The Problem With Believing in a Dispensational Rapture
(From Revelation Revolution/2005/Greg Albrecht/pages 116-120)
(Note: In case you're not sure what the futuristic, dispensational teaching of the “Rapture” is, it's the idea that believers will be taken to heaven by Christ just as the world is on the brink of 7 years of tribulation, preceding the 2nd coming (a third coming?) of Christ and the end of history. It sometimes is referred to as the “Secret Rapture.” This stands in contrast to the “rapture,” the general biblical teaching concerning believers who are alive at the second coming being “caught up,” ascending to meet Christ in the air.
Rapture theory or teaching is based on dispensationalism,
a method of interpreting the Bible that was not popularly known or believed
until the early 19th century. Dispensationalism is
actually a subset of futurism, which sees virtually everything described after
the 2nd and 3rd chapter of Revelation as yet-to-be-fulfilled, literal end-time
Dispensationalism teaches that God has divided human history into 7 dispensations, each of which God has administered in different ways. None of the dispensational elements were regarded as credible in the historic church. It only started to become popularized in the 1850's when John Nelson Darby brought it to the U.S. from Ireland.
Premillennial dispensationalism is currently batting .000. Every specific prediction about the 2nd coming and immediate events surrounding it has failed. )
If we accept the dispensational Rapture, a basic principle of understanding the Bible must be thrown to the wind. A fundamental rule of understanding the Bible is to read a passage in its context. What was the message in its original context to its original readers and listeners? As students of the Bible, our first task is to discover the original applications of the message for its original audience. Then, and only then, are we free to make an interpretation for our lives.
Contemporary applications of Scripture must always be based upon the original meaning. Bypassing the boring historical details in order to arrive at a sensational application makes for captivating and interesting reading; but if that is our primary goal, we should stick with racy supermarket tabloids. This cardinal rule of Bible study – understanding the original context, audience and application – must be ignored if we accept the dispensational Rapture. Richard Jeske notes that many authors have used the Book of Revelation as a foil for their own personal agenda, and in the process ignore obvious principles of understanding the Bible.
Earlier, we looked at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Paul’s original intent in writing this passage was not even close to the Rapture theory that was forced on this text almost 1,800 years later.
The text simply explains that at the second coming of Jesus Christ those who are dead in Christ as well as those who are alive will rise to meet Him in the air. They will thus be raptured – but this is not the Rapture of dispensationalism.
The Rapture teaching of dispensationalism also violates one of the very “rules” of those who teach it. Dispensationalism and its followers have long favored the practice of proof-texting: “proving” a particular teaching by quoting multiple passages that happen to include a particular word or phrase.
Overwhelming a topic with the sheer number of passages intended to prove a point, regardless of the context and genre of literature used by each passage, is, of course, a serious abuse of the Bible. Some call it “spoof-texting.” Others call it “Scrip-torture.” Think of proof-texting as loading up a dump truck with biblical passages that mention a specific word or phrase and then dumping that load on the head of the as-yet-unconvinced individual.
But in the case of the Rapture, even this commonly used dispensational device is ultimately abandoned, since only a few passages can even remotely be “used” to prove such an event. Those who believe and teach the Rapture can’t even agree among themselves; and no wonder, for they lack firm biblical foundation for this fictional teaching.
Some believe that the Rapture will be secret and quiet; that is, only Christians will see Jesus Christ, and the rest of the world will have no idea that anything has happened. Others believe the Rapture will be audible and noisy; so that those who are not Christians will see and hear the spectacle of Christians being whisked away to safety while they are left behind, having to suffer the emotional agony of knowing that safety has been denied them and that excruciating suffering awaits.
But the Bible tells us that God does not motivate us with fear, and we should not attempt to persuade others that he does so. Romans 8:15 tells us, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption.” Paul adds, in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” God loves all His children, whether we happen to believe we will be Raptured or not.
Further, the Bible teaches that there is only one second coming. For the Bible there is no such thing as a second, second coming – or, if you prefer, a third coming.
Well, you may ask, “What difference does it make if you believe the end is just around the corner? Doesn’t it help to motivate us to be good, assuming that only those who are ready will be Raptured? Why not be ready for the Rapture just in case? How can that hurt anyone?”
Jesus tells us to “Beware of false prophets” (Mt 7:15); that they will be known “by their fruits” (Mt 7:20), and that not everyone who says or does something in His name will enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 7:21). He even calls some who will teach in his name “evildoers” (Mt 7:23)
What is the fruit of this unwarranted emphasis on the dispensational Rapture? Is teaching the Rapture harmless?
The Dispensational Rapture:
- Detracts from the central message of the gospel: Jesus gave His life to save the world.
- Is based on and encourages further unsound and speculative interpretation of the Bible.
- Focuses on human authorities who must constantly reinterpret prophecy in light of world events and then announce the latest recalculations or resetting of dates to their followers.
- Appeals to the human desire to avoid pain and suffering. While the Bible tells us that God loves and protects us, nowhere does the Bible promise that Christians will not suffer along with non-Christians or that we will be saved from physical suffering in some special way. The primary concern of the Book of Revelation, indeed of the new covenant given to us in Christ’s blood, is our spiritual salvation, not our physical salvation. The dispensational Rapture appeals to the flesh, motivates using the fear factor, rather than by God’s grace.
- Encourages legalism, because it emphasizes what you can do to escape the tribulation. The idea of a second coming combined with a third coming encourages the idea that you can qualify to be good enough to be saved by the second coming, so that you need not suffer the great tribulation.
- Distorts the gospel, interpreting Revelation in terms of escape from earthly violence rather than in terms of the victorious new life Jesus gives us. The Rapture teaching follows the dispensational agenda, stressing that a specific generation’s time is probably the end time, artificially inducing Christians into behaviors on the basis of fear.
- Discourages responsible stewardship of our lives, our responsibilities in our world, and its environment: “The world will end soon, so why bother?”
- Produces an unstable faith, focused on changing world events, rather than upon our firm foundation on the Rock, Jesus Christ.
- Burns Christians out. After failed predictions, many lose faith and give up on Christianity, some before they even begin to walk with God, because they assume all Christians to be Rapture-happy.
Some dispensation advocates will contend that I am taking the “big stick” out of their hands if I insist that special rewards won’t be given to Rapture-believers. But it seems to me that such a concern is a concern of performance-based religion, not a concern of authentic, Christ-centered Christianity. God never gave the “big stick” of the Rapture to Christianity in the first place.
Authentic Christianity does not offer a carrot that promises escape from physical suffering. Christian concerns within the body of Christ do not include control, intimidation, and manipulation. Surely Christians do not believe that the end justifies the means, do we?
The Rapture teaching is tailor-made for religious legalism. Oppressive and controlling religion is always looking for big sticks to control people. Religion under the guise of Christianity often seeks to control and manipulate in order to encourage people to behave as Christians. No Christian has any biblical authority to mislead people, even if we believe that the end justifies our questionable methodologies.
Religious baggage must be left behind as we enter the Word of God, so that we might be taught from God, rather than from narrow, sectarian interpretations. Futurism can be a valid perspective; and indeed, many passages in Revelation are hard to understand without seeing a future fulfillment. But the extreme views of dispensationalism and the Rapture run counter to the grace-based message of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Are you or is someone you know concerned and anxious about the end times? Do you worry about whether you will have done enough or performed enough righteous deeds so that you will qualify to be caught away with the saints from the horrible events of the great tribulation? Are you concerned that you might not be counted worthy to experience the dispensational Rapture? Do you worry about your friends and loved ones having to endure the terror of the tribulation and the reign of the Antichrist?
If so, you’ve been listening to, reading, and allowing yourself to be enslaved by unbiblical teaching. You need to discover the Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God, the Alpha and the Omega, who gave you the Book of Revelation, the unveiling of the wonderful truth that Jesus has conquered all religious pretenders; and that we are free in Him from unbiblical notions of fear and worry.