In Professor Stuart Piggin’s seminal work on the Evangelical history of Australia, The Fountain of Public Prosperity, he argues that it was the rise of ‘pre-millennialism’ eschatology that gave much impetus to the Evangelicals successful evangelism. Evangelical evangelists of the mid-1800’s were preaching that Christ’s return – and the end of the world – was imminent. But their pre-millennial gospel was also ‘pre-tribulational’ – which meant that the urgency to turn to Christ in repentance was even more urgent, otherwise Christ’s “secret return” (‘the rapture’) could leave the unrepentant in the midst of a hell-on-earth “Great Tribulation”. This new evangelistic message gained much traction and many converts. It would be a popular evangelistic message up until the latter part of the twentieth century. Pragmatically, it was a popular because it worked! But like many (unexamined) good ideas, it has had unintended negative consequences.
I’ve just finished teaching on a four-part series on the Apostle Paul. I’m now doing a four-part series on his protégé, Timothy. From a research point of view, Paul is a goldmine. He is one of the most written about people in history. But Timothy isn’t. We don’t know nearly as much about Timothy as we do for Paul. Some of the reasons for this are obvious. These include: (i) the nature of Timothy’s ministry (as the messenger and representative of Paul) meant that he was conveying what Paul wrote to the churches he visited and thus there was no cause for him to write anything (because he was physically present); (ii) Timothy succeeded Paul when the Neronic persecution had commenced in which the Apostle Paul was martyred in early 65 A.D. and tens of thousands of Christians were also martyred as it began; (iii) therefore, many of those who knew Timothy directly were unable to record their memories of him because of this violent period of martyrdom. But in my research I came across one of the most novel explanations I’d ever seen.
Dispensationalism comes in various forms. A “dispensation” is a period of time. An era. In its most extreme form it regards God as having multiple plans of salvation depending on the particular dispensation. These dispensations generally commence with the Dispensation of Innocence and include other Dispensations such as the Dispensations of Works, Law, and Grace. This is contrasted by the orthodox Christian view of regarding God only ever having one means of salvation: the work of Jesus of Nazareth, especially His suffering, death and resurrection. But Dispensationalism is most notably distinguished from orthodox Christianity in the way it regards Israel. Dispensationalism says that God has a distinct plan and salvation for Israel. The roof of Dispensationalism is then supported by the walls of a novel form of end-times teaching. This includes such things as a rapture of the Church, a two-part Tribulation period, the global rule of an Anti-Christ, the reconstruction of a Temple in Jerusalem, the Battle of Armageddon, and then the Return of Christ. Dispensationalist Bible Prophecy teachers have gone to great lengths in their predictions of what the future holds based on their interpretation of the Bible. I have written a separate article on some of these predictions. But there’s a problem. A big problem!
If you were downtown and looked across the street over the parked cars and saw someone you knew rushing intently to push a little old lady over, what would you think of that person? Would your opinion of this person change if you later discovered that the cars you were looking over obscured your view of this person actually pushing this little old lady out of the way of a speeding sports car which was hurtling towards her and about to hit her? Sometimes, a bigger picture changes the entire picture!
This is what reading the Book of Revelation is like for some people. They have their understanding of the Book of Revelation obscured by their lack of understanding about history, Biblical language, and even modern opinions.
And this is one of the biggest problems with how people approach the Book of Revelation: the historical background to the Book is unknown to most readers. The second huge problem is that most people who promote themselves as experts on “End Times” or “Bible Prophecy” do not understand how the principles of sound Biblical hermeneutics also apply equally to the Book of Revelation.
For LEFT BEHIND to be true it has to invent it’s own set of rules for Bible interpretation. What most LEFT BEHIND fans may be shocked to discover is that the pivotal sections of Matthew and Revelation upon which LEFT BEHIND is based was fulfilled by 70AD! And it had to be since that’s what Christ said!
“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”
Matthew 24:34 (NKJV)
The highly aclaimed atheist, Bertrand Russell, said this verse alone was enough to discredit both the Bible and Jesus Christ!
Many believers have come to believe in a ‘rapture’ and that it is prophesied in the Bible without realising that it is only a fairly recent idea! When we look at the teaching of some of these Bible-Prophecy preachers it soon becomes apparent that the Bible does not teach a rapture!
The Gospel is not a message that warns people of a Secret Rapture! This kind of Rapture has nothing to do with the Gospel! By exposing the modern teaching of a Secret Rapture as a fairly recent invention in pop-theology, it is my hope that Christians disburse from the Rapture bus-stop and get back into the main game of life. Rather than waiting for Jesus to rescue them from this naughty world, believers should strive to be salt and light on Christ’s behalf to a world that would just love to see someone passion and genuine about what they believe in: Jesus Christ, Saviour and Forgiver to all those who are reconciled to God. We know that life will always have its tribulations. The Church will never rule the world and bring in some kind of utopian bliss, but the those in the Church can be better prepared to handle life’s difficulties if they are not waiting for some kind of false hope such as a Secret Rescue Rapture.
One American radio preacher, teaching on the Book of Revelation, told a talk-back caller that all the signs of Christ’s return were now in place and that “the rapture” would now be within 12 months (stated, November 28th 2006)! Let’s examine some of these and similar prophetic ideas.
In the discipline of physical sciences ideas are put forward as theories with certain hypotheses – “If this theory is correct these results should be observed” – and then a model is developed based on the theory which makes certain predictions about its likely outcomes.