Our pastor said something the other day that really shocked me. We were in the middle of a sermon series on the book of Mark and we had reached chapter 13, about the second coming of Christ. As usual, Brady’s excellent sermon focused on the Biblical text. But before he began, he mentioned his personal position on the rapture—He doesn’t believe in it.
I was astonished. The vast majority of evangelical Christians side with authors Jim Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, and their Left Behind series, and believe that at any moment the faithful here on earth will be suddenly caught up to heaven. I’ve always felt like a bit of an apostate, since I’m not so sure I agree. I usually tell people who ask that I’m preparing to to still be here during the hard times to come, but I’d be more than happy to be excused.
I could tell by the reaction of the congregation that I wasn’t the only one he surprised. I waited to hear some deep theological reason why he believes the church will experience the tribulation. I’m sure he has one, but that’s not what he talked about.
Rather, he explained that the rapture isn’t compatible with God’s character. After all, Jesus came to save us when we were unable to save ourselves. Then He sent His followers into the world to do His works. For the past 2,000 years, the church has been the purest and the most influential when the world was at its worst. Why would God suddenly pull us off the job right when we’re needed here the most?
Needless to say, our pastor got me thinking—and the result is this three-part series of blog posts. (I’d love to hear your thoughts on this controversial subject.)
Most Christians agree that Jesus is coming back. Many expect that the world will experience a catastrophic “tribulation” before He does. (There are some who believe that the events of Revelation and other, similar, parts of the Bible have already happened. I’m not going to address that view here, but let’s just say that they make a reasonable case based on scripture and history.)
Given that the tribulation still lies in the future, the question for most of us is, will we believers be here during that time? There are as many opinions and interpretations of scripture on this topic as there are Bible students, but most fall into one of these three camps:
Some believe that verses in 1 and 2 Thessalonians (especially 1 Thessalonians 4:17), Matthew 24 and 25, Luke 17, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation indicate that Jesus will take His existing church into heaven before times get really bad, leaving the heathens behind to suffer God’s wrath. Any references to Christians living during the tribulation refer to new believers, who trusted Jesus after the rapture. This is the view of Tim LaHaye and other prominent evangelical authors.
Others interpret these and other passages to mean that the church will endure the first three and a half years of the seven year tribulation, but not the really bad part at the end. There are dozens of versions of this view, and the explanations (and rebuttals) get incredibly technical, far beyond my Bible scholarship.
Still others believe that these verses refer to the second coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation, and that the church will stick around with everybody else, being God’s salt and light.
But what did I believe? With so many conflicting opinions out there, was one more compelling than the others? Sure, I’ve read the Left Behind books (most of them—I found them a bit redundant after a while and finally gave up), but what does the Bible say? I’ll talk about that next week.