Although the word “rapture” does not appear in the Bible, the concept appears numerous times. The word was coined from the Latin rapio or rapere which means to “catch up or snatch away.”
1 Thes. 4:13-18 is the only place in the NT where a “rapture” is clearly referred to.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. – [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]
Praise God! Jesus promised to come back for His people and this appears to describe that moment.
Modern day Confusion about the Rapture
The confusion is not the fact that Jesus comes back for His church. It’s the confusion caused to good people listening to some fanciful chronology and series of events taken out of context in Scripture, causing them to be unprepared.
It doesn’t appear the early church believed in the concept of the pre-tribulation rapture taught in many modern day mainstream churches today. This new teaching from the mind of man is relatively recent.
It wasn’t until 1827 that John Nelson Darby, considered the father of dispensationalism, first proposed the pre-tribulation rapture. Critics argue the concept of a rapture was actually taken from one of the charismatic utterances in Edward Irving‘s church by Margaret MacDonald‘s 1830 vision of the end times.
This view was accepted among many other Plymouth Brethren in England. Darby and other prominent Brethren were part of the Brethren Movement which impacted American Christianity, primarily through their writings. Influences included the Bible Conference Movement, starting in 1878 with the Niagara Bible Conference. These conferences, which were initially inclusive of historicist and futurist premillennialism, led to an increasing acceptance of futurist premillennial views and the pre-tribulation rapture especially among Presbyterian, Baptist and Congregational members. Popular books also contributed to acceptance of the pre-tribulation rapture, including William Eugene Blackstone’s book Jesus is Coming published in 1878 and which sold more than 1.3 million copies, and the Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909 and 1919 and revised in 1967. [Source: Wikipedia]
The popularization of a pre-tribulation rapture has been advanced in recent years by authors such as John Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, Hal Lindsey (Late Great Planet Earth), and Tim LaHaye. The idea exploded into the church in the 2000’s by the Left Behind movie series, based on the best-selling 1995 Christian eschatological end-times novel of the same name written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.
The Event known as the Rapture.
Clearly, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 teaches that the dead in Christ will rise first (the resurrection), after which we who are still alive will be caught up (raptured) together with them in the clouds. Yes, the graves of believers will be emptied first, and then those believers among us who are still living will join them to meet Christ.
There are numerous references in Scripture synonymous with the idea of a rapture. The harvest (Revelation 14:14-16), the reaping, the gathering (Matt. 24), and the resurrection all seem to refer to the same event. You should study those ideas in the Bible to get a fuller understanding of what is called the rapture.
When Will The Rapture Happen?
This is where it gets sticky and causes much division.
There is no biblical passage that states precisely what day or hour a Rapture will occur, although Matthew 24:29 seems to point to “Immediately after the distress of those days…” This would mean a post-tribulation rapture, and at odds with the Darby version of a pre-tribulation rapture taught in many mainline churches today.
Despite the many predictions of its timing throughout the ages, the fact that “date-setters” do NOT know the date is always made obvious in due time. Such was the case with William Miller in 1844. It was also the case with the Watchtower organization (Jehovah’s Witnesses) in 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1975. In more recent history we have witnessed the same “disappointments” in the failed predictions of Edgar C. Whisenant (1988 and again in 1989), an obscure group of Korean believers (Oct. 28, 1992), the Harold Camping Rapture of 1994, M. J. Agee’s rapture (May 31, 1998), Steve Fletcher (June 6. 2013), or Renee Moses’s 2001, 2014 and latest Sept. 23, 2015 date.
While nobody can know the precise timing of a rapture, I do believe we can know the general time as inferred in Scripture.
It would seem to me if the rapture (or harvest or reaping) is a future event, it seems to perhaps be in the time-frame of Rev. 14.
Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. – Revelation 14:14-16
Allowing Scripture to translate Scripture, it is important to note the Bible also refers to the end of the age as a harvest in Matthew 13:39: “The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.”
Prior to Rev. 14 is where the seven trumpet judgements occur and the beast coming out of the sea is revealed (Rev. 13:13), being given authority for forty-two months (Rev. 13:5) with power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. (Rev. 13:7). This, I believe, describes the tribulation. Believers have not yet been raptured (harvested [Revelation 14:14-16], reaped, or gathered [Matt. 24]), as the beast is given authority to wage war against God’s holy people who are still present on earth.
It’s important to note here that preterists believe Rev. 14 and indeed most of the book of Revelation is a symbolic representation of the siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in 70AD. It has been fulfilled in historical accounts and the coming of the Lord in this context was His coming to bring destruction of the Jewish temple and the end of the Jewish covenant.
Division in the Church
The rapture is one of the more controversial subjects and is one of the more divisive issues in modern-day Christianity.
Because of its divisive nature many people don’t talk about it – nor do they study the scriptures pertaining to it. They consider the rapture and indeed most prophecy as a subject that cannot be understood and rely on the popularized teachings of others.
Some say that prophecy and specifically the end time events surrounding the rapture are non-essential teachings and thus its not important what beliefs people hold about it. I would agree what a person believes about the rapture or end time events does NOT determine their salvation. On the other hand, what a person believes about these scriptural events does impact how they live out their Christian lives while still alive here on earth.
Christians should put away the teachings and traditions of man and instead prayerfully study the Scriptures for themselves regarding prophetic events.
It’s Important to Study All Scripture
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
It says, “All Scripture,” and that includes passages dealing with prophecy, end-time events, and a rapture. Neglecting those passages that are more difficult to understand or deal with will surely diminish our effectiveness in teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness and will leave us ill-equipped for every good work.
We do not need to be unaware… as Scripture tells us everything we need to know. We do not need to be confused… as Scripture breathed into our hearts by the Holy Spirit will take away all confusion.
We know that the Second Coming of Christ is found often in the Bible, both in the Old and the New Testaments. We also know there is a period of tribulation spoken of and also a millennial period. The controversy among Christians generally revolves around the timing or sequence of the Tribulation and the Millennium. There are several schools of thought regarding the timing of these events. For the novice, getting and keeping all this straight can be a bit of a challenge. I will try to explain and clear up some of the confusion in the articles contained on this website.
First of all, there are three general views that need to be understood.
There will be a literal Golden Age in history, but it cannot occur until after Christ returns bodily to this earth and rules for a thousand years from the earthly Jerusalem – Christ must physically return to earth before there can be a Golden Age or millennium. Preceding the millennium, the present Church Age would end with a seven year period of Tribulation. Following the millennium, eternity would then be spent in glorified bodies on a new Earth, not in an ethereal Heaven.
Applies these Golden Age passages to history in the current age before Christ returns — Christ will return after the Golden Age or millennium. The Westminster Larger Catechism espoused an eschatology mostly in harmony with postmillennialism. The strongest postmillennial influence in America today comes from the Chalcedon group, who are disciples of Rousas J. Rushdoony. Frequently used terms for this current belief are are Christian Reconstruction, Kingdom Now Theology and Dominion Theology.
The Golden Age in history is limited to the spiritual realm, and that there will be no literal Golden Age on earth. St. Augustine formulated this viewpoint around A.D. 400, holding that the current Church Age will end abruptly with the Rapture of the Church, with the unrighteous consigned to Hell, the Redeemed resurrected in spiritual bodies to take up residence with God in an ethereal Heaven, and the material universe ceases to exist. The present Church Age is both the Millennium because the Holy Spirit is restraining evil in the world and also the Tribulation because the Church suffers persecutions.
Whenever it happens, it will be too late for the unsaved.
Regardless of the scenario, the time, or methods God uses we can be confident that Jesus will save us and take us to the place He has prepared for us.
“In My Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” [John 14:2-3]
Hope for the Best, but Prepare for the Worst
It is all too often easy to focus on the sequence of events or methods and take our eyes off Jesus. We cannot know the details of God’s plan but we can know the person who will reveal that plan to us. Our focus must be on Jesus and we must listen for His voice and follow Him. That alone will bring us through whatever the future holds and He alone can save us.
At the same time, the Bible tells us to prepare ourselves. There is much in scripture that points to the difficulties Christians will suffer and how to conduct ourselves while we wait for His return.
A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it. – Proverbs 22:3
Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. Proverbs 6:6-8
For many years I suppose my theology best fit that of the premillennialist. Apart from the “timing” issues, I also believe there are some valuable insights from the postmillenialist camp that all Christians should pay attention to (for example, the application of the Mosaic law to the present time). As I studied the Bible and prayed, my theology has evolved beyond those fanciful teachings of man and I’ve focused more on the teachings about the Kingdom and the person of Jesus Christ. While I agree there will be some future transformation from this physical world to the spiritual kingdom, I’m comfortable leaving that in the hand of God. It’s clear to me that many of the Biblical prophecies have been fulfilled or are being fulfilled before our eyes today, and those that haven’t will be fulfilled in God’s perfect plan.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12