Monday, April 28, 2008

WHAT ABOUT THE RAPTURE?

A friend of mine asked me via email today what my take on the Rapture was. She was curious because her opinion didn't seem to match the vast majority of church-going Christians she was talking to and she was curious what my take on the subject would be.

PROPHECY IN GENERAL
I always begin these sorts of conversations about End Times and Prophecy by making the observation that, if we're close-minded and dogmatic about issues of Prophecy we are in danger of falling into the same trap that the religious leaders of Jesus' day fell into.

The Pharisee and other Jewish leaders of the day actually missed the FIRST COMING of the Messiah because he didn't fit their preconceived theories. The Messiah was right in front of them and they couldn't see him because he didn't come in the form or fashion that they had decided ahead of time he needed to arrive in.

GOD LOVES TO COLOR OUTSIDE THE LINES
If we hold tightly to our version of End Times Prophecy I feel like we could do the same thing again - miss the Messiah's coming in our time.

The prophetic scriptures found in Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Revelations are all very cryptic and open to multiple interpretations. This is not an accident. God could have easily said, "The Anti-Christ will arrive seventy years after the Nation of Israel is re-established following a War of the Nations and he will have red hair and his name will be Conan O'Brien"...for example.

But, God did not choose to communicate the details of End Times events in this straight-forward, plain Hebrew (or Greek...or English) format. God purposely veiled much of the prophetic details in figurative, metaphorical and difficult to decipher terminology. Why did He do that?

MY CRAZY THEORY
I believe that the prophetic words spoken of in the Scriptures are not meant to give us advance knowledge of when or how things are going to turn out in the future.

"Really? Then what are these prophecies for?" I can hear you asking.

Well, I believe that these passages are for those who are living through the actual events at the moment, primarily. When you are living through something that God has prophesied in advance, and you suddenly realize as you're reading the Scriptures that what is happening at the moment is a fulfillment of that prophecy, you are instantly comforted and filled with hope because you know that God is in control of everything.

I also believe that the purpose of those propecies is for those who live after the events have taken place. It gives them the perspective of knowing that God spoke the prophetic word hundreds, or thousands, of years ago and then fulfilled His promises just as He said He would, but in a way that none of us saw coming. That gives us hope in the present and builds our faith for the future.

So, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, on the day that the sacrificial lamb was traditionally chosen for the upcoming Passover, and the people began laying down palm branches and shouting "Hosanna!", it was pretty obvious to most who were standing around that they were living through something that had been prophesied hundreds of years previously.

When the disciples reflected back on the words of Jesus, and on the events of His crucifixion, they realized just how much of what they had just lived through had been prophesied in advance...but not until after it had already taken place! This strengthened their faith and provided evidence for God's hand in everything that had happened.

So, I believe that we will not ever know exactly what the great dragon with seven heads and ten horns is referring to until either
A) Just as it is being fulfilled or
B) A few months after it has already taken place

Why? Because that is the pattern we see regarding prophecy throughout Scripture.

If that's the pattern we see, and if these things we're debating (Rapture, Tribulation, The Beast, The Whore of Babylon, etc.) aren't clear to us, then we should not be dividing over our opinions of these things.

EVEN MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE RAPTURE
Another reason I find discussions of End Times Prophecy to be counter productive and pointless is that these arguments distract us from what we are actually commanded by our Lord Jesus to be doing - Following Him with our lives, loving others, making disciples and baptizing new believers.

One frightening tendency I see in many of those who are caught up in the End Times Prophetic movement is their amazing lack of inactivity and their attitude of "duck and cover". Most are just waiting for Jesus to come back "any day now" and smite those Heathen and take them home to Glory! (Halleluiah)

I always have to caution people to make sure their focus is on how they are following Jesus today...right now, not about when or how or in what way Jesus is supposed to come again.

We can get so hung up on the signs of the times and our version of the Rapture, the End Times, etc. that we forget to live our lives here and now.

THE DANGER OF MISUNDERSTANDING
Let's imagine what it would have been like for us as Christians if we had lived in Nazi Germany during WW2.

We would have seen an Anti-Christ figure rounding up God's Chosen people and putting them to death with a Satanic power and influence over the masses. We would've experienced imposed persecution and poverty because of this oppression. It would have nearly impossible for us to read Revelation and Ezekiel and Daniel and not conclude, beyond any reasonable doubt that this must be the end times. (At least, that's what I would've assumed).

But...we would have been very wrong about that.

It was horrific, and Hitler was a "type" of Anti-Christ, and a lot of the prophecies in the Old and New Testaments appear to have been fulfilled concerning the persecution of the Church...but they were not.

We could be living in the End Times today...but it could also be several generations away.

OUR EXAMPLE IS THE EARLY CHURCH
I look at the early Church, the one in the New Testament, and I see them living expectantly concerning the imminent return of Christ, and yet they all shared a daily determination to be found in the act of obeying Jesus and serving Him through the ministry of compassion towards others at the same time.

Our hope in the return of Jesus cannot paralyze us to be passive and wait for the Rapture to come and for Jesus to rescue us and judge these heathen people. The earliest Christians were a great model for us to follow. They expected Jesus to return at any moment, and yet they were loving and forgiving and outwardly involved in expressing the tangible love of Jesus to people in their community every single day.

RAPTURE OR NOT?
Whether or not I am to be Raptured in my lifetime, or if I die an old man, my calling and my mission are the same - to follow Jesus with all that is within me and to live a life of outward compassion towards those who are made in the image of God.

When it comes to the popular teaching concerning the End Times- that we will be Raptured before any persecution comes- I have to say that it doesn't seem to fit what I read in Scripture.

Having said that, let me add two more things:
1) For me to hold my position and argue with other Christians about it is just as bad as what they're doing, at least in my opinion. The whole dogmatic, "I'm right and you're wrong" thing just doesn't get us anywhere, I believe.

2) The issue of the End Times is about more than just The Rapture, it's actually about what your idea of "Heaven" is...and most of the Church has that completely backwards.

WHAT ABOUT HEAVEN?
I recently wrote an article here that was a reaction to a new book by celebrated theologian and scholar N.T. Wright about how most Christians take their understanding of Heaven from a cultural mythology (meaning, we made it up) and from John Milton's "Paradise Lost" --not from the Bible.

Most Christians believe we're going to be Raptured and then spend Eternity in a wispy, cloudy, spiritual realm filled with singing, harps and gold-encrusted mansions...far away from here.

THE BIBLICAL VIEW OF HEAVEN, AND WHAT COMES AFTER
The Bible teaches that God will come here to live with us, we will not "go there" to live with Him.

Revelation 21 and Isaiah 65 both describe a final reality where God creates a New Heaven and a New Earth...and we live on the New Earth with Jesus as our Eternal King. We will not live in a spiritual reality in ghostly bodies and strum harps, etc. We will have bodies which will be as solid as the ones we have now (or as solid as the body Jesus had at His Resurrection), and we will live in a brand-new physical reality which will be this same Earth, but re-made.

Rather than re-type the whole thing I'll direct you to the article and let you look for yourself.
Here:

IN CONCLUSION
I am totally ok with everyone studying the prophetic scriptures and doing their best to understand them as much as possible. What I do strongly caution is that we do not cause arguments or divisions in the Body of Christ over differences in opinion (because there's a very good chance that we're all wrong). I also strongly advise that, whatever our perspective regarding the End Times we do not allow our opinions of escatology to paralyze our individual walk with Jesus or distract us from our daily dying to self.

peas,
kg

3 comments:

Anthony said...

Keith - thanks for brining this up - I can say that I agree very much with some things you have said.

One of the things I've wanted to write about, but haven't yet, is how dangerous it can be to hold exclusively to some of these prophetic interpretations. Like when it comes to speaking about end-times, too often folks will make some wild-eyed comments about microchips. I don't know who invented this idea that the Mark of the Beast is a microchip-implant; but, I do know that it has totally become THE INTERPRETATION. Which is all well and good if the mark of the beast actually is a microchip; but, just what if it something different, perhaps even something more subtle? Well if you have totally been sold on the microchip idea there is at least a potential for danger ...

When it comes to the rapture it is all well and good if we get whisked away singing "I'll fly away" (or yelling, "so long suckers") before the proverbial crap hits the fan - but what if you actually have to live through times of great woe and tribulation? Are you prepared? I think back to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE - yeah, it's true that the Christians escaped the worst of it - but they still had to live through a period of persecution, a food shortage, and a flight to the wilderness. What I like to ask about peoples beliefs - particularly those about the end-time - is how does this affect your Christian life today? I can see how certain beliefs regarding the rapture can lull Christians into frames of mind where they would not be ready to go through times of great trouble if they should happen to come.

As for the "end-times" in general - I would love it if Jesus returns tomorrow and I truly believe we are near - yet I'm prepared to live out my life as a follower of Christ, grow old, pass-away, and see him then if necessary. As you pointed out, when you read the NT you certainly get that sense of immediate, expectation and yet much time has past. But that's our life - one of constant readiness and expectation - wake up each day and get the job done -and do the same so long as there is a tomorrow

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Keith, This is probably the best explanation I have ever read about dealing with interpretations of End Time Prophecies, etc. etc. Thanks, I really enjoyed reading this and may link to it later.

Jane said...

I'm with Barbara. Thank you so much for making it so clear.