THE SECRET RAPTURE - IS IT SCRIPTURAL?
ALL over the world today there is an awakening to the near return of the Lord Jesus Christ, and a growing interest in the signs of the times. As Bible believing Christians we rejoice at this phenomenon, yet sad to say, in almost every case the doctrine of the Lord's return has been mixed in with the teaching that He will return first secretly and 'rapture' or take away His Church. Although Church History will show that such a theory has only come into prominence over the last one hundred and fifty years, today it is spreading like wildfire, in books, and even films, and accounts for the teaching in 90% of Full Gospel and Fundamentalist Churches and Bible Colleges, world-wide. This being the case it is our duty as students of God's prophetic Word to examine this doctrine of the Secret Rapture, and ask ourselves -'Is it Scriptural?'THE ORIGINS
When we remember that the Secret Rapture theory was virtually unheard of and untaught until around 1830, it is essential to examine its origins first. Such a teaching was unknown to the early Church Fathers e.g. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, who were convinced that the Christian Church would pass through great tribulation at the hands of the antichrist system before the return of the Lord. Furthermore the Rapture theory was not taught by the great stalwarts of the Reformed Faith - Huss, Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Cranmer or even by the Wesley brothers in the 18th Century. Whence came this teaching therefore and where did this novel. idea arise?
At the time of the Reformation, the first Protestants widely believed and taught that the Papacy was antichrist, and the Roman Church the Harlot System of Revelation 17. It therefore became necessary for certain Romish theologians to take the pressure off the Pope by inventing a new school of prophetic interpretation now known as Futurism. It was a Jesuit priest named Ribera (1537-1591) who first taught that the events prophesied in the books of Daniel and Revelation would not be fulfilled until three and a half years at the end of the age when an individual world dictator called Anti-Christ would arise. Thus Ribera laid the foundation of a system of prophetic interpretation of which the Secret Rapture has now become an integral part.
Nevertheless in spite of the efforts of false prophets like Ribera and Cardinal Bellarmine it was not for another two and a half centuries that the Jesuit fables began to gain acceptance by Evangelical Christians. In the early 19th Century Futurism entered the bloodstream of Protestant prophetic teaching by three main roads:
(a) A Chilean Jesuit priest, Emmanuel Lacunza wrote a book entitled 'The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty', and in its pages taught the novel notion that Christ returns not once, but twice, and at the 'first stage' of His return He 'raptures' His Church so they can escape the reign of the 'future antichrist'. In order to avoid any taint of Romanism, Lacunza published his book under the assumed name of Rabbi Ben Ezra, a supposedly converted Jew. Lacunza's book found its way to the library of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and there in 1826 Dr Maitland, the Archbishop's librarian came upon it and read it and soon after began to issue a series of parnphlets giving the Jesuit, Futurist view of prophecy. The idea soon found acceptance in the Anglo-Catholic Ritualist movement in the National Church of England, and soon it tainted the very heart of Protestantism.
(b) The Secret Rapture doctrine was given a second door of entrance at this time by the ministry of one, Edward Irving, founder of the so-called 'Catholic Apostolic Church'. It was in Irving's London church, in 1830, that a young girl named Margaret McDonald gave an ecstatic prophecy in which she claimed there would be a special secret coming of the Lord to 'rapture' those awaiting His return. From then until his death in 1834 Irving devoted his considerable talent as a preacher to spreading the theory of the 'secret rapture'.
(c) However, it was necessary for Jesuitry to have a third door of entrance to the Reforrned fold and this they gained via a sincere Christian, J. N. Darby, generally regarded as the founder of the 'Brethren'. As an Anglican curate Darby attended a nurnber of mysteriously organised meetings on Bible Prophecy at Powerscourt in Ireland, and at these gatherings he learned about the 'secret rapture'. He carried the teaching into the Brethren and hence into the heart of Evangelicalism. With a new veneer of being scriptural the teaching spread and was later popularised in the notes of the Schofield Reference Bible.
So today the three measures of Roman leaven have corrupted the Prophetic teaching of almost all the Fundamentalist world. Well might we say of the 'secret rapture', can any good thing come out of Rome?
THE PROOF TEXTS EXAMINED
Whilst the Romanist origin of any doctrine is always sufficient to make it suspect, our Final court of appeal must be to the Holy Scriptures, and so we find it necessary to examine some of the favourite 'Proof Texts' which are quoted by the Rapturists and see just what they really teach.
(A) Coming as a Thief
Our blessed Lord said: 'But know this, that if the good man of the house, had known in what hour the thief would come he would have watched and not have suffered the house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready for in such an hour as ye think not your Lord will corne.' Matt. 24:43-44; Luke 12:39-40.
The Rapturists tell us that this shows the secret nature of the Lord's 'coming for' the saints, but does it? The only secrecy implied in the texts is in relation to the day and hour of Christ's coming and there is nothing to indicate that the coming itself is a secret. In fact we are told:
'The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a SHOUT, with the VOICE of an Archangel and the TRUMP of God.' I Thess. 4:16. Nothing quiet about that, is there?
Again they refer us to the words: 'I will come on thee as a thief in the night and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.' Rev. 3:3. Or again:
'Behold I come as a thief, blessed is he that watcheth.' Rev. 16:15.
However, in both instances just quoted, the secrecy is in connection with the timing not the nature of the event, and it is exactly the same in the other 'thief text'.
'The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night' II Peter 3:10
Here again it is the element of surprise that leads to the use of the thief as a symbol. Peter himself finishes this very same 'thief text' by saying that at the time of the Lord's coming:
'The heavens shall pass away with a GREAT NOISE'
Not much secrecy about that is there? After all did not Paul tell his readers:
'But ye brethren ARE NOT in darkness that, that day shall overtake you as a thief.' I Thess. 5:4.
You see, as Christians, they were studying the signs of the times as we should be doing and were ready for Christ's return. He will only come as a thief for those who are not prepared for Him.
Furthermore the very concept of a 'thief' must be called into question for, at the time when our Lord and the Apostles spoke, a thief was much more likely to be a bandit or leader of a gang of robbers who swept down on his victims in swift, sudden, but open and daring raids, and he was not a sneak thief or burglar, as we have today.
(B) As in the Days of Noah
The Rapturists would have us believe that the Lord comes secretly to rescue His people before what they call 'the great tribulation' or time of trouble begins. To support this idea they quote the Lord Jesus as saying: 'As the days of Noah were, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be ... then shall two be in the field, the one shall be taken, the other left. Watch therefore for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.' Matt. 24:37-42.
How often we have heard this text used to challenge sinners to come to Christ and of the terrible things that will happen when their Christian friends and relatives have been 'raptured'. Let us not take the text from its context to make it a pretext. The clear setting and key to the understanding of the verse is: 'As it was in the days of Noah', and we all know that then it was the wicked who were taken away and the righteous left to inherit a purified earth. Such a concept of the removal of the wicked is in keeping with the clear teaching given by our Lord in two of His Kingdom Parables. In that of the Wheat and the Tares, we are told that the harvest is the end of the age, when the angels will gather out of the kingdom, the tares which represent the wicked or those who offend. Again in the same thirteenth chapter of Matthew's Gospel, we find the Parable of the Dragnet. In its symbolism it is the bad or evil ones who are removed out of the Kingdom for Jesus says:
'So shall it be at the end of the world (age), the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from the just.' Matt. 13:49.
If a third witness were needed the Old Testament prophet Isaiah tells us:
'Behold the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate, and He shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.'
Let me ask you to consider very carefully just who the Lord will 'rapture' or remove. Surely it is His intention to give this earth into the possession of the righteous as He said in His Sermon on the Mount. Did not our Lord pray in John 17: 15:
'I pray NOT that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from evil'?
Surely our Lord promised to be with us not until the 'secret rapture' but 'to the end of the age.'
(C) Coming For and With the Saints
Another favourite proof text of the Rapturists is Jude v 14:
'Behold the Lord cometh, with ten thousands of His Saints.'
Then by coupling this to first Thessalonians 4:16-17 where we are told that the saints will be 'caught up together ... in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air' they glibly tell us that Christ comes first for His saints, and that He returns with the saints, after either three and a half or seven years - a period of time which they cannot agree on.
Once again we find that all is not as simple as they would have us believe. It is indeed true that at His Coming, the dead in Christ together with the living believers will be translated or caught up to meet the Lord in the air, but there is no Scripture to even suggest that He takes them to Heaven where they remain for a period of time, be it long or short, and then return with Him. Far from it, they meet the Lord in the air as His entourage or glory train, as earthly courtiers would go out to greet their King, as He is on His way back to earth where His feet will stand upon the Mount of Olives as the disciples were told at the time of His Ascension. So let us look at the verse in Jude which refers to coming 'with the Saints'. The word translated 'saints' in our Bible comes from a Greek word HAGIOUS, which means Holy. Since Christ Himself taught that:
'The Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the Holy (HAGIOUS) angels with Him. Matt. 25:31 It seems more than likely that the word translated saints in Jude refers to angels. Since the verse referred to in Jude speaks of Christ returning with His saints to execute judgement we would do well to examine another similar verse of scripture which tells us the same thing:
'The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them who know not God, and obey not the Gospel.' II Thess. 1:7-8.
It seems we need not the Rapturists' theories, for Scripture interprets itself and one verse can often throw light upon another. Let us also remember that the expression 'ten thousands of His Saints' is not only in Jude but in Deuteronomy 33:2:
'The Lord came from Sinai ... with ten thousands of His saints.'
There can therefore be no doubt that these 'saints' were angels, a fact attested to by Matthew Henry's Commentary, and the extra-canonical Book of Enoch. So much for coming 'for' and 'with' the saints.
(D) The Time Gap and the Greek Wording
Let us look again briefly at I Thess. 4 for here we are clearly told that at the moment the living saints are caught up to meet the Lord the righteous dead are also resurrected. Now if the Futurists and Rapturists are correct and there is indeed a time gap before the Lord returns, or the Day of the Lord occurs, there is surely a grave discrepancy for Martha believed that her brother Lazarus would: 'rise again in the Resurrection at the last day.' John 11:24. Job, the Old Testament saint also taught that the dead would not rise until 'the heavens be no more' Job 14:10-12 or 'the latter day' Job 19:25-27.
The order of events in I Thess. 4:16-17 clearly shows what happens at the last day or Day of the Lord is:
a) The trump of God sounds;
b) The dead in Christ are raised:
c) The living saints are translated (not 'raptured').
There certainly does not seem to be room left here for a time gap of any length. In spite of this clear sequence of events, in their determination to prove otherwise, the Rapturists will still defend their mistaken concept of a coming in two stages, by appealing to the distinction between the two Greek words used, in connection with the coming. These words are Parousia, which they contend is coming first to rapture the believers and Apokalupsis which they say is open, visible coming back with the saints after a lapse of time. In reality there are actually six Greek words used in connection with the return of the Lord. For the sake of simplicity we shall list these words, with their English rendering and go on to show that the inspired writers of the New Testament used them interchangeably to describe not two distinct and separate comings but one event.
1. Parousia - This word emphasises the physical or actual personal presence of the one who comes e.g. 'Be patient unto the COMING (in person) of the Lord.' James 5:7.
2. Apokalupsis - This word stresses the 'revealing' or unveiling of the one who comes e.g. 'The Lord shall be REVEALED from Heaven.' II Thess. 1:7.
3. Epiphaneia - This word is used in the sense of the Glory or Majesty that will be manifested as Christ returns e.g. 'The APPEARING of our Lord Jesus.' I Tim. 6:14.
4. Heko - This word is used to emphasise the idea of arrival at a certain point or place e.g. 'Hold fast till I COME (to you).' Rev. 2:25.
5. Erchomai - This word is used to imply the actual act or event of coming e.g. 'Occupy till I COME (make the journey).' Luke 19: 13.
6. Phaneroo - This word means to render apparent e.g. 'When He shall APPEAR we shall be like Him' I John 32.
Out of these six words, the one most used is Parousia, but never in the sense of anything that is secret. Paul frequently used this word to refer to the physical presence of himself and others at various locations e.g. he spoke of the 'coming' (PAROUSIA) of Titus to him from Corinth, II Cor. 7:6, and again in the same Epistle the 'coming' (PAROUSIA) of Stephanas etc. I Cor. 16:17. Again when writing to the saints at Philippi, Paul said that he would be 'coming' (PAROUSIA) to visit them. Furthermore Paul spoke of the 'Coming (PAROUSIA) of the Lord and our gathering together to Him.' II Thess. 2 as an event seen by all after the appearance of antichrist, not in secret before the appearance of antichrist.
Not only Paul but Peter also used these words PAROUSIA and APOKALUPSIS, and actually used them to refer to the same event, the open manifest, coming again of the Lord Jesus. To see this compare I Peter 1:13 to II Peter 3. To confirm that the two words are interchangeable, we find that Matthew in his Gospel referring to the last days says:
'As the days of Noah were, so shall the coming (PAROUSIA) of the Son of Man be.' Matt. 24:37.
Yet Luke referring to the same event in his Gospel writes:
'As it was in the days of Noah ... even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of Man shall be revealed (APOKALUPSIS).' Luke 17:26-30.
Surely this is proof if it is still required that the idea of two comings is at best a nonsense and at worst a deliberate deception. Before leaving this issue we should also say that the other Greek words listed previously can also be used interchangeably, although implying various shades or degrees of meaning.
EPIPHANEIA is used to refer to the Lord returning to destroy antichrist:
'with the brightness of His COMING.' II Thess. 2:8.
Certainly nothing secret about that event. PHANEROO can be found in I Peter 5:4.
'When the chief Shepherd shall appear ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.'
Without doubt the crowning glory of the saints at the Lord's return will be open and for all to see.
ERCHOMAI and HEKO are actually used in the same sentence to describe the same event:
'For yet a little while and He that shall come (ERCHOMAI) will come (HEKO) and will not tarry.' Hebrews 10:37.
In the light of these and many other similar verses it is apparent that the original Greek text confounds and refutes the Secret Rapture teaching rather than confirming and sustaining it.
CAN CHRIST COME BACK AT ANY MOMENT?
Frequently coupled with the Secret Rapture doctrine is the equally misguided notion that Christ can come back at any moment, even tonight, as we so often hear well-meaning Evangelists proclaim. Whilst we do not doubt the Lord's ability, we do believe that God is the author not of confusion, but of a great plan for the ages. This being the case, and although we are well aware that no man knows the exact day and hour of Christ's return, it is equally certain that a number of prophecies yet await their complete fulfilment and that not until we witness these things come to pass, can we expect the Lord at any moment. It was this very doctrine which had come into the Church at Thessalonica and made it necessary for Paul to write:
'Now we beseech you brethren by (concerning) the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by (concerning) our gathering together unto Him that ye be not soon shaken in mind or be troubled, neither by spirit nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand (at any moment), let no man deceive you, for that day shall not come except there come, a falling away first and the Man of Sin be revealed.' II Thess. 2:13.
Now those who believe in the Secret Rapture and that Christ can come at any moment say He will gather the believers before antichrist appears yet the Scripture says the direct opposite.
Again like so much of their teaching it is confusion, confounded, and Scripture stood upon its head.CONCLUSION: A CALL AND A WARNING!
Dear reader, it is our sincere and earnest prayer that this article will convince you of the unscriptural nature of the Secret Rapture doctrine. Instead of preparing God's people to face the increasingly difficult days ahead, as tribulation intensifies, this doctrine has deluded millions of Christians into a false notion of escapism, and instead of obeying the Lord's command to resist evil and occupy until He comes, they have been made so Rapture-minded that they no longer even resist the evil, believing not that they will defeat it, but instead be rescued from it.
Let the Christian reader be up and doing in these last days, obeying the great commission given by our Lord in Matthew 10:
'Go, preach saying the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely you have received. Freely give.'
Let the unconverted reader hear again the words of Jesus to one who was a ruler in Israel:
'Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God ... Ye must be born again.' John 3 v 3-7.
Then we will all meet soon at that Great Day, when our Lord translates and resurrects His saints and returns with them to rule and reign upon the Throne of His father David in that great Kingdom that shall never end.
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