SERMON FODDER: The Rapture?

This post just sort of came to me.

This week, I am preaching on 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18. This is a popular passage that proponents of the Rapture use as proof for their belief. I could go a hundred different ways with this passage, but this thought came to me as I was pondering this pericope (pronounced per-ick-o-pee).

Considering the relatively fresh take on end-times theology that the Rapture represents (c. early 1800’s), could there be an alternate understanding of this passage–and the Rapture idea, itself? I believe the answer is “yes.”

It was at some time in my studies of this material that I remembered something I learned at Local Pastor’s Licensing School–a training program for pastors who have yet to complete seminary. In our preaching class, we covered Psalm 23. I think–and did not take time to do a vast follow-up study to confirm my thoughts–that the hebrew used in conjunction with the “the valley of the shadow of death” is more active than the english lets on. Instead of God just “being with us,” this verse is an indication that God reaches down into that valley to rescue us. In other words, God snatches us up from the dangers surrounding us.

Paul was a Jew. He was a self-admitted “hebrew of all hebrews.” The understanding of God I recounted in the last paragraph would not have been foreign to him. Could Paul, desiring to comfort the church he so loved, have meant to portray a hope we have in God that we will be “caught up” with Christ? Not a Rapture, but the hope that all Christians have that God fulfills a promise to us once this life is over.

The Rapture is a theology which mixes bad theology with a profit motive. If you scare enough people, you can get them to buy all the crap you hawk on the subject. The Rapture is not part of the historic Christian orthodoxy. It is a proof-texted theory which has a scant basis in scripture.

I believe that Paul is referring to the hope the Thessalonians–and us–can have that God will fulfill the promises he has made. If we are “caught up” into anything, it is God’s promises that we will be with God when our work on earth is done.

It isn’t a grand theological statement, just some thoughts.

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