Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkens have made an awful lot of money with their bestselling Left Behind
series. And though the books are fiction, LaHaye and Jenkens have also authored a non-fiction book, Are We Living in the End Times?
in which they attempt to show a biblical basis for the events of Left Behind
Critical to Jenkins and LaHaye's story line is the idea of a rapture of the faithful before things get too difficult. True believers will be snatched away into the clouds to be spared from hardship.
Just how biblical are the Left Behind
books, really? Just what does the Bible teach about the Rapture?
Remarkably, this whole doctrine is taken from one word that appears in just one verse in one of Paul's letters near the back of the New Testament.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The Greek word harpazo
in verse 17 above is the equivalent of the English words "caught up" and the Latin word raptus
, from which Rapture is derived. The word appears nowhere else in the New Testament.
Rapture proponents also claim support elsewhere for this idea, most notably 1 Corinthians 15:50-51, Matthew 24:37-42, John 14:1-3, and Titus 2:13.
I'll look at these in reverse order, just because I can.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
- Titus 2:11-15
Did you see it? I didn't either. To a normal person reading this text, there is nothing to suggest that verse 13 teaches the doctrine of Rapture. To a Rapture proponent who is looking for any support he can get, this is one of the Bible's strongest indications that Jesus is returning twice. In LaHaye's own words:
The coming of Christ must occur in two installments because they are for two different groups of people and fulfill two different purposes. The first is the Rapture, when all living and dead Christians will be snatched up to be with Christ in the Father's house. The second is for all the people of the world, who will be judged for rejecting Christ. The first is secret, for a special group; the second is public, for everyone left on the earth. They are entirely distinct events!
Dr. David Cooper often compared the Second Coming to a two-act play separated by a seven-year intermission (the Tribulation). The apostle Paul distinguished these two events in Titus 2:13 by designating them "the blessed hope and glorious appearing."
- Are We Living in the End Times? p. 104
And it doesn't get much better.
Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
- John 14:1-3
Jesus tells his followers he will go prepare a place, then he will return. Most Christians, who believe Christ will return but do not believe in a Rapture, understand this verse quite differently from the way Rapture proponents read it. For those who believe in a secret Rapture, the words "I will come again and receive you to Myself," acquire an additional meaning. The idea is that Jesus could not come both to comfort his faithful and to judge the nations at the same time. Apparently that's too difficult a task even for the Messiah.
For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.
- Matthew 24:37-42
At first glance, this passage looks like it may support the Rapture doctrine, with its talk about "one being taken" and all that. But what was it like in the days of Noah? Were the righteous taken away and the evildoers left on earth? It seems to me that it was the other way around. So maybe when Matthew says "one will be taken," he means taken away in judgment.
To be continued...
Labels: end times, rapture, scripture