Category Archives: apocalypse

The Rapture, the Antichrist, and the Second Coming of Christ – Pt. 3

For our last post in a three-post series on “the Rapture” theory, we will continue with our series of seven biblical texts used by Rapture theorists to prove the Rapture to be biblical, and just why they fail to accomplish the task:

5. I Thess. 5:2-3, 9:

The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night … then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a woman with child… For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…”

I used to love to use this text to show how God is going to “rescue the Church” in a secret rapture designed by God to take the Church away from the tribulation. It was a popular cliché to say, “God would not allow his bride to be beat up before he comes, would he?”

I used to add here to the mix Rev. 3:10:

Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth?

Doesn’t that sound nice? The true Church made up of born-again believers will be taken away so that they will not have to suffer?

The only problem is, it’s wrong!

St. Paul had already made very clear the fact that the Second Coming of the Lord would be public in I Thess. 4:15-16. He is simply saying to be ready! And as far as our escaping suffering goes, Scripture makes very clear that we are called to suffer for Christ! Here are a few verses of Scripture to consider:

Luke 9:23:

And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

John 16:2:

They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.

John 16:33

I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

I Peter 2:21-24:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

I Peter 1:6-7… 4:12-19:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ… Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God… [19] Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.

“But what about Rev. 3:10?” says the Rapture theorist. “Jesus plainly said:

I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world.

Back up to Rev. 2:10, where Jesus had already warned, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.”

There seems to be a common misconception and misapplication of texts like Rev. 3:10 to mean that Christians will not have to suffer. When Jesus says “keep them from the hour of trial,” he does not mean, “take them out of the world.” He means “keep them faithful” in the midst of the trial that is to come.

This idea of Jesus protecting the Church from tribulation leads to contradictions all over the Bible as we’ll see below. But we find a similar misconception with the Lord’s prayer as well. When Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” in the Our Father, this does not mean the Spirit will not ever lead us “into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil” as we see with Jesus in Matt. 4:1. The phrase “lead us not into temptation” can be understood to mean “let us not fall in temptation.”

At any rate, God can certainly keep us “from” certain challenges that may overwhelm us at times, but St. Paul also tells us in I Cor. 10:13, not that we won’t have to face temptation, but that God will strengthen us so that we will be able to endure it:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Sometimes, we have to go through the fire. Or, as the famous story of the three Hebrew children in the book of Daniel reminds us: God does not say we will not have to go through the fire, he promises to protect us in the midst of the fire. If you recall the story, the three Hebrew children, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were thrown into a fiery furnace by order of King Nebudchadnezzar, because they refused to bow down and worship an idol the king had erected. God did not deliver them from having to be thrown into the fire; he delivered them in the midst of the fire.

My favorite verse of Scripture that demonstrates the fallacy of the Rapture theory gives us the words of Jesus himself in his great high priestly prayer of John 17 on the night before his death. He prayed, in John 17:15:

I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one.

In other words, Jesus says, “I do not pray that you rapture them,” so to speak, “but that you keep them from falling prey to the Devil’s temptations.”

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen used to say that any teaching that attempts to bypass the crucifixion in order to get to the resurrection is a sign of the presence of the demonic!

The Rapture theory that claims the Church will not have to go through the tribulation in the last days falls prey to this mentality. It is very tempting, but dangerously false for two reasons.

First, recall St. Peter in Matt. 16. Just after being promised the keys of the kingdom, Jesus then declares that he must go to the cross, suffer and die and be raised on the third day (Matt. 16:21). Peter then “took him and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord, this shall never happen to you!” Jesus immediately said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” (verse 23)

It is very tempting to want to avoid the cross or create a theology that denies not only the cross of Christ that is necessary for our salvation, but our own cross that is just as necessary for our salvation: Romans 8:17:

And if [we are] children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

6. II Thess. 2:1-12

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.

Most Rapture theorists, not all, but most, will claim that “the coming of the Lord” and “our assembling to meet him” refer to two events seven years apart: the Second Coming of the Lord and the Rapture. But notice three key points.

First, St. Paul refers to “the Coming of the Lord” and “our assembling to meet him” as one event. And wouldn’t he have put the Rapture—“our assembling to meet him”—before the Second Coming, rather than after? Think about it. The truth is: there is nothing here about a Rapture of the Church and seven years of Tribulation between “our assembling to meet him” and “the Coming of the Lord.” Many of these same Dispensationalists will claim the Second Coming has two stages, as I said before, 1st the Rapture, and 2nd the Second Coming seven years later. The problem here is that the Bible does not make this distinction, nor did Christians for the first 1800+ years of the Christian era.

Second, notice he says the coming of the Lord will not happen until, among other things, the antichrist is revealed. The majority of Rapture theorists teach that Christians will never see the Antichrist. This is dangerous because it espouses the same spirituality void of the cross that we mentioned before, but it also plays right into the deceptive plan of the devil, as I mentioned in my last blog post. The Antichrist, like the Devil himself, has the easiest time deceiving those who deny his existence! How could he be the Antichrist if he can’t be the Antichrist?

Dangerous!

Thirdly, notice the Antichrist will represent “lawlessness.” Just as the Devil himself refused to bow to God’s plan, but created his own, this will be the modus operandi of the Antichrist. Jeremiah 2:20 is a famous text of Scripture where God says of Israel’s rebellion against God, “You said, ‘I will not serve’” (non serviam in Latin). Those words are often attributed to the devil himself by multiple fathers and doctors of the Church. It appears the Antichrist will be no different. He will deny God’s law and perform “pretended signs and wonders” to deceive those who take “pleasure in unrighteousness” to follow him. And yet, who is “the restrainer” here that restrains him from being “revealed” until “he be taken out of the way?”

There is no clear answer in the tradition as to who or what “the restrainer” is. But according to Fr. Orchard, O.P., in A Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, pages 1140-1141, there are three more common interpretations. Tertullian took the “restrainer” to be the law and order provided by the Roman Empire (or civilized government in general). Some take the restrainer to be the preaching of the Gospel all over the world and some take it to be Michael the Archangel who we see given the task by God of restraining the devil in Daniel 12:1, Rev. 12:7-9, and in the final “Rapture” text we will look at in a moment from Revelation 20.

I tend to go with an “all of the above” approach and I would add Jesus to the mix. When Jesus was accused of casting out devils by the power of the devil in Matt. 12, his response was twofold: First he said the more famous quip of: “If Satan casts out Satan then his kingdom is divided against itself.” In other words, Jesus says, “You guys aren’t making sense.” He goes on to say, “If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?” But then Jesus goes on to say this: “But if it is by the Spirit of God I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you… how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.” Jesus tells us here that he is one who “binds” the devil!

It seems to me that an all of the above approach would be the way to go. Our Lord uses the Archangel Michael as well as the Church and the culture at large to restrain the forces of evil that would cause chaos. But the one interpretation you don’t find among Christians for the first 1,800 years of the Christian era is one that says the Church will be “Raptured” away and that is what “the restrainer” being taken away would mean. Again, that is simply not in the text.

The final “Rapture” text we will look at is:

7. Revelation 20:1-10:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years. And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations which are at the four corners of the earth, that is, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city; but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

To the Rapture theorist, this text is clear. The devil, at the end of time will be bound and this will institute a one thousand-year reign of Christ where the devil will not be able to deceive people. When the text says the martyrs “came to life,” that would refer to the Rapture. Believers will be “Raptured” and then reign with Christ for 1,000 years.

The keys to understanding this text begin with understanding the binding of Satan in the context of the New Testament, as we saw above. This is not something that will happen in the future. Remember, Jesus binds “the strong man” or the devil in Matt. 12:29 and Michael the Archangel “binds the devil” in these first few verses. When the text says the devil is bound “so that he may no longer seduce the nations,” this should be seen in the context of biblical verses like Acts 17:30 where St. Luke tells us of Old Testament times as being “times of ignorance God overlooked.” The idea is that the devil had much more of a free reign before the advent of Christ. We get this sense in the book of Job, chapter 1 as well when we see the devil portrayed as what Revelation 12:10 calls “the accuser of the brethren… who accuses them night and day before our God.” The devil seems to have had much more freedom to harass and even possess people before the advent of Christ. There seems to have been many demon possessions at the time of Christ as well as proof of this. However, the advent of Christ and the Church has curtailed the devil’s work significantly.

But remember this: even though the devil is bound, that does not mean he is powerless. I always think of the picture of Mike Tyson, years ago, when he was being taken to jail after being convicted of a felony. Even though his hands were handcuffed in front of him… he was “bound”… how many people would want him to be let loose on them even with the handcuffs on!

At any rate, the binding of the devil happened two thousand years ago through the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the thousand years must not be taken to mean a literal thousand years. Numbers are used symbolically throughout the book of Revelation, and “a thousand years” in particular is often used in Scripture to denote a long period of time rather than a literal thousand years (cf. I Chr. 16:15, or, Ex. 20:6: “[God is] showing mercy to thousands of those who love me.” Deuteronomy 7:9 – “The Lord your God … keeps his covenant… with those who love him… to a thousand generations.” Or, II Peter 3:8, “One day to the Lord is as thousand years and a thousand years is as one day”).

According to both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, we are living in the ”thousand years” now and the first resurrection begins when a person is baptized! Those who are baptized are raised from death unto life as we see in Ephesians 2:1, “And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” Or, Ephesians 5:14: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.”

Also, the “loosing of the devil” corresponds with what we saw in II Thess. 2 concerning the final apostasy at the end of time and a final assault of the devil and his Antichrist wherein the devil will “be loosed” and launch one final assault against Christ and his Church before he and all evil will finally be vanquished at the Second Coming of Christ. Again, there is nothing in this text about any Rapture of the Church and a literal and future 1,000 year reign of Christ. At least, not if we understand the “1,000 years” passages here correctly.

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The Rapture, the Antichrist, and the Second Coming of Christ – Pt. 2

As promised in my last post, we are now going to take a look at some of the main texts involved in presenting a biblical case for “the Rapture.” Over my next two posts, I will present seven of the most common and favorite go-to verses I used to use when I was a “Rapture” theorist before my conversion to Christ in his Church. The first is perhaps the most commonly used of all:

1. I Thess. 4:15-17:

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

 The word “Rapture” actually comes from the Latin Vulgate “rapiemur,” translated here as “caught up” in verse 17. What’s the problem here? Does the “word of commandment of God, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God” sound like a “secret rapture?”

For those who did not read my last post, “the Rapture” represents a belief that has Jesus Christ snatching away all true Christians sometime in the near future in a “secret” event that will cause millions to simply disappear from the earth. In one sense it would not be  a “secret” because the whole world will have to explain (or explain away) this massive disappearance of millions. But it will be “secret” in the sense that Jesus himself will not reveal it to the world for what it is.

The problem is, there is nothing “secret” about the coming of the Lord and this is precisely what this text is describing—the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time. Of course, St. Paul is describing the indescribable here using human terms. But notice, there is no 7-year tribulation mentioned—no 1,000 year millennium. Just as we Catholics would expect, St. Paul describes this event as the end of all things. “So shall we ever be with the Lord…” He does not say “so shall we be with the Lord for seven years and then we will come down to earth for 1,000 years…”

2. I Cor. 15:51-55:

Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed {great text to place in crying rooms at Church!}, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  ”O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”

I can’t tell you how many sermons I heard (and preached!) on the Rapture that used this language of “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye…”

Notice again the “trumpet of God?” This does not sound like a “secret rapture,” does it? And it does not sound like a preliminary coming of the Lord either! Just as with I Thess., this text indicates St. Paul is describing the end of the world. Notice in particular, “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting.” In other words, death shall be no more at this point. And yet, according to Rapture theorists, death will just be beginning! They believe there will be millions if not billions killed during the tribulation and that death will continue even through the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. This text simply describes the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time. Period!

3. Matt. 24:32-34:

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place.

The “fig tree” and “this generation” are the key words here. Rapture theorists connect this text to Matthew 21:19-20, where Jesus is reported as,

… seeing a fig tree by the wayside he went to it, and found nothing on it but leaves only. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

The idea here is that the “fig tree” represents Israel—or those in Israel who rejected the Messiah—being cursed by God because they rejected the Messiah. And we should note here that there is no doubt the fig tree does represent Israel that rejected Christ here in Matt. 21. Jesus had just the day before, in Matt. 21:12, driven out the money changers from the Temple. Then, immediately after he curses the fig tree, Jesus teaches several parables, all of which emphasize Israel being unfaithful to God and his Messiah resulting in God choosing to bless another “son” or “nation” who would believe and obey. We have the Parable of the Two Sons” in Matt. 21:28-32, the Parable of the Master of the Vineyard” in verses 33-46, and the Parable of the Marriage Feast in Matt. 22:1-14.

In fact, just so there could be no misunderstanding, Jesus gives us the interpretation of all of these parables when he plainly says in Matt. 21:43:

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [Israel that rejected Christ] and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.

So, there is no doubt that the “fig tree” represents Israel that rejected Christ in Matt. 21.

But the problem comes in when men like Hal Lindsey then say, when Jesus says in Matt. 24:30-32, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near;” this means when Israel in the Middle East becomes a nation again, you know the end is near. In fact, Rapture theorists then claim that when Jesus says, “when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place,” he means “the generation” that sees Israel become a nation will see the coming of the Lord!

This is to stretch the context just a smidgeon, folks!

Men like Hal Lindsey have said that we are “this generation.” First, he said because Israel became a nation in 1948 (Matthew 24:34 fulfilled!), the end would come by 1988! Another famous radio preacher, the late Harold Camping, made similar claims, but he claimed the Rapture would happen in 1994, and twice in 2011!

At any rate, with regard to Hal Lindsay, he claimed if a generation is 40 years, and the “fig tree” generation was the generation that saw Israel become a nation… well… the conclusion is obvious! And you can find this in Hal Lindsay’s book: “The Late Great Planet Earth,” 1948 + 40 = 1988. Oops! By New Years of 1989, (or 1995, and 2012 for the Camping “camp”), all who followed his teaching had egg on their faces!

Some Rapture theorists revised their theory. I have heard some of them claim the end would come before 2007 because Jerusalem was recaptured in 1967; thus, all the land of Israel was not Israel’s until 1967. 1967 + 40 = 2007! Oops again! 2007 came and went! I heard Benny Hinn, a well-known TV Evangelist, a few years ago say on television a “generation” is actually 100 years, rather than the generally understood 40! How convenient! Now he has until 2048 or 2067!

At any rate, the context of Matt. 24:32-34 makes clear that Jesus was NOT referring to any re-establishment of Israel as a political entity. He is simply using a then-common way of knowing “summer is near,” that is, when the fig tree’s “branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves.” In fact, in Luke’s version of this same saying of Jesus, he has Jesus saying, in Luke 21:29,

And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees…”

What would “all the trees” represent? Would that mean all the countries then existing would have to be reestablished as well? Of course not! Again, we do not deny that the fig tree is a symbol of Israel in Matt. 21:19. But we have a different context and usage of the fig tree in Matt. 24:32. Jesus is saying, “When you see these things know that things are ripe and ready.” Jesus is giving clues to believers of both the first century as well as the final generation, and all generations in between, as to what will be signs of covenant judgment coming on the earth.

Jesus is referring in the literal sense to the coming judgment of Israel through the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. But that judgment would be a type of the final fulfillment of all things at the end of time. He gives a number of clues as to what will be the signs of this coming judgment when he says, in essence, ”just as you know summer is near when the fruits on the various trees begin to shoot, you will know that judgment is nigh when you see these things…

This has nothing to do with Israel becoming a nation in 1948 or Jerusalem being captured in 1967!

Is Israel in the Middle East the “Israel” of Prophecy?

We are confining our thoughts here to “the Rapture” as much as we can, but whenever “Israel” comes up in a conversation with a Rapture theorist, there is a crucial point that you must be prepared for. Rapture theorists (more universally called “Dispensationalists”) teach that all of the promises concerning the land promised to the People of God in the Old Testament will be fulfilled in the millennial reign of Christ. They teach the Temple of the Old Covenant  will be restored and some even teach that animal sacrifices will be re-instituted for the Jews! This betrays a faulty notion of what “Israel” represents in the New Testament.

Warning, Warning! Key point here:

All of the promises to the People of God in the Old Testament are fulfilled in Christ and the New Covenant Church he established, the Catholic Church.

The new Israel in the New Covenant is the Church, not the “Israel” that rejected and continues to reject Christ. In fact, St. Paul uses an allegory in Galatians 4:22-26 to make this point:

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

In Galatians 6:16, St. Paul plainly refers to the Church as the “Israel of God.”

Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.

When Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem as judgment permitted by God, he said, in effect, the only way to a relationship with God for the Jews is through recognizing their Messiah, Jesus Christ. In Matt. 23:36-24:2, and on the heels of Jesus declaring judgment was about to fall upon Israel for rejecting their Messiah, we read:

Truly, I say to you, all this will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (ch. 24) Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

St. Paul uses unequivocal language concerning the Jews who rejected the Messiah in Romans 2:28-29:

For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal.

Thus, the Church is the “New Israel.” This does not mean that God does not have a plan for those who are Jews, “according to the flesh,” as Scripture calls them. In fact, the CCC 674 tells us, referencing Romans 11:20-29, that:

The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by “all Israel”, for “a hardening has come upon part of Israel” in their “unbelief” toward Jesus. St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.” St.   Paul echoes him: “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” The “full inclusion” of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of “the full number of the Gentiles”, will enable the People of God to achieve “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”, in which “God may be all in all.”

There will be a large number of Jews, “according to the flesh”, come to Christ in the last days before the coming of the Lord, but this does not mean that all of the promises of God to the Jews are not fulfilled in the Church. They are. All people, whether Jew or Gentile must come to Christ in order to experience the sacraments, especially baptism, that have the effect of joining all of humanity as one in Christ where, as St. Paul says in Galatians 3:26-29:

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

 4. No treatment on the Rapture is complete without addressing the famous “left behind” texts of, for example, Matt. 24:40-42:

Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

This is the text (along with the parallel texts in the other synoptic Gospels) where the famous “left behind” series of books (and now movies) by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins got their names. It is taken to mean that one day believers will be secretly “raptured” away and the rest will be “left behind.”

What’s the problem here, you ask?

First, if we read the three verses leading up to this text, we find this:

As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man.

It seems from the text that the folks who are being “taken away” are being “taken away” to judgment rather than to heaven. He says, “as in those days before the flood… they did not know until the flood came and swept them away.”

Secondly, and along these same lines, if we go to a parallel text to this one, in Luke 17:34-37, we find this:

I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together; one will be taken and the other left. And they said to him, “Where, Lord?”

If you asked any dispensationalist today the question, “Where are those who are ‘taken away’ going?” They would respond, immediately, “To Heaven!” But what did Jesus say to the apostles when they asked him where they were going to be taken?

He said to them, “Where the body is, there the eagles [Gr. aetoi, vultures, eagles – the word is being used to convey birds of prey feasting on carcasses] will be gathered together.”

That doesn’t sound like heaven, does it?

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The Rapture, the Antichrist, and the Second Coming of Christ – Pt. 1

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… [22] 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!

More Problems

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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Is Pope Francis the Final Pope?

Have you heard? Tom Horn and Cris Putnam have written the book of books demonstrating Pope Francis to be the last pope. Yes, folks, the end of the world is upon us. The book is called Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope is Here, published in 2012. This is not to be confused with their sequel, Exo-Vaticanus, published in 2013, which exposes a secret plan of the Vatican to usher in the arrival of a savior who is actually an alien a la E.T. I suppose now that the end is here and all, we need to know just what the end is going to look like. Explaining that one would require another post.

The 2012 book is based on an increasingly popular alleged prophecy, which is really more of a litany of prophecies, of the great reformer Bishop St. Malachy (1094-1148), who served as bishop of Conner, then Down, and finally as Archbishop of Armagh, all in Ireland. The authors claim St. Malachy predicted the final 112 popes beginning with Pope Celestine II (elected in 1143), not by name, but by a short epithet, or motto, for each, leading us to the final pope before the Apocalypse, who is none other than our own Pope Francis.

The “prophecy” in question is real in the sense that it exists and is claimed to be written by St. Malachy. But when examined critically, it turns out neither to be true (meaning it contains things that don’t hold up the level of scrutiny required of a true prophecy) nor actually written by St. Malachy. At least, that is what the overwhelming majority of modern scholars believe. The so-called “prophecy of St. Malachy” appears to be a fraud.

There are multiple takes on the “prophecy” itself, and not all who believe it also believe a space alien is going to be revealed as “savior” by the Vatican, either. Over the centuries, it has been believed by Catholics of note, Cornelius a Lapide among them. So it is not as though its fraudulent nature is self-evident.

From what I have read from those who believe the prophecy to be of supernatural origin today, they generally agree on three central points: Francis is the final pope, the end is therefore upon us, and St. Malachy proves it to be so.

Problems with the Prophecy

While there are more problems with this prophecy than we have space to address in this post, perhaps its major problems, or categories of problems, could be broken down into two: 1. The prophecy was not penned by St. Malachy; therefore, it is a fraud. 2. The epithets, or mottos, that describe each of the 112 popes are fraught with ambiguities to the point that some are impossible to defend as true prophecy.

Who Wrote the Prophecy of St. Malachy?

The prophecy was first published in AD 1590-1595 by a Benedectine monk named Arnold Wion in a book titled Lignum Vitae, which was a history of the Benedictine order. Critics say Wion did more than publish it; he most likely created it. This is evidenced by the fact that the alleged prophetic mottos were remarkably accurate when the popes from Celestine II (pope when St. Malachy was alive and when the “prophecy” was allegedly given to him) until Urban VII (pope when Wion published the book) are mentioned. After these popes the epithets become ambiguous and, as we’ll see below, some of them virtually impossible to tag to the popes they were supposedly referring to.

When you couple these facts with the facts that St. Bernard of Clairvaux—a close friend of St. Malachy, who wrote the biography of this great saint—never mentions anything of this prophecy, and, indeed, nothing that we know of was recorded about it for the roughly four hundred years between St. Malachy’s time and the publication of the prophecy, this is a definite problem.

Proponents argue the prophecy was lost and only rediscovered by Wion, but this hardly answers the problem of why St. Bernard, in whose arms St. Malachy died, would have known nothing of it.

Prophecies Not Prophetic

Perhaps the most damning evidence against the claims of the prophecy can be seen by examining the actual prophetic epithets themselves. The epithets of the popes between Celestine II and Urban VII are generally related to their birthplaces, family names, their coat of arms, or to some title they held before each became pope. And they are generally quite obvious. However, the subsequent popes . . . let’s just say their mottos get very interesting at times. Here are some of my favorites.

Pope Benedict XIV is referred to as “rustic animal”—in Latin, animal rurale. This means something akin to what southerners might call a “country boy.” But Benedict XIV was anything but a country boy. He was a brilliant scholar educated in Rome at the Collegium Clementium, which he entered at the age of 13! He was well-known for his learning in science as well as theology, philosophy, and canon law. He was also an exceptional administrator and a man of many talents, respected within and without the Church. He was anything but animal rurale!

Proponents of the prophecies attempt to say this could refer to his “plodding determination” like an ox in a field. Can anyone say “Weak?”

Pope Clement XIII is referred to as “Rose of Umbria.” Supporters of the prophecies attempt to say this is a reference to the several Franciscans this pope canonized. You know. . . roses . . . St. Francis. The “Rose of Umbria.”

Really?

Clement IV is referred to as “Swift Bear.” Proponents claim his family, the Ganganelli family, had a running bear on their coat of arms, but there is no evidence for this.

Pius VII is referred to as “Rapacious Eagle.” There is nothing even close to this in relation to the Pope himself, so supporters claim this may be a reference to the arms of Napoleon who reigned during the time of Pope Pius. It definitely seems as though we are stretching things here in Jonathan Edwards-esque fashion.

John Paul I is referred to as “of the half moon.” Your guess is as good as mine.

And finally, we should mention our present Pope Francis. He is referred to as “Peter the Roman” in the prophecy. The best the proponents of the prophecy have been able to do is point out that our good Cardinal Bergoglio took the name of St. Francis, whose father’s name was Pietro. Of course! Plus, even though he is Argentinian, his parents are Italian. Huh? Huh?

There are many more examples we could cite here demonstrating the overwhelming evidence that the so-called “prophecy of St. Malachy” is a hoax, but perhaps it would be best to close now with a word to the wise.

We must always be careful with private revelations—and that is essentially what this is—whether approved or not. The “prophecy of St. Malachy” has not been approved by the Church, but the Church teaches us that we must never place divine faith in any private revelation even if it is approved. Their role is to lead us to Christ in his Church and to the divine faith that is able to save our souls. They are means and never ends in themselves.

If we keep our focus on Christ, his Church, the Eucharist, and our Blessed Mother, we will never go wrong.