The word rapture—nor the doctrine of the secret rapture—is not found in any Bible translation. Moreover, no Christian believed or mentioned the doctrine of the rapture in any Christian literature prior to 1830, and the vast majority of Christians and Christian denominations today do not believe or teach the doctrine of the rapture.
The Origin of the Rapture
The origin of the doctrine of the rapture begins with the Scottish minister Edward Irving (1792–1834). Irving’s church was a mixture of a High-Church Catholic structure and a very charismatic culture of speaking in tongues. In 1832, the Church of Scotland dismissed Irving from his position as minister for his charismatic teachings. Irving then formed the Catholic Apostolic Church. Irving’s movement grew and became the basis of modern-day Pentecostalism.
In 1830, during one of Irving’s sessions, a young Scottish girl, Margaret MacDonald, fell into a trance. After several hours of prophesying, Margaret had a vision that Christ’s return would occur in two phases, not just one. Christ would first come visibly to only the righteous and would “rapture” them from the earth, and then He would come a second time to execute wrath on the unrighteous in the nations. Irving claimed that he too had heard a “voice” from heaven commanding him to teach the secret rapture.
This might have gone unnoticed except for the fact that John Darby (1800–1882), an English minister and pioneer of the Plymouth Brethren movement, heard about Irving’s teachings and traveled to Scotland to learn about the secret rapture. It was Darby who developed the “scriptural” arguments to support the doctrine of the rapture.
Darby traveled to the United States of America and met Dwight L. Moody (1837–1899), the founder of Moody Bible Institute and Moody Press in Chicago. Moody adopted the rapture doctrine and became a worldwide disseminator of the rapture doctrine and of dispensationalism (the future seven-year tribulation) through his printing press.
Later, Cyrus I. Scofield (1843–1921) published the Scofield Reference Bible (1909), which was the first Bible to put headings in the text along with Scofield’s own commentary in the footnotes. He added the heading in Matthew 24 “Jesus Predicts the Rapture,” leading people to believe that was what Jesus was talking about—because it was, after all, in the Bible.
After this, Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871–1952) founded the Dallas Theological Institute (later renamed Dallas Theological Seminary) in Dallas Texas, and he and his institute began to strengthen the theological foundation of the rapture and dispensationalism doctrine.
Author Tim LaHaye (1926–2016) made the rapture doctrine very popular with his Left Behind book series (1995–2007).
What needs to be understood is that for the first eighteen hundred years of church history, no one believed in the rapture; it is relatively modern phenomena that is, in fact, unique and restricted to a few protestant denominations in the Western world. It is not rooted theologically in the Bible.
There are some proponents of the doctrine who point to an ancient text written by Ephraem the Syrian (303–373 AD), in which he alluded to the rapture by talking about the believers being gathered to the Lord before the tribulation. The problem is that, based on overwhelming evidence, it is universally accepted by scholars that this text was not written by Ephraem but by someone pretending to be Ephraem, thus named pseudo Ephraem. In addition, the words alluding to a rapture idea are a mistranslation of the Greek into Latin.
Scriptures Used for Support of a Rapture
First, it must be understood that there is no mention of the rapture in Revelation. Of all the books in the Bible, one would expect to find it in Revelation, yet it is not there. Only three proof texts in the Bible are used to try to support the doctrine of the rapture.
In Matthew 24:40 (also Luke 17:34), Jesus tells of different scenarios of one being taken away and the other being left behind. Those who believe in the rapture use this passage to show that the righteous will be raptured from the earth, while the wicked are left behind to face Yahweh’s judgment. But this is reading a lot into what it means to be “taken away.” Since there is no mention of direction or the nature of being taken, one must look at the context for understanding. Before this verse, Jesus states that His return will be like it was in the days of Noah. Then He tells the story of what happened in the days of Noah: all of humanity who were wicked were swept away by the flood, while those who were left behind were the righteous, who continued to live on the earth. So, in the context of the story of Noah, it is a blessing to be left behind on the earth; being taken away means to be taken away in judgment.
Throughout the context of this passage, Jesus uses judgment language reminiscent of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Israelites. Those who were taken away into exile were the ones judged by Yahweh, whereas those left behind were the remnant who received grace. Furthermore, Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Weeds (Matt 13:36-43) confirms this interpretation. In the parable, the Son of Man sends His angels to gather up the children of the devil and throw them into the fiery furnace, whereas the wheat is left behind.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul says the believers who have died and then those who are still alive will be caught up in the air to meet Jesus. Those who believe in the rapture say this passage is referring to the rapture. The context is that the believers to whom Paul was writing were concerned about those who had already died due to persecution and feared they were going to miss out on the return of Jesus and His bringing the Kingdom of Yahweh to earth. The Jews and early Christians believed that the Kingdom of Yahweh was coming physically to earth (Act. 1:4-11). Their question was not when the rapture would happen, but whether the dead believers would miss out on the blessing of the Kingdom of Yahweh when it came to earth. Paul responded by saying when the trumpet is blown for all to hear—not a secret rapture—then the dead will be resurrected and be joined with those who are alive, and they will all be caught up into the clouds to meet Jesus in the air as He comes to earth. It does not say they will be taken to heaven.
The Greek word for “meeting” (apantesin) in 1 Thess. 4:17 is also used in Matt. 25:6 and Acts 28:15. In both places it refers to the people going out to meet a dignitary and then accompanying him back into the place from which they came. The imagery Paul is using is that of a king’s return to his city. Everyone who lived in a walled city knew the protocol of the return of a king: The watchman would call out to the one who was approaching, and the king would blow his trumpet to announce his coming (Ps. 24). The people of the city would immediately go out of the city to meet him, and they would usher the king back into his city with great celebration. In the same way, Jesus will come from heaven to return to the earth in order to rule. The believers go up into the air to meet him, usher him back to the earth, and then reign with Him on earth in the Kingdom of Yahweh. In addition, Paul expects this event to also bring the final judgment on the unbelievers, which only happens in the second coming of Jesus.
In 1 Corinthians 15:50-54, Paul writes, “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” Those who believe in the rapture say that Paul is referring to the rapture. However, there is no hint of a rapture or of being taken up; all the language is about being resurrected and transformed.
If the rapture were such a significant event, then one would expect to see more than just three vague passages about it, and most certainly one would expect to see it as a major event in the book of Revelation, which is specifically about the return of Jesus Christ.
The Bible also makes it clear that the return of Jesus will come when no one expects it (Matt. 24:27; 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). A rapture does not allow for this; when the believers are raptured, everyone will know He is coming back in seven years.
All throughout the Bible the emphasis has been about the Kingdom of Yahweh coming to earth (Matt. 6:9-10), not about believers being taken up into heaven. Yes, those believers who die go to heaven, but this a brief comment in the Bible. The overwhelming focus is on the Kingdom of Yahweh coming to earth—with all those who have already died—where Jesus will reign physically. Those who are removed from the earth are those who will die in judgment.
The people of the flood were destroyed in judgment, while Noah and his family were preserved on the earth.
Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed in judgment, while Lot and his family were preserved on the earth.
The Egyptians were destroyed in judgment, and the Israelites were preserved on the earth.
The rebellious Israelites of the wilderness were killed over and over again in judgment, whereas the faithful Israelites were preserved on the earth.
Jericho was destroyed in judgment, while Rahab and her family were preserved on the earth.
The wicked people of Israel and Judah, during the time of the kings, were taken away and destroyed by the Assyrians and Babylonians, and the faithful remnant were preserved on the earth.
This is the pattern of judgment throughout the Bible. Therefore, when Jesus returns, the wicked will be taken from the earth, and the believers will remain on the earth to reign with Christ forever.