Rapture: Gospel or Escapism?
As we watched the plot of the film unfold, my son became visibly upset, causing me to wonder if that movie choice was too graphic for him to watch at his young age: crashed semi, driver vanished with other abandoned cars, planes down from missing flight crews, families separated, the world vividly in chaos after the unexplained rapture disaster.
“Are you...okay with this?” I asked my son nervously. “How are you feeling right now?”
His sophisticated answer surprised me!
“Mommy, that’s mean. How will people know Jesus, if all the Christians are gone from earth?”
I stammered, trying to formulate a clever religious answer to explain God’s reason for such violent end-times rapture.
“Well, honey, God loves us so much that… uh well, He already knows who… I mean Jesus...." Speechless, I stopped, then confessed, "Actually, I don’t know.”
Come on, God, speak to me, how do I explain this?
I don’t like science fiction -- or any fiction for that matter. I didn’t read any of those religious sci-fi books that engrossed my friends and family; I didn’t even know the plot. In fact, I had never seen the word “rapture” mentioned in my many readings through the Bible and hadn’t paid much attention to end-times prophecy.
After all, I’m a registered nurse with a Master of Science degree. I’m left-brained!
Honestly, I just couldn’t answer his question.
That’s when I started to search the Scriptures for answers, but didn’t really find any there.
So, I went to Google and typed: r-a-p-t-u-r-e.
I soon learned that this idea originated with John Nelson Darby, a 19th-century theologian. Moody and Scofield then picked it up and presented it as doctrine in their own Bible translations.
Imagine that! 1800 years of Church history had completely missed it! There it was in 1 Thessalonians 4:17: “caught up”. Neither the Catholic theologians, nor the Protestant reformers, nor any prominent Evangelical preachers through the centuries--who had studied the Bible most of their lives--had even noticed it.
Well now, isn’t that amazing!
Uhm... Wait. What?
Credit for this pop theology goes to both Hal Lindsey’s fictional The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) and the Left Behind series in the nineties.
Today, eighteen years later, my son’s question still troubles me: “How will people know about Jesus, if all the Christians are gone from earth?”
Indeed, where have some Christians already gone? Has their escapist rapture fantasy numbed them to the harsh realities around us all even today?
Every day we face catastrophic news, yet Christians remain silent. Where’s our moral authority? Where’s our mercy and social justice?
Immigrant children are abducted from their parents and encamped in mass facilities. Children in Yemen are wasting away from starvation.
Mass shootings occur regularly in schools, movie theaters, concerts, shopping malls, churches and synagogues, but we just send our “thoughts and prayers.”
Natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, and earthquakes have become the “new normal” as scientists report the devastating effects of climate change.
New government scandals are revealed almost daily and officially dismissed as “fake news.”
Dictators are rising to power throughout the world, threatening global peace and human survival with nuclear war.
Meanwhile, too many Christians are okay with it all, because “it’s a sign of the end-times.” They await Jesus’ return to rescue them from any natural consequences. Who needs the Iran Deal or the Paris Agreement when you have an escape strategy that will rescue you from the tribulation? To hell with everyone else—literally!
What kind of Father abandons his children like that?
Imagine leaving your adolescent children alone at home and then returning to find it completely trashed from their partying with friends. No problem, right?
I don’t think so! They’d have to make amends for their destruction.
How much more will our heavenly Father judge the Church that He left in charge of His creation? Do you really believe He’s going to say, “Oh, good! You let My world be destroyed; now I’m going to come back to rescue and bless you with a new earth, since you just watched and did nothing.”
No, we’ll have to account for all our actions—and inaction—in a final judgment (Matthew 12:35, 24:43, 25:31-46; Luke 12:47-48; Romans 2:5-6; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
A good Father would not beam up his own kids from the house and leave behind the other neighbor kids to be destroyed in it. Rather, he mercifully cares for them all and helps them restore the house.
Jesus came to show us Our Father (John 14:9). He came to redeem this place we call home: to heal, forgive, and set us free in order to restore God's world. In fact, before he returned to the Father, he prayed for us:
“...Father, I don’t ask you to take my followers out of the world, but keep them safe from the evil one. They don’t belong to this world, and neither do I.... I am sending them into the world, just as you sent me.... I am not praying just for these followers. I am also praying for everyone else who will have faith because of what my followers will say about me. I want all of them to be one with each other, just as I am one with you and you are one with me. I also want them to be one with us. Then the people of this world will believe that you sent me....” (John 17:15-21 CEV italics mine).The rapture idea resembles a heresy that was once known as Gnosticism, in that the Gnostics practiced escapism from a material world that was deemed as evil.
Yet Scripture says that God "became flesh and made His dwelling among us" (John 1:14). Why would God do that unless He loved the world we live in (John 3:16)?
Escapism dismisses the incarnation.
Why would Jesus rise from the dead and live again if this world didn’t matter?
Escapism denies resurrection power here on earth.
Why would God send His Holy Spirit to be our comforter and our power, if He did not intend for us to use it in this world?
Escapism impedes Holy Spirit from ushering God’s kingdom into this present world.
Why would God bless us with His Holy Spirit at Pentecost and then arbitrarily remove Him later when needed most?
Escapism misrepresents the Father heart of God.
After Creation, God looked over all He created and said it was “good.” God loves His creation – all of it! He even died for it.
Obviously, we live in a fallen world. But we know that Jesus still LIVES to deliver us from evil (Galatians 1:4). Otherwise, He could have just died and gone directly to heaven to wait for us there.
Christians aren't called simply to wait for Jesus to come back; he’s already here. He lives! That's what we celebrate every Resurrection Sunday: He Is Risen!
That means God's Kingdom is already here "in our midst" (Luke 17:21).
Jesus is coming back for his Bride, the Church, but not at the expense of the rest of humanity. In fact, Scripture says that she will be without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27).
Frankly, I don’t think we’re there yet.
Why are we so obsessed with leaving others behind? That sounds like a bad mother threatening to leave her children in the store if they don’t obey and come at her command.
Please, my fellow Christians, believe this: Our Father is not like that! In Jesus, He challenges our egocentric "I'm saved but you're not" rapture doctrine.
In fact, our faith proclaims that the "Spirit of the Lord has come upon us" now in this present age as the Body of Christ:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD's favor has come" (Luke 4: 18-19 NLT italics mine).The Church has been Christ’s remnant in every generation to proclaim the Father’s mercy and favor for His children. We are His hands, His feet, His saving love on earth today. Instead of relying on the rapture as our exit strategy from a fallen world, Jesus calls His Body to lay down our lives, take up his cross and serve others.
That's the gospel.