Is the rapture a (W)right doctrine?
N.T. Wright has argued (though not very extensively) that the two most popular Biblical passages used in support of the Rapture do not, in fact, promote the case for some supernatural ‘removal’ of Christians prior to some final apocalyptic end-of-world judgment.
First is Matthew 24:36–40,
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.”
The critical thing to note here is that in the context of Noah’s flood, the people who were ‘taken’ were taken in judgement. And it’s in fact those who were left behind(!) who are saved from the flood. It’s the flood (the very opposite of a divine rescue plan) which “took them all away.”
The second passage is 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17,
“According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
Wright notes that this verse parallels the situation in the ancient world where subjects go out of the city to meet the returning king halfway and escort him into the city, hence, the point about meeting the Lord “in the air” and in the midst of the clouds. The key thing is that God’s people, having played the role in transforming the earth, will then welcome and invite Christ back as part of a triumphant final scene.
I’ve also noticed that most people who read the ‘caught up together’ verse LITERALLY somehow do not read the ‘loud command’ verse likewise i.e. do we really believe that before the rapture we’ll be treated to a super-loud trumpet blast plus the voice of either (arch-angel) Michael or Gabriel booming from the heavens?