For one who has never given much thought to the Apocalypse, it can be easy to toss it into a mental trash bin labeled as “unimportant questions and stuff.” The Rapture Exposed introduces the cultural phenomenon of Left Behind and the pressing threat and popularity of dispensationalism. Barbara Rossing’s book captivates the reader with stories of emotional turmoil suffered by people raised in the culture of rapture belief. Rossing goes beyond discussing culture, to provide a thoughtful commentary on Revelation. Through the book, Rossing ties her insight to American foreign policy in the Middle East. This paper is a reflection on the impact of each of these themes.
Ten and nine, eight and seven, six and five and four;
Call upon the Savior while you may.
Three and two, coming through the clouds in bright array.
The countdown’s getting closer every day.
A Presbyterian pastor shares this child’s camp song with Rossing in her Seminary preaching course. The pastor was emotionally shaken by the words, harkening to the deeply-ingrained fear taught by this song to impressionable children of God. A young boy arrives home from school to find an empty house, and thinks that his family, his life, has been raptured out from under him. Growing up in a large Roman Catholic family, one finds himself too busy sorting his mortal and venial sins to worry about a rapture, had the concept ever been introduced. One easily feels disgust at the thought of children being taught to fear the wrath of the Lamb. And really, how can “wrath” and “lamb” even be joined in a sentence? An abused child loves his abusive father and survives as best as possible to become an extremely damaged adult, with gaping wounds of lovelessness and no belief that he could ever be loved, whatever “love” means.
This tradition of deep-seated fear has been perpetuated from generation to generation, thanks to John Nelson Darby, the patron saint of holy embezzlement, in the 19th century. Inherently disingenuous, a great crime of Darby’s theology is his theft of Christ’s promise of salvation to all children of God. How can one know if he is good enough to be raptured, or is destined to suffer in a horrific 7-year tribulation? Unable to know, one is doomed to live in mortal fear, exacerbated by the threats of global terrorism and economic collapse. This fear, and the resulting obsession with struggling to read the signs of apocalypse, leaves the vulnerable Christian bereft of any ability to care for his hurting neighbor. The early Christians stayed in their places to care for the suffering while scads of people fled the cities to escape plague. Taking a cue from our spiritual ancestors who learned how to live in the middle time between Christ’s resurrection and parousia, we should care for the Christ that we learn to see in the broken souls surrounding us each day. And, Christ forgave His murderers from the cross – showing grace beyond our comprehension. God does not claim us as His own to then throw us to the wolves in some heretical tribulation. These stories lead the sensitive Christian to pray for wholeness for all who needlessly suffer to survive the damage done by their well-meaning parents and pastors.
Revelation wants us to see that we have the Lamb’s power in us.
Rossing goes on to provide an extensive commentary of Revelation. She explains that an apocalypse is the unveiling of a curtain to reveal a deep truth about the world. Hence, John’s apocalypse of our Lord Jesus Christ is a vision that gives a fantastic and cryptic insight into the true power of our Lamb who conquers, but not through might. Rather, God’s power is made manifest in vulnerability and suffering. Over several chapters, Rossing explains Revelation’s themes and prominent symbols. Just as Jonah prophesied the 40-day destruction of Nineveh, Revelation does not predict our future doom, but serves to warn God’s people of the danger and suffering that can reward our penchant for destructive behavior. However, the dispensationalists use Revelation as the recipe by which God will destroy the earth – many of them actually believe that if they hasten world events according to plan, then God will uphold His part of the bargain. This is heresy – people expect to force God’s Hand by hastening what they believe to be literal happenings outlined by Revelation. God does as God wills, and Jesus reminds us in Acts 1:7 and Matthew 24:36 that it is not for us to know these times and seasons. The prophets and Jesus together seem to clearly teach that God will not be predicted, and that God loves us enough to warn us and urge us to change our path.
Of Revelation’s story unveiled for us, we are struck by a blazing love that emanates from the lamby, the lambkin, our Fluffy (offered by Daniel Erlander). The Greek describes the vulnerability of our Lamb. A host of Heaven’s witnesses break into powerful songs of joy and solidarity. And as John despairs that no one is worthy to open the scroll sealed sevenfold, God Himself comforts us to not weep, for the Root of David has conquered and can open the scroll. These powerful images and sounds can easily make us bold to find refuge in the knowledge that Christ conquers. In other chapters, John surveys a number of Christian communities, showing us both their strengths and weaknesses. Why should John give any praises to a community destined for destruction? Why should John assure us of Christ’s victory? This is hope – we can rely on Christ’s success, and we can learn from the wrongs of some of our forebears. John gives us a teachable moment to reflect on our Christian community, to reflect and to refocus ourselves toward running to our conquering Lamb.
This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true. – Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe
Rossing strives to place her research in the context of American foreign policy toward the Middle East. She cites a number of American elected officials who openly explain why they tirelessly struggle push foreign policy into line with their dispensationalist reading of the Bible’s prophecies. While they labor to force God’s hand in their heretical way, they actively contribute to the wrongful persecution of Palestinian Christians who suffer under Israel’s militant occupation. Rossing shares first-hand stories from some of these victims who suffer great and dangerous oppression under the institutional hardship imposed by the Israeli military complex. These ancient lines of Christians are trash to be thrown aside by the dispensationalists who send money and support to hardliners in the Jewish state who continue with an official policy of oppression. Thankfully, there also exists a vocal and activist body of believers, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, around the world who labor to educate, to serve, and to strive to bring forth a different vision from God, to wage peace in a parched land that cries for the living waters of the river of life (Revelation 22:1-2). While it may be difficult to disagree with this obviously political stance, Rossing does make an effort to show that this vision is shared by a broad spectrum of believers, spanning the whole spectrum from conservative to liberal. She cites many theologians and leaders who may be polar opposites in many things, but who do come together in concern for this tumultuous uncertainty.
It’s alright to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and His children who can’t eat three square meals a day. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In conclusion, Rossing has written a book that offers multiple gifts and insights to any reader. She provides an engaging introduction to an entire theological movement that may previously have been unfamiliar. She grants a burden to care about what’s happening in a land across the world. She gives us a legitimate guidebook for journeying through the cryptic and mystical book of Revelation, filled with fantastic visions and hidden messages. Through all of these themes, Rossing gives us ample opportunity for learning, for discussion, and for starting to care about a struggle that really impacts us all as God’s children. Above all, she places a burden on us to take a new stand in telling our own stories of those “Aha” moments of seeing God and the Lamb alive in the world. Our prayer is to show the world what we know – that there is a different way, of love and service, in the name of our Lamb who conquers.