Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why all the Rapture Fuss Today?



Everywhere you look this past week you've probably seen folks, from every part of the theological spectrum, speaking to the Harold Camping prediction that today is the end of days.  Although this isn't the first time that Camping has prognosticated, nor the first time that high profile folks have done so, should we pay any attention to it?  My sense is that most of the respondents treat this possibility with as much respect as they do to the suggestion that a Mayan calendar has picked 2012 as the end of days.  Picking days and years of Christ's return (parousia in Greek) has often gotten headlines, but to this date none of the prognostications have come true -- not William Miller's nor that of the Jehovah's Witness founders, nor Pat Robertson.  And of course, Camping tried this before. 

What might be worth pondering in the light of the hoopla is the ongoing discussion among Christians about the end of days.  Although the current dispensationalist/rapture theology dates only back to the 19th century, Christians have from the very earliest days pondered the return of Christ in glory.   Jesus seems to have it as part of his message -- though there's lots of debate as to whether he was an eschatological preacher.  This message is part of the Ascension story of Acts, where the angelic messengers tell the gathered disciples that Jesus will return in the same manner he left (Acts 1:11). You see this sense of urgency in Paul’s letters.  He suggests that the current age might be short, and that Christ could return soon -- so be ready.  So prominent was this idea in Paul’s teaching that he seems to have found it necessary to modify his instructions. If we can assume that Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians, it appears that some within the Thessalonian churches had decided to quit their jobs and wait it out. Paul told them to get on with their lives – including their jobs (1 Thess. 4:13ff; 2 Thess. 3:6ff).

The key theological term here is parousia, a Greek word that means presence or arrival, and it is used to refer to the return of Christ in glory at the end of the age. This is key, because it’s not simply that Christ will return, but Christ’s return will bring to an end the present historical age. The question that Christians have been struggling with since the first generation of Christians began to die off was why the delay?  If, as Paul seems to suggest, the end is near, why hasn’t taken so long to reach this point? And yet, where there is a sense in the New Testament of an imminent return, there are also warnings about getting caught up in date setting (imminence: Mk 9:1; 13:30; Rom 13:11-12; unknown date: Mk. 13:32; Acts 1:7).

So, have fun with Harold Camping if you like, but I'm not sure it's worth giving it much attention!  In fact, if we want to take this stuff with any seriousness, we might want to ask why so many Christians seem to take joy in the prospect that those who would be "left behind" in their scenarios would suffer.  I fail to see anything Christian about such thoughts.
 
Note:  for a good response to this theology, see Barbara Rossing's Rapture Exposed.  My review of the book can be found here. 

14 comments:

Gary said...

Mr. Cornwall,

Do you believe that Jesus is ever coming back to earth? If you do, when do you think he will return?

I find that most "liberal Christians" don't believe that God will ever send any kind of judgment upon the earth. They dismiss the book of Revelation as either already having happened, or as sheer fantasy.

Their have a view of the future that is in accord with their view of God as only loving and non-judgmental. No judgment, no eternal damnation, etc. But I'm not sure I understand just what they think of the future. Since most are evolutionists, I suspect they think that things will keep evolving and there will be no end to it, at least not for a very long time.

Brian said...

In my nursing home and psychiatric patient services this week I preached on this with a very specific goal: to alleviate fears. Lots of folks have not been blessed with lives that would give them the tools to see through the liars and con artists. (witness Gary) I will address it tomorrow as well so they may remember it next time someone lies about the "rapture". In fact, yesterday I named the sermon, "See You Sunday". (hehehe)

I think libs should take this seriously because bad people are exploiting the fears and superstitions of people to take their money.

It is all about $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Gary, I simply don't know how this will all work out. I do know that Jesus spoke of the folly of setting times and dates. Perhaps the best way to live is with a certain urgency that life as we know it today won't be here tomorrow.

As for love and justice, I do believe that God is just, but I must also trust in God's love and mercy.

Brian said...

Additional thoughts:

I do think we need to take this seriously. In fact, I take it so seriously that I abandoned the lectionary readings to devote services to the issue. BUT, it is because my faith community has authentic concerns. I know from their conversations. It is a pastoral choice.

I do suspect that Bob's congregation has different needs. Therefore, I'm not writing all of this to be critical of Bob's approach. He knows his congo and serves them well. I try to know the folks in the nursing home/hospital and to serve them well. It looks very different, but it is the same living God that we point to.

Nicholas said...

understand that the SON does not know the exact date on which the following prophesy will occur—"only the FATHER". so, anyone who claims to know the exact date has been misled.

yes, HE will come to snatch up all who are "in CHRIST", but first all who have passed away. "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."(1Th 4:16-17 NIV)

so that you will not be misled today, study the Bible today.(Mat 24:36; Mar 13:32)

Gary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mama said...

@Gary
Believing that the events of Revelation have already happened is not "dismissing" the events of Revelation! If anything, it is fully accepting the power and prophecy of the Christ, accepting that the was telling the truth, and that the things he told his disciples were going to happen, happened when he said they would...in his lifetime. If anything, we preterists have MORE FAITH in God than you futurists.

Mama said...

Sorry, I meant to say "in THEIR lifetime."

And as far as seeing God as only loving and non-judgemental, FAR FROM IT. I believe has done and will continue to do EVERYTHING he has promised. There is no escaping the power of the Most High God. Those of us living today will face God upon our death. There will be judgement and only the blood of Christ will save us from that judgement. What is liberal about THAT??? I'm not an evolutionist, either. Stop trying to pigeonhole everyone who doesn't agree with you.

John said...

I don't think God is concerned about justice - compassion, yes, aspects of justice which constitute compassion, yes. but justice as in fairness, punishment and restitution, I don't think so. I think human thought on justice is just that, human thought.

And I do think that God loves creation too much to prefer to teat them justicely over compassionately'.

Gary said...

Mama,

It is simply impossible that most of the events recorded in Revelation could have happened in the first century. If they had, we would not be here having this discussion.

John said...

...to prefer treating them with justice over treating them with compassion.

Gary said...

Mr. Cornwall,

I take no pleasure in the suffering of those who are going to go through the Great Tribulation. But everyone in America has had plenty of warning. Sadly, most people dismiss the warnings and mock the idea of God's wrath, and of Christ's return. Who can they blame but themselves?

barryb64 said...

Hello Pastor Cornwall,

It seems I'm not the only Christian to write on the topic of Camping's predictions.

As far as Harold Camping goes, it is my prayer that the man would repent of what he's doing. I am more concerned about those following this man's teaching and sought to write something to help.

For me, I do believe Jesus is returning soon. Just look at the clear signs of the time. But, I have no clue of the exact date. For me, date setting misses the boat and helps no one.

Do you believe there will be a "Day of the Lord"? I do and it's a dreadful day and yet there's joy. My joy is not because of the suffering. It's because of the one who is the Savior.

Is not this what we should be doing? I'm also one who think the Church will go through the tribulation and not avoid it. My faith is in God's ability to see us safely through the horrors of that day.

It will be our job to get people to safety in Christ Jesus. What's your take?

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Barry,

I believe that God is with us in every moment of suffering. I simply don't know what the future holds, except that I trust that God is and will be faithful to draw us to God's self in the end. Does that mean some will be judged for their unwillingness to embrace God's love? I'm not in a position to make that call. My responsibility is to share the good news that God is present with us in my words and in my deeds.