Friday, December 15, 2006

THE RAPTURE

This week is our final installment in the Revelation Bible study I've been teaching this fall. We are discussing the issue of the rapture and the rest of Left Behind eschatology that is popular in modern evangelical circles.

One big part of this picture of the End Times is something called The Rapture. The Rapture is a when Christians will disappear from the earth, taken to heaven with Jesus, while everyone else is left on the earth to suffer a time of great tribulation and suffering, while getting a second chance at God's redemptive plan.

While many Biblical texts can be forced to yield such an interpretation, this scheme is nowhere in the Bible. The biggest passage used to support a rapture position is 1 Thess. 4:13-18.
13Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.

This passage can sound a lot like a 'secret' rapture passage, until we give consideration to the context with which it's placed.
  1. Historical Context- Paul is making a comparison to a King returning to or visiting a city in his jurisdiction. According to Roman custom, when a king/emperor/high official went to a city, before he would arrive, the city gates were to be opened and all the important people in the city would leave the city to greet the official on his approaching of the city. Then, they would escort him back to the city as their King. This was the proper greeting of a King. This is what we expect to see when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. If this did not occur, the official had every right to have the city destroyed by his army. Jesus was not greeted in the manner appropriate for a king on Palm Sunday, so what does he do? He goes off into a discourse on judgment on Jerusalem; this is done in a series of parables in Matthew. Paul uses this, we will be 'caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air' phrase because it is an allusion to the greeting of a King returning to his kingdom. Jesus was not properly greeted his first time, but this time he will be. Since Jesus went up into the air (cf. Acts 1), that is where is will return from. We will leave and meet him and escort him back to the earth, as is customary - He is our King. That is Paul's point in this passage.
  2. Literary Context - Paul is addressing the issue of the Second Coming of Jesus. The next chapter (5) is about this as well. Paul is not addressing one issue (a rapture) in this passage and another issue (a glorious appearing) in the next. Paul is talking about one thing. This is the Day of Judgment. There is no one left after a rapture to continue their daily lives. When Jesus returns, not only will Christians welcome him as their King, but the judgment of the Lord will be upon the earth.

The biggest sales pitch for a so-called rapture is that Christians will escape this time of tribulation and suffering that will precede the End. But this is nowhere in the Bible. Even if we look to Revelation, it is Christians who do suffer a time of tribulation, which they must endure and remain faithful in order to share in the Kingdom of Heaven. John's context in Revelation is the Roman empire. Christians suffer at the hands of Rome, if they do not participate in emperor worship. This is the time of tribulation that comes before the end, as John sees it.

Now this idea of suffering before the End is popular is apocalyptic writings (including Revelation and Daniel). Daniel saw this time of suffering as the reign and oppression of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. John saw it was the reign of Caesars Nero and Domition. There is not cause to not believe that the end will be preceded by a time of tribulation. We just must reconsider what they suffering consists of. One this is certain, if involved the people of God being persecuted (political and/or social) for their continued faithfulness to God.

This kind of theology that portrays a 'rapture ' is called Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism is a way of reading the Bible that splits history up into 7 dispensations (how God works with people). Depending of when one is living one must continually readjust the dates and dispensations in order to fit history. In order to divde history this way, you have to divide the Bible into chunks that don't give any consideration to how and when the Bible was written. All apocalyptic writings in the Bible, then, are read as one big passage that gives a blueprint for the future. Once again, there is no respect given to text context of the passages, historical or literary.

This way of reading the Bible (Dispensationalism) has never been accepted doctrine by the church - protestant or catholic. It is fairly new, a product of the 19th Century. Biblical scholars who have studied these texts and their contexts have never approved of this way of reading the Bible or understanding the End. Pick up any serious commentary or book on Revelation and you won't find Left Behind theology. In fact many commentaries are not written to combat the ignorance perpetuated by the Left Behind series. Dispensationalism just doesn't take into consideration the historical or literary contexts of the Bible's books or the Bible as a whole.

1 comment:

Secret Rapture said...

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