As the 65 million-plus sales of the late Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind novels show, the rapture (which permeates the series) is an immensely popular teaching among some evangelicals. This is the view that, before the open and glorious Return of Jesus Christ – which all true Christians accept – there must first be a snatching away, or rapture, of the Church.
But is it true? While the Bible certainly teaches that “the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16), does this mean in the secret, pre-tribulation sense that the teaching claims? Given that, barely two centuries ago, this teaching was unknown, we would be remiss not to ask whether it squares with both the Bible and early Christian doctrine as represented by the Church Fathers.
Let’s take the lesser witnesses first – the Church Fathers, using the term here in its accepted Church History sense, and not as any slight to our Saviour’s instruction “not to call any man [our spiritual] ‘father’ ”. Any emphases that follow throughout are my own.