The term "Rapture" is an unorthodox doctrine within Christianity that refers to an event in the "End Times" where Christ returns for all of the coverted, both dead and alive and takes them to heaven. This will include those before Christ who "believed by faith," even thought Christ has not come yet. However, not all Christians believe this doctrine, and my views have shifted as well. However, let me explain the teaching.
"The rapture is when Jesus Christ returns to remove the church (all believers in Christ) from the earth. The rapture is said to be described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-54. Believers who have died will have their bodies resurrected and, along with believers who are still living, will meet the Lord in the air. This will all occur in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye. The second coming is when Jesus returns to defeat the Antichrist, destroy evil, and establish His millennial kingdom. The second coming is described in Revelation 19:11-16." The Rapture is separate from the Second Coming, which is described in Revelation 19:11-16. The Rapture will be secret and instant (1 Cor. 15:50-54, 1 Th. 4:17) but the Second Coming will be visible to everyone (Rev. 1:7, Matt. 24:29-30) as believers return with the Lord to the earth (Rev. 19:14).
There is also some debate regarding if and when the Rapture will occur in relation to the other events of the "end times." The Bible does not give an explicit time line concerning future events. However, some Bible scholars believe the Rapture could occur at any moment (John 21:22-23; 1 Corinthians 15:50-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Titus 2:13). There are several examples of God delivering the righteous from the judgment of the world (e.g. Noah, who was delivered from the worldwide flood; Lot, who was delivered from Sodom; and Rahab, who was delivered from Jericho (2 Peter 2:6-9). However, others believe this rescue mentality is not Biblical, and many, including myself, believe the Church is going to mature into the Bride God intended it to be, not a weak Church that God has to rescue from an evil world it can't subdue.
There are basically two views in reference to the Millennium, the dominant "Premillennial" view and the "Amillennial" view. I'll need to write on the Preterist views soon when I have time. The Premillennial view holds that the reurn of Christ occurs in two stages, the "Rapture" and then the "Second Coming." This is what many Evangelicals believe today. The Ammillenial view holds that the return of Christ will be a single, public event. This is what basically Roman Catholics and Calvinists traditionally believe. This view also includes Postmillennialists who believe it's one event, although they believe it occurs after the Millennium spopken of in Revelation 20, thus the "post" in "Postmillennial."
In reference to the Tribulation, there are basically three views, the "Pre-Tribulation," "Mid-Tribulation," and the "Post-Tribulation" view:
Pre-Tribulation - The Rapture will occur before the Tribulation.
Mid-Tribulation - The Rapture will occur in the middle of the Tribulation.
Post-Tribulation - The Rapture will occur after the Tribulation.
The earliest known extra-Biblical reference to the "Pre-Tribulation" rapture is from a sermon attributed to Ephraem of Nisibis (306-373 A.D.), 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."
Along with this thinking is the belief that even though the converts at the time of the Rapture will be taken away from the earth, there will still be people converted after the Rapture. There will be people beheaded for their faith (Revelation 20:4) and the fifth seal judgment of Revelation 6:9-11 describes the souls of those martyred during the Tribulation “because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained.” A passage often used to support this idea of converts being snatched away is this:
Then there will 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 (Matt 24:40-41).
Mike Parsons points out:
But who is taken first, and who is left? [This is a trick question, so watch out!] Let’s allow the Bible to interpret itself:
Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also… But he said… ‘Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn…“‘ The harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age (Matt 13:24-30, 39-40).
It seems quite clear: what Jesus taught was that the first people to be gathered up and taken at the end of the age will be the tares. It will be sudden, it will happen in the midst of normal life…
And you do want to be ‘left behind’.
A quote that pretty well summarizes how I feel is the following:
“There is so much garbage being said about the mark of the beast. A lot of it is based on what I call the ‘sky bus’ rapture theory, and is not about the Kingdom. It is a kingdom of fear because it is not about the returning power of the sons of God. You do not find anyone who teaches the rapture theory talking about the resurrection in the life of every believer, or of the glory of the Son of God. I do not find the manifestation of the Kingdom in their lives: the power to raise the dead today and for us to live forever in that glory. I do not hear them talking about the coming glory. When darkness rises, the glory must come in a greater measure (Isaiah 60:1-2). I do not see them talking about the coming glory, all the rapture theory does is create a generation of fearful people - a people who will not sow into the future with their words to make their children believe that there is a hope for them to live for today.
All rapture theory says is, “I am waiting to go somewhere; I am going to be taken out of this mess; it is such a mess and I cannot change it.” In fact God’s Word says clearly we are going to change it. But in the last forty years there has been a generation of people growing up who are hopeless. The young people today are hopeless because we have not sown hope into their spirits, for them to get hold of, that there is something better waiting for them than what they currently have. It is one of the most demonic things I have ever seen in my life!” - Ian Clayton, Realms of the Kingdom: Volume I Kindle Edition, pp. 326-327.
I encourage you to read Raptureless (Third Edition) by Jonathan Welton. The first edition of his book is free to read by clicking HERE. I am in the process of reading through a lot of eschatological works and this is one of them. I do not neccesarily support Jonathan Welton's books or doctrines, and am just encouraging people to read this book to understand this position, and therefore their own position. Keep in mind this is a "non-essential" conviction issue, not a core or essential doctrine. I will update my beliefs page accordingly.FOOTNOTES:
1. Wikipedia "Rapture" Accessed November 5, 2010.
2. Alexander, Paul J. The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1985, p. 210 footnoting Caspari, C.P. Abhandlungen und Predigten aus den zwei letzten Jahrhunderten des kirchlichen Altertums und dem Anfang des Mittelater (Christiania, 1890, pp. 208-20). The English translation of the Latin text in was provided by Cameron Rhoades, instructor of Latin at Tyndale Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, TX. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocalypse_of_Pseudo-Ephraem)
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