As I mentioned last week, a sermon at church has me thinking a lot about the doctrine of the rapture. Whenever any church controversy arises, my first response is to see what God has to say about it. I started by rereading Revelation, specifically noticing the many references to believers living in the time of the Great Tribulation. There were many—see Revelation 6:11, 7:3, 7:9-15, 11:1-12, 12:17, 14:12-13, and 20:4-6. I also looked for verses about God taking the church out of the world before or during the tribulation. I couldn’t find any.
Then I reread the other verses most frequently cited in support of the rapture, most specifically 1 and 2 Thessalonians (especially 1 Thessalonians 4:17), Matthew 24 and 25, Luke 17, and 1 Corinthians 15, although there are others). I realized that a pre-tribulation rapture is only one of several possible interpretations, and never the most obvious one.
The most quoted verse in support of the rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. In verse 17, Paul says that “we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them [believers who have died] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” I seems to me that Paul is talking about the resurrection of the dead at the second coming of Jesus, and that we won’t be separated from either Him or our friends and family. There’s no basis for saying that this resurrection and “catching up” happens at some time prior to the return of Christ—in fact, that interpretation implies a third coming when you include His return at the end of the age.
Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. (Matthew 24:40-41)
I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left. (Luke 17:34-35)
The problem is that these verses have to be taken out of context before you can use them to support the rapture. Look at what Jesus says first (italics mine):
- Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:12-13)
- For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. (verses 21-22)
- Immediately after the distress of those days “the sun will be darkened,and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (verses 29-31)
All three of these passages imply that believers will be around during this “great distress.” Now consider this:
- For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;and 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 of the Son of Man. (verses 37-39)
Look who is taken away. In the flood, it was those who were perishing, not Noah and his family. The more likely interpretation of this passage is that being “taken” is bad! It’s not that believers will be taken to heaven, but rather that sinners will be taken away for judgment.
How about 1 Corinthians 15, especially verses 51-52?
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.
Here Paul specifically says “at the last trumpet”—not prior to that.
Some base their belief in the rapture on verses that talk about Jesus preparing a place for us—but He never says where that place will be, or when we will get there. Others cite passages mentioning that we can’t know ahead of time when He will return for us—but these can apply equally to a rapture or to the return of Christ.
I wasn’t able to find a single verse to support the idea that God is going to snatch the church out of the world before Jesus returns.
So why does all this matter? Stay tuned….
For a much more detailed discussion of these and additional verses, check out “Debunking the Rapture by Verse.” The article is a bit snarky, but makes a good case supported by voluminous research.