Facing the Facts on the "Rapture"

Does the 'Rapture' Really Have Scriptural Support??

It is Heaven, the Resurrection and Eternal Life Which, According to the New Testament, are the Great Christian Hopes

- Not Any Sort of "Secret Rapture."

All Christianity's great and major doctrines are established by a great weight of Scripture. In complete contrast, those believing in a rapture can only point to about two verses in the entirety of the Bible. It is always wrong to seek to establish a doctrine through just one or two rather unclear verses.

I t surprises some that the concept of a "rapture" is not an old biblical teaching, that is, it was never held by any of the 'church fathers,' nor by any of the great theologians such as Augustine of Hippo, nor Middle Ages Catholic 'heavyweight' philosopher/theologian Thomas Aquinas. Then, as late as the 16th century, it was still unmentioned and unconsidered as a Christian teaching by the Protestant 'greats' Martin Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli. Now one might say, 'so what?' but perhaps we should just stop and consider that such men, especially Calvin, spent countless hours pouring over every word of Scripture!

In the centuries which followed numerous other great Bible expositors came along. Oh, they crossed swords in the Arminian/Calvinism debates, and other debates too, but still never a single word about any "rapture," nor any word or term which means pretty much the same thing. That should not surprise us for 'rapture' is not a rendition of any particular New Testament Greek word. In short, it is not a biblical word, nor a translation of a biblical word. This is undeniable.

The Rapture Teaching Has Little Support Among Both Catholics and Protestants

It was very possibly as late as the 1830s that the rapture teaching first became known. Arguments rage as to just who actually originally founded the 'rapture theory' and I am not going to get involved in these arguments here. Suffice it to say, some claim it was Edward Irving (1792-1834), a Scottish Bible teacher, others claim it was primarily John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). For sure, Darby was one of the influential figures among the original Plymouth Brethren but later left them, going on to found the more extremist Exclusive Brethren whom he would attempt to indoctrinate with his prophetic extremism. Also, just what part (if any) did a certain Margaret McDonald (1815-1840) play? She, it appears, was part of Irving's congregation and had dreams and visions which (it has been stated) first established the rapture teaching. So the history is now pretty cloudy and obscure with claims and counter-claims travelling in several directions; one has certainly heard the claim that - at the beginning - Darby rejected McDonald's visions as 'demonic,' yet, without question, it is Darby who was in the process of formulating his new 'dispensationalism' (a new biblical slant at the time, and one which would certainly eventually include the rapture teaching). So whatever the precise origins, there is no doubt that it was Darby who finally fully formulated the teaching and carried it forward. Then a little later it was Cyrus Scofield, an American lawyer, who popularized the teaching among American Protestants, especially baptists. In Britain the new teaching only had currency among 'Brethren' people and, a little later, among some (but not all) Pentecostals. In general terms, the concept of a 'secret rapture' is unsupported among Protestants in Britain and the rest of Europe. It is also completely unsupported among both 'arms' of Catholicism (Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholicism).

The Scriptures Which Are Misunderstood by 'Rapturists'

There are really only three such Scriptures. Someone once sent me a long list of Scriptures supposedly supporting a "rapture" but all actually supported the resurrection of the dead. There are just 2-3 which have, perhaps, caused genuine confusion:

1). Remember Lot's wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. 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." "Where, Lord?" they asked. He replied, "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather." (Luke 17:32-37).

2). The second Scripture is the Matthew 24 equivalent of the Luke Scripture so we don't need to specifically look at that.

These verses are primarily dual, of course (as in Matthew 24), referring to both AD70 as well as the Second Coming of our Lord in glory and power. However, they could have even further applications as and when our Lord has brought any particular society into judgment. The concept of certain people apparently being snatched away while others are left behind is obviously a symbolic picture and one which could have several applications:

a) Referring to the suddeness of death and judgment.

b) The fact that true believers will rise in the resurrection to life with full confidence but others will rise to judgment and a questionable final outcome.

c) The fact that true believers may look exactly the same as other people but the Lord will deal with them differently in times of judgment.

d) In AD70, some may not 'flee to the mountains' quickly enough. See Matthew 24: 15-18. Those not fleeing quickly enough got left behind when the Romans tightened the siege. It is clear that our Lord expects His people to heed warnings and to take note of the 'signs and the times.'

Major Bible commentator Albert Barnes has written, "The word 'taken' may mean either to be taken away from the danger - that is, rescued, as Lot was - Luke 17:28-29 - or to be taken away 'by death.' Probably the latter is the meaning."

Of Luke 17:34, the outstanding Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Bible commentary states, "...Two in one bed - the prepared and unprepared mingled in closest intercourse together in the ordinary walks and fellowships of life, when the moment of severance arrives. Awful truth, realized before the destruction of Jerusalem, when the Christians found themselves forced by their Lord's directions (Luke 21:21) at once and for ever away from their old associates; but most of all when the second coming of Christ shall burst upon a heedless world."

However, the idea that true believers will suddenly be spirited off to heaven either before, during, or after a "great tribulation" has no real scriptural authority and was a concept which was entirely unheard of until J.N. Darby formulated this teaching from about the middle of the 19th century.

So there are various opinions about the precise meaning but certainly never enough to establish the rapture doctrine as currently taught.

Now here is the third Scripture open to possible confusion:

3). For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17).

In fact, the above Scripture is such a very clear reference to the resurrection of the dead that we hardly even need to consider it here. Any who might be confused about the resurrection should consult 1 Corinthians 15. The major Protestant Bible commentators, Gill, Clarke, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Matthew Henry and Albert Barnes all agree that this Scripture is a reference to the resurrection. This does not refer to any sort of 'secret rapture of the saints.'

What is the Interpretation of the Majority?

The majority understanding of the literally just one or two Scriptures which rapture people use, is that these are plain, or sometimes somewhat symbolic, references either to the resurrection of the dead, or the need to act and choose life! There are many, many New Testament passages describing the resurrection of the dead and the gathering in of the faithful when Jesus comes again (Matthew 16:27, 24:30-31, 25:31-32, 26:64, Mark 12:18-27, 13:26-27, Luke 17:26-35, John 5:21, 5:28-29, 1 Corinthians 4:5, 6:14, 15:12-32, Philippians 3:20-21, Colossians 3:4, 2 Peter 3:8-10, Revelation 1:7). Such passages are often not afraid to use various descriptions to describe wondrous events (1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13:9-12). Most Christians do not place any great significance on the particular imagery which Paul used in 1 Thessalonians, yet it is far and away a majority opinion that he referred to the resurrection of the dead! Indeed, no noted Bible commentator ever diverged from this view until a few started applying dispensationalist ideas to Scripture in the 19th century.

We should never attempt to establish a Christian doctrine from just one or two cloudy Scriptures! The golden rule of the Bible interpreter is to always only establish Christian doctrine from many, clear Scriptures. This is how all the great Christian teachings are established. The resurrection of the dead, for instance, is established from many Scriptures. It is cultic behaviour to attempt to establish an entire Christian doctrine from just one or two unclear verses (as the Mormons have done with 'baptism for the dead' - 1 Corinthians 15:29). By these standards, the rapture theory simply does not stand.

I do not state any of the above in order to attack 'rapture people' who are often especially sincere people but I feel that any error in biblical understanding needs to be pointed out. The teaching is simply not established from Scripture. But could it still be correct? Yes, conceivably but I want to encourage acceptance of what the Bible is very clear about: that is, redemption in and through Christ, justification by faith, forgiveness, the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead. Such doctrines are established by numerous and clear Scriptures! Should the rapture teaching actually be correct, its minor position in Scripture can only mean it should be regarded as a peripheral and minor doctrine at best.

Robin A. Brace. March 1st, 2015.