My personal take on the Harold Camping rapture fiasco is this: it was a tempest in a teapot. The question I ask is why in the world did this man get so much news coverage in light of all the far more substantive events that could be pontificated upon in the news media. He is a man that wore a ‘warning of judgement’ sandwich board writ large is all. The whole thing had the feel of a viral YouTube video with about as much substance.
That all being said, I do have an interest in eschatology, pop or otherwise, and have written on the subject before. What bothers me is that there seems only to be a difference in degree, not in kind, between the Campingites, and fellow travelers from history such as the Millerites, and some popular dispensationalists. Predictions have been made as to the time of the rapture, and said predictions have proven false. One player uses arcane numerology to precisely formulate dates and times and the other looks at current events in the middle east with the modern state of Israel being the metaphorical hourglass as to the season of the rapture. Both also seem to focus more, and I think inadvertently, on the event of the pre-tribulation rapture rather than the return of the Messiah.
Eschatology is mysterious. It is not laid out as clearly as some would like or think in the Biblical texts. That being as it is, eschatology is not my hill to die on, though I obviously have strong opinions and know I could be in error over said opinion. In light of the aforementioned, my desire, for what it is worth, would be for a post-millennial rendering of the end of days, but I do not think the Biblical witness nor the trajectory of history lends it broad acceptance. World War One laid post-millennial thought to rest for the most part.
On the other hand, I understand the desire to be removed from the world when the escalation of terror and tribulation starts. Who would not like to avoid such if possible? However, how terrible it would be to be wrong about this dispensational pre-tribulation rapture scenario of entitled avoidance and find oneself in the midst of tribulation. Here is where the faith of many might grow cold when erroneous expectations of extraction are not met. I also have severe issues with the dispensational division of the people of God into two groups, national Israel and the church. This division stands in sharp contrast to the clear NT teaching that we are all one in Christ, both believing Jew and believing Gentile. I could rattle on for hours on this model of eschatology, one to which I used to hold, but enough for now.
Of the other two models that reside under the umbrella of orthodoxy, historic pre-millennialism and amillenialism, I lean strongly towards the amillennial. I always lean towards the simple and clear and that is what the amil model provides for me, a simple eschatology. Christ is now ruling from the right hand of the Father. Things will get worse, the Gospel will go through out the world, saints will suffer – even unto death- for the faith as they have through out history, there will be a great apostasy along with great evangelicalism, and the Messiah will return, boldly and unexpectedly, defeating anti-Christ. The saints, living and dead, will meet Him in the air. The Great Judgement is rendered, creation is renewed and the redeemed will joyously dwell with the Messiah forever. That is what I believe, based on my best understanding of Biblical texts, on the summing up of all things.
There was a time when I had some sharp interest in end times, in current events in context with prophecy, and in the politics surrounding the modern state of Israel. First, in no way, shape, or form am I anti-Israel, nor am I holding ones eschatology up as a litmus test of overarching orthodoxy…other than that heretical eschatology of full preterism. However, and perceived from conversations engaged and overheard over the years, what happens sometimes in this ‘pretrib’ rapture tribe is an inadvertent slide into a place where one may become more intently focused on national Israel or the place of America in end-times scenarios than in the return of the King. Any engagement of theology that trends and tends to turn focus from Christ-centicity to anything else is wrong. No matter what your eschatology, may the Triune God protect us from straying to areas and attitudes that would attempt to demean His glory.
I quite honestly avoid watching the news anymore, and I used to be quite the news junkie. I am not offering that comment up as a prescriptive for anyone, it is merely descriptive of where I am, now. I am already intimately aware that times are tough economically and many, too, are experiencing a post election buyers remorse of sorts. There are conversations occurring around me about a one world currency on the horizon and how this relates to prophecy, to the timing and immediacy of the rapture. Quite frankly, I really, really want my Redeemer to return and soon. What we must ask ourselves is this, is this interest in the ‘rapture’ driven by the fear of tumultuous events so that we desire an ‘easy button’ out from it all, or is that longing driven by something better, by something more grace-driven than angst and fear-driven?
Cutting to the chase, here is a connection I see: That longing for an easy button can be found both in some contemporary strains of evangelism and in eschatology. I have personally seen and heard the Gospel offered as an easy button to salvation on more than one occasion; I’ve blogged on this sad and pervasive phenomena ad nausea. Is not the ‘pre-trib rapture’ presented and thought of at times as a kind of easy button from ‘the tribulation?’
…that read thus: God’s Stimulus Package: The Rapture! and a simple, stray thought came to me. Does this I believe errant escatological view, this predominate doctrine in evangelical America of a pre-tribulation rapture, possess the tendency, even if not realized by most of those who adhere to it, to produce more an anxious anticipation of avoidance rather than an eager and joyous expectation? Or, to put it another way…am I more excited about being whisked away from bad stuff than I am about the Second Advent of my Redeemer…more a focus on an event versus than a focus on a Person?
Only in a culture relatively prosperous and indulgent, distanced by decades, for the most part, from far-reaching trauma on a national scale, could an eschatology of escape and easy entitlement take root and flourish. The early church, while often under great persecution, poverty, and tribulation, longed…and expected… to see Christ return. I, too, a misfit with no righteousness of my own, saved by grace lone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, soli Deo gloria, long to see Him return.
Could ramble for hours, but enough for now.
Matthew 24:7-9 (ESV)
7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.
Acts 1:11 (English Standard Version)
11and said,(A) “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven,(B) will(C) come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
John 17:15 (English Standard Version)
15I(A) do not ask that you(B) take them out of the world, but that you(C) keep them from(D) the evil one.[a]
1 Thessalonians 4 (English Standard Version)
13But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep,(AD) that you may not grieve as others do(AE) who have no hope. 14For(AF) since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him(AG) those who have fallen asleep. 15For this we declare to you(AH) by a word from the Lord,[d] that(AI) we who are alive, who are left until(AJ) the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For(AK) the Lord himself will descend(AL) from heaven(AM) with a cry of command, with the voice of(AN) an archangel, and(AO) with the sound of the trumpet of God. And(AP) the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be(AQ) caught up together with them(AR) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so(AS) we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.
A couple of days ago, I received a flier in the mail, an invitation to a prophesy seminar. Now, not too many years ago, I entertained a fascination with the whole The Late, Great Planet Earth, Left Behind phenomenon. I believed there would be an Advent 1.5 seven years prior to the ‘real’ Second Advent. I believed Christ would perform, as a cheeky someone whose name I do not recall once said, a ‘touch and go’ to extract the church from the world before the great tribulation. The church would be spared ‘the great suffering’ . I accepted the whole peculiarly American contemporary evangelical rapture theology, a theology of costless entitlement, without much question.
I want to state up front that in no way, shape , or form do I question the intent, character, motives, or sincerity of those who sent this invitation to this seminar. I also want to state that there are many godly men and women who accept this eschatology. Sophisticated, I ain’t, and all that being said, I think most would have to raise an eyebrow at the images from the flier below.
I think that this view of Christ’s return forces a focus on current headlines rather than the Word. Perhaps more accurately, it forces Scripture to be interpreted in the context of current news, a lens far removed from the context of the original readers through which Scripture is to be first understood. I also think this eschatology is a bit dangerous because it infers that the contemporary Church will not have to suffer tribulation as history approaches closure. Think about the persecuted church through history; think about those Christians in the third world, in Islamic countries, in China, in this day and age, who are being martyred for their faith in Christ. Where is their ‘rapture’ from tribulation? So much could be said on the subject.
In closure, as I read and study the Word, I am moving more to an amillennialist eschatology. I also look forward with great anticipation the return of my King, our mighty Redeemer and Saviour, Christ Jesus. His return may occur within the next heartbeat or long after I pass on, but I long to see my Saviour. Whatever your eschatology, I hope you, too, long for the Lord’s return.