Bursting Bible Bubbles: The Rapture
The concept of “the Rapture” is an extra-biblical concept that believes that Christians will be taken up into heaven (without their clothes) at some point, leaving the world behind while they enjoy the presence of God. There are different views on when this takes place in relation to the interpretation of the literal 1,000 year reign (pre-mil/post-mil) and seven year tribulation (pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib). However, the Rapture is a relatively new concept coined in the 1800’s and not found in the Bible.
Understanding the Texts
Obviously, the first objection to this post would be pulling out several different texts out of the Bible. The two most popular would be Matthew 24:40-44 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.
Context is always key in looking at any form of literature. It frames the subject, discussion and concepts. Reading these verses isolated from the rest of the Olivet discourse is deceiving, especially reading from an assumed position that the Rapture is true because the text can be easily fit within that framework. Unfortunately for readers who try to fit this text within the concept of the Rapture, that is not how this text functions. It is assumed, within a Rapture reading, that the ones being “taken away” are being saved and the ones “being left” are the ones who have been “left behind”. However, let us look at what is preceding this text:
As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:37-39, emphasis mine)
Jesus is paralleling those being “taken away” in the flood with those being “taken away” at the coming of the Son of Man. So the passage isn’t about being taken away into heaven, but taken away into destruction. The ones being “left behind” are the ones left to inherit the New Heavens and New Earth.
Another smaller but significant point begging to be made is the use of the phrase “coming of the Son of Man”. Jesus and Paul always tie in the the Second Coming with judgement and/or resurrection. Their use of the phrase/concept assumes that this event, the coming of the Son of Man, happens at the end of the age - which ushers in the New Heavens and New Earth.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
Context is once again key here - though even working with surrounding context, the phrasing still seems to allude to a literal idea similar to the Rapture. But the surrounding text is not the only type of context - there is a cultural context that Paul employs in his language. Thessalonica was a Roman city and Paul is using language similar to that of a Roman Emperor returning or coming back, along with biblical imagery. NT Wright comments on Paul’s language here:
Paul conjures up images of an emperor visiting a colony or province. The citizens go out to meet him in open country and then escort him into the city. Paul’s image of the people “meeting the Lord in the air” should be read with the assumption that the people will immediately turn around and lead the Lord back to the newly remade world. Paul’s mixed metaphors of trumpets blowing and the living being snatched into heaven to meet the Lord are not to be understood as literal truth, as the Left Behind series suggests, but as a vivid and biblically allusive description of the great transformation of the present world of which he speaks elsewhere.
The Concept of Christianity
Dealing with two often-cited texts, we can see that they hold no weight. But now I’ll deal with the Rapture as a theological concept in light of other biblical ideas. When we look at what the Rapture proposes - the taking of Christians away from the Earth into Heaven - we see that it doesn’t fit within the greater Christian framework. What do I mean?
Throughout Scripture, God is shaping a holy people that will be a light and blessing to all nations and the world. We see this as a theme in Genesis, throughout Israel’s history and taken up by Jesus in the first half of his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The people of God have always lived among the people of the world. To remove the people of God is to remove the light, which Jesus discourages in Matthew 5:14-16.
In John 17, Jesus prays to the Father in verse 15: “… not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” I speculate that Jesus may be taking a jab at the Essenes, a sect of Jews that voluntarily removed themselves from the rest of society because of their devotion to asceticism or maybe the Gnostics, an unorthodox group of early psuedo-Christians who separated the material and spiritual world. Jesus prays that His disciples are involved with the affairs of the world, not taken away from them, but during their interaction, they are protected from the evil one. The Rapture runs against this line of thinking - the removal of God’s people from the world has the Father taking us out of the world.
The function of the Church is not to be a bombshelter awaiting the end of all things, but a lighthouse for the dark world until the Son returns.
 Farewell to the Rapture, NT Wright. http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_BR_Farewell_Rapture.htm
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