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The ‘rapture’ and the ‘tribulation’ (Part 1)

Armageddon it?
Armageddon it?

A significant majority of Christians view certain New Testament passages as suggesting the idea of a future event commonly called the “rapture.” In fact most who subscribe to it capitalize the “R” so as to give it proper reverence, almost as though it were a fourth member of the Godhead.

In essence the theory postulates a calamitous “tribulation period” is about to visit itself upon humanity. This tribulation, supposedly a time frame of 7 years, is believed to be a catastrophic era when a nefarious world leader (antichrist) appears promising peace, but ultimately enslaves those who are left behind with his devious “666” system and the attendant beheadings of those who refuse to capitulate to the edicts of his political/religious reign.

In this scenario, the left behind are those non-Christians whom God did not take to heaven prior to this tribulation at the rapture.

When one carefully scrutinizes the passages which the unsuspecting employ to maintain rapture/tribulation theology (i.e. eschatology), one is immediately faced with a number of contradictions concerning the proposition versus the words the prophets of the Bible actually recorded.

For example one of the most commonly referenced scriptures put forth as formulaic to rapturism comes from an epistle (meaning a letter) that the apostle Paul wrote to a budding first century church in Thessalonica, a port city on the Aegean Sea. In it one reads that:

“…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

Within theological circles, there are various schools of thought as to the true meaning of these verses. But the biggest challenge and the first question that must be answered (but never is) by rapturists – who claim to have cornered the market on interpreting the Bible literally – is “how can this be said to be a secretive event?”

The “Left Behind” books and films, which claim to “bring biblical prophecy to life in modern times,” reflect how a lion share of believers think this rapture is something that will go largely unnoticed, except of course for all those missing people and their neatly-folded piles of clothing at the spot of their disappearances.

Folks who claim to understand things literally can’t explain how this (literally) boisterous incident can also be so infinitely surreptitious. Here one reads that “the Lord himself” (visibly as they maintain) descends with a SHOUT, “with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” And yet somehow no one sees the Lord or hears a thing? The only evidence is all the missing Christians and their now-emptied outwear and unmentionables.

This should be a big indicator right off that something is amiss with the theory. But the rapturists seem to have been long ago lulled into a slumber that prevents them from questioning.

And how about the tribulation period, allegedly set to commence in the very near future today? Here again the “literalists” are faced with an irreconcilable conundrum with respect to WHEN the Bible says the “great tribulation” would take place. To be sure, they (the prophetic passages) were discussing things which would happen in the future, with respect to when they were written. But to place them yet in the future of this period of time is impossible.

Insisting that the tribulation, which is ostensibly preceded by the rapture, takes place at some time yet in the future of this moment in time is to deny and reject the clear teaching of the Bible.

To make just two arguments in support of this view (there are MANY others), Jesus Christ said it would occur within the life span of his disciples (See Matthew 24:21-34). While John the author of Revelation said it would come upon them shortly because the time was near and even referred to himself as a “fellow partaker” in it (See Revelation 1:1-9).

More on this in the next feature including an examination/exposition of the popular “Left Behind” stories and the arsy-varsy manner in which they approach Bible prophecy.

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