This is the first in a series of posts on the doctrine of the Rapture of the Church.
“The word rapture isn’t in the Bible.” This objection is so bad it didn’t even make the list! The word is right here:
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: “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.” The Greek word that is translated “caught up” in English, is translated ‘raptura’ in Latin, which is where the English word ‘rapture’ comes from.
This passage, along with a few others like 1 Corinthians 15 and John 14, is the basis for the premillennial, pre-tribulation rapture doctrine. Briefly, the doctrine says that Jesus will take the church to heaven before the great tribulation – a time of great judgment on the earth, lasting seven years until Christ returns (with his saints) to set up his Millennial kingdom in Jerusalem.
Many sincere, godly Christians object to this teaching, including good friends of mine. Lord willing, we’ll examine the relevant scriptures and show that the Bible does in fact teach this, but for now let’s look at some of the worst reasons for rejecting this doctrine.
“It’s not a traditional church doctrine – it only started with J. N. Darby in the early 19th century.”
This is a very common objection. The claim is, if it was a true teaching of the Bible, surely the early Church fathers, and the reformers would have believed it! But no, the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine is nowhere to be found until the Plymouth Brethren movement in the 1820s. This fact can be surprising to many Christians who aren’t familiar with Church history, and after all, “if it’s new it isn’t true, and if it’s true it isn’t new!” However,
It’s a terrible objection because… It’s a textbook genetic fallacy. A genetic fallacy is a failure to reason correctly; it’s when someone attempts to argue against a position by explaining the origin of the belief. The fact that some guy named Darby is the first to explicitly write about a particular doctrine is just not related to whether it’s true or not. The real question is not, “how old is it?” or “how did it start?” but, “does the Bible teach it?”
After all, we could make the same “argument” against any theological insight since the apostles. The rapture doctrine is only 200 years old? Well, insights from the reformation are at most 500 years old! (Penal-substitutionary atonement, distinct roles for the persons of the Trinity, or anything else) That’s still 1400 years after the New Testament was completed! Really, the age of a belief just isn’t a test for truth. Many doctrines were either not recognized, or lost for long periods of time, but if they are true, they were in the scriptures all along. If something as central as grace-through-faith-alone can be lost or obscured, how much more a teaching like the rapture?
“It’s doomsday hysteria.”
The Left Behind series, the endless speculation, the borderline-date-setting, the constant hand-wringing over headlines and geopolitics… surely nothing that incites such hype is Biblical. This guilty-by-association view of the rapture is very prevalent today. Whether it’s just a ‘hipster’ mentality, or a reaction against real spiritual abuse by a church they grew up in, it’s a common and sometimes understandable point of view for many young Christians today. But,
It’s a terrible objection because… It’s a strawman fallacy. It’s like saying, “I don’t believe in the Bible because Ned Flanders is embarrassing.” Just because some authors and filmmakers made the Christian equivalent to Twilight, doesn’t mean the teaching of scripture they claim to adhere to is wrong. From Young-adult fiction to pulp-prophecy books, from conspiracy theories to “headline exegesis,” Apocalypse hype is a misrepresentation of Bible prophecy. Hysteria misses the point.
Deep down, if this is the real reason you dismiss the rapture doctrine, you should ask yourself if the Westboro Baptist folks are a reason to reject Christianity. Again, the question is not, “how embarrassing are the loudest proponents?” but, “what does the Bible teach?”
“I heard a sermon once…” “My pastor said…”
Many sincere Christians dismiss a teaching like the rapture, simply because an influential teacher or pastor spoke against it. “I used to believe that, but I heard a sermon once about how it isn’t true.” However,
This is a terrible objection because… even the most upright pastor, brilliant scholar, or gifted preacher is still fallible. Unless your objection is really based on his arguments, it’s just an appeal to authority, not a real reason. Did he give reasons why? Did they make this list?
Influential shepherds are both a blessing and a source of danger. In a brand new Christian’s life, they can quickly help someone grow, especially if there is a child-like trust in a mentor. But it is so important to mature beyond an unquestioning reliance on a teacher, and be able to reason from the scriptures for yourself; learning from leaders in the church, but never following blindly.
Dig into God’s word, test all things, and hold fast to what is true! Learn from the experts and scholars (of course!), but don’t look for their opinions, look for their reasons. Weigh those reasons against the opposition, and check them against scripture. Pray! God loves to answer prayers for wisdom! And since these are deep, spiritual matters, we need His Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).
According to many, this doctrine is just a cop-out. It’s an escape hatch to heaven.
This is a terrible objection because… just because some people have thought of it that way, doesn’t mean the rapture doctrine actually promotes that attitude. Plenty of people have abused Christian doctrine throughout history. Does that make it false?
The doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture and premillennialism is not about the timing of Jesus’s return, it’s about the manner of his return. It is our “blessed hope,” (Titus 2:13) not simply because it might happen tomorrow, but because Jesus will come back suddenly, and personally, and powerfully, and He will fix this broken world.
But shouldn’t we be willing to endure the tribulation? The Bible promises us that we will suffer, and “in this world you will have tribulation,” (John 16:33), but there is a vast difference between trials or persecution, and God’s wrath. God’s wrath is precisely what the tribulation is about (Revelation 6:16).
Besides, it’s one thing for you and I in the U – S of A to desire escape from our #FirstWorldProblems, but can you imagine the comfort this doctrine would be for persecuted Christians? If it’s true, they know that their savior 1) could rescue them, without death, at any moment; 2) will return to personally avenge them; and 3) keep them safe from that same vengeance (1 Thessalonians 1:10). But perhaps,
“The teaching has caused generations of Christians to give up on their nation, culture, and world.”
The charge is that the pre-tribulation rapture teaching, and more generally, premillennialism, causes Christians to have apathy toward their nation or the world around them. This accusation often comes from Christians championing social justice, but also those working toward a more Christian America or a restored Western Culture.
This is a terrible objection because… yet again, it says nothing directly about the truth of the matter. Beyond that, however, the return of Christ for His Church should inspire vast evangelism and missionary efforts… and it has! Christians living in view of Christ’s return, should be all the more inspired to love the people around them, and work to see the gospel preached. Urgency, not apathy, is the proper response to the doctrine.
Well, it may have inspired missions and evangelism, but what about the culture, and the nations? The social injustices?
Well, what if it’s true? What if the Bible actually does teach premillennialism, a great tribulation of judgment on the earth, and the rapture of the church beforehand? If it does, then Jesus will fix and redeem the nations, Jesus will right the social injustices, and Jesus will make all things new, when He returns. In other words, this objection begs the question. If the doctrine is true, the church’s purpose is to evangelize. We are still commanded to love people and stand for justice, but to do so in order to rescue people from the world, not to change the world. If this doctrine is what the Bible teaches, true peace won’t come to earth until the Prince of Peace brings it back with Him.
Whether this is the correct perspective, or whether we should fight to save the culture as well as souls, completely depends on which view the Bible actually teaches. I hope you can see just how important this topic is for the Christian life. Like all of scripture, it has real, practical effects on each of us. So,
What does the Bible say?
Like every other doctrine, it all depends on what God has actually said. In the next few articles on this topic, we’ll study some of the key Bible passages, and along the way, we will address some of the ways Christians can get confused about Bible prophecy. Many Christians are overwhelmed by the whole subject of Christ’s return, but we shouldn’t be. You don’t have to be a scholar to grasp what God has told us about the future. We have God’s clear Word, a rational intellect, and the indwelling Holy Spirit. And what does the Spirit say? “I don’t want you to be ignorant, brethren!” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
Photo: “I am… the Bright and Morning Star” Revelation 22:16
Photo credit: wikimedia commons
 From the Plymouth Brethren movement, to D. L. Moody, Billy Graham, J. Vernon McGee, the Jesus Movement of the 60s and 70s, and Greg Laurie’s Harvest Crusades, much of the evangelism efforts of the last 200 years came from Christians who held this view of Christ’s return.
Even a strong critic of this position, George E. Ladd, said this: “It is doubtful if there has been any other circle of men who have done more by their influence in preaching, teaching and writing to promote a love for Bible study, a hunger for the deeper Christian life, a passion for evangelism and zeal for missions in the history of American Christianity.” Ladd, Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God, 49