The rapture, eschatology, and why we don’t talk about it so much
The world ended, recently.
Well, it was supposed to, anyway. In fact if you hadn’t heard, you must have had your head buried in the sand a couple of weeks ago, when secular and religious media agencies splashed the news around that 89-year-old Harold Camping in the States had proclaimed that May 21st 2011 was going to begin the end of the world. A rapture was supposed to happen, along with an earthquake, and various other apocalyptic things were to ensue.
Except that they didn’t. Causing a rather crestfallen Camping to emerge a couple of days later and announce that he got it slightly wrong. Unfortunately he didn’t leave it at that – apparently, we should trust him that actually things are being played out ‘spiritually’ and that the date in October which he had also included in his previous predictions as being the final end, remains. Hmm. We’ll see about that.
I don’t wish to pour out any more words which might be critical of this man or his predictions; it is obviously terrible to most people how some people in their trusting him lost huge sums of money. Stuff like that shouldn’t be excused. But neither do I want to stand with those who only feed themselves on the dead meat thrown to them by the media, talking endlessly about deceivers and the deceived. It’s a personal exercise of heart; criticism isn’t what we are to be known for, and it won’t do me any good. I’m gonna eat from the tree of life.
But that’s not even the point of this blog; it merely provides a helpful introduction, as indeed all this talk of rapture perhaps gave occasion for some people to think genuinely about matters of the ‘end times’, often (not much more helpfully) called ‘eschatology’.
I don’t think this is a bad thing at all; when we see error we should respond (not react) to it rightly by asking ourselves what the Bible actually says, and therefore what Christians should actually believe. The temptation naturally is to steer away altogether from talk of ‘end times’ and so on, but this kind of reaction to error usually produces error. We see it in other things too: reaction to abuse in ‘miracle ministries’ and charismatic movements in general has caused some to resort to such doctrines as cessationism, which says that the spiritual gifts outlined in 1 Corinthians 12 and other New Testament passages died out with the last of the apostles. Giving God’s timeless book a singularly useless chapter (or several, really) in the middle of some of its most important statements. Well, I wasn’t going to go into that here, either.
So we need to correct error with truth, and by really embracing and confronting the truth.
…you thought I’d have the final word on eschatology, though? Goodness me, no! I’ve lived a quarter of a century and many older than me don’t feel that they’ve figured it out yet! So I’m afraid I can’t provide a blow-by-blow account of what actually takes place in the Last Days. Sorry to those of you who thought I might.
What I’m here to say then is, isn’t the Bible fascinating! If I want to say anything in these blogs, it’s that. My line is of course to go to the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand truth. It’s an invitation to have a conversation with God and delve into some mystery. I said something in a blog recently, and would like to emphasise it now in a slightly different way: When you’re in relationship with God, and you find a difficult passage of Scripture, it shouldn’t necessarily be the answer that
a) we run to the nearest theologian we can find to give us the answer or
b) we try to shove it into the shape of some doctrine or theological argument we do know to make it fit. I guarantee you, it won’t fit perfectly, and you will have missed an opportunity to encounter God.
What do I mean by that? I mean that the most exciting option before us at that point is to open up a dialogue with God and talk to Him about it. Ask the Holy Spirit for revelation, for interpretation of what is before you. That way, when truth is revealed, it will mean so much more to you than if you’d taken option a) and simply asked your pastor; it has been personally sought after, and will be something now rooted into your personal history with God. And with what you know of possible theological answers in option b) could have just been expanded a bit more by some new understanding shed from your encounter with God.
I hadn’t really intended to say that, either, but I felt it was important; it has been on my heart, and having been given a couple of prophetic words to this effect recently, I know it’s important for me to share the meditations of my heart at the moment.
But I’d better cut to the chase quick, otherwise this will exceed 1,000 words and I’ll be accused of too much academia. (Probably already guilty as charged.)
I was talking about this with my wife-to-be last night. Sometimes when you’re talking, thoughts process faster than if you’re just on your own. I found myself saying something I’d not really thought of before, but it struck me as somewhat significant. (You’re hoping so, if you’ve got this far!)
It’s not a complete thought, merely a contribution to the discussion on eschatology. It strikes me that in our attempts to understand (especially) passages like Revelation 19-22 (asking how much is metaphorical, how much literal, is any of it both or in between?), we really have no other passages of the Bible or testaments from history to match up to what we read about. Never before have we seen all of humanity before a great white throne, where every eye can see God. God has never before been visible to every single eye at once, we have no historical pattern to establish what on earth that could look like or how it could happen. I think the closest is where the glory of God was visible to the sons of Israel on the mountain top; even then it is entirely within practical planes. That’s not to say at all that it won’t happen the way it says in the end-time passages; our great conviction (‘our’ being my main circles of charismatic evangelicals) is that it will happen pretty much in that way; but the picture is still so huge and cosmic that I wonder if we really have any practical way of envisioning what it could possibly be like? Not that we need to arrange it or anything – I doubt He’ll be sending messages to certain churches asking them to set out chairs.
It’s just fascinating to think about. Because as much as the Bible is unprecedented in supplying any other picture quite like that in Rev 19-22 for us to compare it with, it is also unequivocal on its assertion that there will be a great DAY of reckoning, of judgment, where God wraps things up.
So ultimately I think with the great realm of mystery that is often made to surround this area of thought, many are turned off and therefore have difficulty whenever they come across these passages. I think in this time when people are making false predictions about the rapture and so on, it would be just like God to stand right next to them and ask, “so what DO you think about the rapture and end-times and so on?” Trouble is, if at that point we’re simply running from this area in reaction to error, we might not notice that He’s asking that.
I personally don’t believe in a rapture, by the way, not like one that these people talk about, floating off into space. Just in case you wanted me to nail to SOME colours. Because I know some people just can’t be satisfied without some concrete statements 😉 I’ll endeavour to provide some more as I continue on this journey of understanding with God.
One more concrete statement. I do believe in the return of Jesus Christ, and that He won’t return without the church’s active participation in the gospel. It’s not going to come by us predicting dates and times, but by us preaching the gospel of the kingdom in the whole world as a testimony to all nations (Matthew 24:14); in this way we will actually HASTEN (or even CAUSE – from the Greek) the day of the Lord (2 Peter 3:12).