A staple of any magic show is the vanishing act. For this trick, the magician makes something disappear. It could be an item (coin), an animal (rabbit), or even a member of the audience!
Dispensationalism boasts the greatest vanishing act of all. It teaches that Jesus will secretly remove the church from the world. Like some cosmic magician, He will make every Christian on earth disappear! This event is called the “rapture.”
The rapture is necessary to dispensational theology. This school of thought believes God’s promises to Israel still stand. He will reestablish an earthly, Jewish kingdom. The church was instituted as a backup plan when the Jews rejected Jesus. In order for prophecy to be fulfilled, the church must be taken out of the way.
The most famous Scripture used to support the rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. Paul says, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
The “rapture” concept comes from this passage. Our English word “rapture” derives from the Latin word “caught up.” However, Paul is not promoting the secret removal of the church from the world.
First of all, Jesus’ return is not secret. Paul says He comes with a “loud command,” an angelic “voice,” and a “trumpet call.” If this is a secret, it has to be the worst kept secret in history!
Second, we must consider literary context. Paul goes on to say, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). The New Testament uses the phrase “day of the Lord” to refer to Jesus’ second coming. And Paul uses it to refer to the event he describes in 4:16-17.
Third, we must consider historical context. When the Roman armies returned in victory, the citizenry met them outside Rome and escorted them back in triumphal procession. Paul refers to this when he says, “We will meet the Lord in the air.” We will not “meet” Him and be raptured to heaven. Rather, we will escort Him back to earth in victory.
Rapturists also appeal to 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. Paul says, “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
It baffles me that dispensationalists use this passage to support the rapture. There is simply nothing in these verses (or the entire chapter!) that suggests a secret removal of the church from the world. Rather, it describes our resurrection from the dead at Jesus’ second coming.
Finally, proponents of the Rapture claim John 14:3. Jesus assures His disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me.” Again, I am baffled. Jesus does not promise to secretly remove the church from the world. He simply promises that someday His followers will be with Him in heaven.
Rupturing the Rapture
Dispensationalism’s teaching on the Rapture has no Scriptural support. When examined in context, passages used to support the Rapture are seen to more naturally refer to the Second Coming. The Bible teaches that Jesus will return once. He will not make the church disappear, then wait seven years before actually returning.
This post is part of an ongoing series on Bible prophecy. Subscribe by e-mail to receive my next post – Mapping Out the Millennium!