Dispensationalism and Doomsday

Question from Brian (not the previous Brian):
I am studying Bible at a christian university but am tired of a strictly christian perspective (many of my friends at home are atheists and i enjoy discussing theology with them). As i study more deeply i realize that much of Modern christian theology doesn’t match up with older theology and even the Bible itself but i specifically want to talk of the rapture and similar eschatology.

To begin with I can find no historical evidence of a “rapture” before John Darby described it. In fact it seems more in line with the oldest texts that heaven quite literally descends and there is no longer a distinction between heaven and earth. In this time the “Kingdom of Heaven” is where the dead are resurrected from the hadean realm and judged. Those who were judged to be righteous in life get to stay and those whe are judged unrighteous are sent to gehenna (hades and gehenna (a constantly burning trash heap outside jerusalem) are important distinctions in the original texts). Being sent or taken away is seen as punishment throughout the old testament i don’t think God would suddenly change his mind about that.

Well thats what i think, rip it to shreds please.

Answer by SmartLX:
I’d like to know how you interpret the end of 1 Thessalonians 4 if not as a literal description of the future Rapture. Sure, “raptured” might be one of several different translations (“caught up” is another) but they all seem to mean roughly the same thing. I think it was laid out for Darby pretty clearly. So what did they think it meant before Darby came along? Or did they just not give it the emphasis it now has? Meanwhile, those who aren’t raptured probably end up in Hell, which is close enough to the Old Testament idea of being sent away.

Details aside, God will supposedly extract His chosen few one way or another. This event, and more generally Judgement Day, is useful to Christians and non-Christians alike. Christians can use the threat of approaching endtimes to proselytise and recruit in an atmosphere of urgency, like the frantic folks at the eBible Fellowship are doing right now. Non-Christians can simply wait until after the appointed date to point out the futility and lack of predictive power of Christian prophecies, as no doubt they will after May 21 when the Fellowship is trying to explain why not one of their number was raptured (and, after October 21, why the world hasn’t ended). The 2011 dates join a long and dubiously distinguished line of specific endtime prophecies by people who saw the short-term benefits of displaying apparently concrete information about the fate of us all.

I’m 30, and this isn’t my first rodeo. I vaguely remember an end date that whizzed by when I was in high school, and another during university. What worries me isn’t the possibility that one of them will turn out to be accurate, but the near-certainty that each time people are being exploited. The Millennium was the worst in recent times; in Uganda, hundreds of members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God were massacred by the failed prophets who had taken all their worldly goods in the months leading up to New Year’s Eve.

There’s a big one coming up next year: the date in December 2012 sourced from the Mayan calendar and reverse engineered to match every bit of religious or new-age Doomsday math anyone had lying around. I’m frankly terrified of two things. Firstly, even more people than the Millennium victims will likely be exploited and even ruined or killed thanks to the massive, worldwide, decades-long hype suggesting that they’re about to die. Secondly, some disappointed fanatics may even see fit to engineer apocalypses for themselves and those around them shortly after the fateless date.

My one consolation is that after 2012 there are really no further doomsdays similarly embedded in the public consciousness. We can all give it a rest for a while.

One thought on “Dispensationalism and Doomsday”

  1. The important distinction is the timing of the rapture. Darby’s chronology of eschatological events is the most popular in Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity today, represented by the Left Behind series of books. According this interpretation, the rapture occurs prior to a seven year tribulation period, after which Christ will return to Earth and reign for a literal 1000 years. All historical and conservative contemporary Christian eschatological schemes acknowledge that Christ will “rapture” the Church to heaven at some point, but the pre-trib rapture and a literal seven-year tribulation are Darby’s innovations.

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