How you look at the end times could make a mess of your Christianity.
This October, Nicholas Cage will be hitting the big screen, starring in a remake of the movie “Left Behind.” It’s based on the the best-selling book of the same name by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The movie is a fictionalized dramatization of what might happen when Jesus comes back. When He comes in the clouds and takes all the Christians off the planet, “in the twinkling on an eye.”
As I have said before, I have a varied Christian background. My first dozen years the Plymouth Brethren Assembly served as home church for my family. They were so conservative they would not allow my dad to lead the singing in the summers when he wore a beard. As I recall the Bible of record for them was the Scofield Reference Bible. I have my Grandmother’s copy on the bookshelf beside me as I write.
Scofield had a pretty strong opinion about things. For instance at the top of every page of the Scofield Bible, there is a date. Scofield even offers a date for Genesis 1 – creation. (4004 BC in case you were wondering.)
The Scofield Bible is the first mass-produced document heralding a rapture of the church. It was first published in 1909. Grandma’s copy is the 1917 “new and improved” edition (no joke.) This is something many Christians who grew up with this view don’t realize. The concept of Christians escaping tribulation is not yet two hundred years old. Popularized by Scofield’s work in the early twentieth century, it was first proposed in about 1830.
For those of you who did not grow up in this tradition, let me explain. No, let me sum up – explanation would take too long. Many Christians believe that Jesus will come back seven years before the end of time as we know it. At His coming, He will appear in the air (only visible to believers) and take all who put their trust in Him out of this world. These ‘raptured’ Christians will leave behind only the clothes they were wearing (in neatly folded piles in the fictionalized version.) Christian piloted planes will crash. Christian driven cars will careen out of control.
For much of my life this was my ‘go to’ interpretation of end times. I have heard it preached this way many times, and have studied it from this point of view on more than a few occasions.
I am no longer persuaded that this is the best approach to end times. My reasons for questioning this approach start with the lack of Biblical evidence, but they don’t end there.
To take this view of scripture, you have to make some pretty vigorous leaps. Don’t get me wrong – I have practiced my leaps, I assure you – but interpretation of scripture is not a great place to be leaping.
I’m not going to take the time here to argue the merits or lack there of for this position. I do want to make some observations about what I have seen in people who embrace this theology.
I was sitting in a friends living room in a Bible Study. The teacher was telling us that when Jesus came back, we Christians were ‘outa here’ and then the tribulation would come. When asked what that was going to be like, the teacher said – “it doesn’t matter – we’ll be outa’ here.”
In the Nineties, when communist China re-opened their boarders to Christian missionaries stories started to come back. The old missionaries met some of their converts from fifty years earlier. The missionaries met hurt and angry Christians. “You told us we would not go through the tribulation. What we faced at the hands of the godless government was far worse than any tribulation.”
Christians in China found Christ in the middle of tribulation and they thrived. Not because western missionaries equipped them, but because He is in the storm. The missionaries did not tell these Chinese converts what Jesus promised in John 16:2
They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.
or in Matthew 24:9
Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.
Rapture theology has in it an element of escapism. We don’t have to worry about the earth because it’s going to burn. We don’t have to worry about trouble on the horizon because we’ll be ‘out’a here’ before it get’s too bad.
I wonder if any of the Christians in pre-Nazi Germany thought it would never get too bad. Were the Christians in prison camps looking for rapture, or shocked when it did not come. Thanks be to God for folks like Corrie Ten Boom who face tribulation head on, with her hand in Jesus’ own.
In hopes of seeing us persevere and persist in our faith Christ wonders aloud:
…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth? – Luke 18:8
If your theology of end times (what ever it is) lulls you to sleep, it is not helping you.
The Christian life is a fight to be fought – a war to be waged – a race to be run. When any aspect of our theology lulls us to sleep, we are missing something. It’s time to head back to the Book.
Jesus didn’t call us to prepare for escape. He called us to face tribulation. With that daunting call comes the greatest of all promises. [Click to Tweet]
… lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:20
Does your theology have an escape clause?
Benjamin Nelson is a Jesus Lover, husband, dad, grandfather, worshipper, writer, preacher and almost author. He loves to see people activated in what God has created them to be. You can connect with Ben at AnotherRedLetterDay.com. Contact: Twitter | Facebook | Blog
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