Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Invention of the Rapture

The Rapture is common stock in many Evangelical theologies. Most biblical scholars, myself included, not only don't believe in the rapture, we are frustrated by it. At a minimum it creates a fear based theology that causes ministry from a wrong motive.

Barbara Rosing wrote a book a few years back The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. Rosing was tired of the type of Left Behind theology that was being pandered in churches and the media. Below is a description of the book from Publishers Weekly via Amazon. Below that is a video interview with Rosing. In light of all the hype of some people's prediction the world will end on May 21st, this is a timely piece. Thanks to Jim West for the links.

Ordained minister Rossing is ready to do battle with evangelicals both within and outside of her Lutheran Church camp. Rossing, who teaches New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, begins her sparring by taking on the widely popular Left Behind series and all it presumes to communicate about the future of the world. Claiming that the Left Behind authors' interpretation of prophetic biblical verses is "fiction," Rossing firmly asserts that the Book of Revelation has a completely different purpose than to predict upcoming world uprisings and the eventual end of the earth. Instead, Rossing believes that this biblical vision is meant to inspire humanity to seek out "repentance and justice." Rossing also maintains, somewhat unfairly, that rapture enthusiasts extol a careless, abusive attitude toward God's created world, since rapture theology declares that the followers of Christ are soon to be removed from it. More significant is Rossing's belief that Revelation does not offer a prophetic look at Jerusalem as the inevitable battleground between good and evil, but rather extends the promise of a New Jerusalem that will open its arms to all nations in peace. While Rossing's scholarly work is well organized and obviously carefully thought out, evangelicals may take issue with the blanket statement that "most Christian churches and biblical scholars condemn Rapture theology as a distortion of Christian faith with little biblical basis." This book will likely upset Christian conservatives while appealing to many in mainline denominations.


  1. Perhaps the biggest problem with dispensationalist thinking and the rapture is that it creates a church that puts all of its emphasis on "getting people saved" and not enough on making disciples who can have a godly impact on the world. The Church becomes an exclusive club of 'us', who are going to be on the Glory Train to the Great by-and-by, and 'them' who are destined to eternal punishment...of course of their own choosing. Where is the need for training in righteousness when all one needs to do is follow the steps in the 4 Spiritual Flaws and recite a prayer in order to join the club?

  2. John,

    Let me begin by stating that I am a Dispensationalist. I know that that is akin to being a theological leper, but so be it. That being said, I wonder whether you really know what Dispensationalists are really about. I readily admit that there are some popular expressions on one end and fringe expressions on the other, but I am talking about the center of the movement and the theology that undergirds it. I take particular issue with your statement that "At a minimum it creates a fear based theology that causes ministry from a wrong motive." The Dispensationalism that I know and advocate is not any more fear-based than the Scriptures and Christian orthodoxy that sees divine discipline in the present as a reality and future judgment as a certainty. Is that fear-based? Yes, but I would suggest that the "fear of the Lord" in the OT cannot simply be reduced to reverence (although it certainly includes that) and Jesus' references to Gehenna are in a very real sense fear-based. Concerning ministry motives, Charles Ryrie has noted three sina qua non of Dispensationalism, one of which is the glory of God. Now Dispensationalists can be guilty of being motivated by all manner of things (e.g., pride), but on our better days, we are motivated to minister to the glory of God. I suspect that if you could follow a Dispensational pastor around, you would find that he carries out his ministry like a Reformed or Arminian pastor would.

    Concerning Rossing, I would be quick to note that her reading of Revelation is not shared by everyone, including non-Dispensationalists. Furthermore, those who really know Dispensational theology know that for most Dispensationalists, Revelation is not a primary rapture text. At best, what many Dispensationalists believe is that what you have in Revelation are inferences related to the rapture. The primary rapture texts would be 1 Thess 4:13-18 and 1 Cor 15.

    One final point, if you have a problem with Dispensationalism then take it on exegetically. That is fair enough. But you have not done that here. Let me illustrate. I don't think that one should reject Calvinism simply because the doctrine of election has been used by some to hinder evangelism and missions (e.g., the opposition to William Carey). Whether Calvinism is true should be determined exegetically. Or take what often happens in the Egalitarian/Complimentarian debate. Some argue that Complimentarianism is wrong because some complimentarians use submission to demean or abuse their wives. Does this happen on occasion--probably. But if you are convinced that the Complimentarian position is wrong, then by convinced by the Scriptures and not because some may abuse the doctrine. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

  3. Charles,

    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate the spirited interaction. That is why I am blogging.

    First, let me say that I am not taking aim at Dispensationlist. I am taking aim at the rapture that many Evangelical theologies claim. Of course the rapture has its roots in Dispensationalist theology, but some (many?) Evangelicals have no clue about the rest of the theology that comes with the rapture. What appeals to them is the escape clause. Things like the Left Behind series popularizes this notion and people accept it without knowing where it comes from and what all it involves.

    Second, I don't consider you or any other dispensationalists as a theological leper. I may disagree with your interpretive approach, but that does not mean that I consider you or your work as illegitimate. I am also aware that there are many different "flavors" in dispensationlism.

    Third, of course Revelation is not the source for the rapture. 1 Thess 4:17 is the go to text as a first stop.I have been kicking around doing a post on that as May 21st grow closer and may still do that. I am teaching a course on Thessalonians in the spring term and may use that time, as well as my research on my Thessalonians commentary, to answer the rapture through exegesis.

    Fourth, I know that not all NT scholars would accept Rossings view. Although I must admit I do see Revelation as more as a social commentary and not as a road map to the end of the world. See my earlier post on this (http://thebiblicalworld.blogspot.com/2011/01/why-i-am-not-worried-about-may-21-2011.html).

    Fifth, I acknowledge that I have not done the exegetical work here. But that is not the point of the post. I was merely posting what I thought was an interesting author interview on the rapture. I was not taking aim at dispensationalist. But in fairness, I can understand why you would think that since Rossing may not be as generous to dispensationalism as she could have been.

    Finally, one reason I posted this is because I am Evangelical. I often bristle at being labeled such, and am often angered an embarrassed by what is done in the name of Evangelicalism. But historically I am Evangelical and when I get into a room of others who are not I realize that no matter how badly I might wish I was not, I am. That is why, then, I posted on this. Is to start a conversation and to get Evangelicals thinking about what they believe and why.

    Again, thanks for the comments. I enjoy the interaction and hope you will keep coming back.


  4. I was raised in the era of the "chart people." Evangelists would come to our church for week long revival meetings. They would spread their charts across the front of the church and preach on each area throughout the week. Our pastors would preach often on end time events. My relationship with Christ was based on fear.

    When I was in grade school, I came home from school to find the back door open and the contents of the fridge spread out on the kitchen table (this was back in the day of defrosting the hard way). My first thought was not that mom went next door to visit with the neighbors. My first and only thought was that the rapture had taken place and I had been left behind. When Mom came home, she found me under my bed, sobbing.

    I know this is not a theological post. It's my personal experience. It has taken me years to overcome my fear of being "left behind." I have come a long way but at times it still rears its ugly head. How much better it would have been to dangle me over the arms of Christ's love than over the flames of hell. It is by grace alone.


  5. John,

    I appreciate your graciousness in your response. And you make a great point in noting that you don't really take on Dispensationalists, but rather those who might be described as "rapturists" (although I don't like that terminology). But I would hasten to add that you did state, "At a minimum it [assuming "it" refers to a belief in the rapture]creates a fear based theology that causes ministry from a wrong motive." And to me that is more of casting down a gauntlet than your response suggests. I think that your statement that I quoted is both wrong and wrong-headed for the reasons I noted above. I might add that even the title of the post is not exactly even-handed, namely, the "invention" of the Rapture. I don't think that your use of "invention" was really complimentary or even neutral and as such does little to move the dialogue forward.


    One question I would have for you is, "Why does Jesus Himself frequently raise the issue of judgment/hell? Certainly one cannot question the love of the Lord. But if we are to be faithful to what the Lord taught, then I cannot see how we would neglect this aspect of His teaching. For me it is not an either/or but rather a both/and. We proclaim both the Good News and the Bad News as it were. Indeed it is bt grace alone.

  6. Charles,

    I can see your point about the word "invention". I included it since that is Rossing's wording. I don't know that I have ever used "invention" to describe the rapture prior to this post. So while I do hear you, my defense rests on the fact that the post is focused on Rossing's views and video.

    As far as throwing down a gauntlet, I suppose I am. I consider it to be a wrong motivation when people are using the rapture to preach an escape plan and therefore let the world go to hell in a hand basket because we are on our way out. I am unconvinced of rapture teaching and I have heard it misused more than I can remember. So while I did not intend to throw down a gauntlet, I did intend to communicate what I think is an unfortunate result of rapture teachings.

  7. I am Evangelical (as far as I can tell). My beliefs definitely lean towards Dispensationalist thinking. I grew up Presbyterian where end-times were not talked about. I am Church of God (Anderson) for the past 10 years, they are Amillenialists. However, most of us in the congregation read the Left Behind books and lean that way. End-times and Revelation is not a subject preached or taught on in my church because it is so controversial. So...I am not sure exactly what I believe concerning Jesus' return. Perhaps seminary will help me figure that one out.

    Listening to Rossing made me bristle. She says that Dispensationalists pick and choose Scripture and piece together parts to say what they want. I don't believe that anymore than I would believe that others have pieced together "official" Doctrine of the church, such as predestination and freewill.

    I know I have a lot to learn at seminary, including how to exegete passages and learning what all of these "labels" people put on others actually mean. The only label I want to wear is "Christ-follower."

    My church does say that in the end what matters is that He is coming back again. And I don't believe it is May 21st--we are not to know when Christ will return (does that put another label on my back in believing that one?). Besides, we are going to Israel in June, which comes after May 21st...therefore I will "hold out" for December 21st, 2012.

  8. John,

    I can't really dispute what your exposure to rapture teaching has been, but I can tell you that this has not been my experience. For the rapture-proponents that I know, our proclamation of the Gospel is not to escape the tribulation, but rather to gain the eternal life that God graciously offers. Not experiencing the tribulation (which rapture proponents believe is a time of God's wrath) is certainly a "benefit," but it is not the primary "benefit." And the idea that rapture proponents are willing to "let the world go to hell in a hand basket because we are on our way out" is possible, but is really a straw-man in my opinion. Some of the most well known evangelists, pastors, and missionaries both past and present believe(d) in the rapture. Have you ever heard Tim LaHaye be interviewed about the Left Behind series? If you have, you would note that he has a great zeal for people to come to Christ. I have yet to read my first volume of the Left Behind series but I appreciate LaHaye's zeal. I can assure you that no rapture proponent I know is willing to "let the world go to hell in a hand basket because we are on our way out." If a rapture proponent was motivated for those reasons, I can assure you that I would likewise be disturbed. I might add that the rapture proponents that I know tend to vote, recycle, and and in their own ways attempt to make the world a better place. This is simply being a good steward of that which God has bountifully supplied.

  9. Charles,

    I guess the situation looks like this.

    Those who do not believe in a rapture might be inclined to see it used as a tactic to scare people into the kingdom. Granted that may be overstatement on several levels, bit it is, I think, the situation in a nutshell.

    Those who do believe in a rapture see it as an extension their call to evangelize the lost and their entrance to heaven at the beginning of th end.Again, that may be overstatement on several levels, bit it is, I think, the situation in a nutshell.

    BTW, I apologize for making it sound like all rapture believers were anti-environment and not involved in the political process. I know that in most cases they are good citizens.

  10. John,

    Great interaction.

    I have no problem with those who don't understand the rapture as I do. I do have a problem with people who attack both the doctrine and the people who hold it on unsubstantiated or overstated grounds. It may the situation among some, but there is no reason to perpetuate these attacks. I think that we can and should do better. This is not just about the rapture, but this could also be said about the ongoing discussions on gender, creation, justification, etc. Let us be those who strive to generate more light than heat.

    Let me also clarify that most of the rapture proponents that I know do not necessarily see the rapture as an extension of evangelism any more than other doctrines might be considered an extension. I cannot remember the last that I talked about the rapture in sharing the gospel. The resaon for this is simple. People are not saved by having the right view of the rapture. The rapture is also not an overriding component in my teaching or preaching. I tend to be expository in both teaching and preaching and typically only address this doctrine when it appears in the text. I know that eschatology can be a hobby horse among some rapture proponents, but it is probably not more of a hobby horse than some reformed preachers who see election in every jot and title. I think we need to teach the whole counsel of God, and the rapture is certainly not the whole but rather a part.

  11. Dr. Byron,

    I currently am on a journey of reassessing my views on the rapture. I was raised in a fundamentalist Pentecostal tradition and now pastor in the United Methodist Church. Wierd shift, I know, but extremely liberating. Like you, I still consider myself Evangelical, but don't fit into the rapture camp. I recently asked my congregation for some sermon topic ideas and the number one topic was end times...by a landslide I might add. I struggle with my upbringing's views on prophecy, Revelation, rapture theology, but am afraid that even in my church now, if I would preach something other than rapture, I might get flogged. I agree with Rossing that this theology has so influenced our Western culture to create a sense of fear...not just of being left behind, but to preach something other than rapture means you are for sure going to be left behind...maybe even left behind by my congregation.

    What resources might you direct me to that I might better understand an exegetical, theological, and historical approach to prophecy, endtimes, Revelation, rapture etc? IF, I would preach on this topic, or lead a small group study, I want spend alot more time on the subject.

    Any resources or advice you might give I would appreciate.

  12. Jason,

    I can understand why people would want you to preach on the "end times' especially in light of the current world situation. A good pastor will help the congregation to navigate these uncertain times by also giving them solid exegesis.

    I would suggest two initial sources. Read the chapter on Revelation in David deSilva's New Testament Introduction (IVP,2004). His views there mirror my own and he provides some good pointers on using Revelation in ministry formation. He also has several good reading suggestions throughout the chapter.

    Commentaries on Revelation can be a tough place to start. So I recommended one that is more readable. Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys, 2005), provides a good, yet in-depth introduction to the apocalypse.

    Sources on the rapture, at least from a perspective like my own, are less readily available. I would suggest Fee's commentary on 1 Thess 4:17 (NICNT, 2009). Fee is himself a Pentecostal and will provide some solid exegesis for you to follow minus the "rapturist" theology.

    Let me know if these help.


  13. Dr. Byron,

    Thanks for the references. I am working my way through Trafton's work right now and am finding it very approachable and well written. I am also reading Rossing's books as well and I must say...she is a bold woman. She does not hold back her opinions of the big dispensational names of today (LaHaye, Lindsey, Pat Robertson etc.) I must say though, I am finding it to be a very informative work. I laugh sometimes as I read it because much of what she highlights as weird and bizarre teachings of dispensationalism is what I was raised to believe. Like for example that John was transported into the modern century and tries to describe nuclear holocaust in 1st century language. She also does a good job at exposing the exegetical errors of dispensationalism by showing how many exegetical jumps are needed to prove their theory of a "gap" in history. It is a great read and I would encourage anyone who wants to get a basic understanding of how Rapture theology is intertwined with modern American political agendas, I would recommend this book to get the conversation going and your blood pumping.

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  14. Jason,

    Glad they are a help. You will do your congregation a favor by bringing a more informed, balanced point-of-view. Thanks for stopping by.

  15. well the way i see it and from what the sciptures says. it will happen.why? becuase god says so.is word is his word and he says he is gonna do what he said he would do. yes i agree about the church's trying to get as many souls as they can,becuase god has want them to do so. i am a firm believer of god and his word. it tells us in the bible what will happen.some people refuse's to want to see it but he did say also that not everyone will be saved. but never the less the rapture will happen.he says there will be 2 in the feilds one will go and the other will stay.behold he will come like a theif in the night. now we are having a goverment shut down as well.hmmm.seems it is taking form and soon we will be under one world goverment.this is only the beginning of the end.

  16. The article has really peaks my interest. I am going to bookmark your web site and hold checking for brand new information.

    Master prophet e. bernard jordan

  17. I grew up in a dispensational church but as an adult began to read reformed literature and am now postmillennialist. I recently joined the Presbyterian church (PCUSA). Our women's group did the Revelation Study by Barbara Rossing last year and I was very eager to find out how my church group stood on the subject of eschatology. I was so disappointed. The study was pure Liberation Theology. We are now doing a study on the Beatitudes.....more Liberation Theology. My husband and I are seriously considering looking for a Reformed Presbyterian Church. We know that there will always be points of disagreement with any denomination but neither Rapture Theology (and the Christian Zionism that goes along with it) nor Liberation Theology is acceptable for us. If I have to choose between the two, I will take Rapture over Liberation Theology any day.

  18. It is obvious to any believer with Spiritual Discernment that this lady is not speaking via the Spirit of GOD in her. She sounds like any non-believing psychiatrist speaking on their non believing topic of the Bible. She points out there is no "rapture" word in the Bible. But fails to mention the Bible calls it the "Catching Away" which translated into the Latin is the word "Raptura" or "Rapture" in English. Which means the same thing. What a waster of words by her. Then, "Darby" was not the 1st person to use this theology. She implies that "Rapture believers" miss apply Scripture to build the Rapture but gives no actual facts on why they are wrong in the manner they see how Rapture verses compliment each other, which they do with less problems than all the other ways of believing such verses. She has no knowledge of or indwelling of the Holy Spirit guiding her. There are numerous book studies on how the Rapture verses fit without problems. One being ISBN 0-310-34151-5/0595. She should read this before speaking of what she has no Spirit led knowledge of. But, JESUS warned us that in the Last Days there would be many who would lead many to destruction. She is just doing what she has chosen to do by ignoring GODS WORD.

  19. it's true that there is no such a thing as a "evacuation from earth 7 years prior to a 7-year tribulation" as is forcefully taught by false prophets. however, rossing's assertation are as equally erroneous. the revelation is not "meant to inspire humanity to seek out 'repentance and justice'" or any other absurd and mundane notion: the book of the revelation prophesies only ONE thing- the fulfillment of the fall moedim. if this information has not yet been revelead to you, then now it is being revealed to you. study the 7 "appointed meetings" of lev 23. Christ is fulfilling these. He has already fulfilled the firstfruit moedim passover through pentecost as testified to the earth through the new testament. Christ fulfilled passover EXCTLY on the day of passover (crucifixion). He fulfilled firstfruits EXACTLY on the day of firstfruits (resurrection), and fulfilled pentecost EXACTLY on the day of pentecost (sending of Holy Spirit).

    what you are seeing in the revelation is the fulfillment of the fall moedim, which are to be fulfilled at the second coming. all of the temple imagery is fall festival imagery. the second coming will actually occur on "yom kippur" nine days after "rosh hashannah" is fulfilled. all of these moedim are to be fulfilled by Christ, and the two comings of Christ are what all of the law prophesies.

    search out what i am saying with a sincere heart and i have no doubt whatsoever this will be made known to you. this knowledge is just now being revealed to multitudes of christians from radically different "denominational faiths"; this knowledge is true, and sure; and it is being revealed at this point in time because the great tribulation is about to begin. but know this most assuredly: Christ Jesus will return in the 7th month, on the 10th day of the month. it will be a jubilee year when this occurs, as well.

  20. O.K ! who knows what Gods words are ? You people don't. here is one for you smart people to answer, the answer is in the bible. God knows the be-gaining to the ending RIGHT!! So why did he create Satan When God knew what Satan was going to do BEFORE he created him. O.K Jason,Flipp,John, take your best stab at it...But the answer has to be from Gods word.. Lets see who knows Gods word..

  21. I tend to dissagree with most of the above comments.Exegesis does not mean hovering over few verses that support your doctrine and hence claim to have read the Bible and studied it.
    Rapture start as early the book of Genesis with Enock being taken up to heaven.We see Elijah experiencing it And Noah when He is taken in an Ark though He did not leave the earth.The rest of the wicked are punished.
    In Lot times we see God evacuating him and Punishing the wicked left behind.It is a Biblical teaching that God never punish the wicked with the righteous.He never metes His wrath both on the righteous and wrong doers.
    We see the same thing in Egypt,God sparing The Israelites His wrath in spite of the fact that they were in Egypt but punishing the Egyptians with many plagues.
    If you care to study the scriptures God shows himself as Just but also merciful.To emphasis on attribute of God and ignore the other is to violate God.The new Testament does not mention anywhere that the church will be present in time of tribulation.Rev 3 is where the word church appears last before Chapter 4 all through to chapter 22 not once mentioning the word Church.If you care to study you will know that How God deals with the church is different with how He deals with Israel.Hence The final 7 year period will be God focusing with Israel and it is called the seventieth week in Daniel.Whether you believe in the Rapture or not it is your own risk you are taking.It does not make any difference whether we believe in the fire or not it will burn us anyway if we play around with it.

  22. Journalist Dave MacPherson's decades-long research into the earliest beginnings of the pretribulation rapture craze has produced what may well be the most accurate and documented work on it: the breezy 300-page nonfiction book entitled "The Rapture Plot" (obtainable by calling 800.643.4645). He has been rewarded with kudos from a vast array of scholars with no axe to grind either for or against a "pretrib rapture" including the late Peter Marshall, Encyclopedia Britannica contributor F. F. Bruce, and the late Dr. F. Nigel Lee (holder of nine earned doctorates). Rossing's work is an important addition to works exposing the same 19th century British import, one that I am happy to recommend.

    1. That people still refer to the discredited McPherson work is sad... He not only had a huge axe to grind, his assertions of Darby being the first to teach or write about "The Rapture" has been so thoroughly debunked that no credible researcher makes or supports those erroneous statements... and even if Darby had been the first to bring them to light, the only true arbiter is do scriptures support a position.

  23. I have read this entire post, and sat shaking my head at the differences if opinionaf God's Bible. With that said, I will admit that I am a Baptist who has believed my entire life that Jesus was coming back for his people before the tribulation. That is what I was taught, therefore I steadfastly believed. Recently, I must admit that God assigned a task to me that led me into thurough Bible research; specifically the end times. Being a Christian, I made an outline of the events and went forth with the task. It took the Lord but a day to level my thought process to the ground, including my outline. Once I actually started research he assigned, I was shocked, and spiritually devestated at what I found. As much as I want to believe in the rapture, the Bible simply doesn't support it. It certainly set this little Baptist girl aback. Every single verse I had based my spiritual beliefs upon , concerning tbe rapture, doesn't seem to prove a rapture at all but rather verses about the final/second coming. My entire life I believed Jesus was going to snatch me out before the nasty stuff happened, now I find that those verses were used out of context to support the calling away of God's children before the times of trouble. Until this moment in my life, and even now, I have been unprepared to face the trails ahead, should I live until the time of the rapture.

    Please understand I am not basing my comments on any specific doctrine, but rather the Bible. I never knew until the past few weeks that the religous world considered me a pre-tribber. I knew nothing on pre-wrath, pre-millenial or even dispensationalist. I still can't say I understand it all. I DO HOWEVER UNDERSTAND WHAT I READ....and the KJV doesn't support something that I now refer to as "The rapture bus".

    Amy - finally read it for myself!