In my next post, we will get into a biblical critique of the popular “Rapture” theology we find mostly among Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and Pentecostal Christians, but before we do that I would like to respond to a question I often get when talking about this question in general.
“What’s the big deal?”
In other words, so what if these confused Protestants have their beliefs about this aspect of eschatology awry. That’s not going to hurt anybody, is it?
In fact, I argue, Dispensationalist theology is dangerous for many reasons, but one of them can be seen in their view of the Antichrist. Now, for those who may not know, “Dispensationalist theology” made famous by Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth,” and Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkin’s famous “Left Behind” series of books and movies, radically departs from the traditional and biblical Catholic teaching on the Second Coming of Christ. Texts of Scripture that speak of the Second Coming of Christ have always been understood to refer to the absolute consummation of all things at the end of time. Not so, with the Rapture theorists.
The Rapture theorists divide the coming of Christ into first a “Rapture of the Church” where true believers in Christ (and in the very near future, I might add) will literally disappear from sight having been “raptured” up to heaven by God. This is a sort of “secret coming” of Christ that only affects true believers. They will be taken away while the rest are “left behind” to face a seven-year tribulation period where the Antichrist will be revealed and literally billions will be slaughtered in a massive world war that will follow.
Nota Bene: I am using for this post the most popular version of the Rapture theory known as the “Pre-tribulation Rapture” theory. This means the Rapture of the Church will occur before a seven-year tribulation period of unspeakable horror on earth for those “left behind.” There is a minority of folks who hold to a “mid-trib” theory that says the Rapture will occur 3.5 years into the seven-year tribulation. And there are those few who hold to a “post-tribulation” theory that says the Rapture will occur after the seven-year tribulation as well.
At any rate, this “Rapture of the Church,” according to the popular theory, will cause car and airplane crashes, as well as massive economic and cultural chaos due to the “disappearance” of millions of people in an instant.
Again, see my next post for a thorough de-rapturing of Scripture.
But understand that after the Rapture, those “left behind” will have to face the Antichrist, a massive world war that will see the slaughter of billions, as well as executions of a relatively few who will turn to the Lord for salvation during this terrible time of persecution.
Then, at the end of the seven-year period of tribulation, Jesus will return to establish a 1,000 year reign on earth where there will be great harmony, though there will still be sin and death for some. The righteous will live very long lives and many will come to Christ during these 1,000 years leading up to the final “White Throne Judgment” at the end of this millennium that will usher in eternity.
So what could be the harm here, right?
One interesting and I believe dangerous error taught by Dispensationalists about the Rapture, is their teaching that says Christians will never see the Antichrist. Christians will be “Raptured away” before the Antichrist comes on the scene. Would this not be the perfect set up for the Antichrist himself when he does come on the scene? What better cloak for him to deceive than a belief that excludes he could possibly be the Antichrist? This is extremely dangerous, folks!
The Church and the Bible Say
CCC 675-676 gives us the Catholic and biblical perspective on the Antichrist:
Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.
The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.
The Church traditionally distinguishes between the Antichrist, generally understood to be a pseudo-Messiah who will come at the end of time and lead “the world” against the Church in this “final trial” that we just read about in the Catechism, and antichrist[s] in the plural who participate, in various ways, in the same spirit, so to speak, of Antichrist who will personify the spirit or mind of the devil.
Recall Satan’s temptation to Adam and Eve. He tempted them to “realize within their own history,” so to speak, or in their own lives God’s promise of sharing in God’s own image and likeness, but by their own power and in their own way. Satan is the ultimate example of Sinatra’s famous—“I did it my way!” The spirit of Antichrist, in a sense, is synonymous with the spirit of the devil that opposes the will and the way of God in favor of his own way.
II Thess. 2:1-12–a text we will examine a bit below, and more in my next post–describes the Antichrist to be a person who will have all the power and deception of the devil himself. He will attempt to deceive people into believing that he is what he is not. Ultimately, he will claim himself to be God. And it will only be the coming of the Lord that will stop him. Christ himself will finally defeat him and cast him into Hell.
But we also see in St. John’s writings, for example, there will not only be the Antichrist who appears at the end of time, but there are “many antichrists” already in the world:
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Look to yourselves that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward (II John 1:7-8).
Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour…  Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son (I John 2:18-22).
In St. John’s day, he was combating the early “fathers,” so to speak, of Gnosticism. According to St. John, they personified the Antichrist because they denied the Incarnation of Christ—the plan of God for the salvation of the world, thus, Antichrist “denies Jesus coming in the flesh.” But he then goes beyond this and says anyone who would then “deny the Father and the Son” to be an antichrist.
But here is a point many miss: In this same context, St. John teaches us something else very important in I John 4:3-6. Just after St. John declared every one who “confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,” obviously aimed at the false teachers who denied Jesus had a physical body, he goes on to say:
… and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already. Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them. We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
According to St. John, there is a connection between the spirit of antichrist and those who reject God’s authority, or spokesmen, on earth. The “spirit of truth and the spirit of error” can be known quite simply and clearly. The spirit that says I know more than God’s apostles or bishops on the earth, sent by God with his authority is that same spirit of antichrist that says, “I’ll do it my way!” This is what St. John is warning against in I John 4:6.
Sounds Protestant, doesn’t it? Yet, not just Protestant. The spirit of antichrist is the spirit that says I’ll do it “my way.” The spirit that says with the Devil in Jer. 2:20, “Non serviam!”
Am I saying all Protestants are “antichrists?” No. But I am saying there is a spirit of antichrist that permeates the reformer’s mindset.
At any rate, back to the point:
We, as Catholics, believe it will only be after the revealing of the Antichrist that the Second Coming of Christ will come about, wherein Christ will come and all the nations will be gathered together for the final judgment as Christ himself clearly says to us in Matthew 25:31-46. But that’s it! Then the faithful will be in eternity and experiencing an existence that is beyond anything we can now fathom. However, this is not so according the Rapture Crowd!
We have some very obvious problems with the Rapture theory from a biblical as well as historical perspective. The Bible teaches just one “Second Coming” of Christ. Yet, the Rapture theory has Christ coming (at least half way down), snatching up Christians, and then going back up to heaven for seven years! Then it presents Christ as coming again at the end of a seven-year tribulation (a “third” coming?) to establish a millennial kingdom on earth that will last for 1,000 years. During this time “the wolf will lie down with the lamb” (Is. 11:6), children will be born, people will die (though they will live a long time as I said above) and people will have to choose Christ and then Christ will finally judge those who live through the millenium at the end of the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth!
So, what is being presented is a second and third coming of Christ! Now, to be fair, some Dispensationalists will say the Second Coming is broken down into two-parts: the Rapture and then the Coming of the Lord seven years later. But the Bible says absolutely nothing of the sort.
Perhaps even stranger is the fact that we have four judgments: One at death, one at the Rapture, one at the end of the Tribulation and one at the end of the millennium! As we will see in part two of this post, the Bible only speaks of two Judgments: the particular and the general Judgment at the end of time. And, again, it only speaks of two comings of Christ. The First was in the manger of Bethlehem and the Second will be at the end of time. So where did all of this “Rapture stuff” come from?
From the writings of St. Paul in II Thess., to the Montanists in ca. AD 200 to the millenium craze in AD 1000 to the “Millerites” in 1843-1844, there have been from time to time, and in various forms, many examples of false teachers who get carried away with the imminent return of the Lord. In fact, in II Thess. 2:1-12, St. Paul tells us there were folks who were then teaching Christ’s return was immanent in the first century. And the irony is, St. Paul clearly does not agree with them. He clearly says there was then present “a restrainer” that would have to be taken “out of the way” and that the coming of him whom we today call “the Antichrist” would have to occur as well before the Second Coming:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Notice, the Lord clearly will not come until after the antichrist is revealed. St. Paul’s message is as timely today as it was 2,000 years ago.
And we can say the same thing today. “The day of the Lord has not come!” And “the day of the Lord will not come until after the Antichrist is revealed!” And there are other things that have to happen as well that are somewhat less certain as to their fulfillments. “The rebellion” of which he speaks, is actually apostasia in Greek, or “apostasy.” This will, most likely, be an apostasy like we’ve never seen before in history. We’re not even close to that now.
It also speaks of the removal of “the restrainer.” Tertullian connected this with lawful government because of the connection to lawlessness. More likely, it would be the sovereign will of Christ whom Scripture depicts as “the strong man” who binds Satan, and the one who “looses” Satan to tempt the earth in Matt. 12:29, and Rev. 20:7.
But one thing Is absolutely certain, the Lord will not come until after the Antichrist is revealed. Now, these necessary things can happen swiftly, and the Lord could come again in any generation, but we have to be careful about coming up with scenarios where we start giving dates and times for Christ’s return! Jesus was pretty cautionary on that point in Matt. 24:36. And yet…
William Miller, a Baptist lay preacher, is an excellent and more contemporary example of one who believed Jesus’ return was imminent in his day. He said Jesus was coming by March 21, 1844. He then extended it to October 22 before giving up on his theory, only to have his message “saved” by the “vision” of Hiram Edson who said Jesus did come, but he came in an “invisible way” and “cleansed the sanctuary” in heaven! His “visible” coming was very soon, he said… we’re still waiting… but his invisible return already happened.
Invisible? Really? What ever happened to “every eye will see him” (Rev. 1:7)?
By the way, the sect Hiram Edson started would later become the “Adventist” movement out of which would arise such sects as the Seventh-Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have become famous for their many predictions of the end of the world, such as they said was coming in 1914 (and many other years). Their last prediction of the coming of the Lord was for 1975. Obviously, it didn’t happen!
There have been many others who have predicted the second coming (in the case of Miller and others, many of their followers lost everything in the process! They sold off everything they had and waited… and waited…). But beginning with John Darby, a Congregationalist minister in the 1870’s, we have for the first time this very odd and novel belief, not just in the imminent return of Christ, but in this “secret rapture” I mentioned above that has become the craze today in many Evangelical, Fundamentalist and Pentecostal circles.
You’ve probably seen the bumper stickers on cars that will say things like, “In case of rapture, nobody will be driving this car!” The belief is that when the Rapture occurs, all born-again Christians will simply disappear, cars will crash, airplanes being flown by Christians will crash, etc. And this will begin the 7-year tribulation period just before the Coming of the Lord where he will come back to earth to rule and reign for 1,000 years.
This “Rapture” mentality has led to many failed predictions of the coming of the Lord from Hal Lindsey’s famous prediction that Jesus was coming before 1988 in his 1970 book, “The Late Great Planet Earth,” to Harold Camping’s many, many failed predictions.
Let’s pause here for now. But don’t miss my next post where I will give you an in-depth exposition on why the seven most often used biblical texts in favor of the Rapture theory, actually say absolutely nothing of it! In fact, some of them expressly contradict the theory!
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