In Christian eschatology the rapture refers to the belief that either before, or simultaneously with, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to Earth, believers who have died will be raised and believers who are still alive and remain shall be caught up together with them (the resurrected dead believers) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. The concept has its basis in various interpretations of the biblical book of First Thessalonians and how it relates to interpretations of various other biblical passages, such as those from Second Thessalonians, Gospel of Matthew, First Corinthians and the Book of Revelation.
The exact meaning, timing and impact of the event are disputed among Christians and the term is used in at least two senses. In the pre-tribulation view, a group of people will be left behind on earth after another group literally leaves "to meet the Lord in the air." This is now the most common use of the term, especially among fundamentalist Christians in the United States. The other, older use of the term "Rapture" is simply as a synonym for mystical union with God, or our final sharing in God’s heavenly life generally, without a belief that a group of people is left behind on earth for an extended Tribulation period after the events of .
With respect to the rapture, Catholics believe that this event of their gathering with Christ in heaven will take place, though they do not generally use the word "rapture" to refer to this event. An event that would happen in the second coming of Christ.
There are many views among Christians regarding the timing of Christ's return (including whether it will occur in one event or two), and various views regarding the destination of the aerial gathering described in 1 Thessalonians 4. Denominations such as Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Lutherans, and Reformed Christians believe in a rapture only in the sense of a general final resurrection, when Christ returns in his Second Coming. They do not believe that a group of people is left behind on earth for an extended Tribulation period after the events of 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
Authors generally maintain that the pre-tribulation Rapture doctrine originated in the eighteenth century, with the Puritan preachers Increase and Cotton Mather, and was then popularized in the 1830s by John Darby. Others, including Grant Jeffrey, maintain that an earlier document called Ephraem or Pseudo-Ephraem already supported a pre-tribulation rapture.
Pre-tribulation rapture theology was popularized extensively in the 1830s by John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren, and further popularized in the United States in the early 20th century by the wide circulation of the Scofield Reference Bible.
The Koine Greek of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 uses the verb form ἁρπαγησόμεθα (harpagisometha), which means "we shall be caught up" or "taken away", with the connotation that this is a sudden event. The dictionary form of this Greek verb is harpazō (ἁρπάζω). This use is also seen in such texts as , and .
English Bible translations
English versions of the Bible have expressed the concept of rapiemur in various ways:
- The Wycliffe Bible (1395), translated from the Latin Vulgate, uses "rushed".
- The Tyndale New Testament (1525), the Bishop's Bible (1568), the Geneva Bible (1587) and the King James Version (1611) use "caught up".
- The on-line NET Bible (1995-2005) translates the Greek of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 using the phrase "suddenly caught up" with this footnote: "Or 'snatched up.' The Greek verb ἁρπάζω implies that the action is quick or forceful, so the translation supplied the adverb 'suddenly' to make this implicit notion clear."
In 1590, Francisco Ribera, a Catholic Jesuit, taught "futurism" the idea that most of Revelation was about the future, and therefore, not about the Catholic Church. He also taught that the rapture would happen 45 days before the end of a 3.5-year tribulation.
The concept of the rapture, in connection with premillennialism, was expressed by the 17th-century American Puritans Increase and Cotton Mather. They held to the idea that believers would be caught up in the air, followed by judgments on earth, and then the millennium. Other 17th-century expressions of the rapture are found in the works of: Robert Maton, Nathaniel Homes, John Browne, Thomas Vincent, Henry Danvers, and William Sherwin. The term rapture was used by Philip Doddridge and John Gill in their New Testament commentaries, with the idea that believers would be caught up prior to judgment on earth and Jesus' second coming.
There exists at least one 18th-century and two 19th-century pre-tribulation references: in an essay published in 1788 in Philadelphia by the Baptist Morgan Edwards which articulated the concept of a pre-tribulation rapture, in the writings of Catholic priest Manuel Lacunza in 1812, and by John Nelson Darby in 1827. Manuel Lacunza (1731–1801), a Jesuit priest (under the pseudonym Juan Josafat Ben Ezra), wrote an apocalyptic work entitled La venida del Mesías en gloria y majestad (The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty). The book appeared first in 1811, 10 years after his death. In 1827, it was translated into English by the Scottish minister Edward Irving.
Dr. Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (1813-1875), a prominent English theologian and biblical scholar, wrote a pamphlet in 1866 tracing the concept of the rapture through the works of John Darby back to Edward Irving.
Although not using the term "rapture", the idea was more fully developed by Edward Irving (1792–1834). In 1825, Irving directed his attention to the study of prophecy and eventually accepted the one-man Antichrist idea of James Henthorn Todd, Samuel Roffey Maitland, Robert Bellarmine, and Francisco Ribera, yet he went a step further. Irving began to teach the idea of a two-phase return of Christ, the first phase being a secret rapture prior to the rise of the Antichrist. Edward Miller described Irving's teaching like this: "There are three gatherings: – First, of the first-fruits of the harvest, the wise virgins who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth; next, the abundant harvest gathered afterwards by God; and lastly, the assembling of the wicked for punishment."
John Nelson Darby first proposed and popularized the pre-tribulation rapture in 1827. This view was accepted among many other Plymouth Brethren movements in England. Darby and other prominent Brethren were part of the Brethren movement which impacted American Christianity, especially with movements and teachings associated with Christian eschatology and fundamentalism, primarily through their writings. Influences included the Bible Conference Movement, starting in 1878 with the Niagara Bible Conference. These conferences, which were initially inclusive of historicist and futurist premillennialism, led to an increasing acceptance of futurist premillennial views and the pre-tribulation rapture especially among Presbyterian, Baptist, and Congregational members. Popular books also contributed to acceptance of the pre-tribulation rapture, including William E. Blackstone's book Jesus is Coming, published in 1878, which sold more than 1.3 million copies, and the Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909 and 1919 and revised in 1967.
The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion, Lutherans and many Protestant Calvinist denominations, have no tradition of a preliminary return of Christ and reject the doctrine. The Orthodox Church, for example, rejects it because the doctrine of the rapture depends on a millennial interpretation of prophetic scriptures, rather than an amillennial or postmillennial fashion.
Some pre-tribulation proponents, such as Grant Jeffrey, maintain that the earliest known extra-Biblical reference to the pre-tribulation rapture is from a 7th-century tract known as the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Ephraem the Syrian. Different authors have proposed several different versions of the Ephraem text as authentic and there are differing opinions as to whether it supports belief in a pre-tribulation rapture. One version of the text reads, "For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins."
The rise in belief in the pre-tribulation rapture is often wrongly attributed to a 15-year-old Scottish-Irish girl named Margaret McDonald who was of the first to receive a spiritual baptism under a Pentecostal awakening in Scotland. In 1830, she had a vision of the end times which describes a post-tribulation view of the rapture that was first published in 1840. It was published again in 1861, but two important passages demonstrating a post-tribulation view were removed to encourage confusion concerning the timing of the rapture. The two removed segments were, "This is the fiery trial which is to try us. - It will be for the purging and purifying of the real members of the body of Jesus" and "The trial of the Church is from Antichrist. It is by being filled with the Spirit that we shall be kept".
In 1957, John Walvoord, a theologian at Dallas Theological Seminary, authored a book, The Rapture Question, that gave theological support to the pre-tribulation rapture; this book eventually sold over 65,000 copies. In 1958, J. Dwight Pentecost authored another book supporting the pre-tribulation rapture, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology, which sold 215,000 copies.
During the 1970s, belief in the rapture became popular in wider circles, in part because of the books of Hal Lindsey, including The Late Great Planet Earth, which has reportedly sold between 15 million and 35 million copies, and the movie A Thief in the Night, which based its title on the scriptural reference 1 Thessalonians 5:2. Lindsey proclaimed that the rapture was imminent, based on world conditions at the time. The Cold War figured prominently in his predictions of impending Armageddon. Other aspects of 1970s global politics were seen as having been predicted in the Bible. Lindsey suggested, for example, that the seven-headed beast with ten horns, cited in the Book of Revelation, was the European Economic Community, a predecessor of the European Union.
One event or two
Some dispensationalist premillennialists (including many Evangelicals) hold the return of Christ to be two distinct events, or one second coming in two stages. 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17 is seen to be a description of a preliminary event to the return described in Matthew 24:29–31. Although both describe a return of Jesus, these are seen to be separated in time by more than a brief period. The first event may or may not be seen (which is not a primary issue), and is called the rapture, when the saved are to be 'caught up,' whence the term "rapture" is taken. The "second coming" is a public event, wherein Christ's presence is prophesied to be clearly seen by all, as he returns to end a battle staged at Armageddon, though possibly fought at the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The majority of dispensationalists hold that the first event precedes the period of tribulation, even if not immediately (see chart for additional dispensationalist timing views);
Amillennialists deny the interpretation of a literal 1,000-year rule of Christ, and as such amillennialism does not necessarily imply much difference between itself and other forms of millennialism besides that denial. However, there is considerable overlap in the beliefs of Amillennialists (including most Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and Lutherans), postmillennialists (including Presbyterians), and historic premillennialists (including some Calvinistic Baptists, among others) with those who hold that the return of Christ will be a single, public event. Those who identify the rapture with the second coming are likely to emphasize mutual similarities between passages of scripture where clouds, trumpets, angels or the archangel, resurrection, and gathering are mentioned. Although some (particularly some amillennialists) may take the rapture to be figurative, rather than literal, these three groups are likely to maintain that the passages regarding the return of Christ describe a single event.
Dispensationalists see the immediate destination of the raptured Christians as being Heaven. Roman Catholic commentators, such as Walter Drum (1912), identify the destination of the 1 Thessalonians 4:17 gathering as Heaven.
While Anglicans have many views, some Anglican commentators, such as N. T. Wright, identify the destination as a specific place on Earth. This interpretation may sometimes be connected to Christian environmentalist concerns.
According to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and Matthew 24:37-40 the rapture would occur in the Parousia of the Lord where the Greek "Parousia" is used to describe the events:
|1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 ASV||Matthew 24:37-40 NIV|
|15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord (παρουσίαν Parousia), will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 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. 17 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.||37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming (παρουσία Parousia) of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming (παρουσία Parousia) of the Son of Man. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.|
In the amillennial and postmillennial views there are no distinctions in the timing of the rapture. These views regard the rapture, as it is described in would be either identical to the second coming of Jesus as described in , or as a meeting in the air with Jesus that immediately precedes his return to the Earth after a symbolic or literal millennium.
In the post-tribulation premillennial position, the rapture would be identical to the second coming of Jesus or as a meeting in the air with Jesus that immediately precedes his return to the Earth before a literal millennium.
Within premillennialism, the pre-tribulation position is the predominant view that distinguishes between the rapture and second coming as two events. There are also two minor positions within premillennialism that differ with regard to the timing of the rapture, the mid-tribulation view and the partial-rapture view.
The pre-tribulation position advocates that the rapture will occur before the beginning of a seven-year tribulation period, while the second coming will occur at the end of it. Pre-tribulationists often describe the rapture as Jesus coming for the church and the second coming as Jesus coming with the church. Pre-tribulation educators and preachers include Jimmy Swaggart, J. Dwight Pentecost, Tim LaHaye, J. Vernon McGee, Perry Stone, Chuck Smith, Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe, Chuck Missler, Grant Jeffrey, Thomas Ice, David Jeremiah, John F. MacArthur, and John Hagee. While many pre-tribulationists are also dispensationalists, not all pre-tribulationists are dispensationalists.
The mid-tribulation position espouses that the rapture will occur at some point in the middle of what is popularly called the tribulation period, or during Daniel's 70th Week. However, since the Bible only uses "tribulation" to refer to the second half of Daniel's 70th week, from a mid-tribulationist's point of view he is a pre-tribulationist. The tribulation is typically divided into two periods of 3.5 years each. Mid-tribulationists hold that the saints will go through the first period (Beginning of Travail, which is not "the tribulation"), but will be raptured into Heaven before the severe outpouring of God's wrath in the second half of what is popularly called the tribulation. Mid-tribulationists appeal to which says the saints will be given over to tribulation for "time, times, and half a time," - interpreted to mean 3.5 years. At the halfway point of the tribulation, the Antichrist will commit the "abomination of desolation" by desecrating the Jerusalem temple (to be built on what is now called the Temple Mount, see Third Temple). Mid-tribulationist teachers include Harold Ockenga, James O. Buswell (a reformed, Calvinistic Presbyterian), and Norman Harrison. This position is a minority view among premillennialists.
The prewrath rapture view also places the rapture at some point during the tribulation period before the second coming. This view holds that the tribulation of the church begins toward the latter part of a seven-year period, being Daniel's 70th week, when the Antichrist is revealed in the temple. This latter half of a seven-year period [i.e. 3 1/2 years] is defined as the great tribulation, although the exact duration is not known. References from Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are used as evidence that this tribulation will be cut short by the coming of Christ to deliver the righteous by means of the rapture, which will occur after specific events in Revelation, in particular after the sixth seal is opened and the sun is darkened and the moon is turned to blood. However, by this point many Christians will have been slaughtered as martyrs by the Antichrist. After the rapture will come God's seventh-seal wrath of trumpets and bowls (a.k.a. "the Day of the Lord"). The Day of the Lord's wrath against the ungodly will follow for the remainder of seven years. Marvin Rosenthal, author of The Prewrath Rapture of the Church, is a proponent for the prewrath rapture view. His belief is founded on the work of Robert D. Van Kampen (1938–1999); his books The Sign, The Rapture Question Answered and The Fourth Reich detail his pre-wrath rapture doctrine.
The partial or selective rapture theory holds that all obedient Christians will be raptured before, in the midst of, or after the tribulation depending on one's personal fellowship with God and the faith. Therefore, the rapture of a believer is determined by the timing of his conversion during the tribulation. Other proponents of this theory hold that only those who are faithful in their relationship with God (having true fellowship with Him) will be raptured, and the rest resurrected during the tribulation, between the 5th and 6th seals of Revelation, having lost their lives during. Still others hold the rest will either be raptured during the tribulation or at its end. As stated by Ira David (a proponent of this view): “The saints will be raptured in groups during the tribulation as they are prepared to go.” Some notable proponents of this theory are G. H. Lang, Robert Chapman, G. H. Pember, Robert Govett, D. M. Panton, Watchman Nee, Ira E. David, J. A. Seiss, Hudson Taylor, Anthony Norris Groves, John Wilkinson, G. Campbell Morgan, Otto Stockmayer and Rev. J. W. (Chip) White, Jr.
The post-tribulation position places the rapture at the end of the tribulation period. Post-tribulation writers define the tribulation period in a generic sense as the entire present age, or in a specific sense of a period of time preceding the second coming of Christ. The emphasis in this view is that the church will undergo the tribulation — even though the church will be spared the wrath of God. - "Immediately after the Tribulation of those days...they shall gather together his elect..." - is cited as a foundational scripture for this view. Post-tribulationists perceive the rapture as occurring simultaneously with the second coming of Christ. Upon Jesus' return, believers will meet him in the air and will then accompany him in his return to the Earth. In the Epistles of Paul, most notably in ("the dead in Christ shall rise first") and , a trumpet is described as blowing at the end of the tribulation to herald the return of Christ; further supports this view. Moreover, after chapters 6–19, and after 20:1-3 when Satan is bound, says, "and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection."
The Post-Millennialism view is essentially the position held as well by amillennialists, who view the millennial rule of Christ as allegorical to Christ's rule in the believer through sanctification (II Pet. 3:8) thus precluding literal interpretation of a thousand-year period. Amillennialists commonly view the rapture of the Church as one and the same event with the second coming of Christ. Authors who have expressed support for this view include St. Augustine, and the Puritan author of Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan.
Since the origin of the concept, many believers in the rapture have made predictions regarding the date of the event. The primary scriptural reference cited against this position is , where Jesus is quoted as saying about his Parousia; "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming (Parousia) of the Son of man be." (RSV). Also in , it says “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (see also 1 Thessalonians 5:2). Another potential problem for those attempting to set a date for the rapture arises from , where Jesus is quoted as saying "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (KJV).
Any individual or religious group that has dogmatically predicted the day of the rapture, a practise referred to as "date setting", has been thoroughly embarrassed and discredited, as the predicted date of fulfillment has invariably come and gone without event. Some of these individuals and groups have offered "correct" target dates, while others have offered excuses and have tried to "correct" their target dates, while simply releasing a reinterpretation of the meaning of the scripture to fit their current predicament, and then explain that although the prediction appeared to have not come true, in reality it had been completely accurate and fulfilled, albeit in a different way than many had expected.
Conversely, many of those who believe that the precise date of the rapture cannot be known, do affirm that the specific time frame that immediately precedes the rapture event can be known. This time frame is often referred to as "the season". The primary section of scripture cited for this position is Matthew 24:32–35; where Jesus is quoted teaching the parable of the fig tree, which is proposed as the key that unlocks the understanding of the general timing of the rapture, as well as the surrounding prophecies listed in the sections of scripture that precede and follow this parable.
Some notable predictions of the date of the rapture or of the date of second coming of Jesus include the following:
- 1844: William Miller predicted that Christ would return between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844, then revised his prediction, claiming to have miscalculated Scripture, to October 22, 1844. The realization that the predictions were incorrect resulted in the Great Disappointment. Miller's theology gave rise to the Advent movement. The Baha'is believe that Christ did return as Miller predicted in 1844, with the advent of the Báb, and numerous Miller-like prophetic predictions from many religions are given in William Sears' book, Thief in The Night.
- 1914, 1918, and 1925: Various dates predicted for the rapture by the Jehovah's Witnesses.
- 1978: Chuck Smith predicted that Jesus would probably return by 1981.
- 1994: Radio evangelist Harold Camping predicted September 6, 1994.
- 2011: Harold Camping's revised prediction had May 21, 2011 as the date of the rapture. After this prediction proved inaccurate, he claimed that a non-visible "spiritual judgement" had taken place, and that the physical rapture would occur on October 21, 2011. The physical rapture prediction also proved inaccurate.
The theology has been criticized for scaring children to believe that the rapture has occurred and they have been left behind when their parents have been out of sight.