Does Pope Francis Believe in the Rapture?


Just about the time I start to think Pope Francis is losing clarity in his message, he turns around and says something so profoundly clear that I have to applaud him. On September 19, 2014, in an early morning mass, Pope Francis said...
This is the future that awaits us and this is the fact that brings us to pose so much resistance: resistance to the transformation of our bodies. Also – resistance to Christian identity. I’ll say more: perhaps we are not so much afraid of the Apocalypse of the Evil One, of the Antichrist who must come first – perhaps we are not so afraid [of him]. Perhaps we are not so afraid of the voice of the Archangel or the sound of his trumpet – that shall sound the victory of the Lord. Fear of our resurrection, however, we have: we shall all be transformed. That transformation shall be the end of our Christian journey.
The subject here is resurrection. Pope Francis has clearly and succinctly outlined an official teaching of the Catholic Church that often doesn't get much attention these days. Christians not only look forward to heaven after death, but also a future resurrection of their physical bodies at the end of human history when Jesus Christ literally returns in bodily form.

Yes, this is the exact official teaching of the Catholic Church. There is nothing metaphorical or symbolic about it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church leaves no room for symbolism. This is a LITERAL dogma that ALL Catholics are required to believe. Failure to believe in the resurrection, at the end of history, it is to cease to be Catholic. For the Apostles Creed says...
He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. 
And the Nicene Creed, which we recite at every Sunday mass, says the following...
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Then, of course, we have the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says the following...
How do the dead rise?
997 What is "rising"? In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus' Resurrection. 
998 Who will rise? All the dead will rise, "those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgement." 
999 How? Christ is raised with his own body: "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself"; but he did not return to an earthly life. So, in him, "all of them will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear," but Christ "will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body," into a "spiritual body":
But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel. . . . What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. . . . The dead will be raised imperishable. . . . For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. 
1000 This "how" exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith. Yet our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ's transfiguration of our bodies:
Just as bread that comes from the earth, after God's blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but Eucharist, formed of two things, the one earthly and the other heavenly: so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection. 
1001 When? Definitively "at the last day," "at the end of the world." Indeed, the resurrection of the dead is closely associated with Christ's Parousia:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
As the Holy Father accurately points out here, we Catholics don't think about this enough, and that has to change. There are so many profound implication to the faith of the believer when he/she takes into account the literal resurrection of the dead at Christ's Second Coming (or "Parousia").

This however brings me to the second point of this essay, which is the timing of this event we know as the "resurrection of the dead." The OFFICIAL teaching of the Catholic Church is that this happens at the end of human history, at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (the "Parousia"), which is a supernatural event that will be witnessed by everyone in the world simultaneously. It is the LAST THING in the life of a Christian before eternity. It brings everything we know to a close. Those who are dead in the Lord are raised, and those who are still living will be transformed with them, and all go to meet the Lord together.

A for those who are not followers of Christ, they too will be raised at the resurrection of the dead, those still alive will also be transformed, but they will not go to be with the Lord. Instead they will be swept away in judgement, and sent to a place of eternal separation from the God the hate. (Hatred shown in word, action or both.) The Bible calls this place the "Lake of Fire" where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth." We cannot fully understand what is meant by this, only that it is unpleasant to be sure, and it is forever.

The chronology of these events is critical to understand. These things happen as the END of human history, on the LAST DAY, at the time of the SECOND COMING (Parousia) of Jesus Christ. After that comes eternity. This is the teaching of the Catholic Church, and Catholics are required to believe in this timing of events, in this way exactly, and are not permitted to entertain the thought of these things happening in some other chronology order. It goes like this...
  1. First, comes the rise of the Antichrist and persecution of the Church near the end of history.
  2. Then comes the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
  3. Which happens together with the Resurrection of all the dead and transformation of the living. Those in Christ, go to be with Christ (in the air). Those not in Christ, go to a place apart from Christ (the Lake of Fire).
  4. This brings the end of history. Eternity.
That's it folks!  That's the entire End-Times chronological model for Catholics. There is nothing complicated about it. There is no need for elaborate charts and time-lines. There is no need to write elaborate books of fictional novels to help explain it. There is no need for visual guides with videos, illustrations, etc. Catholic eschatology (the study of end things) is really simple and easy. It consists of just four major things in the above order. Granted, we can plug a few other minor things into that, but the chronological order remains exactly the same. Perhaps this is one reason why Catholics don't discuss the matter all that much, simply because there really isn't all that much to discuss. For Catholics, the End-Time scenario is beautifully simple and easy to understand.

However, it is perhaps our lack of discussion that has allowed others to come in and corrupt the beautiful simplicity of this model. In the 19th century, some Protestants came up with various models that changed the above order of things. One of these models has become extremely popular in the Evangelical world. It's called the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, and it goes something like this...
  1. The Rapture happens first, when true believers in Jesus Christ disappear all around the world, to wait in heaven while all hell erupts on earth.
  2. This mass disappearance causes great distress and chaos around the world.
  3. In this time of worldwide panic, the Antichrist rises to power and deceives the world into following him.
  4. The Antichrist then causes everyone to take a mark (tattoo or microchip) that identifies the wearer as his property. Anyone receiving this mark goes directly to hell upon death -- no second chances.
  5. The Antichrist then persecutes anyone who does not receive this mark.
  6. Upon hearing the Jesus Christ will soon return, the Antichrist goes out to meet him for battle.
  7. Jesus Christ returns, with his raptured Christians who have received their immortal bodies in heaven, throws the Antichrist into Hell, and then sets up a physical government here on earth to reign for 1,000 years as King. The raptured Christians who return are his governors. Those who survived the tribulation of Antichrist, and did not receive the mark of the Antichrist, will live on earth as the ruled subjects to repopulate the planet.
  8. After 1,000 years of this millennial kingdom on earth, Jesus goes away for a while.
  9. After Jesus goes away, the devil comes back and begins deceiving people all over again. 
  10. The followers of the devil then launch an attack on Jesus' capital in Jerusalem.
  11. Jesus returns again to judge the world. This time he ends history, raises all the dead from history who didn't follow him, as well as those good people who died prior to Christ's first coming. 
  12. Everyone is judged and sent to their eternal destination -- heaven or hell.
This is called the PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE model, and it is extremely popular in the Protestant world. It was invented by a rogue Anglican priest named John Nelson Darby in the 19th century, and was not believed by any Christian prior to 1820. As you can see, this latter model is much more complicated, and even a bit confusing. This is why those who promote it require books, lectures, seminars, videos, fictional novels and movies to help people understand. Catholics are not permitted to believe any of this.

In regards to the rapture, the official position of the Catholic Church is POST-TRIBULATION. That means that the rapture comes AFTER the tribulation of Antichrist -- not before. As you can see from the two models above, by placing the rapture before the tribulation of Antichrist, a great deal of complication follows. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, as stated above, plainly states that the resurrection of the dead is closely associated with the Parousia (Second Coming of Christ), and according to the Bible, the resurrection of the dead, and the rapture, are one in the same event...
For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall 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
-- 1st Thessalonians 4:15-17
Lo! 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 imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?”
-- 1st Corinthians 15:51-55
As you can see, the Biblical position, which is also the position of the Catholic Church, is that the "rapture" (coming from the Latin word "raptio" meaning "to snatch up") is a simultaneous event with the Second Coming of Christ ("Parousia" a Greek word meaning "presence" or "arrival"). Indeed, it is this Parousia (Second Coming of Christ) that causes the raptio (snatching up of the Church), just as the presence of a magnet, held a few inches above a table, causes medals laying on the table to rise up to it. This is why Catholics use the word Parousia instead of "rapture." Because the word Parousia clearly associates the "snatching up" of the Church with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Unlike the word "rapture" which is not clear on this matter, and leaves many to disassociate the "snatching up" of the Church with the Second Coming of Christ.

Now as for the issue of the 1,000 year reign of Christ, the official position of the Catholic Church is AMILLENNIAL. This means that the Catholic Church does not take the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth as a literal future event, lasting a literal 1,000 years. The language of the Book of Revelation is highly symbolic. Like the dragon with seven heads (Revelation 13:1-4), the whore of Babylon (Revelation 17), and the bloody-robed king (Revelation 19:11-16), the thousand-year reign (Revelation 20:1-6) is a symbolic passage of Scripture that represents something else. In this case, the thousand-year reign (millennium) is representative of the mystery of the Church, wherein God (a Trinity) reigns over the Gentile nations. The apocalyptic number for God is 3 (representing the Trinity) and the apocalyptic number for the Gentile nations is 10 (coming from the Old Testament Book of Daniel). A trinity of tens, or ten cubed: 10x10x10 = 1,000. The symbolism here is meant to convey the idea that the Trinitarian God (a doctrine unique to Christianity) will rule over the Gentile nations for an unspecified long period of time. This means that Christianity will prevail and conquer the nations of the former Roman Empire. We have to remember this Book of Revelation was written to Christians in the 1st century, in a time when the Pagan Roman Empire was persecuting them. The prophecy is one of Christian faith eventually having victory over the Pagan nations. It is NOT a prophecy of a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth in the future.  The Catechism explains as follows...
676 The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realise within history that messianic hope which can only be realised beyond history through the eschatological judgement. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism.
The words of Pope Francis on the resurrection are a moment of refreshing clarity that I hope to see more of from this pope in the days to come. In spite of that however, some who subscribe to the notion of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture are attempting to seize upon the pope's recent statement as an opportunity to promote their own errors. Some of these proponents have even gone so far as to suggest that the pope himself believes in this Pre-Tribulation Rapture nonsense. I see nothing of the kind in the pope's comments, but rather, they appear to be in perfect harmony with the Catechism, Creeds and Bible on this matter. The so-called "rapture" comes at the end of history, after the Antichrist (Post-Tribulation), and is a direct response to the supernatural Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Parousia). At that time, all believers in Christ, both dead and alive, will be transformed and rise to meet him in the air. While those who are enemies of Christ, both alive and dead, will also be transformed, judged, and swept into eternal punishment.

For more information on this topic, please see my essay: Why I Don't Believe In The Rapture.

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Comments

Irv said…
The most accurate and detailed non-fiction book I know of on pretribulation rapture history is journalist Dave MacPherson’s “The Rapture Plot” (available by calling 800.643.4645) – a book every Catholic should have since the best known pretrib rapture promoters (e.g., Scofield, Lindsey, LaHaye etc.) are strongly anti-Catholic and believe that the future Antichrist will be headquartered in Rome (and you can almost guess where!). Google articles of interest include “Catholics Did NOT Invent the Rapture,” “The Real Manuel Lacunza,” “Pseudo-Ephraem Taught Pretrib – NOT!,” “John Darby Did Not Invent the Rapture,” “Margaret Macdonald’s Rapture Chart” (she originated the pretrib rapture), “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “Famous Rapture Watchers,” “Evangelicals Use Occult Deception,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” and “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty.” Every Catholic church should have “The Rapture Plot” (see above) especially since many Catholics have been brainwashed by the best-selling “Left Behind” books and movies based on the false, 185-year-old pretrib rapture fantasy which didn’t invade and take over American evangelicalism much before 1909!
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