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The Rapture – It’s No Secret
One of the most popular doctrines today, widespread throughout countless denominations, is the idea of a 'secret rapture'. There is even a very large percentage of non-Christian (or non-religious, for that matter) people who are at least somewhat familiar with this idea. After all, considering the fame of the Tim LaHaye/Jerry Jenkins corroboration, "Left Behind", as well as the massive push on radio, television and the internet propagating this belief, it’s pretty hard to be totally in the dark about it. Not to mention that just about every Protestant/Evangelical denomination teaches this creed.
I should mention that this essay is not meant as an attack on the “Left Behind” series. I realize that the series itself is not responsible for the doctrine of the 'secret rapture'. On the contrary, I sincerely believe that the intentions of LaHaye and Jenkins is to encourage their readers to choose Jesus Christ as soon as possible so they can go to heaven in the Rapture, thereby avoiding the Tribulation, as well as the Antichrist and the Mark. However, I felt it necessary to make mention of their work in order to better demonstrate the recognition of this teaching.
“One of the top ten best-selling books of the 20th century.” - Barnes & Noble.
The first book was published in 1995 and became so popular that the series is now expanded to sixteen books, most of which have been on the best-seller lists of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, and have resulted in an interview of LaHaye and Jenkins on Larry King Live. Six years later, on February 2, 2001, "Left Behind: The Movie" opened in theatres all over the United States, and I must admit it really is a good movie, as far as ‘movies’ go. It has all the right ingredients - action, suspense and adventure throughout. Without question, millions of hearts are being touched by this project and people are being influenced to give their lives to Jesus Christ. I’m sure that Christians everywhere are being led to think more seriously about the final days and the coming of the Lord.
On the other hand, I feel that there is a subtle, yet perilous belief, common amongst many, that underneath the fiction there lays biblical facts (something I like to refer to as the DaVinci Code syndrome). This is qualified by comments like the following (just to list a few)…
“Left Behind: The Movie is an excellent portrayal of what the Bible declares will actually happen following the rapture” – Dr. Bill Bright, President, Campus Crusade for Christ.
“The main features of this story are not fiction. Those not prepared will be left behind” – Dr. John F. Walvoord, Dallas.
“This film is sensitively written, beautifully directed, acted, and produced. I feel it’s certainly one of the very best Christian-produced films ever made…” – Pat Boone, Actor.
Friends, although I believe that the producers of “Left Behind” are sincere Christians, we must always search the scriptures for ourselves to see if these things are so. But before we do that, I believe it would be beneficial for us to have a brief understanding of what is being presented in the idea of a 'secret rapture.'
First, we should understand that this teaching is referred to as the “dispensationalist” or “futuristic” interpretation of prophecy and according to this interpretation the coming of Jesus takes place in two separate events. First He comes to take the church to heaven ‘secretly’, then seven years later He comes visibly. In between those times, the Antichrist is 'supposed' to rule and a great tribulation period happens.
There are three pillars that stand out in this teaching.
Pillar 1 – The Rapture does not take place at the visible Second Coming of Jesus Christ, but rather seven years before it.
Pillar 2 – those who miss the Rapture will have a second chance to be saved, during the seven years of Tribulation.
Pillar 3 – The true Church of today will escape the Tribulation and will not have to confront the Antichrist and the Mark.
As I tried to confirm these ideas, once again I could not find any evidence in the Bible to support this teaching. The word "rapture" itself is nowhere to be found in the Bible! It is a term that was coined to describe the second coming of Jesus. However, when we take a close look at the Scriptures we will see that Christ’s second coming, the resurrection and the catching up of the saints to meet Jesus in the air, all take place at the same time – that is, at the end of the world. As a matter of fact, when we take still a closer look, we will see that what the Bible says is practically the exact opposite of the 'secret rapture' scenario. Consider the following alternatives to the ‘pillars’ listed above.
Alternative 1 – The Rapture does take place at the visible Second Coming of Jesus at the end of the world.
Alternative 2 – Those who are not ready for the Second Coming of Jesus will have no second chance to be saved
Given these alternatives, we can begin to see how serious these issues really are! If the 'secret rapture' scenario is false, the results will have very serious implications for our lives – all of us. With that in mind, let’s now take a look at what the Bible really says about Jesus’ second coming.
When we read Acts 1:9-11, we see that verse 11 indicates that when Christ returns, it will be in the same manner as when He left. Verse 9 tells us what manner that was – they saw Him being “taken up.”
Jude 14 tells us that when Jesus returns He comes with “ten thousands of His saints.”
Psalm 50:3 tells us that it will not be “silent”, but rather that it will be “very tempestuous round about Him.”
Revelation 1:7 says that He comes with clouds “and ‘every’ eye shall see Him,” not just a select few.
Matthew 24:7 emphasises that it will be like lightening flashing across the sky, from “the east, and shineth even unto the west.”
Revelation 6:14-17 talks about great physical changes on the earth, hardly unnoticeable, as well as again presenting the idea that every man on earth, mighty men, rich men, kings and slave alike, will witness this event.
Matthew 13:37-42 is a parable symbolizing end-time events and although it doesn’t speak directly about the manner of Jesus’ return, something that should stand out is the idea that there is no second chance.
Revelation 19:11-19 again speaking of end-time events, indicates that when Jesus returns it will be a literal and visible event.
1 Thessalonians 4:15-17
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.”
In this text, verse 15 confirms that the ‘rapture’ takes place at the same time as the “the coming of the Lord.” I actually saved this one for last because, ironically, verse 17 is probably the most-quoted verse used for evidence to support the ‘rapture’ theory. You see, even though the word "rapture" is not found in the Bible, the dispensationalists apply it to those two little words in verse 17, “caught up,” and to a certain degree, I can see where this could be considered a plausible interpretation. The issue I have, however, is that this phrase does not necessarily mean to ‘disappear without a trace.’ As a matter of fact, there is a similar phrase that is found in a text that we’ve already looked at which seems to indicate something quite different.
“And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was “taken up;” and a cloud received him out of their sight.” [Emphasis added]
The phrase I’m referring to, obviously, is “taken up,” but when we look at the nature of this event it is clear that the disciples saw it happen and continued to watch until Jesus vanished into a cloud. You can say what you want about this verse, but it definitely does not portray the idea of Jesus ‘suddenly’ disappearing ‘unexpectedly’ and leaving His clothes behind! On the contrary (yet again) as we look into this further it will become quite clear that Paul’s words about a “shout,” a “voice,” a “trumpet,” a “resurrection," and believers being “caught up” into the clouds seem to be talking about an event that is both audible and very visible.
As stated earlier, the dispensationalists claim that the coming of Jesus Christ takes place in two separate events, which would raise the question then, of ‘which’ coming is verse 15 referring to? Yet at the same time, I think we can agree that the above verses, in both 1 Thessalonians, as well as the aforementioned, in no way indicate two separate events, nor do they indicate a ‘secretive’ nature of the event. On the contrary, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, sometimes referred to as "the noisiest verse in the Bible," mentions the "voice of the archangel" and the "trump of God", and although the dispensationalists claim that these are heard only by the ‘believers’, that part is not mentioned anyhere in Scripture.
ας εμάs μιλώ Ελληνικός
Before we continue on to examine the other verses used to support this teaching, let’s talk a little Greek for a moment. The dispensationalists teach that the ‘rapture’ (Gr. “parousia”) is silent, and seven years later will be the ‘revelation’ (Gr. “apokalupsis”), which refers to the visible Second Coming of Jesus in power and glory. However, as will be shown, these Greek terms are used interchangeably in the Bible and they give no indication of a seven-year interval.
“But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming [parousia] of the Son of man be.”
Now notice Luke’s account of the same passage found in Luke 17:26, 30
“And as it was in the days of Noe,… Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed [apokalupsis].”
These two verses alone make it absolutely clear that the coming (parousia) of Christ and the revelation (apokalupsis) of Christ are the same event.
1 Peter 1:13
“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation [apokalupsis] of Jesus Christ;”
Question – why would Christians be told to keep hoping to the very end of the world for the grace brought through the revelation of Christ, if their real hope was a ‘secret rapture’ seven years before the revelation?
“Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming [parousia] of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.”
Again, why would Christians be told to be patient unto the coming of the Lord if there is a ‘secret rapture’ to take them to heaven seven years before His coming?
Friends, as we take an honest look at this teaching, we will see how confusing and contradicting it really is. You see, the dispensationalists claim that the rapture is not really the “coming of Jesus” at all. As mentioned earlier, they say His coming is when He returns in power and glory seven years after the rapture, but as the above verses show, there is no difference between the ‘parousia’ and the ‘apokalupsis’, so they have contradicted what the Bible says. This idea of a 'secret rapture' is founded on an endless repetition of words and ideas that are not found in the Bible, but rather have been reiterated over and over again until we’ve reached the point that millions now assume that they are biblical!
Nonetheless, we’ve now taken a look at 1 Thessalonians 4:17, the one they use the most to ‘confirm’ the 'secret rapture' idea. Now let’s take a look at some other verses that the dispensationalists use as ‘evidence’ to support this idea.
1 Thessalonians 5:2
“For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.”
The dispensationalists, as well as the producers of the “Left Behind” series interpret this to mean that Jesus will come as a ‘silent’ thief to take believers away to Heaven before the seven years of Tribulation. However, looking at the context of this passage reveals something different. We only need to look at the very next verse.
1 Thessalonians 5:3
“For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”
Now when we put these two verses together it should become pretty clear that it is the “sudden destruction” that will “come as a thief in the night.” Read again from 1 Thessalonians 4:16 – 5:2 to get the full picture. What Paul is really saying is that Jesus will come unexpectedly, with a noisy shout, a loud voice and a blast of a trumpet, bringing “sudden destruction” upon the unsaved. As you can see, although this is a “sudden” coming, it certainly is not ‘secret.’
The apostle Peter also wrote about the return of Jesus as a “thief in the night” in 2 Peter 3:10, but again when we take a closer look we see references to a “great noise” as well as massive physical changes in the earth that would be rather difficult to keep ‘secret.’
Now would be a good time to note that neither of the above two examples we’ve looked at seem to indicate any type of seven-year period of Tribulation. Instead, these verses appear to link the Second Coming of Jesus to the end of the world.
Matthew 24:3 also associates the “parousia” to the “end of the world,” but even more interesting is that when talking about the Second Coming and the end of the world, Jesus warns us against being deceived four times in this single sermon alone (Matthew 24:4, 5, 11, 24)
Again, 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is the most quoted passage in the Bible used to support the “Left Behind” idea of a ‘secret rapture.’ Yet as we have just seen, it does not really suggest this at all!
The second most quoted verse from the Bible used to support a ‘secret rapture’ is found in Matthew 24:40.
“Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.”
As has already been shown, we know that when Jesus returns there is a group of people that are “caught up” to meet Jesus in the air, and another group that is not. So the question for us is whether the word “taken” means to ‘disappear without a trace,’ also, is the one that is “left” actually ‘left behind’? Although I’ve already touched on this briefly, let us consider the words of Jesus found in Matthew 24:37-39.
“But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”
There are a few things we could look at from this verse; however, there are only two things we need to note for this discussion. Noah and his family were the only ones saved from the flood, but notice how were they saved. They were not ‘raptured’ away secretly, but rather walked “visibly” into the ark. Secondly, what about the ones that were left? They were not ‘left behind’ for a ‘second chance,’ but rather were left to destruction. Matthew 24:40 is simply saying that when Jesus returns there will be two groups of people (believers and non-believers) and one of them will be “taken” to be with Jesus, and the other group will be left on earth.
In Luke’s account of this event, some details are added.
Luke 17:34, 35
“I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.”
To understand this passage we must be familiar with some Bible terminology. First of all, when speaking about death, Jesus referred to it as a state of unconscious “sleep” in John11:11-14. This is also the idea portrayed throughout Scripture (Cf. Daniel 12:2, 1 Thessalonians 4:15). With this understanding, we can then see that the phrase, “two men in one bed” here is referring to the two types of people who are in the grave (believers and non-believers) and it tells us that one type of person will be taken. Read it again and think about what other interpretation could we possibly come to about “two men in one bed,” or how it could possibly apply to a 'secret rapture.' Secondly, it is important here to understand that in Bible prophecy, a “woman” symbolizes a “church” (Cf. Isaiah 54:5, 6; Jeremiah 6:2; 2 Corinthians 11:12; Eph 5:25-32; Jeremiah 3:20; Ezekiel 23:2-4; Revelation 17:1-3). Knowing this will help us see that “two women grinding together” then refers to the two churches that will be in the world during the end-times – the “true” church and the “false” church, and it makes sense then that one will be taken to Heaven and one will be left.
Oh! The Ambiguity
Other verses commonly referred to by rapturists...
Rev 3: 10
“Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." [Emphasis added]
Immediately we should note that this text is not talking about believers leaving this world. To get a better understanding of this verse, let’s look at another similar piece of text from John 17:6, 15.
“… And they have kept thy word… I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” [Emphasis added]
The phrase “kept thy word” is significant in these two texts because it lets us know that these verses are referring to the same group of people – believers. More importantly however, the question is raised, if those who “kept the word” can be “kept from the evil” of the world, without taking them out of the world (John 17:6, 15) then why would we expect a ‘secret rapture’ and a ‘special’ coming in order for the same people who “kept the word” to be “kept from the hour of temptation”? (Revelation 3:10). In any event, whatever else can be taught from Rev. 3:10, it’s obvious that no extra coming of Christ is indicated! Once again a text that is used to prove the rapture is seen as actually the opposite.
“Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”
Once again the 'rapturists' try to apply this verse to the “Left Behind” scenario. They point to the phrase “accounted worthy to escape,” as proof of a ‘secret rapture,’ but as we have already seen, Jesus has told us that they will escape by being “kept from the evil,” not by being “taken out of this world.”
You have to admit that, other than the verses in 1 Thessalonians, the Scriptures that the ‘rapturists’ use as proof are actually quite vague, at best. In fact, it seems that only after someone has assumed a two-stage coming of Christ, that these verses could even suggest the idea!
Finally, friends, please consider a stark warning from Jesus found in Matthew 24:23-31. Please note verse 26 very closely.
“Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.” [Emphasis added]
Pertinent to this essay is that little word “secret.” It seems to me that Jesus is plainly warning us that people will mistakenly “say” that His coming will be in “secret.” Read again from verse 23-31 and you will discover that this (the idea of a secret coming) will be a powerful delusion which only God’s elect will avoid! What should stand out the most is that this passage tells us how we should respond to the ‘secret rapture’ theory – “Believe it not”!
Many of you who are familiar with the ‘secret rapture’ theory are probably asking, “What about the seven-year Tribulation?” Stay-tuned – more to come.
Thank-you once again for your interest. God-bless
*Special thanks to Steve Wohlberg and Joe Crews for their remarkable insight.