We've been asked about the Catholic view on the rapture. We would have to ask, "which rapture?" To our understanding, there are thraee major theories on the rapture found in Evangelical circles:
1) pre-tribulation rapture 2) mid-tribulation rapture 3) post-tribulation rapture
There are also many variations on each of these theories and much debate among Protestant theologians. What many Evangelicals don't know is that the pre-tribulation, and mid-tribulation theories are less than 175 years old (more on that below).
Catholics certainly believe that "we will be caught up in the air" (1 Thess 4:17) when the trumpet sounds. So Catholics do believe in the "rapture" if one is talking about the third option, the post-tribulation rapture (although they understand the 1000 years to mean "a long time", and not literally 1000 years Rev. 20:2-3; 7). The term "rapture" is derived from the text of the Catholic Latin Vulgate that was written in 390 A.D. It comes from 1 Thess. 4:17-"we will be caught up," [Latin: rapiemur]).
Catholics find no solid scriptural evidence that Jesus will come two or three more times. We think Scripture is clear that He will only come one more time. Catholics do not see any Biblical evidence as to why Christians should be "spared" the tribulation of the evil one. The Catholic Church feels that all Biblical evidence points to the contrary - that Christians will undergo great persecutions and tribulation. Catholics believe that history bears witness that the Church thrives under persecution.
Perhaps we will win many converts to Christianity during the tribulation. Most humans (including me) are more disposed to a conversion of heart when things are bad. Nothing creates an open mind and opens someone to a personal relationship with Christ more than suffering. During the tribulation people will be looking for answers. They will be "ripe" for conversion. This is the only value of the tribulation. The Bible says:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Rm 10:14-15)
If all the "good Christians" are taken out of the world during the tribulation, who will be left on earth to convert the poor souls who are looking for answers during that time? Would Jesus leave humans on earth for the devil to ravage but remove all the Christians who can convert them? This would prevent the spreading of the Gospel during that time. If he did that he would be condemning these non-Christians before the judgment day. (Mat 11:22)
John Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren, put forth the Pre-Tribulation Rapture theory around 1830 after traveling to northern Scotland to meet with Margaret McDonald, a woman who had a "vision" during a serious illness. This "vision" convinced her that Christ would come in two stages (this was near the time Joseph Smith wrote the book of Mormon because of a "vision"). The history of Darby's meeting with Margaret McDonald is documented in the book, "The Unbelievable Pre-Trib Origin" by Dave MacPherson.
Prior to that, no theologian or denomination had ever suggested a "two stage" coming of Christ; not Martin Luther, not Calvin, not Wycliff. The Early Church Fathers never suggested Christ would come again in two stages.
The Pre-Tribulation theory is currently enjoying tremendous popularity among some Evangelicals due to the "Left Behind" series of books and movies. The theory is also a common belief among those who believe in the "prosperity" gospel (that says if we have enough faith we'll be prosperous like Jabez). These two theories suggest that faithful Christians will not undergo persecutions or suffering, and will have material prosperity. Catholics feel that there is a place for suffering. There is much Biblical evidence that persecution and suffering have a solid place in the Kingdom and that it can be a witness to the unfaithful. Persecuted Christians converted pagans to the early Church.
We believe there will be only one more return of Christ and on that day the faithful Christians will be caught up in the air.
Below are some Scripture passages about Christ returning only once more, as well as some passages that defuse the literal interpretation of the 1000 years. Found on http://www.Scripturecatholic.com:
1 Thess. 4:17 - Paul writes that "we will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." Many Protestants call this experience the "rapture" (even though the word "rapture" is not found in the Bible). This theory says that Christ will take the faithful up to heaven before the final coming.
John 14:3; 1 Cor. 15:52 - these are other passages that Protestants use to support the rapture experience. The problem with the rapture theory is that it assumes three comings of Christ. This is contrary to Scripture and has never been taught by the Church.
Heb. 9:24 - instead, the Scriptures are clear that, "Christ will appear only a second time, when he comes in glory to save us." See also Rev. 19:11-16. The Scriptures only reveal two comings of Christ.
2 Thess. 2:1-4 - concerning the coming of the Lord, there will be a time of great trouble. As part of their rapture theory, Protestants call this period the "tribulation."
1 Thess. 4:17; 2 Thess. 2:1-4 - the question is when the rapture will occur. Will it occur before (pre), during (mid) or after (post) the tribulation?
Rev. 20:2-3; 7 - these verses refer to the thousand year period where satan is bound and Christ reigns. Protestants often called this period the "millennium." However, the "thousand" year period only means a very long time. It, like much of apocalyptic literature, is not to be taken literally.
Psalm 50:10 - for example, we see the cattle on a "thousand hills." The word "thousand" here obviously means a lot of hills. It cannot be taken literally. This is the same with the "thousand" used in the Apocalypse.
Dan. 7:10 - a "thousand thousands" served him. Again, "thousand" means a very long time. It is not to be taken literally.
2 Peter 3:8 - with God one day is a "thousand" years and a "thousand" years is one day. "Thousand" is symbolic for a long time.
Matt. 16:27; 25:31-46 - the fact that there is immediate punishment rejects the premillenialism idea of a 1,000 year span between the second coming of Christ and the final judgment.
Matt. 24:24-31; Mark. 13:24-27; 2 Thess. 2:1-12 - these verses reject the premillenialism and mid-tribulation view because the rapture and the tribulation occur together.
Matt. 13:24-30; 36-43 - the wheat and weeds parable rejects the postmillenialism idea that the world will be Christianized before the end of time.
Rev. 20:4 - this verse shows the millennium is the period of Christ's current reign with his saints in heaven and his rule through the Church. This view, which Protestants call "amillenialism," is consistent with the Catholic view. The rapture and the second coming will occur after Christ's reign and the end of the Church Militant on earth. There is thus no "rapture" that precedes the second coming of Jesus.
Rev. 20:3; Matt. 12:29-30 - satan is currently bound during this millennium insofar as he cannot prevent the spreading of the Gospel.
Luke 10:17-18 - after the elders preached the Gospel, Jesus said He saw satan fall like lightning. Thus, satan is currently bound and cannot prevent us from evangelizing the world.
2 Peter 3:10-15 - in the meantime, we wait for the Lord's coming with zeal, avoiding sin, and being at peace, in the hope of our salvation.
Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians
become a reality, in Your way.
We have absolute confidence
that you can bring your people together,
we give you absolute permission to move.