UPDATE: This blog has inspired a new, extended book of the same title which goes more into the details of why the rapture must be left behind! And the best news of all is it is FREE! Get it on Amazon, or elsewhere.
This article is in many ways an apology. Yesterday I published a short bit entitled Nicolas Cage, Left Behind, and Why I Want To Vomit. Admittedly, this post was rash and off the cuff. It came fresh from watching a video for the new Left Behind movie, which seeing my theological position on the rapture, led me to feel frustrated with the whole rapture theory itself. So I wrote a some what offensive and arrogant article to express my opinion.
I do want to apologize for that. I still stand by what I’ve written, I still think the rapture is a bad idea, but I should have been more factual in my assessment. Therefore, I feel like this article should help see more of the why behind the frustration that you can see in the last post. Yes, I think the rapture is rubbish. Yes, I was probably to harsh. Today I want to present a stronger point by point reasoning as to why I think the rapture should be “Left Behind.”
#1 Scripturally Shaky
A majority of the response was essentially “just read the bible, the rapture is obviously there”. I’ve written before on why that argument is at best circular and at worst nonsensical, but I’ll still respond here. I don’t think it’s logical to equate “my interpretation of the bible”, with all your presupposed person perceptions, cultural differences, and upbringing, with the truth. You may think you can understand the bible so simply, but that would be to ignore the massive cultural, historical, and linguistic differences from today and 2,000 years ago.
It is not scripturally “obvious” that the bible teaches the rapture. It is something that we have injected into the scriptures themselves. There are only a small handful of verse that are typically used to back up the rapture, and most of them are obscure or out of context. Rather than going into the details, let me just say this: If the rapture were true, and if it really is so prevalent in the bible, then why must rapture teachers use such obscure verses? Why wouldn’t it be so obvious in the scriptures? If the rapture is such an important doctrine (which many have told me it is), then why isn’t the bible filled with it? Scripturally, any arguments for the rapture theory are shaky at best. So let’s clear that out of the way. The bible does not “clearly” teach the rapture.
#2 Historically Absent
I’ve said before that the rapture is an invention of the 19th century by a man named John Darby. The earliest mention of this doctrine was in 1830. It then gained a following through the Scofield Bible. In recent times, it has gained a most general acceptance through the Left Behind series. Before all of this, the rapture was literally non-existent in church history. If it’s such an “obvious” of important doctrine, why for 1800 years did no one see it in the bible?
One commenter said that in the writings of a 4th century theologian by the name of Ephraem the Syrian, the rapture is mentioned. If this is true, then it would mean that the rapture is older than the 19th century. I looked into this and I found that this was a shaky lead at best. There’s much debate over the translation of the passage that rapture theorist like to point out as proof that the rapture was taught before John Darby. Here is a good article on why this can’t be taken seriously as any proof that the rapture was ever taught before 1830. But besides, it really wouldn’t matter. Even if he did teach the rapture, obviously no one took him seriously. That would still remain the only reference in history that even hints towards a rapture theory earlier then 1830. Beyond his shaky statement which has caused much controversy, there is no historical evidence that points to a rapture theory ever existing up until 1830.
The rapture is a bad idea because it is a doctrine that always induces fear. It is often employed by fundamentalists to scare people into the kingdom of God. Think about the (non) logic of that for a moment. We use fear (the opposite of love) to get people into the kingdom of God (of His love)? Aren’t fear and love enemies? Doesn’t “perfect love cast out all fear”? Wouldn’t using fear to get love be a really bad idea?
As I was reading through the comments on the Left Behind movie trailer, I kept reading this: “I hope people watch this movie, repent, and turn to God!” I don’t know how anyone thinks that’s a good idea. Now, I’m sure it’s happened before, just as I’ve seen people become Christians in order to escape hell. But that’s the problem, both don’t last. Very few believers stay Christians after getting scared into doing so. Any relationship that starts with fear is not going to last long!
#4 Rapture Fruit
Let’s think through the impact the rapture has had on our culture today. We have on one hand the prediction folks who love to guess at the time of Jesus’ return, and on the other hand we have the “borderline-cult” groups who wait in isolation for the return of Christ. Both are extremes, but both are also strangely popular in Christianity. Those who predict apocalyptic events usually sell lots and lots of book. (See Blood Moons.) Those who build cult-like societies and isolate themselves from the rest of the world do pretty well, too. They run conferences, they have training schools, and they expand their mission rapidly. If you take a look at the last two hundred years of Christians believing this theory, you can easily find hundreds of cases of both. The fruit of the rapture is usually bad theology, poor stewardship, or blatant manipulation. Which is not to say that all who believe in the rapture are like that, but it is to say something. The rapture messes with people’s well being. (I know it did mine, back when I thought it was true!)
#5 Rapture Jesus is Angry
The rapture turns Jesus into a monster. In it’s high use of apocalyptic language, the rapture theory tends to make Jesus angry, judgmental, and out for blood. In other words, the rapture makes Jesus act very… un-Jesus-like. The rapture takes the fact that Jesus is the Word of God to mankind, and therefore is the truth about who God is, and it takes a big dump on it. Jesus may have been nice while He was on the earth, but when He comes back, He is going to be pissed. Jesus the savior of the world, turns into the Jesus the destroyer of the world. The rapture makes Jesus angry, thereby injecting pagan notions into the Godhead. Which I believe is an awful idea. The same Jesus that laid down His life for the world is going to be the same Jesus who comes again. He isn’t going to come once in forgiveness only to come again in fury. Jesus is Jesus. He doesn’t change. The rapture is a bad idea because it implies that He does.
#6 Literalism (Bad Hermeneutics)
A great Karl Barth quote I’ve always liked goes something like this: “I take the bible too seriously, to read it literally.” The rapture theory practices really poor hermeneutics by reading the bible as a strict literal document. They take texts out of revelation, or from the words of Jesus, ignoring the cultural differences between now and 2000 years ago, and proceeds to read the bible literally. It is a great error to read the bible 2,000 years divorced from culture, history, and language. It is an even greater error to think that this is an effective way to get truth. You cannot look at the bible and read it so literally without making a lot of exceptions or errors in your thinking. The bible is filled with different types of writing styles, as well as vastly different cultural distinctions. Rapture theorists often ignore these and just go strait for the “I read the bible in english and take it literally” approach.
#7 Takes the Bible Literally (Except For Matthew 24)
Rapture theorists are literal right up until they don’t want to be. They take the bible literally when it works in their favor, but figuratively when it does not. The easiest example is in Matthew 24. Here Jesus makes two clear statements that if you were to take literally would destroy the whole rapture theory. Therefore, rapture theorist choose to drop their literalism for the sake of upholding their positions. In Matthew 24 Jesus states very clearly that 1) this generation will not pass away before these things happen (these signs which are often said to accompany the rapture. For example, blood moons.), and 2) that these things will all take place regionally, not globally. These statements are found in verses 34 and 16, respectively. Go and read them for yourselves. If taken literally, they tear apart the whole rapture theory. But that’s the problem, rapture theorists only prefer a literal interpretations of the bible when it suits their interests.
#8 Promotes Escapist Theology
One of the worst effects of the rapture theory is the continual “escape this world” mentality. The rapture theory is therefore highly Gnostic and Dualist in thought. The rapture makes this world evil, and some “other” “spiritual” world good (just as the Gnostics did). According to the rapture theory, we must then escape this present world and head off into that “good” world. This is the same way of thinking that was prevalent in early Gnosticism (an first century church heresy). The result is similar today as it was then. We have taught behavior modification, and self mutilation as a means to escaping this world. (How many times have you heard it said to “deny yourself”?) This is similar to Gnostics who taught earthly disciplines in order to gain spiritual rewards. There’s nothing wrong with discipleship and humility, but within the right context. We are not to escape our humanity or to escape our world. We are to embrace our humanity and our world. The Rapture teaches a high form a Gnosticism by teaching the church to wait for some mystical, secret escape from this earth, rather than living here and making this world a better place.
#9 Flips the Mission of Jesus Upside-Down
In return, escapism leads to a neglect of the mission of Jesus on this earth. We are called not to escape out of this world into heaven, we are called to make this world look like heaven. “Let you kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven…” Jesus did not want us to merely escape our world, He wanted us to invade our world with His reality. We are to manifest the Kingdom of God here and now to all those around us. We are not to escape to some mystical Kingdom, the Kingdom is here. It has arrived! We reveal it to the world around us. The rapture flips the whole mission of Jesus on it’s head. When we only believe that the world must get worse before Jesus returns, then we give up hope for the world. Giving up hope a dangerous. Rapture theory teaches a hopeless perspective of the future, and an upside-down mission of Jesus. We are not told to escape to heaven, we are told to bring heaven to earth.
#10 Jesus is Coming Again, Once
The rapture makes the return of Christ a second and third return. The rapture implies that Christ will come once to “magically” cause all the Christians to disappear, and then again to judge the earth. In doing so, the Rapture implies a second and a third coming of Christ. This is not only absent from the scriptures, but is warned against. When Jesus comes it will be public, it will be quick, and it will not be done in secret. All of the verse that Rapture theorists use to “prove” the rapture, imply a public return of Christ not a private one. For example, a big one for rapture theorists is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Verse 16 implies a clear indication that Christ’s return will be public, not private. The return of Christ will not be a random disappearance done in secret, it will be a display for all to see. Jesus does not have a second and a third coming. Jesus is coming again, once.
If you’re still reading, I’m glad you stuck with me. I think this is the longest post I’ve written here. I hope that these points are more than enough to convince you that the rapture is a bad idea. (Or at the very least I hope you’ve begun to question your belief.) We should leave it behind in our theology immediately. In review, the rapture is a bad idea because… 1) it is unbiblical, 2) the church has never held it historically, 3) it creates fear, 4) the bad fruit is right there in history, 5) it changes Jesus into a monster, 6) bad hermeneutics, 7) inconsistent hermeneutics, 8) it promotes escapism, 9) it changes the mission of Jesus, and 10) it implies a third coming of Christ.
If all that’s not enough to convince you to leave the rapture behind, then I don’t know what will.
After reading this article, do you feel like your view of the rapture has changed? Why or why not? Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below!
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Resources: I recommend these two sources for anyone who’s interested in studying this further. First, Greg Boyd’s video teaching on Youtube about the book of Revelation. Second, the book Victorious Eschatology by Harold Eberle and Martin Trench.