Many Evangelical Christians today believe that the present “dispensation” (phase of God’s activity) is the “ time of the Gentiles ”. They teach that those who are faithful Christians now will be secretly “raptured”— that God will take them to heaven before the Time of Trouble.
This is supposed to be followed by a seven-year Time of Trouble— God’s dispensation or provision for the conversion of the Jews and those “Gentiles” who were not converted and raptured before the Time of Trouble.
This theme has been popularized by books and movies such as the “Left Behind” series which portray a sudden disappearance of Christians, who are snatched away from the driver’s seat of cars, from airplanes or out of their beds. The sealing of the 144,000 is, according to this theory, the conversion of Jews, who then become witnesses during the Time of Trouble. Those who were true and faithful Christians will have been raptured and will look on from the safety of Heaven.
While this is a nice theory, and most Christians would love to escape the Time of Trouble, the Bible does not teach this anywhere. Rather than a clear teaching from the Bible, the doctrine of the secret rapture is presented and then texts are given which supposedly support it. Many of these texts actually teach the exact opposite of the rapture
Among the favorite “rapture” texts are those like Matthew 24:40, 41, “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and the other left.” The scenario that is presented is that people will be going about their everyday activities when some will be “taken” to Heaven and the others “left” behind to experience the Time of Trouble.
However, a careful reading shows that the story of those who are “taken” and “left” is another way of emphasizing the previous verses— “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage (going about their everyday activities) until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field, one will be taken and the other left…” Matthew 24:38-40.
Notice carefully that it was the flood that took them all away to destruction, not the ark taking them to a place of safety. In the Genesis account it is clear: “Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left , and those with him in the ark” (Genesis 7:23 NIV).
This understanding is in harmony with the parallel passage in Luke 17: 34-37. Jesus again said, “Two men will be in the field, the one will be taken and the other left”. The disciples wondered where they would be taken to— “And they answered and said to Him, ‘Where, Lord?’ So He said to them, ‘Wherever the body (dead body, NIV) is, there the eagles (vultures NIV) will be gathered together.” In other words, the ones taken are those who are destroyed, whose bodies become food for the birds, as described in Revelation 19:17,18, which portrays the Second Coming of Christ and the “ feast of the birds ”. The ones who are left are “we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord” 1 Thessalonians 4:15 .
Rapture theorists insist that Christ’s coming is in “two installments”, first in secret before the Time of Trouble (which they claim will coincide with the resurrection of the righteous) and then visibly at the end of the Time of Trouble. They point to texts like 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-54 as being “rapture” texts and Matthew 24:27-31 as being a “visible coming” text.
But a simple comparison of these three texts shows that 1) the rapture happens at the same time as the resurrection of “those who sleep in Jesus”, 2) the resurrection, far from being secret, is a very audible event with “a shout”, “the voice of the archangel” and “the last trumpet”, and 3) the last “loud trumpet call” (when the dead will be raised) takes place when Christ appears in His visible glory.
Moreover, Revelation 20:4,5 teaches clearly that the “first resurrection” (which, according to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15: 50-54 coincides with the rapture of the living righteous) takes place at the Second Coming of Christ and the beginning of the millenium, not secretly seven years earlier. A study of the other “rapture passages” shows that none of them teach that the righteous will be secretly taken to heaven before the Time of Trouble.
This is not just an academic matter. No doubt during the chaos of the beginning of the time of trouble many Christians will believe that the rapture has already taken place and they have been left behind. Satan will exploit their belief that their faith was inadequate, tempting them to either give up in despair, or to try to follow the “roadmap” of the left-behind scenario, which he will manipulate.
Actually, much of the confusion concerning the Time of Trouble, the role of the Jews, and the so-called secret rapture has to do with a misunderstanding of the prophecy of seventy weeks of Daniel 9. For an analysis of that prophecy see Appendix 4 The Secret Rapture in The Book.
According to the Book of Revelation, we are now in the Laodicean period of the Church which is characterized by wealth and spiritual indifference. God is in the process of sealing the 144,000 (from the spiritual 12 tribes) who will give the final call to repentance to the world. When the Time of Trouble starts (in Revelation it begins with the Seven Trumpets) the 144,000 will be protected to a certain extent by the “seal on their foreheads”, but they will suffer persecution, especially when the Beast (the antichrist) appears. The Great Multitude will respond to the call of the 144,000 to repent and come out of Babylon.
The combined forces of Babylon will attempt to destroy them, but will be impeded by the Seven Last Plagues. Their final effort will be the Battle of Armageddon, but Jesus will return and then the righteous dead will be resurrected, and together with the righteous who lived through the time of trouble they will be “raptured” to meet the Lord. All of this scenario is dealt with in much more detail and with scriptural support in The Book.
The rapture is summarized in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17: “We who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep (who have died). For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up (“raptured”) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord”.
<![if !supportFootnotes]>  <![endif]> Dispensationalists point to texts such as Luke 21:24, “And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” as evidence that God has different plans for saving the Gentiles and the Jews. According to this theory, God’s plan for the Jews during the Old Testament was that they would be saved because they were obedient in keeping the law. During the “dispensation” for the Gentiles people could be saved by grace through faith. The Jews would have another chance to be saved during the time of trouble after the “rapture” of the church. During this time the converted Jews would preach the gospel to the other people who had been “left behind”.
<![if !supportFootnotes]>  <![endif]> The Greek for took (“the flood came and took them all away”) is airo, which means “take up, raise up”. Thus in the original language it is obvious that it is the wicked who are “taken up” (and destroyed), not the righteous.
<![if !supportFootnotes]>  <![endif]> The Hebrew for left (“only Noah was left”) is shaar, which means “to remain, be left behind”. Thus in the original language it is obvious that it is the righteous who, like Noah, are “left behind” (to meet Jesus), not the unrepentant or the Jews.
<![if !supportFootnotes]>  <![endif]> “Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, ‘Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.” Revelation 19:17,18.
<![if !supportFootnotes]>  <![endif]> This is a favorite “rapture” text, supposedly referring to the Jews and undecided who will be converted during the time of trouble. But note that Paul included himself and those who are faithful among the “we who are alive and remain”. He gives no indication that there is another group more faithful who went to heaven first.
<![if !supportFootnotes]>  <![endif]> So-called rapture passages include John 14:1-3, Romans 8:19, 1 Corinthians 1:7,8, 15:51-53, 16:22, Philippians 3:20,21, 4:5, Colossians 3:4, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 2:19, 4:13-18, 5:9, 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 1 Timothy 6:14, 2 Timothy 4:1, 4:8, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 9:28, James 5:7-9, 1 Peter 1:7,13, 5:4, 1 John 2:28-3:2, Jude 21, Revelation 2:25, 3:10. This list is cited in Revelation Unveiled by Tim LaHaye, Zondervan 1999. None of them say that the righteous will be taken to Heaven before the Time of Trouble.