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The Rapture is a future event in Protestant Christianity relating to the return of Jesus. The primary passage describing the rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, in which Paul cites "the word of the Lord" about the return of Jesus to gather his saints. Although most Christian denominations believe in Christ's return, there are two primary views regarding its nature:

  1. Dispensationalist Premillennialists (such as many Evangelicals, especially in the United States) hold the return of Christ to be in two stages. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 is seen to be a preliminary event to the return described in Matthew 24:29-31. Although both describe a return of Jesus in the clouds with angelic activity, trumpets, heavenly signs, and a gathering of the saints, these are seen to be two separate events, the first unseen, and the second public. The majority of dispensationalists hold that the first event immediately precedes the period of Tribulation. (See chart for additional Dispensationalist timing views);
  2. Amillennialists (such as Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and others), Postmillennialists (such as some Presbyterians, and others), and Historic Premillennialists (such as Calvinistic Baptists, and others) hold that the return of Christ will be a single, public event. All passages regarding the return of Christ, such as Matthew 24:29-31, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, Revelation 1:7, etc, describe the return of Jesus in the clouds amidst trumpets, angelic activity, heavenly signs, a resurrection, and a gathering of saints. Although some (such as some Amillennialists) take this event to be figurative, rather than literal, these three groups maintain that passages regarding the return of Christ describe a single event, and that the "word of the Lord" cited by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 is the Olivet Discourse which Matthew separately describes in Matthew 24:29-31. Although the doctrinal relationship of the rapture and the Second Coming are the same in these three groups, Historic Premillennialists are more likely to use the term "rapture" to clarify their position in distinction from Dispensationalists.


Etymology

"Rapture", in the context of eschatology, is an English word derived from the Latin rapio, "caught up" as found in the Vulgate rendering of 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

The Oxford English Dictionary provides two pages describing the history of usage of the word in English. From the 17th century onwards, the word is attested as rapture with similar senses to the older form rapt. The OED provides the etymology as from Latin rapere: to seize, especially abduct; it likens the words capture and rapture. Of particular note are the various distinctions involving either literal or figurative transport of body or emotions to heaven or from one place to another on earth.



Doctrinal history

The concept of the rapture, in connection with premillennialism, was expressed by the American Puritan father and son Increase and Cotton Mather. They held to the idea that believers would be caught up in the air, followed by judgments on the earth and then the millennium. The term rapture was used by Philip Doddridge (1738) and John Gill (1748) in their New Testament commentaries, with the idea that believers would be caught up prior to judgment on the earth and Jesus' Second Coming. The concept of a pre-tribulation rapture was articulated by Baptist Morgan Edwards in an essay published in 1788 in Philadelphia.

John Nelson Darby, considered the father of dispensationalism, first proposed the pre-tribulation rapture in 1827.. This view was accepted among many other Plymouth Brethren in England. Darby and other prominent Brethren were part of the Brethren Movement which impacted American Christianity, primarily through their writings. Influences included the Bible Conference Movement, starting in 1878 with the Niagara Bible Conference. These conferences, which were initially inclusive of historicist and futurist premillennialism, led to an increasing acceptance of futurist premillennial views and the pre-tribulation rapture especially among Presbyterian, Baptist and Congregational members . Popular books also contributed to acceptance of the pre-tribulation rapture, including William Eugene Blackstone's book Jesus is Coming published in 1878 and which sold more than 1.3 million copies, and the Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909 and 1919 and revised in 1967.

The Catholic and Orthodox churches as well as the Reformed denominations have no tradition of a preliminary return of Christ and reject the doctrine, in part because they cannot find any reference to it among any of the early Church fathers and find its biblical foundation weak.. Some also reject it because they interpret prophetic scriptures in either an amillennial or postmillennial fashion.

Proponents of a preliminary rapture believe the doctrine of amillennialism originated with Alexandrian scholars such as Clement and Origen and was later brought wholly into Roman Catholic dogma by Augustine. Thus, the church until then held to premillennial views, which see an impending apocalypse from which the church will be rescued after being raptured by the Lord. This is even extrapolated by some to mean that the early church espoused pre-tribulationism.

Some Pre-Tribulation proponents maintain that the earliest known extra-Biblical reference to the "Pre-Tribulation" rapture is from a sermon falsely attributed to the fourth-century Church Father Ephraem the Syrian, which says, "For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins." However, the interpretation of this writing, as supporting Pre-Tribulation rapture, is debated.

There exist at least one 18th century and two 19th century Pre-Tribulation references, in a book published in 1788, in the writings of a Catholic priest Emmanuel Lacunza in 1812, and by John Nelson Darby himself in 1827. However, both the book published in 1788 and the writings of Lacunza have opposing views regarding their interpretations.

The rise in belief in the "Pre-Tribulation" rapture is sometimes attributed to a 15-year old Scottish-Irish girl named Margaret McDonald (a follower of Edward Irving), who in 1830 had a vision that was first published in 1840, and again in 1861.

The popularization of the term is associated with the teaching of John Nelson Darby, prominent among the Plymouth Brethren, and the rise of premillennialism and dispensationalism in English-speaking churches at the end of the 19th century. In 1908, the doctrine of the rapture was further popularized by an evangelist named William Eugene Blackstone, whose book, Jesus is Coming, sold more than one million copies. The first known theological use of the word "rapture" in print occurs with the Scofield Reference Bible of 1909.

In 1957, John Walvoord, a theologian at Dallas Theological Seminary, authored a book,The Rapture Question, that gave theological support to the Pre-Tribulation rapture; this book eventually sold over 65,000 copies. In 1958, J. Dwight Pentecost authored another book supporting the Pre-Tribulation rapture, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology, which sold 215,000 copies.

During the 1970s, the rapture became popular in wider circles, in part due to the books of Hal Lindsey, including The Late Great Planet Earth, which has reportedly sold between 15 million and 35 million copies, and by the movie A Thief in the Night, which based its title on the scriptural reference 1 Thessalonians 5:2. Lindsey proclaimed that the rapture was imminent, based on world conditions at the time. The Cold War and the European Economic Community figured prominently in his predictions of impending Armageddon. Other aspects of 1970s global politics were seen as having been predicted in the Bible. Lindsey suggested, for example, that the seven-headed beast with ten horns, cited in the Book of Revelation, was the European Economic Community, a forebear of the European Union, which at the time aspired to ten nations; it now has 27 member states.

In 1995, the doctrine of the Pre-Tribulation rapture was further popularized by Tim LaHaye's Left Behind book series, which sold tens of millions of copies and was made into several movies.

The doctrine of the rapture continues to be an important component in fundamentalist Christian eschatology today.

Scriptural basis

The following New Testament verses are often used to support the teaching about the rapture (quoted here from the NKJV):
  • "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will 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." (1 Thessalonians 4:15–17)
  • "In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." (John 14:2–3)
  • "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself." (Philippians 3:20-21)
  • "And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 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 incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" (1 Corinthians 15:49–55)
  • "Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way." (2 Thessalonians 2:1-7)
  • "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 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. 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 24:36-41 [NIV])


Timing

Comparison of Christian tribulation views
In the amillennial and postmillennial views, as well as in the post-tribulation premillennial position, there are no distinctions in the timing of the rapture. These views regard the rapture as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 as either identical to the second coming of Jesus as described in Matthew 24:29-31, or as a meeting in the air with Jesus that immediately precedes his second coming to the earth. Within premillennialism, the pre-tribulation position is the predominant view that distinguishes between the rapture and second coming as two events. There are also two minor positions within premillennialism that differ with regard to the timing of the rapture, the mid-tribulation view and the partial rapture view.

Pretribulation

The pretribulation position advocates that the rapture will occur before the beginning of the seven-year Tribulation period, while the second coming will occur at the end of the seven-year Tribulation period. Pre-tribulationists often describe the rapture as Jesus coming for the church and the second coming as Jesus coming with the church. Pre-tribulation teachers and preachers include J. Dwight Pentecost, Tim LaHaye, J. Vernon McGee, Chuck Smith, Chuck Missler, Jack Van Impe, Grant Jeffrey, and David Jeremiah . While many pre-tribulationists are also dispensationalists, not all pre-tribulationists are dispensationalists.

Midtribulation

The midtribulation position espouses that the rapture will occur at some point in the middle of the Tribulation period. The Tribulation is typically divided into two periods of 3.5 years each. Mid-tribulationists hold that the saints will go through the first period but will be raptured into heaven before the severe outpouring of God's wrath in the second half of the Tribulation. Mid-tribulationists appeal to Daniel 7:25 which says the saints will be given over to tribulation for "time, times, and half a time," - interpreted to mean 3.5 years. At the halfway point of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will commit the "abomination of desolation" by desecrating the Jerusalem templemarker (to be built on what is now called the Temple Mount). Mid-tribulationist teachers include Harold Ockenga, James Buswell and Norman Harrison. This position is a minority view among premillennialists.

Prewrath

The prewrath rapture view also places the rapture at some point during the Tribulation period before the second coming. This view holds that the tribulation of the church begins toward the latter part of the seven-year period, being Daniel's 70th week, when the Antichrist is revealed in the temple. This latter half of the seven-year period is defined as the great Tribulation, although the exact duration is not known. References from Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are used as evidence that this tribulation will be cut short by the coming of Christ to deliver the righteous by means of rapture, which will occur after specific events in Revelation, in particular after the sixth seal is opened and the sun is darkened and the moon is turned to blood. However, by this point many Christians will have been slaughtered as martyrs by the Antichrist. After the rapture comes God's seventh-seal wrath of trumpets and bowls (a.k.a. "the Day of the Lord"). The Day of the Lord's wrath against the ungodly will follow for the remainder of the seven years. Marv Rosenthal is the primary proponent for the prewrath rapture view.

Partial

The partial rapture view holds to multiple raptures of believers at the beginning and during the seven year Tribulation period. The term "partial" refers to the idea that only some Christians will be raptured at a time. This is in contrast to other rapture views which hold all Christians would be raptured in a single event. The criteria for who would be raptured are those who will be faithful and watchful. In this view, the rapture is in essence a reward to the faithful. The writers for this view interpret certain eschatology parables as revealing the partial rapture, such as the parable of the ten virgins. All ten virgins are seen as genuine believers, in which the five who were prepared are taken while the others are left. Advocates for this view include Robert Govett (1813-1901) and George Lang.

Posttribulation

The posttribulation position places the rapture at the end of a tribulation period. Post-tribulation writers define the tribulation period in a generic sense as the entire present age, or in a specific sense of a period of time preceding the second coming of Christ. The emphasis in this view is that the church will undergo the Tribulation - even though the church will be spared the wrath of God. Matthew 24:29–31; "Immediately after the tribulation of those days…they shall gather together his elect…", is cited as a foundational scripture for this view. Post-tribulationists perceive the rapture as occurring simultaneously with the second coming of Christ. Upon Jesus' return, believers will meet him in the air and will then accompany him in his return to the earth. Authors and teachers who support the post-tribulational view include Pat Robertson, Walter R. Martin, John Piper, George E. Ladd, Robert H. Gundry, and Douglas Moo.

Date setting

Generally, believers in the rapture of the church no longer make predictions regarding the exact timing of the event itself. The primary scripture reference cited for this position is Matthew 24:36, where Jesus is quoted saying; "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (NASB). Gary Demar has jokingly challenged "date setters" to sign a contract turning over all their assets to him on the day after they claim the Rapture is to occur (he has written a book, Last Days Madness, endorsing the preterist position and challenges many of the popular ideas of Bible prophecy).

Any individual or religious group that has dogmatically predicted the day of the rapture, referred to as "date setting", has been thoroughly embarrassed and discredited, as the predicted date of fulfillment came and went without event. Some of these individuals and groups have offered excuses and "corrected" target dates, while others have simply released a reinterpretation of the meaning of the scripture to fit their current predicament, and then explained that although the prediction appeared to have not come true, in reality it had been completely accurate and fulfilled, albeit in a different way than many had expected.Conversely, many of those who believe that the precise date of the rapture cannot be known, do affirm that the specific time frame that immediately precedes the rapture event can be known. This time frame is often referred to as "the season". The primary section of scripture cited for this position is Matthew 24:32-35; where Jesus is quoted teaching the parable of the fig tree, which is proposed as the key that unlocks the understanding of the general timing of the rapture, as well as the surrounding prophecies listed in the sections of scripture that precede and follow this parable.

Some notable rapture predictions include the following:

  • 1792 - Shakers calculated this date.
  • 1844 - William Miller predicted Christ would return between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844, then revised his prediction, claiming to have miscalculated Scripture, to October 22, 1844. Miller's theology gave rise to the Advent movement.
  • 1977 - William M. Branham predicted in 1962 that the Rapture could take place by 1977
  • 1981 - Chuck Smith predicted that Jesus would probably return by 1981.
  • 1988 - Publication of 88 Reasons why the Rapture is in 1988, by Edgar C. Whisenant.
  • 1989 - Publication of The final shout: Rapture report 1989, by Edgar Whisenant. More predictions by this author appeared for 1992, 1995, and other years.
  • 1992 - Korean group "Mission for the Coming Days" predicted October 28, 1992 as the date for the rapture.
  • 1993 - Seven years before the year 2000. The rapture would have to start to allow for seven years of the Tribulation before the Return in 2000. Multiple predictions.
  • 1994 - Pastor John Hinkle of Christ Church in Los Angeles predicted June 9, 1994. Radio evangelist Harold Camping predicted September 27, 1994.
  • 2011 - Harold Camping's revised prediction has May 21, 2011 as the date of the rapture.
  • 2060 - Sir Isaac Newton proposed, based upon his calculations using figures from the book of Daniel, that the Apocalypse could happen no earlier than 2060.


Cultural references

Movies



Books

  • In 1950, the novel Raptured by Ernest Angley was published, based on the accounts foretold in the books of Daniel and Revelation. The novel focuses on a man whose mother is raptured along with other Christians, while he is left behind in the tribulation period.


  • Robert Heinlein's 1984 book, Job: A Comedy of Justice described the troubles of a Christian man called Alex, who is moved from parallel world to parallel world, accompanied by his lover Margrethe. Halfway through the book, the Rapture occurs and Alex is taken up, but Margrethe is left behind because she is a pagan. The rest of the book describes Alex's attempts to bypass the rules and save his true love.


  • In 1995, Left Behind was published. The rapture is a major component of the premise of the book and its various spin-offs. The plot of the book was used as a basis for a 2000 movie and a 2006 video game.


  • In Mark E. Rogers' book The Dead, published in 2001, those chosen for salvation disappear in a blinding flash of light. It is possible for people who have been left behind to redeem themselves in the eyes of God; those who do are immediately raptured. Sacrificing oneself to help others is one way of being redeemed. Some characters are actually under attack by reanimated corpses, or by Legion himself, at the time of their rapture. The blinding flash of light totally disorients the corpses who witness it, rendering them incapable of any action at all for a short time. The humans are literally "caught up" "in an instant" by God.


Music



Internet

  • On August 2, 2001, humorist Elroy Willis posted a Usenet article titled; "Mistaken Rapture Kills Arkansas Woman". This fictional, satirical story about a woman who causes a traffic accident and is killed when she believes the rapture has started, circulated widely on the Internet and was believed by many people to be a description of an actual incident. Elements of the story appeared in an episode of the HBO television drama Six Feet Under, and a slightly modified version of the story was reprinted in the US tabloid newspaper Weekly World News. The story continues to circulate by electronic mail as a chain letter.


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References

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