Last week I preached on Titus 2:11-15, which, as I wrote yesterday, is such an incredible passage you could preach it 8 different ways and still not exhaust its richness and depth. I wanted to spend some more time with some themes I touched on briefly, and perhaps put them a better, more understandable way.

According to the text, we live between two appearances: the past appearance of the grace of God, and the future appearance of the glory of God. Meaning, God has broken into our world in a significant way through the Incarnation of Christ, and his subsequent death and resurrection. This is the appearance of the grace of God. But God will also break into our world, again, in an equally significant, if not more magnificent, way when Jesus returns to judge the world and take his place as its rightful king. This is the appearance of the glory of God.

We live between these appearances, but that doesn’t mean that we’re just sitting around reminiscing about the past and waiting for the future. The middle isn’t empty–it’s full! Now is the only time and here is the only place we’ve been given to work out the past (the appearance of the grace of God) in the hope of the future (the appearance of the glory of God). It’s in the middle that we are transformed by the power of the Gospel, of Christ working in us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

So what do we do? We prepare for the return of the king by ruling and reigning in his name and according to his purposes. This means that we take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, not merely to bring salvation to all people, but also to extend the rule and reign of Jesus the King to every heart and home on earth. We’re not simply in the heaven-assurance business, we’re also heralds of a new kingdom–a kingdom that is crashing against the kingdoms of the world. We are the ambassadors of this kingdom, endowed with authority by the king, and commissioned with a message of good news for all mankind.

As ambassadors of the king, then, we must see to it that his rule and reign is extended to every corner of our own hearts and minds, and that it is evident in every aspect of our lives. Not only are we heralds and ambassadors, we are also citizens of this new kingdom, and our lives must reflect this new citizenship. So, in all things, we surrender to the King who surrendered the benefits of divinity to become like us in every way, dying for our sins, and rising again in power.

He is coming again, so don’t just wait around. The time between appearances is full of opportunity and challenge and adventure. I challenge you to orient your mind and heart between these appearances, and live accordingly, in the power of the Holy Spirit who is within you through faith in Christ.

I’ve written extensively about my disbelief in the rapture, so I don’t want to belabor the point too much. The only reason I’m writing about it again is because I mentioned my disbelief at church this past Sunday, and I know that alarmed some folks.

Here are two of the principles that guide me as I study and teach the Scriptures:

The Bible cannot mean what it never meant.
If we don’t understand the Scriptures in their historical context, we’ll never understand them at all.

God wrote the Scriptures when he did, through whom he did, for his own purposes and according to his sovereign choice. In other words, if Paul, John, Matthew and Jesus didn’t believe in a rapture, then there is no rapture. And if they did, then there will be. We don’t get to come along and change the meaning of any biblical text for any reason thousands of years after the fact. My contention is that there is no rapture in Scripture. So let’s look, briefly, at the relevant passages.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

This really seems to be the perfect description of the rapture, but as I’ve written here, a little bit of historical context will help us to understand what Paul is writing about here. In order for this to be the rapture as we popularly understand it, the second coming of Christ must pause halfway between heaven and earth, somewhere in the sky. Then, all believers will fly up to meet him and stay with him there, in the sky, for either 3 1/2 or 7 years. But Paul calls it “the coming of the Lord”, so we know that he won’t turn around and go back into heaven. He is coming here. There must be a better explanation.

Thessalonica was a Roman colony at the time Paul wrote this letter to the Christians there. Whenever a high-ranking Roman official, or even the emperor himself, visited a colony or a city, the inhabitants of that city would go out to meet him and escort him back into the town. In other words, they didn’t wait until the emperor got to the city walls to throw open the gates. They’re not going to make him ring the doorbell. How much more will we do the same for Jesus, when he returns from heaven? Surely we will go up to meet him (which means we’ll be able to fly! Awesome!) and escort him back to earth, where he will take his place as the rightful king of creation. This, not a rapture or a half-return, is what Paul has in mind in this passage.

Matthew 24:36-41

Okay, this one is obvious, right? Well, as I’ve explained here, no. In this passage, the controlling metaphor is the great flood, where all who suffered the judgment of God were “taken away”. As it was in the flood, so will it be at the return of Christ. In fact, it may not even be a literal “taking away”; Jesus may just be using the language of the flood to talk about the punishment of the judgment of God. Regardless, being taken away is not being rescued from tribulation, but being fully judged by God apart from the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

John 14:2-3

I never thought of this passage in John as a rapture passage, but a friend of mine did, so I commented on it here. It’s a bit too complicated to break down briefly, but I highly recommend you read that post to get a sense for what is going on in this passage.

I believe that I’ve demonstrated that there is no rapture in the Bible. This was an unfamiliar concept to every NT author. In fact, each one of them was intimately familiar to suffering within the various tribulations of their lives. You might even say that suffering, not escape from it, was one of God’s most assured promises.

So much of what drives our belief in the rapture is fear. We are terrified of the Great Tribulation, and we want desperately to escape it. So when someone offers us a rapture out of suffering, we greatly rejoice. But we are not promised escape from troubles. Jesus didn’t get it. Paul didn’t get it. Millions of Christians today aren’t getting it. The power of Christ is most clearly seen in us when we persevere through the suffering caused by trials and tribulations.

Now let me say a word about the book of Revelation.

The book of Revelation is not simply about the future; it is about the past, the present, and the future. Let me put it this way: There have been thousands of antichrists and Great Tribulations, there are presently thousands of antichrists and Great Tribulations, and there will be thousands of antichrists and Great Tribulations. The book of Revelation is about the Great Tribulation that Rome inflicted on the Church, but it is also about every tribulation and persecution that has been waged against the Church because it presents Christ Jesus as Cosmic Victor and us, his Church and Bride, as victorious in him. The book of Revelation was written to encourage all persecuted believers, in every place and in every time, to persevere under the weight of their persecution because, in Christ, we are eternally victorious over the forces of Satan and his antichrists.

You’re not meant to be taken out of the arena; you’re meant to win the fight, kill the beasts, and overcome your opponents because that is what Christ has already done, and what he will do fully when he returns. A rapture would undermine everything. A rapture would surrender the earth to Satan. God has no intention of giving any ground to hell.

I hope that what I’ve presented here both reassures and encourages you. Whether you’re convinced or not doesn’t matter much to me. This is my view. Ember Church takes no official stance on this issue. People of all eschatological persuasions are welcome! But whether you believe in the rapture or not, I want you to hear this: Do not fear the end. The end is glorious. The end is victory for all who are in Christ. The end is bliss. Make sure you get there. Don’t try to escape your trials, but persevere through them.

Today is an important day for a lot of people who love Jesus. Unfortunately, all of their hopes will be dashed. May 21, 2011, will come and go without a Rapture, and this end of days prediction will prove false, like every other prediction before it.

The temptation for all of us who saw this coming will be to gloat, and to laugh, and to say “I told you so”. But that response is just as far from Christ as using numerology to predict the second coming. 6:01 EST will not be a time to gloat or smile at the foolishness of those who believed Harold Camping. Instead, it will be a time to mourn with those who mourn–those who have forsaken everything in anticipation of this moment.

If you’re reading this after 6:00 tonight, and you believed that you were to be taken from this world, I’m sorry. I hope that you won’t be disillusioned with Jesus, but I do hope that you will repent of and forsake doomsday prophecy. Jesus told us that nobody knows when he’s coming back, not even himself. Certainly the Father wouldn’t bypass the Son and reveal this information to Harold Camping or other would be prophets. I hope that in the midst of your despair, as you try to put the pieces of your life back together, you’ll let this humble you to the point of destroying your idol of endtimes-knowledge. I hope that you can find solace in Jesus Christ, regardless of dates or times or Raptures.

My heart goes out to you because you’ve been had. Someone has substituted numerology and bizarre mathematics for biblical exegesis, and you so desperately want to be with Jesus that you fell in for it. I’m sorry. But the good news for you is that Jesus is here for you right now, on this planet, in this life. He dwells in you be faith and through the power of the Holy Spirit, and he has grace for you, available now. If it’s 6:01 and you’re still here, don’t be angry. Turn to Jesus, and let this humiliation be an opportunity for worship. Because even though he hasn’t taken you home via Rapture, he loves you and is with you right now.

By now you’ve no doubt heard that the Rapture is supposed to happen tomorrow. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Harold Camping has predicted the end of the world. In fact, we have a long history of enterprising individuals who have convinced themselves and others that God had given them a special revelation as to the end of all things. Do you remember the book, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988 (and don’t forget the follow up book the next year)? We tend to get fascinated by these things.

Let me say, first of all, without hesitation, there is no Rapture. It will not happen. It is not in the Bible. I’ve written about this extensively in the past, and if you’re curious, you can read my thoughts here, here, here, and here. While a lot of folks are laughing at the Rapture crowd, I don’t find it amusing. This is a dangerous doctrine that has far more in common with Greek Philosophy and Gnostic Heresy than Christian Theology. Underneath the doctrine of the Rapture is the belief that this world is fundamentally evil and destined for annihilation, making escape from this world necessary for all true believers to experience eternal life with God in heaven.

The idea of escape from this world is a very old idea, going back at least to ancient Greek Philosophy. Many Greek teachers believed that this body was a prison for the soul, and that death was a welcome escape from the pains and rigors of this life.

The idea that this world is evil also goes back a long way. The early Christian heresy Gnosticism taught that everything material was evil and everything spiritual was good. These two streams, escapism and dualism, combine with a fundamentally flawed eschatology to create the doctrine of the Rapture.

But none of this has anything to do with Jesus, who, rather than escape the trial set before him, endured the suffering of the cross and died for our sins. In his death, Jesus has set the pattern of life for those who would come after him–suffering for the sake of his glory. Not escape, but endurance.

What is more, in his resurrection (a bodily resurrection, not a disembodied apparition) Jesus has begun the renewal and recreation of this world, which God has already called “good” and stills deem it good enough to redeem. God judges the world not because he has given up on it, but because he wants it to become what he intended it to be from the beginning.

The Bible teaches us not to seek escape from this world, but rather to engage with it in order to spread the rule and reign of Jesus Christ into every heart and home on earth. If you believe in the Rapture, I urge you to reexamine the passages I’ve linked to in this post, and also to take a close look at the worldview that is driving your profession of Rapture Theology. I sincerely believe that belief in the Rapture clouds our understanding of Jesus and Scripture, and I only offer my words here because I know that you deeply love Jesus and are fundamentally committed to the teachings of Scripture. Please, for the sake of the kingdom and your heart, take a second look at the Rapture.

I blogged yesterday about what we find at the end of the Bible–the wedding of Jesus and his bride, the Church. I tried to make the point that this heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, in Revelation 21 and 22 is actually us. It’s not a city at all; it’s just a picture of the new people of God.

The picture is meant to be contrasted with Rome, the “Eternal City” and source of persecution against God’s people. John measures the heavenly city to show that it is incomprehensibly large, and far greater in every respect than Rome. In other words, Rome loses. The enemies of God lose; and the Church, those who persevere through trial and persecution and hardship–the Church wins because our Husband fights on our behalf.

The good news of all of this is that we have a Husband, a Conquering King-Groom, who is, even now, fighting on our behalf. All of the powers of evil that rage against us are not, themselves, without an enemy. Jesus is waging war for you. He is destroying “all dominion, power and authority”, and he is putting all of his enemies “under his feet”. This is what he is doing, right now, for us, in us, and through us.

Wherever you may be right now, you are headed for a wedding. That’s how this story ends and the next story begins. The wedding of Jesus and his Church. And your Husband is not simply waiting around for you to arrive; he is actively creating a world that he deems suitable for your eternal presence. He is preparing a place for you by waging war against evil and darkness and sin and idolatry.

The Greeks loved drama. They had, basically, two kinds of dramas they would write: tragedies and comedies. The way to tell the difference was in the ending. Tragedies end with a funeral; comedies end with a wedding. You are in a comedy. Live, therefore, in the hope that this story–your story, my story, our story–ends with a wedding.

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