Rapture Anxiety or Blessed Hope?
Will Jesus return in 2023? That question stirs hope in some and anxiety in others.
How can the thought of Jesus’ return produce anxiety? Stories of “Rapture anxiety” received prominent media attention in 2022. Some “exvangelicals” — people raised in Christian homes who now question traditional evangelical doctrines, often because of traumatic experiences — say the teaching of the Rapture caused them anxiety.
As a pastor, my heart aches for people who suffer trauma because of their church experiences. Should the doctrine be a source of anxiety? Absolutely not!
Article 13 of the Assemblies of God’s Statement of Fundamental Truths says about the Rapture: “The resurrection of those who have fallen asleep in Christ and their translation together with those who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord is the imminent and blessed hope of the Church.”
The Rapture should calm anxious Christians rather than causing anxiety. No matter how bad things get, we know that our Blessed Hope is imminent!
Our doctrinal statement lists four texts for the Rapture: 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17; Romans 8:23; Titus 2:13; and 1 Corinthians 15:51–52. A close look at the broader context of each passage reveals how the Rapture inspires hope.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, Paul addressed Christians who were worried about the deaths of fellow believers. Would they miss out on Christ’s return?
Paul calmed the Thessalonians’ anxiety by reminding them that for Christians, death is like falling asleep. The “trumpet call of God” is the alarm clock that will wake them when Christ comes. The dead will get up first, and then the living will join them “in the air” to meet Christ.
“And so we will be with the Lord forever,” Paul concluded. “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
In Romans 8:18–25, believers were troubled by their “present sufferings.” Those sufferings weren’t merely personal; they were cosmic. “The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
Few things make us despair as much as deep, persistent suffering. Is there an end to our suffering? Paul wrote that our suffering ends when Christ returns and accomplishes “our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”
Paul immediately added this crucial statement: “For in this hope we were saved.”
Hope appears again in Titus 2:11–14. Indeed, verse 13 gives Article 13 of the Statement of Fundamental Truths its title: “The Blessed Hope.”
In this passage, what caused believers anxiety was sin, which Paul described as “ungodliness,” “worldly passions,” and “wickedness.”
Christ’s coming into the world shone a ray of hope on sinful humanity. “The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people,” Paul wrote. In the meantime, believers should strive to lead godly lives as they await “the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior.”
Notice the time stamps on Paul’s words. “The grace of God has appeared” points to the past. Our wait for “the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory” points to the future. As Christians, we don’t live between one anxiety and another. We live between grace and hope. That is our present reality!
In 1 Corinthians 15:50–58, death once again is the cause of anxiety. Few things worry us as much as our own mortality, not to mention that of our loved ones. We think of death as the end of life, but it isn’t.
“Listen, I tell you a mystery,” Paul wrote. “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
For those who put their faith in Christ, death is not the end of life, for Jesus gives eternal life.
And so, we come back to the question: Should the Rapture be a source of anxiety? If we let the Bible teach us doctrine, the answer must be no. Sin, suffering, death — these are sources of anxiety. By contrast, Christ’s coming for His saints is always a source of hope.
I love what former Assemblies of God General Superintendent G. Raymond Carlson said about the link between Christ’s coming and Christian confidence:
"The Christian’s hope centers in a Person and the sovereignty and the final triumph of that Person. For this reason, the Christian is the most optimistic person in the world. He knows that the chaos of today was predicted by our Lord as a forerunner to Christ’s second coming. He’s aware that God’s holy purposes will be fulfilled and Christ will be victorious. Belief in the coming of our Lord makes us incurable optimists."
If the Rapture is a source of hope, why do some people experience Rapture anxiety? Let me close by suggesting three reasons and a pastoral remedy for each.
First, too much speculation. Perhaps you remember the believer who published a book titled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. When that didn’t happen, he issued revised editions in 1989, 1993, and 1994. In all four cases, his predictions were wrong.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this. After all, Jesus said, “About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:32–33).
If even Christ didn’t know the day or hour of His return, then neither do we. We harm others (and our own reputations) when we claim to know more than we possibly can.
Second, too much bad news. Remember the 1972 end-times thriller A Thief in the Night? This film emphasized the horrors of the Great Tribulation that will occur after Christ raptures the Church.
When we overemphasize the bad news of the Great Tribulation, people don’t hear the good news of Christ’s coming for His saints. Our preaching and teaching should not just paint a dark picture of the human condition, but they should also shine the light of God’s grace.
Third, too much legalism. Scripture clearly teaches we are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8–9). Titus 2:11–14 encourages us to live godly lives in light of the grace that has appeared and the hope that will appear. Our motivation for godly living, then, is grace and hope, not fear of judgment.
Hope is a fundamental need for people. Everyone needs some kind of hope! If you have a personal relationship with Christ then the message of the Rapture is about the hope of being found!
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of Influence magazine. Used with permission.