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Rapture is a term in Christian eschatology which refers to the "being caught up" discussed in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, when the "dead in Christ" and "we who are alive and remain" will be "caught up in the clouds" to meet "the Lord in the air".
The term "Rapture" is used in at least two senses. In the pre-tribulation view, a group of people will be left behind on earth after another group literally leaves "to meet the Lord in the air." This is now the most common use of the term, especially among fundamentalist Christians and in the United States. The other, older use of the term "Rapture" is simply as a synonym for the final resurrection generally, without a belief that a group of people is left behind on earth for an extended Tribulation period after the events of 1 Thessalonians 4:17. This distinction is important as some types of Christianity never refer to "the Rapture" in religious education, but might use the older and more general sense of the word "rapture" in referring to what happens during the final resurrection.
There are many views among Christians regarding the timing of Christ's return (including whether it will occur in one event or two), and various views regarding the destination of the aerial gathering described in 1 Thessalonians 4. Denominations such as Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Lutheran Christians, and Reformed Christians believe in a rapture only in the sense of a general final resurrection, when Christ returns a single time. They do not believe that a group of people is left behind on earth for an extended Tribulation period after the events of 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
Authors generally maintain that the pre-tribulation Rapture doctrine originated in the eighteenth century, with the Puritan preachers Increase and Cotton Mather, and was then popularized in the 1830s by John Darby. Others, including Grant Jeffrey, maintain that an earlier document called Ephraem or Pseudo-Ephraem already supported a pre-tribulation rapture.
Regardless, pre-tribulation rapture theology was popularized extensively in the 1830s by John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren, and further popularized in the United States in the early 20th century by the wide circulation of the Scofield Reference Bible.
The Koine Greek of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 uses the verb form ἁρπαγησόμεθα (harpagisometha), which means "we shall be caught up" or "taken away", with the connotation that this is a sudden event. The dictionary form of this Greek verb is harpazō (ἁρπάζω). This use is also seen in such texts as Acts 8:39, 2Corinthians 12:2-4 and Revelation 12:5.
English versions of the Bible have translated rapiemur in various ways:
In 1590, Francisco Ribera, a Catholic Jesuit, taught "futurism" the idea that most of Revelation was about the future, and therefore, not about the Catholic Church. He also taught that the rapture would happen 45 days before the end of a 3.5 year tribulation.
The concept of the rapture, in connection with premillennialism, was expressed by the 17th-century American Puritan father and son Increase and Cotton Mather. They held to the idea that believers would be caught up in the air, followed by judgments on earth, and then the millennium. The term rapture was used by Philip Doddridge and John Gill in their New Testament commentaries, with the idea that believers would be caught up prior to judgment on earth and Jesus' second coming.
There exists at least one 18th century and two 19th century pre-tribulation references: in an essay published in 1788 in Philadelphia by the Baptist Morgan Edwards which articulated the concept of a pre-tribulation rapture, in the writings of Catholic priest Emmanuel Lacunza in 1812, and by John Nelson Darby in 1827. Emmanuel Lacunza (1731–1801), a Jesuit priest (under the pseudonym Juan Josafat Ben Ezra), wrote an apocalyptic work entitled La venida del Mesías en gloria y majestad (The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty). The book appeared first in 1811, 10 years after his death. In 1827 it was translated into English by the Scottish minister Edward Irving.
Dr. Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (1813-1875), a prominent English theologian and biblical scholar, wrote a pamphlet in 1866 tracing the concept of the rapture through the works of John Darby back to Edward Irving.
Although not using the term "rapture", the idea was more fully developed by Edward Irving (1792–1834). In ? (first volume published in 1806) Matthew Henry  used the term in his commentary of 1 Thessalonians 4.[full citation needed] Irving directed his attention to the study of prophecy and eventually accepted the one-man Antichrist idea of James Henthorn Todd, Samuel Roffey Maitland, Robert Bellarmine, and Francisco Ribera, yet he went a step further. Irving began to teach the idea of a two-phase return of Christ, the first phase being a secret rapture prior to the rise of the Antichrist. According to Irving, “There are three gatherings: – First, of the first-fruits of the harvest, the wise virgins who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth; next, the abundant harvest gathered afterwards by God; and lastly, the assembling of the wicked for punishment.”
John Nelson Darby first proposed and popularized the pre-tribulation rapture in 1827. This view was accepted among many other Plymouth Brethren movements in England. Darby and other prominent Brethren were part of the Brethren movement which impacted American Christianity, especially with movements and teachings associated with Christian eschatology and fundamentalism, primarily through their writings. Influences included the Bible Conference Movement, starting in 1878 with the Niagara Bible Conference. These conferences, which were initially inclusive of historicist and futurist premillennialism, led to an increasing acceptance of futurist premillennial views and the pre-tribulation rapture especially among Presbyterian, Baptist, and Congregational members. Popular books also contributed to acceptance of the pre-tribulation rapture, including William Eugene Blackstone's book Jesus is Coming, published in 1878, which sold more than 1.3 million copies, and the Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909 and 1919 and revised in 1967.
The early original Christian church, as well as the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox churches, the Anglican Communion and many Protestant Calvinist denominations, have no tradition of a preliminary return of Christ and reject the doctrine. The Orthodox Church, for example, rejects it because the doctrine of the rapture depends on a millennial interpretation of prophetic scriptures, rather than an amillennial or postmillennial fashion.
Some proponents of a preliminary rapture believe the doctrine of amillennialism originated with Alexandrian scholars such as Clement and Origen and later became Catholic dogma through Augustine. The church until then held to premillennial views, which see an impending apocalypse from which the church will be rescued after being raptured by the Lord.
Some[who?] pre-tribulation proponents maintain that the earliest known extra-Biblical reference to the pre-tribulation rapture is from a 7th-century tract known as the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Ephraem the Syrian, which says, "For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins."" However, the interpretation of this writing as supporting a pre-tribulation rapture is debated.
The rise in belief in the pre-tribulation rapture is often wrongly attributed to a 15-year old Scottish-Irish girl named Margaret McDonald who was of the first to receive a spiritual baptism under a Pentecostal awakening in Scotland. In 1830 she had a vision of the end times which describes a post-tribulation view of the rapture that was first published in 1840. It was published again in 1861, but two important passages demonstrating a post-tribulation view were removed to encourage confusion concerning the timing of the rapture. The two removed segments were, "This is the fiery trial which is to try us. - It will be for the purging and purifying of the real members of the body of Jesus" and "The trial of the Church is from Antichrist. It is by being filled with the Spirit that we shall be kept".
In 1957 John Walvoord, a theologian at Dallas Theological Seminary, authored a book, The Rapture Question, that gave theological support to the pre-tribulation rapture; this book eventually sold over 65,000 copies. In 1958 J. Dwight Pentecost authored another book supporting the pre-tribulation rapture, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology, which sold 215,000 copies.
During the 1970s, belief in the rapture became popular in wider circles, in part due to the books of Hal Lindsey, including The Late Great Planet Earth, which has reportedly sold between 15 million and 35 million copies, and the movie A Thief in the Night, which based its title on the scriptural reference 1 Thessalonians 5:2. Lindsey proclaimed that the rapture was imminent, based on world conditions at the time. The Cold War figured prominently in his predictions of impending Armageddon. Other aspects of 1970s global politics were seen as having been predicted in the Bible. Lindsey suggested, for example, that the seven-headed beast with ten horns, cited in the Book of Revelation, was the European Economic Community, a forebear of the European Union, which between 1981 and 1986 had ten member states; it now has 27 member states.
Some dispensationalist premillennialists (including many Evangelicals) hold the return of Christ to be two distinct events, or one second coming in two stages. 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17 is seen to be a description of a preliminary event to the return described in Matthew 24:29–31. Although both describe a return of Jesus, these are seen to be separated in time by more than a brief period. The first event may or may not be seen (which is not a primary issue), and is called the rapture, when the saved are to be 'caught up,' whence the term "rapture" is taken. The "second coming" is a public event, wherein Christ's presence is prophesied to be clearly seen by all, as he returns to end a battle staged at Armageddon, though possibly fought at the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The majority of dispensationalists hold that the first event precedes the period of tribulation, even if not immediately (see chart for additional dispensationalist timing views);
Amillennialists deny the interpretation of a literal 1,000-year rule of Christ, and as such amillennialism does not necessarily imply much difference between itself and other forms of millennialism besides that denial. However, there is considerable overlap in the beliefs of Amillennialists (including most Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and Lutherans), postmillennialists (including Presbyterians), and historic premillennialists (including some Calvinistic Baptists, among others) with those who hold that the return of Christ will be a single, public event. Those who identify the rapture with the second coming are likely to emphasize mutual similarities between passages of scripture where clouds, trumpets, angels or the archangel, resurrection, and gathering are mentioned. Although some (particularly some amillennialists) may take the rapture to be figurative, rather than literal, these three groups are likely to maintain that the passages regarding the return of Christ describe a single event.
Some[who?] also claim that the "word of the Lord" cited by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17 is the Olivet Discourse which Matthew separately describes in Matthew 24:29-31. Although the doctrinal relationship between the rapture and the second coming is the same in these three groups, Historic premillennialists are more likely to use the term "rapture" to clarify their position in distinction from dispensationalists.
Dispensationalists see the immediate destination of the raptured Christians as being Heaven, with an eventual return to Earth. Roman Catholic commentators, such as Walter Drum (1912), identify the destination of the 1 Thessalonians 4:17 gathering as Heaven.
While Anglicans have many views, some Anglican commentators, such as N. T. Wright, identify the destination as a specific place on Earth. This interpretation may sometimes be connected to Christian environmentalist concerns.
In the amillennial and postmillennial views, as well as in the post-tribulation premillennial position, there are no distinctions in the timing of the rapture. These views regard the rapture, as it is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, as being either identical to the second coming of Jesus as described in Matthew 24:29-31, or as a meeting in the air with Jesus that immediately precedes his return to the Earth. Within premillennialism, the pre-tribulation position is the predominant view that distinguishes between the rapture and second coming as two events. There are also two minor positions within premillennialism that differ with regard to the timing of the rapture, the mid-tribulation view and the partial-rapture view.
The pre-tribulation position advocates that the rapture will occur before the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period, while the second coming will occur at the end of the seven-year tribulation period. Pre-tribulationists often describe the rapture as Jesus coming for the church and the second coming as Jesus coming with the church. Pre-tribulation educators and preachers include Jimmy Swaggart, J. Dwight Pentecost, Tim LaHaye, J. Vernon McGee, Perry Stone, Chuck Smith, Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe, Chuck Missler, Grant Jeffrey, Thomas Ice, David Jeremiah, and John Hagee. While many pre-tribulationists are also dispensationalists, not all pre-tribulationists are dispensationalists.
The mid-tribulation position espouses that the rapture will occur at some point in the middle of what is popularly called the tribulation period, or during Daniel's 70th Week. However, since the Bible only uses "tribulation" to refer to the second half of Daniel's 70th week, from a mid-tribulationist's point of view he is a pre-tribulationist. The tribulation is typically divided into two periods of 3.5 years each. Mid-tribulationists hold that the saints will go through the first period (Beginning of Travail, which is not "the tribulation"), but will be raptured into Heaven before the severe outpouring of God's wrath in the second half of what is popularly called the tribulation. Mid-tribulationists appeal to Daniel 7:25 which says the saints will be given over to tribulation for "time, times, and half a time," - interpreted to mean 3.5 years. At the halfway point of the tribulation, the Antichrist will commit the "abomination of desolation" by desecrating the Jerusalem temple (to be built on what is now called the Temple Mount, see Third Temple). Mid-tribulationist teachers include Harold Ockenga, James O. Buswell (a reformed, Calvinistic Presbyterian), and Norman Harrison. This position is a minority view among premillennialists.
The prewrath rapture view also places the rapture at some point during the tribulation period before the second coming. This view holds that the tribulation of the church begins toward the latter part of the seven-year period, being Daniel's 70th week, when the Antichrist is revealed in the temple. This latter half of the seven-year period [i.e. 3 1/2 years] is defined as the great tribulation, although the exact duration is not known. References from Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are used as evidence that this tribulation will be cut short by the coming of Christ to deliver the righteous by means of the rapture, which will occur after specific events in Revelation, in particular after the sixth seal is opened and the sun is darkened and the moon is turned to blood. However, by this point many Christians will have been slaughtered as martyrs by the Antichrist. After the rapture will come God's seventh-seal wrath of trumpets and bowls (a.k.a. "the Day of the Lord"). The Day of the Lord's wrath against the ungodly will follow for the remainder of the seven years. Marvin Rosenthal, author of The Prewrath Rapture of the Church, is a proponent for the prewrath rapture view. His belief is founded on the work of Robert D. Van Kampen (1938–1999); his books The Sign, The Rapture Question Answered and The Fourth Reich detail his pre-wrath rapture doctrine.
The partial or selective rapture theory holds that all obedient Christians will be raptured before, in the midst of, or after the tribulation depending on one's personal fellowship with God and the faith. Therefore, the rapture of a believer is determined by the timing of his conversion during the tribulation. Other proponents of this theory hold that only those who are faithful in their relationship with God (having true fellowship with Him) will be raptured, and the rest resurrected during the tribulation, between the 5th and 6th seals of Revelation, having lost their lives during. Still others hold the rest will either be raptured during the tribulation or at its end. As stated by Ira David (a proponent of this view): “The saints will be raptured in groups during the tribulation as they are prepared to go.” Some notable proponents of this theory are G. H. Lang, Robert Chapman, G. H. Pember, Robert Govett, D. M. Panton, Watchman Nee, Ira E. David, J. A. Seiss, Hudson Taylor, Anthony Norris Groves, John Wilkinson, G. Campbell Morgan, Otto Stockmayer and Rev. J. W. (Chip) White, Jr.
The post-tribulation position places the rapture at the end of the tribulation period. Post-tribulation writers define the tribulation period in a generic sense as the entire present age, or in a specific sense of a period of time preceding the second coming of Christ. The emphasis in this view is that the church will undergo the tribulation — even though the church will be spared the wrath of God. Matthew 24:29–31 - "Immediately after the Tribulation of those days...they shall gather together his elect..." - is cited as a foundational scripture for this view. Post-tribulationists perceive the rapture as occurring simultaneously with the second coming of Christ. Upon Jesus' return, believers will meet him in the air and will then accompany him in his return to the Earth. In the Epistles of Paul, most notably in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ("the dead in Christ shall rise first") and 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, a trumpet is described as blowing at the end of the tribulation to herald the return of Christ; Revelation 11:15 further supports this view. Moreover, after chapters 6–19, and after 20:1-3 when Satan is bound, Revelation 20:4-6 says, "and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection."
The Post-Tribulation view is essentially the position held as well by amillennialists, who view the millennial rule of Christ as allegorical to Christ's rule in the believer through sanctification (II Pet. 3:8) thus precluding literal interpretation of a thousand year period. Amillennialists commonly view the rapture of the Church as one and the same event with the second coming of Christ. Authors who have expressed support for this view include St. Augustine, and the Puritan author of Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan.
Since the origin of the concept, many believers in the rapture have made predictions regarding the date of the event. The primary scriptural reference cited against this position is Matthew 24:36, where Jesus is quoted as saying; "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (RSV). Another potential problem for those attempting to set a date for the rapture arises from Matthew 24:34, where Jesus is quoted as saying "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (KJV).
Any individual or religious group that has dogmatically predicted the day of the rapture, a practise referred to as "date setting", has been thoroughly embarrassed and discredited, as the predicted date of fulfillment has invariably come and gone without event. Some of these individuals and groups have offered "correct" target dates, while others have offered excuses and have tried to "correct" their target dates, while simply releasing a reinterpretation of the meaning of the scripture to fit their current predicament, and then explain that although the prediction appeared to have not come true, in reality it had been completely accurate and fulfilled, albeit in a different way than many had expected.
Conversely, many of those who believe that the precise date of the rapture cannot be known, do affirm that the specific time frame that immediately precedes the rapture event can be known. This time frame is often referred to as "the season". The primary section of scripture cited for this position is Matthew 24:32–35; where Jesus is quoted teaching the parable of the fig tree, which is proposed as the key that unlocks the understanding of the general timing of the rapture, as well as the surrounding prophecies listed in the sections of scripture that precede and follow this parable.
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Some notable predictions of the date of the rapture include the following:
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