The Rapture: A Very Short Explanation

by Brenda W. Clough

The trick to explaining something complex is to find the right analogy – and keeping half of it in the links.  The Christian concept of The Rapture, widely publicized as taking place today,  is surely complex.  But I think I have a helpful entry analogy for the denizens of this blog.  It is Star Wars.  Yes!  Christianity is like Star Wars!    In which an thrilling and unique event (the first movie) some time ago (1977) engendered not only other works (movies, novels) of varying usefulness and importance (comic books, Lego battle cruisers, the Wookkieepedia)  until you finally get out into the far fields of fanfic , flamewar, and cultural commentary.

The Rapture is one of those items out at fanfic distance.   What you believe about it probably makes no difference at all to anything. The center of Christianity is way further in.  That you hear a lot about Rapture, that there are best-sellers on the subject, does not change this.  I may be the first person to ever draw the comparison between Santa Claus and “Jar-Jar Binks Must Die”  – two memes universally popular in the wider culture, but with only the most tenuous connection to anything core.

So!  With the clear understanding that we are sitting in a bar out at the edge of the Empire, discussing the specialty Hutt cocktails on offer at the Mos Eisley Cantina, let’s learn about the Rapture.

Christians hold that everything was created by God.  Furthermore, the universe is a finite creation, like a symphony, with a clear beginning and a definite end.  Since we haven’t come to the end yet, there is much debate about how that’s going to come down, but we are told that it’s going to end in fire, not ice – a big finale with lots of SFX and a John Williams score, not a petering out to a slow fade.

Star Wars fans distinguish clearly between things that are Word of God (i.e. George Lucas movies) and things that are slightly less canonical, like comic books and Happy Meal toys.  Christians rank their materials too, and so for data on the End Times we go first to the Bible.  The events that are on the schedule for the End include the return of Jesus, the raising of the dead, the final judgment, the logging off and shutting down of this universe, and the creation of a new heaven and earth, presumably with more RAM and unlimited wireless.  Somewhere in there may also be the Millennium (a thousand years of peace under Christ’s rule), a Tribulation (unpleasant payback period for nonbelievers) and the Rapture.  This last is specifically defined as the ‘catching up’ of all real believers into Heaven, leaving all the rejects behind.

The big problem with the texts is that the events they describe may well be allegorical or figurative.  Nor, since they are scarfed up from all over the Bible, are they laid out in any particular order.  Many people have tried to impose logic on the End Times material, noting for instance that a Rapture combines nicely with the Tribulation, which can thus take place while True Believers are not on hand to be annoyed by it.  On the other hand a Rapture followed by a Millennium might mean that we miss a lot of fun.  An eye-glazingly huge number of finely-divided categorizations of these doctrines are named, charted and discussed in Wikipedia, to which I gratefully refer you if you want technical detail.

More sadly, the unclarity of the Final Schedule has allowed a number of scams, wackabirds, and mass hallucinations to take place over the centuries, to great hilarity.  I advise the reader to avoid all of them.  Remember I said that Christians rank their materials too?  Well for us Word of God is, uh huh you guessed it, the word of God.  Jesus himself says “No one knows the day or the hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” (Matthew 24:36)  Do you see what this means?  The main man, the founder and arbiter of Christianity, is saying even He’s not on the need-to-know roster.  Word of God: NOBODY knows the big day.  And therefore, anybody who tells you that they know is so full of it their eyes are brown, and should be avoided.  (I’m looking at you, Pat Robertson!)  All the obsessive discussion of how the details are going to work is blue-sky speculation, on the level of the Jedi training of Luke Skywalker’s grandchildren’s dog.

So, whenever these issues tax your belief or cause you stress, chill.  Look, right now, at the lower right-hand corner of your screen.  What time is it — is May 21 over yet?  Hey, the world still has not ended!  Have a Jabba Jiggle, and let’s enjoy the band.

My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out exclusively from Book View Press.

I also have stories in Book View Cafe’s two steampunk anthologies, The Shadow Conspiracy and The Shadow Conspiracy II, as well as in BVC’s many other anthologies.

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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.

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The Rapture: A Very Short Explanation — 9 Comments

  1. Brilliant — and so sensible! Saves all that time arguing about details, and fun to boot. I usually just jump to “Nobody knows the day or the hour” and try to change the subject.

    Of course, today was predicted by an 89 year old man who has already done this dog-and-pony-show two or three times (and been wrong, of course.) I figure if he happens to be right this time, he’s estimating for himself. At his age, he’s quite likely guessing his own Rapture date, and that’s a normal game at that point in your life.

    The question is, will there be a big enough earthquake today for him to say See! See! The fact that there are hundreds of earthquakes every day probably will hold no water with him.

    Thank you for an excellent start to the day!

  2. I have said elsewhere that, as this is my mother’s birthday, I am damned certain she disapproves of all this noise distracting people from their proper appreciation of her.

    On the other hand, if 144,000 people are bodily transported into heaven, think of what that would do for the economy! That’s 144.000 jobs opening up immediately. It’s not a solution, but it’s a start.

  3. Actually the Rapture is a modern, American Fundamentalist belief, not a generic Christian one. (The Second Coming is the generic Christian one. The differences are — not few.)

  4. Well, and to add to the complexity, belief in the Rapture is not a significant part of Christianity. Entire branches (such as mainline Catholicism) do not believe in a Rapture, literal or otherwise. Belief in Rapture ties into one small segment that gets identified as dispensationalists, which then gets further divided into premillenial and postmillenial dispensationalists (is your head spinning yet?).

    And then there’s those of us out there who don’t go for it at all, who are amillenialists. Like most mainstream Catholics (now whacko Catholic eschatology is still another strange breed of cat, especially when it ties into Marian apparitions. I don’t think they’ve incorporated Rapture into their concepts yet, but the Three Days of Darkness is in and of itself a rather sfnal/horror construct in and of itself. I don’t really think there’s an equivalent in premillenial dispensationalism).

    I have to wonder about Islamic eschatology. I’ve skimmed enough to know it’s there. Just can’t cite what it’s all about.

  5. And Jewish. The Jews were first out the gate with an End Times plan (see the book of Daniel).
    I don’t believe that a person in a hundred knew anything about The Rapture until the Left Behind books became best sellers in the 90s. That moved the concept from nutbar territory out into the zeitgeist.

  6. Today’s date: May 22. The Interwebs are filling up with a tremendous variety of post Rapture humor (there are many variations on the “While You Were Out” notices informing you that your Rapture was unable to be delivered today) but this choose-your-own Apocalypse is nice: http://www.slate.com/id/2295187/?wpisrc=obinsite
    You can select five features of your favorite End!

  7. Mary, while I think you’re right about the Rapture specifically (I remember hearing about it somewhere in about 1980, when I was living in a very fundamentalist part of Ohio), the idea that “God is going to end the world on THIS DATE” goes back to at least the Middle Ages, if not earlier. People have argued that early Christians believed the world would end in their times, since the Messiah had come. And it’s probably also in other religious traditions as well.

  8. And if you examine the words of Jesus closely, he seemed to predict the end too (“This generation shall not pass before…”). However, He gracefully covered Himself by immediately swinging into the “But no man knows the date” statement. The fact is that (like this very blog!) the Bible was assembled over a long period of by many different writers, not all of whom were closely consulting each other and many of whom were doing quite different things. You could go through all the entries in this blog and find many, many points of outright contradiction between us all. (But, Steve told us to write a short story a day! How can Laura Anne tell us to write a short story a week?!?) You have to step back and look at the macro.