What is the rapture?
The Rapture is believed by many -- perhaps most -- born-again Protestants. They
are certain that they, alone, will engage in a mass migration in the near future. They believe that those born-again Christians
who have died will have their bodies reconstituted and will ascend through the air, and meet Jesus Christ in the sky. This
will be followed by a second mass migration of the born-again who are currently living.
The word "Rapture" comes from the Latin word "Rapare" which means to take away or to snatch out. This would
be a remarkable event. Pilots would disappear from planes, truck drivers from their trucks; people from automobiles, etc.
Some born-again Christians believe that a family will be eating dinner, when some of the members will rise from their seats,
pass through the roof and keep rising through the air.
An associated event is Christ's imminent return (also known as the "second coming" and "parousia"). This
has been expected by many Christians for almost 2 millennia. It was described by the Greek word "parousia"
(coming, arrival, presence) during the 1st century CE. Justin Martyr introduced the term "second coming" in the 2nd
Ever since Christ's death, many Christians have been expecting the second coming in their immediate future. Most Fundamentalist
and other conservative Christians believe that The Rapture will occur when Christ first returns towards earth. Most believe that Christ will not actually land or stay on earth at this
time; the "real" second coming will occur later, when he returns on a horse leading an army on horseback who will exterminate
one third of the earth's population in a massive genocide. It will be numerically the largest mass extermination of humans in history. In terms of the percentage of humans to be killed
in a genocide, it will be second only to the flood of Noah.
The rapture concept is essentially ignored by most other Christian faith groups. It does not form a part of any other religion.
It is dismissed by essentially all liberal Christian theologians. Many Bible handbooks, commentaries, dictionaries and encyclopedia
do not even list "rapture" in their indices.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
The full biblical text reads:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-17: "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which
are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even
so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which
are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend
from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so
shall we ever be with the Lord."
This passage contains the main description of the rapture. This passage was written by St. Paul, circa
51 CE, when he was living in Corinth. It was addressed to the Christians at Thessalonica, capital of Macedonia. This was an
early writing by St. Paul. If the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) were arranged in chronological order, 1 Thessalonians
would be the first (or perhaps the second book, after Galatians).
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul apparently is correcting a
misunderstanding about the return of Christ. Some theologians speculate that the Thessalonians believed that only those Christians
who were alive at the second coming would have the possibility of sharing in the Kingdom of God at Christ's return. They may
have held various non-orthodox beliefs that St. Paul wanted to correct:
||Some felt that their Christian
friends and relatives who had died since Jesus' execution might not take part in the parousia, or they might appear at a later
||Some felt that those who
had recently died may have forfeited their salvation because of their death.|
||Some may have believed that
through their baptism, that their fellow Christians should have become immune to death. They would have been concerned that
their friends' and relatives' who had died might not have been truly saved.|
Paul refers to the dead euphemistically as "those who fall asleep." He tied their hope for salvation and a future
life in heaven to their belief in the resurrection of Christ. Paul was anxious to assure the Thessalonians that once a person is saved, he/she is guaranteed to be present when Jesus came again.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:15, Paul refers to "the Lord's own word" as the source of his teaching.
Some interpreters believe that this refers to a personal revelation that he received from God. Others believe that Paul is
referring to a tradition circulating in the early Christian movement about Jesus' teachings on this matter. He comforts his
readers by assuring them that the Christians who are still alive will "certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep."
In 1 Thessalonians 4:16 Paul describes the return of Christ to earth. The specific series of events will
Since most conservative Christians believe in the inerrancy (freedom of error) of all passages in the Bible, they consider this passage to be a precise description of Christ's second coming. Although a literal interpretation of this
verse would indicate that Paul expected the events to happen during the first century CE. They didn't. Some conservative theologians believe that Paul was writing to Christians in the 21st century, not to the Christians
in Thessalonica during the first century CE.
1 Corinthians 15:51-53
The text reads:
1 Corinthians 15:51-53: "Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised
incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."
In this passage, Paul adds one more concept to the description of the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians. He believes that people
with normal bodies cannot attain Heaven. The believers' bodies would be instantly changed to a form of "spiritual body,"
so that they may enter Heaven. Again, if one interprets the verse literally, Paul emphasizes the imminent timing of the second
coming. It did not happen during his lifetime, nor did it happen in the subsequent 19½ centuries.
Some theologians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible suggest that Paul was really addressing Christians in the 21st century.
The Gospel of Mark reads:
Mark 13:26-27: "And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the
earth to the uttermost part of heaven."
This appears to be a brief reference of the parousia and rapture. It differs from St. Paul's description, in that
angels appear throughout all the earth to gather Christians up to heaven. People do not rise unaided, as in 1 Thessalonians.
There is no mention of the dead having reassembled bodies and rising from their graves.
When will it happen?
Various Gospel passages record how Jesus believed that the second coming would occur very soon, during the lifetime of his followers (i.e. before the end of the 1st century CE). St. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 also anticipates the event in his near future, and during his own lifetime. He encouraged
Christians in Thessalonia to keep alert in anticipation of the coming of the Lord. Of course, both the report of Jesus' speech
(in Mark 9:1) and Paul's letters (in Thessalonians and in 1 Corinthians 7:26-31) were wrong. Neither the rapture nor Jesus'
second coming happened during the 1st century CE. Some Christians of every age since Jesus' execution have been anxiously expecting the event, and looking for signs of its
coming. Anticipation was heightened as the last year of some centuries approached. Some expected it to happen in 1000
CE. This was not a general belief. Because of the low level of education at the time, the public was not generally aware of
the date. There was also a heightened expectation just before the year 1500 CE. It was particularly intense as the year 2000
approached. After 2000-JAN-1, the level of anticipation of the millennium (as stated in the Bible), the end of the world as
we know it, and of the rapture subsided somewhat.
Various conflicting beliefs have been held about the timing of the second coming, and about how the rapture would fit in with other end-time prophecies:
||Millennium: a 1000
year golden era; a time of universal peace described in Revelation 20:1-7.|
called Daniel's 70th week): a 7 year interval which starts when the Antichrist, an international religious-political dictator
assumes power. Horrendous events will occur. |
a terrible war, provoked by the Antichrist, in which a large percentage of humans will die. God's anger is released on humanity.|
Various theories have been promoted by Christians that have linked the millennium, tribulation, Armageddon, second coming
and tribulation together according to different schedules and sequences. During the second and third century CE, some Christians
believed that the Millennium referred to in Revelation would follow Christ's return.
This is called "Premillenialism." It was declared a heresy and suppressed by the church in the 4th Century.
This ancient belief was reintroduced in a modified form circa 1830. Most people believe that it was resurrected by John
N. Darby, a minister of the Church of Ireland, a denomination in the Anglican communion; he founded the Plymouth
Brethren. However, author Dave MacPherson claims that British pastor Edward Irving was the actual person responsible,
and that a conspiracy was organized to give Darby the credit. 13
Premillenialism has received general acceptance by most modern conservative Christians, following the publishing of the
Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 and in the more modern Ryrie Study Bible. Other respected supporters of
the belief are the Dallas Theological Seminary and Moody Bible Institute. As in the early Christian heresy,
the Tribulation is seen as preceding the second coming of Christ and his 1000 year rule.
Theologians remain currently divided over the timing of the Rapture. Their beliefs include:
(or "pre-trib") The Rapture happens just before the Tribulation, so that believers will not have to experience any of its
disruption and pain. Most conservative Christians currently believe this theory. 12|
(or "mid-trib") The Rapture happens about 42 months into the Tribulation. Initially, the rule of the Antichrist is relatively
benign. He arranges a peace treaty between Israel and surrounding countries. But three and a half years into his reign as
world dictator, events take a sudden turn for the worse.|
(or post-trib") The faithful experience the horrors and killings of the Tribulation. All suffer and many are killed. Believers
are then raptured at the end of the 7 years of horror.|
||Partial Rapture: some
of the faithful are raptured just before the Tribulation; the rest are raptured during or at the end of the Tribulation. 1|
||Partial Rapture (a.k.a.
Split Rapture): This is a minority belief among conservative Christians. It is a variation of the Pre-trib rapture
in which there are two raptures:
||A pre-trib rapture and resurrection
occurs before the tribulation, but only for those born-again Christians who have earned special treatment by having been actively
watching, waiting and praying for the rapture. |
||Those born-again Christians
who have not been doing these "works" will be have to endure at least part of the tribulation. They will be raptured partway
through or at the end of the tribulation period. 2,3|
Each of these theories has significant problems and can only be accepted if one ignores certain Biblical passages or twists them totally out of shape. The Bible appears
to be ambiguous on this points; many interpretations are possible.
Beliefs about rapture and the tribulation can motivate believers in different ways. If a believer accepts the pre-trib
or the mid-trib concept, then they will concentrate on spiritual growth. If they believe in post-trib, then their prime concern
will be to prepare for survival.
A favorite occupation among Christians down through the ages has been to predict the timing of the end of the world. Much of Western Europe expected the end of the world in the year 1000 CE. There was great dissatisfaction among believers
when it did not happen. In 1833, William Miller (1782-1849), founder of the Millerite Movement, wrote a book "Evidences
from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ about the Year 1843." He gathered a great following, until the
disillusionment came. Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses predicted that Armageddon would
start in 1914. The Witnesses later predicted 1918, 1920, 1925, and 1941. Some individual Witnesses believed that it would
happen in 1975; however their denomination did not endorse that date. Many Fundamentalist and other Evangelical leaders are
currently predicting that the events will unfold early in the 21st century.
"Rapture Ready" is the second most popular Web sites on the Internet, as listed by Web side Story. 4
They receive almost 1,000 visitors a day. 5,6 They feature a "Nearing Midnight" section which lists
news items that point as signs to the imminence of the second coming. It is updated many times a week. Their "Rapture
Index" is a number which attempts to predict the closeness of the date. It has varied from 50 in 1993-DEC to an all-time
high of 168 in 1997-OCT. On 2005-JAN-25, the index was 153.
The Millennium Watch Institute attempted to track all social and religious developments associated with the year
2000. 7 Their web site had a countdown clock that showed the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the
end of the Millennium, which occurred at midnight on the evening of 2000-DEC-31. Many people felt that Jesus' return towards
earth and the Rapture would occur at midnight of that day or at midnight of 1999-DEC-31. It didn't happen. One of the great
undocumented stories is how millions of born-again Americans and other conservative Christians adapted to the failure of their
expectations of TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) and the rapture.
What will happen?
Conservative Theologians and Believers: Most Evangelical Christians believe that the Rapture, as described
in the three biblical verses listed above, will happen precisely as described, sometime in the near future. All previously
saved Christians, totaling perhaps 5 to 10% of the world's population, will suddenly have their bodies converted into a different form that
they will wear for all eternity in Heaven. They will rise vertically into the air. Many believe that they will pass right
through ceilings, roofs of cars, etc. to meet Jesus Christ in the sky. Although the vast majority of humans will be left behind,
there will be much devastation as planes, trains and automobiles as their pilots, engineers and drivers suddenly disappear
and the vehicles crash. The bodies of Christian believers who have died during the previous two millennia will be reconstituted
into their original bodies which will then also be converted to spirit bodies. They will rise out of their graves and ascend
to meet Jesus.
There is a common theme found in many conservative Christian novels about the end times. The Tribulation is seen as causing
mass confusion among those left behind. The unsaved who remain are aware of the disappearance of tens or hundreds of millions
of people, but do not seem to know the cause. Mass panic will result. It is doubtful that this would ever happen, because
tens of millions of non-born again believers are aware of conservative Christian teachings on the rapture and tribulation.
Liberal Theologians: Many regard the Tribulation belief to be a fascinating myth or vision, but without
any grounding in reality. The elements of the story:
||Jesus descending in the sky.|
||Believers rising to meet
||Parts of dead bodies, some
individual organic molecules, somehow reconstituting themselves into their previous form.|
||Bodies being changed instantly
from their physical form to a spiritual form.|
are simply a beautiful fantasy without any grounding in reality.