When I began my Christian adventure, somebody gave me “The Late Great Planet Earth”, and I didn’t think to question it, assuming it taught what the Bible taught. Most Bible-believing Christians I knew didn’t know that any alternative view about “the rapture” and the “7-year tribulation” existed. And this is still the case today. Many Christians believe in the “rapture” and ensuing “tribulation” with the same fervency with which they believe in the virgin birth, or eternal life for the believer. Read, for example, this article from a recent issue of Charisma Magazine:
“Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21-23). If you are reading this after the rapture has occurred, it’s because you weren’t ready. Jesus said in Matthew 25:10 that “those who were ready went in … And the door was shut.” Let me give you 20 pieces of counsel to survive this terrible time if you miss God’s first roundup, the rapture.
“1. Do not believe the explanations given by the secular media. Christians have not been beamed to some interplanetary spaceship to be reprogrammed. We have not been taken by aliens, and we’re not in Buenos Aires, Togo or Europe. We have left the earth on a cloud of glory to be with Jesus forever.
“2. Get rid of your cell phone. If you do not agree with the government of the final shabua and the charming world leader, you will be hunted. Your cell phone can be tracked. Throw it in a river or lake far from where you are going to be.
“3. Do not kill yourself. Whenever there’s social disorder and confusion, people tend to think suicide is the only way out. It’s not. You probably feel hopeless, but there is still hope. The Holy Spirit will still be working during the final shabua. Pray and ask Him to guide you, give you strength and dwell in you.
“4. Repent immediately and make your peace with God. If you’re reading this after the rapture, you’ve already witnessed many of the events we described. Now is the time to repent. Jesus Christ is the only Savior and only way to heaven (John 14:6). Pray, “Lord Jesus, be merciful to me. I have sinned against you. Save me now. I receive you as my personal Savior.” For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
“5. Make sure you have a printed Bible. You will not want any electronic tablets during the Tribulation. God’s Word and promises will still work after the rapture because Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:35). Keep your Bible in a safe place because when the Antichrist’s government takes over, he will eventually try to destroy all the Bibles…. (Goes on to make another 15 points on what to do if you miss the rapture) (Williams, 2017)
Over the years I became aware of alternatives and became more and more doubtful especially about the “pre-tribulation rapture theory”. I realised the flimsiness of the Biblical evidence supporting it, even though it is taught by many reputable and popular Bible teachers. In 2016 I determined to do a thorough study on the end of the age. There are so many conflicting theories, so I decided to identify every scripture passage I could find on the topic, and let the Bible tell its own story. My collection of passages grew and grew; I stopped copying them when I had collected over 380 passages, but the collection still grew. I was somewhat surprised earlier this year to receive an article, from which the above extract has been taken, from a friend. I wondered if it was a spoof for a moment, but quickly realised that it was penned by a perfectly serious author in a reputable Christian magazine. Many of my friends would take it absolutely seriously. But in the article, though written by an academic, there is absolutely no suggestion that the events outlined are anything other than undisputed fact; the advice is given in the same factual tone as the author would adopt if advising on how to get from Nairobi to London; and all details of practical tips on throwing away a cell phone, and how to recognise the “antichrist” are anything other than what an average person could read in their Bible, or in a newspaper. The article does not even hint at the following truths:
- The Biblical presuppositions assumed in the article were only formulated from 1830;
- These pre-suppositions are part of a system of Biblical interpretation known as dispensationalism;
- That the so-called “7-year tribulation” is nowhere found in the Bible but is based on a novel interpretation of Daniel 9:27 by a Catholic Jesuit priest in the 17th century
- There are at least 7 different theological positions in relation to eschatology taken by reputable sections of the Church over the centuries, and all these positions still have advocates today!
Another tenet of dispensationalism is the 1000-year reign of Jesus from Jerusalem when He returns, again a firm belief of many evangelical Christians who are unaware of any contrary opinion, not realising that over history by far the majority of Christians have rejected this idea. Also all the early church creeds, and the classical reformers rejected the idea of the “millennial reign”. The idea that there is no literal millennial reign became known as “amillennialism” in the 20th century
My change of view
During my intensive study of scripture, I became convinced that the “amillennial” position is the most convincing. This was a change of mind for me, and it came not through consulting theologians, but through pondering the scriptures and asking God to open them to my understanding. I also found some theological authors very helpful, but this was very much a secondary aid to understanding. The Gospel of Matthew made a big impression on me. As I read and re-read the account of Jesus’ coming in chapters 24 and 25, and His very succinct parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13, I quickly noticed that, following the sequence in Matthew, it appeared that there was no possibility of fitting in a pre-tribulation “rapture”. To my surprise, there was no place for a millennial reign, which up to that point I had never thought to question. I was also confirmed in my belief there do seem to be signs in Matthew that suggest we are close to the end of the age.