The American obsession with the second coming of Jesus — especially with distorted interpretations of it — continues unabated. Seen from my side of the Atlantic, the phenomenal success of the Left Behind books appears puzzling, even bizarre. Few in the U.K. hold the belief on which the popular series of novels is based: that there will be a literal “rapture” in which believers will be snatched up to heaven, leaving empty cars crashing on freeways and kids coming home from school only to find that their parents have been taken to be with Jesus while they have been “left behind.” This pseudo-theological version of Home Alone has reportedly frightened many children into some kind of (distorted) faith. N.T. Wright, "Farewell to the Rapture" (2001)I made a mistake in a previous blog post. I do believe in the rapture. I just don't believe in the rapture as generally preached by many dispensationalist pastors, including my own pastor. Yes, I attend a church where I question the theology quite a bit. And I've spoken to people outside the church about this matter; and surprisingly, they've asked "do you think this is the place God has placed you?" I think the answer is a resounding yes. In short, I think I've been placed there to change things a little bit.
But I recently had a conversation with a young believer a few nights ago and that conversation eventually turned to the rapture.
We spoke about my long-held desire that some celebrities give their life over to the Lord Jesus Christ. But this person then said that Satan once controlled the music in heaven, and therefore strongly influences the music culture today. The former is belief, by the way, that is held on popular Christian websites such as this one. She pretty much then expressed that the satanic influence over their lives is so powerful that they won't even have the possibility to repent and be saved until after the rapture.
Once they see that, once they get the seriousness of God, and the evidence of him, then they will turn and repent. After the rapture, she explained, "it will be hell on earth." She then pointed me to the book of Revelation.
It reminded me of talking to one of my homeboys (the same homeboy in this post) back in the day when I criticized the rapture then. Why would God rapture all the Christians away and leave all the unbelievers to perish in a "hell on earth" for years on end? Why wasn't anyone left behind to preach to them? And a new question to my friend, where is their rapture? Wouldn't Jesus need to make a third and fourth coming? Would Paul and Jesus preached about a resurrection for the righteous and wicked and then another resurrection for the repentant? My questions are ultimately inconsequential to God's will. God's ways are not my ways. I recognize that. But these seem to be legitimate questions.
And then, she did it. She mentioned the Left Behind Series. No, I did not see it, I replied. Nor have I read the books. But in 2010 I did catch the Catholic Defamation League's review of it. The author of that 2004 post had this wonderful thing to say:
The Left Behind books and their non-fiction companions are filled with poor writing, bad theology, and anti-Catholic bigotry. It’s best to leave them behind and rely on Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church when studying the end times—or anything else.Oh yea, I also played the awful video game too.
But all of this haphazard interpretation of scripture that concerns me. My view of the rapture is, I'd like to believe, the scriptural one. Generally speaking, I am in the late Greg L. Bahnsen's camp on this one. But I also took a peek at N.T. Wright camp grounds, too. I'm using binoculars to scout it out, so I'm keeping my distance.
Bahnsen taught that the rapture, the resurrection of the saints and the wicked, all pretty much happen on the Last Day.
Here's the conclusion (but you're going to want to read how he arrived at that conclusion):
We must conclude from God’s word that the rapture will not eventuate prior to the very last day of history, that it will not leave behind the world of the wicked, and that it will not separated from the resurrection and judgment of the wicked. The pre-tribulational rapture seven (or three and a half) years before the Lord’s return is contrary to the teaching of the bible. Furthermore, it must be noted that the rapture of the saints will be anything but a secret event; it will be accompanied with the shout of Christ, the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God (I Thess. 4:16-17). Nobody will miss it.Read the rest of Greg L. Bahnsen's "Rapture and Resurrection" (1975) here.
N.T. Wright is a little bit less clear (not a surprise) and disagreeable but helpful. He does say the following up front, which lets us know he still believes in the essential stuff: "The Ascension of Jesus and the Second Coming are nevertheless vital Christian doctrines, and I don’t deny that I believe some future event will result in the personal presence of Jesus within God’s new creation." In this article, he doesn't mention the Last Day, and seems to downplay being caught up in the air.
Next up, the troubling stuff.
Troubling passage #1:
Paul’s mixed metaphors of trumpets blowing and the living being snatched into heaven to meet the Lord are not to be understood as literal truth, as the Left Behind series suggests, but as a vivid and biblically allusive description of the great transformation of the present world of which he speaks elsewhere. (emphasis mine)I agree with this on some level, because Matthew 24 borrows heavily from various Old Testament Prophets. And "coming" really refers to a judgment in those instances. It's not a literal "coming" like you are coming back to town in your 2-door coupe.
N.T. Wright's article "Farewell to the Rapture" should be read immediately after Bahnsen's. He provides an in-depth look at the Old Testament imagery Paul is borrowing as well as some imagery from the first century. Here's a pertinent passage:
Third, Paul conjures up images of an emperor visiting a colony or province. The citizens go out to meet him in open country and then escort him into the city. Paul’s image of the people “meeting the Lord in the air” should be read with the assumption that the people will immediately turn around and lead the Lord back to the newly remade world. (Emphasis in italics mine)I sorely want to agree with this, especially with the leading the Lord "back to the newly remade world" part. But where in this passage does Paul conjure up this imagery? I think the strongest thing Wright did to cast doubt on the dispensationalist position was in the leading paragraph in his article (and this article) that I quote above.
Bahnsen, writing nearly 30 years before Wright, wins on clarity. Wright simply raises more questions. I think Bahnsen does more to refute the dispensationalist rapture position. Wright doesn't puncture the skin.
Read the rest of N.T. Wright's "Farewell to the Rapture" (2001) article here.
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