In my previous post, I began to critique the flawed thinking and un-Scriptural notions of the Left Behind movement. In particular, I argued that they not only mishandle but also totally twist and misinterpret Mt. 24.36-41—one of the main passages that they base their theology on. Indeed, a close reading of that passage reveals that being left behind is a good thing and that as believers, we should want to be left behind. In Noah’s days, it was the evil people who were taken up by the flood and the people of God (e.g. Noah’s family) that were left behind and saved. When Christ returns, then, as Christians, we should hope not to be taken up or away (for that will mean that we are experiencing God’s judgment) but rather left behind (which will ensure our salvation). The Left Behind guys have gotten it all wrong and sadly, they have misled many people with their “rapture theology.”
In the present post, as well as in a few more to come, I want to address this problem even more. In short, I want to suggest to you that there will be no rapture! In fact, the rapture is not a biblical notion. For instance, the word “rapture” never appears in the Bible (a fact that many Christians may be unaware of). However, the argument cannot just be based on that for the word cocaine never appears in the Scriptures but we know that taking such drugs is wrong. Also, for the first 1800 years of Church history, no student of the Bible ever thought about or necessarily mentioned a rapture event! This point is very telling because it reminds us that rapture theology was particularly borne during the Civil War, a time period when people were desperately wanting to escape all of the fighting and killing and thus, leaving the earth was quite appealing to them.
Most people do not realize how rapture theology (also known as Dispensationalism) came about, so, I’d like to share some of that background. Surprisingly, Dispensationalism did not come from any great Church figure such as St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin or John Wesley. Instead, a young Scottish girl—Margaret MacDonald—gave birth to this belief system in the 1830’s. One evening at a revival healing service, MacDonald went forward and said that she had been given a vision. Basically, the vision was that Christ would come back twice—once to gather believers and take them up to heaven where they would watch a lengthy war play out. Then Christ would come back down and the people who had previously been left behind would be given a second chance to join Christ in His fight against satan and satan’s minions. If the people did this, at the end of the battle they would be “taken up” by Christ and then everything else would be left behind, animals, the whole earth and all and it would be totally destroyed. Now, all of this is incredibly flawed. For example, the Scriptures never espouse a second-chance theology! Just as well, to say that Christ has to come back, mount up an army and fight satan (again) is to say that His crucifixion and resurrection were not good enough. Indeed, Paul says repeatedly in His writings that Christ has already defeated death and satan. Rapture proponents, however, do not teach this. In their thinking, Christ still needs to defeat satan.
Even more, the picture that the author of Revelation presents (as well as Paul) is not of the earth being annihilated while all of God’s raptured people watch from Heaven’s grandstands. No, instead, believers are to rejoice in the fact that God’s throne will come down from Heaven and at last, transform the earth on which it will rest forever (Rev. 21-22). If anything, this is a rapture-in-reverse! Besides, who would want to watch so many people be judged by God? I don’t know about you but if I had to watch that, there definitely would be weeping in Heaven! Yet, the Left Behind crew, like the bloodthirsty Romans in the ancient theaters, can’t wait for this moment.
Well, I have digressed; let me return to the young Scottish gal. In all honesty, as Ben Witherington notes (in: The Problem With Evangelical Theology), her “vision” would have soon faded away except that a British preacher heard it; his name was John N. Darby. He was enraptured by this vision (pun intended) and spread the story far and wide. In fact, he went to the Scriptures and pulled together a few verses from here and there to make a case for this vision. Eventually, Darby came to America. While here, he met another evangelist named Dwight L. Moody. Moody, who had established “Moody Bible Institute” began teaching this too. Over time, a businessman heard about this belief system and realizing how new and appealing it was, came up with an idea to promote it and make a pretty penny off of it. His name was C. I. Scofield. What he did was to come up with a reference Bible where he added new headings and subtitles that promoted the rapture theology. This caught like wildfire and Scofield became instantly rich. For many years this would become the leading study Bible and many Americans would buy into what it was promoting. Eventually, a Presbyterian minister by the name of Lewis Chafer decided that there needed to be a center for Dispensationalist theology, so, he founded Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). A fellow by the name of Charles Ryrie became a student at DTS and later published a popular study Bible that also promoted rapture theology. But guess who else attended this school and was heavily influenced by it? None other than Tim LaHaye, the infamous author of Left Behind.
So, this, in a nutshell, is how this fairly new but very flawed rapture theology grew up and caught on. It’s not hard to understand why it caught on by any means and in fact, it’s quite scary given that it is all that many Christians have ever heard and been taught! From its very roots though, it is an un-Scriptural theology. While I will explore this more in my next few posts, I want to say here that I believe that what was accomplished through Christ on the cross and in His resurrection and ascension was enough. He no longer has to “fight” satan—Christ has already won! If this isn’t true then it’s all a hoax! But thank God it is true and that Christ is victorious!
For more on this, see: Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in Revelation (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004).