When Is The Rapture?

Folk have been setting dates on the Rapture for a long time. If you check the inerrant internet repository of all knowledge, you’ll find dates set for March 21, 1844, 1914, 1981, 1988, 1994 (Harold Camping’s first date), 2011 (Harold Camping’s second date), and even 2060 (Isaac Newton).

But this is only recent history. Before the Bible was even finished we had people saying that Christ would return—in fact, the second letter of 2 Thessalonians was because there was a teaching that the Day of the Lord had already occurred (2 Thes 2:1-2); Paul actually kicked some folk out of church for teaching that sort of thing (2 Tim 2:16-18). Some sites online have even tried to record the history of date-setting, though it’s definitely not comprehensive.

The thing is that every single rapture prediction has to come face to face with verses that state that no one can predict the event.  So you have Christ saying that no one knows the day or the time of Christ’s return (Matt 25:1) and that we should always be ready for his return (Mat 24:42) and that (at the point of stating it) not even Jesus knew the time of his return (Mat 24:36). Angels don’t know when it will happen (Mk 13:32) and in fact, Christ says that it’s not for us to know when it happens (Acts 1:7) .

And this is when the theological nuances enter in. Date-setters have a long history of saying that this was true back then (when Christ made the statements) but it isn’t true now: that we have been given plenty of information to try to figure out The When. They’re close, but have taken things a step too far.

We have been given a lot of information about Timing but we haven’t been given information about The Time.

You’re probably wondering what the difference is. Here’s an example: when it is cloudy out you must use your headlights. This is a statement about timing based on certain situations but it is not a statement of what time you are to use the headlights. It’s not like I said “at 5:34 on May 21st you must use your headlights.”

Likewise in Scripture, there is information given about Christ’s return and the rapture but Christians put this information together in different ways to figure out the timing of the Rapture but they shouldn’t do it to put together the Time of the Rapture.

So for example 1 Corinthians 15 ties the Resurrection of the Dead to Christ’s return so the timing of the rapture is “at Christ’s return”.  So the timing of the rapture winds up being linked. That’s easy, true, but it gets more difficult when you add more information: information that Christ adds.

Christ says that when people are saying “peace and safety” that we need to be watchful (Mk 13:32-37). That just like in the days of Noah, when people thought everything was fine, so the coming of the Son would occur in this sort of environment (Mt 24:36-39). That his coming is when people don’t expect him to come (Lu 12:40), almost like a trap (Luke 21:34-35) and that we must be vigilant (Mk 13:33-37).  Paul says that date-setting is problematic since Christ’s coming is like a thief in the night (1 Th 5:1-2) and he’s just echoing Christ himself (Luke 12:39 ; Rev 3:3; 16:15).

The indication of these verses all seem to be that Christ is coming in judgment of the Earth, that it is the time of His wrath, and therefore believers need to be ready for his coming. Since His coming is already tied to the resurrection of the dead, the timing of the rapture seems to be “when the Lord comes to judge the earth.”  Noting that believers are not appointed to wrath (Rom 5:9; Rev 6:17) some believers think that the Church is being rescued from the wrath while fully expecting the rapture is imminent  (Jam 5:8; 1 Pe 4:7).

But Christ gives more information. So you have Christ saying that his coming is after certain horrendous things in Matthew 24. You’ll have rumors of war, famines, earthquakes, delivering of Christians to tribulation, a great apostasy, false prophets, increased lawlessness, the Gospel reaching out to the whole world—and then the end comes. Christ tells believers when they see the abomination that makes desolate, that they’re to flee to the mountains praying that all this doesn’t happen in winter. That all this is so bad that there will never be a more horrid time after this—then Christ comes like in the days of Noah where all the people are wiped out.  Paul points out that before the Day of the Lord, the man of Lawlessness would be revealed (2 Thes 2) which puts yet another timing marker.

Other believers  then, argue that since there are markers of wrath in conjunction with the coming of the Lord, and the believers are told to expect the Lord’s coming at any moment, that therefore Christ’s coming will be either during or after the outpouring of God’s wrath and that Christians will be saved through (and not from) the wrath. The rapture, in this nuance, occurs after or during all these things (Luke 21:25-28).

Then you have those heterodox (though I’d say heretical) Christians who say all of this has already happened in 70A.D and that no one is waiting for Christ’s return because He already returned and that all we’re waiting for is to die and then spiritually go to the Lord. They follow the error of Hymenaeus and Philetus  and get away with it because we live after those two.

The point here is that we don’t know the hour or the day of the Lord’s coming, indeed we can’t know it, but we have plenty of markers to give us the timing of His coming and these markers might be theologically put together to give us a construct of the timing of the rapture, but they don’t necessarily have to be. Is the rapture before, during or after God’s wrath? We don’t know.

The fact is that we Christians should all be eagerly waiting his coming either way while avoiding the trend of setting dates.

(A nice easy-to-read overview with arguments on each side is Three Views of the Rapture. It’s written by three premillennialists, one being specifically dispensational, but they do a good job of trying to stay on target. What’s should be noted is that views of the millennium don’t necessarily change in regards to the timing of the rapture. An Amillennialist can still be a post-tribulational rapture proponent.)

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What Is The Rapture?

If you’ve driven down certain roads, you’ve might have seen signs that said “The Rapture is on X” where X can be any date: specifically, this Saturday, May 21st 2011. A certain Christian by the name of Harold Camping has put his pen to paper once again to set another date for this event and, once again, Christians have been convinced by the time table.

But I don’t want to talk so much about Camping and his crowd. I want to address a few presuppositions and misconceptions that have been flying about by writing a few posts. This first post will go about defining what the rapture is.

Some folk hear “The Rapture is coming” and they automatically translate “The Rapture” to “End of the World” If one is careful with the recent news, Harold Camping is saying that the Rapture is on May 21st and the End of the World is in October this year. Why would he differentiate if it means the same thing?

Well, The Rapture has a couple of meanings: one is the meaning of the word and the second is the theological meaning of the doctrine, and that last bit gets nuanced. That might sound like a weird and unnecessary distinction but it really is something that we all do in our everyday.

“Here are the car keys” technically mean “Here are the keys which enable operation of a vehicle”. But, when you’re employing these words while handing them over to your eighteen year old son who has just acquired his driver’s license, it has a secondary meaning: it is saying that he has reached the point where he can rightfully and (hopefully) responsibly operate the family vehicle.

Technically “rapture” means being carried away—maybe by an emotion. It has the Latin root of raptus which means to seize or snatch. So the literal term is being applied to a phrase in the English Bible: “caught up” or “snatch away”. This phrase is a translation from the original Greek word harpazo.

You’ll find the word harpazo used in Biblical passages that deal with forcibly taking something from someone else (Matt 12:29; Matt 11:12; John 6:15) or quickly take (John 10:12).

But the word is also used in situations which were exceedingly strange. For example, Philip is in one location and then he is harpazo’d and sent elsewhere (Acts 8:39) or when Paul (or someone he knows but let’s assume Paul) is sitting around he is spiritually taken away somewhere else where he sees things that he is not allowed to speak about (2 Cor 12:2-4).

These other uses start trending to our theological usage of the term. You have individuals who are taken elsewhere, in one case physically and in another case spiritually.  In one case (Paul) is brought back to where he physically is; in the other case, Phillip is not brought back to the Ethiopian but rather continues on to where he was transported.

Elsewhere, Christians are told to save others by snatching them out of the fire (Jude 23) with no intention of putting them back into the fire (which is likely referring to God’s judgment of these people who are sinning). Or, in the book of The Revelation, the Son of the Woman (Christ) is snatched up to the throne of God (Rev 12:5). He is relocated, and in this case he is put in a position of power.

So when you read in 1 Thess 4:17 that Christians are caught up, you get arrive at the secondary theological meaning. Christians, living and dead, are caught up to remain with the Lord. See, it winds up being tied to the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15:20-24) in a certain sequence: Christ resurrected first, then others, then the end.

Now, there are some theological nuances to this definition throughout the Christian tradition. You see, some Christians (Full Preterists) believe that this catching up with the resurrection of the dead and the coming of Christ occurred in 70 A.D. Christ came to Jerusalem in judgment and many saints  were seen rising up from the graves both at the crucifixion and at this event. Other Christians believe that this snatching away is as a procession that welcomes a King entering a city—so Christians are snatched up, given new bodies, then come back. And yet other Christians think that this snatching away is because God’s wrath is about to be poured out and his people are not to be subjected to His wrath.

The point here is this: Christians believe in The Rapture in both senses (technical and theological) but differ on the theological nuances.

The reason for this disagreement is easy: speaking about what happens in the future is exceedingly difficult for finite humans who don’t have access to the future. It’s even harder when the time tables in Scripture aren’t as clear cut as the expectations.

Christians are told that Christ will return and to live under that expectation. It has been an expectation of the Church since the very beginning. Christians are told that there will be a resurrection which has also been an expectation from the very beginning. The Rapture is distinctly Christian.

So that’s the rapture: it literally means the snatching away or the catching up but it has a secondary theological definition tied to the resurrection of the dead and with enough nuances that you’ll see variation across Christianity.

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