Left Behind: Is the Rapture a True Christian Doctrine?

Written By Thomas Perez. November 14, 2019 at 9:32PM. Copyright 2019.

“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

I Thessalonians 4:16-17

The two passages above can be found in the New Testament (NT). It is often referred to as a prophetic event that is soon to take place by those who are of the “furturistic” and “dispensational” persuasion. The term “catching up” or “caught up” is referred to by many evangelical Christians as “The Rapture.” The doctrine of the rapture is a popular belief. Whether you are a Baptist, a Presbyterian, a Methodist, a non-denominationalist or from somewhere in the Bible belt located in the South of the United States, chances are; you’ve either heard of it, or your church teaches it as a doctrinal fact. But is it a doctrinal fact?  Does the Bible actually teach it? To answer that question we must look into our Christian heritage and history to find out.

History

We are often told that the individual most responsible the doctrines of Futurism, Dispensationalism and the rapture was John Nelson Darby. Darby was an “Anglo-Irish Bible teacher, [who was] one of the influential figures among the original Plymouth Brethren and the founder of the Exclusive Brethren. He is considered to be the father of modern dispensationalism and futurism. Moreover, “Pre-tribulation rapture theology was popularized extensively in the 1830’s by Darby and the Plymouth Brethren. Soon to follow was C.I. Scofield – author of the ‘Scofield Bible,‘ a Bible of which I once owned, and a Bible that is still sold in many Christian bookstores today.

The docrines of “Darbnism” influenced Scofield, who in turned influenced Rev. Clarence Larkin; an American Baptist pastor, Bible teacher and author whose writings on dispensationalism had a great impact on conservative Protestant visual culture in the 20th century and the ever popular (or unpopular – depending on your view) Jack T. Chick; founder of Chick Publications – a comic book and Gospel cartoon tract ministry.

After Scofield and his influential Bible of covenants and dispensations, many was soon to follow – too many to make mention of them all in this article. But their rapture and futuristic belief system soon found its way into various theological books, Christian campuses, bookstores, radio, TV, cassette, VHS and DVD’s. You can walk into almost any bookstore; secular or a religious, and find such material. Books like; “The Late Great Planet Earth” By Hal Lindsey, the “Left Behind” book series By Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, “The Four Blood Moons” By John Hagee, “666” By Salem Kirban, and many others, all contain futuristic religious beliefs.

You will also notice that everything that is said in these books, videos, and podcast streamings are nothing but regurgitated one-sided eschatological viewpoints. Views propagated by what seems to be an ever loving romantic fanciful affair with the rapture and how to miss out on the “Man of Sin,” while at the same time demonstrating a fancination for the concept of Antichrist. This fancination can also be found in many conservative evangelical movies like; “A Thief in the Night,” “A Distant Thunder,” “Image of the Beast” and the “Left Behind” movies. People seem to be more concerned with the rapture and Antichrist than with their God given Holy Spirit guiding abilities of discernment.

Discernment, in and of itself, seems to be a quality lacking in most believers today. If they had had any discernment they would of known that futurism (as well as Preterism) is a doctrine that was originally penned by a Jesuit named Francisco Ribera (1535), while preterism (as in all prophecy fulfilled prior to 70AD) was developed by a Jesuit named Luis de Alcazar (1604). Note: There are full and partial preterists – FP’s believe everything was fulfilled in 70AD and hence we are living in the new age. While PP’s believe only some Biblical prophecies were fulfilled; namely the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple in 70AD, while major prophecies like; Judgment Day and a general resurrection are still beholden to futuristic events. But that is for another discussion altogether.

“Futurism is the proposal that the Book of Revelation does not bear any application to the Middle Ages or the Papacy, but rather to the “future” (more particularly to a period immediately prior to the Second Coming). The Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (1997) states that Ribera was an Augustinian amillennialist whose form of futurism proposed that only the introductory chapters of “Revelation referred to ancient Rome, and the remainder referred to a literal three and half years at the end of time. His interpretation was then followed by Robert Bellarmine and the Spanish Dominican Thomas Malvenda.” 

David Brady, The contribution of British writers between 1560 and 1830 to the interpretation of Revelation 13.16-18 (1983), p. 202; Google Books

Carlos M. N. Eire, From Madrid to Purgatory: The Art and Craft of Dying in Sixteenth-Century Spain (2002), p. 383; Google Books

The primary purpose of futurism (and preterism) was to counter attack; statements, reformational books by Protestants, pamphlets, and all teachings that viewed the pope and his Papacy as the Antichrist – as seen from the historicist point of view. In church, and even secular history, this is known as the Catholic Counter Reformation. “Thomas Brightman, in particular, writing in the early 17th century as an English Protestant, contested Ribera’s views. He argued that the Catholic use of the Vulgate had withheld commentary from the Book of Revelation, and then provided an interpretation avoiding the connection with the Papacy put forward in the historicist point of view.”

Donald Burke, New England New Jerusalem: The millenarian dimension of transatlantic migration. A study in the theology of history (2006), p. 39.

But why am I even referring to futurism when this article is supposedly about the rapture? Answer: The rapture is thought to be a futuristic event soon to come. You see, in the late Middle Ages and in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, accusations of Antichrist were being levied against the pope. Hence the need for the counter Reformation – and hence the domino effect that spiralled its way into Protestantism. Turn on any religious Christian broadcast today and you will find that they all teach this Roman Catholic doctrine. Darby and Scofield are primarily the blame for all this “futurism” and “rapture” “stuff” sticking around. What Catholicism couldn’t do in the Middle Ages and during the Reformation, some of her daughter’s saw fit to teach it in Protestantism. The pope and his co-horts had won the battle.

Today, historicism is rarely ever thought as a Christian eschatological doctrine.  Today, churches, books and YouTube videos are flooded with futuristic Jesuit propaganda. Futurism and rapture ideologies are nothing but Roman Jesuit propaganda used to distract many from the teachings of historicism, and its unfavorable views on the pope/Papacy, toward an unknown individual, or thing, somewhere in the future. That was, and is, the primary purpose of futurism and its doctrinal offsprings; like the rapture. Unfortunately, many Protestant Christians do not see it as such, often using Scriptural citations, like the one mentioned above to justify it. Many fundamental evangelicals; like John Hagee, Creflo Dollar, Joseph Price, Joyce Myers, and others, use such citations to defend their view (doctrine). Though why would you want to defend a doctrine that did not exist prior to the 1800’s is beyond me.

Church Fathers

Some might be quick to cite that many early church fathers make mention of a future setting, hence dating the last book of the Bible; Revelation as being written after that generation of which Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24 at 95-96AD. This is true. However, many early church fathers, along with the Jewish historian Josephus, make mention of a parousia (second coming of Christ) having occured in the 1st century, before the passing of that generation in 67-70AD – hence dating Revelation no later than 70AD – during the fall of Jerusalem and her temple. This too is true.  Contradictions? Hardly. It would seem that no one wants to reconcile these two so-called apparent contradictions. This apparent contradiction can be easily deciphered and reconciled in the Pauline epistles on which he speaks about the resurrection and the Man of Sin, but no rapture is mentioned. Clement, a disciple of St. Peter, wonderfully documented this apparent contradiction, saying…

“Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits 1 Cor 15:20; Col 1:18. by raising Him from the dead. Let us contemplate, beloved, the resurrection which is at all times taking place. Day and night declare to us a resurrection.”

What Does the Bible Say With Reference to a “Rapture?”

No where in Holy Scripture does it teach two comings of Christ. There is only one. You can actually read Revelation and see this for yourself (Rev 19). But many will still cite; “But Thomas, are they not also qouting the Scriptures?” Yes, they are. But what they are doing is putting, what scholars call, interpolations into the text. A poor hermeneutical practice if you ask me.

Borrowing from a futuristic point of view; that is if you are going to believe in that position, let us consider the following…

There can be no doubt whatsoever that the Bible does indeed teach a Second Coming of Christ. Over and over, in many verses, it is set forth in the clearest of terms (Acts 1:11; 1 Corinthians 1:7; I Thessalonians 1:10; II Thessalonians 1:7-10, etc). However, nowhere is it stated that this Coming will take place before the Tribulation, but just for the record – in unmistakable syntax, it is stated that “the Son of man” will come again “after” the Tribulation (Matthew 24:29-31). To the best of my knowledge, no pretribulationist (those who believe that the rapture will take place before the Antichrist and his 3 and 1/2 year or 7 year tribulation) questions the fact of a post-tribulational coming.

No matter how you slice it, the rapture doctrine contends for a Second Coming before the Second Coming. Regardless of the words which might be used, if the Lord Jesus Christ comes again before the Tribulation period, and then three and a half, or seven years later He comes yet again, the end result is two separate “second” comings.

It also predicates a last trumpet before the last trumpet. Again, it makes little difference how much double talk is heard, the fact remains that the “last trumpet” of I Corinthians 15:52 can hardly be the “last” if it will be followed by seven more associated with the end of the Great Tribulation (cf. Revelation 8,9 and 11:15-18). Let it be noted how when the last of the seven trumpets does blow that it synchronizes with the beginning of Christ’s reign, the coming of God’s wrath, the time of the resurrection, and the giving of rewards, cf. Revelation 11:15-18. How “coincidental” that the Pretribulation “last” trumpet involves essentially the same things. cf. I Corinthians 15:51-57; I Thessalonians 4:16; 5:2, 9; I Timothy 6:14,15; II Timothy 4:l, 8.

The Reality of Historicism.

Futurism has taken prophetic events and narrowed them down into a single 7 year dispensational period known as the “Tribulation” that proceeds itself after the so-called rapture of the church has taken place. While preterism has taken prophetic events and narrowed them down to 1st century calamities, with the paraosua, or 2nd coming of Christ, being invisible. Similar teachings like this can be found in the organization known as the Watchtower Bible Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses). Jehovah Witnesses claim that Christ came back invisibly in 1914. Historicists simply view the Book of Revelation, and the Bible as a whole, as a historical unfolding of events. A Book parallel to history itself!

Are their interpolations performed by this group also? Yes. I will be a liar if I said there was not. Groups like the Seventh-day Adventists and some Apostolic Pentecostal churches hold to this unpopular, but classic Reformational view. Though in recent years, (50 decades ago – and with some notables, like Willian Miller and Mary Baker Eddy, etc, of the 19th cent), the view has seen some regained interest, especially with the rise of the Internet and YouTube.

Of the three, it would seem that my eschatological viewpoint bears close resemblance to that of the historicist. But let me make myself clear, it is just a viewpoint, and nothing else! It should not be considered a doctrine. It should not to be compared to the doomsayers and soothsayers found within the camps of futurism and its ideological daughter called the rapture. Most historicists simply watch and pray. In this there is no error. However, in reference to my walk in Christ and how I view that in conjunction with eschatology, you might say I am of the Pygmalion thought and persuasion.

For more on these things see my other articles on Eschatology in my “Prophecy/Eschatology” category.