QUESTION: “Pastor, why are so many of my Christian friends waiting for The Rapture?”
ANSWER: The idea of the Rapture is relatively new. Those who believe in the ancient Jewish heresy called “Chiliasm” or “Millennialism” promote it. It is not Biblical.
Millennialism has too many forms to cover in this column. It speaks about the end when Jesus returns to earth and teaches Jesus will establish an earthly kingdom lasting 1,000 years. Christians will reign with Him, after which they will go to heaven. It is supposed to come from Revelation 20: 1-7. Reading the verses carefully, we learn they do not speak of where or when Jesus rules. They do not speak of Christians ruling on earth at all.
Pre-Millennialism is a variation that proposes a time of tribulation preceding this kingdom. And here comes the rapture. Two centuries ago, the rapture was first imagined. It is the idea that God will take His people from this world sparing them this tribulation. It gives hope to those wanting relief from this world’s problems.
God teaches Jesus ascended to His right hand to rule heaven and earth (Ephesians 1:20-22). On Pentecost, Peter preached on Joel, who prophesied about the end times. Peter proclaimed Pentecost as a fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy. “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: And in the last days it shall be, God declares…” (Acts 2: 16-17). The end times began on Pentecost. Now the church endures tribulations in this world. God does not spare us. “When they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
In the lifetime of this writer, non-Lutherans have expended great effort to publicize the rapture. The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey was a bestseller in the ’70s. Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins wrote a series of bestselling books as the last millennium ended, which sired a series of motion pictures depicting the rapture. A popular radio preacher, Harold Camping, went a step further and predicted the actual date. It came and went. Camping recalculated. His last prediction was October 21, 2011. Movies continue to be produced.
A Harvard historian estimated that between 30-40 percent of Americans believe these things. They are regularly taught in many protestant churches. Christians use the promise of the rapture to inspire evangelism by frightening the lost as well as lukewarm Christians to embrace Jesus.
One might speculate that rapture-believing Christians eagerly anticipate relief from worldly problems. Believing in a tribulation even greater than that which the historic Church endured, there is comfort in the hope that we might be taken from it. Also, it would be nice to have physical proof of what we have believed all along. If a mass of believers were miraculously removed from this world, leaving others in the lurch, it would seem to be a great demonstration of the power of Jesus.
We believe in the resurrection of the body and life in the world to come. Jesus conquered Satan, sin and death. He earned for each of us eternal life in heaven (John 14). God has promised to take care of us while we live in this world of woe.
Sin will continue making life difficult. We will endure tribulations. But we live in the sure and certain hope that we have died with Jesus and will rise to eternal life. We do not let the false hope of a Rapture replace the certainty of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
Rev. Charles Keeler
Resurrection Lutheran Church
Winter Haven, FL