My interest in the Rapture question dates back almost to the time of my conversion, which took place in my thirtieth year, in the summer of 1986.

Out of Egypt

I had recently returned, after a rather unhappy year in the Basque country of Spain, to the town of Bassano del Grappa, in the Veneto Region in north east Italy. Having already spent a year in this town, working as an EFL teacher, I had made a number of good friends in the area, one of whom had recently become a Christian.

I had first caught sight of Claudio shortly after my arrival in Bassano in the autumn of 1983 when, at the end of a lesson, my attention had been drawn to this extremely self-confidant, fair-haired, Veneto country boy, standing in the reception area of the school where I had recently begun work, and happily talking away at the top of his voice to the proprietress of the school.

Surrounded as he was by a group of admiring females, my initial reaction upon seeing Claudio was one of immediate and intense dislike!

Since some of the females in question were my own students, I soon found myself a member of the same social group to which Claudio belonged, and which regularly met twice a week, after their English lessons had finished, to drink a beer in the bar of the nearby Centro Giovanile, or Youth Centre. Finding ourselves one evening left to our own devices, the others having by now all gone home, and not wishing to call it a day, Claudio suggested that we go and eat a pastasciutta in a nearby trattoria.

Despite my initial antipathy towards Claudio, I did not relish the prospect of spending the rest of the evening alone, and I readily agreed to his proposal. As we got to know each other a little better over a spaghetti alla carbonara, and a carafa of good, honest Cabernet del Veneto, we discovered that, despite our very different backgrounds and personalities, we shared a number of interests and tastes.

Apart from the admiring females, the spaghetti alla carbonara, and the Cabernet del Veneto, these consisted chiefly in a lively interest in each other’s respective cultures and languages and we soon became firm friends.

I left Bassano, in not the most propitious of circumstances, to begin work as a teacher in the town of Pistoia, in Tuscany, in the autumn of the following year and, although I had come to somewhat disdain the Veneto area and hanker after what I had come to refer to as “the real Italy”, I soon found myself missing the far more active social life I had enjoyed in Bassano. I took every opportunity, therefore, to return to my old haunts, and was frequently a guest in Claudio’s family home in the little town of Cartigliano, situated a few miles to the south of Bassano, on the flat and misty Pianura Padana, or Plain of the Po.

Despite my fears that I was by now incapable of surviving anywhere else, I finally succeeded, in the autumn of the following year, to tear myself away from Italy, in order to go and work as the Director of Studies of a language school in the seaside town of Las Arenas, situated outside Bilbao in the Basque Country of Spain.

Shortly before Christmas, I received a letter from Claudio inviting me to stay with him during the Christmas break. Pining for the somewhat more hospitable climate of the Italian peninsula, and missing dreadfully the country with which, during the three and a half years I had spent there, I had developed a kind of love-hate relationship, I was only too happy to accept his invitation.

Thus it was that, a few days before Christmas, with a streaming cold, I caught a plane from the little airport in Vitoria to make the first leg of my journey to Cartigliano, fully expecting to be dining out with Claudio in one of our favorite haunts that same evening.

Arriving in Barcelona to change flights, I found that the flight to Milan had been delayed by several hours, and when it eventually took off late that same afternoon, it had to be redirected to Genoa due to the appalling weather. After landing in Genoa, the passengers were packed onto coaches, which then slowly forced a passage across the Appenino Ligure to Milan.

By the time I arrived at the enormous Stazione Centrale in Milan in Milan, I found that it was too late to continue my journey, and, after phoning Claudio, I immediately booked into a nearby hotel. Having spent a few days in Milan with an Italian girl with whom I had formed a romantic, but short-lived relationship while teaching in Cambridge the previous summer, I now felt my loneliness keenly.

When I finally arrived in Cartigliano the following day, Claudio told me that he had  already promised some friends to attend a baptismal service which was to be held that very same evening in a church in the nearby town of Vicenza. If I wished to remain at home until his return, we could then go out for a meal. Alternatively, I could accompany him to the church and then, directly after the service, we could go and eat.

Because of my growing interest in spiritual matters, I agreed to go.

Half an hour later, expecting to find myself amongst marble columns, wraiths of incense, and protesting infants, I found myself, much to my surprise, descending a flight of stairs leading from a door beside a supermarket into a large basement room situated below ground level.

This was literally an underground church!

Seated at the end of this room, on a slightly raised dais, and around what appeared to be not an altar, but a large tank of water, was a group of mostly young people dressed in white. Following their immersion in this tank of water—a procedure which I found both absurd and, at the same time, for some inexplicable reason, deeply moving—those who had submitted to this extraordinary ritual explained to the congregation how it was that they had come to take this unusual step.

Since I has strayed away from the Church and drifted towards agnosticism in my teens, I had sought some kind of answer as to the fundamental meaning of life and as to the purpose of my own existence by studying Philosophy at University. Although I had soon arrived at the conclusion that there were no answers and that this line of enquiry was fruitless and had turned my attention to more “practical” issues, such as, “Should one be a socialist?”, and, “What is it that makes a scientific theory scientific?” and, more recently, to the literary masterpiece which would achieve for me Early Success, the same old questions had, in recent years, come back to haunt me.

The certainty which these young people possessed was something which I myself had long craved, and what they described as having experienced, I, too, thirsted after.

Following the service, which must have lasted two or three hours, but which seemed to go by very quickly, Claudio briefly introduced me to a number of friends, who all practiced the unusual custom of greeting each other with the word, “Pace!” (“Peace!”), and kissing each other on both cheeks. We then drove straightaway to one of our favourite places of refreshment, situated just outside the medieval town walls of nearby Marostica.

Surprised by my friend’s apparent defection from The One True Church (he had, much to my disgust, crossed himself when, during a walk in the flat Veneto countryside a couple of years earlier, we had walked past a shrine of the Madonna), I asked him he considered himself to be a Catholic or a Protestant.

“I don’t really understand these issues,” he replied. “All I know is that two thousand years ago, a man called Jesus Christ died for me, nailed here and here [at this point he indicated his hands and feet] to a cross.”

“I don’t really understand these issues,” he replied. “All I know is that two thousand years ago, a man called Jesus Christ died for me, nailed here and here [at this point he indicated his hands and feet] to a cross.”

At the end of the following June, after what had turned out to be an equally unhappy year in the Basque Country, I decided to return to the country where I had already spent three and a half years, and to seek work as a teacher there for the following academic year. In order to tide myself over during the summer months, when it was impossible to ply my usual trade, I decided to work with another close friend, Sergio, as a streetside portrait artist in the Italian seaside resort of Lido di Jesolo.

As with Claudio, I had met Sergio in the school in Bassano where I had worked two years earlier, and where he also worked as a teacher. Although born in Venice of Italian parents, Sergio had been brought up in London, where his father had worked as chef for the late Dame Margot Fonteyn, and he therefore spoke fluent English. Having returned to Italy in his late teens, he now lived with his widowed mother in the small town of Marostica, which is situated a few miles to the west of Bassano.

During the evenings, we would set ourselves up in the Via Bafile, the main concourse of Jesolo, and draw portraits of the tourists who promenaded up and down it after they had eaten their evening meals. During the day, we would swim, lie on the beach or on one of the many wooden pontili, or piers, which stretched out into the sea, chat up some of the pretty girls whose portraits we had drawn, play with the children of the local shop-keepers, consort with the various forms of “low life” who, like flies to the dung, would swarm to this place during the summer months, and generally while away the hours.

Only occasionally would we venture into nearby Venice, travelling first by bus to Punta Sabbione, situated on the tip of the eastern littorale, and thence by vaporetto across the melancholy lagoon, to buy artist’s materials there, and, on one occasion, to visit the atrocious Biennale Exhibition, much of which even my relatively liberal and open-minded friend, Sergio, dismissed as frivolous and banal, and where Sergio, who unlike me, had managed to throw off what he called my “Garden of Eden complex”, fell foul of an over-zealous attendant who insisted that he put on his shirt in compliance with a recent edict of the Commune.

At weekends, I would occasionally escape from the worldly vanity which is represented at Jesolo in all its purple and scarlet splendor, and of which I was growing increasingly weary, and return by autobus to Bassano. There, after a brief phone call, my ever reliable and punctual friend Claudio would drive out from Cartigliano to fetch me.

On those occasions when my craving for some kind of answer as to the fundamental meaning of life triumphed over the growing fear that the “secrets” of my heart might be “made manifest” (1 Cor. 15:25), and that I might be converted by this strange Pentecostalist sect, I would accompany Claudio in his FIAT Ritmo to that same church in Vicenza where the baptismal service which I had attended several months earlier had been held.

“Great earthquakes in divers places, famines, pestilences, and fearful sights”

In recent months, there had been “great earthquakes in divers places” (Mexico), “famines” (Ethiopia), “pestilences” (AIDS), and “fearful sights” (the explosion of the American space-shuttle, “Challenger” in the sky above Cape Canaveral followed, a month later, by the meltdown of one of the nuclear reactors at the Chernobyl power station, resulting in a cloud of radioactive dust spreading over much of Europe. And, despite the hopes for world peace which had been engendered the previous year by the accession of the dynamic and relatively youthful man, with the curious strawberry-red birthmark on his forehead, to the General Secretaryship of the Communist Part of the Soviet Union, the threat of nuclear holocaust still hung over the world.

“The days of this world are numbered,” I remarked somewhat apocalyptically, over my cappuccino and briosc, in Jesolo one morning not long after my return from Spain, to my ecologically-minded and environmentally-conscious friend, Sergio, who could not understand my growing interest in things eternal and spiritual, and who would frequently berate me for my apparent lack of interest in things environmental and nuclear.

Taking place as it did at a time when there was great anxiety in the world as to its future, and as to the very survival of mankind, I was particularly interested, in the months immediately following my conversion, as to what the Bible had to say about these matters. But although I voraciously read those passages in the Bible which deal with (or which are held to deal with) the period immediately preceding the Second Coming of Christ, the notion that the Rapture of the Church would happen at any time other than at our Lord’s visible return to earth following the “tribulation of those days” (Mt. 24:29), would not in a thousand years have occurred to me.

On the contrary, it seemed to me from such passages as Revelation 11:7, 12:11, and 17, 13:7, and 15, and 14:13, that the “saints” would be persecuted and, in many cases, even martyred, in that final 42-month period preceding the Second Coming, when a figure whom the Bible variously describes as the “man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:3, A.V.), the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:3, N.I.V.), the “lawless one” ( 2 Thess. 2:8, 9, N.I.V., N.K.J.V.), the “antichrist” (1 Jn. 2:18, 22; 4:3; and 2 Jn. 8, hence the term Antichrist which is popularly applied to this figure), and the “beast” (Rev. 13:1-5), would rule over much, if not all, of the world (see Rev. 13:7).

Not only that, but I came under the growing conviction that I, too, might one day face persecution for my Christian beliefs.

A Wayfaring Man

It wasn’t until the winter of that year that I was finally to be confronted with the Rapture question.

My “warfare” in that place now accomplished, I had returned from the spiritual wilderness which is Jesolo to the area of Bassano, where, as a result of my conversion, I had made a number of new friends. Having set up on my own as a freelance teacher and translator, I had found temporary lodgings in the little town of Marostica (or Marostega, as it is known in the local dialect), which is situated just below the Altopiano, or high tableland, of Asiago.

The central square of this town, where the “winged lion” of La Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia still stands guard, is over looked by the ruins of a medieval castle which stands on a high hill above the town. Known as Piazza Castello, after the Castello Inferiore, or Lower Castle, which is situated at its southern end, it is laid out like a chess board.

Many hundreds of years ago, two valiant knights had played a game of chess to settle the question of which of them should win the hand of the beautiful Lionora, daughter of Taddeo Parisio, fief of the Serene Republic, and Castellan of the Castello Superiore, or Upper Castle. In order that the local townspeople should be able to follow the proceedings, the Castellan had decreed that the moves of the two players should be replicated by people representing the chess pieces, using as a board the paving stones of the Castle Square. Every two years, in late September, the descendants of those self-same Marosticenci burgers re-enact this chivalrous episode in their history.

Because of my interest in the end-time matters, I was extremely anxious to hear what light this undoubtedly compelling and gifted preacher of the Word had to throw on what is, after all, one of the principal texts which speak of the Second Coming. My interest in what he had to say was such that I attended every one of his sermons, usually being given a lift by my friend and brother in the faith, Beppe, who also lived in Marostica, and, on one occasion, when Beppe and I managed to miss each other, even braving the fifteen or so miles of winter air which lay between Marostica and Vicenza on my mo-ped, so as not to miss any of his words!

On the Sunday morning following the last of this series of sermons, I accompanied Beppe in his VOLVO estate car to Vicenza. There we picked up some of the fellow-“pilgrims” who, with Johny, were slowly making their way in caravans to the Holy Land, and drove them to our sister church in Padua, where Johny was to give a final sermon.

As we walked from Beppe’s car towards the church on that cold, but sunny November morning, Johny came up to me and told me that he was at that time writing a book. He was looking for someone who was English and worked with the English language, and who would be willing to correct and type out the manuscript of this book.

Flattered by the attention which this extremely charismatic and almost “larger than life” figure gave me, and itching to know more about what he had to say about the end times, I eagerly offered him my services.

Thus it was that, later that same day, Beppe and I found ourselves in the small, but extremely comfortable sitting room of Johny’s caravan, with its eighteenth-century etching of Copenhagen above the mantelpiece and a photograph of Johny, his Breton wife Giselle, and his first ten children on the wall. And it was there that, after a short time of prayer, Johny consigned to me the first few chapters of his book to correct and type out.

In this book, which bore the working title, Wayfaring Men, Johny describes how he had pastured a Pentecostalist church in north Copenhagen, but had been excommunicated for writing an article in an interdenominational magazine in which, taking Hebrews 10:37 and 38 (cf. Hab. 2:3, 4) as his text, he had warned that the Church would one day have to face an evil dictator who would be ten times worse than Hitler!

Although it seemed obvious to me from the passages of the book of Revelation already cited above that believers would be persecuted and even martyred during the 42-month rule of the Antichrist, the denomination to which Johny’s church belonged (the Danish Apostolisk Kirke), taught that the Church would be taken from the earth before The Tribulation, as they call the final seven-year period immediately preceding the Second Coming, got underway. In his book, he describes how other members of his church pointed to chapter 4 of the book of Revelation as “proof” that the Church would no longer be on earth during this time.

Needless to say, when I read and checked out this passage in the Bible Myself, as I did all Scriptural references in Johny’s book, I could find nothing here which, to my mind at least, seemed even remotely to refer to the Rapture of the Church, and my immediate reaction was to wonder whether Johny had cited the correct Bible reference.

Little did I know that the denomination to which the very church which I myself was at that time attending, the Chiesa Evangelica delle Assemblee di Dio in Italia, or “Assemblies of God in Italy”, held to precisely the same doctrine which Johny had challenged in Denmark.

A Newly-Converted Christian Comes Across the Pretribulation Rapture Theory

At that particular time, I was staying in a little Pensione, situated in the Piazza Castello in Marostica.

Here, in the evenings, the townspeople would gather, in order to meet their friends, and to drink an aperitivo, or ombra, meaning “shadow”, as the Veneti refer to such a drink, in one of the many bars in the square, or to take the evening air. Some would stand in groups, on the smooth paving stones of the square itself, or under the illuminated arcades that run along each of its sides, while others would walk repeatedly up and down the square like swimmers swimming the lengths of a swimming pool, for which reason the custom is known locally as fare le vasce, or “swimming the lengths”, deliberating the pressing issues of the day.

Every Wednesday evening at this time, away from the hustle and bustle of the centre of this small, but lively town, and unbeknown to the overwhelmingly vast majority of its townspeople, I and other believers, who on Sundays attended the much larger church in Vicenza, would gather in a little hall which had been built behind of the house of a local family to worship and to study the Bible. The service would be led by one of the elders of the church in Vicenza, and an Italian translation of an Assemblies of God study manual would form the basis of our study. The subject of our study at that time was the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and although this would not appear to be directly related to the subject of the Rapture, the author of the study manual in question had managed to insert something into his text about this event.

As I sat in my room, which looked out onto the square, quietly reading the chapter of the manuale di studio which formed the basis of that week’s study, I stumbled across a statement which seemed to be in such flagrant contradiction to what I myself had understood from Scripture that my initial reaction was to wonder whether the original English text had been mistranslated, or whether I myself, despite my considerable knowledge of Italian, had misunderstood the text.

I read it several times to ensure that I had understood it correctly, but there was no getting away from it. The clear import of the Italian text was that it was the Holy Spirit within the Church who was holding back the “man of lawlessness”, and that He would continue to do so until the Church was taken out of the way at the Rapture! Consequently, the Rapture of the Church described in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians would take place not after the “rebellion” described in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 had occurred, and the man whom he describes as the “man of lawlessness” had been revealed, as Paul so clearly seems to state, but before!

During the months which I spent working on the manuscript of Johny’s book, I would pay frequent visits to the Danish “pilgrims”, both to discuss with Johny the work which I was doing on his book, and to pick up new chapters as he completed them which I eagerly read. Utterly perplexed by what I had read in the Assemblies of God study manual, I decided to take the opportunity afforded by my next visit to the “pilgrims’ to discuss this matter with him.

The “pilgrims” were at that time encamped on a small patch of wasteland, which was situated near the bus and railways stations in Padua, and which the commune, or town council, had provided them with for their temporary use. As we sat down in the warmth of the small, but extremely comfortable sitting room of his caravan where, several weeks earlier Johny had consigned to me the first few chapters of his book, I asked him if he could throw any light on the matter.

In answer to my question, Johny told me to turn to the closing verses of chapter 4 of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Having first made it clear to me that he believed that there would in fact be a Rapture, he then told me to turn to the second chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, and to read out aloud what I read.

Opening the copy of the New International Version of the Bible which Hansa, the Indian-born girl who had recently become Claudio’s wife, had lent me, I read:

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness[a] is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. (2 Thess. 2:1-12)

In this passage, Paul expressly states that “the day of the Lord”, by which I understood “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him” (2 Thess. 2:1), that is, the Rapture of the Church, “will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction”.

Johny agreed with me that, these words of the apostle Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians emphatically and explicitly exclude the possibility of the Rapture occurring before the “man of lawlessness” had been revealed and before the “rebellion”, which is described in so much more detail in Revelation 13, and in which the “saints” will be martyred for not taking the mark of the beast and worshipping his image, had got underway.

In answer to my question as to how Bible-believing Christians could teach, contrary to the apostle Paul’s clear words in his second letter to the Thessalonians, that the Rapture of the Church would take place before the “rebellion occurs and the man of sin is revealed”, he proceeded to give me a brief account of its history.


2 Responses to “1. A Newly-Converted Christian Comes Across the Pretribulation Rapture Theory”

  1. 1 Uber Highwayman August 9, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    Yo, Tony…

    Interesting story! I see you’re an advocate of premillennialism. I don’t share that view of Christ’s second advent, being as it is a relatively recent view of eschatology, and it would be to me a somewhat futile endeavor to try and reconcile end-time events into a plausible scenario with the Lord returning BEFORE the great tribulation.

    I think the Bible is pretty plain that there will be no one left alive on Earth during the 1000 year interval between Christ’s second and final advent, when the unrighteous dead are resurrected (after being destroyed at His second advent) to receive judgement for their unrepentant sin.

    What about the harvesting of the wheat and tares? I read that to mean there will only be one harvest, and no probationary interval at all. What follows after a 1000 year sojourn in heaven is the ressurection of the unrepentant for annihilation!

    Where is the danger of accepting the beast’s mark, or confronting the Anti-Christ, when the “rapture” would precede these events, given the time-line?

    And… where is the term “rapture” found in scripture? Is there a danger accompanying the addition of words to scripture, when that is a warning given in Rev. 22:18? Perhaps, the prophet knew this would happen, and wrote the warning specifically for those living in future (our) times?

    Anyway, I’ll be seeing you around… if not here, then Suzie’s!


  2. 2 Arnold Rajan September 20, 2007 at 7:29 am

    I am glad to see more and more sites educating Christians regarding the false teaching – Per-tribulation. I have studied the Scriptures on the 2nd Coming for years, looking at the contexts, drawing timelines, and the Bible is very clear that Christ will return visibly, gloriously, after the Great Tribulation, at which time the dead saints are resurrected and the living saints are transformed and all meet the Lord as He returns to earth. It amazes me how anyone can read the Bible and claim a secret rapture.

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