In my journey across the Tiber, the discoveries of the truths of Catholicism truly overwhelmed me. Upon learning the truth of the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, the Communion of Saints, and more, I would stare at my Bible in amazement as to how I could have missed these teachings.
There was one thing in my conversion that took some extra effort in dis-assembly, though: eschatology. Specifically, the rapture. Now, among all the things the Catholic Church could explain with detail and history to assure it was not “invented,” I was quite shocked to see that the Church did not believe in the rapture because as a Protestant, it was so obvious.
It wasn’t just obvious, it was enticing! It was one more way that I could wake up and remind myself, “Jesus might come tomorrow, am I ready?” Now, even as a Catholic, that sentiment is still true, but as a Protestant I understood it to mean something totally different. This is an important point to make to Catholics who otherwise don’t understand the Protestant teaching of the “rapture.” To understand it better helps the lay apologist understand their separated brothers and sisters even better. This understanding will help Catholics in dialogue with Protestants in discussing the Catholic faith.
So what do Protestants say or teach about the rapture? The key “go-to” verse for defending the rapture is 1 Thes. 4:16-17:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall 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.
Based on this, either before, during, or after the Great Tribulation, a time of intense suffering for Christians, those faithful will be caught up by the Lord.
Some might also use 1 Cor. 15:20-23 and/or 1 Cor. 15:51-52 to support the rapture and the specific timing of the event. That’s where the meat is because the debate for the Protestant isn’t even the occurrence of a rapture at all, because it seems so evident to them in Scripture. Their debate is to the timing of the rapture, not whether or not it will occur. They are so convinced and it is such a norm amongst their circles that it isn’t even a question. The lay apologist will do best to disassemble their argument starting here.
Then, how to we argue against the rapture? Let’s start with how not to argue against it.
First, we can’t argue that the rapture is not real because the Bible doesn’t mention it. That is, it’s not good enough to question a thing just because the word doesn’t appear in the Bible. Being able to CRTL+F something out of existence doesn’t work with theology. Several theological words, like Trinity, Consubstantiation and Circumincession don’t appear in the Scriptures.
Next, in opposition the first point, it would be just as illogical to say that a word’s appearance in the Bible causes it to be a true teaching. The principal works the other way as well: we cannot CRTL+F a term, find it, and place any interpretation on it.
I mentioned timing around the great tribulation, of which is an item of interest to our Protestant brothers and sisters. The timings are logically threefold: prior to the tribulation, during, and after the tribulation. We refer to these concerning the “Millennium” referred to in Revelation 20, a longer discussion in which I invite you to Godwin Adadzie’s tract at Catholic Answers to discover more.
Now, back to the verse, 1 Thess. 4:16-17: For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall 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.
Here, the derivative for the word “rapture” does appear in the words, “caught up,” so we do believe that those who are living at the time of the Second Coming of Christ will be gathered with those who have does and taken to be forever with the Lord. The thing is, Catholics don’t really talk much about the rapture, or even refer to it as the rapture.
Why? Look for one moment about the fruits or lack thereof emanating from the debates about the rapture and its timing. This one event, which hasn’t even taken place yet causes bitter and uncharitable division between Protestants. That’s unhealthy and unnecessary.
Our first Pope gives us invaluable wisdom on the topic:
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire! But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (2 Pet. 3:11-14)
That is, don’t worry about these things. Instead, prepare for them by living a life of holiness and happiness for now.