To rapture or not to rapture
Did you know that Jesus’ most famous statements about the rapture were actually not about the rapture at all? Stick around and we’ll talk about it. Here on 5 minutes of truth.
In the 70s it was Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth”. In the mid-90s into the 2000s it was the “Left Behind” books and movies. Both focused on one of the more interesting aspects of theology known officially as eschatology. In layman’s terms? The study of end times.
Here is what you may not know. That though there are many references to eschatology in the Bible, there may not be as much information there as you might think. And it is not often as clear as you might think. That would explain why likeminded Believers could hold positions on eschatology that are in direct opposition to each other and yet both claim they emanate from Scripture. If it were crystal clear, there would be much more of a consensus. One of the more interesting aspects of eschatology that spurs on a lot of debate is the concept of the rapture. The rapture is a leading theological construct among most evangelicals that suggests Believers (both dead and alive) will be taken by Christ “into the air” either before, during or after the great tribulation.
If you’ve seen movie representations of this event, it is usually portrayed as a huge mass of people simply disappearing without a trace and with no explanation. The results of these disappearances include planes crashing because of the loss of pilots, cars crashing due to lack of drivers, and frantic families due to the loss of loved ones. The question is: Is this how the Bible says it will be? That is the question we always have to ask ourselves. Just because something seems to be believed by a large number of people, does that make it correct? It’s a good question to ask.
What does the Bible say about the rapture? Very little to be honest. The most often cited passage is, of course, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. I this passage, Paul clearly states this about the rapture: “The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven…with the trumpet of God…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”.
This passage is clear that there will be some event that seems to be related to our idea of the rapture. What we don’t know from this description could fill a wheelbarrow. There is no mention of the tribulation here as it relates to the rapture. Some believe it is, some believe that this event is for Believers to join Christ at His Second Coming. One of the most important questions we can ask is: What did Jesus say about the rapture? It is a good question.
As I grew up theologically once I became a Believer, I was given an answer to that question. I was told by many people and heard it referenced by many more, that Jesus did, in fact, mention the rapture and His words are found in Matthew 24:40-44. Here in part is what Jesus says in this passage: “Two men will be in the field: one will be taken, the other left…two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken, the other left…watch for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming…for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”.
What do you think? Sure sounds like the rapture to me. One person will be taken and one person will be left behind. Just like one person in a car, one pilot on a plane, one loved-one in a family. For years I was told and heard others told that this was Jesus talking about the rapture. I was being told wrongly. That is not what Jesus is talking about here. In fact, this is an opposite analogy in relation to how it has been misrepresented.
Context is key. Instead of starting at verse 40 in this 24th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we need to read the beginning of the pericope which starts at verse 36. Jesus starts this analogy by referring back to, of all people, Noah and the events of the worldwide flood. If you remember, God used the flood to punish the rampant sin that had infected the entire earth. He chose to spare just 8 people: Noah and his wife along with Noah’s three sons and their wives.
Using this event to make His point changes the meaning of the passage. Jesus says: “But as the days of Noah were, so also will be the coming of the Lord”. So He is saying that we must look at His analogy in the same way that we looked at what happened during the flood. He talks about how unaware the people were who were about to be destroyed by the flood and compared that to the day of the Lord.
They were so unaware that “they did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:39). And then Jesus launches into the analogy by saying that one will be taken and the other left…again…just like the flood. So, the ones taken away, in Jesus’ analogy, are the ones who were being punished while the ones left behind were the ones that belonged to Him. Just as Noah and his family were left behind because they belonged to Him. The opposite of what so many people teach about this passage.
It’s easy for me to get mad at the people who taught me incorrectly all those years. But the fact is, I should have been looking in a mirror. Our theology can never dictate our exegesis. Our exegesis must dictate our theology. It was up to me to read God’s Word and discover His truth. Which is what I am telling you. Don’t take my word for any of this, simply invest in the exploration of God’s Word so that you can clearly see His truth.
On behalf of myself, Robert Houghton and all of us here at Growth Project, keep reading God’s Word.
Dr. Purvis started Growth Project with Robert Houghton after spending 20 years on active duty as a Chaplain in the United States Navy. After many moves and multiple deployments, he settled in Winter Haven, Florida to do God’s will. A glutton for educational punishment Danny has a BA in English from Carson-Newman College, an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; a ThM from Princeton Theological Seminary; and a PhD in Organizational Leadership from Regent University. He has been married to his wife Kimberly (whom he met when they were 6 years old) for nearly 30 years and they have four wonderful children.