Editor’s Note: A Meridian reader recently wrote this note:
I have a question. The Protestant churches, my Protestant family and friends, especially the Evangelicals are all speaking of “the rapture” and that we are at the very edge of this happening. It is not just a sermon – it is a constant warning.
I would like to see an article in your magazine about our churches teaching about this – I am aware that it is not in our doctrine, but I would like to see someone explain our doctrine. My friends and family really come down on me about this and I don’t know what to say.
Super Bowl Sunday. Thousands of people are seated in the stands watching the top two teams in the nation battle it out for the championship of professional football. Suddenly, food and drink drop to the seats and splash fans with beer, soda, mustard, and catsup. Those who had, moments before, been holding the food and accompanying beverages in their hands, are gone. Half the stands are empty. Worse still, half of each team is no longer on the field or seated on the benches. Some coaches and referees are missing, too, along with a few TV cameramen and broadcasters.
Watching the game from home, you and your guests are surprised that the player for whom the pass was intended is no longer there to catch the ball and the quarterback who threw it is also gone, along with a couple of the players trying to sack him. There is popcorn and soda all over your freshly-cleaned carpet, but your wife, who would normally complain about it as she took out the vacuum cleaner, is nowhere to be seen. Half of your friends have also disappeared.
It’s the Rapture!
What is the “Rapture”?
The term “rapture” is generally used to describe great joy, but in some modern Protestant circles, it is used to refer to being taken up to join Christ in the sky at his second coming. The word is related to “raptor,” and one can picture an eagle swooping down to grab a fish in the water or a hawk descending to snatch a rodent. In the case of Christians, angels would do the snatching.
The idea of being caught up to meet Christ in the air when he returns is based on scripture. For example, Christ said of his second coming, “But as the days of Noe [Noah] were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 24:37-44; cf. Luke 17:34-37).
Another major passage describing this is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep [i.e., the dead], that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1
From this, we see that this event refers to both those who will be resurrected and those who are still alive. This is confirmed in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
The rapture has become a topic of much interest among many Evangelical Christians and many books, articles, and web sites are devoted to the topic. The popular “Left Behind” series of books has even been made into movies
Do Latter-day Saints Believe in the Rapture?
Since the concept of being “caught up” at the time of Christ’s second coming is found in the Bible, it is definitely a Latter-day Saint doctrine, though we do not use the term “rapture” and we do not picture it in the same way. Indeed, Joseph Smith Matthew 1:41-48 reads essentially the same as Matthew 24:37-44 that we read earlier. Several modern revelations also discuss the subject:
“be faithful until I come, and ye shall be caught up, that where I am ye shall be also” (D&C 27:18).
“And he that liveth in righteousness shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and the earth shall pass away so as by fire” (D&C 43:32).
“Wherefore, children shall grow up until they become old; old men shall die; but they shall not sleep in the dust, but they shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye. Wherefore, for this cause preached the apostles unto the world the resurrection of the dead. These things are the things that ye must look for; and, speaking after the manner of the Lord, they are now nigh at hand, and in a time to come, even in the day of the coming of the Son of Man. And until that hour there will be foolish virgins among the wise; and at that hour cometh an entire separation of the righteous and the wicked; and in that day will I send mine angels to pluck out the wicked and cast them into unquenchable fire” (D&C 63:51-54; of the ten virgins who awaited the Bridegroom, only five came fully prepared according to Matthew 25:1-13).
Of the heirs of the telestial kingdom: “Last of all, these all are they who will not be gathered with the saints, to be caught up unto the church of the Firstborn, and received into the cloud” (D&C 76:102).
“And the saints that are upon the earth, who are alive, shall be quickened and be caught up to meet him. And they who have slept in their graves shall come forth, for their graves shall be opened; and they also shall be caught up to meet him in the midst of the pillar of heaven-They are Christ’s, the first fruits, they who shall descend with him first, and they who are on the earth and in their graves, who are first caught up to meet him; and all this by the voice of the sounding of the trump of the angel of God” (D&C 88:96-98).
“And there shall be no sorrow because there is no death. In that day an infant shall not die until he is old; and his life shall be as the age of a tree; And when he dies he shall not sleep, that is to say in the earth, but shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and shall be caught up, and his rest shall be glorious. Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things” (D&C 101:29-32).
“That when the trump shall sound for the dead, we shall be caught up in the cloud to meet thee, that we may ever be with the Lord” (D&C 109:75).
“And then they shall look for me, and, behold, I will come; and they shall see me in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power and great glory; with all the holy angels; and he that watches not for me shall be cut off. But before the arm of the Lord shall fall, an angel shall sound his trump, and the saints that have slept shall come forth to meet me in the cloud” (D&C 45:44-45).
From these passages, we learn that some will be caught up to meet the Lord in the clouds and will descend to earth with him. But even the Saints will not be fortunate enough to entirely escape the great tribulations of that era. 2
The term “caught up” is used in the scriptures to describe others who were either divinely transported, transfigured, or translated. Among those who were “caught up” and saw the heavens are Moses (Moses 1:1), the people of Enoch (Moses 7:27), the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:2-4), and the three Nephites (3 Nephi 28:7-8, 12-15, 36-40). 3 The New Testament account of Philip is interesting because it says that “the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more” (Acts 8:39). Though Philip was not translated, he, like the Saints living at the time of the Lord’s coming, disappeared.
Returning to our Superbowl examples, we find that your wife and buddies have been translated or transported elsewhere. 4 But were they translated correctly? The question is relevant because the scriptures are not clear about what will qualify one to be “caught up” at Christ’s coming in glory. Consequently, while some Protestants believe that all believers in Christ will enjoy this blessing, others believe that one must be “rapture ready” (to which several web sites and books are devoted). Some, however, believe that individuals are predestined by God to be either taken or left behind, by God’s good pleasure alone. Latter-day Saints have no clear teaching about the qualifications for being “caught up,” but we do not believe in predestination. 5 We do, however, acknowledge the rapture, while not employing that term. 6
1 Other Bible passages that seem to allude to others accompanying Christ at his return to earth include Zechariah 14:5.
2 Jesus’ words in John 12:32-33 (cf. 2 Nephi 26:24; 3 Nephi 27:14-15) refer not to the rapture, but to the resurrection. Similarly, the expression “raise up” (rather than “caught up”) in passages such as Hosea 6:2; John 6:40, 44, 54; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:14; Hebrews 11:19; Alma 26:7; 36:28; and 3 Nephi 15:1 refer to resurrection from the dead. It is true that at least some of the righteous dead will be resurrected, then caught up to meet the Lord in the clouds; some of the living will likewise be caught up.
3 See also John A. Tvedtnes, “Translated Beings,” posted on the Meridian Magazine web site, 2005.
4 In the King James version of the Bible, the term “translate” usually means “transferred.” See 2 Samuel 3:10; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 11:5.
5 For a discussion, see John A. Tvedtnes, “Agency vs. Predestination,” posted on the FAIR web site, May 2006.
6 For more on this topic, see Michael Hickenbotham, “Rapture and LDS Theology,” posted on the FAIR web site.