My Pentecostal friends are going to chide me for this. But I can’t make sense of their Rapture doctrine. By “Rapture” I simply mean to refer to the eschatological doctrine that God will, at some future point in time, “snatch up” the whole community of his people the church either at the beginning, in the middle or near the end of the Great Tribulation, effectively removing them from the earth in light of the great and terrible judgement and wrath of God that is poured out upon all the earth. Scriptures in this direction may include e.g. Matthew 24:39b-41 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
Now I don’t have much of an argument for this, and I have not interacted with all the texts and systematic inferences offered by Rapture advocates. So I’m not saying the idea of a Rapture is somehow crazy or obviously false.
All I’m saying is that a doctrine about a Rapture does not make any sense to me in light of a loving God. How can God take his people, the church, out of the world, when we are supposed to be the light of the world, and the bearers of the testimony about Jesus, through whom alone people can be saved?
Think about it. Without the church there is no gospel message being sent out out. Therefore the Spirit is not at work to grant saving prevenient grace to men’s hearts and to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgement. But if the Holy Spirit is not working in this way, then there just is no way for anybody to be saved. Left to ourselves we are destitute of the saving knowledge of God or the desire and ability to come to him.
So the Rapture seems inconsistent with a God who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).
Perhaps what motivates some Rapture advocates is their concept that the future wrath of Go that will be poured out will be so fantastic, so terrible that God, in love of his people, will remove them from it, so they will not have to suffer and endure through it.
However, when God does bring that judgement (which he surely will), then surely God is able to shield and preserve His people even in the midst of it.
Take one text in this direction. Habakkuk 2:4 says: “the righteous shall live by his faith.” This, specifically, was in reference to the future time (relative to the time of Habakkuk’s prophecy) when God would bring the Babylonian Empire to sweep over sinful and wayward Israel in judgement for her sins. God promises that any righteous people within Israel would survive: perhaps people like Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. Paul even appropriates this image of a future endurance and preservation of the righteous (the just) in Romans 1:16-17. 1 Peter 1:5 in the NIV1984 translation also refers to the righteous being “shielded” by faith in the last time, which might be a reference to the return of Jesus as he comes to defeat Antichrist. In that case, perhaps God doesn’t snatch up out of the world all believers. Perhaps God simply shields them and preserves them alive to the end in the midst of the storm that is coming.
Another reason some might feel justified in holding to the Rapture is that the prophecy of the end times represents an earth that is so wicked and so reprobate that nobody would ever repent and believe at that future time period even if the message did come to them. Well, I feel this is a fair statement. But even then, isn’t that the very reason the church needs to bear witness? We testify to the truth to glorify God, not just to win disciples. I find this a stronger defence, but I remain tentative.
So that’s just a simple thought. If God takes the church away from the world then he takes the proclamation of his Gospel out of the world also. But if God takes the proclamation of his gospel out of the world then nobody can be saved in the world. But that seems inconsistent with God’s desiring each person’s personal repentance and salvation.
What might do better than a Rupture view, were it to turn out false? Well, I would think that there would be many Christians on earth when Christ returns, eagerly expecting his return, and rejoicing at his coming. Maybe something like what N. T. Wright said is true, and we believers will be on the earth will all proceed out and meet together in grand congregation in order to welcome Jesus as he descends on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4) to defeat Antichrist, bind Satan, and begin his millennial reign upon the earth (see clip, below).
This seems like a more attractive alternative.