Though it is not a commonly held belief within Christianity worldwide, if you came of age in the United States then the rapture was unquestionably a biblical truth–especially in the evangelical and charismatic circles. It was imminent and could happen in the “twinkling of an eye.” It is an event you needed to be ready for so that you weren’t left behind to suffer on earth before it was destroyed along with the antichrist and his followers. You lived with a hope that someday you would escape this ugly, sinful world and be swept away to a blissful eternity far removed from the earth and its fallen state. And if for some reason you did find yourself left behind then you at least had another chance to acknowledge the Messiah…or finally be cast into a fiery eternal torment.
Even now, memories swell to the forefront from my youth. Summer camps with midnight rapture games where we had to avoid the antichrist government police and forge our way in the dark to the church without being tagged–which meant capture. And we knew that meant inevitable torture at the hands of the government–most likely, beheading. I remember countless moments such as staying over at a friend’s home and waking the next morning thinking the rapture had taken place because my friend was not there. (He was in the bathroom). 70’s rapture films shown in youth group meetings that began with a razor buzzing alone on the sink, only to be discovered by a girlfriend of the departed who was finally beheaded in a statement of faith by film’s end. Flash forward to 2002. I was 26 years old, signed to MCA, and on tour with Atticus Fault. We stopped-off in New Orleans after convincing our road manager it was shorter taking the detour to Bourbon Street rather than continuing on course to the next show–it wasn’t. We spent the evening enjoying drinks, friends, and adventures only found in New Orleans. I eventually conceded and called it an “early” night to rest up for the show the following day. I woke up to an empty hotel room. No sounds. No band. I frantically turned on the television to look for any christian station I could find because, after all, not everyone on those shows had to be fake. I started loading the gear and only had peace when I saw my bandmates stumbling down the street to the van. I was an adult. Full of fear. Fear. I wish I had stayed up to close down Bourbon Street with my mates.
To say the idea of eternal torture did not enhance the “scare factor” of the vanishing event would be an understatement. But I will address “hell” in later writings. For now, let me continue with this discussion about the false doctrine of the rapture. Yes. The false doctrine. What a heresy to my younger self, let alone the evangelical world that raised me.
Would it surprise you to know the doctrine of the rapture is a modern idea that was propagated only since around 1830?
Details vary as to the timeline of events but let’s start here. John Darby, an influential Bible teacher, was sent to Scotland by the Plymouth Brethren to investigate prophetic visions of Mary MacDonald, a member of a charismatic movement led by a Scottish pastor by the name of John Irving. She claimed, while sick, to have prophetic visions of God snatching away the church before the world’s judgement. John Darby returned, though wary of many of their practices, convinced by what he heard or at least encouraged in some of his ideas which he then began teaching as part of his theology. C.I. Scofield eventually included Darby’s ideas of the rapture in the footnotes of his Scofield Reference Bible which was widely disseminated in America and England. It became one of the most popular reference bibles among protestants who accepted the footnotes as doctrine thus influencing how the scriptures have been read and taught for generations in seminaries, churches, and schools, especially within the evangelical community.
The rich metaphors and political nature of Paul’s writing’s in particular, which resonated with his audience at the time, were lost to those who were taught to view scriptures through the lens of this young idea.
“First, Paul echoes the story of Moses coming down the mountain with the Torah. The trumpet sounds, a loud voice is heard, and after a long wait Moses comes to see what’s been going on in his absence.
Second, he echoes Daniel 7, in which “the people of the saints of the Most High” (that is, the “one like a son of man”) are vindicated over their pagan enemy by being raised up to sit with God in glory. This metaphor, applied to Jesus in the Gospels, is now applied to Christians who are suffering persecution.
Third, Paul conjures up images of an emperor visiting a colony or province. The citizens go out to meet him in open country and then escort him into the city. Paul’s image of the people “meeting the Lord in the air” should be read with the assumption that the people will immediately turn around and lead the Lord back to the newly remade world.”
–N.T. Wright, Bible Review, August 2001.
One verse that was specifically cited in my youth as a support for this rapture doctrine was Matthew 24:37-41
“For the coming of the son of man will be just like it was in the days of Noah— just like in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah entered the Ark—and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away [Luke: “destroyed them all”]. The coming of the son of man will be just like that. 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 last two verses were the ones read for the big sermon payoff of the altar call. “Don’t be left behind!” But in context with the first verses that were conveniently omitted, if I lived in “the days of Noah” I definitely did not want to be taken away with the wicked outside the ark.
We could continue down this path and find ourselves in a novel’s-worth of material, but that exists elsewhere in writings by those much more knowledgable than I who have dedicated their lives to understanding scripture in it’s true contexts.
I want to leave you with this. As followers of the Christ, we are not living to escape this fallen evil world to live in some “nirvana up there.” God is in the process of restoring creation to its original purpose-which includes you and me. It began with Christ announcing the new kingdom and giving His life to fulfill the scriptures. There will be a new heaven and new earth joined together where we will dwell in the presence of God. For those of you that aren’t followers of Yeshua, it sounds pretty fantastical. But that is what we believe.
Let us study and seek truth so that we no longer dispense myths that enslave us to fear. Let us be careful not to steal the joy of God’s peace from another generation because we fear questioning what has been told to us. I lost many moments of my youth–and adulthood–that could have been lived more abundantly as Christ promised, simply because of a 200 year old idea in the footnotes of a reference bible.
God helped me escape the rapture.
You can be left behind too.