The dispensational end times interpretation holds that believers will be drawn up, or “raptured,” to meet Christ in the air in a secret second coming, so that all believers will be removed from the earth in advance of the great tribulation. It was first popularized by J.N. Darby in the mid-1800s. It’s a complete fabrication that is unsupported by scripture and was never taught throughout the entire history of the church until Darby. (I’m sorry if this shocks or hurts anyone, but I need to be blunt.)
The rapture as taught is a non-Biblical doctrine. It is tortuously drawn from 1 Thess. 4:17 which says (in full context, from the NIV):
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 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 own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till 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.”WHY THE PRETRIBULATION RAPTURE IS UNBIBLICAL
First, the original, contextual Greek language does not refer to physical flying through the air to meet Jesus. Writes Don Matzat:
“The language of 1 Thess. 4:17 does not allow for the ‘rapture’ teaching. The phrase ‘to meet the Lord’ literally means ‘to meet for the purpose of welcoming back.’ The Greek phrase ‘to meet’ ( eis apanthsin) is only used on four occasions in the New Testament. In each case it means to go out to meet for the purpose of welcoming. (See, for example, Acts 8:15.)” (Truman note: That passage, by the way, says: “The brothers there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged.”)
Second, it is totally illogical when ripped from context. The thought that Jesus Christ would remove certain people from what was to come flies in the face of the rest of scripture. If you believe in Christ, does that free you from disease, suffering, sorrow, poverty, death? Absolutely not! God promises to preserve us and save us from our sins, not turn us into totally happy campers, free from all sorrow and discomfort on earth. Why would He let His children suffer through pain and turmoil on earth throughout the entire course of human history, but only remove certain Christians from pain and turmoil just one time?
God preserves his people through persecution and suffering—He even uses trials to refine and shape us to make us more His—but removing believers from the world before a great, final tribulation would counter everything that came beforehand in the Bible. Even Noah and his family, preserved from the Great Flood, weren’t exactly living in style on board that ark, undoubtedly filled with the smells and constant noise of thousands of animals (and themselves). An even better example: why weren’t the first Christians saved from the tribulations of Rome? What makes our generation better than theirs? Why would our generation of Christians, which includes fat and lazy Americans, be “raptured” from all harm, while the incredibly brave Christian men and women who faced the wrath of godless Rome be tortured, put to the sword, used as human torches and torn by wild beasts?
Third, Rev. 3:10 is used to support the rapture theory: “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” But that’s only if you take the passage entirely out of it’s context. Who is Christ speaking to? All Christians? Christians in the 21st century? No—that would make absolutely no sense, because when you keep this passage in its proper context, it is found within the letter John is sending to the church at Philadelphia, in the wider context of seven contemporary churches. As Hank Hanegraaff says, keep in mind that the Bible is written TO specific people but it is also written FOR us. Meaning, we can certainly draw lessons from what is being taught, but there were very specific purposes in the words being said or written at the time they were said or written!
What is the “hour of trial” and the other troubles to come that are referred to in left behind theology? Well, that depends on when you date the writing of Revelation, which opens up another whole can of worms. I’ll deal with that fully in a later entry, but Christians facing imminent persecution would take no comfort from a cryptic letter describing far future events, would they? Of course not. But a letter describing the present and near future—that’s something different.
Fourth, the rapture can’t be biblical, because it would mean that Jesus will remove Christians from the earth, then allow some to become saved yet go through a massive time of suffering, and then come again for the “real” Second Coming. It’s never been taught, or thought of, until the modern era. You get one chance to accept Christ: during your life on earth. A “secret second coming,” which is what the rapture is, gives those “left behind” a second chance at repentance.
NOWHERE in the Bible is there any mention of true believers being taken from the earth and judged separately from the rest of humanity. On the contrary: there is but one judgment for all, as illustrated in Rev. 11:18 and 20:11-15.
Also, see Luke 16 for the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus. When the rich man dies and goes to hell, he begs Abraham to warn his brothers, but is told “They have Moses and the prophets” to listen to, and if they don’t believe them, they won’t even believe if someone raises from the dead. The subtext of this parable is that you don’t get a second chance. No one does.
Fifth, other evidence for a rapture includes Matthew 24, where Jesus says that “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” But applying a rapture to this is again a misapplication. It refers to judgment, where the wicked are judged first and the righteous second, in accordance with Matthew 13:24-30. This interpretation is suggested by Hannegraaff in The Apocalypse Code, p.60; and I agree with him. Remember, you must interpret scripture in light of scripture. Otherwise, scripture will not make as much sense as it should. In this context, it makes perfect sense.
Sixth, think about this for a second: if millions upon millions of people suddenly disappeared, do you seriously think that the Lindsay/LaHaye model of “well, bye-bye Christians and good riddance!” will be what follows? Heck, no. Such a disappearance could never, ever be explained by science, aliens or anything else. It would have to be the Bible—and people would be desperate to be taken too. People would be begging God to rapture them as well. There would be mass suicides, panic, hysteria and the whole of civilization would collapse. Don’t think that this automatically means that the rise of the Antichrist naturally follows, because that’s a whole different matter, which I’ll explain in a later post.
Consider this: if the rapture is such a crucial bit of end times dogma, why doesn’t God just come out and say it, like He does with so many other crucial bits of information? Because it isn’t there. You shouldn’t have to search hard and make guesses and risk misapplying interpretation to something so critical. In other words, the supposed rapture is cryptic and spread throughout several passage that don’t fit together and have to be misinterpreted or taken out of context in order to work. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is unambiguous and easy to find. “I am who am” is unambiguous and easy to find. Not so with the rapture.
Look at it another way (in summation). Gary DeMar, a harsh critic of dispensationalism, says this about the supposed rapture in his End Times Fiction: A Biblical Consideration of the Left Behind Theology, pages 20-21:
How is it possible that:
- So many well-meaning Christians believe in a pretrib rapture when even pretrib advocates tell us that that not one passage of Scripture teaches the two aspects of Jesus’ second coming separated by the Tribulation;
- The Old Testament doesn’t teach a pretrib rapture;
- No one up until about 1830 taught a pretrib rapture; and
- The doctrine, supposedly “so clearly revealed in the Scriptures,” became “utterly lost” immediately after the close of the New Testament canon?”
Why, indeed. Advocates of the rapture cannot answer those questions. And without the rapture, the entire great tribulation/left behind end times theology comes crashing down.
In subsequent parts, I will examine Jesus’ predictions as recorded in Matthew 24, the real identity of the antichrist/beast (yes, they’re one in the same), the real timeframe for a great tribulation, the real dating of the writing of Revelation, what the end of the age really meant (why there will be no new temple) and the role of modern-day Israel.
(I’ll repeat these in every post):
I have read all of these books:
Gary DeMar, End Times Fiction and Last Days Madness
Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code
Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times?
Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth