should take a look at the source of the Rapture idea, the Scriptures themselves.
The Rapture Scriptures
Two passages form the foundation of the Rapture idea in modern Christianity, one in 1 Thessalonians 4 and the other in 1 Corinthians 15.
1 Thessalonians 4:15-17
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
This sequence, the sequence of Scripture, raises some issues with the sequence we saw previously. Christ descends with a shout, no secrets about it. A trumpet from the archangel blasts forth, again no secret. The dead in Christ rise up in the air, coming before anyone else. Then the alive in Christ get caught up into the clouds with the Lord. Then they are with Him forever.
But before we draw any conclusions, let’s examine the second major passage dealing with this same event.
1 Corinthians 15:51-57
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In this sequence, more detail is added. The trump that sounds is the last trump, the very last one. The dead raise incorruptible. The living are changed next. The final enemies, Death and the Grave, are defeated decisively. Christ and His life reign victorious forever.
According to these Scriptures, the event we call the Rapture in our modern times is what the church has always called the Resurrection of the Dead. It happens when the very last trumpet sounds, and it signals the end of Christ’s and mankind’s final enemies, Death and the Grave.
End times enthusiasts need to ask themselves: How can the Rapture come before the plagues and wars that kill tens of millions if it is taking place as part of the moment in salvation that closes the grave forever?
How can the Rapture be a secret snatching away of the living when Paul clearly says it is proclaimed with a shout, with the Lord appearing dramatically in the clouds at the blaring of the trumpet, a fanfare declaring the arrival of the King?
How, if this moment is the moment of the “last trump,” can there be other trumpets in a tribulation story filled with seals, bowls, and trumps?
How can this Rapture be the moment that “Death is swallowed up in victory” if there is still so much death to come in a Great Tribulation?
And finally: How can the current Rapture idea and the timeline accompanying it persist once the light of Scripture shines on it? Where did it even come from?
The Making of Myths
Since the dawn of civilization, humankind has been a myth-mongering species. We love our tall tales. We see the sun rise and we conjure stories of Apollo’s chariot. We hear thunder and we dream up Thor’s hammer. We see foam on the ocean and we invent Izanagi no Mikoto’s divine spear of life.
It’s often oppression that brings out the myth makers among us. My own ancestors of Mexico are a prime example of fable crafting: Not content with the religion offered by their rich European overlords, they borrowed from the oppressing class’s faith to devise a tale of a Lady of Guadalupe, dark-skinned like regional natives, who declared herself an incarnation of the Virgin Mary and demanded a church be built to honor her. Similarly, the oppressed and disenfranchised Jews of two centuries before Christ borrowed the term “messiah” from their ancient faith to concoct a complex mythology of an imminent warrior king who would conquer the oppressive Roman empire, subjecting it to Judean control.
The word “eschatology” means “the study of end times.” As Christian believers, we aren’t immune to our eschatology being affected by our human myth-making drive. The fact is, the more oppressed or disenfranchised we imagine ourselves to be, the more eschatological myth-making we’re likely to do. This, I believe, is part of what drives the current push to reinterpret the Second Coming of our Lord in victory and glory as a rescue tale that snatches us away from the horrors and punishment of those who refuse to believe as we do.
As we’ve seen, the two passages at the very heart of the Rapture idea in Scripture do not paint it as a flight from God’s wrath upon the world. Instead, they portray it as the final moment of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the grave. There is no evil after that moment. There is no more death and tribulation.
But what about that End Times model we all have seen, all that stuff cobbled together from the Book of Revelation and Matthew 24 and parts of Ezekiel and areas in Daniel? Obviously, that’s far too complex a topic to be handled in a single blog post. No matter how we may choose to interpret those difficult and much-debated passages, one thing is clear from the Apostle Paul’s words on the subject of “Rapture”: It is the final moment of sin, death, and the grave. Evil has no foothold after it. It is the day of Resurrection, ultimate victory, the moment that the mistake of Eden is erased and forgotten forever.
To claim that Rapture is followed by death, war, and destruction is to call Paul a liar and to distort and disregard the Scriptures.
Worse, to believe in the modern Rapture mythology is to grant the grave continued victory, and to give death back his sting.
I prefer to step away from the mythologies of this age, and instead to embrace the real promises of God. What promises? That His kingdom is now among us (Luke 17:21). That His kingdom and His peace will continue to grow without ceasing (Isaiah 9:7). That He reigns now from heaven as God puts all His enemies under His feet as His footstool (Acts 2:35). That the final enemies to be defeated will be death and the grave (1 Corinthians 15).
The Rapture is the Second Coming. The Rapture is the Resurrection. Instead of cowering to wait to be snatched from the evils of this world, I will stand tall, contributing to the increase of the Kingdom through the fruit of the Spirit, and helping to make Christianity something other than a laughable, throwaway plot for Hollywood screenwriters.
My eschatology is Victory.