The word “Rapture” is not in the bible. The word for “snatch, attack, plunder” (arpodzo) is.
“For the Lord himself will descend from Heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
In the mid 90’s Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins wrote a fictional book series called “Left Behind” which is a spin off of the 1972 movie called “A Thief in the Night”. Both depict a global rapture event which usher in Armageddon. In the same way that most Christians derive their understanding of Hell from “Dante’s Inferno“, so most Christians adopt their eschatology (study of end times) from fictional writers and doomsday preachers.
John Nelson Darby was an English preacher who lived in the early 1800’s. He is considered the father of dispensationalism and the pre-tribulation rapture theology. Dispensationalism is when we chop up human/bible history into big buckets of time and then interpret scripture through the lens of each individual piece. (The buckets are: innocence, conscience, government, promise, law, grace) The last bucket is that of Millennial Kingdom (1000 year reign) which is always viewed as future and literal, and thus we call it the “END TIMES.”
Nearly 95% of modern Christians presuppose a dispensational, pre-tribulation, pre-millennial, eschatology. Most, however, are simply unaware of alternative perspectives. Strangely, Darby’s theology is only 150 years old, which begs some hard questions.
This view of eschatology could not have been the view of early Christian writers, so what was their eschatology?
The answer may shock you just as it did me. Keep an open mind in this process. Deconstructing deeply entrenched beliefs creates soul- friction and ego push-back. We can’t remodel the kitchen without removing the old one.
Paul interprets the bible in Galatians 4:24 allegorically. This proves that a literal translation of the bible need not be our sole mode of interpreting. A good hermeneutic (interpretation) is able to find the most likely meaning to the mind of the writer, not the most literal translation. Interpretation must be in context or our beliefs get weird.
I mention this because I’m about suggest that the above rapture passage requires some context. Before any literalist accuses me of heresy, may I remind them that Jesus said to cut off your hand if it causes you to sin (Mark 9:43).
So what about the Rapture?
While I’m never dogmatic about eschatology, there are compelling reasons from scripture to reframe our rapture narratives.
Jesus said; “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst (entos- inside) of you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
This is the closest, cleanest answer from Jesus answering the specific question of when the Kingdom of God would come. He didn’t mention a rapture. He also said that “No one knows the day or hour” (Matt 24:36). JESUS WAS NOT A DISPENSATIONALIST! Jesus actually brings the end together with the present and the past. The kingdom is here and now while not fully complete. IT’S TIMELESS.
Throughout scripture the trumpet blow ushers in the king. And while Paul may have a two-story world view (Heaven up there, earth below) I don’t think the best interpretation is that we will literally fly away up into the clouds like the “Left Behind” series depicts.
What I can suggest is that all union with God is a form of rapture. In small moments of common grace like a baby grabbing our pinky, a beautiful coastal sunset, the anticipated embrace of a loved one, God is incrementally rapturing us into the dimension of the kingdom in the midst. In moments of worship, perfect meditation, or illumination through study or discovery, God is rapturing us into the dimension of the kingdom that is perfectly adjacent to that of our distraction. And finally on the day when our bodies breath their last, we are not forgotten nor lost, but raised and joined to everyone in a final (complete) rapture where we can remain in the kingdom (divine union) of God.
If it disturbs you to reconsider the rapture from this perspective, then let me ask you “Why?” Can you see the duality, racism, and tribal belief built into pre-trib, dispensational eschatology? Can you see the pride and sense of “otherness” ? We don’t want the kingdom if it has to be here. We’ve concluded a kingdom of love won’t have those we don’t like, so it must be elsewhere.
What happened to loving our enemy?
The story of God’s reign is not one of revenge, or evening the score. Join me as we watch it go from a manger to a cross, a garden to a city, and a divorce to a new marriage celebration.