More “Left Behind”: Thoughts on Raptures, Resurrections, and Turning The Prince of Peace into A God of War
My last post on the upcoming Left Behind movie seem to generate more than the usual amount of discussion. To everyone’s credit the interactions with me, or the one’s I observed between others, were polite debates and discussions with people wrestling with a lot of unknowns on “this side” of Christ’s return.
To our benefit we live in a time when we have at least seen Jesus come the first time. Because we live in Anno Domini we have a clear understanding of the nature and person of God through his Son. (Heb 1)
Yes, thanks to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John we in the 21st century know God and how he really responds to sinners and saints alike.
Think of the poor folk trying to figure God out who lived before Jesus’ first appearance…
…they were really flying blind!
So I thought I would touch on a couple discussion topics that stemmed from the Left Behind post.
Rapture or Resurrection?
A few folk agreed with the themes of the previous Left Behind post but took issue that I suggested there was no “rapture”. I think we need to differentiate between a “rapture” (which is never mentioned in the Bible) and a “resurrection” (which is).
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is often used as a foundation for the theology of a rapture.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lordforever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
But the context in the letter is Paul’s desire to share with people who are grieving dead loved ones that they don’t have to grieve! He is talking about “resurrection”. The hope that we all have when Christ comes again.
The problem I have with the present understanding of ” the rapture” is that the word suggests the church being taken away. The great promise is not that we are going but that He is coming… and we are transformed in the process. As N.T. Wright suggests it was traditional for the faithful followers of a returning king to go outside the city gates to meet the king and walk in victorious with him. Yes, we will “meet Jesus in the air” to be with him …but he will be reigning from the throne of his father David on Earth!
Prince of Peace or God of War?
Imagine if you can, the thought of Mother Theresa returning from the dead and slaying all her enemies. Yes, all those that didn’t believe in her mission to stand for the poor and the oppressed in India would feel her mighty wrath.
Weird thought eh?
How about Ghandi? Or Dr. Martin Luther King? If they came again would they justly smite all that opposed their message?
The thought of any of these three engaging in such an action is so outrageous that suggesting it isn’t even as offensive as it is laughable.
And yet a multitude of Christians seem to have no reservation proclaiming that when Jesus returns he will literally kill lots of people! As one commenter said to me, “I do believe He will come and destroy His enemies.”
Apparently Jesus may have been the Prince of Peace the first time around but on his Second Coming he will be the God of War who kicks butt and takes names!
Or as the Saturday Night Live parody suggests, “Next time, no more Mr. Nice Jesus”!
One of the arguments I hear to justify Jesus’ actions is one of justice!
“You have to understand Steve, Jesus is merciful…but he’s also just!”
It’s interesting that almost everyone I have heard say this “justice” phrasing to me has been:
* Western (American, British, European etc.)
* from a relatively prosperous economic background
I am the same…
In the crap shoot of birth I was born white, male, and in America. I had loving parents who taught and modeled compassion and kindness to me. I never wanted for a meal, shelter, or fresh drinking water.
I also have had the opportunity to travel the world and see most of the people on this planet are not so fortunate. I’ve seen whole cultures trapped in cycles of poverty, mistrust, and violence. Men who do abysmal things because abysmal things were done to them and they don’t even understand that there is a better Way! Women who live in fear and lash out at those around them because that is all they have ever known. Children who are sold into economic and sexual slavery and then grow up to perpetuate the cycle by doing the same to the next generation.
They didn’t win the birth lottery I did!
I had a much better opportunity to “receive Jesus” and live in his Way than they did.
Is that justice?
Is that how the Kingdom of Heaven operates?
A crapshoot of who was born to a particular passport?
According to many Christians though when Jesus returns these are the people he would be slaying. These are enemies who have failed to “receive him” and must be destroyed.
The reason they believe this is most Christians don’t even bother to think through their theology. They don’t take it to the logical conclusion and see where it really leads.
It leads to the Prince of Peace becoming a God of War!
Jesus though showed us a better Way. Those of us who have been blessed by the Good News of Jesus are to go into these areas where people are trapped in cycles of poverty, despair, and violence and are to break the chains holding them trapped as Jesus taught us:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
The Good News of Christ is freedom and liberty to those who are trapped not a threat to those who do not respond!
For the record I do believe when Jesus returns he will destroy his enemies!
But his enemies are not people! They are the theologies, philosophies, cultural traits, government systems, economics, and everything else that brings death to his children.
As Paul says in Ephesians:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
The struggle has never been against flesh and blood and it won’t be when Jesus returns.
The Son of God, who on the cross begged forgiveness of his murderers and who when raised from the dead proclaimed, “Peace, don’t be afraid” was the model of what we, who are his Bride, are to proclaim to the world!
In your quest for justice don’t end up turning the Prince of Peace into a God of War!
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