What is the rapture and what do Catholics believe?

The rapture is a belief that is held by many evangelicals and other fundamentalists that suggests the righteous will be called “in the blink of an eye” and taken to Heaven before the second coming of Christ. There are debates on pre-tribulation and post-tribulation rapture and there are many who offer their theories on this topic. Books and movies have popularized these ideas in current society. But, where did the idea of the rapture come from? If you look in the Bible, there is no mention of a rapture. The concept became popular by John Darby in the 1830’s. John Darby was an Anglican priest in Ireland, who like many Protestant reformers before him, believed the Church was in need of reform. His radical views centered around the imminent return of Christ. When he resigned, he joined other disillusioned Christians who called themselves “Brethren” and later referred to as the “Plymouth Brethern.” There was no mention of a rapture prior to John Darby. We must remember that those who withdrew from the Catholic Church were disillusioned. Some formed beliefs that are radical and greatly removed from the Catholic beliefs. Others, changed only slight doctrine to better incorporate their interpretations. In all cases, these changes have led to many spin-off’s of the Original Church of Jesus. It is important to take this into consideration when considering the radical concepts that do not align with the teachings of Christ. Reform happens intuitively as we gain greater understanding of the meaning of the words as written in the time. We must avoid at all costs, applying our modern concepts to words written thousands of years ago. The same can be said when reading the Old Testament.

The rapture concept suggests that there will be two events; the disappearance of believers, assumed to be taken to Heaven (possibly to be spared the tribulation but then there are the post-tribulation’ers who would argue the pre-tribulation rapture) and the second coming of Christ.

As Catholics, we believe that the living will be called with the dead in Christ to be with Jesus at the second coming. This will also be the time of the final judgment. The Catholic Church refers to this as “amillennial.”

There are a few letters of St. Paul, which are used to support the idea of a rapture, but when read in the context of the entire letter, a fuller understanding of the message St. Paul is writing about becomes clear. Remember, he was writing to these communities because there were current events causing concern. He wasn’t writing these letters for us today. Of course, there is great wisdom in these letters, which we can learn from and find encouragement from. These are found in St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians in 1Th, and St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in 1Co, which must be read for context and not just a small excerpt to try to support a radical notion. Using the New American Standard Bible, we read:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us [instruction] as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by [the authority of] the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; [that is,] that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; [and] that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is [the] avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned [you.] For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects [this] is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for [anyone] to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need. But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (NAS 1Th 4:1-18)

St. Paul wrote this to settle fears that those already dead, would not share in Christ’s return. Paul was reassuring them that all, alive and dead, will share in the return of Christ. Another key takeaway from this letter is the belief that Christ would be returning soon, as St. Paul wrote “that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord”. This certainly still holds true to this day, however we cannot ignore the fact that St. Paul was ministering to the infant Church. He was providing a moral compass for those who did not have the benefit of 2000 years of belief. In 1Corinthians, St. Paul writes:

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (NAS 1Co 15:50-58)

In this letter, St. Paul is talking about how we will be in Heaven. He is letting us know that we will take on perfect form in a spiritual body. We will be converted in a moment. He uses the term “in the twinkling of an eye” to try to explain how quickly this conversion will take place. He is encouraging the Corinthians to stay steadfast in their beliefs and to not be taken off the path just because they face hardship. He is reinforcing what we all know and believe today, that our hardships aren’t in vain. There is reward for us and we must not allow ourselves to fall into sin or to follow the evil one. We know this, because Jesus told us. There are rooms prepared for us all! This passage, however does not refer to a rapture. Often, the outtakes of both letters are used to support John Darby’s position, but once the letters are read for their entire content in reference to their current events and not just one or two lines, the true meaning is evident.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) explains the Church’s ultimate trial. 675“Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of may believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of inequity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh. 676 The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the ‘intrinsically perverse’ political form of secular messianism. 677 The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through the final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.” (CCC 675-677)

The idea of a rapture has grown to become an apocalyptic foundation for many fundamentalists and evangelicals. Sadly for those who follow this belief, there is no foundation in Scripture. Catholics are faced with many misconceptions by other Christian denominations. It is imperative that we research our faith and Catholic beliefs in order to defend our faith and inform others.

Works Cited

USCCB. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition. Washington, D.C. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013 Print.

Senior, Donald, et al.  Editors: The Catholic Study Bible, Second Edition New American Bible Revised Edition, New York: N.Y. Oxford Press, 2011 Print.

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