Quotables: Douglas Moo on the Rapture


Every now and then I like posting something incisive that was written in the past because it speaks so well into the present. The sweet thing about this is that these guys, who are often waved away today, have dealt with a lot of the same issues while remaining simultaneously (by the modern mind) ignored. This comes from Douglas Moo.

The truth of the imminent coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is an important and indispensable element of biblical truth. That this coming is to be premillennial the Scriptures plainly state. That a time of unprecedented Tribulation will immediately precede that coming and that living believers will be raptured into the presence of Christ at His coming are also plainly stated.

But the time of that Rapture with respect to the tribulation is nowhere plainly stated. No Old Testament or New Testament author directly addresses that question or states the nature of that relationship as a point fo doctrine. What I think the Scriptures indicate has been stated on the preceding pages.

But, because this conviction is founded upon logic, inferences, and legitimately debated points of exegesis, I cannot, indeed must not, allow this conviction to represent any kind of barrier to full relationships with others who hold differing convictions on this point. May our discussions on this point enhance, not detract from, our common expectation of “the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13)

Three Views on The Rapture (1996), page 211 (I added paragraph breaks but the emphasis was original to Moo).

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Philosophy Fridays: No May21st = No God?

Every now and then, on a Friday, I’ll step into the deep waters of Philosophy, ramble on about some idea and maybe even interact with something I might be reading. Most of the time, a real philosopher could probably read my drivel and speak into it offering a corrective—but for now I’ll speak from ignorance. After all, it is Friday; what better way to have fun than with philosophy. In this post I’ll deal with some philosophical issues surrounding the rapture (or lack thereof come May 21st) in under 700 words.

Let’s say that the rapture doesn’t happen on May 21st, 2011 (which, according to the last posts, seems extremely likely) does that mean that God doesn’t exist? After all, there is a group of Christians saying that it is an irrefutable fact that the Bible teaches this date for the rapture. And if the Bible teaches it, and it doesn’t happen, then surely God doesn’t exist.

This sounds silly, but I’ve seen folk raising this point as if now we’ll have the proof either way. But there’s several responses to this.

The Bible could be wrong, is one response. That shouldn’t be as catastrophic as some Christians might think. The existence of God isn’t predicated on a Bible that doesn’t make mistakes; it’s predicated on the fact that God exists. If the Bible contained errors, that wouldn’t negate the truth claim of God existing, it would just put into question what we can know about God’s existence.

Even then, that shouldn’t put us into an agnostic tailspin. We might wind up looking at the Bible like any other collection of ancient documents: containing historical data while simultaneously containing mistakes. So the way we would look at a modern textbook in School and say “this didn’t happen exactly this way” while still trusting what the book says, we can likewise do this with a Bible that contains mistakes of the proportion of predicting Christ’s return on May 21st, 2011.

But we don’t even have to go as far as saying the Bible is wrong. We might offer an easier response: the date-setters are wrong—and that could be at two levels. One level (which I think the date-setters might employ) is that (a) the calculations were wrong or (b) the event was right but the extent of the event was mistaken. Jehovah Witnesses, for example, long predicted that Christ came but made a correction saying that Christ entered into Earth with some sort of presence of judgment awaiting Armageddon. They weren’t saying that before the prediction failed. Anyway, this would only prove the fallibility of men.

The second level (which the date-setters will avoid if the event doesn’t occur) is that the date-setters were wrong on almost everything. They started trying to do something that there is no warrant to do, they based their math on presuppositions, and they preached a message which God never authorized. If anything, this wouldn’t disprove the existence of God either; it’d just prove that men can make intentional mistakes when they try to do what they aren’t authorized to do.

Even if the rapture does happen, it wouldn’t prove these date-setters were right. It could be that the rapture happens, but these people got the right day by luck and not by mathematics or revelation. This would leave these people wrong on everything except for the date which they hit by accident.

Of course, I personally doubt the event will occur tomorrow, but either way it doesn’t disprove the existence of God nor prove that the exegesis of the date-setters was spot-on.

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What Is The Rapture?

If you’ve driven down certain roads, you’ve might have seen signs that said “The Rapture is on X” where X can be any date: specifically, this Saturday, May 21st 2011. A certain Christian by the name of Harold Camping has put his pen to paper once again to set another date for this event and, once again, Christians have been convinced by the time table.

But I don’t want to talk so much about Camping and his crowd. I want to address a few presuppositions and misconceptions that have been flying about by writing a few posts. This first post will go about defining what the rapture is.

Some folk hear “The Rapture is coming” and they automatically translate “The Rapture” to “End of the World” If one is careful with the recent news, Harold Camping is saying that the Rapture is on May 21st and the End of the World is in October this year. Why would he differentiate if it means the same thing?

Well, The Rapture has a couple of meanings: one is the meaning of the word and the second is the theological meaning of the doctrine, and that last bit gets nuanced. That might sound like a weird and unnecessary distinction but it really is something that we all do in our everyday.

“Here are the car keys” technically mean “Here are the keys which enable operation of a vehicle”. But, when you’re employing these words while handing them over to your eighteen year old son who has just acquired his driver’s license, it has a secondary meaning: it is saying that he has reached the point where he can rightfully and (hopefully) responsibly operate the family vehicle.

Technically “rapture” means being carried away—maybe by an emotion. It has the Latin root of raptus which means to seize or snatch. So the literal term is being applied to a phrase in the English Bible: “caught up” or “snatch away”. This phrase is a translation from the original Greek word harpazo.

You’ll find the word harpazo used in Biblical passages that deal with forcibly taking something from someone else (Matt 12:29; Matt 11:12; John 6:15) or quickly take (John 10:12).

But the word is also used in situations which were exceedingly strange. For example, Philip is in one location and then he is harpazo’d and sent elsewhere (Acts 8:39) or when Paul (or someone he knows but let’s assume Paul) is sitting around he is spiritually taken away somewhere else where he sees things that he is not allowed to speak about (2 Cor 12:2-4).

These other uses start trending to our theological usage of the term. You have individuals who are taken elsewhere, in one case physically and in another case spiritually.  In one case (Paul) is brought back to where he physically is; in the other case, Phillip is not brought back to the Ethiopian but rather continues on to where he was transported.

Elsewhere, Christians are told to save others by snatching them out of the fire (Jude 23) with no intention of putting them back into the fire (which is likely referring to God’s judgment of these people who are sinning). Or, in the book of The Revelation, the Son of the Woman (Christ) is snatched up to the throne of God (Rev 12:5). He is relocated, and in this case he is put in a position of power.

So when you read in 1 Thess 4:17 that Christians are caught up, you get arrive at the secondary theological meaning. Christians, living and dead, are caught up to remain with the Lord. See, it winds up being tied to the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15:20-24) in a certain sequence: Christ resurrected first, then others, then the end.

Now, there are some theological nuances to this definition throughout the Christian tradition. You see, some Christians (Full Preterists) believe that this catching up with the resurrection of the dead and the coming of Christ occurred in 70 A.D. Christ came to Jerusalem in judgment and many saints  were seen rising up from the graves both at the crucifixion and at this event. Other Christians believe that this snatching away is as a procession that welcomes a King entering a city—so Christians are snatched up, given new bodies, then come back. And yet other Christians think that this snatching away is because God’s wrath is about to be poured out and his people are not to be subjected to His wrath.

The point here is this: Christians believe in The Rapture in both senses (technical and theological) but differ on the theological nuances.

The reason for this disagreement is easy: speaking about what happens in the future is exceedingly difficult for finite humans who don’t have access to the future. It’s even harder when the time tables in Scripture aren’t as clear cut as the expectations.

Christians are told that Christ will return and to live under that expectation. It has been an expectation of the Church since the very beginning. Christians are told that there will be a resurrection which has also been an expectation from the very beginning. The Rapture is distinctly Christian.

So that’s the rapture: it literally means the snatching away or the catching up but it has a secondary theological definition tied to the resurrection of the dead and with enough nuances that you’ll see variation across Christianity.

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Prayer Mondays: Come

Barring my faulty memory (and if I’m not lazy) I want to post prayers on Monday from all over Church History and then throughout the modern day, and then my own. This one comes from the apostle John, and from all Christians, in response to Jesus’ own words “Yes, I am coming quickly.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

(Rev 22)

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