by Jerry Johnson, President, NiceneCouncil.com
'Since its inception the Christian Church has suffered numerous tribulations, beginning with Jesus Himself who suffered the trials of the cross. Jesus declared “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you”. (John 15:18) After the death of Christ, the persecution of the Christian Church became even more intense. Saul, one of the first “ordained” persecutors sought out these Christian renegades and had them imprisoned or murdered. (Acts 8:1) Stephen, who was the first to suffer for the faith, was stoned to death by an angry mob. (Acts 11:19) Paul tells Timothy in his second letter, “…[A]ll who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”. (II Timothy 3:12)
The first century Christians new well that a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ meant certain death. Up until 70 A.D. most of the persecution was done at the hands of the Jews. Just prior to the destruction of the temple, Nero Caesar instituted a reign of terror against the benevolent followers of Christ. Many were slain. Children of the believers were thrown into the Roman Arena to be torn apart by wild beasts as onlookers cheered, while their parents were made to watch!
In fact, it was not until the reign of Constantine (almost three centuries after the death of Christ) that the Christians were finally allowed to openly worship their Savior without the fear of reprisal. But this was soon short lived. Arianism soon became the belief of most governments and the persecution was re-instituted against the orthodox party. After Arianism was defeated Rome again took control of the Empire, but this time under the auspices of orthodox Christianity. For the next 1000 years terror fell upon all those who would disagree with the Roman Catholic Religion. One only needs to casually glance at any work on Church history to see the tyranny and murderous ways the Rome Pontiff dealt with nonconformists. A short list speaks of the Hussites, the Waldesians, the Hugenots, or men like William Tyndle and Martin Luther, (though not killed, Martin Luther did have a price on his head).
In modern times the persecution has not ended. Various dictators and governments have made the Christian Church the focal point of their hatred. Thousands have died in the concentration camps of Eastern Europe. In the Former Soviet Empire, professing Christians were sent to Siberia never to be heard from again. In Communist China, females who profess Christ are treated like animals, fulfilling the sexual desires of the ruling regime. The Middle East has also had its share of horror stories that would give Stephen King himself many a sleepless night.
In the midst of all of these tribulations the Church has endured. Western Christians, specifically those in the Untied States of America, have escaped any real threat to their existence. There could be numerous reasons for this. Two possibilities that come to mind 1) God has protected the Church in the West so we can give aid and comfort to those who suffer these persecutions OR 2) we (those in the West) really do not have any strong convictions about our faith and therefore our enemies are not threatened by our presence.
Whatever the reason may be, after two hundred years of being somewhat free to worship without fear from our government, many Christians believe, to one degree or another, that the United States of America will one day face a persecution under the hands of the “anti-Christ.” They teach that Christians currently living now will be raptured out of this world so as not to have to endure the “wrath to come”. Numerous advocates of this doctrine even refer to it as “the great escape”.
In recent years, books on “the great escape” have filled the Christian bookstore shelves. Who can forget “88 Reason Why The Rapture Will Happen in 1988”? Or Hal Lindsey, the leading spokesmen for the movement throughout the 70’s and 80’s, and his “textbook” on the rapture entitled “The Late Great Planet Earth” and the latest craze "Left Behind." Rapture theology has so become entwined with American Christianity that anytime an international crisis occurs, especially one in which the United States is involved, videos, books and pamphlets by the thousands hit Christian bookstores declaring that the end is near, again!
But think about it! Does it really seem plausible that Christians in the United States will some how avoid these “great tribulations”? Without saying it directly, many paperback theologians conclude that the United States is the focal point of Biblical eschatology, and that the Beast of Revelation cannot be revealed until we are “out of here.” Is it not possible that rapture theology is based upon an arrogant Western presumption, that God MUST first rapture the American Church before persecution comes, even though he never did it for Christians in the Middle East or Communist Block countries? Are American Christians more important to God than Chinese Christians? Many pews sitters seem to think so. Though they do not say it in proper words, it is a fair inference to make.
Those who hold to the view of modern rapture theology see things worked out this way: The Church will be raptured (caught up) and taken into heaven. This event will precede the second coming of Christ by either seven years or three and a half years, depending on your view of pre-trib or mid-trib. Then the anti-Christ will take over and rule. During this time the “great tribulation” will be waging on planet earth. This event, the “great tribulation”, is what American Christians must escape.
What most do not know is that “rapture theology” of the pre-tribulation variety is a recent doctrinal concoction. The historic church never taught this view. That’s right! No one taught the pre-millennial pre-tribulation view until the early the nineteenth century. This teaching made its appearance with dispensationalism in circa 1830. One is hard pressed to think that all of the great minds from St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin and Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that though they had read I Thessalonians 4 failed to understand the important teaching of a pre-millennial, pre-tribulation rapture.
Pre-tribulation rapture theology is at its foundation conceited! It trivializes the sufferings of the early church, as well as the church in third world countries that are currently being told they cannot “buy, sell or trade” or have any freedoms and are imprisoned because of their faith in the Lord Jesus.
Besides its sheer arrogance rapture theology fails to see Christians as salt and light in the world and may ultimately lead to the total surrender of western civilization. What if Christ does not return for another 200 hundred years? How will future generations remember those who did not carry out the command to bring "every thought captive to the word of God"? How will they remember those of us who allowed the blood bought treasures of western freedom to die out one by one in the name of this aberrant theology?