The Churches of Christ have never much been into the whole Rapture and Tribulation thing. In fact, I graduated from Lipscomb and knew nothing about the Rapture other than the bumper sticker: “In Case of Rapture, this Car Will Be Driverless.” That always struck me as a bit smug – and not very concerned about those, you know, left behind.
Not that many years ago, when the Left Behind series came out, I had several church members ask me what I thought about it, and my honest answer was I’d not read it, didn’t intend to read it, and found the whole question uninteresting. Who cares about the details of the end of time? The only thing that matters is whether we’re saved or lost!
I was wrong. In The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, Rossing has persuaded me that (a) the Left Behind approach to the end times is not only error but a particularly nasty kind of error and (b) the end times matter.
It’s a good book, a good read, and an important study. Rossing doesn’t write quite the way I like to read. The order wasn’t what I wanted, so many of the questions that were central to my thinking didn’t get answered until late in the book – but they did get answered.
And she’s a little more leftwing in her politics than I am – spending more time on the Israeli-Palestinian controversy than I care for. But she makes some vitally important points about it that we need to hear.
Here’s the gist of the book –
- The Rapture, Tribulation, etc. theory that’s behind the Left Behind series of books and the preaching in many churches was first taught in the 19th Century. It’s less than 200 years old. Somehow, the early church fathers, the Reformation leaders, and many other great scholars of the scriptures overlooked this doctrine – which has only recently emerged front and center for many Christians.
- The basis for this teaching in Daniel and other passages is not only thin, but wrong. There’s simply no evidence that there will be a Rapture of Christians into heaven with the unredeemed left behind. Indeed, many of the central “proof texts” refer quite plainly to the general resurrection and not some earlier Rapture. Yes, there will be a resurrection of all, but no one will be left behind.
- Rapture theology as taught in the Left Behind series is false and dangerous.
- It teaches an earthly war in which Christ is victorious – reducing his kingdom to an earthly kingdom fighting with earthly weapons.
- It justifies the use of violence by Christians against non-Christians.
- It teaches a disposable earth that will be left behind in the end and so does not require our care.
- It teaches that we have to help God by working to help Israel expand its borders and rebuild the temple – even though the Jews will be left behind. Nowhere does the Bible predict that the temple will be rebuilt, and yet this is a central claim of the Left Behind Rapture theory. This imperative to expand the borders of Israel has, of course, huge geo-political implications, and makes enemies of the Muslims. And while Israel is delighted for the support of American Christians, they are well aware that this support is fraught with dangers. After all, the Christians have their own agenda that may well not fit into Israel’s agenda for itself.
The best part of the book, for me, is the scriptural exegesis, particularly of the Revelation. You could teach a good series of classes from the book. Or if you wanted to teach a class on Revelation, the book would provide an excellent resource of insights into Revelation.
For example, most standard commentaries don’t say much about the non-violent agenda of the Revelation, but Rossing carefully compares the methods and weapons of God against those of God’s enemies in the book, and demonstrates that God works through persuasion – through the word – whereas God’s enemies use violence and brutality to achieve their ends.
So does [the fact that the beasts of chapters 11 and 13 conquer and kill] mean that our own “conquering” will also involve making war and killing? No, because chapter 12 describes a very different model for God’s people: “They have conquered him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.” [Rev. 12:11]
It’s not a complete commentary on Revelation, and doesn’t address all elements of Rapture theory, but Rossing does a very capable job of undercutting the primary claims of the theory and replacing it with a much truer, sounder theory of what Revelation is all about.
The Lamb in Revelation is covered in blood, but it’s the Lamb’s own blood, not the blood of the Lamb’s enemies. Indeed, Jesus is described as a Lamb because his sacrifice of himself is the victory.
This book would make an interesting and worthwhile small group or Bible class study for many audiences – especially an audience that’s been exposed to the Rapture doctrine.
I would warn you that the book does not address all the questions that might come up. No real explanation for the thousand-year reign is offered. Neither do we have a complete explanation of Jesus’ prophecies of the end times, although she addresses most critical points.
In short, I wouldn’t stand before a class and take this topic on armed with only this book, because my students ask hard questions. I suspect most churches have classes that ask hard question. But this would be the first book I’d have in my arsenal. It gives, I believe, a correct overarching reading of the texts in this context. It’s a valuable, necessary contribution to the literature.