If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of being robbed by a thief in the night, you probably noticed two things (too late): 1) the burglar came in on tiptoes and didn’t make much noise, and 2) he showed up when you didn’t expect him. These are the twin hallmarks of good thieves – unpredictability and quiet!
The concept of a secret rapture is framed within this motif of a thief, as we find in I Thess. 5:2: For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. There’s some more metaphorical midnight mentioned in the great Second Coming chapter, Matthew 24, where Jesus warns: Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Clearly, the Second Coming being unexpected – like a thief – is reality! Despite some of Revelation’s very descriptive language of great tumult and tribulation in the time of the end, Jesus pointedly reveals that there will be a dangerous false sense of security and normalcy near the moment of his return. People will be eating, drinking, partying, working, and getting married – the usual stuff. And when the attention of most is diverted, the moment of judgment will come.
But does this also mean that the secret thief will be a quiet thief? Will only a select number of Christians be silently raptured to heaven, leaving cars without drivers and airplanes with empty seats . . . to borrow from the hugely popular Left Behind story line?
The weight of evidence is no! Verse after verse describes the Second Coming as global, vivid, loud, sky-filling, and unmissable!
Matt. 24:30, 31: [All the nations of the earth] will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
Rev. 1:7: Look, he is coming in the clouds, and every eye shall see him.
I Thess. 4:16: For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command [with a shout, KJV], with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
So it seems the return of Jesus will be unexpected – like a thief – but gloriously, thunderously vivid – unlike a thief!
Two more points. Matt. 24 does contain the “random lottery” imagery that lends itself to rapture theology. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. But this says nothing about a surreptitious secreting away of selected saints; rather, it reinforces the gospel truth that when Jesus comes, some will be ready and others won’t.
Secondly, proponents of the secret rapture draw upon the Old Testament book of Daniel, chapter 9, where the prophet Daniel is told by the angel Gabriel after his disturbing dream: Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people (9:24). This 490-year time prophecy, foretelling the baptism and sacrifice of Jesus, is the object of a lot of good study! But some interpreters take the 70th of those seventy weeks, separate it from the rest of the prophecy, and put the final seven “days” or years two thousand years later down at the end of time. (This is sometimes called the “gap” theory.) In this scenario, a secret rapture begins this final week of tribulation, with seven years given by God for unsaved people, those “left behind,” to still accept God’s kingdom.
Despite the popularity of these prophecy media projects, the weight of Bible evidence and careful prophetic study seems to be that the Second Coming is one singular and cataclysmic event that will be witnessed live by every person on this planet – and that salvation is offered now, today, for those who will accept it.