This post is a follow-on to a discussion found here.
Pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib? The question can be a major litmus test of one’s spirituality in many churches today. For anyone who has missed the argument, the question has to do with when the Church will be raptured out of the world — before the tribulation, during it, or at the end of it?
I submit that the question is irrelevant.
For starters, I submit that theological litmus tests are spiritual poison, leading to pride and self-righteousness on the one hand and discouragement and humiliation on the other. I submit that where it comes to getting into God’s Kingdom, it’s not what you know, it’s Who you know. Yes, it is a good thing to read and study God’s word, but entry into the heavenly banquet won’t require passing an exam.
Second, I submit that the question stems from a mis-reading of Scripture. The word rapture appears nowhere in the Bible, and the apostle Paul makes it clear that believers still living when Christ returns will meet Him when He returns. (I Thess 4:16-17) There is no guarantee anywhere in Scripture that Christians will vacate the earth before the end times; if anything Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 seem to indicate that the Church will still be here during the end times. Jesus notes, “but the one who endures to the end will be saved”. (Matt. 24:13)
A recent New Testament class presented us with a very different reading of Revelation and the end times than any I have heard in any kind of church, and it’s one that makes a great deal of sense. Revelation is interpreted as a series of seven sections which move in progressive parallelism. In other words, Revelation tells the story of the end times seven times from seven different perspectives, each re-telling building on the sections before. This makes a lot of sense because (a) an apocalypse is a genre of writing that is often presented in repetitions; and (b) there are seven re-tellings – Scripture’s perfect number.
Looking at Revelation in this way, all the time-lines and road-maps that people have cobbled together trying to figure out exactly what is going to happen when in the end times become worthless – which they always were to begin with. As Jesus says, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matt. 24:36) He warns over and over in Matt. 24 not to be deceived by people who say otherwise. “Wherever the corpse is, the vultures will gather,” is Jesus’ wry comment. And yet the vultures continue to pick the bones of the Bible’s prophecies and grow wealthy publishing their “findings”.
Another interesting thing that happens with the seven-retellings approach is: many other frequent points of disagreement among Christians become settled. For example, there is no problem defining who the people of God are – they are any and all people who are of the faith of Abraham and Jesus. There is no problem defining the terms rapture and return of Christ – they’re the same thing. All the judgments mentioned in Revelation are one and the same; and the two resurrections mentioned refer to spiritual resurrection (salvation) and physical resurrection (Christ’s return) respectively. Everything fits. No need to go through all kinds of mental gyrations figuring out which thousand years goes where, and more importantly, no need to view people as being excluded from God’s kingdom based on their eschatological beliefs.
So if we can’t determine some kind of sequence of events from Revelation, what is the book about? It’s about encouragement. It’s about hope. It’s about reminding people who are suffering through difficult times that God is in charge and will set all things right in the end. It’s about the victory of our Lord. The aim of the book is not to give us a brain teaser to unravel — it’s to give us a vision of the brightness of our future. The last chapter says it all.