Exposing the Rapture Myth

by Dave Batcheller, written August 2015

The Christian Church has contracted a serious disease–one that threatens both its future and the effectiveness of its mission to the world. This widespread epidemic has been caused by the virus of a false teaching known as the “Pretribulation Rapture.” For many years I believed that this debate was over a non-essential doctrine that was incidental and distracting; yet now I clearly see its’ devastating results upon the church in America.

Turning Myth Into Mainstream

The pretribulation rapture myth was injected into the blood stream of the Church less than 200 years ago, and has now spread to the vast majority of Fundamentalist and Evangelical churches. Most of these preachers and denominations now cling dearly to the belief that God’s people will be whisked away in a surprise, magical event called the “rapture” BEFORE we have to face any real troubles, persecution, or the Great Tribulation.

While many Christians recognize the signs that we are living in the last days, the vast majority remain deceived and unaffected in their daily lives because of this erroneous, contrived notion. Most believers instinctively know that both the Church and our nation are in serious trouble. When pressed, we would acknowledge the gradual dilution of the gospel message and the decline of the Church’s influence in our culture. We also can sense the tide shifting against us in significant ways. Every day, we learn of more assaults on our faith, which continue the relentless erosion of the values and heritage that made America great in the first place. Yet for the most part, we do nothing. Instead, we sit by and wait for the “rapture.”

Ignoring the Apostle Paul’s admonition, we have allowed ourselves to become “conformed to this world” (see Romans 12:1-2). We have mastered the arts of compromise and minding our manners. We choose to keep our heads in the sand, ignoring the signs and symptoms of a lukewarm church that has departed from its first love, in exchange for a message that promises happiness, safety, and security. The only churches in America that are really growing are the “mega-churches,” which focus on watered-down, feel-good messages in order to attract (and not alienate) the masses. Most other churches are in serious decline. These trends all point to the prophetic claim that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” (II Timothy 4:3-4, NASB).

Ironically, this sad condition within the Church follows a parallel path with our government, which has systematically eroded our liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Many of America’s pastors also blindly lead us into complacency and a deeper compromise with the world, while assuring us that “God is in control,” or that He will “deliver us” before we have to experience any serious suffering. This latter claim flies in the face of a huge body of Scripture, and disgraces the memory of millions of Christian martyrs and victims throughout history to the present day.

Some well-known pastors speak frequently about the end times, yet despite their animated warnings, they always end with the comforting declaration that we will be “raptured” and saved from calamity or suffering (can you hear the loud applause or shouts of “Amen” and “Hallelujah?”). The convenient message of a pretribulation rapture fits perfectly with the objective of gathering multitudes of undiscipled, infant-like believers, who will believe what they are told, while continuing to faithfully donate to the cause. Unfortunately, this teaching also leaves us deceived and completely unprepared for what is coming.

Confronting the Error

I know, I know. How could I dare attack such a widely held and treasured doctrine? I do so because when I came to Christ, I made a deep commitment to always search for the truth at all costs. This quest has cost me dearly, and I have had to shift my beliefs on several occasions, including on this teaching. I paid a heavy price at times, through lost friends and ministry opportunities. I have been misunderstood, criticized, and even ostracized. I have often felt compelled to either fit in to existing churches, or else attempt to start new ones. As a new Christian, I was spoon fed the complete diet of the carefully selected arguments of the pretribulation rapture. Later, as a church planter and pastor, I felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to reexamine these teachings.

The basic rationale for a pretribulation rapture goes like this: “God loves His children . . . He has not destined His children for wrath, but salvation . . . and therefore He plans to remove us from the planet ahead of time, so we don’t have to go through the horrific events of the last days.” Sounds plausible, doesn’t it? But does it really hold up to a careful, honest evaluation of the Scriptures? You will soon learn that it does not! Read on if your heart is open to seeking the truth.

A Very Shaky Foundation

The passage of time and popular trends in Bible teaching have left us ignorant of critical details on many subjects. While it is true that since the Reformation, the Church has recovered many essential Biblical doctrines; it is also true that we have experienced the introduction of numerous deceptive, unbiblical, and cultic false teachings. As is the case with most false teaching, this involves bending or twisting the clear meaning of Scripture to fit a contrary, preconceived idea. It includes just enough of the truth to deceive, while providing an unhealthy dose of error at the same time.

In the case of the pretribulation rapture teaching, most Christians do not realize that such a teaching did not exist for most of the last 2000 years. It did not begin to emerge in an organized way until around 1830, and it’s origins are marked by varied historical accounts and controversy. The pretribulation rapture teaching grew alongside the development of a new system of theology called “Dispensationalism.” This underlying foundational scheme unfortunately follows a similar pattern of flawed, contrived Bible interpretation. Nevertheless, people have gone to great lengths to invent, reinterpret, and defend the pretribulation rapture theory, making it widely popular to the present day.

The Actual History of the Pretribulation Rapture Theory

The real history of this cherished doctrine does not originate with Jesus, or His Apostles, or even the mainstream Christian Church for 1800 years. Scholars generally maintain that the first hints of a pretribulation rapture theory originated in the eighteenth century, with the Puritan preachers Increase and Cotton Mather. This same theory was picked up by Emmanuel Lacunza, a Jesuit Catholic priest, and a Scottish clergyman named Edward Irving, who introduced the idea of a two-phase return of Christ, the first phase being a secret rapture prior to the rise of the Antichrist. Then, beginning in 1827, through John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren, the pretribulation rapture doctrine was popularized even more extensively.

The pretribulation doctrine continued to spread rapidly after the publication of Cyrus Scofield’s reference Bible in the early 20th century. In more recent times, theologians such as John Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, and Charles Ryrie have given their support to this teaching. Eventually, the pretribulation rapture theory hit the mainstream, with the publication of Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth in the early 1970’s, the movie A Thief in the Night, and then the popular Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye. Today, the majority of Fundamentalist and Evangelical churches now hold to a pretribulation position.

It should be noted, however, that the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion and many mainline Protestant denominations, have no tradition of a preliminary return of Christ and reject this doctrine. In addition, among Fundamentalists and Evangelicals there are also other views regarding the rapture and the end times.

The Introduction of Dispensationalism

Running parallel to the rise of pretribulation rapture teaching in the 1800’s was the development of a new theological framework called “Dispensationalism.” Dispensationalism can best be understood as a system purporting that God has related to human beings in different ways under different Biblical covenants, in a series of “dispensations,” or periods in history. This includes a sharp distinction between the nation of Israel and the Church, a futuristic view of Bible prophecy, and usually an embracing of pretribulation, premillenial positions. Dispensationalists teach that once the Church has been removed (via the “rapture”) God will resume his plans to restore Israel.

The origins of Dispensationalism are also attributed to John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren movement. These views were introduced in support of a premillenial position, and became widely accepted in Christian circles. Within a few decades Dispensationalism came to dominate the Fundamentalist movement, and served as a defense against the growing trends of Liberalism. In 1918, an American Baptist pastor named Clarence Larkin published a comprehensive volume entitled Dispensational Truth, which fully outlined this theory.

Other well known preachers, including Charles Henry Mackintosh, Dwight L. Moody, C.I. Scofield, R.A.Torrey, Harry A. Ironside, and Lewis Sperry Chafer, contributed greatly to the rise and acceptance of these views. In more recent times, this teaching has been carried on by well-known ministers, including John Hagee, Chuck Smith, Jack Van Impe, David Jeremiah, Jimmy Swaggart, Chuck Missler, John MacArthur, and many others.

What the Bible Teaches

Solid methods of Bible interpretation should lead us to ask certain questions, such as: “What is the primary context of this passage?,” or “Who is being addressed?,” or “What is stated clearly?” While studying any passage, it is very important to note not only what is written, but also what is NOT written. For example, are certain details actually stated clearly, or do we have to assume something, or read it into the text?

The whole premise of a pretribulation rapture is based on a mere handful of carefully selected passages from the Bible—all extracted from their primary context and stretched in such a way as to impose an artificial, predetermined conclusion. I will list these passages (quoting from the New American Standard Bible), and then my response to each. Please read these verses over and over if you need to.

1. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words (I Thessalonians 4:16-18).

The context of I Thess. 4:13-18 is about the concern over what happens with fellow believers or loved ones who have already died. Paul’s discussion is aimed at bringing clarity and comfort. There is NO MENTION of the Great Tribulation, or precisely WHEN the event of this resurrection or “rapture” will occur, or WHERE we will be after this takes place. He does, however, refer to a “trumpet,” and clearly states that those who are alive at that time, will NOT precede (in resurrection) those who have passed away. The dead shall be raised first, then those who are alive; all to meet the Lord in the air and be with Him forever. But there is NO MENTION of further details. Anything more would be adding something to the actual text.

2. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (I Corinthians 15:52).

In I Cor. 15, Paul is again dealing with the larger subject of death and resurrection. He writes about the importance of Christ’s resurrection and its centrality to the gospel message, our hope for the future, and our ultimate victory over the curse of sin and death itself. When speaking of the final resurrection, he refers to the “last trumpet” and an instantaneous transformation “in the twinkling of an eye.” But again, NO MENTION of the Great Tribulation, or exactly WHEN this will occur. Actually, in Revelation 11:15, the “last trumpet” mentioned in the Bible will sound to announce the return and reign of Christ, AFTER the events of the Great Tribulation.

3. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night (I Thessalonians 5:2) . . . for God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . (I Thessalonians 5:9).

The real emphasis of I Thess. 5:1-10, is not about the surprise nature or “imminence” of Christ’s return (“as a thief in the night”), but that Christians should be aware, alert and sober in their lifestyles. This is always the clear admonition for believers, so that we would not be caught by surprise. The very nature of this type of admonition in Scripture clearly indicates that it IS possible for Christians to be deceived or not prepared for the return of Christ. To lift verse 9 out of context (referring to our salvation in general) and stretch it to mean the wrath of the Great Tribulation is ludicrous.

4. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way (II Thess. 2:7).

In II Thess. 2:1-11, Paul is again writing about the end times and the return of Christ in order to reassure the Thessalonian believers, who were worried that the “day of the Lord” had already come. Once again, the primary argument (from verse 7) is a complete stretch of what is actually written. This verse does NOT say that the Holy Spirit (hence the Church) must been taken out of the world before the Antichrist comes. It only means that the Holy Spirit will no longer stand in the way of (or resist) the coming of the Antichrist. If the Holy Spirit were to be completely taken away at the “rapture,” how would we explain the spiritual conflict of the Great Tribulation, or the salvation of many people during that time? A closer examination of this passage actually reveals some important statements that are completely ignored by those who advocate a pretribulation rapture. For instance, verse 1 refers to the second coming as ONE EVENT (not two phases). In verse 3, Paul goes on to state CLEARLY that the return of Christ will NOT occur until the apostasy comes and the Antichrist is revealed. Verse 11 then provides further explanation that God Himself will send a deluding influence upon the world during this time, so that most people will believe what is false.

5. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left (Matthew 24:36-41).

Common interpretations of Matthew 24, the very words of our Lord Jesus, are among the most bizarre. Please remember that this entire chapter should be read and studied in context. While avoiding the lucid statements of Christ, people have gone to great lengths to explain away their intended meanings. In order to “prove” a pretribulation rapture, they once again cite only the passages that they want to use, while ignoring the others. For instance, a distorted lifting of Jesus’ reference to the days of Noah is used to promote the “imminence” of His return (meaning “Jesus could come at any moment”). The reference to “one being taken and the other one left” only helps to glamorize a surprise rapture event. What an ridiculous stretch! Jesus and His Apostles consistently revealed specific signs of the end times so that true believers would NOT be caught unprepared, which is obviously a possibility. It should be quite clear that “being taken” in this case refers to the sudden destruction of the flood itself. In reality, Jesus’ analogy comparing this time to the days of Noah is clear—Noah was not taken away from the flood, but delivered THROUGH it! Luke’s gospel account adds the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as well, stating that “ON THE DAY that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (see Lk. 17:28-37). Jesus’ often-repeated admonition (and later that of His apostles) was to “therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (verse 42). Jesus also CLEARLY states that “then they will deliver YOU to tribulation . . .” (verse 9), and “immediately AFTER the tribulation of those days . . .” (verse 29). He also specifically referred to the “elect” (elsewhere true believers, not some distorted reference to the Jews or believers saved during the Tribulation) as being present during the Great Tribulation (verses 22 and 24). He then went on to declare, “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His ELECT from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other” (verse 31). Yes folks, there is a RAPTURE, but according to the Scriptures, it is at the end of the Great Tribulation and immediately before the glorious second coming of Christ. This is the clear and plain teaching of the Bible!

6. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; it it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:2-3).

This passage is used to support a pretribulation rapture, yet it also fails to provide the details that its’ proponents claim. Once again, there are NO DETAILS as to WHEN this will happen, NO MENTION of the Great Tribulation, or even WHERE believers will be afterwards. All of this must be construed by interpretation. To do this, people must also take the position that they somehow understand clearly what heaven will be like, or where it is, etc. Do they really know? If interpreted in an honest, natural way, this passage simply provides believers with the assurance that Jesus WILL come again, and that we will be WITH HIM in His kingdom.

7. Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth (Rev 3:10).

In Revelation 3:10, we again encounter a clever interpretation of the text, where “kept” from the hour of testing is twisted to mean that the Church will be raptured and therefore not present during the Great Tribulation. Could it not also mean that we will be “protected” or “preserved” just as easily? Of course it could, and this would then be more consistent with the rest of Scripture.

There are other Scriptures used as well to postulate a pretribulation rapture, but they are even more abstract, vague, or incongruous; so I will not even comment on them here.

In Summary

The motivation to validate a pretribulation rapture results in people reading between the lines and adding their own opinions, ideas, and interpretations to the actual text of the Bible. When people simultaneously ignore or rationalize away other Scriptures, especially those that are crystal clear, the errors become inevitable, and the results obvious. Discerning students of the Bible should reject these games that people play.

Most of the American Church has been duped . . . deceived in fact. The emergence of the pre-tribulation rapture theory in the mid-19th century runs parallel with the theory of evolution, modern science, liberal theology, and secular humanism, all of which have helped to set the stage for where we are today. The success of this pernicious doctrine could only take root in America or the Western world, where real suffering and persecution are not experienced, but remain a lifeless concept. In the rest of the world, and throughout history, Christians have experienced periods of intense persecution and loss, just as Jesus taught. It is in this environment precisely where Christianity best grows and thrives.

The results of this widespread false teaching are evident everywhere. Christian believers today, by and large, feel safe and secure; yet are totally clueless about their surroundings, or the future that will soon be theirs with any kind of a crisis, let alone the Great Tribulation spoken of in the Bible. The fact that America is on the brink of a national crisis seems to alarm very few people, because of the complacency created by teachings like this. Instead, we take everything for granted—our heritage, our liberties, and our affluence. We have been led to believe that in America we are somehow immune to problems, suffering, or persecution.

We must connect the dots with all that is happening in our present world. Part of doing this is to be honest with ourselves and reexamine what we have been taught about the pretribulation rapture. When we realize the serious error and it’s deceptive, devastating results, we can then begin to embrace the tremendous challenge and opportunity we have to live as shining lights in the midst of this dark and perverse generation.

Final Thoughts

The Bible warns against being complacent or unprepared for the return of Christ. Unbelievers and undiscerning Christians alike will succumb to massive deception and will be caught in this position. Yet everywhere in Scripture we are admonished to not be asleep or unprepared, but rather sober and vigilant, eagerly awaiting the return of Christ. An honest evaluation of the New Testament, from Matthew to Revelation, leads us to conclude that believers, also called the “elect” or “saints,” will be present throughout the last days, including the Great Tribulation. Some will be deceived, some will be martyred for their faith, and some will be protected and delivered by the hand of God.

I am personally convinced that if Christians were to wake up, study their Bibles afresh, and adjust their views about the rapture, it would make a huge difference in the way they live. If we would seek the truth, more than fleeting happiness and security, we would reexamine our own faith and level of commitment to Christ. We could then embrace our true calling and begin to prepare for the uncertain, chaotic times that lie ahead. We would make serious adjustments to our views and our lifestyles. This would result in a tremendous strengthening of our example and testimony to the world. No more heads in the sand; no more playing church; no more asleep at the wheel—but wide awake, sober, and vigilant! Instead of ignoring reality, while keeping busy with church activities, we would begin to impact and change our society by seizing the opportunities and challenges of living in this generation. We would live the way Jesus taught us, influencing and drawing people to Him while eagerly anticipating his return. We certainly live in challenging times, yet what an opportunity–to be alive and witness the unfolding of these events and the return of Jesus Christ!

Any reasonably diligent student of the Bible will recognize the challenge of understanding and reconciling seemingly divergent passages. Yet we must also realize that the whole Word of God is inspired by the Holy Spirit, so the truth must be found at some higher level, one that incorporates all the Scriptures. I challenge you to take the time to reevaluate your views on this critical subject. If the pretribulation rapture theory is true, then the worst that can happen is that even people like me will still be raptured. On the other hand, if I am right, and the rapture does not deliver you from the trials and testing of the Great Tribulation, YOU will be left here and will be grossly unprepared—emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. Your imagined security and comforts will be gone. Your churches will struggle to even stay open. You won’t even have food, water, or the basic necessities of life for very long. Chances are, you will be swept away or consumed by the deception and chaos that follows, instead of being a light when the world is at its darkest. When you look at it this way, which is position is the best one to take?

I’m sure none of us can really imagine the horrors of this coming dark period of time. Yet the Bible also describes this as a time of great opportunity, when multitudes will experience revival and salvation. God promises to always strengthen and protect His people when they remain faithful to Him. He has told us through the Scriptures what to expect, and how things would unfold. I pray that you will understand and embrace God’s calling to be the faithful remnant that will preach the gospel, prepare for the end, witness the return of our Savior, and help usher in the kingdom of God on earth.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
– Titus 2:11-14

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