A key doctrine in some Christian denominations, the Rapture is a confusing topic for many Catholics – and even non-Catholics alike. But what exactly is it, and do Catholics even believe in it? Let me explain in this article.
Catholics don’t completely believe in the Rapture as it has elements that are unbiblical and go against the Church’s teachings. However, there’s also a concept in “rapture theology” that Catholics agree on – that all faithful, living and dead, will ascend into heaven at the Second Coming of Christ.
So what are the elements of rapture that Catholics reject and accept? Let me try to answer these questions below. But first, it’s important that you understand what rapture is and what’s it about.
What is the Rapture?
The term Rapture is taken from the Latin word “rapio” which means “caught up” – a phrase used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. It also means to be snatched, grabbed, or carried off. In the Catholic tradition, the term has more to do with being caught up in ecstasy, such as in the case of St. Catherine of Siena.
In other Christian traditions, however, it is some sort of an end-of-times belief where at some point, both the living and dead believers of Christ will be “snatched up” into heaven and be with Him. Those living in sin are then left to bear and suffer as the world comes into chaos and tribulation.
Now, this statement isn’t exactly new to Catholics. We do believe that there will come a time when we will unite with Jesus Christ in heaven. This can be seen in the Apostles Creed where we proclaim that we believe in “the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting” and in St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
So does this mean that Catholics believe in the Rapture? Well, not quite. This is because we don’t use the term for such an event. We know that the Second Coming, Tribulation, a period of Christ’s reign, and Judgment will ultimately happen. However, determining when and how such events will occur causes us to reject this Christian doctrine.
That said, there are three different perspectives on this matter: postmillennialism, amillennialism, and premillennialism. By understanding these, you’ll also see what beliefs go against the teachings of the Catholic Church and what is accepted.
Three Schools of Thought About Rapture
Before discussing the three perspectives or schools of thought about rapture, let’s first talk about the millennium. The millennium, often referred to as a “period of a thousand years” in Scripture (Revelation 20:1-3 and Revelation 20:7-8) is a time when Christ will rule the earth. It’s also the period between the first and second coming of Jesus, making it a prelude to the end of the world.
As its name suggests, this is the belief that the Second Coming and Judgment of Christ will happen after the millennium. So after a long period of peace and righteousness and the world has been evangelized, Jesus Christ will return. This is an extremely optimistic view of the end times that expect Jesus’ great commission – to make disciples of all nations – to be fulfilled and for Christ to return only when evil has been eradicated. Then soon after, he would judge the nation, and the good will be brought into heaven.
What the Catholic Church Says:
This isn’t what Scripture is saying. While it’s reasonable to expect that the Church’s mission will be successful, there isn’t enough material in the Bible that supports the idea of the world experiencing a near-perfect Christianization prior to the Second Coming.
In fact, many passages in the Bible say the period between the First and Second Comings will be a time of great sorrow and conflict for Christians. One of which is the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). That said, Scripture tells us that there will always be righteous people and evil ones until the Final Judgment.
The premillennialist view is that the second coming of Jesus will happen before the millennium. The final judgment will then occur only after the millennium – which many interpret as exactly one thousand years – is over. This is currently the most popular belief among Evangelicals and Fundamentalists.
What the Catholic Church Says:
Like postmillennialists, premillennialists believe that there will be a golden age where most, if not all, people will be Christians. Again, Scripture does not support this idea. In this perspective, the Second Coming will occur before the millennium and even causes it to happen. So Jesus is said to reign over the earth before Judgment. However, the Bible does not say that there will be a thousand-year span between Jesus’ Second Coming and the Final Judgment.
Additionally, while all premillennialists believe that Tribulation or a period of great suffering happens before the millennium, there’s a divide on when the Rapture takes place. Some believe that Christians should endure the Tribulation before the Second Coming and Judgment (post-tribulation), while others say that Jesus will take his followers with him before the Tribulation to save them from such suffering (pre-tribulation).
That said, most of the people who believe in the Rapture are actually pre-tribulation, premillennialists. For them, they will be taken with Christ even before the Final Judgment, which comes after the millennium. Thus, saving them from the trial.
However, this is an idea that contradicts Scripture, which is why Catholics reject it. Remember that Jesus says that true Christians endure trials yet remain faithful. Furthermore, it has no historical basis as such an idea only appeared in a footnote of a Bible published in 1800.
Finally, this idea is considered illogical as it depicts Jesus coming three times: when he first came to Bethlehem, before the millennium, and again for the final judgment. Separating the Second Coming and Final Judgment into two different events is contrary to Scripture – and this goes for both pre and post-tribulation premillennialists.
See, according to 2 Peter, Judgment will come “like a thief in the night” and it will come quickly and all at once. Jesus will not come and then return in 1000 years to “repay every man for what he has done” (Matthew 16:27). He will not delay. Jesus will return in glory and judge us – a continuous and single action.
Now, this perspective is far closer to the Catholic belief than the other two. Rather than treating the millennium literally as a measurable time (i.e. a thousand years) of Jesus’ reign on earth where everyone is Christianized, amillennialists see it symbolically as a period of his rule in heaven and on earth through his Church. They also believe that good and evil will coexist on Earth until the end of time.
So in this idea, there’s no delusion of a perfect Christian world. Christians will also need to go through tribulation until the Second Coming when Jesus finally wins over evil and is judged. Only then will the righteous be brought with him into heaven – raptured, if you want to call it that.