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And the end comes

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!

7 thoughts on “And the end comes

  1. Not a comment! Just sending much love for your ministry and heart that has been a blessing and challenge to me. God is for you in 2022.

  2. I was raised on the secret rapture sauce, it was sprinkled on every sermon I heard as a kid (which was three times a week my entire childhood)…so much so that I was convinced that if I had any unconfessed sin in my life I would be left behind in my sleep and so I repented every night b4 bed, (not a bad pre-sleep habit by the way)…my older sister once called an ambulance because she was convinced the rapture had happened and she had been left behind…the emergency ambulance ride to the hospital cost my parents $300 because it was…well…silly.

    I can laugh about it now…but not about the way it abandoned creation and the planet to be ravaged by hell and ungodly rulers/etc…and THAT influence is still prevalent and subtle in its contamination of all things future-pointing.

    There is also the self serving “I’m in the secret decoder ring club” by the blood of Jesus elitism that is reinforced by this…and then there’s the idea that implies “Normal is not coming back, Jesus is”…which is a subtle suggestion to suffering people that Jesus doesn’t like you.

    In my humble opinion the modern Scofield bible rapture teaching is one of the most irresponsible postures any human can adopt that really wants to see Love win.

    Love wins by being present.
    And hope should not be a secret.

    1. Hi Mark

      Still trying to work out how your sister getting to hospital would help in that situation. No need to explain!!! Just sums up the whole bizarre nature of it all.

      In a certain place, not too far from you, I used to play ignorant (easier for some of us) with ‘don’t you feel sad for Christians’. Jesus is there (now) and we are here, but when he comes here (then) we will go there. Seems Christians are destined to be in the wrong place regardless of timing!

  3. Oddly enough, my sister, whom I love dearly still believes in the same kind of rapture that got her an ambulance ride when she was 9…I suppose that comfort is more of an influence than the Comforter sometimes.

    To be completely fair…a LOT of the early Pentecostals (and most that I grew up with) were very poverty stricken…so escape was really a form of comfort in the mind.

    I wonder how much of our eschatology was based in class struggles or financial stress and now has evolved into a different class/financial condition that no longer merits the hope offered by escape?

    What do the rich need to escape from these days?

    1. Hi Mark… for sure. Slavery and the ‘this world is not my home’ songs came through. And of course not without a truth. This world – these structures etc., are not our home. Heaven was to be their home – now we clever clogs people simply reply with heaven here.

      As for the rich…

      And yet the majority of the NT saints were on the wrong side class-wise and Paul fed them with transformation from heaven to earth. The rich – most of us – need to escape the entrapment of our wealth to long for transformation that will remove our status. Even the non-believing Asiarchs of Acts 19 were up for that!

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