You are hereThe Rapture Myth
The Rapture Myth
by Charles Roberts
In the year 1843, there were people who sold their homes and businesses and went about the country preaching the imminent return of Christ in what they call “the Rapture”. They were the followers of William Miller, a farmer and self-taught bible scholar from upstate New York.In the year 1843, there were people who sold their homes and businesses and went about the country preaching the imminent return of Christ in what they call “the Rapture”. They were the followers of William Miller, a farmer and self-taught bible scholar from upstate New York. Miller understood the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14 to refer to the number of years until the return of Christ.
Though scholars for two thousand years had been in nearly universal agreement that the prophecy referred to events in what are now past history Miller insisted it was for fulfillment in his day.
In 168 BC, as Daniel had prophesied, a great warrior king, Antiochus Epiphanes, entered Jerusalem to punish the Jews.
As promised, he put an end to sacrifices at the temple, and he rededicated the temple to Zeus.
He then offered Zeus the sacrifice of a pig upon the altar of God. Daniel 8:14 does not literally read "2300 days", but "2300 evenings and mornings."
Now an evening and a morning may be taken to mean a day, but in this case it could mean something else.
In the order of rituals in the Temple, there were both morning and evening sacrifices offered to God.
When the actual number of morning and evening sacrifices that should have been offered during the time that Antiochus Epipahnes controlled Jerusalem are totaled, it equals roughly 2300.
From the time of Antiochus entering Jerusalem until the temple was cleansed and proper sacrifices reinstituted was roughly 2300 days.
So when Daniel made that prediction in his time, it was yet future. But now, to us, it is in the past.
This what in theological terms we call the “preterist” view of interpreting Bible prophecy. “Preterist” means “past” as “futurist” means future.
William Miller believed in the futurist view of interpreting Bible prophecy.
Adding 2300 years to the time of Daniel's prophecy gave Miller a date of March 21, 1844.
He began to teach this throughout the Northeast and gained a wide following.
Despite the great excitement, March 21, 1844, came and went without the return of Christ.
Miller was devastated, but one of his followers went back through the calculations and found what he believed to be the error.
A new date was set of October 22, 1844.
When even 1844 did not pan out, some of the followers abandoned the movement.
You have perhaps read of this story before, or one’s similar to it, and I suspect that in the back of your mind, at least, you have thought to yourself:
Yeah, that’s pretty bad about how foolish those people were to believe all that. Of course today we are much more sophisticated and don’t go in for all this date setting and stuff.
There are probably some cults and fringe church groups that still go in for that, but no one in the broader evangelical world does.”
Now that may be what you assume, when you read the story of William Miller, but the fact is, many Christians today believe that one day soon, (it is always soon) Jesus is going to physically appear in the sky.
And immediately all the dead are going to be resurrected and rise to meet Him.
And the living Christians will be caught up in the clouds with them to be with Christ.
They believe that Christians will physically be "raptured" off of this planet.
Perhaps you've seen the pictures of the unmanned cars crashing and bodies coming out of the graves with everyone going up into the sky.
Or you have seen the Left Behind films series that depicts vanishing pilots and passengers from airplanes.
The "rapture of the church" doctrine is not a historical teaching of the church but something that was started around 1830 by the Plymouth Brethren?
It was popularized in America by the Scofield Reference Bible and by elaborate End Time event charts published by Clarence Larkin.
During the twentieth century, the "physical rapture" of the Church became a dominant eschatological view.
Many have predicted when this event was to happen: Mikkel Dahl predicated in The Midnight Cry that the present era would end by 1980.
Reginald Edward Duncan predicted in The Coming Russian Invasion of America that the Millennium would begin in 1979.
Emil Gaverluk, of the Southwest Radio Church, predicted that the rapture would occur by 1981.
In 1948, Israel became a nation, many saw this as very significant in Bible prophecy. They believed that within a generation of that time (forty years), the rapture would occur.
Edgar C. Whisenant wrote the book, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Is in 1988. Six million copies of his work were sold.
And there were many otherwise level headed Christians who read that book and were more than a little convinced that this time, one end of the world predictor has gotten it right.
Mr. Whisenant laboriously demonstrated why Christ would return to the earth in September of that year.
Regional news reports noted that a number of Christians took his message so seriously that they quit their jobs in anticipation of Christ's imminent return.
Whisenant remarked, "Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong, and I say that unequivocally.
There is no way Biblically that I can be wrong; and I say that to every preacher in town."
When September of 1988 came to an end and there was no rapture Whisenant published a new book called, The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989.
In this book he said, "My mistake was that my mathematical calculations were off by one year." Guess what? He was wrong again!
Hal Lindsey said:
“When the Jewish people, after nearly 2,000 years of exile, under relentless persecution, became a nation again on 14 May, 1948 the "fig tree" put forth its first leaves.
Jesus said that this would indicate that He was "at the door," ready to return.
Then He said, "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." (Matthew 24:34 NASB).
But what generation?
Obviously, in the generation that would see the signs -- chief among them the rebirth of Israel.
A generation in the Bible is something like forty years. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948, all these things could take place. Many scholars who studied Bible prophecy all their lives believe that this is so. (The Late Great Planet Earth, pp. 53-54). “
In the summer of 1992, Charles R. Taylor wrote in the Bible Prophecy News that Jesus' return would occur in the fall of the same year:
"What you are starting to read probably is my final issue of Bible Prophecy News, for Bible prophecy fulfillments indicate that Jesus Christ our Lord will most likely return for us at the rapture of the Church before the Fall 1992 issue can be printed."
In his book, Armagedon: Appointment with Destiny, Grant Jeffrey writes, "The year A.D. 2000 is a probable termination date for the 'last days.""
Lester Sumrall wrote in his book I Predict 2000 A.D.: "I predict the absolute fullness of man's operation on planet Earth by the year 2000 A.D."
In 1992, Reformed Bible teacher Harold Camping published a book titled “1994?. “
Like William Miller a hundred years earlier, he rejected the historic understanding of Daniel 8.
The prophecy clearly describes the rise of the kingdom of Greece under Alexander the Great, and the division of his empire among four others.
But instead of seeing the prophecy as fulfilled in the events of what to us is now PAST history, Camping transported its fulfillment to our own day.
Camping introduced 1994? with the following statement,
"No book ever written is as audacious or bold as one that claims to predict the timing of the end of the world, and that is precisely what this book presumes to do."
As audacious as it was, it was wrong.
September 6, 1994 came and went. Camping seemed to back away from his false prophecy, but he has now decided he was right all along.
We just have to add 7 years to his original date of 1994.
Well, as I think most of us are aware the rapture did not happen in the year 1994 or in 2000.
When the Christian church has such an undeniable track record of focusing on this matter of the Return of Christ and getting it wrong time and time again, I think we need to step back for a moment.
We need to consider whether or not this popular, but relatively new teaching, of the Rapture of the church is truly a properly understood Biblical teaching.
Let's look at the Biblical text that is used to support the modern idea of the "physical rapture" of the church:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NKJV) But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 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. 17 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. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
The first question that we need to ask here is, "Who is the Apostle Paul writing to?"
Who is the "you" that he did not want to be ignorant? The obvious answer is the Thessalonians of the first century.
As you read and study a text of the Bible, you must keep in mind the context, and consider who the original audience was - what did the original audience understand this to mean?
The Bible was written for us but not to us.
Some Christians upon reading that statement have difficulty understanding it.
They have a tendency to read the Bible as if when each word of it was written, the inspired authors had them in mind.
But this is not so, and the Bible itself does not teach that each and every word written herein was written with you, in the year 2004, in mind.
It is written in:
Joshua 6:3 (NKJV) "You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days.
Is this command to march around Jericho to you?
Consider another passage from Joshua:
Joshua 6:25 (NKJV) And Joshua spared Rahab the harlot, her father's household, and all that she had. SO SHE DWELLS IN ISRAEL TO THIS DAY, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
If you ignore the context and view this verse as written to you, what do you have?
You have a lady that is well over 3,000 years old.
Is Rahab still living in Israel today? Of course not!
So, why does the Bible say she is still living in Israel today when she isn't?
Simply because when the book of Joshua was written, she was still living in Israel.
Philippians 2:19-) But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you SHORTLY (tacheos), that I also may be encouraged when I know your state.
In verse 19 Paul uses the word "shortly" which is, in the Greek tacheos.
This word means speed, quickness, swiftness, haste, suddenly.
So then, let me ask you, Are you excited about Timothy's soon arrival? If not, Why not?
The Bible says that Paul will send him "shortly." But I don't know of any Christians that are looking for Timothy to arrive soon.
We read this in a preteristic, past tense, manner and we understand that Paul was speaking to the Philippians in the first century when he said this.
Unless there is some overwhelming reason to ignore the context and especially the time indicators in the Bible concerning things like the Return of Christ and the Rapture, then we must be as concerned for context and audience relevance on those matters as we are on these others.
When Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians, he was writing to Christians who lived in the first century.
You simply MUST understand this if you are going to properly understand what he is saying.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NKJV) But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
First of all, who are those who sleep in Jesus?
Now you need to know what the "hope" was that the Thessalonians had and what hope the non-Christians didn't have.
In order to understand this, you need consider Paul’s statements in the Book of Acts.
Acts 24:15 (NKJV) "I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.
Acts 26:6-8 (NKJV) "And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. 7 "To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope's sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. 8 "Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?
It is clear from this last verse that Paul sees the resurrection of the dead as that which fulfills "the hope of the promise made by God unto our fathers."
Hosea 13:14 (NKJV) "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction! Pity is hidden from My eyes.
Note that the word for “grave” in verse 14 is in Hebrew Sheol.
So, the "hope" that Paul is talking about to the Thessalonians is the resurrection.
What exactly did they understand about "the resurrection"?
The Bible teaches that Paul taught that a resurrection was "about to happen" in his day:
Acts 24:15 (NKJV) "I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be (mello -about to be) a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.
So, what is the resurrection that was about to happen in Paul's day?
It was God removing all the Old Testament dead saints out of Hades and taking them to heaven to live in His presence.
You see, prior to Jesus' messianic work, no one went to Heaven:
John 3:13 (NKJV) "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
Prior to Jesus' messianic work, all who died went to a holding place of the dead and waited for the atoning work of Christ and the resurrection from the dead.
Until Christ paid for man's sin, no one could go into God's presence.
To be taken out of Sheol and brought into the presence of the Lord is what the Bible calls resurrection.
I have had people ask me on a number of occasions what we mean in saying in the Creeds that Jesus descended into Hell.
Well, here is your answer! The Creeds don’t mean that Christ died and then went to the place of eternal damnation.
He went to the place known in the Older Testament as Sheol, which wound up, unfortunately, being translated as “hell” in the English version of the Apostles Creed.
So then, who are those who "sleep in Jesus" that Paul speaks of in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14?
They are the dead saints of the Old Covenant age that were in Sheol/Hades.
Paul assures the Thessalonians that when Christ returned he would rescue the Old Covenant saints from the grave- they would be resurrected.
It appears as though the Thessalonians were concerned for their departed brethren.
We know from the Gospel accounts of Christ’s death that there was something of a rehearsal of this or a warm up for it even at that time:
NKJVMatthew 27:52-53 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
In 1 Thessalonians 4, it reads:
1 Thessalonians 4:15 (NKJV) For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
Notice what Paul wrote: "By the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord"
The "we" who "are alive, and remain" are indeed TIME STATEMENTS, for the "we" MUST be seen as the collective group of Paul and his audience.
Here is the same passage from two other translations:
NJB 1 Thessalonians 4:15 We can tell you this from the Lord's own teaching, that we who are still alive for the Lord's coming will not have any advantage over those who have fallen asleep.
YLT 1 Thessalonians 4:15 for this to you we say in the word of the Lord, that we who are living -- who do remain over to the presence of the Lord -- may not precede those asleep,
It is as obvious as the words on the page in front of you that Paul and the Thessalonians were expecting some kind of return of Christ in their lifetime.
This is very clear throughout the whole book:
1 Thessalonians 1:10 (NKJV) and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
1 Thessalonians 2:19 (NKJV) For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?
1 Thessalonians 3:13 (NKJV) so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NKJV) Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As you read these words and come to terms with what this really means, it seems to me that you are left with only three options.
Option one is the unbelieving option.
It looks at these words and sees them quite properly in their context, but because it is an unbelieving option, and because it is not one that properly understands the use of words and imagery in the Bible, concludes that the Bible is simply mistaken.
That Paul and Jesus and John and Peter all thought and promoted the idea that Jesus was going literally come back to this earth in their lifetime.
But he didn’t. They were, including our Lord, totally mistaken.
Option two is the futurist option.
This option is a believing option, but like the first option, it too fails to account for the use of words, images and ideas in the NT writings and it ignores the context.
The futurist concludes that because Christ did not return physically to this world at that time then it must mean that this event lies in the future, in OUR time.
Here then, is the key, here is the solution as to why so many people get so off base and always expecting the imminent soon return of Jesus, but it never happens.
They read the words of passages like Matthew 24, and 1 Thess’s 2, and they opt for the futurist position.
But because these words are NOT written TO US but, at this point, FOR us, to project into the future events that have already taken place, leads to the never ending expectation of things that have already happened.
This is why the third option, the past fulfillment or preterist option, is in my opinion, the one most in accord with the Bible’s own words.
The problem is not one of failed Bible prophecies and of our Lord being mistaken.
The problem is in taking predictions that were, AT THE TIME THEY were given, yet future, but are by now, fulfilled, and projecting those things into our time.
If there was not some kind of coming of Christ in their lifetime, the Lord gave them false hope and, in fact, deceived them.
One of the basic principles of properly interpreting the Bible is that the Bible is its own best interpreter.
No part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture.
Comparing this text in 1 Thessalonians to the text in Matthew 24 will help you to better understand its meaning.
Matthew 24:30-31 (KJV) And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Jesus spoke these words in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem and said that their generation would see all these things fulfilled (Matthew 24:34).
In biblical language, "clouds" are symbolic of God's wrath and judgment against the enemies of His people.
David said that the Lord delivered him from his enemies while descending on clouds in Psalm 18:3-15.
The Lord said that He would ride into Egypt on a cloud and punish them: Turn with me to:
Isaiah 19:1 (KJV) The burden of Egypt. Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it.
The Lord did not literally ride on a cloud, but Egypt did receive this judgment at the hands of the Assyrians (Isaiah 20:1-6).
The idea of Jesus physically coming on the clouds would have been contrary to the nature of their understanding of the Old Testament prophets.
In Matthew 24, Jesus predicted his coming to gather together the saints in that generation.
1 Thessalonians 4-5 is dealing with exactly the same coming, judgment, and gathering that Matt. 24 is.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 (NKJV) 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.
Paul is talking to the Thessalonians about Christ's coming in judgment in that generation.
As you look back you see that this judgment coming was accomplished in the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem in AD 70.
Now if you are a good student of the Bible, you might well be asking yourself, well, why doesn’t the Bible teach this?
Let me answer that question in two ways:
First of all, the BIBLE DOES teach it. That’s what Matthew 24, Luke 21, Mark 13, and the entire book of Revelation are all about!
But secondly, you will not find ANY reference in the whole of the NT to the destruction of the Temple as a something had come and gone, as a past event.
Instead you only find predictions of it. Now what does that tell you? It tells you that the whole of the NT from Matt 1 to Rev 22 was written BEFORE the Temple’s destruction in AD 66-70.
1 Thessalonians 4:17 (NKJV) 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.
This is the verse that the physical rapture theory comes from.
Let's start with the first word in the verses -the word "then."
This is the Greek word epeita, and the best translation becomes "after then", "after that", or "after that time", and thereby doesn't include the idea of right after.
Let's look at some other uses of epeita to get a clearer idea of its meaning:
Galatians 1:18 (NKJV) Then (epeita) after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.
In this case, the word "then" involved at least three years later.
Galatians 2:1 (NKJV) Then (epeita) after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me.
Now look at 1 Corinthians 15:5-8:
1 Corinthians 15:5-8 (NKJV) and that He was seen by Cephas, then (eita) by the twelve. 6 After that (epeita) He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that (epeita) He was seen by James, then (eita) by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
The point is, that the form of the word for "then" used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is not the form eita, meaning: "right after", but the epeita, meaning: "after that time."
1 Thessalonians 4:17 (NKJV) Then (after that time) 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 words "caught up" are the Greek word harpazo, it means:
"to snatch away." This is where the word "rapture" comes from. When the NT was translated from Greek into Latin, the Latin word used here is "rapiemur" from which we get the English word, Rapture.
But being "caught up" means something different than a levitation of the physical body from earth up into the atmosphere of the sky.
Harpazo could refer to the body being "caught up" but it could also refer to the Christian being "caught up" without the body.
If I am coming to visit you and I have to take the Interstate to get to where you are, I may well get physically “caught up” in traffic.
But that doesn’t mean I go in an upward direction.
By the same token, I may get so engrossed in reading a novel or watching a movie that I get so “caught up” in it that I lose all track of time.
My being “caught up” in reading a novel describes a state of mind, not a physical movement.
Now I don’t believe that the Bible teaches, and I think we all know that Paul didn't mean, that living Christians would be caught up in their living, physical bodies at the judgment coming of Christ because that never happened.
Christians were still around on the earth after the Fall of Jerusalem, as history plainly tells us.
1 Thessalonians 4:17 (NKJV) Then (later on, after that) 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.
Paul says that those who were alive at the judgment coming will later be caught up together with the dead who were raised, to meet the Lord in the air.
You might ask, "What does the Bible mean when it says that we shall be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air?"
Does this mean we'll be physically sucked up into the sky? What does the word "air" mean?
Is it in our atmosphere or the air we breath? I think that Ephesians chapter 2 gives us an idea of what air means here.
Eph 2:2: "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the AIR, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience."
The word "air" is an another word for heavenly or spiritual realm.
Satan was always an opponent of the scheme of redemption, as we can see throughout the Bible.
He was (past tense) the prince of the power of the air.
In Rom. 16:20, Paul says that Satan would be crushed "shortly" under their feet (remember original relevance).
Jesus now has taken over that sphere and rules in the "air" with the saints.
If that is the same "air" where the saints were to meet, then there is no necessity for us to believe that the rapture has reference to a physical realm.
Paul believed that the Lord would return in his lifetime. He preached strongly about the coming judgment upon that generation, and about a resurrection, but he never spoke of a physical "rapture" for living Christians.
What is popular misunderstood to be The "rapture" deals with a passage to the heavenly realm.
All believers are all snatched away when they die.
This gathering began with the consummation of the kingdom, after the resurrection of the dead saints out of Hades, and continues throughout this age.
Now, the church confesses that there will be an end point to this.
History is moving toward a final consummation and culmination of this process wherein a new heavens and new earth will finally come into being.
1 Thessalonians 4:18 (NKJV) Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Our hope is not to be snatched physically off the face of the earth prior to our death.
What did our Lord Jesus himself pray concerning his Apostles?
NKJ John 17:15 "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.
NJB John 17:15 I am not asking you to remove them from the world, but to protect them from the Evil One.
Our hope is that when we do die physically, we will be "raptured" into the heavenly realm to forever dwell in the presence of the Lord.
"Therefore comfort one another with these words."
(the author gratefully acknowledges his reliance upon the works of Gary DeMar and John Bray for some of the examples and illustrations in this article)