November 21, 2002
volume 13, no. 141

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The Rapture Virus

    Infectious - But Not for the Informed Catholic

The Rupture that is the Rapture: Part One of Three Parts

"This climate of malaise, combined with an ignorance about what the Church teaches on the end times and Christ's second coming, is leaving many Catholics vulnerable to the sensationalist theory of rapture. I am convinced that the Catholic interest in the Left Behind drama results more from a psychological crisis and general sense of insecurity that has left persons grasping for a simplistic demagogic answer than from any serious explanation of Scriptures."

    The Protestant illusion of the Rapture, hatched in heresy in recent times, has ruptured many souls, infecting their perception of Eschatology, and consequently their Faith. If one truly knows their Catholic Faith, the Rapture will not capture their attention. Indeed, their attention should be focused on the Four Last Things - the Novissima: DEATH, JUDGMENT, HEAVEN AND HELL!

    "I think I'll write something on the Rapture," I recently told Mr. Atila Guimarães, whose next volume of his Collection on the Second Vatican Council I am translating right now. "I had a call from a Catholic lady who believes in it because she says it is in Scriptures."

    "The Rupture from what?" he asked.

    "No, rapture, the Rapture. Surely you've heard of it."

    But no, he had not. Coming from Brazil, the country with the largest Catholic population in the world, he had never heard of the peculiar theory. It seems this evangelical Protestant invention is largely confined to America, where it has spread to such proportions that it was recently the cover of Time magazine (July 1, 2002). It does seem strange that in our country so many people have bent their ears to this bizarre conjecture. I won't inquire here into all the causes for the general interest. I only intend to refute, from a Catholic point of view, its main lines.

    Nor will I attempt to differentiate and discuss the many different types of rapture,

    1. The discussion among many Protestant denominations centers around Christ's second coming and the beginning of His supposedly 1000-year-reign on earth. With regard to Christ's coming, there are three currents: pre-millennial, a-millennial, and post-millennial. Pre-millennial Evangelicals believe his second coming will occur before the reign. Divergences in this group include the pre-tribulationism, mid-tribulationism, and post-tribulationism , the argument being over whether Christ will "rapture" the Protestant people 7 years before, 3 1/2 years before, or after the period of tribulation when the Antichrist would be reigning. Regarding the place where they will go after the rapture, the differentiation continues. Some think the "believers" will be taken to heaven. Others think that people will not go to heaven but to some mysterious place midway between heaven and earth. Regarding the number of people to be raptured, some think all the "believers" will be raptured, others say only a part. In short, there are innumerable divisions and diversions in the Protestant thinking on this topic, as in any other Protestant matter (David B. Currie, Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic San Francisco: Ignatius, 1996, pp. 180-3). Since Protestantism was born as consequence of a sin against the unity of the Church, it is not surprising that its followers have been chastised with a fundamental lack of unity in doctrine.
but will summarize the better know theory popularized by the best-selling Left Behind series, that is, the Pre-millennial Dispensationalist brand, which would seem to have evolved only in the 19th century. The word itself was coined by John Nelson Darby, a leader of a British sectarian group, the Plymouth Brethren. The end times preaching of this rabid anti-Catholic took hold on his numerous trips to America and Canada (1859-1874). The scriptural interpretation he developed came to be called Dispensationalism and formed the base for much of what was emerging as Protestant Evangelicalism.
    2. Glimmerings of the theory appeared with the Boston Puritan minister Increase Mather (1639-1723), who wrote of the saved being "caught up in the air" 3-1/2 years before Christ judged the world. A Chilean Jesuit named Manuel Lacunza published a work in 1812 in which he theorized that Our Lord would take up the faithful who regularly received Communion and keep them with Him safe for 45 days during a period of terrible chastisement. This book was translated into English in 1827 by Edward Irving, minister of the Protestant Church of Scotland. Irving's work would appear to be the basis for Darby's development of the Rapture theory. Paul Thigpen, The Rapture Trap: A Catholic Response to 'End Times' Fever (West Chester: PA: Ascension Press, 2001), pp. 143-5.

What is the Rapture?

    What is the essence of the Protestant rapture? Sometime soon, Christ will come to earth to secretly "catch up" - rapture - all the "true believers," which would not include the "doctrinally misled" Catholics, of course. The "chosen" Protestants could then escape the seven terrible years of tribulation, which will see the rise and rule of the Antichrist. At the end of the seven years, Christ will come down to earth, defeat the Antichrist, the Jews will convert, and Christ will reign in Jerusalem for 1,000 years.

    These basic ideas have been "embellished" with other elements to add a more sensational and dramatic tone to impress the naïve. The trimmings have been applied primarily by the dissemination in the United States of the Left Behind series co-authored by anti-Catholic evangelicals Tim F. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, who published the first volume in 1995. Purportedly based on the Apocalypse, the nine volumes have sold some 32 million copies, and spawned a Left Behind movie, children's books, and a whole profitable industry of products. The tenth book of the 12-volume series, called The Remnant, was released this summer with 2.75 million hardbound copies.

    The Left Behind drama begins with the sudden disappearance of all the Protestant "true believers," who leave behind neatly folded piles of clothing, jewelry, glasses, and dental fillings. Planes crash in the air as "elect" pilots disappear, and vehicles collide on the ground as "true believer" drivers mysteriously vanish. Those left behind include all Catholics, except for an ecumenical Pope whose new doctrines are very similar to the Luther heresy and some closet Evangelicals. The next nine books chronicle the period of tribulation.

    This religious fantasy is further spiced with some political-economical "prophecies" - actually, shoddy sketches of things that have already happened or been predicted for quite some time, blended with bizarre ideas and Apocalyptic images. In a nutshell: The Antichrist appears amid the panorama of an escalating Arabic-Israeli war and a movement toward a one-world government and currency. To establish his power over the United Nations and find acceptance among the peoples, the Antichrist convinces a naïve Israeli scientist to share his guarded scientific formula that will make crops grow in the desert, a recipe that will eliminate world hunger and poverty. Supported by two international financiers, he outwits the evil duo, takes over the UN, and then murders the money moguls even as he brainwashes the witnesses to "see nothing." So much, then, for the Antichrist.

    Now let me say a word about Israel, which is presented as indisputably good. This Israel is the same elect people of Scriptures. Israel suffers an immense air attack from Russia (the supposed "great enemy from the North" in Ezekiel). But a great wonder occurs: all the attacking aircraft are mysteriously destroyed midair, with no casualties to the Israeli population. So, Israel is "miraculously" preserved, and another prophecy is fulfilled… A period of peace commences. The Jews re-build the Temple, where the Antichrist will blasphemously sit until he is killed, resurrected, and finally displaced by Christ, who will happily reign for 1,000 years over the converted Jews and Christians.

    Thus, for the Protestant authors of Left Behind, the Jews will once again become the primary focus of God's election, just as they were before the Incarnation. According to them, the "Christian age" is simply an intermediate stage in History, between two Jewish ages. In the last and final age (supposedly the epoch right around the corner), God will turn his gaze again to Israel to establish an earthly kingdom there with its capital at Jerusalem. To do this, God has to take the "church" out of the way so He can complete His dealings with the Jews. This explains the "rapture," which "believers" can be expecting any day now. "Dispensationalists see a clear distinction between God's program for Israel and God's program for the church," reads a statement issued by the Dallas Theological Seminary, a leading center for the Rapture theory. "God is not finished with Israel. The church did not take Israel's place. They have been set aside temporarily, but in the end times will be brought back to the promised land, cleansed, and given a new heart."

    3. Rod Dreher, "Evangelicals and Jews together: An unlikely alliance," National Review Online, April 5, 2002.
In summary this is the script for the Left Behind books and film.

The Virus Spreads...

    The nervous passage from the second millennium to the third was accompanied not only by general panic over a potential universal collapse of the computer system (the Y2K phenomenon), but also has borne witness to moral and financial scandals, terrorist attacks, crimes of violence, abortion, euthanasia, etc. All these factors have deeply shaken the lives of individuals and created psychological conditions for the maniacal ideas of rapture to spread, particularly in the United States. We no longer live in the same land of optimism that characterized our country four decades ago.

    This climate of malaise, combined with an ignorance about what the Church teaches on the end times and Christ's second coming, is leaving many Catholics vulnerable to the sensationalist theory of rapture. I am convinced that the Catholic interest in the Left Behind drama results more from a psychological crisis and general sense of insecurity that has left persons grasping for a simplistic demagogic answer than from any serious explanation of Scriptures.

    It seems to me that we are facing a melodramatic epidemic. The antidote for Catholics is simple: to describe it and expose its weak points. This should be enough to break the spell and keep serious Catholic from being vulnerable to the rapture pestilence.

Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.

    Coming in our Special Thanksgiving Week Issue: Part Two of Three Parts.

For past columns by Dr. Horvat in archives, see

    Editor's Note: For more on the inherent problems of the Left Behind phenomena, see Rod Dreher's column from November 18th at National Review Online Afraid You'll Be Left Behind?

November 21, 2002
volume 13, no. 141

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