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End times and the Jews

Where did the idea of the “rapture” come from?

I hinted earlier that there was another later version of premillenialism that had a special Jewish element. This goes by the mouthful of dispensational premillenialism, the doctrine ultimately responsible for the Left Behind novels and Hal Lindsay's Late Great Planet Earth. It's where you'll find the fiercest fighting of this particular battleground. This can be traced back to a single meeting of those who were concerned that the Second Coming didn't seem to figure any more in the thinking of the Church. The time was 4th October 1831, the place was Powerscourt House, Dublin and the people were prominent figures in what was known as the Plymouth Brethren, including a much reviled chap called John Nelson Darby.

At that time historicism was the preferred view of End Time matters, taking the events of Revelation symbolically and applying them to current events. Darby disagreed and urged a more Hebraic view of Scripture, reading it, where possible, as a plain, literal account. He advocated a reaction to the looking-back of the historicists and suggested that we look forwards to the future for fulfilment. This was called futurism, believe it or not. He took the Scriptures in Genesis and other places, referring to the descendants of Abraham and their earthly inheritance and asked, so when are the Jews going to receive the fulfilment of this promise? God does not lie, so it must happen eventually. For Darby this was still in the future and was wrapped up in a series of signposts, not just the return of the Jews to their land but a contentious little word called ... the Rapture.

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Darby proposed that the Rapture of the Church, the whisking away of the saints, was just the first stage of Christ's return. Since that time even the subject of the Rapture has split folk into three camps: pre-tribulation Rapture, mid-tribulation Rapture and post-tribulation Rapture - depending on whether you believe Christians are going to catch any of the bad stuff that was going to happen on Earth. It's all very subjective, although everyone can back up their different views scripturally!

Back to the Jews - and read this carefully. One reason why dispensational premillenialism is so contentious is that it's the only End Time view that really has a positive outlook for the Jewish people, a place in their theology that can properly account for Scriptures such as these:

I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God. (Genesis 17:7-8)

This is what the LORD says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar - the LORD Almighty is his name: "Only if these decrees vanish from my sight," declares the LORD, "will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me." (Jeremiah 31:35-36)

Without analysing the ins and outs of Darby's new idea, it's enough just to consider that, as the theory makes theological space for the Jew's return as a "special" people, then for those who cannot countenance this possibility, the attractions of dispensational premillenialism are a strict no-no and it's a return to the safe haven of amillennialism. It's back to agendas here, I'm afraid. More of that a little later.

Steve Maltz

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again

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