End Times Series 1 – Rapture…what rapture?

cloxkSome weeks ago I promised to start a series on end times beliefs.  You can read the series introduction here.  This post is the first in the series.

One of the core Christian beliefs is that Jesus will return, all will be judged and God will be with his people forever.  There are numerous scriptures that deal with this subject.  The oldest Christian creeds include it.  The Apostles Creed says, “On the third day he (Jesus) rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.  I believe in …the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

So belief in the return of Christ is core Christian theology.  However it might surprise you to know that belief in the rapture is not.  When I use the word “rapture” what I mean is the event referred to in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 which says,

“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. 17 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…”

Some Christians think that this refers to Christ’s final second coming.  However some Christians believe that this event is something that happens before the tribulation, and well before Christ’s final return to earth.  This latter view has become dominant in Protestant churches in the West in recent generations.  So when I use the word rapture I mean it in this second sense.

The idea that there is a rapture before Jesus returns (rather than being something that occurs at the same time as the return of Christ) was first taught by John Nelson Darby in the 1830’s.  He was one of the founders of the Brethren Church.  It was picked up by Cyrus Scofield, D L Moody, and eventually the founders of Dallas Theological Seminary which has been the home of the teaching ever since.  Authors Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye have made what was a fringe theological view widely popular in the last 50 years.

So the idea that there is a rapture of Christians and then life goes on for those left behind was never held by any of the church fathers, nor Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or any of the other Reformers, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, nor most theologians since 1830.  So if all those people missed it, you would have to think that it might not be in the bible!

My understanding of what the bible says is that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.  It could come at any moment.  The picture of being in the clouds is a reference to Daniel 7:13, “there before me was one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven”.  Paul is trying to say that Jesus is coming in power, the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies, and we get to be with him!  That’s the point.

So the modern, most widely held understanding of the rapture is based on a poor interpretation of a small number of bible passages that wasn’t really even conceived until 180 years ago.  What the scriptures do teach, in my opinion, is that Jesus returns and at that time he judges all.  Not two events – just one return which is what Paul is talking about in the passage above.  So forget the idea of vanishing Christians and everyone else thinking “where did they all go?”  Jesus will return and it will be clear to everyone that He is here, and He is king.


4 Responses to “End Times Series 1 – Rapture…what rapture?”

  1. Thnak you David and Michael. My dispensationalist friends perhaps are not wishing to put a contrary view!

  2. I did say I was looking forward to what you had to say, though I sat with some anxiety. OK, so you really are going to proclaim the Word, and I am thrilled. People want the spectacular instead of the real. You have chosen the real. I affirm your view. As a person who has studied the Bible as a scholar and disciple it refreshes my soul when I find someone who centres on what the line in the old TV series “Dragnet“ repeated, “Just the facts…“
    With respect, David

  3. Excellent post. Darby gave a systematic development of an idea that sprang from a vision that Margaret McDonald had.
    You are generous in calling this “a poor interpretation” of select verses. I Thess. will not bear such an interpretation as given by the imagination of those who believe the ‘left behind’ scenario.


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