The Rap on the Rapture

What is the apocalyptic event described in First Thessalonians 4 and First Corinthians 15? Perhaps not exactly what you think it is…

By Gregory Koukl

The Old Testament doesn’t talk about the Rapture. The New Testament just makes casual references to it. Some might suggest details like Daniel 9 and the missing week of Daniel’s prophecy.

I was raised in a strong pre-tribulation rapture environment. To put it simply, I was raised at the feet of Hal Lindsey, spiritually speaking. The first three years I studied at his Bible training center in Westwood Village, called the Jesus Christ Light and Power House. I got a lot of good teaching there, but the eschatological teaching we got was this teaching, so I am very familiar with the point of view. I actually accepted it somewhat uncritically because that was my background, until I began to do some study and I made a couple of observations.

The first observation I made was that this doctrine, the disappearance of the church seven years prior to the return of Christ, is not a doctrine that anyone in the history of the church ever held to until about 150 years ago. That was the first red flag. There might be justifiable explanations for that and some people make those explanations. But my question is, if the Bible teaches this, why didn’t anybody see it for almost 2000 years? All of the church fathers expected to see the Antichrist which would leave at least a mid-trib rapture. My suspicion was, the reason the church didn’t see it for 2000 years is because it wasn’t there. The information about the rapture actually came from a prophecy that was external to the Scriptures, the Plymouth Brethren prophecy. With that prophecy in place, people went back to the Scriptures and then began to see what they saw as hints of this doctrine in different passages.

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The second observation is something that people said on a regular basis. They would say, regarding this issue of the rapture, that it’s not really clear when. There are no direct Scriptures that specifically teach when. They maintained that we have to draw simple inferences from the Scriptures and this is why you see these kind of convoluted systems meant to infer the pre-trib rapture or the mid-trib rapture from the text. I saw something entirely different when I actually went to the text itself.

We have to have a procedural question that is answered first. What is the foundation from which we approach any issue of theology? In a broad sense, it’s going to be the Bible. In order to understand inferences best, we are safest when we proceed from an explicit Biblical teaching. If we have an explicit Biblical teaching, then the rule of Analogy of Faith is applied. That is, we interpret the unclear in light of the clear. The question is, do we have some clear statements in the Scripture about the timing of the event that is commonly called the rapture? I think we do. We have two very explicit statements that clearly describe the event that most people call the rapture. 1 Thessalonians 4 and then 1 Corinthians 15. There are other verses that some say refer to the rapture, but these are the only two I know of that explicitly describe this event.

What is interesting about both of these passages, is that both passages say exactly when it’s going to happen. There is no ambiguity…


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