An often quoted verse from the Bible is John 3:16. It has been referenced and quoted countless time from church pulpits, Sunday school rooms, street corners and even football games. I used to say that this was the “Touchdown” Bible verse back in the day due to the likelihood that somebody would be holding up a “John 3:16” for the NFL Sunday afternoon cameras to see.
The verse goes like this: For God so loved the world, that He gave His One and only Son, so that anyone who believes in Him will never die but will have eternal life.
But here’s the thing, is this verse still accurately representing God today?
In Barbara R Rossing’s ‘The Rapture Exposed: The Message and Hope in the Book of Revelation’, this very notion surfaces as she dives into the complicated world of end-times theology, evangelical fundamentalism, Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind novel series and a popular event known as the ‘Rapture’.
Rossing, who teaches New Testament at the Luther School of Theology in Chicago, believes that there is danger and deception lurking behind the modern day predictive script and politics of fundamentalisms escapist end-times storyline. Her arguments are very convincing and speak for themselves.
Rossing notes that it all began in 1830, when fifteen-year-old Margaret MacDonald attended a healing service in Port Glasgow, Scotland. During the service, she was said to have seen a vision of a ‘two-stage’ return of Jesus Christ. This story was immediately adopted and amplified by John Nelson Darby, a British evangelical preacher and founder of the Plymouth Brethren movement.
This new teaching insisted that Jesus was now going to return twice, rather than just once. According to Darby, Jesus’ first return would be ‘in secret’ in order to ‘Rapture’ his followers out of the world and up to heaven. Then, Jesus would return a second time to establish His kingdom here on earth after seven years of world-wide wars and global tribulation.
Maybe the name ‘Darby’ and ‘Rapture’ are unfamiliar to you, but if you have ever heard people talk about Armageddon, Antichrist, a one-world government, or being left behind, then you’ve probably been exposed to the theological system invented by Darby and his followers. It’s called ‘dispensationalism’.
According to Darby, God divided all of human history into seven distinct dispensations, or specific times when God dealt with humanity differently and specific to that dispensation of age. Darby’s best-selling Scofield Reference Bible helped to establish this teaching and was a popular tool in spreading this new system of thought. Prominent institutions like Dallas Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute began to adopt Darby’s teaching, timetable and end-times system.
Rossing states that many people were attracted to Darby’s dispensationalist system and its Rapture theology because it offered a comprehensive and rational (science-like) presentation of the Bible and end-time events. This was especially appealing due to the sweeping scientific claims of Darwin in the early 1900’s. It seemed that Christians were given a system that could finally compete with science and its rational approach to history. Furthermore, this ‘system’ offered an explanation of the very challenging and contradictory book of Revelation.
But was Darby’s system correct?
Rossing does an excellent job at systematically debunking Darby’s dispensational theological system and eventually proclaims it to be a “fabrication of Darby” that was unfortunately invented less that 200 years ago, shipped to America and exported to the world. In other words, Rossing is convinced that ‘dispensationalism’ has been duping minds and hearts for centuries.
At the crux of it all is the notion of Jesus returning twice, or in ‘two distinct stages’ separated by a period of seven years, as dispensationalists claim. For Rossing, this violates all early Christian creeds and the actual Bible itself! Nowhere do the creeds or the Bible describe Jesus as doing such a thing. In fact, Rossing believes that such a notion has given rise to a ‘beam me up’ escapist attitude and an unbiblical mindset that has turned God into a capricious body snatcher and orchestrator of mass mayhem and world violence.
With their ‘war-like’ end-times script, Rossing states that dispensationalists have supported a militant, and triumphalistic vision of the future that stands in direct opposition of Revelations vision of Jesus and God’s heart for the world. In other words, John’s vision of Jesus conquering as a ‘slaughtered Lamb’ has been replaced with LaHaye’s contemporary Left Behind Jesus who comes to conquer the world as a roaring lion.
Rossing says that ‘we cannot afford to give in to those violent stands in our biblical tradition. We must say ‘No’ to the dispensationalists’ distorted claims that the book of Revelation is God’s battle plan for the end.’
I couldn’t agree more.
For years I was taught the dispensationalists lens and system in my church and Pentecostal tradition. From Sunday school and youth class to sermons and Sunday night alter calls, I struggled to understand the charts and its view of the end of days. But as long as I was a ‘good little boy’, I wouldn’t get ‘left behind.’
Rossing says that many (like me) were ‘raised on a daily diet of fear, (and) their view of God resembled the song about Santa Claus coming to town: “You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry”. Only it was Jesus, not Santa’
Here is where I will end.
Rossing asks a poignant question: Does the Bible really teach that Jesus will come to snatch Christians off the earth, causing ‘lots of death’, before inaugurating a seven-year period of tribulation?
But before you answer that question, perhaps you should ask yourself this one: Does God really still love this world?