Are You Waiting for the Rapture?
“IT’S not God’s fault. It’s my fault. I miscalculated,” Bill Maupin, the leader of the group, was quoted as saying. The predicted date, June 28, 1981, came and went—and nothing happened.
Maupin’s group, having waited together patiently for thirty-six hours, were not the first ones to be disappointed. Back on October 22, 1844, an estimated 100,000 followers of William Miller had waited for hours on housetops and hills for the same event to occur.
What were these two groups, and others in between, so eagerly awaiting? The rapture!
What Is the Rapture?
Essentially it is the belief that Christians will be snatched away, suddenly taken out of the world, to be united with Christ “in the air.” As Tim LaHaye wrote in his book The Beginning of the End: “We will immediately leave this earth. No matter what we are doing we will suddenly be taken out of the world.”
He continued: “The Rapture of the Church will be an event of such startling proportions that the entire world will be conscious of our leaving. Some have suggested that there will be airplane, bus and train wrecks throughout the world when Christian operators are suddenly taken out of the world. Who can imagine the chaos on the freeways when automobile drivers are snatched out of their cars!”
Indeed, some drivers have put bumper stickers on their cars reading: “In Case Of Rapture This Car Will Be Driverless.”
But there are differing opinions about how and when the rapture will take place. Some believe it to be a secret rapture, with those taken away simply disappearing. Others think that Christ will appear visibly and raise the “saints” in visible bodies as the world looks on. Some believe that the rapture will take place after the signs and the “great tribulation” mentioned in the Bible at Matthew chapter 24.
The most popular idea, though, is that there are two separate comings of Christ (or two stages of his coming): First, to the air to collect believers to him before the start of a seven-year tribulation; and second, to the earth to establish his kingdom and begin his millennial rule at the end of that tribulation.
Why Some Wait for It
This thought of entirely escaping future world calamities appeals to many. It has caused such believers to adopt an untroubled attitude toward world conditions.
“The big difference between the scientists and these evangelicals,” says religious writer George Plagenz, “is that, while the former are worried that the world could come to an end soon, the Christians are literally excited over the prospect. . . . The reason for the optimism of the Bible-believing Christians is that, in their view, while the world is teetering on the brink of the Great Tribulation, a cosmic disaster foretold in the Bible, the believers in Christ will be spared.”
Writes John F. Walvoord in his book Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis: “It would be difficult not to be troubled if Scripture did not clearly show that inevitable martyrdom in the great tribulation would not be the next expectation for believers in this age. True Christians today need not fear the catastrophic days about to overcome the world. Instead, they have the imminent hope of Christ’s return and their being joined to the Lord to enjoy His presence forever.”
“What a way to live!” exclaims popular writer Hal Lindsey. “With optimism, with anticipation, with excitement. We should be living like persons who don’t expect to be around much longer.”
Is It Found in the Bible?
Does the Bible teach that there will be a rapture of all true Christians to heaven? Will they be taken away leaving the rest of mankind behind to face calamity?
Actually, the word “rapture” is not found in the Bible. The belief is based on 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17, where the related words “caught away” are found. There we read:
“The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first. Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
Believers in the rapture give the following literal interpretation to this passage: Christ will again come to the earth. The dead “saints” will be resurrected and the living “saints” will be caught away, or raptured. Given new immortal bodies, they will rise and join Christ in the air, and he will take them to heaven.
This belief, then, is tied in with the return of Jesus Christ. But what does the Bible show to be the purpose of Christ’s return?
Manner and Purpose of Christ’s Return
The Bible does not indicate that there will be a literal, bodily return of Christ to earth. Rather, it shows that he returns in the sense of turning his attention to the earth and to accomplish certain definite purposes respecting mankind.
Christ’s descending, as mentioned at 1 Thessalonians 4:16, is in the same sense as the Scriptures speak of God’s descending to earth. For instance, the Bible says of God: “He proceeded to bend the heavens down and to descend; and thick gloom was beneath his feet.” (2 Samuel 22:10) “Look! Jehovah is going forth from his place, and he will certainly come down and tread upon earth’s high places.” (Micah 1:3) What is meant by these words? Not that God will leave his place in heaven, but that he will turn his attention to affairs on earth.
In the same way, when Christ turns his attention to the earth he resurrects those sleeping in death who will join him in heavenly rule. (1 Thessalonians 4:14, 15; Revelation 20:6) They, like Jesus, are invisibly raised to join him in the spirit realm. Thus “those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first.” Then those anointed Christians still living on earth will, as they complete their earthly course, “be caught away in clouds [resurrected as invisible spirit sons of God] to meet the [invisible] Lord in the air.” Thus, “afterward,” as mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, means that such faithful ones who then die will also receive a resurrection in the spirit.—1 Corinthians 15:51-53.
But much more is accomplished at Christ’s return. Installed as King in God’s heavenly kingdom, he first ousts Satan from heaven and confines him to the vicinity of the earth. From his heavenly throne Jesus turns his attention to the earth for inspection and judgment. Nations are “gathered before him,” and the people are separated as “sheep” from “goats.”—Matthew 25:31-33; Revelation 12:7-12.
That separation made by Jesus is based on the attitude individuals have toward Christ’s “brothers,” those anointed Christians, the “living who are surviving” at the time of his return. Jesus’ “brothers” have been given the work of preaching the “good news of the kingdom” and ‘making disciples of people of all the nations.’ (Matthew 25:34-45; 24:14; 28:19, 20) Those separated as “sheep,” in Jesus’ illustration of ‘the sheep and the goats,’ join with Christ’s “brothers” in proclaiming God’s kingdom. But they do not entertain any hope of any kind of rapture, or of a heavenly resurrection to “be with the Lord.” Rather, they have the Scriptural hope of going through the “great tribulation” and of living forever in paradise conditions on earth. In connection with this earthly realm of the kingdom, the King Jesus Christ will extend to them the invitation: “Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.”—Matthew 25:34, 46; Revelation 7:9, 10, 14.
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Some believe there will be airplane, bus, train and automobile wrecks when Christian operators are suddenly taken out of the world