Who will be left behind?
June 16, 2011 by Pastor Jeremiah
I can’t think of anything more humbling than to teach from the Bible on the subject of eschatology (end times theology). At times it feels like trying to interpret the meaning of abstract art. Jesus seemed to indicate the mysterious nature of the end times when he said, “no one knows the day or the hour” (Mt. 24:36). This prophetic statement has certainly been proved true over time. Christians have always had difficulty agreeing on just about everything in the Bible, but when it comes to understanding end times events, the diversity of opinion is, well… diverse.
Lately, the focus has been upon the rapture. Harold Camping’s doomsday prediction inspired a small sect of Christians to believe that Jesus’ coming was to be on May 21st, 2011 at 6pm. At 6pm, Christians in their respective time zones would be raptured out of here, just in time, before the seven-year tribulation was to break out upon the earth. I have to admit that when I glanced at the clock on that day and it read 6:15pm, I was relieved. Don’t get me wrong, I’m eagerly looking forward to the day of Jesus return, but “going up to the spirit in the sky” is not something I’m particularly excited about. Especially if that means floating on clouds with angels singing the song that never ends. I’m anticipating that heaven will be much more than that and I’m sure you are too. Think about it, God made us to live in this very physical world. He has designed us to inhabit the earth, to tend to it, to be fruitful and multiply upon it. Why in the world would He abort His original plans and give up on His creation, which He called “very good” (Gen. 1:31)? Based on everything that God has revealed about Himself from scripture, I don’t get the sense that giving up on, or abandoning His creation would be an option for Him. He is the God of redemption, reconciliation, renewal, and revival. That’s what gives me pause when I contemplate the doctrine of the rapture as it has been commonly understood. It seems like we’re just looking for the easy way out.
For the most part, I think Christians view the rapture as an escape. It’s a ticket out of here. Obviously, this world is flawed and filled with troubles. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to just leave it all behind? After all, who wants to clean up this mess anyway? Let’s just throw it all in a cosmic burn pile and forget about it. Is that the way the scriptures describe it to us? Is that how it all goes down at the end?
First off, most views of the rapture are drawn from the teaching of the Apostle Paul in 1 Thess. 4:16-18. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
Here Paul seems to clearly describe the escape from planet earth. When we consider the hellish events associated with the tribulation as described in Revelation, is it any wonder that we would immediately assume that God would preserve believers from his wrath and offer an escape plan? But hold on just a minute. Let’s consider two key points from this verse. First, the words “to meet” in this passage come from the Greek word hypantesis. This term is often used to describe the reception of a king by the inhabitants of a city, who come out to meet their king with fanfare and celebration, then accompany him back into the city. This would seem to indicate that our time “in the air” would only be momentary before we return right back where we came from. Secondly, we seem to make another assumption that being with the Lord forever means that we will leave this earth and go live with Jesus in heaven. This does not align with how the scriptures describe eternity. In John’s vision, described in Revelation 21, he sees the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God as a voice says, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.” The New Jerusalem is established on a renewed earth. A renewed earth? Doesn’t the earth get destroyed? Paul tells us that “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). The freedom that you and I are hoping for is the redemption of our bodies. It would follow that all of creation is waiting for this redemption to take place.
What about the earth being destroyed by fire and the elements melting in a fervent heat? I would suggest to you that the many references in scripture to fire and brimstone are to be understood more in terms of a fire’s ability to purge and to purify rather than to annihilate. Consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. He says that all of our works will be tested by fire. Whatever is worthless will be consumed by the flames while that which endures will be proved to be as pure as gold.
I realize that Paul tells us that we are aliens and strangers in this world, just passing through. So was Abraham as he wandered through the land that God promised to give him. However, Abraham always believed that he would one day inherit the land he wandered in – even if it wasn’t in his lifetime. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to pack our bags and board the next train off this planet. And yes, maybe Belinda Carlisle was right when she said, “oooh heaven is a place on earth.”
Then again… I could be wrong