The Rapture is a heterodox doctrine stating that faithful Christians will be removed suddenly without notice from the earth prior to a time of ‘tribulation’ preceding the return of Jesus Christ to the earth, saving them from this time of persecution. The idea behind it is that Christ will ‘save’ His Church from persecution.
Where does the word "Rapture" come from?
The word does not exist in the English Bible. Its involvement comes from the Latin Vulgate version of 1 Thessalonians 4:17. This is a description of the Second Coming of Christ.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will rise first; then we, who are left alive, will be caught up with them on clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.
In this verse, St. Paul uses the verb ἁρπαγησόμεθα (harpagisometha), which means "caught up" or "taken away", with the connotation that this is a "sudden event". The dictionary form of this Greek verb is harpazō (ἁρπάζω).
The Latin Vulgate Bible translates the word ἁρπαγησόμεθα as rapiemur, from the Latin verb rapio meaning "to catch up" or "take away". It is from this slight translation difference that the word Rapture comes in.
Expositors of the Rapture have many different beliefs about it – none of them agreeing with the other. There are those who believe in pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, post-tribulation, pre-wrath and partial Raptures. What is the difference between them?
Suffice it to say that they simply place the Rapture at different times with relation to the Great Tribulation. But since there actually is no rapture in Orthodox Christian theology, the point becomes moot.
Origins of Rapture concepts.
The beginnings of the modern Rapture for certain protestant denominations are rooted in premillenialism, an extension of the Protestant reformation. Premillenialism is simply the heresy of chiliasm – the belief that Jesus' reign at his return will last 1,000 years. This new idea contrasts greatly with the early Christian Church as the Nicene Creed states (“His Kingdom will have no end”).
You can find plenty on the origin of the Rapture online in many places, but suffice it to say that no one, anywhere in history, ever believed in the Rapture until nearly the 19th century and only certain groups in the West.
Who started it? How did this all begin?
It all began in the 19th century, with Edward Irving, a Scottish clergyman, and John Nelson Darby, a member of the Plymouth Brethren. Irving was intensely interested in the study of prophecy. Darby specifically taught that the Rapture would take place before the coming of Christ. For the most part, it all starts with Darby.
Cyrus Ingerson Scofield embraced Darby's views about the Rapture, and placed them prominently in the footnotes of his Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909, and which was widely used in England and America.
Once the Rapture idea appeared in the Scofield Reference Bible, it spread like fire among fundamentalist protestants and throughout the budding Protestant denominations which appeared in the 19th century.
In the 1970's Hal Lindsey's book “The Late, Great Planet Earth” spurred interest in prophecy studies again, and the Rapture played a prominent part of Prophecy studies at large, and sales skyrocketed.
Of course, Tim LeHaye's “Left Behind” series of books, merchandise, and even video games pushed this idea even further in the West.
There are two kinds of premillennialists: "Date setters" and "Date Teasers".
"Date setters", set specific dates which are in fact a countdown clock to the extinction of their own ministries. (William Miller, Charles Taize Russell, Harold Camping, etc.) They are always wrong. Why?
But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. (Matthew) 24:36
"Date teasers", share the same rhetoric of urgency that the "end is very soon", but refuse to set a specific date. This includes folks like Hal Lindsay, Tim LaHaye, Grant Jefferies, Jack Van Impe , Pentecostals, Baptists, Christadelphians, and more but not all.
The Secret Rapture?
There is no secret Rapture, in which the Lord sneaks by the earth to grab the faithful without anyone seeing Him. Folks will not be here one moment and be gone the next in a mass disappearance that no one can explain.
At the Second Coming of our Lord, there will be no possible doubt. We will know it – it will be impossible not to know it.
He will come:
"In the clouds of heaven," Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7
"As the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west." Matthew 24:27
"Every eye shall see Him!" Revelation 1:7
"The dead will rise from their graves!" I Thessalonians 4:16
"Time will stop! The heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat!" 2 Peter 3:10
The event will be unmistakable, to say the least.
We won't see this on TV. Our Lord's awesome Coming will follow the reign of the Antichrist, and will initiate the complete transformation of the world. There is no "secret Rapture" where the Lord comes secretly and takes all the "good guys" to heaven and then plunges the world into all sorts of horrible tribulations.
Though many believe and some protestant groups teach this “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” theory, they erroneously do so, because neither Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, nor any of the other writers of the Bible taught this.
Nor did the early church fathers in all their many writings , nor any others for centuries upon centuries ... none of this was ever taught prior to 1812 and again only in the West, and only within certain Protestant groups.
It should be noted again that not all Protestant pastors believe in the Rapture. Until the 1970's, only a "small" minority of Protestant Christian groups believed it.
Just to re-affirm, within early church writings no such idea has ever existed within Roman Catholicism (Rome) nor within the ancient Eastern Orthodox Church (Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople), that still exists to this day. There are thousands of writings for nearly 2,000 years now, and no such ideas exist in the Orthodox East.
This answer could be expanded even further in certain areas, but this is the most concise, direct, historical and theological factual answer I can give, trying to keep the answer readable. I hope it will enlighten everyone on the subject and you will do further research on the subject.