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This article deals with a popular yet controversial subject within the Christian church, the legitimacy or illegitimacy of THE SECRET RAPTURE. Every truth seeking Christian, whether or not you believe in a secret rapture, should carefully read this article and prayerfully search the scriptures daily. This article is adapted from The Secret Rapture by James Bennett as published in the 1878 London edition of The second Advent. Prior to the 19th century the idea of a secret rapture was foreign to the Christian church. “Somewhere around 1830, Edward Irving began to teach the unique idea of a two-phase return of Christ, the first phase being a secret rapture prior to the rise of the Antichrist.” (Left Behind By The Jesuits). Edward Irving was highly influenced by the teachings of Jesuits Francisco Ribera and Robert Bellarmine regarding their anti-Reformation rhetoric and private Futurist interpretation of antichrist, which no doubt led him to speculations of a secret rapture. In 1864 Samuel Prideaux Tregelles published a book in which he gave the following testimony on the origin of the secret rapture:
- “I am not aware that there was any definite teaching that there would be a secret rapture of the Church at a secret coming, until this was given forth as an ‘utterance’ in Mr. Irving’s Church, from what was there received as being the voice of the Spirit. But whether any one ever asserted such a thing or not, it was from that supposed revelation that the modern doctrine and the modern phraseology respecting it arose. It came not from Holy Scripture, but from that which falsely pretended to be the Spirit of God....” (The Hope Of Christ's Second Coming, 1864, Chapter 9, p. 35)
After the opinion of a secret advent had been adopted, many expressions in older writers were regarded as supporting it; in which, however, the word “secret” does not mean unperceived or unknown, but simply secret in point of time. By the 1860's it was publicly maintained that the secret coming is the second coming promised in Scripture, and that the manifest appearing of our Lord is His third coming. However, nowhere in scripture is there the slightest hint of a “third coming” of Christ. The apostle Paul said that Jesus shall appear the “second time” not ‘third’: “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” (Heb. 9:28). Today many maintain that the “coming” of Christ is different than his “appearing.” But Jesus himself dispells this notion: “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matt. 24:27). Still, there are those who insist that there is a difference between the “coming” and the “appearing” of Jesus; hence, a “secret” rapture.
The Secret Rapture
This view is one which has made and still is making considerable progress among believers. There is much that is attractive about it, but it will not, I am persuaded, stand searching, sober investigation. The theory briefly stated is, that there are yet two comings of Christ to take place. One of them may occur at any moment, without the slightest warning. The object of this coming will be to take away the Church, which will thus disappear from the earth in an instant. This secret rapture of the Church will, we are told, be followed by the manifestation of Antichrist, the persecution of restored Israel, and when Jerusalem is besieged, the Lord will come openly to the world, accompanied by His saints. What the Christian is to look for, then, is not the coming of the Lord at the siege of Jerusalem, but a coming which may occur at any instant. So far as I am aware, this view has been derived from Edward Irving, by whom it was first broached. It need hardly be remarked, that, without saying one syllable as to Irving's personal condition before God, he was a most unsound teacher. Any Christian at all acquainted with the Word of God must feel this. His idea, for instance, that our Lord's humanity was teeming with evil propensities, is fearful to a spiritual mind. That the theory should have originated with such a man is enough to make one doubly cautious in receiving it. He, however, taught it in a form somewhat different from that given above. He said that the whole Church would not escape the great tribulation, but only those who followed his directions. And a modification of this is held by many who are not Irvingites. They say that only some will escape, viz., those who are watching for the Advent, and, as some add, standing aloof from all denominations! In these pages, however, only the form of the doctrine first given is dealt with, viz., that the whole Church will share in the secret rapture. I confine myself to this one aspect of the view, because it is the most widely spread. And in fact, if this is disproved, the other will fall with it.
- The argument much advanced in defence of this doctrine is, that two words are used in the Greek Testament, one of which is limited to the secret, and the other to the public coming of Christ. Of course, if this could be fairly made out, a very strong case would have been presented for consideration. The two words are παρουσία (presence ) and επιφάνεια (surface, Epiphany ). and. It may be remarked, however, that in reality three words are employed to describe the Advent. The third is αποκάλυψη (disclosing ). But it hardly follows that there are three distinct comings. Rather, the three words bring before the mind three different aspects of the Advent. The first means a personal presence or coming; the second, a shining forth or manifestation: it is our word Epiphany; and the third, an unveiling: it is our word Apocalypse or Revelation. Is not the Second Advent represented as all these? It is the personal presence of the Lord Jesus with His people, the manifestation of His glory to an ungodly world, and the unveiling or revelation of God's purposes in regard to this earth of ours. What wonder, then, that three words are used by the Spirit of God to describe these three aspects of this most solemn event? If, because there are two words, I infer two comings, does not consistency require me to conclude that whereas three words are used, three comings are intended?
Christ was at once Priest, Altar, and Sacrifice. Three aspects of His work were conveyed by these three types. In the early chapters of Leviticus five offerings are prescribed. They were all typical of the one offering on the Cross. They presented five different aspects of the work of Christ. The thing figured was one and the same. This principle meets us at every turn in reading the Old Testament types. Need we be surprised, then, to see three aspects of the Second Advent set before us in the New Testament?
- There is, moreover, one passage which seems to me to settle the question as to the ερχομός (coming) with the εμφανίζονται(appearing). It is 2 Thess. ii. 8. “And then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and destroy with the of his.” Here both words are used to describe that Advent by which the Man of Sin is destroyed. Upon the theory now under consideration, several years must necessarily elapse between the two. And yet we find them here used of one and the same event. This of itself is enough to convict the system of error. But, again, on this theory, no signs mark the approach of the parousia (advent = second coming of christ ) for which the Church should wait. This also is utterly opposed to Scripture. Our Lord tells us that signs shall precede the parousia, and that for the signs we ought to look. Matthew xxiv. sufficiently proves this assertion. The disciples ask Christ, “What shall be the sign of thy coming (parousia) and of the end of the world?” (ver. 3). Had this theory been true, would not our Lord have taken this opportunity to warn the Apostles that signs should not precede the parousia? But His course was exactly the reverse, and, on this theory, quite inexplicable. He proceeds to enumerate signs. “Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars,” &c. “There shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places,” &c. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” The description of the future siege and unequalled tribulation of Jerusalem follows, as we have already seen. —Terrible is the suffering of that awful time. But there is no hint given that the Church shall have been previously removed. The contrary is expressly stated: “For the elect's sake those days shall be shortened” (ver. 2 2). “There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (ver. 24). The elect, then, are still upon earth. According to this theory, they were taken away some years before!
- The parousia or coming has already on this theory occurred! But mark what follows: “As the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming (parousia) of the Son of man be.” Not much secrecy about the lightning! “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven” (vers. 29, 30). Here is a definite answer to the question of the disciples, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming?” Unmistakable signs surely! Sun and moon darkened! Stars falling! The sign in heaven, whatever it may be, perhaps the Shekinah cloud! And yet this theory tells us there shall be no signs! Verse 31 also has direct bearing upon this controversy. "And He shall send His angels” (this, be it observed, is after the darkening of the sun, &c.) “with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” This seems to me to settle the question as to when the saints are caught up. This is not, as the advocates of this view tell us, some years before this terrible siege, but after the signs in the heavens. If such a definite statement of our Lord is not conclusive, it is difficult to imagine language which would suffice. The prophecy is one connected whole. It is, from its structure, evidently chronological. There is no mystery about it. The order of events is given in answer to the inquiry of the apostles, and the glorification and rapture of the saints is expressly asserted to occur at the close, and not before the beginning, of the great tribulation.
- Nay, more; that we ought to watch for signs is repeated by the Lord Jesus in a parable. “Now, learn a parable of the fig-tree. When his branch is yet tender and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh. So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors” (vers. 32, 33). Just, then, as the leaves of the tree prove the nearness of summer, so the accomplishment of the predicted signs proves the nearness of the Advent. The proof, in fact, afforded by this chapter is so convincing, that it may well be asked, can any reply be attempted? There is one way, and only one, of evading the force of the conclusions drawn from this prophecy. It is asserted that Christ spoke to the disciples as Jews, not as Christians, and that consequently the chapter has nothing to do with the Church; but is limited in its scope to the Jews! This assertion shows to what desperate straits the advocates of this theory are driven. There is absolutely nothing to prove this. It is assertion, and assertion only. The closing verses of chap. xxiii. seem expressly designed to warn against such an extraordinary idea. Christ there closes His testimony to Israel. They had rejected Him, and He is compelled to leave them. “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” (vers. 38, 39). Jesus then quitted Jerusalem. He “went out,” and on the Mount of Olives—outside the city—He instructed His disciples. His connection with Israel had finally closed. This is specially pointed out; and then He speaks to His own people. But further, if we are told that this chapter is “Jewish,” i.e., has reference only to Israel, why not extend the principle. Is John xiv. “Jewish”? If not, why not? The Apostles to whom it was spoken were all Jews. Are we to conclude, therefore, that its precious promises have no message to us? Is John xvii. “Jewish”? If not, why not? The Apostles for whom its petitions were originally offered were all Jews. I have just as much right to say that John xiv.-xvii. is Jewish, i.e., not for the Church, as Matt. xxiv. In truth, we can hardly believe that such a theory would have ever been started had it not been for the maintenance of a system. Once more, we are told by those who hold this view, that the “parousia” or “coming” of Christ is to precede the siege here foretold, and that the public appearance of Christ at its close is not the “parousia” or “coming,” but the “epiphany” or “revelation.”
Between these two events, the coming and the revelation of Christ, we are told there is an interval of at least three and a half years. But in Matt. xxiv. the “coming” is said to take place at the end of the siege, and not at the beginning. After the darkening of the sun and moon, and other celestial phenomena, it is added, then shall appear the sign, and “they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven” (ver. 30). To this event, which our Lord says occurs at the close of the tribulation, the word “parousia” or “coming,” is applied. “As the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (ver. 37). They “knew not until the flood came and took them all away: so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (ver. 38). And yet this theory requires that the word “coming” should be limited to the secret rapture which is supposed to occur before the tribulation. I am willing to rest the whole case against the secret rapture upon this chapter. It is so conclusive.
There is also another chapter in St. Matthew which bears so strikingly upon the question before us that I cannot pass it by. I mean chapter xiii. In the parable of the “Wheat and Tares,” Christ likens the kingdom of heaven to a field (ver. 24). In this field wheat and tares grow together. The “kingdom of heaven” can hardly bear any other meaning than the professing Church. True, the kingdom is not yet set up in power. Christ has been rejected on earth. But some profess to be His subjects. This profession is true in many cases, false in most. But all who make it are members of the visible Church or kingdom. A usurper has possession of the throne at present. The rightful King is an exile. Soon, however, He shall return with resistless power. The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ. From the very first there have been those who have falsely named the name of Christ. There was a Judas among the twelve. Christ called him “a devil.” To see tares, then, springing up in the Gospel field is what we were led to expect. There are side by side, “the good seed,” the “children of the kingdom,” and the “tares,” the “children of the wicked one.” For eighteen centuries this has been the scene presented to us. It is the same now; not only in “Established” Churches is the sad mixture apparent, but in bodies which have from time to time seceded for the sake of greater purity. Alike in England and in Scotland there seems to be now greater error and more wide-spread Rationalism in the Dissenting bodies than in the National Establishments. And I venture, with all humility, to say, as the result of my personal knowledge, that in the most carefully fenced or “Brethren” section of the field, tares may be discovered as well as wheat. But we ask how long shall this continue? When the Lord returns will His professing Church be still in this condition? Will the field still present this appearance of mingled wheat and tares. We are not left in doubt as to the answer. Our Lord supplies it. He says concerning wheat and tares alike, “Let both grow together until the harvest” (ver. 30). And what is meant by the “harvest”? “The harvest is the end of the world” (ver. 39).
Now comes the fact which is conclusive against the secret rapture. That doctrine, it will be remembered, is, that the Church or “wheat” shall be taken away to heaven at a coming of Christ which is to precede the end of the age by several years. The wheat are to be removed some years, therefore, before the tares. And how does this theory tally with the teaching of this parable? It flatly contradicts it. “In the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into My barn.” Can words be more express? First the tares and then the wheat. This theory exactly reverses the Divine order, and says, first the wheat, and then, after an interval of some years, the tares. Christ, moreover, in His explanation repeats this, and thus emphasises it: “The Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (vers. 41—43). Here again is a passage wholly irreconcilable with this theory. That tells us that Christ shall gather out of the kingdom all the wheat, leaving those that “offend.” The Lord tells us that from the kingdom shall be gathered “all things that offend, and them which do iniquity.” It may be observed, too, that in a subsequent parable the same order is preserved, “The angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just” (ver. 49). This theory asserts that the just shall be severed from among the wicked, and not the wicked from among the just. For my own part, I cannot imagine how language could by any possibility be more utterly opposed to the theory now under review. The two are, it seems to me, diametrically opposite.
Further proof might be deemed superfluous, but yet it may be well to point out a few other Scriptures which are equally clear. One is 1 Cor. i. 7. St. Paul is describing the condition of the Corinthian Church, a Church founded by the Apostle himself. God had bestowed great gifts upon that Church. “Ye came behind,” he says, “in no gift; waiting for the revelation (margin) of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Greek word used is, , apocalypse or revelation. This word, advocates of this theory contend, can apply only to the public return or manifestation of Christ at the close of the tribulation. This is the return for which we are taught not to look, as we shall have been taken away from the earth years before it happens. Yet the Apostle tells the Corinthians that for this “manifestation” or “revelation” they were waiting! And his language is that of commendation! If this theory is Scriptural, the Corinthians were very wrong to expect the “revelation” of Christ. It showed great ignorance or deplorable unbelief. St. Paul, moreover, surely would have corrected the mistake, as he had previously corrected the error of the Thessalonians on the same subject. No such thing, however. Are we not, then, driven to conclude that St. Paul knew nothing of the distinction in point of time between the “coming” and the “revelation” of Christ? If the Corinthian Christians were right in thus “waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,” we cannot be far wrong in doing the same. But to do so is inconsistent with this theory.
Another Scripture to which reference may be made is 2 Thess. i. 6-8, “It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming tire, taking vengeance on them that know not God.” This coming cannot be supposed for a moment to be secret. It cannot be other than the coming for the destruction of Antichrist, when Christ's feet “shall stand upon the Mount of Olives.” It is thus the “revelation” or “manifestation” of Christ. But the Apostle comforts the persecuted saints to whom he writes, and through them the saints of all ages, by promising to them rest. This rest is to be their portion at a definite time. “Rest with us,” he says, “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed.” All the laws of language require us to understand by this that there shall be no rest before “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed.” If I make an appointment with a person for eleven o'clock in the morning, I do not mean him to come till eleven o'clock. This is universally understood. Accordingly, when I read of rest at the revelation of Jesus Christ, am I not obliged to conclude that there shall be no rest till then? that till that time the Church's persecution shall not have ceased ? If, however, the coming of Christ has some years previously removed the Church, this statement would not be true. She would be at rest with the Lord for some years before He was “revealed with His mighty angels, in naming fire taking vengeance.” This passage seems to me, therefore, diametrically opposed to the theory before us. The same remark applies to I Tim. vi. 14, “I give thee charge . . . that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing (Gr. Epiphany) of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Had this theory been correct, would not the Apostle have written, “Until the coming (parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ?” Why need Timothy keep the commandment till the Epiphany, when years before that, at the coming of Christ, the Church would have been removed to heaven?
A similar passage is Titus ii. 13. The grace of God, it is there said, teaches us to deny ungodly and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously, and godly, “looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing (Gr. Epiphany) of the great God, and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Why should this be the object of the Church's hope if, some years before this, at the parousia or coming of her Lord, she is destined to enter into rest? Surely, to that her eye would be directed. We would ask any brother who has adopted this view, Would he present the Epiphany of Christ before a believer as the object of his hope? His own principles compel him to do no such thing. He is obliged to say, Look away from the Epiphany; look straight at the parousia. Yet this is exactly the opposite of the teaching in this passage. To the same effect is the exhortation of St. Peter, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the Revelation (Gr. Apocalypse) of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter i. 13). If, as we are told, grace and glory are to be our portion at an event prior to the revelation of Christ by several years, why exhort believers to wait patiently till that revelation? Again he writes, “Feed the flock of God. . . . And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter v. 4). But this appearance is quite irreconcilable with a secret coming. The two cannot possibly be identified. And yet we find St. Peter directing the faithful pastor, not to a secret coming, but to a manifestation or appearance of Christ as the time of reward. This is quite in accordance with the general tenor of Scripture, but equally opposed to this theory. St. John writes in a similar spirit. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him (Christ) purifieth himself even as He is pure” (1 John iii. 2, 3). This “appearance” cannot be a secret thing. The word excludes such a thought. But it is at this appearance, and not at some earlier coming of Christ, that His people are made like Him, and this is expressly called their “hope.”
But time would fail me were I to attempt to quote all the Scriptures that condemn this novel theory. These, I think, are enough. I ask any candid inquirer to ponder them prayerfully, and I trust that he will adopt the conclusion at which I have long since arrived. I do not speak to those who are absolutely determined to support their view at all hazards. To argue with such is waste of time. Their difficulty is not in the head, but in the will. They will not fairly weigh the evidence brought before them. A mistake in such a matter is a solemn thing. To misinterpret any part of Holy Writ is a terrible sin. May God pardon the iniquity of our holy things, for the sake of Him who died and rose again! To advance the view that just as the darkness is deepening the Church shall be taken out of the conflict with Antichrist involves most serious responsibility. It is simply deluding souls. Christians are led to look for a deliverance from earthly conflict which God has not promised and will not give.
One passage there is which is repeatedly adduced as teaching this theory. It is Acts i. 11, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” Hence it is argued, as Christ went up unseen by the world, so must He return. To build a whole theory upon such a passage seems to me incomprehensible. It is a statement which may be taken in several ways. That suggested is only one of several. To take a text which may fairly be understood in another sense, and upon this particular interpretation to raise a doctrine, is an extraordinary proceeding. If other Scriptures could be shown which proved it plainly, this might fairly be quoted as one which favoured the view. The construction, however, placed upon it is one, I venture to think, which it will not bear. The question turns upon the exact force of the expression “in like manner as.” Does it mean that every detail of the ascension is to be paralleled at the Advent? Or rather, that there is a general likeness between the two events? The Greek words translated “in like manner as” are used elsewhere as meaning a general and not particular resemblance. Thus Acts vii. 28, “Wilt thou kill me, as (in like manner as) thou diddest the Egyptian yesterday?” The point of comparison here obviously is the death of the Egyptian, and not the particular mode of his death. The resemblance is general, not specific. So 2 Tim. iii. 8, “As (in like manner as) Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth.” Not that the persons in question use identically the same means as did the magicians referred to. The comparison instituted is between the resistance, and not the particular means employed. The resemblance is general, not specific. So in the passage before us. It does not teach that every particular of the Ascension shall be repeated at the Lord's return, but that the same Jesus who went up shall come again. The personal Jesus went up; the personal Jesus shall come again. In the cloud, the symbol of deity, He was taken (ver. 9). In the cloud He shall be seen at His Advent (Rev. i. 7). The parallel between the two events is general. If any special correspondence of detail is included, it would be the cloud and not the secrecy.
There is thus no Scripture which, when fairly examined, supports this theory. Very many passages, however, on the other hand, are, as we have seen, decidedly opposed to it.
In this dispensation the believer is called to the fellowship of Christ's sufferings. Patient endurance is the grace which the Church is peculiarly called upon to manifest. The path of separation and opposition is that in which believers have had to walk, if faithful. They have not been delivered from the conflict, but grace has been given to enable them to become more than conquerors. It would be strangely different from the past history of this dispensation if a secret rapture, such as has been described, awaited the Church. We should require the very clearest proof from Scripture, to make us believe that, at the very crisis of the struggle, the Church should be secretly caught away. Antichrist is the most terrible adversary of our King. And yet, in this view, not to the Church is assigned the honour of confronting him, but to unbelieving Israel.
Should any brother read this chapter who has received this doctrine, may I in all affection entreat him to weigh well the Scripture that has been advanced? To say the least, if Scripture does not sanction the idea of a secret rapture, it must be a solemn responsibility to teach the Church to expect it. May the Spirit of God guide every believer into His truth in this momentous matter!