With the reboot of the “Left Behind” movie (2014) starring Nicholas Cage, which itself is based on the wildly successful Left Behind book series – but the not-so-wildly-successful “Left Behind” movies based on the books starring former teen idol Kirk Cameron – there has been much recent buzz about the Rapture. In talking with others and reading different blogs and articles, I believe there are many misconceptions, truths, and half-truths floating around out there about the Rapture. This is my stab at perhaps trying to simplify our thinking about the Rapture (If that’s even possible), and hopefully helping to clarify your thinking on this fuzzy subject that it seems everyone talks about, but actually knows very little about (I might include myself in this group).
So, here are seven things you [maybe] didn’t know about the rapture
1. The word rapture never used in the Bible. The word rapture comes from I Thessalonians 4:17 where Paul tells believers they will be “caught up” in the air to meet Jesus when he returns. The Greek word for the phrase “caught up” is harpázō (ἁρπάζω). It literally means to snatch something away by force. We get our English word harpoon from it. In Latin translations of the Bible, the word rapio is used instead of harpázō – hence the Anglicized rapture.
2. The concept of the Rapture is fairly new. The idea of the rapture can be traced by to an English Bible teacher and evangelist, John Nelson Darby. It is thought he began teaching the idea of a “secret rapture” in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Prior to this, no one is thought to have taught that Christ would secretly return and rescue his church from the Great Tribulation by rapturing them to heaven. In the early 1900s, the idea was popularized by lawyer and Bible teacher Cyrus I. Scofield in the notes of his successful Scofield Reference Bible.
3. There have been numerous predictions of when the Rapture will occur. Even though Jesus warned of date-setting around the timing of his Second Coming (Matthew 24:36), this hasn’t stopped people throughout the ages from doing just that. Throughout church history many have tried to predict the date of the rapture. To date, none of these predictions have proven themselves to be accurate. One notable disgraced date-setter was the late Harold Camping. Camping made several very public predictions of the date of the rapture in the 1990s, and he and his followers caused quite a stir as recently as 2011 when he predicted the rapture would occur on May 21 of that year, later revised to October 21. Camping apologized for his false predictions shortly before his death in 2013.
4. The Rapture is a popular subject in various media. Nowhere is the secret Rapture idea more popular than in the realm of religious fiction. Several books in the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins made the New York Times best seller list during its initial run, with several volumes reaching #1 in sales. Totals for the series is estimated to be over 65 million copies sold. In addition, there have been several movies based on the series over the years, with a 2014 reboot starring Nicholas Cage currently in theaters, as well as “This Is the End” (2013) rapture-esque dark comedy starring Jonah Hill, James Franco, and a supporting cast of other popular Hollywood stars. Other movies have been made about the rapture including “A Thief In the Night,” a Christian cult classic from the ‘70s. Likewise, songs have espoused the apocalyptic secret rapture view, “Midnight Cry” and Larry Norman’s (later covered by dc Talk) “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” The rapture in media doesn’t even take into account the thousands of websites dedicated to it.
5. There are three main views about the timing of the Rapture. There are numerous teachings about the rapture, but there are three main rapture views. The Pre-tribulation view teaches that Jesus will return and rapture his church to heaven before the start of the Great Tribulation. The Mid-tribulation view teaches that Jesus will rapture his saints from earth 3.5 years after the Great Tribulation begins. Finally, the Post-tribulation view states that Jesus will return and rapture the church after it has gone through the Great Tribulation, a time period of at least seven years. (Within these 3 views are many sub-views and shades of detail. These can be further studied by following the provided links.)
6. The Rapture will not be a secret. The popular view is that Jesus will suddenly and secretly appear in the sky one day and rapture Christians to meet him in the air. Millions will literally disappear causing mass chaos on the earth. This rapture is referred to as the “secret rapture” because no one knows it’s happening. However, as Paul makes it clear in his teaching on the Second Coming in I Thessalonians 4, when Jesus appears to rapture his church, it will be anything but secret: “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” (I Thessalonians 4:16). There will be a loud shout, an archangel screaming, a trumpet call, and a resurrection. All of these are hardly occurrences that can be kept secret!
7. The Rapture is a part of the Second Coming, not a separate event. Again, a popular variation of the rapture doctrine is that Jesus will take Christians to heaven secretly and suddenly. They will go to heaven with him for seven years, then return with him to end the Great Tribulation at his Second Coming. In this view, the Second Coming and rapture are not the same thing, but separate happenings. However, it is clear from I Thessalonians 4:15-16 that the “coming of the Lord” (v. 15) is synonymous with his parousia or Second Coming, and a part of his return involves believers being “caught up” to be with Jesus “forever” (v. 17).
“Therefore, comfort one another with these words.”