Since I was talking about scary religious movies in a previous post, It reminded me of A Thief in the Night, which I’ve written about previously. Movies like A Thief in the Night and Left Behind are designed to scare people into making a decision for Christ.
The idea is that the Rapture will take place, and all the Real Christians will go to heaven while non-Christians and Episcopalians will be left behind on earth to suffer God’s wrath for seven years. However, the theology behind the movies is sketchy at best. Dispensational teaching, which the A Thief in the Night movie and Left Behind books and movie are based on, is strictly a Fundagelical thing. Most mainstream denominations have no idea what you are talking about when you mention The Rapture. (By the way, I should point out that Fundagelicals use this lack of knowledge to “prove” these mainstream denominations are apostate.) In my personal reading of scripture, I think the only thing you need to know about the event called The Rapture is to have a set of pajamas.
let’s talk about pajamas for a minute; The Atlantic recently published an article on how the air raids in England during WWI prompted people to start wearing pajamas to bed. As they put it, “Think about it this way: Bedclothes are amongt the most intimate of garments. But with the advent of nighttime raids, these private fashions were thrust suddenly into the public sphere when people had to evacuate their homes at a moment’s notice. It was the original ‘I woke up like this.’ A crumpled nightdress would no longer do. It was a matter of practicality! But also a matter of looking good!”
Now back to The Rapture, let’s do a quick check to see how many verses in the Bible say that when Jesus comes back, Real Christians will fly away into the air and be whisked off into heaven with Him. Ummmm. . . counting. . . let’s see. . . looks like zero.
I did a little googling and ran my search function on my Logos software and got several lists. Although there are quite a few passages that discuss Jesus is returning to the earth, not one mentions “Real Christians” flying up into the atmosphere.
Now Fundagelicals will be quick to point out 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Let’s take a look at the verse and see what it says. Let’s include the previous verse for context.
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 KJV)
If you’ve been raised to believe that this verse teaches The Rapture, that is what you will plainly see. However, hidden behind the English translation is another meaning. Let me redo the verse and show you three Greek words.
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be ἁρπαγησόμεθα together with them in the clouds, to ἀπάντησις the Lord in the ἀήρ: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 KJV)
The first word replaced was the word translated “Caught up together.” When the Greek was translated into Latin, it came out “rapiemur” from which we get the English word rapture. The Greek word can mean to be taken by force or snatched away like a purse snatcher takes a purse, but it can also be understood in an emotional context. For example, it can mean to get carried away with excitement.
The second word is apantēsis which according to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament refers to a technical term for a civic custom of antiquity whereby a public welcome was accorded by a city to important visitors. (TDNT 1:380) This civic custom would be when an important visitor, such as a king, arrived at a city; all the citizens would go outside the city gate to meet him.
The final word, aēr, is translated as air. It also has several meanings. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, (Stong’s # G109) it is the lower atmosphere. It means the outside air we breathe.
Let’s put it all together; when Jesus returns with the clouds, a symbol of glory; everyone will be so excited that they run outside to meet the arriving king. No flying away without clothes on and leaving behind our hearing aids and walkers, no people getting left behind, just Jesus returning in triumph to claim His kingdom and the citizens rushing outside to meet him.
Since we don’t know when it will happen, day or night, you can see why an unexpected arrival at night might require you to own a set of pajamas to rush outside in.
This view of Christ’s return was the predominant view of the early Church until some scattered writers began suggesting the idea in the 1500s. The idea of The Rapture was made popular by Darby and Scofield in late 1800s, and the Southern Baptist convention would codify it as the truth in 1920s.
This late minority view of a rapture grew in popularity among Fundagelicals and has spawned a cottage industry of date setting and dire predictions. My point here is that if you are afraid of being left behind, you are being manipulated by fear. There is only one verse in the Bible that could be read in support of The Rapture, and that one verse was read by the early Church fathers in a very different way. Feeling a little less anxious now? No one gets left behind, everyone, the resurrected dead included, will greet our King. I could start my own business selling rapture ready pajamas!
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