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Many of my Christian peers will read this and perhaps think that by moving to another church I got “infected” with some kind of false doctrine in the process, and here’s why: I no longer subscribe to the oft-taught doctrine of a Pre-Trib Rapture, and this piece is my “coming out”, if you will.
It is essential to conduct our own investigations of all doctrines that are publically taught, no matter who teaches them. In my opinion, we have too many Christian lemmings already, willing to choke down without question whatever positions are pushed from their pulpits. I have to eat about forty years of crow here…
One of the very first teachings I received after my salvation in 1972, was the oft-taught, some would say foundational, doctrine known as the Pre-Trib(ulation)” Rapture. As this is most often taught, and widely accepted in many of our churches, Jesus is going to sneak back in the clouds when we least expect it, and in a flash, with the sound of a trumpet (1 Thessalonians. 4:16+) snatch away all true believers – and according to mainline Pre-Tribbers, this is supposed to happen at the very beginning of the Great Tribulation, mentioned in ugly detail in the book of Revelation. Gee, it sounds as if we get to miss all the horror! How convenient.
Through the years, I’ve been about 80% convinced that this event might happen as taught, due to the proliferation of qualified teachers espousing it, I suppose. I know I’m not the brightest light in the harbor, and I was usually willing to concede their accuracy…but no more. Why? Because it’s just too convoluted for the tempo of the Scriptures. Let me explain:
I’ve learned that while the Scriptures are not necessarily easy reading, and comprise many layers of built in depth, this is because God Himself is alive in His Word, and personifies complexity for us humans. He is, after all, the One Who created humanity, and without apology, would have to be more complicated than those He created. But we should also understand that the Scriptures were written for our understanding, hopefully enlightened by the Holy Spirit, rather than our confusion, and the scenario of Jesus sneaking back in the clouds just to provide an early, (and pain free) escape, is just not plausible to me, for several reasons.
First, believing I won’t have to endure the awful end-times tribulation period, fosters in me an “early-out” mentality, in which I don’t need faith to live my life. Waving my get-out-of-jail-free card, all I need do is simply hang on, and hang out until my sudden extraction. How does this jive with Jesus telling us that all who believe, will ‘suffer persecution’ ? It doesn’t. Perhaps what He meant to say was, “All (but the last generation) would suffer persecution.” But that’s simply not what He said, and I always credit the Son of God to have said what He meant to say. Doesn’t wisdom begin with that?
Second, the pattern of being suddenly whisked away in a cloud, to the consternation of those unfortunate ones who erroneously thought they were believers, is a pattern I don’t see anywhere in Scripture, other than in the fictional presentations so prolific on our “Christian” bookstore shelves. I suppose with Hollywood getting involved we no longer need to study our Bibles to ‘be approved’!?
Third, with the Pre-Trib scenario, there is little or no reason to think the “last” generation of Christians will undergo anything resembling what all the preceding generations of Christians had to face in the way of persecution and trials. Does this point to a fair and impartial God? I believe this is inconsistent with Scripture and history, and it thereby allows for the immediate translation to heaven of a “lucky” few who will arrive on the shores of Glory with empty hands and perhaps relatively unchanged hearts. I just don’t see “luck” being any kind of a prerequisite for heaven for any generation mentioned in Scripture. I find that concept offensive.
There are at least two good reasons Jesus left us on earth after our conversions. One, we are to be His witnesses on earth (Acts 1:8), for God has never not had a witness to Himself on the earth, and two, to refine His brethren through testing (in like manner to what He underwent in Luke 4:1-14). That is the pattern I subscribe to, and that is the pattern I see throughout the history of the church and in the individual lives of those who believe in Jesus. Where is the “lucky” escape in that?
Currently, while I can still allow for the possible existence of a so-called Rapture, I cannot find any good reason for it to happen before at least halfway through the Great Tribulation. This is consistent with the first similar pattern I see in Scripture, which is the exodus of Israel from Egypt.
In that history, while the Jews were at first very much on board with a quick and easy exodus, things for them actually got worse as soon as Moses told Pharaoh to let Israel go. In fact, the Israelites and the land of Goshen where they lived, were subject to the same judgments as the surrounding Egyptians until about half way through the list of judgments.
This timeline accomplished at least four things for the Israelites. First, it firmly established in their minds that God was a real, living Person Who had not forgotten them. Second, it redefined their faith in Him from doctrine to practicality, a faith they would need following their deliverance. Although their faith later fell short in the wilderness, the initial “boot camp” experience in Egypt was geared to build up their faith so they could live by it after they left. Third, their experiences and struggles in the midst of these judgments were a vivid example to the Egyptians that Yahweh was the only real God. And fourth, by the time of the final cataclysmic judgment, the Israelites had no cogent reason to want to remain in Egypt, and in fact, God had burned their bridge for them. They had been made ready to leave, and there was nothing remaining for them in Egypt. For us older folks, this last reason should sound familiar.
I know some will say that in the well known scripture, 1 Thessalonians 4:16+, Jesus returns in the clouds, and apparently during His Second Coming He returns to dry land…well, on the last cross country flight I had, we descended through the clouds also – safely on our way to the ground (thank God!). It was one flight, with one destination.
Whatever will finally take place, I definitely want to adhere to God’s agenda, not my own, or the agenda of some favorite teacher. And if I have to concede I was looking at this all wrong, I’ll smile at you and laugh it off – in heaven!
John Miltenberger is a Christian blogger, visit John on his site: The Trip So Far
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