Truth or Myth: The Rapture

In Christian RealTalk by Antwuan Malone

I Believe In The Rapture-ish, For Now

So Harold Camping was wrong <surprise> and we’re all still here hustling and bustling like we were before. No rapture this past weekend. Crap! I guess that means more slumming it here on Earth with our “earnest.”

I was actually surprised at how big a story Harold’s Rapture Error became. I initially decided I wouldn’t engage/acknowledge the whole thing on this site. Admittedly, when it comes to eschatology, the fog of indifference usually descends upon me.

Who cares whether the rapture is before or after the tribulation? Or, what the tribulation will actually entail? I don’t. I’ll continue pursuing a life of love towards God and my neighbors in either scenario. I mean, I know enough about the topic to be a little dangerous, but I haven’t studied long and deep into that category of theology… neither do I want to.

So why write did I change my mind and write this blog about the rapture, then? Because good opportunities to discuss a biblical concept are harder for me to resist. Especially those that challenge me. That, and N.T. Wright got me all riled up!

N.T. Wright, author of several books worth reading including Simply Christian, suggested in a recent posting that the rapture is all rubbish. Those weren’t his words, but he basically cased that the Bible doesn’t support the idea of a rapture. And I’m not merely meaning the word “rapture,” which many point out is nowhere in the Bible, but the concept. The idea that in one minute God’s followers will inhabit the Earth, and in another, they’ll be gone.

I’ve only had serious conversations about The Rapture few with my brother, and my position has always been more when not if. It’s always pre-trib vs. post-trib. To hear someone say there will be no rapture at all shakes up my very uneducated, underdeveloped understanding of the end of days.

After reading Wright’s post, I guess I’m willing to entertain the idea, even it is does feel a little weak. I usually have great respect for Wright’s theology, but not this time. Who knows, maybe he sacrificed brevity for clarity.

For me, the “rapture” verses are Matthew 24:36-41, 2 Thessa. 2:6-8 and 1 Thessa 4:16-17. Let’s look at these passages together. I’ll start the discussion with my view, and you can follow with yours.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. (Matt. 24:36-41, bold added)

At first glance, this is the perfect picture of the rapture. Two people in the field, one left, one remaining. Two women at the mill, one “taken” the other left. But look a little closer and something goes a little wonky.

The parallel being drawn here is to the days of Noah, where basically, life was going along as normal until the flood began. There, the flood came and “took them all away.”

Hmmm.

It seems the whole passage can be turned by what “take” means. If the statements are truly parallel, then the flood “took” them away from salvation (the ark). In other words, “took” may not be the synonym for rescue like many have assumes. It certainly isn’t in the first part of the passage.

So can it be in the second? Could the man that is “took” be the sinner, not the saint? And if so, where are they being taken too? And more, what does that say about Earth? Hmm… Upon second look, I guess we could score one for Wright (possibly).

“And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” (2 Thessalonians 2:6-8, bold added)

This verse may not seem pertinent to the conversation, but I think it is. I’ve always understood the history of the world in three phases.

Phase 1: The Time of God the Father.

Phase 2: The Time of God the Son

Phase 3: The Time of God the Spirit

We are in phase three now, where the Spirit of God is present on Earth through the Church. So when the passage says “only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way,” that capital H makes me think we are talking about one of the Godhead. In this case, it would be the Holy Spirit residing in God’s people. So when it says “taken out of the way” there is room for the belief that this is alluding to a traditional interpretation of “rapture.” A bit of a stretch for some, but I think still worth adding to the conversation.

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. (2 Thessalonians 4:16-17, bold added)

This is by far the most popular verse supporting the rapture. Admittedly, this one is difficult for me to get around. Below you’ll see what Wright says about this verse in his article, and again, I hate to say I came away unconvinced with his arguments. Wright suggests:

“Paul’s description of Jesus’ reappearance in 1 Thessalonians 4 is a brightly colored version of what he says in two other passages, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 and Philippians 3:20-21: At Jesus’ “coming” or “appearing,” those who are still alive will be “changed” or “transformed” so that their mortal bodies will become incorruptible, deathless. This is all that Paul intends to say in Thessalonians, but here he borrows imagery—from biblical and political sources—to enhance his message. Little did he know how his rich metaphors would be misunderstood two millennia later.

First, Paul echoes the story of Moses coming down the mountain with the Torah. The trumpet sounds, a loud voice is heard, and after a long wait Moses comes to see what’s been going on in his absence.

Second, he echoes Daniel 7, in which “the people of the saints of the Most High” (that is, the “one like a son of man”) are vindicated over their pagan enemy by being raised up to sit with God in glory. This metaphor, applied to
Jesus in the Gospels, is now applied to Christians who are suffering persecution.

Third, Paul conjures up images of an emperor visiting a colony or province. The citizens go out to meet him in open country and then escort him into the city. Paul’s image of the people “meeting the Lord in the air” should be read with the assumption that the people will immediately turn around and lead the Lord back to the newly remade world.”

I’m not buying any of that. The passage clearly says in direct terms (this does not sound like symbolic speech) that the Lord will descend (we know Heaven is “up”), the dead in Christ will rise first, then those alive will be “caught up” in the clouds (not on Earth) to meet Him in the air (in case we forgot where the clouds were).

As I’ve said, I’m interested in the conversation on this one. I’m not exactly sure where I stand. I hope you will share your thoughts!
N.T.Wright’s Article: http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_BR_Farewell_Rapture.htm

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Addition to the Post:

Thanks guys for the discussion below! After reading some of the posts, I thought I’d add the following breakdown for further discussion.

 

 

 

I first saw these images in LaHaye’s book Revelation Unveiled, but the images are also at http://www.christsbondservants.org/Home_Files/wys-pass%20Chart%20Contrasting%20Events.pdf

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So do you think there will be a “rapture?”  Why? What do you think of N. T. Wright’s article?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.