Tuesday, 25 October 2011
The Second Coming (Part II) Rapture?
The Prostestant dispensationalist movement forwards the most popular Western view of the Second Coming of Christ. Dispensationalism, which was founded by John Nelson-Darby in the 19th century, often presents a premillennist view which involves a "Rapture" of Christians from earth, followed by a seven-year tribulation. After this tribulation period the Antichrist will be destroyed by Jesus, who proceeds to establish a millennial reign of peace on earth, which will eventually be interupted by Satan, who will be unleashed at the end of the thousand years to attack the kingdom presided over by Christ. This view of the Second Coming is especially prevalent in North America, and has been greatly popularised in recent times by books such as Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth, and Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkin's fictional Left Behind series. There are some variances in premillennism, such as whether the Rapture will occur before, during or after the tribulation period, but that should not concern us too much here.
Whilst some forms of premillennial thought (chiliasm) can be found amongst some of the Church Fathers, it was eventually condemned as heresy in the 4th century and the words "whose kingdom will have no end" was included in the Nicene creed to counter chiliastic beliefs. The idea of a Rapture is unique to dispensationalists however and is only a recent development in Protestant theology based largely on a misunderstanding of 1Thes 4:16-17:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The majority of dispensationalists believe that the Rapture will occur before the tribulation period (pre-tribulationalism) to spare believing Christians from the reign of the Antichrist, who will then return with Christ after the tribulation and leave in peace for a period of a thousand years.
Yet the above passage in 1Thes clearly concerns the resurrection of the dead (or General Resurrection) which takes place at the Last Judgement after the world is destroyed by fire, and should therefore be distinguished from the Second Coming. The Paraousia of Christ on earth is separate from the "Four Last Things" of death, judgement and heaven and hell. The Second Coming will be a visible event seen by all, accompanied by the largest earthquake known to human civilisation - not some sort of invisible and silent Rapture that will secret believers away into Paradise, leaving only sinners to face the wrath of God.
The idea of a Rapture is greatly at odds with Catholic belief, which holds that the Church must undergo the final trial to emulate the crucifixion of Jesus:
The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God's triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgement after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.(Catechism of the Catholic Church 677)
It is only through this suffering and death that the Church will find its true victory over evil, and just as Christ rose from the dead on the third day, so too will the Church be resurrected after this final trial ultimately results in the destruction of humanity. But through an act of infinite mercy, the Second Coming of Christ is suspended until the Church is purified, and those who have fallen away return through the gift of the Second Pentecost.