The Rapture is being Left Behind

Anyone who has had any encounter with the evangelical movement in America in the past couple of decades has almost certainly heard about “the rapture”.  This allegedly futuristic event involves Jesus Christ coming back for His followers (the Church) and rapturing them to heaven in an instant (or like a thief in the night).  Various preachers have pounded their pulpits and offered vivid illustrations of what this event might look like in our world.  We can use our imaginations:  unmanned cars would careen into yards, pilot-less planes would fall out of the sky, people attendant at board room meetings would vanish, and presumably, there would be piles of clothes all around our society (I think people are raptured naked, aren’t they?).  According to this belief, which involves lots of charts, more charts, and still more charts, the rapture is related to the tribulation (meaning a cause of great trouble or suffering) which spans a period of 7 years before the 2nd coming of Jesus.

The rapture has now entered a rather interesting place in pop culture (is “pop” the right word?).  Academy Award winning actor Nicholas Cage is starring in “Left Behind”, a reboot film based on the best-selling novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.  No mention of Nicholas Cage should be without one of his most “entertaining” scenes:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1GadTfGFvU

Anyways, back to LaHaye and Jenkins.  They hit a nerve with their book “Left Behind” which was published in 1995.  The initial book spawned a series of 16 novels (by my count) although there have also been several spin-offs.   The “Left Behind” website (http://www.leftbehind.com/06_help_and_info/faq_general.asp) boasts over 63 million copies of the book series have been sold.

This publishing success led to three films starring Kirk Cameron.  I watched the first one: Left Behind- The Movie (2000) shortly after it appeared on DVD.  The film is pretty bad so I skipped watching the others in the series:  Left Behind II: Tribulation Force and Left Behind:  World at War.

In my view, LaHaye and Jenkins successfully tapped into an idea that started coalescing around the conservative evangelical camp in the 1960s and especially gained steam in the 1970s and beyond.  The theology had been around for a little while before this time (more on that in a minute) but the rapture had captivated a subset of the Evangelical pop subculture.

Larry Norman was a product of the Jesus Movement and folk rock scene of the 1960s.  He wrote a song that was later covered by popular CCM trio dc Talk about the rapture:

“A man and wife asleep in bed
She hears a noise and turns her head he’s gone
I wish we’d all been ready
Two men walking up a hill
One disappears and one’s left standing still
I wish we’d all been ready

There’s no time to change your mind
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind” (I Wish We’d All Been Ready- 1969)

In the 1970s and 80s, a series of low budget films were making their rounds in churches.  Commonly referred to as the “Rapture” or “Thief” series, they were incredibly low budget including the titles:  “A Thief in the Night”; “A Distant Thunder”; “Image of the Beast”; “The Prodigal Planet”.

Along with the music and films of the Evangelical subculture, the rapture appeared in sermons around the country where preachers would warn of the imminent coming of Jesus and proselytize aggressively around the apocalyptic warning that judgment and the end were at hand.  The rapture could happen at any second.

Where did this idea of the rapture come from?  A Bible teacher, John Nelson Darby,  taught the concept.  (see more on Darby here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Nelson_Darby)  There is debate about whether or not he was the first to proclaim the rapture but the facts seem fairly clear:  no one in church history prior to the 1800s taught anything remotely like the rapture.

In order to understand why some Christians believe in the rapture and why there is a certain amount of hoopla in the evangelical subculture over the idea, a person has to understand the philosophy of Dispensationalism.  Darby, who lived from 1800-1882, is considered the father of modern day Dispensationalism.   Darby’s ideas would eventually gain significant traction when they appeared in the Scofield Reference Bible as footnotes.  The Reference Bible became popular in the United States and lead to the propagation of Dispensationalism that at the end of the 20th century would radically explode out of the Evangelical subculture into the wider world courtesy of LaHaye and Jenkins.

There are many diverse tangents and elements of dispensationalism that one could explore but I will try to boil down the idea for this blog.  Probably one of the central tenants that Dispensationalism is built around is the idea that Israel in the Old Testament and the church in the New Testament are fundamentally different.  In some forms of Dispensationalism, soteriology for Israel and the church are distinctly separate (in contrast to what the author of Hebrews tells us in chapter 11 that salvation has always been by faith in the True God).

Going further, a dispensation is the unfolding of God’s revelation and that humanity is accountable to that specific revelation during different epochs of time.  Basically, Israel would be accountable for God’s Word unveiled in the pages of the Old Testament.  The church (Gentiles and Jewish believers) in this present age are held to the message delivered in the New Testament.

As one can imagine, there is certainly more complexity to Darby’s idea than there being a distinction between Israel and the church.  Many Dispensationalists will divide up Biblical, human history into 8 epochs or schemes that are usually centered around Biblical covenants.  I became a Christian in a church that loosely taught this philosophy of Darby and here is what I personally heard from my instructors regarding the different segments of time:

Epoch 1:  Innocence (Genesis 1-3).  Adam and Eve directly communicated with God in an Edenic paradise before the Fall of humanity.

Epoch 2:  Conscience (Genesis 3-8).  From the Fall of humanity through Noah’s flood, people could not enjoy the presence of God in the same way they did prior to the Fall.  Although God still spoke audibly (to Noah for example) at varying points, this was not the same as the relationship in the garden of Eden because of the sin nature.  Also, there were not many sophisticated governments in this ancient period so Dispensationalists will hold that people were accountable to what God revealed in their consciences.  If one believes in the doctrine of Total Depravity, this epoch could become problematic very quickly.  This period is also called Antediluvian.

Epoch 3:  Civil Government (Genesis 9-11) is based around the Noahic Covenant.  Genesis 9:8-11 says:  “Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying:  ‘And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you,  and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth.  Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.'”  The account takes us from post-flood earth to the tower of Babel in Genesis 11.

Epoch 4:  Patriarchal or Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12-Exodus 19)  This scheme is based around God’s promise to Abraham.  Genesis 12 has the call of Abram (who would become Abraham).  The promise is in Genesis 13:14-17, “The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.  I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.’”  As one can see, this spans quite a length of time going into the accounts of Moses, Pharoah and the Israelite slaves in Egypt through the beginning of the book of Exodus.

Epoch 5:  Mosaic Law (Exodus 20-until the birth of the church).  The Israelites were wandering in the desert and Moses went up Mt. Sinai.  God gave Moses the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20.  After that, the Mosaic law including Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy with all of the various commands were written.

Epoch 6:  The Church Age (Acts 2 until the rapture).  According to Dispensationalists, this is our current state.  Once the church was established in Acts 2 after the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have entered an age that has lasted for almost 2,000 years.  The rapture (secretive coming of Jesus for his church) would signify the end of this scheme and an entrance into the tribulation.  (As a side note:  theologically interested minds in conservative churches have debated whether the rapture would happen pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, or post-tribulation.  One guy, Martin Rosenthal, wrote a book called: “The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church” .  There are varying views on when the rapture will happen in the Tribulation.)

Epoch 7:  The Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6). This is the thousand year reign of Christ that Dispensationalists see as foretold in Revelation 20.  The true Second Coming of Christ, according to this view, would happen at the end of the tribulation and usher in the millennium.

Epoch 8:  The Eternal State (Revelation 20-22).  This is where heaven and earth meet and God’s Kingdom is usher in.  Satan and his minions as well as the names in the book of the dead are thrown into the Lake of Fire.

The above periods are the presuppositional theology that surround a belief in the rapture.  As sophisticated and intellectual as some of these discussions and debates on Darby’s ideas can get, one is hard pressed to find many of these ideas in Scripture.  The covenants certainly exist and are extremely significant to people of faith however, the Bible does not divide up into nice, little epochs.   If anything, Dispensationalism is guilty of creating a grand systematic theology and trying to impose the schematic on the Word of God.  In my view, this is a misguided attempt at hermeneutics.  People should approach the Bible and consider (as much as we possibly can) the history, culture and language that it was recorded in.  There is no way that the Biblical authors and/or communities that produced Scripture had a theory in mind that originated in the 1800s by Darby, was furthered by Evangelical subculture and rigorously defended by faculty/students in institutions like Dallas Theological Seminary.

Coming back to the latest incarnation of the rapture, Cage’s “Left Behind” is getting skewered by critics.  I have not seen the film but probably will eventually do to a morbid curiousity.  (Current Rotten Tomatoes meter is 2%:  http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/left_behind_2014/?adid=home_list2a)

The rapture may be losing traction, that is, if the idea ever had a lot of traction to begin with.  Author Preston Sprinkle writes in Relevant Magazine:  “Along with being cultural, I’ve noticed that belief in the rapture is largely a generational phenomenon. Thirty years ago, Bible college students loved to argue about different views of the last days. But today, interest is waning. Every now and then I try to stir the classroom by introducing different views on the end times. The reaction I often get is, ‘Can we get back to the Bible?’ Even if I press the matter and show them some texts that Christians use to debate the end times, I still can’t generate much interest.”  (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/worldview/when-will-rapture-be-left-behind)

The appeal of the rapture to adherents may be enlightening to some questionable aspects of contemporary Evangelicalism.  My pastor, Brent Rood (the Seed Church), wrote the following in a Facebook group recently in response to the Relevant article about other suffering cultures not being at all engaged in rapture belief:  “I love how he says people in countries where their loved ones have contracted Ebola aren’t arguing over when they will be Raptured.  In other words, Rapture theology is prevalent among people who suffer little and want a God who will eject them from suffering in the end.”

A means of escape rather than an engagement with a broken world may be one of the sad conscious reasons why there is so much hype about the rapture.  The “take-me-to-heaven-immediately-Jesus” may very well distract from looking after orphans and widows (James 1:27), trying to comfort the sick and dying as well as taking a stand against forces attempting to oppress and degrade other image bearers of God.  The idea may also distract from being a good steward of creation as well.  If true believers are going to be pulled out of the world while the tribulation brings hell, why should those believers care about the impact of pollution and other environmental issues upon God’s world that He has given to us for our caretaking?  One of the first commands given to Adam and Eve was to look after the garden.

Once, I believed in the rapture as I was tutored in Dispensationalism after I became a Christian.  Upon taking a class on Revelation back in my college days, I abandoned the rapture and Dispensationalism because I became utterly unconvinced that the Bible taught such things.  Whether someone believes in the rapture or not, it may be best for all of us to primarily focus on more important matters.

-Dave

Advertisements

About dangeroushope

Striving to follow Christ, love people and learn more about the world.
This entry was posted in Theological issues and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Rapture is being Left Behind

  1. Pingback: More Dispensational Fun: My response to Lee Compson | Dangerous Hope

  2. Pingback: Movie Watching (January, February, March 2015) | Dangerous Hope

  3. John T. Tolbert says:

    I am not sure how you dismiss the “Rapture” so cavalierly. There is a terrible time of trial coming upon the whole earth. Rev 3:10 and many other verses. Jesus promised to return and take his followers to where He was (heaven). John 14:2-3. It will happen in a “moment” (1 Cor 15:51-53) and we will be “caught up” (harpazo, Latin “rapturo”) to the clouds. 1 Thess 4:16-17. Jesus also promised that the “church” would be “kept from” not just the trial but the “hour” of the trial (Rev 3:10). Which part of this do you not believe?

  4. Hi John. Thanks for commenting. I believe a lot of Revelation was a prophetic and emotional reaction of Jewish people to the destruction of the temple in AD70 by the Roman General Titus. There is some of Revelation that is certainly futuristic and I do obviously hold to the 2nd coming of Christ. I just believe that he is coming once. I don’t believe in a secret rapture to gather His followers. I believe in a sudden 2nd appearance of Christ to bring salvation and judgment.

    Revelation 3:10 is written in the context of the church of Philadelphia. Christians were persecuted horribly by the Roman empire. As already noted, Jewish Christians saw the destruction of their temple and a large part of their culture. The context surrounding this verse is for believers to stand firm and wait for the 2nd coming of Christ- not a rapture but the 2nd coming. Yes, Jesus promised to return and promises to prepare a place for believers. This doesn’t have to do with a rapture but the future establishment of Christ’s kingdom.

    1 Cor 15:51-53 isn’t talking about a rapture. It is talking about believers being reunited with people who are “sleeping” IE dead. We eventually all be united together. The suddenness of the event is the 2nd coming of Christ.

    1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is referring to the 2nd coming. A grand uniting of living believers and those that have come before.

    Being kept from the”hour of the trial”, I take as a saving from God’s judgment and thus His justice. Believers are saved and declared justified by God through the work of Christ. Thereby, we are saved from judgment. Judgment doesn’t have to mean a tribulation. I don’t believe in a 7 yr tribulation either. There is nowhere in Scripture where it directly says there will be a 7 yr tribulation.

    As I commented in my blog post, the rapture and subsequent 7 yr tribulation teaching was not something widely taught at all in church history. JN Darby coined the theology in the 1800s and the Scofield reference Bible made the theology popular. For 1800 years of church history, no one taught about raptures or 7 yr tribulations. But most of them believed in the 2nd coming of Christ as a sudden event that could happen at any time. And then, the end.

  5. John T. Tolbert says:

    Hi brother Dave. Thank you for your response! However, I am puzzled by some of your remarks:

    1. “I believe a lot of Revelation was a…emotional reaction of Jewish people…”.

    This seems to be denigrating the authority of the book, suggesting it lacks the authority of Scripture. Do I misunderstand you?

    2. On Rev 3:10 you say “The context surrounding this verse is for believers to stand firm and wait for the 2nd coming of Christ- not a rapture but the 2nd coming… the future establishment of Christ’s kingdom”.

    I differ with your analysis. 3:10 specifically designates the context as “the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth” (cf. Rev 2:10, a specific 10 day trial with a warning that they would go through it). Although Revelation does, of course, consistently urge believers to await the Second Coming, that is not the message of Rev 3:10. It is clearly a special promise to the churches of being kept from this coming “hour of trial” which is designed “to try those who dwell on the earth” (a technical term in Revelation for the unbelievers).

    3. “1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is referring to the 2nd coming”.

    Brother, you are assuming what you need to demonstrate. For instance, 1 Thess 4:16-17 and 1 Cor 15:51-53 contain the idea of “resurrection”. I do NOT see a “resurrection” in Matthew 24 or Rev 19. That is one reason why many see these as two distinct events. WHERE do you see “resurrection” in Matthew 24 or Rev 19?

    4. “I don’t believe in a 7 yr tribulation either. There is nowhere in Scripture where it directly says there will be a 7 yr tribulation”.

    This “nowhere in Scripture” argument would also reject the “Trinity”, which, of course, is clearly taught by putting together many different Bible passages. So it is with the seven year time period: the week of years divided in the middle, Daniel 9:27; the forty-two months (Rev 11:2), the 1,260 days (Rev 11:3; 12:6; 13:5), and the “time, times and half a time” verses (Dan 7:25; 12:7; Rev 12:14).

    BTW brother Dave, I have never studied Darby and I don’t think it fair to suggest that “rapture” believers are just “people who suffer little and want a God who will eject them from suffering in the end”. That is the worst of “ad hominem” arguments. I have lived overseas for 14 years as a missionary and work with many who DO suffer on a daily basis, and DO believe in the “rapture” (and even a “pre-trib” one). Shame on any pastor in the USA who belittles these strong and precious believers. Why the condescension?

  6. Hi John. Welcome back.

    1- I didn’t just say it was an emotional reaction. I also said it was prophetic. Prophesy doesn’t always have to be “future-telling” though. Often times, in the Old Testament, it wasn’t. Prophesy was speaking God’s Word to believers who had gone astray, were going through hard times, suffering, etc. I believe in Revelation as canonical within the Word of God…if that clears things up. I do think a lot of Revelation is historical- already happened. As I mentioned, there is a futuristic element to some of it…but being that Revelation was written by John- in a community of Jewish believers…these were people who were grappling with the destruction of their culture, way of life, people they loved and they were under intense persecution. If I had to sum up the message of Revelation, it would be God’s reminder that although horrific things were happening and still do happen as you attest with what you have seen on the missions field….God will bring about His justice in the end. The metaphor of Christ with the sword, the plagues, the judgments…God’s justice will win out when He comes back. He is asking believers in extraordinarily difficult circumstances to hold true till that day.

    2- When Christ refers to saving us from the trial or the hour of the trial, I believe He is stating He is saving us from the judgment of God in a generalized sense. Also, I believe Christ’s Kingdom will be on this earth. He will finally destroy sin and death at the end- the conclusion of Revelation- and the world- physical creation as well as people- will be redeemed by Him.

    3- Aren’t we “resurrected to new bodies upon death? Or when the 2nd coming of Christ happens…we will be transformed in an instant to new bodies?

    4- I hope you see my point that someone’s perspective on Revelation- a debated and very difficult book to interpret- is very different than the vital issue of belief in the Trinity. Yes, the Trinity is not directly stated in Scripture but the Trinity is directly implied in multiple places. Furthermore, Christian’s belief in the Trinity has a very rich history in the past 2000 years across denominational lines. A belief in the rapture/tribulations cannot lay claim to the weight of that testimony.

    Pastor Brent’s comment was not directed at people/Christians overseas. It was directed to comfortable, middle-class or rich believers who live in America and are far away from substantial suffering. While everyone goes through hard times, I think you can attest to people’s problems in other places in the world are completely and utterly different from struggles in suburbia America. Not meant to be a condescension as much as a challenge to “comfortable” believers in the US.

    All in all, I’ll say this. I really do think that people develop theologies about eschatology and then seek to impose them on Scripture. I wonder what would happen if we could erase all that we knew about the end times and go to the Bible and ask: what does the Bible really say? Here I wouldn’t be asking for systematic theology and using verses here or there for proof texting….but asking what is the context of each individual book where these verses are found? If God inspired people to write in their own languages, cultures and from their perspectives….what is there understanding of what was written down- as much as we can tell?

  7. John T. Tolbert says:

    Hi Dave, thanks for the reply!

    2- When Christ refers to saving us from the trial or the hour of the trial, I believe He is stating He is saving us from the judgment of God in a generalized sense. Also, I believe Christ’s Kingdom will be on this earth. He will finally destroy sin and death at the end- the conclusion of Revelation- and the world- physical creation as well as people- will be redeemed by Him.

    Dave, I understand that you “believe He is stating He is saving us from the judgment of God in a generalized sense…”. What I am asking is for you to support your belief from the text. Why do you think it is only “in a generalized sense” when John ties it down to a specific future trial ON THE EARTH of unbelievers?

    3- Aren’t we “resurrected to new bodies upon death?

    No, I don’t think Scripture indicates that. Paul says the dead in Christ will be raised at the disputed event I call the Rapture (1 Thess 4:16), which explains his reference to “the perishable putting on the imperishable….” (1 Cor 15:53-54).

    Or when the 2nd coming of Christ happens…we will be transformed in an instant to new bodies?

    That is the question isn’t it? Is there a “resurrection” occurring at the same time as the 2nd Coming? OR does it occur earlier? Just averring it doesn’t make it so.

    So I repeat my question” Do you see a resurrection somewhere in Matthew 24 or Revelation 19 which are the clearest and most detalied statements about the Return? Please show me the resurrection in either of those two chapters.

    BTW, why do you think that “comfortable, middle-class or rich believers who live in America and are far away from substantial suffering” are peculiarly prone to believe in a “pre-trib Rapture”? Do you have any evidence for such a serious accusation against a brother/sister in Christ?

    Thanks.
    JT

  8. John T. Tolbert says:

    BTW, going to “church” now. It is 9am Sunday morning here. Have a blessed Easter!

  9. John,

    Hope you had a great Easter. Sorry about the delay in response.

    To your questions, why does a trial for unbelievers on earth have to be a 7 year tribulation? John could be reminding believers who were persecuted at the end of the 1st century (and those that would come after) that God will bring justice to those who are mistreating the community of God. A judgment of God could be on unbelievers…living on earth at any time. I suspect some of our difference here is interpretation of Revelation. A lot of Revelation, I don’t take literally (as in it will be history) but a lot of it as symbolic or rich in metaphor to the theological truth of God’s justice will come. I don’t believe in a literal dragon swiping a third of the stars, for instance. All of this is symbolic wordplay referencing other theological truths. I’m not saying I know how to interpret the book of Revelation. I just think it is very difficult.

    I think we will have new bodies upon death. I don’t think I’m taking this earthly body (that will rot in the grave) with me when I die. “Being present with the Lord” upon death seems to indicate I will be alive but in a spiritual body form in God’s kingdom.

    The lack of a resurrection in Matt 24 or Rev 19 still does not prove there is a rapture. And while resurrection may not be present in those passages, it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t happen at the one 2nd coming. In Matthew 24, did Jesus teach every possible thing that would happen at the 2nd coming…or just give an overview of some of the signs?

    The other thing about a pre-trib rapture is that this belief system appears to have Christ coming twice. I believe he will only come back once. Furthermore, if the rapture was before a 7 year trial of tribulation, it seems like someone would be able to calculate when Christ’s return would be…roughly 7 years from the rapture when Scripture seems to indicate that no one will know the hour of His return.

    “BTW, why do you think that “comfortable, middle-class or rich believers who live in America and are far away from substantial suffering” are peculiarly prone to believe in a “pre-trib Rapture”? Do you have any evidence for such a serious accusation against a brother/sister in Christ?” Yes, I do actually. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are both wealthy, American proponents of rapture theology. There books have sold millions upon millions of copies. Nicholas Cage (as I write about above) has starred in a major Hollywood film depicting the rapture. Obviously, not everyone reading the books or watching the movies believes in a rapture…but I think a lot of them do. Popular Contemporary Christian music has many references to the rapture whether we are talking about the artist Carmen, DC Talk, Larry Norman, etc.

    Given this, I think Christians in suburbia American do want to escape suffering or not be confronted with other atrocities happening in the world. They maybe want to see a quick video encouraging them to give money and then go home and forget about it. I’m not saying this is every Christian in the states (neither is Pastor Brent) but I do think this is a big problem within the mentality of American Christianity.

    Blessings,
    Dave

  10. John T. Tolbert says:

    Hi Dave, thanks for your reply. Despite the absence of agreement on the nature and timing of future events, I am hopeful that we both will use the remainder of our lives to serve Him and alert the unknowing to the richness and grace of salvation through Jesus. God bless you brother.
    JT

  11. Blessings to you too John. Thanks.

  12. Pingback: This Is Not An Exit | Kissing Books And Bread

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s