What is the rapture? Is it in the Bible? Why do some believe in the rapture and some do not? Who is right?
The word rapture is not in the Bible but neither is the word Trinity. Some theologians, Christians, and churches believe in the rapture and others do not. Some believe in the Great Tribulation, while others do not. What are we to believe if some teach about the rapture while others do not?
Theologians Who Do Not Believe in the Rapture
There are many outstanding theologians who do not believe in a Rapture. Some of these include R.C. Sprouls with Ligonier Ministries, Hank Hanegraaff, the Bible Answer Man, and many outstanding Bible scholars. These men are theologically sound teachers and evangelists. They believe that there is no rapture and that there is also no Great Tribulation from what many presume Jesus taught in Matthew 24 or the Olivet Discourse. Several scholars, like those mentioned above, believe that the events in the Book of Revelation have already occurred or might have already occurred in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans.
We must have grace for those who do not believe in non-essentials. If a believer feels differently about something than we do, and the subject is not essential to salvation, then there should be tolerance. It is wrong for Christians to argue over doctrines that are not crucial to the gospel and how a person is saved. For example, we know that there is only one way to the Father and that there is no other way to salvation except through placing your faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12, 16:30-31; Romans 10:9-13, etc.). We also know that we are not saved by works (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:20, 28, etc.). These issues are non-negotiable. These truths cannot be compromised.
One person I know argued over the question of whether Adam had a navel or not because he did not have a mother. An ensuing argument erupted over this single topic that was not considered important enough to be included in the Scriptures. Paul wrote to Timothy and said to “Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen” (2 Timothy 2:14).
Theologians Who Believe in the Rapture
The vast majority of Bible scholars, churches, theologians, evangelists, and Christians do believe in a coming rapture. Even though the word rapture does not appear in the Bible, they base their beliefs on a passage from 1 Thessalonians. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
The church at Thessalonica were worried that Jesus would return and that those who had already died were going to be left behind in their graves. That is the reason why Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica. Paul reassures them by writing that “we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep“ (1 Thes 4:15). Even though the word rapture is not in the Bible, the Greek word for “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is harpazo. In Latin it is called Rapturo from which we get the word rapture. The New Testament was written in Greek and the English words “caught up” is literally harpazo. Harpazo means “to seize, carry off by force; claim for one’s self eagerly; to snatch out or away”. A good rendering of harpazo is like that of being kidnapped. The Lord is thought to be coming to seize or carry off by force all believers, just before the coming Great Tribulation.
Many believe that the rapture occurs just before the Great Tribulation (Pre-tribbers). Others believe it will occur during the middle of it (some call it Mid-tribbers). Still others believe the church will go through the Great Tribulation. And of course the first group mentioned at the beginning of this article neither believes in the rapture or the Great Tribulation. The vast majority of Christians believe that the rapture will occur just before the Great Tribulation This belief is based upon Scriptures like 1 Thessalonians 5:9 (and elsewhere) that, “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The wrath of God was poured out on Christ at Calvary so it would not have to be poured out on those who have placed their faith in Christ. The wrath of God is said to be “poured out” on the sinful world in the Book of Revelation and since God has not appointed Christians to suffer His wrath, He will take believers out of harm’s way in a rapture. I find it interesting that 1 Thessalonians 5:9 is mentioned right after what many believe is the rapture where Paul wrote about being “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4. Another reason that many believers feel that the church will be raptured is that the church is not mentioned when the Great Tribulation events begin to occur in the Book of Revelation.
Millennium Views: Premillennial, Postmillennial and Amillennial
Different beliefs include the premillennial view. In this view, Christ comes before the millennium. Then there is the postmillennial view which teaches that Christ comes after the millennium. There is also the amillennial view which holds that Christ also comes after the millennium, and it is also sometimes called the no millennial view. This is quite confusing to many Christians but this a theological issue that is not essential to salvation. The Second Advent where Christ returns to judge the world is a certainty. We therefore are told to witness to those who do not know Christ as their Savior. Jesus will return again; either as a person’s Judge or as person’s King. If someone does not place their faith in Christ and He returns, He will be their Judge at the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20. They will be cast into the Lake of Fire. However, if someone believes in Christ today, or does so before He returns, then they will love His appearing. Paul wrote about this in his last letter to Timothy. Paul is about to be executed and tells Timothy, “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim 4:8). A crown of righteousness is reserved for those who long for Jesus’ return. But for those who are not believers, then it will be a most dreadful day indeed (Rev 20:12).
When I am asked whether I hold a postmillennial view, the amillennial view, or a premillennial view, I tell them that I am a panmilleniast – that is, I believe it will all pan out in the end. I think we need to be ready for His return at any moment. A danger in believing in the rapture is that Christians may become lazy or slothful and not want to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. They feel that they can rest on their laurels and not worry about the future because they’ll be taken out of this world by Christ before it gets bad. The danger in that thinking may be why Jesus gave the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13:
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
That last line, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” is a sobering reminder to always be ready for His return. Whether you believe in the Great Tribulation, the Millennium, the rapture, or none of these, you must believe in Jesus Christ and place your faith in Him today. Tomorrow may be too late and you might hear Jesus say, “I don’t know you”. My prayer for you is that Jesus does know you and that you might know Him and that by knowing Him, you may have eternal life (John 20:31).