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The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in…
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The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation

by Barbara R. Rossing

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The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation by Barbara R. Rossing. Epiphany Library section 7 E: The Church in the World, Hot Button Issues. I thought it time that the library had a book expressing the Lutheran view of the meaning of Revelation. Rossing, an ELCA minister, teaches New Testament at The Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, and holds a doctorate from Harvard University Divinity School. Now that we have her sterling credentials, let’s see what she says about Revelation.
The idea of the Rapture – the return of Christ at end times to rescue born-again Christians from the earth – is a very popular explanation of the meaning of Revelation and a jumping off point for the extremely popular Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHaye.
In The Rapture Exposed, Rossing posits that LaHaye’s script for the world’s destruction is a distortion of the Bible based on fear. Revelation actually offers a vision of God’s healing love for the world by sending his son, the beloved Lamb. Jesus saves us in two ways: by shedding his blood for us, and by his Word. God sent Jesus into the world so God could save the world, not destroy it. There is no countdown to Armageddon in Revelation and what’s more, God does not follow such scripts. Even when Jonah prophesied that God would destroy Nineveh, God changed his mind! And Revelation’s words are not prophesies but visions – of the victory of Jesus’ blood and Word over Roman power (“the beast”).
To understand how powerful Revelation was and is, we must know what it was like living in the Roman empire. During the first century CE a Roman symbol seen everywhere was Nike, the winged Roman goddess of victory. In statuary and on coins Nike was constantly visible, like corporate logos are today. Conquest and military victory was the Roman empire’s pride. Julius Caesar said it all: “Veni, vidi, vici,” (I came, I saw, I conquered).
Just 20 years before the writing of Revelation, Romans had destroyed Jerusalem, reduced it to a cinder, exterminating or exiling the Jews. No more temple, no more priests, no more law. It was as if Judaism had been obliterated from the earth. John, the writer of Revelation, and possibly a refugee from the destruction of Jerusalem, settled on the island of Patmos off the Turkish coast. He wanted to give the scattered remaining Jews a vision of hope: that the words of Christ and Christ’s shed blood were more powerful than the Roman empire’s brutality. So John wrote these visions to explain the overwhelming power and might of the one true God of the Jews and his only son, Jesus the Messiah. His apocalyptic visions revealed the brutality and illegitimacy of Roman rule.
Rossing explains the history of the theory of dispensationalism –a grand timetable by which God would act to influence world events. British minister John Darby, the inventor of the theory around 1830, believed that God acts in scripted ways according to the words of Revelation and the book of Daniel, and that Jesus would return to earth twice – first in secret to sweep up Christians with him to Heaven (the “rapture”), and second, after seven years of global tribulation, to establish a Jerusalem-based kingdom on earth for Christians (this is why to this day fundamentalist Christians financially support the building of settlements by Israelis in Palestinian territory, support that utterly disregards the safety of the settlers, or the political security of Israel. See, they believe that come the tribulation, Jerusalem will be swept clear of Jews and Christians will remain in control of Jerusalem where a new earth and heaven will be born just for them.
Rossing’s main thrust is this: God loves the world and will not destroy it. God sent Jesus, his only son, to save the world by his own blood and also by his Word. Moreover, believing Christians nurture community; they do not try to divide it as dispensationalists do. Our weapons are love and prayer, even for our enemies, not computerized technology. The Bible proclaims God coming to earth, not Christians escaping from earth via a Rapture.
Contrast the bunker mentality of LaHaye’s Left Behind series with Luther’s idea that God will come to earth, and through us! And take heart in these words of Luther: “If I knew the world were going to end tomorrow I’d plant a tree.” Now that kind of faith is something to base your life upon! ( )
  Epiphany-OviedoELCA | Mar 11, 2014 |
Revelation is a difficult book of the Bible to understand so I turned to The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (2004) by Barbara R. Rossing for some insight. I was particularly intrigued by the subtitle since Revelation is known for his scary, albeit symbolic, imagery. First order of business for Rossing is pointedly unraveling the theology of the Rapture. I've long known this to be a bogus teaching, but didn't know a lot of the details. Turns out the Rapture originated less than 200 years ago in a school of thought called dispensationalism and is based on some selective literal readings of scripture verses sprinkled through the Bible mixed with some complete fabrication. Rossing points out the disturbing implications of Rapture belief including a lack of concern among dispensationalists for the earth and its people today as well as our government's foreign policy in the Middle East.

The second half of the book works through the imagery and symbolism of the book of Revelation. In Rossing's interpretation, Revelation is a book of love and hope for a future where the earth is renewed and God dwells among us. Not that Revelation is so much a prediction of the future as a depiction of the world in the time it was written when Israel and many other lands were under the wicked domination of Rome. The victory over Rome and evil is led by a meek, sacrificial animal the lamb (representing Christ) who fights not with swords but with words and love. This is a great book for a hopeful understanding of this oft-misunderstood book of scripture.
While "Revelation has acquired the reputation of being a book of considerable blood and terror," [Lee] Griffith argues, this reputation "may not be so well deserved." Revelation does not advocate the use of violence or bloodshed. Revelation is more a book about terror defeated than terror inflicted, "which is why worship and liturgy are such a central feature of the book." - p. 119
As I have suggested, Revelation carefully redefines the word "conquer" to make clear that the Lamb and his followers conquer only by their testimony and faithfulness -- not by making war or killing. War is something done against God's people by evil beasts and by Rome, not something that God's saints or the Lamb practice in this book. Two verses of Revelation do indeed refer to Jesus as "making war" -- Revelation 2:16 and 19:11 -- but the way he makes war is crucial. Jesus makes war not with a sword of battle but "by the sword of his mouth." The word is Jesus' only weapon -- this is a reversal as unexpected as the substitution of a lamb for a lion. These reversals undercut violence by empasizing Jesus' testimony and the word of God. - p. 121
Revelation gives us eyes to see God's tree with lights on it, the biblical tree of life in our midst! Revelation gives us eyes to see the whole world with a kind of sacramental vision.

One of the most powerful ways to experience such a sacramental vision is through worship. Whether in first-century Ephesus or on the place where you live today, the "Aha" experience of worship takes you on an apocalyptic journey again and again, bring Revelation's visions to life through singing, praying, hearing the words of scripture, and sharing in bread and wine. In the liturgy you actually go into heaven to taste and see God's water of life, given without price. You gather with God's people at the river, you join with all the living creatures in praising God around the throne. You journey with them to the radiant, holy city, and you taste its gifts, given for you. -- p. 161
Revelation's vision for us, for our world, is a vision in which we do not leave earth behind. Instead, we go more deeply into the world -- into the world that God created and still calls "good." We follow the river flowing under our feet; we see the world with new eyes. The message of Revelation is that the place where we will see the river of God flowing from the throne is in the world, in the middle of our city. The storyline of Revelation ends on earth. -- p. 169 ( )
2 vote Othemts | Jun 26, 2008 |
An excellent response to the "Left Behind" novels and other dispensationalist works. It shows that Revelation is not a prophecy of doom but a message of hope.2004 ( )
1 vote auntieknickers | Jan 5, 2008 |
When reality is not good enough- or not persuasive enough- realistic fiction will often be used to convince people of a position. This tendency has worked wonders for those who espouse premillennialism with the Left Behind series written by LaHaye and Jenkins. The premillennialists have certainly seemed to gain a major victory with those books over the past few years, and even though they loosely claim to be fiction, not a few have followed after the premillennial view on account of the influence of these books. Even those who are not convinced are asking many questions because of the contents of these books, and often these people receive entirely unsatisfactory answers and therefore buy in to the premillennial view of Revelation and other texts.

In this climate it is good to see challenging responses to this premillennialist trend, and Barbara Rossing's The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation in many ways does a great service in combating the spread of premillennialism.

While I have many disagreements with some of what the author has said, and such will be discussed later, I am pleased to report how she has done very well at refuting many of the claims of the premillennialists and has done well to expose premillennialism for the recent fabrication that it is. She spends the first couple of chapters speaking about the dangerous consequences of premillennialism and its origins. She demonstrates clearly how premillennialism is not two millennia old but two centuries old- originating in the thought patterns of John Darby and the Plymouth Brethren and receiving popularity from the Scofield Bible. Far from being a harmless oddity, premillennialism is also exposed for how it has governed American foreign policy in the highly factious area of Israel, has led to apathetic attitudes toward maintenance of the environment, and, most importantly, has posited a return of Christ that is entirely inconsistent and incompatible with the presentation of Jesus Christ throughout the rest of the New Testament.

She spends those chapters and the next two chapters analyzing the Biblical claims of the premillennial position. She rightly demonstrates how the idea of the rapture, time gaps in the prophecies of Daniel, and the seven-year tribulation are not present in the Scriptures, and also demonstrates how the hodgepodge interpretive methodology of the premillennialists is inherently flawed.

While those refutations are well and good, perhaps the best thing about Barbara Rossing's work is how she does not just show why premillennialism is false but also presents an alternative view of Revelation that is, on the whole, more consistent with the rest of the New Testament than the standard premillennial view, as she does in the rest of the book. As opposed to wrenching the book of Revelation out of the first century Asia Minor context in which it was written, as premillennialists are wont to do, Rossing firmly keeps the context in view and posits how John presents a message of hope to the persecuted Christians of Asia Minor in the late first century. Furthermore, Rossing demonstrates the limited view of the nature of prophecy as believed by premillennialists- prophecy is not a fixed view of what must come, but a warning to repent so that what is prophesied will not come upon the people. She uses the persuasive example of Jonah, who prophesied a message that did not come to pass because of the repentance of the Assyrians; I would add also the prophesyings of Paul in Acts 27. When the purpose of the book of Revelation is considered- to encourage the saints of Asia Minor in the late first century- and the understanding of the nature and purpose of John's vision as just explained are combined, it becomes extremely clear why premillennialism is a dangerous fallacy.

Rossing also works with the details of the imagery along with parallels in the Old Testament prophets to present some viable views on what exactly John is talking about. John constantly uses language and imagery from the prophets of old, and his message against Rome is spoken in many of the same terms as Isaiah's against Assyria and Babylon. Rossing particularly focuses on John's reversal of the idea of nike, victory. The idea of victory and conquering by military prowess was deified in Rome, and Rossing explains how John uses the idea of victory to show how the victory will really be God's in the end. While Rome may vaunt in their current victories, God will be the end victor against Rome. Likewise, Rossing focuses on John's quick change in Revelation 5 from referring to Jesus as the Lion to Jesus as the Lamb, and how from then on Jesus is not portrayed as the Lion but the Lamb. The image of the Lamb as the powerful ruler of the universe overthrows normal conceptualizations of power, just as Jesus' teaching of the last being first overthrew standard conceptions of power in the Gospels (cf. Matthew 19:30). Overall, Rossing presents many views of Revelation that are more consistent with the New Testament and the first century Mediterranean world than what the premillennialists would posit.

Unfortunately, however, Rossing's strong disagreement with the premillennialist view has led her to go to the opposite extreme. Rossing stands in the liberal Protestant tradition, and such is made evident by many of her positions. In the first chapter she rejects any notion of the destruction of the world, emphasizing God's promise to Noah in Genesis 8:21, rejecting any harmonization of the two statements of God, first promising to not destroy the world and then qualifying it by saying "not to destroy with water" in Genesis 9:11, and casually dismissing any references to 2 Peter 3:9-10. The destruction of the earth and the transformation of mankind is made evidence from 2 Peter 3:9-10 and 1 Corinthians 15, and Rossing does not provide suitable evidence to lead to the conclusion that we should dismiss the fact that God qualifies the promise in Genesis 9:11 and also that 2 Peter 3:9-10 cannot mean what it says it means. Furthermore, while she does well in emphasizing and demonstrating the fact that Revelation is a vision when exegeting chapters 4 through 20, her approach suddenly becomes much more literal when speaking of chapters 21 and 22. Her belief of a "New Jerusalem" on earth, the idea that the end of time will see the renewal of the earth we are presently on, and that such will be our home (as it would seem from the Epilogue), run afoul of the vision of the Judgment and then Heavenward trip of the redeemed in Matthew 25:31-40 and the reward of Heaven waiting for us as indicated in 1 Peter 1:4. Rossing would do well to continue to see Revelation 21-22:6 as part of the visions that John saw, resist the temptation to interpret them on a more literal plane than the previous chapters, and to use the reference points of Revelation 21:2 and 21:9 which indicate that the vision of the new Jerusalem is indeed a picture of the Kingdom of God, the Bridegroom of Christ, manifested on earth as His church. The Bible makes it clear that while the creation is good, man has corrupted the earth, and the Kingdom of God cannot be established on the earth in any physical way (Romans 1-5, Colossians 1:13, John 18:36, Revelation 1:6).

Despite these difficulties, The Rapture Exposed does a good service in pointing out many of the problems with the premillennialist viewpoint and can be of some assistance in determining a more consistent and Biblical view of Revelation. It is unfortunate that Barbara Rossing's liberal Protestant heritage has led her to go toward the opposite extreme and deny the impending destruction of all matter and the glorification of the saints to Heaven. In the end, a great service has been done to counter the claims of premillennialism, but yet the Bible be true, and let us consider its message for us. ( )
3 vote deusvitae | Jul 5, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0813343143, Paperback)

The idea of “The Rapture”—the return of Christ to rescue and deliver Christians off the earth—is an extremely popular interpretation of the Bible’s Book of Revelation and a jumping-off point for the best-selling “Left Behind” series of books. This interpretation, based on a psychology of fear and destruction, guides the daily acts of thousands if not millions of people worldwide. In The Rapture Exposed, Barbara Rossing argues that this script for the world’s future is nothing more than a disingenuous distortion of the Bible. The truth, Rossing argues, is that Revelation offers a vision of God’s healing love for the world. The Rapture Exposed reclaims Christianity from fundamentalists’ destructive reading of the biblical story and back into God’s beloved community.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:03 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The idea of "The Rapture"--The return of Christ to rescue and deliver Christians off the earth--is an extremely popular interpretation of the Bible's Book of Revelation and a jumping-off point for the best-selling Left Behind series of books. This interpretation, based on a psychology of fear and destruction, guides the daily acts of thousands if not millions of people worldwide. Here, Barbara Rossing argues that this script for the world's future is nothing more than a disingenuous distortion of the Bible. The truth, Rossing argues, is that Revelation offers a vision of God's healing love for the world. This book reclaims Christianity from fundamentalists' destructive reading of the biblical story and back into God's beloved community.--From publisher description.… (more)

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