Friday, May 20, 2011

The Rapture – Indisputable Christian Heresy

As I was driving one day I encountered a bumper sticker admonishing me:

“WARNING! In the event of Rapture, this car will be driverless.”

The strange belief in the Rapture teaches that some day (sooner rather than later), without warning, born-again Christians will begin to float up from the freeway, abandoned vehicles careening wildly. There will be airliners in the sky suddenly with no one at the controls! Presumably, God is removing these favored ones from earth to spare them the tribulation of the Anti-Christ which the rest of us will have to endure.

Unfortunately the Rapture has been promoted widely by the Left Behind series of books that have sold over 70 million copies.

The Rapture represents a radical misinterpretation of Scripture. I remember watching “Sixty Minutes”a year ago and was appalled to hear the announcer say that “the Rapture is an unmistakenly Christian doctrine”. It is not!

It is a serious distortion of Scripture.

It is astonishing that a belief so contrary to Scripture and the tradition of the Church could be propagated by so-called “Christians”.

According to the Bible and according to the belief not only of Orthodox Christians but also of the Roman Catholic and most Protestant mainline churches, the true Rapture will not be secret; it will be the great and very visible Second Coming of Jesus at the end of the world. That is the one and only “Rapture”. It will not be a separate, secret event but one that every eye shall see (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

The word rapture is not found in Scripture but hearkens to 1 Thess. 4:17 where St. Paul says that when the Lord comes again

“we who are alive…shall be caught up…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

This “being caught up…in the clouds”—arpagisometha in Greek, is translated by some as “raptured”. The word itself is not found in Orthodox theology.

The notion of a rapture in which Christ comes unseen to take believers away secretly, and only later comes back again for everyone else publicly—this whole teaching is quite novel. It was almost unheard of until John Nelson Darby formulated it in the 1800s as part of a new approach to the Bible, sometimes called “dispensationalism”.

The purpose of the “Rapture” is to protect the elect from the tribulations of the end times. Yet Jesus said nothing about sparing anyone from tribulation. In fact, He said,

“In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”

Nowhere did Jesus ever say that He would return secretly to rapture the elect. Rather, He promised to be with His elect in all tribulations.

“Lo, I am with you always. I will never leave you or forsake you.”

He even had something good to say about being persecuted:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

Those who espouse the Rapture claim that Matthew 24:40-41 refers clearly to the rapture of the just,

“Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.”

The entire passage, however, refers to Christ’s second coming where He will judge the living and the dead and separate the just from the unjust.

Darby taught as dogma that when the Scriptures reveal that the Lord will reign on earth for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4), this figure is to be taken literally, rather than as a symbol for eternity as we believe. The Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 condemned as heresy this teaching which is called chialiasmos (millenianism or 1000 years).

In fact, the Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787 A.D.) in which the essential truths of the Christian faith were defined never mention a rapture. Yet evangelical Christians and Pentecostals keep using obscure passages of the book of Revelation which purport to give a detailed timetable of what will happen at the end of the world, despite the fact that Jesus Himself warned that no man knows either the day or the hour when the Son of Man shall return.

A major problem with the Rapture is that it ends up teaching not two but three comings of Jesus—first His birth in Bethlehem; second, His secret coming to snatch away (rapture) the “born-again”; and third, His coming at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead and to reign in glory. Yet only two not three comings of Christ are mentioned in the Bible. We have the clearest definition of this in the Nicene Creed when we confess that

“the Lord Jesus Christ…will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. His Kingdom will have no end…. I expect the resurrection of the dead. And the life of the ages to come.”

There is no mention of a “Rapture”.

As already stated, most Christians, Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants do not believe in the Rapture. In fact, one Protestant pastor, John L. Bray, summarized magnificently what we Orthodox and most other Christians believe about the Rapture when he wrote these remarkable words,

"Though many believe and teach this “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” theory, they erroneously do so, because neither Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, nor any of the other writers of the Bible taught this. Nor did the early church fathers, nor any others for many hundreds of years…. Did you know that NONE of this was ever taught prior to 1812, and that all forms of Pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching were developed since that date? …. If I were to preach something, or believe something, supposedly from the Bible, but cannot find that ANYONE ELSE before 1812 ever believed it or taught it, I would seriously question that it is based on the Bible."

Thus the Rapture is foreign to the Bible and to the living tradition of the Church. It is what we call a heresy, a false teaching. False teachings, such as this, happen when people—like John Darby—believe that they have the right to interpret the Scriptures individually apart from the Living Body of Christ—the Church—where the Spirit of Truth abides and leads us to all truth.

I can think of no better words to conclude than those of Jesus when He speaks of the one and only “Rapture”, the Second Coming:

“Be on guard. Be alert! You do not know when that time will come…keep watch…if he comes suddenly, do not let Him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!” (Mark 13:32-37).
-Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris


Ingemar said...

I abandoned my belief in the Rapture long before I became Orthodox. What convinced me was not scholarly Biblical study, but Corrie Ten Boom's opinion on the matter.

As you may or may not know, she was a Dutch Protestant who literally experienced Hell on Earth when Nazis took over. She said that it is contrary to the witness of the Gospel and the example of Christ that the faithful will be whisked away, trouble free, without enduring sorrow and suffering for the sake of Love. I then remembered all but one of Jesus's apostles experienced a martyr's death and many saints since then also did so.

Even during my youthful days, my thought was not "What can I do to get Raptured" but "Will I be strong enough to stand for Christ in the Tribulation?" That thought since then has always been on my mind.

Christine Erikson (aka Justina) said...

The thousand year rule of Christ on earth, is a misnomer. Revelation says that when He comes back, satan will be bound for a thousand years (maybe a bit more?) not crippling bound like now, but so bound that he cannot even whisper telepathically to anyone believer or not. Christ's reign is not limited in time to that thousand years, it is a time when there is no temptation, so when the devil is allowed to be loose and tempting people, there will be no excuse, and those who follow him will go in revolt against Christ, Who continues to reign on earth, and puts down the revolt at Har-Mageddon, binds satan permanently and then does the Last Judgement and then there is the New Heavens and New Earth, and the heavenly Jerusalem comes down to earth, apparently a 1500 mile wide and high cube, with storeys that would be billions of square miles, so obviously there will have been an overhaul of laws of physics as we know them to some extent. Christ continues to reign forever. The thousand years is the initial segment of His forever reign. Not the total length of it.

Heracleides said...

"the heavenly Jerusalem comes down to earth, apparently a 1500 mile wide and high cube, with storeys that would be billions of square miles... "

That's one heck of a 'Borg' Cube... Who dreams up this crap anyway?

Sub Deacon David said...

Like others, I abandoned belief in a pre-trib rapture long before I converted to Orthodoxy. And not all "pentecostals" believed it either. I remember hearing Leonard Ravenhill preach against the concept one time. He said he had a conversation with a "secret rapture" believer one time who stated that God would not allow His people to go through tribulation. He said "tell that to the Russian believers", many evangelical of which who had held such a belief had lost their faith because they had been told before the Bolsheviks come God would rapture them. This was long before the fall of communism.

For the Fathers and the Church, the thousand years in the Apocalypse is symbolic of the Church age, and specifically where the reign of Christ is experienced in His fullness. Satan is bound now, to a great extent, especially in relation the period prior to Christ's life, death, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Paraclete.

David said...

My father, a retired Assemblies of God minister, was a strong "Post-tribber" in an ocean of "Pre's." He thought it was a typically American attitude that God would never allow us to suffer for his sake. Thanks to him, I was always a little skeptical of the end-times mania and dropped Dispensationalism altogether when I became Reformed, over a decade before I became Orthodox.

Anonymous said...

The only historian I know of who has focused solely on pretribulation rapture history - and issued several books and many articles for several decades now - is Dave MacPherson who is also a journalist. Many scholars have endorsed his findings (Google "Scholars Weigh My Research"). I purchased his bestselling book "The Rapture Plot" (300 pgs., index, bibliog., appendices, heavily footnoted) from Armageddon Books which seems to have the lowest price. His pace-setting web articles include "Famous Rapture Watchers," "Pretrib Rapture Diehards" and "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty." No one interested in dispensationalism's history can afford to overlook his material. I for one am glad to see Orthodox leaders and others exposing the same 19th century nonsense!

Anonymous said...

I looked up the articles listed by Simon and realized they can be found more easily on Yahoo than Google - in case anyone wants to know. God bless. Roger

Bernard Brandt said...

As one who has made the progression from cradle Catholic to teenage atheist, agnostic, deist, not-so-virtuous pagan, twenty-something christian progressing through evangelical, episcopalian, anglican, catholic theologies, and who has spent the last twenty-something years as a Russian Catholic, I've made something of a hobby of apocalyptic.

Personally, I've found that if one wants reasoned attempts to unscrew the inscrutable, that Sir Isaac Newton's works on the subject are the most plausible of the bunch. To put his view as simply as I can, Newton thought, back in the 17th century, that The End could not happen any earlier than 2012, but that his pick would be sometime around 2060 A.D.

As regards "The Rapture", or at least, one which involves believers being taken away before it all hits the fan, I've never been able to find any warrant in Scripture for this silly view. If one believes the Apostle Paul's words of "the last trumpet", and if one believes that the Apostle John's Revelation speaks of a chronology of seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven vials, then two thirds of the yogurt will have already impacted the air-conditioning unit before the alleged Rapture takes place.

As for me, I believe that Revelation speaks of the process that each and every one of us will go through before facing the Four Last Things of Death, Judgment, Heaven, or Hell. I think that rather than worrying about something that will happen to us all, it is better to do all we can, like the Wise Virgins, to obtain the oil of grace before the night comes, so that we might be prepared to greet the Bridegroom.

Widemouth said...
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Anonymous said...

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How can the “rapture” be “imminent”? Acts 3:21 says that Jesus “must” stay in heaven (He's now there with the Father) “until the times of restitution of all things” which includes, says Scofield, “the restoration of the theocracy under David’s Son” which obviously can’t begin before or during Antichrist’s reign. ("The Rapture Question," by the long time No. 1 pretrib authority John Walvoord, didn't dare to even list, in its scripture index, the too-hot-to-handle Acts 3:21!) Since Jesus can’t even leave heaven before the tribulation ends (Acts 2:34,35 echo this), the rapture therefore can't take place before the end of the trib! (The same Acts verses were also too hot for John Darby - the so-called "father of dispensationalism" - to list in the scripture index in his "Letters"!)
Paul explains the “times and the seasons” (I Thess. 5:1) of the catching up (I Thess. 4:17) as the “day of the Lord” (5:2) which FOLLOWS the posttrib sun/moon darkening (Matt. 24:29; Acts 2:20) WHEN “sudden destruction” (5:3) of the wicked occurs! The "rest" for "all them that believe" is tied to such destruction in II Thess. 1:6-10! (If the wicked are destroyed before or during the trib, who'd be left alive to serve the Antichrist?) Paul also ties the change-into-immortality “rapture” (I Cor. 15:52) to the posttrib end of “death” (15:54). (Will death be ended before or during the trib? Of course not! And vs. 54 is also tied to Isa. 25:8 which is Israel's posttrib resurrection!)
Many are unaware that before 1830 all Christians had always viewed I Thess. 4’s “catching up” as an integral part of the final second coming to earth. In 1830 this "rapture" was stretched forward and turned into a separate coming of Christ. To further strengthen their novel view, which the mass of evangelical scholars rejected throughout the 1800s, pretrib teachers in the early 1900s began to stretch forward the “day of the Lord” (what Darby and Scofield never dared to do) and hook it up with their already-stretched-forward “rapture.” Many leading evangelical scholars still weren’t convinced of pretrib, so pretrib teachers then began teaching that the “falling away” of II Thess. 2:3 is really a pretrib rapture (the same as saying that the “rapture” in 2:3 must happen before the “rapture” ["gathering"] in 2:1 can happen – the height of desperation!).
Here are some Google articles on the 181-year-old pretrib rapture view: "Pretrib Rapture Politics," "Pretrib Rapture Scholar Wannabes," “Famous Rapture Watchers,” "Pretrib Rapture Diehards," “X-Raying Margaret,” "Edward Irving is Unnerving," “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” "Walvoord Melts Ice," “Wily Jeffrey,” “The Rapture Index (Mad Theology),” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “Scholars Weigh My Research,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” "Appendix F: Thou Shalt Not Steal," "Pretrib Rapture Secrecy," “Deceiving and Being Deceived,” and "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" – all by the author of the extremely accurate and highly endorsed book “The Rapture Plot” (see Armageddon Books).