The Truth About the Rapture of the Church
One way to get Christians to disengage from what’s happening culturally, politically, economically, and educationally is to assure them that we are living in the last days and we will be rescued by the rapture of the church before a period of Great Tribulation. This doctrine has been popular with Christians for decades. Hal Lindsey made it popular with the 1970 publication of The Late Great Planet Earth that predicted the “rapture” of the church would take place 40 years from the reestablishment of the nation of Israel in 1948. For those who are counting, that was to be 1988. Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel was even more dogmatic about the prophetic reality of the claim.
While the promotion of the “rapture” doctrine can’t be blamed for all of society’s ills, it has had an effect on how millions of Christians evaluate and respond to current events. Many believe that we are living in the last days and Jesus is coming soon to “rapture” His church because the world is a “sinking Titanic,” and the “rapture” is the only solution. Such a belief has had an impact.
The following is a brief interview I did on CornerstoneTV about my book Wars and Rumors of Wars where the subject of the “rapture” came up.
Dr. Mark Hitchcock has written a free eBook for Dallas Theological Seminary with the title The Truth and Timing of the Rapture that has been promoted on Facebook. When Hitchcock writes about the “rapture,” he is referring to a pre-tribulation “rapture of the Church” prior to the start of the long-postponed 70th week of Daniel’s “70 weeks of years” prophecy found in Daniel 9:24–27. He writes:
The pre-tribulation rapture position depends on the 70th week of the “70 weeks of years” prophecy to be separated from the other 69 weeks. If the Bible does not teach such a separation, then the pre-tribulation rapture is a false doctrine. Read the passage for yourself and see if there is any mention of anyone being “raptured”— taken to heaven—for any reason. You will not find the doctrine.
Hitchcock describes four rapture interpretations but is an advocate for the pre-tribulation view. According to the pre-tribulation rapture position, we are presently living in the “Church Age,” a period of time that is said to have been instituted by God when Israel refused to accept Jesus as its long-promised Messiah.
What many Christians do not know is that the pre-tribulation rapture view is dependent on separating the 70th week (consisting of 7 years) from the other 69 weeks (483 years) and inserting a timeless parenthesis (now nearly 2000 years long) between the 69th and 70th weeks. I suspect that most Christians who hold to the pre-tribulation rapture position could not explain its details or defend it biblically. All they’ve heard is how they will be “raptured” before a period of tribulation takes place that will bring untold hardship of billions of people, but they’re not really sure how this doctrine was created. They’ve heard about the “rapture” for so long that they believe it is a fundamental doctrine of the Church. It isn’t. The fact that there are five different rapture views with no single verse supporting any one of them should make anyone who holds the position to take the time to study the topic before claiming it’s “in the Bible.”
Tim LaHaye, the co-author of the fictional Left Behind2 series and other books on prophecy subjects, who shares Hitchcock’s pre-tribulation view, had this to say about the timing of the “rapture” and biblical support for the various rapture positions:
One objection to the pre-Tribulation Rapture is that not one passage of Scripture teaches the two aspects of His Second Coming separated by the Tribulation. This is true. But then, no one passage teaches a post-trib or mid-trib Rapture, either.3
Later, in the same book, LaHaye repeats his comment about there not being one Scripture passage that supports any of the rapture positions.
No single verse specifically states, “Christ will come before the Tribulation.” On the other hand, no single passage teaches He will not come before the Tribulation, or that He will come in the middle or at the end of the Tribulation. Any such explicit declaration would end the debate immediately.4
What needs to be found in the New Testament is a verse or a series of verses that says the Church will be taken to heaven anytime just before or anytime during the 70th week of Daniel’s “70 weeks of years” prophecy. As LaHaye is honest enough to admit, there isn’t one, and this includes 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 and 1 Corinthians 15:51–52. Read the passages for yourself. There is no mention of a tribulation period, a discussion of the prophecy found in Daniel 9:24–27, any reference to God dealing separately with the nation of Israel (a crucial element of the pre-tribulation view), the Antichrist making and breaking a covenant with the Jews, rebuilding the temple, or Jesus returning “with His church” to set up His earthly millennial kingdom after the seven years.
- Hitchcock mentions five views of the rapture in The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, Pub., 2012), chap. 10 and Could the Rapture Happen Today? (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2005), chap. 5 [↩]
- For a critique of the Left Behind thesis, see Gary DeMar, Left Behind: Separating Fact From Fiction (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2009). [↩]
- Tim LaHaye, No Fear of the Storm: Why Christians Will Escape All the Tribulation (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1992), 69. This book was later republished as Rapture Under Attack. [↩]
- LaHaye, No Fear of the Storm, 188. It’s common among advocates for the pre-tribulation rapture position to admit that “Nowhere in the Bible does it directly say that the Church will be raptured before the Tribulation.” Like Tim LaHaye, Todd Strandberg and Terry James, authors of Are You Rapture Ready?, offer a similar answer: “Pre-Trib opponents should have thought this one through because any pre-Tribulationist has the same right to say, ‘Nowhere in the Bible does it directly say the Church will go through the Tribulation’” (55). There is another answer: Since there are no direct biblical references to the “rapture” of the Church either before, sometime in the middle, or after a Tribulation period, maybe the problem is with the doctrine itself. [↩]