Reflections on the Rapture

(Note: The Rapture is secondary, not primary doctrine, important yet non-essential and non-salvific and thus should not undermine Christian fellowship. The doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming, however, is wholly essential, as should be the desire for the Lord’s return, as per Paul and John: “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” [2 Timothy 2:8]; “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” [1 John 2:2-3]. It seems inconceivable that the lover of Jesus Christ would not long for His coming, even as the world grows increasingly lawless, hostile and spiritually darker.)

The emergence of the world-wide web has brought to the fore myriad pundits from across the theological spectrum, including a proliferation of prophecy teachers. Among these, my wife Lisa and I have benefitted from and been encouraged by the online teaching ministries of J.D. Farag, John Haller, Jack Hibbs, Brett Meador, and Tom Hughes (and his many guest presenters). Pastors with a shepherd’s heart for the people of God, these men preach on subjects rarely spoken of and much neglected in the churches, specifically the vital importance of biblical prophecy, which constitutes at least a quarter of the sacred record.

According to Pastor Adrian Rogers, “The return of Christ is a major Bible doctrine, mentioned no less than 1200 times in the Old Testament and 300 times in the New Testament. God says this same Jesus who came once before is coming again.” (1) He states further, “Merely seven generations from Adam, Enoch was the first to prophesy the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. God gave Enoch a vision of the Second Coming, before Jesus had ever walked the Earth the first time. In days of apostasy, Enoch was a holy man who walked so closely with God, the Lord brought Him up, so he never actually died. Enoch’s ‘rapture’ is a prophetic picture of the Church in the Last Days, when the Lord raptures His people and meets them in the air.” (2) It would be reasonable to aver that for the majority of prophecy teachers, the Rapture is closely associated with the Second Coming.

My first real exposure to Rapture theology dates back to 1985. As a newborn believer radically converted to faith in Christ, I had fallen in with a band of Christian musicians whose eschatology was robustly premillennial. Starving for biblical truth as I was, and encouraged to get into God’s Word, one of these dear brothers bought me a Scofield Reference Bible. In my youthful naïveté I assumed that the notes, studied diligently alongside the biblical text, were authoritative convictions commonly held by believers.

I had assumed quite wrongly and was soon to discover the diverse theological takes on scripture in general and eschatology — the study of Last Things — in particular. Not only was the timing of the Rapture debated, the very idea of the Rapture of the Church was in many circles tacitly dismissed, even outrightly mocked. Such dismissal and mockery seem to have only increased these ensuing years, even as the Blessed Hope of Christ’s appearing draws nearer by the hour.

The typical refrain was “people have been predicting Christ’s return since time immemorial,” as if just because it hasn’t happened, it therefore won’t happen. Peter prophesied concerning this attitude among professing believers: “knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.'” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

The reasons behind such scoffing are many. For instance, Hal Lindsay’s bestseller “The Late Great Planet Earth” (1970) propelled Rapture teaching into mainline evangelicalism; it, along with the low-budget 70’s “Thief in the Night” films, fomented many detractors. LaHaye and Jenkins’ broadly read “Left Behind” series (1995-2007, including board and video games) induced tremendous public ridicule in both the world and the Church. Date-setters (as recently as Harold Camping in 1988 and 2011) proved wrong too often, further discrediting Rapture teaching.

The very idea of individuals being “taken up” is incredulous to the modern rational mind. Thanks to the internet, discussions of the Rapture have moved from in-house debate to open derision in popular culture. Simultaneously (and curiously) however, alien and UFO/UAF (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) encounters — long lampooned as conspiracy theory — are increasingly reported as credible in the mainstream media, as government and senate hearings are now disclosing UAF activity, prompting some prophecy experts to hypothesize that alien abduction will plausibly explain the sudden departure of millions deemed resistant to the globalist agenda, for re-education or planetary cleansing.

Closely tied to the Rapture is belief in a literal Millennium (Revelation 20:4-7). The Augustinian/Reformed theory of Amillennialism (the millennium is not literal but rather symbolic of the current church/messianic age) rejects the Rapture outright, and generally favours so-called Replacement Theology, by which Israel, now displaced by the Church, holds no further prophetic purpose. Conversely, advocates for the Rapture maintain that not only is the Lord not finished with Israel: Israel is central to His grand design.

Rapture believers are frequently accused of escapism; after all, Christians throughout the ages have suffered persecution, more today than in any previous age, so why should we, in our comfortable western Christianity, escape suffering for the faith? Objectively speaking, I know of very few Christians holding to a Rapture position who deny that persecution and suffering are integral to the faith (2 Timothy 3:12; Philippians 3:10), tending to view the Rapture as God’s rescue and evacuation of His faithful remnant. Furthermore, it is the Lord’s imperative to deliver His people from wrath, as He has done in times past.

A persistent argument against the Rapture is that the notion itself is an invention of John Nelson Darby (1800-82), one of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren. While Darby (along with C.I. Schofield, 1843-1921) doubtless popularized the pre-tribulation Rapture and formalized the charting of events, he by no means “invented” the Rapture. Despite allegations that the term “Rapture” is nowhere to be found in scripture, this is patently untrue.

The Greek word harpazo (Latin rapturo), translated into English as “snatched” or “taken away,” or “caught up,” is found in its various inflections thirteen times in the New Testament (Matthew 11:12, 13:19; John 6:15, 10:12, 28-29; Acts 8:39, 23:10; 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Jude 23; Revelation 12:5). The definitive passage is 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18: “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. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” The hope of the harpazo is comfort for believers vexed by these evil days.

So what exactly is the Rapture? Basically, it is an end-time event whereby true believers will be “disappeared” from the planet, preceding a period of unprecedented tribulation just prior to Christ’s second advent. The Restrainer (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7), generally understood to be the Holy Spirit present in God’s people (the temple of the Holy Spirit; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) is taken out of the way through their sudden absence, leading to a full casting off of restraint by the unregenerate remaining upon the earth. “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s [Israel’s] sake those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:22). For adherents, there may be debate as to when this occurs (whether pre-trib, pre-wrath, or post-trib) but this taking up of the saints is the Rapture.

In holy writ, on at least seven occasions, people were taken up: “Enoch [before the Flood] walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24); Elijah was taken up in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11); our Lord Jesus Himself ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-11; though not snatched away violently as the term Rapture infers). Likewise Paul (Corinthians 12:2-24), John (Revelation 4:1-2), and the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:11-12) were taken up into heaven.

Moreover, the typology of the Rapture can be observed in the Old Testament accounts of Noah and Lot (Genesis 6-8, 19), to which Christ refers as signs of His appearing (Luke 17:26-30). In both stories, the faithful are removed before God’s judgment falls upon the wicked. The Bible — again of which at least a quarter is prophecy, both Old and New Testaments — is an inherently Jewish text and thus needs to be read and understood through a Jewish lens. Midrash, the hermeneutical method by which Jesus and the Apostles interpreted Scripture, reveals the consistent prophetic pattern from Genesis to Revelation. (3)

Irregardless of one’s theology, union with Christ is our abiding aim and goal. Longing to be with Jesus, homesickness for heaven, and the yearning for His return to reign as King and Messiah as the only way to true justice, have ever been the heart’s cry of His people, strangers and sojourners in this life.

And why should this not be so? Are we yet clinging to the world and its temporal blessings? As Tozer laments, “… Christianity has become of late remarkably lucrative. The streets of gold do not have too great an appeal for those who find it so easy to pile up gold and silver in the service of the Lord here on earth. We all want to reserve the hope of heaven as a kind of insurance against the day of death, but as long as we are healthy and comfortable, why change a familiar good for something about which we actually know very little? So reasons the carnal mind, and so subtly that we are scarcely aware of it. … times of suffering for the Church have also been times of looking upward. Tribulation has always sobered God’s people and encouraged them to look for and yearn after the return of their Lord.” (4)

Despite the increase of knowledge and technological advancements, and instead of the promised utopia and enlightenment of a glorious new age, the twenty-first century displays, in plain sight to all with eyes to see, the bitter distillation of fallen humanity’s tragic legacy: Rampant lawlessness. Industrial-scale violence and crime. Shameless debauchery and strident perversion. Global trafficking of women and children as sex slaves, the buying selling of human bodies and souls. Corruption at unprecedented levels in the highest offices in the land. Consciences seared in hypocrisy. Strong delusion hitherto unseen. World war escalating in scale with the spectre of nuclear annihilation looming on the near horizon. And in the churches, worldliness, compromise, and apostasy, as was long foretold. How long, O Lord?

Just to reiterate, whatever one’s convictions about the Rapture may be, is there among the redeemed of the Lord that passionate aching for His return, that longing to behold Him face to face? Or are we so earthbound with our temporal plans and ambitions that Christ’s return is a bother and inconvenience?

Be that as it may, He will come back as He promised, whether we are ready or not. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Maranatha!




(4) A.W. Tozer, “Why We Are Lukewarm About Christ’s Return,” in Born After Midnight (1959)

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