The Secret Rapture hits the Big Screen, Part 2
There are many reasons why I believe God’s people ought to “leave behind” the secret rapture doctrine and the sensationalistic prophetic scheme to which it is attached, but here are just a few reasons:
1. The secret rapture doctrine rests upon an erroneous approach to Bible interpretation known as “Dispensationalism.”
Dispensationalism is less than two centuries old, and there is good reason why the greatest minds in the church’s history never thought of it, and why the most credible Bible scholars today have rejected it. As a system of Bible interpretation it is based upon two major errors: (1) It relies upon a overly-literalistic interpretation of clearly-symbolic and apocalyptic portions of Scripture (for example, biblical books like Daniel and Revelation). (2) It makes a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church, basically teaching that God has two peoples (Jews and Christians), rather than just one people (Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus).
One example of the first error is its teaching on the 1,000 year millenial period mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6. Dispensationalists insist that this passage be understood to teach a literal millenial reign of Christ on earth. However, as a piece of apocalyptic literature, the Book of Revelation is one of the most symbolic books in all of Scripture, and its sybolism includes numerology (i.e., its numbers symbolize spiritual truths). While there were some early church fathers who taught chiliasm (an older term for belief in a literal future millenium), many great theologians and biblical scholars have understood the millenium of Revelation 20 as a numerical symbol for this present age between our Lord’s first and second advents.
Regarding the second error, the New Testament is filled with passages that identify the new covenant church as being in basic continuity with Israel of old. To cite just some examples: “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” (Romans 2:28-29a, ESV) “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” (Romans 9:6-8, ESV) “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:7, ESV) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29, ESV) “And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16, ESV) “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11-13, ESV)
2. The secret rapture doctrine encourages escapism and defeatism among God’s people.
The secret rapture doctrine assures Christians that they will escape the “great tribulation” and the rule of Antichrist. But God’s Word teaches that believers can expect persecution, rejection, hostility and tribulation in this present age. The secret rapture doctrine assumes that the church will ultimately be defeated and need to be raptured out of the world lest it be totally defeated. But Scripture indicates that, in spite of the unbelieving world’s rejection and persecution of the church, the church is destined for triumph in the end. The secret rapture doctrine fosters escapism and defeatism. Scripture fosters engagement in this world, perseverance, and hope in the face of suffering.
In spite of persecution and tribulation, in the end Abraham’s true (spiritual) offspring will be as the grains of sand on the seashore and as the number of stars in the sky in multitude. In principle Christ has already defeated Satan and conquered sin, death and hell by His redeeming work. His church, weak and small and sinful though she be, will be triumphant in the end! Contrary to the message implied by the secret rapture doctrine, we Christians are on the winning side of history, not the losing side, in spite of all appearances to the contrary! The message of apocalyptic literature in the Bible, like Daniel and Revelation, is not that believers will escape from trial. Rather, it is the comforting message of victory through trial because of Jesus’ victory on the cross and in the resurrection!
At the “Ministry Matters” website Randall Hardman has written a thought-provoking article entitled “Why ‘Left Behind’ Should Be…Left Behind.” In that article he offers the following comments on this problem of escapism:
“I could go on with a verse by verse analysis of all the “rapture verses” but there exists an underlying problem with rapture theology, one which has the ability to affect so many aspects of how Christians interact with the problems of this world: It embraces escapism as a solution. Rapture-based theology teaches us to think and hope for an escape from this world, not endurance to persevere in it. In this view, Jesus loves his Bride too much to let it go through the intense suffering and judgment the world will face (very similar to the popular notion that suffering doesn’t happen to godly people). But that is not the message of Scripture, nor is it the message of Revelation in particular. Sometimes terrible things do happen to good people and Scripture doesn’t promise us an “out.” It promises us a “how.””
3. The secret rapture doctrine divides the church.
Ever since this doctrine has risen to popularity within the broader Christian world, great division has resulted in the Body of Christ. Even though this doctrine is a relatively new one in the history of the church, it has gained such a stronghold among evangelicals that some believers today will question your orthodoxy or assume that you are a “liberal” who rejects the Bible as God’s Word if you happen to reject the secret rapture doctrine. Numerous church bodies have made adherence to the secret rapture doctrine and the dispensational system upon which it is built a tenet of faith, requiring adherence to the doctrine of the secret rapture as a condition for serving in church leadership, if not for membership in the church. But making such a questionable doctrine the basis for either fellowship or service in the church is deeply divisive. Insisting upon adherence to the secret rapture doctrine and its dispensational premillenial prophetic scheme as a prerequisite to service in the church is just as divisive as insistence upon a literalistic interpretation of the creation days of Genesis one as a prerequisite for such service. Instead of riding “hobby horses” like the secret rapture doctrine and a literalistic earthly millenium, the church should be centered upon the proclamation of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen and coming again, as the only Savior and Lord for sinful humanity.
May the Lord hasten the day when His people will “leave behind” the Left Behind view of the end times and come to a firmer grasp of sounder principles of prophetic interpretation.
Recommended resources for further study:
Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church by Gary DeMar (Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision, copyright 1999)
Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? by Keith A. Mathison (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, copyright 1995 by Keith A. Mathison)
The Millenium by Loraine Boettner (Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, copyright 1957 by Loraine Boettner; Note: P & R Publishing is now located in Phillipsburg, NJ)
Prophecy and The Church by Oswald T. Allis (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, copyright 1972)
A Case for Amillenialism: Understanding The End Times by Kim Riddlebarger (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, copyright 2003 by Kim Riddlebarger)
Postmillenialism: An Eschatology of Hope by Keith A. Mathison (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, copyright 1999 by Keith A. Mathison)
The Last Days According to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return? by R.C. Sproul (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, copyright 1998 by R.C. Sproul)
The Pauline Eschatology by Geerhardos Vos (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing; 1994 reprint; Foreward copyright 1979 by Baker Book House Company)
Three Views on the Millenium and Beyond, Darrell L. Bock, General Editor (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, copyright 1999 by Darrell Bock, Craig Blaising, Ken Gentry, Jr., Robert Strimple). This book is part of the Zondervan “Counterpoints” series.
The Bible and The Future by Anthony A. Hoekema (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, copyright 1979)
The Book of Revelation Made Easy: You Can Understand Bible Prophecy by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D. (Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision Press, copyright 2008, 2010 by Gentry Fund Trust Ltd, April 2, 1999)
Four Views on the Book of Revelation, C. Marvin Pate, General Editor (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, copyright 1998 by C. Marvin Pate, Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., Sam Hamstra, Robert L. Thomas). This book is part of the Zondervan “Counterpoints” series.