On the Rapture

“The Rapture, Why Some Don’t Preach it” by Anthony M. Coniaris

As I was driving one day I encountered a bumper sticker admonishing me:

“WARNING!  In the event of Rapture, this car will be driverless.”

rapture-tshirtThe strange belief in the Rapture teaches that some day (sooner rather than later), without warning, born-again Christians will begin to float up from the freeway, abandoned vehicles careening wildly.  There will be airliners in the sky suddenly with no one at the controls! Presumably, God is removing these favored ones from earth to spare them the tribulation of the Anti-Christ which the rest of us will have to endure.

Unfortunately the Rapture has been promoted widely by the Left Behind series of books that have sold over 70 million copies.

The Rapture represents a radical misinterpretation of Scripture. 

I remember watching “Sixty Minutes”a year ago and was appalled to hear the announcer say that “the Rapture is an unmistakenly Christian doctrine”.  It is not!

It is a serious distortion of Scripture and the tradition of the Church.

According to the Bible and according to the belief not only of Eastern Orthodox Christians but also of the Roman Catholic and most Protestant mainline churches, the true Rapture will not be secret; it will be the great and very visible Second Coming of Jesus at the end of the world.  That is the one and only “Rapture”.  It will not be a separate, secret event but one that every eye shall see

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 LEB  (13)  Now we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning those who have fallen asleep, so that you will not grieve as also the rest, who have no hope.  (14)  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, thus also God will bring those who have fallen asleep through Jesus together with him.  (15)  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who remain until the Lord’s coming, will not possibly precede those who have fallen asleep.  (16)  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  (17)  Then we who are alive, who remain, will be snatched away at the same time together with them in the clouds for a meeting with the Lord in the air, and thus we will be together with the Lord always.  (18)  Therefore comfort one another with these words.

The word rapture is not found in Scripture but hearkens to 1 Thess. 4:17 where St. Paul says that when the Lord comes again “we who are alive…shall be caught up…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”  This “being caught up…in the clouds”—arpagisometha in Greek, is translated by some as “raptured”.  The word itself is not found in Orthodox theology.

The notion of a rapture in which Christ comes unseen to take believers away secretly, and only later comes back again for everyone else publicly—this whole teaching is quite novel.  It was almost unheard of until John Nelson Darby formulated it in the 1800s as part of a new approach to the Bible, sometimes called “dispensationalism”.

The purpose of the “Rapture” is to protect the elect from the tribulations of the end times.  Yet Jesus said nothing about sparing anyone from tribulation.  In fact, He said, “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer.  I have overcome the world.”  Nowhere did Jesus ever say that He would return secretly to rapture the elect.  Rather, He promised to be with His elect in all tribulations.  “Lo, I am with you always.  I will never leave you or forsake you.”  He even had something good to say about being persecuted: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

Those who espouse the Rapture claim that Matthew 24:40-41 refers clearly to the rapture of the just, “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.”  The entire passage, however, refers to Christ’s second coming where He will judge the living and the dead and separate the just from the unjust.

Darby taught as dogma that when the Scriptures reveal that the Lord will reign on earth for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4), this figure is to be taken literally, rather than as a symbol for eternity as we believe.  The Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 condemned as heresy this teaching which is called chialiasmos (millenianism or 1000 years).  Yet evangelical Christians and Pentecostals keep using obscure passages of the book of Revelation which purport to give a detailed timetable of what will happen at the end of the world, despite the fact that Jesus Himself warned that no man knows either the day or the hour when the Son of Man shall return.

A major problem with the Rapture is that it ends up teaching not two but three comings of Jesus—first His birth in Bethlehem; second, His secret coming to snatch away (rapture) the “born-again”; and third, His coming at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead and to reign in glory. Yet only two not three comings of Christ are mentioned in the Bible.  We have the clearest definition of this in the Nicene Creed when we confess that “the Lord Jesus Christ…will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  His Kingdom will have no end….  I expect the resurrection of the dead.  And the life of the ages to come.”  There is no mention of a “Rapture”.

As already stated, most Christians, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants do not believe in the Rapture.  In fact, one Protestant pastor, John L. Bray, summarized magnificently what most Christians believe about the Rapture when he wrote these remarkable words,

Though many believe and teach this “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” theory, they erroneously do so, because neither Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, nor any of the other writers of the Bible taught this.  Nor did the early church fathers, nor any others for many hundreds of years….  Did you know that NONE of this was ever taught prior to 1812, and that all forms of Pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching were developed since that date? ….  If I were to preach something, or believe something, supposedly from the Bible, but cannot find that ANYONE ELSE before 1812 ever believed it or taught it, I would seriously question that it is based on the Bible.

Thus the Rapture is foreign to the Bible and to the living tradition of the Church.  It is what we call a heresy, a false teaching. 

I can think of no better words to conclude than those of Jesus when He speaks of the one and only “Rapture”, the Second Coming:

“Be on guard.  Be alert!  You do not know when that time will come…keep watch…if he comes suddenly, do not let Him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!”  (Mark 13:32-37).

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Comments

  1. Yet we Orthodox Christians do understand that the resurrection has a sequence and process likened to a harvest. At the beginning of Holy Week we focus on our Lord’s parable of the wise and foolish virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. We are admonished to acquire the Holy Spirit so that we can share the joy of the Resurrection as the Day of the Lord begins, and not suffer the fate of the foolish virgins who will experience the judgements that will follow as the resurrection harvest continues for 1.335 days (Daniel 12:12),

    The Day of the Lord, like the Days of Creation, is a time defined by the actions of God, not a 24 hour period of time (see Gen. 2:4). The Lord, in His Divine mercy, has revealed to us in Daniel 12:12 that the judgments and resurrection harvest of the Day of the Lord will encompass 1,335 days. All of the future events associated with the 1,260 days, 42 months, and three and half years mentioned in the Book of Revelation will happen between the 30th day of the Day of Lord and the 1,290th day of the Day of the Lord mentioned in Daniel 12:11.

  2. Here’s all I need to know on this sometimes-controversial subject: in the end, it will all pan out just fine. That makes me a confirmed PAN-millennialist.

    Even so, Come LORD Jesus.

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