The rapture is a belief common among most Evangelical-Protestants. It originated with a 19th century evangelist named Thomas Nelson Darby. Allegedly, the "newly revealed" doctrine was the product of an ecstatic "prophecy" from a young girl of Darby's acquaintance. The teaching began to be circulated in certain adventist groups and was later picked up by a lawyer named Cyrus Ingerson Scofield -- otherwise known as "C. I. Scofield." Scofield later published a study Bible with his notes included. These notes contained references to the enigmatic "rapture" teaching, and from there the doctrine spread throughout the entire Protestant world. Naturally, the Evangelical movement latched on to it as a core tenet of its belief system. Today the rapture doctrine is accepted by most Evengelical-Protestant churches as established dogma.
The rapture doctrine basically says this. Approximately seven years before the end of the world, Jesus Christ will return to snatch his "true" believers away in a "secret rapture," in which Christians will be caught up in the air and taken out of this world. Those left behind will have to endure the "Great Tribulation," which is a period of hell on earth, in which the Antichrist will rule in terror, and God will judge the world with terrible plagues.
A good portion of Evangelical end-time beliefs centers around the modern nation of Israel. This comes from a misguided understanding of the Church. Typically, Evangelicals don't see the Church as the "New Israel," or the "Israel of God," as described in the New Testament epistles. Rather, they see the Church as an aberration -- a 2000 year pause in God's plan for the nation of Israel. So naturally they see the restoration of the Israeli state in 1949 as an event of great prophetic significance. Consequently, the State of Israel becomes the epicenter of their end-times expectations. Whenever Israel is having problems -- the end is near. If the end is near, than that must mean the rapture is at least seven-years nearer! Today, as Evangelicals see events unfold in the middle east, their expectation of the rapture has hit a feverish pitch. Everywhere I turn, people are asking me if I'm "rapture ready" yet.
The other day I was sipping on some morning coffee when one of my Evangelical coworkers asked me what I would do if I knew the rapture was coming in just five minutes! I paused and thought for a second, and then told her I would probably just finish this cup of coffee. Honestly, I couldn't think of a better answer. If Jesus really was coming back to snatch me away in five minutes, what could I possible do to prepare myself? If I haven't spent a lifetime preparing myself already, than what good is five minutes going to do me? My coworker chuckled and asked again; "no really," she said, "what would you do?" I reiterated quite firmly that I would finish the cup of coffee, it was the best I had tasted all week, and I wasn't about to let it go to waste. She looked puzzled. "That's all you would do?" she replied. "Yep!" I answered. And with quite the frustrated look on her face, she left the room. I never bothered to explain myself any further.
I think our conversation says a lot about how Catholics and Evangelicals look at the world differently. Granted, I've been watching events unfold in the middle east with great interest, but not because I'm looking for signs of the apocalypse. I watch the news because I believe we’re on the eve or World War III, and unlike my Evangelical brethren, I don’t expect World War III to be the end of the world. Quite to the contrary; I think World War III will define the course of the 21st century, and quite possibly the Third Millennium. As a Catholic, I do believe Jesus Christ will come back -- someday. All Catholics are required to believe that as an article of faith, as we profess it in the Nicene Creed every Sunday at mass. However, we don’t believe in a "secret rapture" theory. Much to the chagrin of Evangelicals, there is no Biblical justification for such a belief. The entire teaching is based on suggestion, assumption, and reading into the Biblical text. In other words; the events unfolding in the middle east are NOT going to trigger a "secret" coming of Jesus in which he will stealthily snatch up his followers and take them away to heaven.
I’m curious how many Evangelicals will become discouraged after this conflict with Islamofacism is finally over. The middle eastern conflagration will not produce the supernatural events they expect. Will some of them loose their faith over this? Or will they just adjust their eschatological countdown to fit another middle eastern event? Who knows. One thing is for sure. While the Church has always taught that Jesus Christ could come back at any time, it would probably be a safe bet that these events unfolding in Israel right now, are probably NOT going to trigger a "secret rapture."
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet.-- Matthew 24:6