The rapture. Yes, there is one.
Happens when Jesus returns. And not before.
- Rapture /ˈræp.tʃər/ n. At Christ’s return, when his living and resurrected followers are taken up, and meet him in the air.
- 2. v. To be taken up to meet Christ in the air.
There are a number of Christians who don’t believe in the rapture. In part because the End Times scenario they hold to, doesn’t include any rapture. The End of Days idea, fr’instance: The world ends, or we otherwise die, and we go straight to heaven. Or not. No uncomfortable, material resurrection or millennium; just bliss and ease and comfort. It’s sort of a rapture: When we die, hallelujah by and by, we “fly away”—to heaven. That’s how we meet Jesus in the air.
And there are a number of Christians who do believe in the rapture. Myself included. Nope, we don’t all agree about what it’ll look like. In fact a segment of Christendom, who call themselves “premillennial dispensationalists” (and I call Darbyists), imagine it’ll be secret: Nobody sees Jesus come and get us. One day as you’re doing your thing, whoosh and all the Christians are gone. Vanished into thin air. Them, plus any children who were too young to make decisions for Christ, whom Jesus will preemptively take ’cause Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world. Oh, and they also figure he’ll also take all the unborn babies, straight out of their mothers’ wombs. Oy, will that creep out a lot of pregnant pagans.
Most Christians consider the Darbyist belief to be the looney-bin version of the End, and wanna distance themselves from it. (I sure do.) In response a lot of ’em will claim they don’t believe in the rapture—but what they mean is they don’t believe in the Darbyists’ version of the rapture. They don’t believe in any secret rapture, any rapture which is separate from Jesus’s second coming.
Lastly we have the ignorant category. ’Bout a decade ago I ran into some guy who ranted there can’t be any rapture, ’cause the word “rapture” isn’t in the bible. Following his reasoning, there can’t be the trinity either, ’cause that word isn’t in the bible either. But whether “rapture” is in the bible, entirely depends on how you translate arpaghisómetha. Me, I translate it “will be raptured,” like yea:
1 Thessalonians 4.15-18 KWL
- 15 We tell you this message from the Master.
- We who are still alive at the Master’s second coming don’t go ahead of those who’ve died.
- 16 With a commanding shout, with the head angel’s voice, with God’s trumpet,
- the Master himself will come down from heaven.
- The Christian dead will be resurrected first.
- 17 Then, we who are left, who are still alive,
- will be raptured together with them into the clouds,
- to meet the Master in the air.
- Thus, we’ll be with the Master—always.
- 18 So encourage one another with these words!
Other bibles go with “shall be caught up,” (
That’s the general idea. Of course different Christians believe different specifics.
Why the separate rapture idea caught on.
Now, you just read the scripture, right? Our Lord comes down from heaven, the dead get resurrected, the rest of us get raptured together with them, and we join Jesus’s entourage. Yes, the apostles were indeed writing about Jesus’s second coming, or “the Lord’s Day,” as they also called it.
So why do certain Christians claim it is a special separate event, and interpret it as if they can take an X-Acto knife to this passage?—
Basically they’re slicing and dicing the scriptures to suit their worldview. Darbyism, which I explained in greater detail elsewhere, has several lenses through which it views the End Times. They include:
Cessationism, that God turned off the miracles till the End Times; Futurism, that all the prophecies of the End can’t take place till God turns the miracles back on—and God’s gonna need time to fulfill all these prophecies, so there’s gotta be a stretch of time between the miracles switching back on and the very end of the End; and Literalism, that all the prophecies have to be fulfilled in the sequence shown in Revelation; that the book doesn’t bounce around in time. (Although it totally does, y’know. Jesus gets born in the middle of the book Rv 12.1-5—a fact Darbyists tend to ignore.)
Here’s the thing though. The scriptures say time and again that we gotta stay on the alert, ’cause Jesus could return at any time.
Mark 13.33-37 KWL
- 33 “Look. Stay awake. You don’t know when it’s time.
- 34 It’s like a person abroad, who left his home.
- He empowered his employees to do their jobs—and he ordered the doorman so he’d stay awake.
- 35 So stay awake! You don’t know when the master of the house returns.
- Evening? Midnight? Sunrise? Morning? 36 When he suddenly arrives, don’t let him find you asleep.
- 37 What I tell you, I tell everyone: Stay awake!”
Seriously, any time. We don’t know when—and we needn’t bother calculating the date, like some wonky groups do, for Jesus said we don’t get to know it. He said not even he knows it.
According to Darbyism, there’s gotta be a time-period where the miracles turn back on and all the End Times stuff happens. So… isn’t that kind of a giant blinking countdown timer till Jesus’s invasion? The instant we Christians break out in miracles again, doesn’t that mean the tribulation has begun?—and seven years afterward to the day, Jesus is coming back? We’re all gonna know the day and the hour. (The Left Behind novels got around this fact by having its characters all know the day, but not the hour. So they spent all day waiting for Jesus to return. Eventually he did. Cue the bloodbath.)
In fact the early Pentecostals, many of whom were Darbyists, insisted this was why speaking in tongues and healing the sick had suddenly broken out among them. It wasn’t because of revival, but restoration: God reactivated the miracles in preparation for the End Times—the “latter rain” John Nelson Darby had predicted, which precedes the coming of the Lord.
To these Pentecostals’ great surprise and disappointment, their fellow Darbyists rejected their “Latter Rain Movement” as unbiblical, phony, and probably devilish. Of course, since the early Pentecostals permitted blacks and women in leadership, racism and sexism had way more to do with this rejection than any in-context biblical interpretation.
But the pesky Holy Spirit keeps triggering revivals and miracles among Christians. Darbyists included. And thus far not a one of these supernatural outbreaks has triggered the seven-year tribulation. Some of these revivals have been going on for years. (The Pentecostal revival, in fact, passed the century mark a few years ago.) Cessationists don’t wanna encourage this sort of behavior, so over the century since Pentecostalism began, more and more Darbyists have adopted the idea of a specific supernatural event, other than the return of miracles, that’ll trigger the tribulation, and start the countdown till Jesus. And that event has largely become the pre-tribulation rapture. That’s now what they emphasize.
Why a pre-tribulation rapture? (Or, for some of ’em, a mid-tribulation rapture?) Because, they argue, the Holy Spirit is currently holding back the forces of darkness. The devil, and its meat-puppet the Beast, can’t really run amok till the Spirit stops restraining them.
I know; lots of Pentecostals believe in a pre-tribulation rapture nonetheless. Well, that’s what happens when you don’t know your own history: You ignorantly adopt philosophies which aren’t just the fruit of a poisonous tree, but a tree people originally meant to lynch you upon.
That, and wishful thinking.
Some years ago at a prayer meeting, I let slip I don’t believe in any pre-tribulation rapture. Some of those folks reacted as if I’d just grown a second head. They’d all grown up in churches which taught a pretrib rapture; they’d all taken the idea as a given. No pretrib rapture? That’s like saying no heaven.
“You go right ahead and believe what you believe,” one of ’em told me. “You can stay here and ride out the tribulation. I’m gonna get raptured.”
“So basically I can go to hell with all the unbelievers?” I said.
“I didn’t mean that,” she backtracked.
“I know. But this is the thing: I don’t wanna ride out the tribulation. Who seriously wants to live through tribulation? I’m no masochist; I wanna get raptured. I love the idea. It’s just it’s not in the bible. Jesus warned us we’re gonna have tribulation.
But she didn’t wanna hear it. She’d rather be raptured.
So would I! So would anyone with half a brain. I’m hoping—and it’s likely I’m totally wrong about this—but I’m hoping since the Americas never come up in the bible, maybe all the End Times awfulness will be limited to the pagan nations outside the western hemisphere, and that we North and South Americans get to be a resource and oasis for Christians in trouble elsewhere. I know; there’s an awful lot of wishful thinking involved in that interpretation too. So I admit it’s iffy. I’m not in utter denial like the folks who are wishing and hoping for a pre-tribulation rapture.
But that’s the primary reason it’s such a popular view in the United States. The idea we’re exempt from all the troubles in the world; the idea we’re an exception when the rest of humanity is suffering: It’s so American. We figure the rules don’t apply to us in any other way; why should the End Times be an exception? Fits our culture like a tailored suit.
That, and the intricate, violent, dark Christian revenge fantasies which are part of how we imagine the post-rapture tribulation. With all the Christians gone, God’s now free to unleash horror after fresh horror upon the pagans of the world. All the people who used to bug us? Getting bugged a thousand times worse by the Beast and his minions, who erect some sort of bizarro anti-Christianity in our absence, and inflict outrageous things upon any post-rapture converts to Jesus. Because there are some in Revelation
Then, seven years later, Jesus brings fire, sulfur, wrath, and death… instead of God’s kingdom, and a thousand years of last chances to enter it.
But tell ya what: Let’s stop. You’ve already seen how Darbyists abuse the bible, and can’t even be consistent in their own doctrines. Clearly we can’t trust them to accurately describe the End.
The real rapture.
So here’s how it really goes down: Like
1 Corinthians 15.50-52 KWL
- 50 Fellow Christians, I say flesh and blood aren’t able to inherit God’s kingdom.
- Nor can decay inherit the indestructible.
- 51 Look, I’m telling you a mystery: Everybody won’t die. Everybody will transform.
- 52 In an instant. In an eyeblink. In the last trumpet:
- He blows the trumpet, and the dead will rise—indestructible.
- We’ll be transformed: 53 This decay has to be clothed with indestructibility.
- This mortality has to be clothed with undying.
We can’t fully enter Jesus’s kingdom unless we’re indestructible. So that’s what he makes us become. Just like him.
We meet him in the air, and fall into the ranks as part of Jesus’s invading army of angels and saints. We’re not going to heaven, ’cause he’s coming down from heaven. He’s coming to earth to turn it into heaven. We’re coming along.
We didn’t sit out any tribulation. Well, unless you count living in some other country where there’s freedom of religion. Meanwhile other Christians are obviously undergoing tribulation. In Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, across the Middle East and Africa and Asia, Christians are regularly harassed and murdered because we dare follow Jesus the Nazarene. If you asked them about great tribulation, they’d tell you it’s happening right now. For it is.
So… what’re we doing about it? What help are we giving them? What will Jesus have to say about our involvement—or lack thereof—when he returns? Will he call such people his good and faithful servants?
As for the folks “left behind” when we Christians get raptured: We’re coming back for them. They’re part of the world which was just invaded by God’s kingdom. They get to live under Jesus’s new reign. Not all of ’em are gonna like it. Some will rebel. Some will grumble. And some will discover it’s better than anything they ever imagined.
For the kingdom is, has always been, and always will be, good news. Jesus doesn’t plan to win them to his side by beating the hell out of them for seven years. Instead he’s gonna give them a thousand years of paradise: The world run as it should be, under his direct supervision so we Christians don’t muck it up. And us Christians transformed, far less likely to muck anything up ’cause with our new bodies we’ve put on a new, unselfish, unsinful, divine nature.
The Darbyist scenario paling more and more in comparison? Of course it does. It’s not good news. This is.