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).