Before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I stumbled on a prominent website that predicted the rapture would occur soon. Why? Because the polls said Hillary Clinton was going to win and another godless Democrat in the Oval Office would surely trigger the great tribulation.
“With such gloomy prospects, the rapture has to be close, right? Get ready.”
Then Donald Trump won the election, and the outlook became positively bright, at least as far as this website was concerned. A God-fearing Republican would clean out the justices, end the culture war, and bring heaven to America. Surprisingly, the rapture prediction remained unchanged.
“When men are saying peace and safety, the rapture will be soon. Get ready.”
This website taught me a valuable lesson about how to generate buzz for your blog or book. Whether times are good or bad, tell people that the rapture is imminent. “Things are bad? That’s a sign! Things are good? That’s a sign! This doesn’t make sense? Buy my book!”
It’s amusing stuff, but the question is legitimate: When is the rapture?
It may surprise you to learn that the Bible provides a straightforward answer to this question, but many don’t know it. They’ve been led to believe that the rapture will occur either before, during, or after a future tribulation. None of these scenarios is particularly attractive or Biblical.
A pre-trib rapture avoids the unpleasantness of the tribulation but creates the yo-yo picture of two Second Comings. A mid- or post-trib rapture means you have to go through bad times, which you may not survive. And any trib-related rapture raises awkward questions about who is left behind and why.
Consider the kids. Are young children going to be left behind?
Trib-preachers tie themselves up in knots over this question. Either all kids are going to be raptured (because God is good, right?), or none of them are (because the little brats are natural-born sinners). Or maybe kids with Christian parents get to go. But what if one parent is saved and the other isn’t? What if the kids are adopted or orphaned? It seems God is faced with a Sophie’s choice.
These questions highlight the absurdity of a teaching that is not based on scripture. The rapture has nothing to do with the great tribulation. One event is past; the other is yet to happen. The ten signs Jesus listed in connection with the great tribulation were all fulfilled in AD70 (see coming article); the rapture will probably happen next March.
Just kidding. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
Mr. Futurist: “Seriously, when is the rapture? I really want to know.”
The rapture, or the snatching away of the saints, will happen when the Lord descends from heaven with a shout (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). Just as the virgins go out in response to a shout, so do we. Since we don’t know when the Lord will return, we cannot know when the rapture will occur. But we can be ready.
The rapture takes place when Jesus returns, not sooner, not later. Now here’s a follow-up question:
Who is taken and left behind?
Jesus spoke of two men working. “One will be taken, and one will be left” (Matthew 24:40). Who is taken; the believer or unbeliever? And who does the taking? The Lord, his angels, or people? What exactly is Jesus talking about?
Mr. Futurist: “The rapture.”
Mr. Preterist: “Romans.”
On these questions scholars have taken every possible position. Preterists believe the taking was done in AD70; futurists believe the taking is yet to happen.
And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man … It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building, but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. (Luke 17:26–30)
The return of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah and the days of Lot. In both stories the righteous were taken away and saved; Noah by means of an ark and Lot by means of an angel. From these stories we might conclude that the righteous are taken out of danger by the Lord.
But Jesus also told stories where the wicked are taken away from the righteous, the weeds are weeded out of the kingdom (Matthew 13:40), and the bad fish are discarded from the net (Matthew 13:48). From these stories we may surmise that the wicked are removed.
Or it could be both. The righteous are taken or caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and then the wicked are removed as per the parables. Either way, when Jesus returns there will be some sort of separation.
Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother in law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. (Matthew 10:34–36)
These words seem hard to reconcile with the image of Jesus the Prince of Peace. But the sword he wields is not a Roman sword; it’s a sword of truth, and truth is divisive.
Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. (Luke 12:51–53)
As we saw in the story of Jerusalem’s fall, people divide themselves by their response to Jesus. Some listened and lived; others ignored him and died.
How we respond to Jesus is the difference between life and death. A Christian is not necessarily more moral than their unbelieving neighbor; a Christian is someone who does what Jesus says. Conversely, an unbeliever is not necessarily immoral; an unbeliever is someone who rejects what Jesus says. Like the hard-hearted leaders of Jerusalem, they “refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:40).
Extracted from chapter 36 of Paul Ellis’ new book AD70 and the End of the World.