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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Does the Bible really say that? Excerpt from my book, 27

[Continuing a discussion of prophecy]

There are also differences in views on the millennium, a thousand-year reign of Christ. Some Christians are amillennialists – they believe that the Biblical millennium refers to the activity of the church in history, or that the millennium is figurative, not literal. Pre-millennialists believe that Christ will return before the millennium. Post-millennialists believe that Christ will return after a thousand-year period during which Christians will rule the earth, or else that the millennium is not literal.

The most common view among the Christians I am familiar with is futuristic, with the rapture before the tribulation, and the millennium after the tribulation. This view is known as dispensationalism. Dispensationalism is often taught in conservative Christian churches. The Left Behind series of books and related material is based on dispensationalist theology. (I have not read any of these books, and cannot comment on them intelligently. For discussion, including criticism, see the Wikipedia article on the series.)

Dispensationalism has not always been so popular, and it was not the view of the early church. It was introduced in the 19th century, and has grown in popularity since that time.

It is not possible to rule out dispensationalism scripturally, and it may be true. However, dispensationalism is not firmly supported by the Bible. The following is a discussion of the weakness of the support for that view.

The rapture

The word, “rapture,” doesn’t occur in the Bible. It refers to an event where believers are taken from the world by God. Here is the main scriptural support for the idea:

1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we don’t want you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning those who have fallen asleep, so that you don’t grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we tell you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left to the coming of the Lord, will in no way precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with God’s trumpet. The dead in Christ will rise first, 17 then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. So we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

These verses describe the event that dispensationalists call the rapture. There is controversy over how literally to take this, and the timing. Some Bible scholars believe that this is like a triumphal procession, with Christ coming to earth accompanied by the believers, rather than taking them away.

This passage also may be speaking of a rapture:

Matthew 24:37 “As the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ship, 39 and they didn’t know until the flood came, and took them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and one will be left; 41 two women grinding at the mill, one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Watch therefore, for you don’t know in what hour your Lord comes. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore also be ready, for in an hour that you don’t expect, the Son of Man will come.

However, this seems to be mostly talking of Christ’s return to earth, not about believers leaving. It is also true that, shortly before the above verse, Jesus said this:

Matthew 24:29 But immediately after the oppression of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; 30 and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. Then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 31 He will send out his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together his chosen ones from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

Many popular depictions of the rapture, from the dispensationalist view, include this type of story:

Alice will be at home, and come to realize that she can’t find her husband and children, even though she thought they were home with her. They have disappeared. After searches, phone calls, etc., Alice realizes that this has happened to a lot of people, and that the ones who can’t be located are believers. She has been “left behind.”

That sort of idea about a rapture is strange, because verse 16 of 1 Thessalonians 4, and Matthew 24:29-31, which are both above, indicate that the events described, whatever they are, won’t be secret at all. They will be associated with some loud noises and visible phenomena, such as the archangel. It seems that, even if people are going to be left behind, they will know that something extraordinary has taken place.

Why don’t some Bible scholars believe in a rapture, or don’t believe in the dispensationalist version of it? One reason is that there are scriptures that don’t seem consistent with such an event. Here’s 1 John 2:28: Now, little children, remain in him, that when he appears, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.

This seems to be saying that Christians should look forward to some sort of judgment as the next big event.

1 John 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that, when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope set on him purifies himself, even as he is pure.

This seems, again to be warning about a judgment, not about being zipped off to heaven.

Revelation 22:20 He who testifies these things says, “Yes, I come quickly.”

Amen! Yes, come, Lord Jesus.

This is the next-to-last verse in the Bible. Although it is difficult or impossible to fully know what Revelation means – it is highly symbolic and apocalyptic – there doesn’t seem to be anything in these verses, or in the entire book, that suggests that Christ will come back and remove believers. Instead, John seems to be describing the Second Coming of Christ.

Some Bible scholars believe that the event described in 1 Thessalonians 4 (quoted at the beginning of this section) has a different meaning. 1 Thessalonians 4:15: “who are left to the coming of the Lord,” in Greek, is ho zaō paraleipomai eis parousia (source). Parousia, according to the Blueletter Bible’s Outline of Biblical usage, means 1) presence

2) the coming, arrival, advent

a) the future visible return from heaven of Jesus, to raise the dead, hold the last judgment, and set up formally and gloriously the kingdom of God

N. T. Wright says that parousia concerns two ideas:

The first meaning was the mysterious presence of a god or divinity, particularly when the power of this god was revealed in healing. People would suddenly be aware of supernatural and powerful presence, and the obvious word for this was parousia. . . . The second meaning emerges when a person of high rank makes a visit to a subject state, particularly when a king or emperor visits a colony or province. The word for such a visit is royal presence: in Greek, parousia. In neither setting, we note, obviously but importantly, is there the slightest suggestion of anybody flying around on a cloud. Nor is there any hint of the imminent collapse of the space-time universe. (Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, New York: HarperOne, 2008, page 129)

The above is an excerpt from my recently published e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which may be obtained free of charge, or purchased from Amazon for $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon lets an author set. Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain.

The previous post in this series is here. God willing, the next post in this series will continue a discussion of this topic, prophecy. Thanks for reading.


atlibertytosay said...

Point is … Ready your heart for whatever the translation of God's plan is … just make sure you're willing to accept that it IS God's plan.

Martin LaBar said...

Yes. Be ready. Thanks.