For our last post in a three-post series on “the Rapture” theory, we will continue with our series of seven biblical texts used by Rapture theorists to prove the Rapture to be biblical, and just why they fail to accomplish the task:
5. I Thess. 5:2-3, 9:
The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night … then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a woman with child… For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…”
I used to love to use this text to show how God is going to “rescue the Church” in a secret rapture designed by God to take the Church away from the tribulation. It was a popular cliché to say, “God would not allow his bride to be beat up before he comes, would he?”
I used to add here to the mix Rev. 3:10:
Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth?
Doesn’t that sound nice? The true Church made up of born-again believers will be taken away so that they will not have to suffer?
The only problem is, it’s wrong!
St. Paul had already made very clear the fact that the Second Coming of the Lord would be public in I Thess. 4:15-16. He is simply saying to be ready! And as far as our escaping suffering goes, Scripture makes very clear that we are called to suffer for Christ! Here are a few verses of Scripture to consider:
And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.
I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
I Peter 2:21-24:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
I Peter 1:6-7… 4:12-19:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ… Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God…  Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.
“But what about Rev. 3:10?” says the Rapture theorist. “Jesus plainly said:
I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world.
Back up to Rev. 2:10, where Jesus had already warned, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.”
There seems to be a common misconception and misapplication of texts like Rev. 3:10 to mean that Christians will not have to suffer. When Jesus says “keep them from the hour of trial,” he does not mean, “take them out of the world.” He means “keep them faithful” in the midst of the trial that is to come.
This idea of Jesus protecting the Church from tribulation leads to contradictions all over the Bible as we’ll see below. But we find a similar misconception with the Lord’s prayer as well. When Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” in the Our Father, this does not mean the Spirit will not ever lead us “into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil” as we see with Jesus in Matt. 4:1. The phrase “lead us not into temptation” can be understood to mean “let us not fall in temptation.”
At any rate, God can certainly keep us “from” certain challenges that may overwhelm us at times, but St. Paul also tells us in I Cor. 10:13, not that we won’t have to face temptation, but that God will strengthen us so that we will be able to endure it:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Sometimes, we have to go through the fire. Or, as the famous story of the three Hebrew children in the book of Daniel reminds us: God does not say we will not have to go through the fire, he promises to protect us in the midst of the fire. If you recall the story, the three Hebrew children, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were thrown into a fiery furnace by order of King Nebudchadnezzar, because they refused to bow down and worship an idol the king had erected. God did not deliver them from having to be thrown into the fire; he delivered them in the midst of the fire.
My favorite verse of Scripture that demonstrates the fallacy of the Rapture theory gives us the words of Jesus himself in his great high priestly prayer of John 17 on the night before his death. He prayed, in John 17:15:
I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one.
In other words, Jesus says, “I do not pray that you rapture them,” so to speak, “but that you keep them from falling prey to the Devil’s temptations.”
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen used to say that any teaching that attempts to bypass the crucifixion in order to get to the resurrection is a sign of the presence of the demonic!
The Rapture theory that claims the Church will not have to go through the tribulation in the last days falls prey to this mentality. It is very tempting, but dangerously false for two reasons.
First, recall St. Peter in Matt. 16. Just after being promised the keys of the kingdom, Jesus then declares that he must go to the cross, suffer and die and be raised on the third day (Matt. 16:21). Peter then “took him and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord, this shall never happen to you!” Jesus immediately said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” (verse 23)
It is very tempting to want to avoid the cross or create a theology that denies not only the cross of Christ that is necessary for our salvation, but our own cross that is just as necessary for our salvation: Romans 8:17:
And if [we are] children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
6. II Thess. 2:1-12
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Most Rapture theorists, not all, but most, will claim that “the coming of the Lord” and “our assembling to meet him” refer to two events seven years apart: the Second Coming of the Lord and the Rapture. But notice three key points.
First, St. Paul refers to “the Coming of the Lord” and “our assembling to meet him” as one event. And wouldn’t he have put the Rapture—“our assembling to meet him”—before the Second Coming, rather than after? Think about it. The truth is: there is nothing here about a Rapture of the Church and seven years of Tribulation between “our assembling to meet him” and “the Coming of the Lord.” Many of these same Dispensationalists will claim the Second Coming has two stages, as I said before, 1st the Rapture, and 2nd the Second Coming seven years later. The problem here is that the Bible does not make this distinction, nor did Christians for the first 1800+ years of the Christian era.
Second, notice he says the coming of the Lord will not happen until, among other things, the antichrist is revealed. The majority of Rapture theorists teach that Christians will never see the Antichrist. This is dangerous because it espouses the same spirituality void of the cross that we mentioned before, but it also plays right into the deceptive plan of the devil, as I mentioned in my last blog post. The Antichrist, like the Devil himself, has the easiest time deceiving those who deny his existence! How could he be the Antichrist if he can’t be the Antichrist?
Thirdly, notice the Antichrist will represent “lawlessness.” Just as the Devil himself refused to bow to God’s plan, but created his own, this will be the modus operandi of the Antichrist. Jeremiah 2:20 is a famous text of Scripture where God says of Israel’s rebellion against God, “You said, ‘I will not serve’” (non serviam in Latin). Those words are often attributed to the devil himself by multiple fathers and doctors of the Church. It appears the Antichrist will be no different. He will deny God’s law and perform “pretended signs and wonders” to deceive those who take “pleasure in unrighteousness” to follow him. And yet, who is “the restrainer” here that restrains him from being “revealed” until “he be taken out of the way?”
There is no clear answer in the tradition as to who or what “the restrainer” is. But according to Fr. Orchard, O.P., in A Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, pages 1140-1141, there are three more common interpretations. Tertullian took the “restrainer” to be the law and order provided by the Roman Empire (or civilized government in general). Some take the restrainer to be the preaching of the Gospel all over the world and some take it to be Michael the Archangel who we see given the task by God of restraining the devil in Daniel 12:1, Rev. 12:7-9, and in the final “Rapture” text we will look at in a moment from Revelation 20.
I tend to go with an “all of the above” approach and I would add Jesus to the mix. When Jesus was accused of casting out devils by the power of the devil in Matt. 12, his response was twofold: First he said the more famous quip of: “If Satan casts out Satan then his kingdom is divided against itself.” In other words, Jesus says, “You guys aren’t making sense.” He goes on to say, “If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?” But then Jesus goes on to say this: “But if it is by the Spirit of God I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you… how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.” Jesus tells us here that he is one who “binds” the devil!
It seems to me that an all of the above approach would be the way to go. Our Lord uses the Archangel Michael as well as the Church and the culture at large to restrain the forces of evil that would cause chaos. But the one interpretation you don’t find among Christians for the first 1,800 years of the Christian era is one that says the Church will be “Raptured” away and that is what “the restrainer” being taken away would mean. Again, that is simply not in the text.
The final “Rapture” text we will look at is:
7. Revelation 20:1-10:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years. And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations which are at the four corners of the earth, that is, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city; but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
To the Rapture theorist, this text is clear. The devil, at the end of time will be bound and this will institute a one thousand-year reign of Christ where the devil will not be able to deceive people. When the text says the martyrs “came to life,” that would refer to the Rapture. Believers will be “Raptured” and then reign with Christ for 1,000 years.
The keys to understanding this text begin with understanding the binding of Satan in the context of the New Testament, as we saw above. This is not something that will happen in the future. Remember, Jesus binds “the strong man” or the devil in Matt. 12:29 and Michael the Archangel “binds the devil” in these first few verses. When the text says the devil is bound “so that he may no longer seduce the nations,” this should be seen in the context of biblical verses like Acts 17:30 where St. Luke tells us of Old Testament times as being “times of ignorance God overlooked.” The idea is that the devil had much more of a free reign before the advent of Christ. We get this sense in the book of Job, chapter 1 as well when we see the devil portrayed as what Revelation 12:10 calls “the accuser of the brethren… who accuses them night and day before our God.” The devil seems to have had much more freedom to harass and even possess people before the advent of Christ. There seems to have been many demon possessions at the time of Christ as well as proof of this. However, the advent of Christ and the Church has curtailed the devil’s work significantly.
But remember this: even though the devil is bound, that does not mean he is powerless. I always think of the picture of Mike Tyson, years ago, when he was being taken to jail after being convicted of a felony. Even though his hands were handcuffed in front of him… he was “bound”… how many people would want him to be let loose on them even with the handcuffs on!
At any rate, the binding of the devil happened two thousand years ago through the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the thousand years must not be taken to mean a literal thousand years. Numbers are used symbolically throughout the book of Revelation, and “a thousand years” in particular is often used in Scripture to denote a long period of time rather than a literal thousand years (cf. I Chr. 16:15, or, Ex. 20:6: “[God is] showing mercy to thousands of those who love me.” Deuteronomy 7:9 – “The Lord your God … keeps his covenant… with those who love him… to a thousand generations.” Or, II Peter 3:8, “One day to the Lord is as thousand years and a thousand years is as one day”).
According to both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, we are living in the ”thousand years” now and the first resurrection begins when a person is baptized! Those who are baptized are raised from death unto life as we see in Ephesians 2:1, “And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” Or, Ephesians 5:14: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.”
Also, the “loosing of the devil” corresponds with what we saw in II Thess. 2 concerning the final apostasy at the end of time and a final assault of the devil and his Antichrist wherein the devil will “be loosed” and launch one final assault against Christ and his Church before he and all evil will finally be vanquished at the Second Coming of Christ. Again, there is nothing in this text about any Rapture of the Church and a literal and future 1,000 year reign of Christ. At least, not if we understand the “1,000 years” passages here correctly.
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