No, I don’t mean aeroplanes; I’ve spent far too much time in those things.
In the past couple of days, I’ve come across a couple of excellent blog posts that look at what is sometimes called the ‘rapture’. This is the notion that when Jesus returns, all of his followers will fly up in the air, to go back to heaven with him. Rapture stories in one form or another have been best sellers in the Christian fiction market for years. However, though the concept is firmly embedded in the Evangelical mindset, there is little by way of Biblical evidence for it. But, as Chris Wright says in The God I Don’t Understand, there are massive pressures to shape our thoughts of the End Times according to popular culture, rather than through the Bible and the historical understandings of the church.
The two posts that I recently came across, do a good job of explaining why we need to re-examine ideas about the rapture against Scriptural teaching. The first one is by Kurt Willems and is entitled Why The Rapture Isn’t Biblical… and Why It Matters. He opens with a general statement about the breadth of the Bible’s teaching.
Eventually this planet would be destroyed and we Christians would “fly away” to heaven at the rapture of the church. Certain Christians understood the timing of the rapture as it corresponds to the book of Revelation differently than others, but no one ever denied the imminent return of Jesus to evacuate the church out of earth.
What I’ve come to realize is that the church of my youth probably had the rapture all wrong. You see, the Bible flows from Creation (Gen 1-2) to Renewed Creation (Rev 21-22). This is the narrative of Scripture. Nothing in the text (if read in its proper context) alludes to the actual complete destruction of the planet. This world’s worth to the Creator runs deep and because of this, the world as a whole ought to be intrinsically valuable to us.
He then moves on to examine at some depth 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, which is one of the passages often used to justify teaching on the rapture. There isn’t space to quote all of his arguments, so please read the whole post. However, his conclusion is clear:
Rapture, as it is popularly understood, is nowhere to be found in this “rapture” passage. Christ will return to resurrect, to purge, to heal, and to establish the eternal kingdom of God on this earth. Heaven and earth will unite like a bride and husband – for all eternity. That’s it.
The second piece on the rapture is a section in a longer article entitled The Dangerous Heresy of Zionism by Carl Medearis. He writes:
The rapture is a popular idea that Jesus will actually return twice: first of all secretly, to rescue true believers out of the world, then later visibly with his saints to judge the world. There is, again, no basis in Scripture for this novel idea. The Bible is emphatic: the return of Jesus will be personal, sudden, public, visible and glorious.
Matthew 24:30-31 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the peoples of the earth[a] will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” “For 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. After 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.
The idea of a secret rapture is actually based on a misreading of Matthew 24:40-41 and Luke 17:34-35 where Jesus warns that one person will be taken and the other left behind. Rapture proponents insist it is the believers who will be taken and that unbelievers left behind. However, in the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13, Jesus provides the key to interpreting the later parable, “Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:30).
So it will be unbelievers who are ‘taken’ first and believers who are ‘left behind’ to be with Christ.
However we understand the ambiguous apocalyptic language of Matthew 24, or Revelation, about the future, we must hold on to the clear promises of Jesus. He will never leave us nor forsake us (John 10:27-30; 14:14-27). The biblical vision of the future is of paradise restored and healing of the nations.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1-2)
Our mandate is to be peacemakers not widow makers (Matthew 5:3-10). We are ‘God’s co-workers’ entrusted as ambassadors with a ministry of reconciliation not speculation (2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2).
I realise that there is a lot in Medearis’ article that is likely to upset some readers of kouyanet. If you disagree with what he says about Israel, please feel free to comment on the original site but do not do so here. This post isn’t about the role of Israel and I will delete any comments which are off topic.
If you want to read more about a Biblical view of the future, you cannot do better than get hold of Surprised by Hope by Tom Wright. For a view of how rapture theology appears to non-Christians, Paul Beaumont’s Brief Eternity is well worth a read.