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Why the Rapture is Not in Revelation
Mar 22, 2011
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This article continues my brief review of Jeff Lasseigne’s Unlocking the Last Days. I’m not picking on Lasseigne. He’s not the only commentator to interpret Revelation in terms of what’s going on in our generation. Such an interpretive approach is pandemic in end-time speculative commentaries whose authors claim they interpret the most symbolic book of the Bible literally.

Thirty-five years ago Hal Lindsey wrote The Terminal Generation, a book that he said was about “hope.” Hope in what? Hope in the “ultimate trip,” the “evacuation,” when Jesus will return and “mysteriously and secretly snatch out all those who believe in Him personally”(1) in what has come to be known as the “rapture.” What have the people who read and embraced Lindsey’s view been doing for the past 35 years? In 1976, I was 26 years old. I’m now 60 with two children and three grandchildren. We were led to believe that the “rapture” would come before 1988, 40 years after the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948. Did people who bought into Lindsey’s prophetic paradigm ever think they would have grandchildren? What type of world has the terminal generation of the 1970s left for those being born today? Even some dispensationalists recognized the problem. Consider these comments written by David Schnittger 25 years ago:

Many in our camp have an all-pervasive negativism regarding the course of society and the impotence of God’s people to do anything about it. They will heartily affirm that Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, and that this must indeed by The Terminal Generation; therefore, any attempt to influence society is ultimately hopeless. They adopt the pietistic platitude: “You don’t polish brass on a sinking ship.” Many pessimistic pretribbers cling to the humanists’ version of religious freedom; namely Christian social action and political impotence, self-imposed, as drowning men cling to a life preserver.(2)

Lasseigne follows a similar interpretive pattern made popular by prophecy writers who see their hope to be a great escape from this world and an indifference to the world that God described as “very good” (Gen. 1:31; 1 Tim. 4;4). While it’s true that Christians should not put their ultimate hope “in people, politics, or programs” (196), it’s also true that God doesn’t call on us to dismiss people, politics, or programs. Lindsey argued for a singular focus on our heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20)(3) with little regard for Paul’s consideration of his Roman citizenship (Acts 22:22–30) and the biblical designation of the civil magistrate as a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:4).

Like Lindsey and many who preceded and followed him in pronouncing their generation as “terminal,” Lasseigne is constrained by his dispensational hermeneutic to offer a worldview that is really an “upper-world worldview”:

Or as John MacArthur said, “Man’s efforts to bring about a better world . . . amount to little more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic to give everyone a better view as the ship sinks” (196).(4)

The “rapture” has been a convenient escape hatch for Christians. When times worsened, the “rapture” was preached with great vitality. Millions were assured that before all hell breaks loose that they would be taken to heaven to watch the Great Tribulation from up above the heavens so bright.

Lasseigne manufactures a “rapture” theology in Revelation 4:1–2. John told to “come up here” is thought to be a “symbolic picture of the rapture” (76). This is a common interpretation among dispensationalists. Lasseigne isn’t the first one to use it. Tim LaHaye made it the cornerstone of his Revelation rapture theology. For those who claim to interpret prophecy literally, Revelation 4:1-2 says nothing about the church being taken to heaven prior to a seven-year tribulation period, but LaHaye argues for it anyway even though the phrase “seven years” does not appear in Revelation.

LaHaye and company need a “rapture” to make their system work. “Inasmuch as John was the last remaining apostle and a member of the universal Church, his elevation to heaven is a picture of the Rapture of the Church just before the Tribulation begins.”(5) This is passed off as literal interpretation. LaHaye attempts to bolster his argument by noting that this is also a logical place to insert the pre-trib rapture since the Church “is not on the earth during the Tribulation.”(6) LaHaye continues:

There are sixteen references to the Church in Revelation 1-3,(7) whereas chapters 6-18, which cover the Tribulation, do not mention the Church once. The natural conclusion drawn from this is that the Church that was so prominent during its two thousand-year history (as predicted in chapters 2-3) is not mentioned in chapters 4-18 because those chapters describe the Tribulation, which the Church does not endure.(8)

The first three chapters of Revelation deal with seven literal churches (1:20), assemblies of Christians in Asia Minor that were founded and operated in the first century: the church in Ephesus (2:1), the church in Smyrna (2:8), the church in Pergamum (2:12), the church in Thyatira (2:18), the church in Sardis (3:1), the church in Philadelphia (3:7), and the church in Laodicea (3:14). In the first three chapters of Revelation, local churches are addressed, not the church generally. There is no reference to “the church” anywhere in Revelation.

Let’s continue to apply LaHaye’s logic of “the church” not being found after Revelation 3 to other New Testament books. The word “church” is not mentioned “in Mark, Luke, John, 2 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, or Jude, and not until chapter 16 of Romans. Unless we are prepared to relegate large chunks of the NT to a limbo of irrelevance to the Church, we cannot make the mention or omission of the term ‘church’ a criterion for determining the applicability of a passage to saints of the present age.”(9)

If counting words is to be an interpretive key,(10) then LaHaye refutes his own argument. He along with Lasseigne finds the antichrist all over Revelation, but the word itself does not appear. In addition, there is no mention of a rebuilt temple or Jesus reigning on a throne from Jerusalem, the reinstitution of animal sacrifices, all supposedly in Revelation 20, and yet LaHaye and Lasseigne insist that these are found there.

The pre-trib “rapture” of the church is a theological necessity for dispensationalists—”the product of a deduction from one’s overall system of theology”—so God can once again deal with national Israel. But word counts leave us with something of a dilemma since the word Israel only appears once after the supposed rapture of the church, and not until Revelation 7:4! One would think that if the church is in view in the first three chapters because the words church and churches are used nineteen times, then shouldn’t we expect to find the word Israel used more than once after chapter three if this entire seven-year period is about God’s dealings with a future national Israel?

Once again we are left wondering how the keystone doctrine of dispensationalism is not found in the most comprehensive prophetic book in the Bible. George Eldon Ladd’s comments are to the point: “There is no reference in 4:1 to the rapture of the church; the language is addressed exclusively to John and refers to his reception of the revelations of the book.”(11)

You might remember “Wrong-Way Corrigan.” Douglas Corrigan (1907–1995) was an American aviator. He was nicknamed “Wrong Way” in 1938 after he flew from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York, to Ireland, though his flight plan was filed to return to Long Beach, California. He claimed his unauthorized flight was due to a navigational error, caused by heavy cloud cover that obscured landmarks and low-light conditions, causing him to misread his compass. Lasseigne is like “Wrong Way Corrigan.” He has the skills to write popular expositions of the Bible, but the clear interpretive clues in Revelation are obscured by a heavy cloud cover of dispensational interpretive ambiguity.Endnotes:

  1. Hal Lindsey with C. C. Carlson, The Terminal Generation (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1976), 174.()
  2. David Schnittger, Christian Reconstruction from a Pretribulational Perspective (Oklahoma City, OK: Southwest Radio Church, 1986), 7.()
  3. Lindsey, The Terminal Generation, 174–175.()
  4. For the source of MacArthur’s sinking Titanic allusion, see, Revelation 12–22, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 2000), 84.()
  5. Tim LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 99.()
  6. LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled, 100.()
  7. By my count, the words “church” and “churches” are used nineteen times in Revelation.()
  8. LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled, 100. LaHaye’s thesis and those who follow him (and there are many) is based on the unproven assumption that Revelation 2-3 covers “the church age, using seven historical churches to describe the entire age.” LaHaye abandons his “Golden Rule of Biblical Interpretation” for an interpretation of prophetic necessity. Specifically named churches in a particular geographical area are interpreted to mean seven eras of the Christian dispensation. Where are we told this in Revelation?()
  9. Robert H. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1973), 78. Also see Gundry, First the Antichrist, 84-87.()
  10. If Bible interpretation is based on word counts, then the Book of Esther does not belong in the Bible: “There can be no doubt that the historicity and canonicity of Esther has been the most debated of all the Old Testament books. Even some Jewish scholars questioned its inclusion in the Old Testament because of the absence of God’s name.” (Edward G. Dobson, “Esther,” Liberty Bible Commentary: Old Testament, eds. Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow M. Kroll [Lynchburg, VA: The Old-Time Gospel Hour, 1982], 909).()
  11. George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 72.()
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About author

Gary DeMar

Gary is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and earned his M.Div. at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979. He is the author of countless essays, news articles, and more than 27 book titles, His most recent book is Exposing the Real Last Days Scoffers. Gary lives in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife, Carol. They have two married sons and four grandchildren, Gary and Carol are members of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA).

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