A Biblical and Historical Look at “The Rapture”

Truth About the Rapture (610x351)Today, it seems almost impossible to escape the talk of “The Rapture” within the North American Church.  Over the last century, this teaching has become so popular within North-American Protestant thinking that even those outside the Church have heard of the term.  This article and study takes a short look into this happening. 

This was put together to help answers questions that some had who are going through adult catechesis.


Those who hold to a doctrine of what many today call “The Rapture” believe that one day, without warning, Christians will be taken up to heaven, while non-Christians will be left behind on the earth.  God will remove Christians from the earth to spare them the Anti-Christ’s tribulation, which the rest of the world will have to endure.

This teaching of “The Rapture” is a relatively new interpretation of Scripture.  All the historic churches, including the Lutheran Church, Roman-Catholic Church, Coptic Church, and Eastern-Orthodox Churches do not hold such a teaching.

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17

–          Who are those who are “asleep”?


–          What does verse 14 tell us that God will do with those who have died?


–          What will happen to those who have died and those who are alive when Jesus returns on the Last Day?


–          Will this be two separate events or happen at the same time? (vs. 17)


We usually don’t find the word “rapture” in our translations of Scripture.  But it does tie in to 1 Thessalonians 4:17.  In that verse, the Apostle Paul says that when the Lord comes again, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them [those who have died] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”  The Greek word for “will be caught up together” is arpagisometha, which some have translated as “rapture.”  That hails back to an older meaning of “rapture,” which means “to transport.”  We get our English meaning of rapture to mean “transport” from Latin.  We see that in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation, where he translated “will be caught up together” as rapiemur.


But the Bible says, “One will be left and one will be taken”!

Matthew 24:40-41: [Jesus said,] “Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and one left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and one left.”

The Greek word for “taken” and “left” are:

  • Paralambano = take (can also mean receive or welcome)
  • Aphiami = let go, send away, left behind (this is also the word for “forgive”) 

The context of Matthew 24:40-41 clearly shows that Christ was speaking of His second coming at the end of the world (see verses 3, 27, 36).  Those verses simply teach that the guilty (those who are “taken”) cannot escape, even if they are associated outwardly with believers (those who are “left behind” = forgiven).  One will be saved as a believer in Christ; the other will be rejected because of his unbelief.

The same is true for Luke 17:34-35: [Jesus said,] “I tell you, on that night two will be in one bed: One will be taken and the other will be left.  Two women will be grinding grain together: One will be taken and the other left.”

Unfortunately, our translations of those verses “leave behind” the idea of forgiveness, allowing readers of those verses to come to unfaithful conclusions.  Those passages refer to Christ’s second coming on the Last Day when He will judge the living and the dead and sort believers from unbelievers.


Then where did the idea of “The Rapture” originate?

The origins of “The Rapture” began during the Counter-reformation, which was the Roman-Catholic response to the Reformation movements in Europe.  The Pope then commissioned three Jesuit Priests to study Daniel 9:22-27 (70 weeks of prophecy), the Book of Revelation, and Ezekiel.  Their goal was to see if those texts could be understood in a way to show that the Pope was not the Anti-Christ, as Martin Luther and other Protestants had alleged.

The three Jesuits were:

  • Francisco Ribera (1537-1591) of Salamanca,
  • Luis de Alcazar (1554-1621) of Seville, and
  • Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine (1542-1621). 

So, in 1585, Francisco Ribera submitted a doctrine called “futurism,” which today is called “The Rapture.”  Ribera’s published work was called “In Sacram Beati Ionnis Apostoli & Evangelistate Apocoalyps in Commentari,” which can still be found in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  The Roman-Catholic Church–despite its strong desire to disprove the Protestant allegation that the Pope was the Antichrist (or antichristic by promoting a works-righteous theology)–still rejected their work as theological fiction!  The Pope considered the work flawed.  But he did order a copy to be kept in the archives.


The Rapture is Rediscovered

Some 240 years later, a librarian of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Samuel Maitland (1792-1866), came across Francisco Ribera’s rapture theology and publicized it in 1826, 29, and 30.  John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) read Maitland’s work and became a follower of his end-times views.  In 1862, Darby traveled to the United States for the first of seven visits, teaching his new understanding of the end-times.  Such a view of the end times was almost unheard of until Darby began to circulate it.  Today, many call his teachings, “Dispensationalism.”


What does Jesus have to say about suffering, which “The Rapture” is supposed to keep Christians from having to endure?

Does Jesus have anything to say about this?  We know that Jesus said nothing about sparing anyone from tribulation or suffering.  In fact, He said the opposite.  He said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world, you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Nowhere did Jesus ever say that He would return secretly to “rapture” Christians.  Instead, He promised to be with His Church in all tribulations: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Even more, Jesus had this to say about being the persecuted: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for the reign of heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:10).


Another Biblical Stumbling Block with the Rapture

A major problem with “The Rapture” is that it teaches three comings of Jesus, not two.  They are:

  1. Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem,
  2. His secret coming to “rapture” Christians, and
  3. His coming at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead and to reign in glory. 

Yet, the Bible only mentions two–not three–comings of Christ!  Even more, the Church has always confessed only two comings, not three, even before the books of the New Testament were officially recognized at Carthage in 397 AD.

The same Church that defined what books make up the New Testament earlier confessed in the Nicene Creed: “And He [Jesus] will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom [or reign] will have no end.”  The Nicene Creed confesses only two comings of Christ: His birth and His return on the Last Day.

The idea of “The Rapture,” where Christians will be whisked to heaven and non-believers will be left behind, is nothing but a false teaching.  It was a North-American Christian fad that caught on in the late 1800s and, sadly, has stuck around.  But false teaching is still false teaching.