Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Paper on the Rapture
Here's the other paper I wrote this semester, hope you enjoy reading it.
HOW TO NOT BE LEFT BEHIND:
THE DOCTRINE OF THE PRE-TRIBULATION
RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH
Eschatology is not a simple subject. The theology of the end of the world is a very complex topic. Debates, controversies, and denials have been the case surrounding various sub-sections in this profound theology; however, no branch of theology should be more encouraging or more examined than the rapture of the church. There are several views of this event within Scripture, but careful consideration and attention should to be paid to the specific view known as the pre-tribulation rapture. This paper will argue that the pre-tribulation rapture of the church is the most well supported view by showing the history of this doctrine’s development, the scriptural evidence, and the prophetic evidence.
What is “The Rapture”?
Paul Enns states that: “prior to the advent of the tribulation, Christ will descend from heaven, catching up the church to be with Himself while the tribulation is unleashed on an unrepentant and unbelieving world.” The rapture basically says that the church will be spared from God’s wrath and be brought into his presence. The Second Coming of Christ is the physical return of the Lord Jesus to the earth for the establishment of his kingdom. These events are entirely different. The rapture would entail a physical removal of believers from the earth. Hal Lindsey pointed this out by saying “our present body of flesh and blood, which must be sustained by elements of the earth which are perishable, must be changed to another form. This new form has material being, but it is of a kind that is suited for the spiritual, imperishable, eternal atmosphere of heaven.”
Origins of this Doctrine
It is a safe assumption that when a believer tries to understand what will occur in the “end times” that one would think of the second coming of Christ and not give much thought to this two-hundred year-old doctrine. Although the term “rapture” has been used since the ancient times, this doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture of the church has been used extensively by numerous theologians. Its most notable proponent was the nineteenth century British preacher John Nelson Darby.
John Nelson Darby
In his article John Nelson Darby: Defender of the Faith, Larry V. Crutchfield explains Darby’s role in the development of this doctrine that became the foundation for this very complex theology. Darby, known as “the father of modern dispensational theology” has had influence on several scholars in today’s world including those at Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary, teaching his view on how the rapture would occur. His view has unfortunately been associated with the fundamentalist movement. Darby’s influence on talking about the nation of Israel and the premillenial return of Christ has been what the modern doctrines have used as their foundations placing high esteem upon Darby in this matter.
Modern day theologians have had several opinions and views on the rapture of the Church, but no view has received more criticism than a pre-tribulation view. More people in a post-modern world will hold to such views as a post-trib or even a mid-trib, but when there is even the smallest mention of the doctrine that is the pre-tribulation rapture, most scholars and opposers in the area of eschatology run in fear or throw up their hands in repulsive declaration saying that it is nonsense and not worthy of further research and study.
This writer begs to differ in that there is so much more that has to be observed in Scripture and the context can clearly point to there being a pre-tribulation rapture and that being the most effective view of the return of Christ and the removing of the church that there is. Darby simply would not have put so much effort into convincing people of this doctrine being the doctrine if he did not think it was what God was telling him what needed to be taught. If the support for this end of days doctrine appears numerous places in Scripture, then this is what should be believed and taught by the church.
The Pre-Tribulation Rapture in Scripture
Eschatology first and foremost means “study of the end”. When people who spend the majority of their time arguing that their ways about how the world will end is correct spend their time focusing on bringing people down, on tearing down the view of others, there is not a great deal of joy for those few people in the world who believe this doctrine. The writer of this paper can testify the experience of ridicule and negativity first hand as there were plenty of instances in which people had blatantly accused him of being “crazy” and “misinformed” The hope is that when one takes an examining look at the scriptural evidence surrounding the pre-tribulation rapture, that there will be a great deal more understanding and insight into how this doctrine is correct and sound.
Looking through the Bible to find a specific topic to discuss can prove to be a challenge because often times the reader of God’s Word needs to look up topics of such interest as prayer, discipleship, fellowship, worship, etc, but when it comes to the end times, there can be challenges that one would face as it is not as plainly visible as the gospel is presented (cf. John 3:16 or 14:6), and it would take carefully thought out research and time spent devoted to finding where the Rapture occurs. Dr. John Walvoord in his book The Rapture Question explains this further by saying that:
“The rapture question, while neglected by modern liberals, is one of the main areas in dispute in conservative eschatology. The Scriptures predict that the church will be raptured or “caught up” to heaven at the coming of the lord for them. The word rapture is from rapere, found in the expression “caught up” in the Latin translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17. If this is a literal, future event, it is a most important aspect of the hope of the church.”
The first obvious place that believers will seek after to find out about the end times is the book of Revelation. However, nowhere in the Gospels or the book of Revelation is the word “rapture” mentioned. Believers must rely on what Paul talked about in his letter to the Thessalonians. The negative criticism that is received from reading this book lies in the simple fact that John was having a vision. Unfortunately for John, the context of these books are taken and twisted to a degree where it has been shown for there to be many different views on the Rapture and on the Millennium for that matter. Hermeneutic is the very basic drawing point when it gets into how the Biblical approach to the end times is viewed.
Different theologians/different views equal different views on the matter as a whole. The majority of the professors on staff at Southern seminary in Louisville, Kentucky (in the opinion of this writer) are not for a pre-tribulation rapture. Their views caused a great deal of stress for the writer of this paper, and that was a big consideration into the selection of this writer’s educational institution. Believers in Christ should not be in such blatant opposition over an issue in scripture that is so carefully laid out.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-17: “Our Blessed Hope”
Believers really should begin their journey of finding out the truth about the pre-tribulation rapture in the spot where it is examined the most; by the apostle Paul. He describes the event using statements such as “those who have fallen asleep” meaning believers who are already dead. Believers who are dead will be risen first, and be brought to the presence of God the almighty. “Then those who are alive and remain shall be caught up with them in the clouds and we will meet the Lord in the air, in the twinkling of an eye, we will be changed”. In the NIV Life Application Bible, there are great amount of resources that will help readers to better understand the passages of Scripture. Particularly speaking in terms of reference, this publication of the Bible by Zondervan in 2005 offers footnotes to better explain the passage. Listen to what it had to say concerning 1 Thessalonians 4:13:
The Thessalonians were wondering why many of their fellow believers had fallen asleep (died) and what would happen to them when Christ returned. Paul wanted the Thessalonians to understand that death is not the end of the story. When Christ returns, all believers – dead and alive – will be reunited, never to suffer or die again.
The truth of the matter is when it comes to discussions concerning eschatology, especially those in which the subject of a rapture come up, not a great deal of emphasis is placed upon this. Dr. John Walvoord again speaks of the Rapture in his book The Blessed Hope and The Tribulation, explaining the significance behind this passage:
Although the rapture of the church was introduced by Christ the night before His crucifixion as recorded in John 14:1-3, the details of the rapture were not revealed in Scripture until 1 Thessalonians was written. It is not too much to say that 1 Thessalonians 4-5 is probably the most important passage dealing with the rapture in the New Testament. Additional passages are 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; but more detail is given in 1 Thessalonians 4 than in any other passage. Probably more pretribulationists base their conclusion for a pretribulation rapture on 1 Thessalonians 4 than on any other single passage of Scripture. By contrast, evidence indicates that posttribulationists find little of a positive character to help them in the details of this revelation. It would seem natural, if the great tribulation actually intervened before the rapture could be fulfilled, that this would have been a good place to put the whole matter into proper perspective, as Christ did in Matthew 24 in His description of the events leading up to the second coming.
Modern Day Influence on the Rapture
The modern age has had severe impact on Evangelical Christianity, and as such, there are examples of what the Gospel has done to people who do not have the “Blessed Hope” of their salvation in Christ. Dr. Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins are best known in the literature circles for their series of books: Left Behind. The series follows the story of a group of people who did not believe in Christ and what happens when the Rapture of the church occurs. There are 16 books in the series, all of which chronologically point to the various points of the tribulation (and even before the events of the end times themselves).
The people soon realize that they have a great deal in common and they seek the help of a pastor of a church who was also left behind. Who lied to the church and told people that they did believe in Christ, but they really did not. Dr. LaHaye used his knowledge of the doctrines of eschatology to portray what he thought would be what the end would be like to the readers, and Jerry B. Jenkins took his skills as a writer to a masterful level. With the release of the twelfth book, Glorious Appearing in 2004; LaHaye and Jenkins’ fame as a writer had 7 of the 12 books earn positions on the New York Times Bestseller list, totaling sales of the series had surpassed 65 million and people were enthused by these series. The writer himself would listen to the audio books of the series, as well as read the young adult version, which paralleled the adult series. The effect of these books was that there was a genuine spark of interest in the writer’s life to examine the doctrines of eschatology and eventually impacted a solid foundation into the study of a pre-trib rapture.
The Time and Date of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church
There is no way to distinguish “when” the Rapture will happen. Historians, theologians, and scholars have tried to determine the date of this event in order that they might tell people to be watching for Jesus’ returning, but the people of God cannot put a date on this event. More than one occasion throughout history, people have tried to place dates on the coming of Christ. It is total blasphemy, considering the words that Jesus himself said to his disciples when they asked him “Lord when will you establish your kingdom?” and Jesus basically responded to them “its for me to know and you to find out”.
As a believer in the Lord, the writer’s simple understanding of the matter is that to put a date on what God will do is simply not a good thing. God is God and we are not. We are not meant to know these things. Many evangelists, such as Harold Camper, the President of Family Radio Inc. This man has put several dates as to when the rapture has to happen, and his latest prediction is for May 21, 2011. Lunacy such as this cannot be met with good results. To try and say that God will do this or God will do that is a horrible thing to do. The website where this information was found, stated that the world would be consumed by fire. In the knowledge of God’s word, people can clearly already say that that is not true. The book of Revelation CLEARLY points to what will happen when the world ends. To even come up with a ridiculous notion that there will be destruction that lasts for 7 days is UNHEARD of.
The Concept of “Prevail” in the context of the church
In his book, What in the World is Going On?, David Jeremiah mentions specifically that “followers of Christ who are raptured will be spared the trauma of death and the coming disasters that will occur when the tribulation breaks out upon the earth” In the view of the Pre-Tribulation rapture, there is always this famous word that should be heard by those who are doing an investigation into this doctrine; “Prevail”. The word prevail means that the gospel has had precedence. It seals the souls of those who have called on the name of Christ for salvation, and it insures their eternal security. Christ himself says that “gates of hell will not prevail” against the Church (Matt 18:16).
The church that Christ is referring to in this context is viewed in a pre-rapture scenario. Once the church has been removed from the earth, the concept of “not prevailing”, no longer pointing to the church but to the tribulation saints. There will be massive amounts of slaughter, of persecution and all of these things will happen against the saints who are left behind.
The Book of Daniel does point to a time where there is an “anointed one” but very clearly, believers can get this idea in their heads; the anointed one that Daniel speaks of is NOT Christ, but the antichrist. The antichrist will persecute the believers who are stuck on earth, and these believers are not the ones in our modern day and age, these are believers who had ample opportunities to turn their faith to the Lamb who was slain for them and chose not to.
The way that there is made mention of various forms of persecution in the End of Days, the term does not point to the people of God sealed by the blood of the lamb during the “Church Age” it refers to the time when people will be persecuted by the Antichrist and that is in the Tribulation. The supposition that there will be protection from the wrath of the evil forces in the world does not apply to the present age in which believers in Christ live, no; this points to the believers that are left behind on earth after Christ has raptured up his bride to be with Him.
The section of the book of Daniel that includes the persecution of the saints; that is in no way referring to the saints that were raptured up. “The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods.” (Daniel 11:36 – NIV) This ruler spoken of in Daniel is obviously the antichrist. There will be a time where there is vast turmoil on the earth and there is a blatantly evil ruler; case-in-point, the antichrist attacking the tribulation saints. The End of Days offers a look into what will happen. Revelation constantly speaks of God’s judgment, and it is told from the point of view of things that have “yet to happen”. People often will overlook the necessity to study these things because the End of Days is a less-than-important doctrine of Christianity; well that simply is not the case. Prophecy is being fulfilled daily and as modern day believers, there should be emphasis placed over these beliefs and traditions because they will continue to be fulfilled.
The Nation of Israel
There is evidence to support this specific doctrine, from the perspective of a Messianic Jew. This idea is a personal idea for this writer, and his very existence is living proof that this doctrine holds true. The people of Israel do not hold to a belief in the Messiah (believers should know that this Messiah is Christ himself), but the fact of the matter is that a Jewish person professing faith in Jesus as savior is evidence enough to show that the times are getting closer and closer to the end.
Satan had a stronghold over the lands in Europe and made people think that the Jews were an enemy that deserved to die and 6 million Jews died at the hands of Nazi Germany. What Satan intended for evil, God intended to use for good, and for his glory. After having just about everything taken from them, the surviving Jews took what little they had aside from their lives and moved to a new land. They took everything and moved to the land that was promised to them (cf. Ezekiel 37). The nation was compiled mostly of refugees (Holocaust survivors) who were left without any hope, and the nation was brought back to life (cf. Ezekiel 37:14).
The Prophetic re-gathering of Israel
The nation of Israel has been torn from limb to limb and yet God chose to bring it back to life. May 14, 1948; only three years prior to this and the war had just ended. Jews everywhere were beginning to pick up their lives that were just about taken from them. David Ben Gurion and a counsel of elders sat in the United Nations in New York City declaring to the world that Israel would be an established nation, and their homeland that they had been seeking after.
Israel as a nation has a terrible habit of being a disobedient one. Their desires are more towards pleasing themselves than it is towards pleasing God, and because of that their choices have landed them in a terrible place. David and Solomon both serve as prime examples of what precisely not to do. Their actions in choosing wives and their sinful natures as human beings show Israel how their behavior should be reflected. Because of the actions of David and Solomon, the people of Israel lacked extreme spiritual guidance that was supposed to be in place and they lived their lives without consequence and it landed the people of Israel in a foreign land as captives. God’s providence rested in the fact that despite the shame and the wondering of how they would be brought back, God still allowed the people to return to Israel. Nehemiah rebuilt the walls around the city and the people thrived in the county. Much like modern day, in which the people of Israel (The Jews) were scattered all over the world, some of which had everything taken from them, and then God decides to give them everything he promises to them in Ezekiel 37. He “breathes life” back into the people and brings them into their own land, and as a result, the people flourished. Even in the sense that Nehemiah was building a wall around the city of Jerusalem when he returned to the city with a group of people to restore what had been broken; these survivors of the war had brought everything they had back into the land God had promised them and were rebuilding their lives.
What God allowed to happen that Satan intended for evil, God turned it all around and used it for good, and for his glory. The main reason why God allows anything in this world to happen is that he brings himself glory, and in this case, his glory was being shown to the people of Israel in that their desires for a land were being given to them. This ties into the pre-tribulation rapture because the predominant view of the end times is that whenever the event does occur, the timeline basically draws its “starting point” from Israel becoming a nation. Dr. Harold Sevener, author of Israel’s Glorious Future; says that “Israel is promised a glorious future by God himself. God’s promises and covenants are based solely upon His own sovereignty. It is the promises and covenants of God that distinguish Him from the gods of the pagans” Although it is clear that this nation’s re-gathering in May 1948, proved to be a sign of prophetic significance; there is so much more that has to occur in the realm of the prophets that Dr. Sevener points it out clearly again in his book:
Scripture reveals that God will pour out His fury and vent His wrath on the empire of the anti-Christ during the 3 ½ years of the Tribulation. God’s judgment is symbolized in the sounding of seven trumpets and in the pouring out from seven bowls (vials). Only the 144,000 and the two witnesses will be exempt from the fury of these judgments.
Both Darby and LaHaye focused their beliefs around the Nation of Israel. LaHaye and Jenkins, while writing the Left Behind series, even make several instances where there are messianic characters as well as locations set in Israel. Majority of the books take place in Jerusalem; their understanding of the Scripture’s teaching on the doctrine is clear. They hold to this view in that the prophecies in Daniel and Ezekiel were to come true and already had. Darby unfortunately never lived to see the re-establishment of Israel in 1948, while LaHaye had.
It is not just the nation of Israel where these prophecies will see fulfillment, it is elsewhere. Modern times have seen things such as massive earthquakes happen. Japan was recently hit by the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in human history, as well as several other countries in the world, natural disasters occurring the way that they have been point to the end of days being closer, and the scriptural evidence of there being a rapture that occurs in a pre-tribulation fashion is overwhelming.
This writer’s position is that there is no other approach to view eschatology except from this very specific and precise method. The world needs their hope, and that hope is found in Christ alone. The position of the church should be one that looks forward to a happy future because their savior is in the midst of it all.
The main reason why this writer went to such lengths as to make sure that this paper was written on and talked about was the fact that there were criticisms on the view that their was a pretribulation rapture received by the peers of this writer. This writer attended Boyce College of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and on more than one occasion, the subject of eschatology was brought up in many situations and especially the pre-Tribulation rapture, and as a result, there were people who took to various opinions and told this writer that he was a fool, and that he was following through with a doctrine supported by a book author, rather than keeping up with what Scripture said.
Scripture should be the decisive factor in any defense of doctrine as a whole, and reality was for this writer, Scripture was used as a means to bring him down. In an effort to get a better perspective on life and a deeper understanding of his faith, the writer left a seminary where the truth was taught, and brought himself into a situation that was beneficial to his theological education; where he could pursue the interest of studying an eschatology that he saw fit for his hermeneutic.
Scripture does not have to be complicated when it is interpreted. The words are written down on a page in the Bible and should be taken seriously and often times literally. If Scripture says “Jesus rose from the dead on the third day” then that must be a true statement! The Word of God holds an unparalleled and unlimited amount of truth, and as it is also inerrant. With that being said, people should come to the conclusion that if the Bible tells of a day when people will go up and be taken off the face of the earth because they have accepted Christ as their personal savior; then that should be carefully believed.
Looking back at everything that has been said, the influence of the theological world has placed severe impact upon the doctrine that the Rapture of the Church will occur before the Tribulation. Despite what many anti Pre-Trib scholars may think, the evidence to support this view is astounding. There is simply too much in scripture for there to not be a pre-Tribulation rapture. Some scholars also hold to the conclusion that there is not a literal millennial reign of Christ, well without a view of the rapture in place, then there is no hope of finding out what will happen. Those seeking after the knowledge that comes from understanding what will happen in the end.
God’s greatest purpose in conveying this truth to humanity so that they might come to a saving knowledge of who Jesus is in their life and that they would not be left behind (no pun intended). Salvation is the key to fixing a life that is without hope. The writer referred to the Rapture as “Our Blessed Hope”. The coming of the Lord should be viewed as something of great joy that believers should be sharing with the world. The tribulation will be a time of great darkness in the world (worse than the world is currently experiencing), and there should be great concern among those who are sealed by the blood of the Lamb, in regards to those who have no hope. The main purpose that this paper was written was the hope that the writer’s understanding of the doctrine of the pre-Tribulation Rapture of the church could show people what is to come. The believers in the world have to turn their focus on sharing the Gospel, on reaching those who do not have any hope, to those who need it desperately.