I have likened the biblical basis for Christian Zionism to a balloon - bright and colourful but full of hot air. I have been asking my audiences how many pins does it take to burst a balloon? In my presentation, Seven Biblical Answers to Popular Zionist Assumptions, I provide seven 'pins'. Any one of them will do. The one that seems the favourite here bursts the silly notion that believers will be secretly raptured to heaven before Jesus returns while unbelievers will be 'left behind'.
What is the idea behind the “Secret Rapture”?
The Rapture is the novel idea that Jesus will actually return twice. First of all, secretly to rescue true believers out of the world before, or mid-way through a seven year period of intense suffering known as the Tribulation, then visibly with his saints to judge the world. So advocates claim Jesus will return secretly for his saints, then visibly with his saints.
Although now a dominant view in America, largely as a result of Tim LaHaye’s immensely popular Left Behind series books and films, the idea of a two-stage Rapture has been traced to the eccentric views of J.N. Darby and Cyrus Scofield. It does not apear in any theological writings before 1820. Coincidentally, the eccentric teaching of the Adventists, Millerites, Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses all arose around the same time and simlar speculated about the return of Jesus.
To the traditional hope of the visible return of Jesus they added the notion of a secret return associated with a time of great suffering and persecution for those left behind on earth. Proponents believe that in one cataclysmic moment, millions of believers around the world will suddenly be caught up in the air to be with Jesus. Life, they taught, will continue on earth for those who have ignored or rejected Jesus during a period of intense tribulation.
Tim LaHaye describes his book Left Behind as a "Thrilling end-time adventure [which] looks at life on Earth following the Rapture. In one cataclysmic moment, millions around the globe disappear, vehicles careen out of control, loved ones vanish before your eyes, global chaos ensues…. You’ll pick it up – but not put it down!" Somehow I would not describe global destruction as ‘thrilling’.
What does the Bible say about the Rapture?
The Bible actually teaches the opposite of what our Rapture experts promote. In Matthew 13, for example, in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, Jesus says:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ” ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ” (Matthew 13:24-30)Notice the order in the story. Jesus explains that the weeds will be removed first and destroyed, then the wheat gathered. And to avoid any confusion, Jesus explains the meaning,
“The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:38-43)Jesus says his return will be associated both with destruction and deliverance, with condemnation and vindication, but the order is significant. There is nothing in the Bible that teaches that Jesus will return secretly to rescue believers then return visibly to judge the world. The most conclusive repudiation of the notion of a secret rapture, however, comes a little later in Matthew 24. Jesus says,
"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matthew 24:30-31)Jesus is using vivid imagery from the Old Testament to describe his return. The great trumpet refers to the silver trumpets used to call God’s people to worship (Num. 10:1-10) and the four winds (Jeremiah 49:36; Zechariah 2:6) symbolise the entire world. In this way Jesus will gather his elect “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9).
A few verses later, Jesus explains the sequence of events associated with his return.
“Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:40-42)So which one is taken first and which one left behind? We only have to look at the preceding verses to see which is which.
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left." “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come."(Matthew 24:36-42)Notice Jesus says "As in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man" (24:37) and then he repeats himself, "That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man" (24:39).
Jesus does not want us to be confused. So, in the days of Noah who was "taken"? Those who rejected the warnings of Noah. So who will be "taken" first when Jesus returns?
The hot air associated with the Left Behind books and videos simply contradicts the plain teaching of Jesus. It is a tragic example of what happens when people major on minors and dogmatise on obscure verses. And it only takes a simple reading of Jesus words to burst the balloon of false teaching.
I am happy to be ‘left behind’, at least until Jesus does return visible and unmistakably. Jesus warns us against being ‘taken in’ by news that he has returned secretly or invisibly. His description should leave us in no doubt. “Just as the lightening comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matthew 24:27)
Are you looking forward to the return of Jesus? Do you long for his appearing? Is there unfinished business in your life? Then finish it quickly. Is there anything more important than Jesus in your life? Then it is too important. Revise your values before he has to.
If you knew that the Lord was returning tonight, would you change your priorities today? Then change them. Live today as if it were your last. Live as if Christ died yesterday, as if He rose from the dead today, and is coming back tomorrow. Then you will not be ashamed at His appearing and you will not lose your reward.
If you are not sure about who Jesus is, or why he came, then investigate Christianity Explored and find a course taking place near you.