I Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15 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 prevent them which are asleep.
16 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:
17 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.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
A school bus driver suddenly disappears from his seat. The bus crashes and explodes into a fireball killing all the kids onboard. A pilot flying a plane disappears. The plane crashes all onboard die. A doctor is performing an operation. Right at the most crucial moment, he disappears. The patient dies in agony. This is the rapture. You have seen the bumper stickers: "In case of Rapture this car will be unoccupied."
The Rapture is also sometimes called the “Secret Rapture,” because according to this theory Christ does not actually come down to the earth. He just comes down to the clouds, removes his people without warning from wherever they are, and then leaves. During the Rapture, Christ does not actually appear on the earth. He takes his people out and goes back to heaven where they feast in glory, while the world is given over to evil and destruction.
Usually Rapture theory says that after the Rapture, a period called “The Tribulation” begins. This is a seven year period during which God will pour out His wrath upon an unbelieving world. At the end of the Tribulation, Christ will return again. This time he actually comes down to the earth with an army of the saints and a great battle is fought. Christ is victorious and then he will execute judgment upon the ungodly. Then, the Lord will usher in the Millennial Kingdom, an earthly reign of Christ which will last for a thousand years. After a thousand years, there will be another great battle. This is supposed to involve a last-ditch effort of evil against good—to no avail, of course. Then Rapture theorists say that a second resurrection will take place; and all who remain from the time of Adam will be raised and shall receive their just desserts.
Many variations of Rapture theory exist, but some variation of the Rapture is a common belief among Fundamentalists. It is not the belief of most Christians. Most Christians believe that there will be a Second Coming, or Second Advent, or Parousia in which Christ returns to establish his kingdom and to transform the world into a new heaven and a new earth, but most Christians do not believe in a second and third advent as implied by rapture theory. By the way, some folks refer to Rapture theory as the “Yo Yo Theory” because Christ keeps coming down to earth and going back again.
Anyone who studies Rapture Theory is struck by how recent it is in the history of the church. The belief in the "pre-Tribulation" rapture is sometimes attributed to a fifteen-year old Scottish-Irish girl named Margaret MacDonald, who in 1830 had a vision that was later published in 1861. Rapturists disagree about the importance of Margaret MacDonald, but there is no doubt that the person and the denomination who really first popularized Rapture Theory was John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren. John Nelson Darby was an Anglo-Irish evangelist who taught a secret rapture during the mid-1800’s.
Darby’s foremost disciple in America was Cyrus Scofield. Scofield was a fascinating person. He was born in Michigan, but during the Civil War, he served in the Confederate Army. After the war, he became a lawyer in Kansas and was elected to the Kansas legislature as a Republican. Probably because of his alcoholism, he abandoned both his career and his wife and two daughters. His wife then divorced him in 1883, and the same year he married Hettie Hall von Wartz, with whom he had a son. He eventually became a Christian and was ordained as a Congregationalist minister. He decided that church was too liberal and became a Southern Presbyterian. In 1909, he published the central document of the Rapture Theory, The Scofield Reference Bible. As of 2007, the Scofield Reference Bible has sold five million copies.
Dallas Theological Seminary, founded in 1924, was for many years devoted to teaching only a pre-tribulation, pre-millennial version of Rapture Theory.
But the key event for promoting Rapture theory in the United States was the publication in the 1970’s of Hal Lindsey’s book The Late Great Planet Earth, which has reportedly sold between 15 million to 35 million copies. Nobody seems to know how many copies of the book have been sold. In any case, Lindsey proclaimed that the rapture was imminent, an idea which he based on world conditions at the time. The Cold War and the European Economic Community figured prominently in his predictions of impending Armageddon. Lindsey wrote that other aspects of 1970s global politics had been predicted in the Bible. Lindsey suggested, for example, that the seven-headed beast with ten horns, cited in Revelation, was the European Economic Community, which at the time had ten member nations. Now it has 27 member states. Nothing that Lindsey predicted in his books has ever come to pass, but people keep buying the books anyway.
In 1995, the doctrine of the rapture was further popularized by Tim LaHaye's book series, Left Behind, which sold tens of millions of copies and was made into several movies. The Left Behind series was able to avoid controversy because it was fiction. If anyone criticized the series, the authors replied, it was just fiction. But many fundamentalists took the series to be Biblical truth.
That is a quick and dirty history of Rapture Theory. The vast majority of those who believe in a rapture, believe that it is imminent. That is to say, nothing else needs to happen before the rapture. I have often heard Rapturists say that the Rapture is the next item on God’s agenda. However, some Rapturists say that certain warning signs must first take place. They say, for example, that:
The nations of the world must unify their currency into a universal standard. There will be peace in Israel according to Ezekiel 38. There will be a one-world government, something like the seventh beast of Revelation, prior to the Antichrist's eighth beast government. The Jewish people must be in control of the land of Israel. The Jewish temple in Jerusalem must be rebuilt in its original place, and sacrifices must be performed in the temple. This includes the sacrifice of an unblemished red heifer. The Antichrist must be walking the earth in human form.
It should be said that all rapturists do not agree on these signs. Some believe in some signs, some believe in others, some in none.
To the great embarrassment of all Christians, some Rapturists have made specific predictions about the date of the Rapture. The most recent one I remember was the publication in 1988 of Edgar C. Whisenant’s book, “88 Reasons why the Rapture is in 1988.” As you probably have figured out, the Rapture did not occur in 1988. there have been many other predictions about a rapture. All have been wrong.
What is a Christian to think then about Rapture Theory? Is this a biblical doctrine? The word “rapture” is not found in the Bible, but that does not disprove the theory. The word “Trinity” is also not found in the Bible. So the real question is: Will there be a secret Second Coming, and later on a third coming, or a third appearance of Christ when he comes in glory.
Revelation 1:7 states that, “Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him,” and 1 Thessalonians 4:16, says “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” There appears to be no secret or silent appearance of Christ from those verses.
Another point is that the "Tribulation" so often referred to by Rapture theorists is based upon an erroneous interpretation of Matthew 24. This Tribulation probably refers to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In the opening verses of Matthew 24, Jesus talks specifically about the total destruction of the temple, which happened in A.D 70. Moreover, Jesus said the destruction and tribulation he was talking about would come to pass in that generation, which it did. But that means that the Tribulation of Matthew 24 is not about the end of time at all.
If we asked those who support a rapture to give us their primary scripture verses, their first passage would probably be I Thessalonians 4:13-18. So let us look at these verses for a few moments.
I Thessalonians is generally an encouraging letter. Paul wants to encourage the young Christian church in Thessalonica. But they have some questions that they want answered. When Paul was among them, he preached the imminent return of Christ. The church was expecting Christ to come back and transform the world at any moment; And he would transform them and give them immortal bodies enabling them to live forever. But some time has gone by and Christ has not returned and some believers have died. The question is: What about these dead folks? Will they have any part in Christ when he returns? That is the question Paul is answering in chapter 4 beginning at v13.
He says, “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not.”
In other words, he says, I do not want you to grieve over the dead like there is no hope for them. He is talking about a Christian attitude toward death. Certainly, we grieve when we lose loved ones, but we do not grieve as if they were irretrievably lost and gone.
We believe that Jesus died and was raised to life. , Therefore, we also believe that when Jesus returns, Jesus will bring with him all who believed in him before they died. So where are the dead now? They are with Jesus. So those who are living when Jesus returns do not meet Jesus before those who have died. The dead in Christ have already met the Lord. That is a point Paul wants to make. What happens then when Christ returns? Paul emphasizes in v16 that the return will be apparent to all—“With a loud command and with the shout of the chief angel and a blast of God's trumpet, the Lord will return from heaven.” No secret rapture here. You are going to know about it. Then, v16 says, “the dead in Christ shall rise first.” Those who had faith in Christ before they died will be raised to life. Again this is not about a rapture, this is about a resurrection. Next, Paul says in v17, All of us who are still alive will be taken up into the clouds together with the resurrected dead to meet the Lord in the sky, to escort him down to earth, like an honor guard meeting a returning king to escort him to his throne. Then there is no millennial kingdom here. We are going to be with the Lord forever.
Paul concludes the passage with v18: “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” If you die in Christ, you can be assured that you are not going to miss out on anything. If you die in Christ, you are with the Lord, he will take care of you and you will not miss the resurrection. This passage is not about a secret rapture, but nevertheless it is a great comfort to God’s people, because it assures us that death cannot separate us from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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