Have you ever heard the phrase, “the rapture of the church?” For those of you who have not, in a nutshell, this phrase describes the religious belief that at the end of time, as we know it, God will cause all those who believe in His (I’m not suggesting that God is a He) son Jesus as savior to somehow be taken out of the world bodily so not to experience the wrath of God to come upon all those human beings who do not believe in God’s only begotten son Jesus. Now among those who believe this, there are some disagreements regarding the timing of such an event. The timing relates to a “tribulation period” interpreted from the old testament book of Daniel. Some say the church will be raptured before the seven and a half years of tribulation. Others say the church will be raptured half way through it and the others believe it will take place at the close of the tribulation period. As a result, they have garnered the title “pre-trib, mid-trib and post-trib” respectively.
As I have traveled along my life’s journey I recall vividly this religious ideology spoken of in the congregations I attended as well as receiving a heavy dose of it within my family of origin. I was so wrapped up in believing this ideology that often I would wear a button pinned on my clothing in high school showing only the feet and legs of a person dangling in the air with the caption reading, “the great snatch.”
It is significant that I am writing this blog entry on September 23, 2017 because today, according to the so called religious end of the world naysayers, it was predicted to end today. The twenty-third of September was chosen because Jesus supposedly lived on earth for thirty-three years, so they figured the end of the world would happen thirty-three days following the full eclipse of the sun that occurred last month in relationship to the eclipse of the sun on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. And they got all of that in association with the new testament book of Revelation chapter twelve. Have you got all of that?
Since I am sitting here in my home writing this entry and life goes on as usual it may come as a shock to you that the rapture (which isn’t in the Bible by the way) may not be fully understood by these naysayers. Its just a suggestion that “fear” is utilized within congregations with such finesse that it keeps the hearers enslaved and unless one gains a certain amount of assurance that they will be included in this great exodus that is purported by these religious people they will be totally abandoned by God and left behind to face God’s wrath.
According to Anthony Bartlett in his book Seven Stories, “the rapture” was invented by a minister in the Church of Ireland, John Nelson Darby, in the 19th century and then set out as an addendum in the Scofield Bible which was very popular in the U.S. throughout the early 20th century. Over the years it came to be regarded as a part of scripture, but the interpretation is achieved by stringing together a number of texts without regard for the context of each. (This in turn is a result of a fundamentalist reading, where words and sentences more or less stand on their own, apart from context, thus lending themselves to random connection.)
My reflection today seeks to present another way of understanding the phrase “the rapture of the church.” Recorded in I Samuel chapter 16 is the event that took place as Samuel is sent by God to Jesse the Bethlehemite’s house to anoint a new king of Israel. I encourage you to read the account. In verse seven after Jesse presents his first son to Samuel, thinking that surely the Lord's anointing is upon his oldest, Samuel tells Jesse that the Lord does not look upon the outward appearance but looks upon the heart. In other words, God does not determine our worth based upon our flesh. Our worth, it can be said, is determined by our spirit. This is a significant saying and one that will figure well into this reflection.
It occurs to me that perhaps this idea of “rapture” or being bodily taken out of this world is perpetrated on the idea of humankind’s violent behavior. After all, I choose peace over violence any day. How about you? Now here’s a thought. The famous prayer Jesus prays in the gospel of John chapter 17 may be an indicator that a bodily rapture of the church is not in the plan. Verse fifteen reads this way, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” (KJV) Did I understand that correctly? Jesus is praying to his Abba to not take humankind out of the world. Sounds to me like what I was taught early on may not be accurate.
Is there a rapture of the church? In my estimation there certainly is but it is not physical. In other words, it is not a physical or outward appearance but what takes place from within or in the heart. Here is what I mean. In an earlier blog entry I reiterated my experience as a college student one Sunday morning as I became aware of Psalm 100. It says, “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise.” The Spiritual suggestion made to me at the time said that in order to come into the very throne room of God there were a couple of things I needed to bring. These two elements were, thanksgiving and praise. So guess what? With the inquisitiveness of a child I got down on my knees beside my bed and began to offer thanksgiving to God and then I began to praise God. I did not know what was supposed to happen. However, all of a sudden a vibration began to awaken within me and before I knew it this vibration exploded radiating throughout my entire being. All I cared to do was to praise Jesus Christ. I did not want this experience to stop. You might say I was “raptured” into the very throne room of God without leaving the planet.
All those who believe that God’s wrath is being focused upon those whose outward appearance and behavior is not in keeping with God’s will really do not understand what Jesus meant when he spoke the words, “It is finished” from the cross. In other words, there is nothing left for Jesus to do to reconcile his creation to himself. He does not have to come back to earth taking names and bringing about destruction to the unbelievers. If you truly believe God is Love then reflect Love to all those around you. II Corinthians 5:19 indicates where God was the whole time Jesus was being crucified. God was IN Christ and that is exactly where everyone of us is located. This rapture idea is best understood from within us. That makes sense to me since Jesus is called Emmanuel interpreted as “God With Us” not God without us!