All posts in “Rapture”

Jürgen Moltmann on the Rapture and “Left Behind”

 

Jürgen Moltmann discusses the problem of religious escapism, with a particular appeal against the rapture theory, in his book, Ethics of Hope:

Here a religious escapism is coming to the fore especially in the present spread of a vague Gnostic religiosity of redemption. The person who surrenders himself to this religiosity feels at home in ‘the world beyond’ and on earth sees himself merely as a guest. So it is only by the way he is concerned about the fate of life on this earth. His soul is going to heaven, that is the main thing. In the body and on this earth, it was no more than a guest, so the fate of this hostelry really has nothing to do with him. Religious practices lauding an indifference to life are offered under many high-sounding names. […] American pop-apocalyptic offers an especially dramatic escapism. Before the great afflictions at the end of the world, true believers will be ‘raptured’—snatched away to heaven, so that they can then build the new world with Christ at his Second Coming. All unbelievers unfortunately belong to the ‘Left Behind’, the people who are not ‘caught up’ and who will perish in the downfall of the world (‘Left Behind’ is the title of an American book series read by millions). Whether people throw themselves into the pleasures of the present or flee into the next world because they either cannot or will not withstand the threats, they destroy the love for life and put themselves at the service of terror and the annihilation of the world. Today life itself is in acute danger because in one way or the other it is no longer loved but is delivered over to the forces of destruction. 1

When our Earthly/bodily life is not loved, affirmed, and accepted, we either resign ourselves to a religious escapism or numb our senses with hedonistic pleasures. Moltmann’s ethic of hope insists that a truly Christian ethic, based on the bodily resurrection of Christ, says Yes to this life; it must include a love for our life on this Earth as human beings (not as disembodied souls).

A few years ago I wrote a book called 10 Reasons Why the Rapture Must Be Left Behind (free as an eBook). One of the ten reasons I argued against the rapture was that it promotes a kind of gnostic escapism. The rapture plays into the idea that we do not have to take care for this world (the ecological crisis is a result, in part, of this neglect), that we are not responsible for the Earth, and that we do not belong to it—because one day we will escape the Earth for a spiritual world somewhere else, while this world is annihilated.

But this is not the Christian hope. The Christian hope is hope for a new heaven and a new Earth. With Paul we must recognize that the whole creation is groaning for redemption (Rom. 8:22). We belong to this Earth. Redemption does not mean an escape from this world, but we hope that together with creation we will be made new. One of my favorite quotes from Moltmann emphasizes this point:

I don’t want to go to heaven. Heaven is there for the angels, and I am a child of the earth. But I expect passionately the world to come: The new heaven and the new earth where justice dwells, where God will wipe away every tear and make all things new. And this expectation makes life in this world for me, here and now, most lovable. 2

Like this article? Share it!

Notes:

  1. Ethics of Hope, 52-3
  2. Quoted by the Moltmanniac

10 Reasons the Rapture Should Be “Left Behind”

Rapture 10 reasonsUPDATE: 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.

#3 Fear

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”? 1 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

Conclusions

the-laugh-echo-in-practiceIf 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!

Like this article? Help me expand my reach by sharing:

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.

Notes:

  1. 1 John 4:18

Nicolas Cage, Left Behind, and Why I Want to Vomit

Left BehindI think I’m going to be sick.

I was on Facebook today when all of a sudden I found myself watching one the most disturbing videos I’ve seen in a long time. I cringed, I cried out “oh no!”, and I just about threw up (well, not really, but I wanted to).

I watched a trailer for the new Left Behind movie staring Nicolas Cage (Wait, really?). Watch it here.

The Left Behind series presents, in my mind, one of the absolutely worst inventions of the 19th century in story form: the rapture.  1

I still find it ridiculous that anyone would believe that the rapture is a real event that will eventually take place. From a biblical standpoint, it’s wholly nonsensical and  has no evidence beyond out-of-context bible verses that “might” mean something like a rapture. 2 Yet thousands of Christians willingly believe in this, and hope that one day the rapture will actually happen.

I know firsthand because I was one of them. Growing up I was terrified of the rapture. I was terrified that I might be “left behind” one day.

It was a freeing experience as soon as I realized that the rapture is not real. In fact, I learned that the rapture was completely made up in the 19th century. You won’t find a single reference to the rapture before that time. No one in history believed in the rapture up until that time. No reformer, no medieval theologian; no early church father believed in it.

So why in the world do we believe it today?

I believe it has a lot to do with this movie. The Left Behind series made popular the rapture theory, thereby establishing the illusion that this is truth. Since most believers don’t read the bible or study theology for themselves, they gave into what appeared to be a sensational perspective for the end times.

In a literal sense then, we have injected a hollywood doomsday obsession into the bible. We love this stuff because it’s so sensational and exciting. The Left Behind series isn’t popular because it’s good theology, it’s popular because it’s a mixture of excitement, hollywood pizzazz, and biblical literalism. Essentially, Left Behind makes the bible interesting to a generation that’s no longer interested. We’ve traded a love affair with the Gospel for a love affair with the rapture, the return of Christ, and the apocalyptic imagery of Revelation.

We’ve become eschatologically obsessed.

Don’t believe me? Go look at Amazon’s best seller list for Christian books. I guarantee you that in the top 5 there will be at least a book about the rapture, a book about heaven, or a book about hell (or a mixture of all three). 3

The rapture is just a bad idea, and so is promoting it in hollywood. Do you know how much fear something like that induces? Especially if you believe it’s not just a fictional story? I was scarred as a child imagining all the horrific events that were taught to me as fact, instead of theory. 4

We need to get honest with ourselves and stop promoting this garbage theology. The rapture is not real. Let’s get past this eschatological obsession so that we can be the hands and feet of Jesus to this world. Let’s take care of our world, not look to escape it. 

What do you think? Am I fair in saying that we’re an eschatologically obsessed church? Do you remember the old Left Behind films? Let me a comment below!

Like this article? Help me expand my reach by sharing:

For anyone in need of an explanation as to why I think the rapture is a bad idea, see this article. 

Notes:

  1. I’ve written before about the rapture.
  2. Greg Boyd on the rapture.
  3. Popular books recently: The Four Blood Moons, and Heaven is For Real
  4. The rapture is just a theory, remember? And it’s a bad one.

Is the Rapture Real?

RaptureWhat if I told you that the rapture is something entirely made up? Would you breath a deep sight of relief, or would you be offended?

The Rapture theory is commonly held in much of Christianity today, but why? Is it really so biblical?

I don’t believe it is. In my mind, the rapture is a myth. It is complete fiction made up in the 19th century through the distortion of scripture.

So whether you believe in the rapture or not, allow me to present for you five compelling reasons why I believe the rapture isn’t real.

#1 It’s Unbiblical

The Rapture, despite how much it’s accepted as fact, is completely unbiblical. There is literally no direct scriptural evidence for the rapture. All of the scriptures classically used to defend the rapture are either a) taken out of context or b) vague and obscure.

If the rapture really is true, then why isn’t the bible filled with it? Why do rapture teachers have to use such vague passages to back up their beliefs?

Sure, there are a few verses that kind of hint towards the rapture. But as soon as you take the time to understand the proper context, you’ll discover that you’ve been implying your own meaning into the text (when it should always be the other way around).

#2 Implies a Third Coming of Christ

Rapture teachers, in order to back up their position, have invented a third coming of Christ. 1 They will teach that Jesus’ second coming is the rapture (where he sucks up all the Christians into the sky), and His final coming is a third coming (one of final judgement).

This is logically inconsistent, and scripturally insulting. There is no such thing as a third coming of Christ. When He comes again, it will be the final and full manifestation of the Kingdom. 2

the-raptureRapture teachers make the false distinction between “the day of Christ” and “the day of the Lord”, claiming that the bible refers to the rapture and the second coming of Christ as different events by these terms. But this logic is seriously flawed. 3

#3 Thessalonians 4:17 in Context

Thessalonians 4:17 is perhaps the most important bible verse in a rapture teachers theology. But is this verse really talking about the rapture? Let’s look at the context.

In Thessalonians 4:17 Paul writes “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…”

You can see why this can seem like a rapture verse. So here more than ever it’s important to understand what is leading up to this verse, and where it fits into the whole of this letter. 4

Right before verse seventeen Paul is talking about resurrection from the dead. This is massive. Paul is not talking about the end times. Paul is encouraging the church with the hope of resurrection. i.e. Death is not permanent! Death is not the end!

Check out specifically verse 14: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” Paul here makes the parallel between Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection. Death is defeated by Christ, and we share in His victory! Far from being a verse for the rapture, this verse is about the resurrection.

#4 A 19th Century Invention

The rapture was first invented by John Nelson Darby in the 19th century. 5 Up until that time absolutely no one believed in the rapture.

Think about that for a moment.

photo-9Some may be quick to say “Stephen, why are you questioning the rapture? It’s such a well established doctrine!” But who’s really the one questioning orthodoxy here? If you believe in the rapture than essentially you are saying that for 1,800 years the church as a whole has been wrong.

Are you that confident in this? Are you a better theologian than the reformers, the early church, or even the Apostle Paul?

Because none of them ever taught the rapture.

#5 Fear Based

The Rapture is an entirely fear based doctrine. It sounds much more like mythology, than Christianity.

The rapture creates a “rescue me” mentality. The church has become far more interested in being rescued from an “evil world” than it is in changing the world with the Gospel.

Aren’t we called to be good stewards of the earth? 6 Aren’t we looking forward to a “new heaven and a new earth”? 7 (Not, mind you, a destroyed earth.)

The rapture has detrimentally corrupted the church with an escapist mindset. We don’t feel responsible to build a lasting legacy. Instead, we look forward to our escape from this world. Ultimately, the rapture undermines the command of Jesus to preach the Gospel to all creation. 

So is the rapture real? I doubt it.

Either way, who cares? We teach the rapture in Christianity sometimes like it matters. Let me tell you, it doesn’t. While the bible may be unclear about the end times, it is clear about this: we will never fully know what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, or even how it’s going to happen.

Just trust Jesus, enjoy abundant life, and preach the Gospel!

So what do you think? Is the rapture real? Leave me a comment below!

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy the free eBook I’ve written on the end times. You can get it by clicking here.

Like this article? Help me expand my reach by sharing:

Notes:

  1. No one would ever admit this, but if you listen to what the rapture teaches, it is implied.
  2. It’s important to note here that the kingdom has already come fully in Christ. However, the second coming is properly understood as a full manifestation. It’s not that Jesus is gone from the earth, soon to magically come back. Christ is here and His kingdom is with Him right now.
  3. By the same way of thinking you could conclude that when Mathew’s gospel writes the “kingdom of heaven” and Luke’s/Mark’s gospel the “Kingdom of God” that this means there are two kingdoms.
  4. Remember, the new testament is a compilation of letters. Theses letters where never meant to be picked apart like we treat them today. They must be taken as a whole to be understood properly.
  5. Specifically, the 1830’s
  6. Psalms 115:16
  7. Revelation 21:2