Twenty years ago I was asked to teach a church Bible study curriculum on the Book of Revelation. I had an aligned common viewpoint about End Times prophecy. Half-way through the course I concluded that I could not teach the material as planned. Here’s what happened. ◊
If there is a topic on which everyone has an opinion yet knows very little about the details of that opinion, it’s the subject of End Times.
You know what I mean – the Last Days, the End of the World, Armageddon, the Second Coming, the Rapture, Judgment Day. Take your pick of Biblical or extra-Biblical terms and you’re right in the middle of a world of confusion, heated debate, visceral belief systems, and wide-ranging levels of knowledge, study, and understanding of the matter.
Many may wonder why we should even care? “Why major in the minors?” as some might say. Or “Why bother at all?”
In fact, I was talking to a friend recently who suggested that the whole world was “going to hell in a handbasket” but that he didn’t really care because “we, as Christians,” would be “raptured” to heaven and away from the coming destruction of all the world.
He was already checked out.
How about you? Think the same way? Perhaps you’ve never heard this. If you have, then I have a few questions:
- Who told you about the Rapture? When did you hear this?
- What do you really know about it?
- Can you credibly teach another person about it from the Bible?
Perhaps you’re different from most people, but I suspect most people would answer as follows:
- “I heard about the Rapture and End Times from my church pastor (or a Christian friend, or from my parents).”
- “I think it’s in the Book of Revelation, or Thessalonians. I know a little bit but I really couldn’t cite you chapter and verse in the Bible.”
- “I’m not really an expert on it so can’t teach someone, but I really believe it’s what the Bible says about End Times.”
I’m actually only reciting how I would have answered those very same questions in my youth or up to 20 years ago, even as a mature Christian who was teaching adult Bible studies at the time.
I frankly never really studied the topic in the Bible. Though I had a strong opinion on End Times eschatology, and actually sounded just like my checked out friend, I really didn’t know the details beyond what I had heard from the pulpits of churches I attended, or had read in popular books on the subject.
Then I was asked to teach a 20+ week Bible Study curriculum on the Book of Revelation to several dozen Christian adults at my church.
Ultimately, my point of view changed dramatically.
My End Times Dilemma
I had already been teaching inductive Bible Study classes with a pre-set curriculum for several years. I had taken many of the Precepts Ministries courses offered in the adult classes at our church over a 5-year period and then was asked to take over as instructor. I loved these Precepts studies and grew tremendously in faith and knowledge of the Scriptures. I taught this curriculum for about 4 years before being asked to take on a multi-week study on the Book of Revelation.
I was very excited because I wanted to better understand this topic. I dived into extra study beyond the teacher materials that are typically provided.
What I uncovered in my own research was alarming.
Whose Beliefs Do I Believe?
Any End Times theology I learned from my early Christian days in high school was from Hal Lindsey’s enormously popular book The Late Great Planet Earth, that 1970’s church youth group song, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” and various preachers always saying that the Last Days are obviously near with “wars and rumors of war” and signs like “the starting of birth pangs.” (Matthew 24:6,8)
My deeper research on eschatology just over the past 2 decades have been heavily influenced by 3 particular books by Gary DeMar, T. L. Frazier, and Hank Hanegraaff.1 What I learned in reading these books and many others was that the typical teaching about End Times and the Book of Revelation that most American Christians either grew up with or learned from the church pulpit or major seminaries and respected Christain organizations should be a topic for debate and discussion.
I’m referring to the view which believes in the premillennial, pretribulation Rapture of the Church.
Most people get introduced to this popular End Times teaching, now ingrained in US churches, and accept the premise hook, line, and sinker. Like I did.
The problem is that few publically question this status quo teaching, or get themselves caught in confusing Scripture study to support the odd premise. Many are not aware that John Nelson Darby laid out the entire schema of the “secret Rapture” in 1831 which most Christians now accept as Gospel truth. This notion got popularized as dispensational eschatology throughout the US when it was published in the study notes throughout the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. This Study Bible was then used by all the major US seminaries through most of the 20th century. Is this why many pastors leading churches in the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s and even today still hold to this belief system?
Interesting to note that the word rapture never actually appears throughout the entire Bible. Even Rapture-believing preacher John MacArthur acknowledges that the Rapture is implicit in the BIble, not explicit.2
What Happened to My Book of Revelation Class?
After seeing the teaching curriculum we were using adhered to full blown Dispensationalism and awkward literalism in this study of the Book of Revelation, and myself raising questions the course could not answer, I changed directions. I stopped teaching the course curriculum.
I carefully voiced my reservations and questions in going forward and invited the class to read the entire Book of Revelation with me using a true inductive study method. That is, using scripture to study scripture and looking at the Old Testament prophecy from Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and others in their historic and prophetic context rather than shoe-horning everything into a forced theology.
The results were profound. We only lost a few students, but the rest of us developed a new sense of appreciation for the Word of God and a little less fanfare for the ideas of man. I learned the words of Jesus and the promises of God are confirmed and consistent throughout the Old and New Testament. My faith and commitment to it was enhanced.
With the notion now that the real Last Days may in fact come (with no Rapture) today, tomorrow, 5 years from now, or 5,000 years from now, I also personally developed a revived appreciation for my life in the here and now. My vital and abiding walk with Jesus matters today in the kingdom at hand and we, all of us, are to be good stewards, vessels, and legacies of the Holy Spirit in this present world for ourselves, our families, and our fellow man.
Are you restricted in any way by your understanding of Bible prophecy?
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place…. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. – Revelation 1:1,3
1 Last Days Madness – Obsession of the Modern Church, by Gary DeMar, American Vision, Atlanta GA, 1999; A Second Look at the Second Coming – Sorting Through the Speculations, by T.L. Frazier, Conciliar Press, Ben Lomond, CA 1999; and The Apocalypse Code – Find Out What the Bible Really Says About the End Times and Why It Matters Today, by Hank Hanegraaff, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN, 2007.
2 The Rapture: The Last Days According to Jesus with R.C. Sproul, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dILQHlaqINg