Klayton Carson (follow him @jarsofKlay) asked me to read and respond to this article by Erik Reed from Knowing Jesus Ministries, titled Is the Rapture Taught in the Bible? This is the right question. As we concluded the first “Bad Objections” article, it’s the only question that really matters. A doctrine is true if it corresponds to the Biblical evidence and accords with right reason. There are many rhetorical devices we can use to make an idea look bad and to win over our audience, but Christians are called to speak and seek the truth. We do neither by arguing dishonestly or uncharitably.
Starting off “well”
Reed opens with this:
I figured it was time to articulate a written outline of my position and why I believe that the Rapture, as it is popularly understood and communicated, is not a biblical idea at all. I recognize that for many reading this, you already disagree with me. Trust me when I say, I was once in your shoes. I believed in a Rapture and thought Christians were waiting for Jesus to whisk us away from the world. I want to address this teaching.
His title asks the right question, but Reed begins his article by poisoning the well. The use of the words “waiting,” and “whisk” are chosen to predispose his readers to dismiss the rapture as a silly doctrine. Reed’s conditioning of his readers continues in his description of it.
The reason it is called a ‘secret rapture’ is because Christ is not going to appear, rather, Christians are going to disappear.
The term secret rapture is used more often by opponents of the pre-tribulation rapture than by its proponents. Whether the event is secret or public is not essential to the doctrine at all. Some early dispensationalist writers use the phrase, secret rapture, but they mean something very different. For example, Hamilton Smith says: “Here, then we have the mystery of His coming, the secret rapture of the saints by which they are taken from earth to meet Christ in the air, that they may be with Him when He comes.” For Smith, however, secret refers to the doctrine of the rapture, not the event. The doctrine is a secret, or mystery, hidden in the Old Testament but revealed in the New. It was a secret before, but it isn’t anymore.
After describing what it is, Reed briefly outlines the origins of the doctrine. This is a fine section to include in a critique of an idea, but Christians ought to be careful not to turn such a discussion into the genetic fallacy. Don’t imply that the origin of an idea renders it false. A proposition is false if it does not correspond to reality. Where it comes from might be completely irrelevant. Does Reed describe its origins fairly? He begins:
Has the Church believed this doctrine for the entirety of its nearly 2,000-year history?
This is an interesting question, but the way it’s framed begs the question and further conditions his readers to reject the doctrine before looking at the evidence. The implication of course, is that because the doctrine is “relatively new” it isn’t true. “How could the church be ignorant of this doctrine for so long?” is a question worth asking, but if the doctrine is taught in scripture, it’s a question of history (and ecclesiology), but it is not an argument against the doctrine. If it was taught by the apostles, it matters not if it was recognized by anyone else prior to 1830.
The modern understanding of the doctrine is indeed traceable to the 1830s, and Reed rightly credits John Nelson Darby with its promulgation. But here is the worst part of this article:
Darby taught the view of a rapture out of the world. Many people believe he piggybacked off of the comments made by a young girl named Margaret MacDonald, who had a vision in 1830 of the end times and the Church being raptured from the Earth. However, there is no way of confirming if this was an influence on Darby’s teaching.
This is reporting worthy of the Washington Post in its intellectual dishonesty. If “there is no way of confirming if this was an influence on Darby’s teaching” then why does Reed include it in his blogpost? Why would he even state this rumor unless he wanted to attack the character of the source of the idea? Why would he suggest a connection that he admits is unverifiable except to poison the well from which the doctrine springs? Weremchuk in his John Nelson Darby biography has this footnote:
Much has been made of Darby’s visit to Scotland as the source of his rapture views (mentioned in chapter 2). Darby has been accused of borrowing or stealing “his” ideas as to the rapture from the Scot Margaret MacDonald (1815-ca. 1840) and her vision of the end times in 1830. That Darby’s stay may have influenced him in some way is certainly possible, but not in the sense of giving him the idea for the rapture. Besides the fact that Darby considered her utterances to be demonic in origin there is no real correspondence between them and what Darby later taught. She seems to have spoken more of a post tribulation rather than a pre-tribulation rapture. Darby’s visit to Scotland in connection with the supposed appearance of supernatural gifts there is recorded in CW, 6:284-285. See also Timothy C. F. Stunt, “J. N. Darby and Tongues at Row: A Recent Manuscript Discovery,” Brethren Historical Review 12 (2106): 1-21, which deals with Darby’s recently discovered manuscript account of his visit in Row [available online at http://brethrenhistory.org/].Weremchuk, John Nelson Darby; Southern California Seminary Press, 2021; page 104
If Darby later considered MacDonald’s group to be demonically influenced, it’s not likely his views “piggybacked” off of them. If MacDonald’s views were of a post-tribulation rapture, it is neither original nor is it likely the source of Darby’s pre-tribulation view. Since Darby’s coming to believe in the pre-tribulation rapture is much better explained by the logical consequence of his ecclesiology (which began forming 3 years before he investigated the group in Scotland), then it is unhelpful to speculate about how much this charismatic group influenced him. If there were evidence that Margaret MacDonald described a pre-tribulation rapture, then we wouldn’t be talking about how much she may have influenced Darby, instead she would be the purported origin of it, not John Nelson Darby. Finally, if proponents argue for the rapture by scripture alone, then by scripture alone does it stand or fall. So, is the rapture taught in the Bible?
The right question and a red herring
Finally, Reed gets to the title of his article. He says, “The first question that every Christian should ask when examining any doctrinal idea they’ve been taught is: Does the Bible teach this?” This is very true, but it isn’t the first question Reed has asked. He has spent half the article not-so-subtly insulting the doctrine and its early proponents and now, at last, he begins to examine the biblical evidence. He says,
There are two primary passages where Rapture theology is purported to have emerged: Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians
But Matthew 24:40-41 (and Luke 17:34-37) is a red herring. He may have heard people bring up this passage as a reference to the rapture, but this isn’t where the rapture “is purported to have emerged.” This isn’t a passage that dispensational theologians use to defend the doctrine. He has referenced a handful of dispensationalists in the article: J. N. Darby, C.I. Scofield, D. L. Moody, and Tim Lahaye, but he cites none of them. Scofield and Darby are the more rigorous theologians of that group. So, let’s see what they say about this passage.
Scofield in his introduction to the gospels says:
“The Gospels do not unfold the doctrine of the Church… The Gospels present a group of Jewish disciples, associated on earth with a Messiah in humiliation; the Epistles a Church which is the body of Christ in glory, associated with Him in the heavenlies…”Scofield Reference Bible, 1917 edition; Matthew 1:1, note IV
In Matthew 24, Scofield’s Bible does not have a note about verses 40-42, but in a parallel passage in Luke 17, he references his note “Armageddon”. In other words, Scofield recognizes this as referring to the end of the tribulation, long after he believes the rapture to have occurred. Darby likewise says,
[these verses] describe the discriminating judgment which takes place among the Jews in the last days.John Nelson Darby, Synopsis, Bible Truth Publishers 2004; Vol 3, page 144
He makes no mention of the rapture here. As I wrote in response to objection number 5 in Bad Objections part II no serious dispensationalist thinks this passage is about the rapture. In fact, the gospels scarcely speak about the church, and this is part of the argument for dispensationalism. Dispensationalists argue the Olivet discourse is distinctly Jewish and does not concern the church directly. I could cite Chafer, Walvoord, Ryrie, Pentecost, Wiersbe, J. Vernon McGee, Ironside, Vlach, Howe, House, and others. They would all agree. What this tells me is that Reed does not understand Dispensational Theology. He may have believed in the pre-tribulation rapture, but it seems he didn’t understand the scriptural and theological arguments for the doctrine.
Assertions and Non-sequiturs
He is correct that 1 Thessalonians 4 is the primary description of the rapture. Even the word “rapture” comes from this passage (caught up). In one sense, all Christians believe in the rapture of the saints, because all believe in what is described in verses 13-18, we just disagree over when it occurs and the context surrounding it.
Reed emphasizes the fact that this passage describes the resurrection of the dead in Christ. He seems to think this would surprise a rapture proponent.
It is important to note that when people who hold Rapture theology communicate about the Rapture, they never include the dead being raised and whisked away while tribulation occurs. It is only those alive.
Who is he reading? Who is he talking to? Even if some people omit this aspect of the rapture when talking about it, it doesn’t mean it is a surprise or a problem for the pre-tribulation position. It’s not as though any major dispensational expositor leaves out the resurrection in his commentary of this passage. This just is the rapture: the dead in Christ will rise first, then those who are alive are caught up together with the risen dead; resurrection or translation, all the church is glorified together.
Thus, the resurrection of the dead is going to happen when Jesus returns. This is when the great white throne of judgment will occur (Revelation 20), and sheep will be separated from the goats (Matthew 25)
Notice how Paul says the dead in Christ will rise first. He does not say the dead will rise first. Premillennialists don’t share Reed’s premises here. If we don’t share the premises, his conclusion doesn’t follow, and his arguments are of no effect. For us, the rapture occurs years prior to the sheep and the goats judgment, which occurs a thousand years before the great white throne judgment. We don’t share the premise that the resurrection of the dead happens all at once. It may happen in stages (1 Cor 15:23). Is he trying to argue against dispensational theology, or against confused amillenialists?
Will we whisk away to Heaven and leave the unbelievers behind? No. It doesn’t say that at all. So what happens once we meet him in the air?
He’s technically right, this passage doesn’t go on to say that we continue into heaven, just that we will be with the Lord, wherever He is. But on Reed’s view, when are the glorified saints ever in heaven? Paul says in Philippians 3:20, that “our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus, in John 14:3 says, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will take you to Myself, so that where I am, there you also will be.” (cf. Col 1:5, 2 Tim 4:18, Heb 3:1, Heb 10:34, Heb 11:16, Heb 12:22-23, 1 Pet 1:4).
We usher the King back into the city as the glorious victor over the enemies of Satan, sin, and death.
Reed asserts that Paul is “utilizing the imagery here of ancient Roman practice,” greeting the returning King and following him back into the city. But just because an interpretation is plausible doesn’t mean it’s true. Reed needs to demonstrate that this is the picture the Bible paints of Jesus’s return to earth with His saints. Is Jesus a returning conqueror followed into the city by its welcoming citizens? Or is Jesus a warrior king leading an invasion army? Remember, according to pre-tribulation rapture proponents, there is a tribulation. It ends with Jesus personally destroying the armies of the world at Armageddon (Revelation 19). Jesus, according to premillennialists, is returning to conquer, not returning from conquering. Also, the word in 1 Thessalonians 4, harpazo, has a violent connotation, a sudden snatching away, and this is done to us, not by us. Our catching up to the Lord in the clouds looks more like a rescue for us than a welcome for Him. If this is the more accurate picture, then it’s not likely Paul has in mind this ancient Roman practice, and it isn’t obvious he intends for us to think we immediately return to earth with Christ.
The best argument for the pre-tribulation rapture is in 2 Thessalonians 2. This, historically speaking, is where the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine emerged . The fully developed argument from this passage is complex, way too complex for this blogpost. But to summarize, according to dispensationalists, Paul argues that the Day of the Lord could not have arrived already, because the Lord’s coming for them had not happened yet. He pleads with them not to be deceived in this way and appeals to them “by the coming of the Lord and our gathering together to Him.” The Day of the Lord, he explains, begins with the revealing of the man of lawlessness, but before he can be revealed, the Holy Spirit, who indwells the Church, must be taken out of the way. In other words, the rapture must happen before the Day of the Lord; before the Tribulation begins (Daniel’s 70th week).
An unworthy way to argue about the blessed hope
Long before he asks the important question, “What does the Bible say?” Reed uses manipulative rhetoric to precondition his readers to reject the doctrine. And when he finally does look at the Biblical evidence, he demonstrates that he doesn’t understand what he’s arguing against. If Reed is arguing against the doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture, his reasoning is fallacious, and his conclusions don’t follow. If Reed’s goal is to correct the bad, pop-understanding of the rapture that he is surrounded by and once held, he is misleading his readers by attributing their mistaken view to the historic proponents of the doctrine. He presents a straw man position as if it represented the position of men like John Nelson Darby and C. I. Scofield. If his goal is to free amillennialists from pop-culture rapture confusion, then he needs to explain the actual issues involved, like the unshared premises about resurrection, judgments, Israel and the Church, etc. But he doesn’t do that.
Reed describes the rapture as Left Behind nonsense, a novelty of recent church history from uneducated men (who, wink wink, may or may not be influenced by a crazy charismatic). Throughout the article he refers to the pre-tribulation rapture as “waiting” for Jesus to come whisk us away from tribulation. As much as he disparages this idea, the Bible speaks approvingly of, “waiting for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” It speaks of being “caught up.” Is the Rapture Taught in the Bible? It’s an important question that deserves an honest investigation. Because if the Bible does teach it, it calls the Rapture our Blessed Hope.
looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus ChristTitus 2:13
As it turns out, the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine does have precedent in the early church. See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.29.1.
“In 1903 William Kelly published an article entitled “The Rapture of the Saints: who suggested it, or rather on what Scripture?” in which he related having spoken with Benjamin Wills Newton in the summer of 1845. Newton told him that many years before Darby had written him a letter, in which he stated that through a suggestion made to him by a Mr. Thomas Tweedy involving the passage in 2 Thessalonians, he had received decisive biblical proof that the rapture would take place before the day of the Lord. For Darby, this cleared up difficulties he had previously felt on this point.”
Weremchuk, page 103