Wearing my dress whites, I stood at parade rest on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. The sun heated the sky into a skillet gray. Sweat beaded on my face and threatened to soil my uniform. I was one of thousands of sailors enduring a full dress inspection. An Admiral slowly worked his way through our ranks randomly stopping in front one hapless sailor after another nailing each for uniform infractions.
Somehow I knew I would attract his attention and that I would fail inspection. Failing held dire consequences. The ridicule and punishment would be severe. Without moving my head, I gazed off into the cloudless sky and prayed that Jesus would suddenly appear in the sky and yank me (and any of the other Christians present) out of this tribulation.
I was eighteen, unhappy, a seaman in the Navy, and a believer in something Christians call the Rapture. The Rapture is a belief that somewhere near the beginning of the end of the world (pre-tribulation) Jesus will appear in the sky and remove the Church from the coming wrath of God and tribulation.
As I predicted, I failed my inspection. And on top of that, either I was left behind or Jesus did not come back that day back in the 1970s.
I hope it’s the latter. If that’s the case, when is Jesus coming back?
Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.
TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)
2 Thessalonians 2:1-17
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Psalm 84:1-12: Even sparrows and swallows receive God’s care and attention. What does that mean for humans?
Not so much for many of us modern 21st Century humans, I’m afraid. We live too far away from the natural world of the sparrow and the swallow to really know what these agrarian, outdoorsy allusions in Scripture mean.
I call this the curse of air conditioning. Though modern advancements and technology deliver many blessings, they also tend to separate us from the real world and its all too real Creator. Like a child who believes money comes free and unfettered out of automatic teller machines, we believe our protection comes from our amazing technology and our sustenance from the grocery store.
But the “Lord God is a sun and shield” our source of life just as he is for lowly sparrows.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
When is Jesus coming back? Jesus said no one but the Father knows, not even Jesus knew at that point. I’m still waiting, though not as impatiently as that day on the Kitty Hawk. I no longer believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, however. Not because of that disappointing day on the flight deck but because, I now understand my belief in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture flowed out a deep misunderstanding of God and my misguided desire to escape trouble and difficulty and pain.
I’m not saying that all who believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture do so out of a need to escape pain (though it is a question worth asking ourselves). I know there are biblical passages that can be interpreted to support the Rapture. For example, Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:1: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, . . . .” Many interpret the phrase “gathered to” as a reference to Christians being gathered in the air to Jesus and then taken into heaven.
The myriad biblical interpretive nuances (too myriad to discuss here) aside, one major reason I left my Pre-Tribulation Rapture belief behind is that all through Scripture and history God seldom pulls his people out of tribulation or trouble. Sometimes God even led his people into trouble and always–always–walks his people through tribulation. See Abraham, Israel, Moses, David, the prophets, John, Jesus, Peter, Paul, the Church, and Martin Luther for just a few examples. In the end God also turns that trouble into a new story, a new opportunity to walk with God. This focus on God as a rescuer seems to diminish God’s role as redeemer.
And I don’t think I’m straining at gnats in making this theological distinction. If we expect God to rescue us from the ultimate tribulation, why not daily trouble such as a full dress inspection or real, worse trouble. Then what do we do when God doesn’t rescue us? Do we then miss the truth that, though Jesus will be coming back in bodily form, he is also already here in Spirit walking through trouble with us? What we believe about theological ideas such as the Pre-Tribulation Rapture reveal who we believe God is and shape what we expect life to be like.
When is Jesus coming back? In his time, but probably not just in time to rescue his beloved. While we wait, Paul does not want us to be unsettled or alarmed or to be deceived, however. Rather we are to stand fast in Christ. As I look back on that day on the Kitty Hawk flight deck, I realize I was not only immature but also not left behind. Rather I now see God’s grace has been sufficient for me in all and every situation, joyful and painful.
1. Which passage spoke most to you?
2. What did the four have in common?
2. How do you see God in nature?
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