January 22, 2021

iMonk Classic: Three Questions about a “Secret Rapture”

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
From Feb 7, 2006

Advocates of the rapture make much of the texts in Luke and Matthew that speak of “one taken, one left.”—“I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” (Luke 17:34-35)

When discussing texts that supposedly teach the secret rapture, it is important to have the advocate of this belief answer several questions.

1. What exactly do you mean by the rapture?

If the advocate means that when Christ returns, those who are alive will meet him in the air, that is not, in and of itself, the problematic doctrine. Scripture clearly says this.

The full dispensational teaching, however, is this:

Christ will return twice. Once secretly, with the saints, in the air to retrieve the church (both living and bodies in the grave;) and again, publicly, to judge the earth following a seven-year tribulation period.

If the advocate simply means that Christ will return once, and separate the church and the world at his appearing, and then proceed to judge and establish his kingdom, then even those of us who may have issues with the specifics of that eschatology would probably have little interest in debating the Biblical merits of the rapture.

The text above says that when Christ returns, there will be a separation. Nothing in the text implies the tribulation or a later, second, return of Christ. It is describing a single event, and is completely compatible with the idea of one return of Jesus.

But if the advocate is indicating that we must believe in two, separate comings of Jesus, with different characteristics, and a seven-year tribulation, then there will be many reasons to say this is not taught in the text in Luke or anywhere else in scripture.

The passages cited above could be applied to either interpretation, so the advocate should be clear what he/she means.

These passage do NOT prove two returns of Christ; one private, one public, separated by seven years.

(In fact, N.T. Wright has convinced me they do not refer to the traditional “Second Coming” at all, but that is another post.)

2. Where does the Bible clearly and plainly teach that Christ will return twice?

This is a key question that rapture advocates need to consider carefully. Note Paul’s words in II Thessalonians 1, regarding the very public return of Christ:

2 Thessalonians 1:9-10 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

The text is clearly telling the Thessalonians what will happen at the return of Christ. Paul is NOT talking about a secret rapture/tribulation, but a public return/judgement/reward. On “one day” there will be punishment and reward.

Even passages that are repeatedly cited as being about the two-stage rapture are not describing a “secret” event.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

How can this passage be describing a secret event? The kinds of gymnastics that must be applied to say the “cry,” “shout,” and “sound of the trumpet” are part of a secret event are simply not welcome in good interpretation. Holding on to such an interpretation instead of the plain meaning of the text proves that a presupposition is being protected from the text itself.

Nowhere does Paul tell the churches under his charge that Christ will return twice in the dispensational, two returns scenario. He teaches that Christ will return once, publicly, for judgement and reward. Advocates of the two returns scenario must construct Biblical evidence, because there is no single verse that says Christ returns twice.

Further, the idea that God would give a seven year “warning bell” to those who do not believe is an alien and bizarre notion. Consider the implications if this is indeed the case, and every preacher must say that all unbelievers have seven years of warning before the “real” day of judgement arrives.

Advocates of the rapture should admit that not a single text clearly teaches the novel idea of two returns separated by seven years. It is simply not there.

This is important in the third question:

3. Why is the two-stage rapture theory not taught by any major Bible teachers in the broad history of Christianity?

The two-stage + tribulation rapture theory is not mentioned by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards or Spurgeon. It is not taught by the Puritans or the Catholic Church. It is not part of any classic Christian confession. All believed in one return of Christ.

Why is this? The advocates of the two-stage rapture need to admit that if the great teachers of the church have not found this doctrine, it is a recent innovation.

The actual history of the two-stage return of Christ teaching has been uncovered and published by David Macpherson. The origin of this teaching in a visionary experience by Margaret Macdonald, and its subsequent acceptance into American Evangelicalism by way of Darby and the Scofield study Bible, is an interesting and necessary account to learn. The two stage rapture is an innovation without Biblical support, with a pedigree that should absolutely shock many of those who promote the rapture most vigorously. It is highly ironic that an anti-Charismatic like John Macarthur advocates a doctrine that originated in “charismatic” visions by an end-times prophetess who would be a star of TBN today.

The propagation of this idea in books, music, sermons and novels may have caused most American evangelicals to assume that the Bible teaches the entire rapture-tribulation-return scenario, but the success of the doctrine does not make up for its absence in scripture or Christian history.

Advocates of the two-stage rapture ASSUME that it is the proper interpretation of the Luke texts and other texts. It is a PRESUPPOSITION, and not a conclusion based on what scripture teaches.

I do not believe the two-stage rapture theory is a serious error or a matter of separation, but I do believe its message has many insidious effects on western Christians. They mythology of the rapture is used to promote all kinds of false and manipulative teaching in the church. It is a creation of the enthusiasts, propagated by the evangelical fringe and marketed by the booksellers and publishers for the sake of the its “exciting” story line. I have seen much bad fruit come from it, and I have serious questions about its effects on our mindset about missions and reformation.

Careful students of scripture and those who respect the views of the teachers/confessions of the church that have come before us more than the visions of the “Scottish Lass” or the notes of the questionable C.I. Scofield will take an honest, second look at this doctrine, and let scripture, not American evangelical publishers, have the final word.


Jason Boyett’s “Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse” is a great book for anyone interested in the basics of evangelical apocalyptic eschatology.


  1. Well said. Also makes an interesting double-double for Jerry Jenkins — mediocre writer AND mediocre theologian.

  2. Great Post,

    I miss you so much Michael…

    Boyett’s book is a must read, Eschatology is one of those areas that I have not spent much time on (something I need to change by the way). All this nonsense today makes me glad I’m at least Catholic, because at least so far no-ones equated the end of world rapture madness to us (that’s only because we have some just as kooky things we do!!) 😉

    I learned about dispensation theology in the baptist faith, but later (much later) after reading Boyett’s book and talking to a priest about the topic, I’m more Amillennial than anything else. What does get my goat is that people like Camping, and all his looney followers make the rest of us look bad. My son wished my wife and I a happy rapture day at 7am this morning, he even made a picture of heaven with his face on one of the Angels. It was pretty funny, but at the same time, how in world can I have a serious conversation with him about it now?

    Arg… Maybe it would be best if Harold Camping, and his followers did leave. Then the rest of reasonable believers could get down to the task at hand..


  3. Richard McNeeley says

    Religious leaders, at the time, missed all the signs for Christ’s first coming, why would we think anyone could predict the date for His second coming?

    • FollowerOfHim says

      I’ve recently been thinking along the same lines myself, Richard. When one considers how totally surprising the Incarnation was — it was far more than “mere” Messiahship — it’s hard to imagine that the Second Coming will be any more bereft of surprise than was the first.

      Maranatha, in any case.

  4. I’ve been a Christian for 6 years and have always gone to Baptist churches. This post is shocking to me. I had NO idea that these ideas where not the mainstream. If I posted this on Facebook my friends would go ballistic and the whispering that I’m not REALLY a Christian would be deafening. I’m going to need to read this book. I should note that several years ago I read the Left Behind books. I was talking to my Father in Law, a Baptist preacher, about them and he told me he didn’t believe any of that. I was taken aback. He didn’t go into detail but said that he felt Revelation was symbolic and that no ‘signs’ where needed for the return of Christ. I didn’t even think to ask him about the Rapture idea. Very interesting.

    • I know what you mean, Alison — in spades. I’ve been a Christian for 23.5 years, and it’s only in the last year that I’ve started to question the Left-Behind-style premillenialism I was taught.

      I may have to check the Boyett book by myself. For now, I’m content to reference Francis Schaeffer, who said that the only way we can understand end-times prophecy is as it’s happening in front of us …

    • As recently as the 1960’s, pretrib rapture wasn’t mainstream in Baptist churches. My dad has commented that he never heard any of it growing up. I think it started becoming mainstream in the 1970s with “Wish you all had been ready” song and some revivalists. Later there was mass marketing of books. I think the cold war and threat of nuclear Armageddon seemed to create a general state of fear. I even remember as a teenager believing I couldn’t find the rapture in the Bible. I did go through a time in my late 20’s and early 30’s where I bought into it for a little while.

      I was blessed as a child more than most, my pastor was a college professor. He went through a series of teachings on Sunday evenings going through many of the mainstream beliefs (A-,pre-,post), but I don’t remember preterist. Funny, I don’t think he mentioned it although it is a very old belief.

    • Every church I’ve gone to has preached on Revelation–either Sunday school or Sunday night service. They all went into great detail about the rapture and the seven year tribulation. They always used Daniel and Revelation as reference points. Are you saying all that stuff is NOT true? You just have no idea how shocked I am. I have literally spent years studying this and to think it’s not traditional church doctrine is unbelievable. I have a book my FIL gave me–Three Views on the Millenium and Beyond. I guess I should read it.

      • We’re not saying Daniel and Revelation are not true, we’re saying the words of Jesus are the ultimate authority, and He tells us:

        Matthew 24:26 – ““But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son,b but the Father only. 37For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

        According to Acts 1:6

        “So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”

        The disciples were very anxious to have a timetable but all they were told was “Watch and keep awake.” It’s coming, bu t no-one knows when, and no-one can say “Here it is!” until it happens, and when it happens, it will be unmistakeable.

        We’re not to be terrified about the end of the world coming, so that we’re constantly chasing after signs and portents and working out schemes of what will happen when, but neither are we to be complacent (like those in the days of Noah) and go about worldly business as if “Ah, it’ll never happen to me.”

        Our own personal end of the world is coming one day with our death, and that’s the only one that should concern us as to how we live.

      • Even where Jesus speaks those verses about “One will be taken and one will be left behind”, He says nothing about the tribulation lasting seven years, so all this is later extrapolation and verse-juggling with codes and numerology.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Dake’s Annotated Bible (an odyssey in Dispy obsession with calculating out apparent discrepancies in the Bible) claimed that “One will be taken and one will be Left Behind” didn’t refer to The Rapture but to the nations mobilizing for Armageddon. Just some random quirk I remember after close to 40 years.

          P.S. Martha? Is Ireland still afloat?

      • FollowerOfHim says


        As you’ve already seen, you’re not alone: I grew up in AG circles and was quite taken aback when I first discovered that my eschatological views weren’t historically normative. Fortunately, however, you’re finding out from someone who really did love God, really did believe in His someday return, and who would have wanted your own spiritual journey in the Christian faith to be all it can be.

        I, on the other hand, found out about the recent history of apocalyptic thought from Humanist Magazine! I won’t say that my head exactly spun of my shoulders as as a result, but said magainze had no interest in rectifying my end-time beliefs with anything that classical Christian thought had to say, you can be sure.

        All of which is to say that I’ll keep you in my prayers as you’re clearly about to embark upon some horizon-expanding reading and learning. Drop around here from time to time, and you’ll very often find some encouragement from others who are in the same boat. You’re not alone, sister, so don’t ever feel that you are. Pax.

    • Not all Baptist churches do teach this.

    • Allison,

      Daniel and Revelation are definitely true. Whether or not people’s interpretations are always true is another issue. My best piece of advice to you is to explore the issue, especially sources that don’t tote the interpretation you’ve been taught, to help you think through all sides and critically examine all interpretations a little further. It’s possible you’ll change you’re mind, and it’s also possible you won’t–but any time one explores questions from Scripture more in depth, one only gains a deeper appreciation for God and His Word.

      Re. Daniel, while I don’t agree with the final section of the book (I don’t feel the author follows his own argument through completely), I like “God in Control: An Exposition of the Prophecies of the Book of Daniel”, by Dr Robert J.M. Gurney (you can find it on-line). Ultimately, the prophecies of Daniel are about the time of the First Coming of Christ, not the second. And I might fall into the minority even among people who take that stance, but I believe so precisely b/c I do view Daniel as an actual prophetic word about future events–events future from Daniel’s day–and they did, literally, come true as foretold to Daniel, right down to “the days of the kings” (Rome) who defeated the 4th beast (Greece).

      Re. Revelation, I highly recommend “The Theology of the Book of Revelation” (Richard Bauckham) for a good “overall” exploration of Revelation’s meaning (the depth of Theology & Christology in Revelation is something I was never made aware of growing up under the timelines-and-charts view that Left Behind later expounded upon; but this book brings all that to life); and “The NIV Application Commentary on Revelation” (Craig S. Keener) for a more detailed look. I also would recommend “Revelation and the End of All Things” by Craig R. Koester and “The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation” by Barbara R. Rossing, but IMO, I’d start with the other two first.

      Please stay in dialogue, and may the Lord bless you in your study.

      • Thanks for the information. Looks like I have my summer reading list. I’m going to drive my husband CRAZY over the next few months 🙂

  5. Ben Carmack says

    I like what one Eastern Orthodox website says (not Orthodox myself):

    “I believe in the Rapture and it happens very often.”

    I think he’s referring to the Divine Liturgy and the Mystery of the Lord’s Supper. It’s a Rapture I can believe in.

  6. More good sense from Michael. Sorely missed, and may he rest in peace.

  7. Scott Miller says

    >>Advocates of the two-stage rapture ASSUME that it is the proper interpretation of the Luke texts and other texts.

    It is not an assumption. In most evangelical churches I have gone to in the past, it is a tenet of belief, a statement of faith, no less than the YEC model of creation. Even a statement of doubt about the rapture got me “shunned”.
    I mentioned to a good friend of mine my doubts about the rapture and it initially strained the relationship.

  8. In other words, attending a “bible-based” church doesn’t mean you get taught proper theology.

    (I know all Christian churches are bible-based, but I am referring to the ones that use the term to differentiate themselves as if the rest aren’t.)

    • Heck, in some cases it doesn’t even mean you get taught the Bible, outside of a handful of proof-texts …

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Or you have a Bible 3 1/2 books long: Daniel, Revelation, the “Nuclear War Chapter” of Ezekiel (the half), and Hal Lindsay’s Late Great Planet Earth. And the last one overrides the other 2 1/2 every time.

        Just this time around it’s 24 1/2 books, substituting Left Behind: Volumes 1-22 for Late Great Planet Earth. More if you count the 40-volume LB: the Kids, movies, and computer shooter game.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And the only reason these Bible-Believing (TM) churches have a Bible to believe in (and quote like a magick book) is the bishops of my Church (and OrthoCuban’s — they were one and the same at the time) forcibly prevented all the local Shirley Mac Laines from rewriting it in their own image back when years AD were in the low three digits.

  9. I love the painting… note especially that everyone inside the “Global Community Church” service is left behind.

    • Ah, yes. Those horrible liberal, main-line, apostate believers, those puppets of the World Counsel of Churches (AKA One-world-religion, AKA whore of Babylon). Tsk-tsk. It’s so pitiful. They think they are Christians, but they are deluded with lies. (insert rolling-eye emoticon here) 😎

      • VolAlongTheWatchTower says


      • My dad used to tell me you could spot a “real” church by the cross on the steeple. Imagine his consternation the first time he visited a Calvary Chapel and saw not a cross, but a dove behind the puplit!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Global Community (TM) Church…

      As Bad Rapture Art goes, that would place this example sometime after Left Behind hit the Jesus Junk stores.

      Before, the Code Words were “One World fill-in-the-blank”.

    • I also note that most of the people floating up in the air seem to be clothed in garments of other centuries, so the moral seems to be – either be born before the 20th century, or be driving a blue car (if that is the driver being raptured out of it, half-way through the roof) rather than going to church on Sunday.


      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Well, in Eighties Christian radio they used to call sunroofs on cars (which were just coming into use) “Rapture Roofs”.

  10. I didn’t know this can be traced back before Darby. What makes it really ridiculous is that it was a teaching meant for a specific sect who thought they were the only true (RADICAL?) Christians. Jesus was supposed to return privately only for that group; there wouldn’t have been a public appearance, because all other Christians outside the sect were sub-par and snubbed by Jesus. For it to expand like it has in the writings of Lahaye and Lindsey to include such a vast audience would probably have offended the followers of that original sect. The rapture in their minds would have never brought down planes or caused traffic accidents, because all of those being raptured would have been huddled on top of a remote hill waiting to be beamed up.

    The origin of many cults can be traced back to a leader claiming that his or her followers were the only true believers, and that any outsiders claiming to be Christians were imposters. Jehovah Witnesses is just one example.

  11. What do you guys think of Arnold Fruchtenbaum?? I was given dispensationalism with my (‘fathers’) milk however think of your article highly. Now I am almost 50 and my father still tries to feed me with this Arnold Fruchtenbaum. I don’t know anything about him except that I know he teaches dispensationalism??

  12. I googled “tribulation map” and found a pdf copy on the Bible Believers’ Evangelistic Association (BBEA). Wow. That brings back memories. It has the same graphics, of bodies flying though the air. The picture with the plane crashing into a building is now very eerie.

  13. I guess we need to be able to think like a dispensationalist: any criticism of their teachings will be taken as a vast conspiracy spawned by the Iluminati to discredit and persecute those who know the truth. With the dispensationalists out of the way, the secret and clandestine construction of the one-world religion can continue. The dark lord Darth Anti-Christ will be so proud.

    Therefore, there is no way to stop dispensationalism. It is wrapped in a conspiracy theory which makes it immune to self-criticism.

    • (Yes, master. I have planted the seed of skepticism as you commanded.)

      • Is your master Julian Felsenburgh, by any chance? 😉

        (He’s the Anti-Christ in Robert Hugh Benson’s “Lord of the World”, which is a Catholic End-Times novel, and he’s an American – so at least we got our retaliation in first for the LaHaye European Anti-Christ).

    • Actually, the general tenor of American political thinking is conspiracy theory, according to Shermer, Thompson, Aaronovitch, and other socio-political analysts. This shift from democracy as the controlling paradigm to conspiracy as the controlling paradigm has influenced Christianity as well, or perhaps it is the other way around.

      • Interesting point and disturbing poinit, John. I can see conspiracy-minded people being eaiser to fool and manipulate. And they think they are the enlightened ones. A lot of them are also the opponents of mindless social collectives; they appear to be a collective of herded bovine themselves.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I can see conspiracy-minded people being eaiser to fool and manipulate.

          Because They and They Alone KNOW What’s REALLY Going On.

          The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.

  14. Steve Newell says

    Do those who believe in a “secret rapture” reject historic church teaching? For example, in the Apostles Creed, the Church confesses:

    ” He ascended into heaven
    and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
    From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”

    or in the Nicene Creed:

    “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
    and his kingdom will have no end”

  15. Apparently, May 21st, 2011 was not the date of the rapture (or maybe I missed it)!
    Here are some “rapture ready” questions…

    *** They are a bit tongue in cheek ***

    1) If I am raptured and wearing clothes do the clothes go with me… All the pictures I’ve seen show the people wearing clothes and flying through the air.

    2) Will I get stuck to the ceiling if I am indoors or in a car? From everything I’ve heard, the cars all go driverless. But, if the clothes stay on, it would seem that I would also not go through the ceiling.

    3) If both the questions above are false, what about if I just ate and went through the ceiling, would the food I ate stay there?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      2bis) Back in the Eighties when sunroofs were just coming into style on cars, the Christianese word for them was “Rapture Roofs”. I am not making that up.

      4) What about breast implants? As the title of one famous movie review of The Movie That Shall Not Be Named put it: “Do Fake Boobs Go to Heaven?”

  16. I just clicked on that illustration that accompanies this post to see it larger. I see that although numbers of people are going up in the air in this rapture, there’s still a lot of folks sitting in the Global Community Church. Oops. And I see one guy coming right up through his windshield, I guess. Still, as silly as this all sounds, some people call us silly who believe in “… the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

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