April 03, 2011 Q & A

What is the OPC's view on the rapture?


What is the OPC's view on the rapture?


If you've done any reading on the "end times" you know that there are lots of opinions and lots of books! I won't write a book, however.

You may know that the doctrine of the rapture as it is popularly understood in the "Left Behind" series of novels, is actually a very recent teaching. It grew out of a particular kind of teaching about the last things (eschatology), which you have no doubt heard of, called dispensationalism. In that scheme, there are several returns of Christ to the earth. There is a return in which Christ comes back for the church and another return in which Christ comes back with the church. The "Left Behind" series pictures this with Christ returning a first time, removing all the Christians as they are "raptured" out of cars, planes, classrooms, factories, homes, etc. I remember a popular, old Christian song, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" which said "Two men walking up a hill, one disappears and one's left standing still, I wish we'd all been ready". In this scheme the removal of all Christians is an evangelistic tool which God uses to frighten people into turning to Christ because they realize that they were not "ready".

If that is the idea of the rapture which you wonder if the Orthodox Presbyterian Church holds in her standards (the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms) or with her officers (ministers, elders, and deacons), the short answer is, no. The OPC as a denomination rejected the teachings of dispensationalism nearly 75 years ago, although individual non-ordained members may hold to that. Instead the OPC looks to the Bible's very simple and straight-forward way of describing Christ's return: it is visible, personal, and glorious (Acts 1:11). The hinge or key passage is, however, I Thessalonians 4:13-18 in which the apostle Paul describes the return of Christ as the Lord descending from heaven with glory (cf. II Thess. 1:5ff) and taking all living Christians to be with himself for all eternity as there is what is called "the general resurrection". That simply means that those who have died already but had been present with the Lord, absent from their bodies, are reunited with their now-glorified resurrected bodies along with the wicked dead who are raised to dishonor and judgment (see the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapters 32 and 33). The whole church of the redeemed is thus united in glory with Christ at the end of history.

In the sense of I Thessalonians 4:16-17, yes, there is a "catching away" of believers, but it is not the "rapture" idea of popular dispensationalism. This "catching away" is the Shepherd gathering his lambs to himself. There will be no further action or return, no empty seats in planes or cars, simply an end to human history as we know it, the swallowing up of this sin-cursed world in the glory of the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells. We have plenty of evangelistic tools in the gospel of God's free grace found in Jesus Christ and all the power we need for evangelism in the Holy Spirit who can sovereignly convert anyone at anytime in any way he chooses. As well-intentioned as Mr. LaHay and Mr. Jenkins may be, they have written fiction not biblical teaching. If you want to read more, a book you might find is "Christ and the Future" by Cornelius Venema.

I hope this has been helpful and I kept my promise not to write a book! Lastly, the best and only way to be "ready" is to believe the gospel and entrust your life to the Lord Jesus Christ. He keeps forever safe those who trust in him (John 6:39,54, 10:28, etc.).



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