What Does the Bible Say About the Rapture?
Occasionally you may see slogans such as: “In case of the Rapture, this vehicle will be unmanned” or “The Rapture: the only way to fly,” circulated by folks who believe in the so-called Rapture theory on bumper stickers, T-shirts or Twitter and Facebook.
These expressions herald the alleged event that Hal Lindsey, author of the multimillion best-seller, The Late Great Planet Earth, calls “the ultimate trip.” Following in Lindsey’s footsteps are the more current, Left Behind series of books and movies, as well as various other sensational publications.
What Is the Rapture?
Those who advocate the heresy of dispensationalism, contend that soon (always within the next few years), Christ will return to the earth in a silent and invisible way to “rapture” the living saints and to resurrect the righteous dead.
According to the dispensational scheme, this will trigger a seven-year tribulation period that will be consummated by “the battle of Armageddon.” Following this horrible conflict, it is claimed that Christ will begin his reign of 1,000 years on David’s throne in the city of Jerusalem.
According to Lindsey, when the mysterious Rapture occurs, society will be virtually panic-stricken. He describes the scene as follows:
“There I was, driving down the freeway and all of a sudden the place went crazy . . . cars going in all directions . . . and not one of them had a driver. I mean it was wild! I think we’ve got an invasion from outer space!” (1970, 125).
Lindsey’s explanation for this wild scene, which has been drawn from his fertile imagination, is that these automobiles were manned by Christians, who were suddenly and mysteriously swept up to be with the invisible Christ.
The Rapture Doctrine Defined
The word “rapture” is derived from the Latin
rapio, which means “to seize, to snatch.”
Though this word is not used in the Bible, dispensationalists claim the idea is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. There Paul speaks of the second coming of Christ. He declares that those living saints who witness the Lord’s return will be “caught up” (
harpagesometha) in the clouds to meet Him.
To use 1 Thessalonians 4, though, in an effort to prove a silent, secret return of Christ is, as Alexander Reese put it, one of the sorriest attempts “in the whole history of freak exegesis” (1975, 146).
Problems With the Rapture Doctrine
The foregoing rapture theory is plainly contradicted by the following Biblical facts:
Christ’s return will be visible.
The return of Christ will be visible universally, not invisible or secretive, known only by a few.
In Matthew 24:15-22 Jesus described the conditions to be associated with the destruction of Jerusalem. In connection therewith, he warns that if anyone claims, “Lo, here is the Christ,” it was not to be believed:
“For as the lightning cometh forth from the east, and is seen [from
phaino, “to shine”] even unto the west; so
houtos@, "in this manner"] shall be the coming [@parousiaof the Son of Man" (27).
As those early disciples “beheld” (
theaomai, “see, look at”) Christ’s departure (Acts 1:11), so in like manner (
tropos, “in the same way”) would He come again.
The coming of the Lord will involve a revelation" (
apokalupsis, “to uncover”) of His being (2 Thes. 1:7).
At his coming, Christ will be “manifested” (
phaneroo). When this term is used in the passive voice, as in 1 John 2:28, it means to “show or reveal oneself, be revealed, appear to someone” (Arndt & Gingrich 1967, p. 860).
As Jesus was visible during his first “appearing” (
epiphaneia) on earth (2 Tim. 1:10), so will He be visible when He appears at His second coming (1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim.4:1, 8; Tit. 2:13).
At his coming, it is said that Christ "shall appear (
horao, “become visible”) a SECOND time" (Heb. 9:28).
If Lindsey and his dispensational kin are correct, Christ will not appear until his THIRD coming!
A sound will accompany Jesus’ second coming.
Further, the Scripture indicates that the advent of Christ will be accompanied by considerable audible phenomena.
The Lord will descend from heaven “with a SHOUT, with the VOICE of the archangel, and with the TRUMP of God” (1 Thes. 4: 16). Someone has called this the “noisiest” verse in the Bible!
Too, when Jesus comes again “the heavens shall pass away with a GREAT NOISE” (2 Pet. 3:10), and that hardly accords with the notion that the second advent will be a silent, secret event!
Both the righteous and the wicked will be resurrected when Christ returns.
The idea that only the righteous dead will be resurrected at the time of the rapture is totally false.
First of all, the New Testament teaches that there will be a single resurrection consisting of both just and unjust (Acts 24:15), who will come forth in the same hour (Jn. 5:28, 29).
Secondly, this resurrection will occur at “the last day” (Jn. 6:54), which does not leave time for a seven-year tribulation period, much less a millennium!
Clearly, both the good and bad are rewarded at the time of Christ’s coming (Matt. 25:31ff; 2 Thes. 1:7ff).
Truly, the rapture theory is a ruptured theory!
The History of the Rapture Theory
The rapture doctrine has its roots in history, not in Scripture. The idea appears to be traceable to the old Irvine Pentecostal movement of the early 1800s.
One writer says:
“The idea of a two-stage coming of Christ first came to a Scottish lass, Miss Margaret Macdonald of Port Glasgow, Scotland, while she was in a ‘prophetic’ trance” (Brinsmead 1974, 28).
The author quotes from a book written by one Dr. Robert Norton, a member of the Irvinite group, and published in 1861. It reads:
“Marvellous light was shed upon Scripture, and especially on the doctrine of the second Advent, by the revived spirit of prophecy. In the following account by Miss M. M. =, of an evening during which the power of the Holy Ghost rested upon her for several successive hours, in mingled prophecy and vision, we have an instance; for here we first see the distinction between that final stage of the Lord’s coming, when every eye shall see Him, and His prior appearing in glory to them that look for Him” (1861, 15).
The rapture theory thus rests upon the same sort of basis as Shakerism (founder Ann Lee had visions and claimed to communicate with the dead in seventy-two languages!), Seventh Day Adventism (Ellen White thought she took a trip to heaven), and Christian Science (Mary Baker Eddy’s revelations told her there is no death!).
The dispensational dogma, with all its peculiar elements (including the rapture notion), is clearly at variance with much Bible teaching, and honest students of Holy Writ will reject it.
- Arndt, William and Gingrich, F.W. 1967. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
- Brinsmead, Robert. Present Truth. (Sept. 1974). p. 28.
- Lindsey, Hal. 1970. The Late Great Planet Earth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
- Norton, Robert. 1861. The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets: In the Catholic ApostoliC Church.
- Reese, Alexander. 1975. The Approaching Advent of Christ. Grand Rapids International Publications: Grand Rapids, MI.