I had an encouraging and provocative email a few days ago with some comments in it that I took as a stimulus to push on with something I had thought about doing for some time. I’ll probably try and spin out a few posts over a number of days. Here is the outline I will try and follow in three progressions.
1) I am pretty conservative with regard to the parousia (commonly called ‘second coming’) of Jesus, but just to be clear there are aspects that I cannot buy into that sadly have been thought to be ‘conservative’!
2) Given I am conservative I will write about where I am settled and why.
3) Understanding that Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was not exactly as expected (and not to mention his death!) what if we are going to be also surprised. We might be pretty settled in our viewpoints (my point 2 above) but what if our expectations are going to be pointing us in a wrong direction. So the third aspect I will try to write on will be open to perspectives that might be surprise.
Conservative… I take Scripture as authoritative, hence I am conservative; the interpretation and understanding of the texts are where the challenge comes in. If we have always read texts a certain way then it is very difficult to read them another way. I realised this recently when I was reading about how to handle when a wealthy person showed up at a NT gathering. James instructs his readers (Jas. 2:1-4) not to give them the best seat, not to move someone from a lower social class out of the way to accommodate them. Although I know that the early church did not gather in a church building I still somehow kind of transport the text into a culture I know… with a kind of ‘come sit at the front’ response being critiqued. The context though, as was the case in the early church, was a meal. Meals, ever so important in the Jewish and the Graeco-Roman culture, and not only meals but banquets (deipnon). The gathering was around a meal, a deipnon, specifically the deipnon of / honouring the Lord. In contrast to the meals of the Imperial world where class was everything, dictating who was invited, where people were seated as it was a major key to maintain the social structures, the Lord’s deipnon, subverted social norms. (The references not only to seating but to ‘stand over here’, ‘sit at my feet’ etc. only fit the description of the meal table, with people reclining there.)
We, as I reference above, so often read back from where we are and in so doing we impose what we know / have experienced back into the text. Secondly, we can easily miss the references to culture and history, particularly in terms of the Lordship of Jesus the very specific Imperial language used; and thirdly, I suspect could well be meanings intended by the Holy Spirit that were not the author’s expected (‘intended meaning’?) interpretation.
In this first post a quick push back against an idea that I have no time for. The idea of a ‘secret rapture’. No time for it (and this is only a quick response) because it
a) is a fairly new invention (1831 with J.N. Darby / 1829-30 if one wants to see it within Margaret MacDonald’s vision that probably fuelled Darby’s belief). There are no advocates for this in the history preceding this time.
b) It gives the wrong direction to biblical movement. Movement in Scripture is from heaven to earth, even creation (Genesis 1) itself is that way directed. Heaven is not the goal, a renewed creation is the final horizon in view.
c) It results in a nonsense answer to the question Paul is being asked in 1 Thessalonians 4, that question being ‘what about those who have died’. According to the rapture theory the answer is we will be raptured, so be encouraged! Such an answer is great for us, but for those who have died. The question is the common Jewish question that brought about the answer ‘resurrection’, for the expectation was of the kingdom to come here, and for the righteous to be rewarded here; those who had died… resurrected… HERE.
d) In that passage (and the other Pauline passages) it is to miss the strong Imperial language and imagery. The very words, parousia – the arrival of the figure of honour such as the emperor, apantesis (1 Thess. 4:17) the meeting, used of meeting the emperor as one of the invited ones who went out of the city in order to come back into the city as part of the honoured group. The movement is toward the location not away from it.
e) The one taken, the other left… If we push that into some future event I think we fail to consider what Jesus was addressing, the events that would take place to the generation following his words. We have to consider AD66-70 as the time of major trauma for Jews (tribulation in the extreme, with up to 500 a day being crucified by the walls of the city) and not only trauma for the Jews but for the world system that had brought peace, for the year (68AD) proved to be the year of the four emperors, with the whole of the civilised world (the oikoumene) being threatened to fall apart, caught up in plot, counter-plot and civil war. The chaos helped raise beliefs in Jerusalem that God was about to deliver the city! Sadly for those inside that belief proved to only fuel a false hope. Meanwhile those who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah left the city, in line with his instructions (in Luke’s Gospel even one we would understand) to flee when they ‘saw the city surrounded by armies’.
The success of the ‘rapture’ teaching was given a great boost when the Billy Graham of his day, Dwight Moody, embraced it, then came the publication of the Scofield Bible, the development of Dallas Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute, and the embracing of the theology by the Pentecostal Movement post-Azusa Street. Hence in many parts of the world it would seem that the only teaching about eschatology is centred in on the secret rapture – after all there are around 300 million classical Pentecostals worldwide.
I consider that a smart move is to put notes in a Bible. The effect is to read the text, realise I don’t quite get that, look at the notes, now I get it, with the result that the text becomes the Bible! If we add to that the writing of novels (they are advertised as only novels) but once read they become the guide to interpretation.
What about an antiChrist, a tribulation or a millennium… or Jesus coming to ‘reign’ from Jerusalem? This post is long enough so I will get to those soon!