So how did this Rapture rumour get started? The following short history is gleaned from a paper by Elwin Roach called “The Rapture Question.”
A man called J. Preston Eby who researched the subject states that there was no significant body of believers that taught a rapture prior to a seven year tribulation till the early to mid 1800’s.
At the time of the Reformation, Protestants were convinced that the Pope was the antichrist and the Catholic Church the Harlot system, which teaching drew many believers out of the Roman Catholic Church. To counteract this, Catholic theologians taught “futurism” - the belief that the events of Revelation would take place in a very short period at the end of the age. This was popularised by a Jesuit priest called Ribera.
Later, another Jesuit priest named Emmanuel Lacunza wrote a book called “The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty” which took up this teaching. He wrote under the name of Rabbi Ben Ezra, supposedly a converted Jew, which gave the book acceptance among Protestants. In the book he wrote that Jesus’ Coming is in two stages. He comes first in a secret rapture for His Church so they could escape the reign of the future antichrist.
Edward Irvine a leader of the Catholic Apostolic Church discovered Lacunza’s book and translated it into English. He began preaching the Secret Rapture of the Saints. John Darby from the Brethren movement took up the teaching and also wrote prolifically about it. Derby developed and organized “futurism” into a system of teaching called “dispensationalism.” In this teaching, the Church age climaxed in the Secret Rapture followed later by the 2nd Coming of Christ to the Earth.
A Congregationalist preacher named Scofield came under the influence of this teaching and it became enshrined in the notes of The Scofield Reference Bible which influences many Protestant churches. Many ardent preachers of the Rapture today would be mortified to know that it began with the writings of a Jesuit priest. Scofield influenced D.L. Moody who influenced the Pentecostal movement. Moody was a very influential Christian with solid Biblical beliefs, but God was moving on and Moody like many others didn’t accept the new teaching of a personal Pentecost.
When the Assemblies of God were formed in the early 1900’s they brought teaching materials from Moody Press and added to it the teaching of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Bill Britton wrote that he was astonished to find that he was being taught from a book that said that speaking in tongues was from the devil. The Assemblies of God accepted and taught The Secret Rapture doctrine from that same book.
(Comment: Since the Holy Spirit is given to lead us into all truth, one wonders why they accepted without question, a teaching of the end times which was held by people who didn’t believe that the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit were for today. The focus of the Pentecostals at that time was naturally enough, to teach the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Now God is moving on again towards the final Feast. It remains to be seen whether ongoing revelation will again meet with resistance as it usually does. The truth of Pentecost was and is, still resisted be many in the mainline denominations though it can be plainly seen in the Scriptures)
Around 1830 a young Scottish girl named Margaret MacDonald purported to have a revelation of the coming of the Lord before the tribulation. It is said that Derby borrowed and modified her revelation.
(Comment: I have read Margaret MacDonald’s account and find it quite enigmatic. It lends itself just as well to the coming of the Lord by His Spirit in power IN His people before the 2nd Coming which I believe is what the Bible teaches and is what I have written about.. e.g. She states “I saw the error to be, that men think that it will be something seen by the natural eye; but ’tis spiritual discernment that is needed, the eye of God in His people.” and “I felt that the revelation of Jesus Christ had yet to be opened up – it is not knowledge about God that it contains, but it is an entering into God” “I saw that there was a glorious breaking in of God to be.” Amen! But this is not necessarily a Rapture, only to those who want to make it so. She seems to be a very spiritual young lady who no doubt had a revelation of a Coming of the Lord, which was taken by some to affirm the teaching of a “Secret Rapture.”)
In John 7 Jesus gives us a clue to this secret coming IN His Church in a powerful way. It was the time of the Feast of Tabernacles – the final Feast of the religious calendar and yet to be fulfilled in the Church. Jesus’ brothers were going up to Jerusalem to the Feast and expected Him to go with them. Jesus told them that His time has not yet fully come. However, after His brothers had left, Jesus went also “not openly, but as it were in secret.”v10. About the middle of the Feast He went up into the temple and taught v14. On the last day, “that great day of the feast” Jesus stood and proclaimed Himself openly. This shows, I believe that Jesus will certainly be coming to the end-time Feast of Tabernacles, but not openly till the end.
Again, Jesus spoke of a Coming to His disciples saying,
“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” John 16:16
Earlier He had said,
“I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.” John 14:18
He came on the Day of Pentecost. This was a Coming of the Lord. He came to live in His people by His Spirit. There will without doubt be a visible Coming of the Lord when He will come “with clouds, and every eye will see Him,” (Revelation 1:7) “in like manner as (the disciples) saw Him go into heaven.”(Acts 1:11) In the meantime there will be “Comings” when the Lord rises up in His people by His Spirit.
It is likely that this is the kind of Coming of which Margaret MacDonald had a revelation and which I believe will happen at the end of the age before His visible return to reign on the Earth.
Whatever has been taught or prophesied, the litmus test is; do the Scriptures support a secret Rapture. Let’s look at the Scriptures used by those who teach it:-
Probably the main Scripture used is 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18. There is certainly nothing secret about this Coming. The Lord will descend from heaven “with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.” This undoubtedly is the Second Coming of the Lord and would be accepted as such by all Christians if there were no teaching of a secret Rapture interpolated upon it.
Paul is reminding the Thessalonians that their loved ones who have died are with the Lord and He will bring them with Him when He returns. (v14) He then goes on to speak about the Second Coming. The bodies of those who have died in Christ (those who are coming with Him) will be resurrected first, then Christians who are alive will rise together with them to meet Jesus as He returns to the Earth. This is indeed a Rapture but nowhere does it say we will all then go back to Heaven. It simply says that we will always be with the Lord. Where is He going to be? Right here on the Earth.
When Christ comes into this Earth’s atmosphere in all His resurrected glory, the whole Earth will be renewed including the dead bodies of the saints. This is the time of “the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21) Why would those who have all this time been with the Lord in Heaven, suddenly need their resurrected bodies if they’re going back there? We will need our bodies, resurrected and glorified, to live in this restored earthly realm. The story doesn’t end in Heaven; it ends right here on the Earth. It will be an Earth restored to its original state or better – an extension of Heaven. Jesus will be here, Heaven will be here, the city of God will be here; why would you want to be anywhere else?
This plainly is a scripture about the Second Coming, not a Secret Rapture.
1 Corinthians 15:51-58 Another Second Coming scripture. This is clearly describing the same event as in the Thessalonians passage. Both these scriptures are claimed to be about the Secret Rapture by dispensationalists. Note that this event is at “the last trumpet.” The unlikely explanation is given that this means the last of two trumpets sounded at this time – one to raise the dead and one to change the living. This is obviously the same “trumpet of God” as in the Thessalonians passage. Trumpets were sounded for a number of reasons including assembling the people and to announce the arrival of a king as in 1 Kings 1:34.
Revelation 4:1,2 This is a clear instance of making the scriptures fit an already arrived at position. Those who hold the popular end time scenario state that when it comes to the Book of Revelation, what can be taken literally is literal and what cannot be taken literally should be taken to be symbolic. Yet they do not apply that principle to this scripture. John is seen as symbolic of the Church. John is caught up (whether in or out of the body we do not know). He records what he sees. He comes back.There is absolutely no warrant to say that this is the Rapture of the Church. Dispensationalists do so to get the Church out of the way before what they perceive as the Great Tribulation in Revelation chapters 6 - 18, and in order to fit in with their theory. John is having an experience similar to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, where he was lifted up to the third Heaven where he saw things “unlawful for a man to utte.r” No one would suggest that, Paul’s experience was the Rapture of the Church and neither was John’s experience. A point which they make to support their theory is that the word “church” is not mentioned after Revelation 4:1. In fact though the word “church” may not be written, the Church is present all the way through the book of Revelation.
2 Thessalonians 2:2-8 This passage has been used by some to prove that the Church is taken away in the Rapture before the Antichrist is revealed. The key question is ‘Who or what is the Restrainer?’ Is it the Church as Dispensationalists teach? In verse 6 the Restrainer is neutral indicating a force, and in verse 7, it is masculine, indicating an individual. There are a number of suggestions as to the identity of the Restrainer who is keeping the Antichrist is check. Some say that it is the Roman system of government which is why Paul is being necessarily vague; others believe that it refers to the Holy Spirit or to God Himself. The NKJV appears to support the later as the passage reads “only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.” Use of capitals for the pronouns indicates that they are referring to Deity. Paul clearly expected the Thessalonians to understand who or what he meant as he had previously spoken about this when he was with them (vs5). However the scripture is too unclear for anyone to dogmatically state who or what the Restrainer is. The passage is far too ambiguous to use it to support a doctrine of a pre-tribulation Rapture.
My own thoughts on the matter are as follows. During His ministry there were a number of times when Jesus’ life was threatened (e.g. John 10:31, Luke 4:28-30) However the opposing forces were restrained. It was not the time for Jesus to die; but when the right time came, Jesus went to the Cross. To those who came to arrest Him He said “But this is your hour and the power of darkness.” God kept Jesus from the power of darkness till the time came when He would confront them and win the victory. The power of darkness had its day but Jesus emerged victorious.
God is building a great Army which will come against the enemy and enforce the victory of the Cross. This Army will bring down the gates of Hell. Until His church is ready those dark forces are kept in check. I have heard prophecies which confirm this.
In teaching a Secret Rapture, the translation of two Old Testament prophets is often pointed to as an example -Enoch and Elijah. The translation of Enoch is recorded in Genesis 5:24
“And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.”
Enoch is listed as one of the heroes of faith.
By faith Enoch was translated so that he did not see death…..for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” Hebrews11:5
Enoch was a godly man who made two prophecies that can be gleaned from Scripture. The first was at the age of 65 when his son was born. Enoch called him “Methuselah.” The name means “When he is finished, it will come” or “When he is finished, judgement.” It was a prophecy of the great flood. From the genealogies at the end of Genesis chapter 5, we can see that Methuselah lived 969 years. He was 187 when Lamech was born and Lamech was 182 when Noah was born. The flood came when Noah was 600 years old (Genesis 7:11) all of which adds up to 969 years, the age of Methuselah. He died in the year of the Flood as Enoch prophesied. This is one of the many hidden truths in the Bible which testify to its divine inspiration. God in His mercy and long-suffering extended Methuselah’s life beyond any other man’s before He sent judgement upon the Earth. He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
Enoch’s second prophecy is found in Jude:-
“Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied …saying, ‘Behold the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds….’” Jude 14;15
Hebrews tells us that Enoch was translated by faith. Faith comes by hearing a word (a rhema) from God (Romans 10; 17). Enoch had a rhema from God, very likely a vision, in which he saw the 2nd Coming – the Lord coming “with ten thousands of His saints.” He saw that men would go to heaven. It was a faith-imparting rhema and God took him up to be the first.
Elijah, the great prophet of the Spirit in the Old Testament, was taken to heaven in a whirlwind. (2 Kings 2:11) This was a prophetic happening which pointed to the Lord’s ascension into Heaven. Elisha, who was to be his successor, requested a double portion of the Spirit which rested on Elijah. He was told that if he saw Elijah being taken up, his request would be granted. As Elijah ascended, his mantle fell to the watching Elisha and Elisha is recorded as doing twice as many miracles as Elijah.
Centuries later the disciples watched as Jesus ascend into Heaven. Ten days later His mantle – the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples as they waited in an upper room. Jesus had told them that they would do greater things than He had done because He was going to the Father and would send the Holy Spirit. The early Church went out in the power of the Spirit and did mighty works as Jesus had promised.
These two men are the only ones recorded in Scripture who were translated bodily to Heaven without dying and staying there. However there is a growing number of accounts of people who have visited Heaven in “out- of –the- body” experiences, some after clinical death but others without dying as did Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 and John in Revelation 4. The translation of Enoch and Elijah does not prove a rapture of the Church, ‘pre-trib” or “mid-trib.” It is a misuse of Scripture to say that it does. Some have Enoch and Elijah coming back to die as the two witnesses in Revelation 11 but I doubt this very literal interpretation of what is a largely symbolic book.
The Book of Revelation shows the age-long battle of the Kingdom of God against the forces of darkness. We can all take comfort from the portrayal of the worship of our great God and the ultimate victory over evil. A helpful guide to understanding the various ways of interpreting the Book of Revelation is in the back of the Spirit Filled Life Bible published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. I believe it does disservice to the Book to take it literally because the reality is so much greater than the literal interpretation. That’s why symbols are used. Only the Holy Spirit can unlock the depths of the Book and this is an ongoing process.
God’s ongoing plan for the Church can be more accurately determined from the patterns or types He has written into the pattern nation Israel, at the beginning of the Bible. There we see God’s Covenant people rise up in victory, overcome the enemy, regain their lost inheritance and establish the Kingdom under David’s Son, and that is what the future holds for the Church. This is what the Cross has purchased. Meanwhile Jesus is “waiting till His enemies be made His footstool” (Hebrews 10:13) When we have completed the job that Jesus gave us to do, He will come again to reign. We will rise to meet Him and escort Him to the throne. There is much to be done before then.
Let’s get on with it!