The Rapture IS Coming TOMORROW: May 21, 2011

I grew up in church.  Not a typical middle class, white picket fence, awkwardly perfect church goin’ family situation, but in church nonetheless.  Most of what I recall from those early childhood and teenage years bring memories of good things.  People genuinely taught me that loving Jesus matters more than anything else in the world.  The world, after all, is corrupt and the place we truly long for is far, far away – heaven.  So we are to love Jesus and hate the world.

Now, this is not hatred toward the people on earth.  I did not grow up going to a church that taught that we ought to tell outsiders how much they suck, but that this “world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.”  World and physicality = bad.  Jesus and spiritual bliss in a distant heaven = goal of the game.

This distinction came with a subset of beliefs about the destiny of God’s world.  Eventually this planet would be destroyed and we Christians would “fly away” to heaven at the rapture of the church.  Certain Christians understood the timing of the rapture as it corresponds to the book of Revelation differently than others, but no one ever denied the imminent return of Jesus to evacuate the church out of earth.   Today, there is a group that believes that they have calculated the exact date of this escape from earth: Saturday, May 21, 2011. This sect does not represent most of those who believe in rapture, but what they have in common is that a day is coming when this world will be “Left Behind.”

What I’ve come to realize is that the church of my youth probably had the rapture all wrong.  You see, the Bible flows from Creation (Gen 1-2) to Renewed Creation (Rev 21-22).  This is the narrative of Scripture.  Nothing in the text (if read in its proper context) alludes to the actual complete destruction of the planet.  This world’s worth to the Creator runs deep and because of this, the world as a whole ought to be intrinsically valuable to us.  Physical / earthly realities such as social injustice, violence, hunger, preventable sickness, and the destruction of nature are invitations to the church of Jesus to get our hands dirty and proclaim that this world matters (even in its broken state)! Christ will complete creation upon his return, uniting heaven and earth for the life of the age to come!

The famous “rapture” passage is found in 1 Thessalonians 4.15-17 and reads:

According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

This passage, when placed in the larger context of the chapter, is answering questions that Christians in Thessalonica had concerning death.  What has happened to our loved ones who have died before the return of Christ to earth? What is theirs and our ultimate destiny? Paul’s answer: bodily resurrection at the return of Christ to earth!  Not an escape into the sky*…

In this passage, Paul borrows two specific images from the Old Testament that would have been familiar to Jewish converts and Gentiles who were familiarizing themselves with the Hebrew tradition.  The first of these that Paul employs in the text has to do with Moses who comes down from Mount Sinai with the Law with the great blast of the trumpet.  The second image is taken from Daniel chapter 7 where the “one like the son of man” and the community he represents is vindicated over the enemies of the people of God.  Clouds here symbolize the power and authoritative judgment of God about the rescue of his people. This idea now seems to be applied to Christians who are facing various forms of persecution.

Brave New Films

Finally, there is a third image in the text that comes from outside of the canonical context.  This is the image of an emperor who visits a city.  The people of that region would have gone out to meet him to usher him into their home in a royal procession out in the open air.  This, Paul seems to apply to the church who will usher in their King into the new creation.**

Rapture, as it is popularly understood, is nowhere to be found in this “rapture” passage.  Christ will return, to resurrect, to purge, to heal, and to ultimately establish the eternal kingdom of God on this earth.  That’s it.

So, will the Rapture happen on this coming Saturday May 21st, 2011?  Well, not the kind of rapture that folks at Family Radio are talking about.  Christ certainly can return whenever he wants, but I am not counting on it this coming week.  I wonder how the Family Radio followers will feel on Sunday?  I pray that rather than lose their faith in Christ, that they will leave behind radical fundamentalism and discover a hope-filled faith of New Creation!

* For a study on the word for “air” in this passage that demonstrates why the common interpretation is probably flawed, go to: The Air ‘Up There’ OR The Air ‘Down Here?’ A Word Study in 1 Thessalonians 4.17 (rapture?).

** N. T. Wright, “Farewell to Rapture,” Biblical Review (August 2001). (accessed October, 2009).

*** All images in this post are to be attributed to this website:

Kurt Willems is an Anabaptist writer and pastor who is preparing for church planting next year by finishing work towards a Master of Divinity degree at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.  He writes at: the Pangea Blog and is also on Twitter and Facebook.

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About the Author

Kurt Willems

Kurt WillemsKurt Willems (M.Div., Fresno Pacific) is the founding pastor of Pangea Communities - a movement of peace, justice, & hope. The church plant, in partnership with the Brethren in Christ and Urban Expression, is based in Seattle, Wa. Kurt writes at The Pangea Blog and is also on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.View all posts by Kurt Willems →

  • Stephen Hopkins

    as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him
    privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what [shall
    be] the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
    And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
    For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
    ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled:
    for all [these things] must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
    nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and
    there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers
    All these [are] the beginning of sorrows.
    Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
    And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
    And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
    And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
    But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.
    And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
    ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by
    Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him
    Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
    Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
    Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.
    And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!
    But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:
    For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
    except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved:
    but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
    Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here [is] Christ, or there; believe [it] not.
    there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew
    great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if [it were] possible, they
    shall deceive the very elect.
    Behold, I have told you before.
    if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth:
    behold, [he is] in the secret chambers; believe [it] not.
    For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
    For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
    after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the
    moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and
    the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
    then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall
    all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man
    coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
    he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they
    shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of
    heaven to the other.
    Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer [is] nigh:
    So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, [even] at the doors.
    Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
    Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
    But of that day and hour knoweth no [man], no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
    But as the days of Noe [were], so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
    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.
    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.
    Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?
    Blessed [is] that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
    Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
    But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;
    And shall begin to smite [his] fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;
    The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for [him], and in an hour that he is not aware of,
    And shall cut him asunder, and appoint [him] his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    Y’all need to pay attention to the Bible more closely, Stop trying to say that you know when the end of the world is!!

    • Stephen Hopkins

       This is Mathew 24, KJV

    • Charlie

      Mr. Hopkins, I am not sure I know who the “Y’all is addressed to in your response, “Y’all need to pay attention to the Bible more closely”, but if you would read Mr. Willem’s post a little more closely, I think you may discover that he agrees with your statement that no man will know the time, and is critiquing this current claim, not agreeing with it.
      Thanks! (smile)

  • Scott

    Too often, fascination with end times prophecy becomes more important than loving and following Jesus. Those who have begun to follow the idol of end times fascination should repent and turn to Jesus!

  • Amen.

  • NiceneJosh

    Kurt, you’re famous! You got on Tony Campolo’s blog! Hello book deal! If I didn’t tell you before, great post.

  • Thanks to everyone who reads this article! Hope you will connect with me on my blog as well!!!!!  Peace.

  • “Moruti” Lutz

    I grew up in the Lutheran Church in Germany and presently serve as Anglican priest in South Africa and if there is one thing many of us (the non-American Christians)  find a bit wierd about American Christians is exactly this rapture thing and pre-or-post-millenial-what-what thingy in their theologies and why on earth they are so peroccupied with that! Thanks Kurt for showing me that there are even americans who perceive how inflated that whole issue is.

    “Moruti” Lutz

    • Dcloewen

      Here, here, Morutzi!

      North American Mennonites are with you.

      • Dcloewen

        Moruti.  My apology. 

  • Shelly

     I remember the obsession with the rapture that was popular when I was a kid in the 80’s. My mother let me watch a series of movies about it from the 70’s (way older than the Left Behind series!) even though I was way too young and it seriously freaked me out. It got me wondering and confused before I was even a double digit! As an adult, I came more to the conclusion that you have discussed above and then stopped worrying about it and trust God to do what He does- the right thing. Somehow all the ‘end times’ stuff seemed a bit out there and not that relevant to my everyday life of faith I have been trying to live!

  • Anonymous

     Kurt’s blog is definitely one of my favorites on my google reader. Was thrilled to see this post on Red Letter Christians and hope to see more from him here.

  • Jim

     Uh .. it’s already tomorrow in Australia!   Good word ….

    • Doug

      Mr Camping says you have until sunset. . .  

      Seriously, this has been such a distraction from the Message of the Kingdom, it is sad. 

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  • Sam

     Just another distraction by the enemy to paint all Christians with the same brush… as kooks. Let’s just make sure we aren’t being used by him to accuse the brethren, and press on with our Lord’s directives.

  • Alan Molineaux

    I always appreciate your work Kurt. Thanks. Al

  • Jasonekk

    Great post kurt!

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  • Winston397

    Harold Camping, Today is May 20, 2011

    “The Comforter” would like to thank Harold Camping and his group for making people aware of the fact that the Rapture Energies are coming and soon there will be the Physical Body Ascensions of those who are ready. 

    You are special people who stood up for God during the End Times. Thus, you still have time to get ready for a Physical Body Ascension and learn how to consciously work with the sun’s Rapture Energies so you are prepared to Ascend at anytime, from anywhere.

    We can teach you how to use Rapture Energies so you can be part of those who leave for the City of Gold in the prophesized Archangelic level Physical Body Ascension Process that will occur before December 21, 2012.

    These 3 steps enable one to begin training at home with Rapture Energies and to partake each week in our Sabbath’s guided visits to the City of Gold.

    · Step One: Free Techniques *
    · Step Two: A Two Day Meditator Class
    · Step three: A Two Day Activator Class

    * Daily usage of our free techniques and a liberal’s lifestyle of properly helping others in need, will enable one to become ready for an Angelic level Ascension on Judgment Day, December 21, 2012.

    Email Classes @ for a calendar of our family’s Classes in your area of the world. 

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  • hiebz

    Doesn’t the Establishment Clause, when taken by its intent, delay the level of intense “persecution” described in Matt. 24?

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  • dan

    The rapture is overrated. Jesus wants us to live in the “now”, not for some possible  future. Do something with Christian love today. 

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