The “Rapture” theory is one of the most recent doctrines to have developed in modern Christianity. It was developed around the nineteenth century and has become exceedingly popular in the past 50 years.
There are a number of variations about the rapture, such as pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, or post-tribulation, but the general idea is that all Christians will be taken up to heaven at some point during the last days.
It is sometimes referred to as the “secret rapture” because they believe it will come suddenly and without warning. They teach that the rapture could happen at any moment, so we must always be ready because no one knows the day or the hour.
Many of the recent books and movies about the rapture convey an almost comical situation in which piles of clothes are left on chairs where people once sat, vehicles are suddenly abandoned while driving down the road, and everyone on earth (who are “Left Behind”) are overcome with confusion and fear.
So, where did the rapture doctrine come from?
There is no documented evidence of anyone teaching the rapture prior to the late 18th century. That means for the first seventeen hundred years of Christianity no one was teaching the rapture. No one!
The first known mention was in an essay published in 1788 by Morgan Edwards, and the next by a Jesuit priest named Manuel Lacunza in 1811. Then in 1827, John Nelson Darby put forth one of the most noteworthy works regarding the rapture, which caused the theory to circulate among the masses. As a result, Darby is believed by many to be the one who introduced the rapture concept, since there were no major Christian teachings about it prior to him. He was not the first to mention it, but Darby was definitely the one who made it popular.
Darby is also called the “father of dispensationalism” because he was so instrumental in spreading the belief that God changes the rules and the way He interacts with people during different periods of time.
Darby taught that the prophetic timetable had been paused at the founding of the church and that the unfulfilled Biblical prophecies will not take place until after the Rapture of the church. He also taught that the Rapture would be a “secret” catching away that could happen at any moment without any signs or warnings.
By the late nineteenth century, preachers such as C. I. Scofield began teaching the Rapture theory along with dispensationalism and increasing its popularity among protestant churches worldwide. Scofield also published his own translation of the Bible called the “Scofield Reference Bible”, which he used to teach the Rapture theory in his footnotes. With over three million copies printed in the first fifty years, this popular Bible was widely distributed in both the United States and England. Many of the preachers who read this Bible accepted its footnotes as authoritative and began teaching the Rapture theory in their own churches. This is when the rapture really became a common belief among protestants.
It became even more popular in the 1970s when Hal Lindsey wrote “The Late Great Planet Earth“, and was further cemented into Christian doctrine in the 1990s with the “Left Behind” series by Jim Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. The “Left Behind” books were so popular that in 1998 the first four books of the series held the top four slots in the New York Times best-seller list simultaneously, and the total sales for this series has surpassed over 65 million copies sold.
Obviously, the rapture theory has become very popular among Christians, but popularity is not what determines sound doctrine. Our doctrine must always come from the Word of God and not the imaginations of men.
The Bible is our source for truth and doctrine, so we need to find out if the rapture theory is Biblical or not.
There are a few verses that are commonly used to support the rapture theory, so we need to examine those verses to see what the Bible is actually telling us.
One of the most common verses used is 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
“Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
– 1Thessalonians 4:17
However, when we look at the context of this verse we find out that Paul is actually talking about the resurrection of the dead.
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
– 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17
Many who hold to the rapture theory claim it will happen secretly and without warning, but these verses describe a shout and a trumpet that will announce the return of the Messiah. This is not a secret vanishing of believers, this is a worldwide announcement of the return of the Messiah.
Notice also that the text says,
“we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep…”
– 1 Thessalonians 4:15
So, if the living do not proceed the dead, then how are we “raptured” before the tribulation? Because Paul said that when Yeshua returns, “the dead in Christ will rise first”. This is the “first resurrection” as described in the book of Revelation. However, Revelation tells us the first resurrection will take place after the tribulation when Messiah returns to setup His kingdom.
“… He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished… Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”
– Revelation 20:4-6
Probably the most popular verse that is used to support the rapture theory is 1 Corinthians 15:52 which says,
“in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
– 1 Corinthians 15:52
However, looking at the rest of the chapter we see that this verse has been completely taken out of context to support their theory.
The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 15 is about the resurrection of the dead. Verse 52 is part of Paul’s answer to the question, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” He points out that there are different types of bodies belonging to humans, animals, and angels. Then he explains that our body will be changed into an immortal spiritual body at the resurrection.
“So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”
– 1 Corinthians 15:42-44
Then Paul explains that we must obtain a spiritual body before we can inherit the kingdom of God because corruption cannot inherit incorruption. Now, look at the text in question, and see how it fits into Paul’s argument for the resurrection.
“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?'”
– 1 Corinthians 15:51-55
Notice again that Paul mentions the trumpet sound, and the dead being resurrected. This is the same event that he was describing in 1 Thessalonians 4, which takes place after the tribulation. This entire chapter is about the resurrection of the dead, not a pre-trib rapture.
Another popular verse that is used to support it is Matthew 24:31 which says,
“And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
– Matthew 24:31
Again, notice that it is announced with trumpets, so this is no secret gathering of believers.
In Matthew 24, Yeshua is answering a question that His disciples asked, saying,
“Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
– Matthew 24:3
To which Yeshua responded by describing a number of events that will take place before He returns. He warned that there will be false Christs, false prophets, wars, famines, earthquakes, and tribulation before His return. Then He described His return.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
– Matthew 24:29-31
It is very clear from this passage that Yeshua is going to return after the tribulation to gather His people. We have the same elements here as we did in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 (the trumpet sound, Messiah coming in the clouds, and gathering His people to Him), but Yeshua makes it clear that these things will happen “immediately after the tribulation”, which completely disproves the pre-trib rapture.
Another related Scripture that is often cited as “proof of the rapture” is also found in Matthew 24, and it speaks about one person being taken while another is left behind. This is actually where the “Left Behind” book series got its name. However, we must look at the context of these verses to find out who is being taken and who is being “left behind”.
“But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.”
– Matthew 24:37-42
Yeshua said that His return will be like the days of Noah, and just as the flood took away everyone outside of the Ark, so also will the wicked be taken away when Messiah returns. This is the opposite of the “Left Behind” series which portrays the godly being taken away and the wicked being left behind. However, we don’t want to be taken away like those “in the days of Noah”.
Before Yeshua was crucified, He prayed an amazing prayer for all of His followers (present and future), and the words of His prayer go against the very idea of a rapture.
“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I DO NOT PRAY THAT YOU SHOULD TAKE THEM OUT OF THE WORLD, BUT THAT YOU SHOULD KEEP THEM FROM THE EVIL ONE. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.”
– John 17:14-17
Did you catch that? Yeshua was opposed to the idea of a rapture. His prayer was that we would remain in the world, and that we would be separate from the world, being sanctified by the truth of God’s Word.
This is very similar to the parable He told about the wheat and the tares, in which the owner instructed the servants to let the wheat and tares grow together until the harvest.
“Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “FIRST gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
– Matthew 13:30
As we have seen, the Bible describes the snatching away of the wicked from the earth, and the godly being “left behind” to join Yeshua in His kingdom.