The rapture is a popular belief among some Christians, especially Evangelicals, that before the end of the world, Jesus will come to take away his faithful followers from the earth, while the rest will be left behind to face a period of great tribulation. This belief is based on a literal interpretation of some biblical passages, such as 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and Revelation 20:1-6. However, the rapture is not a Catholic teaching, and there are several reasons why Catholics reject this idea.
The definitive Catholic teaching on the end times is contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church under the discussion of the article of the Creed, "From thence He will come again to judge the living and the dead."³ As the Creed infallibly teaches, the Second Coming is associated with the end of the world and the Last Judgment. There is no mention of a secret or partial coming of Christ before that, nor of a distinction between a rapture and a resurrection. The Catechism states:
The Church's ultimate trial:
Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God's triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world. (CCC 675-677)
The rapture is based on a selective and literal reading of some biblical texts, while ignoring others that provide a balanced and holistic view of God's plan for salvation history. For example, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, which is often cited as proof of the rapture, says:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall 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.
However, this passage does not imply that Christ will take his followers away from the earth permanently. Rather, it uses an ancient imagery of welcoming a victorious king who returns to his city. The faithful go out to meet him and escort him back to his throne. This is confirmed by other passages that describe Christ's coming as visible, glorious, and universal, such as Matthew 24:27-31 and Revelation 1:7:
For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
Furthermore, Revelation 20:1-6, which speaks of a thousand-year reign of Christ and his saints on earth after Satan is bound, does not support the idea of a literal millennium that precedes or follows the rapture. Rather, it is a symbolic way of expressing the victory of Christ over evil and the participation of his faithful in his kingship. The Catechism explains:
The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism. (CCC 676)
The rapture is a relatively recent invention in Christian theology, dating back to the 19th century. It was popularized by John Nelson Darby, a founder of the Plymouth Brethren movement, and later by Cyrus Scofield, who published a widely influential annotated Bible. The rapture has no basis in the writings of the Church Fathers or the teachings of the Magisterium. On the contrary, the Catholic Church has always taught that there is only one Second Coming of Christ, which will coincide with the resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment, and the renewal of all creation. The Catechism states:
The resurrection of all the dead, "of both the just and the unjust," will precede the Last Judgment. This will be "the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man's] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment." Then Christ will come "in his glory, and all the angels with him .... Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.... And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man's relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life:All that the wicked do is recorded, and they do not know. When "our God comes, he does not keep silence."... he will turn towards those at his left hand:... "I placed my poor little ones on earth for you. I as their head was seated in heaven at the right hand of my Father - but on earth my members were suffering, my members on earth were in need. If you gave anything to my members, what you gave would reach their Head. Would that you had known that my little ones were in need when I placed them on earth for you and appointed them your stewards to bring your good works into my treasury. But you have placed nothing in their hands; therefore you have found nothing in my presence."
The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour; only he determines the moment of its coming. Then through his Son Jesus Christ he will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God's justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God's love is stronger than death. (CCC 1038-1041)
The rapture is not a Catholic teaching, nor is it compatible with Catholic doctrine. It is a false and misleading interpretation of Scripture that contradicts the Creed, Scripture, and Tradition. Catholics should not be deceived by this speculation, but rather trust in God's plan for salvation history, which culminates in the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the Last Judgment. As we pray in every Mass: "We await your coming in glory."