Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The “Secret” Rapture Revisited

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

In response to a previous blog titled "The Loud Verse and the Secret Rapture," I received the following anonymous response:

"Because, you deceiver, no-one ever called it a ‘Secret Rapture’ EXCEPT anti-dispensationalists like yourself. You have created a straw man. knocked it down and proved nothing."

I would use this response to point out the emotional nature of commitment to dispensationalism. This anonymous response was not an intellectual challenge to my blog, but an emotional outburst against it. He does not assert that I am argumentatively mistaken, but rather charges that I am morally a "deceiver."

What is worse, my respondent's objection is fallacious. Indeed, it is mistaken in its foundational, over-riding, singular point! The writer claims: (1) "no-one ever called it a ‘Secret Rapture’ EXCEPT anti-dispensationalists," and because of this alleged fact (2) "you have created a straw man."

Please consider the following in reply:

Dispensationalists employ the term "secret" for the Rapture

The largest selling book of the 1970s, and one of the largest selling Christian books of all times, was Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. In the 1970s it sold over 9 million copies. And though quite dated now, it is still on the market and has sold over 28 million copies worldwide. As a consequence, it has influenced millions of Christians.

In this book dispensationalist mega-bestseller Hal Lindsey states on pages 142–43:

"Another reason why we support the idea that the Rapture and the second coming are separate events is that the second coming is said to be visible to the whole earth (Revelation 1:7). However, in the Rapture, only the Christians see Him — it’s a mystery, a secret. When the living believers are taken out, the world is going to be mystified."

Thus, one of the most influential dispensational authors uses the term, despite the anonymous writer declaring that "no-one" ever called it a secret rapture.

Another best-selling dispensationalist who uses the term is Dave Hunt. In his book Whatever Happened to Heaven? he writes on page 303:

"The rapture as expressed in 1 Thessalonians 4 seems to be a private event involving the church only, and unseen and unknown to the world. . . . The actual event seems to be a secret experience only by the church."

Major theologian Robert H. Gundry wrote The Church and the Tribulation, in which he classifies himself as a "dispensationalist" (p. 28). He is also called a dispensationalist in Thomas Ice and Tim Demy’s book, When the Trumpet Sounds: "Gundry, who is not only premillennial but also dispensational..." (p. 239). While discussing 1 Thess 4:16–17, Gundry refers to the secret rapture in his book: "The ‘shout,’ ‘voice,’ and ‘trumpet’ have led some posttribulationists to mock at a secret, pretribulational rapture..." (p. 104).

Dispensationalism requires that the Rapture be "secret."

We also find that the very theological construct of the Rapture entails that it be "secret." According to the dictionary, the first meaning of "secret" is: "done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others" (Dictionary.com). The second listed meaning there is: "kept from the knowledge of any but the initiated or privileged." This is precisely how the Rapture must be characterized. Note the following.

Consider major dispensationalist theologian Charles L. Feinberg. In his book, Millennialism: The Two Major Views, p. 287 he distinguishes the Rapture from the Second Coming by noting: "The coming of the Lord Jesus for His own will not be seen by the world, whereas His visible appearing will be seen by all when He comes in power and great glory with His holy angles" (emph. mine). By definition, this Rapture coming is secret, for it "will not be seen by the world." It is "done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others" ("secret," Dictionary.com)."

Another important dispensational theologian is Paul D. Feinberg. He is contributor to the debate book by Gleason Archer, et al., The Rapture: Pre–, Mid–, or Post–tribulational?). In that book he, too, distinguishes the Second Advent from the Rapture similarly: "The return of Christ is preceded by great upheaval, distress, and signs that alert one to its occurrence. Neither the trial nor the signs are to be found in the Rapture text..." (p. 157–58; emph. mine). Thus, it is "secret" as far as the world is concerned for it is "done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others" ("secret," Dictionary.com)."

Perhaps the most popular and influential dispensationalist today is Tim LaHaye. In his Prophecy Study Bible (at 1 Thess. 4:13) he provides a chart of "Comparisons between the Rapture and the Glorious Appearance." In that chart, item five is: At the Rapture "Only His own see Him"; whereas in the "Glorious Appearance" (the Second Advent) "Every eye will see Him." Thus, a major distinction between the Rapture and the Second Advent is that the Rapture is not seen by those who are not believers. Is this, then, not "secret"? Is this not "done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others" ("secret," Dictionary.com)?"

Norm Geisler in his Systematic Theology: Church, Last Things presents a similar chart to LaHaye, where he contrasts the "Rapture" and the "Second Coming" (p. 623): Under the "Rapture" column we read: "only believers see him." Under the "Second Coming" column we read: "all people see him."

John Walvoord, The Church in Prophecy, speaks of the Rapture as a secret event, though without using the express term:

"It is probable, however, that just as atmospheric clouds received the Lord when He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9) and as He will come in the ‘clouds of heaven’ at His return to the earth, so here also at the rapture the church will be enveloped by the atmospheric heavens and thus be taken out of sight of men on earth. There is no indication, however, that residents of earth will be able to see the church thus rapture."

But now, if the residents of earth do not see it, is it not — by definition — "secret"? Is it not "done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others" ("secret," Dictionary.com)?

However, on p. 136 Walvoord expressly allows the concept:

"The revelation indicates that the event [the Rapture] will take place in a moment and apparently that the earth and its inhabitants are left undisturbed. The Scripture does not use the term ‘secret rapture,’ and there is no sure evidence what the world will see and hear at the time of rapture. On the other hand, the Scriptures do not give any indication that the rapture will be subject to observation by the world as a whole."

So then, though "the Scripture does not use the term ‘secret,’" he argues for its secrecy, nevertheless. After all, he declares "there is no sure evidence what the world will see and hear." And he notes "on the other hand, the Scriptures do not give any indication that the rapture will be subject to observation by the world as a whole." He has worked his way around the "problem" that the adjective "secret" is not applied to the rapture in Scripture by declaring that it is, nonetheless, secret!

Then two paragraphs later Walvoord writes: "A survey of the major Scriptures dealing with the second coming reveal an entirely different picture than the rapture. In Matthew 24, it is indicated that the second coming of Christ will fill the heavens with glory and will be ‘as lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the west....' In contrast to the rapture, the second coming will be a visible event which both saved and unsaved will see" (pp. 136–37; emph. mine).


Like it or not, dispensationalism requires a "secret" rapture. And dispensationalists can and do use the term. I created no straw man; nor did I deceive anyone. I do admit, however, to not having much emotion about the whole matter.


Vance said...

Some time ago I heard a dispensationalist on TV speak of the rapture as being very visible and rather noisy. It was then that it first occurred to me that some pretrib proponents may be moving away from the idea of a "secret" rapture. Why would they do this? I suspect it's because they now realize that the idea of a secret rapture is hard to support exegetically. Perhaps this is the first step toward the eventual abandonment of this unsupportable theory--but then, maybe I'm too optimistic.

Anonymous said...


How can the “rapture” be “imminent”? Acts 3:21 says that Jesus “must” stay in heaven (He is now there with the Father) “until the times of restitution of all things” which includes, says Scofield, “the restoration of the theocracy under David’s Son” which obviously can’t begin before or during Antichrist’s reign. Since Jesus must personally participate in the rapture, and since He can’t even leave heaven before the tribulation ends, the rapture therefore cannot take place before the end of the trib! Paul explains the “times and the seasons” (I Thess. 5:1) of the catching up (I Thess. 4:17) as the “day of the Lord” (5:2) (which FOLLOWS the posttrib sun/moon darkening – Matt. 24:29; Acts 2:20) WHEN “sudden destruction” (5:3) of the wicked occurs! (If the wicked are destroyed before or during the trib, who would be left alive to serve the Antichrist?) Paul also ties the change-into-immortality “rapture” (I Cor. 15:52) to the posttrib end of “death” (15:54)! (Will death be ended before or during the trib?) If anyone wonders how long pretrib rapturism has been taught, he or she can Google “Pretrib Rapture Diehards.” Many are unaware that before 1830 all Christians had always viewed I Thess. 4’s “catching up” as an integral part of the final second coming to earth. In 1830 it was stretched forward and turned into a separate coming of Christ. To further strengthen their novel view, which the mass of evangelical scholars rejected throughout the 1800s, pretrib teachers in the early 1900s began to stretch forward the “day of the Lord” (what Darby and Scofield never dared to do) and hook it up with their already-stretched-forward “rapture.” Many leading evangelical scholars still weren’t convinced of pretrib, so pretrib teachers then began teaching that the “falling away” of II Thess. 2:3 is really a pretrib rapture (the same as saying that the “rapture” in 2:3 must happen before the “rapture” ["gathering"] in 2:1 can happen – the height of desperation!). Other Google articles throwing light on long-covered-up facts about the 178-year-old pretrib rapture view include “Famous Rapture Watchers,” “X-Raying Margaret,” “Revisers of Pretrib Rapture History,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Wily Jeffrey,” “The Rapture Index (Mad Theology),” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “Scholars Weigh My Research,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” “Pretrib Rapture Desperados” and “Deceiving and Being Deceived” – all by the author of the bestselling book “The Rapture Plot” which is available at Armageddon Books online. Just my two cents’ worth.

[above web bit was just observed]

Anonymous said...

A Google item titled "Edward Irving is Unnerving" is a perfect example of why dispie-ism is on death row!

Anonymous said...

I just came across a stunning web article which pits Walvoord against Ice. It has the title "Pretrib Expert John Walvoord Melts Ice" and I saw it on Joe Ortiz's blog (End Times Passover). Ice will probably try to have it banned! Debbie

Anonymous said...

[Here's a relevant internet item seen not long ago. Laurence]

In light of Bryon's accurate assessment of the Irvingites and their invisible pretrib rapture, I'd like to share some of the findings of historian (and documents "archaeologist") Dave MacPherson relative to "secrecy" which he says can refer to two different things: time and visibility. Before 1830 the only coming Christians looked for was the "every eye shall see him" second advent to earth - secret only in point of time. Enter Margaret Macdonald in 1830. She saw "the one taken and the other left" before "THE WICKED" [Antichrist] will "be revealed" - and added that her pretrib rapture would not be "seen by the natural eye" but only by "those who have the light of God within." Her rapture was doubly secret: at an unknown day and hour and also invisible to "outsiders." Desperate to eliminate Macdonald as the pretrib originator and the Irvingites as the first public teachers of pretrib, Darby defender Thomas Ice foolishly claims that they taught a secret POSTTRIB rapture (even though he knows that when Lindsey teaches "one taken" etc. before the Antichrist "is revealed" Lindsey is expressing the kernel of the pretrib view - what MM and the Irvingites clearly taught before Darby did!). As early as 1832, Irving's journal taught that only "to those who are watching and praying...will Christ be manifested...as the morning star. To the rest of the church, and to the world, this first appearance will be...unintelligible." Always trailing and "borrowing" quietly from the Irvingites, Darby in 1845 finally sounded like them when he wrote that "the bright and morning Star...is the sweet and blessed sign to them that watch...And such is Christ before He appears [at the final advent to earth]. The Sun will arise on the world....The star is before the [Sun], the joy of those who watch. The unwakeful world, who sleep in the night, see it not." (Darby's "Thoughts on the Apocalypse," p. 167) And Lindsey's "Late Great Planet Earth," p. 143, says that "the second coming is said to be visible to the whole earth (Revelation 1:7). However, in the Rapture. only the Christians see Him - it's a mystery, a secret." MacPherson's book "The Rapture Plot" has 300 pages of such documentation and he proves beyond any doubt that Macdonald was the first to "see" a secret, pretrib rapture, that the Irvingites soon echoed her in their journal (which Darby admitted he avidly read), and that Darby was last on all of the crucial aspects of dispensationalism. You may be saying, So What? Well, if the noisiest promoters of pretrib like to play games re church history in order to maintain their lucrative 19th century theory, can they convince us that they've never played a little fast and loose with Scriptural interpretation? Even the Word itself reveals the bad things as well as the good things about its heroes. Shouldn't we be as open and honest as the Word of God is? Just my thoughts.

docdk said...

I fear that you miss the meaning of secret.I am no scholar but as I understand from Paul's(the apostle to the gentiles) epistles the secret(one facet of it) was not in the manner of the rapture but the fact that it was not prophesied in the Old Testament. The criticism of the scriptures has led you so-called scholars to question the Word of God. Jer 17:5 Taken captive by Satan at his will using the same argument he used in the Garden of Eden to tempt Eve to change the Word of God.Instead of arguing about whether dispensationalism is heresy we should repent of believing the errors taught by "scholars" rather than believing God.You may think that you have heard from God but you will know the truth some day. Endeavoring to prove that you are "right" and they are wrong is how Satan divides and conquers. Paul said that the gospel he taught should lead to all of us saying the same things. No wonder so many people in the world look at us and laugh. This infighting is the work of Satan and not the Holy Spirit. Call yourself whatever you want we are members one of another and this religiousity is no different from the Pharisees vs Saduccees in Judaism.

Len said...


Aren't you doing what you acuse others of doing? Aren't you trying to prove others wrong - that we should adopt your point of view?

You state, "Endeavoring to prove that you are "right" and they are wrong is how Satan divides and conquers." Are you then, too, being used by Satan to divide and conquer?

There is nothing wrong in debating differences in doctrine and asserting your beliefs and opinions. This has been done for centuries. If debating theology were wrong, then why all the church councils and creeds which have happened over time. Should Pelagius have been allowed to state his beliefs without being confronted? Should Luther have kept his mouth shut?

When you deny others the right to disagree with your position and to state that they believe you are wrong, you deny yourself that same right. Keep that in mind.