Sunday, June 14, 2009

Oh Rapture!

This chapter is based on the work of Tim LaHaye. He is the co-author of the hugely successful LEFT BEHIND novels, which I regard to be ill-conceived and poorly written. Pastor DeShaye's sermon is an approximation of what LaHaye espouses in his book, THE RAPTURE, and a documentary called End Times, wherein he is featured prominently. As it stands, much of it is lifted word for word from those two sources. When the time comes it will be rewritten with proper credits and to avoid any accusations of plagiarism.

Chapter 7
Oh Rapture!

“As a general rule, whenever you hear someone preach about Bible prophecy, be sure he interprets the Bible literally (even the prophetic passages of scripture) unless the context provides good reason to do otherwise.” The Rapture, by Tim LaHaye page 244

One Sunday Father Jeremy came into San Diego at sunrise. He walked several miles looking about the city, then wandered into the Shadow Hills Community Church for worship. He recognized it as the home church of a renowned author of books about latter day prophecies and the end of the world. He picked up the program on the way in, and read that Pastor Tim DeShaye was going to deliver a sermon about the rapture. Father Jeremy took up a seat in a pew near the back, then Pastor DeShaye ascended the pulpit and commenced the service. The pastor was a diminutive man dressed in a finely tailored designer suit and a powder blue silk tie.

After completing the early portion of the service Pastor DeShaye began the sermon, saying: “I speak today of biblical end time prophecy concerning the rapture, the Antichrist, the tribulation and the end of the world. Christ told us that we would see this series of cataclysmic events heralded in when we saw earthquakes, and pestilences, and wars, and an abundance of false teachers and prophets in all places, which now we do. The return of our Lord will begin with the rapture, which will occur as prophesied in Thessalonians, ‘in the twinkling of an eye, when Christ comes for his church, which he will snatch from the earth to meet him in the air.’ Two people will be walking down the street, and one will simply vanish while the other will wonder where he went. In cemeteries around the world, graves will split open, and Christians who have died will rise from the ground not as decaying flesh and bone, but as living human beings with transformed bodies ready to meet Christ in the air. An instant later, millions of people from every walk of life will vanish as they too encounter their Lord between heaven and earth. Depending on how many are pure of heart and true to Christ, as many as half a billion people will be raptured away, and simply vanish off the face of the earth.

Immediately after the Rapture the Antichrist, prophesied throughout scripture and most prominently in Revelation, will appear. The bible refers to this man by many names: Master of Intrigue, Worthless Shepherd and The Beast. Empowered by Satan, he will be a charismatic leader hailed as a savior who becomes the head of a confederacy of European nations that will rule the world in its final days. It will be the most powerful economic, political and military force in history.

The Antichrist will broker a peace treaty with Israel and its neighboring Arab nations; a covenant that the Jews believe will guarantee their survival in the Middle East and allow them to rebuild their temple. Immediately after the signing of that treaty will begin the seven years of the great tribulation, an expression of the wrath of God against an unbelieving world after the rapture, first prophesied in Daniel and then throughout the New Testament. In Matthew twenty four verse twenty one we read: ‘For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.’ In the Old Testament this seven year period of turmoil is also called The Day of God’s Vengeance, The Time of Jacob’s Trouble, and the Time of the End, while the New Testament descriptions include The Hour of His Judgment, and The Great Day of His Wrath. In every case the tribulation is prophesied to be a time of literal hell on earth, when God will exact his final judgment upon a world that has rejected his love. It is also ‘the period during which Israel will fulfill its seventieth week (seven years) of Daniel, and her 144,000 Jewish witnesses and two supernational witnesses will minister from Jerusalem.’

The tribulation period will be separated into two halves. The first three and a half years, forty two months, will be just plain tribulation. It will be very trying. Miraculously, during the early stages of the first half of the tribulation the dome of the Rock, where Mohamed ascended to heaven, will be removed and reconstruction of the Jewish temple will commence. The world will watch in amazement as the temple is rebuilt.

Then the next three and a half years, which Jesus called the great tribulation, will be three and a half years that he said, are worse than anything that ever would be, or ever was. It will be pure, unadulterated horror. The second half of the tribulation will begin when the Antichrist breaks his treaty with Israel and unleashes a torrent of persecution against God’s chosen people. Dropping his pretense of peacemaker, the antichrist will move by force to strengthen his hold on the planet. His agenda will expand beyond military, political and economic objectives when he will move to establish himself as a god and demand the worship of the entire world. His closest advisor, the false prophet, will create a universal religion, positioning the antichrist as the supreme lord. As an act of allegiance and identification, every person on earth will be ordered to wear the mark of the beast, 666. Without it, no one will be able to buy or sell in the global economy. Then at the height of his arrogance, the antichrist will commit the ultimate act of desecration against the Jews. He will enter their holy temple and erect an idol of himself as an object of worship. He will defile the temple by claiming that he really is God incarnate. In what will appear to be a miracle, the idol of the antichrist will speak, commanding the world to bow down and worship. Satan will actually give it power. I don’t know if it will electronically be capable of speech, or if it will be supernatural, but people will hear the voice of this beast, this idol, and be tricked into worshipping it, and when they do they will have forsaken their soul. The Antichrist’s desecration of the temple will be the abomination of desolation spoken of in Daniel.

As the antichrist’s anger against the Jews intensifies, at the height of his fury, he will order his armies of the European confederacy to converge upon Israel. Committed to the total annihilation of the Jewish race, the most powerful military force in history will assemble on the Megiddo plains, north of Jerusalem. While the forces of the antichrist invade Israel, another army, 200 million strong, will marches relentlessly from the east, toward the plains of Megiddo. The stage will be set for Armageddon, the ultimate confrontation between Satan and God.

The antichrist will begin his campaign to destroy the Jews by attacking Jerusalem. After intense fighting the Jews will be defeated, suffering enormous casualties. With Israel’s capital under his control, the antichrist will direct his attack on the Jews who had fled the city after the temple’s desecration. He will order his armies into the wilderness. As the antichrist approaches, the Jews will cry out to God for deliverance, and turn to the Messiah they have long rejected. In that extraordinary moment God’s covenant with Israel will be made complete, and the prophetic words of Christ about his return in Matthew twenty three verse thirty nine will be fulfilled: ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.’

After the Shekinah glory and the Second Coming, the antichrist and his armies will be filled with rage, and will launch an attack on the king of all creation. When the scripture describes this battle it simply says he spoke the word and it was over. One word, and the army of the antichrist will be defeated at the battle of Armageddon. In the aftermath control of the earth will pass from Satan to God. The planet will be renewed, and for a thousand years Jesus will rule from Jerusalem. God will open the gates of heaven, and the sting of death will be swallowed up forever by the joy of everlasting life. Amen.”


Following Pastor DeShaye’s lead, the congregation said “Amen,” then bowed their heads.

Father Jeremy was familiar with the theories about the rapture of the church preceding the return of Christ, regarded them to be nonsense and without foundation in scripture, like houses built on sand, and simmering with frustration at hearing them expounded yet again, and seemingly believed, listened in patient silence until his boiling point was reached, when he stood up and calmly said: “Baloney.”

Pastor DeShaye and the entire congregation were dumbfounded, and fell hush.

“You repeat Christ’s warning about false prophets to your congregation, but you are just such a one,” Father Jeremy decried.

“We can’t force you to leave our church, but we can ask you politely,” the pastor replied with a mannered yet insistent tone.

“And I can’t force you to follow me to mine when I do, but I can invite you politely,” Father Jeremy replied. They were all amazed at the bold disruption of convention; all stared and none spoke. He continued. “The foundation of rapture theory is the scripture first Thessalonians, chapter four verses sixteen and seventeen. ‘For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.’

From there rapture conjecturers jump backwards into the Bible to Matthew twenty four, to Christ’s eschatology discourse, where he describes ‘great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be,’ leading to the hour when ‘they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.’

“And how exactly is scripture wrong in all this?” Pastor DeShaye deigned to ask.

“I hold scripture to be perfect, it is your inventive interpretation of selected verses that is flawed,” Father Jeremy replied. “For the passages in Thessalonians and Matthew describe the same event, not the two different ones that you maintain. Nowhere does Jesus describe his Second Coming as some two pronged event, a rapture of the church followed by tribulation followed by a glorious return in the clouds.”

“So you’re a post tribber, eh?” Pastor DeShaye remarked. “I can respect your position while believing otherwise. Can we get on with service now?”

One of the parishioners spoke up and said: “Actually, with all due respect to you, Pastor DeShaye, I’ve always been skeptical of your theories, and would like to hear what else this man has to say.”

“With the subtlest yet discernible hint of sarcasm, Pastor DeShaye said: “Perhaps you’d like to finish delivering your sermon about mine from up here.”

To everyone’s great surprise, Father Jeremy moved before the offer could be retracted, and hastily ascended the pulpit, adjusted the microphone to his own voice and spoke. “Whom you have led astray and gathered into one place I will gladly try to bring back to the pasture. False prophets are those who ignore truth to feed their own egos, whose own needs for recognition and greatness among men supersede serving God, and who proclaim themselves to be filled with the Spirit in wresting scripture to their own imagination. But you are like an actor portraying Hamlet who memorizes the lines as they are written: ‘To be or not be, that is the question; whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them’ But then takes the stage and in performance says: To take arms against a sea of troubles or not to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, that is the question.” You take beautiful words and render them into nonsense. And notwithstanding all that, do you seriously believe that having witnessed God snatch half a billion or so Christians off the face of the earth before their very eyes, that the rest of mankind would not drop to their knees and repent, even in the next moment?”

As to your theory of the Great Tribulation, that too shall come to pass, and in some ways as you describe, but tribulation is a word meaning ‘great affliction, trial, distress, or suffering.’ Tribulations have afflicted mankind throughout history, since Adam and Eve were evicted from the garden; not every use of the word in scripture lends itself, as you find convienient, to the Great Tribulation following the Rapture that you describe.

I have read some of your works, and know you consider the ‘Great Tribulation’ to be the fulfillment of the seventieth and final of the seventy weeks prophesied by Daniel.” Father Jeremy opened the Bible laying there and read: ‘Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.’

“For those of you who already know the history, bear with me as I briefly explain it for those who don’t. Jerusalem was conquered by the armies of Babylon in 606 BC. Daniel was among the Jews who were carried away into the Babylonian captivity by Nebuchadnezzar around 597 BC, and was one of the young Jewish men chosen by the king to be educated in the learning and language of the Chaldeans, and the manner of the king’s court. He was in favor with God, who gave him the ability to interpret dreams, and the gift of prophecy, which he used to gain favor with Nebuchadnezzar. Through interpretation of the king’s dreams Daniel was able to put God’s awesome majesty on display in Nebuchadnezzar’s earthly court, and wherein Daniel rose to an appointment of governor. I’m sure you’ve all at least heard how Daniel was famously delivered from the den of lions. Eventually the Babylonians were conquered by the Persian Empire, and Nebuchadnezzar was murdered and replaced by Darius king of the Medes, who set Daniel as the most powerful of three presidents appointed to oversee his whole kingdom.

In Daniel chapter nine, verse two, we read, ‘In the first year of Darius’ reign, I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.’ This occurred in 538 BC. A year later it was announced that the Jewish exiles would be allowed to return to their land, seventy years after the strife with Babylon had begun.

“Now the weeks are not literal seven day weeks. The word ‘week’ is translated from the Hebrew word ‘shevu’ah,’ meaning week, based on the word ‘sheva,’ which means seven, just as a dozen means twelve. It is widely accepted that each week refers to a period of seven years, which produces a total of four hundred ninety years. And since the scripture describes a clear division between the first sixty nine and the seventieth week, it seems well to first look at the four hundred and eighty three year period.

“The measuring of the years is another source of confusion among those who would interpret, for some base it on the Gregorian calendar, which is solar, and others on the Jewish calendar, which is both lunar and solar and has shorter months, adding a month every few years to make up the difference. There are still other scholars and authors who measure the weeks according to the prophetic year of three hundred and sixty days, as it appears in several places throughout scripture. It seems to me, however, that spring, summer, autumn, winter, once around the sun, equals one year, regardless of which calendar you superimpose over history.

“The key words for zeroing in on the first year of the seventy weeks are ‘from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem…the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.’ There were several decrees allowing the Jewish people to return to their homeland, but the two most commonly associated with the first day of the first week of Daniel are found elsewhere in the Bible, in the books of Nehemiah and Ezra.

“Ezra was a Hebrew priest while Artaxerxes was king of Persia, and in the seventh year of Artaxerxes reign, in 457 BC, with the blessing of the king, Ezra led a company of Jews back into Jerusalem. He carried with him a letter from Artaxerxes, which is scripture, recorded in the seventh chapter of the Book of Ezra, and which in part reads: “Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time. I make thee a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee. Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counselors, to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand; And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counselors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem, And all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the province of Babylon, with the freewill offering of the people, and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem: that thou mayest buy speedily with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meat offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. And whatsoever shall seem good to thee, and to thy brethren, to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do after the will of your God. The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem. And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king’s treasure house. And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it shall be done speedily.’

“Taking into account the changeover from Before Christ to Anno Domini, four hundred eighty three years from Ezra’s company setting out for Jerusalem is the year 26.

“The second date often considered as a possible starting point for the weeks of Daniel is 444 BC. That is when Nehemiah, Artaxerxes cupbearer, what we might today call his bartender, was granted leave to return to and rebuild Jerusalem. Nehemiah is noted for his great faith, and the fervor with which he worked, and for reconstructing the wall around Jerusalem in a miraculous fifty two days. If we mark that as the first day of Daniel’s first week, four hundred eighty three years brings us to the year 39. But since the year of Ezra’s setting out is specific in its deference to God’s presence in Jerusalem, while also still accounting for Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the wall described by Daniel as occurring during the first forty nine years, 457 BC seems the more likely date as the fulfillment of the prophecy.

“The last verse describing the final week is phrased ambiguously enough to set a false prophet’s imagination running wild. First of all, let’s apply it to Christ, and his last seven years on earth. Daniel reads: ‘He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.’ .In the gospels we read of the covenant of Christ: ‘This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’

“Daniel continues: ‘and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.’ As most people interpret, this seems to divide the seven years roughly into two halves. Since Christ didn’t appear until he was thirty and preached for three years, or three and a half, we can say that his ministry occurred during the last half of the week. And since nothing is known of the life of Jesus until he appeared to John to be baptized, who knows if he wasn’t in the desert offering sacrifice and oblation for mankind to whom he was about to bring salvation, and for whom he became the sacrifice and oblation itself.

“Daniel continues: ‘and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate.’ What greater abomination can there be but for a people to reject and murder the savior for whom they’ve prayed and prophesied and waited for centuries? And while you are right about the abomination regarding someone calling themselves God in the temple, you are wrong about when and who. For in John, chapter ten, verses twenty two through thirty, it is written: “And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. I and my father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.’ And Jesus escaped out of their hand.’

“That is the abomination written of by Daniel. As to understanding the desolation, you were very close to the scripture in mentioning Matthew twenty three, thirty nine, but it is found in verses thirty seven and thirty eight, where it is written: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth the chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”

“And Daniel continues: ‘even until the consummation.’ The consummation of Christ was the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, when the Holy Ghost was released unto all the world.
“And Daniel concludes: ‘and that determined shall be poured out upon the desolate…’ which would have been the Roman conquest of Israel, the destruction of the temple, and the dispersion of the Jewish people to wander the earth homeless for centuries.

“That seems a reasonable explanation for the fulfillment of a prophecy that begins with the words: ‘Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.’

“So why do men like your Pastor DeShaye and his colleagues insist that the seventieth week is some detached seven year period in the latter days relating to the Jewish people? That the prophecy is about four hundred and eighty three years in ancient times followed by a break of two millennium or so, followed at last by the culmination of the final week with a covenant between the Antichrist and Israel? Because they seek glory among men through fame, and worldly wealth through book and film sales, and they can only write about prophecy if the prophecy has yet to come to fulfillment.

“If you want seven years of modern history that contain tribulation such as the world has never known presided over by a beast and concerning the history of the Jewish people, you need only look to the second World War, which began with the invasion of Poland in September 1939, and formally concluded seven years later in September 1945, with the Japanese surrender following the dropping of the atomic bombs. Therein you have your antichrist Hitler persecuting Jews, suffering like no people had ever known in history, even worthy of that which Christ endured, and a midway point when the slaughter of the Holocaust began in earnest. That would also explain the souls of the 144,000 Jewish virgins who came through great tribulation as described in Revelation.

Or if you prefer, you could set the seventieth week between 1941 and 1948, midway through which the oblation and sacrifice of the Jews ceased with the closing of the concentration camps and the end of the war, and the consummation being the restoration of Israel.

So why do none of these explanations satisfy Dr. DeShaye and his colleagues at the Pre-Trib Research Center? Because it would force them to acknowledge having perpetrated false prophecy while depriving them of the source of their wealth and recognition.”

Father Jeremy closed the Bible in his hands and looked at Pastor DeShaye where he sat in the front pew. Every eye of the congregation stared in anticipation of their pastor’s response. He purposefully cleared his throat and timidly replied: “Well, since you’ve taken over my service, perhaps you’d like to give the benediction.”

“Very well,” Father Jeremy answered. “Please rise for benediction and doxology.” The congregation stood up, and Father Jeremy led them, saying: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below, praise him above ye heavenly host, praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.”

Without another word, Pastor DeShaye rose up and went to the main entrance, to greet his parishioners on their way out, as was his custom. There was some confusion as the people got up to leave. Under an entire congregation of watchful eyes, Father Jeremy exited the church through a side door near the back. One couple broke the ice and followed him outdoors and into the daylight, and were quickly and quietly joined by about twenty others, while Pastor DeShaye and the rest of the congregation were left behind.

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