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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

The Doctrine of the Last Things (16) Armageddon and The Rapture

Written by  Rev. C.A. Schouls
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For this and some of the following notes, the primary source used is Wm. HendriksenÕs The Bible on the Life Hereafter
ARMAGEDDON
Various Theories

The very word "Armageddon" strikes fear and excitement into the hearts of many people. What is it all about and what does it mean? Let us consider first what it means to many pre-millenialists. On the basis of Revelation 16:12 ff., 19:19 and 20:7-10, they teach that a literal, physical battle will take place in which Christ and His glorified saints will swoop down from heaven and destroy all the powers of the wicked nations of the earth who have marched against Jerusalem in a final mass attack to destroy the saints of God. The battle will be physical, with airplanes, rockets, tanks and guns; there will be noise and smoke, blood and sweat, grunting and groaning--in other words: all the elements of violent physical combat will be there. The outcome will be sure from the start: Christ and His hosts will be victorious. Whether Christ's side will suffer any casualties is an open question. If there are any, they will immediately be raised in the final resurrection.

Various prophecies are interpreted in a literal way--the river Euphrates drying up is seen as providing a highway for the armies to march from north to south. Usually Russia (in its former communist form) is seen as the great aggressor. Some have said China, with a potential army of 200 million foot soldiers, will take the lead. But, whatever the details, it will be a mass attack against the "Beloved City" and, in the nick of time, Christ will intervene.

Others see the final battle as a brief but violent conflict between two groups of nations. Various possibilities include: Russia and the Islam nations vs. the Anglo-Saxon world; or Russia, Italy and Japan vs. England, France and the U. S. or Germany, Italy, Japan vs. France, England, U. S. and their allies (W.W. III). This theory now lends itself to the idea that the nations, with their incredible firepower, will cause the earth to be destroyed by fire. The Gulf War of 1991 was expected by some to be this Armageddon battle. No doubt, many today (this is written in late January, 2003) will expect Gulf War II to be Òthe real thing.Ó Without a doubt, the potential is there for an alignment of nations that could pit Islamic powers against the West. In the first Gulf War we also saw the horrific destructive power of burning oil wells. Could such fires go underground and set the entire area ablaze? But, even if all these things would come to pass, is this what the Bible teaches when it speaks of the end times?

Still another theory holds that this battle pictures the final conflict between paganism and the Gospel of Christ. The sword proceeding out of Christ's mouth is seen as the Gospel. This Gospel is then to overcome and usher in the reign of Christ (this would be the post-mill view). However, in both Revelation 2:16 and 19:15, the sword is a means of judgment and destruction. We cannot twist this to mean victory and salvation in this way.

We reject these various views on Armageddon and present a much more sober and biblically responsible view.

The Biblical Meaning
What is this battle of Armageddon (or Har-Megiddon)? It is mentioned in three different places in the Revelation: 16:12 ff., 19:19 and 20:7-10, although the place name is mentioned only in the first reference (16:16). These are not three different battles, but all descriptions of one and the same struggle. It refers to the end time when the wicked who are still living on earth when the Lord returns, will have banded together under the leadership of Antichrist and persecute what is left of the Church in a vicious manner. Just as it seems that the Church will be utterly destroyed, Christ comes and, at once, defeats all these evil powers. This is not a physical, literal battle in the sense of military manouevres, guns and tanks, etc., but it will be a real spiritual battle with immediate victory and with clearly seen physical results: the wicked will be destroyed.

How can we come to this conclusion? We must search the Scriptures and then we find this place referred to in the Old Testament at various times. Har Megiddon means ÒMountain of Megiddo.Ó In northern Israel, between Mt. Carmel and Mt. Tabor, lies the valley of Jezreel. Standing on Mt. Carmel, in the area where Elijah had his confrontation with the priests of Baal, and looking to the right (south), one can still see a town called Megiddo, almost immediately below this mountain range. It had once been an important stronghold controlling the access to the southern part of the land. It was in this valley that some fierce and decisive battles took place, even as late as the First World War. Here Josiah lost his life in the battle with Pharaoh Necoh (2 Kings 23:29,30). Many campaigns between the mighty surrounding lands ended in battles right here, at the cross roads of the Middle East. It was here also that the great battle of Jehovah against King Jabin and his general Sisera took place (Judges 4 and 5). And it is this first recorded battle at Megiddo that gives us the meaning of what is referred to in the Revelation.

Israel was oppressed and helpless. Sisera had 900 chariots--an incredibly large force. The chariot was the equivalent to the modern-day tank. Israel had not even a spear or a shield and had gone into hiding (Judges 5: 8, 6). The Lord raises up Deborah as prophetess and the not so valiant Barak as judge. He rouses the men of Zebulon and Naphtali and, with Jehovah leading them into battle, they rout the foe. Sisera escapes on foot, only to be killed by a woman, Jael, while sleeping in her tent.

This battle is the symbol of every battle in which, when the need is greatest and God's people seem about to be wiped away, the Lord himself intervenes. The battle in Judges 4 is a type of the final conflict. Then Satan will be defeated and from this battle he will be immediately cast out into the bottomless pit. He will have been loosed, but only for a little while. There will be great tribulation when Satan will have convinced all the nations of the world to gather against the church, but then will be the end. Christ will come, suddenly, "as a thief" (Rev.16: 15). The sixth bowl is then poured out to be followed immediately by the seventh, the final judgment.

Evil Finally Overcome
At this time the forces of evil will finally be defeated, never again to hinder God's people. We note the following:

a. Antichrist is defeated (2 Thess.2:8) and is cast into perdition (Rev.17: 11).

b. The angels will gather all the hosts of wickedness and bring them before the throne of judgment where the wrath of God will be poured out upon them (Matt.13: 41; 25:41-46; Rev.14: 17-20). They go into everlasting punishment of both body and soul.

c. The devil will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, hell, the place of eternal suffering in body and soul.

THE RAPTURE
Dispensationalists

Among the people who love the Lord and are awaiting His return, there is a sharp difference of thought on this subject. Dispensationalists (we attack the view, not the people) hold to a view on all this with which we cannot agree. Their view is based on:

a. Genesis 5:21-24: the history of Enoch. With them, we believe that Enoch did not die but was taken straight to heaven.

b. John 14:1-3: Jesus is with His disciples during the night of the Last Supper. He comforts them by promising that He will return for them and take them into His Father's house. We believe this refers to His Second Coming at which time He will receive his own into His presence forever.

c. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13: Paul prays that he may return to the Thessalonians. He also prays that they be filled with such love that their hearts be strengthened so that there may be fruit for the Day of Judgment when Jesus will come "with all his saints."

d. 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18: Paul gives words of comfort to those who are grieving the death of loved ones. If they have died in Christ, we need not sorrow as those who have no hope. When Christ returns, these will return with Him. We, who then are still alive, will meet them in the air and "so shall we ever be with the Lord."

The Origin of the Idea of the Rapture
"RaptureÓ--the word is not in the Bible. The Dictionary defines it as: "a state of being transported by a lofty emotion." In the context of the return of the Lord Jesus, it refers to the change that will take place in the believers then living. Now, all Bible believing Christians agree there will be such a change, but not all hold to the doctrine of the Rapture for it teaches that Christ will come and take away His people suddenly, leaving the others to fend for themselves as best they can. Life continues but Christians will all suddenly be gone. Christian bus drivers will be snatched away and their vehicles will likely crash; family members will suddenly disappear, etc. Then, with all the Christians gone, the period of the Great Tribulation will break loose. Various views are held on this and the differences are too many to mention. Some teach that Jesus will come two, three or even more times. All of them hold to the pre-millennial view of Christ coming to reign on earth, in the body, for a literal period of 1,000 years. All of them are dispensationalist in their view of history.

This "Rapture" idea has become so widely accepted that many believe it is actually taught in the Bible. One of the most influential ways of spreading it has been through the "Scofield" reference Bible. (This is the classic dispensationalist, pre-millennialist work, first published in 1909, which through the notes has had such a wide effect on, especially, American evangelicalism.) Yet, for biblical proof they can offer nothing more specific than these texts. All of them together simply do not teach anything as fanciful as current Rapture theology.

Where did this doctrine originate? Most people do not know; at best, they assume simply it has always been there, but that only recently it has received emphasis. They would be stunned to learn that the idea originated not in Scripture but in the fevered mind of a Scottish woman named Margaret MacDonald of Port Glasgow who in the spring of 1830 claimed to have received a vision in which she learned that Christ would first come for His own and then, later, come with His own to judge the world. This the first time such doctrine was ever taught--one hundred and seventy-three years ago. Even then, it did not gain much attention for it was overshadowed by all kinds of charismatic activity such as healing and tongue speaking. There was a "revival" which had western Scotland in an uproar and which was denounced for its excesses by many in the Presbyterian Church.

Edward Irving, a one-time Presbyterian minister who was deposed for teaching heresy and who founded the Irvingite movement--the Catholic Apostolic Church--and who is known as Òthe Father of the modern Pentecostal movementÓ, adopted the pre-tribulation rapture theory. It was not long before this strange doctrine moved into American revivalism and hence into just about every church which holds to the pre-millennial view. Only in 1973 was a book written which exposed the strange roots of this widely established false doctrine.

There you have the origins of this strange doctrine. How many who are committed to it know that it came from a excited Scottish woman 173 years ago?

Comments on the Four Bible Passages Mentioned
Dispensationalists: They believe there will be (at least) two second comings: The Rapture and The Revelation. For the Rapture they seek support in Genesis 5 and John 14. Enoch's "rapture" is seen as the pattern for the final event. The words of Jesus are considered to point in the same direction when He says, "I will come again and receive you unto myself". We believe these words should be taken at face value and nothing more should be read into them: Enoch was "snatched away;" Jesus will come for His people but this says nothing about a Rapture as they speak of it. Neither is it legitimate to use the 1 Thessalonians 3 passage to prove there will be a coming with the saints (as opposed to a coming for the saints).

Rapturists: They believe that at the first coming all believers then living will be snatched away--the coming itself will be invisible and inaudible. Suddenly, a lot of people will be gone. These are the true believers who for a seven-year period will enjoy ultimate delights with the Lord in the sky. This they call, ÒThe Wedding of the Lamb." During this time, the Lord will deal with the Jews. They are brought back to Israel; most are converted but suffer horribly at the hands of Antichrist. In fact, many will be killed, making the resurrection of the "tribulation saints" a necessity. When the seven years are over (the seventieth week of Daniel 9:27), Christ and His redeemed will come swooping down from the sky for the final Battle of Armageddon. This is the coming with the saints or ÒThe RevelationÓ.

The Bible: What does the Bible teach? We have not yet dealt with the key passage, 1 Thessalonians 4: 13- 18. The background is a question regarding the state of the dead. The then current view was that they roamed in a dreary underworld. Paul says, "No, they have gone to be with the Lord. When the Lord returns, they will come with Him, their bodies will be raised from the grave and then, together, we then living and they newly raised, will meet the Lord in the air." It is a clear and powerful image.

Dispensationalists put all the emphasis on "the dead in Christ will rise first" as if this means "and the other dead will rise a thousand years later." But in this passage Paul is simply not dealing with "the dead not in Christ". He is not making this contrast. The contrast is between the dead in Christ and the living in Christ. What he is saying amounts to this: "Don't worry about those who have already died in the Lord. When that great day will come, their souls will return with Him. They will not be at any disadvantage. In fact, we who are then still living will have to wait a moment while they take up their new resurrection bodies. In that moment, which will last as long as the twinkling of the eye, the ones still living will be changed and then, together, as one large multitude of redeemed people, we will meet the Lord in the air".

This we believe to be the simple, straightforward teaching of the Bible on "The Rapture."

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1.
Armageddon is a concept firmly and often wrongly embedded in our consciousness. "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" speaks of "the terrible swift sword" and of armies "tramping through the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored"--terms derived from ÒArmageddon theology.Ó But can we derive any comfort at all from this picture? What does the Catechism have to say in LD 19?

2.Can you prove that Christ's one and only second coming will be both seen and heard?

3.Apart from other considerations such as improper use of the Scriptures, why is the dispensationalist view of Armageddon so hard to accept?

4.What practical benefit do you derive from a study of Christ's glorious second coming and our going forth to meet Him? Should we (and do we?) teach these things to our children? Should we discuss them with Dispensationalists?

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