*Note: if you aren’t familiar with the terms rapture, tribulation, etc., that’s ok! I’d encourage you to forget you ever heard the terms and go out and walk with God in spirit and Truth! However, if you have heard those terms and have been taught about or studied the “end times,” you might find the following testimony interesting.
For better or worse, through Facebook I am frequently exposed to a wide variety of spiritual thought and teaching. One thing I often see posted about is the “end times.” In America especially, the mainstream Christian view is the “pre-trib” rapture, which is part of a larger view called pre-millennialism. The pre-trib rapture belief states that Jesus is going to instantly and invisibly take his church off of the earth shortly before a 7-year time of worldwide persecution and destruction, called the “tribulation,” after which he will return with the Christians to set up his 1,000 year reign on earth. Understandably so, many people seem borderline-obsessed with watching for signs of the coming rapture and tribulation, often with various government conspiracies tied in.
In this post, I would like to share my personal “Chronological Chronicle of Eschatalogical Debacle.” In other words, my personal evolution of understanding regarding the “end times.”
I grew up in Baptist and evangelical churches. My first distinct memory of hearing about the rapture and return of Jesus was when I was maybe 9 years old. The pastor of our church retired, and an interim pastor came in. An older man, his style of preaching was much more “hellfire and brimstone” than I had been exposed to before, with a confrontational style and a harsh tone that quite frankly scared me. I recall one Sunday he really got on a roll and said that he was confident that Jesus was going to return within 5 years, and all of us better be ready. This meant that if I was lucky, I would barely get to experience my teenage years before the sky cracked open, Jesus descended, and all my pre-teen issues were exposed and judged, after which I HOPEFULLY was allowed to enter heaven to sing worship songs endlessly, or something like that. This old preacher seemed so sure of what he was saying, so holy and fiery and devout, that it was hard for a boy like myself to ignore what he had to say. I dreaded the prospect of Christ’s return and felt bad for doing so. Thankfully, these feelings faded and I went on with my life (and 5 years passed without incident). Since that time, I’ve heard several other “timelines” for Christ’s return, including some with confirming signs and dreams or visions, but all have failed.
Around age 12 or so, I found my mother’s copies of the incredibly popular “Left Behind” series of books, which tell a fictional but purportedly realistic story of people who were “left behind” after the rapture of Christians, and who had to then live through the tribulation period on earth with the Antichrist rising to power. While I didn’t get through all the books (did anyone else find them increasingly boring and weird?), I read enough to once again scare me and get my imagination going. Book one describes the rapture taking place, with parents and loved ones disappearing in an instant, christian-piloted airplanes falling from the sky and christian-driven cars causing massive, deadly wrecks with only a pile of clothing left behind the wheel. I didn’t know enough to seriously challenge or question such a scenario, and I knew many pastors supported it and some scriptures seemed to as well. So. I accepted that at any moment, millions of people (hopefully including me) could disappear instantly. Like I’m sure many others did who read these books, I fearfully imagined being “left behind” myself, with no parents or family remaining on earth. Once, around this time, I went to ask my parents a question, but though they had been inside just moments ago, I couldn’t find them. I slowly began to panic that the rapture had happened. I was extremely relieved to learn they had only stepped outside to talk. These things seem silly now, but they have real implications for those who believe it.
Thank God, as I got older and more serious about truth and the faith of Christ, I began to read the Bible for myself, without many pre-formed ideas, with an open mind and heart, which is a dangerous practice for religious indoctrination. As I did, I began to see that the “pre-tribulation” rapture idea was not only lacking in scriptural support, but actually contradicted by multiple scriptures. For example, Jesus said in Matthew 24:29 that he was going to return for his people AFTER the tribulation he had just finished describing, and I saw that Revelation clearly said the saints were on the earth during the so-called tribulation period, when pre-trib rapture folks say we will be in heaven. I saw in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 that the tribulation could not start until AFTER the “man of lawlessness” was revealed, though this directly contradicted the pre-trib theology and narrative of the Left Behind books. I saw no evidence for an invisible, silent “rapture.” I did, however, see case after case where believers were persecuted and suffered terribly, and I noticed the Bible placed much, much more emphasis on encouragement in the midst of suffering than it did promises that we would be spared it. I also saw that many of the terms Jesus and the book of Revelation used were obviously spiritual and metaphoric, and I questioned such a literal reading like the Left Behind books portrayed. These and other things pretty much totally erased my belief in the “pre-trib” rapture, but I didn’t pursue the issue too much further and for the most part I was ok to not know or understand just how things would/will play out. (I still respect that view a lot more than dogmatically holding to a view regardless of evidence or scripture).
My whole Christian/spiritual understanding continued to evolve (and still is), and I continued to read the Bible and various Christian books. I began to see more and more problems not only with the eschatology of American Christianity, but American Christianity in general. Around this time, I got a new job and was actually told to spend a few days just surfing the internet while my exact duties were being finalized and prepared. I began to research conspiracy theories and other things that seemed interesting, and came across all sorts of Christian blogs and websites that tied various conspiracies together with Bible prophecy and the end of the world. Thankfully, I was mature and grounded enough to see that most of these were full of crap, and several lost credibility to me when they wanted money before they would reveal the “secret key” to revelation that they claimed to have discovered.
There was, however, one website/ministry I came across that seemed to teach very solid and deep truth, with a strict devotion to scripture. To this day, I feel that many of this ministry’s basic teachings, of which there were plenty, were quite solid and beneficial. However, the main thrust of this ministry was to warn and prepare God’s people for the 7-year “tribulation” period that was imminent, in which Christians will be persecuted and killed, especially in America, before Christ’s return. This ministry believed it would be a “spearhead” in leading a powerful revival of Biblical Christianity during this tribulation period. There were thousands of personal testimonies and stories of miracles, fulfilled prophecies, supernatural dreams and visions, and other things, sent in by people all over the world in support of this imminent tribulation and in support of God’s ability to miraculously provide for and protect His people (which He can and does do, according to His will). Adding to its credibility, this ministry offered all it’s resources, including books, CD’s, DVD’s, and other resources completely free, because Jesus told his disciples “freely you have received; freely give.” It was all very convincing and exciting to someone a little disillusioned and seeking like myself.
In this ministry’s weekly online Bible study, current events were examined obsessively as possible signs of the beginning of the tribulation. While an exact date for the beginning of the tribulation was never given, dates of “interest” were given a few times (which never panned out). I recall someone had a dream in which they were told the tribulation would begin in 2011. After the Deepwater Horizon oil leak happened in 2010, weeks and weeks and weeks were devoted to discussing how this could be the cause of 1/3 of the oceans turning to blood and fish dying as stated in Revelation 8, how it could likely cause a tsunami to hit the gulf coast, resulting in economic collapse and the institution of Marshal Law, FEMA camps, and the beginning of the tribulation. All of this seemed very plausible. Thankfully, even though I kept up with this ministry closely for 2 or 3 years, I continued to seek God myself and to desire truth more than I desired for this ministry, its leaders, or even myself to be right (this is SO important). After several failed doomsday predictions, an apparent increase in dysfunction and strangeness within the ministry, and little new or fresh revelation, I moved on. I didn’t one day decide to move on, I just did.
Somewhere around 2012, I came across the teachings of the early Quakers (from the 1600’s) such as George Fox and Isaac Penington. I had briefly read about George Fox years before, and while I wasn’t able to receive the radical things he had to say then, I was much more ready by this time. To this day, I hold the early Quakers in very high regard and agree with much of their understandings and teachings. They argued, extensively from scripture, that the book of Revelation is to be taken spiritually and symbolically, and that the coming of Jesus, the rapture, tribulation, etc. were not future physical events to take place, but spiritual events, to take place spiritually within each believer and among the body of Christ as a whole. I had briefly encountered another ministry which taught similarly, which always interested me but seemed too “esoteric” for me to grasp. A big key to my spiritual maturity has been coming to see that while God certainly has plans for earth and His people on it, He is spirit, and even Jesus Christ has now become a “life-giving spirit,” as Paul wrote. Therefore, knowing God has to be in spirit and in truth, and mystic experiences and practices are actually essential. This doesn’t mean that all mysticism is beneficial or “right,” but it means that a spiritual God is related to spiritually, not only mentally or later physically.
I don’t understand everything about the “end times” yet, and I’m ok with that. However, I do feel I’ve learned a few things. First of all, I am convinced that there have been two big errors Christians have made when forming their understanding of the “end times.” The first is that they try to make the book of Revelation fit a pre-formed narrative in which they take it literally and read it as entirely in the future. This creates a lot of confusion and in some cases simply doesn’t fit. The second is failing to recognize that much of what Jesus himself said about the end times, such as in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, was meant to be understood by those listening to him in that day, and referred to the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 AD. While the ministry I talked about acknowledged this a bit, they essentially said that what happened to Jerusalem is going to be repeated again worldwide. Many Christians, myself included, have failed to realize just how big of a deal the destruction of the Jewish temple in AD 70 was.
I know that many people take a view like: “we’ll find out one day how things play out, so I’m not going to worry about it.” While that seems to make sense, it’s really not a good position to take, and in reality, there aren’t multiple views. There is only either truth or imagination. That’s the case with everything. The Bible DOES speak about the Kingdom of God coming to earth, Jesus and the saints ruling and reigning on earth, and a new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem being made. I am convinced that both “not worrying about it” OR holding to a pre-trib rapture view are spiritually damaging, because they cause one to “wait” for something in the future, rather than seeing that the Kingdom of God has been “at hand” since the time of Jesus. I believe the earth isn’t waiting to be destroyed, but is waiting for a generation of sons of God to manifest the Kingdom of God on earth like Jesus did. I don’t know when that generation will be, but there are signs it’s coming soon.