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Catholic Apologetics


Chapter 25 -- The Rapture


 

There is a Protestant doctrine that has become very popular in very recent times. It didn't exist before the 1830's when an ex-Anglican priest living in the U.S. named John Nelson Darby starting spreading his interpretation of certain Bible verses regarding the End Times. There was not a lot of information on the End Times, and people liked what they were hearing from Mr. Darby. Many were easily swayed to his line of thinking.

Basically, he taught Jesus would secretly appear prior to His second-coming and snatch-away true Christians prior to a great Tribulation that would befall the rest of mankind who are left behind. This great Tribulation would immediately preceed the public second-coming and the end of the world.

There have been many versions spread since then, as problems with aspects of the doctrine kept surfacing (and still do). Most Christians discarded the doctrine as being too speculative, and not well supported. But there are a substantial number of Protestants, especially those who consider themselves fundamentalists, who earnestly believe the doctrine and preach it to this day.

In the 1970s, the doctrine once again became very popular. The End Times fever sparked a number of books, movies and talks, many of which predicted the end of the world. Believers prepared for the day in earnest, selling or giving away their earthly goods, homes, land, propertiy and the like. As each book's predicted date came and went, there was great confusion and challenges to the faith of many, as the end of the world did not come. Excuses abounded, new predictions sprang forth, and those who desparately wanted to believe this doctrine found ways to keep it alive.

Let's look at the particularities of the most popular version of this doctrine. Note, there are many versions, and the respective believers staunchly support each one, so I am not proposing this is representative of all rapture-believers, but it is indicative of the primary beliefs held.

The End Time Scenario

Rapturists believe there will be a rapture, or secret coming of Jesus, where He will take up all true believers to meet Him in the air and return to Heaven with them. These chosen Christians will be spared from the devastating tribulation that is to follow.

Immediately after all these Christians disappear off the face of the Earth, the Tribulation starts. There will be an Anti-Christ, a servant of Satan, who will yield great power and charisma. This Anti-Christ will convince many to follow him, and he will lead them astray. The Jews will regain control of Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (that was destroyed in 70 AD). Animal sacrifices will be re-instituted. The Jews will be given another chance to accept Jesus as the Messiah, and many will. The Anti-Christ will rally the Gentiles against Israel, and the great persecutions will begin-both Jewish and Christian. The Anti-Christ will gather armies and launch the battle of all battles against Israel.

Then will come the public second-coming of Christ. Jesus will defeat the Anti-Christ and his followers, end the Tribulation period, and throw the Anti-Christ and Satan into chains. Jesus will then usher in the 1,000-year reign of His earthly kingdom, centered in Jerusalem. There will be peace and harmony for a while.

After 1,000 years, Satan will be released and he will try his best to steal as many souls as possible before The End. Satan will succeed in part, but once again Jesus will defeat him, and throw him into the fiery pit along with the hapless Anti-Christ. Jesus will then resurrect the dead, all will be given glorious, incorruptible bodies, all be judged and sent to our eternal homes. The true Christians, those who participated in the Rapture, will reign with God in Heaven, and the reformed Jews will reign in the Kingdom of David on Earth. Those whose names were not written in the Book of Life will be thrown into the pit with Satan.

Let's take a look at how this doctrine is supposedly supported in Scripture.

The Rapturist Argument

The proof texts many rapturists cite are the same verses we quoted in the last chapter on the Parousia. The vast majority of rapturists do not make the distinction between the "end of the age" and the "end of time" as was discussed in the last chapter. Viewing Scripture in that context seems to support the rapture theory. It requires the reader to ignore some of Scripture, but because End Times prophesy is so arcane, rapturists accept that they won't understand all of it. If some of it doesn't quite fit, it is probably because they don't understand it completely, not because it isn't true.

I don't grasp it all myself, but if any of it is contradicted by other parts of Scripture, I at least know that interpretation is not true, even if I don't know what interpretation is true.

1 Thess 4:15-17 - Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 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. Thus we shall always be with the Lord.

The Latin word "rapiemur" is translated into English as "caught up". From this we get the English transliteration "rapture". (Note, the word rapture comes from the Latin text, from the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible, which is Catholic, not from a Greek word found in Protestant version.)

This is the definitive text for rapturists. This describes their version of the rapture itself, when those of us who are alive, who are left, will be raptured into the air to meet Jesus.

So far, Catholics do not disagree. But, as we saw in the last chapter, a parousia was when an important person (king, minister, foreign dignitary) came to visit a city, the inhabitants of the city would come out to greet the VIP and escort him/her back into the city. This was done on Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem amidst throngs of supporters singing "Hosanna" and waving palm branches. Rapturists contend the select few true believers who will meet Jesus in the air will return to Heaven with Him--not return to Earth with Him.

This flies in the face of the clear use of the word "parousia". To justify their position, rapturists contend this appearance by Jesus is a secret appearance, one that doesn't count as the real Parousia. Jesus will actually come again, seven years later, when the Tribulation is complete and the End Times prophesy will be fulfilled. That is the public second-coming, the one described elsewhere in the Bible, and the one non-rapturists expect is the only time Jesus will return. But those in the know will be a part of the secret rapture.

We begin to see a dangerous trend in Bible interpretation. Peter spoke well when he stated the ignorant and the unstable would twist Scripture to their own destruction. (see 2 Pet 3:16) Perhaps, rapturists are reading something into Scripture that just isn't there. There is nothing spoken of a secret appearance by Jesus before His second-coming. Second-coming means second-coming, not coming-the-time-after-all-secret-comings-are-finished. Jesus will only come one more time, so says the Bible. To make sense of the rest of their End Times theory, Jesus has to appear more than one-more-time. There is no other way to explain it. Therefore, rather than accept there is a major flaw in their theology, they invent a secret rapture and look to prove it by reading into Scriptures they find. In so doing, they ignore other portions of Scripture that defeat their notions. Therein lies the danger.

Matt 24:39-42 - So will it be (also) at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.

Rapturists point to this verse to support the idea of a secret rapture. They say in the blink of an eye, all of a sudden, one person standing next to another in the field will disappear, leaving the first bewildered. One person working next to another in the mill will disappear, leaving the other bewildered. This will happen all over the Earth. People driving cars will suddenly disappear, leaving the cars crashing into whatever is in their path. People flying planes will be gone and those left behind in the plane will be on their own to land safely. After all, the verse says you do not know when the Lord will come.

There are problems with this interpretation. First, there is nothing in this verse stating what happens to those taken. The reader is left speculating on their whereabouts. Rapturists conclude they are the chosen Christians who go up to meet the Lord in the air. This is plausible by itself, if supported by the rest of Scripture. But, if we look at the verses immediately preceeding this one, we learn of another plausible interpretation:

Matt 24:35-39 - Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In (those) days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be (also) at the coming of the Son of Man...

Jesus is comparing this event to the days of Noah, when some were taken by surprise, and some were left. The only problem here is the bad guys were taken by surprise in Noah's example. The good guys, Noah and his family, were left behind. This would seem to suggest the one in the field who was taken was not the one who met Jesus in the air. Likewise with the one taken from the mill. The bad guys were taken away, leaving the good guys to be eventually raptured.

Luke 17:26-35 - As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man; they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage up to the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Similarly, as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building; on the day when Lot left Sodom, fire and brimstone rained from the sky to destroy them all. So it will be on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, a person who is on the housetop and whose belongings are in the house must not go down to get them, and likewise a person in the field must not return to what was left behind. Remember the wife of Lot. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it. I tell you, on that night there will be two people in one bed; one will be taken, the other left. And there will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken, the other left.

Here is Luke's rendition of the same message from Jesus. Luke mentions the similarities with Noah, but also compares the similarities with Lot and Sodom. Again, Lot and his family were left behind, the bad guys were all taken. Luke's gospel also reports Jesus' comparison with two women grinding in the mill, but also states of two people in one bed, and one taken. Again, we don't know for certain what happens with the ones taken and the ones left, but if it is like Noah or Lot, the bad guys are taken and the good guys are left behind.

Another problem with this proof text for the rapturists is that nowhere does it state those taken meet Jesus in the air and return to Heaven. That is read into the text. It is supposed to be true because it is necessary to support the rest of their End Times theology, but the Bible is silent on this crucial point.

Another problem with this proof text is Jesus' words "Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." Jesus is speaking of a cosmic event--the end of time. Heaven and Earth will pass away at the second-coming of Jesus. The context of His talk is of the second-coming, not seven years prior during some secret coming. He then states of that day and hour no one knows, so we know He is not speaking of the destruction of the temple, which prefigures the destruction of the world.

Let's revisit the first proof text rapturists cite that was shown above. This time, let's look at the verse in context with a few verses before and a few verses after, to shed some light on its true meaning.

1 Thess 4:13-5:3 - We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep. Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 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. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words.

Concerning times and seasons, brothers, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night. When people are saying, "Peace and security," then sudden disaster comes upon them, like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

What is the context of this message from Paul? The Thessalonians were upset over their loved ones who have already died. The Greeks did not preach a resurrection after death, and word was spreading those loved ones would be unable to participate in the second-coming. The rumors went so far as to claim Paul sent a letter stating as such. Paul had to set them straight.

He tells them if Jesus rose again, then we all will rise again. Indeed, he tells them the dead in Christ will precede those who are alive, who are left. Then Paul described the second-coming itself.

He tells how Jesus will come with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel, with the trumpet of God and receive us all. This is hardly secretive. It agrees with verses elsewhere in Scripture that this will be a cosmic event that no one will miss. It cannot be a secret rapture. Paul is addressing the second-coming as was preached to the Thessalonians previously.

He concludes by reminding them what they already learned. They have no need for Paul to write about all this since they know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. He is speaking of the day of the Lord, not some secret, advanced day of the Lord.

If Jesus, Matthew, Paul, Luke and others meant to describe a secret rapture, it would have been simple to so state. The fact that rapturists must convolute Biblical text to the degree they do to prove their theology suggests that either the Holy Spirit was incapable of directing any inspired author to express it in simple terms, or the Holy Spirit intended that only a scant few readers would discover the truth (apparently only those born in the last 200 years or so), and even those scant few can not agree as to the exact message, since there are so many versions of the End Times theology among rapturists. The evidence is overwhelming against a secret rapture.

The Great Tribulation

What of the great tribulation? In Matthew chapter 24 as well as Luke chapter 21, Jesus describes a period of great tribulation such as has not been from the beginning of the world and will never be again.

I will not repeat the entire argument presented in the last chapter about the tribulation, but I will summarize by stating this tribulation has already occurred in the three and one-half year period surrounding the destruction of the temple. Note one point-the path to salvation is not being the one snatched off the Earth before a tribulation begins, but being the one who perserveres until the end.

Matt 24:9-13 - Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name. And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.

Jesus makes a similar statement in Matt 10:22. The tribulation was not a time of avoiding trial, it was a time of sifting the wheat from the chaff, a time of proving your faith to yourself, to your compatriots, and to God. And, as brutal as the tribulation was in this first century A.D., I thank God this kind of persecution will never be again.

Rev 7:9, 13-17 - After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, "Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?" I said to him, "My lord, you are the one who knows." He said to me, "These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. "For this reason they stand before God's throne and worship him day and night in his temple. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

In John's vision, he saw the great martyrs, the ones who perservered to the end in the great tribulation. Note, there was no snatching them away so as to avoid suffering--they suffered through the worst of it. This comports perfectly with Jesus' statements of the tribulation.

1 Thess 1:9-10 - For they themselves openly declare about us what sort of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven, whom he raised from (the) dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.

Here Paul is extolling the Thessalonians for being such model Christians, in that they serve the living and true God, and await His Son "who delivers us from the coming wrath". Rapturists can argue that Paul is stating in passing how Jesus will deliver Christians from the tribulation. But, is that what Paul is really saying?

Isn't it more likely Paul means Jesus will deliver Christians from the eternal wrath of God by saving them from Hell? Wouldn't that agree more with the rest of Scripture, especially the verses shown above? Paul told the Romans "By your stubbornness and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God". This is the same context in which he uses the word "wrath" with the Thessalonians.

1 Thess 5:9-10 - For God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with him.

If you took this out of context, and read only the portion in bold above, you might make an argument that Christians are not destined for wrath, including the tribulation. Careful reading of the rest as shown suggests again that the wrath of which Paul is speaking is Hell, and not the tribulation.

John 17:15 - I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.

Here Jesus is speaking specifically of the eleven apostles, but the point is the same. He does not ask God to spare them from the strife, only to help them not to succumb to the temptations of Satan. The same theme is applied to the tribulation. Christians are to endure suffering, hopefully to the end.

One last point-if Christians deserve to be spared from the tribulation, then why are new Christians to be persecuted during the tribulation? Are these Christians less worthy of God's protection because they converted after the rapture? Are they receiving their just punishment for delaying in their belief? This suggests there are classes of Christians-those who are "true" Christians, who God favors to avoid the suffering, and those who must endure it. It also suggests that a simple confession of faith, and accepting Jesus as your Lord and savior in and of itself does not make you a "true" Christian, but rather a second-class Christian. Is that what the rapturists are trying to say?

The Catholic Position

The Catholic Church preaches that Jesus reigns on Earth through His church, but all things of this world are not yet subjected to Him. Satan will orchestrate one last assault on the Church before the end of time. The Anti-Christ will appear to deceive the whole world and persecute the Church. He will offer an apparent solution to problems, but at the price of apostasy. The Church will endure great persecution and will follow in Jesus' death and resurrection. A great number of Jews will convert prior to the second-coming. When Jesus returns in glory, He will triumph over evil, and judge the living and the dead. (CCC 668-679)

At the end, the Kingdom of God will come to Earth in its full glory. There will be a new Heaven and a new Earth. We will have glorified bodies. Those who perservered to the end will reign with Jesus forever, and the world will be transformed. God will have His dwelling among men. Death, mourning, crying, pain will all be gone. The beatific vision will produce happiness, peace and mutual communion. (CCC 1042-1050)


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