TO RAPTURE OR NOT TO RAPTURE
February 22, 2006
Over time, I have become increasingly annoyed by the multitude of preachers and authors who speak of the “Rapture” doctrine authoritatively, as if those who do not agree with their doctrine of the end times are somehow not fully orthodox Christians.
There is no orthodoxy when it comes to eschatology, which for the uninitiated is a term referring to the study of end things or the last times. Eschatology is a very controversial field of study. Lots of people have lots of views. In my opinion, it is highly doubtful that anyone at this point in time has it all exactly right. At least not yet.
When I was in Bible College, we studied in some detail seven major views regarding the end times. The professor explained each major view passionately, as if he believed it and wanted us to, as well. It was really quite fascinating. Not only was it interesting to study what each side believed, but it was rather disconcerting to see how easily the proponents of each view could poke major holes in the views of all the others. I remember thinking to myself that it was quite possible that God simply had not yet shed full light on this subject.
I should say at this juncture that although I have spent considerable time researching eschatology, I do not yet personally subscribe to any one view. However, I must with fear and trembling say this: The view that most evangelicals hold, the “pre-tribulation, pre-millennial rapture” view, is from a Biblical perspective probably the least defensible. There are more holes in it and more pure conjecture passing as truth than with any of the other major views held today.
This subject goes back more than 40 years with me. I was raised in a church that believed in the pre-tribulation rapture theory. I was spoon fed that doctrine from my earliest years. I was never even told that there were other views on this subject or that those views were held by some pretty well informed, well respected Christian leaders. In that way, I suppose I was a typical evangelical.
Later on in life, I began to get curious about what others believed regarding this fascinating subject, and I began to read their books. I was amazed by what I discovered. The more I read, the more I realized how little I knew about the subject. Even though I could describe in detail the events that would unfold under the pre-tribulation rapture theory, I had no idea how well others could defend eschatological systems that were quite different from the one I had always been taught.
It is not my goal here to tell you what I believe. My goal is to make you aware that there is a lot of debate about this subject. My goal is tell those readers who have devoured every book in the wildly popular Left Behind series, or cut their teeth on Hal Lindsey’s, “The Late Great Planet Earth,” as I did as a youngster, that you need to get out more. You need to broaden your horizons.
It is possible that none of that stuff is true. There are a lot of questions that you should be asking before you accept hook, line, and sinker that there is going to be a rapture “any day now,” as Andrea Crouch used to sing.
Allow me to ask a few questions to make my point. Do you know that there are several plausible ways to interpret Daniel's Seventy Week Prophesy, which is the backbone of all end times prophecy, and that there is more than one date at which the “seventy weeks of years” could have commenced and thus ended? Getting this prophecy is critical to understanding end times prophecy and there is much disagreement about what this prophecy means.
For example, if there were to be 69 weeks before the Messiah came, as Daniel wrote, and then the Messiah was to be cut off in the midst of the week, as I infer from Daniel’s prophecy, then there would be only one half of a week (or three and a half years) left in the prophecy when the Messiah was cut off at the crucifixion.
Why look for seven years in the Book of Revelation when there were only three and a half left? It is interesting to note that with all the sevens in the Book of Revelation, there is one seven missing, seven years. Mention of three and a half years is made three times, but there is not one mention of seven years in the entire book. Interesting.
It is also interesting to note that the current rapture theory is the relatively new kid on the block. The theory was first made public in modern times via the footnotes in the Scofield Bible and later made famous with the publication of “The Late Great Planet Earth” in 1970. Before that, the doctrine was all but unheard of. Most of the highly respected church leaders of history, giants like Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards, had end time views quite contrary to those promulgated in Lindsey’s books and in Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” series. I suspect that Spurgeon and Edwards would have rolled their eyes in disbelief at what their brethren have so quickly swallowed today as eschatological orthodoxy.
Then there are the Amillennialists. There are lots of them. Amillennialists do not believe in a literal millennium (1,000 year) period at the end of time. They teach that the millennium is unfolding now as the church takes dominion through the authority Christ gave it.
Amillennialists offer some pretty persuasive reasons why we should question whether the 1,000 years mentioned in only one place in the Book of Revelation is describing a literal thousand year period. They point out correctly that the number 1,000 is used several times in scripture, when it was obviously not meant to be taken literally, but rather to convey the notion of “a very large number.” For example, one verse says, “The Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” True, but He also owns the cattle on all the hills, and there are millions of them. One thousand clearly is used in this passage merely to convey the idea that God owns lots of cattle.
Another scripture says that the Lord will show mercy to a thousand generations. If that is a literal statement, even allowing for as little as 20 years per generation instead of the usual 40 most theologians adopt, there is a lot of history left to unfold before the end. It has been only 6,000 years since Adam and Eve drew their first breath. If the Lord is going to show mercy to a thousand literal generations, we have at least 14,000 years to go.
Will there be a future, literal thousand year rein on the earth? Who knows? With no specific backup, Revelation 19 is hardly a proof text, given its position in the midst of a book of symbols.
Are you aware that Jesus told the “generation of vipers” (His words) to whom He preached in ancient Palestine that they were going to be the ones to reap the judgment for all the wrongs that had been done, beginning with the slaying of righteous Abel and through to the slaying of the prophets and up to His time? Jesus said that the judgment that was to befall that generation would be the worst tribulation the world had ever seen and that there would never be another as bad. He also said that that generation would not pass away until all those things were fulfilled. Yet, many today preach that the Great Tribulation is still to come and that the generation that Jesus was referring to was the one that would be alive 2,000 years later when the nation of Israel became a nation again. That seems like quite a stretch.
In 70 A.D., thirty-seven years after Jesus pronounced judgment on the generation that rejected Him, the Romans under Titus utterly destroyed Jerusalem. Before taking the city, more than a million Jews died in a siege that lasted more than three years. In his book, “The Day Jerusalem Fell,” Post Millennialist writer, Gary Demar, describes events so horrific that one would doubt that any generation could suffer more than that one did. Demar suggests that it is the lack of familiarity with what happened to Jerusalem in 70 A.D. that makes people think the Great Tribulation is an event that will occur at some time in the future and not God’s judgment on the generation that rejected and crucified His Son.
Other Post Millennial writers like David Chilton and J. Marcellus Kik offer amazingly plausible alternative interpretations for such passages as Matthew 24, explaining why the first 31 verses of this famous chapter have nothing to do with the end times. You would be surprised by what they offer. For decades, I was certain that those verses could only be describing future events, but now I am doubtful. (The Day Jerusalem Fell and An Eschatology of Victory are just two of the many books on this subject and are a must read for anyone open to studying outside the box. They are available on Amazon.com)
Just to make them think, I sometimes ask my pre-trib friends to find one single verse in the Book of Revelation that clearly describes the rapture. Actually, there is none. The Second Coming at the end of time is there. But a rapture before that? Here it is, the so-called biggest prophetic event in 2,000 years and it is nowhere to be found in the book that is supposed to be about the end times. Rapture theorists have to insert it somewhere in the book and explain that it must have happened “by this point,” but they can’t actually find it in the text.
Many Christians who live and talk in an echo chamber, speaking only to those who have similar views on this subject, would be surprised to learn that there are a lot of strong Christians, who do not believe in the rapture. Lots. Many Christians do not believe that the devil is going to take over the planet in the end and run the show through some antichrist or that the Christians are going to be snatched out of here just in the nick of time. Some actually believe that the good guys and the gospel will be victorious and eventually disciple all nations, not by force, but by the preaching of the gospel. I am not sure, but I hope they are right. I like that ending better.
I wonder how many Rapture adherents, who are looking for the rise of the antichrist, have considered the words the apostle John wrote near the end of his life where he described the antichrist as anyone who preaches that Jesus Christ is not come in the flesh. The apostle even explains that way back then there were many antichrists going about trying to deceive. Did you know that there were many antichrists running around 2,000 years ago? John said there were.
Some expositors believe that Nero Caesar was the man described by John the Revelator as the Beast, because one could buy or sell without using money imprinted with his picture and name and because the letters of his name added up to the number 666. Has the Beast already come and gone? Some say he has. Nero was a very devilish man, who even went so far as to burn Christians as torches to light up ancient Rome.
Are you aware that the Book of Revelation may have been written around 65 A.D., just before the destruction of Jerusalem, instead of 90 A.D., as is commonly claimed? If so, that changes everything. Much rapture eschatology is based on a later date for the writing of the Revelation. You see, John was told at the beginning of the book that the events he was going to be shown would “shortly come to pass.” Contrast that with the instruction to Daniel centuries earlier to seal up the prophecy he received, because it was for another time down the road.
It seems a bit of a stretch to claim with authority that those events described in the Revelation, which were supposed to come to pass shortly were really going to happen 2,000 years later. Instead, maybe most of them happened a few short years later with the destruction of Jerusalem. Maybe.
Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant movement taught that the pope was or will be the antichrist and points out that the Vatican is in Rome, which sits upon seven hills and appears to fit the description of where the harlot sits in the Book of Revelation. Have you read Luther’s views of the end times? Right or wrong, his views are espoused by many.
Hal Lindsey wrote in his 1970 edition of "The Late Great Planet Earth" that the nation of Israel was God’s clock and that Israel becoming a nation in 1948 marked the beginning of the end. He predicted that 40 years after that date, 1988, would begin the final countdown, though he wisely did not profess to know the day or the hour of the rapture.
Forty years passed. 1988 came and went just like any other year. No rapture. No tribulation. No mark of the beast. Time kept marching on. Lindsey was wrong, but the rapture books kept selling, maybe because it doesn’t require as much from us to believe that the real work of fulfilling the great commission will fall to those who become believers after the rapture and have to go through the Great Tribulation.
Who knows, there might actually be a rapture and a Great Tribulation after that. I really don’t know. This I do know: There are some real intellectual powerhouses in Christendom who do not believe in the rapture theory. They employ sound hermeneutics in their writings and do not twist scripture to get where they want to go. You would be well served to read what they have to say before proclaiming dogmatically that your view is the right one.
In case I am wrong, let me say this one thing in closing: If the rapture is real and it occurs before I hear from you, I hope I am not here to answer your email. But then on second thought, if in the end it really is going to be as it was in the days of Noah, as Jesus said, maybe I should hope I will be here, because in the days of Noah, it was the bad guys who were taken away, not the good ones. Makes one think.
I end with a quote from one known as the prince of preachers. He didn’t believe in a secret rapture where the Christians are taken out of the world and the devil takes over. Here is what he had to say:
"It would be easy to show that at our present rate of progress the kingdoms of this world never could become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. Indeed, many in the Church are giving up the idea of it except on the occasion of the advent of Christ, which, as it chimes in with our own idleness, is likely to be a popular doctrine. I myself believe that King Jesus will reign, and the idols be utterly abolished; but I expect the same power which turned the world upside down once will still continue to do it. The Holy Ghost would never suffer the imputation to rest upon His holy name that He was not able to convert the world." -Charles Haddon Spurgeon
He may have been right and he may have been wrong, but Spurgeon was a great Christian, a skilled preacher, and a respected theologian, and he is just one example of many such men who did not subscribe to the rapture theory or believe that the church would fail in its ultimate mission. Makes one think.
© 2006 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved
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Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who
works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide
taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor
in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen,
and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.
If the rapture is real and it occurs before I hear from you, I hope I am not here to answer your email. But then on second thought, if in the end it really is going to be as it was in the days of Noah, maybe I should hope I will be here, because in the days of Noah, it was the bad guys who were taken away, not the good ones.