Tag Archives: second coming

Rapture Palooza!

I thought we could all use a little humor this Friday. I think most of my readers will find it funny. The following video is a trailer for an upcoming rapture spoof film called, Rapture-Palooza (June, 2013).

Relax and have a good laugh!

For more of my serious theological reflections on the rapture:

Help enrich the blog and get the word out about posts that resonate with you. You can “Like” a post, share a post, or comment on a post. Thanks!

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


Who Gets Left Behind?

I’m thoroughly convinced that the Scriptures themselves, and a long history of the church doing biblical theology, simply doesn’t support the idea of a secret escape from tribulation and an abandonment of the earth.

If you’re a subscriber to the blog, you know that I have recently been challenging rapture theology. If you’re new to the blog or you just drop in from time to time, please know that the following posts should really be read as a series of my thoughts on the subject:

When I first posted on the topic, I had no plans to address the rapture systematically. I never really had a plan, and honestly I still don’t. I’m just sharing whatever I’m thinking as I reflect on my upbringing, pop-culture Left Behind ideas, and what some of you have written in response to my posts.

Thank you to those who have responded. You really do help cultivate ideas for future posts. You can expect that I will further address some of your questions and concerns that relate to key rapture passages and ideas.

So, here’s my next installment.

In a previous post, I wrote: “Pay careful attention to this truth. It’s those who are righteous that are “left behind” (Matt 24:38-41). The wicked will not inherit the earth. They will be swept away in a flood of judgment.”

Let me expound on this point as I continue to dismantle rapture theology.

I Wish We’d All Stop Singing This Song

Did you ever hear the song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” (1969) by Larry Norman? I remember hearing DC Talk’s (1995) version of it when I was in junior high. I admit that it was a moving song back then.

Life was filled with guns and war
And all of us got trampled on the floor
I wish we’d all been ready
Children died the days grew cold
A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold
I wish we’d all been ready
 
There’s no time to change your mind
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind
 
A man and wife asleep in bed
She hears a noise and turns her head he’s gone
I wish we’d all been ready
Two men walking up a hill
One disappears and one’s left standing still
I wish we’d all been ready
 
There’s no time to change your mind
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind
 
Children died the days grew cold
A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold
I wish we’d all been ready
 
There’s no time to change your mind
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind

It’s a catchy tune, no doubt. It can even spur someone on to trusting in Jesus. But it’s songs like this that often shape our theology for the worse.

And our theological ideas impact the way in which we live.

What’s the problem? Well, it’s a plain distortion of the biblical hope for the righteous, and the righteous judgment for the wicked.

Let’s take a look at our primary text.

The Righteous Get Left Behind

Where does the idea of “Two men walking up a hill, one disappears and one’s left standing still” come from anyway? It’s taken from Matthew 24:36-44. But notice that the one left “standing still” is not the wicked man.

It’s the wicked that are taken from the earth. The righteous are left behind.

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  Jesus, Matthew 24:37-42 (NIV)

See my post Then the End Will Come for the context of Matthew 24.

Jesus is talking about his imminent return at the end of the age, and he uses the story of Noah as an example of the judgment to come. So when he mentions two people in the field, and two people at the hand mill, it must be recognized that the ones taken are the wicked that reject God’s image in the earth. The flood of God’s judgment will remove the wicked from the earth.

It teaches the exact opposite of what rapture folks propose.

Therefore, the context of Matt 24:36-44 rules out a secret escape for Christians. Instead, as I have presented in my previous posts, Christians should expect God’s Kingdom to come to earth. As Jesus said, “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5) and God’s will is to be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). Heaven is coming to earth (Rev 21).

Christ will return in glorious fashion to dwell on the earth forever. We shall go out to meet him and parade our divine King back into his rightful domain (1 Thess 4:15-17). Let’s be clear about this…

Kingdom people aren’t going anywhere.

The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Ps 24:1). We will receive resurrected bodies for a resurrected world. It’s the wicked that will not enter into God’s rest on the earth. Just like in the flood, the wicked shall be removed in judgment. They want no part in God’s new creation.

The righteous will be left behind.

Of course, this means that we should then expect to endure suffering and tribulation on the earth. You can’t offer a well-rounded challenge to rapture theology without addressing the matter of tribulation.

I suppose that’s where I’ll take us next.

Stay tuned!

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


The Rapture Fallacy

If you have been following my posts here at the blog, you know that last month I began addressing “rapture” theology that has permeated American evangelicalism over the last century.

I’m confronting rapture theology head on because I think it has obstructed the gospel of the Kingdom that Christ proclaimed. In fact, it distorts the unique Christian hope, thereby influencing the way in which we evangelicals think and live in the world today.

I do affirm the orthodox teaching of the church that there will be a literal return of Christ. It completely bewilders me how anyone could deny this essential doctrine of the early church (Matt 24:36-42; Mk 13:26-37; Phil 3:20; 1 Thess 4:13-18; 2 Peter 3:8-10, Rev 22:20-21 etc.).

So while I do believe in the bodily return of Christ, I do not believe in the “dispensational” timetable of the end times—which has only recently (in the last century or so) been elaborately constructed by cutting and pasting verses together, and mishandling apocalyptic texts to promote something foreign to the NT apostolic hope for the future.

In the next few posts on this topic, I will deal with key “end times” verses that I believe have been mishandled, thus enabling the propagation of bad theology. This has major implications for our understanding and practice of the gospel, and our expectations for the future.

I have expressed here, here, and here that there are many good reasons to question the legitimacy of the popular Left Behind version of the future.

If you haven’t seen it already, please watch this short video on the history and influence of rapture theology in American evangelicalism.

The Situation & Context

I’ll go out on a limb here (though not a very long limb) and say that rapture theology is entirely based upon Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.

Let’s first begin with what I believe to be the foundation stone of this popular teaching. If we’re going to examine a verse or two of Scripture, it’s always best to read the surrounding verses in context. So, let’s do that first.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV) reads:

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

It should be understood that Paul is writing in response to the confusion among the believers in Thessalonica. They apparently were led to believe that Christians who had died before the return of Christ would miss out on the Kingdom being fully realized on the earth.

Paul is correcting their theology and assuring them in the hope that the “dead in Christ will rise first” (v.16).

The main point of this passage is that the dead will not miss out on the resurrection. They will participate in God’s final victory. They are not lost. Christ will raise them up on the last day.

Now let’s look at the metaphors Paul uses to paint an altogether familiar, albeit ancient picture of a king returning in victory as a conquering hero.

The “Rapture” Proof-Text

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  1 Thess 4:16-17

I will grant that it’s entirely understandable how, without any background knowledge of ancient literature and the common use of biblical metaphors, that a person could see a “rapture” idea.

But keep in mind, what may seem like a “plain” reading to our modern eyes, is not necessarily a plain reading to the ancient reader.

What did this imagery mean to Paul’s readers? The only way to get at Paul’s meaning is to recognize the metaphors he is using here.

You really need to have some knowledge of OT word pictures, first century ideas of imperial coronations (crowning of kings), and an awareness of second temple Judaism to understand the imagery Paul uses in this passage.

The church can’t be reminded enough that the Scripture is an ancient text that does often require help from trained individuals who have spent a great deal of their time studying the ancient literary and cultural context of the biblical world. Some have been trained better than others.

That isn’t to say that formal study guarantees correct interpretation. But it does mean that the ancient world is not the modern world. Therefore, an intimate knowledge of ancient literary genres and styles are necessary for getting closest to the original intent of the author.

Do you want someone performing open-heart surgery on you that has no real training and relies on the Holy Spirit’s guidance alone? Not very comforting is it? Let’s not set formal training up against the Spirit.

Mixing the Metaphors

The language of Jesus coming on clouds and everyone going up to meet him, should not be understood literally, but should instead be seen as a powerful image of divine kingship.

In the first century, kings would return to the city victorious from battle and be paraded back into his city.

You will recall that they actually did this to Jesus on Palm Sunday. The striking contrast is that Jesus was riding on a donkey, not a white horse; he didn’t have an army, only a hopeful crowd of peaceful followers and fans.

Now that’s saying something!

The trumpets blasting indicate a victorious procession and anthem upon Christ’s return (v. 16). The clouds should rightfully be understood as exalting Christ as divine. In both the Old and New Testaments the cloud(s) speak of divinity—God’s presence.

You see this with the cloud by day which led the Hebrews out of Egypt, the cloud on Mt. Sinai that surrounded Moses when receiving the Law, the clouds of the Son of Man in Dan 7:13, the cloud enveloping Jesus during his transfiguration, and now here with the return of Christ.

Jesus will literally “come down from heaven” (God’s space), not literally float down from cumulus clouds, but a hidden dimension altogether.

The purpose of the dead rising to “meet the Lord in the air” is to mix the metaphors (as it were) in presenting this picture of a divine king coming to his city and being paraded back (to earth in this case) by his people. It’s a beautiful image that ancient readers would have understood.

Christ’s return is literal, but the imagery being used is not to be taken literally.

The authors and readers of the NT would have understood this. They communicated great mysterious truths (especially future events) in this fashion and weren’t bothered by it like 21st century American Christians who tend to think that the literal reading is always the right one.

Rapture theology distorts this imagery by reading it literally and emphasizing the rapio (latin: “to be caught up”) in order to promote an escapist view of the future. The promise of the Lord has always been to renew this earth, not destroy it to steal us away somewhere else.

The imagery Paul is using here is consistent with the biblical covenants, promises, and hope for the future of God’s good world. This is what all Jews, including Jesus, were expecting. The Kingdom of God was going to come to earth in one cosmic event on the last day.

Meaning & Original Intent

Paul is meaning to say that Jesus (king) will return victorious, and like a king coming into his kingdom, we will usher him back to the city (earth) and reign with him forever. As he says, “So shall we be with the Lord forever.”

The literary context dictates these things.

Therefore, the original intent of human language, in the ancient situation and context, is what makes the difference here.

Unfortunately, ignorance of the metaphors and Paul’s deliberate use of over-the-top language in 1 Thess 4:16-17 is why most evangelicals react with such frustration at someone claiming that the literal reading is a mistake.

It has only been translated literally by those who are unfamiliar with the metaphor(s) in the text and by defenders of an escapist view of the future.

As I said before, learning and study is required in reading this ancient text. Meaning isn’t always floating on the surface. Sometimes you have to dig down deeper so you can appreciate the context, the language of the biblical writers, and their methods of communicating ideas.

Let’s be honest, many Christians don’t like to be reminded of that. I suppose this skepticism toward in-depth “Bible study” is born from sheer laziness, anti-intellectualism, or pure dogmatism and fundamentalism.

I’m not sure which.

Either way, we can do better. We must do better.

The Second Coming of Christ

How then do I envision Christ’s literal parousia (coming)? Honestly, I don’t know exactly. And I’m not too sure that the apostles knew either. I think that’s why they use metaphors to describe it.

They are essentially saying this:

“When Christ returns, it will be like a king returning from battle in triumph to his city. We will all go out to meet him and celebrate his arrival. Then at last we shall live with our king forever on the earth.”

Paul mixes the metaphors of clouds (divinity) and meeting in the air (exalted and caught between heaven and earth) for obvious reasons. This is no human king. This is the divine Son of Man (Dan 7:13).

Throw in the resurrection of the dead in this meeting of the Lord and you have a beautiful way of talking about something mysterious and unknown to any man on this planet. What a glorious sight soon to behold!

All of this is lost when you force a literal interpretation.

So, I’ll stick to the metaphors and imagine that whatever it’s going to be like, it will be greater than the metaphors themselves.

For no eye has seen nor ear has heard what the Lord has in mind for those who await his coming (1 Cor 2:9).

Therefore, I believe the NT only recognizes the imminent “second” return of the Lord Jesus to establish his Kingdom on the earth forever without end.

Based on this reading of the biblical text, I think we can safely say that you cannot build a rapture theology from 1 Thess 4:16-17.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Suggested Reading:


Then the End Will Come

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.  Matthew 24:14 (NIV)

As far as I can tell, this is as close as Jesus comes to pinpointing the time of his return. The entire chapter of Matt 24 is Jesus responding to the question, “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age” (v.3)? Jesus will list a number of different signs, but makes it clear that it’s ultimately the Father’s business as to when the Son of Man will return (v.36).

I think there is a great deal of confusion among evangelicals as to what the church should expect to happen before and leading up to Christ’s return. Much of this bewilderment concerning eschatology is due to sloppy hermeneutics and the propagation of bad theology.

While I’m not proposing that there isn’t any mystery surrounding the last things, I am saying that rapture theology has grossly distorted Jesus’ gospel message, and NT expectations of a hopeful future for the earth.

Let me break it down.

The “gospel of the kingdom” is not simply a message that Jesus will forgive your sins so that you don’t have to go to hell when you die. This is only part of the good news message, and even this bit is often distorted in the process of marketing the gospel to a consumer culture through fear mongering.

The gospel is frequently reduced down to personal salvation, with no understanding of what it means to be a disciple and a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I highly recommend Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel.

The good news of the Kingdom goes beyond the message of Christ’s death on the cross for atonement of our sins (justification). It’s about new life in the here and now (sanctification), and it’s about the future resurrection of the dead along with the restoration of God’s good earth (glorification).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…” Rev 21:1

We are not bound for an eternity in heaven. Can we please stop saying this? Pop-culture Christianity is obsessed with heaven in neo-Gnostic fashion. What is going on? The apostolic hope was not life after death in heaven, but what N.T. Wright calls, “life after life-after-death.”

The NT is clear that we (believers) will be resurrected on the last day to inherit a renewed creation. This is never called heaven. It’s called the new heaven and earth, the New Jerusalem come to earth (Rev 21).

This is the Christian hope: resurrection of the dead and renewal of the earth.

The good news is about the Kingdom, the reign and rule of God on the earth. Jesus calls it the “gospel of the kingdom” because he envisions that his Father will bring heaven and earth together in a new reality of his perfect reign. And why wouldn’t he? Jesus prayed “your kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10).

This has always been the biblical expectation of the future (Isa 65:17). Israel expected God’s reign on the earth through Messiah (Dan 7:13-14). And the apostles believed that future had broke through into the present with Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom and will soon bring about its consummation in his parousia (coming).

Then he will sit on David’s throne forever (Isa 9:6-7).

We can see this coming together of heaven and earth in the resurrected body of Jesus. He was the firstborn of this new creation. His resurrection is the marriage of God’s space (heaven) and our space (earth). His glorified body resembles something of our present world, but it’s also something very different, i.e. the resurrected Jesus walked through walls!

The disciples couldn’t even find adequate words to describe the great mystery that had been revealed in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Rethinking the “Gospel of the Kingdom”

So, what is the gospel? It’s not about an escape from the world for a spiritual existence in white clouds with naked babies playing harps. It’s about God having his way in this world through his church, born out of his Son.

We will not be secretly whisked away to another planet on the other side of the cosmos. Some folks have flattened out the biblical metaphors and abused this apocalyptic vision. God will not literally destroy the earth; he will purify it with his holy fire and winnowing fork.

All those who reject the Kingdom now will not receive resurrection in their bodies for God’s resurrected world that is coming. They will be left outside the city that God will build (Rev 21:27).

Pay careful attention to this truth. It’s those who are righteous that are “left behind” (Matt 24:38-41). The wicked will not inherit the earth. They will be swept away in a flood of judgment.

The “gospel of the kingdom” is about all things being conformed to Christ (Rom 8:29). He is the second Adam, the true Israelite, the new human, and the image of God on the earth. The Lord desires that the image of his Son be reflected in all the earth. This means not only proclaiming a message about Christ, but living out the Kingdom and calling others to do the same.

This gospel of the Kingdom always looks like Jesus—loving, serving, suffering, dying, and rising for his neighbor and his enemies.

Therefore, the preaching of the good news is also action. It’s the manifestation of God’s good will upon the earth. When this is lived out through humans, it looks like Jesus among us.

This “gospel of the kingdom” will be known throughout the whole world before the end of the age—not the end of the space-time continuum. The NT speaks of the end of the present evil age that is marked by sin and death. It’s that age that will come to an end when the “gospel of the kingdom” is realized. The new “eternal” age is the world set to rights at last.

What then does this mean for the church?

It means that the Lord actually expects a great level of the Kingdom to be manifested on the earth through Christian living. He wants to work through free human agents that have surrendered to his will. He will not force himself upon this world. That’s not the way of Christ.

The God we see in Jesus invites us to his table. He calls us to do his work. He wants us to participate in God’s saving act of creation. He waits for a church that cries out for the Kingdom on behalf of the world. The nature of this future is open (to some extent) and full of possibilities!

Christ’s return is mysteriously bound up with our participation in the gospel of the Kingdom. Since the good news of the Kingdom is that God will restore the earth for his resurrected people, we know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58).

We are not tilling a garden today only for it to be paved over with concrete tomorrow. We are not working a field that will be burned up in a cosmic wildfire. What we do for Christ and his Kingdom is one more brick in the building he is erecting on this earth. It matters. It counts.

You matter. You count.

Dear brothers and sisters, let’s speed the coming of Christ (2 Pet 3:12) by proclaiming and acting out God’s beauty and justice on the earth through creative expressions of resurrected living.

Let us imagine what it would look like if God were running the show, and work out our salvation in hopeful expectation of a new world.

Until the whole earth cries out: “thy Kingdom come!”

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


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