The Great Rapture Debate

News Image By JL Robb/ May 10, 2016
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"There is no rapture," the forty-something woman in the next booth said, speaking to someone I could not see but knew it was a he as I overheard the conversation last week.

Chick Fil A was not so busy this particular morning. It was quiet and the folk in the next booth were talking loudly, and it was impossible not to listen. Since I was doing research for this article, The Great Rapture Debate, I considered the conversation a Gift from above and proceeded to eavesdrop. It was my duty!

Rapture Theory traces its roots, according to most Christian scholars, to John Darby in about 1830, an English-Irish theologian who introduced the theory of a pre-tribulation rapture in which believing Christians would disappear in an instant, the twinkling of an eye, before hell on Earth breaks out during the 7-year tribulation period as described in the Book of Daniel and Revelation.

Though the term Rapture does not appear in the Bible, it is derived from the Latin, raptus, which means "a carrying off." Because of numerous biblical scriptures, the Bible indicates that when the end really does come and the going gets tougher than anyone can possibly describe, the Church, described as the Bride, will mysteriously disappear and join Christ in the air as he appears in the clouds. This disappearance, described in 1 Corinthians 15:52, will be virtually instantaneous, in the twinkling of an eye. 

There is perhaps no greater debate when it comes to Bible Prophecy than the nature and timing of this event.  LifeWay Research recently polled 1,000 senior protestant pastors about their rapture beliefs, with the following results: 

" Pre-Tribulation View - 36%.  Christians who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture in which the Church will be taken up to heaven before the Tribulation period begins- an escape from the prophesied apocalypse. 

" Mid-Tribulational View - 4%.  Christians who believe in a mid-tribulation rapture that will occur 3.5 years into the Tribulation.

" Post Tribulational View - 18%. Christians who believe in a post-tribulation rapture in which the event occurs at the end of the 7-year Tribulation. In this case, the Church would suffer through the 7-years of devastation: death, torture, starvation, plague, war and climate-change far beyond any climate-change that is happening at the present.

" None of the above - 25%.  Those who believe the rapture should not be taken literally.

Mainline Protestant pastors (36 percent) are more likely to say the rapture isn't literal. Pastors who hold this view include about half of Lutherans (60 percent), Methodists (48 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (49 percent).  In contrast, almost all Baptist and Pentecostal's support a literal rapture with a majority of Evangelicals supporting the pre-tribulational view.

Pastors under 45 years of age who believe in the pre-tribulation rapture comprise only 28%, while 23% believe in a post-tribulation rapture.

Despite the differences of opinion expectations are high that Jesus will come soon.

A Pew Research study, July 14, 2010, found that 41% of Americans believe that Christ will return by 2050. Even those who are not affiliated with a particular religion, 20% do believe such events will occur prior to 2050. While 58% of white evangelicals believe that Christ's return will happen prior to 2050, only 32% of Catholics and 27% of mainline Protestants believe the same. 

So what is the truth, and is the truth discernible?

As mentioned earlier, the pre-tribulation theory got its boost in the 1830s and found popularity in the United States in the early 1900s, partially thanks to the Scofield Reference Bible.  Some argue the fact that since pre-tribulational theory was not taught in previous church history it should be approached skeptically.  Others would argue that the relative newness of a particular teaching is not the core issue. The question always has to be, is it Biblical?

Each of the different views have some element of Biblical foundation in its core doctrine and should be accepted or rejected based on whether or not it is in agreement with the Word of God.  Healthy debate can be a good thing if done in the right way.  When these issues divide Christians so that they break fellowship and condemn one another as heretics, we have lost the unity and love for one another that we are supposed to show the world.

With so many different perspectives, some have taken the pan-tribulational view, that it will all pan out in the end so I don't need to worry about it.  While it is true that God has a perfect plan and a wrong perspective won't impact your salvation, this doesn't excuse us from not studying the issue and searching the scriptures. 

This summer will see Prophecy In The News host their annual prophecy conference in which two Christian scholars will debate the pre-tribulational vs post-tribulational view on the main stage.  What a great opportunity to see this important issue debated in a respectful manner among fellow believers.

With the times we live in Christians need to be studying issues related to Bible Prophecy more than ever before, and if necessary debate these important issues.  Do you know where you stand?

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