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:
- Rapture Theology: History & Influence
- Then the End Will Come
- N.T. Wright on Heaven & Rapture Theology
- The Rapture Fallacy
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.
D.D. Flowers, 2012.