Truth or Myth: The Rapture

In Christian RealTalk by Antwuan Malone59 Comments

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.
60 comments
jhone act
jhone act


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Rick
Rick

The rapture and Christ's second coming are the same event. Paul was addressing a concern the Thessalonians had for their believing loved ones who had died before Christ came back. He comforts them with a proper understanding that those who had died would actually receive the honor of being raised first and then be joined with the believers alive at that time. Then they all together would be transformed to meet the descending Christ at His return as Judge. So I essentially agree with Wright's view and disagree with the wild fabrications of premil dispensationalists.

boldncourageous
boldncourageous

If the rapture were real then Jesus would be lying concerning the nature in which He stated how he would return for the second coming..."Like a thief..."  The "like a thief.." verses are ALL second coming in nature... 2 Peter 3:10, Rev. 16:15, 2 Thess. 5:2, Matt. 24:42,43.  It is the day of the Lord.  If a rapture were to happen 7 years prior, It would announce and declare the 'second coming" totally destroying the element of surprise that Jesus has promised, "like a thief.."  Of course, pretrib supporters try and tell us that it doesn't have that element of surprise for believers, however, it that is the case, then why would Jesus warn believers to STILL be watching and keeping their garments when He comes "like a thief" in Rev. 16:15?

Andrew Whitman
Andrew Whitman

I appreciate the Welcome I hope the Rapture is real, Im reminded how my grandparents made this comment  "now all we gotta do is wait on the rapture"   and as im evolving or growing in christ the scriptures meaning are changing also.

Andrew Whitman
Andrew Whitman

i never wanted anything to do with JESUS CHRIST   but he has made himself known to me he has shown me amazing truths that have challenged  every aspect of my being.. the rapture has not came up in any significant way yet.  Personally  I love the Dramatic  version concept of the rapture  i wanna just be teleported out of the middle  of the court room as Im about to be sentenced to life in prison!!   Jesus said once his'KINGDOM" is not of this earth.       Were supposed to continually grow in our knowledge of the [{truth} aka jesus]. The Rapture sounds like a good excuse to be lazy and not learn how to 'evolve"     

Hosea 4:6 

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

@Andrew Whitman Andrew, brother! Welcome to the family of believers! Indeed the rapture does have a certain drama to it, which certainly creates a sort of sensation when you read it/think about it. I suppose it would be an interesting way to be. Though I'm not sure the Rapture facilitates a "lazy" attitude as it does an "entitled" attitude. I think, for many, the Rapture is a way to avoid trials. And if we aren't careful, we'll slip into thinking that we don't "deserve" such trials. That would be a dangerous place to be, me-thinks!

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Varghese2go
Varghese2go

I like this post. Unlike you, I am very interested in end times, but not to the extent that I feel myself a prophet. I do believe in a rapture. I guess that is all you really wanted to discuss, but the whole mid, per, post thing is funny to me. After all, when Christ came no one, except for the few surrounding Him at birth saw it coming or acknowledged it when it happened. I think the second coming will happen in like fashion. We're clueless. There are reasons I believe in the rapture, but the main one surrounds the H.S. I can just imagine (conjecture) Satan pleading with God to take the HS out so that he can have full control, in much the same way he whined to Him, as recorded in the book of Job. Along with that, the H.S. power is WAY underestimated in the world, and by Him leaving, it allows the world to come to their complete depravity, as we see in the land of Canaan before Moses was allowed to allow his people to go in (?-yep). Ultimately, it's not about us. The rapture is not for us, but His glory.

MarkbbAguirre
MarkbbAguirre

Yes, this topic fascinates me, however I think it does change the way believers live. If you believer in Pre-trib rap then let us hope for Christ to take us away before persecution. In a sense, believers become comfortable and relaxed, especially in America. This is the key point I want to make: Those who belive in a Pre-tribe rap will place their hope in this instead of RESSURECTION! Look at Thesslonians 4 (I think you put 2 Thess. on accident) it says those who are dead (the fallen saints) will be raised before those who are alive (the mystery of the ones who are changed from mortal to immortality wiout dying).

@brenize2000
@brenize2000

I have read several books on both sides of this debate and I will have to say that neither side has convinced me to the point that I would take a stand either way. I agree with your opening statements. I think the most important thing to know is that Jesus IS coming back and we better be ready. We need to be living a life that is a light in this dark world. We need to be pouring into our friends, family and neighbors and showing them the love of Jesus. Deep down, I would like to believe there is a post-trib rapture. Sounds like a wonderful way to go to me! But whether or not it is going to happen, does not change how I am going to live my life here on earth, my belief/faith in Christ or the anticipation I have to spend eternity with my Lord and Savior.

Matt
Matt

Tullian Tchividjian wrote a great blog about this. Check it out at www.thegospelcoalition.com/blogs/tullian

John Harris
John Harris

Write's mini-article is pretty much spot on, though some of the interpretation of "in the air" I take differently, but not like most of us think "way up in the sky" it's the word for our very breath, the air around us. I think it speaks more to a state or reality, not an "up up and away" idea...

ridingacross
ridingacross

Im not sure i follow what you say here John..... The 1Thess4 verses dont necessitate the current secret, pre/mid/post rapture ideas being true, and they can just as easily be understood from other positions like the one roughly outlined above. Can i ask what you define as "current theories about the rapture"?

@johnpinkstonii
@johnpinkstonii

I agree with some of the others here. That passage out of 1 Thess and its interpretation as a literal event only makes sense if you presuppose current theories about the rapture. If you take that out of the equation, then it doesn't make any sense. Then the later verses stressing encouragement become more important, or at least I believe they are more important.

ridingacross
ridingacross

Its well worth looking at the "taken away" passages of Matt 24 in light of Matthew 13, where it is the tares and the bad fish that are taken away and burned. Also, if we look at the historical image of a king returning to his city or kingdom, as in Matthew 25 with the virgins and 2Thess4, the pattern is usually that of the king being greeted outside of the city as he approaches and then being accompanied back into the city by his people. Considered alongside passsages that tell us of the earth being remade etc, the "rapture" or more correctly "catching away" seems to be a temporary meeting in the air after which we shall return to the earth with the Lord, and then shall we ever be with Him. And that will be a good day!

Spackmanjackman
Spackmanjackman

What are your thoughts on Tim LaHaye's 'Left Behind' novels (and their video game spin-offs)? How do you vIew their contribution to the whole rapture 'conversation'? As an Englishman, I can vouch for the immense popularity and influence of the books amongst Evangelical Christians on these shores, and assume that their influence is even greater in American society. As a stereotypically cynical Brit, I hold a rather dim view of the books, and question their value as a trustworthy prophetic source (which is what they have seemed to have become in some quarters). I would, however be interested to find out what my American brothers and sisters think.

Dysfunctional Parrot
Dysfunctional Parrot

After being a pre-tribber for most of my Christian life, I've since abandoned the position a few years ago. At best I've adopted a pre-wrath stance that believes that an "ingathering" will take place. However, to go from that to the "empty clothes" story is a huge stretch. But lets assume for a moment the rapture is a legit concept. The notion is that we'll be gathered to heaven. But Christ is coming to earth ( Jerusalem to be specific ). Are we just passing him, or meeting him to arrive there as well? This is also pre-tribs main problem: are there 2 coming or one? Always an interesting "in-house" subject!

@St_Ray
@St_Ray

I have to third Mike G's comments. The rapture as its known in the modern evangelical church is a 19th century invention. So If the common idea of the modern idea rapture is accepted, then not only does Christ have a Second coming but a Third! In the context expressed in Thess. the greek word for "meet" (when the saints "meet" Jesus in the air) is an idea of intercepting someone midway between that person and their destination. Jesus is on his way to finally bringing Justice to earth and we meet him in the sky (preceded by those who are dead of course).

Jason Blanton
Jason Blanton

"Left Behind?' by James Efird. Buy it. Read it. Best 120 pages on this subject ever. It will answer almost everything you've asked.

James
James

In one way, I'm kind of glad Harold Camping made a mess of things and brought the whole "rapture" and "end times" issues to the forefront. What would happen to the faith of many Christians if they expected the rapture and it never happened? Christianity is obsessed with the "end times". It's as if the present doesn't exist and that a person is only a Christian relative to what God is going to give us when the world comes to an end. It's as if some people see their coming to faith like buying a bus ticket. Now that they're Christians, they just sit around the bus station waiting for the bus to heaven. Nothing else matters to them except "me and Jesus". Despite the usual proof texts, I don't think anything like the rapture is going to occur. The rapture, to the best of my knowledge, is a relatively recent concept in Christianity, dating back to the 17th century. Chances are, the disciples who walked and talked with Jesus didn't expect anything like the rapture. I think what ever is going to happen pre, during, and post the coming of Jesus will happen. We will have to deal with it. We will only have our faith and trust (they're not the same thing) in God to help us do it. If I'm wrong and the rapture happens, terrific. I'll be pleasantly surprised. If I'm right and no rapture happens, assuming I'm still alive when Jesus comes, I hope I'll be prepared for whatever happens in the world rather than wondering what went wrong and why I'm not in heaven hanging out with the angels.

jeana austin
jeana austin

Ok here goes, there are higher levels of concsiousness, where we experience reality, where all pain is erased. The next dimension is moving towards us as we highten our consciousness through Christ where we can experience what we know as heaven. Miracles are a small insight to what we are to know as reality (this level is a sort of dream state for knowledge and understanding, a preparation ground). Deny the ego, purify your thoughts and get on the escalator! I have seen the world through His eyes, it is beyond imagination. There is a middle ground where we meet Christ and engage with the spirit as one and become the sons and daughters of the Father

Will
Will

To second what Mike G said, the 'rapture' phenomenon is uniquely American. Tom Wright does not write that often on it because in most of the circles he runs, he doesn't need to. It is virtually unknown in Britain and the 'Left Behind' books are not the top sellers (they are generally considered 'too American', even by those few who would agree with dispensationalism). There are others who write on this issue much more than Wright. Christianity Today recently posted a much longer article that covers many of the questions raised here. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/june/who...

Mike G
Mike G

With all do respect, there is no way you can differentiate between literal and symbolic imagery when reading any Pauline epistle in English. Secondly, unless you have a fairly good grasp of the use of rhetoric in the ancient world, and especially how Paul uses it, you are going to miss Paul's use of evidence for building his arguments, like in Thessalonians. Third, It's highly doubtful that Paul is referencing the Matthew 24 passage considering that Thessalonians was written at least 20 years before that part of Matthew (50/51 AD for 2 Thess vs at least 70+ AD for Matthew). There is a slight possibility that Paul was referencing the oral tradition for which Matthew writes, but a textual comparison of all of Paul's writing versus the Matthew text strongly argues against that. Finally, the "Left Behind" concept of the rapture is a doctrine that has only arisen within the last 200 years or so, mostly in the United States. This is not something that traces back to the early church, or Christ, or Paul no matter how many amateur theologians try. There are a lot of good academic counter arguments to much of N.T. Wright's work but if you're trying to argue for the rapture here, and are trying to use scripture to do it you're not just on thin ice, you're not on ice at all - you're trying to stand on open water. Or rather you're just another Harlod Camping with a different date in mind.

@lisa_dawn1
@lisa_dawn1

I'm not nearly as educated as others, but Paul sounds pretty direct and non-symbolic to me as well in 1 Thess 4. In reading Wright's article, I'm unsure why he thinks that this would be metaphoric and " not to be understood as literal truth". Why not understanding it as literal? I'm also unsure why he says that if Christians were to meet Jesus up in the air then they would immediately turn around and lead the Lord back to the remade Earth. What's up with that? I'm pretty certain He'll be leading me, and not visa versa. Wright seems to be trying to disprove the Left Behind series, which I have not read, so I may be wrong here, but isn't it fiction?

Nathan Carter
Nathan Carter

In this particular case (not in every situation), I agree with Wright. The rapture is based off this pretty spurious interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4, suggesting that for some reason, God will raise us up into the air to be caught up with him in the clouds. This, to me, sounds like symbolic language, in that Paul ends this particular statement with 'encourage one another with these words'. He gives us something to look forward to, a great time when all sin and pain will be wiped away and nothing will be left but the glory of God. But it makes no sense to me that Paul would be speaking of something so fantastical when he has spent the rest of this particular book speaking in the most sensible and rational of manners. A book by Australian author John Dickson (http://www.publicchristianity.com/_product_15166/666_and_All_That) addresses the end times, and the concept of the rapture merely being a recent theological theory produced by people who have continually misunderstood this particular verse. None of us know the time, the date, the method, any of it, so why would Paul presume to have exact knowledge of our removal from this mortal coil when even Jesus doesn't know when the end is coming? Just my $0.02.

Jared Abbott
Jared Abbott

I have to agree with you that the passage in Thessalonians is pretty clear, and to me it doesn't sound like symbolic language. Saying that, I'm not nearly as educated as N.T. Wright. He probably has more knowledge of the original Greek and how metaphors were expressed in that day and age. Even so, in modern English it sounds like he's speaking directly rather than metaphorically. Especially when you look at Matthew 24:29-31 it just sounds to me like he is echoing the prophecies of the Lord, who also doesn't seem to be speaking metaphorically. Honestly, to me it sounds like Wright is just making an educated guess. Until he or someone else presents me some with stronger support for the symbolic view, I'm sticking to the belief in a literal rapture.

Troy Doucet
Troy Doucet

I happen to agree with Wright on this issue- both from his hermeneutic and historical application. The unfortunate thing is that for most laypeople who are uninvolved in academic discourse (which is not necessarily a bad thing) their only understanding of eschatological theology stars Kirk Cameron and a series of hooky fiction. Here is a link with N.T. Wright that is great: http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=435168...