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Escapism Not Permitted

I think we need a new apocalyptic Christian fiction novel (or series) to be written. Its defining characteristic is that it would END, not BEGIN with the Rapture of the Church.

Like many folk, I’ve read the Left Behind series and watched Christian films portraying the last days. In each one, the Rapture has been shown as preceding the rise of the Antichrist and the Great Tribulation. Now, there is a lot of great stuff in the books and films I have watched, and I have grown in my faith and love for the Lord through them. But much of the drama in these works is predicated on a falsehood: that everyone who is a Christian will be “raptured” before the Tribulation. The books then follow the lives of people who come to know the Lord after the global disappearance of Christians.

Now, for those of us who grew up with the idea of the Rapture (and, yes, I speak for myself), it is important to realize that the whole theory of the Rapture only began about 150 years ago, and most of the Church today does not subscribe to it. It is predominantly an American evangelical belief. However, the simple fact is, the Bible DOES NOT teach a pretribulation Rapture of the Church. It DOES teach that Christians will be caught up to be with the Lord at his second coming at the end of the Tribulation. Here are the two passages that talk explicitly about this event:

“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)

“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

Notice that the timing of being “caught up” and “changed” is very clear: it is when "the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout” and “at the last trumpet.” All right – when does that happen? We are told very clearly in the following passage:

“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” (Matthew 24:29-31)

Put simply, the second coming of Jesus is “after the tribulation” – and that is when he will gather his elect to himself through Rapture and resurrection. If you want to read more on this, check out this article:

Now, having looked at what the Bible teaches, let’s consider three critical questions:

WHY IS THE THEORY OF THE RAPTURE SO ATTRACTIVE? Considering that the Bible negates the idea of a pretribulation Rapture and clearly teaches that the Church will remain on the Earth through the Tribulation until Christ comes again, why have so many of us bought into the theory?

I contend that we find the idea of the Rapture attractive because it promises an ESCAPE. It says that we have a “get out of jail free” card. It claims that we won’t have to go through the tribulation, the pain, the persecution, the imprisonment, the violence, and the death that the Bible prophesies will happen in the last days. Instead, we get scooped up out of the mess and avoid all that suffering. Who wouldn’t prefer that to undergoing the Tribulation?

WHAT IS THE EFFECT OF BELIEVING IN A PRETRIBULATION RAPTURE? Here’s where the danger of this belief starts to take shape. If I believe that I will escape, it makes me COMPLACENT. To see the insidiousness of complacency, answer this question: “What would you do differently if you truly believed that the Tribulation could come during your lifetime and that, if it does, you personally will experience it?”

When I considered this question, I realized that I would:

* Pray more to strengthen my relationship with the Lord

* Commit more Scripture to memory so that I have it in my head and in my heart even if I have no access to a copy of the Bible

* Become better attuned to what is going on in the world to be able to recognize the signs of the end times

* Learn from my fellow Christians around the world who are undergoing suffering so that I can prepare myself psychologically for persecution

Then, I had to ask myself the follow-up question: “What am I going to do about it?” Since I believe that the Tribulation could come in my lifetime and I now understand that, if it does, I will go through it, I have taken those actions to heart. No more complacency.

HOW MIGHT CHRISTIANS RESPOND IF THEY BELIEVE IN A PRETRIBULATION RAPTURE AND THE TRIBULATION COMES? This question really worries me, because I think that if people are convinced of the idea of the Rapture and then Tribulation comes and they find themselves in the midst of it, they will DOUBT God. I am afraid that people will turn away from God out of disappointment. They will have built up a false image of how God will act, and when he does not conform to their expectations, they will cast away their faith rather than refining it in the crucible of the truth.

In fact, I think it very possible that Satan has encouraged the idea of a pretribulation Rapture to set the stage to undercut Christians’ faith at the very moment when we will need faith the most.

God does not promise us an escape. He urges us not to be complacent. He wants us to know the truth so that we will not have an occasion for doubt.

Let me modify the question I posed earlier and ask it again: “Knowing that the Tribulation could come during your lifetime and that, if it does, you personally will experience it, WHAT WILL YOU DO DIFFERENTLY TODAY AND GOING FORWARD?”

Then, take these words to heart:

“Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Romans 13:11-14)

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