A number of people asked me for the MP3 for this sermon but for some reason it won’t upload, so here is the sermon outline.
The reason I believe in the second coming but not the rapture has to do with how I study the Bible. Professors Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart wrote in their invaluable book “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth” that “the Bible cannot mean what it never meant.” In other words, however the intended initial readers of Scripture would have understood the text in question is how we should understand it.
Let’s start here, what if nuclear war came and our culture was wiped out and several thousand years from now an archaeologist digs up a number of High School graduation photos. The archeologist analyzes the pics of kids dressed in strange robes on a stage and older people crying and determines that long ago we selected certain teenagers to sacrifice to the gods. Now, we know he is wrong but that’s because we are familiar with the ritual. Keep this in mind.
The idea of the rapture is largely based on a reading of 1 Thess. 4:13-18, which reads:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Now notice first of all that no where in the text does it say that we go with Jesus to heaven. We assume it because it speaks about being with Christ “always.”
Back to that later. For now let’s concentrate on how the Thessalonians would have understood chapter 4 of Paul’s letter.
The Thessalonian church was located within a Roman imperial city. Since the time of Alexander the Great, when a king would visit a city, the king would ride in his chariot to roughly a mile or so from the city gates. Royal heralds would blow trumpets to announce the king’s arrival and one of the heralds would issue a cry of command for the citizens to greet their king. The entire city would then go out to meet the royal party and escort the party back into the city.
So, if that is the historical background then how would the Thessalonians have understood Chapter 4? Keep in mind that “Lord” was also the title that Caesar used.
Finally, remember that our ultimate destination is not heaven but here on a new earth.
Revelation 21:1-4 reads, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away”
Keeping all of this in mind, it is easy to see that the Thessalonians would not have understood Paul to be speaking about “the rapture” (a term not found in the Bible or even in church history until the 18th century) but as stating that Jesus would return as the true king of the earth, we will meet him and then escort him back to his kingdom where he will stay with us forever.
Those who conceived of the idea of the rapture simply didn’t know the historical background and were, therefore, like the fictional archaeologist who theorizes that high school graduations were actually ceremonies commemorating human sacrifice.
The idea of the rapture has had horrible consequences in that it has led Christians to believe that our real goal is to leave instead of fight for the Kingdom of God here and now where we will spend eternity with our King.
There you have it!
Posted by Matt, Revolution Leadership Team.