There’s a rapture, and it’s no secret.

From the first chapter of Left Behind, the 1995 End Times novel by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

“People are missing,” she managed in a whisper, burying her head in his chest.

He took her shoulders and tried to push her back, but she fought to stay close. “What do you m—?”

She was sobbing now, her body out of control. “A whole bunch of people, just gone!”

“Hattie, this is a big plane. They’ve wandered to the lavs or—”

She pulled his head down so she could speak directly into his ear. Despite her weeping, she was plainly fighting to make herself understood. “I’ve been everywhere. I’m telling you, dozens of people are missing.”

“Hattie, it’s still dark. We’ll find—”

“I’m not crazy! See for yourself! All over the plane, people have disappeared.”

“It’s a joke. They’re hiding, trying to—”

“Ray! Their shoes, their socks, their clothes, everything was left behind. These people are gone!”

They’ve already made two silly movies based on this book. Both depict this chapter: In the middle of a cross-country flight, where it’d be impossible for 100 people to simply disappear, they do. With no warning. No fanfare. No nothing. One moment they’re in their seats; the next they’re gone, with clothes, jewelry, pacemakers, and artificial knees left behind.

The same thing happens in various Christian-produced End Times movies as well. Though not always with the clothes and bric-a-brac left where they last stood. It’s pretty much only LaHaye and Jenkins who had the idea everybody was gonna appear in heaven butt naked.

(But the idea of leaving behind all the inorganic material? I’m not sure they entirely thought out how far this oughta go. If they left behind pins and stents, why not tattoo ink? The meds they last took? The alcohol they last drank? The food additives in their stomachs? The urine in their bladders?)

Well, a mysterious unexplained vanishing is certainly dramatic. But it’s not consistent with the scriptures. At all. Do I have to repeat this? Fine: At all.

Remember when Jesus got raptured?

Acts 1.9-11 KJV
9 And when [Jesus] had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11 which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

Our rapture is gonna resemble Jesus’s rapture. And he didn’t get naked on the way up.

Nor was it invisible; they watched him go. Nor all that secret; he told ’em he was gonna go.

But y’know, the secret rapture idea is far more dramatic. And frightening. Deliberately meant to be frightening.

Imagine you’re a little kid who grew up hearing these scenarios of a secret rapture, and you firmly believe that’s what happens next: All the Christians disappear, followed by a worldwide tribulation. So one day you’re at home, and you notice you’re all alone. Nobody’s around when you thought they’d be. And for just a moment—in brief but great terror—you wonder whether Jesus raptured the rest of the family… but not you. He left you behind.

More times than I can count, I’ve heard Christians share this very story. They panicked and thought, Did the rapture happen without me? Oh CRAP!

“Don’t you be left behind,” preachers warn ’em ominously. But is this actually how the rapture’s gonna work? Surprise, Jesus took away everybody you love, and it’s the great tribulation for you?

No.

Seriously, no. Read your bible.

Why do so many Evangelicals insist the rapture will happen in secret? Because, knowingly or not, they’re following John Nelson Darby’s interpretation of the End. Darby insisted Jesus’s return takes place in two stages:

  1. Jesus gathers his church to himself before all the really bad stuff happens. Then the bad stuff happens.
  2. Jesus returns to stop the bad stuff—and his mighty resurrected saints come right along with him.

The gathering the church to himself—the rapture—is described as secret and unexpected. The return to invade the world—that’s the second coming, as Darby’s fans imagine it. One’s quiet and takes everyone by surprise. The other’s nice and loud and earth-shaking.

Now, Jesus describes his return as happening when we don’t expect it. (So stay awake! Mk 13.33-37 In Matthew he describes it thisaway:

Matthew 24.37-44 KJV
37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, 39 and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. 44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.

Twice Jesus mentions one taken, and one not. Taken like a thief swipes livestock, Darbyists claim; you don’t know they’ve been swiped till you turn around and notice they’re gone. (And, if LaHaye and Jenkins are to be believed, leaving behind nothing but clothes and weaves.)

The thief-in-the-night idea comes up multipe times in the scriptures, 1Th 5.2, 2Pe 3.10 and really captured Darby’s imagination. But he missed the point about it being unexpected, and clung to the idea about it being sneaky. As thieves are. Or like people who are kinda hoping you never notice how badly they’ve misquoted bible.

Hence the idea the rapture would take everybody, us Christians included, by surprise. Nevermind in context, the “one taken, one left” bit Mt 24.40-41 actually has to do with destruction sweeping some of us away. Mt 24.37-39 But neither Darby nor Darbyists pay a lot of attention to context. They bend the bible to fit their theories, rather than draw theories from properly-read bible.

True, Jesus is returning at a time we won’t expect. Nor guess. (Not that many don’t try.) But when he returns, though it’ll be unexpected, it’ll be far from secret. Which is entirely his point: He expects the entire world to witness him. He’s invading!

1 Thessalonians 4.16-18 KJV
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

There’s a commanding shout. A trumpet. Mt 24.31, 1Co 15.52 The sky goes black, Mt 24.29 which’ll really get people’s attention in the daylight parts of the world. Then the Son of Man appears in the heavenly clouds. Da 7.13 It’ll be as visible as lightening which flashes across the sky. Mt 24.27 Everybody on earth will see him. Rv 1.17 Nobody will miss it. Nobody should wonder, “Wait, where’d all the Christians go? Was I left behind?”—because everybody will know Jesus returned. It’ll be far from secret. Far from silent.

Why’s the secret rapture idea so popular then?

I tend to get really surprised reactions from people whenever I tell them the whole secret-rapture idea actually isn’t as popular as they think.

Seriously, it’s not. But I get why they’d think so. I grew up in churches where it was the only End Times theory we were ever presented. If all the Christians you know and interact with are Darbyists, if all the Christian media you consume is written or broadcast by Darbyists, and if you immediately flinch and turn away from anyone who suggests otherwise, of course you’ll come to the conclusion it’s the only way Christians think. The only way Christians can think.

You’re in a bubble. You’ll have no idea you’re in a bubble, or that you’ve been conditioned to stay in this bubble.

But outside that bubble most Christians are amillennial—which no, doesn’t mean they hate millennials. It means they think when Jesus returns, it’s the end of the world. Everything blows up, 2Pe 3.10 including us… and we find ourselves in heaven, living with Jesus forever. Happy ending. Yea!

No amillennialism isn’t biblical either. But plenty of churches teach it. Popular culture does too.

And people believe it, for the very same reason people believe in the secret rapture: They trust the popular Christian culture which taught it to ’em. They figure reading the bible for ourselves is much too hard, so they trust their churches to explain the End for them. And they really like this idea that Jesus will snatch us away before all the bad stuff happens.

Heck, I like this idea! But Jesus never promised any such thing. Just the opposite. Jn 16.33 And if we’re gonna follow Jesus, it makes sense to follow him. Not popular Christian culture. Read the bible, not the End Times novels.