I’m concerned about criticism being made about the doctrine of the coming rapture of believers. The critics call the event “secret.” They also say that it is a new idea and that believers of the doctrine can’t agree among themselves over details. Please comment.
Never be ashamed of taking the Scriptures literally. This literalness is the foundation upon which the doctrine of the rapture of believers rests. The word “rapture” is not found in Scripture; neither is the word “Trinity.” Yet the Scriptures plainly teach both.
First Thessalonians 4:13–18 is the main passage teaching the Rapture. Here the term for what we commonly refer to as “rapture” (harpazo in the original Greek) is “caught up” (v. 17). We believers will be “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air. This is a precious doctrine of hope; don’t let anyone rob you of it.
Those who deny the Rapture fail to understand the purpose of the tribulation period, which will follow the Rapture. Paul wrote about this tumultuous period in 1 Thessalonians 5 and assured believers that we won’t be around during that time, because we “are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. . . . God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Tribulation is a time when God will be dealing with Israel so that His Chosen People will turn to and finally acknowledge their Messiah (Zechariah 12:10). It is the “Time of Jacob’s Trouble,” spoken by the prophet in Jeremiah 30:7. Those who deny God’s program for Israel and His unconditional covenants to her people selfishly try to apply these promises to the church, maintaining that the church is now Israel. They fail to see the Church Age as a great parenthesis in God’s total program. They also fail to distinguish between the Rapture and the Second Advent—when Christ will come to earth to reign with His redeemed Church-age saints at the end of the tribulation period (Daniel 7; Revelation 5:10).
The believers Paul wrote to in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 already knew about the resurrection and the Rapture, but they were concerned about the saints Who had already died. Would they miss out? Paul assured the believers that the saved dead will be caught up first; then believers who are alive will be caught up with them.
It would be interesting to know what critics mean by “secret” rapture. Perhaps they are pointing to what we fundamental Christians like to refer to as “imminency,” which means that the Rapture will take place at any moment. Again, the word itself is not found in the Bible, but its truth is taught over and over again. Here is a list of passages you can check out that teach that we should live, wait, and be ready for the any-moment catching up of believers, because we don’t know when Christ will do so. Note that these admonitions are written exclusively to believers and that they are admonitions to look for Christ Himself, not for some signs (signs were given to Israel, not the church): John 14:1–3; Acts 1:11; 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:6; 1 Timothy 6:14; Titus 2:13; James 5:8.
Is the teaching of the Rapture new? Absolutely not. The early church fathers almost without exception held to the imminency of Christ’s catching away the believers. Only as the Bible doctrine became muddied by error in later centuries did the truth get lost. That John Darby and other Bible scholars emphasized and clarified the doctrine in the 1800s, and that it later became more popular in the 1900s is no more a discredit to the truth of the Rapture and related doctrine than it is a discredit to the doctrine of justification by faith alone that Luther and other reformers “rediscovered” after centuries of neglect.
Promoting the idea that premillennial, pretribulational dispensationalists are divided over details without acknowledging the vast differences among people who hold to the other views is dishonest. Some dispensationalists differ on certain points, mostly minor; yet the main picture remains intact. It is when groups and individuals fail to take the Bible literally that we truly see the huge disagreements. One has to read how they explain, eschatological passages—spiritualizing, wrenching out of context, or ignoring—to really appreciate, this fact.
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