|"The Rapture" by an unknown artist.|
It is also during this time of year that I am most reminded of my days as an Evangelical Christian (1990 through 1997) in which I was fed a regular diet of end-times apocalyptic teaching. Like many Evangelicals I subscribed to John Nelson Darby's doctrine of Dispensationalism. In fact that was the official doctrine of the non-denominational "affiliation" I regularly attended.
Dispensationalism, and the Rapture doctrine, are complex beliefs about the end-times which are subscribed to by many Baptists, Pentecostals and Evangelicals. As a former Evangelical, I eagerly awaited the much anticipated "Rapture" in which I expected that just as the Antichrist was ready to come to power, Jesus Christ would secretly swoop down from heaven, snatching up all is true believers (which I believed to be mostly Evangelicals of course) leaving behind nothing but their empty clothes, moving cars without drivers, and aircraft without pilots plunging to earth. The true believers in Jesus would then enjoy a seven-year party in heaven, while everyone else who was "left behind" would endure hell on earth under the reign of Antichrist. After this seven-year period, Jesus would return to earth (a second time) with all of the true believers, to smite the Antichrist and those who followed him, setting up his millennial Kingdom which would last 1,000 years. Beyond that things get kind of sketchy. Apparently a thousand years later, Jesus goes away again, only to return a third time, to smite the devil himself and judge the world. This is Dispensationalism, or at least one particular version of it, though all versions have the common theme of multiple "second comings" of Christ (at least two, but sometimes three). My experience with the teaching of my Evangelical affiliation was particularly focused on the Rapture in the near future, with the pastors often fixating on recent events in the news as "signs" pointing to its imminent arrival any day. I remember the days leading up to the first Gulf War were particularly tense, as our pastor assured us that this could be it. Well, needless to say, the Gulf War came and went without a Rapture, and we were a bit disappointed. Not to worry though. With the passing of the Gulf War, the stage had now been "set" (according to our pastors) for the imminent Rapture to happen any time.
I subscribed to this line of thinking until about 1996. By 1997 I as starting to have serious doubts. By 1998 my conversion to Catholicism was well under way as my wife and I began our journey on the Canterbury trail (Anglicanism) that would eventually lead us to the Roman road (Catholicism). As a Catholic I now subscribe to the historic teachings of Christianity, and I no longer believe in the Rapture or the Dispensational doctrines of John Nelson Darby. It was a hard transition to make but a good one. My wife and I are no longer worried about the horrifying prospect of being "left behind" in the Rapture, nor do we worry about living in the "end times" any more. As Catholics, we know we are living in the "end times." It's been the "end times" since the days of Jesus Christ. Are we closer to "the end?" Well sure! But who knows how much closer, and I am certainly not going to worry about it any more. Jesus Christ will return for his one-time "second coming" when he's good and ready. There will be no "second-second coming" and no "third coming." The so-called "Rapture" that I once anticipated is really the Parousia, and that is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ at the end of time and the final judgement. As a Catholic, my end-time beliefs have been radically simplified, and after dealing with the tangled doctrinal nightmare that is Dispensationalism, I find that absolutely liberating!
There are a few essential things that everyone needs to know about Dispensationalism and the Rapture doctrine....
First, Dispensationalism and the Rapture doctrine were invented in the 1830s by a Anglican priest, named John Nelson Darby, who helped to form the Plymouth Brethren. His eccentric end-times teachings on Dispensationalism and the Rapture were later popularised by one of his disciples, a lawyer named Cyrus I. Scofield, who published the "Scofield reference Bible" with Darby's study notes printed into the margins. Scofield's Bible was wildly popular among non-liturgical, conservative Protestants. Through the use of this Bible, Darby's obscure and eccentric beliefs about the end-times became commonplace within modern non-liturgical, conservative Protestants (Baptists, Pentecostals & Evangelicals). By the 1970s, an Evangelical writer named Hal Lindsay wrote a book entitled "The Late Great Planet Earth" exploiting Darby's teachings and tying them to current events in the news. Lindsay's book was a best seller, and there have been scores of immitations since then, some of the latest being the "Left Behind" fictional novel series written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. More books have also been written by the popular American televangelist John Hagee and similar Evangelical television personalities. End-times prophecy books sell! There is plenty of money to be made in them. The more sensational the better!
Second, Dispensationalism and the Rapture doctrine have no Biblical support, outside of a very narrow interpretation, and no historical support prior to the 1830s. These are relatively new doctrines that are foreign to Catholicism and completely unnecessary for Protestantism. In fact, Protestantism got along just fine for 300 years without them, and many Protestant churches still have nothing to do with them. A number of Baptist churches have rejected them, and some Evangelical churches are uncommitted to them. So one doesn't need to believe in Dispensationalism, or the Rapture, in order to be a good Baptist, Pentecostal or Evangelical ("Born-Again Christian").
Third, Dispensationalism promotes an identity crisis within Christianity, while the Rapture doctrine is based on the unbiblical idea that God has formulated an "escape plan" for Christians to avoid persecution.
Regarding this third point, let's deal with Dispensationalism first. Dispensationalism teaches that God deals with humanity differently at different periods of history -- Dispensations. Depending on what school of Dispensationalism one follows, there are anywhere from 3 to 7 periods (or Dispensations) in world history. What is of primary significance to us now is the current Dispensation of "the Church Age" (or the "Age of Grace") and the previous Dispensation of the "Age of Israel" (or the "Age of the Law"). It is believed by Dispensationalists that the "Age of Israel," or the "Age of the Law," was suspended upon Christ's sacrifice on the cross, and a temporary Dispensation called the Church Age (or the "Age of Grace") has been TEMPORARILY inserted to bring in the Gentiles. After the Church Dispensation (Age of Grace) comes to an close at the Rapture, the world (according to Dispensationalists) will revert back to the Age of Israel (Age of Law) temporarily and that will be the final seven years of history before the Second Coming of Christ, which ushers in the final Dispensation called the "Kingdom Age" or Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ. Now the problem with this teaching is that it's completely unbiblical on many levels, and it promotes an identity crisis among Christians. You see, Dispensationalism teaches that Israel and the Church are two separate and distinct entities. The Bible says otherwise.
Rather than writing a book here trying to dissect all of the complex theological problems in Dispensationalism, I'll just cut right down to the heart of the matter. The Bible makes no distinction between Israel and the Church. In fact, the Bible specifically says that Israel is the Church and vice versa. To the Dispensationalist this Biblical concept is an anathema. They call it "Replacement Theology," and they say it smacks of anti-Semitism. In fact, some Dispensationalists even blame the Catholic Church of teaching anti-Semitism by holding to this Biblical view. Now they can call it whatever they like, but if believing what the Bible says makes one an anti-Semite, then why believe anything the Bible says at all? Of course this is just a conditioned emotional response on their part. They've heard the line preached so many times, it's only natural for them to jump to that conclusion. There is nothing anti-Semitic about believing what the Scriptures actually say concerning the relationship between Israel and the Church. The Bible doesn't hate Jews. The Bible was written by Jews! This is especially true of the New Testament. So all of this hysteria about "Replacement Theology" and anti-Semitism is much to do about nothing.
Now with that said, let's look at what the Scriptures actually say about the relationship between Israel and the Church.
Jesus said the Kingdom of God is NOW, not some distant future thing. To those who would listen Jesus said: "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." -- Matthew 4:17
To the priests, scribes and elders of Israel, Jesus said: "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it." -- Matthew 21:43
To his disciples, Jesus said: "Do not fear, little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." -- Luke 12:32
The following are just some Scripture references that back this point. They are certainly not all of the Scripture passages that can be found, but rather a good cross section of them. The Bible plainly teaches that the Church is Israel....
WHAT IS THE NEW COVENANT?
The New Covenant Is With Israel:
- Jeremiah 31:31-33
The New Covenant Is With The Christians:
- Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25, 2 Corinthians 3:6, Hebrews 8:6-10
WHO ARE THE CHILDREN OF GOD?
Israel Are The Children Of God:
- Exodus 4:22, Deuteronomy 14:1, Isaiah 1:2,4, Isaiah 1:2,4, Isaiah 63:8, Hosea 11:1
Disobedient Israel Are Not The Children Of God:
- Deuteronomy 32:5, John 8:39-44
Christians Are The Children Of God:
- John 1:12, John 11:52, Romans 8:14-16, 2 Corinthians 6:18, Galatians 3:26, Galatians 4:5-7, Philippians 2:15, 1 John 3:1
WHAT IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD?
Israel Is The Kingdom Of God:
- Exodus 19:6, 1 Chronicles 17:14, 1 Chronicles 28:5
Disobedient Israel Is Not The Kingdom Of God:
- Matthew 8:11-12, Matthew 21:43
Christians Are The Kingdom Of God:
- Romans 14:17, 1 Corinthians 4:20, Colossians 1:13, Colossians 4:11, Revelation 1:6
WHO ARE THE PRIESTS OF GOD?
The Israelites Are The Priests Of God:
- Exodus 19:6
Disobedient Israelites Are Not The Priests Of God:
- 1 Samuel 2:28-30, Lamentations 4:13-16, Ezekiel 44:10-13, Hosea 4:6, Malachi 2:2-9
The Christians Are The Priests Of God:
- 1 Peter 2:5-9, Revelation 1:6, Revelation 5:10
WHO ARE THE PEOPLE OF GOD?
The Israelites Are The People Of God:
- Exodus 6:7, Deuteronomy 27:9, 2 Samuel 7:23, Jeremiah 11:4
Disobedient Israelites Are Not The People Of God:
- Hosea 1:9, Jeremiah 5:10
The Christians Are The People Of God:
- Romans 9:25, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 4:12, Ephesians 5:3, 2 Thessalonians 1:10, Titus 2:14
WHAT IS THE VINEYARD OF GOD?
Israel Is The Vineyard Of God:
- Isaiah 5:3-7, Jeremiah 12:10
Christians Are The Vineyard Of God:
- Luke 20:16
WHO ARE THE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM?
The Israelites Are The Children Of Abraham:
- 2 Chronicles 20:7, Psalms 105:6, Isaiah 41:8
Disobedient Israelites Are Not The Children Of Abraham:
- John 8:39, Romans 9:6-7, Galatians 4:25-30
The Christians Are The Children Of Abraham:
- Romans 4:11-16, Galatians 3:7, Galatians 3:29, Galatians 4:23-31
WHO IS THE WIFE (OR BRIDE) OF GOD?
Israel Is The Wife (Or Bride) Of God:
- Isaiah 54:5-6, Jeremiah 2:2, Ezekiel 16:32, Hosea 1:2
Disobedient Israelites Is Not The Wife (Or Bride) Of God:
- Jeremiah 3:8, Hosea 2:2
The Christians Are The Wife (Or Bride) Of God:
- 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:31,32
WHAT IS JERUSALEM?
Jerusalem Is the City And Mother Of Israel:
- Psalms 149:2, Isaiah 12:6, Isaiah 49:18-22, Isaiah 51:18, Lamentations 4:2
Jerusalem Is The City And Mother Of Christians:
- Galatians 4:26, Hebrews 12:22
WHO ARE THE CHOSEN PEOPLE?
The Israelites Are The Chosen People:
- Deuteronomy 7:7, Deuteronomy 10:15, Deuteronomy 14:2, Isaiah 43:20,21
Disobedient Israelites Are Not The Chosen People:
- Deuteronomy 31:17, 2 Kings 17:20, 2 Chronicles 25:7, Psalms 78:59, Jeremiah 6:30, Jeremiah 7:29, Jeremiah 14:10
The Christians Are The Chosen People:
- Colossians 3:12, 1 Peter 2:9
WHO ARE THE CIRCUMCISED?
The Israelites Are The Circumcised:
- Genesis 17:10, Judges 15:18
Disobedient Israelites Are Not The Circumcised:
- Jeremiah 9:25,26, Romans 2:25,28, Philippians 3:2
The Christians Are The Circumcised:
- Romans 2:29, Philippians 3:3, Colossians 2:11
WHO ARE THE JEWS?
Israelites Are Jews
- Ezra 5:1, Jeremiah 34:8,9, Zechariah 8:22-23
Disobedient Israelites Are Not Jews:
- Romans 2:28, Revelation 2:9, Revelation 3:9
The Christians Are Jews:
- Romans 2:29
WHAT IS THE OLIVE TREE?
Israel Is The Olive Tree:
- Jeremiah 11:16, Hosea 14:6
The Christians Are The Olive Tree:
- Romans 11:24
WHO IS ISRAEL?
Israel is descended from Jacob:
Genesis 32:38, Genesis 35:10, Exodus 3:14, Judges 20:11
Disobedient Israelites Are Not Israel:
- Numbers 15:30-31, Deuteronomy 18:19, Acts 3:23, Romans 9:6
The Christians Are Israel:
- John 11:50-52, 1 Corinthians 10:1, Gal. 6:15-16, Ephesians 2:12-19
The overwhelming theme of Scripture plainly declares that the Church is Israel and Israel is the Church. The separation between Jews and Gentiles has been torn down by Christ, and a New Covenant has been made to fulfil the Old Covenant. Israel no longer pertains to a certain ethnic class of people living in a certain region of the world. Israel has now been extended, under the reign of her King (Jesus Christ) to include the whole world, of every race and language, making them into the Kingdom of God (the Israel of God). Under the Kingship of Jesus Christ, Israel has expanded from a tiny Roman province in the Middle East to a worldwide empire, reigning through the hearts of men in a way earthly kings and rulers can only envy. There is no doubt about this for anyone who studies the plain teachings of the Scriptures. Modern Israel is the Church. In fact, the Greek word for "church" (ecclesia) is the exact same word used to describe the ancient kingdom of Israel in the Greek version of the Old Testament. In reading a Greek Old Testament, and the New Testament (also originally written in Greek), there would be a seamless continuity between Old Testament ecclesia and New Testament ecclesia in regards to the concept of Israel and the Church. They are one in the same. They always have been. The only difference now is that after the atonement by Jesus Christ, Gentiles are now allowed to enter the Church (Israel) without having to physically become Jews first by following the ritual commandments of the Mosaic Law. Now, access to the Church (Israel) is instantaneous upon the sacrament of baptism, which comes from the Jewish tradition of mikvah - or a ceremonial bath.
It is absolutely critical that Christians understand WHO they are! It is absolutely essential that Christians understand WHAT the Church is. The Church is Israel. Israel is the Church. Christians are modern Israelites, and modern Israelites are Christians. Call this "Replacement Theology" if you want, but I see no "replacement" at all. What I see are the promises of God to the Jewish people fulfilled in Christ, and the Kingdom of God delivered to them (as promised) in a way more powerful and dynamic than they could have possibly ever imagined. They wanted a little independent fiefdom to call their own. Instead he gave them a global empire that would last throughout the ages! They wanted the Gentiles to respect their religious understanding of God. He made the Gentiles adopt it! They wanted Yahweh's name honoured in their homeland. He made it honoured throughout the world! They gave him a crown of thorns and a cross. He gave them citizenship in a global messianic Kingdom! Replacement Theology? Whatever! I call it Fulfilment Theology!
This understanding is absolutely critical because it cuts to the fundamental error of Despensationalism. You see Darby's Dispensational theology erroneously teaches that there are two (not one) people of God, and that the Church is separate from Israel. According to Dispensationalists, Israel is for the Jews, and the Church is for the Gentiles. Oh sure, some Jews are permitted into the Church, just as some Gentiles are permitted (by ritual conversion) into Jewish Israel, but the two entities are separate nonetheless. Thus the Christian is now stuck in an identity crisis. If he's not Israel, and not a member of the Kingdom, then what is he? Many Dispensationalists are content to just call themselves "saved Gentiles" and acknowledge that God's "real covenant people" are the Jews. They have no concept that they themselves have been grafted into Israel, nor are they aware that Israel exists in the hearts of Christian believers all around them. Instead they focus is on the Jewish people alone as "Israel," and in particular the physical nation-state of Israel in the Middle East. Because they define "Israel" as a political government in the Middle East, and due to the Scriptural command to bless Israel, these Christian Dispensationalists believe they must blindly support the political regime of the Israeli government in order to gain the blessing of God. Failure to do this may result in God's curse (according to their understanding of the Scriptures), regardless of one's status in the separate entity of the Church. In recent decades, this has been the source of "Christian Zionism," heavily promoted by American televangelists; such as John Hagee, Hal Lindsay and Jerry Falwell, just to name a few.
According to Dispensationalism, if there are two people of God, then there must be (at least) two future comings of Christ, one to receive each of his two people. Thus enters the Rapture, or more specifically, the disconnect between the "rising up to meet the Lord" and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. That is, after all, the definition of the Rapture. It's a separation of the "rising up to meet the Lord" from the Second Coming. Different schools of thought place the Rapture at different times apart from the Second Coming. Some place it seven years apart. Some place it three and a half years. The Rapture is Jesus' secret coming for his Church, while the Second Coming (really a "second-second coming" or "Third Coming" when you stop and think about it) is to rescue his nation-state of Israel from the Antichrist.
Now the Rapture is another teaching from John Nelson Darby in which Christ returns secretly to fetch his Church out of the world and make way for the resurgence of the modern State of Israel (Israeli government) as the primary people of God again. What follows this Rapture, according to Dispensationalists, is a time period of "hell on earth" in which the Antichrist attempts to deceive the State of Israel into believing that he is the promised Messiah. Some say this period is seven years long, others say three and a half years long, as it all depends on what school of Dispensationalism one follows. The theme is always the same though. The Church gets Raptured and the State of Israel comes back into the forefront of history with the Antichrist leading it into destruction. As for any poor sap "left behind" in the Rapture, he/she must spend the next three and a half to seven years dodging meteors, avoiding tsunamis, and riding out earthquakes, all while trying to figure out how to avoid the "mark of the beast" and the guillotine as punishment for not receiving it. Dispensationalists teach that most people "left behind" will be tortured and become martyrs for Christ should they come to believe in him after the Rapture. Of course, you can imagine what kind of terror this strikes into the hearts of children (and adults) at the prospect of being "left behind" in the Rapture. To insure one's ticket to ride in the Rapture, one must be a "good Christian" according to the Protestant understanding of what that means. Specifically, that means adhering to belief in salvation by "faith alone," having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and not following any of the "false teachings" of the Catholic Church (or any non-Protestant church for that matter). In other words, one must be a good Protestant. Now there are some Dispensationalists who believe that some Catholics might also be raptured, but only if they ignore most of the teachings of the Catholic Church. In other words, being a bad Catholic will be rewarded with a Rapture ticket out of the Great Tribulation. Good Catholics, who actually follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, obey the pope, worship the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and pray to Mary and the Saints, will be "Left Behind" for sure. This is why it is so important that Catholics not buy into this Dispensational Rapture nonsense. Because if you believe in it, the only way to be taken in the Rapture is to deny your Catholic faith in one way or another. If you doubt what I'm saying here, just ask any Dispensationalist the following questions. "Can I pray to Mary and still be Raptured?" and "Can I worship the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist and still be Raptured?" I guarantee the answer will always be "No!"
Now the error of the Rapture comes from the error of Dispensationalism; the error that God has two covenant people instead of one. That requires two separate "comings" to rescue each one in two totally different ways. However, this error manifests itself in the common thinking that the Rapture is an escape route. The idea is that God has finished the "Age of Grace," or the Church Age, and is ready to snatch his people out of the world before they have to endure the hardship of persecution under the Antichrist. Most Dispensationalists look at the Rapture as if it were a "Dunkirk evacuation event." This solidifies there thinking on the matter, because they rationalise that the Rapture must happen BEFORE the Great Tribulation. After all, why would God Rapture (evacuate) his people AFTER the horrors of the Tribulation had already passed? The very definition of an evacuation is to save people from imminent peril. You don't evacuate people after the danger is over. I've had many conversations with Dispensationalists who are convinced of this, and see the classical Christian understanding of the Parousia as hogwash. The Rapture, they say, MUST come before the Great Tribulation and the rise of Antichrist, otherwise they believe it's worthless. There is no sense in evacuating people from imminent peril when the peril has already come and gone.
The problem here, of course, is that they fail to understand what is meant by the Scriptural reference to the "rising up to meet the Lord." The passage of Scripture Dispensationalist most often quote to back their position is as follows. Let's examine both what it says and what it does not say...
"But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." -- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18The passage is clearly about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, or the Parousia, and it even says so: "we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord." The impression left on the reader here is the Second Coming of Christ, the Parousia, not some time before. To interpret this as anything else is to impose one's preconceived notions onto the passage. The passage tells us that when the Lord returns, the dead in Christ will rise first, then those believers still alive will rise together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord. That's it. That's all the passage says. It says nothing about the timing of this event other than it happens at the "coming of the Lord," which presumably means the Second Coming at the end of history.
This rising up to meet the Lord, or "caught up" (Greek: "harpazo") as Saint Paul puts it, is a supernatural event that involves more than just leaping into the sky. Another passage Dispensationalists often use to back their view of the Rapture is as follows. Again, let's examine both what it says and does not say...
'Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall 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 incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”' -- 1 Corinthians 15:50-54The passage again seems to imply a finality: "at the last trumpet." The implication is "the end." This is it; no more trumpets heralding anything, but the "last trumpet." In ancient Israel, religious feasts were marked by the blowing of trumpets from the Temple Mount. Trumpets were also used to announce the coming of a king or great dignitary. We still use them today in similar fashion with regard to royalty. This passage specifically says this mystical event of transforming our human flesh and blood into immortal and glorified matter will come at the "last trumpet," not the second to last, nor the third to last, nor the tenth to last, but the "last trumpet." If you can't see the finality in this phrase then there is nothing I can do to help you. This is about as plain and obvious as it gets.
Many Dispensationalist, who staunchly believe in a pre-Tribulation "Rapture," will point to a passage in the Book of Revelation, which in their minds gives them a landmark as to the timing of the Rapture BEFORE what they believe to be the book's account of a future Great Tribulation...
'After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”' -- Revelation 4:1Because the "voice" in this passage is "like a trumpet" it is said that this is a reference to a pre-tribulation Rapture event. Well, that's a nice thought, but it directly contradicts Scripture. You see in 1st Corinthians 15:50-53 (cited above) it says that the transformation of our flesh occurs at the "last trumpet" and clearly when you read the Book of Revelation, this is not the last trumpet. There are at least seven more trumpets following this one in chapters eight, nine, ten and eleven. So this clearly cannot be a reference to the "last trumpet" which in turn means it cannot be a reference the future transformation of our flesh. Thus it cannot be a reference to a pre-tribulation "Rapture."
Lastly, Dispensationalists will refer to gospel passages they believe refers to the Rapture. Let's examine them carefully to determine what they say and do not say...
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." -- Matthew 24:36-44This is the famous "thief in the night" passage, wherein Jesus Christ himself foretells that a day will come when a large portion of the world's population will be taken out of this world, suddenly, and without notice. This will leave behind another large portion of the world's population. Thus the popular Dispensationalist phrase "left behind" is derived. The Dispensationalist believes this is a direct reference to the Rapture, wherein Jesus will take away his followers, snatching them our of this world, like a thief in the night. Yet let's look at this passage a little closer shall we? Jesus compares this event to the flood of Noah's time. When we put the "left behind" reference into the very context our Blessed Lord put it, it is Noah and his family who are left behind, while the rest of the word's inhabitants are swept away: "the flood came and took them all away." Wait a minute!?! When you put this passage into the context that our Blessed Lord himself put it, being "taken" doesn't necessarily sound like a good thing. In fact, one would tend to think that perhaps being "left behind" is the more desirable position. Fortunately we don't have to rely on just one gospel narrative to interpret this. A similar narrative is found in another gospel. Let's examine it...
'"And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.Here we have a parallel reference to the "left behind" passages of Matthew 24:36-44. Again, Jesus draws parallels to Noah's flood. Jesus tells his disciples that people will the taken away. The difference is that in this narrative, the disciples specifically ask him "where" they will be taken. Jesus' answer is dark and cryptic: "Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together." Eagles are birds of pray, but the original Greek says "aetoi," which implies a scavenger bird, and is also translated as "vultures" and "buzzards." Jesus is talking about carrion -- dead rotting flesh that the birds will feast on. Jesus is saying that those who are "taken away," are taken into judgement! While those who are "left behind" are in the more desirable position, having been spared.
“In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.”
And they answered and said to Him, “Where, Lord?”
So He said to them, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”' -- Luke 17:26-37
There is a school of thought that both of these passages do not refer to the actual Second Coming of Christ, but to his "coming" in judgement upon Jerusalem in 70 AD. That could very well be the case. However, even if these passages do refer to the Second Coming of Christ, being "taken away" is not something you want to happen to you.
You would be in a much better position to be "left behind" presumably for the transformation of our mortal flesh into immortality and the "rising up" (harpazo) to meet the Lord in the air. This would be a more Biblically accurate interpretation of these passages in the context of the Second Coming of Christ (Parousia). The "trumpet" sounds, the wicked are swept away in judgement, the dead in Christ are raised, and those who remain all go to meet the Lord in the air. This brings me back to the whole "rising up" to meet the Lord in the air. What is this? Why do the resurrected and glorified saints in Christ do this? What's the point? It's obviously not an Dunkirk-style evacuation. So what is it? This "rising up" or "catching up" (Greek: "harpazo") on the Last Day of history, which is Christ's Second Coming, is not an evacuation. It's a victory procession! You see, in ancient times, when a conquering king would return home, the people of the city, in which he is to reign, would rush out to meet him and then escort him back into the city. This happened once already with Jesus Christ, on the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday. Jesus was riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, when the people of the city rushed out to greet him. They laid their coats and palm branches on the road before him, signalling the entry of the great King into the city. This is the image Saint Paul creates with his reference to the harpazo or "catching up" of all believers around the world at the time of Christ's Second Coming, who rush up (out of this world, even out of this universe) to greet him, and escort him down to a New Heaven and a New Earth, a place of final rest, eternal peace and everlasting joy. This is the Catholic view of the Second Coming. It is also the Orthodox view, and it is the historical view of many Protestant denominations. This is what I believe now.
I don't believe in the Rapture any more. There is nothing to support it in Scripture and there is nothing to support it in history or the Tradition of the Church. It's a fabrication. It's a myth. It was created by a rogue Anglican priest who couldn't even sell it to his own denomination. He had to go out and create a new one. It was the eccentric opinion of a man with very limited influence and appeal. His views only became widespread when one of his followers incorporated his study notes into what eventually became a very popular reference Bible. This eccentric view went viral in the latter half of the twentieth century when even more eccentric men wrote about it in the context of their own time, using daily news events to back their positions. Eventually novels were printed and motion pictures were filmed, making the whole thing very profitable. But is it true? No. I don't believe it any more, and you shouldn't either. Christianity got along just fine, for 1,800 years, without the Rapture or Dispensationalism. Your Christianity, and mine, will do just fine without them again.