In the general sense, a rapture is defined as "a feeling of intense pleasure or joy." In the Christian sense, according to some millenarian teaching, Rapture is defined as "the transporting of believers to heaven at the Second Coming of Christ."
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” W.B Yeats, in “The Second Coming,” evokes end times while recollecting the First World War which must have felt like Armageddon. One can imagine believers anticipating the Rapture in the midst of such torment and chaos. So, what is the Rapture?
Roots of the Rapture
The Rapture is synonymous with the return of Christ. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Paul refers to the time when God will raise “the dead in Christ” along with the righteous dead; they will be “caught up together.” The word “rapture” is from Middle French circa 1600 meaning “the act of carrying off.” We also get the word “rape” from “rapture.”
The Medieval Latin word “raptura” means “seizure, rape, kidnapping.” “Ekstasis” is Greek for “take out of regular position into a state of ecstasy” or rapture. Another site relates “rapture” to Paul’s meaning in 1 Thessalonians, to be “caught up.” In other words, during the Rapture, every believer — alive or dead — will be met with and joined to Christ.
Art of the Rapture
Creative representations of the Rapture, such as Yeats’s poem, reflect the times in which they were conceived. Frequently, they blend imagery from contemporary events or mythology with biblical themes. Art, music, and literature by those who lived through war, revolution, or other traumatic events have chillingly captured the chaos and terror of the Tribulation and Christ’s second coming, sometimes supplying glimmers of hope.
1. The Last Judgment, Michelangelo, featured in the Sistine Chapel, sparked much controversy: another artist was hired to cover up nudity; art historians believe Michelangelo’s face is depicted in the skin held by St. Bartholomew; and the “golden aura surrounding Christ and Mary at the center of the fresco may be a reference to Apollo, Greek god of the sun.” Art historians comment that “the gloom and terror of the Last Judgment come as a tremendous shock after the beauty of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling” a change which reflects “the dreadful events of the Sack of Rome in 1527 and its aftermath, from which the center of Christendom did not recover for many years.
2. A 300-year-old hymn by Philip Doddridge — And Will the Judge Descend? — captures the fear and the glory of the Rapture: “How will my heart endure/The terrors of that day/When earth and Heav'n before His face Astonished, shrink away?/But ere that trumpet shakes/The mansions of the dead/Hark, from the Gospel's gentle voice/What joyful tidings spread.”
3. Giuseppe Verdi’s Dies Irae, Latin for “Day of Wrath”, “tells of a person coming before God to receive judgment at the end of their mortal life. Depending on which one outweighs the other, the human is then sent to either heaven or hell.” Classic FM dubs it one of the 20 scariest pieces of classical music alongside the theme to Jaws by John Williams and The Twilight Zone theme by Jerry Goldsmith.
4. Tim Le Haye and Jerry B Jenkins wrote the famous and hugely successful Left Behind series which begins with the Rapture. They chose to portray tribulation as a post-Rapture age of insecurity and deprivation during which those remaining on earth might still be redeemed if they believe in Christ.
Interpreting the Prophecy: Rapture's Meaning
Often, when pastors or theological writers offer an opinion about the events of end times, they are careful not to say “this is what will happen” because there is an element of mystery. One cannot discern every detail about how God intends to accomplish His purposes, and Scripture is sometimes mysterious. Does Christ come once or twice? Will He take His chosen people quietly and then return with trumpets, or is the entire event public? There are clues about Christ’s return in the Bible.
1. Will the King return once or twice?
Some scholars argue that Christians will not have to endure the Tribulation and that Christ will come twice: to rescue, then to judge later on. This was the stance Le Hay and Jenkins took when they wrote the Left Behind series. “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 3:10).
“Dispensational premillennialists” believe Christ will “take His church (living and dead) into heaven” before the tribulation, which will last seven years. “After this period of fulfillment of divine wrath, He shall then return to rule from a holy city (i.e., the New Jerusalem) over the earthly nations for one thousand years,” after which, Satan “will be loosed to deceive the nations, gather an army of the deceived,” and fight God which “will end in both the judgment of the wicked and Satan and the entrance into the eternal state of glory by the righteous.”
Matthew 24:29-31 seems clear, however: “Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” Christ “will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” Jesus says He will call up the “elect” “immediately after the distress of those days.”
John Piper agrees that Christ will come just once. 1 Peter 4:12 warns believers of the “fiery trial” to come. He cites 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 where “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
Piper says the word “meet” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is important: we are “caught up to meet the Lord in the air” which means believers are “a group of people going out to meet someone and accompanying them back into the place you just went out from.” “We rise to meet the Lord in the air, and then like a great band of welcoming, we come back with him for his established judgment and rule.” Piper believes “there is one great, glorious second coming of the Lord in our future. He will come once more to give relief to his church and judgment to his adversaries and to establish his kingdom. We come back with him for his established judgment and rule.”
2. No Secret
Some commentators have said that Christ will return for His beloved in secret; the world of unbelievers won’t know it. That view is fundamental to a series like Left Behind where, at the very start, Christians disappear without explanation. Writers at BillyGraham.org say that Christ will return publicly. “The rapture will not be secret, since it will be part of Christ’s visible and triumphant return to end this present evil age.” Whatever one believes about Christ’s return — whether He takes believers before or after the Tribulation — we won’t be going quietly.
3. Other Arguments
Theorists also debate the timeline. Will the Tribulation be exactly seven years long? Will the thousand-year period last for a literal millennium or just a very long time? The Prophet Daniel was given a vision in which there would be 69 weeks from the edict to rebuild Jerusalem until the Messiah appeared (Daniel 9:20-27). Each week stood for seven years and this prophecy was fulfilled to the day. There is one prophetic week remaining which equals seven years, but time has stopped since Christ’s death and resurrection. That final week before the end of the world will be the duration of the Tribulation.
One must wonder why God would be so literal with Daniel as to the 69 weeks and not be equally specific as to the length of that final week. His Word is consistent, so the Tribulation is most likely seven-years long. “Antichrist and the False Prophet will be cast into the ‘Lake of Fire’ without dying, and will be still there and alive when Satan is cast in a 1000 years later” as stated in Revelation 20:3. At this time, “Satan will be bound and cast into the "Bottomless Pit," where he will be "sealed up" for 1000 years.” and the Tribulation will end.
Since Revelation is full of imagery and metaphor, scholars disagree as to whether or not God refers to a literal thousand-year span or a very long time. Such uncertainties, however, should not occupy Christians as much as the state of their hearts towards Christ when He returns.
Summary of the Rapture
The most important detail is “that all Christians hold in common that Christ will ultimately return bodily, visibly, and gloriously to reign and rule with His resurrected and transformed saints forever and ever.” “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). His presence does not prevent the children of God from suffering, but by remaining close to the Son, Christians will remain steadfast in the time of tribulation. “Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42).
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.