According to the beliefs of the born-again Christians concerning the end times, the Rapture is an event when Christians will be taken up into the air to meet Christ in the sky. Many believe that the Rapture will happen unexpectedly and that those Christians of special merit will be lifted suddenly from their homes, their automobiles, even from their passenger seats on airliners. The Rapture is a literal, physical occurrence, rather than a spiritual transformation. Those who are taken up by Christ may leave behind their clothing on the streets and their cars crashing into trees, but they will be lifted body and soul into the sky.
Most of humankind will be left behind, including those Christians whose faith requires strengthening. It is believed that the Rapture will cause great confusion and chaos. A time of tribulation will begin, making the world easy pickings for the advent of a charismatic savior who appears to have all the best ways, financial means, and power to make things right again. This individual shall rise to international domination and deceive many before he is revealed as the Antichrist.
Although those Christians who believe in the Rapture are certain that it will occur in association with the time of tribulation (the seven-year period of disasters, famine, and illness during which the Antichrist will be in power), there are differences of opinion whether it will come about just before the tribulation begins, midway through the seven-year reign of the Antichrist, or at the end of the time of tribulation. There is, however, general agreement that when this awful time of lawlessness and corruption has passed, Christ will return to Earth with his army of angels, defeat the forces of evil in a great final battle at Armageddon, and begin his 1,000-year reign, during which time there will be nothing but justice, peace, and joy on Earth. When this millennial reign comes to an end, history will end and Christ shall establish a new heaven and a new Earth.
Those Christians who believe in the Rapture maintain that it was Jesus (c. 6 b.c.e.– c. 30 c.e.) himself who established the format for such an event in the end times:
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven and then shall all the tribes of the Earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matthew 24:29–31, King James Version).
In Mark 13:24–27, the prediction of Jesus concerning the end times is essentially the same: "There will be an end to the time of tribulation; the sun and moon will be darkened and stars will fall; the Son of man will be seen in the clouds coming with great power and glory; angels will be sent to gather the elect from every part of the heavens and the Earth."
In two of his epistles, St. Paul speaks of the return of Christ and what many Christians believe to be the Rapture, when those who are believers shall be caught to meet the Lord in the air: "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:16–18). In 1 Corinthians 15:51–53, the epistle writer tells of the mystery when "in the twinkling of an eye" those who believe in Christ shall be changed: "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."
Although not all Christians accept the scenario of the Rapture, many Christians and non-Christians alike find the premise intriguing and read the books in the "Left Behind" series as exciting science fiction. By June 2001, the first six volumes in the series based on the events of the Rapture by fundamentalist minister Tim LaHaye and professional writer Jerry Jenkins have sold over 12 million copies. Number seven in the series of planned 12 volumes, The Indwelling (2000), had an initial print run of two million and appeared on the bestseller lists a few days after its publication. In addition, a complementary "Left Behind" series for children has sold three million copies, and, altogether, over 18 million various products related to the series have been purchased.
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Lindsey, Hal, with C. C. Carlson. The Late Great Planet Earth. New York: Bantam Books, 1978.
McGinn, Bernard. Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994.
Shaw, Eva. Eve of Destruction: Prophecies, Theories and Preparations for the End of the World. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1995.
Wheeler, John Jr. Earth's Two-Minute Warning: Today's Bible-Predicted Signs of the End Times. North Canton, Ohio: Leader Co., 1996.