Judgment Day: May 21, 2011 – Cry mightily onto God. The Bible Guarantees It.
That’s what it said on the signs people held supporting doomsday prophet Harold Camping’s Rapture prediction. According to Camping, the Rapture was to begin at 6 p.m. on May 21 and sweep the globe like a rolling brown out. “Everyone will be weeping and wailing because they’ll know in a few hours it’ll come to their city,” said Camping. Well, the trumpets failed to sound, and Jesus didn’t materialize. The End might be near, but there’s no way of telling.
The word rapture is never used in the Bible, but Judgment Day appears in the Book of Revelation to John and the Book of Matthew, where it’s prophesized that the Son of Man will “gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other,” and separate the true believers from the accursed. In the 1830s, British minister John Nelson Darby popularized the idea that when Christ returned to Earth he would rapture his followers to heaven; believers who had died would be raised, and everyone would be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord. While Christians and theologians can’t agree on the true meaning of the rapture or what it will really look like, self-styled soothsayers and doomsday prophets have made it their rallying cry. Sound the trumpets.
10. The Media is Obsessed with the Rapture
From Y2K to Mayan calendar prophecies, the media loves doomsday coverage. When evangelical radio mogul Harold Camping predicted that the Rapture would occur on May 21, 2011, references to Judgment Day made up the top five searches on Google. The Washington Post ran an lengthy article about the Christian broadcast network that Camping owns, and the Huffington Post devoted an entire webpage to the apocalypse with a heading that read: “Some News is so Big that it Needs its Own Page.” This wasn’t the first time the Rapture caused a media firestorm. The Rapture was big business in the 1970s. Hal Lindsey’s book The Late Great Planet Earth was about impending Armageddon; it sold between 15 and 35 million copies. And the 1973 movie A Thief in the Night began the Christian apocalypse genre.
9. The Timing of the Rapture
The timing of the Rapture has been predicted at least seven times. In 1844, Baptist preacher William Miller predicted that Christ would return between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. Jehovah’s Witnesses projected various dates for the Rapture, including 1914, 1918, and 1925. Radio evangelist Harold Camping first predicted the Rapture would occur September 6, 1994, but when the Second Coming failed to occur, Camping revised his prediction to May 21, 2011. Needless to say, every individual or religious group that has tried its hand at “date setting” has been embarrassed. Maybe the answer is in Mathew 24:36. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
8. The Word Rapture is Never Used in the Bible
The word rapture is derived from the Latin raptus –“a carrying off,” which in turn is derived from the Medieval Latin raptura –“seizure, kidnapping.” Christian scholars maintain that the Rapture doctrine originated with Puritan preachers Increase and Cotton Mather in the 18th century, and was further popularized by Bible teacher John Darby, who is considered to be the father of modern Dispensationalism. While the word rapture never appears in the Bible, the concept relates to various interpretations of passages of I Thessalonians 4:17, when Paul tells believers they will be “caught up in the air” by Jesus during his Second Coming to Earth.
7. The Leftovers is about the Rapture
The HBO drama series The Leftovers, which is based on a novel by Tom Perotta and helmed by Lost producer Damon Lindelof, attempts to answer the question: What will the end of times really be like? In The Leftovers, 2 percent of the global population vanishes without a trace. The mass disappearance is attributed to a vague religious event -more Twilight Zone than Baptist fire and brimstone -and examines what life is like for those who are left behind; grief, guilt, redemption, and all the other big existential and spiritual themes are laid out. The word rapture is never used in Tom Perrotta’s book, which echoes the fact that it was never used in the Bible either.
6. 1 in 4 Christians Believe Christ Will Return to Earth
While 1 in 4 Christians believe that Christ will return to earth, it’s unclear how many really believe the Rapture will occur. Moreover, if they do believe the Rapture will occur, Christianity’s many denominations disagree on the spiritual logistics. John Nelson Darby was the first to associate Judgment Day with physical rapture; he believed the godly would literally be sucked into the air and “carried off” to meet Christ. Many theologians, however, are skeptical of this sort of reckoning. Some believe Christ will physically return to earth, where he will sort the true believers from the wicked before a tribulation.
5. There Are Three Main Views About the Rapture
Biblical verses are interpreted multiple ways, and theologians have three main views about the rapture. The Pre-Tribulation Rapture view, which is the majority view taught in Dispensationalism, suggests that Jesus will return to Earth and rapture his followers before the start of the seven-year tribulation period. The Mid-Tribulation view, on the other hand, teaches that Jesus will rapture his true believers 3.5 years into the Great Tribulation. Finally, the Post-Tribulation view places the rapture at the end of the Great Tribulation. Mathew 24:29-31 is cited as the foundation for this view. “Immediately after the Tribulation of those days… they shall gather together his elect…”
4. Inflatable Angels
The Leftovers isn’t the first HBO drama to address the Rapture. Six Feet Under, Alan Ball’s darkly comic funeral parlor series that ran from 2001 to 2005, featured a surreal spin on Judgment Day in one of its opening sequences. In an episode titled “In Case of Rapture,” devoted Christian Dorothy Sheedy mistakes inflatable dolls escaping into the sky from the back of a truck bed for angels floating up to heaven. In a state of rapture, believing the Second Coming has arrived, Dorothy Sheedy jumps out of her car and is hit by another driver. The scene is a classic example of how the award winning show put an absurd spin on fate, destiny, chance, and the afterlife.
3. Sound Will Accompany the Rapture
What will the Rapture sound like? Will there be a four-on-the-floor techno beat or the ethereal sound of harpsichords strummed by cherubic angels? Will there be trumpets, or the psychedelic guitar noodling of Jimi Hendrix? It’s hard to say. Nevertheless, Scripture indicates that the Second Coming of Christ will be accompanied an audible phenomena. According to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “The Lord will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” Another verse states that when Jesus comes again, “the heavens shall pass away with a Great Noise.” What that Great Noise is, however, remains to be seen.
2. Who is Most Likely to Be Left Behind?
When Christian radio evangelist Harold Camping predicted that the Rapture would occur on May 21, 2011, NPR decided to have a little fun and conduct a survey about who would most likely be left behind if true believers started departing Earth. Politicians topped the list, coming in at 49.8 percent. Bloggers, journalists, and “people who talk on their phones while driving” also made the list. As one blogger put it: “what would be the point in ascending to Heaven unless you could see Republicans, Democrats, commies, and your neighbor pitched into Hell?”
1. The Rapture’s Connection to the Salem Witch Trials
Religious scholars believe the Pre-Tribulation Rapture doctrine originated in the 18th century, with Cotton Mather, a New England Puritan minister and author who wrote over 450 books and set the moral tone in the colonies. Mather is also responsible for laying the groundwork for the 1692 Salem witch trials. Between February 1692 and May 1693, 20 people were executed for witchcraft. It’s the most notorious case of mass hysteria in the United States. Cotton Mather publicized and celebrated the Salem witch trials, and his writing at the time presumed the guilt of the accused. “If in the midst of the many Dissatisfaction among us, the publication of these Trials may promote such a pious Thankfulness unto God, for Justice being so far executed among us, I shall Re-joyce that God is Glorified…”