I grew up with a particular theology belief known as “the Rapture”.
The Rapture, if you’re not familiar with it, is an American Evangelical belief that right before the end of the world God will take all living Christians to heaven leaving only non-Christians alive. This event will mark the beginning of the end of the world.
After the Rapture will come the Great Tribulation, a seven-year period where God pours out his wrath on an unbelieving world.
I don’t want to discuss the merits of this particular theology. Whether one accepts the Rapture or not depends on how you interpret a select number of verses (1 Thess 4:17 primarily, but also Matt. 24:40-41; 1 Cor. 15:52) and would require a deep dive into the Semitic culture of the first century and ancient Greek language and I’m trying to get some page views on this blog.
Instead, I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss the implication of Rapture theology.
As it was explained to me growing up, the world is simply getting worse and worse. This, in some ways, is good news because it means the ends is near.
In Rapture/Tribulation theology, once the world gets to a sufficiently wicked state, God will decide he’s had enough. He’s been patient and tried to convince people to follow him for a while, but people aren’t listening and the time for patience is over. Now it’s time for wrath and punishment.
This is the moment when God will decide to remove all of his faithful followers, that way they don’t have to endure the wrath and punishment portion (this particular view is known as pre-tribulation theology. Some people subscribe to a mid-tribulation or post-tribulation view of the Rapture).
So here’s my question about all of this. Is the Rapture/Great Tribulation essentially God’s nuclear option?
Here’s what I mean by that. Does God have the ability to save people, to convince them to follow him and live lives of self-sacrificial love, or does God only have a single trick up his sleeve, an ultimate trump card of destruction?
Does God simply beg and plead with people to do what’s right to no avail until he’s finally tired of trying and decides to wipe the deck?
And if so, if God isn’t able to convince the vast majority of humanity to follow Jesus, then what are the implications of that?
What Rapture/Tribulation theology suggests is that God is ultimately fighting a losing battle; that in one way or another God is unable to save humanity.
But if you read the New Testament, the sovereignty and authority of God, specifically viewed through the sovereignty and authority of Jesus, is never in question.
For the authors of the New Testament, Jesus already has all power, authority, dominion and rule, not just here and now but also in the next age (a New Testament way of saying “after the end of all things”). For the writers of the New Testament, the fact that Jesus had already won was a given. It was their starting point from which everything else got worked out.
The reason for us to live with any sort of morality here and now was because Jesus has conquered the powers of darkness.
The reason for us to work towards a better future was because Jesus had defeated sin.
In fact, the Good News the earliest Christians shared wasn’t “Pray this prayer in order to avoid God’s wrath” it was “Jesus has already won.”
For the writers of the New Testament, the idea that God is ineffective and has an inability to bring about his ultimate plan of salvation for the entire universe and instead would resort to a last ditch nuclear option, would have been so radical and counter to everything they knew about Jesus that I doubt they would have called it the Gospel.
They didn’t believe at some future event God would be vindicated, they believed that in the resurrection Jesus was already vindicated.
Sin, death, and hell wouldn’t one day be defeated. They were already defeated through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus declared all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.
Paul says through Jesus God is reconciling all things to himself.
Peter tells us everything is submitted to Jesus.
God doesn’t need a nuclear option. He doesn’t need to beg and plead for people to follow him. He’s already been victorious and now through the Church he is continuing his mission of redeeming and restoring everything to the way it should be.