Friday, January 25, 2008

Are We REALLY Living in the End Times? Part 2: The Rapture

A certain bumper sticker actually annoys me: “In case of rapture, car will be empty.” You know what? So will every single other car on earth, because there will be no rapture, at least as defined by the Darby/Scofield/Lindsey/LaHaye crowd.

The dispensational end times interpretation holds that believers will be drawn up, or “raptured,” to meet Christ in the air in a secret second coming, so that all believers will be removed from the earth in advance of the great tribulation. It was first popularized by J.N. Darby in the mid-1800s. It’s a complete fabrication that is unsupported by scripture and was never taught throughout the entire history of the church until Darby. (I’m sorry if this shocks or hurts anyone, but I need to be blunt.)

The rapture as taught is a non-Biblical doctrine. It is tortuously drawn from 1 Thess. 4:17 which says (in full context, from the NIV):

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

First, the original, contextual Greek language does not refer to physical flying through the air to meet Jesus.
Writes Don Matzat:

“The language of 1 Thess. 4:17 does not allow for the ‘rapture’ teaching. The phrase ‘to meet the Lord’ literally means ‘to meet for the purpose of welcoming back.’ The Greek phrase ‘to meet’ ( eis apanthsin) is only used on four occasions in the New Testament. In each case it means to go out to meet for the purpose of welcoming. (See, for example, Acts 8:15.)” (Truman note: That passage, by the way, says: “The brothers there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged.”)

Second, it is totally illogical when ripped from context. The thought that Jesus Christ would remove certain people from what was to come flies in the face of the rest of scripture. If you believe in Christ, does that free you from disease, suffering, sorrow, poverty, death? Absolutely not! God promises to preserve us and save us from our sins, not turn us into totally happy campers, free from all sorrow and discomfort on earth. Why would He let His children suffer through pain and turmoil on earth throughout the entire course of human history, but only remove certain Christians from pain and turmoil just one time?

God preserves his people through persecution and suffering—He even uses trials to refine and shape us to make us more His—but removing believers from the world before a great, final tribulation would counter everything that came beforehand in the Bible. Even Noah and his family, preserved from the Great Flood, weren’t exactly living in style on board that ark, undoubtedly filled with the smells and constant noise of thousands of animals (and themselves). An even better example: why weren’t the first Christians saved from the tribulations of Rome? What makes our generation better than theirs? Why would our generation of Christians, which includes fat and lazy Americans, be “raptured” from all harm, while the incredibly brave Christian men and women who faced the wrath of godless Rome be tortured, put to the sword, used as human torches and torn by wild beasts?

Third, Rev. 3:10 is used to support the rapture theory: “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” But that’s only if you take the passage entirely out of it’s context. Who is Christ speaking to? All Christians? Christians in the 21st century? No—that would make absolutely no sense, because when you keep this passage in its proper context, it is found within the letter John is sending to the church at Philadelphia, in the wider context of seven contemporary churches. As Hank Hanegraaff says, keep in mind that the Bible is written TO specific people but it is also written FOR us. Meaning, we can certainly draw lessons from what is being taught, but there were very specific purposes in the words being said or written at the time they were said or written!

What is the “hour of trial” and the other troubles to come that are referred to in left behind theology? Well, that depends on when you date the writing of Revelation, which opens up another whole can of worms. I’ll deal with that fully in a later entry, but Christians facing imminent persecution would take no comfort from a cryptic letter describing far future events, would they? Of course not. But a letter describing the present and near future—that’s something different.

Fourth, the rapture can’t be biblical, because it would mean that Jesus will remove Christians from the earth, then allow some to become saved yet go through a massive time of suffering, and then come again for the “real” Second Coming. It’s never been taught, or thought of, until the modern era. You get one chance to accept Christ: during your life on earth. A “secret second coming,” which is what the rapture is, gives those “left behind” a second chance at repentance.

NOWHERE in the Bible is there any mention of true believers being taken from the earth and judged separately from the rest of humanity. On the contrary: there is but one judgment for all, as illustrated in Rev. 11:18 and 20:11-15.

Also, see Luke 16 for the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus. When the rich man dies and goes to hell, he begs Abraham to warn his brothers, but is told “They have Moses and the prophets” to listen to, and if they don’t believe them, they won’t even believe if someone raises from the dead. The subtext of this parable is that you don’t get a second chance. No one does.

Fifth, other evidence for a rapture includes Matthew 24, where Jesus says that “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” But applying a rapture to this is again a misapplication. It refers to judgment, where the wicked are judged first and the righteous second, in accordance with Matthew 13:24-30. This interpretation is suggested by Hannegraaff in The Apocalypse Code, p.60; and I agree with him. Remember, you must interpret scripture in light of scripture. Otherwise, scripture will not make as much sense as it should. In this context, it makes perfect sense.

Sixth, think about this for a second: if millions upon millions of people suddenly disappeared, do you seriously think that the Lindsay/LaHaye model of “well, bye-bye Christians and good riddance!” will be what follows? Heck, no. Such a disappearance could never, ever be explained by science, aliens or anything else. It would have to be the Bible—and people would be desperate to be taken too. People would be begging God to rapture them as well. There would be mass suicides, panic, hysteria and the whole of civilization would collapse. Don’t think that this automatically means that the rise of the Antichrist naturally follows, because that’s a whole different matter, which I’ll explain in a later post.

Consider this: if the rapture is such a crucial bit of end times dogma, why doesn’t God just come out and say it, like He does with so many other crucial bits of information? Because it isn’t there. You shouldn’t have to search hard and make guesses and risk misapplying interpretation to something so critical. In other words, the supposed rapture is cryptic and spread throughout several passage that don’t fit together and have to be misinterpreted or taken out of context in order to work. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is unambiguous and easy to find. “I am who am” is unambiguous and easy to find. Not so with the rapture.

Look at it another way (in summation). Gary DeMar, a harsh critic of dispensationalism, says this about the supposed rapture in his End Times Fiction: A Biblical Consideration of the Left Behind Theology, pages 20-21:

How is it possible that:

  • So many well-meaning Christians believe in a pretrib rapture when even pretrib advocates tell us that that not one passage of Scripture teaches the two aspects of Jesus’ second coming separated by the Tribulation;
  • The Old Testament doesn’t teach a pretrib rapture;
  • No one up until about 1830 taught a pretrib rapture; and
  • The doctrine, supposedly “so clearly revealed in the Scriptures,” became “utterly lost” immediately after the close of the New Testament canon?”

Why, indeed. Advocates of the rapture cannot answer those questions. And without the rapture, the entire great tribulation/left behind end times theology comes crashing down.

In subsequent parts, I will examine Jesus’ predictions as recorded in Matthew 24, the real identity of the antichrist/beast (yes, they’re one in the same), the real timeframe for a great tribulation, the real dating of the writing of Revelation, what the end of the age really meant (why there will be no new temple) and the role of modern-day Israel.

Supporting links/books
(I’ll repeat these in every post):

I have read all of these books:

Gary DeMar, End Times Fiction and
Last Days Madness

Hank Hanegraaff,
The Apocalypse Code

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins,
Are We Living in the End Times?

Hal Lindsey,
The Late Great Planet Earth

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Are we REALLY living in the end times? Part 1: Introduction

Shortly after I was saved, I became hooked on the end times. I believed that the end of days was fast approaching, that the warning signs were all around us, that we all needed to get ready, and that Biblical prophesies were coming true before our very eyes.

I read Hal Lindsey, read Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye and even started their Left Behind series, and read and listened to John MacArthur take a “whirlwind tour through Revelation.” I believed that what was written in Revelation was going to come true almost word for word.

I no longer believe that. It no longer makes any sense.

Before going further, I want it understood that I am NOT questioning anyone’s faith. Instead, I am questioning the methodology used and conclusions reached. I believe that Christ will come again and there will be final judgment. It just won’t happen as so many preach today, because scripture itself says no such thing.


According to the dispensational theology, first introduced about 1830, here’s what’s supposed to happen:

There will be a rapture of all believers in Christ. They’ll just disappear from the earth to be “caught up” in the air to meet the returning Christ. (The trouble is, Christ will reverse course in this secret second coming and return to heaven, taking all believers with Him. This makes no sense, but we’ll get into that in a subsequent part.)

Second. The Antichrist rises in the wake of the disappearance of all real Christians and begins to take over the world, while those “left behind” must make a choice: take the opportunity to follow Christ or follow the god-like Antichrist.

Third. Meanwhile, Antichrist makes peace with Israel and the temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem. But Antichrist breaks his peace and sets himself up as god in the temple. This is supposed to be “the abomination of desolation.”

Fourth. The great tribulation occurs – hell is unleashed – where all who are left behind on earth are subjected to terrible things: earthquakes, fires from heaven, plagues, demon armies (according to some). Believers are spared from God’s wrath but are killed by Antichrist’s forces.

Fifth. The great tribulation is cut short when Christ returns in all His glory. He binds Satan and casts him in the pit for a 1,000 years, while Christ rules in the new Jerusalem, which has the sacrificial system reinstated (again, this makes no sense).

Six. At the end of the 1,000 years, Satan is released one final time and the battle of Armageddon occurs. Satan is ultimately defeated.

Seven. Final judgment occurs for all the living and the dead. The end.

I left out a few things, but that’s the basic story line. Unfortunately, it’s no more true than LaHaye and Jenkins’ Left Behind fiction—not if you read the Bible for all that it is worth and have the “song” of the Old Testament in your ears as you read the New Testament, that is.



It’s crucial to help understand this because many Christians base their faith on the belief that the end times are literally around the corner. Many Christians (usually on the political right) are caught up in the end times teaching and thinking, and it colors their perceptions of the world differently than the Biblical worldview as called for in the New Testament.

In the mid-1800s, a former English priest named John Nelson Darby began teaching the notion of 7 “dispensations” of time, of which there would be a one-thousand year reign of Christ on earth. A fellow believer also influenced Darby on the notion of a “rapture” of believers. This “Dispensationalism” included a key role for a reconstituted nation of Israel. Darby may not have been the absolute first to teach such notions, but he gave it real life. Like Darwin and his evolutionary “natural selection,” Darby’s dispensational eschatology spread like wildfire.

“Darby contended that God had two distinct people with two distinct plans and two distinct destinies,” writes Hank Hanegraaff in The Apocalypse Code on page 41. “Only one of those peoples – the Jews – would suffer tribulation. The other – the church – would be removed from the world in a secret coming seven years prior to the second coming of Christ. Darby’s distinctive twist on scripture would shortly come to be known as dispensational eschatology.”

At century’s end, the notes in the widely read Scofield Reference Bible (King James Version) expanded upon Darby’s teaching and interpreted many passages to be referring to events that had yet to happen—events that had not been fulfilled in Biblical times (other than the return of Christ, that is). For instance: Ezekiel 34:13 was taken to refer to a far-future gathering of Israel. When Israel actually became a state again in 1948, many of the prophesies from the Old and New Testaments were looked at again in a brand new light, such as Isaiah 35:1-2, where it speaks of blossoming in the desert—which has happened with Israeli farming techniques. Israeli military prowess seemed heaven-blessed, and the renewed nation captured the city of David in 1967. Also,
writes Don Matzat:

“Those … also taught, from Scripture, that before the end of all things, there would be a tribulation period of seven years according to the prophecies of Daniel. Rev. 7:14 speaks of the Great Tribulation. During those seven years, the anti-Christ would arise. He would be a political figure and, according to Dan. 7:24-25, he would be given authority by ten kings. Since the European Common market was forming and nearly ten nations had already come together, the time of the anti-Christ was soon upon us.”
Then came Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth, THE publishing phenomenon of the 1970s. This incredible best-seller laid out exactly what was supposed to happen in the next few years, the rise of the anti-Christ, the rapture of believers, the Great Tribulation, the return of Jesus Christ, the establishment of His 1000-year kingdom on earth, the final battle of Armageddon and victory of Satan, and final judgment. The Soviet Union was to be heavily involved in the story by launching a massive attack against Israel which would easily—divinely—defeat the “Gog/Magog” of the far north.

It was all supposed to happen, starting with the rapture, on May 14, 1988. Obviously, it didn’t. Why in the world Hal Lindsey has not been denounced as a false prophet and banished from all Christian circles I have no idea.

Many others have also predicted the coming rapture and Armageddon, in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s. For example, Harold Camping predicted the rapture coming in 1994. Well, we’re still here. Some believed that the start of the Gulf War in 1991 was the beginning of the end. People like John Hagee preached that Yitsak Rabin’s murder in 1996 was the sign of impending Armageddon.

Christians who adhere to the dispensational theology (which I use interchangeably with “Left Behind theology”), such as John Hagee, are Christian Zionists, which means that they believe that the modern state of Israel is no different than the Biblical Israel and is under God’s special protection even today. Hagee even once said that “Anyone who makes the life of Jewish people difficult or grievous, as did the Pharaoh, as did Hitler, will be cursed by God.” (Source: keynote address to AIPAC, March 12, 2007.)

Some preachers—many prominent ones—went nuts with millennial madness in the late 1990s and led their flocks astray by insisting the end times were nigh when the calendar changed from Dec. 31, 1999, to Jan. 1, 2000.

The end times phenomenon continues today, but without the dates, and sometimes with a new cast of characters. It gained new currency in the late 1990s and early 2000s with LaHaye and Jenkins’ phenomenal Left Behind series, which is essentially a fictional version of Lindsey’s book. (The Left Behind series has sold more books than the Harry Potter series!)

And on and on and on… End times madness, or as author Gary DeMar puts it, Last Days Madness in his highly critical book, has gripped the church, but not in a good way.


The Darby/Lindsey/LaHaye end times thinking has lead some Christians to look at current events through a skewed lens. Everything concerning the Middle East is interpreted to have some meaning relevant to Biblical prophesy. Many Christians base their support of the modern state of Israel on their interpretation of the Bible. Hank Hanegraaff calls this newspaper eschatology (others call it newspaper exegesis), which means using the headlines to interpret the Bible (which I agree with Hank is a serious and critical error). Scripture should be read in light of scripture, not in light of today’s news and recent history. (I support Israel, but it has nothing to do with the Bible.)

What does it matter what you believe about the end times? A majority of evangelicals believe it, so why is the dispensational theology a major problem?

There have been hundreds of end times and last days predictions in the last 50 years alone that have been proven wrong time and time again by the mere passage of time. Instead of these false prophets being rebuked, cast down and forgotten, they’re still lauded as great prophesy teachers!

What does that say about the Christian faith, and our—your—Christian witness when people like Lindsey, LaHaye, Hagee, Benny Hinn, etc., makes these breathless last days predictions based on bad theology that repeatedly fail to come true?

How many souls have been lost and have turned away from Christianity because false prophets have made a mockery of the Bible through their false claims that have failed to come true?

The dispensational theology is thoroughly and completely unbiblical. I am convinced of this.

Until the mid-1800s, dispensationalism and a rapture, a secret second coming for the church, a separate punishment for the Jews, etc. has never been part of Christian teaching. Neither John, Paul, Peter, James or Jude, or their immediate followers such as Clement, Polycarp and Ignatius taught it. Nor did the Lord Himself.

Only through misinterpretation and some fantastic grammatical gymnastics do we arrive at the conclusions of Darby, Lindsey, LaHaye, etc.

Dispensational theology sets up a separate salvation for Christians and Jews that neither Jesus Christ nor the New Testament writers ever called for. Believe it or not, dispensational theology actually proscribes that Jews MUST and WILL face a holocaust far greater than the Nazi holocaust as part of the great tribulation. If they're supposed to still be God's chosen people -- even though Christ proclaimed the gospel for all -- why would untold numbers of them be returned to the promised land only to face a horrible slaughter? It's a facet of evangelical support for Israel that rarely gets discussed.

This is the worst thing of all: the dispensational theology totally negates Christ’s completed work on the cross by claiming there will be a return to the types and shadows of Old Testament worship (e.g., the reconstructed “Third Temple” in Jerusalem and the “Fourth Temple” in the 1,000 years, where animal sacrifices are performed). Christ Himself is the new temple, not some new construct to be built during the last days, and we are the church. Remeber what He told the Samaratan woman at the well? No more temples!

In subsequent parts, I will examine the rapture, Jesus’ predictions as recorded in Matthew 23 and 24, the real identity of the antichrist/beast (yes, they’re one in the same), the real timeframe for a great tribulation and the real dating of the writing of Revelation, what the end of the age really meant (why there will be no new temple) and the role of modern-day Israel. This won't cover everything, but it will be enough.

Again, please understand I am NOT questioning anyone’s faith. I am, however, questioning the interpretation of, and expectations for, impending end times according to the dispensational understanding. This also doesn’t mean that Christ isn’t returning. He is—but according to God’s schedule. When He’s ready, and not when supposed “signs” say that He’s ready, Jesus will come to transform all of us instantly, depose Satan and judge the living and the dead, and reign forever and ever.

Dispensational – the belief that there will be a rapture, “the” Antichrist, a seven-year great tribulation, a millennial kingdom on earth ruled by Christ, a final battle at the end of the 1,000 years between Jesus and Satan, and then the final judgment.

Pre-millennial – the belief that a secret rapture of all believers—dead and living—will occur before the great tribulation.

Preterits – the belief that all prophesy has been fulfilled by the close of scripture, including the Second Coming.

Exegesis – means “explanation”

Eschatology – it means concerned with final events

Supporting links/books
(I’ll repeat these in every post):

I have read all of these books:

Gary DeMar, End Times Fiction and
Last Days Madness

Hank Hanegraaff,
The Apocalypse Code

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times?

Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth