The classic expression of what is commonly called the "Rapture" is found in the oft-quoted words of Richard W. DeHaan of the Radio Bible Class. "One of these days, as sure as this is the Word of God, those who have pled with you, who have warned you, who have prayed for you, will be missing. The preacher will be gone, mother will be gone, wife will be gone, and the baby’s crib will be empty. Oh, what an awakening that is going to be. Imagine, getting up some morning and your wife is not there, and you call for her, but there is no answer. You go downstairs but she is not there. You call upstairs to your daughter asking her where mother is, but no answer from her. Your daughter is gone too…Down the street runs a woman shrieking at the top of her voice, ‘Some one has kidnapped my baby’. And in a moment the streets are full of people, weeping, crying, and howling over the disappearance of loved ones. What has happened? The Lord has come, like a thief in the night. He has quietly stolen away those who trust Him, like Enoch, and no one is left behind to warn you any more, to pray or show you the way" (What The Bible Says About The End Time. Russell Boatman, pp. 192-193). The same doctrine is expressed in the bumpersticker, "In case of rapture, this vehicle will be unmanned". Thus we are being told that the rapture will be an invisible, silent, and secret coming of Jesus for Christians only, leaving behind visible results of chaos and confusion among the remaining unbelievers. The term "rapture" isn’t found in the Bible. Our English word "rapture" is derived from the Latin raptus, the root meaning of which is to snatch or seize, and hence people have applied to term to the events of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, because in that verse we find the expression, "shall be caught up".
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The primary passage used to support the idea of a "rapture" is the above section of Scripture. Yet in looking at the passages, we find anything but a secret and silent coming of Jesus.
"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Hal Lindsey writes about what a professor of religion will say in class the day of the Rapture: "I was teaching my course in the philosophy of religion when all of a sudden three of my students vanished. They simply vanished!" Does 1 Thessalonians 4:16 teach such a silent, mysterious, and secret coming of the Lord?
1 Thessalonians 5:1-3
Those who argue for a secret, silent coming of Christ for Christians only, also typically believe that such an event happens seven years before the Second Coming of Christ, when the wicked are condemned. Yet, the context of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:3, argues that when Jesus comes, all the deceased faithful will be raised (4:14), all the living Christians will be instantly changed and caught up with them(4:17), and at the exact same time, the wicked will be punished. "Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren" (5:1), the times and the epochs for what? Obviously, for the events just mentioned in verses 4:13-18.
- Note, most people who believe in the denominational concept of the rapture, believe that all Christians will be secretly removed from the earth seven years before judgment comes upon the wicked, but Paul taught that the righteous were caught up in the exact same day that destruction suddenly comes upon the wicked (5:3). Note carefully, this event isn’t the forewarning of destruction for the wicked or the prelude of such destruction, but when this event happens, actual and real destruction comes upon those outside of Christ.
- In the day which all Christians are resurrected and changed is called the "day of the Lord" (5:2). Those who believe in what is commonly known as the rapture, also believe that the earth will be around for 1007 after the rapture. Yet, God says in 2 Peter 3:10-11 "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its words will be burned up".
- Then there is the problem of the expression, "the second coming". According to adherents of the rapture theory, Jesus actually comes a third time. His first coming was when He came to this earth, lived, and then died for our sins. Then they have Him coming a second time at the rapture and then a third time seven years later. In contrast, the Bible says simply, "so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation" (Hebrews 9:28). The Scripture speaks only of one second coming, not a second and then a third.
"The Last day"
According to the rapture theory, all deceased Christians are resurrected, but the resurrection of the wicked does not happen until 1007 later. In contrast, the Bible is very clear that the wicked and the righteous are resurrected at the same time, "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth, those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28-29). In addition, the day on which the righteous are raised is clearly viewed by Jesus as being the last day, "And this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:39-40,44). Jesus taught one resurrection, which includes everyone at the end of time which will be the same day on which everyone will be judged (John 12:48).
"The Last enemy—Death"
There is another huge problem in trying to make the popular idea of the rapture fit the teaching of Scripture. The advocates of the rapture have, all Christians being raised, seven years later, all the people who were converted and died during a period of great tribulation, including all the faithful in the Old Testament will be raised, and then 1000 years later, all the wicked will be raised. The problem with this is that the Bible views death as being completely conquered when Christians are raised, (1 Corinthians 15:23-26; 51-54 "But when this perishable will have put on imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immorality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’"). Yet if we believe popular teaching on this subject, death isn’t vanished at the rapture, not by a long shot. Following the rapture, it is claimed that the earth will experience the greatest period of suffering ever known to man which will end in all out world war, but even then death hasn’t been conquered, for all the wicked are still dead. In fact, according to some, the children born to those in the millennium (Matthew 22:30?) will rise up against Jesus and their parents (Revelation 20:7-9),and God will respond by destroying them (more death, even in the millennium!) According to the Bible, when Christians are resurrected, on that very day it can truly be said that death has been completely conquered and defeated, such an expression would demand that not one single body is still in the grave and that no one will ever die in a physical sense again after this event.
"The last Trumpet"
"But we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
Yet, people who preach the rapture, also preach that Revelation chapters 6-7 describe the supposed tribulation period, the seven-year reign of terror on earth which follows the rapture and precedes Christ’s final return to earth. The problem is that these chapters describe the blowing the seven trumpets. Such chronology of the "last trumpet" being followed by seven more, like a speaker who promises "one more last point" and then proceeds to preach for another hour with seven more points. In both 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:52 the last trumpet is just that, the signal of the Lord’s return and the end of time.
"I tell you A Mystery"
"Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51).
Believe it or not, such advocates of the rapture, like Hal Lindsey, contend that the above passage is teaching a secret, silent coming of Jesus for Christians only. Concerning this passage in the book entitled, The Late Great Planet Earth, Mr. Lindsey says, "Another reason why we support the idea that the Rapture and the Second Coming as separate events, is that the second coming is said to be visible, to the whole earth (Revelation 1:7). However, in the Rapture, only Christians see Him…it’s a mystery, a secret. When the living believers are taken out, the world is going to be mystified" (pp. 142-143). Nothing in 1 Corinthians 15:51, or the context, teaches any such thing. Rather, the resurrection of Christians in this chapter happens, right before the end of time (1 Corinthians 15:23-24), when everyone has been raised 15:25-26), and at the last trumpet (15:52). Nothing in the context or verse 51 is even close to meaning that the world is going to be mystified, or that such a coming is silent and secret. Note, Paul said, "I tell you a mystery", that means, it's not a mystery any more!
"Just like a thief in the night"
The problem with making the events of 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff refer to a secret and silent coming for Christians only, is that once this happens, anyone who has been listening to denominational preaching on the end times will know exactly when Jesus will come back, that is, in seven years. According to this theory, when the rapture happens, the world can easily find out when Jesus will come again. So, how can the second coming, according to this theory, be like a thief in the night?
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/(503)644-9017