As a part of their end of this age and the beginning of the New Age dispensational theory some Christians have developed a doctrine known as “The Rapture”. The Rapture theory postulates that good Christians will actually be taken out of the world, and taken to heaven, in order for them to avoid the destructive events which will take place on the earth as the New Kingdom age and attending tribulation manifests. This theory is widely accepted by many Christian denominations today not only those known as dispensationalists.
Proponents of this theory use various scriptures upon which they base their theory. The main scriptural justifications for the theory are discussed below. The history of the origin of this theory is disputed but it is undisputed that it has appeared within the last 200 years. The question is: will there be a rapture of Christians, out of this world, for them to avoid the events that will take place on the earth during the end times?
The rapture, this centerpiece of dispensational Christianity, was first promulgated in the early 1800’s as a counter-doctrine to Catholicism. The 7-year tribulation period was added. As Catholicism promised security to their people, so the rapture theory was acceptable as a Protestant alternative since it too offered more security to the point the believer could actually avoid any suffering or tribulation. This theory was designed to give believers a sense of security as everyone thrives on feeling secure and serene. The Catholic Church has preached the security doctrine that if you are a Catholic you will go to heaven no questions asked. If you subscribe to the rapture theory, if you live a good Christian life, you will not have to participate in the violent birth pangs of the New Age as described by the Book of Revelation and as foretold by Jesus.
One story of the origin of the theory is that in 1830 a 15 year old Scottish Girl named Margaret McDonald claimed to have had some visions. One of them was of a Secret Rapture of believers before the appearance of the Antichrist. She was already familiar with a prior teaching of a 7-year tribulation period (which by the way is nowhere to be found in the Bible). Her Presbyterian pastor Edward Irving (1792-1834), who was a forerunner of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements, spoke at prophecy conferences in Dublin Ireland at Powerscourt Castle and promoted the doctrine of the Secret Rapture as per her vision. John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), a minister of the Church of Ireland and who later became a member of the Plymouth Brethren, also promoted the Secret Rapture doctrine, after attending the same Powerscourt Bible Prophecy meeting in 1830, where he learned of Margaret McDonald’s vision. Darby altered Margaret’s views and then taught them as his own. He developed “futurism” into a system of prophetic teachings called “dispensationalism” which had the Secret Christian Rapture at its centre. He visited Margaret McDonald at her home in Scotland and then later went to America several times in the 1850s and 1860s, where this Secret Christian Rapture theology had started gaining a large acceptance. He went on to publish his own Bible with the rapture as its centerpiece. Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921) was greatly influenced by the teachings of Darby and incorporated this doctrine into the notes of his Scofield Reference Bible, published by Oxford University Press in 1909. One million copies had been printed by 1930, firmly establishing this Futurist theory into different denominations and Bible schools in the 20th Century.
The rapture theory is based primarily on two Biblical scriptures (although there are many more which rapture proponents say confirms the theory). 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 says: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 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 not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then 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 shall always be with the Lord”.
It is difficult to interpret this scripture to mean a rapture. Actually the primary purpose of this scripture written by Paul was to comfort those who were alive in the knowledge that those who died in Christ would be returned to earth with Christ at His coming. An accurate reading of the scripture obviously means that Christ will bring with Him those who have DIED in Christ to meet the saints who remain on earth. Since Christ does not come until the conclusion of the “tribulations” the scripture means that those who remain on earth will have gone through the tribulations. The scripture actually anticipates that joyous occasion when the living will be united with those who have gone on and they will meet together “in the air”, correctly interpreted the spiritual realm.
Rapture theorists would purpose two second comings of Christ-one to gather His righteous out of the earth, then again to fight the battle of Armageddon against the evil powers. As that battle is the culmination of the tribulation period the raptured were taken to avoid, who would there be to fight the battle if the righteous were somewhere else when it occurred. If they were to be raptured to avoid conflict and tribulation then the purpose of the rapture is defeated if they return to fight the greatest battle in history. It is the righteous who are alive and remain who shall meet Christ on His return, not the “left behind” unrighteous. As Jesus said: “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many” (Matthew 24:11). This theory is false teaching by false prophets with little understanding of the scriptures or God’s purposes in the earth.
Christ does not return at all until all His enemies on earth have been made a footstool for His feet. “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet” (Hebrews 10:12-13; Psalm 110:1). How are His enemies to be made His footstool if all the real Christians are raptured away? It is those on the earth who defeat Christ’s enemies clearing the way for His return. They don’t run from the battle; they embrace it as part of Christ’s sufferings.
Hebrews 11 also provides a key. After recounting all the great men of faith who were martyred in the name of God (Hebrews 11:1-38) the end of the chapter says the following: “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground”. Certainly these men of God were not raptured away to avoid these persecutions and tribulations.
Hebrews 11 goes on: “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect” (Heb 11:37-40). In other words, the martyrs who have gone before are not made perfect without those on earth becoming perfect first.
Paul describes our spiritual battle that must be won before Jesus can return: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13). It is the Saints on earth who fight this battle of the ages and prevail. It is not those who are seeking a way out of the battle by being whisked to “heaven” before it is completed.
Over the millennia there have been many men of God who were tortured and killed in dastardly ways for their beliefs (see Hebrews 11). Where was the rapture when they needed it? Romans fed Christians to wild animals and killed them in many gruesome ways. Religious groups such as the Cathars were wiped out completely for serving God. Paul was persecuted at every turn as he spread the gospel. He said: “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). Where was his rapture? Instead of a rapture he was the one making it happen, spreading the gospel with all of his heart despite the hardships. Is God now going to spare his best servants by removing them from suffering? Christ Himself suffered, even to the point of death on the cross. We who are alive today are to participate in those sufferings, not be spared them.
Secondly, rapture theorists use the following scripture to show that some will be taken and others left “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. “I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. “There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.” (Luke 17:26-27, 34-37). That verse clearly states that the end of times will be like those in the days of Noah. However in the days of Noah “the righteous” (Noah and his family) were left while the wicked were taken away in judgment”. Rapture theorists would have it the other way around. They believe that the righteous will be taken and the wicked left. That didn’t happen in Noah’s time.
Nowhere in the Bible is there a reference to a rapture of believers either before or after “the tribulation” (see http://www.christian-rapture.com/ for further details of the rapture theory).
The righteous are left on the earth to continue the great battle of faith until the Lord comes. They are actually the ones who are precipitating the return of the Lord by their faith and perseverance. The Lord will not return until this battle is won and His enemies have been made a footstool for His feet. Hebrews says: “but He, [Christ] having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET” (HEBREWS 10:12-13; PSALM 110:1). The Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4) are those on earth who continue the work of the Lord come hell or high-water. They would be ashamed to be removed from the earth, to a place of safety, just when they are needed most. The doctrine of the rapture is not only false doctrine it is an affront to those of us who are on earth until the final trumpet sounds and the Lord returns with a shout.
Although the pre-tribulation rapture theory is very popular today, given arguments that are offered in support of this doctrine we must declare Pre-tribulationalism to be contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture. Simply put, there is not one shred of evidence that can be found in the Bible to support the pre-tribulation rapture. The typical Pre-tribulation arguments offered reveal a pattern: of imposing one’s presuppositions onto a text without any exegetical justification whatsoever; of finding subtle meaning between words and/or phrases that were never intended by the author; of spiritualizing or ignoring passages that contradict the Pre-tribulation paradigm; and, of imposing Pre-tribulationalism upon passages that actually teach the unity of the eschatological complex (i.e., the rapture, second coming, general resurrection, and general judgment all occur on the same day—the day of the Lord). It is our hope and prayer that professing
Christians would cast off this escapist fantasy and return to the task of personal sanctification and godly dominion” (see also "Is the Pretribulation Rapture Biblical et al." by: Brian M. Schwertley).
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