Obsessed with Rapture

I listen to the Whitehorse Inn each week and you should too. It is hosted by Dr. Michael Horton who teaches at Westminster Seminary in southern California. He is normally joined by three other men, one of whom is Kim Riddlebarger. Riddlebarger has written a book entitled, A Case for Amillennialism. This week’s program, in the providence of God, is entitled “Obsessed with Rapture” and if you go to an evangelical church in America you should listen to this program. Dr. Horton says this in his opening commentary, “America has always been fertile soil for end times, apocalyptic scenarios. Hal Lindsey’s book [Late Great Planet Earth] was the best selling book of the 70’s and Tim Lahaye’s Left Behind series was the best seller of the last decade. The rapture is still big business in America. Does the Bible teach the doctrine of a secret rapture that is distinct from Christ’s second coming and is it possible that speculation and intrigue surrounding end time events takes our focus off of Christ, who is, after all, the point of biblical prophecy.”

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church – little to no doctrine, no expository preaching, lots of alter calls, “Just As I Am” over and over again, and a lot of talk about “the rapture”. How many people have made “decisions” for Christ when they were kids or teens out of fear of being “left behind.” A secret return of Christ and an overnight rapture of His church are very fascinating, but how biblical are they? When you get past the myths of modern American apocalyptic fictional books and start looking at the scriptures, there is a lot more clarity to eschatology (study of last things).

Haven’t you heard someone say, or haven’t you said it yourself, “All this Revelation stuff and tribulation stuff and rapture stuff is so confusing.” It is when you let the myths of modern American apocalyptic fictional books be your teacher. For some reason, and I knew this was going to happen, the more I look into the return of Christ the more I see that the church’s obsession with decoding the times and placing our hope in a “rapture” have only taken the American evangelical church’s eyes off of Christ. The entire point of Christ’s teaching on his return and the apostles teaching on Christ’s return was to cause the church to live radically obedient lives in the face of tremendous persecution so that at the culmination of the church age (Christ’s second coming) they would be found faithful and their salvation would be certain.

A great bit of the conversation on this week’s Whitehorse Inn program centered around 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which we studied this past week in Sunday School. Many will use this text of as the authoritative word about the “rapture”. Well, after looking at the Olivet Discourse and then coming to 1 Thessalonians 4 you can see a lot of connections between the writing of the Apostle Paul and the teaching of Christ. None of those passages talks about a “rapture” in the same sense that Christian pop-culture talks about a “rapture”. If you just sit down and read these passages – there is trouble in this world which the church must endure with the hope that when Christ returns we will be with him forever. Things will certainly get worse the closer we get to his return, but our hope is not in some kind of secret “rapture”. Our certain hope is that those who have trusted in Christ’s death and resurrection will be found in Him at His appearing and we will not be taken away into eternal judgment, but will be with Him forevermore.

That is the simplest, most straightforward reading of the texts, and shouldn’t that meaning always be the interpretation that the church commends to its people? The more I study it, the more I think so.

I will begin posting the Sunday School lessons on the return of Christ shortly.

3 comments so far

  1. thenonconformer on

    While the Brethren even say they Believe the Bible is the Word of God, they too clearly do have this unholy, desperate and complicated need to reinterpret almost every passages of the Bible suitable to their own liking.


  2. Leslie on

    Great article, Brian! I agree with you. Your description of southern baptist churches, while spot-on, does make them sound cultish. Do you think “secret rapture” talk produces that kind of atmosphere?

    What do you think will happen to those people who are looking for a secret rapture before a tribulation? Do you think they will lose heart and fall away when they realize that they’re still here during the worst times before Christ’s return?

  3. blbarber on

    Thanks Leslie. I would have to agree with Dr. Horton that all this talk of a secret rapture in evangelicalism today takes our eyes way off of the prize – Christ. And so I do think that having your hope in a secret rapture instead of in the appearing of Christ will cause many to stumble and fall away.

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