In last month’s column, I examined some of the mistaken “rapture” teachings that have swept Christianity in recent times, noting that while Catholics do believe in a “rapture” or bodily assumption of the faithful into heaven (Thes 4:13-17), this will happen at Jesus’ final coming at the end of time, not before.
Rapturists, however, insist the rapture will actually occur in the midst of history, with Jesus making an additional, un-scriptural, secret return to earth to initiate this rapture. This will happen right before the great persecution predicted in places like Revelation 7:9-13 and Mark 13:24, biblically referred to as the “tribulation” (see Catechism sections 669-682)
Coined the “pre-trib” rapture by rapturists, its purpose will be to rescue Christians from the earth before they are plunged into the extreme suffering, hardships, and even death that will accompany this tribulation. Those who do not hold the novel beliefs of rapturists will be “left behind,” Catholics included.
But there is not a word of Scripture attesting to such a pre-tribulation rapture. On the other hand there are multiple places that explicitly teach the exact opposite: that the tribulation will come first – before Jesus returns to rapture believers at the end of time – and that Christians alive at this time will indeed experience this tribulation (CCC 675-676).
For example, in Mark 13:24-27, Jesus teaches that “after that tribulation … they will see the Son of Man coming … with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect … from the ends of the earth.”
Similarly, Revelation 7:9-13 speaks of “a great multitude … standing before … the Lamb … in white robes.” We find that these people “have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes … in the blood of the Lamb.” In other words, they experienced the tribulation first, and are now in heaven. So the tribulation must come before the rapture.
Finally, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 says “concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ … Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion (the tribulation) comes first, and the man of lawlessness (the antichrist) is revealed.”
It is the antichrist who unleashes this “rebellion” and the resulting persecutions of the tribulation. So again, St. Paul is making it very clear that the tribulation will come before Jesus’ final coming and the associated rapture of all believers to heaven at the end of time.
Several verses typically used to try to prove this secret, mid-history rapture include 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17: “the Lord himself will descend from heaven … 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.”
Similarly, John 14:3 is often cited: “And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself.”
But here is the problem. Both verses present Catholic teaching on the rapture perfectly, but say nothing about a secret, pre-tribulation, mid-history rapture, a millennial reign of Christ (discussed in detail in my previous article), or any of the other doctrinal novelties associated with “rapturism.”
1 Corinthians 15:51-55 is yet another popular rapture “proof text”: “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 … ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’”
But again this verse says nothing against traditional Christian teaching on Jesus’ final coming. In fact, it is actually quite problematic for rapturists since this all happens at “the last trumpet” (1 Cor 15:52). This verse is not talking about some secret coming of Jesus in the midst of time, but his final coming, at the end of time.
Additionally, this verse states death will be “swallowed up in victory” at this point. Death will be totally destroyed only at Jesus’ final coming and judgement, and not before. So again, this cannot be talking about a pre-tribulation rapture in the middle of history as rapturists claim.
Finally, let’s consider Matthew 24:38-42. Reflecting on his final coming, Jesus states: “so will be the coming of the Son of Man … two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. There will be two women grinding together; one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
At first glance, this does seem to support some sort of pre-tribulation rapture, with people “left behind.” But in the parallel passage in Luke 17:34-37, the Apostles ask Jesus where the ones “taken” will be taken: “‘Where, Lord?’ He said to them, ‘Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather.’”
A dead body with vultures? That’s not heaven.
It is the unbiblical, and often anti-Catholic teachings of rapturism that ultimately should be left behind.
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