“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter” – Winston Churchill
Some days I worry about the Rapture. Sure, nobody likes to get left behind, but given my ethnic extraction and questionable hobbies, I’m quite certain that my name’s not on the short list. The source of my concern isn’t that I’m being excluded from the party, rather it’s more mathematical. Basically, the numbers worry me.
Now, the quick and dirty on the Rapture is that while most Christian denominations can agree that eventually Jesus H. Christ will be making a comeback tour, opinions tend to vary widely on what happens next. A good portion of Christianity in all its differing forms uses “Rapture” simply to mean the final egalitarian resurrection of everybody there at the end of the universe, which is far less existentially alarming than a bunch of select folks vanishing into thin air regardless of whether they are driving a car, flying a plane, putting out a fire, or running a nuclear power plant. And rest assured, there is a segment of Christian believers that adhere to the notion of a “pre-tribulation” Rapture. Anything involving the phrase “tribulation” is something to fret about. And I don’t like the looks of the Anti-Christ. He seems pretty shady to me. At any rate, the pre-tribulation Rapture advocates suggest that right before the son of God touches down for the second time, a group of righteous believers will be whisked up into the air to meet him, and then receive all those awesome schwag bags associated with Heaven, while the rest of us hang out down here suffering through the Apocalypse. It’s a much more exclusive Rapture.
It’s hard to pin down the actual number of people that would be eligible for a pre-tribulation Rapture were it to happen today. That is because officially, the Rapture is said to involve only “saints and the elect of god”, and while I have a straightforward sense of who a saint is (although even this varies across denominations), I’ve been researching what exactly someone had to do to be included in “the elect of God”, and I’ve got to say it isn’t looking promising. Let’s run the numbers.
Currently, world population is hovering near seven billion, of which 33% regard themselves as Christian (of any denomination), meaning that there are about 2,310,000,000 folks who label themselves as Christian. The sudden disappearance of over two billion people, while shortening the lines at Starbucks, would no doubt have rather serious worldwide and sociological and economic implications. Don’t worry. Not going to happen. You see, theologically, the 1.2 billion Catholics, 300 million Eastern Orthodox, 90 million Lutherans, 85 million Anglicans, and some additional 85 million members of the sects loosely defined as “Reformed Church” aren’t theologically kosher with the idea of a pre-tribulation Rapture. Of course, there is little doubt that in order to be raptured pre-tribulation, one must actually believe in the pre-tribulation Rapture ethos. That means that of the 2,310,000,000 Christians in the world, around two billion are practically knocked out of the running, leaving on the high end, somewhere in the neighborhood of 310,00,000 possible candidates. Obviously, just because you declare yourself a Christian and steadfastly believe in a pre-tribulation Rapture, this does not necessarily mean you are a righteous dude meriting the eternal Oscar. Heaven’s got to have some standards. I’m feeling generous towards humanity today, so let’s assume that of the 310 million possible Rapturees, a staggering 75% not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. This leaves an upper limit of 232,500,000 souls that might unexpectedly vanish in a divine airlift. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Brazil or Indonesia. That would be a tad disturbing, but nonetheless that is about the change in world population from 2010-2015. About 130 million babies are born every year, so two years post-Rapture we would be golden, if it weren’t for the whole imminent Armageddon thing. All that fire and brimstone in the air sort of puts a damper on dating, so maybe people will be preoccupied with running for their live rather than procreating, although given the history of the human race that seems unlikely.
Many of you may be thinking the flaw in my logic revolves around the fact that my estimate of who is rapturable is overly optimistic, and the more I read about celestial admissions criteria, the more inclined I am to agree. The whole rapture theology, although practically originating in liberal interpretations of Thessalonians 4:17 (“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord”) and the Book of Revelation, really got started with Puritans, later popularized and spread around in earnest in the 1830’s by an Anglo-Irish evangelical movement called the Plymouth Brethren. It wasn’t easy to be a Puritan. They disapproved of a lot. Celebrating Christmas, for instance. Also, gambling, dancing, acting, and most of those activities we would regard as essential modern entertainment. It doesn’t matter who you are and what specific theology you espouse. Chances are you would make a rotten Puritan, which leads us back to the question of who the lucky “saints” and “elect of god” are.
While the Catholic Church doesn’t advocate the pre-tribulation Rapture, they do know their saints, what with formalized procedures for identifying and beatifying them. In Catholicism there are about 10,000 saints. That seems like a manageable number. Then there are the “elect of god”, which one would assume, given that they came up with the idea of a Rapture draft, would look and behave largely like Puritans. The problem is there aren’t any Puritans around anymore (it was actually a pejorative term in the 16th-18th Centuries), nor was it ever an actual sect, rather a loose identification of Protestants who thought the Church of England was too Roman Catholic for their tastes, and about the only modern group that claims any descent from the Puritans are those in the Congregationalist tradition, but many of the modern Congregationalists don’t believe in the Rapture. It’s a theological fine point, but the remaining Rapture fans tend to be dispensational millenialists (in evangelical, but non-Lutheran, and fundamentalists movements). All told there are about 5 million Congregationalists left worldwide and 1 million Plymouth Brethren (remember the guys who popularized Rapture-chic in the 1830’s). Now, let’s assume that the universe isn’t so bureaucratic as to ensure that mere membership in one of these organizations merits reward. How many of the six million possible candidates could be considered “elect of god”? The general interpretation of the concept suggests that the Judeo-Christian god predestined a select group of shining examples for salvation “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). The actual philosophy behind this is complicated and has long been hotly debated, but suffice it to say, the “elect” are frequently identified as a “remnant” that were chosen to unavoidably behave in imitation of the purported son of God. While this doesn’t seem especially fair, since the only people that thus get raptured couldn’t avoid being so awesomely pre-destined to be insufferably righteous, it does suggest that we’re not talking about the whole kit and caboodle of pre-tribulation Rapture believers that follow vaguely Puritan traditions. So how much is a remnant? Biblically, since we are talking about biblical interpretation, “remnant” refers to what is left of a community after it undergoes some sort of horrific catastrophe such as the small group of Israelites who survive the 8th Century B.C. invasion of the Assyrian army under Tiglath-Pileser III (Isaiah 10:20–22). In the 8th Century B.C., the entire population of the Kingdom of Israel was estimated to be about 350,000, the majority of which, but not necessarily all of which were Jews. Again, it may be overly optimistic of me, but let’s err on the side of a larger sample size and call a “remnant” something like a third of the population, or 100,000 people.
So, we’ve got our 10,000 saints, plus our 100,000 remnant “elect of god”, suggesting that when the rapture comes, we’re looking at in the neighborhood of 110,000 lucky fellows that get to lounge in eternal luxury while the rest of us try to avoid descending into cannibalism. This leads to my biggest concern regarding the Rapture, which given that 110,000 people essentially equals the population of Peoria, Illinois, we might miss the fact that it happened. I mean, nearby Pekin, IL might wonder why it was so quiet over there, but the rest of us would largely be oblivious. A certain genre of fiction has proliferated recently surrounding the Rapture, from the “Left Behind” books to the creepy “Leftovers” television series, and when popular media envision the consequences, the world looks kind of stunned and empty, when it seems like we would have a hard time figuring out that any sort of Rapture event had occurred at all. By the way, has anyone checked on Peoria lately?