The Rapture refers to the belief that, with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to earth, believers who have died will be raised and believers who are still alive will be transported to meet the Lord.
A recent Newsweek poll found that 55 percent of Americans believe the Rapture is real, and a Pew Research Center survey revealed that 27 percent of U.S. Christians believe a related event, Jesus' return to earth, will "definitely" happen by 2050. An estimated 20 percent say it will "probably" occur.
"The dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord," a passage in the New Testament reads.
Non-believers dismiss the notion of the Rapture as everything from a misinterpretation of the Bible to wishful thinking.
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But believers point to several indications as to why the Rapture may be real and near at hand. Here are seven reasons:
1. The "tribulation" may be already happening.
The tribulation is the final seven years of human history, a period of horrible events threatening humanity. Some believe it will occur after the Rapture, but many believe it will occur before the Rapture and the Second Coming.
One need not look far to find horrible threatening realities today, including the increase of Islamic terrorism, ISIS, nuclear-armed North Korea, Iran's possible acquisition of nuclear weapons, the increasing bellicosity of Vladimir Putin's Russia, Boko Haram, the scourge of drug abuse, human trafficking, abortion, AIDS, not to mention social injustice, violence, hunger, preventable illness, and the destruction of nature.
2. Jesus Christ himself promised that he would return to the earth immediately after the tribulation.
In Matthew, He said: "Immediately after the tribulation . . . the sign of the Son of God will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with power and great glory."
3. Jesus tells the Apostles that before the Second Coming, "They will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of my name."
Christians are currently suffering unprecedented persecution, even slaughter, at the hands of Islamic terrorists, while churches in China are being destroyed and Christians there are being harshly oppressed.
4. In the last days many believers will turn away from God, Jesus also foretold.
A new poll found that the number of Christians in the U.S. dropped by 8 percentage points in seven years, while the number of those who are unaffiliated with a religion rose from 16 percent to 23 percent. And of those unaffiliated Americans, 31 percent are now atheists or agnostics.
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The percentage of Europeans who are turning away from religion is even higher than in the U.S., and the world's most populous nation, China, discourages religious beliefs.
5. In Revelation, John wrote: "I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God."
ISIS has been beheading countless Christians in the Middle East strictly because of their faith.
6. The Bible states that the Rapture will follow the rebirth of Israel
, which took place in 1948, and the nation will be a source of conflict in the last days.
7. Several biblical analysts point to a prophesy in the book of Ezekiel
indicating that in the end times, a military alliance will develop between what is believed to be Russia, Iran, Syria, and Turkey, with those nations attempting to destroy Israel.
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Iran is already supporting the Assad regime in Syria, an enemy of Israel, while Turkey's relations with Israel have become strained and Russia has sealed a deal to send weapons to Iran, which has vowed to destroy Israel.
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