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

When Jesus returns, everybody’s gonna see it. Which is kinda the point.

“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!”

So goes the first chapter of Left Behind, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ 1995 End Times novel. 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.

Happens like this in various Christian-produced End Times movies as well—though not always with the clothes and bric-a-brac left where they last stood. Guess only LaHaye and Jenkins had the idea everybody was gonna vanish, then 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 that 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, it’s more dramatic that way, but it’s not consistent with the scriptures. Remember when Jesus got raptured?

Acts 1.9-11 KWL
9 Saying this as they watched him, Jesus was raptured. A cloud concealed him from their eyes.
10 While they were watching him go up into the sky, look!—two men in white clothing stood by them.
11 The men said, “Galileans, why’d you stand looking at the sky?
This Jesus, raptured from you into the sky like this, will come back like you saw him go into the sky.”

Our rapture is gonna resemble Jesus’s rapture—and he didn’t get naked on the way up. Nor was it invisible. Nor all that secret.

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

Imagine you’re a little kid, and grew up hearing these scenarios of a secret rapture, and one day you’re at home and notice you’re all alone—nobody’s around when you thought they’d be. You realize how often these kids wondered, just for a moment, in brief but great terror, whether Jesus collected the rest of the family and not them? More times than I can count, I’ve heard Christians share that very story: Did the rapture happen without me? Oh no!

“Don’t you be left behind,” preachers warn ominously. But is that actually how the rapture’s gonna work?


Seriously, no. Read your bible.

Why do certain Christians claim the rapture will happen in secret? Because they’re following John Nelson Darby’s interpretation of the End, whether they know it or not. Darby claimed Jesus’s return takes place in two stages: First Jesus gathers his church to himself before all the really bad stuff happens. Then the bad stuff happens. Then Jesus returns to stop the bad stuff—and his church comes along with him.

Jesus described his return as happening when we don’t expect it—so stay awake! Mk 13.33-37 In Matthew he describes it thisaway:

Matthew 24.42-44 KWL
42 “So stay awake: You don’t know what day your Master comes.
43 Know this: If the homeowner already knows what time of night the thief comes,
he stays awake and doesn’t let the thief break into his house.
44 This is why you also must become ready:
You can’t guess which hour the Son of Man comes.”

The thief-in-the-night idea comes up a few times in the scriptures, 1Th 5.2, 2Pe 3.10 amd really captured Darby’s imagination. But he missed the point about it being unexpected, and glommed onto the idea about it being sneaky. You know, like thieves are. Or like people who are kinda hoping you never notice how badly they’re misquoting bible.

Hence the idea the rapture would take everybody, Christians and pagans alike, by surprise. Darbyists imagine the “one will be taken and one left” bit Mt 24.40-41 has to do with Christians vanishing in the rapture, and not with destruction sweeping some of them away—y’know, the actual context of that passage. Mt 24.37-39 Darby didn’t pay a lot of attention to context. Darbyists either; they follow their founder’s lead, and prefer to bend the bible to fit their theories, instead of drawing their theories from properly-interpreted bible.

Jesus is returning at a time we won’t expect. Or guess. (Not that many don’t try.) But when he returns, it’s gonna be unexpected, but it’ll be far from secret. Which is kinda the point.

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!

There’s a commanding shout. A trumpet. Mt 24.31, 1Co 15.52 The sky goes black, Mt 24.29 and in the daylight parts of the world that’ll really get people’s attention. Then the Son of Man appears in the heavenly clouds. Da 7.13 It’ll be as visible as lighting which flashes across the sky. Mt 24.27 Everybody 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 has returned. It’ll be far from secret. Far from silent.

Why’s it such a popular idea 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 fellow Darbyists, if all the Christian media you consume is written or broadcast by fellow Darbyists, and if you immediately flinch and turn away from anyone who suggests otherwise, of course you’ll be led to the conclusion it’s the only way Christians think. You’ll have no idea you’re in a bubble. No idea you’ve been conditioned to stay in that bubble.

But outside that bubble most Christians are amillennial, meaning they figure when Jesus returns it’s the end of the world. And in that scenario, there’s no rapture: We blow up along with the world. 2Pe 3.10 Then we find ourselves in heaven, living with Jesus forever. Happy ending. Yea!

No it’s not biblical either, but that’s the conclusion you’re gonna jump to when you trust popular culture, not the scriptures, to tell you how the End will happen.

But bluntly, those who believe in the secret rapture are guilty of the very same thing. They trust popular Christian culture, in whatever form it takes within their churches, to explain the End for them—’cause they figure the bible’s much too hard to understand, so “prophecy scholars” can explain everything for ’em. And they really like the idea Jesus is gonna take us away before the bad stuff happens.

I get that mindset; I like that idea too. Thing is, 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.