Why I don’t Believe in the “Rapture”
I should admit from the outset that my own convictions concerning end-times events is pretty unformed. That being said, I have become unconvinced that what has become known as “the Rapture” is actually found in the Bible, at least in the way that I was taught growing up. In other words, I don’t believe that the New Testament teaches us that Jesus will remove Christians from the earth prior to his final appearing (the Parousia). I’ll try to briefly lay out why:
1 Thess. 4.13-18 is the classic “Rapture” text, and it is this text that is most often cited in support of the view. Some context: those within the young church at Thessolonica are worried that those who die (“fall asleep”) before “the coming of the Lord” will miss out on that event. The root of the problem was that they didn’t understand or believe in the resurrection of believers. So Paul explains that an event will take place that has the following elements:
1. Jesus will descend from heaven.
2. With a shout
3. In the voice of the archangel
4. With the trumpet of God
5. Then the dead will rise first
6. And then those left alive will be caught up into the air.
The big question is: Is this a separate event from the final “coming of the Lord”, or is this the same event as that coming? The “Rapture” view only works if it is a separate event. Even if we grant it that Paul does not make the answer to this question clear in this text, he does elaborate on this theme in 2 Thess. 2.1-12. There Paul has to deal with another problem: Apparently now some in the Thessalonian church have become worried that this “coming of the Lord” had already occurred, and that they had missed it. Paul must explain that a whole series of events have to take place prior to that event occurring, and because these events haven’t happened the Thessolonians’ worries are unfounded. It seems that based on the elements Paul lists “the coming of the Lord” is the same in both letters, and in 2 Thess. it clearly takes place after a series of events all usually associated by those who advocate belief in the “Rapture” with the Great Tribulation. It is of course still possible that the events described in 2 Thess. take place before the “Rapture” but then some period of time after this event but the final Parousia comes later. This seems a bit artificial, however, and ignores the fact that the text does not seem to explicitly support so complex a chronology. It also seems to overcomplicate the central issue: resurrection.
The only other time Paul talks about the sounding of a trumpet in relation to resurrection is in 1 Cor. 15.50-58, and there it is the final resurrection by which death is finally defeated. It seems to me that all these passages have a rather straightforward meaning if they are all interpreted as the final Second Coming of Christ. There doesn’t seem to be a good reason for reading them as a second event (the “Rapture”) that comes before a final event, and adding this event seems to needlessly complicate the thrust of the passage.
It might also be helpful to review the common supplementary arguments that I have heard in support of the “Rapture” view.
First, some have argued that “Church” is not mentioned after Rev. 4 and this indicated that it has been removed by the Rapture. However, there are strong implications that believers are present throughout John’s revelation. In Rev. 6.9-11 martyrs cry out to God for justice, and He replies that they must wait until the full number of martyrs be “completed.” The implication of course is that there are more Christians still living that must be martyred before God will act. There are other examples like this. Another issue with this argument is that the chronological order of events in Revelation 4-20:10 is very confused. For instance, in Rev. 12.3-6 it seems that the vision is about Israel (or Mary) giving birth to Jesus. But this occurs in the middle of book, and before the “war in heaven” in Rev. 12.7-9 which many would think happened before Adam and Eve fell! So it is not at all clear to me exactly when all the seals, bowls, trumpets, etc. are supposed to be taking place. Is it in John’s past, present, or future, as he is writing? Further, even if it is in John’s future (c. 100 AD or so) it could still be in our past! All of these confusions can be worked through, no doubt, but I wouldn’t put any weight on an argument from silence (i.e. no “church” mentioned after…), especially in light of these considerations.
Second, it has been argued that because God spared Noah and Lot from destruction then it indicated that God will save Christians from the Great Tribulation. God did spare Noah and Lot, but not by removing them! Noah had to go through the flood, and even though he was protected in the Ark he still suffered great hardship. (Imagine bobbing around in a sea filled with the thousands of corpses in a tiny boat full of animals. There is a deep horror in that story that is completely lost, I think, by its reduction to a children’s story about a floating zoo.) Lot’s situation is even worse than Noah’s! He loses everything, including his wife, and ends up getting raped by his daughters in a cave. Not the best example of God’s deliverance of his people. (I think this is more an indication of how “righteous” Lot really was than it is a picture of God’s mercy) I think that if anything can be drawn from this it is that God preserves the remnant of His people through tribulation (in whatever form) but not necessarily by “rapturing” them out of it.
Of course, none of this means that Christians should give up on the hope of Christ’s return, we just have to realize that this will happen in His way, and on His time. Remember, 1 Thess. 4 is still true no matter when it is supposed to occur. The New Heavens and the New Earth are a reality! But as I said before, it seems to me that the only way to get a pre-trib “rapture” type event is by artificially dividing the Second Coming into two different moments. This just isn’t clear at all to me, and it is much cleaner to see only one, unified event. Even though this is my current line of thinking I am very open to the possibility that I am wrong! I would never, ever, break fellowship with a Christian because we had different views on eschatological subjects. The one exception would be if someone denied that Jesus Christ was returning in bodily flesh (2 John 7), but this much more about the reality of physical Resurrection than eschatology. I know for certain that Jesus rose from the dead and now sits in glory with the Father, and someday He will return in the flesh to set His creation to rights. How and when…? I am not really sure… yet!