Top 5 Reasons Why the Rapture is a False Doctrine

by Drew 12 Comments
Top 5 Reasons Why the Rapture is a False Doctrine
From a t-shirt available at www.tshirtvortex.net.

Spoiler alert: there is no rapture.

Hopefully you’ve heard this somewhere before.  Astute readers of Scripture or serious theologians will note it is totally absent from both the canon and leading Christian thinkers of this or any age.

And yet, like a cockroach in a slum, this patently false teaching seems determined to pop up in all kinds of places.  Why should you care? Because this is not just a matter of one interpretation versus another; something serious is at stake in this teaching (more on that at the end).

In the liturgical calendar, followed by all Christian churches, this is the season of Advent (or, for those of the Eastern persuasion, the Nativity Fast).  During Advent, we look back to first coming or “advent” of Christ and also ahead to his glorious return.  But that return has nothing to with a “rapture.”  Everywhere in Scripture God’s people are called to endure suffering and care for all of God’s creation; nowhere are we promised an escape from the travails of this fragile existence while the heathen and all of creation suffer in agony.  It is anti-gospel.  It is a false doctrine.  Here’s why, in 5 easy steps (and a tip of the hat to Talbot Davis for letting me borrow the “Top 5” idea).

  1. Rapture teaching is new.  Rapture teaching mostly originated in the 1800’s with John Nelson Darby, a Plymouth Brethren preacher.  He in turn influenced Cyrus Scofield, who edited an infamous, early study Bible named after himself.  It spread across the Atlantic and through folks like Dwight L. Moody and institutions like Dallas Theological Seminary.  Later popularizations included Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth (see both parts of my review of this classic dumpster fire here and here) and the best-selling-novels-ever-written-for-adults-at-a-third-grade-reading-level known as the Left Behind series.  The short version: until the 19th century, there was no mass of Christians anywhere who taught that Jesus was going to return (halfway) and give all the living Christians jetpacks to heaven while the world goes to hell.
  2. The rapture is exclusively Protestant and almost exclusively American.  Catholics and Orthodox don’t remotely take dispensationalism seriously, and certainly not the rapture.  Add to that what NT Wright and others have pointed out – that it is pretty much only Americans who care about rapture teaching – and you have a recipe for a suspect doctrine.
  3. Oddly, the rapture requires a two-stage return of Jesus.  The return of Christ and “day of the Lord” traditions in the Bible are always singular events that comprise a variety of occurrences in close succession.  Passages like, “Watch ye, therefore, for you know not when the master approaches,” never posit a multi-stage return. (Mark 13:35)  The Nicene Creed, the most authoritative of the ancient summaries of Christian doctrine, says simply of Jesus, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” He does not return, take a few with him, and come back later.  He comes in glory to judge all and establish his kingdom.  That’s it.
  4. The rapture is not remotely biblical.  Not even remotely.  The main passages used to defend a teaching of the rapture, Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 4, can only do so if taken horrifically out of context and misinterpreted.  In Matthew 24, the language about “one being left behind” is a reference to Noah and the flood, such that any attentive reader can tell the logic of the passage is that one should want to be “left behind” as Noah and his family were.  In 1 Thessalonians 4, the word translated “caught up” (harpazo in Greek) appears elsewhere in the New Testament and means nothing like escaping to heaven.  Moreover, 1 Thessalonians 4 speaks of the dead in Christ rising first, a fact most versions of the rapture overlook completely.  Ben Witherington does an excellent job explaining all this in more detail in a Seedbed video here.
  5. The logic of the rapture is Gnostic, not Christian.  Fleeing a flawed and decaying physical world for the purity and joy of a spiritual realm sounds much like that prolific heresy – perhaps more prominent today than in ancient times – known as Gnosticism.  Gnostics believed that a secret knowledge had been revealed to them (“gnosis” means “knowledge”) and they held a very low view of physicality.  Everything physical was evil and corrupt, while the spiritual was pure and noble.  Gnostics varied greatly, but all versions united in a vision that desired to escape the world of matter to a realm of pure spirit.  Many heretical forms of ancient Christianity were gnostic and gnostic-influenced, and despite the ink spilled by skilled hacks like Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, these psuedo-Christianities were quite properly rejected by the church in her wisdom (which is exactly what we should do today with the gnostic eschatology of the rapture).

upset memeYou may be asking yourself, “so what?”

What’s at stake is nothing less than Christian discipleship and ecclesiology (what you believe about the church).  That’s because what we believe about the last chapter of the story impacts how we live out the preceding chapters.  If God’s grand finale involves removing all the Christians while the world goes to hell (as most versions of premillenial dispensationalism espouse), then it is okay for us to let the world go to hell now.  If the destiny of the world is to burn up while Christians escape, then our only job now is to save (disembodied) souls and ignore the work of justice, reconciliation, community, and creation care.

But if, on the other hand, God has promised to renew the whole earth and all of creation, we are given a vocation of care and concern that invites us to share in and witness to God’s kingdom coming “on earth, as it is in heaven” (as Jesus taught us to pray in the Sermon on the Mount).

The bottom line:

  • The rapture invites Christians to be spectators while the world goes to hell.
  • A classic understanding of the kingdom calls Jesus-followers to live into the new shalom that is breaking in even now.

What are other reasons the rapture is a false doctrine? What ways have you found effective in challenging this teaching? Leave a comment below!

Comments ( 12 )

  1. ReplyJim Harnish
    Drew: Cheers! Thanks for an excellent job of concisely and very directly refuting one of the most common bits of cultural religious heresy in America today. One which is making big bucks for a lot of preachers and authors! The other common heresy is that everything that happens is God's intentional will or plan for us. I tackled that one here: http://jimharnish.org/2015/12/07/did-marco-miss-christmas/. Merry Christmas! Jim
    • ReplyDrew
      Jim, thanks so much for your kind words. And I really appreciate that post to which you linked here. Thanks for continuing to teach and influence the church in a positive direction.
  2. ReplyJonathan Marlowe
    Thanks so much Drew! If people want more details about 1 Thessalonians 4, N. T. Wright provides them here: http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_BR_Farewell_Rapture.htm
    • ReplyDrew
      Great article! Thanks for sharing that, Jonathan. I love Wright.
  3. ReplyDiscipline
    Drew, I respect where you stand on this issue; however, you have nothing backing your point of view on this pertaining subject matter. Furthermore, you do not use the Bible to disprove the Rapture either. Also, we were not created to simply care for community, and God's creation, we were called to yes, "save souls". God has not placed in His Word the literal word "Rapture", but there are many verses in Scripture that prove the Rapture will occur. I just pray that many will read the Word and not listen simply to man's doctrine or a false teaching. The Word was not used in this article; however, I'm going to use the Word to prove that one day the rapture will happen. So here are the scriptures: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Luke 17:34-37, Revelation 3:10, Matthew 24: 29-31, 1 Corinthians 15:52, Mark 13:32-37, Revelation 20:2-5, Luke 12:40, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-7, Matthew 24:42, 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3, Matthew 24:27, Matthew 13:30, Hebrews 9:28, Daniel 12:1, Matthew 24:21. I hope these scriptures will cause some believers in the Lord to understand again why the Church still believes in the Rapture. To say that this teaching of the Rapture is false, and is very serious. I'm a believer and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and I believe that these scriptures are still inspired by the Spirit of the Lord. That is why people such as Martin Luther, D.L. Moody, and others from long ago until now still believe in this doctrine. Please, consider this and ask the Lord for understanding. God Bless...
  4. Replyteachermomof7
    The one scripture reference that pro-rapture thinkers ignore and will hem and haw about when asked is Revelation 6:9-12, which specifically mentions that the "souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God...were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also." This occurs between the breaking of the 5th and 6th seals, in the midst of the tribulation, and to me it is clear that Christians will be martyred for Christ during this time. No escape, sorry. I've heard a few try to explain that by saying "that means people saved after the Rapture" but that is circular logic.
  5. ReplyDylan
    Does this have anything to do with kingdom now theology?
  6. ReplyDylan
    If God’s grand finale involves removing all the Christians while the world goes to hell (as most versions of premillenial dispensationalism espouse), then it is okay for us to let the world go to hell now. If the destiny of the world is to burn up while Christians escape, then our only job now is to save (disembodied) souls and ignore the work of justice, reconciliation, community, and creation care." If there is a rapture why would that mean it would be ok to let the world go to hell? Do you believe that for Jesus to come back the world has to be saved or living for God?
  7. ReplyJWLung
    I've always had a problem with the notion of the Rapture; I run around with a lot of folk who affirm rapture in one sort or another. My response is that I'm still working out Ephesians 2:8,9,10. In my view, debunking "Darbyism" and trashing the Scofield Bible is a disease in United Methodism that needs to be cured. It's a strawman UM Theologians use to distract lay persons who have been lulled to sleep by Pastors whose main objective appears (to this observer) to be to make sure their sheep remain clueless. There's plenty enough destructive, unbiblical theologizing within United Methodist circles. Preaching against Darbyism is a waste of time and energy. I've learned the hard way that reacting against heretical or heterodox theologies that irritate us is a waste of time. For example, the equal and opposite error of Darbyism is the wierd notion that our job is to transform the world. Many UM's believe it is our job to imanentize the eschaton. You are probably too young to have lived through the embarrasing foray of our Bishops back in the 1980's into the realm of Nuclear politics. Huffing and puffing flash in the pan theologizing at its best worst.
  8. ReplyLanny
    Drew, thanks for a masterfully concise summary of an important subject. Very useful!
  9. ReplyKaren
    I enjoyed this article, but it is neither here nor there with me. I don't even believe in Satan or Hell. The reason I don't is that God - however people perceive of that - is pure love, 1000% love. And I don't mean mushy gushy "I'm so good" love. I mean seeing the bad in us (we all have bad in us) and loving us anyway. "What! (many religious people would say) - "Why would people be good if they weren't punished for being bad?" Because love's the greatest healer to be found. I don't care how people worship, or even if they don't. And I don't believe that the good Creator does, either. I went to church with my parents when I was a baby, and I've struggled most of my life (I'm 73) because I was taught, as a young child, that God is love, and then (later) was told that God has an angry, vindictive side. Try as I might (and I did, for long years) I could never meld pure love and vindictiveness into anything resembling pure love. I love the stories of Jesus, and I love the Biblical God because Jesus said "If you have seen me, you have seen my father." But there are very, very beautiful words from other religions, ancient and currant. So, I quit struggling - kept the parts that are love, and ignore those that are vindictive, and let others believe as they will. I now have a spiritual life that I trust and love with all my heart. It gives me peace and joy. I saw a bumper sticker long ago that said "Jesus is coming, and boy is He pissed!" Perhaps I should have been quite wroth, but I literally had to pull my car over and laugh. I knew immediately that it was poking fun at some Christians who are so terrorized by life as it is that they are unable to live and love. I think your article is saying just that. But me being angry at that will change nothing. Anger all to often becomes hate, and hate destroys everyone - beginning with the hater. And it blinds us to all the goodness that surrounds us.
    • ReplyDrew
      Hi Karen. Thanks for stopping by! I share a good bit of your struggle with mixed messaging about God's essential nature, and I have also encountered far too many Christians for whom God is an angry father figure. And as a Wesleyan I believe that God's chief, most wonderful, most defining feature is other-regarding, pure, selfless, 'agape' love. So we are together on that. My question to you is, have you ever watched someone reject love? I have. If you've seen someone struggle with addiction, or run away from home, or struggle so much with self-loathing that they cannot or will not accept love - they have rejected it. Satan and hell name the reality that some may choose to reject God's love, and that reality is the opposite of paradise. I believe some may do that eternally because I've seen them do it temporally. But the mystery is thick there, and I believe that God does not wish for anyone to reject Him. But would He force them not to? There's the rub. Again, thanks for stopping by. Peace to you.

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