A Critical Evaluation of the “Rapture” Doctrine: Part 1
In this article I want to offer a critical (exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation) evaluation of the doctrine of the church’s “rapture” as dogmatically taught and embraced by most evangelical, full gospel and fundamental Christian communities today. It is my prayer and hope that all readers will follow the reasoning through to its conclusion without prejudice allowing the Holy Spirit opportunity to lead all into biblical truth. The stakes for adopting and adhering to false teaching are not only spiritually perilous but eternal. We are emphatically enjoined by Scripture to know truth by revelation. We will not escape the temporal and eternal consequences of having believed and followed unbiblical doctrine because of the persuasion of a trusted leader. It is my purpose in this article to develop as honestly and fully as I can the origin and history of the rapture belief and to hopefully convince as many as possible of the error and dangers of this unscriptural teaching.
Before addressing directly the essence of the rapture doctrine, it is necessary to establish a wider context and perspective within which we can better evaluate the truth or error of this teaching. It is a spiritual reality that the purer the truth we hold the more discriminating and discerning we will be in judging the veracity of new data we encounter. Stated succinctly, the more truth we hold the more we are going to recognize and embrace. Negatively, the more corrupted the understanding we hold, the more vulnerable and susceptible we will be to false or incomplete biblical teachings.
It is my contention that much of the church today is teaching an incomplete or even false soteriology and that it is in the soil of this fallacious doctrine of salvation that teachings such as the rapture find germination. Most churches today teach a doctrine of salvation that is ostensibly anthropocentric, man centered, in orientation rather than the biblically based Christocentric focus. In other words, the doctrine is asking principally what is in this for man rather than what is it that Father God has always wanted for himself from eternity past. This is often evidenced in calls for salvation which encourage persons to come to Jesus for what he can and will do for them.
The man-centered approach to salvation tends to culminate in one’s satisfaction with a “fire insurance” policy—avoid hell and gain heaven. What if God’s eternal design for man actually went far beyond simply avoiding hell? What if God’s glorious plan and purpose included bringing man fully into the same kind of relationship with himself that he has always had with his only begotten son, Jesus? When one is led to Christ motivated by what he will gain from the encounter, that person will inevitably fail to grasp the fullness of all God has called him to. The fullness of Christ is discovered and realized through firstly seeking to satisfy the heart of God. How one begins a relationship with God will map out the course followed in pursuing that relationship. Following a man-centered approach to God will result in eternal forfeiture of one’s full inheritance in Christ.
Please read the following passage as if you were being told an eternal truth for the first time and see if you capture the higher more eternal reality of Jesus’ sacrifice.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Eph 1:4-14 NASB).
There are at least three salient points relative to our biblical understanding of salvation embedded in this passage. It is obvious from Paul’s tone here that he is most anxious for these believers in Ephesus to comprehend the truth and fullness of what their relationship with Christ meant. Consider Paul’s earnest appeal to God that their understanding would be founded in wisdom and revelation. Comprehending these things wasn’t to be left to human intelligence or natural understanding. Paul’s soteriology, his revelation of God’s glorious salvation, embraced the following truths:
- God’s pre-thought out and predetermined purpose was that all should be brought fully into Christ
- The beginning of the process of salvation or redemption, regeneration, was marked by the giving of the Holy Spirit and represented the down payment leading to the full inheritance in Christ
- Our spiritual inheritance is the fullness of Christ’s life
It is clear from these verses that one’s initial commitment to Christ represents the crossing of a threshold and stepping onto a path journeying unto completion—full inheritance—in Christ. Failing to pursue the full stature life in Christ would then constitute an acceptance of less than God’s predestined eternal purpose. It would also represent an anthropocentric versus Christocentric approach to salvation. It is within this broader context of salvation that we must address our analysis of the rapture teaching.
One of the most tragic stories recorded in the Bible is found in the Numbers 13, 14 account of Israel spying out the Promised Land and subsequently bringing back an evil report. The full impact of this story can only be grasped when seen in light of how it foreshadows or typifies present day believers and their response to all God is calling them to. In reviewing this tragic account, we recall from Exodus 3 how God—in his meeting with Moses at the burning bush—gave his promise to deliver Israel out of Egypt and to take them into Canaan, a place of abundance. It is highly significant that we recognize the twofold nature of God’s promise to the children of Israel. Their deliverance from Egypt was only the first part. God’s ultimate and eternal purpose as expressed in the second part of the promise, culminated in their entering Canaan, that place of abundance. This incredible truth cannot be overstressed. He brought them out in order to take them in.
Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, their subsequent wilderness journey and ultimately their entering into the Promised Land probably serve as the greatest example and type of salvation that we have in the Bible. Paul focuses on this reality in his epistle to the church in Corinth.
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did (1 Cor 10:1-6 NIV).
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come (1 Cor 10:11 NIV).
The writer to the Hebrews projects the same idea when discussing the priesthood. He is explaining that the whole order of priesthood as established by God in the Old Testament was but a shadow of a spiritual reality.
They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Heb 5:8 NIV).
Understanding the types and shadows of the Old Testament is what brings incredible life to these scriptures. What previously was mysterious and hidden within the types and shadows unfolds revealing spiritual truths for the church’s edification today.
Almost all Bible literate and believing Christians of an evangelical persuasion attest to Israel’s deliverance as a shadow of the spiritual reality of salvation. The tragedy in the church today is that most are failing to put the entire story together and proclaim the full gospel. Failing to connect the significance of Israel’s entry to Canaan with their miraculous deliverance from Egypt is to alter the meta-narrative, God’s overarching story from the beginning. Without Canaan, Israel’s deliverance becomes shallow, temporal and man-centered. As a type and shadow, Canaan represents the full stature life in Christ. It is the full inheritance of our salvation and what Christ ultimately shed his blood to give us. Being fully conformed to the image of Christ is what Father God from eternity past has always desired—a family of many sons and daughters just like his only begotten Son Jesus.
Observe how the following passages connect Israel’s deliverance with her taking the land of Canaan.
I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God (Lev 25:38 KJV).
Then Moses said to the people, Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast…And it shall be, when the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall keep this service in this month (Ex 13:3, 5 NKJV).
So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites…and I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey (Ex 3:8, 17 NKJV).
We see in these passages how possessing the land of Canaan lends absolute credence, validity and purpose to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Stated another way, if there were no intent of entering Canaan, why would there be a deliverance? God’s intent for Israel was never simply just deliverance for the sake of deliverance. His intention was always that Israel come into the fullness of their inheritance as represented by Canaan. God’s eternal desire for us is not that we would simply escape hell and gain heaven. It is that we would realize the fullness of Christ’s life eternally. Jesus was reflecting the reality of Canaan being a land of abundance when he said:
The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly (Jn 10:10 NKJV).
As grateful as we are for every aspect of the baptism in the Holy Spirit including speaking in other tongues and all the spiritual gifts, this is not what defines the “full gospel.” The full gospel begins with one’s regeneration in Christ through his shed blood, continues with the transformational life in Christ and culminates in being conformed to his image….to be continued.