So, initially I planned to post this prior to the so-called predicted “end of the world” rapture of this past weekend, but obviously, the rapture didn’t happen, as I haven’t discovered any of my friends or family missing.
However, in the spirit of good fun and Christian political correctness, I thought I should still discuss what the “rapture” deal is all about. In its most basic form, the rapture as most know it is a matter of Christian eschatology (or the study of “end-times”). The term, “rapture” comes from a passage in 1 Thessalonians 4.
“For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage one another with these words.”
-1 Thessalonians 4:15-18
In other words, the rapture idea comes from the idea that we are made alive in Christ, and those who have died but who were with Christ before death will too be with Him in heaven. (During this period in history, death was thought to be the direct result of a sinful existence; those who experienced death weren’t able to live according to God’s commandments properly, thereby taking death as the ultimate punishment. The idea that Christ could not only overcome death, but do the same for His followers was a radical idea, especially for those who were under the impression that death was the result of evil thoughts and actions.) Ultimately, it is the phrase, “then we who are alive, will be caught up in the clouds together…to meet the Lord in the air” that is the basis for the rapture theory. It is the fact that those who have remained faithful to God by keeping His teachings and honoring His word will be brought into heaven when the hour of Jesus’ return arrives.
Another prominent dispute between Christian groups is whether or not the rapture will occur in one or two events. For example, most Evangelical Christians seem to believe that there will be two distinct events involved in the rapture. The first event is when the faithful Christians will ascend to heaven to be with God and Jesus. This is best described in Matthew 24:29-31, which describes two distinct events separated by more than a brief intermission between the two.
“[Title Heading: The Coming of the Son of Man, aka Jesus] Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one heaven to the other.”
The first – the rapture – is when Jesus returns for the faithful, and the second – the second coming – is when Jesus returns, marking the end of the armageddon. The time in between these two events is the key period – this is the moment when those who were not saved (aka accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and were baptized to seal the deal) are left to “repent” and ponder the state of matters; it is during this time that they are “given” the opportunity to accept Jesus, be baptized, and prove to God that they have accepted Him and all that goes with a belief in Him. They will have to live until the second coming of Jesus, when they will be evaluated and either brought up to heaven to join the faithful who were brought up during the rapture, or sent down to Hell.
On the other hand are the “amillennialists” (like myself, the Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, etc.), who believe that unlike the Evangelical Christians, there is only one event, not two, that signifies the end times. Further, their theology indicates that the rapture theology of the Evangelical Christians is more metaphorical/figurative than literal. More specifically, the amillennialists directly reject the theory that Jesus Christ will have a thousand-year long physical reign on earth. Further, the Kingdom of God will not be physically established on earth during this thousand-year period. Instead, Jesus will not come back to establish a church, but rather the church has been established already (through the death and resurrection of Jesus), and that Jesus will remain beside God the Father, while guiding and tending to the flock (aka myself, and others).
Do I fully understand this concept? HECK NO! Do I fully believe in the two event “rapture then second coming” theory? HECK NO! I think personally, I fall into the amillennialists” category, simply due to the fact that this is the message my church preaches and has preached my entire life. It also appears that the division between the two schools of thought occurs in old- versus new-school churches/denominations. In other words, it appears that the churches that were founded based upon traditional theology of Old school Europe (aka the mainline denominations + catholicism, eastern orthodox, etc.) are on one side, while the newer, American-based churches are on the other (aka non-denominational, Evangelical, pentacostal, etc.). While obviously I can’t make any statements as to why this is so, I wonder whether it has anything to do with how each views the interpretation of the Bible – literal, or otherwise. One one side are those who believe that the Bible is literally the Word of God, and it must be followed to the letter, each and every letter. While on the other side, there are those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but it was written during a very specific period in time, and thus should be read with a grain of salt. In other words, the Bible is to be taken seriously, but not necessarily interpreted in a literal fashion. Whether or not this has any correlation to the one or two event end-times theory is not a matter that I can decide upon personally, but it is interesting that the correlations exist between the two arguments.
Obviously, we are all still here, and have not yet reached the “end-times.” Are the end-times a-comin’? Well, that’s not mine to say, I’m not God, nor do I want to be. Do I believe that there are end-times and they are on the horizon? No, I’m not sure that I do, and to be brutally honest, I don’t want to be around when they do happen. In fact, when people started talking about the rapture a few weeks ago, I was a little scared, and not for any particularly important reasons. What went through my head was, “but I won’t get to have a wedding, have children, lead a congregation, let alone drive my new car.” Stupid, huh? But those are my reality at the moment, those are the things I have just started to get excited about. So no, I don’t believe in the rapture, and I’m not that sure that I believe in the end-times. Does this make me foolish? Not sure. I think I need more explanation than what I have been given thus far.
Do I think we are in the end times? Not sure. I think I need more evidence – not the words of self-proclaimed preachers and prophets, and televangelists, but the words of educated theologians and experienced ministers, people who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of rational belief, not irrational propaganda. But I feel assured that since I am going to seminary, I will have ample opportunity to explore this and other topics that will arise in the coming years. Only time and experience will tell, but I can’t wait to see myself after I figure all this out.