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What about the Rapture?

Last month the movie Left Behind was released. The film is based on a 1995 novel by the same name written by Tim LaHaye. The movie and book are inspired by a theological theory regarding the second coming of Christ - that when Christ returns, he'll first make a secret pit stop on his way and kind of Star Trek beam all of his followers into heaven before all hell breaks lose. It is a widely held view of North American evangelicals.

While I do not tend to take a hard-line approach on things pertaining to eschatology, there are some issues that I have with this particular rapture theory and I think it would be prudent to discuss some of them in perhaps a time when the film has raised some questions. I will simply refer to the pre-tribulation rapture theory (the Church is an away team in trouble and Scottie is God beaming them to safety) as "the rapture theory" for the sake of discussion.  

The rapture theory is a very new theological position. 

Of course just because something is a new idea does not mean it is automatically false, but it should be a red-flag for anyone considering this doctrine. Almost everyone agrees that the doctrine originated in the 18th century and was popularized by John Nelson Darby in the 19th century. There exists nowhere anything like it in the Church father's writing, and the theory is flat out rejected by many Christian denominations including the Roman Catholic Church. Not having a clear historical backing for a doctrine certainly makes for a challenge.

The rapture theory is based on very prophetically charged language.

The entire argument for the rapture theory comes from 1 Thessalonians 4. About the only thing that is explicitly clear from the verses in question is that Paul is using a prophetic tone to encourage the Thessalonians Christians. The main verse used to support the rapture theory is found in verse 17: "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 phrase "caught up" is where we get the word "rapture". NT Wrights gives several explanations of this verse that seem to fit the surrounding context better. Among them is the fact that Paul's intent on writing is to encourage persecuted Christians, which Paul makes known to us in verse 15. Paul, borrowing language from the story of Moses when he descended down the mountain with the Law, as well as Daniel 7 in which the people of God were vindicated over their pagan enemies, is essentially saying, "Don't worry, the King is coming to make things right again!" In fact, the language of the verses, according to Wright, is that of an Emperor going from his palace to visit his city, being met by his citizens, and then being escorted back to the city.1 I think Wright's interpretation of the text goes about as far as the text allows. Extrapolating one verse into something as systematic as the rapture theory may be stretching the text beyond the author's original intent.

The rapture theory provide a false view of the Church.

This is perhaps my strongest objection to the rapture theory. The entirety of the doctrine is based on a belief that the Church needs rescuing. My hope for the end times rests on Jesus' promise that he is building something that cannot be prevailed against. (Matt 16:18). What the rapture says about the Church, is that when the world is at its worst, when evil is reigning, God removes the one thing he placed here to transform it. This world, and everything created in it, was created good. The King of Heaven will not abandon his beloved creation and let evil destroy it. He has a plan, and that plan is his Church. God is a redeeming God - the King returns to find his city not in ruin, but fully and completely ready to be ruled. The hope for this generation of those trusting in Christ is the same as the hope for believers of every age, even those who were martyred at the hands of Roman emperors, or those who are currently being ravaged by ISIS - Jesus' kingdom will prevail.

1. Farewell to the Rapture by N.T. Wright

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