Rethinking the Rapture, Part 2
I’m continuing today my argument that we should reject as unbiblical a popular doctrine among evangelicals known as the Rapture. Click here if you missed Part 1. I used to ascribe to it myself, however I now see that though the idea that God will remove the church from the earth before the foretold Great Tribulation can be read into a number of passages in the Bible, it would not be read out of them when examined objectively.
My first observation from studying the relevant passages is that the Bible indicates believers will in fact experience the tribulation, if they are alive during that period. I discussed that last time. Today I continue with a few more.
The resurrection is a single event
In his Gospel, the apostle John records Jesus as telling the Jews, “for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” This seems clearly to teach one resurrection for both believers and unbelievers. They will all rise at the same “hour.”
And in his first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15, Paul teaches on both the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of everyone else. He says, “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” The implication here, I think, is that all will be raised at Jesus’s second coming, not just “those who belong to Christ” because “the end” follows this momentous event. It’s possible that since Paul is giving the “order” of resurrections, “the end” needn’t be immediately following in time as well. But I think the natural reading suggests that.
We meet Jesus “in the air” to escort him back to earth
The problems with popular Rapture theology are primarily issues with timing. There will be a miraculous gathering up of the church in dramatic fashion but not until Jesus’s visible return to earth marking the end of the age. At that time, Paul tells the Thessalonians, “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”
Unless this is to be taken figuratively, and it doesn’t read like that to me, there will be a Rapture – a miraculous taking up of the church – but it won’t be a sudden disappearance leaving unmanned cars crashing into trees and piles of worn clothing on floors, chairs, and sidewalks all over the world. Instead it will be a visible mobilization and gathering of all believers into the sky from which Christ will descend, to meet him as our returning King.
The Greek word translated “meet” in 1 Thessalonians 4 was used in other Greek literature to describe welcoming a newly arriving dignitary. So just as civic leaders will go to the airport to meet the president when he comes to their city and then escort him to where he will be speaking, believers will go up to meet Jesus when he returns to earth and apparently escort him back down. Because he is coming back not only to get his bride and take us to where he is, but also to fight and conquer those who refused to acknowledge his reign.
This understanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 neutralizes the objection from Rapture proponents that this can’t be the coming of Christ at the end of the age because Zechariah 14 says “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives” but in 1 Thessalonians he is “in the air.”
Those left behind are likely believers
In pre-tribulation Rapture theology believers are taken out of the world en masse and unbelievers are left to endure the terrible distress that will come on the earth, as depicted in the popular book series Left Behind. This is based on Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 24 and Luke 17.
For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. – Matthew 24:37-41
But earlier in the chapter Jesus says his coming and the gathering of his followers will happen after the tribulation. And in comparing this event to the flood where the unsaved were those “taken” away, he seems to be saying that his return will precipitate a similar taking away of the unsaved, not the saved.
A lot more can be shown from Scripture to support the historic position of the church that there is only a second coming of Christ and not a third, and he will be visible and coming in glory to gather his church at the same time that he also puts an end to all wickedness and death. For more on this position check out these links and William Lane Craig’s lesson from his Defenders class (where he engages with one of his students who is a very firm Rapture believer).
Will Christians Be Secretly Raptured?
It’s off-topic, but it’s deeply disturbing that WL Craig accommodates Roman Catholicism’s false gospel.
If you follow Dr. Craig at all you’ll see that he is laser-focused on giving evidence for the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus which affirmed him as God in the flesh. He doesn’t generally get into “in-house” disagreements on how to interpret Scripture, and such. In his Defenders class he does address the unbiblical doctrines in the Catholic Church, but that was not the topic of his conversation with Barron, and he always insists on staying on topic. He had a goal for that evening and venue which I’m sure he felt would not have been met if he had challenged the bishop on the RCC’s beliefs.
He does believe the Catholic Church is still a Christian denomination, as do I, even though many of their doctrines and practices are unbiblical. They preach Jesus as the second Person of the Trinity, King, Savior, etc., and the Bible as the inspired Word of God. I don’t have time right now to further defend that. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that we are saved by faith alone, NOT faith IN salvation by faith alone.
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The Catholic church gets Christology right, but just about everything else wrong. I’m mystified by believers who readily acknowledge that Catholicism is dead wrong about HOW a person is justified, a doctrine of PRIME importance and the difference between salvation and damnation, and yet still embrace Catholicism as a Christian entity. This accommodation that has spread in recent decades has had spiritually deadly consequences.
Tom, in Dr. Craig’s most recent Reasonable Faith podcast he addresses the criticism that he “accommodates” Roman Catholicism, and specifically his appearance with Barron. Please listen to it.
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Caroline, thanks for the link. I listened to the podcast in its entirety. During the program, Craig referred to “nominal Catholics” as not being genuine believers who must be reached with the Gospel. The unspoken corollary is that the Catholic clergy (like bishop Robert Barron) and practicing Catholics are largely born-again. Craig goes on to mention that he disagrees with Roman Catholicism on the doctrine of justification, which is HOW a person is saved. Barron and the RCC teach a person is justified by baptism followed by continuous participation in the sacraments (eucharist and confession) and by “cooperating with grace” via obeying the Ten Commandments and works of charity. In contrast, Craig believes in the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
So, William Lane Craig holds to an absolutely impossible dichotomy. He believes a soul is justified only by perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ which is imputed to them when they accept Christ as Savior by faith alone, YET he also acknowledges as Christians the Roman Catholic clergy and practicing Catholics who teach and believe in justification via sacramental grace and merit. It is incomprehensible to me how these ecumenical evangelicals like Craig can hold to two opposing views at the same time, but these are matters of spiritual blindness.
Tom, you know I share your passion for exposing the errors in the RCC and helping Catholics discover the truth. But I disagree that Craig is holding “to two opposing views.” The imperative question is, what makes one a Christian? As I said previously, salvation is by faith alone, NOT by faith IN salvation by faith alone. So it is possible to be saved by your faith in Christ even if you believe and teach that more is required.
Likewise, it is possible to assent to all the correct orthodox doctrines but still be lost because you haven’t truly put your faith in Christ.
What do you believe is necessary for a person to receive the Holy Spirit making him/her a regenerated, born-again, saved Christian? It’s a hard question and I’m not even sure right now how I’d answer it. Except to say that I’m sure the requirements don’t include having all the correct doctrine down.
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Caroline, we struggle over semantics in this discussion, so I’m going to be as precise as I can – I’m not trying to be condescending:
A) Robert Barron exemplifies all Catholic clergymen and practicing Catholics by unabashedly holding to and propagating the standard Catholic doctrine on justification as by baptism, subsequent sacramental grace, and merit.
B) William Lane Craig publicly acknowledged on the platform with Barron that he could not convert to Catholicism because he does not believe in Catholicism’s standard doctrine on justification, yet Craig publicly acknowledges Barron (symbolic of Catholic clergymen and practicing Catholics) as a fellow Christian and a brother in Christ.
C) Craig therefore simultaneously holds to two opposing views by radically disagreeing with Barron’s/Catholicism’s teaching on HOW a person is justified (and hence, how they become a genuine Christian), yet still acknowledges Barron as a brother in Christ.
Does not compute.
I’m not insisting that a genuine believer must have a PhD in theology, but a genuine believer MUST be trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone as did, by example, the thief on the cross, probably an uneducated man. If merit plays any part in a person’s understanding of justification/salvation, they do not understand the Gospel. They are not genuinely trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior because they are relying on their own “goodness” to justify/save them.
I appreciate this discussion, Tom. It’s motivating me to really think through what makes one a Christian and hopefully nail down what my beliefs are about it. I’ve often thought, it sounds so simple…believe in Jesus and be saved…until you ask, exactly what does “believing in Jesus” mean? (I think I feel a post coming on. 🙂 )
So here are my thoughts:
A) It’s possible for a person to put their trust in Christ alone but then afterwards be persuaded that they need to add works to their faith in order to be saved. This is what the Galatians were doing. If holding to salvation by faith plus works disqualifies you from being a Christian, such a person was a Christian, then he wasn’t, and conceivably could become one again, and back and forth like that according to what he believed ABOUT salvation at any given time. This doesn’t seem right and would mean one can lose their salvation, which is a whole ‘nother topic that I’d rather not get into right now, except to say I believe the evidence weighs on the side of eternal security.
Paul seems to me to be addressing the Galatians as believers/Christians who had been deceived so that they were not enjoying the freedom and other benefits belonging to them. His saying that they have been “severed” from Christ and “fallen away from grace” in 5:4 naturally is interpreted in various ways, but as “severed” means “to make of no effect,” I take it to mean that they are not taking advantage of what is already theirs. I liken it to someone giving you a winning multi-million dollar lottery ticket, that you know is a winner, but you just put it in a drawer and buy your own tickets thinking eventually you’ll win. Not a great analogy but hopefully it sheds some light on what I’m trying to say.
B) Paul says in Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” That seems to preclude having to have a correct view of justification.
C) What Paul says in that chapter about the Jews “seeking to establish their own righteousness” and not being saved because of it might seem to also apply to Catholics. But I think it’s key that he follows that with, “they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” They were consistently disobeying his commands, like not having any other gods, even, apparently, as they were adding to the law new ways one could break the Sabbath. They honored God with their lips but their hearts were far from him. (Isaiah 29:13)
But Catholics who believe they need to cooperate with God’s grace to attain heaven are, for the most part, submitting to his righteousness…obeying his commands. Whereas the Jews were establishing their own righteousness in opposition to God’s, Catholics are submitting to God’s righteousness but mistakenly believing their good deeds count towards their salvation.
D) I’m not so fully convinced of my view that I can’t be persuaded otherwise. This just seems to me correct. And this is a very long reply – sorry. I definitely want to think some more on this and blog about it soon.
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Thanks for your thoughts, Caroline. I can agree with most of what you’ve written except for the second paragraph of “C” where you state that “Catholics are submitting to God’s righteousness but mistakenly believing their good deeds count towards their salvation.”
I would submit that Catholics are very much like the Jews mentioned in Romans 10 and other religionists who attempt to establish their own righteousness as the basis of their justification and salvation. I think of those in Matthew 22 who were invited to the great wedding feast but were not clothed in the proper garment (the imputed righteousness of Christ).
There have been many good treatments on the differences between Catholicism’s view on justification and the Christian view, James McCarthy’s “The Gospel According to Rome” is one. Even the Catholic apologist I regularly used to listen to, David Anders, emphatically stressed that the Gospel Christianity/evangelical teaching on justification was irreconcilably different from the Catholic doctrine.
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Great post ! Thank you so much for sharing 🙏🏼😇
Thanks for saying so, Tanya.
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