Why We Don’t Believe in the Rapture
We DON’T believe in the Rapture in the Orthodox Church! This is a statement which should lead many to quickly jump to the conclusion that we are some sort of non-Christian cult, so let me explain what I mean by this statement.
A goodly number of Christians think the term “rapture” refers to the resurrection, and if “resurrection” were the simple meaning of the term “rapture,” then we would believe in it.
Our Creeds [Nicene and Apostles] and our theology give resounding proof to our belief in the resurrection of the body at the end of time. However, the term “rapture” has a somewhat different meaning than the simple concept of the resurrection and it is that difference which we don’t accept.
Based upon a misreading of Revelation 20 and 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, the “Rapture” in its strictest sense refers to a belief that Jesus will return near the end of time to resurrect the dead and remove the living from this earth, will take them to heaven while leaving the lost souls of this world to endure the Tribulation and the reign of the Anti-Christ. For many, it is a very comforting thought that Christians won’t have to endure the Great Tribulation. However, this is NOT the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ or the belief of the ancient Church and we reject it for that and other reasons.
The doctrine of the “rapture” [and the term itself] was not heard in Christianity until sometime after 1807 when a Scottish pastor began advocating this concept, much to the joy [and relief!] of his followers. However, the belief wasn’t to gain much adherence until the mid-20th century. Since then, it has become popular to the point of becoming a mandatory doctrine in many churches in North America. As I said, however, this belief was not present in Christianity in the 18 preceding centuries, you won’t find it among the writings of the ancient Christian fathers [or the early Protestant reformers, for that matter] and that is one reason why Orthodox Christians don’t accept it.
A second reason is this. The doctrine of the rapture does not fit into the outline of end time events as offered by our Lord Jesus Christ. The earliest doctrine of the end times which the first Christians held was given by our Lord Himself and is recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel [chapter 24]. These words were understood, believed, and transmitted for five decades before the book of Revelation was written. If one looks at the 24th chapter of Matthew [beginning at verse 3] he will find an outline of the end-time; spiritual deception, famines, natural disasters, wars, persecution of Christians, false prophets, the appearance of the Anti-Christ, the Great Tribulation [against the Church], supernatural changes in the cosmos, the Advent [return] of Christ, the gathering of the elect [the resurrection] and the final Judgment. All New Testament accounts of the end of time [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, 2 Thess. 2:3-10, 1 Cor. 15:51-57, 2 Pet. 3:10-13 and Revelation 20] were, in the first century, measured against the Matthew outline. In this outline, it is very clear that 1) the resurrection doesn’t occur until AFTER the appearance of the Anti-Christ and the Great Tribulation of the Church and 2) the Church WILL BE experiencing the Great Tribulation.
This, of course, is NOT comforting news, but it makes it clear to us that we must be prepared and that we must live each day preparing for the possibility of that sequence of events. Our duty is to believe what we know to be true, not what makes us feel at ease. If we are instructed that Christians will, indeed, endure the Great Tribulation, then each of us should live his life in such a way as to enable him to be faithful to Christ in the midst of great persecution. This doesn’t mean worry; it does mean “be prepared.”
As I said at the beginning, “We don’t believe in the rapture in the Orthodox Church.” I think it is clear as to why.