The Rapture: If Not Yesterday, Then When?

After yesterday’s Harold Camping embarrassment, lots of people are mocking the failed “prophet”, including me. And let’s face it: The whole thing was pretty silly, and deserved to be mocked. But with that has also come a lot of mocking of Christ and his church, and of the truth that Jesus WILL return. While unfortunate, this is not unexpected.

Peter wrote that in the last days, scoffers would question the biblical promise of the Lord’s return, “following after their own sinful desires” (see 2 Peter 3). As believers, we are to pay heed neither to these scoffers, nor to those such as Harold Camping, who mock Scripture in their own way by their blatant disregard for passages which clearly tell us that we cannot know the time of the Lord’s return, and should not try to predict it.

It is good, however, to think about Christ’s return. After all, the promise of his coming is our blessed hope (Titus 2:13); it is because of that hope that we persevere in good works until the end!

Sadly, the very thing that should cause all Christians to rejoice most turns all too often into bitter debate, as disagreements over the timing and manner of the Lord’s return have divided Christians for centuries. I think it’s important to engage in the debate, but to try to keep the discussion civil and loving. Lots of people who genuinely love the Lord and look forward to his coming disagree, but we must always remember that our agreements (in the deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, etc) are far more numerous than our disagreements!

So, with many people thinking about “Judgment Day” and the “rapture” during the last few days, I thought now would be as good a time as any to share a little bit of my story, and how my views of eschatology (the doctrine of the future) have changed — and continue to develop.

Like most Christians around here (and throughout America, it would seem), I grew up believing that one day — maybe today! — Jesus would come secretly in the clouds and whisk away all the true believers. Then, after seven years of pouring out his wrath on everyone “left behind”, he would come AGAIN, this time to fight the armies of the antichrist and reign in power on the earth for a thousand years. This hermeneutic (system of interpreting Scripture) is known as “Dispensational Premillenialism”, or just Dispensationalism for short.

In high school, the Left Behind books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins hit the shelves, and like millions of other people, I read them. At first I really liked them. They made me feel like my reading time was redeemed, because they were the first “Christian” fiction I’d ever read… except maybe the Chronicles of Narnia, but since I read those in public school they probably don’t count.

By the time I got to college and the last of the LB books were coming out, I started having questions, not least of which being: “Is this the best we’ve got? Must all Christian fiction be so poorly written?” One good thing about the series was that it made me begin to seriously study my Bible for the first time (for that alone, I am deeply grateful to Mr.’s LaHaye and Jenkins!). I thought the story was lame — especially by the time it got to book 5 or 6 — but the subject matter was really interesting, so I decided to turn to the source.

When I got there, though, what I found disturbed me. Most of what was written in those books — and most of what I had believed about Christ’s return — I couldn’t find in Scripture. The more I studied, the more I began to question what I had by then learned was called Dispensationalism. My primary objection was that the Dispensational hermeneutic required me to accept several assertions that I do not believe are supported by Scripture. Here are just a few:

  1. A sharp distinction between the church and Israel, with the “church age” being a parenthesis in God’s dealings with the Jews
  2. Belief that God promises to remove his people from tribulation
  3. An indeterminate amount of time inserted between the last two of Daniel’s “Seventy Weeks” (see Daniel 9:24-27)
  4. Christ coming back multiple times (once for the church, once for judgment)
  5. That the “true” interpretation of many prophetic passages was not discovered until the last 200 years

My aim is not to start another debate, but these are some serious questions that I have had… and by no means have I got it figured out! A couple years ago I thought I had, and wrote a series of posts on eschatology. Later, as I studied more, I realized that there were some serious holes in my logic and interpretation during those posts, so I removed them. In any event, I no longer hold the theological position I did at that time.

Today I classify myself more as an eschatological agnostic. As I study more and more, it seems I always turn up more questions than answers, and so I’m hesitant to come down definitively on a particular end times belief. If I had to pick, though, I probably lean more toward amillenialism than anything right now. I may go in to that more another time, but for a great and brief summary of the major positions, check out David Murray’s Endtimes Q & A.

Rather than try to label myself by a system of eschatology, I have instead tried to focus on the things I know for sure to be true. Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead, and to spend eternity with his chosen people. No matter when and how he returns, it will be MORE glorious than anyone has ever imagined. Christians who have believed all sorts of different things about the end of time will all be with Jesus, and no one will care who was right or wrong.

So when do I think this will happen?

I believe the Lord will return when the Great Commission has been fulfilled, and the gospel has gone out to all the  world, with the Good News of salvation winning converts from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue. In the meantime, apostasy and tribulation will continue (though I also believe that the Church will triumph alongside these things), and God will see his people through these trials as he has always done.

Could Christ return today? Perhaps, but with so many unreached people groups in the world, I do not think he will. I’d love to be wrong! Still, God’s definition of “unreached” may be different from ours, and he could very well make his return at any moment. This is why it is important to always “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace,” while we wait for the promise of the new heavens and the new earth (2 Peter 3:13-14). It is not important to know the day or the hour, but to be about the Father’s business until he sends his Son again!

Whenever Christ does return, though, I believe that judgment will take place at that time. I worry for those who have heard that Christ’s return is imminent, and that the rapture will be followed by seven years of signs and wonders. LaHaye and Jenkins make the life of a “tribulation saint” sound exciting, but I don’t believe there will be any such thing. How many are waiting to place their faith in Christ for a surefire sign (the rapture) that God is real? Let’s stop promising them such a sign.

Of course, I still love my many Dispensational friends! In fact, most of my church (including my pastor) believe in a pretribulational rapture, so it obviously is not enough of a concern of mine to break fellowship with them! This is an area where disagreement does not necessitate disassociation. May we remain united in our longing for Christ’s return! Maranatha!

For further reading, I recommend the following materials:

  • Understanding Dispensationalists — A fair and gracious critique of Dispensationalism from an Amil perspective, which focuses on the unity of believers
  • The Late, Great Planet Church — A documentary about how Dispensationalism came about, and how it became so popular
  • The Second Coming — If I were going to be a Dispensationalist, I’d want to be THIS kind! A book by John MacArthur which distances itself from the more sensationalized versions of Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Chuck Missler, John Hagee, etc.

One comment on “The Rapture: If Not Yesterday, Then When?

  1. Jason Cohoon says:

    I confess I’ve taken a similar journey in my end times views. Today I have very little opinion on the matter, however, I think you make a great point in that we should always put our time honored beliefs to the test of Scripture, and if we find discrepancies, we should rethink that belief. There are at least three hot button topics that neither side has convinced me of, or in this case, the four or five sides of end times beliefs. One thing is sure, Jesus will return and when He does He will be salvation to those who have believed and judgement to those who did not! Believe and be prepared!

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