Academic Discussion: The Rapture of the Church

rapture Let’s begin with a note on prophesy. There’s an old saying that hind sight is always 20/20. As we happen to be entering the season of Advent, this is the time of year we look back at the Old Testament prophesies of Messiah. As we are reminded each year that God’s prophesies were fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, our faith is affirmed that God is always faithful to keep his promises. Looking back at prophesies fulfilled gives our faith substance that God will continue to honor his Word.

Having said that, I take a rather pragmatic view of prophesied events, particular in relation to the end times. God exists beyond what we comprehend as natural time and space. The events John records in Revelation are as certain as historical event we can study. We think in terms of past, present and future. I believe God exists in all of those tenses, and possibly others. Nothing I can do will change those events. No one can’t blow up a bomb in Israel to bring the end sooner, just like praying God will tarry his coming is a symbolic gesture. For that matter, if I believe it with all my heart or dismiss biblical prophesy as fairy tales, the fulfillment of those prophesies remain inevitable. Some people embrace the study of of prophesy to the exclusion of everything else. I don’t see it as the most important thing; we are called to be witnesses, to be conformed to the image of Christ, and to share the Gospel. If you enjoy Bible prophesy there’s nothing wrong with that, but we must also make disciples of all nations. My take, again on a practical level, is that I can’t do anything to affect prophesied events. I can make sure the hungry are fed, my neighbor is safe, and that my child is raised in a godly home.

The second coming of Christ is taught in scripture. On that point I hope we all agree. The disagreement comes in the particulars. The rapture of the Church refers to Christ coming in the air and Christians rising to meet him in the air. 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. 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. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17  According to pre-tribulation millennialists, this event will be followed by seven years of tribulation. (Some believe the rapture will occur during the tribulation.) After the tribulation, Christ will return and reign over the earth for 1,000 years. Critics of this teaching fail to see the verses call for what they refer to as a secret rapture. Citing the same passages of scripture as the rapturists, they believe the return of Christ is one single event, not two, that occurs at the end of this present age.

Historically, the idea of the rapture has only been around for a few centuries. It begins around the time of Increase and Cotton Mather, and grows in popularity during the 20th century, thanks in no small part to the Scofield Reference Bible. Critics of rapture teaching will quickly point out the word rapture itself does not appear in scripture. Neither does the word trinity but will anyone in this crowd deny that tenant of our faith? The Greek rendered as “caught up” in 1 Thes. 4:17 could very be rendered raptured. So where do I come down on this issue?

This is where I wriggle out of giving a definitive answer. Having grown up in fundamentalism, well verse in rapture theology, I was later mentored by the original Internet Monk Michael Spencer. I had met other Christians that did not believe in the rapture; I had studied premillennial, postmillennial, amillennial in college. But it was Spencer that first described the secret rapture and explored the scriptures for a biblical perspective. It all comes down to what you believe about the second coming. Will it be a single event, or will there be two parts? Will Christians be raptured before or during the tribulation? And there is another angle that I have failed to mention; the Book of Daniel. Did the prophesies of Daniel come to pass after the Babylonian captivity, or did he describe events of the Apocalypse?

How you answer any of those questions shouldn’t make a difference in how we treat each other tomorrow. Those who believe in the rapture and those who don’t even know what that means will be reading the Bible and praying; we will continue wrapping presents and making plans to see friends and family in the upcoming weeks. Hopefully, in all we do, we will show others Christ. The Bible, from beginning to end, tells one story, and that’s about how a holy and righteous God deals with sinful, fallen and broken people. At the center of that story is Jesus. So for me, you guessed it. The argument is academic.

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