15. Applied theology II (a): The love

(The post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=15 )

Applied theology II: Critics and readers look outward toward the world (a): The love

This section explores rapturism’s influence on personal and interpersonal behavior; and its interpretation of the nature of God; Israel and its neighbors; mortality and glory; the nature of tribulation and suffering; and stewardship, the mortal earth, and the new heavens and new earth. At the section’s end is an introduction to divisions within the rapturist movement itself.

On personal and interpersonal behavior

How do people respond to Left Behind or books like it? David Currie opens his first chapter with about fifteen stories of people who had profound life experiences or made life-changing decisions after they accepted rapturist teaching. Here are some (paraphrased) samples from Currie’s introduction to Chapter One.

A little boy named David came home from school one day to find his house empty. His mother and siblings were gone. David thought, “I’ve been left behind!” He had thought he was saved, but being only ten he soon found reasons to doubt his salvation. Close to panic, he wanted to call Dad at work, but Dad was saved so he would be gone too. The little boy huddled in his house, feeling totally alone.

A young woman thought she felt called to join the pro-life movement. Her friends talked her out of it. Why did she want to polish the brass on a sinking ship? If she wanted to do some good she should join their mission group. The young woman felt torn. She still wanted to join the pro-life movement. But she was feeling doubt, and her friends were so certain. They must be right. So the young woman did what her friends wanted her to do instead.

A married couple had saved up enough money to buy a house. They wanted their own home, but they felt guilty. How could they buy a house when the world was about to end? If they donated the money they had set aside for monthly mortgage payments, the money could support their church’s missions work. So the couple decided to move into their mother-in-law’s house instead. It put a great strain on their family, but it would only be for a little while longer. The Rapture would be coming very soon, and many souls would be saved because of their sacrifice.

A man waiting for the Secret Rapture believed that national Israel had to exist before this could happen. Most people who believed in the Rapture wanted to see a national Israel, but this man was in a position to do something about it. His name was Orde Wingate, and he was a Scottish general in the British army. He met with Moshe Dayan and company and taught them everything he knew about guerilla warfare. In 1948 Moses Dayan and his allies declared the new state of national Israel. The new nation immediately was attacked on every side. Armed with Wingate’s training, the Israeli army resoundingly defeated the forces sent against them, again and again until it was plain to the world that Israel was here to stay. Today there is a memorial to Orde Wingate in Israel along the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations.

(Yes, the little boy in story #1 was David Currie. His story had a happy ending when he learned that Mom had gone to visit the neighbors.)

Stories of children having panic attacks after “being left behind” are commonplace. Most of our featured critics related at least one. Even Rossing (pages 19-20) had a story to tell. She had not grown up rapturist but she met a Presbyterian pastor who had. As “Pastor Josh” recounted his “left behind” moment of forty years ago, he had a panic attack and was unable to continue. When he managed to compose himself he admitted, “I thought I was over the Rapture trauma, but I’m not.”

(Personal aside: In many versions of rapture theory the age of full accountability is thirteen, the same age as established in Judaism. [In Left Behind all children aged twelve and under are whooshed up to heaven. A few teenagers are whooshed up or left behind based on their personal maturity.] Yet in the real world children who are too young by any rapturist standard to be consigned to tribulation or to hell repeatedly exhibit a belief that “You are/I am bad enough that God will make an exception in this case.” Is this internal pressure or external pressure? Why are so many “exempt” minors absorbing this message?)

Not all of these incidents happened to children.

[A married woman named “Leah” told Frykholm] “After I had just read [Left Behind], I came home from somewhere in the evening. And I came in and the door to the house was open and Douglas and Christy were gone. I got so upset. I thought, ‘I’ve been left behind. They took the child and they left me.’” Leah tells this story through peals of laughter, both from her and from other listeners. [snip] We should not discount Leah and her listeners’ laughter. We are laughing at the absurdity of Leah’s self-doubt. Everyone in the room is aware of what an upright person Leah is, how well she fulfills the role of “devoted wife and mother” so important to Rapture eschatology. We all feel that if anyone will be left behind, it certainly will not be Leah. At the same time, we laugh out of recognition at the self-doubt Leah expresses. We all understand that kind of self-doubt, that moment of wondering, when everything you think you have built is eclipsed by deeply rooted insecurity. We laugh too, at the way that Leah has been influenced by her reading of Left Behind, that it was just after reading the first book that she had this vision. Through the act of reading, Leah has entered thoroughly into the universe of the books. They spark this fear and self-doubt that was waiting for a moment in her life to materialize. Through laughter, Leah is able to acknowledge how seriously she has taken the books, and the lightness of the moment produces the possibility of articulating her fears. (pages 150-51)

Frykholm’s childhood church introduced her to Secret Rapture teachings. In this case it produced the opposite result.

Early on I was angered by the black-and-white rhetoric of the rapture. At a youth retreat in high school, we watched Dan Thompson’s film A Thief in the Night, and rather than being frightened by the possibility of the rapture, I was inflamed by the thought that fear might be used to motivate belief. This was my earliest confrontation with the themes presented in [my book Rapture Culture], and the anger I felt that day might be the very seed out of which this book grows. (pages 4-5)

Not everyone who has a strong opinion on Left Behind or rapturist teaching goes out and writes a book about it. Instead, some readers engage in general or specific broadcast.

“Katie” told Frykholm that she and her mother bought twenty copies of Left Behind, mailed them to acquaintances, then bought another “bunch of copies” and mailed them as well. [“We sent them to] relatives mostly and people who we knew weren’t saved, but we just thought it might be a way to get their interest” (page 155).

Left Behind becomes a tool for witnessing. “Because the books are so successful at giving readers a strong sense of community identity, they hope the books might also convince others to join. The expectation of the rapture provides a particular kind of urgency and justification for sharing faith, a reason to press faith on others” (page 155). Tyndale House Publishers once advertised that a reader purchased 500 copies of Left Behind “and passed them out to everyone. Even strangers” (page 155).

As for specific broadcast Frykholm reported that several interviewees witnessed to her, including “Michael” and “Ann Marie.”

Ann Marie listens more carefully than the other interviewees to the story that I tell her about myself. She is quiet but attentive, asking a question of clarification here and there. Two hours later, when we had completed the interview about Left Behind, she returns to the subject of my spirituality.

“What are your beliefs?” she asks me, and as I fumble for an answer, she continues. “Are you afraid to die? Has anyone close to you ever died? Where do you think that person went?” My answers are brief, inarticulate, and embarrassing. I feel suddenly trapped and suffocated even as I try to retain the calm and unruffled demeanor of a researcher. I find I have no language to articulate my own eclectic religious beliefs and practices, and I have a keen awareness of how lost I must sound to her. (pages 153-4)

As Ann Marie witnesses, she confirms her own faith and seeks to introduce her beliefs to another. As Frykholm admits, “if the Rapture is coming soon, then the unsaved need to know about it.” For her part Frykholm knew that to be faithful to the spirit of interview she had to listen and refrain from trying to control the interview, no matter how uncomfortable this made her feel.

Frykholm’s interview with Michael took a different turn.

Through the interview flows a current I cannot quite articulate until I ask him this question. “Do you ever witness?”

“Well,” he answers with a gentle smile under his thick mustache,” I think I am witnessing to you right now.” Suddenly I see the interview in a different light. To some extent, I took his frankness, the emotion with which he tells his stories, and the light in his eyes as a kind of flirtation. In his comment, I realize that what I took as flirtation, he sees as witnessing. In witnessing, he gives me an account of how he has come into a better life. This is not to say that the story is one or the other. Indeed, very likely it is a combination of desires that leads his story to be powerfully told and leads me to experience it in such a profound way. (page 171)

Next Frykholm observed how family dynamics changed when Left Behind was introduced into a household. In one case it started a running argument between husband and wife. “Laura” (pages 50-53) grew up rapturist. “Mark” grew up Catholic. When Laura became a Catholic to marry Mark, her relatives disapproved. Now that Laura eagerly reads each new installment of Left Behind, her husband disapproves. He says she is addicted; she ignores him. He interrupts her and calls her favorite books “drivel”—the problem is, he cannot make fun of his wife’s taste without making fun of her. She jokes he will be left behind—the books give her a way to challenge his taste (in doctrine). Each accepts the other’s barbs because this is a way for each one to win the argument … for now. Until Left Behind came along, Laura and Mark agreed on most matters of doctrine. Now Laura is “a marginal figure” everywhere: in her old family, in her new family, in her old faith, in her new faith.

In several households, a family’s first reaction to Left Behind was that the family began questioning their mother’s salvation. Was it possible that the families already had their tensions and Left Behind merely gave them something new to fight about? The answer seems to be, “sometimes.” In some families Left Behind introduced a new element of tension. In other families it exacerbated existing tensions. Adult daughters in particular expressed concern that Mom was not “saved enough.” Says Frykholm, “Readers very often give Left Behind to their mothers as a kind of disciplining gesture” (page 59).

The dialogue between “Margaret” and her daughter “Rachel” comprise the longest interview in Frykholm’s book (pages 53-59). Frykholm states, “Margaret and Rachel role-play for each other.” Rachel gave her mother Left Behind as “a story” she thought Mom might enjoy. Margaret accepted the “just a story” excuse as a way to make a graceful exit from the series after reading volume one and deciding she did not like it. She found it “annoying,” a “trashy-novel” story of “God on a power trip.”

During the course of the interview, Margaret several times tries to temper her harsh judgments of the books’ form and content with respect for her daughter’s faith and the pleasure she derives from reading the books. [Margaret] insists that it is a “good story” or that she “enjoyed the relationships,” but it is clear to both of them that the book failed to have the impact Rachel desired. [snip] By refusing the apocalyptic belief that Rachel embraces, Margaret is aware of creating a painful split between her and her daughter. Rachel now belongs to a community that Margaret herself wants no part of. (pages 57-58)

Rachel recently chose a rapturist church, and she strongly identifies with Left Behind. On occasion she speaks of her mother as almost interchangeable with the fictional characters Hattie and Chaim because none of the three will convert. Rachel says the stubborn Hattie and Chaim make her “angry” and “frustrated.” Rachel jokes with her mother that if people suddenly disappear, would Margaret please believe God did it.

For the moment Margaret and Rachel’s relationship is not “threatened” by their differences, “but its vulnerability is also evident in Rachel’s irritation over her mother’s constant refusals, and in Margaret’s lament over her daughter’s rigid beliefs” (page 58). Privately their regrets are of opportunities lost. Rachel is haunted by the fear that her mother will not get into heaven. For her part Margaret “has decided that she failed to give her children the foundation in religion that would have made evangelicalism less appealing to them. ‘If I had to do it over, I would have them in a church, just to give them that background that I had so they could make intelligent conversation and they could make informed decisions’” (page 58).

Frykholm notes that rapturists “are acutely aware of family members who remain outside of evangelicalism and who will be unsaved when the rapture comes. I am struck by how often readers question the salvation of their mothers in particular … Because mothers play such a crucial role in evangelical piety, readers seem acutely aware of the failings of their own mothers” (page 59).

“Sarah” gave Left Behind to a relative as “just a story”; the recipient treated it as such. “The real exchange—an offering and a rejection—was shaded by the fiction” (page 159). Variations on the theme include that of the woman who sent a copy of Left Behind to her mother-in-law (page 64). (The mother-in-law’s reaction is not recorded). “Lila” (page 159) sent Left Behind to her mother, whom Lila calls a “closet Christian.” Lila gave the book to Mom in the hope she would catch fire in the faith and become passionate to convert Dad. Lila admits, “I knew I couldn’t give it directly to him.” Mom gave a variety of responses: it “doesn’t sound like a very fun book,” or “busy” with work, or “maybe this summer.” Lila states, “I would be willing to bet she will never read it. I think it is threatening to her. Because my dad is not a Christian it would make her have to face that head on, and she just likes to bury her head in the sand.” No explanation is given as to why Lila does not witness to her father herself, but it is clear she believes Mom should assume the responsibility of trying to convert Dad. By doing so Mom also would assume all the risk of incurring Dad’s displeasure or damaging the marital relationship. Lila herself would suffer no damage to the father-daughter relationship regardless of the outcome.

But in one case it was Mom who came to the rescue.

Sarah describes a time in her life when doubts overwhelmed her. Interestingly, this period of extreme doubt coincided with her marriage. Just as she was securing herself within the evangelical community by marrying a Christian, she became plagued by panic attacks and nervousness. “I’ve always believed that the devil knows what to say to you and how to get to you. At that point in my life, he was saying things to me like, ‘Don’t you think if you were really a Christian, you wouldn’t be so worried about things? Don’t you think, if you were really saved, you wouldn’t have all these doubts and fears?’ I was really a mess.” Sarah’s doubts focused on doubt itself. Why, if she were “really saved,” would she have doubts about her salvation? In the circling of worry, doubt produced still more doubt. Sarah’s mother helped to rescue her from this troubling situation by drawing her back to the moment of her salvation. “My mom was like, ‘Sarah, either you lied or God lied. When you said, “Jesus, I want you to be my Lord and Savior,” did you lie?’ No. ‘Well, when God said, “If you ask, I will do it,” did He lie?’ No. I was like, you have a good point. That helped comfort me a lot.”

During this time of confusion, Sarah did not have recourse to anything in her daily life that would help confirm her salvation. She could not point to contemporary practices or to material evidence. Instead, her mother drew her back to a moment when she was a very small child—Sarah sets the date of her “acceptance of Christ” at around the first grade—and used that moment as confirmation that Sarah had indeed “been saved.” Sarah may be somewhat anomalous as a believer by attempting to reach back so far into her past for assurance of salvation. In fact, there is something almost sacramental in Sarah’s reclamation of the moment at which she accepted Christ as her Savior that is similar to the way that Catholics might hold on to their baptisms as the moment at which they were formally accepted into the family of God. This sacramentalism is something that most evangelicals would reject. More often, evangelicals assess the state of salvation by asking, “Am I trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior now?” instead of reaching into the past. Or perhaps more precisely, as Brenda Brasher describes it, salvation may be encompassed in a single moment, but conversion is an ever-ongoing process. (pages 148-9)

Frykholm observes that “the Rapture narrative answers anxieties and raises them, simultaneously giving readers an identity within the narrative and giving them reason to question that identity” (page 151). When readers of Left Behind do not feel “saved enough” (or fear that another is not “saved enough”), they can use the books as a checklist. The novels both spark insecurities and provide comfort. What Sarah was doing was not so different. Instead of consulting a checklist, she consulted her mother, who provided the stability and comfort she needed.

(Personal aside: there seems to be a dissonance between different rapturist advertisements of faith. Rapturism, Left Behind in particular, assures its adherents that once a person is “saved,” that salvation cannot be lost or undone. Yet if a nonrapturist Christian assumed that a present darkness or silence is simply the low curve of “Consolation and Desolation” and sought assurance by reaching into the past, many rapturist teachers would insist that the Desolation occurs because salvation either is lost or never existed. Recall that some rapturists insist that nonrapturists are not Christians at all. Those teachers would make no distinction between the Desolation in a nonrapturist Christian and the spiritual anguish or depression of a “lost” human creature.)

What are some other ways that Left Behind or rapture theory influences beliefs and behavior? Well, it can influence a person’s perceptions of God, this life, the afterlife, and other people.

On the nature of God

How does rapture theory influence the way people perceive God? It can cause people to perceive prophecies in their own way (that is, in a way other than they were intended). It can cause people to think differently of the nature of the God who sends prophecy.

Olson comments that “although many passages in Scripture are predictive in nature, the intention of such prophecy is not to provide a detailed blueprint of the future” (page 99). When people have all the facts, it leaves no room for faith.

If there was one major concern among the Biblical prophets, it was ethical conduct. No Biblical writer ever revealed the future merely for the sake of satisfying curiosity: The goal was always to direct God’s people toward right action in the present. The overwhelming majority of Biblical prophecy had nothing to do with the common misperception of “prophecy” as foretelling the future. The prophets told of the future only in order to stimulate godly living.

Chilton, as quoted by Carl Olson (page 99)

Olson thinks rapturists are overly involved with foretelling and learning “the system,” as if Christianity is a game of chess or cards. “Popular dispensationalists either implicitly or explicitly make Bible prophecy a central feature of belief and practice, tacitly making Christianity into a matter of statistics and probability” (page 98).

Personal aside: This is a common complaint among nonrapturists: that rapturists allegedly value, study, and preach more about the Second Coming of Christ than the First.)

Rapturist belief has very strong ideas about the Holy Spirit, though these strongly-held ideas become surprisingly vague under close scrutiny. Rapturists believe that the Holy Spirit is “the restrainer” of 2 Thess. 2:6-8 who holds back “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:3-4, 8-10).

“Pretribulationists generally hold that if the Holy Spirit is removed from His present position indwelling the church, then the church itself must also be removed, and hence the Rapture must take place at the same time. If this removal of the Holy Spirit in the church takes place before the lawless one can be revealed, it points to an event that must precede the Tribulation. In a word, it is stating that the Rapture precedes the Tribulation” (Walvoord, Rapture Question, p. 242). Lindsey dedicates substantial space to this position in Rapture, pp. 151-67).

(footnote 65 of Olson’s book, page 316)

The Harper Study Bible (RSV) questions this interpretation:

Regarding 2 Thess. 2:7 : This is a most difficult verse. Scripture does not plainly indicate the identity of the person or influence that is now restraining the lawlessness of our present age. Some have suggested that it is the Holy Spirit Himself who shall be removed from the world scene during the tribulation, but this is impossible to reconcile with the large number of conversions which will take place during those troubled years. (Apart from the Holy Spirit no man can be converted.) This much is plain, however—that the time will come when the restraint will be taken away, and the “mystery of iniquity” which now operates underhandedly in response to concealed Satanic influences, will be plainly unveiled before the eyes of men in all of its hatefulness.

Olson pounces on the rapturist interpretation. He sees multiple misunderstandings, some involving translation and some involving the soteriology of the Holy Spirit.

The “restrainer” is identified by the majority of dispensationalists as the Holy Spirit. Once the restrainer is “out of the way”—once the Church is raptured and the presence of the Holy Spirit is removed from the earth—then the Antichrist can be revealed and the Tribulation will begin. Apparently the Holy Spirit is only removed from the earth in an incomplete way and will still be present in a smaller capacity. This, [Hal] Lindsey explains, is because the Holy Spirit “cannot be limited to working only through the Church in which He personally dwells” (Lindsey, Rapture, p. 161). He further explains that the Holy Spirit will operate in the Tribulation period just as he did in the Old Testament: “The Holy Spirit will convince men of their need of salvation, bring them to faith and regenerate them as He did from the beginning of man’s sin (Lindsey, p. 163).” Walvoord holds a different position: “That the Spirit works in the Tribulation all agree. That the Spirit indwells all believers in the Tribulation is nowhere taught” (Walvoord, Rapture Question, p. 243).

Not only is there disagreement among dispensationalists about the role of the Holy Spirit in the Tribulation, dispensationalism has a flawed understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work among mankind. Accepting for argument’s sake the basic line of the dispensationalist reasoning, two possibilities exist: (1) the Holy Spirit continues to work in the Tribulation just as he did when the Church was on earth—which means He has not really been taken out of the way at all—or (2) people will become Christian during the Tribulation but without being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The first possibility invalidates the dispensationalist interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8, while the second raises disturbing questions about dispensationalist soteriology. If one can be a believer without the Holy Spirit, as Walvoord appears to states, how exactly would salvation be accomplished? After all, the New Testament teaches that salvation involves being baptized in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) and sealed by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13 and 4:30), for mankind only has access to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:18).

It is not obvious at all from 2 Thessalonians 2 that the restrainer is the Holy Spirit. Even more tenuous is the dispensationalist belief that the phrase “out of the way” should be attached to the Rapture. A more literal interpretation of the phrase is “coming out of the midst.” The concept is “of something or someone standing in the way—in the middle between the present and the Revelation of the Antichrist—moving out of the way, not moving off the planet” (Brumley, Secret Rapture). While this passage is admittedly obscure and difficult to interpret, it provides no firm foundation for the pretribulational position and, due to its very obscurity, is a poor one upon which to base a major doctrine. (pages 316-318)

The Catholic Study Bible (NAB) writes of this passage: “What is restraining … the one who restrains: neuter and masculine, respectively, of a force and person holding back the lawless one. The Thessalonians know what is meant (6), but the terms, seemingly found only in this passage and in writings dependent upon it, have been variously interpreted. Traditionally, [verse] 6 has been applied to the Roman empire and [verse] 7 to the Roman emperor (in Paul’s day, Nero) as bulwarks holding back chaos (cf. Rom. 13:1-7). A second interpretation suggests that cosmic or angelic powers are binding Satan (9) and so restraining him; some relate this to an anti-Christ figure (1 John 2:18) or to Michael the archangel (Rev. 12:7-9 and 20:1-3). A more recent view suggests it is the preaching of the Christian gospel that restrains the end, for in God’s plan the end cannot come until the gospel is preached to all nations (Mark 13:10); in that case, Paul as missionary par excellence is ‘the one who restrains, whose removal (death) will bring the end (7)” (Donald Senior, ed., The Catholic Study Bible: New American Bible [New York: Oxford University Press, 1990], pp. 330-31).

(footnote 70 from Olson’s book, page 317)

Notice how the preterist and amillennialist interpretations of “the restrainer” flow together. Currie (pages 162-4) sides with the Catholic Study Bible on its theory that Paul was “the restrainer” (because in preterism the bulk of Revelation’s prophecies pertained to the fall of Judaea and Jerusalem). Currie cites the words of Jesus that “This gospel of the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come (Matt. 24:14). Currie then cites scriptural verses in which it was stated that the gospel had been preached to all the world (Romans 1:8, Colossians 1:5-6).

Currie says rapturists rule out Paul as a candidate for “the restrainer” because

they do not take stock of the two Greek words for world. The Olivet Discourse uses the word oikoumene at this point, which specifically means the civilized world, delineated at that time by the boundaries of the Roman Empire. In other words, the gospel would be preached throughout the entire empire. There is another world for world that designates the entire earth, kosmos. Rapturists act as though this word is used, but it is not.

Kosmos appears later in this same chapter: “from the beginning of the world until now” (Matt. 24:21). Since both words are used in the same passage, it seems quite certain that the Apostles were fully cognizant of these two concepts. Therefore, we can be confident that Jesus taught His disciples that the “end” of the Temple would follow the preaching of the gospel throughout the civilized world, the Roman Empire.

[This sign of the times] is the first sign that seems to be linked rather closely in time to the end of the Temple. It was also the only sign over which the followers of Jesus had any control. They proceeded diligently to do their part. (pages 163-4)

(Personal aside: If anything, they exceeded the task. The apostle Thomas made it all the way to India, which was never part of the Roman Empire.)

Olson takes no stand himself on the identity of “the restrainer,” except to argue that it is not the Holy Spirit departing from the earth, with or without the Church in hand.

(Personal aside: By proposing multiple candidates, Olson opens the door to “prophetic perspective.” That is, “the restrainer” could very well have stepped aside in the early years of the church—and this prophecy could come true again at the end of time, when whoever or whatever restrains an Antichrist or antichrists “comes out of the midst” or steps out of the way. Thus Currie’s interpretation is straight preterist, but Olson’s candidates leave room for both preterists and non-preterist amillennialists. Both critics argue there is no room for the rapturist interpretation.)

In the huge quotes above, we must be certain that a crucial point is not buried. Olson asks, if rapturists believe the Holy Spirit will leave the earth, then how will converts be saved? Either the Holy Spirit did not leave (in which case why would the Church be Whooshed Up to Heaven?)—or else rapturism proposes that in a future Tribulation there will be a way to be saved other than getting baptized in the Holy Spirit. (In Left Behind converts get a physical mark as a “seal,” which as we have noted, is not what happened to Jesus when He got sealed. See John 6:27.) This is a big deal. This is a Very Big Deal. Understand that the last time Christianity got into a rip-roaring argument over the soteriology of the Holy Spirit, it broke the church in half. More than 950 years later, this wound still has not completely healed. This is not a topic for amateurs; it is more like “great ecumenical council” stuff. In fact your host is going to set it gently on the table and slowly back away … it is strongly recommended that everyone else do the same. (Olson wouldn’t even touch it, and Pope Benedict XVI was one of his book’s sources!)

Moving right along … Rossing has some observations on the nature of God that are a lot more accessible to talk about, namely, what kind of Jesus should we expect to see in the Second Coming?

Jesus is the main character in Revelation. The book’s opening line tells us that it is an “apocalypse of Jesus Christ.” Revelation’s primary purpose is to tell us the story of Jesus, not to predict end-times events in Europe or the Middle East. And who is Jesus? Jesus is first presented in the book as a majestic, human-like figure with the sword in his mouth. But this depiction is quickly eclipsed by the portrayal of Jesus as a Lamb … In place of Rome’s image of inflicting slaughter on the world, Revelation tells the story of the Lamb who has been slaughtered—and who still bears the scars of that slaughter. (page 109)

Seated on the throne in heaven, God holds a scroll sealed shut with seven seals that must be opened. But who is worthy to open this scroll? God’s voice from the throne tells John in chapter 5, “Do not weep, for the lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Two words in this admonition—“lion” and “conquer” (nike in Greek)—lead us to expect that a fierce animal will appear to open the scroll with its claws, like the conquering lions in gladiatorial spectacles. A lion would be typical for an apocalypse; such fierce animals are often introduced to advance the plot. In Second Esdras [11-12], for example, the Messiah is portrayed as a roaring lion prophesying judgment against the Roman eagle and its violence.

But Revelation pulls an amazing surprise. In place of the lion that we expect, comes a Lamb: “Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered” (Rev. 5:6). It is a complete reversal. Actually the Greek word John uses is not just “lamb” but the diminutive form, a word like “lambkin,” “lamby” or “little lamb” (arnion in Greek)—“Fluffy,” as Pastor Daniel Erlander calls it. The only other place this word arnion is used in the New Testament is where Jesus says he is sending his disciples out into the world “as lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3). No other apocalypse ever pictures the divine hero as a Lamb—Revelation is unique among apocalyptic writings in this image. The depiction of Jesus as a Lamb shows him in the most vulnerable way possible, as a victim who is slaughtered but standing—that is, crucified but risen to life.

Reminiscent of the servant-lamb of Isaiah 53, who “is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep to the shearers is silent,” the Lamb of Revelation became the victor not by militaristic power and slaughter but rather by being slaughtered. From beginning to end, Revelation’s vision of the Lamb teaches a “theology of the cross,” of God’s power made manifest in weakness, similar to Paul’s theology of the cross in First Corinthians. Lamb theology is the whole message of Revelation. [snip] Just like the Lamb, God’s people are called to conquer not by fighting but by remaining faithful, by testifying to God’s victory in self-giving love. This subversive power of Lamb theology throughout the book of Revelation is what Left Behind and the dispensationalists completely miss. (pages 110-111)

Rossing points out that after the risen Lord Fluffy-the-Lambkin appears in Rev. 5, Jesus is never depicted as a lion again. In fact “only evil figures are identified as lion-like in subsequent chapters of Revelation—the locusts have teeth like lions in chapter 9, and the horses of death have heads like lions” (page 137). So Rossing asks, “where do dispensationalists get the idea for Jesus to return as a lion?”

I say they fabricate this lion-like Jesus because they have a problem with the Lamb’s weakness and vulnerability. They crave the avenging Jesus who will return as a lion and show his true power and fury: “This is no weak-wristed, smiling Jesus who comes to pay the earth a condolence call,” [John] Hagee says about Christ’s future return. “This is a furious Christ, ready to confront the gathered armies of the world on a plain called Armageddon.” (pages 137-38)

The heart of our difference is this: dispensationalists do not seem to believe that the Lamb has truly “conquered” or won the victory when he was slaughtered. They preach the saving power of the blood of the Lamb in Jesus’ crucifixion, but it is not quite enough saving power for them. They need Christ to come back again with some real power, not as a Lamb but as a roaring lion. (page 137)

(Personal aside: Recalling our research, remember that the new-school comment about a “weak-wristed Jesus” i.e. an “effeminate” Jesus, is as much a rebuke to Grandma Old-School Rapturist as it is to amillennialists.)

Rossing concludes, “We need the vision of ‘Lamb power’ to remind us that true victory comes in our world not through military might but through self-giving love … Needless to say, dispensationalist Christians tell the story of the Lamb very differently—as a vengeful war story, not a story of suffering love,” (page 135). Never shy, Rossing fires off, “We should be outraged that their war story is the version that Americans are exporting to the world in the name of Christianity.”

(Please continue)

Advertisements

Author: The_Old_Maid_of_Potluck

Author of Potluck2point0: The resource formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net (a.k.a. My humongous [technical term] study of "What's behind 'Left Behind'").