Does 1 Thess 5:1-11 indicate a seven year tribulation?

rapture w buildingsI’m continually mindful that we often read presuppositions into the biblical text especially when convinced of a particular position. I think it’s just natural to do that. My shifting views on eschatology that is causing me to re-examine portions of Scripture with fresh eyes continues to affirm this.

As I indicated in my posts on the book of Revelation, this has struck me so powerfully how much I presumed a dispensational premillennial reading of Scripture. This then gets imposed onto key proof-texts that those of the dispensational stripe promote as proof of this system. In terms of eschatology, that primarily means a pre-tribulational rapture of the church followed by a seven year great tribulation before Christ renders final judgment.

Now I get that when determining if certain passages mean one thing or the other, it’s easy to be influenced by well-studied commentators with persuasive arguments especially if it concurs with a position you are already warm to. It does take a bit of honesty to recognize where they or YOU could have blind spots or want to hold on to a position or just be plain wrong.

But I’ve also discovered in the midst of doctrinal shifts and re-examining of positions, that sometimes you get hit with passages that you’re not even looking at to persuade you of one position or the other. They just further affirm that you weren’t crazy to change your mind.

And so it was, as I was reading through 1 Thessalonians with no angle or inquiries other than to just let the text speak into my life for fuel and comfort, that a particular proof-texted passage just jumped out at me. After a few readings, it became so obvious how it was yet another instance of a dispensational perspective being imposed on the text.

Now, I have concluded for a while that 1 Thess. 4:13-18, does not reference a pre-tribulational rapture and that Paul’s use of “caught up” references the custom of that day to go out and meet a visitor and accompany them into the arrival destination. As I’ve delved into this topic, it’s become clearer to me that Christ will come back once and it won’t be a quiet affair. The rapture spoken of here correlates to 2 Thess. 1:7-8; 2:1 and Rev. 1:7 when Christ returns to judge the world and set everything right. Continue reading

Some more thoughts on Revelation, the church and the bigger picture

people holding globeI remember that day back in Spring of 2006 almost like it was yesterday. I was pacing in bedroom while reading Romans 4 and then that moment came. I stopped dead in my tracks reading 4:17, “He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.” You see for many of my Christian years, I cited that phrase as if it is something we can do, calling those things that be not as though they were.  It’s not like I didn’t read the Bible. I read it diligently. But I imposed the philosophy of “speaking things into existence” unto the text.  Because it was so popularly taught in my circles, I sincerely believed that words contain power and we can use them to wield that God would move according to the words we spoke, as if our words had some kind of power over circumstances. So when reading Scripture, I brought that presupposition in to whatever I read (such as Mark 11:24).

But during this particular time, I was already being challenged on the fragmented way I had read Scripture and the frequency of ripping verses out of their context. So when I read that verse in it’s context, it really brought to life my propensity to bring presuppositions into the text. That one verse sent ripples through considering elsewhere in the Bible where that did not validate this concept. It struck me so powerfully that I had imposed this thought unto the biblical text and presumed it was the way it was.

In some sense, I think I’ve had one of the moments as I’ve been studying the book of Revelation and eschatology, in general. As I wrote about here, I’ve been reading Revelation with fresh eyes because of certain assumptions that I’ve made for many years when approaching this book. Presumptions included that 1) it tells a story of what will happen in the order; 2) that it describes literal events that will take place in the future and 3) that it involves bringing Israel to salvation as the church has been moved out of the way. In other words, as I wrote about in my last post, I presumed a dispensational premillennial position. Funny thing was that I’ve long had some tensions with some components of this position that I just took for granted because of the presuppositions that I held regarding the futurist chronological literalism of the book. Continue reading

Reading Revelation with fresh eyes: why I’m excited about my latest book arrival

Beale_Revelation commentary coverI just received this commentary in the mail having ordered it about a week ago. I normally wouldn’t write a post about how excited I am about my latest book purchase. But this one is a bit special because it fits with the particularly trajectory I’ve been on regarding how I understand the 66 books of the Bible fit together in terms of God’s outworking of his redemptive history.

In a separate post, I’m writing about my departure from dispensationalism a couple of years ago. Now, if you’re not familiar with the term but have spent a significant amount of time in non-denominational churches with baptistic, pentacostal or charismatic leanings, my guess is that you are a dispensationalist and probably don’t realize it. Dispensationalism is a system of seeing the Bible as segmented into separate and distinct dispensations in which God is outworking his purpose with his creation. Dispensationalism considers that Bible prophecies are fulfilled in a literal, historic way such there is a distinction between Israel and the Church. A natural consequence of this distinction is viewing the book of Revelation in exclusively futurist terms in which God will bring certain events to pass in order to save Israel before Jesus’ final return but not before taking the church out of the way through the Rapture. If that is how you read the book of Revelation and believe that God is bringing about a separate plan for Israel than the church, congratulations, you are a dispensationalist.

Now this is a very brief and generalized sketch since dispensational theology has evolved since it’s formal articulation with John Nelson Darby in the latter 19th century. Following Darby’s work, earlier articulations treated God’s distinct treatment of the Israel vs the church in such disparate ways that it left Bible students and scholars thereafter to continually pursue how these distinctions related to God’s redemptive plan through Christ. Earlier articulations, such as under C.I. Schofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer (founder of Dallas Theological Seminary) considered the church as an interruption (or intercalation as Chafer proclaimed) of God’s plan for Israel such that the kingdom of God was deferred until the millennium reign from Jerusalem since it was at that time Jesus would fulfill the Davidic covenant (Rev. 20–interpreting of course that Rev. 20 refers to a literal 1,000 earthly reign). It’s easy to see the charged of two-ways of salvation, especially with Chafer’s dual covenantalism (the reference of new covenant in the NT as something different than the reference in the OT). Revised dispensationalists, such as Charles Ryrie brought some correction to the unnatural dualistic nature of God’s outworking but still considered a future for the millennial kingdom in which God would bring salvation for Israel. Continue reading

End times and ever-fearful Christianity

scared-crowdI have often thought that eschatology, the doctrine of the end times, gets treated as a tag-on to Christian theology. In other words, it is possible to treat how we view the end as something additional to what we would consider the primary basis of Christianity.

From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present. The eschatological is not one element of Christianity, but it is the medium of the Christian faith as such, the key in which everything in it is set . . . Hence eschatology cannot really be only a part of Christian doctrine. Rather, the eschatological outlook is characteristic of all Christian proclamation, and of every Christian existence and of the whole Church.[1]

Yes, the truth is that our view of eschatology shapes the lens through which we view our Christian life in the here and now. And there is no greater display of this than when tragic or culture shifting events happen in our society. Most notably, I can’t help but note the hysteria that has happened among Christians regarding the Supreme Court ruling declaring same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. This has sent many Christians into a fearful tizzy with common declarations that this must be the end times.

I think one of the reasons for this presumption is a faulty understanding of end times interchangeably known as the last days. Many Christians view the end times as a series of cataclysmic events that happen to usher in a 7 year period that is commonly known as Great Tribulation (but not before the rapture of the church) prior to Christ’s final judgement (dispensational premillennialism). In this line of thinking, it makes sense that every disruptive event might be a sign that sets off this chain of events leading to the final judgment. It’s not surprising then, that this scenario elicits fear. Continue reading

Redemption and the Ultimate Reality

reason for God_kellerI’ve been reading through The Reason for God by Tim Keller as a requirement for my evangelism class. But I must say, I love this book and the reasonable and winsome way the Keller addresses Christianity and the counter-claims to it.  The first half of the book he tackles the common arguments against Christianity as evidenced by the chapters titles. In the chapter entitled Science Has Disproved Christianity, he deals with the rational-oriented arguments against miracles and concludes with an important note;

I don’t want to be too hard on people who struggle with the idea of God’s intervention in the natural order. Miracles are hard to believe in, and they should be. In Matthew 28 we are told that the apostles met the risen Jesus on a mountainside in Galilee. ‘When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted (vs. 17). That is a remarkable admission. Here is the author of an early Christian document telling us that some of the founders of Christianity couldn’t believe the miracle of the resurrection, even when they were looking straight at him with their eyes and touching him with their hands. There is no other reason for this to be in the account unless it happened.

The passage shows us several things. It is a warning not to think that only we modern, scientific people have to struggle with the idea of the miraculous, while ancient, more primitive people did not. The apostles responded like any group of modern people – some believed their eyes and some didn’t. It is also an encouragement to patience. All the apostles ended up as great leaders in the church, but some had a lot more trouble believing than others.

The most instructive thing about this text is, however, what it says about the purpose of the biblical miracles. They lead not simply to cognitive belief, but to worship, to awe and wonder. Jesus’ miracles in particular were never magic tricks, designed only to impress and coerce. You never see him say something like: ‘See that tree over there? Watch me make it burst into flames!’ Instead, he used miraculous power to heal the sick, feed the hungry and raise the dead. Why? We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’ miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming. Continue reading