Proponents of rapture theology point to specific Bible verses that they say outline a proposed theological event in which Jesus will take believers to heaven before the Earth’s final destruction — but a prominent theologian recently told TheBlaze that he believes they could be misreading scripture.
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But in an interview this week, he specifically addressed some of the verses in the Bible that he believes rapture enthusiasts interpret incorrectly when addressing the end times and the second coming.
[sharequote align="center"]"It's usually assumed that the person who is taken is being saved or rescued but…"[/sharequote]
Craig argued that there's a specific order in which Christians should examine eschatological subject matter — a structure that profoundly impacts how scripture is understood.
"I take it that the way to approach [these end times] questions is to first look at the teachings of Jesus about his return and then on that basis you then look at material in Paul's letters that I think echo what Jesus said," he explained. "And thirdly, you'd look elsewhere in the New Testament."
But Craig believes that people don't always follow this order, accusing some of imposing the rapture doctrine on the teachings of Jesus and on New Testament scripture as a whole.
"To do that is to stand things on their head," he said. "You start with the teachings of Jesus."
While those who believe that the rapture is present in scripture look to Matthew 24:36-44, Luke 17:20-37 and 1 Thessalonians 4 to corroborate their stance, Craig takes issue with their interpretations and offered some alternative views on the matter.
[sharequote align="center"]"To do that is to stand things on their head."[/sharequote]
To begin, let's look at Matthew 24:36-42, which reads:
"But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[a] but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left."
While some Christians assume that the verses about one person being taken and the other left refer to a rapture event, Craig said that one must read those words in the context of the chapter — and that all of these verses simply reference the second coming, not the rapture.
"This is after the great tribulation, which is described in Matthew 24 in verses 15-29 and then in [verse] 29 it says immediately after this tribulation there will be this sign of the son of man in heaven — and that is the second coming of Christ," he said. "This is after all of that is over and this is the end."
The second coming, according to GotQuestions.org, is when "Jesus returns to defeat the Antichrist, destroy evil, and establish His millennial kingdom." And the tribulation period is a seven-year timeframe before Christ's return that is prophesied to be chaotic and dangerous.
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Luke 17:20-37 also mentions an instance in which one person is taken and another left behind, reading in part, "I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left."
Craig said that it might be a mistake to always assume that the person who is being taken away is being "saved or rescued." Instead, he wonders if the individual being removed is the nonbeliever.
"It's usually assumed that the person who is taken is being saved or rescued but in the previous verse Jesus talks about in the days of Noah — Noah was in the ark and the other people were the ones who were taken away from the flood," he said. "It's possible that the one taken means taken away in judgement and destroyed."
The theologian then pointed to scripture in Matthew 13 in which Jesus delivers a parable about wheat and weeds that are growing together in a man's field.
[sharequote align="center"]"It's possible that the one taken means taken away in judgement and destroyed."[/sharequote]
Rather than pull the weeds and risk losing the wheat, the man in Jesus' story tells his servants to let the two grow together until the harvest. He says, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn" (verse 30).
If the weeds are symbolic of unbelievers and the wheat of believers, Craig said it's entirely possible that those collected and taken aren't necessarily the Christians. If this view stands, the verses in this hypothetical circumstance aren't about a pre-tribulation rapture of believers at all (read more about the pre, post and mid-tribulation debate here).
The theologian addressed other verses as well, delivering similar arguments and claiming that the rapture wasn't popularized until the 1800s, subsequently taking on a life of its own.
"[It] became part of fundamentalist and evangelical theology that has been represented by some of the most biblically conservative seminaries and Bible colleges in the county," he said. "I think it became associated with orthodoxy. That — if you're going to be a Bible believing Christian — then this is part of the package that you have to confirm."
[sharequote align="center"]"The rapture doctrine is wrong, but that's not going to inhibit anyone's relationship with God."[/sharequote]
But while Craig rejects the rapture theory, he said that it is a relatively trivial issue when it comes to the relevancy and intensity of one's Christian faith.
"I think that the rapture doctrine is wrong, but that's not going to inhibit anyone's relationship with God," he said.
As TheBlaze has noted, others would reject Craig's view and claim that the Bible does, indeed, say that Christians will be spared from the tribulation period that is prophesied to precede Jesus' second coming.
Consider author and Bible expert Joel Rosenberg's claim that 1 Thessalonians 5 says that "the rapture will happen like a thief in the night." He believes that the Bible makes it clear that Christians will not suffer during the seven years of chaos and calamity described in the holy book.
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"Another element is in Chapter 5 of I Thessalonians. The word says that believers are not appointed to suffer wrath. Wrath is mentioned more than a dozen times during the tribulation in the book of Revelation," Rosenberg told Charisma News in 2012. "So, we’re to be rescued from that. Not because we’re such wonderful people, but because we have accepted Christ and are born again. That is the gift he has given us to take us out of the tribulation."
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