The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation

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Topics: Spiritual Exploration & Practice. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation

  1. Review

    During the 19 th century a new theology was conceived called “premillinarian dispensationalism.” John Nelson Darby, a British evangelical preacher, made a number of visits to the United States to promote what he called “dispensations,” that is, “intervals of time ordering God’s grand timetable for world events.”According to Darby, the Bible contains a schedule of events which will precede the end of history. The first event, coming before a millennium, will be the return of Jesus to ‘Rapture’ all true believers “out of the world into heaven.” Then, after seven years of global tribulation, Jesus will return a second time as a warrior to defeat the forces of evil at Armageddon and establish a reconstructed kingdom of Israel over which he will reign for a thousand years until the end of the world. Darby claimed that the foundation of the “dispensations” is Daniel 9:25-27, the Book of Revelation and other texts from the Hebrew and Christian Testaments.

    Although no specific passage in the Bible uses the word ‘Rapture,’ the popularization of the concept began with the Scofield Reference Bible, a version of the King James Bible published in 1909 which included headings and marginal notes highlighting Darby’s theology. Conferences and radio programs sponsored by The Moody Bible Institute and other Bible schools spread the message. In the 1970’s The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey was a best seller. Between 1995 and 2004, a series of twelve Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, fictionalizing the ‘Rapture.’ have sold more than 60 million copies. John Hagee, Pastor of the 16,000 member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio and author of Doomsday: The Countdown Has Begun is a proponent of the ‘Rapture.’

    Barbara Rossing, who teaches New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, calls the ‘Rapture’ phenomenon a “destructive racket.” She writes that her book is for those who are concerned about the “simplistic” misinterpretation of the Biblical script by the “whole prophecy industry of Tim Le Haye, Hal Lindsey and others.” It is her conviction that dispensationalism must be challenged today “both because of its false theology and also because of its growing influence on public policy.” To counter this distortion and manipulation of Christian faith, she provides an interpretation of the Book of Revelation which provides “a vision of hope for God’s healing of the world.”

    The basic theological foundation of the ‘Rapture’ is Manicheism, a form of Gnosticism, considered a heresy by the early Church, which posits that the world is evil and that our goal is to escape it. The focus of the efforts of the ‘Rapture’ proponents is, therefore, to save individuals “out of this world.” The author writes, “The Rapture vision invites a selfish non-concern for the world. It turns salvation into a personal 401(k) plan that saves only yourself.” She charges that La Haye in his Left Behind novels also provides a “powerful platform” for influencing his readers “on a whole range of conservative political issues including anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality, anti-environmentalism, militarism, and Middle East policy, as well as opposition to the United Nations.”

    The author points out that the Book of Revelation, at the time it was written, is an example of apocalyptic literature which was popular with Jews and Christians. The meaning of apocalyptic is “unveiling.” The purpose of the Book of Revelation is not to give “God’s play-by-play script for the future,” but to unveil a new vision of life for people who were under the domination and oppression of the Roman Empire and to encourage them to be faithful to God alone. She writes, “Revelation’s proclamation of an impending ‘end’ referred not to the end of the world but to the end of Roman rule.” Moreover, The Book of Revelation is prophecy, which does not mean predicting the future, as dispensationalists maintain, but “timely warning.” The prophetic tradition of the Bible is to speak God’s word of warning of the consequences of injustice and encourage people to return to “God’s vision of justice and generosity for the world.” The author writes, “Biblical prophecy tells us not the specifics of what the future holds, but who holds the future. We can know the most important thing about us: God is the one who holds our future.”

    The author proceeds to put the Book of Revelation in historical context as a message to the churches of Asia Minor who were suffering from the domination of the Roman Empire. She stresses that Revelation was written to counter the ideology of the empire which focused on military victory. The purpose of John in writing Revelation was to oppose Rome’s vision of victory with the vision of the victory of the Lamb of God. She writes, “The book of Revelation deals with the opposition between two kinds of power in our lives and in the world: the power of oppressive systems of domination verses the power of God’s Lamb to bring life and healing.” Lamb power manifests itself in “the power of nonviolent resistance and courage in opposition to injustice; it is the power of solidarity and forgiveness.”

    She uses several chapters to compare the vision of John and the vision of dispensationalism and finds a radical contrast. The dispensationalist timetable postpones “any healing and renewal of the world until a distant time way off in the future,” in effect sanctifying the status quo. It also depicts Jesus as a “warrior-like lion” leading an army to establish a kingdom. She terms this vision “rapture in reverse.” In contrast, the vision of the Book of Revelation focuses on the establishment of a community of God, dwelling in the world, that is an “alternative to empire.”

    An Epilogue is titled, “Debunking The Rapture by Verse.” If the reader has any doubts that dispensationalism is a “fabrication,” she exegetes I Thessalonians 4:13, Matthew 24:39-42 (See also Luke 17:34-35), Matthew 24-25, and John 14-1-2. These texts and many other biblical passages used by dispensationalists, are shown, in their historical context, to have nothing to do with the Rapture. She concludes, “Jesus will return – once. Until then, we are always with Jesus and he is with us – Emmanuel. Our life is held in God’s time. And we are called to live in wakefulness, to pray as the final verses of Revelation do. “Amen, come Lord Jesus.” It is salutary and timely to have a scholarly and lively critique of a dangerous misinterpretation of the Bible.

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