Is The Rapture A Myth?
Some Thoughts For Those Left Behind
I wrote this article as a research paper in Bible school nearly 8 years ago. It’s a longer read than most articles I write for this site, but thought I’d repost and tweak it a little to go along with the latest FOYH podcast I did with Dave Edwards on the subject. For the newest episode of our podcast, click here to download it. Click on the button to the right to subscribe if you like what you hear and would like access to our archive and to be informed of new recordings as they become available.
In recent years there’s been lots of talk of “the Rapture” in the Body of Christ. A huge market in Christian books and movies has developed following this concept. The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is something Christians have been looking forward to for nearly 2000 years. But is this idea of a pre-tribulation ‘rapture’ actually a biblical concept? Will Jesus really return in secret for his chosen faithful ones and leave behind the rest to judgment and tribulation for seven years before returning for more saints? This article is an attempt to delve into this controversial topic and demonstrate, by looking briefly at the history of the Church’s stance on the Lord’s Coming, and by carefully examining a select few “rapture passages”, that the answer is actually, no. We’ll look at four passages of Scripture to demonstrate that the Rapture and the Second Coming are indeed the same event that are not separated by a seven year period contrary to popular opinion.
There are numerous other things to consider when discussing the rapture but due to the brevity of this study, will not be covered. Therefore focus will be made mostly on select passages that those in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture camp hold on to as foundational for belief in the rapture, and study on where the view originated. By no means will this one article alone prove a post-trib rapture by merely disproving pre-trib.
History of the Rapture Theories
The idea of Christ returning for his people prior to the Great Tribulation, the rise of the Antichrist to world power, and the details of the last days as outlined in the book of Revelation, are not new concepts by any means. However, the predominant views regarding the chronology of these events can be regarded as fairly recent in origin.
Pre-tribulation Rapture represents the belief that Christ will come snatch away true believers before the Tribulation period begins. As an established view, it can be traced back to John Darby, leader of the Britain-based Plymouth Brethren movement in the 1830s.1 Some biblical researchers can trace the view back further than this,2 but a widely regarded possibility is this view even being originally attributed to a charismatic visionary woman named Margaret MacDonald, two years prior to Darby. Champions of the Pre-Trib Rapture theory include Dr. C.I. Scofield, W.E. Vine, Dr. John F. Walvoord, Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost, Dr. Charles C. Ryrie and numerous others.3
The Post-Tribulation Rapture, the view this author favors, is possibly the oldest view, as careful study of the Olivet Discourse in the Gospel accounts (key passages Matt 24:29-41, Mark 13:24-31, Luke 21:25-28), and a few of the Pauline epistles (1 Cor 15:50-58, 1 Thess 4:13-18, 2 Thess 2:1-12), demonstrate that the early church was expecting to see these events of the last days unfold themselves. Scripture doesn’t indicate the idea that they felt they would be absent when the events of the last days unfolded. Contemporary advocates of the Post-Trib theory include Dr. George E. Ladd, J. Barton Payne4, Dave Macpherson, Larry Simmons, William Arnold III among others.
There is another camp, the Mid-Tribulation Rapture theory, which is even more recent in origin than Pre-Trib. Proponents of the Mid-Trib rapture theory believe that the Body of Christ will go through some or part of the Great Tribulation and be raptured up three and one-half years into the Tribulation. A major advocate is Norman B. Harrison, and other scholars such as J. Oliver Buswell, Harold J. Ockenga, Gleason Archer also championed this cause. Many of its followers see this as a mediating position between the post and pre-trib theories5. Some of its advocates can find no clear reasoning or definite Scriptural basis for neither a post-trib rapture or a pre-trib rapture.
Examination of Key Scripture Texts
“The Dead in Christ Shall Rise First”
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, 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. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, ESV)
This is the only “rapture” passage in the Bible.6 In fact the word “rapture” doesn’t even occur in the Bible at all. Previously in Paul’s letter to the church in Thessolonica, Paul had spoken about the second coming of the Lord Jesus (2:19), and the believers had no doubt that this would take place. Paul proceeds to address things here that had come up in their midst since he had departed, such as the fact that many had died. Verse 15 gives the impression Paul–and subsequently the believers he was writing to–were expecting to see the Lord’s return in their lifetime, so the believers were wondering how this could take place if some were already dead. In this passage Paul is explaining that those dead will rise first (v. 16), and those alive at the second advent of Christ will be caught up together to meet them in the air.7 So far so good. The meeting in the air with both those dead and those alive is something both pre and post- tribulationists agree on. However, a plain literal reading of this text in no way indicates that the coming of the Lord and the “catching away” of those alive and dead in Christ are two separate events. The only way the text can suggest such an idea is for it to be imposed on it with a pre-supposed view that they are separate events. Paul does not teach the separation of the Rapture and the Second Coming with any amount of time elapsing between the two.
The trumpet being sounded–spoken of in verse 16, is an Old Testament concept linked with the Day of the Lord, with His arrival or coming to His people (Ex 19:16, Isa 27:13, Joel 2:1, Zc 9:14), and is linked elsewhere with the return of Christ (Matt 24:31, 1 Cor 15:52). The Greek Word for coming used here is parousia, which means “presence, coming, advent” and in the New Testament was usually used regarding Christ’s return.8 It also was used in the technical term for the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary, and it is suitable in the context here (see Matt 25:16, Acts 28:15).9
Appropriately, a plain reading of this passage shows that when Christ returns, that is the moment when we are raptured, and we proceed to escort our King to the earth at that moment which He arrives to judge the earth and set up His earthly Kingdom. This passage does not demonstrate two separate comings, one for Christ’s church, and the other for judgment of the earth. But rather the Lord’s return is described as a singular event, not plural.
“The Great Apostasy”
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers,not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come,unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-10)
In this passage Paul dispels erroneous ideas that the believers in Thessolonica had learned about the Second Coming and is supplementing what he’s already told them in person10. The saints were not fearful necessarily that the Rapture had occurred and that they had missed it, but that they were already in the Day of the Lord. They were being heavily persecuted and it was very easy for them to think the things that were to accompany the Tribulation were already upon them. The first and second verses of this chapter indicate it is a false teaching Paul is trying to correct, and that it’s possible someone had forged a letter pretending to be Paul, and thus the idea spread that Paul taught the Day of the Lord had already begun.11
The wording in verse 3, where Paul proceeds to tell the saints why the Rapture had not happened–is the clearest denial of an “any moment” Rapture as one could imagine: “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition.” There really is not much upon which to expound. This passage speaks for itself.12 The case for immenency–an any moment Rapture, hence an incentive for holy living and the key component of the whole pre-trib theory–is clearly not able to be derived from this key passage, since wording like “…that Day will not come unless…” have a connotation of being patient until the events described take place first. Paul then proceeds in verses 3 and 4 to describe the ‘falling away’, or the wholesale abandonment of Christianity–a complete rejection of the faith13, followed by, or resulting in a man of sin arising and exalting himself above God who is worshiped in the temple of God. In other words, Paul is telling them “the Day of the Lord has not happened yet, and this is evidenced by the fact all these other things have not taken place yet.” Also worth considering; Paul’s strong exhortation in verse 3 to let no one deceive them, is pretty interesting language for him to use if the Church were going to be raptured prior to all the events he was about to describe! Why would Paul warn them of what to look for if he and the believers believed they wouldn’t be around to see these events take place?
The “restrainer” mentioned in verse 6 and 7 is of much controversy. It is commonly espoused to be the Holy Spirit, but the argument that the Holy Spirit is removed along with the Christians He indwells at the Rapture only holds up if an actual rapture takes place. Since this paper does not favor that interpretation, let’s proceed to discuss other views. In verse 6 the restrainer is described in an impersonal way, but then in verse 7 it is a person. Common views as to the identity of this restrainer include the Roman Empire, the Jewish State, Satan, the principle of law and order as found in human government, God, and the true Church as indwelt by the Spirit14.
Since verse 7 refers to the restrainer as a type of person, it’s necessary to assume this is some form of person or angelic being. This idea that the restrainer is the archangel Michael therefore is not at all unfeasible. Christian and Jewish scholars both recognize Michael as having a special guardian relationship to Israel (Dan 10:12-13)15, and in relation to Israel, he is called “Michael, your prince” (Dan 10:21). The beginning of Daniel chapter twelve indicates Michael stands over “the sons of your [Israel’s] people”.
Revelation 12 describes a war that occurs in heaven (Rev 12:6, 13-14) precisely in the middle of Daniel’s 70th week—the period of time referred to as–and believed to be—the 7-year Tribulation. We see in Jude 9 the interaction that takes place between the devil and Michael, indicating the archangel’s role in keeping Satan from doing harm to the body of Moses. Therefore we see the one who had the job of hindering the Antichrist will step aside at this time prior to the Lord’s return; that is Michael the archangel will no longer be a restraint between the Antichrist and those the Antichrist is persecuting16.
“The Twinkling An Eye”
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 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 imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:50-54)
This passage and 1 Thessalonians 4:17 are probably the two most common passages people think of in relation to the Rapture. We often hear it said that we will be caught up “in the twinkling of an eye” (verse 52). However, the Rapture is mentioned nowhere here. All it states is that a trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised and we will be changed. That’s it!
Worth noting is how Paul begins this discussion with his statement about how the living will inherit the kingdom (v. 50) which takes place at the second coming. In other words, Paul is saying, “Even the living will be changed in order to enter the kingdom in glorified bodies.“
In this entire chapter, Paul is discussing the resurrection. Paul stated already that one must first die in order to receive the glorified body (vv. 35-38, 42-44). Verse 50 explains how you cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven with a corruptible body, so the Corinthians no doubt were wondering what would happen to those believers who were still alive physically at Christ’s return. Paul told them that those who are still living will not have to die to receive a glorified body but will be transformed while they are still alive—that not everyone will have to die first, but everyone will be changed (v.51)17.
As already mentioned, this passage does not say anything about the Rapture, although a plain reading of the text does indicate that Paul is describing what will happen to the bodies of that generation who is alive on the earth for the Lord’s return. The only reason people associate this verse with the Rapture is because of the similar events described in 1 Thess. 4:13-17, except one has to impose a Rapture and Second Coming distinction on this passage. A clear case for this distinction is not exegetical from either this passage or 1 Thess 4:13-17 . Therefore, these events cannot be used to describe the chronology of the events surrounding a rapture if the case has not been established that there actually is a rapture. Before discussing what kind of clothing the men on Mars wear, one must first establish that there is life on Mars.18
“The Son of Man Coming on the Clouds”
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Thenwill appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and thenall 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 out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:29-31)
This entire chapter in Matthew lines up in perfect harmony and chronology with Revelation 6. Also, this passage here seems pretty indicative of the idea the church goes through the Tribulation, considering the statement “immediately after the tribulation…then the Son of Man will appear in heaven” (v.29-30)
One reason pre-tribulationists deny that Jesus is talking about the Rapture here is the claim that Jesus was talking specifically to the Jews in this instance, and that this passage does not apply to the Church. This claim is true to some extent, Jesus was talking to the disciples who were Jewish (Matt. 24:3). Naturally, the gospel had not been given to the Gentiles yet, so most everything Jesus said was to Jews. If Jesus talking to Jews makes a passage inapplicable to us, then so are the various blessings that Jesus spoke to them that we the Gentile church partake in—we can’t have it both ways.
In this instance, Jesus was talking specifically to the disciples in private (v. 3). These men were the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20). It does not seem reasonable to think that this was not really the coming they were to look for. Why answer them with a description of the Great Tribulation followed by a description of his coming in the clouds–with the sound of a great trumpet and the gathering of his elect–if really they were going to miss all this by means of a pre-tribulation rapture?19 That would be suggesting that Jesus Himself was inaccurate of the information He Himself was providing or that He was deceiving his hearers. However, the signs are more directional in nature than chronological. They tell the disciples which way the Lord’s coming will take place, rather than what time.20
I’ve personally never concerned myself much with when the Rapture would occur, but always assumed that when the time of Great Tribulation came, that I was on the first train out of here. The more I became interested in studying the Word of God as the basis for forming my opinions, the more questions I had regarding the events of the end times. While contemplating doing some thorough investigation into this matter, I had to ask myself “how come I believe this theory?” I personally was brought to a place where I had to admit that I had just believed what I was told without questioning it or scrutinizing it in the light of God’s authoritative Word. Sadly, I think a lot of believers today are just twiddling their thumbs waiting for the Rapture simply because they believe what they’ve been told.
Certainly the idea that we ourselves won’t have to go through any difficulty or face any suffering is a comfortable doctrine, but the very fact it brings comfort to us should be the first red flag that there may be something wrong with this view. Jesus told us to take up our cross daily and follow Him. He told his followers things like “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for my sake.” The straightforward Gospel is pretty harmful to our flesh, and if our lives are going to be patterned after His, then clearly, we need the purification that the Great Tribulation will bring to us as a body of believers.
Paul told Timothy “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers.” (2 Timothy 4:3 NKJV). Surely, the pre-Trib Rapture is a doctrine for itching ears. Today, countless believers tenaciously cling to it, not because of any basis in Scripture, but simply because that’s how they hope the end-times will unfold. Clearly the pre-trib view is not as much of an incentive for holiness as pre-tribbers would have you think. If you told a professional football team to practice for the big play-off game–but they were not actually gonna play in the big game, but instead be benched seven minutes before it started–they certainly would not be as prepared as they would if they thought they were going to play.
From a plain literal approach to interpreting the Scriptures often cited to prove the pre-tribulation Rapture theory, we can see that in no place is the Coming of the Lord described as a plural event, but a singular. It’s safe to assume that the pre-trib Rapture is not actually a biblical concept, and there is clearly no distinction between the Rapture and the Second Coming. If there is no distinction, then there is no 7-year interval either. The fact that the pre-tribulation view is fairly recent in origin should help indicate that it may not be biblical and that the early Church didn’t believe in it. Rather, the pre-tribulation view is an idea birthed out of lack of desire to face intense persecution, and is fueled by the comfortable notion that people desire not to go through anything bad, and is a view that cannot be proven exegetically.
Also read: Are We Living In The Laodicean Church Age?
- 1. Rosenthal, Marvin The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, Nashville, Thomas Nelson Inc. c. 1990, p. 53 [↩]
- 2.Macpherson, Dave, The Unoriginal John Darby, http://www.thewordsofeternallife.com/john_darby.html In this brief article, Macpherson shows why Darby was not necessarily the key figure in the birth of “pre-millenial dispensationalism” and that he likely copied and plagarized ideas from others and was indeed not the first to teach most of his ideas, including the pre-tribulation rapture. [↩]
- 3. Duffield, Guy P. and N.M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology, L.I.F.E. Bible College, Los Angeles, c. 1983 p. 531 [↩]
- 4. Ibid, p.529 [↩]
- 5. Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath Rapture, 56-57 [↩]
- 6. Arnold III, William, The Post Tribulation Rapture, http://www.pbministries.org/Eschatology/william_arnold3/2_ptr.htm [↩]
- 7. Morris, Leon, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, ed. William B. Eardmans, Grand Rapids, 1984, p.92 [↩]
- 8. Strong, James, Strongest Strong’s Concordance of the Bible, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, Strong # 3952 [↩]
- 9. Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, p.94 [↩]
- 10. Ibid, p.125 [↩]
- 11. MacDonald, William, Believer’s Bible Commentary, ed. Art Farstad, Nelson, Nashville, c.1995, p.2053 [↩]
- 12. Arnold III, William , The Post Tribulation Rapture, http://www.pbministries.org/Eschatology/william_arnold3/2_ptr.htm [↩]
- 13. MacDonald, William, Believer’s Bible Commentary, ed. Art Farstad, Nelson, Nashville, c.1995, p.2053 [↩]
- 14. Ibid, p. 2054 [↩]
- 15. Rosenthal The Pre-Wrath Rapture, p. 256 [↩]
- 16. Ibid, p. 257 [↩]
- 17. Arnold III, William, The Post Tribulation Rapture, http://www.pbministries.org/Eschatology/william_arnold3/2_ptr.htm [↩]
- 18. Simmons, Larry Unmasking Pre-Trib Fallacies [↩]
- 19. Arnold III, William, The Post Tribulation Rapture,http://www.pbministries.org/Eschatology/william_arnold3/2_ptr.htm [↩]
- 20. Rosenthal, The Pre-Wrath Rapture, p.97 [↩]