Part three of the Come Lord Jesus series on the final return of Christ at the end of time.
The Rapture is the idea of a secret, preliminary return of Jesus to take his saved away from the earth. It is an integral part of dispensationalism. The idea is novel and has no recorded basis in the Bible itself. There are, however, some early threads of dispensational thought in the second century. The Rapture was popularized by the Scofield Study Bible (1909), The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), and the Left Behind series of books (1995). Today, it is the subject of innumerable memes and posts on social media. Interest in the subject tends to rise in times of distress, such as the present COVID fears and political disruptions. Despite its appeal, it does not square with Biblical teaching on the return of Jesus.
Believers suggest that at some unspecified time, Jesus will return and suddenly take away believers. This they call The Rapture. Images of driverless cars, pilotless aircraft, and missing masses are common. Various flavors of dispensational teaching differ on what comes next, although the most common is seven years of incredible tribulation and suffering for those not taken away. After the seven years, Christ will return and wage battle against the forces of the antichrist. After a great battle, Armageddon, the victorious Christ will reign on earth for 1,000 years. We will study each of these ideas in coming articles.
1 Thessalonians 4:17 is a key verse for Rapture adherents:
“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.”
The doctrine teaches that Christ takes his people away from the earth but does not appear to anyone other than the saved. Is that what the Bible teaches? No. Let us observe the context of the very verse they hold dear. The preceding verse (1 Thessalonians 4:16) describes the Lord’s coming:
“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.”
The Bible uses words like “cry,” “voice,” and “sound of the trumpet.” Instead of being a secret arrival of Jesus, as taught by the Rapture, it is a thunderous and public arrival. There is nothing to suggest any secrecy here!
A close parallel to 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is Revelation 1:7.
“Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”
I say this is parallel because in both cases, Jesus is coming in the air (air = 1 Thessalonians 4:17; clouds = Revelation 1:7). Please note that everyone will see his return, even the wicked men who nailed him to a cross. “[E]very eye will see him.”
The only way this secret return of the Rapture can be sustained is if this coming is not related to the end of time and if there is a third coming of Jesus at the very end. To get around this, dispensationalists argue for a preliminary coming of Jesus. In our next article, we will examine the multi-return teaching.