Summary: It is the "blessed hope" because: 1. God is in control. 2. There will be final justice. 3. We have hope. 4. We have the power to overcome.
I remember sitting in an auditorium listening to a woman who was supposed to be an expert on the second coming of Jesus Christ. She had charts and a very large painting of Jesus returning to the earth. She was explaining how the church (the believers and followers of Jesus) would be “raptured” out of the world, and everyone else would be left to endure the Great Tribulation that was to come on all the earth. She talked about the shock and terror of the unbelievers as they witnessed their family members and neighbors flying through the sky while they were left behind. Then she calmed the concerns of some by saying, “Don’t worry, if you are driving your car, the Lord will give you time to pull over and get out before he takes you up.” I thought it was hilarious at the time, and still think so. That was several years ago, but evidently the idea is still around, because I keep seeing bumper stickers that say, “In case of rapture, this car will be abandoned.”
I preached about The Di Vinci Code recently, because it is a book of fiction that is being taken as a historical reality, and the movie version was just released last week. But there is another book, or series of books, that are equally entertaining and fictitious, with more than one movie to compliment the series. The authors have made millions of dollars, just as Dan Brown has. The series is called Left Behind. The underlying ideas in the books come from the same school of thought as the woman I first mentioned. The idea is that God is going to judge the earth and bring about a time of testing and tribulation, but before he does, he will whisk true believers away to heaven. This is the secret rapture of the church, and when the tribulation is over, Jesus will return again to bring the world to a close. So actually, there are three comings: Jesus’ original appearance on earth at his birth, his appearing at the rapture (or taking the church out of the world to heaven), and then a third appearing at the final judgment. This is a doctrine that has gained wide acceptance in the church, and many in this room today probably believe this is the way things will happen. But let’s take a look at the historical and biblical origins of this doctrine.
If this is true, and there are many who teach this today, then it is a theory completely unknown to the early church Fathers, the scholastics of the Middle Ages, the Reformers and all believers until the 1830’s — less than 200 years ago. It all began with a young Scottish woman who was a prophetess in the Catholic Apostolic Sect. Her name was Margaret McDonald, and she claimed to have a special revelation that a select group of believers would be caught up to meet Christ before the days of the Antichrist. A young man named John Darby began to be a student of hers, and in 1830 he published her theory. Darby was a leader of the Plymouth Brethren, and the father of a theological system called “Dispensationalism.” Margaret McDonald had said that only a select group of believers would be taken at the rapture, but Darby expanded this to include all believers. He spent much of his time speaking, traveling, and writing about this new theory, which was very controversial at the time. But the idea of a rapture of the church really became popularized when C. I. Scofield published his Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. Which means that less than 100 years ago most Bible believing Christians knew nothing about a pre-tribulational rapture. But it was not long until Scofield’s notes promoting Dispensationalism, and the pre-tribulational rapture in particular, became nearly equal with Scripture for many. In recent years Hal Lindsey has published several books like The Late Great Planet Earth making the theory even more widely known and accepted. More recently, the Left Behind series has continued the stir.
Many people assume that Christians have always believed this, and are surprised to know that belief in a rapture of the church prior to the tribulation is a very recent development in Christian history. The Bible is very clear about the reality of the second coming of Jesus Christ. You will remember that after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the disciples stood there with their mouths open as they watched Jesus rise into heaven before them. But two angels suddenly appeared and said to them: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). And we could cite many more verses regarding what the Bible says about the Second Coming. But the rapture (that is, the taking up of the church before the Great Tribulation) has very little, if any, biblical support.