The History of Rap ture

Oh, there's a video game, too? This just got real.
Oh, there’s a video game, too? This just got real.

“Ray! Their shoes, their socks, their clothes, everything was left behind! These people are gone!”

-Hattie Durham in Left Behind

Apparently there’s this movie coming out this weekend about the end times from a “Christian” perspective. I know this because a lot of people are blogging about how Rapture teachings are not biblical. Rather than arguing about the bibliosity™ of rapture teaching (the kind of teaching found in books and movies like “Left Behind,” “A Thief in the Night,” and “Late Great Planet Earth”), I thought I’d just make a timeline that shows how we got to thinking like this.* Enjoy!

. . .

years 27-37 ad:  

A peasant, pedestrian, preacher, named Jesus, announces the Kingdom of God, is crucified and resurrected. Implications for the next life are established. (might as well start at the beginning.)

years 70-90ish:  

“The Revelation” is written, the coming of Christ and the end of evil, in an apocalyptic style.

year 100:

Everybody starts predicting the date when Jesus will come back, even though Jesus basically said, “don’t bother.”

years 200ish:

Hippolytus, using “Epistle of Barnabas” logic, names year 500 as Christ’s return. He was wrong.

years 400ish:  

Augustine establishes a spiritualized/symbolic view of Revelation. Dominant view for 1200 years. People more or less stop predicting dates, or figuring out “who” is the Beast. It’s symbolic for evil.

years 1600ish:

“Second generation” protestants like, Johann Alsted and Joseph Mede, start teaching a literal 1000 years, again. Begins the tradition of linking biblical symbols to current events (the Beast = the Pope and the Catholic Church). Alsted calculated the end of the world to be 1694. He was wrong.

years 1700ish: (we’ll be focusing on America from here on out, because that’s where all this stuff happens)

Cotton Mather, Puritan, interprets “Revelation” in light of pilgrim problems. Links Native Americans with the Beast. Predicts the end of the world to be 1697, then 1716, then 1736. He was wrong. Every time.

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years mid-1800s:

William Miller and the “Millerites,” using Daniel 8:14 and 9:25, determine 3/21/1844 as the date of Christ’s return. They were wrong. Redid the math and decided on 10/22/1844. Wrong again. They set more dates: 1845, 46, 49, 51. Wrong every time. Decided to “heavenize” the math so the date was unknowable. They started calling themselves 7th Day Adventists.

John Nelson Darby, using the same Daniel 9 logic, determines a missing age (“week” in Daniel 9) between the end of the former age (7 and 62 “weeks”) and the next age (the 70th “week”). This missing week in Daniel 9 must be the “age” of the church, then the church (the real Christians) will be raptured before the last week (which he determines to be the tribulation). Some people think the rapture will happen mid-week (according to Daniel 9:27). This is the first mention of rapture as Christian teaching. 

year 1909:

Cyrus Ingerson Scofield publishes the Scofield Reference Bible, an annotated KJV Bible, with commentary that reads Darby’s views into all of Scripture. Scofield completes the pre-tribulation rapture dispensationalism story in the footnotes. This is the first printing of the Bible with any sort of commentary in the footnotes. It was a best seller.

year 1970:

Hal Lindsey publishes the non-fiction “The Late Great Planet Earth,” which makes “pre-tribulation rapture dispensationalism” mainstream (more or less). He links current events (Cold War) to biblical prophecy. Lindsey predicts the rapture to happen in 1981. He was wrong, but he kept publishing books, correcting former predictions. I think he’s still publishing books like this?

year 1972:

“A Thief in the Night,” a pre-trib. rapt. disp. Christian end times movie is released. The sounds of electric razors are etched into our trembling psyches.

year 1992:

Growing Pains ends and unleashes Kirk Cameron.

year 1995:

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins begin writing the Left Behind fiction series, and never stop. Further popularizing pre-tribrapdism™.

year 2001:

My co-worker at a burger place tells me she doesn’t go to church, but reads the Left Behind series, so it’s cool.

October 3rd, 2014:

Nicolas Cage stars in Left Behind, the movie. And I will definitely go see it. Probably.

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*I gotta give credit to Dr. Andy Johnson and his class on Revelation at Nazarene Theological Seminary. He does something similar to this timeline, and my notes from that class were extremely helpful in putting this together. All jokes are 100% my own.

  • David Bennett

    You missed Edward Irving. Sorry to be pedantic. I think Irving may have had some influence on Darby, or Darby on him.