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Thanks to proliferation of the wildly popular (and wildly problematic) Left Behind books, many Christians, including some Catholics, believe in the rapture.
The rapture theory holds that Christ will come silently, in a hidden way, to remove “born-again believers” from this world just before the “Great Tribulation,” when the Anti-Christ (cf. Mt 24:12) and the Beast (cf. Rev 13-17) rise to cause global havoc and bloodshed.
The Rapture theory first appeared toward the end of the 19th century among some American Protestants who were fixated on the end-times. Prior to the 19th century, the rapture theory, as it’s commonly understood, was unheard of.
Let’s consider the five major Bible verses that are cited as proof-texts by followers of the Rapture theory and see if they can support the notion of a pre-tribulation rapture.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ? “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up, together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
First, notice that this passage refers to the Second Coming of Christ and says nothing about a “secret” or “hidden” coming of Christ. Second, this event is public and audible; exactly the opposite of a “hidden” coming of Christ that those who promote the rapture theory assert. They claim Christ will appear secretly, seen only by those who are raptured. But that notion completely clashes with 1 Thessalonians 4 and is another example of reading into the biblical text something that simply isn’t there.
Matthew 24:37-42 ? “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women [will be] grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”
Christ seems to be referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Remember that he says “this generation,” and he says that this event would “be just like the days of Noah.” The people in Noah’s day who were “taken away “ (Gen 6, 7) were the unrighteous, not the righteous. Those were “left behind” were the righteous (Noah and his family). This is the exact opposite of the rapture theory. And don’t forget that Christ promised that “[T]he one who endures to the end, he shall be saved” (Mt 24:13). That means includes those Christians who will endure the Tribulation.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ? “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
Again, this passage refers to the Second Coming of Christ. The “twinkling of an eye” refers to the instantaneous change from a mortal body to a glorified body (cf. C.f. 1 Cor 15:23), not to the “speed of the rapture.” And this verse can’t refer to the rapture because it specifically connects this event to the blast of the “last trumpet,” which heralds Christ’s Second Coming (cf. Mt 24:30-31), which is how the Catholic Church has consistently interpreted this passage for the last 2,000 years.
Revelation 3:10 ? “Because you [i.e. the Church at Philadelphia] have kept the word of my perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that [hour] which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.”
You guessed it. Once again, we see a passage that refers to the Second Coming of Christ, not a “secret” coming beforehand. But does the phrase “keep you from the hour of testing” mean that the Church will be “removed” before the Tribulation begins? No. There are many Bible verses that show that Christ permits his Church to suffer persecution and tribulation. In John 17:15 Christ says, “I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one.” John 16:33 says, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” John 15:19 says that Christians have been chosen “out of the world,” but it does not say Christians will be taken out of the world prior to a time of persecution (cf. Mt 10:16-33).
The Church will endure persecutions and tribulations (c.f. Mt 24:21; CCC 675) and it will come through them purified (cf. Rom 12:12; 2 Cor 4:4; 1 Thess 3:4; Rev 1:9, 2:10, 7:14).
Revelation 4:1-2 ? “After these things I looked, and behold, a door [standing] open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like (the sound) of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.’ Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.”
Many rapture believers argue that in this passage John symbolizes the Church (though they deny that he could symbolize the Church when Christ told him, “Son, behold your mother” [cf. John 19:26-27]) when he is commanded to “come up here!” They claim that the Church (as symbolized by John) is raptured into heaven.
But there’s a big problem here. In the Book of Revelation, St. John comes back to earth after he is told to “come up here” to heaven. In Revelation 21:10 he returns to earth and sees the Whore of Babylon astride the seven-headed, 10-horned Beast. The Whore of Babylon could not be in heaven; she is on earth. Then St. John is sent to “a great and high mountain,” where he watches the heavenly Jerusalem coming down to earth, “out of heaven” (Rev 21:10).
The Catholic Church rejects the rapture theory for good reasons. It is unbiblical and completely alien to the historic Christian tradition surrounding the Second Coming of Christ. Remember that Christ said he would return on “the last day” (Jn 6:39-40) to judge the living and the dead (cf. Mt 24 & 25). There will be no secret or hidden coming in the meantime. When the Lord returns, you’ll definitely know about it.
Patrick Madrid is an author, public speaker, and the publisher of Envoy Magazine. Visit his web site at www.surprisedbytruth.com
Joel 2:31; Ez 13:5; Isa 2:12; Mt 5:22, 7:1-5, 11:20-24, 12:41-42, 24:12;
Mk 12:38-40; Lk 12:1-3, 18:8; Jn 3:20-21; Acts 10:42; Rom 2:5-16, 14:10;
1 Cor 4:5, 15:23; 2 Cor 5:10; 1 Thess 5:2-3; 2 Thess 2:4-12; 2 Tim 4:1; 1 Pet 4:5; 2 Pet 3:12-13; 1 Jn 2:18-22; 2 Jn 7; Rev 13:8, 19:1-9, 20:7-10. 21:2-4
Related Catechism Sections: CCC 524, 668-682, 830, 865, 1001, 1186, 1200