Riddlebarger On The Rapture

Many Protestants have historically seen this event [i.e., “the rapture”] as one aspect of the general resurrection at the end of the age (1 Cor. 15:50–55; 1 Thess. 4:13–5:11). The rapture, therefore, refers to the catching away of believers who are living at the time of Christ’s bodily return to earth. When they are caught away in the resurrection, they join those who have died in Christ. While these two resurrection passages are often used by dispensationalists as biblical proof texts for a sudden and secret rapture, historically, Protestants have believed that both texts speak instead of the resurrection of believers from the state of life or death to glorification at the return of our Lord.

Kim Riddlebarger | A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 30.


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  • Tony Phelps
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    Tony grew up in Rhode Island. He was educated at BA (University of Rhode Island) and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He worked in the insurance industry for ten years. He planted a PCA church in Wakefield, RI where he served for eleven years. In 2015–18 he pastored Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Colorado Springs. He is currently pastor of Living Hope (OPC). Tony is married to Donna and together they have three children.

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  1. I hear the term “Secret Rapture” used often in this discussion, but I have never heard a Dispensationalist use it (although I don’t listen to many), can you share what is meant by “Secret Rapture”? As I understand it, both Amil’s and Dispy’s believe in a rapture, why are only latter coined with the secret qualifier?

    • Grant,

      1. You should read Kim’s book. He documents his claims.
      2. Jeramie Rinne writes:
      3. The doctrine of the secret rapture emerged during the early 19th century through the teachings of John Nelson Darby (1800–1882). Darby was one of the early leaders of the Plymouth Brethren movement, and his teachings became known as “dispensationalism.”

        Darby’s dispensationalism distinguished sharply between Israel and the church. The former was earthly, he believed, and the latter heavenly. God had two distinct peoples and separate plans for each. Thus Darby understood Old Testament prophecies as applying only to Israel, the earthly people of God. Rather than “spiritualizing” such prophecies, he expected a literal fulfillment of God’s promises to literal Israel. So when, according to dispensational thought, would God fulfill his prophecies to Israel? During the millennium (Rev. 20:1–8) after Jesus’ second coming.

        So in order for God to resume these plans for Israel, Darby believed, God would first need to remove the church from the world. Hence arose the need for the secret rapture. Darby had in effect proposed something new: a two-stage return of Jesus. Jesus would first come to “rapture” the church, and then return again in visible glory.1

        Darby’s views spread rapidly, especially in the United States. The dispensational system, including the secret rapture, was disseminated through prophecy conferences and received support from evangelists like D. L. Moody and Billy Sunday. By far the most important boost for Darby’s teaching, however, came from the Scofield Reference Bible. Scofield’s work became the English standard for fundamentalist, Bible-believing Christians in the early 20th century, and in the process exposed thousands of readers to the secret rapture through his dispensational-informed study notes.

        The secret rapture doctrine continued to gain steam in the latter half of the 20th century, and the advent of modern Israel in 1948 seemed a clear sign that God was restarting his plans for Israel. The rapture must be close! Books like Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth and movies like A Thief in the Night further popularized dispensational teaching. And then there are the Left Behind novels, which have sold millions of copies and captured the imagination of a new generation.

        The rise and spread of the secret rapture teaching is a remarkable story. In just a century and a half, a previously unknown doctrine has become a central eschatological hope for millions.

      4. Do you remember Thief in the Night? It was wildly popular in the 70s. Every youth group watched it. Mike Horton (whose family ran a Christian youth camp) still has nightmares from it.
      5. Then there’s Larry Norman’s “I Wish They’d all Been Ready,” which was the theme song for the film, Thief in the Night.
      6. Part of the discontinuity is between what popular Dispensationalists/-ism taught and what Dispensational profs came to teach (they bailed on the doctrine). I address that here.
      7. It is widely taught and held among Dispensationalists (at least at a popular level) thus, I started speaking up about it, did people want talk to me about it E.g.,
      8. Interview With TruNews’ Rick Wiles: On The Secret Rapture
      9. With Pilgrim Radio On “Left Behind” And Predictions Of Christ’s Return
  2. Dr. Clark,
    The link shows the author’s name as Jeramie Rinne.
    Dr. Riddlebarger has been so helpful towards clarifying difficult portions of scripture and years of confusion on these topics.
    Thanks for your work as well.

  3. In my research on the rapture and dispensational theory I discovered that the real author of it was a Jesuit, Francisco Ribera, who spread it in 1585, and Emmanuel LaCunza also spread it later in his writing under the name Ben Ezra, around the late 1780’s 1790’s. The Synod of Dort was aware of this theory when it wrote their commentary on the bible called the ANNOTATIONS and described it as repugnant in the commentary on 2Thessalonians 2. I saw the old picture/ page of this document and read it. I believe this was written around the 1620’s. The Reformers were aware of this heresy but most people were convinced of the papacy being the seat of the antichrist for centuries. Cardinal Bellermine, contemporary of Ribera backed this interpretation as well. I don’t have any documents proving this but have read it in various books. Historicists know this account.

  4. On p.171 of the expanded edition of the book, Kim R. credits Ken Jones in describing the Dispensational secret rapture view as being akin to a “cosmic dog whistle”–only the elect will hear the shout, hear the voice, see the dead rising, see the Lord in the air, etc. Not exactly the global public event described in I Thess. 4.

    Incidentally, I’ve always found it curious that our textualist Dispensational brothers and sisters fasten so firmly to the Vulgate terminology “rapture” rather than to the lexical form of the Greek term in 4:17, “harpazo.”

    • Rob,

      This is interesting. The influence of the Vulgate on the history of English translations is very interesting too. Typically, when there is an odd translation in the KJV, in my experience, it is traceable to the influence of the Vulgate.


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