[BELOW are some thoughts about a strange teaching in many churches known as “The Rapture”, in which disciples of Christ will allegedly suddenly disappear off the face of the earth, while all others will be left behind to undergo the great tribulation under the Antichrist. My thoughts on this actually constitute a 4000-word ‘excursus’ related to Rev.11:11-12 in chapter 5 of my upcoming pastoral commentary on the Book of Revelation, “The Essence of Apocalypse”. I have extracted it here as a stand-alone article. I hope that you find it helpful and encouraging]
At this point in the book, as we are dealing with the resurrection of the saints (as depicted in the Book of Revelation, chapter 11, verses 11-12), it seems judicious to divert ourselves for a few moments in an excursus about what is commonly called “The Rapture” — a term which seems to have captivated the minds of so many church-people, for whom it has become their go-to heart’s desire. I keep seeing, “I can’t wait to be raptured!” or “The Rapture is the next item on the prophetic agenda”, or I read about rear car bumper stickers advising the driver behind to keep well back as the driver in the car with the sticker “could be raptured at any moment”, implying that the vehicle in front will have no driver and the car will go out of control! Right off, let me say that all these sentiments are totally misplaced as the next items on the prophetic agenda are the firming up of the great apostasy and the formation of a global government along with the revealing of the Antichrist which triggers the great tribulation (Second Letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 2, verses 1-3).
This ‘Rapture’ craze has arisen historically in the USA in the 19th century through Plymouth Brethren teacher John Nelson Darby, then eventually massively popularised through the Scofield Reference Bible in the 20th century. I remember someone giving me one of those ‘bibles’ in my early believing days. As I perused the extensive notes, I had the distinct feeling that I was holding something really tacky in my hands. I will never forget that feeling, which is a bit like having something dirty on your skin which needs to be washed away as soon as possible. I truly enjoyed throwing it in the bin. Thank God for the gift of discernment!
When I was looking into all this, I watched a number of the “Left Behind” movies. All I can say is, “What a load of old codswallop!” Really, what are people coming to that they make a comic-strip story out of thin air and completely undermine what the Ekklesia should really be looking forward to in prophetic and eschatological terms? Is the Church on crack? Seriously! This idea of the ‘rapture’ has evolved partly because of a Greek word which occurs in the First Letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 4, verse 17. The text in English says:
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will be the first to rise. After that, we who are alive and remain 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”.First Letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 4, verse 17
The idea of the “rapture” comes from the words “caught up” in the above text. This is a translation of the Greek word, ἁρπάζω, harpazó. The Latinization of that word is the origin of the English word “rapture”. One Greek word-study source states that this word means “to take by an open display of force (i.e. not covertly or secretly)”. The same Greek word was used in the Bible to refer to Christ “plundering” Satan’s possessions: “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his possessions, unless he first ties up the strong man?” (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 12, verse 29). So we can be certain that the act of being “caught up” (essentially ‘plundered’ or even ‘taken forcefully’!) in that text is not some secret phenomenon but is a sudden, openly-viewed one. This is important, as I will show below.
In the above text, we see that the saints at Thessalonica had become concerned that those who had died may not be resurrected, so Paul was putting them right. The dead who have been faithful disciples of Christ when they were alive will be reunited with the transmuted particles of energy which made up their physical bodies (wherever, and in however many many bits, they may be!) and raised from the dead first, then those who are alive would be transmuted too (“changed in the twinkling of an eye”, First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 22), and would join them in the presence of God (which is the symbolic meaning of “clouds” here and in many other texts, as I have discussed at length in chapter 3, §6).
It is obvious that the text above which speaks of “we who are alive” being “caught up” together with those who are “the dead in Christ” is a direct reference to the resurrection of the saints at the time of the end, at the second coming of Christ, just before judgement rains down on the earth. In that event, the dead saints will rise first with their resurrection bodies, then those who are still alive will be transformed too, and it will be witnessed by the world (Book of Revelation, chapter 11, verse 11). People will see the risen saints! There is no rapture as a separate incident happening out of the blue before the great tribulation or years before the second coming of Christ. That is a completely false teaching.
Paul speaks in the “caught up” text about “the trumpet of God”. That is symbolic of the Divine fiat which draws the saints heavenward. We see in the Book of Revelation that it is styled there symbolically as the seventh trumpet — the final trumpet which heralds the end and gives way to the judgement bowls of the fury of God being poured out on the cosmos. It is clear that the resurrection of the saints will come after a good while of the great tribulation, and immediately before the judgement. [In chapter 9 when dealing with chapter 20 in the Book of Revelation, I will show that there will be no thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth, as that is another literalist fantasy which is cut from the same cloth as the ‘Rapture’].
The resurrection of the saints coming right on the heels of the great tribulation (and therefore leaving no place for a secret advance ‘rapture’ or any earthly millennium) can be demonstrated in many places. For example, in the Book of Revelation, chapter 11, verses 1-6, we read about the “two witnesses” — a symbolic literary device depicting the Ekklesia testifying to the world about Christ throughout the Age of the Ekklesia, the period of time between the ascension of Christ and the resurrection of the saints. I have taken readers through this already earlier in this chapter. Then we read, “When the two witnesses have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will wage war with them, and will overpower and kill them” (Book of Revelation, chapter 11, verse 7). This is a clear reference to the Antichrist, empowered by Satan, persecuting and killing the saints, such as we will discover in chapter 13, verse 7: “Then the beast was permitted to wage war against the saints and to conquer them”. As we see above, that will be straight after the Ekklesia has “finished its testimony” (i.e. the end of all gospel proclamation has been reached).
The same timeline is emphasised in a prophecy in the Book of Daniel, when he speaks of “a time of distress, the likes of which will not have occurred from the beginning of nations until that time” — plainly the same time of great tribulation as that to which Christ refers in chapter 24 of Matthew’s gospel and those two references from the Book of Revelation above. Again, this is immediately followed by a reference to the resurrection from the dead: “But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. And many who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, but others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Book of Daniel, chapter 12, verses 1-2).
So it is obvious that the saints are not going to be secretly ‘raptured’ off the earth but will go through the great tribulation and then be resurrected at Christ’s return. No ‘rapture’ and no ‘thousand-year’ reign of Christ on earth. This is precisely why Christ said that those who persevere to the end will be saved (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verse 13). They must persevere because of the tribulation. The Lord Jesus said Himself that the time of great tribulation would be triggered by the revealing of the Antichrist (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verses 15-22). [I should also add that the “abomination of desolation standing in the holy place” in verse 15 of that text is clearly parallel to Paul saying that the Antichrist “will seat himself in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (Second Letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 2, verse 4). Although this is an echo of what Antiochus IV Epiphanes did in 168 BC, when he sacrificed a pig to Zeus in the temple in Jerusalem (for Antiochus IV was a type or forerunner of the Antichrist), the words of Jesus and Paul have nothing to do with any physical temple but point to the Antichrist (the “man of lawlessness”) who will set himself up as God to be worshipped in the minds and hearts of humanity — the ultimate blasphemy].
We also see that immediately after the tribulation of those days:
“The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other”.Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verses 29-31
Again, we have that phrase, “coming on the clouds”, symbolic of the Divine presence (see chapter 3, §6, above for more on this). What so many call “the Rapture” is actually the resurrection of those disciples who are still alive at the second coming of Christ which comes at the end of the great tribulation (in which the saints will have suffered but which time is cut short for their sakes, as Jesus clearly states, Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verses 21-22) and precedes the terrible judgement on the world which comes immediately after it. The passage above from Christ is exactly as Paul said it would be. That is not some secret rapture prior to everything else eschatological. It is the resurrection! Why do people have to invent these diversionary comic-book scenarios which are an embarrassment to truth rather than an enhancement of it?
So it is after the tribulation that the saints will be resurrected. There is no place anywhere in the scriptures for a separate previous “rapture” off the earth of the saints before the tribulation or resurrection. Not only that, but the resurrection and accompanying judgement form the immediate precursor to the new heavens and new earth, and not to any thousand-year reign of Christ on this earth as it is presently constituted. We can see this from Peter’s words here, when he speaks of
“the coming of the day of God, when the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with God’s promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells”.Second Letter of Peter, chapter 3, verses 12-13
In the same context, Peter says that “the Day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and its works will no longer be able to be found (literally ‘unfindable’)”. So Christ returns and then the present heaven and earth will be destroyed. No place then for any dodgy thousand-year reign of Christ on this earth, for the false state of Israel will be long gone! [I mention Israel here because it plays a big part in the Endtimes of the ‘rapture/millennium’ folks. One could almost say that the ‘rapture’ and ‘thousand-year reign’ have been invented specifically to accommodate the judaizing which is so popular in dispensationalist rapture/millennium circles]. So what we are looking forward to is not a secret advance ‘rapture’ or a thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth. Those are will-o-the-wisp inventions. Instead, we are looking forward to the return of Christ and the new heaven and new earth.
The “day of God” or the “day of the Lord” are interchangeable phrases which refer to the return of Christ. To enlighten some who were saying that ‘Day’ had already passed, Paul showed the disciples in Thessalonica that the global apostasy and the coming of the Antichrist had to come first, who “the Lord Jesus will slay with the breath of His mouth and annihilate by the majesty of His arrival” (Second Letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 2, verse 8. But see the whole chapter). There is no place for any rapture there — no place for any thousand-year earthly reign of Christ in that entire prophetic passage. For these are fantasies which have been generated by hyper-literalists.
Now you may say to me that old chestnut, “What about where it says the one taken from the field, etc.?” This is a reference to the text which says, “Two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left” (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verses 40-41). This is used as a classic proof-text for the ‘rapture’ by those promoting it. But if one looks at it in its context, then one will discover that it means exactly the opposite! So many cultish ideas develop when people take a small portion of scripture out of context. So, here is the full context:
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark. And they were oblivious, until the flood came and swept them all away. So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day on which your Lord will come”.Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verses 36-42
The context is clearly the second coming of Christ, which He had just been specifically speaking of in verses 30-31 of that 24th chapter in Matthew’s gospel. Christ is comparing that time to the time of the judgement of the flood and how similar many elements will be when comparing those days with the day when Christ will return. So already this text is not about a secret rapture prior to the great tribulation. It is about what happens at the globally-witnessed return of Christ, for openly “every eye will see Him” (Book of Revelation, chapter 1, verse 7). The unbelieving, scoffing people in Noah’s time were oblivious of the impending judgement but were then “swept away” by the flood. Similarly, when Christ returns, there will be a division. There will be those who are taken away into judgement and those who will remain under the protecting hand of God and spared from such judgement. It is a classic case of the kind of parallelism which one finds throughout the Bible. The parallelism here is between those who laughed at Noah and those who have disbelieved in Christ. The scoffers of Noah were swept away by the flood and the disbelievers in Christ will be “taken away” for judgement. So, the ones who are said to be “taken” in this text are not disciples of Christ being ‘raptured’ but they are those who are not His disciples being taken away to judgement — the exact opposite of what the ‘rapture’ fantasists say!
Some may say (in that rational-sounding condescension of pretended peacemakers), “Well we have to be gracious and accept that there are differences of nuance between believers about the timing and various aspects of the second coming. After all, Scripture hasn’t been 100% clear on this”. I agree that we should always do everything we can to be gracious, but I cannot accept that Scripture has not been clear on this. I believe I have already been gracious enough as I haven’t publicly said much or written anything about the ‘rapture’ during the many decades that I have been aware of it. But now enough is enough. In a world stuffed full of dissembling, dissimulation, deception and counterfeit, I do not believe that the Ekklesia should stick its neck out to be gracious towards a teaching which has become a cancer in its midst along with many other nutty teachings. I have therefore come to the conclusion that these are not teachings about which one can graciously ‘agree to differ’. Those who have been deceived by such teachings I do feel gracious towards; but not towards the teaching itself. Like any wildfire, it seems containable at first but then it gets out of hand. And all these hyper-literalist fantasies have got out of hand. What is more, it is a terrible thing to evangelise new disciples into the Ekklesia, who will say, “What am I supposed to believe about x or y?”, and then bombard them with a pile of comic-book manufactured baloney about the Endtimes.
Imagine the pastoral fallout when the expected ‘rapture’ has not happened and the Antichrist is revealed and then tribulation against the saints goes ballistic. Many who believed that “the rapture is the next item on the prophetic agenda” (as I have read many times and heard many say) will be devastated and think that they have been “left behind”. The Ekklesia should always be prepared for persecution rather than imagining it will escape it. One of the main reasons that what presents itself as “the Church” to the world is not hideously persecuted is that it is not really counterculture and does not challenge the fundamental satanic nature of the world-system. In the main, it supports illegal genocidal wars (provided they are only initiated by the US or UK, and I remember vividly when the US/UK-initiated war on Iraq was raging, by far the most criticism of my articles proving there were no weapons of mass destruction there came from those calling themselves “Christian”. The “my government, right or wrong” attitude of many professing Christians is evidence of its failure to be counterculture). In the main, it slavishly adheres to the notion of “government good” even when it is corrupt and plainly serving satanic interests. In the main, it operates on the basis of “bums on pews” (with a ‘megachurch’ as the pinnacle of that) as a mark of success, rather than the quality of soul-growth of individual disciples, or the ability of disciples to communicate truth into a mendacious and deceptive world.
Frankly, the “Church” as the world sees it has become a laughing stock with its fads and fashions, fat-cat televangelist baloney, phony healers, Sunday-best error-spotting sexually-repressed legalistic Pharisaism, sacerdotal fetishism, with ‘woke’ figureheads of the likes of the Archbishop of Canterbury and pseudo-state pontificating rulers like the Pope of the Vatican. Sadly, the Church has, in so many areas, become a joke. This is partly why it is not generally severely persecuted. It doesn’t need to be. It destroys itself from the inside outwards. And now a great many believe with conviction that they will suddenly be transported in a ‘rapture’ off the earth before any persecution can happen to them. Is it possible that Satan himself could have planted such a ‘snowflake’ notion in the minds of so many who profess to be disciples of Christ? I believe so.
Now, if you want to say, “I believe in the ‘rapture’ but I’m not pre-trib but post-trib”, I reply thus: All that pre-trib/post-trib stuff is jargon which you do not need to spout. And you certainly do not want to be using the word “rapture” as it is so loaded. All we know is that the Ekklesia, dead and alive, will be “whisked away” by Christ when He brings the tribulation to a close (shortening it for the elect), destroys the Antichrist and brings judgement on the world. As soon as you say, “I’m post-trib”, you become embroiled in an “I’m this/I’m that” dispute, which is harmful and unnecessary. Forget the jargon. I simply declare that there will be a time of great tribulation for disciples of Christ followed by His return to judge the world and inaugurate the new heaven and new earth.
In this world, disciples of Christ “will have tribulation”. But, as Christ said as a counter to that, “Take courage, for I have overcome the world” (Gospel of John, chapter 16, verse 33). This is the essence of the teaching on tribulation for disciples. That they will undergo such affliction but that they will have more than adequate spiritual protection against it through being “sealed by the Spirit” (See Book of Revelation, chapter 7, verse 3; chapter 9, verse 4). This is why, immediately after writing at length about the horrors of the satanic world-system which climaxes with the Antichrist and terrible persecution of the saints being “conquered” by him, and the mesmerized world wandering around with the “mark of the beast” (all of which is in chapter 13 of the Book of Revelation), we are told that all the saints have Christ’s “name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Book of Revelation, chapter 14, verse 1). We may well undergo hideous persecution in the physical, but we are spiritually protected. There is no need for any ‘rapture’ to whisk us away from persecution, for we have all the protection we need and will even be strengthened by it. This is why, when speaking about the great tribulation, Christ tells His people that in the midst of “the multiplication of wickedness” and “the love of most” growing cold, “the one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, verses 12-13). Similarly, in each of the letters to the seven ekklesia in chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Revelation, those gatherings of disciples are each given a promise if they “overcome”, precisely because they will be subjected to persecution by authorities and overrun by pseudo-apostles and false teachings. Overcoming is a major hallmark of the genuine disciple of Christ. In fact, the bigger the obstacle to be overcome, the more victorious and comforted the disciple is!
What the saints need is not to be whisked away from persecution but to be sealed by the Spirit in their own spirits, which is what happens to all genuine disciples of Christ. The true disciple relishes persecution, for s/he knows that it is a faith-strengthener and courage-developer, not to mention a revealer that one is speaking the truth and doing the work. I suspect that the reasons for so many having to rely on a non-existent guarantee of being whisked away from persecution by a fictitious event is not only the poor level of teaching in the churches but the unwillingness by many to be taught and the lack of Spirit-sealing in their ranks. What other reasons could there be? It has puzzled me for decades, as the world rolls ever-closer to those prophesied times of affliction.
© 2021, Alan Morrison / The Diakrisis Project. All Rights Reserved. [The copyright on my works is merely to protect them from any wanton plagiarism which could result in undesirable changes (as has actually happened!). Readers are free to reproduce my work, so long as it is in the same format and with the exact same content and its origin is acknowledged]