When the end times approach, will believers be suddenly snatched up to Heaven while others are “left behind” to suffer the great tribulation?
Should believers, therefore, be constantly on the watch for signs of the end times and plan their lives accordingly?
The answer is: NO.
The theory of “the Rapture” is pretty common among certain Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants today. While there are different theories among Protestants regarding the Second Coming and the rapture, for the sake of simplicity we’ll do a quick run-through of terms and then focus on the most common form of the “Rapture” error.
Let’s start with the millennium. This term refers to a Christian golden age (some believe that it will last exactly 1,000 years) that will precede the Second Coming. Postmillennialism, amillennialism, and premillennialism all refer to different theories about the millennium and the events surrounding it. All of them have some idea of a “rapture” —the moment when believers will be gathered to Christ at the end of time. All of them believe (as do Catholics) in a period of tribulation before the Second Coming.
The “rapture” most people are referring to when they use the term, however, is found in premillennialism. Premillennialism teaches that the Second Coming will happen before the millennium, Christ will reign on earth during the millennium, and the Final Judgment will occur afterwards.
More specifically, the Rapture is found in pretribulationist premillennialism. Pretribulationism holds that the Rapture will happen before the great tribulation. This novel idea popped up in the United States very recently—in the 19th century, in fact.
In a few words, this theory says that the righteous will suddenly be taken from the earth and caught up to God, while the unrighteous are left on earth to face the tribulation. The millennium and then the Final Judgment will happen afterwards. The few isolated Scripture passages that are often used (incorrectly) to support this claim include Luke 17 (“One will be taken, one will be left”) and 1 Thessalonians.
This idea is not what Jesus taught, since He taught that the tribulation would be experienced by believers and non-believers alike. He told us to be ready for this tribulation and to lift up our heads. He said that if the period of suffering were not shortened, no one would be saved. Jesus never said that the righteous would not suffer. The idea of escaping this final suffering sounds comforting but is not a Christian doctrine.
Furthermore, Jesus’ Second Coming will not happen in stages. He will come once, after the tribulation, to conduct the Final Judgment and the general resurrection. We do believe in a sort of rapture, but we don’t call it that, and it’s a very different idea from “the Rapture.” The Church simply teaches that the righteous will meet Christ when He does come and be gathered to Him for all eternity.
You can learn more about the rapture theory from a former rapture-believer in Rapture: The End-Times Error That Leaves the Bible Behind. David Currie, a Catholic convert, delves thoroughly into common rapturist arguments, the Scripture passages (mis)used to support them, what Scripture really teaches about the end times, and how to respond the next time you’re confronted with “the Rapture.” Available today at The Catholic Company!