I have a problem with the rapture. And there are two very good reasons why.
- First, because the scriptures do not teach it (contrary to what its proponents claim).
- Second, because the church for 90% of its existence (for the first 1,800 years) never taught it.
But more importantly, I believe the Church’s present belief in the rapture is indicative of a dysfunctional, underlying mindset that leads us to engage with this world in a way God never intended
But let’s start by looking at scripture.
(At the end, we’ll tell you how to get a free copy of Stephen’s book 10 Reasons Why The Rapture Must Be Left Behind)
Scripture Doesn’t Support A Rapture
If we are being honest, scriptural arguments for the rapture are mostly nonsense. And like most nonsense Biblical arguments, this entire doctrine stands more or less on a single passage of scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Also like most nonsense Biblical arguments, this passage could ONLY be interpreted into rapture doctrine based on a cursory, uninformed reading. In reality, it has about as much to do with the rapture as a telephone book has to do with finding a good steak recipe. No biblical scholar of any esteem has ever interpreted 1 Thessalonians 4 as proof for the rapture.
As any New Testament scholar will tell you (and as the Church believed without question for 1,800 years), Paul’s imagery-filled description is of the Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead… not the rapture.
Renowned scholar N.T. Wright explains it well,
Paul’s description of Jesus’ reappearance in 1 Thessalonians 4 is a brightly colored version of what he says in two other passages, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 and Philippians 3:20-21: At Jesus’ “coming” or “appearing,” those who are still alive will be “changed” or “transformed” so that their mortal bodies will become incorruptible, deathless. This is all that Paul intends to say in Thessalonians, but here he borrows imagery—from biblical and political sources—to enhance his message. Little did he know how his rich metaphors would be misunderstood two millennia later.
First, Paul echoes the story of Moses coming down the mountain with the Torah. The trumpet sounds, a loud voice is heard, and after a long wait Moses comes to see what’s been going on in his absence.
Second, he echoes Daniel 7, in which “the people of the saints of the Most High” (that is, the “one like a son of man”) are vindicated over their pagan enemy by being raised up to sit with God in glory. This metaphor, applied to Jesus in the Gospels, is now applied to Christians who are suffering persecution.
Third, Paul conjures up images of an emperor visiting a colony or province. The citizens go out to meet him in open country and then escort him into the city. Paul’s image of the people “meeting the Lord in the air” should be read with the assumption that the people will immediately turn around and lead the Lord back to the newly remade world.
Paul’s mixed metaphors of trumpets blowing and the living being snatched into heaven to meet the Lord are not to be understood as literal truth, as the Left Behind series suggests, but as a vivid and biblically allusive description of the great transformation of the present world of which he speaks elsewhere.
From N.T. Wright, to reformers Calvin and Luther, to nearly every scholar in between, this passage has had nothing to do with a mass disappearance of Christians into the sky, as rapture proponents would claim. Failure to understand this clear context is simply a sign of poor exegesis.
The one other scripture often used to “support” the idea of a rapture is Luke 17:34-35, though again, there are no noted scholars making this connection (nor in the parallel passage: Matthew 24). There are far better explanations which actually follow the traditional rules of exegesis for these passages.
I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.
“Wow, Stephen, that sure sounds like the rapture.” I guess it’s possible when we cherry pick it out of context. But let’s actually read the verses before and after… you know… for context and all.
26 And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; 29 but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. 35 There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. 36[two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.”](this verse not included in early manuscripts) 37 And answering they *said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.”
Still seeing a rapture? The verses before and after have nothing to do with a removal of the church from the Earth. The obscure phrase, “One will be left and another taken” is actually a reference to the flood, not the rapture. (See Matthew 24:37, and Luke 17:26.) But rapture theorists ignore this context almost entirely, and instead err in favor of their pet theory over respected research or serious study.
Scriptural arguments for the rapture are at best claims of wild conjecture and bad exegesis that mistake the resurrection for an imaginary escape into the sky. This failure to take seriously the resurrection as one of the most important New Testament themes has led to many of these exegetical errors. When the scriptures are taken out of their context, passages are manipulated to prove this mythological, unfounded doctrine.
Church History Doesn’t Support A Rapture
The scriptures simply do not teach the rapture, but furthermore, the rapture goes against the history of the church.
From Augustine to Barth, no church father, doctor, theologian, pope, or biblical scholar, new or old, with any esteem, has ever argued for the rapture. Up until the 1830’s, when a man named John Darby invented the idea of the rapture, this doctrine did not exist anywhere in the teachings of the church.
That’s really important. The rapture did not exist until the 19th century. In other words, for 90% of church history NO ONE believed in the rapture.
Seriously… no one!
And while this isn’t to say that new doctrines are always wrong, this does put up a very large question mark against the rapture. The fact that in such a short period of time, the rapture has gone from no acceptance whatsoever to mass popularity in the church today makes me question it’s validity and wonder what about it is so appealing to American Christians. Hopefully, you are wondering the same thing about now.
Traditionally, the test for truth in the church has been these two points:
- Is it scripturally true?
- Is it in line with the historical belief of the church as it was passed down from the first apostles?
When we ask these two things about the rapture you will quickly see why I have a problem with it.
The rapture is a scripturally unfounded doctrine. It is a doctrine that goes against the teachings of the church for nearly two millennium. It has no friend in the history of Christendom and little to no evidence to back it up in the scriptures.
Frankly, it’s just bad theology. At the end of the day the rapture has a very large burden of proof standing against it, despite the assertion by many American Christians that it is just “plain biblical fact”. If it truly is such a clear fact, then why is there so little evidence in its corner? Why is it without a friend in the world of theology, except for a handful of modern proponents, who are typically profiting off the fear it inspires?
Why The American Church Loves The Rapture
Ultimately, why do so many American churches proclaim this doctrine with such absolute certainty? Why, despite the complete lack of historical or scriptural evidence, is the rapture such a popular belief among Americans today?
There are several answers we might give to understand why the rapture has gained such acceptance. However, there is one in particular that I am interested in addressing. I believe that the rapture exists today and is accepted by so many because it is the symptom of a diseased church.
The church has come down with a bad case of escapism.
And this escapism has led to the rapture’s popularity and continued acceptance, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.
So what is escapism? Simply, it is a pathological desire to escape. Within a Christian context, it is easy to find. How often have you heard people say things like, “I just can’t wait for Jesus to return and take us home”? Personally, growing up in the church my whole life, I’ve heard stuff like this said ALL the time. Recently, I even heard a friend tell me they were jealous of someone who died because, “they get to be with Jesus”.
Escapism is deeply disturbing on a psychological level, and it can only lead to the same conclusion my friend came to: that it’s better to die than live on this earth.
This desire to escape the world – this contempt for the good world that God has made – is a SERIOUS problem. In my mind, it’s more serious an issue than the rapture itself. The mindset of escapism, and the “to-hell-with-the-world” thinking is the disease behind our failing influence in the world today. We have little influence and our gospel is becoming more and more irrelevant, because we have become so focused on the next world we forgot about this one.
One of the foremost theologians today, Jürgen Moltmann, had this to say about the rapture:
A God who only waits to ‘rapture’ Christian crews from their aircraft so that the aircraft crashes and thousands of persons are killed cannot be a God whom one can trust. Rather that is the wicked idol of a pathological contempt of the world.
This doctrine is not only unscriptural and historically problematic, it is deeply unhealthy. It is a symptom of a diseased church. It reveals an underlying mentality towards the world that is nothing like God intended – nothing like we see in Jesus.
But there is a cure.
Conclusion: And God Saw That It Was Very Good
God is deeply interested in the world. God loves flowers and mountains and wine and trees and human bodies and sunsets and the oceans and science and sex and Chipotle and beaches and snow and life and living and all the bountifully beautiful things of this beautiful world.
Indeed, we see the expression “it was good” in reference to Creation SEVEN TIMES in Genesis 1 alone! Just as we tend to love and treasure the things we create, God LOVES his Creation!
We have to be reminded of this. We have to take it seriously. God is the ultimate materialist!
As Robert F. Capon writes:
There is a habit that plagues many so-called spiritual minds: they imagine that matter and spirit are somehow at odds with each other and that the right course for human life is to escape from the world of matter into some finer and purer (and undoubtedly duller) realm. To me, that is a crashing mistake — and it is, above all, a theological mistake. Because, in fact, it was God who invented dirt, onions and turnip greens; God who invented human beings, with their strange compulsion to cook their food; God who, at the end of each day of creation, pronounced a resounding ‘Good!’ over his own concoctions. And it is God’s unrelenting love of all the stuff of this world that keeps it in being at every moment. So, if we are fascinated, even intoxicated, by matter, it is no surprise: we are made in the image of the Ultimate Materialist. [From The Supper of the Lamb]
May we once again see the world as a wonderful gift. May we leave the rapture behind for good and come to embrace the world as our home. Read the end one more time. Revelation paints a clear picture. Heaven is coming here, to this earth. We will not be escaping off into outer-space anytime soon. This world is our home.
Escapism has plagued the church for far too long. It has led to the rapture doctrine, and to many other detrimental beliefs we have today. We must learn once again to love the earth, to echo God’s “it is good” over creation. We are made for earth. Let’s learn to love it, change it, have hope for it, and leave for good this nasty business of leaving it all behind, behind.
For a far more in-depth look at this topic, Stephen has graciously made his book 10 Reasons Why The Rapture Must Be Left Behind available as a FREE .epub download for Brazen Church readers! Alternatively, you can click here to order a physical copy from Amazon.
Stephen D Morrison is the author of 10 Reasons Why the Rapture Must be Left Behind, and several other books on theology and life including We Belong: Trinitarian Good News, and Where Was God?: Understanding the Holocaust in the Light of God’s Suffering. He graduated from Bethel’s School of Supernatural Ministry in 2013, and has since retained a passion for theology and how we talk about God. Visit his website SDMorrison.org for more.