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Have you seen bumper stickers saying, "In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned?" Or maybe the amazingly popular sci fi book series Left Behind, by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye? Or maybe the wave of movies the last few years dealing with the removal of Christians from the world before the Antichrist comes? These all reflect or propound a novel and comparatively recent teaching that has swept a segment of evangelical Christianity in the latter 20th century.
These are expressions of one version of an End-Time teaching called Premillenialism. The basic focus of millennialism is that at the end of time, Jesus will come and establish a literal kingdom on the earth to rule literally as an earthly king for 1000 years. Premillennialism is a specialized version of a general belief among Christians that in the end of time, Jesus will return, the resurrection will occur and the final judgement of the world will occur.
This book deals with the historical origin of an even more specialized conception of Premillennialism is called the Split Rapture. This fascinating modern apocalyptic theory of the Split Rapture teaching specifies that Christians will be removed from the world for a period, during which the Antichrist will literally establish his rule over the entire earth. There are various fiction scenarios about how this might happen.
The idea is that the Christians alone (or some say only a faithful group of them) will be taken out of the world during the Great Tribulation of the Antichrist's reign of terror. The theory claims that these "early risers" will be brought back with Jesus when he returns to defeat the Antichrist. Then the dead Christians will be resurrected and enjoy the 1000-year reign of Jesus before the final judgement. Thus the "rapture" (change) of the Christian believers into their holy resurrection bodies will be split into two stages, according to this theory.
The split rapture idea further teaches that the removal of the living Christians will be secret. Thus the unbelievers will be confused and surprised when all these people suddenly disappear. Scenarios of the event commonly depict cars or planes crashing and trains running amok because Christian pilots, drivers and traffic controllers have been suddenly taken! Because they church is "raptured" (removed) before the Great Tribulation, this Split Rapture scenario is also referred to as a "Pre-tribulation" event.
Author MacPherson tracks down and fully documents the recent historical origins of the secret Pre-tribulation "Rapture" belief to the ecstatic prophetic utterance of a 15-year-old Margaret McDonald in Port Glasgow, Scotland, in 1830. He documents the specific place, time and situation that this prophecy first was uttered. He traces this idea from Mary's home prayer cell though the stages of its spread through certain communities of "evangelical" Christianity.
MacPherson definitively shows that no one ever proposed this split-rapture (multiple rapture, or secret rapture) theory before this time, and that the teaching began from this source, not from any indications in scripture. The doctrine was modified slightly from Mary's original prophecy, and then incorporated as a new teaching in the new Dispensationalism in the Brethren (Plymouth Brethren) Church of J N Darby in London, against some serious opposition.
Other sources have reported that an earlier version of this doctrine started with a Jesuit Teacher named Manuel Lacunza in Spain in 1792 (English translation 1827). MacPherson indicates Darby may have drawn on various sources and incorporated other influences besides Margaret's idea. He does not give anyone credit in his writings, according to MacPherson.
MacPherson also indicates that this "Pre-Trib" doctrine, despite very vocal and visible presence right now, is a small minority view among Bible teachers and scholars. MacPherson also gives a brief introduction and summary of other, non-premillennial views that are held by considerable constituencies. He comments that 90% of the discussion and resulting dissension over millennial theories occurs over variations of this Pre-Trib concept.
Analyzing the various theological and other problems with this theory is not our task here. Let it suffice to say that this theory began to spread through certain circles of the Christian movement in UK and America called "evangelical" in the 1800s. It has split several congregations and denominations or created ongoing dissension.
This vocal minority are also the most adamant and judgemental about others who do not hold their same exact view, breaking fellowship over even minor matters. I myself have seen since my days in high school how true this is. One characteristic of the idea is that no two advocates of a Split Rapture agree on more than a couple of the details. But in some denominations, not only the Premillennial view but the Split-Rapture version has actually become a required belief for membership!
Even some branches of the Baptist movement, who traditionally oppose non-scriptural innovations in doctrine, amazingly accepted this new movement, and developed their own variations of it. They even claim this was the original biblical teaching of the end time. Further, many advocates of this doctrine commonly promote it as the only correct biblical view of the end time! They assume that those who do not believe this, or even don't know about this minority view, are immature.
But the theory has been hotly disputed for decades by various orthodox and liberal branches of the church in the West. (Eastern churches are not plagued with these individualistic and idiosyncratic speculations.) The acceptance of this doctrine has grown in the USA since world War I and even faster since WWII.
Readers interested in this concept of popular theology and the great visual and written literature that has recently arisen from it will also enjoy getting a valid historical perspective on this novel idea from MacPherson's writing. This title appears to be available in limited supply right now. A related larger volume by MacPherson on this subject has recently been reprinted.
See related reviews and articles on this site:
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity
A Gnostic View of Jesus
Jesus and the Jewish Resurrection
The Revelation of Comfort and Hope
Thessalonica, Qumran and the Cult of the Emperor
For More on Premillennialism:
Non Pre-Tribulation Rapture
Manuel Lacunza Apocalyptic Teaching 1792/1827
See this book on Amazon.com.
See The Rapture Plot by MacPherson
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First reading notes written in March March 2005
Expanded and finalized 26 December 2007
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 27 December 2007
Rewritten 10 November 2008
Reviewed on Amazon 2 March 2009
Last edited 29 October 2017
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Please give credit and link back. Other rights reserved.