People are often shocked and surprised to hear it. And yet it’s true… I don’t believe in the rapture. At least not as it’s commonly understood.
But let’s back up a little bit. What exactly is the rapture? Well, at a popular level, it’s the belief that, at some point before Jesus’ final return (there is debate about exactly when), believers will be “raptured” to heaven. Planes will crash as pilots disappear, and there will be lots of spare clothes lying around for everyone.
As strange as it may sound to people who are unfamiliar with this doctrine, it has widespread acceptance among many Evangelical Christians. For many, it has simply gone unquestioned, so when it is questioned, they feel disturbed.
So, why don’t I believe it?
Firstly, because of its history.
Many Evangelical Christians aren’t aware of this, but rapture theology largely came into being in the 17th century. It really began to gain more of a foothold in the 19th and early 20th century, particularly as it was promoted in the popular Scofield Reference Bible.
That means that for the vast majority of church history, the Christian Church has not taught the rapture. That should give us pause.
However, as a Protestant, I could hardly be opposed to the the idea that we could rediscover biblical truth down the road. And at heart, I’m a bible guy. If I see something taught in the bible, I want to believe it.
People who affirm a rapture go to two key passages in scripture. Perhaps the most widely quoted is 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17…
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.
Let’s look at this passage (and from here on out I’m indebted to the work of Ben Witherington).
This is a passage about the return of Christ. He is coming down from heaven to set up his eternal Kingdom on the Earth. This is the ultimate hope for every Christian. The apostle Paul is writing here about what will happen when that occurs. The part that rapture-aficionados make much of is verse 17; the idea that believers will be caught up “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
The problem here is really one of directions.
The idea that Paul is trying to get across here is not that we will be raptured into heaven. No! Jesus is coming down to us. As comical as it would be to wave to Jesus as we pass him on the way to heaven, that would be missing the point. This is about us being the welcoming committee that meets the coming King. The destination is Earth, and the King is returning to set up his everlasting Kingdom. We read about this in Revelation 21.
If I’m privileged to be alive when Jesus returns, I don’t want to miss that. I want to welcome Jesus to the restored and renewed Earth. I want to be left behind.
The second passage that rapture theology majors on is Matthew 24:37-41…
37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 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; 39 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. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Well, that’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Two people will be working together and then, poof! The Christian will disappear in the blink of an eye, raptured into heaven, taken away, while the non-believer is left behind.
Except, cast your eyes back to the preceding verses. Jesus reminds his hearers of the time of Noah. People were distracted by pleasures. They didn’t see the flood coming. And then it came, and took them all away. But Noah, who kept watch, was kept safe in the ark.
Jesus is telling us that his second coming will happen in a similar way. It will be a surprise. It will bring judgement. And when it comes, you don’t want to be like one of the people in Noah’s time, who were taken away.
The negative outcome in this passage is to be taken away. If you’re living in this time, you want to be left behind. You want to be one of those who gets to welcome Jesus as the King of all creation. What a privilege that would be.
So, I don’t believe in the rapture. I don’t find the idea of the rapture convincing because the Church doesn’t seem to have believed it for most of its history. But more than that, I don’t believe in the rapture because it misses the glorious point of some key bible passages.
Jesus is returning to set up his Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. Christians who are alive when he returns will get to welcome him as King.
That’s why I want to be left behind.