A Brief Guide to The Rapture.

A little history about the doctrine of the Rapture. (Note that this is not a theology paper; this is an article about following God.)

First, the term "rapture" does not appear in scripture. The general idea is there (specifically in 1 Thessalonians 4:17), but it is not the same concept that is taught today called “The Rapture.” It has nothing to do with the “Left Behind” books’ theology!

Much of our concept of The Rapture comes from Cotton Mather, the 17th century Puritan, and master of the Salem Witch Trials. It gained traction in the teaching of John Nelson Darby in the 1830s, just after he left his denomination, the Church of Ireland; some historians report that he used this sensational new teaching to garner more speaking engagements (a practice that continues today). Contemporary church leaders, including Charles Spurgeon, rejected Darby’s teaching. But he wrote a translation of the Bible and started a minor denomination, so people take him seriously. 

The reality is that the Bible has very little to say about the Rapture, apart from acknowledging, in the context of the dead being raised, that one day we will be “caught up” with God in the air. Note that this was expressly given as comfort to those grieving dead loved ones, not as a theological foundation for eschatology. (As a general practice, we don't build major theological points on minor, unclear passages that are focused on other issues!)

Having said all that, it does appear that some points about the Rapture could do with being emphasized:

*        The big point in Scripture is that believers who die before Jesus returns will not be separated from Him. The Resurrection of the dead is for real. This is the main scriptural teaching about “The Rapture.”

*         The idea of being caught up with Jesus seems worth pursuing, even today. A number of contemporary prophets (and many believers) encourage pursuing the experience, though not in a physical sense, rather in terms of what might be called “day trips to Heaven.” This sounds like a great use of our time. “I believe in the Rapture,” says Bob Jones. “I do it every day!”

*         The Bible - and therefore the earliest apostolic doctrine - carefully avoids clear teaching on the subject, which should be a clue to us. Moreover, Jesus clearly said (Acts 1:7) that figuring out the details of the end times was a distraction of the real work that he has set before us (Acts 1:8). It could be reasonably concluded that end times theology (including the Rapture) is largely a distraction from our actual assignment: a theological time-waster.

*         The current teaching of the Rapture (The Left Behind version) is completely contrary to God’s ways: it’s taught as an escape from persecution, sneaking out the back door before a season of tribulation starts. God has never demonstrated the value of keeping some favored people from having to deal with difficult times, while letting other, less-favored people suffer from them. The idea of removing the only people who can bring comfort to afflicted people is not in him. If anything, he has historically sent his people into the midst of the trouble in order to be light in the darkness. Therefore, it is more likely that he would send his people into the midst of the tribulation. (See 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 and 1 Thessalonians 2:2.)

There are two clear action points that I can see, when thinking about the Rapture.

1.       God has apparently not intended that we understand the details about the end of the world. It would be wise, therefore, for me not to focus on what he is not focusing on.

2.       It will be a much better use of my time either working to prevent trying times, or preparing people to cope with trying times, rather than teaching people to expect a “Get Out of Tribulation Free” card.

Our job is “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” At least within our sphere of influence.

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