Five Reasons the Rapture is Never Going to Happen

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A youth pastor walks into his church late this morning just as usual. He instantly notices that the secretary is surprisingly missing, the pastor is not in his office, and the worship pastor is nowhere to be seen. He wonders if it’s possible that he was the only one to remember the staff meeting. It’s not. Maybe it was cancelled? Maybe they all went to Starbucks without him? Maybe the rapture happened and he was left behind?

Then the staff jumps out from a closet and shouts, “April fools!” After an awkward laugh, he mumbles to himself, “there is nothing better than a prank to cause someone to doubt their salvation.”

I can’t say if that Youth Pastor should worry about his standing before God, but I can say that he doesn’t need to worry about the rapture. Here are five reasons it’s never going to happen.

 

1.      It’s not  actually taught in the Bible.

2.      Christians went for 1800 years before the doctrine was “discovered.” This is not proof that the Bible doesn’t teach it, but it is important that we look to the saints of the past for wisdom. Why did the church fathers, medieval theologians, or reformers not understand the Scriptures to teach this?

3.       The doctrine is based exclusively on the interpretations of one verse (I Thessalonians 4:17). We will get into this verse in a little bit. For now I think it’s important to say that doctrinal positions should not be based on one verse, but on the overall teaching of Scripture. People can take one verse to mean all sorts of things. For example, they can use a single verse to justify snake handling. But we must rely on what Scripture says as a whole. This is especially true when we expect a congregation or a denomination to sign on to this belief. Verses like Matthew 24:40 and other passages used for support, can only be linked to the Rapture if you are convinced that First Thessalonians supports it.

4.       It seems out of step with the rest of the New Testament teaching that says God is bringing his broken (fallen and cursed) creation back to life. The most dominant eschatological theme of the NT is the resurrection of the dead (I Cor 15) and the corresponding restoration of God’s creation. This culminates in a vision of the New Heaven and Earth and the union of Heaven with Earth. In this new universe, God (as Jesus) lives forever with man (Rev 21). The overwhelming truth in Scripture is that Jesus is coming, heaven is coming, earth is being restored, and the dead are raised bodily, not that that we get to fly away to the sky and escape this terrible earth.

5.       Its a misunderstanding of I Thessalonians 4:13-18. Let’s take a look at this passage:

13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died[a] so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died[c] will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18 So encourage each other with these words. (NIV)

It says believers will be “caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Isn’t that the rapture?
Let’s back up and talk about the context. The first point to make is that this passage is an affirmation of the bodily resurrection of the dead. It is similar to I Corinthians 15 in that Paul is explaining that we have hope of our bodies being raised because Jesus’ body was first raised. The overall point is comfort. Dead Christians are not going to miss out on Christ’s return to earth, but will be raised when he does come.

Secondly, this passage doesn’t seem to support Christians being taken up to heaven because it is talking about Jesus returning (“coming down”) from heaven (verse 16). Verse 17 says we will be with the Lord which may be hard if he has come to earth and we are going up to heaven. Perhaps he is just coming to get us and then we are all going to go to heaven, but this doesn’t seem like a very triumphant second coming. The trumpet sounds, he comes back then we all just skip out of the world he created and is sovereign over. I’m not convinced.

The best interpretation I have heard is that this passage is using the imagery of the return of a general or king from battle. The King returns to his people and they go out to meet him and usher him in as part of the victory procession. After all, there is a trumpet call! If this is the case then the language of verse 17 about being caught up in the clouds is probably just figurative. The other option is that we do literally rise to meet him but descend with him in our glorified bodies. At that point, we are part of God’s new creation and will reign on earth with Christ (Rev 5:10). It is even possible that this is describing the same exact event as Revelation 21, the union of Heaven and Earth, the dwelling place of God with man through Jesus Christ.

The bottom line is this: When Jesus comes back to earth, he said that his people (dead and alive) would get to be with him. If he’s here, we’re gonna want to stick around.

David Lytle

Current history teacher, former missionary and youth pastor, grieving widower, father of the three cutest faces in creation, and giddy husband of a radiant bride. I also sang "I'm too sexy" for karaoke once. There was a crowd. My only comfort is that phones didn't make videos back then.

28 thoughts on “Five Reasons the Rapture is Never Going to Happen

  • April 1, 2016 at 9:37 am
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    Thanks for this. Reminds me of a line from one of my favorite hymns: “When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be here.”

    If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend “Gospel and Kingdom” by Graeme Goldsworthy related to this theme. Really anything by Goldsworthy for biblical theology.

    Also, Randy Alcorn’s book called “Heaven” is helpful as he discusses the two heavens. The first is where our souls go to be with Christ upon death, and the second is when heaven comes down to earth and our souls are re-united with resurrected bodies. A greater Eden is coming true.

    There is another verse some use to support the rapture (two actually, off the top of my head). Matthew 24:40 and Luke 17:34 refer to one person being taken and another left behind. Of course it doesn’t say where the person who is taken goes. These verses don’t necessarily contradict your interpretation of 1 Thessalonians (which I also subscribe to), but they are part of the discussion. Do you have any thoughts on them? Thanks.

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    • April 1, 2016 at 11:16 am
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      I hope Dave replies but one possibility of those two verses is that the wicked person is being taken away for judgment, not the righteous person being raptured. It doesn’t say in either verse (to my knowledge) that the righteous person is the one taken. It’s possible that the wicked is taken to be judged and cast into the Lake of Fire while the rigtheous is left behind (pardon the phrase) to reign with Christ on earth.

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  • April 1, 2016 at 10:53 am
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    I am not sure where I stand on this and many other issues regarding the exact order and unfolding of end time events. I do know that God has a definite plan in place and that Jesus is a humongous part of that plan. Jesus is going to come back for us in some fashion and in some fashion we who have placed our trust in Him will be with Him forever. I suspect the details of what goes down will be a lot different than what many suspect.

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  • April 1, 2016 at 11:18 am
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    But…”Left Behind”! And, and…”I’ll Fly Away”!

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  • April 1, 2016 at 11:29 am
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    I briefly addressed Matthew 24 (and the Luke passage is a parallel. My contention is that someone would only see this as the rapture if they already believed it. We have no indication that being taken is a good thing. If the passage is referencing the destruction of Jerusalem that was to happen before that generation passed, then being taken away by the Romans would be much worse than being left behind. With all that said, all of this made for a great Larry Norman song.

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  • April 1, 2016 at 11:38 am
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    Are you telling me that if Christians had only interpreted the Bible correctly we could have prevented Left Behind starring Nicholas Cage?

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    • April 1, 2016 at 2:21 pm
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      A terrible movie and way too many books. Flannery O’Connor said “There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” In this case the same is true of a theology teacher.

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  • April 1, 2016 at 7:36 pm
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    Thanks, David. I appreciate the thought that went into this. We might not agree totally on all the details, but all believers firmly believe Jesus will come again.

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  • April 1, 2016 at 10:55 pm
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    Well it’s hard not to get into a good theological discussion. This seems to be a better place than FB. By the way, after poking around the site I have to say I like it. You guys have a good thing going and I already have it bookmarked! I’ll try to be brief here, as the article isn’t meant to be exhaustive either.

    1. The rapture is taught in the Bible.

    1 Thessalonians 4:17. I’m sure you’re not shocked I bring this verse up. However, to say that belief in the rapture is not taught in the Bible is a stretch. I mean it’s right there. Clearly, your interpretation of this passage is going to differ than mine but it is in the Bible. Caught up = rapture. Greek to Latin to English.

    Notable Mentions: Olivet Discourse, Enoch, Elijah, and John. Jesus’ ascension, although not a rapture, is sort of similar and at the very least points to the idea that a rapture for the believer isn’t unbiblical.

    2. The rapture wasn’t discovered in the 1800’s.

    This is an overplayed hand by Amillennial and Preterist types. The apostles and church fathers held to an immanent return view of Christ. That has been clearly demonstrated time and again. A rapture meets this criteria. Although the church fathers do not seem to write about it specifically, given that it is in the Bible it would seem logical that they held to it. Further, it’s also worth mentioning that “Justification by faith” was also a doctrine that the majority of the church lost view of for many centuries. That doesn’t mean Luther discovered it. It was there the whole time. So this isn’t the best argument.

    3. The rapture isn’t based just on one verse.

    That being said 1 Thessalonians 4 is the strongest argument. However, that’s not a bad thing per se. I could argue the entire letter has this event in mind. You said, “Verses like Matthew 24:40 and other passages used for support, can only be linked to the Rapture if you are convinced that First Thessalonians supports it.” Two things. One, you have to admit that’s a very subjective statement. Who’s to say I don’t read the Olivet discourse and come to the conclusion of the rapture? Two, I could use your same argument like this… “A person would never link verses like Matthew 24:40 to the rapture because they are convinced that 1 Thessalonians doesn’t support it to begin with.” I just have to respectfully disagree with your logic here.

    4. The rapture is in step with the rest of the New Testament in teaching that God is bringing His broken creation back to life.

    That’s what the rapture is all about. The dead in Christ will not miss out on what believers who are alive will experience when Christ returns. Of course this holds to an immanent return view (nothing has to happen in order for Christ to return). Your view does not espouse an immanent return, which makes it wrought with problems. Not to mention is gets closer to a “endurance salvation” view. Not saying you hold to that but it moves in that direction.

    5. The rapture is an understanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

    I agree with your first paragraph on this point regarding context. It’s just that it isn’t in conflict in anyway with the doctrine of the rapture. Comfort, hope, dead Christians not missing out, bodily resurrection. I’m for it!

    Then your 2nd and 3rd paragraph stray severely and are inconsistent. Yet, I’m hopeful because you could well be on your way to getting your eschatology right. So I’ll try to address this point by point.

    • 1 Thess. 4 supports both the idea of Christians going up and Christ coming down. Hence the phrase “meet the Lord in the air.” keyword: meet
    • The return of Christ happens in two parts. Part 1 is the rapture where all the saints, alive and dead, go to Heaven with Christ. Part 2 is when Christ returns (triumphant second coming as you call it) on His white horse, with the saints in tow, and defeats the anti-Christ at the Battle of Armageddon with simply His words. Paul, clearly doesn’t have all of this in mind in this one passage but Daniel, Zachariah, & Revelation all do.
    • In between Part 1 & Part 2 is of course a 7 year tribulation. Hell on earth. Most of Revelation is dedicated to describing God’s wrath on unbelieving earth (Rev. 6-18). However, there will be a considerable number who come to Christ during this time, tribulation saints, and they will be persecuted worst than any other group of Christians than before.
    • After Armageddon is the LITERAL Millennial reign of Christ… Rev. 20:1-6. All of the glorified saints enter it to reign. In short, we don’t miss out on the New Heaven and New Earth. That’s the whole point… we get to reign with Him. Your timing/chronology is just off. It would appear you hold to a literal millennial reign. If true that’s great. You’re not far from believing in the rapture. The rapture in fact puts everything in order so to speak. Just let the literal millennial reign domino knock over the rapture domino. If you don’t buy into the millennial reign then you’re on a crash course with replacement theology. It sounds like you’re somewhere in between.
    • In short, this timeline dispels premise #5.

    Reply
    • April 2, 2016 at 1:04 am
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      Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad you enjoy the site. Despite what you may see, I’m not typically one to argue eschatology, so I won’t try to do too much. As you may already know, I think your timeline seems to be cutting and pasting things from various passages ( I thes, Matt 24, Rev), but does a poor job understanding historical context. I am very glad you took the time to post your thoughts. I’ve been in a church that left no room for disagreement on this subject. I certainly won’t do the same.

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      • April 2, 2016 at 8:56 am
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        Thanks Dave. Yeah as much as I love eschatology it’s certainly nothing to fuss over and there’s always room to disagree. Full disclosure I’m a dispensationalist. It is a systematic approach and definitely brings in many passages. Again, love the site!

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  • April 2, 2016 at 8:51 am
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    I am glad as well that you enjoy the site. I’ll respond as well because I could not agree more with Dave on this issue. But as Dave alluded to, I don’t consider this to be primary or even secondary and my dad thinks I am crazy on this and all amil issues and we still get along great. So I keep that in mind. I just enjoy the discussion.

    1. A word meaning “Caught up” and the idea of that meaning “taken away from earth to go reign with Christ in a different place called Heaven” is an enormous stretch. Even linguistically, I don’t think you can say ‘rapture’ as we understand it is taught in the Bible.

    Elijah and Enoch are certainly different as the time before Christ. Not comparable at all. And unless the Bible tells us that we will be called up the way Jesus was “into Heaven” (which 1 Thess 4 does not say) then that point is moot as well. We are talking about what will happen when Jesus returns, not scattered outlier cases thousands of years before.

    2. Did the early church believe that Jesus was coming back to take them away from earth and into Heaven? I miss that if so. I think the opposite is true. They worked to make the earth Jesus’s kingdom since that is where it will be ultimately, as Revelation 21 teaches. Heaven comes down to earth. “Your will be done on earth” Jesus told them to pray.

    And to compare this to the doctrine of salvation by faith, which is in essentially every book of the NT…that is a different beast.

    3. Without 1 Thess 4, I simply cannot imagine a person reading Matt. 24:40 and saying, “OK, I know the righteous person is the one who disappeared (the text doesn’t say that). And I know that the righteous person was taken away and up into Heaven by God (the text doesn’t say that either).”

    4. If we are going to be taken out of the earth, then the whole of the NT teaching that God will make all things new and that the New Jerusalem will come down to earth and the earth and a several other teachings do not make sense.

    5. “Meet” and “take away from the earth and into Heaven” are completely different. The imagery of people coming out to meet their king and then going back with him into the city is likely what Paul was referring to. There is no mentioned of being “snatched up” (which has all sorts of nuanced definitions, and I think is teaching how forcefully people will be resurrected from the dead and nothing about final destination) and then taken to Heaven. It just isn’t there. The scope of the NT is the opposite.

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  • April 3, 2016 at 7:37 am
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    Ah!! A post-millennial. I didn’t think you guys still existed. I’ll respond when I have a bit more time… when it’s not a Sunday morning. Good stuff!

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  • April 3, 2016 at 7:51 am
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    Wait a second. This just hit me. Gowdy, from your reply it sounds like you believe in a rapture. You simply disagree with the nature of the rapture. Is that correct? I need to know before I can respond & I suppose this is a relevant question for Dave as well.

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    • April 3, 2016 at 8:51 am
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      Neither Dave nor Gowdy are saying that Jesus isn’t going to return in any form. That really is a fundamental. By saying that the traditional understanding of the rapture is not going to occur, they mean that when Jesus returns and when the dead and living saints meet Him in the air, He won’t be taking them to heaven before coming back down. Such a view is a valid theological belief but not a fundamental. Dave said that the saints will meet Jesus in the air but that they will be doing so to greet Him as a victorious, returning king and that they will be returning to live on the new earth with Him.

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  • April 3, 2016 at 11:37 pm
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    Ok, Dave so I’m going to assume then that Ben has correctly stated your position. Then you certainly do believe in the rapture. You simply hold to an Amillennial, or post-millennial, or Historical Pre-millennial view of the rapture. That hasn’t been made clear up until this point. That certain isn’t what is communicated in the original post. Certainly none of this is essential/fundamental but let’s be clear…. You guys totally believe in the rapture. We simply disagree on the timing and nature of it. Again, you would totally agree then that 1 Thess. 4 IS teaching about the rapture & that it IS in fact taught in scripture. Your view sees the rapture & return of Christ as a single event. Let’s be clear, when Christians meet the Lord in the air… that is the rapture! So the post needs to be retracted! I’m kidding. So I’ve shown my eschatological cards… Pre-millenial Dispensationalist. Where do you guys land? Just curious? Cause if you hold to a literal millennial reign then Amillennial is out and possible post-millennialism, depending on your interpretation. So maybe Historical Pre? However, all of these views hold to a rapture. Then of course there is Preterism… but whoa!!

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  • April 4, 2016 at 12:05 am
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    By the way… the return of Christ is fundamental. The rapture… its nature and timing is not fundamental. I agree Ben, completely. That’s what I was meaning there in my comment.

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  • April 5, 2016 at 10:28 am
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    I can say that I do not believe in the rapture as commonly understood and taught by people who talk about the rapture. Does this passage teach that believers will be physically “caught up” to meet Jesus? I am not totally sure. What this passage does teach is that Jesus will return and restore his creation by raising the those who died in him. It it possible that Christians will ascend to greet Jesus in the air as he is descending to earth and then descend along with him to celebrate his new creation? Yes, it is possible and I would not argue against that. But as I stated above, the language of “meeting jesus in the air” could be more figurative. Its one verse, so I don’t feel the need to be dogmatic about it. Certainly the image is one of a returning king being greeted by his people who are celebrating his victory. With that said, it is clear that this passage does not teach that Christians will be leaving this earth, but will greet Jesus when he returns to restore his creation and reign. The return of Christ to earth is clearly taught in scripture and it is also clear that his reign will be physical and restorative. Is it a literal 1000 years? I don’t know. That again is just one passage is a very figurative book.

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  • April 6, 2016 at 1:21 pm
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    David, I would like to just point out a few things regarding your comment/position & then in the spirit of unity and Christian brotherhood I’m tapping out and offering you guys the last word in this matter. 1. As I read the first several sentences of your comment above, can we at least agree that you do believe in the rapture? You simply do not believe in a pre-millennial dispensationalist view of the rapture. Which is fine. The view you describe above & sort of endorse is the majority opinion after all. Again, three major views of eschatology ascribe to it… amillenialism, post-millenialism, and historical pre-millenialism. I think you should at least admit that you do believe the rapture will happen. 2. Your original post is concrete, declarative, & absolute. Just read the title of the post after all. However, here in the discussion, what is truly “clear” is that you have questions and seem to be unsure about anything specific. Which is fine. It just makes it seem like the whole thing wasn’t thought out thoroughly. Now I know I run the risk of sounding like a jerk for saying that. I don’t mean it that way, honestly, but you guys are the ones who put the post on social media, so I’m sure you were expecting some pushback/response. So I don’t think I’m being unfair to say that the goal line has moved in regards to this discussion. 3. You said, “…it is clear this passage does not teach…” You & Gowdy have made nothing clear in this matter. In my original post I argue for the rapture in a very general sense. Your response was pretty simple that I’m missing the historical context. Fair enough. I guess we could dive off into that if you’d like. Then if you look at Gowdy & Ben’s response (both of which you seem to sign off on) they simply move from arguing against a rapture to arguing for a different type of rapture other than a dispensationalist view. So that doesn’t really make a whole lot “clear” just that you three disagree with a certain interpretation. Which is fine, but to say that it’s “clear” and the whole matter is resolved just isn’t correct. Now if you’d like to discuss one view of the rapture against another then I’d be happy to do that. However, I would imagine that goes beyond the scope of this particular post and comment board, not to mention the limits of our time.

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    • April 6, 2016 at 2:57 pm
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      I can’t speak for Dave, or Ben, or Gowdy, but only for myself. When someone says they believe in the rapture, most people that I know understand that as the position you are taking: A trumpet will sound, Jesus will appear in the sky, the dead in Christ will rise, all living believers will rise, and they will all go with Jesus to heaven. That understanding of the rapture is what Dave seems to be addressing. If that is the rapture most people think about when the topic is discussed, then I would say that Dave does not believe in it.

      From my perspective, Dave made it very clear that he believes Christ will return – and the dead in Christ will meet him in the air – as will the living believers and then they will all follow their Triumphant King to earth for the establishment of His Kingdom. As you say, that is a “view” of the rapture, but it is clearly not the well known view of the rapture that Dave is addressing here. The view that has been used in virtually every End-of-Times prophetic novel or movie in the past 20 years. I think it’s clear that is what Dave, and Gowdy, have been talking about.

      But, this is just one man’s opinion.

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    • April 6, 2016 at 3:19 pm
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      I certainly was not trying to be deceptive. I was using the term “the rapture” in the sense of being taken out of earth and into heaven. This is how I have always heard it used. This is how the term is used by many theologians, including dispensationalists and their opponents. I understand that the term “caught up” or is in the text. I apologize for misleading you.

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  • April 8, 2016 at 10:19 am
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    I haven’t met one person that believes the rapture doesn’t include going to heaven with Jesus.

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  • April 8, 2016 at 12:43 pm
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    I, also, have only heard the rapture taught as the taking-of-Christans-out-of-the-world-and-to-heaven. Never have I heard it taught as simply the meeting of Jesus in the air when He returns. So, the sentiment of the title saying it is “never going to happen” doesn’t seem confusing to me, as I associate the term with the traditional view as it is referenced in the article.

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  • August 2, 2017 at 8:14 am
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    It does say. there are two different words used for taken.one is a jugement word. one is a gathering in blessing(in greek) learn your bible guys.i realize this is a old thread but if anyone is reading this please dont be decieved by these people.
    Anyone who tries to discredit the rapture with the standard darby excuse is either intellectually dishonest or ignorant(pick one).
    Ask yourself some questions.

    Why would christ go to prepair a place for us if we weren’t going there?
    What does this have to do with the jewish wedding cerimony?
    What does rev 3-10 mean?
    What mysteries were revealed to paul by christ?
    What is the purpose of the tribulation?
    What does rev 5-9and10 represent?
    Why did christ say watch and more importantly who to watch for?
    Why is there no instructions to believers on enduring the tribulation?
    Wake up people.
    Study your bible

    Reply
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