Rapture Theology’s Ominous Origins

by Fr. John A. Peck

Origins of the Rapture actually don’t go back that far, but farther than you may have been taught (if you were taught!).

First of all, the word ‘rapture’ is not even included in the Scriptures, and was unknown as a theology or a doctrine by the Church for well over 1,800 years.Where then did it come from and when did it begin?

Its origins are in the counter reformation move of Papal Rome in the 16th century after Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. It is less well known that the pope at that time authorized three Jesuit Priests to reinterpret Daniel’s 70 weeks of prophecy; the Book of Revelation; and Ezekiel. The goal of these jesuits was to take the heat of the reformation away from the papacy and the protestant association of the Anti-Christ with the pope.   The three Jesuits were:

  1. Francisco Ribera (1537-1591) of Salamanca,
  2. Luis de Alcazar (1554-1621) of Seville, and
  3. Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine (1542-1621).

The doctrine  – called futurism  – which would later become ‘the rapture’ originated and was submitted by Francisco Ribera in 1585. His Apocalyptic Commentary was on the grand points of Babylon and the Anti-Christ which are now known as the rapture doctrine. Ribera’s published work was called “In Sacram Beati Ionnis Apostoli & Evangelistate Apocoalypsin Commentari” (Lugduni 1593). You can still find these writings in the Bodleian Library in Oxford England.  The work was considered flawed and faulty, and was ordered buried in the Church archives, out of sight, by the pope himself.

Unfortunately, over 200 years later a librarian to the Archbishop of Canterbury by the name of S. R. Maitland (1792-1866) was appointed to be the Keeper of the Manuscripts at Lambeth Palace, in London, England. In his duties, Dr. Maitland came across Francisco Ribera’s rapture theology and he had it republished for the sake of interest in early 1826 with follow ups in 1829 and 1830.

This was spurred along with the Oxford Tracts that were published in 1833 to try and deprotestantize the Church of England.   John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) (A Leader of the Plymouth Brethren) became a follower of S.R. Maitland’s prophetic endeavors and was persuaded. Darby’s influence in the seminaries of Europe combined with 7 tours of the United States changed the eschatological view of the ministers which had the trickle down effect into the churches.

Another contributor to the rapture ideology came through Emmanuel Lacunza (1731-1801), a Jesuit priest from Chile. Lacunza wrote the “Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty” around 1791. It was later published in London in 1827. The book was attributed to a fictitious author name Rabbi Juan Josafat BenEzra.

Edward Irving (1792-1834) contended that it was the work of a converted Jew and proved that even the Jewish scholars embraced a pre-tribulation rapture line of thought. It wasn’t long until he had persuaded others to follow his line of thought which gave birth to the Irvingites. However, when chaotic disturbances arose in Irving’s services during the manifestations of these “gifts”, the Church of Scotland took action, dismissing Irving from his position as minister in 1832.

In 1830 during one of Irving’s sessions before his dismissal, a young Scottish girl, named Margaret MacDonald, fell into a trance. After several hours of “vision” and “prophesying” she revealed that Christ’s return would occur in two phases, not just one. Christ would first come visibly to only the righteous, then He would come a second time to execute wrath on the unrighteous in the nations. This rapture was promoted by Irving claiming he, too, had heard a voice from heaven commanding him to teach it.   In March 1830, in Port Glasgow, Scotland, 15 year old Margaret McDonald made claim of her visions. Robert Norton published Margaret’s visions and prophecies in a book entitled, “The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets in the Catholic Apostolic Church” (London, 1861).

The ultimate result of Irving’s dismissal was the formation of the Catholic Apostolic Church, which still exists until this day. Irving’s movement grew and became the basis of modern day pentecostalism.

There is good evidence that John Nelson Darby, the father of modern dispensationalism, visited Margaret Macdonald in her home during her ecstatic episodes. He began to teach the rapture as a result, provided the idea with theological underpinings necessary for it to be considered legitimate, and his teachings were embraced by the Plymouth Brethren.

Darby’s teachings were embraced radically by Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921). Scofield adopted Darby’s (Ribera’s) school of prophetic thought into the Scofield Reference Bible of 1909 which was heralded at that time as the “book of books”, and continues to legitimize this false teaching in the eyes of many protestants.

The natural evolution of this movement has resulted in the recent emergence of the “Toronto Blessing” (Laughing Spirit) phenomenon, a bizarre experience of uncontrollably ‘laughing in the Spirit.’

Although the modern day view of every believer being taken away in a rapture is different from all of the thoughts that came before it, there is little doubt to it’s error.

  • Lacunza asserted that only those believers that partake of the sacrament of the Eucharist would be raptured;
  • Margaret McDonald said the rapture would only take those that were filled with the Holy Spirit; and
  • Norton claimed that only those that had been sealed with the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands would be raptured.

As you might imagine, confusion ensued.

Today’s common belief among believers in the rapture is that only ‘true believers’ will be raptured – a form of the invisible Church teaching so common to protestant ecclesiologies. Belief in the rapture has become so widespread among today’s “evangelicals” and “fundamentalists” that many sitting in the pews assume that the teaching dates back to the apostles themselves.

The Rapture as a topic has been a big money maker. The Left Behind series of 16 books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, dealing with Christian dispensationalist End Times and focus, not surprisingly, on the Rapture. The series was first published 1995-2007 by Tyndale House, a firm with a history of interest in dispensationalism. This series has been adapted into three action thriller films, and three PC video games.

Of course, Harold Camping who has also profited greatly from his teachings on the Rapture,  is not the first false prophet to set a date for the Rapture, nor will he be the last. He declared previously that the Rapture would take place on September 6, 1994.

Regardless of whom one regards as the originator of the teaching — whether Ribera, Lacunza, Irving, Darby, or Margaret MacDonald – one thing is obvious; the “rapture” theory is of recent heterodox origin,  has no basis in Scripture, the Fathers, is mentioned nowhere in antiquity, nor was it ever a teaching of the Christ, or His Apostles.

It is not now, nor has ever been, an Orthodox Christian teaching – and that is saying something.

Compiled from various sources, including:

Catholic Origins of the Futurism and Preterism

A History of the Foundations of Futurism and Preterism (this source cites the book by LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic faith of Our Fathers, The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation, Vol. 2, Review and Herald, Washington, D.C., 1948, excerpted, pp. 464-532.)

Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver website

Wikipedia: Rapture

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