A Question I Was Asked:

Does the word 'Rapture' mean the same thing as 'Resurrection'?

I am reliably informed that this is a very rare picture of Edward Irving, a preacher who was active in 1830s London.

The Question:

Does the word 'Rapture' mean the same thing as 'Resurrection'?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Actually, no. The possible meanings of 'rapture' are:

1. The state of being transported by a lofty emotion; ecstasy.

2. An expression of ecstatic feeling. Often used in the plural.

3. The transporting of a person from one place to another, especially to heaven.

On the other hand, the possible meanings of 'resurrection' are:

1. The act of rising from the dead or returning to life.

2. The state of one who has returned to life.

3. The act of bringing back to practice, notice, or use; a revival.

4. Resurrection: Within Christianity

a. The rising again of Jesus on the third day after the Crucifixion.

b. The rising again of the dead at the Last Judgment.

So it will be seen that, as definitions of a word, there are differences.

'Rapture,' however, has come to refer to a particular doctrine within some Christian circles.

It may come as a surprise to some but the doctrine of the Rapture is not mentioned in any Christian writings, of which we have knowledge, until around the middle of the 19th century.

It matters not whether the early writers were writing in Greek or Latin, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian, Dutch, English or German, the teaching was unmentioned before about 1830/1840. This immediately - before we even look any further - must raise serious question marks over this doctrine. After all, resurrection (clearly a biblical doctrine) gets mentioned a lot, as do many other aspects of Christian teaching such as faith, grace, repentance and so on. Just to take the so-called 'early church fathers,' they lived very, very close to the time of the Apostles and were au fait with apostolic teaching; they wrote about the crucifixion, redemption, faith, perseverance and other aspects of Christian doctrine but never considered anything similar to what later became known as the 'rapture teaching.'

Without doubt, this does show that thousands of eminent biblical scholars, over something like sixteen centuries, did not see any point in considering or postulating upon any such thing as a 'rapture' teaching (whatever they might have called it in their own languages).

The teaching can only be traced back to one Edward Irving, an English minister living in London in the 1830s. Irving believed that there had to be a restoration of the spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 just before Christ's Second Coming. To Irving, the time had come for those spiritual manifestations to occur. Among the expected gifts was the renewal of speaking in tongues and of prophetic utterances motivated by the Spirit. He began to preach this new teaching and was dismissed from his Presbyterian denomination in 1832 for his pains. Irving has been called "the father of modern Pentecostalism."

One of Irving's followers was Margaret Macdonald. This lady apparently started to receive "visions" during a serious illness. The "message" she received during one of these visions convinced her that Christ was going to appear in two stages at His Second Coming, and not a single occasion, as just about the entirety of the Christian world believed.

Christ (according to Miss MacDonald) would first return secretly for the church alone; true Christians would be quietly snatched away, then He would return again when every eye in the world would see Him. This visionary experience of Miss Macdonald is the source of the modern Rapture doctrine.

Many people have thought that John Darby, the founder of the Plymouth Brethren, was the originator of the Rapture doctrine. But this is not now generally believed to be the case, although Darby, and Cyrus Scofield, certainly popularized the teaching. In the McDonald meetings, some people were apparently "speaking in tongues" and this is now thought to be the true origin of modern "Pentecostalism."

John Nelson Darby certainly rejected this form of "tongues speaking" and the extreme emotional excesses of Irvine/McDonald, nevertheless, after visiting the latter in Scotland, he did begin to teach that Christ's Advent would occur in two phases and this became part of his emerging 'dispensationalist' system.

According to the 'rapture doctrine,' when Christ returns, all of the elect who have died will be raised and transformed into a glorious state, along with the living elect, and then be caught up to be with Christ. The key text referring to the rapture (in their view) is 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, which states, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, 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, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord."

Terrible events are then believed by many (though not all) rapturists to affect the entire world in the absence of these saints.

Further support for a 'rapture' is sometimes drawn from about two or three verses in Luke 17: 'I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left,' but this is just to take Luke 17:31-37 out of context. If one considers the entire context, from verse 28, it is plain that Jesus was discussing the suddeness of His return and the need to be ready; He was also using a picture of the fact that God alone chooses His people.

However, those who believe in a rapture are divided into no less than three groups: a. Pre-tribulation rapturists, b. Mid-tribulation rapturists, and c. Post-tribulation rapturists. Arguments between these three groups have been regular and sometimes quite vitriolic. Odd indeed for Christians to have arguments over a 'doctrine' which it is very hard to establish from Scripture.

The huge body of Christianity simply sees 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 as a reference to the resurrection of the dead - nobody dreamed up this 'rapture' idea until MacDonald's "visions," this later being picked up by Darby and Scofield. The doctrine has affected not only most of Pentecostalism but a large section of the American Baptist movement. Most Baptists - and virtually all other Protestants - outside of north America, however, reject this 'extra-return' theory and focus on one Second Coming, in power and glory ('every eye shall see Him'), and the resurrection of the dead as the great Christian hopes. Indeed, the majority of theologians, including evangelical theologians, have seen no reason to give serious consideration to the dispensationalist concept of 'rapture' because supporting Scriptures are seen to be very seriously lacking.

I have narrowed down this answer to a simple discussion of the 'rapture,' rather than get into the huge fabric of dispensationalist premillenialism which most rapturists support. Within that system many, many things (in my view) are imposed upon the Bible which are - in truth - foreign to it and, therefore, they are unbiblical.
Robin A. Brace. December 10th, 2011.