The rapture is prophesied as Jesus taking his church to be with him. Dead Christians will be resurrected and those who are alive will also be transformed into immortality. Jesus will suddenly and secretly take his bride to be with him eternally.
I remember as a kid in the 80’s, watching “A Thief in the Night” https://youtu.be/8RrXf0zGjxQ. End times teaching oriented around Jesus disappearing all the Christians to be with him, leaving casual “Christians” to endure holocaustic persecution through the seven-year global apocalypse. Often when I was unexpectedly home alone, I worried that I’d missed the rapture. Such trauma evokes strong emotions against end-times teaching, particularly the rapture. On the other hand, when our inherited doctrine is questioned our heresy-alarms evoke a strong reaction, which inhibits objectivity.
It’s difficult to have a civil conversation over the rapture, particularly in combination with its timing relative to the tribulation – the seven-year reign of Satan on Earth. Conflicting understandings are “defended passionately”. Each perspective includes some great, practically applicable, teaching. It is felt that other perspectives are completely in opposition to these good teachings. There’s also many “unhelpful” arguments, which are based on disproven assertions or emotional demonizing of opponents. I pray that I may minimize my biases to present something useful and palatable to a broader audience.
I apologize in advance if I don’t offend you ;-). I tolerate some alternate ideas and find others offensive. It is important that we recognize such offense; but submit this under the recognition that we are all quite different parts of Christ’s body, created to reach very different groups of people and collectively to reach all people.
Ears do not see in the same way that eyes hear.
In presenting theories, I disagree with, I will inadvertently misrepresent them. In such case, I would appreciate a better explanation of that theory. However, I’m highly allergic and react adversely to teachings full of emotional arguments and misinformation as to why my understanding is wrong. If you can present me a filtered coherent summary of your theory with supporting scripture, I might be able to consider this for inclusion in future publications.
What is the rapture
1 Thessalonians 4:13 Brothers and sisters, I don’t want you to be ignorant about those who are asleep [in death], that you’re not overcome with grief like those who have no hope. 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, God will bring with him those who are asleep in Jesus. 15According to the Lord’s word, we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord won’t precede those who are asleep. 16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the sounding of God’s trumpet. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And so, we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore comfort each other with these words.
The term rapture is derived from, the Latin word rapiemur:
1 ad Thessalonicenses 4:17 Deinde nos, qui vivimus, qui relinquimur, simul rapiemur cum illis in nubibus obviam Christo in aëra, et sic semper cum Domino erimus.
The original Greek word harpazō means “to seize (in various applications): – catch (away, up), pluck, pull, take (by force)”. Some picture this as violently yanking a kid out of speeding traffic by their hair. Among the 13 uses of this word, I find particularly interesting
Acts 8:39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, disappearing from the eunuch, who went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip was found at Azotus; and he preached in all the cities he passed through until he reached Caesarea.
So, Philip was raptured dozens of miles away. There’s also a bunch of other similar events.
Genesis 5:24 And Enoch walked with God, then disappeared; because God took him.
2 Kings 2:11 And it happened, as they continued on and talked, that, amazingly, a chariot of fire appeared, and horses of fire, which separated them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
2 Corinthians 12:2 I knew a man in Christ over fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) this guy was caught up to the third heaven.
Revelation 12:5 And she gave birth to a boy who was to rule the nations with a rod of iron. And her child was caught up to God, and to his throne.
Teaching on the rapture is invariably connected with the tribulation, which is seven years when the antichrist will rule the world before Jesus’ return. I’ll explain this in another publication.
There are various theories of when the rapture will take place, and some deny it, just as the Sadducees denied the resurrection in Jesus time. The first group I will offend will be those similarly-minded liberal theologians, who deny God’s sudden and catastrophic interventions in history – in Noah’s flood, Babel, Sodom, and a six-day creation six thousand years ago. While God often works slowly, gradually and naturally in our lives and society, he does suddenlys too.
1 Thessalonians 5:3 While people are saying “Peace and security”, destruction will suddenly fall on them – just like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they won’t escape.
In the natural, there are times in each of our lives, where we’re driving along, enjoying the ride and suddenly life crashes and we’re left in a confused mess, picking up the pieces.
There seem to be as many understandings of the rapture as there are denominations, many of which have divided upon such disagreements. I’ll describe some but there are all sorts of variants in between these. I think that’s ok, because we’re speculating on future events. We must learn from the Pharisees of Jesus’ time to not be so dogmatic that we end up killing the one we hope for.
When considering the second coming of Jesus, some imagine a single event. Did Jesus come in 1AD, or 30AD, or 33AD? Yes! Well, roughly. This was his first coming, which included his birth, his ministry and his sacrifice. Likewise his second coming will be to reign for a thousand years, and some years leading up to this.
Some believe that things will get betterer and betterer as the world gradually evolves towards a true knowledge of God, culminating in Jesus returning when the world recognizes his sovereignty.
Matthew 23:39 I tell you, you won’t see me after this until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”
This theory believes that we’re already in the millennium. i.e. the kingdom of God is here. The tribulation occurred around the destruction of Jerusalem around 70AD, now Christ’s church is gradually encompassing the world until all are believers.
2 Peter 3:8 My loved ones, don’t be ignorant that for the Lord, one day is like a thousand years; and a thousand years is like a day
God has a different perception of time.
Psalm 50:10 I own every creature in the forest and the cattle on a thousand hills.
In this case a thousand is not meant literally, but another way of saying “a great number”. This precedent caters for combining teaching of eternity to understand “a thousand years” as “an eternity”. This is also used as a feeble excuse to not take creation days literally.
I regret to say I have no patience for this theory. It seems rooted in liberalism and evolutionism. It denies dozens of prophecies being fulfilled over the past 100 years around the restoration of Israel. If Jesus’ “eternal” kingdom is already, why does the world seem to be getting more evil? It’s certainly not becoming less evil.
I understand that St. Augustine popularized this teaching around 430AD when he spiritualized the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, teaching that such prophecies are to be understood allegorically – as should many other fabulous stories particularly Genesis. In conjunction with this teaching was the church replacing Israel for the fulfillment of future prophecy. This is a significant root of antisemitism.
Post-tribulation combines the rapture with the resurrection at the end of the world. This theory often ignores the millennial reign of Christ. I perceive this as a variant of amillennialism.
Pre, mid, end, pan tribulation
Most biblically fundamental teachings I come across date the rapture around the tribulation.
Pre-tribulation believes the rapture occurs before the tribulation. Many see the sudden removal of the church triggering the tribulation. Others allow some time, maybe years or decades, between the rapture and the tribulation.
Mid-tribulation believes the rapture occurs at the mid-point of the tribulation, around when the antichrist desecrates the temple.
End-tribulation believes Christ will rapture the church just before the final outpouring of God’s wrath – maybe just a few days before Jesus returns.
Pan-tribulation is a tongue-in-cheek reminder, which I really love. It is based on the prefix “pan-” meaning “all” or “union”:
Whatever happens, it will all pan out
Romans 8:28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.
We should be prepared for whatever God brings – by submitting to him and each other in humility and service. We must remain dedicated to studying the whole bible, spending time with other believers, and demonstrating God’s truth and love to unbelievers.
I think each of these theories are worthy of consideration. Each honours God and the authority of scripture, but from different perspectives. We must be careful not to slander those who hold a different understanding.
Some claim around 20% of the Bible deals with yet unfulfilled prophecy. The following scriptures are a few of those important for considering these theories.
Daniel 12:1 … there will be a time of trouble, such as never since there was a nation until that time. And then your people will be delivered, every one that will be found written in the book. 2And many who sleep in the dust of the earth will awaken – some to eternal life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Matthew 24:21 Then there will be great tribulation, unlike anything since time began, nor thereafter.
Matthew 24:42 Therefore keep watch, since you don’t know when your Lord will come.
Mark 13:26 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great glory and power. 27And then he will send his angels to gather his chosen ones from the four winds, from the most distant corner of the Earth to the most distant corner of Heaven.
Luke 12:40 Be ready, since the Son of Man will come when you don’t expect.
Luke 21:36 Watch and pray that you might be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you might be able to stand before the Son of Man.
1 Thessalonians 5:2 for you know perfectly, that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thessalonians 2:1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our
being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2not
to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us –
whether by a prophecy, or by word of mouth, or by letter – asserting that the
day of the Lord has already come. 3Don’t let anyone deceive you
in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man
of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4He
will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is
worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to
5Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming.
Revelation 7:14 These are the ones who came out of great tribulation and have washed their clothes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Revelation 13:5 And he was given a mouth that spoke incredible things and slander against God, and he was given power to continue for forty-two months.
Revelation 20:4 … and I saw the souls of those who were beheaded … who had neither worshipped the beast…
Christ will come at an unpredictable time. The antichrist will not appear before “the restrainer” is removed, but believers will be beheaded by the antichrist. The antichrist will show his true colors for the latter 3.5 years. We will escape what’s about to happen.
In Genesis 6-8, Noah, was carried above/through the flood waters. This imagery can be read either way.
While Daniel’s friends were sustained through the furnace, Daniel’s absence suggests God had already promoted him out of this situation. Pre-tribers see that Daniel was raptured out of the tribulation, but God sustained his friends through the tribulation. I think this carries value either way.
Daniel 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we aren’t afraid to answer you concerning this. 17If it is so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, o king. 18But if not, be assured, o king, that we won’t serve your gods or worship the golden statue, which you’ve set up.”
The furnace consumed the executioners, but Jesus walked with the three in the furnace. It burned up their bonds but left them without even the smell of fire.
We can be assured that no matter what happens, we are in God’s hands. In all of life’s troubles, God may miraculously heal or rescue us from them, or he may walk with us through them. We may be killed, in which case we will be with God in Heaven, or we may be miraculously sustained through our trouble, or mundanely. What’s important is:
Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t depend on your own understanding. 6In everything you do, acknowledge him and he will direct your ways.
Some argue that Jesus explicitly says that we will have trouble or tribulation. This is certainly a statement of fact of our everyday lives, but some take this literally as proof against pre-trib. Since this can be understood at face-value, it is not necessary to interpret it in the context of the tribulation.
John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
There will be believers during the tribulation. Some consider this a strong argument against pre-trib. I’m content with the explanation that many will subsequently recognize what’s going on and repent – particularly under the preaching of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists of Revelation 7:4. These will have to endure the tribulation – until their martyrdom, or death by [un]natural disaster, but a few will survive the entire seven years to repopulate the Earth during Jesus’ millennial reign.
End-trib focuses on the fact that tribulation martyrs will be resurrected. They see these as the Christians who happen to live during this time. However, while we are still in the world, we’ll be immune to these particular judgements of God on the wicked as were the Jews before the exodus.
This combines Christ’s coming in the air with his return to the Mount of Olives. Others see these as distinct events.
A difficulty with this is claiming that all who did not receive the antichrist’s mark will be made immortal and raptured before those with the mark who remain will be obliterated. Who then will populate the millennia?
Mid-trib distinguishes the tribulation as the seal and trumpet judgements, which span the first 3.5 years; whereas the great tribulation is the bowl judgements, which span the second 3.5 years. They claim this better accounts for the great distinction between the two halves of the tribulation.
I think it distinct enough that the Jews are appeased in the first half, after which they suffer a holocaust.
The timing of an end-trib or mid-trib rapture seems to be quite predictable. A strong argument for the pre-trib rapture is its unexpectibility.
Adversaries of pre-trib claim it is a new idea invented by John Darby (1800-1882). I get really upset whenever I hear this fallacious claim being presented as an authoritative end to any discussion. This is commonly combined with “Pre-tribulation is the most dangerous teaching spread by false teachers in the church today” e.g. https://ichthys.com/mail-dangers-pre-trib-rapture-false-teaching.htm. Is this theory more dangerous than explicitly twisting scripture to appease the human philosophy of evolutionism, or teaching that sexual immorality is acceptable to God?
Jude 1:4 For certain people crept in secretly. They were destined to condemnation; ungodly people. They turn the grace of God into an excuse for immorality and denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Is teaching the pre-trib rapture more dangerous than teaching Christians to prepare to survive the tribulation against all odds; rather than teaching everyday godliness in preparation of him taking us – whether it be by death or by rapture?
Such claims are simply slanderous to other believers and are thereby more dangerous than the theory they denounce.
Pre-trib seems to be evident in early church teaching
The claim of its modern origins is debunked by Ken Johnson’s book The End-times by the ancient church fathers summarized on YouTube. He presents Irenaeus (AD 170), Hippolytus (AD 210), and Ephrem (AD 350) teaching a pre-trib rapture. Ken notes that they may be wrong, but I’m satisfied with the validity of the evidence presented.
Page 18, Irenaeus’s Against Heresies 5.29
“When in the end that church will suddenly be caught up from this, then it is said, ‘There will be tribulation such as not been since the beginning, nor will be.’”
See also The Complete Works of the Church Fathers, location 330695.
Page 25, Ephrem the Syrian’s The End Times – 2b Pre-Tribulation Rapture
“For all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that will overwhelm the world because of our sins. And so, dear brothers, it is the eleventh hour, and the end of the world comes to the harvest, and angels, armed and prepared, hold sickles in their hands, awaiting the empire of the Lord. And we think that the world is completely blind to this, arriving at its downfall early. Commotions are happening, wars of diverse peoples, battles, incursions of the barbarians threaten, and countries are being desolated. We seem neither afraid when hearing the rumors of wars nor seeing them appear. We should repent! If we are afraid of them it is because we do not wish to be changed; we need to repent of that too!”
See also http://orthochristian.com/101157.html.
Page 90, Hippolytus’ The Antichrist – 64b Pre-Trib Rapture
“By the heat he means the
conflagration. And Isaiah speaks thus:
‘Come, my people, enter thou into thy chamber, and shut thy door: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation of the Lord be overpast’ Isaiah 26:20
And Paul in like manner:
‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, hold the truth of God in unrighteousness’ Romans 1:18”
See also The Complete Works of the Church Fathers, location 320788.
In support of a mid or pre-tribulation rapture: “Peter Jurieu in his book, Approaching Deliverance of the Church (1687)”
One of the early Church Fathers, The Shepherd of Hermas, writing in the early 2nd Century, makes an interesting observation about “the great tribulation that is coming.” He says, “If then ye prepare yourselves, and repent with all your heart and turn to the Lord, it will be possible for you to escape it, if your heart be pure and spotless, and ye spend the rest of the days of your life in serving the Lord blamelessly.”
Pre-trib has a bad reputation due to many cultish date-setters. For example, around 1700, Sir Isaac Newton said:
The time times & half time do not end before 2060. …. It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner. This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fancifull men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, & by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail
(This suggests pre-trib rapture teaching prior to John Darby.)
The Seventh day Adventists are infamous for their numerous failed dates in their early years and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and many other sects continue to put out dodgy predictions.
This is nothing new. We read in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 that even in the early church, people were alarmed at teaching that Christ had already returned. There are many verses that speak of the suddenness and unpredictability of Christ’s return.
Matthew 24:36 No one knows about that day and hour, not even the angels of heaven or the Son, but only the Father.
1 Thessalonians 5:2 For you are completely aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
Revelation 16:15 Look out, I am coming like a thief! You will be blessed if you stay awake, staying clothed [in righteousness], so that you aren’t caught naked and exposed.
It’s right to call out the date setters. But this argument against the pre-trib rapture corners the mid-tribber or end-tribber into a similarly predictable time. Pre-tribbers decry the violation of the “doctrine of imminence”. However this doctrine is sufficiently important regarding our death that it need not apply to the rapture also. I find the use of the word “doctrine” being used just as emotionally as the words “heresy” and “false prophet”
“Doctrine” = good
“Heresy” = bad
We must be prepared to meet our maker at all times – in the same way we need to be prepared for an earthquake or other natural disaster: we consider the implications of these events and have appropriate plans and supplies ready for our survival. Many practice the inconvenience and equipment by camping regularly. The festival of tabernacles (Sukkot) has prepared the Jews well for numerous persecutions they’ve endured. We prepare to meet our maker by continually being clothed in righteousness.
Matthew 24:45 Who is the faithful and wise servant, that the master has put in charge of his household servants, to provide for their needs in a timely manner? 46The servant who is caught doing these things when their master returns will be blessed.
I believe it is futile to prepare for the tribulation by stockpiling supplies and guns. When the whole world’s out to get you, only the power of God can save you – just as he did Daniel’s friends in the furnace.
Opponents accuse pre-tribbers of teaching escapism. However, this hangs in the balance with the comfort this has brought to persecuted generations, bearing undertones in Negro spirituals such as Swing Low Sweet Chariot.
1 Thessalonians 4:18 Therefore comfort each other with these words.
These concerns don’t disprove the underlying theory but are exploited and exaggerated by opponents to emotionally vilify it. On the other hand, denouncing this possibility takes away a hope that sustains many through troublous times such as a friend of mine who is imprisoned at the conspiracy of his ex-wife.
Even as Steven was martyred this teaching comforted him.
Acts 7:56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”
My grandad seemed to have a vision of Jesus coming for him on his deathbed as his face lit up and he lifted his hands as if to say, “Beam me up Scotty”.
The argument of escapism can be reflected back on the fear of not being ready and having a second chance. A pre-trib rapture would be an incredible wake-up call to many lukewarm Christians. Similarly, a brush with death provokes many to get right with God.
Additional arguments for a pre-trib rapture
Pre-trib rapture quotes the imagery of a Jewish wedding being for seven days such as Jacob’s
Genesis 29:27 Complete Leah’s wedding week, and we’ll also give you Rachel
for another seven years of service to me.
Daniel’s friends went through a seven-times hotter furnace.
Revelation 1-3 mentions the church a lot, but never in chapters 4-20, which speaks of believers instead.
See also Reasons to believe in a pre-tribulation rapture, and the counter-perspective: Pre-Tribulation rapture arguments debunked and The Origin of the Concept of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture.
I’ve grown up with the pre-trib rapture theory and contemplated this throughout my life. I’ve tried getting my head around other theories but found them mostly presented as “Why I don’t like the pre-trib theory”, rather than a theory with its own merits. I appreciate the anxiety associated with the prospect of suddenly losing so many loved ones, finding we weren’t as good as we thought. However, this should be no different to the general prospect of death.
Hebrews 9:27 People are destined to die once. After this, they will be judged. 28So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of the world, and he will appear a second time. This time he won’t take our sins; but bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
This is what’s important, and whatever happens, it will all pan out.
I pray this is helpful to work out your understanding of this controversial topic.