Should We Expect a “Rapture” at Any Moment?

If the news we watch every day, and the social media we follow is true, the end times must be just around the corner, right?

What does Scripture say?

Faced with such a dire time of tribulation, some Christians have wondered whether they will have to live through it. The historic answer, for both Catholics and Protestants, is that we will. Jesus warned us we would have to face persecution (John 15:20).

However, in the nineteenth century,dispensationalists began teaching that Christians will not have to face this trial. Instead, before the great tribulation begins, they will be caught up to heaven and spared the reign of the Antichrist and the horrors it contains.

They referred to this event as the Rapture, based on the Latin word rapio(“to snatch, to carry away”). Catholics do not generally use this term, but Paul does describe an event when “we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).

According to the scenario dispensationalists propose, after the Great Tribulation, the Rapture is the next prophetic event in God’s plan, so it will happen without warning, at any moment. Jesus will descend into the atmosphere and all true Christians will be caught up to be with him in the sky. This will include dead Christians, who will be raised back to life. Jesus will then take his followers back to heaven while the Antichrist reigns and all hell breaks loose on earth. Then, at the end of the great tribulation, Jesus will return to earth, slay the Antichrist, and begin his thousand-year earthly reign.

There are multiple problems with this view. First, as we have seen, the Church rejects the idea of a future earthly millennium, so the overall scenario is based on a false premise.

Furthermore, the dispensationalist view does not fit what St. Paul says. It splits the Second Coming in half, with Jesus first descending to claim his Church and then, years later, returning to deal with the Antichrist. Yet in the relevant passages, Paul speaks only of a single coming. He indicates that the event when believers will be caught up to be with Jesus occurs at “the coming [singular] of the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16).

And he doesn’t say that Jesus will then go back to heaven. Instead, he indicates that the final judgment will follow, for he goes on to tell the Thessalonians that they have no need to worry about the times or seasons of when this will happen, because “you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people say, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape” (5:2-3).

The scenario Paul depicts is Jesus returning to earth, gathering his followers in the sky, and then proceeding to judge the wicked as part of “the day of the Lord.”

This is confirmed when he takes up the same subject in his second letter to the Thessalonians, referring to the event as “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him” (2 Thess. 2:1). Both elements are thus present: the return of Christ and the gathering of his followers to him.

Paul says this event “will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (vv. 3-4).

Then, when the Lord returns and we are assembled to be with him, “the Lord Jesus will slay [the man of lawlessness] with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming” (v. 8).

Paul also emphasizes that “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven” (2 Thess. 1:7, emphasis added) the wicked “shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord . . . when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints” (2 Thess. 1:9-10). After discussing this event, Paul then identifies it as “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him” (2 Thess. 2:1).

The sequence Paul lays out thus does not involve Christians being caught up to heaven during the Antichrist’s reign, or that reign coming over a thousand years before the final judgment. Instead, it involves the Antichrist reigning first, then Jesus returning and the faithful being caught up to be with him, following which the Antichrist will be killed and the final judgment will take place.

Thus, we shouldn’t expect a Rapture to take place at any moment now. We will be caught up to be with Jesus—after the reign of the man of lawlessness, not before.

Apr 30th 2024 Jimmy Akin

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