The Secret Rapture

Strategicresourcetraining   -  

by Bruce Billington


Revelations 4:1-2- “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things. Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.”

What does the secret rapture mean – that sometime before the visible return of the Lord to this earth, He will secretly come for all the true believers and they will suddenly and secretly vanish of the earth. Life on earth will continue.

This rapture is said to take place either 7 years before the visible return of the Lord or 3 1/2 years before in the midst of the tribulation. Either way, it is to happen just before an unprecedented time of tribulation that will come upon the earth when there will be a rule of Antichrist and God will pour out His wrath and judgment upon the earth, but the true Christians will not be here. They will have been taken to heaven.

If this theory is true, then we need to consider it very carefully. If it is false, we must ask ourselves how we ever came to believe such a thing. Why has it been so strongly presented and, if it is false so what – does it have a negative effect upon us as Christians today?



According to the Dispensationalists, the secret rapture is described as the first stage when Christ comes for the church and that the second stage is when Christ returns in judgment. The viewpoint that is present is that John at the point we read (Chapter 4) is actually taken into heaven (typifying what will happen to the church). Everything that follows from then on in the book of Revelation all happens after the Church has been taken out of the world. Meanwhile there is a preparation of the bride in heaven and Jesus will return with them after a period of 7 years.

Most commentators and theologians do believe in a rapture of the church. The word rapture is not found in scripture, but it refers to a taking up – at the coming of Christ believers will rise to meet Him in the air. It is acknowledged that scripture teaches this clearly.

The issue is not “will there be a rapture” but rather “when will it take place.”

Question- Does this happen when Christ visibly returns to earth -which obviously He is going to do – or does it happen secretly either 7 or 3 1/2 years before the visible appearing of the Lord?

There is not a single verse in the Bible that upholds the secret rapture theory. There is no scripture for a pretribulation rapture! The scriptures that the proponents of the secret rapture theory use most are called the “thief” scriptures. The scriptures which refer to the true believers being taken out like a thief in the night etc. Here are examples

Matthew 24:42-44 “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.”

1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 – “For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.”

Both these scriptures refer to the coming of the Lord and use the illustration of a thief in the night. Jesus will secretly steal away His Church.

But nowhere in the Bible does it say that Jesus will act as a thief! In fact, to the contrary the Lord says it is the devil who is a thief and a robber. When the scriptures refer here to “as a thief” this is meaning secretly concerning time.

So, coming as thief has to do with the unknown nature of when it will take place. In fact, Matthew 24 is clearly talking about time. It does not say that He will act as a thief. He does not do anything that is underhand – this is totally foreign to His nature.

What these passages tell us is that the arrival of Christ is certainly going to be unexpected but the effect of His arrival, the impact of it will be very dramatic and evident and powerful. The timing will be secret but certainly when it happens it will be no secret. It will be loud, dramatic and powerful.

This can be seen in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 – it is sudden destruction and they shall not escape – where is the secret in this?

2 Peter 3:10“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and it’s works will be burned up.”

Here we have another thief scripture. Look at the results of this time. Where is the seven-year period here? There is going to be a dramatic happening here! See this further:

2 Peter 3:3-4“Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”

Here are some people who are going around making fun and mockery of others – and laughing about the second coming – Peter gives an explanation for this in verse 9 – The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Question – Who are the scoffers scoffing at (2 Peter 3:3) if the Christians aren’t there? If they have just been raptured? The scripture says that while they are scoffing (the Christians) sudden destruction comes upon the earth – where’s the rapture here?

Revelation 3:3 – “So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore, if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.”

Note the word thief here. These thief passages do not really speak of a rapture at all.

Revelation 16:15“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.

Here it is even stronger – note again “He comes as a thief”, He does not act as one.
What is of utmost importance here – the verses that immediately follow on describe the judgment of God.

Jesus is coming as a thief in the final climax of the ages – not seven years before.

Revelations 16:16-21 – “And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon. Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.”

This all comes immediately after Jesus saying He was coming as a thief.

Point – the emphasis placed upon the thief passages to prove there is a seven year earlier taking away of the church, do not stand up to close examination. These passages do not refer to a secret stealing away of the Christians but rather to the secret timing of Christ’s return – when He returns the saints will rise to meet Him in the air and immediately there will be poured out the final judgment of God upon the earth. Thus, this rapture is something that occurs at the time of the visible appearing of Christ. No indication is given that the Church will be removed at a 7 or 3 1/2-year period before hand.



1 Thessalonians 4:13-18“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

Those who believe the tribulation to come upon the world will be so great that Christians will not be able to survive have the idea that the tribulation is going to be so bad that as Christians we could not possibly stay here.

But Paul is talking to the believers who will be alive and remaining when these things happen – a group of people who are on earth. Paul is addressing himself to the Christians of that day discussing the possibility that this might happen in their time.

Does verse 16 sound like a secret rapture? To the contrary it describes an incredible amount of noise – trumpets blasting, people shouting, graves breaking open – what an event!!

Paul is talking about a one final act of God where Christians on earth, serving God and standing for God, suddenly, unexpectedly, will suddenly rise to meet the Lord in the air!! This isn’t any secret event that no- one is going to know about. There is nothing secret or silent about it. It is going to be a noisy show.

Jesus’ Teaching on Secret Rapture
1. John 16:33“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

The Lord promised us tribulation in this world, not escape from it. This is contrary to the heart of the secret rapture theory which promises escape from tribulation.

However, He promises us that in the midst of that tribulation we will be kept. Church history verifies this. The Church has faced incredible tribulation from time to time just as Jesus said – so much so that it is almost hard to imagine. To say that the Church gets spared from tribulation denies the extent of what has happened down through the ages.

2. Countless numbers of Christians down through the ages have been put to death in the most horrific ways imaginable – burnt at the stake; tortured whilst being kept alive as long as possible; nailed to the cross, to name a few. How can there be any worse ways than what many thousands, of these dear saints have gone through? Where was their rapture? Where was their sudden lifting out of all the pain and agony? Death was the only relief they got.

Still today, many Christians are suffering for their faith in other parts of the world.

3. The Lord Never Said the Church would be removed before the end of time.

John 17:15-20 (KJV) – “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one…..I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word.”

Jesus covers the whole period of Church history here. He prays that WE WILL NOT BE TAKEN OUT OF THE WORLD!! Why would Jesus would pray a prayer that was contrary to what He and the Father intended to do!

On the contrary, Jesus actually warned against the idea of some secret coming!!

Matthew 24:23-27 –  “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.”

Here the Lord is warning people against the idea of some hidden, secret appearing. He then goes on to tell them how they can be sure (verse 27).

Question – What is His coming going to be like? It is going to be like lightning that shines out of the east and goes all the way to the west. There is nothing very secret about this. The Lord says if people are talking about some secret or exclusive coming DO NOT BELIEVE IT!!

Matthew 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Here is another passage of scripture which I believe has been given a far too narrow meaning. Jesus says “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Question – Does this promise run out seven years before His return? No – it is right to the end of the age or world. The Church is going to remain until the end of the age – not seven years short of it.


Typology of Teaching of Jesus

1) Luke 17:26-27 – “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.”

When did the flood destroy them all? It was on the day that Noah entered the ark. Note how life was going on perfectly normal – society operating as it always has then suddenly the moment comes. Noah enters the ark and the heavens open and the floods of judgment fall upon the earth and destroyed them all.

This parable has often been used to support the rapture theory on the basis that Noah was lifted out just before the time of tribulation. This scripture illustrates clearly that Noah was lifted out as the final judgment came upon the earth. There is no secret rapture here. Rather it supports God coming for His Church and then judgement following immediately after.

Luke goes on to talk about two people in the field – one will go, and one will be left behind; two in bed – one will go, one will be left behind and so on. There is no contradiction here. This is exactly what will happen, but it will be in the final act of time when Christ comes, and the judgment of God comes. One (believer) will immediately meet the Lord in the air and judgement of God will come down on the others (unsaved) who remain. Nothing here indicates that it is a separation that will take place seven years after some other event.

These verses do not support any idea of a “secret” rapture but merely speak of the separation of the just and the unjust at the end of time.

2) Luke 17:28-29 – “It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.”

This is about the days of Lot. Here we have a similar story to the one of Noah we have just looked at – the point we need to see is when did the destruction of Sodom happen? It happened the same day that Lot went out of Sodom. Now NOTE WHAT VERSE 30 SAYS!! “It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.” First Lot is delivered than immediately afterwards judgement comes down upon the city.

By way of typology Lot is often claimed to represent righteousness. Note that he was not taken out of Sodom seven years before – he was taken out and immediately, in fact on that day (verse 29), destruction fell upon the city. Let’s follow this point on a little further:

2 Peter 3:11-12 – “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!”

It is clear here that Peter is talking to Christians on this earth and shows quite some concern about what type of people they are and how they are responding to the word of God because there is coming a time of accountability. This day is when the heavens are going to be on fire and be dissolved – not some prior occasion succeeded by a later dissolving of the heavens and the earth. He is talking about, and to, people who were looking for a particular day.

Question – why would Peter talk to people about such a day if they weren’t going to be there? It would be a waste of time. No-one is going to be looking for a day if they had gone away 7 years before. I want to suggest they were looking for a day because that day was going to come. Let’s go back to the Apostle Paul: –


2 Thess 1:4-10 – “therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marvelled at among all who have believed — for our testimony to you was believed.”

Note these people were enduring persecutions and afflictions – not only was this going to continue but they were told why.

Where was their rapture?

We cannot deny that this Church was facing terrible persecution. Then Paul comes Paul and tells them that they will receive rest from their troubles (verse 7-8).

Question – When are they going to rest from their troubles? – The answer is rest will not come until the day of judgement arrives upon the earth – not seven years before! Nothing here indicates there is a secret removal of believers finding rest in the presence of God so many years before the final judgement of God.



1) There will be one final climax of the ages.
2) The Church will endure tribulation and testing but will stand firm in the midst of it.
3) Christ will suddenly appear as a thief in the night but with a shout and a trumpet and much noise. 4) At this point the righteous arise to meet Christ in the air.
5) At this point judgement will fall upon the unrighteous.

The Scriptures teach these points clearly and consistently. There is NO SECRET RAPTURE either seven years or three and a half years before Christ returns to bring judgement.

The Church is going to remain on earth right till the end of time and the climax of the ages, under whatever protection Christ, the head of the Church, gives to His bride. In the world we will have tribulation but fear not for Jesus has overcome the world.


Question – If this is the case where did this secret rapture arise from? Let’s look at some important points we need to know about the secret rapture theory:

1) It is a doctrine that was not taught prior to the year 1830.

2) The idea of this rapture arose in a church meeting in March in a church pastored by a man called Edward Irving. At this meeting a Miss Margaret McDonald spoke as though in a vision and gave a prophecy about a coming of Christ – a special secret coming in which Christ would come and rapture those who were truly ready and looking for His return. Those who were left would go through the tribulation period.

3) This particular utterance, and the idea was taken up by J.N. Darby who was the founder of the Brethren movement. It needs to be understood that many prominent Brethren leaders of the day rejected the idea.

4) Following Darby’s lead however, a man by the name of C.H. Mackintosh who was a writer in those times using his initials (CHM), spread this idea greatly.

5) Dr. C.I. Scofield who was the author of the Scofield Reference Bible, included this teaching in that particular reference Bible. The strange thing is that since then this idea has been propagated by numerous Pentecostal preachers and writers as if it has always been part of Bible teaching. Yet it was unknown prior to 1830.

6) If we go right back through Church history before that time and look at all the works of the many well- known men and women of God during those times we find that not one of them expected the return of Christ to be in two stages nor did any of them ever mention a secret rapture. I include such names a Wycliffe, Luther, Tindale, Latimer, Fox, Calvin, Knox, Wesley to refer to just a few. None ever referred to such a doctrine.

The above 6 points have been largely gleaned from a book entitled “The Incredible Cover Up” by David Macpherson (Logos publication).

Does all of this really matter. Yes – hugely. No theory or viewpoint has done the “true” Church more harm and discredit than this one.



1) The idea of a secret rapture has been instrumental in the deaths of thousands of Christians. A veteran missionary by the name of H.A. Baker, who is the author of several well-known books (e.g. Through Tribulation; Tribulation to Glory; Visions Beyond the Veil etc.) has said that he and others who did not believe in a secret rapture warned Christians in China as the communists began to sweep across the country, that Antichrist and Tribulation would come before the return of Christ. Many people heeded the warning and fled and continued their work elsewhere. Unfortunately, the majority, who believed in a secret rapture before tribulation told the Christians to stay as they could not possibly go through a tribulation – Christ would come and take them away before this happened. So, they stayed and thousands (possibly millions) died at the hands of the communists.

2) There is definitely going to be a rapture but when Christ comes as a thief in the night that is it!! There will be no further seven-year period to make up our minds what to do and to get our life right with Christ – it will then be too late!!

3) The belief of this deeply erroneous theory has caused countless Christians over the last one hundred and fifty years, to refuse to get a job with a future; buy a home; teach their children in the ways of God; get involved in the world with a transformational message, to name but a few tragic points.

All of this because they believed that the Lord was about to return and take us all out of here and leave the world to the unsaved.” Sadly, the Bible teaches exactly the opposite – we are to endure until the end.

We should always be ready for the return of Christ, and indeed only He knows when it shall be, yet our security does not lie in an early return of the Lord, nor a secret rapture. Our only security lies in a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. To this end we need to check our own lives on a daily basis.


In Memory
I give much credit and gratitude to my dear friend and colleague Trevor Chandler for his help in my putting this together. He has now gone to his well-earned place in the presence of the Lord.