The Rapture - Is It Scriptural?

by Rev John W Brown

Note from Mary: Harold Camping of Family Radio Network of Christian Stations, predicted the end of the world would happen on May 21, 2011 (which happens to be today). He preached that homosexuality is such a shameful abomination that it normally is "in the closet," but since God is about to destroy the world, the sin has been "let loose" and now the world is seeing gay pride parades and same sex marriage. He says that open homosexuality is a sign of the end times just like in Sodom and Gomorrah - proof, he says, that the world is indeed ending on May 21, 2011.

Well I'm still here and you are too, but it got us thinking that perhaps we might talk about the Rapture in Hot Topics, so our dear Rev Brown provided us with some background to give thought to.

If you are at all concerned about the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, please read my Article The Sin of Sodom was NOT Homosexuality!

A. What Is The "Rapture"?

One of the most popular teachings in many Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches today is the rapture theory. Depending on what you believe, it may happen prior to the tribulation, in the middle of the tribulation, or at the end of it. Basically it says that there are two stages to the coming of Christ. The first is an invisible coming of the Lord, at which time all the saved on earth will be snatched up into the clouds to meet Jesus. This is called the rapture. There they will remain while God pours out His wrath on the earth (pre tribulation view).

If you are a mid trib believer then we will go through the first three and a half years of tribulation, and then be raptured out. If you are post trib then you believe we will go through the entire seven years of tribulation.

Later there's a visible coming of Jesus to earth when He returns with His saints, and establishes His kingdom with its capital at Jerusalem. This will be seen by all. He, at this time, also crushes all opposition to Him at the final battle of Armageddon, and establishes a thousand year reign on earth called the millenium. He also judges mankind at this time.

The pre tribulation rapture was made very popular by Hal Lindsey in his books The Late Great Planet Earth and There's a New World Coming: An In-Depth Analysis of the Book of Revelation. Today it is accepted as gospel truth by many, and even used as a litmus test by many churches as to whether or not you are a true Christian.

Another thought for those coming from a pre trib point of view is that the church is taken out for seven years while God pours his wrath on the earth. Then at the end of that Christ will return visibly doing all I mentioned earlier. However, is the rapture really a biblical doctrine? Did the early church fathers teach it? Where does it come from?

B. Where Does The Rapture Theory Come From?

It may shock many to know that the word rapture is not in the Bible, nor was the doctrine taught until 1830. In that year a lady named Margaret McDonald had a vision in which she saw the second coming happening in two stages, and the saints being caught up from the earth to meet Jesus.

This is the first mention of a "rapture". Margaret McDonald was not a theologian, nor an ordained minister, nor had she had any formal training in theology or the scriptures. She was a self-proclaimed prophetess of God who received visions, which she used to interpret the Bible.

She was a member of the Irvingnite movement in England, founded by Edward Irving. Rev. Irving was a former Presbyterian minister who was excommunicated for teaching that Jesus was born into sin, and was only able to live a sinless life through His adoption as the Son of God, and through His receiving the Holy Spirit at His baptism.

He also taught that we could live sinless lives if we had the Holy Spirit. He believed in the restoration of the five-fold ministry of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher, as well as a restoration of the gifts of the Spirit to the church.

The Presbyterian church didn't agree with him on either point so ordered Rev. Irving to recant and receive church discipline. When Irving refused he was excommunicated, and so formed his own church in 1830 called the Catholic Apostolic Church.

Meanwhile Margaret McDonald began to share her vision in her church. Soon others began to have visions, also backing up Margaret's original vision, so Rev. Irving accepted it and began to teach it in his church. One of the men who attended his meetings was William Darby, who founded the Plymouth Brethren Church. He began to write about the new doctrine and published a couple of books on the subject. He also began preaching the new doctrine in his church and at meetings.

A man named James Schofield (author of the Schofield Reference Bible) was influenced by him and adopted Darby's entire teaching into his notes for his reference Bible. The Schofield Bible became the main study Bible used in many conservative and evangelical churches. It is from the influence of that Bible that the rapture teaching spread and is accepted as true "Christian" doctrine by many today.

In summation, however, I believe the rapture isn't biblical based on the following:

1. The doctrine was unheard of for the first 1830 years of church history. That, to me, makes it suspect. If it is true Christian doctrine it should be found in the Bible and have been taught by the apostles and early church fathers. The rapture theory does not fit those qualifications.

2. The word rapture does not appear in the Bible, nor in any of the apostolic writings, or writings of the early church. Why not, if this is supposed to be an important church doctrine?

3. It is my belief that the only way you can support the rapture theory from the Bible is to play slaughter alley with the scriptures. Most scripture verses used to support the theory are taken out of context, re-interpreted or misconstrued, and are the product of someone trying to make them say what they want them to say. I believe any good exegisis of the scriptures will prove the rapture wrong, and that the rapture and second coming are one and the same event, not two separate events, nor would it be one event, divided into two stages.

4. All scripture verses that are used to support the rapture can just as easily be applied to the Second Coming of Christ, as was understood by the early church.

5. The scriptures say no revelation/prophecy is of private interpretation. It also says God will do nothing without revealing it first to His servants, the prophets.

Please note that is plural not singular. Also, Jesus says every word will be confirmed out of the mouth of two or three witnesses. Where are the witnesses to this supposed revelation of the rapture? Out of all the Christians living at that time, who else did God reveal this rapture to? None. We only have the word of Magaret McDonald and her followers, which the Bible says is not to be received, since it's only one person testifying to it.

So for these reasons I believe the rapture theory (a theory is something unproven) is suspect, unbiblical, and therefore should be rejected.

Does this mean if you believe in a rapture you are not Christian? Not all all. Many devout Christians believe in it, and I believe will be in heaven. That would include Magaret McDonald. Do I believe she was wrong? Yes! On this doctrine of rapture, I believe it is in total error. However that has nothing to do with her's or anyone else's salvation. You can still be a Christian regardless of what you believe on the subject.

C. Scriptures Used To Try To Justify The Rapture

So could I be wrong? Is the rapture actually taught in the Bible? Let's look at some verses usually used to suppport the rapture and see.

One of the main verses is Paul's words in I Thessalonians 4:16-18 which says:

"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words."

Taken in context, Paul was writing to refute a belief in the early Thessalonian church that those who died prior to the coming of the Lord had missed it and wouldn't be a part, and it was also to refute a teaching that said the resurrection had already passed. Paul tells them that it is not so, and then goes on to explain what will happen when Jesus comes again. The dead will rise first, then those that are alive here in earth, and we will all be caught up to meet the Lord. Nothing about this is being secret, invisible or seperate from the second coming. Therefore it only fits a rapture theory by forcing one belief on the verse, to make it say what they want it to say, namely that it's about a rapture.

Another verse is Revelation 4:1 which says:

"After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, 'Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.'"

Rapture believers say John represents the church here, and this is when we are taken in the rapture. This, they claim, because the church is nowhere mentioned after this verse until almost the end of Revelation with the return of Christ. However is that a correct understanding?

Revelation 6:9-11 speaks of the souls of the righteous who had been killed and were now lying underneath the altar of God. They were pleading to be judged and avenged for the spilling of their blood upon those on earth. They are told to wait until all who were to be killed as they had been, was fulfilled. Please note these are on the earth after the alleged rapture of the church, when all the righteous are supposed to be in heaven. Yet we have righteous souls still here waiting to be killed.

Revelation 7:1-17 speaks of the servants of God being sealed so no harm comes to them. Then verses 14-18 speak of those who came out of the great tribulation. So again, some of God's people are still here during the tribulation and after the alleged rapture of the church.

Revelation 9:4 says the locusts that were released to torment inhabitants of earth were told not to torment those who had the mark of God on their foreheads. Revelation 14 again speaks of the 144,000 here on earth. This is still in the tribulation period here, and Christ has not returned yet. It is not until Revelation 19:11 that we see Christ returning. Meanwhile, as we have seen, there were godly people on earth thoughout the events preceding that return.

So what does Revelation 4:1 refer to? I believe that John is being told to come up higher so he can see things that he couldn't see before. This is evidenced by the rest of the chapter when John receives and sees new things that he couldn't see before.

Another verse used is Revelation 3:10:

"Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth."

Rapture teachers would say God has promised not to pour out His wrath on His people but to keep them from what will come upon the earth. Therefore He has to rapture them out. They are correct on the first point that God will take care of His people. However that does not require a physical removal from the earth to accomplish it. The children of Israel went through all the plagues of Egypt but were not affected by them. Elijah went through a severe famine, yet God provided for him. God sent ravens to feed him and later had a widow feed him.

Those who bore the mark of God could not be hurt. I believe God can take us right through the tribulation, protecting us and providing for us. Therefore there is no need for some secret rapture. This would also be confirmed by the words of Jesus that we would suffer persecution, not be exempt from it. (John 15:20) He also said that as long as we are in the world we will have tribulation (John 16:23). In Revelation 2:8-10 Jesus tells the church of Smyrna that they will undergo sufferings, imprisonment, testing, and tribulation, all caused by a satanic attack upon the church. Jesus encourages them to remain faithful unto death. No rapture or escape here, just a patient enduring.

Another verse used to support a rapture is 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7:

"And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way."

Many would say that this refers to the removal of the Holy Spirit from the earth and therefore also of the church. There is much debate over what this verse actually means, as the Greek is imprecise. However if we take it in context and look at other passages in the Bible, we can get a glimpse of what Paul may be saying.

As Revelation, chapters 7 and 14 reveal, there will be at least 144,000 Jews left behind in the tribulation period to be witnesses according to one belief. There will also be converts. Jesus says that no one can come to Him unless the Spirit/Father draws them (John 6:44). If the Holy Spirit is gone, then there can be no conversions, as there would be nothing here to draw them or convict of sin (John 16:7-8). So conversions would be impossible, let alone anointed preaching, if the Holy Spirit is not here.

Again we need to remember the purpose of why Paul was writing to the Thessalonians. There was a teaching that those who had died had missed the second coming. Others were also teaching that the resurrection had already taken place. His purpose was to assure them that this was not true - that all who had died in Christ, and those left alive here on the earth, would be raised and caught up to be with Jesus at His second coming.

It would have been very easy if Paul had ever taught a "rapture" to the Thessalonians that the resurrection and second coming couldn't have taken place since they were still on the earth and hadn't been raptured away to heaven. Instead he tells them not to worry and to remain faithful.

What about Jesus? Doesn't He teach a "rapture", a taking away? Yes, in Luke 17:34-37 Jesus says:

"I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left." And they answered and said to Him, "Where, Lord?" So He said to them, "Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together."

"Aha" you may say, "The rapture at last. I knew it was there". Correct. There is a rapture (if that is what you want to call it. The text just calls it a taking away). However who gets taken? Is it the righteous or wicked who are taken in this "rapture"?

To understand the answer we need to look at the surrounding text. Luke 17:26-30 says that when Jesus comes it will be like it was in the days of Noah and Lot. Hmmmmm. In both cases it was the wicked that were taken away and the righteous that were left behind. Also both Noah and Lot were protected and preserved through that which fell on those around them without ever leaving the earth.

This is also shown in Luke 17:37 which says:

"And they answered and said to Him, "Where, Lord?" So He said to them, "Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together."

There is a problem here. This is not necessarily what the original Greek says. In Greek it could read "Wherever the carcass is, there the vultures will be gathered together". Nowhere in scripture is Christ's body referred to as a carcass, nor are Christians ever referred to as vultures.

The word soma refers to a body either alive or dead, physical or spiritual. The Vines Expository Dictionary says the word eagle can refer to either an eagle or vulture. However it says the more likely understanding is vultures gathering to feed where the dead carcass is. This is so the wrath of God, the judgments of God, can be poured out on the corrupt state of humanity. He also says that the eagle is used in scriptures to represent the great powers of Egypt and Babylon who were used to punish faithless Israel (see Ezekiel 17). See also Job39-27-30 and Proverbs 30:17 for other references to eagles and their habits.

So it is possible that the vultures are coming to feed where God's wrath is being poured out, on the dead bodies that will be found in that period from all that is going on, or to torment the living, which is consistent with the locusts being allowed to torment unredeemed humankind.

Given this scenario, it is the wicked who are taken, not the righteous. Why? So we, the righteous, can inherit the earth.

The earth was created as a dwelling place for man. The Bible teaches throughout that the righteous and meek shall inherit the earth. Christ is coming back, not to take us away from the earth, but to bring us with Him to rule the earth with Him. (Jude 1:14, Revelation 5:10, Revelation 20:4-6) So do you still want to be "raptured"?

For those, like myself, who believe that there is no rapture but only a second coming, all of this would be happening simultaneously. As the saints/church is taken to meet the Lord in the air, God is pouring out his judgments on the earth. So in either case, if we are here during the tribulation God will protect us, and if we go up we are protected as we will be with Jesus. So we win either way.

Finally, the word used for "coming" in relation to all the events surrounding the second coming is parousia meaning coming or presence. Thus we could say when we see all the things predicted begin to happen not to worry, as His presence will be with us.

God Bless You
Rev. John W. Brown