For many years now, a large segment of God’s people have been taught the imminent return of Jesus. The idea that Jesus is coming at any moment has led to fanciful speculation and date setting. One date setter was a Baptist farmer and lay-preacher named William Miller. Based on his understanding of Daniel 8:14 “Until two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed”, Miller determined that the Second Coming would occur on March 23, 1843. Then, an adjustment was made and the date was set for April 23, 1843.
As April 23, 1843 approached, thousands of people in America, in England, and elsewhere, gathered to wait for the return of Jesus, and the end of the world. April 23, 1843 came and went. Rather than repent of being a false prophet, and misleading the people of God, Miller concluded he had made a mistake. Jesus would return in the Spring of 1844. The new date for the return of Jesus, March 21. Reports circulated that some people were making, or selling, “Ascension Robes.” When Jesus failed to return, the period became known as “The Great Disappointment.”
As the nineteenth century had its fair share of false prophets, so did the twentieth century, and now the twenty-first century. Rather than the Church learning an important lesson against setting dates, and advancing false teaching about the return of Jesus, religious charlatans doubled down to advance generational date setting, and Dispensational sensationalism in a doctrine that has become known as the Rapture.
According to the Rapture theory, seven years prior to the Second Coming of Jesus, the Church will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, disappear suddenly from earth, and then return with Him. The teaching summarizes this process by saying that Jesus will come for His saints, and then He will come with His saints.
Dispensational theology becomes very complicated at this point, reflected in detailed charts and diagrams. Clarence Larkin is among the most popular of those who sell their charts to a gullible public. His massive work, which he humbled titled, The Greatest Book on Dispensational Truth in the World. is widely embraced.
The problem with teaching the imminent return of Jesus is that it is misleading. The Church has always believed in the impending return of Christ, but the Bible is clear not to mislead God’s people. While Christians are to be ready, for we know not when Jesus is coming, we are to occupy till he comes. The Biblical image is of Jesus going to a far country, and then coming again suddenly, but there is a time element involved. This avoids setting dates. Let the Church simply say, “Maranatha,” meaning, “The Lord is coming,” and then go forth to live with mission urgency, exercising her power to forgive, maintaining hope in suffering, while patiently waiting.
The problem with the Rapture teaching is that it adds a third coming to Christian theology, and therefore contradicts Hebrews 9:28 which says that Christ shall appear the second time for all who believe. Jesus is not coming again and again. No! Jesus is coming the second time for all who believe.
Moreover, Jesus is coming as He went away, Acts 1:11, slowly, bodily, and visibly. The Rapture hoax teaches Jesus is coming to snatch his bride away, like a thief in the night. People will look around and wonder where so many people have disappeared.
Movies and books, such as the Left Behind series by the imaginative writers, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, make for sensational reading, but bad theology. The Rapture has never been part of the historic Christian faith. It is not written about in any Creed of Christendom. It was never discussed at any of the 21 great ecumenical councils. The Rapture theory is not plainly taught in Scripture. And worst of all, the details of Dispensational teaching keeps changing. Truth does not change.
A key passage for those who teach the Rapture theory is 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
The Church has always been comforted with belief in the Second Coming of Jesus. The Rapture teaching scares people, which is a sign of false teaching, and the false prophets who teach it (Deut. 18:22).
So what does 1 Thessalonians reveal? In context, Paul says that Jesus shall one day descend from heaven. The Rapture is all about ascending Christians, not the descending Christ.
Christ shall come in glory. There will be a shout, and the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God. The Rapture teaches a secret, silent coming that astonishes people, and leaves them wondering what happened to millions.
There will be a resurrection. Those who have died in Christ shall rise first. Jesus gave future details about this event in John 5:28, 29. “All who are in the grave shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” In 1 Thessalonians 4, attention is focused on those who have done good rising first unto the resurrection of life. They shall come forth from the dead, and be joined with Christians who are alive at Christ’s return, to rise together to meet the Lord in the air.
There are two important words that invite attention. First, there is the Greek word “harpazo” (har-pad’-zo), to sieze. It is translated “caught up” in the Authorized Version.
Second, there is the Greek word “apantesis” (ap-an’-tay’sis); a [friendly encounter]. This word is translated meet.
Taken together, the teaching of the text is that when Jesus comes the Second Time for all who believe, the laws of the universe will be changed. The power of God will be manifested to seize souls from the grave so that they are free to greet the coming King of kings and Lord of lords, which was a familiar custom in the ancient world. The saints rise to meet King Jesus, but only to escort Him back to earth, NOT heaven, for Jesus has promised to come again to EARTH in the same manner in which He went away. This is the historic blessed hope of the Church. It is enough.