Rapture or not?

A few years ago I was introduced to N.T. Wright. His book “Jesus and the Victory of God” with its 741 pages is a challenge to read, but I found it very interesting. Some of his insights into the original context of NT teachings were eye opening for me. As a linguist and translator I am very much aware of the importance of knowing the implicit meaning of things, not mentioned in the text but automatically understood by the original recipients. N.T. Wright does a great job in uncovering some of these. And once you know these alternative interpretations it gives you “eyes to see”  things in a different light. Afterwards it is sometimes hard to return to the original view. Maybe you have experienced that yourself with some of the optic illusion pictures such as the old and young woman.

This last week I was reading in 1 and 2 Thess as part of the Bible reading plan from Christian Assembly in Eagle Rock. When I came to the place where it mentions the believers meeting Jesus in the air, I again found it interesting to realize that you can read this with two different conclusions in mind. Basically, the question is which direction are we going after meeting Jesus – “up” or “down”? Neither is said explicitly in the text, but if you are not influenced by any “rapture” theology it might be easier to see yourself as the reception committee for the returning king, and therefore go back “down” (similar to the five virgins returning with the bride groom to their own village).

Of course, this might not make sense to you unless you also know of the alternative interpretation of Luke 17:34-35:

“34 That night two people will be asleep in one bed; one will be taken away, and the other will be left. 35 Two women will be grinding flour together at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.”

This passage gave rise to the whole series of “Left behind“. Again, when you read this passage without prior interpretation you might notice that it is not clear who are the ones “left behind” – the believers or the unbelievers. NT Wright shows in his book that the wording in this passage for “taken away” is taken from legal language – being taken away means being taken to justice, being brought before a judge for judgment (I am quoting from memory). This means it is not the unbelievers who are left behind but the believers, as there will be no judgment for the believers. Interesting, isn’t it?

When you hear this for the first time it might take some time to digest. If NT Wright is ‘wright,’ and I believe he is, then the rapture will not happen as we have been taught in some churches. A short version of his explanation can be found here.