Bible Studies/rapture


QUESTION: I heard from a pastor that the idea of the rapture was invented
in the 1800s from somebody named Miller.

Is there a Biblical reference for the rapture?

Thank you.

ANSWER: Jennifer,

The expression "the rapture" is actually short for a doctrine called "the secret rapture of the church." In this expression the word "rapture" is archaic English and means "snatching away," and refers to Paul's words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (the passage below is in the ESV translation).

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by the Lord's teaching, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

I have to answer your question in two ways.

(1) Is there a biblical reference for the idea that there will be such a thing as a future snatching away of believers? Yes. Verse 17 above is the reference for that idea.

(2) Is there a biblical basis for the doctrine that this snatching away, catching up to meet the Lord Jesus in the air, will be secret , so that the more or less normal course of human history will go on after the event, and many who are "left" will not even realize that all the believers are gone? No. There is not a single statement in the Bible that affirms the secretness of this event. It is a construction out of thin air. Two main arguments are typically put forward in its favor, now that all previous arguments alleging that different and non-overlapping terms are used when (1) the "rapture" and (2) the coming of the Lord Jesus in glory to judge the living and the dead and to reign are spoken of in Scripture.

A. God never deals in history with the church and the people of Israel at the same time. This is a long and mostly indirect argument, the gist of which is that when you combine this idea with the biblical information that the final years of this age will be a time when God deals with Israel and saves them (see Rom. 11:25-27), the implication that the (Gentile) church must not be present on earth at that time. It's an argument from inference based on a particular reading within a complex and doubtful overall theory of biblical doctrine ("dispensationalism"), and it does not in any way deserve to be counted as "a biblical reference." On top of this, an internationally respected Bible-believing biblical scholar named Robert Gundry wrote a book called The Church and the Tribulation, which proved in detail that taking a thorough dispensationalist approach is 100% compatible with a single, post-tribulation rapture. The argument that dispensationalism inevitably leads to a belief in the secret, pre-tribulation, rapture completely fails .

B. The argument from immanence. "Immanence" refers to the idea that the Lord Jesus may come again at literally any moment. Therefore, says this argument, it must come before any named future event or happening in Scripture. In particular, it must come before the events described in 2 Thess. 2:1-12, including the revelation of "the man of lawlessness," otherwise the coming of Jesus would no longer be immanent, and you could say with confidence that he is not coming, say, tomorrow. In the first place, it is not the same thing to say that no one can predict the day and hour, on the one hand, and to say that no one can predict, negatively, that Jesus will not come tomorrow. It's possible that I will know he won't be coming tomorrow, because Paul tells me that his coming will not happen until the lawless one is revealed, and the lawless one has not yet been revealed. I still do not know the day and hour. So the jump from the biblical language about keeping watch and our not knowing the day and hour to a strict concept of immanence is not at all a necessary one. Once again, this is a chain of inferences, and does not in any way deserve to be counted as "a biblical reference."

These two are the main bases upon which people argue for the idea of a secret removal of the Gentile church before the final time of trouble and persecution that Jesus prophesies in Matthew 24 and parallels. There are various other even weaker arguments put forward, but I won't list them here. Do you want to know where you can find statements of the following kind in Scripture?

1.   Jesus Christ is going to come back before the tribulation.
a.   The Holy Spirit is going to be removed from the earth before the tribulation.
b.   When the Holy Spirit leaves, the church goes to heaven.
2.   The church (all believers) will spend seven (or 3 1/2) years in heaven during the tribulation.
3.   There are two “second” comings of Christ: one before, one after the tribulation.
4.   There are two “raptures.”
5.   After the church is removed, then the tribulation will start.

The answer is, nowhere.

Now, as for the pastor's statement that the idea of the rapture was invented in the 1800s by someone name Miller, I think that is half correct, half not-quite-correct.

The idea of the (pretribulational) secret rapture was indeed first explicitly taught in the 1800s, but not by a man named Miller, by which I think the paster means an American named William Miller--who got a lot of people excited by convincing to think Jesus was coming to catch them up in the air in 1843 or 1844, only to find himself and his followers ridiculed when nothing happened. It was instead first propounded by a Scottish man named Edward Irving, and after him by an Englishman named John Nelson Darby, apparently based originally on a particular interpretation of an allegedly prophetic dream that a Scottish teenaged girl named Margaret MacDonald had dreamt. These matters are highly controversial because the majority of people who believe in the secret rapture tend not to believe in the possibility of post-apostolic prophetic experiences and utterances. To many of them, the allegation that Irving and Darby's teaching stems from a supposed prophecy--let alone a prophecy from a teen-aged girl--is equivalent to saying that Darby's teaching stems from the devil.

To dig into the question of where and when the doctrine of the secret rapture arose, I suggest reading some of Dave McPherson's writings. Here is his book on the history of the secret rapture doctrine, and also see his website. For some reason it seems not to be there anymore but it is archived here.

I end with a piece of encouragement from me to you as a Christian believer. (Another post of mine on Allexperts contains this paragraph.)

Paul warns in 2 Timothy 4:3 that in the latter times people who claim to be Christians will gather around preachers who tell them exactly what they want to hear. Of course, we would all love to hear that God will whisk us away before anything begins to get ugly here on earth. The fact is, however, that there is a great deal of intense and even deadly ugliness going on right now on our planet, and it would be entirely consistent with the love of Christ for him to send you or me to minister where that ugliness is going on. There is no such thing in the religion of Jesus for comfortable, safe followers. Christ is the one who gives his life, who risks his life to show the love of God to a hurting world. And we are now his representatives on earth. We are the Body of Christ, and he is the head. He has not stopped ministering to the world and pouring out his life--he has only drawn us, by his grace, into his ministry. Don't despair, but rather admit to him your fears, and pray for courage and wisdom.

Webb Mealy

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for your very prompt and informative response.

Please clarify if this is accurate:

The concept of rapture is Biblical, per Paul, but what is
not Biblical and started to be preached in the 1800s is
the concept of a pre-trib or a secret rapture?

Did I understand this correctly?

Thanks for your help.

Yes, that is correct. If you understand the word "rapture" to refer to a miraculous catching up into the air to meet the Lord when he returns in glory, then Paul clearly teaches this idea in 1 Thess. 4:17. It seems probable, but not certain, that when Paul says in 1 Thess. 4:15 that he is teaching this "by the teaching of the Lord [Jesus], he is thinking of Mt. 24:31:

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."

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J. Webb Mealy


Qualified to answer questions about the New Testament, including ones that require expert knowledge of Greek, New Testament History, and New Testament Theology. Particular area of expertise is New Testament eschatology (teachings on the end of the world), the Book of Revelation, and the Gospel and epistles of John. Questions about English translations--how they are arrived at, whether they are accurate, and whether there are alternative possibilities. Textual criticism.


Have taught the Bible and New Testament to lay people for 20 years. Translator of the Spoken English New Testament (, author of After the Thousand Years: Resurrection and Judgment in Revelation 20 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992). Senior Biblical Studies Editor, Sheffield Academic Press, 1990-1995.

Instructor, Seminary of the Street, Oakland, CA

See my online publication,, which gives an easy-to-understand but thorough introduction to the Christian Good News. See, home of the Spoken English New Testament, the most accurate available translation of the New Testament into natural contemporary English.

PhD, Biblical Studies, Sheffield, UK MA (Honors), Humanities, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY BA (Cum Laude), Religious Studies/New Testament, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA

Awards and Honors
Research Paper, "Tracing the Rise of Modalism in Rome," named best graduate paper of the year, Western Kentucky University, 1981

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