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What Does the Bible Say About the Rapture?

Ask Pastor Alex, Ep. 25

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex.All right, welcome back everybody. We’re here with another episode and another question.And the question for this episode is, what does the Bible say about the rapture?And that’s a good question. And honestly, I think that’s probably the best way to word that question too. What does the Bible say about the rapture? And I emphasize that aspect of the question,because the topic of the rapture is maybe the topic that has been most affected and influenced by popular culture. And of course, by pop culture, I don’t mean culture as a whole,but specifically referring to books and movies. See, I would say probably 90% of Christians today believe what they believe about the rapture, not based entirely on what scripture says,but based on what tradition says, as well as books and movies. Because I think most of you know that there was a very popular series called Left Behind. And that one series has influenced the church’s beliefs today more than probably anything else. The Left Behind series popularized the most common view of the rapture today. It’s this idea that everybody’s going to be going about their day when suddenly people are just going to disappear and they leave behind their clothes. There’s not going to be a warning. It’ll just happen out of nowhere and all the unbelievers get left behind.That’s what that series told us. But the question is, is that what the Bible teaches us? And we’re going to get into that, but we have to understand that this view of the rapture is associated with an eschatological position called dispensationalism. Now, don’t get intimidated by those words. If you don’t know what they mean, that’s okay. All right? Eschatology is just the study of the end times.And so, dispensationalism is just one of a number of views of the end times. And it is the most popular and the most common view in the church today. And it has been that way for the past hundred years or so. But, very importantly, it hasn’t always been this way. The history of dispensationalism is actually pretty interesting. So, dispensationalism is a premillennial eschatology,right? Meaning that they simply believe that Christ will return before the millennium. So,pre-millennium, before the millennium. So, interesting to note is that while historic premillennialism, which is just another version of premillennialism, historic premillennialism has been the predominant view throughout church history, dispensationalism only began in the 1830s.And it was created by a man named John Darby. Now, here’s what makes that interesting and what should cause us to reflect with consideration is that the most common view of the rapture and eschatology today in the church today was completely unknown and unheard of and unbelieved by any Christian for the first 1830 years of the church. Now, does that make it wrong?No. Should it be a red flag? Yes. It should be giving us calls for concern and make us investigate further. So, here’s the question. How did this brand new theology become the most popular eschatological view and overtake the church today? And it’s pretty interesting,actually. Basically, what happened is Darby’s students, he was a Scotsman, so Darby’s students brought dispensationalism to America where some key figures picked it up. And one key figure is responsible for its widespread popularity and acceptance in America. So, you can think about like this, right? What has been the most commonly used Bible translation since the 17th century?It’s the King James Version of the Bible, right? So, think back to the context of America in the early 1900s. We were coming out of the Civil War and we were rebuilding as a nation. Some people were pursuing higher education, but the majority of Americans were laborers and not very educated at all, but they wanted to know the Bible. They just needed a little help since they weren’t very educated. And so, in 1909, a new study Bible was published that would alter the course of American Christianity from that point forward. So, think about it like this. If you were an American living in the early 1900s and your translation of choice was the KJV and you wanted to better understand the Bible and you heard that a new King James study Bible was just released, do you think you would buy that Bible? Yeah, of course you would. And so, countless Americans bought the Schofield Study Bible based on the text of the KJV. And that study Bible was so popular and influential,many people still own it today. You see, when Schofield first encountered Darby’s dispensationalism from the students who came over to America, he ate it up hook, line, and sinker. He loved it,he ran with it, and he went all in on dispensationalism. And he would be the one to popularize it In America. But there was a big issue with the study Bible that he released. And that was the fact that Schofield’s footnotes were entirely his own thoughts and opinions rather than coming from a group of theologians and an editorial team. So again, just think back to this in the historical situation. If you were a mostly uneducated laborer who was just wanting to understand the Bible better,and you bought this study Bible, you were going to believe anything it said because you didn’t know any better. And that’s exactly what happened. People continued to buy the Schofield Study Bible,they continued to read it, and they accepted all of Schofield’s thoughts and opinions uncritically.They weren’t questioning anything at all. And because of that, dispensationalism spread like wildfire throughout America. It continued to grow in popularity, and ultimately it found its way into the mainstream media and culture through the left behind books and later the left behind movies.This view has actually become so popular and widely accepted that for many people, if you disagree with dispensationalism, many people would call you a heretic and unorthodox, again, listen, for disagreeing with a brand new theology created in 1830 by a Scotsman and popularized in America in1909 by Schofield. That’s just mind blowing to me. Okay, I am all on board. If you want to have a different eschatological view than I do, that’s fine. And I don’t make that a hill to die on.All right, we can disagree on eschatology. That is fine. I would never call someone a heretic for having a different eschatological view than I have. But what I do think we need to understand is that you shouldn’t be calling someone else a heretic if they don’t hold to your brand new theology that was created in 1830. I mean, you’d have to go back to the history of the church and call every single one of the church fathers, all of the people who came after the church fathers,Augustine, you’d have to call Luther and Calvin and Knox and Zwingli and all of the reformers.You’d have to call them heretics. You would basically have to look through the entire history of the church before 1830 and call all of those people heretics and unorthodox because they did not believe in this novel theology that had not even been created yet. So what exactly is the dispensational view of the rapture? Well, it’s important to clarify that what dispensationalists mean by the rapture is not what the other eschatological views mean by the rapture.When dispensationalists refer to the rapture, they’re referring to a kind of secret rapture in which Christ partly returns to earth, he stops in the sky, and he calls up the church to meet him there. They picture people, again, going about their daily lives when all of a sudden people start disappearing, and it calls to mind the left behind movies where you see clothes left all over the place and people left behind because the church has been summoned up or raptured up.And it’s known as a secret rapture because there is no warning, there is no fanfare, it just happens by surprise and people just disappear. So the question is, where does this idea come from?And dispensationalists will often appeal to a number of biblical passages in order to justify this belief or prove this belief. And the main one is found in 1 Thessalonians 4, 13-18. This is what’s that passage says, but we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep,that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus is the Lord, and that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive,who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive,who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.And so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”Now the word rapture actually comes from this passage. Well, actually it comes from this passage as it appears in the Latin vulgate. The Latin word rapio is used here for the two words caught up, where we’re going to be caught up together with them in the clouds. It’s the Latin word rapio there, and that’s the word that means rapture. And so again, remember that when dispensationalists read this passage, they imagine a secret rapture because Jesus will not return visibly for all to see, but instead he will call up the church to meet him in the sky. They also believe that this rapture is imminent, meaning it could literally happen at any second.And this mostly comes from 1 Corinthians 15 52, which talks about how we will be changed in a moment in the twinkling of an eye. And then another very popular passage they appeal to is Matthew 24,where it talks about two people being in a field and one being taken away and one being left behind.And they say that this is a picture of that rapture idea where people are going about their day,and one disappears, one’s left behind. So those are some of the key passages that dispensationalists will use to prove their belief in this kind of rapture. But I want to offer a critique of this view. So first and foremost, no one, again, no one in the entire first 1830 years of the church held to this view of a secret non-visible rapture. That doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, but it should cause us to question it a lot. It should cause us to investigate it because I think if no one got it right for the first 1830 years of the church,it’s hard to imagine we’re going to get it right after that. Maybe it’s possible, but it should cause a lot of red flags. But secondly, and more importantly, it doesn’t align with the Bible’s teaching on Christ’s visible return. So consider Revelation 1-7. The Bible says,Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him,and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so, amen. Now that clearly teaches that when Jesus returns, every single eye will see Him, and so it will be a visible return.But notice it goes further. It also teaches us that all people on the earth will be aware of His Coming because notice it says there that all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him.So they know that this is happening. They know that Jesus is returning. They realize in that moment that the gospel is true, that the Christians were right, that the Bible is true. They understand what’s happening, and they wail on account of Him. But even more than that, go back to the 1stThessalonians chapter 4 passage that the dispensationalists use to prove their belief in this kind of view of a rapture. In that passage, it said that at Jesus’s return, He will descend with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel and the sound of the trumpet of God.Now that seems like it would be pretty hard to miss, right? Again, think about the Left Behind movies if you’ve ever seen them, or the books if you’ve ever read them. There is no fanfare.There is no warning. Someone’s driving a plane and all of a sudden the captain’s gone and the plane’s going down. There is no sound of anything. And yet the Bible says Jesus will be visible andall people will know what’s happening and there will be a loud cry of command, the voice of an archangel, and the sound of the trumpet of God. It’s going to be a massive fanfare event. But here’s another critique of this view. It shifts the New Testament hope. You see, all throughout the New Testament, the writers of the New Testament are anticipating one event, and that is the return of Christ. I mean, Paul writes about the return of Christ and all that comes with that return.John writes of it. The altar of Hebrews writes of it. Peter writes of it. And they’re constantly trying to get us as Christians to remember that Christ is coming back. They want us to long for that return, to anticipate that return, to look forward to His return. I mean, the book of Revelations even ends with Jesus saying, surely I am coming soon. And John responds and says, Amen, come Lord Jesus. You see, the New Testament sees the next great cosmic event not as a secret rapture,but as the return of Christ. Our longing should not be to be raptured away from this earth,but for Jesus to come and come quickly. See, another important critique that we have to make here is that rather than focusing on the Latin word rapture or rapio, we need to focus on the Greek word for that phrase, cult up, because after all, God inspired the Bible, at least the New Testament, to be written in Greek, not Latin. And so, what’s interesting about that Greek phrase that’s used there for cult up, the phrase and the wording that’s used there, it’s a word that was used to describe what would happen when a king or a dignitary came to a city. If people knew that aking was coming to their city, the people would go out and meet that king before he ever got to the city. They’d go out and meet him, they would welcome him, and then they would escort him back to the city. And that’s the picture that’s being painted here. The Bible is not saying that God’s going to call up Christians and we’re just going to disappear into the sky and Jesus is going to escort us back to heaven and all the other dispensational timeline that’s going on there.The Bible is saying that when Jesus returns, he will make a stop, a short pause in the sky, as he calls up his people to come and greet him and welcome him, and then we will escort him back to earth. That’s exactly what that Greek phrase is indicating there. One final critique and something to think about here. What’s interesting about that reference to Matthew 24 and the one person being taken and the one person being left behind is you always have to interpret that in light of Matthew 13. Matthew 13 obviously comes before Matthew 24 and Matthew 13 is the parable of the weeds and the wheat. You probably are very familiar with this parable, right? So remember that the master of a house, he’s planting his fields, he sends his servants out to plant his fields,and it says that overnight an enemy came and sowed in some weeds amongst his wheat and as they began to grow, the servants saw that there was weeds in the midst of the wheat and they said to the master,Master, did you not use good seed? He’s like, well, of course I did, but an enemy has come and sown against us. And his servants are like, okay, well, what should we do? Should we go and pick all the weeds out? And interestingly, the master says, no, let them both grow until the end,lest you accidentally pick some of the wheat as you’re trying to get the weeds. And he says,and at the end we are going to gather up all the weeds and we will throw them into the fire to be burned. And Jesus later explains that it’s a reference to what’s going to happen at the end,that when Jesus returns, he’s going to send his angels and the angels are going to gather up all the unbelievers and they are going to be cast into the fire where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Now think about that for a second. It’s interesting. Who were the ones being taken in that scenario? It’s not the Christians. It’s the unbelievers. They are the first ones taken in that scenario, in that explanation of that parable. The angels come, they gather the unbelievers,and the ones who are left behind are not the unbelievers. They’re the Christians. Okay,so we have to interpret Matthew 24 in light of Matthew 13. And so, what does the Bible say about the rapture? Well, it teaches us that Jesus will return visibly for all to see and with great fanfare with the sound of trumpets and the voice of an archangel and the command of a loud voice.And so, everyone on earth is going to know what is happening. Believers will rejoice and the nations who do not know Christ and love Christ and have not repented of their sins and trusted in Christ,they will well on account of His coming. But the Bible goes on to explain that Jesus will descend partway to earth. He will pause in His descent. He will pause there in the sky where He’s going to call up or rapture up His church to meet Him there. And as the Greek phrase indicates,all believers with joy will go to meet Jesus and they will welcome Him. And then we will gladly escort Him back to earth as a king preparing to re-enter His kingdom. So, no, we don’t know when that’s going to happen. Only God knows that. But the Bible doesn’t indicate that people will just start disappearing and leaving behind their clothes. Every eye will see and every ear will hear.And as Christians, we look forward to this return and we all say together, come Lord Jesus,come quickly. So, I really do appreciate the question. I hope that this explanation has been helpful and I look forward to answering more in the future.