I remember my first experience praying to ask Jesus to come into my life. Unfortunately it was not because I was stricken by God’s love for me or impacted by the message of Jesus. Instead, I did it because I was scared shitless after watching an “end-times” movie called A Thief In The Night. This movie took a literal view of the book of Revelation interpreting it in its popular dispensational view that Jesus will rapture all the Christians out of the world and those “left behind” will have to fend for themselves as things go from bad to worse before Jesus decided to fully return to establish his kingdom and send all evil-doers to eternal punishment. I was overwhelmed with the terror and wrath of God and out of fear wanted to make sure I would go to heaven. Of course, growing up with the “left behind” type of theology there were moments of sheer terror when I walked into the house to find none of my family, thinking that God snatched them all up and I was not! But then all of a sudden a person emerged from another part of the house so I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the rapture didn’t happen.
It wasn’t until latter in life that I discovered that the popular dispensationalist view of interpreting Revelation is not even 200 years old. And on top of that, there are other ways of interpreting the apocalyptic passages of Revelation that have been around for thousands of years. Instead of being a negative view of doom and gloom, it was a message of hope to its original recipients. This was not some science-fiction book interpreting our distant future, but instead a letter that John wrote to a specific group of people which applied to their current situation. It was then that I realized that your eschatology can have a big impact on how you think the “end times” will take shape. Some believe that the world is going from bad to worse and Jesus needs to eventually snatch us out of here before things get really bad. Yet others believe that Satan was defeated at the cross and that we have been entrusted with the task of carrying out the Great Commission to advance the Kingdom of God before Jesus returns once and for all.
With all this said, Barbara R. Rossing has written The Rapture Exposed which helps to give some historical background to the various views of how to interpret the apocalyptic passages within the Bible. She exposes the fact that how we look at Revelation can have significant effects on how we look at God’s creation, non-believers, culture, politics and the current nation of Israel. The literalistic, dispensationalist view leads to some very negative consequences that simply do not line up with the rest of Scripture. Rossing calls it a theology of despair, and rightfully so. She also points out that the actual word “rapture” is not even in the whole Bible! She goes on to show the Biblical gymnastics that the dispensationalists need to accomplish to make their interpretation work for them. Instead of looking at the simple message of certain Scripture passages, they instead stretch it to say things that just aren’t there. In her own words, she states that “the hope of the book of Reveation is that God’s Lamb, Jesus, is already victorious and that God’s people will be faithful to the Bible’s vision of life. The hope is that we will follow the Lamb, renouncing all the seductions of imperial injustice and violence, so the threat of plagues will be averted. God loves the world. God does not desire earth’s destruction.” (p. 85).
If you have grown up with the “Left Behind” interpretation of Revelation I would highly recommend that you read this book and realize that that view has only been around for a while and the implications of that view lead to a tremendous amount of poor theology. Instead, understood in its context, Revelation is a wonderful message of hope for people who are being oppressed by Empire.
The only thing I would have liked is if this book had a followup chapter on our current day situation with politics and world events. But maybe it is too soon to comment on that. Either way, this is an important book to help understand apocalyptic literature in the Bible and how it should be interpreted. I highly recommend it.