“It bugs me when people refer to a ‘secret rapture.’ The use of the term is outmoded and ambiguous. It stands like a scarecrow with a target painted on his chest, inviting straw man attacks. The secret rapture moniker is used by some Premillennialists who reckon that only believers will be aware of the return of Christ. Unbelievers will be left perplexed at where their ‘religious’ neighbor and bus driver suddenly went.
The secret rapture idea posits that Christ returns with a shout of an angel that only believers can hear (and maybe dogs), an appearance in the sky that only believers can see, a physical resurrection of deceased Christians, which only believers can witness, and then a sudden catching up of all believers into the sky, to accompany Jesus back to Heaven while the seven year tribulation ensues. The image in Premill pulp fiction views the “left behind” world as utterly confused as to the ‘mysterious disappearances’ of a goodly slice of earth’s mostly amiable and cheerful population.
This ‘secret’ concept of the return of Christ is not based on the descriptions in the NT, but rather it is an odd way of envisioning the rapture event in a way that explains the persistent unbelief spoken of in Revelation. (To be fair, some do cite 2 Thess 9-10 which states that Christ’s return will cause him “to be marveled at by those who have believed.” But this text could easily be taken simply to mean that it is only believers who will truly marvel, though others will also see and still not capitulate in their stubbornness).
I suppose the rationale of Premills who call it a secret rapture is to try and make sense of why the appearing of Christ doesn’t result in the belief and repentance of the whole world. We who believe in Jesus without having seen him, cannot fathom how a person could not believe in him after seeing him come in the clouds while simultaneously proving the Bible’s prophecies to be true.
But this attempt to explain the unbelief, I believe actually does a disservice to the cause. It opens up the accusation that we are exegeting the white spaces. I agree with my Amill friends (yes, we are actually friends), that if the rapture were to be secret, then Paul certainly did a poor job at articulating that notion when he wrote, in 1 Thess 4:16-17,
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, 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, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Sounds pretty unmissable to me.
A better way to understand how there can be pervasive unbelief in light of such incontrovertible evidence, is by noting that the NT demonstrates over and over how it is neither sight nor proof that convinces people, but always requires the intervention of God’s grace on man’s willfully darkened mind.
Some reasons I believe that seeing is not always believing…
- John 12:37 says as much.
- Luke 16:31 reminds us that “Even if one is raised from the dead they will still not believe.”
- The prophecies of Christ’s resurrection which were fulfilled fully did not convince all the Pharisees, but they instead paid the Roman guard to fabricate a tale of bodysnatching.
- Judas and many others witnessed the miracles of Jesus and were convinced of his claims, and yet did not place saving trust in him.
- In John 12: 42 we are told of Jews who believed in Jesus but feared the religious authorities and loved acceptance enough to opt out of confessing him as their Lord.
- As did the parents of the newly healed man born blind, in John 9.
- We also see in the Millennial Kingdom, a physical reign on earth with unbelievers still present (Rev 20:7-10).
The human heart is too dark to convince by sight, evidence, and reason. It is a supernatural work wrought in the heart of the elect by God’s sovereign grace, so that he gets all the glory.
So, no, the rapture will not be secret. According to 1 Thess 4:16-17 it will be a very conspicuous event. It will be loud, visible, and undeniable. There will be widespread repentance and belief, but the majority of the population will still reject Christ. And just like everyone else who ever rejected him, they will have no excuse (Rom 1:18-21).
And if you disagree with me, one day one of us will be vindicated in a twinkling of an eye.”