Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Introduction to Eschatology: The Rapture in Context

Let's start off by considering the eschatological and theological context of the Rapture.

For most of Church history, the big question was not, When does the Rapture occur? but What is the Millennium? There were three main answers:

Amillennialism. This view takes the Millennium figuratively, usually as a reference to the triumphal aspect of the Church Age. The counterbalance is the Tribulation, which represents the persecution during the Church Age. Note that most Christians throughout history and practically all scholars have been in this group, and it has no "pre-trib" position. The Rapture is what happens to Christians when Jesus returns at the end of the age. Typical amills are older denominations other than Reformed groups: Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, etc.

Postmillenialism. The Millenium is a golden age that will arise when the Church fulfills its mission to disciple all nations. During this time, evil will be restrained and the Gospel generally recognized as true. Postmills sometimes say that Jesus will come though the Church before he comes for the Church. The great evangelic and missionary movements of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries were usually postmill in origin. This view is seldom found outside Reformed denominations.

Premillenialism. This is the confusing one. Although all premills believe that Jesus' return to the earth (generally said to occur at the end of the Tribulation) ushers in a kind of golden age similar to that of postmills, but with Jesus and the resurrected Christians ruling the world, they differ on the timing and purpose of the Rapture. Premills are generally in newer, evangelical denominations, though the idea itself goes back quite a way. Baptists, Pentecostals, and some generic groups are typically premills, though there are several varieties of Baptist.

Note that only premills tend to talk about the Rapture at all: for amills and postmills, it's simply what happens at the return of Christ. And among premills, post-tribs would agree with this. And that gives us an important reality check: a number of great and godly Christians didn't believe in the idea, and they were still used by God. That should indicate that, whatever the truth about the Rapture, it is a comparatively minor doctrine. (The big doctrines are that Jesus will return to resurrect and judge all and sundry, leading to eternal reward or punishment.)

It also follows that disagreement about the Rapture is disagreement over trivia. There have been cases of people being treated as though they were dangerous heretics or purveyors of immorality simply because they held an unpopular view of the Rapture. That's unacceptable. I acknowledge the salvation and blessedness of a lot of people I disagree with, and sometimes on far weightier issues. I will not reject anyone based solely on his view of the Rapture.

But it's worth understanding other views. Next I'll explain the different ideas of the Rapture found among premills and why they matter.


Irv said...

Readers will enjoy Googling "The Newest Pretrib Calendar," "Famous Rapture Watchers - Addendum," and "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty."

Steve said...

My goal is not to make fun of anyone but to get people to acknowledge one another's existence. Understanding is a wonderful thing--and quite rare. I saw a well-known pre-trib once impute his own views to Catholics simply because he didn't understand their theology. They do believe in the imminence of Jesus' coming, but it is his Second Coming proper that they and other amills look for, not a pre-trib Rapture.

Perhaps I should give the matter more attention in the blog.

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