Ever since I started studying Bible prophecy I always ask myself why do people believe in a Rapture. In my Bible study on Revelations I came across two instances that gives me more reasons to believe that at least this teaching needs to be reexamined in light of a thorough examination of the prophecies in connection to the Second Coming.
The doctrine of the Rapture is very popular among the evangelicals; very often you would hear them on the various satellite networks urging upon us the necessity of preparing for the Rapture. The definition of the word ‘rapture’ (as a verb) is ‘to be caught up’, and as the definition suggests, the day will come when the saints will be caught up to heaven to be with their Lord. If this is all that the Rapture doctrine teaches then all mainstream Christian denominations would have been much closer to perfect harmony on the redemption of the saints. But there is more to this doctrine than the benign idea of the saints being caught up to heaven seven deadly sins.
When you listen to the average evangelical preacher they will tell you that the time will come when, unknown to the world, the saints will be snatched away. This mysterious disappearance means that the saints are taken up to heaven, while the sinners are left behind. This event is supposed to take place before the tribulation when mark of the beast will be issued. That’s the reason why some believe that the prophecy concerning the anti-christ and the mark of the beast, which you often observe in your Bible study on Revelations, is not for them because they will not be here when it is being fulfilled!
Before I get into what I have discovered in my research of this subject I am going to make one interesting observation. The most respected authority on the scriptures beside Jesus Christ is His apostles. So authoritative and confident is the apostle Paul that he could have said, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” Gal. 1:8.
In light of this assertion, the question I would like to ask is this, was the apostle Paul looking forward to a secret rapture? In asking this question I would also like to suggest that there is a clear distinction between the doctrine of the Rapture and that of the Second Coming of Christ. The teaching that the saints will be caught up to heaven without the world knowing it could not be synonymous to the Second Advent. While the Bible teaches that Christ will come to planet earth in a visible and personal appearance to be seen by all (Rev. 1:7), the Rapture teaching suggests that there will be some kind of a secret ascension.
The prediction of the end of the world in the first epistle to the church in Thessalonica seems to answer my question very well. If we are to repose confidence in the Rapture position then we must at least be able to say that this is also in keeping with the expectations of the apostles. Concerning the redemption of the saints, here is the experience the apostle Paul was looking forward to: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with 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.” 2Thess. 4:16, 17 (Emphasis supplied)
If this is the experience that Paul was hoping for, where he sees Christ Himself coming in the clouds of heaven, at what point in time between then and the present dispensation did the message change!? Consistent with the apostle Paul’s expectation, a Bible study on Revelations 19 will reveal the same scenario – the personal visible appearance of Christ. Frankly, if I were an evangelical minister I would be confused as to what message I should preach. Do I preach the Second Coming as the consummation of every Christian’s hope, or do I warn people against the possibility of being left behind after a secret rapture!?
What I have picked up in my Bible study on Revelations in light of the idea that the Rapture will precede the tribulation event, are two implied references to the saint’s encounter with the mark-of-the-beast situation. In Revelations 15:2-4, it is said that John saw the saints who were victorious over the beast and his image standing on the sea of glass. The next reference is found in chapter 20:4 where it is said that the saints again who were severely persecuted for their refusal to take the mark of the beast and worship his image were seen sitting on thrones of judgment.
If the saints were supposed to have been caught up before the beginning of this tribulation period, then why are they represented as being present on the earth during the mark-of-the-beast crisis!? A thorough Bible study on Revelations 15 and 20 will go a far way in helping you to deal with a controversy of this nature.