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Conservative Protestant belief in the rapture

Additional verses supporting the rapture.
When will the rapture happen?

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1 Corinthians 15:51-53

The text reads:

1 Corinthians 15:51-53: "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."

In this passage, Paul adds one more concept to the description of the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians. He believes that people with normal bodies cannot attain Heaven. The believers' bodies would be instantly changed to a form of "spiritual body," so that they may enter Heaven. Again, if one interprets the verse literally, Paul emphasizes the imminent timing of the second coming. It did not happen during his lifetime, nor did it happen in the subsequent 19½ centuries. Some theologians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible suggest that Paul was really addressing Christians in the 21st century.

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Mark 13:26-27

The Gospel of Mark reads:

Mark 13:26-27: "And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven."

This appears to be a brief reference of the parousia and rapture. It differs from St. Paul's description, in that angels appear throughout all the earth to gather Christians up to heaven. People do not rise unaided, as in 1 Thessalonians. There is no mention of the dead having reassembled bodies and rising from their graves.

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When will it happen?

Various Gospel passages record how Jesus believed that the second coming would occur very soon, during the lifetime of his followers (certainly before the end of the 1st century CE). St. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 also anticipates the event in his near future, and during his own lifetime. He encouraged Christians in Thessalonia to keep alert in anticipation of the coming of the Lord. Of course, both the report of Jesus' speech (in Mark 9:1) and Paul's letters (in Thessalonians and in 1 Corinthians 7:26-31) were wrong. Neither the rapture nor Jesus' second coming happened during the 1st century CE. Some Christians of every age since Jesus' execution circa 30 CE  have been anxiously expecting the event, and looking for signs of its coming.  Anticipation was heightened as the last year of some centuries approached. Many expected it to happen in 1000 CE. This was not a general belief. Because of the low level of education at the time, the public was not generally aware of the date. There was also a heightened expectation just before the year 1500 CE. It was particularly intense as the year 2000 approached. Since 2000-DEC-31, the level of anticipation of the millennium (as stated in the Bible), the end of the world as we know it, and of the rapture subsided somewhat.

Various conflicting beliefs have been held about the timing of the second coming, and about how the rapture would fit in with other end-time prophecies:

bulletMillennium: a 1000 year golden era; a time of universal peace described in Revelation 20:1-7.
bulletTribulation (also called Daniel's 70th week): a 7 year interval which starts when the Antichrist, an international religious-political dictator assumes power. Horrendous events will occur.
bulletArmageddon: a terrible war, provoked by the Antichrist, in which a large percentage of humans will die. God's anger is released on humanity.

Various theories have been promoted by Christians that have linked the millennium, tribulation, Armageddon, second coming and tribulation together according to different schedules and sequences. During the second and third century CE, some Christians believed that the Millennium referred to in Revelation would follow Christ's return. This is called "Premillenialism." It was declared a heresy and suppressed by the church in the 4th Century.

This ancient belief was reintroduced in a modified form circa 1830. Most people believe that it was resurrected by John N. Darby, a minister of the Church of Ireland, a denomination in the Anglican communion; he founded the Plymouth Brethren. However, author Dave MacPherson claims that British pastor Edward Irving was the actual person responsible, and that a conspiracy was organized to give Darby the credit. 1

Premillenialism has received general acceptance by most modern conservative Christians, following the publishing of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 and in the more modern Ryrie Study Bible. Other respected supporters of the belief are the Dallas Theological Seminary and Moody Bible Institute. As in the early Christian heresy, the Tribulation is seen as preceding the second coming of Christ and his 1000 year rule.

Theologians remain currently divided over the timing of the Rapture. Their beliefs include:

bulletPre-Tribulation Rapture: (or "pre-trib") The Rapture happens just before the Tribulation, so that believers will not have to experience any of its disruption, pain, and genocide. Most conservative Protestants currently believe this theory. 2
bulletMid-Tribulation Rapture: (or "mid-trib") The Rapture happens about 42 months into the Tribulation. Initially, the rule of the Antichrist is relatively benign. He arranges a peace treaty between Israel and surrounding countries. But three and a half years into his reign as world dictator, events take a sudden turn for the worse.
bulletPost-tribulation Rapture: (or post-trib") The faithful experience the horrors and killings of the Tribulation. All suffer and many are killed. Believers are then raptured at the end of the 7 years of horror and bloodshed.
bulletPartial Rapture (a.k.a. Split Rapture): This is a minority belief among conservative Christians. It is a variation of the Pre-trib rapture in which there are two raptures:
bulletA pre-trib rapture and resurrection occurs before the tribulation, but only for those born-again Christians who have earned special treatment by having been actively watching, waiting and praying for the rapture.
bulletThose born-again Christians who have not been doing these "works" will be have to endure at least part of the tribulation. They will be raptured partway through or at the end of the tribulation period.  3,4

Each of these theories has significant problems and can only be accepted if one ignores certain Biblical passages or twists them totally out of shape. The Bible appears to be ambiguous on this point; many interpretations are possible. Zondervan publishes a book in their Counterpoints series in which three evangelical theologians discuss their conflicting views on the Rapture -- all based on passages from the Bible.

Beliefs about rapture and the tribulation can motivate believers in different ways. If a believer accepts the pre-trib or the mid-trib concept, then they may concentrate on spiritual growth. If they believe in post-trib, then their prime concern may be to prepare for survival.

A favorite occupation among Christians down through the ages has been to predict the timing of the end of the world. Much of Western Europe expected the end of the world in the year 1000 CE. There was great dissatisfaction among believers when it did not happen. In 1833, William Miller (1782-1849), founder of the Millerite Movement, wrote a book "Evidences from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ about the Year 1843." He gathered a great following, until the disillusionment came. Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses predicted that Armageddon would start in 1914. The Witnesses later predicted 1918, 1920, 1925, and 1941. Some individual Witnesses believed that it would happen in 1975; however their denomination did not endorse that date. Many Fundamentalist and other Evangelical leaders are currently predicting that the events will unfold early in the 21st century.

"Rapture Ready" features a "Nearing Midnight" section which lists recent news items that point as signs to the imminence of the second coming. It is updated regularly. Their "Rapture Index" is a number which attempts to predict the closeness of the date. It has varied from 57 in 1993-DEC-12 to an all-time high of 182 in 2001-SEP-24. On 2008-JAN-17, the index was 163. They appear to interpret the Rapture Index as meaning:

bulletUnder 100: "Slow prophetic activity"
bullet100 to 130: "Moderate prophetic activity"
bullet131 to 160: "Heavy prophetic activity"
bulletAbove 160: "Fasten your seat belts" 5

The Millennium Watch Institute attempted to track all social and religious developments associated with the year 2000. 6 Their web site had a countdown clock that showed the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the end of the Millennium, which occurred at midnight on the evening of 2000-DEC-31. Many people felt that Jesus' return towards earth and the Rapture would occur at midnight of that day or at midnight of 1999-DEC-31. It didn't happen. One of the great undocumented stories is how millions of born-again Americans and other conservative Christians adapted to the failure of their expectations of TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) and the rapture.

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Dave MacPherson, "The Rapture Plot," Millennium Press, (2000). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
  2. "Bible prophecy study: pretribulation rapture," teaches the pretribulation rapture "from the Bible, the Wedding, and the Feast of Trumpets," See: http://www.linkjesus.com/
  3. Brian Tegart, "Partial ('Split') Rapture," at: http://www.tegart.com/
  4. "Partial Rapture View," Not Deceived Network, at: http://notdeceived.net/
  5. "Rapture Index," Rapture Ready, at:
  6. Dr. Ted Daniels, is founder of the Millennium Watch Institute and editor of its monthly newsletter Millennial Prophecy Report. See: http://www.channel1.com/

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Latest update: 2008-JAN-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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