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Meeting the Rapture Challenge

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Are Christians going to be taken up and out of the world before the big trouble with the anti-Christ begins? Catholics say no, that is a false view of God’s revelation regarding the end times. Our guest, Karlo Broussard takes up a popular Protestant challenge: How can the Catholic Church teach that faithful Christians will experience the final trial when the Bible teaches that Christians will be raptured before such a time?


Cy Kellett:

Karlo Broussard, apologist here at Catholic Answers. Thanks for being with us for focus.

Karlo Broussard:

Cy Kellett. Thanks for having me.

Cy Kellett:

You’ve written a bunch of wonderful books, including the two, Meeting the Protestant Challenge, and then Meeting the Protestant Response.

Karlo Broussard:

Yep.

Cy Kellett:

And so we’re going to meet a particular challenge. This one, we’ll call meeting the rapture challenge today.

Karlo Broussard:

All right.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. So essentially we are faced with this challenge that essentially the objection to the Catholic teaching is Christians are not going to experience the difficulties of the time of testing at the end of time. First, there will be this rapture. So how do we meet that challenge?

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah. So that’s the articulation of the challenge, which I address in my book Meeting the Protestant Challenge. The idea is how can the church teach that Christians who are still alive are actually going to experience that final trial or push of evil that’s initiated by the anti-Christ? The catechism of the Catholic church teaches that in paragraph 675. So how can the church teach that when the Bible says otherwise?

So there are some Protestants who will appeal to a particular biblical passage, First Thessalonians, chapter four, verses 15 through 17, and conclude from that passage that Christians who are still on this earth right before the time of the final tribulation will be snatched up, caught up in the air with the Lord. This is known as the pre-tribulation rapture view. There’s a variety of different views, but this is the most popular in the minds of folk on the street. Right? And it was made very popular with the Tim LaHaye science fiction series Left Behind. Right? And this passage is appealed to by how Lindsey in his books, There’s a New World Coming and the Late Great Planet Earth-

Cy Kellett:

Which scared the daylights out of me when I read it when I was a teenager.

Karlo Broussard:

And the idea is that this biblical passage teaches that Christians are not going to experience this final tribulation, because they’re going to be caught up with the Lord and this secret partial coming of the Lord. And then you’ll have that final push of evil and all of the other events will ensue after that. But the idea is that it would seem that the Catholic church is teaching something in conflict with what scripture teaches. So here’s the biblical passage. I’ll just go ahead and read it to you.

Cy Kellett:

Okay. This is from the first letter to the Thessalonians.

Karlo Broussard:

That is correct. This is what is often appealed to in support of this pre-tribulation rapture view. So Paul writes: “For this, we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, we who are left until the coming of the Lord shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with the cry of command, with archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left”… Here it is… “shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

And so for those who will appeal to this passage, Cy, they’ll say, “Well, notice how Jesus comes down partially.” It’s a part coming down, because we’re caught up with him in the air. And then secondly, there’s no mention of the judgment of the nations here like our Lord gives the teaching in Matthew chapter 25 verses 31 through 46. And so therefore some will conclude, well, this must be referring to the pre-tribulation rapture, being raptured caught up with the Lord in the air. So that’s the biblical passage that’s appealed to. That’s the challenge.

Cy Kellett:

Okay. So if that’s the challenge, it does actually kind of sound like Jesus comes part way down and then takes us up with him. So how are we going to start to meet that challenge?

Karlo Broussard:

Yes. So the first way we can meet it is to look at the text very carefully and notice what it does not say. It does not say that Jesus returns back to heaven with those who are caught up with him. It only says he comes and we are caught up with him in the air. And that’s it. It does not say he returns back to heaven.

Cy Kellett:

That’s what you’re reading into the text.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right. It’s reading into the text, reading into the text something that is not there. So it could possibly be a return back to heaven, but it could also be he’s just coming down and we’re being caught up with him to meet him. Right?

Cy Kellett:

Yes.

Karlo Broussard:

And so we’re going to have to look at the context to see which of those two interpretations is the best interpretation. But of course, if we’re going to say that this brings up the question, well, what does it mean to be caught up with the Lord in the air? Because that’s the key detail that many of our Protestant friends are basing their conclusion on, that it’s a partial coming of the Lord because we’re caught up with him in the air. Well, if that doesn’t signal that he’s going back and we’re going to go back with him, the righteous who are left here on earth. Well then what does that mean?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. So if you already have the Tim LaHaye stuff and that stuff in your mind, then you project onto that, that there’s people on the ground who are not caught up. To them it would just seem like those people would disappear.

Karlo Broussard:

They’re left behind.

Cy Kellett:

And then all those go back to heaven with Jesus. But that’s not there. That’s not in the text.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right? Nowheres does it say that Jesus goes back to heaven. But we do have a need to explain this detail. If we’re going to interpret this on the view that this is not this partial coming where Jesus goes back to heaven, but Jesus is going to remain here on earth, well then how do we make sense of the righteous being caught up with him in the air?

And one way that many saints throughout Christian history and the theological tradition have interpreted this is analogous to the ancient custom of citizens ushering in an important visitor. Right? And so the idea is that we even do this in our modern day society. Right? Whenever Pope Benedict came to America, the president goes out on the tarmac, meets the Pope walking off the plane and ushers him in. Right?

Cy Kellett:

Sounds like Palm Sunday to me. You come out.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s good example. That’s right.

Cy Kellett:

You come out of Jerusalem to bring him in to Jerusalem.

Karlo Broussard:

Absolutely. That would be a biblical example of how they go out the city walls. They meet Jesus. They usher him in. We also see this in Acts chapter, 28 versus 14 through 15, when the brethren at Rome went out of the city to meet Paul as he was approaching the city.

And so the idea here, in First Thessalonians four is when Paul speaks of how the righteous still alive are going to be caught up with the Lord in the air, and with all of those others together with them, Paul says, those who are being raised from the dead. We’re going to be caught up in the air with them to meet the Lord. That is to say, to usher him in as he’s establishing the new heaven and the new earth and the definitive reign of Christ where all evil is vanquished. And so it’s a victory parade. We’re going to meet the king.

Cy Kellett:

And we’re joining in that victory. Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

Absolutely. Good point.

Cy Kellett:

It’s like we’ve been invited to participate in the victory procession of Christ. Yeah?

Karlo Broussard:

So our first step forward is caught up in the air in no way signifies that Jesus is returning back to heaven. That’s not in the text. But if we’re going to go with our interpretation of this is the final coming of our Lord when he’s coming down, well, how do we explain this caught up in the air? Well, we have a plausible explanation for this detail and how it would fit within our interpretation of the text as it not referring to a pre-tribulation rapture view, but referring to the final coming of our Lord.

So we’re left with this ambiguity as to which of the two interpretations is the more reasonable and true interpretation of the text. The pre-tribulation rapture view, where Jesus goes back up to heaven with those who are caught up with him in the air? Or the other view, our view, the Catholic view and other Christians as well who would be with us in this interpretation, that this is the final coming of Christ at the end of time to vanquish all evil, where he’s coming to establish the definitive new heaven and new earth?

So those are our two alternative interpretations, two possible interpretations. And so because of the ambiguity, we’re going to have to look to other details in the context to try to figure out which is the best.

Cy Kellett:

Okay. And so among those details, you already mentioned that in the ancient world this is a common practice. Go out and meet someone coming into the city.

Karlo Broussard:

So that would fit. That fits with our plausible, our proposed interpretation. So that detail would not conflict with our proposed interpretation. It at least fits, but it doesn’t tip the balanced or tip the scale one way or the other. We’re going to have to look at some other details.

Cy Kellett:

Okay. So you want to look at the context of this passage of scripture itself.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right. Yeah.

Cy Kellett:

Okay.

Karlo Broussard:

So what I do in my book in this particular chapter in the book Meeting the Protestant Challenge, I identify three details in the text that would lead us to the conclusion that this is the second, final coming of Christ at the end of time, not a partial coming before the final tribulation.

And so the first detail, and I think this is probably the most persuasive, is that notice how Paul speaks of the resurrection of the dead. There in verse 16, he says, “and the dead in Christ will rise first.” So he’s talking about the coming of the Lord. Right? Granted, right. We’re all in agreement there.

And there’s this other detail that’s in tandem with the coming of the Lord. It’s essential to, it’s associated with the coming of the Lord, namely the resurrection of the dead. So this poses a good question. Does Paul elsewhere write about the resurrection of the dead and in what is it in tandem with? Well, if we turn to First Corinthians chapter 15, versus 22 through 24, Paul does write about the resurrection of the dead and guess what’s it’s in tandem with? It’s in tandem with the end.

So here’s what he writes: “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming, those who belong to Christ.” There’s the resurrection of the dead. “Then comes the end when he delivers the kingdom to God, the Father, after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” Notice that the resurrection of the dead is associated in tandem with the end where Christ is bringing about a definitive victory over evil.

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Karlo Broussard:

Okay. So that’s from First Corinthians 15, 22 through 24. We come back to First Thessalonians chapter four, verse 15 through 17. He’s talking about the coming of the Lord. And he’s talking about the resurrection of the dead happening in tandem with the coming of the Lord. Well, according to First Corinthians 15, that comes in tandem with the end.

Cy Kellett:

The end. Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

So this coming of the Lord in First Thessalonians four, 15 through 17, is the coming of the Lord at the end of time, when he’s going to vanquish all evil, the antichrist, which leads us to conclude this is not some partial coming before the antichrist and the final tribulation, but the coming of Christ after that final push of evil, to vanquish the evil and establish the new heaven and the new earth. As Paul put in first Corinthians 15, “the end.” So that would be the first detail, the resurrection of the dead.

Cy Kellett:

Okay. So the image that I’m getting of the Catholic view then is Christians will suffer through this time of tribulation, but there will be still Christians left on the earth.

Karlo Broussard:

That is correct.

Cy Kellett:

The dead will rise and Christ will come to set all things right. This is the end. And it’s at that coming that those Christians who are left on the earth, in a certain sense after all those who have died, they’re already with Christ. Now these people, who’s ever left-

Karlo Broussard:

Will be caught with the Lord in the air. But those who have died will be resurrected. And we who are left with them being resurrected, caught up with the Lord in the air to usher him in, to establish the definitive new heaven and the new earth, which at the same time happens the vanquishing of all evil. Getting back to your earlier point, that we’re going to be participating. Those who are left will be participating with the Lord in the vanquishing of all evil.

Cy Kellett:

Right. So here chapter four, chapter 15, tell the same story.

Karlo Broussard:

First Thessalonians four and First Corinthians.

Cy Kellett:

Oh, First Corinthians 15.

Karlo Broussard:

Yes.

Cy Kellett:

Okay.

Karlo Broussard:

So it’s important that we read First Thessalonians four, 15th through 17 in light of-

Cy Kellett:

The same author’s-

Karlo Broussard:

First Corinthians 15. That’s right. Talking about the resurrection of the dead.

Cy Kellett:

All right. Anything else from the context of this scripture that we can point to?

Karlo Broussard:

And so just the very detail of the coming of the Lord. Right? But the coming of the Lord, within the context of this assembling together to meet the Lord. Because remember Paul says we who are left will be caught up together with them, those who are being resurrected, with the Lord in the air.

Notice you have this motif of assembling together at the coming of the Lord. So now the question is, okay, well, does Paul elsewhere in his writings talk about the coming of the Lord within the context of all the Christians assembling together? And the answer is yes. In Second Thessalonians chapter two, verses one through eight, he writes this: “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him.” That’s a clear indication that what he’s talking about here in Second Thessalonians two is the same coming of the Lord, where we are assembling together to meet the Lord in the air that he’s talking about in First Thessalonians four. 15 through 17. All right?

Cy Kellett:

Yes.

Karlo Broussard:

Now watch. Check this. In Second Thessalonians chapter two, he writes this: “For that day,” which day? The coming of the Lord when we assemble to meet him. “On that day,” Paul says, “That day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed the son of perdition.” So here in second Thessalonians two, he’s talking about the coming of the Lord, where we’re all meeting together to meet him. And that will not take place until first happens the anti-Christ, which he identifies the man of lawlessness, son of perdition to be the anti-Christ.

Well, we already established here in First Thessalonians four he’s talking about the same coming of the Lord, where we’re all meeting together, assembling together to meet him. In the air is the only difference there. And so if that’s the same coming as he’s talking about in Second Thessalonians two, well then this coming of the Lord in First Thessalonians four cannot be a partial coming before the tribulation.

It must be the coming of the Lord after the tribulation. Why? Because in Second Thessalonians two, Paul says that coming of the Lord, when we’re all going to meet together to meet him, assemble together to meet him. That’s going to come after the anti-Christ.

Cy Kellett:

Right. Okay.

Karlo Broussard:

So here’s the bottom line. If we read First Thessalonians four, 15 through 17 in light of Second Thessalonians two, one through eight, it becomes clear that coming of the Lord is not happening before the final tribulation. It’s happening after the final tribulation.

So not only do we have the detail of the resurrection of the dead, but we also have the motif of the assembling together to meet the Lord at his coming.

Cy Kellett:

It’s so similar.

Karlo Broussard:

Which comes similar after the final tribulation.

Cy Kellett:

Right. Right.

Karlo Broussard:

So that’s two of the three details. And then I have a third detail.

Cy Kellett:

Okay.

Karlo Broussard:

Do we have time for that?

Cy Kellett:

Yes, please.

Karlo Broussard:

All right. So the third detail is, and this is interesting because this detail will lead us into our final response to the challenge. But this detail is the sound of the trumpet of God there in verse 16. Now the trumpet of God here, this details has a twofold purpose as we’ll see. But for our purposes here, it provides us a contextual detail to see that this coming of the Lord in First Thessalonians four, 15 to 17, is not a pre-tribulation coming. It’s the coming of the Lord at the end of time after the tribulation. Okay?

And so here’s the reason why. Because once again, we asked the question like we’ve asked before, does Paul elsewhere talk about the sound of the trumpet of God in tandem with the coming of the Lord? And he does. Once again, that Bible passage of First Corinthians chapter 15 versus 51 through 53, he talks about the sound of the trumpet of God, which is being heard the coming of the Lord, which is happening in tandem with guess what? The resurrection of the dead.

So both the resurrection of the dead and the sound of the trumpet of God are associated with the coming of the Lord at the end of time. And so we come back to First Thessalonians four, 15 through 17. Paul’s talking about the coming of the Lord. He’s talking about the resurrection of the dead. We already saw how that signals that this is the end of time coming. And he’s talking about the sound of the trumpet of God, another detail with the resurrection of the dead that proves to us in Paul’s mind this coming that he’s talking about in First Thessalonians four.

Cy Kellett:

It’s the same.

Karlo Broussard:

It’s that coming that happens at the end of time when everybody’s getting resurrected. That’s after the final tribulation.

And so in light of these contextual details, the resurrection of the dead, the assembling together to meet the Lord in the air at his coming, and the sound of the trumpet of God. These three details in First Thessalonians four, 15 through 17, when read in light of other passages leads us to the conclusion: Paul’s not talking about a pre- tribulation rapture. He’s talking about a rapture. We’re fine. We’re talking about a rapture.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. I see what you mean. Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

Being caught up-

Cy Kellett:

Taken up, yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

With the Lord in the air to usher him in, to establish the new heaven and the new earth. But that’s going to happen at the end of time after the final push of evil.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. Okay. So what you get then from these various bits is Paul has an image in his mind of what the final conclusion of history is and all of these fit together as depicting that.

Karlo Broussard:

Yeah. All of the pieces fit together to construct this portrait, or this picture of the end of time, the coming of the Lord at the end of time. So if you read First Thessalonians four, 15 through 17, in isolation, separate from other passages where he is talking about the coming of the Lord, well then given your sort preconceived imaginative construct, which your imagination’s telling you from all these science fiction narratives and what some Christians are saying in their writings and literature. You’re going to read into that text in isolation and sort of fill in the blanks. Right.?

Cy Kellett:

But that’s not what it says.

Karlo Broussard:

Connect the dots, but dots that aren’t really there and create your own picture. But when read in light of other passages, it becomes clear that First Thessalonians four, 15 to 17 is a passage that fits best with the view that Christians will experience the final push of evil. And that Christ will come at the end of that final push of evil to vanquish that evil, usher in the new heaven and new earth in tandem with the bodily resurrection.

Cy Kellett:

This doesn’t seem like a minor thing to me, just kind of to conclude with you. Because if the Lord through the scriptural authors, the human authors of scripture, is conveying these things to us, there’s a reason he’s conveying them to us. And this is preparatory. We need to be ready.

Karlo Broussard:

Absolutely.

Cy Kellett:

For what’s actually going to happen. Not be looking for false signs, because all that will just confuse us in the end.

Karlo Broussard:

Right. Yeah. You’re on the right track here. It’s very fruitful for pastoral application or moral application. So what does this have to do with my life? Right?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

Well, if Christians are going to have to experience that final push of evil, which St. Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians talks about a religious deception that will be brought about by the man of lawlessness, son of perdition. Believers who really believe in Jesus are going to be deceived. Right?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

And so, wow. Oh my gosh. I believe in Jesus. Well, what if I’m still alive when the anti-Christ comes?

Cy Kellett:

Will I be deceived?

Karlo Broussard:

Will I be deceived? And so the question becomes, well, how do I not be deceived? And this is where Paul talks about hold fast to the traditions that you have received to us in second Thessalonians 2:15, “whether by word of mouth or written epistle.” The point is we must stay close to holy mother church and look to the guidance of the church and the teachings of the church in order to preserve us in the truth, to not be swayed and tossed to and fro with any religious deception. That may be the very religious deception of antichrist at the end of time, or a religious deception now, which is anti-Christ in spirit.

And so it brings up this great reflection. “Like, man, I don’t want to be deceived.” And even too, Cy, I’ll be honest with you, man. I know my weaknesses and I know that I cannot say with a hundred percent certainty. Yeah, I’m going to be faithful to Jesus if the evil one comes, man. I’m going to stare evil in the face and conquer the antichrist. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that.

And so what that does is it puts me in a position to where I’m on my knees, literally begging Jesus. “Jesus, if it is in your providence that I have to face persecution, please give me the grace to be courageous and to stare evil in the face and conquer it like the martyrs have of old. And even to this day.” Because I can’t presume. God don’t owe me that grace.

Cy Kellett:

No.

Karlo Broussard:

Right?

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Karlo Broussard:

God don’t owe me anything. Right?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. Don’t open the debt books because he doesn’t owe me anything.

Karlo Broussard:

So God, I can’t presume on that grace, because that’s something that’s over and above my nature.

Cy Kellett:

And you might desperately need that grace because Christians are not going to be raptured before the time of that testing.

Karlo Broussard:

That’s right. Given that this pre-tribulation rapture view is false and that Christians who are still here will have to endure it. Well, then that gives rise to the request like holy cow, Jesus, please help me here. Give me the grace if I am numbered among those who are going to have to undergo that final push of evil.

Cy Kellett:

It is beautiful to think of Christ’s triumph though.

Karlo Broussard:

And one last detail to cap it all off. The sound of the trumpet of God.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

Right? It ain’t no secret coming.

Cy Kellett:

Oh, that’s right. Yeah. So if you think of the rapture as kind of “what happened to these people?” Right? No, no, no. This is a public event.

Karlo Broussard:

You’re driving and everything’s going haywire. But people are snatched secretly, right?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:

Well, according to Paul here, this coming of the Lord, it’s with the sound of the trumpet of God, man. Everybody’s going to know about it. And so it ain’t no secret coming.

Cy Kellett:

Wonderful.

Karlo Broussard:

But that sound of the trumpet signifies the victory of God and we get to participate in that.

Cy Kellett:

Praise God, praise God.

Karlo Broussard:

Amen to that.

Cy Kellett:

Thanks Karlo.

Karlo Broussard:

Thank you, Cy.

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