Saturday, March 7, 2009

The "Secret" Rapture?

You don't have to be a Bible scholar to figure this one out. You don't have to do any fancy, exegetical tricks, or pigeonhole yourself with any theological paradigms. And yet, that's just what we have in evangelicalism today. If you've read the "Left Behind Series," you know the basic outline of human history: Christians are "raptured" away to heaven to be with Jesus while the antichrist and his cohorts make a mess of planet earth, with special interest in persecuting Christians and the nation of Israel. Meanwhile, the Lord himself sends natural disasters and other maladies upon the earth. To make things even more enjoyable, man is left to his ultra-supra-sinful self, minus the restraining power of the Holy Spirit to prevent evil, and the trifecta is complete: a veritable hell on earth. The good news? It only lasts for 7 years.
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I have to confess that I used to hold to this view of Christian eschatology. I even introduced myself this way to a new acquaintance once (thanks, Dave for sticking with me all these years, despite my self!). While delineating the morass of various interpretations and understandings of "the end" won't happen here, we can at least deal with the beginning aspect of this paradigm of aforementioned thought of a secret rapture and subsequent 7 year tribulation period--known as premillennial dispensationalism.

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Ok. So the secret rapture. I'm snowboarding in Winter Park and whoosh! I'm gone, clothes and all. The board, boots and bindings float down the hill and rest at the bottom, never to be ridden again, because now all life's in a panic because the millions of people have disappeared while flying planes, driving cars, performing life-threatening operations, and the like, bringing tons of chaos. Whoosh.

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Now, the Bible does in fact teach that history has a goal and an end. The Bible also teaches that there will indeed be a time when we rise out of our graves and are judged. The question is one of when and in what way? The common text of secret rapture theology is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:


"13Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After 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. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words."
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The controlling thought in the secret rapture theology hones in on verse 17: "we who are still alive and are left [behind] will be caught up [the Latin is "rapere" meaning to "carry off"]," to meet the Lord in the air. Now, after the "seven year Tribulation," Jesus comes back again (a 3rd time?) to rule on earth. Up to this point, Christians are with Jesus awaiting the final countdown toward Armageddon and the final battle with the antichrist. After that, there's a 1,000 year reign of Christ in earth, with yet another final battle with the devil himself, and then, finally, eternity is ushered in, and all is well...for the penitent.
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Ok, it's been necessary to explain the gist of premillennial dispensationalism in order to get a picture of what is going on with secret rapture theology. But let's focus on the nature of this rapture itself. (The Greek word, arpagesometha, carries the meaning, "to snatch up, to seize, to carry off by force"). Notice in verse 15, the reference to the timing of this rapere is at the "coming of the Lord." Now, this doesn't disprove the theory that the "coming of the Lord" doesn't happen in 2 different segments. Is there anything else in this passage that gives us a clue as to the timing of the "coming of the Lord"? Yes, there is. Verse 16 tells us,
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"For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first."
Jesus taught in John chapter 5 that people would rise from the dead at his own command:
"for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment," (vv 28-29).
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Again, in John chapter 6, Jesus tells us that there will be one, general resurrection. He says,
39"And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
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Finally, the apostle Paul, in explaining the resurrection of the dead in the 15th chapter of his letter to the church in Corinth, says this...
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51Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
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Jesus and Paul both teach here that on the last day, there will be a single, general, judgment, which follows the resurrection of the dead. But on the secret rapture view, there are two stages of Jesus' coming. It is apparently clear from Jesus and Paul, that when Jesus comes, he comes. The resurrection happens, it's the "last day," and that's it.

4 comments:

Irv said...
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chris van allsburg said...
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chris van allsburg said...

I'm looking for comments with an irenic spirit. This is why I deleted the first comment. Hence, my response to it was moot.

Secret Rapture said...
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