I have been receiving posts from various overly zealous Christians warning me to get my life straight with God before the RAPTURE happens. They have been telling me if I don't hurry up and repent, I will really regret it when all the Christians disappear!!! I also keep getting criticized for not knowing what I am talking about, and if I would just read the whole Bible I would understand.
With that to motivate my mind, I thought it appropriate to spend some time on this popular "end times" doctrine of fundamentalism. Some of this will be old news to many of us, some of it will be new. I am assuming that most of the people reading this article are at least familiar with the unique terminology of 21st century western Christianity, so not every word will be defined.
Most dispensationalists teach a 7 year tribulation (their unfulfilled week of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy--Daniel 9). Some believe the Lord will rapture the church before that tribulation, i.e. “pre”. That view is the most taught. It is ingrained as “any moment”. Others believe the Lord will rapture the church in the middle of the tribulation, i.e. “mid”. Some believe the Lord will rapture the church after the tribulation, i.e. “post”.
History of the Rapture Doctrine
This glamorized dispensational doctrine was never heard of in Christianity until the 1850s!
Following are two quotes from respected church writers who wrote earlier this century. They openly questioned the “any minute rapture” doctrine.
Alexander Reese says, "About 1830 a new school arose within the fold of Premillennialism that sought to overthrow what, since the Apostolic Age, have been considered by all premillennialist as established results, and to institute in their place a series of doctrines that had never been heard of before. The school I refer to is that of ‘The Brethren’ or ‘Plymouth Brethren,’ founded by J. N. Darby.” 1
Robert Cameron says,
“Now, be it remembered, that prior to that date, no hint of any approach to such belief can be found in any Christian literature from Polycarp down.... Surely, a doctrine that finds no exponent or advocate in the whole history and literature of Christendom, for eighteen hundred years after the founding of the Church - a doctrine that was never taught by a Father or Doctor of the Church in the past - that has no standard Commentator or Professor of the Greek language in any Theological School until the middle of the Nineteenth century, to give it approval, and that is without a friend, even to mention its name amongst the orthodox teachers or the heretical sects of Christendom - such a fatherless and motherless doctrine, when it rises to the front, demanding universal acceptance, ought to undergo careful scrutiny before it is admitted and tabulated as part of ‘the faith once for all delivered unto the saints.”2
The doctrine of a rapture, then tribulation, then millennia was not taught prior to the 1850’s.
2. How did the Rapture-Tribulation doctrine begin?
There are at least three "Christian" books on this subject that are fairly comprehensive on the subject:
(1) Whose Right It Is by Kelly Varner published by Destiny Image;
(2) Seventy Weeks: The Historical Alternative by Robert Caringola; and
(3) The Incredible Cover-Up by Dave MacPherson.
These books are extremely well documented giving proof of exactly where and how the rapture tribulation-millennia doctrine began.
A brief synopsis:
The doctrine appears to have begun in Scotland with a vision by a 15-year-old girl. The girl’s name was Margaret MacDonald, born January 14, 1815. Margaret was not a member of any church. She and her brothers visited some different churches and held some house meetings, but were not traditional members of any one group. Margaret was a semi-invalid, confined to a sick bed and supposedly experienced frequent fevers.
One day in 1830, Margaret had a vision about the Church being caught away before a time of tribulation. Margaret's’s vision was an escape vision. Before long, copies of her vision were circulated as men began to preach this rapture idea as gospel. Naturally it was preached as “any minute” and that was in the 1850’s. Soon after, John Darby and the Plymouth Brethren began to campaign the doctrine. Darby came to the United States in 1864 where the doctrine greatly influenced the Presbyterians and Baptists, most notably influenced was a Bible student and author, Cyrus Ingerson Scofield .
Darby’s notes on the rapture were placed into the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 and became in the minds of most Christians as if they were apostolic doctrine. Since that time the doctrine has also been placed in the Dake Bible, Ryre Bible, Larkin Bible, etc. A doctrine never preached prior to the 1850’s nor preached by any apostle suddenly became a fundamental gospel truth.
Interestingly enough, the Plymouth Brethren, Presbyterians, and Baptists do not believe in visions and prophecy. Yet, that was the way this doctrine originated.
Knowledgeable dispensationalists that have studied the above will acknowledge that the doctrine was not taught anywhere prior to the 1850’s. J. Dwight Pentecost acknowledges this, but says,
“It was not until the last century that the field of Eschatology became a matter to which the mind of the church was turned.”3
Pentecost admits that the rapture-tribulation doctrine was not taught by the apostles in the first century. He justifies that by saying that people were not interested in eschatology until this century. That is not true. The earliest recorded writings express extreme interest in end-time teachings. None the less, Margaret's’ vision and prophecy is the foundation of what many believe today.
Alexander Reese said, “About 1830 a new school arose within the fold of Premillennialism that sought to overthrow what, since the Apostolic Age, have been considered by all premillennialist as established results, and to institute in their place a series of doctrines that had never been heard of before. The school I refer to is that of ‘The Brethren’ or ‘Plymouth Brethren,’ founded by J. N. Darby.” 4
What did this “new school” that Reese referred to teach that was so different? What “series of doctrines” not taught since the apostles and never heard before was Reese speaking about? It’s the dispensational doctrine initiated by the Plymouth Brethren.
The dispensational doctrine goes something like this. According to them, we are living in the church age of Laodicea (Rev 3:14). It’s simply the last church before the rapture of Revelation 4:1. Just prior to the rapture the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem and animal sacrifice instituted. The Lord comes and raptures the church. For seven years the antichrist rules and a great tribulation takes place. At the end of the seven years, the Lord returns again and builds another temple from which he rules from the throne of David for exactly 1,000 years. According to Ezekiel, there will be animal sacrifices performed and the law reinstituted. After the 1,000 years, the wicked are resurrected in a second resurrection and the great white throne judgment takes place. The devil and all wicked people are cast into the lake of fire forever. Above natural Jerusalem the heavenly Jerusalem will orbit as would a satellite.
Nearly all that was a “new school” never taught by the apostles and never heard before. Can you imagine the apostle Paul preaching the reinstitution of circumcision (law)? What about Jesus acknowledging animal blood after he gave his? Or Christ rebuilding the temple after he had said he would make it desolate?
Matthew Henry says,
“That the Lord Jesus will come down from heaven in all the pomp and power of the upper world (v. 16): The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout. He ascended into heaven after his resurrection, and passed through these material heavens into the third heaven, which must retain him till the restitution of all things; and then he will come again, and appear in his glory. He will descend from heaven into this our air, v. 17. The appearance will be with pomp and power, with a shout-- the shout of a king, and the power and authority of a mighty king and conqueror, with the voice of the archangel; an innumerable company of angels will attend him. Perhaps one, as general of those hosts of the Lord, will give notice of his approach, and the glorious appearance of this great Redeemer and Judge will be proclaimed and ushered in by the trump of God. For the trumpet shall sound, and this will awaken those that sleep in the dust of the earth, and will summon all the world to appear.”
Prior to the 1850’s this passage of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 was not taught as an escape.
I should probably note that Matthew Henry was born in 1662 and died in 1714. He did not know of any rapture before the tribulation. He did not know it because it is not in the Bible. The doctrine of the rapture escape was from a “new doctrine” that came along after Matthew Henry. His commentaries are considered a standard addition to the personal libraries of nearly anyone really interested in studying the Bible. They are widely sold, in stock in most Christian book stores and readily available from several publishers and since it is in the Public Domain, can be downloaded for free online. 6
Now it is not my intention with this rant to convey that I believe in some other Eschatological order of things. What I am trying to bring out is that the "oh so popular" dispensational rapture scenario has nothing to do with historic Christianity. Anyone who really investigates the background of the doctrine knows this fact. I am sure that Billy Graham, Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe and Tim LaHaye are well aware of the thin ice they have been skating on for the last several decades while they aggressively promote this modern day theological invention.
Now I may be a bit cynical, but once I understood the weak foundation all this "rapture - second coming" teaching is standing on, it really shook my faith. Since the bible was used to prove this complicated end time pageantry, I wondered what other teachings had been grafted into my brain that were just not historically defensible. If I had been so thoroughly misled about this teaching, what else had I been misled on? I also wondered what could be the motivation of continuing to teach such nonsense once these facts and fallacies became known to them. I am sure these men are aware of these things. Could it be that the popularization of Dispensational End Times Theology is a good way to sell books or better yet, to get people into the cult and ultimately increase donations?
"People love to be humbugged, robbed and ruled and love the people who humbug, rob and rule them." P. T. Barnum
I was always told that the things I was taught to believe about the rapture were only things clearly explained in the Bible. Later in life, when I really started to study, I discovered that most of what I believed was various systems of interpretation that some man somewhere had "discovered" or rather, made up.
95 percent of the Christians learn by repeating like parrots. 5 percent know what they know by proving their imagination.
What do you think?
1 Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, page 18, quoted from J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, page 165
2 Robert Cameron, Scriptural Truth About The Lord’s Return, page 72-73, quoted from J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, page 165, 166
3 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, page 166
4 Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, page 18, quoted from J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, page 165