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Nov 05, 2005


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will spotts

I don't quite buy this.

Part of it may be that we don't have good terms because the dreaded "dispensationalists" have much more history talking about the subject.

However, the rapture is clearly a biblical notion, not a Gnostic one. One of the passages we often hear at funerals describes this event. Perhaps the author is indicating that the longing underlying the view of a "pre-tribulation rapture" (left behind style) has Gnostic elements.

Michael Kruse

Will, the word "rapture" isn't in the Bible but, of course, neither is the word "trinity" so that doesn't prove anything by itself. I always like to know where these concepts come from.

My understanding is that the early church was pre-millennial. They had a pessimistic view of human prospects and believed that Christ would return, set up his throne and rule the world a millennium. Judgment would come at the end of the millennium.

Post-millennialism emerged after Constantine. The perspective was that there would be continuous improvement in human affairs to the point where Christ’s purposes would be achieved in the world. After a millennium, Christ would return, judgment would follow and Christ would establish the eternal Kingdom. This has been the most position most commonly taken in the Reformed tradition since the Reformation.

A-millennialism held that there would be no real change in the state of human affairs until Christ returned, rendered judgment and established his eternal thrones. Some amillennialist believed that conditions will improve to a significant degree and then Christ will return, render judgment, and establish his eternal throne.

None of these perspectives had any notion of “rapture.” There was resurrection of the dead at a time of judgment only.

Dispensational pre-millennialism is less than 200 years old. The rapture idea, and a two stage coming of Christ, came from a charismatic Scottish woman name Maggie MacDonald. She had a vision of this in a dream in 1830. Rev. John Nelson Darby picked up on her vision. He founded the Plymouth Brethren and began developing a theology (dispensationalism) that incorporated her visions. Darby brought the idea to the states and popularized it with certain ministers. Scofield picked up on this teaching and made it part of the widely distributed “Scofield Bible,” easily the most widely read bible of its time. That is where we got the idea of rapture.

I expect to do a post down the road about “Rapture” but I think it is concept that has been superimposed on the Bible.

I highly recommend the paper at the PCUSA website under Theology and Worship “Issues” link called “Eschatology: The Doctrine of Last Things.” Hopefully this link will get you there:


The November 8, 2005, Viewpoint on “Rapture” at Presbyweb


will spotts

I believe the early pre-milennial view did have a concept of a rapture, but not of a 2 stage appearance of Christ. The event described in Dispensationalist circles as the rapture is referred to in I Thes 4 -- particularly 4:17. "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."

In the article above, the author has an intended implication by saying "Revelation concludes not with raptured souls winging their way to heaven but with the descent of the Creator into his creation so that “the home of God is among mortals” (21:3) The substitution of mortals for men is a gross misuse of that verse given that 21:4 says "there shall be no more death."

I'm not a dispensationalist -- and I find the arguments for a "pre-tribulation rapture" to be very weak and forced. Nonetheless, the event described by dispensationalists as the rapture (without referrence to a pre-tribulation time-frame) is portrayed in the New Testament.

Michael Kruse

Thanks. Now I have a better grip on your concerns.

Here is my take. I think it is important to pick up the verses that precede 4:17.

1 Thess 4:13-18

“13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (NRSV)

The Thessalonians were expecting the return of Christ any moment. Apparently, some had died among the community and they were concerned about the fate of those who had passed on. Paul was giving theses words as words of comfort.

Notice verse 14 “… through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.” Jesus is coming to earth, bring the dead with him. Verse 15 “coming of the Lord.” Jesus is coming to earth. Verse 16 “will descend from heaven.” Again these events are not happening in heaven because Christ has come to the clouds over the earth. Clouds was a euphemism for the place between the heavens and the earth. The dead rise to meet him “in the clouds.” Then, those that are alive join the throng.

Now we have a problem. “…so we will be with the Lord forever.” Where? In the clouds above the earth? It doesn’t explicitly say what comes because it wasn’t necessary for his audience. They knew. Think of Palm Sunday. The custom of towns in their day was that when a dignitary arrived, the entire town went out to greet him and ushered him into the town. Thus, when stated explicitly verse 17 might read:

“17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air [and they will usher him into his kingdom on the earth]; and so we will be with the Lord forever.”

As to Revelation 20, he is quoting the NRSV:

Rev 21:3b-4 NRSV

"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."

Webster’s gives as its 3rd of 14 definitions of “mortal”: “Belonging to this world.”

I don’t know if you are Presbyweb reader but I linked an article yesterday called “Rapture Resources.” Here is one paragraph:

“Fred Craddock and Eugene Boring, in their new People's New Testament Commentary (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2004), explain I Thessalonians 4:17: ‘To meet the Lord in the air: So also 'the air' is not the atmosphere, but as in Eph. 2:2 the realm between the heavenly world of God and the earthly human world, the dwelling place of supernatural powers that separate this world and the transcendent world. Like the word 'parousia,' to meet the Lord is part of semitechnical language used for the arrival of a monarch. A delegation of his or her subjects went out to meet the king or queen and ushered him or her back into the city. The picture is not of a 'rapture' in the sense of modern dispensational interpretation, in which believers meet Jesus in the sky and are then taken to heaven. Rather, Jesus is pictured as returning to earth as its rightful sovereign, and Christian believers – those already dead and those still alive – going together to lead him in a triumphal parade back to earth’ (p. 645).”

This is where I am coming from. I don’t believe we are removed to some ethereal state of being. I believe that God comes to earth, in some way renews and transforms us and creation, and then lives with us just as he intended from the start.


will spotts

Mike -- thanks for the response. A couple of things:

I *think* (nicely tentative) that we are using different terms but are describing a similar thing. (In that we both object to the concept as set out by the dispensationalist model. And we agree that God comes to earth.) My understanding, as limited as it must (given the topic) be, is that the two realms (heavenly and earthly) are joined / merged (i.e. we shall all be changed, the corruptible puts on incorruptibility, "I am making all things new", the New heaven and new earth. Thus the dwelling of God is with humans culminates an overarching theme in the Bible -- from Exodus and the tabernacle to the incarnation to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Given the linguistic origins of mortal, I regard the definition that excludes death as Webster recording a misuse -- or a partial use that is incorrectly recorded. It is nonsensical to describe immortal mortals. OK, so I'm being an anal retentive . . . *grin*

I would also observe one other thing -- I'm probably not responding as much to this article as to the use to which I've seen this argument put. (i.e. obejcting to the rapture of popular view as the lynchpin of an argument for a kingdom as human utopia brought about by well meaning, soft Marxist Christians or otherwise Hegelian types.)

Michael Kruse

It is interesting that is older commentaries I have looked at it refers to events in 4:17 as rapture but not "The Rapture." Who really knows what that event will actually entail? I think the author's concern is that "The Rapture" stuff leads us to see the material world as evil or at best indifferent to our lives. God "raptures" us into spiritual beings so we don't have to live any longer in the evil material world. I think that is the gnosticism he is worried about.

As to utopians, I think I have posted here a couple of times that "Christian Century" magazine started in 1900 and took its name from the idea that the 1900s would be when the Church would usher in the Kingdom. Oooops!

My sense of things is that God calls to give witness to him by word and by how we conduct ourselves toward each other and creation. We celebrate the arrival of the Kingdom even before it has fully come. That is what draws others to the Kingdom.

My hunch is (and that is all it is) that we will see some significant advancement of the Kingdom before Jesus comes, then he will come and complete all things. The twin dangers to me are that first we might just sit on our hands and just talk about Jesus until he comes. Can't change anthing anyway so who cares about social justice and creation. The second is that we can and will usher in the Kingdom by our mighty deeds and efforts. Both of these are problematic to me.

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