When you hear the term rapture, what exactly comes to mind? Chances are you either picture images of total chaos, destruction and death or you just became a little bit nervous and possibly even completely uncomfortable. You don’t have to look any further than cable television and Hollywood to see that we are obsessed when it comes to our fate and the end of the world.
There are a million different ways that humanity will supposedly be extinguished and theories and predictions are not just limited to the religious groups of the world.
Unfortunately, popular opinions pretty much took over the discussion, and we are left with total confusion. A large portion of the Christian sphere led this charge and cashed in on the craze as much as Hollywood.
Instead of shying away from the reality that Jesus will one day return, why don’t we simply trash the opinions and popular culture mythology and look at what the Bible has to say? Let’s start right now with a prayer for wisdom, patience, and a little bit of understanding when it comes to the return of Jesus.
Before I dive into the Bible, let’s clear something up. I’m not a fan of the term rapture. As many correctly note, the word is not in the Bible. This is mostly true because this word is Latin and it was used in place of the Greek word harpazo. It literally means to be caught up. About a century or more ago, this word meant to be totally caught up in something like music. A modern equivalent might be what we mean when we say that he or she “got lost” in the music. Unfortunately, this was a term which evolved from meaning a general caching away to a very specific catching away at a very specific time.
Rapture came to be shorthand for Pre-Tribulational Rapture. It’s a big-boy-word term that means we are taken away before the trouble starts (tribulation = big trouble). As the Rapture grew in prominence and became more evil, the assurance that we would escape it seemed to become stronger. But again, what does the Bible actually say?
Matthew 16:17 ESV And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
This verse is crucial to the understanding of all books in the Bible, but this seems to be forgotten when it comes to books dealing with the end of the world like Ezekiel, Daniel, Thessalonians and Revelation. One thing that needs to get hammered into your head is this is all about Jesus and not about time, places, or battles.
Brief [Pre-Tribulational] Rapture History
It is history lesson time. The Rapture hit new levels of popularity in late 19th century America. It was based on teachings by a man named John Darby. Another man, William Eugene Blackstone, took the idea even further and further popularized the idea. You can do a search to read more on these men, but I wanted to include their names. Eventually this would lead to a Bible called the Scofield Reference Bible which you can still purchase to this day. However, if we back up to Darby, we will find that another minister by the name of Edward Irving influenced Mr. Darby – Irving himself took the idea from a young sickly woman named Margaret Macdonald. Miss Macdonald lay sick on her bed as she claimed the revelation of new prophecy regarding two returns of Jesus. The reality is this event is not openly discussed by any scholar, historian, or early Christians.
The Return of Jesus in the Bible
Now we come to the important part. The Bible has many references to what will happen when Jesus returns to the earth. You may hear this term called the second advent from time to time, and advent is simply another word for coming. Rapture pundits love this verse:
I Thessalonians 4:16 ESV For 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.
Rapture believers talk about a moment when good Christians simply (and randomly) disappear. One popular film portrays planes without pilots and all manner of sudden chaos. How about we take a quick step back and look at the verse, though? Notice how the trumpet of God is played, and trumpets just aren’t very quiet instruments. In addition to this not-so-quiet appearance, there is only a one-time appearance between Jesus appearing and the dead in Christi raising.
I Thessalonians 4:17 ESV 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.
Not too complicated here, is it? See, the English word “then” indicates that whatever is stated after “then” takes place after whatever comes before “then.” The Lord (Jesus) returns, the dead rise first, and then living Christians will be caught up with Jesus.
Paul, the guy who wrote the first letter we like to call I Thessalonians, actually ended up writing another letter we originally called II Thessalonians. The great irony is that Paul wrote the second letter to clarify the first letter because the Thessalonians had trouble with their end time views:
II Thessalonians 2:1-15 ESV Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
The emphasis in the passage is mine. Verse three says don’t let any man deceive you. You will see that there is a very strong focus on deception. Keep in mind that Paul wrote this letter to early Christians.
The English Standard Version (ESV) Bible does a great job of rendering the word rebellion. This rebellion comes first – that is to say clearly that it comes prior to the return of Jesus. Now I realize there have been a number of rebellions in history and this term might seem vague. However, if you look at the Strong’s Concordance, the word means defection from the truth, as in a revolt or rebellion. This is not a generic verse about nonChristians rebelling against God. In order to rebel, you have to be subject to what you are rebelling against.
I stop short of saying that Christians will knowingly and willingly rebel against God, but the warnings about deception indicate that those involved can fool Christians. The involved people or groups at least appear to be Christian in nature.
The next clue in the passage comes in II Thessalonians 2:3. The son of destruction/man of lawlessness is important. The Greek for this term is apoleia (Strong’s #G0684) and it means ruin or loss. Many theories abound on this person, but a common view is that this person is Judas. This view was merely created to make the Rapture theory work. This man is Satan, and in other passages in the Bible, Satan was condemned to death. Unlike us, he has nowhere to go and no way to repent.
While Satan’s condemnation is another study for another time, II Thessalonians 2:9-11 cannot be overlooked. Fortunately, the ESV is almost crystal clear at this point. The person will operate with all of the power of Satan – meaning he can perform miracles and appears quite powerful. Does that sound like anyone else you might have heard about? (Hint: Use the Sunday school answer. It’s Jesus.) Jesus is described as having power and performing miracles. Might this tie into the deception? Does the plot thicken when I mention that all major religions of the world have some form of savior that performs miracles and saves the world?
Matthew 24:3-14 ESV As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Please read all of Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. One of the clear messages of this passage (and the others) is that there will be deception going down all over the place. The passage says that the one who endures to the end (Matthew 24:13) will be saved. We are in it for the long haul – there’s simply no room for an early rapture exit.
Matthew 24:15 talks about the abomination of desolation in the Old Testament. I won’t jump into Daniel here, but you can find the reference in Daniel 12:11. If you link this passage with II Thessalonians 2:4 – it becomes obvious who the abomination is at this time. This guy claims that he is God. Sound familiar at all? If your answer is Satan – ding, ding, we have a winner!
So many people are focused on a physical rebuilding of the temple you read about in the Bible, but the passage in II Thessalonians 2:4 uses an interesting word for temple. The word is Greek naos (Strong’s #G3485). The word certainly means temple, but I’ll let you read for yourself as to what temple it might refer to:
I Corinthians 6:19 ESV Or do you not know that your body is a temple [naos] of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own…
Ephesians 2:20-21 ESV …built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple [naos] in the Lord.
Temple doesn’t always mean just a building. However, if a false Christ – an anti-Christ – shows up and sets himself up as god in the hearts and minds of the world the danger is obvious and the reports of deception make sense.
Matthew 24:26-28 ESV So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
We are presented with more warnings about deception. If someone shows up as Jesus here or there and makes the claim – don’t follow them. The last phrase is always treated as some sort of enigma or riddle even. However, it simply means that where there is death, then vultures will gather. Think of it this way where people do not understand Jesus, there is spiritual death and so those who look to benefit from death (like vultures that consume dead meat) will show up to take advantage.
But that’s enough sadness, because look at the finish:
Matthew 24:39-47 ESV 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. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.
Just before this, in Matthew 24:30-31 it talks about a trumpet blowing. The sound of the trumpet will herald the return of Jesus for his people. This passage affirms that his people will not be found sitting around waiting on the master to return. Instead, the good servants will be found to be working and not simply waiting to be taken away.
Rapture believers take this verse and say you want to be taken – but the ones taken are not taken by Jesus. Jesus desires to return and find his servants doing the work of a Christian. We are to be on guard for deception – in the days of the Bible it was not uncommon for servants to be snatched in a raid on the master’s household. You simply don’t want to be the servant that got fooled and left the field of work.
There are many other verses in the Bible that help clear things up, but this study is already long. Let’s wrap up with one final Rapture believer favorite:
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
“Behold!” is the old-school way of saying pay attention here. Note the word last right before trumpet and let the previous passages put that in perspective for you. There is no Rapture in the Pre-Tribulational sense of the word. I’ll let Scripture close out and confirm this argument:
Revelation 8:1-13 ESV When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.
The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.
Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
Revelation 9:1-3 ESV And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.
Revelation 9:20-21 ESV The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
Revelation 10:1-11 ESV Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.
Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”
I realize that was a good bit of material – but do you see that there are seven trumpets in Revelation? Do you also see how at the seventh how the mystery of God is finished? Recall the earlier passages once again and see how they agree with the seventh trumpet here. It is a really awesome time of joy and peace at the end of a rough and trying period.
In closing, I simply want to point out that I did not cover the majority of verses on the subject. Verses were selected which are often misused or misquoted in popular mythology. However, if applied with other Bible verses – suddenly all of the imagery from these supposedly difficult to understand books make more sense.
Take this to God, but examine the passages that I pointed out (as well as other passages) and talk to Him about it. Even if you walk away from this lesson with a still solid belief in the Rapture, please do one thing for yourself. Simply know the signs and know the Bible when it talks about these things.
Study by: Denver, http://www.christianityboard.com/