What do Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the pre-Tribulation rapture have in common? There is probably a joke in there somewhere, but the punch line escapes me. The answer, though, is that all of them are part of mainstream Christian practice (at least in the West), but none of them have much basis in Scripture. When held up to the light of Scripture, the Jolly Elf, the Whimsical Rabbit, and the Get-Out-of-Persecution-Free Card actually belong more in the realm of legend, myth, and wishful thinking.
There is no need to explain to Christians that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny do not exist. Everyone knows that – and it would be better if our children understood it from the start rather than having to face their first crisis of faith when their kindergarten friends expose the truth. What everyone does not know, or does not want to admit, is that the doctrine of Jesus coming back to snatch His people away from the earth before the trials of the Last Days is not consistent with Scripture. The problem up to now is that there has been no comprehensive reference book written to examine this question from a critical point of view.
Until now, that is. Author Michael Snyder has at last filled the void with his latest book, The Rapture Verdict. It is 268 pages of systematic investigation of the subject from a man who simply wants to sort out the truth. His stark conclusion is stated in the first chapter:
Unfortunately, there isn’t going to be a pre-Tribulation rapture. In fact, millions of Christians are going to die waiting for a pre-Tribulation rapture that is never going to happen.
Depending on the reader’s disposition, such a statement will make him or her angry, fearful, or vindicated. Those with the latter reaction would be the ones who grew up learning about the rapture in church, but who could never shake the nagging doubt that the few dozen verses pulled out of context to justify the doctrine leave far too many unanswered questions.
Most people have no desire to discuss the return of Messiah at the end of this age. Many of them lump it into the category of “too weird”, or “myth and legend”. Others suspect it may be true, but hope that it doesn’t happen in their lifetime. That response comes from fear that they might not end up on the right side of the balance sheet, as well as a hefty dose of distraction due to the worldly interests that have ensnared their attention.
But then there are the believers, both Christian and Jewish, who anticipate that this age will end at some point with the great Day of the Lord. What observant Jews think of that subject is something I am even now beginning to learn. What Christians believe is something I have encountered all of my life. Usually their attitudes fall into one of two categories: either they believe God will take every person on earth by surprise because “no one can know the day or the hour”; or they affirm that we can know exactly when Jesus will return because we have the clues in the Bible. As in all things, the truth exists somewhere between these two extremes.
The “Jewish” High Holy Days begin at sundown on September 24, 2014, with Yom Teruah, the Feast of Trumpets. It is also called Rosh HaShanah, the Head of the Year. Many people call it the “Jewish New Year”. But what exactly is this festive day? And should Christians even care about this “Jewish” holiday?
According to Hebrew understanding, Yom Teruah is the day God completed His work of creation by making human beings, the crowning achievement of His work. In the agricultural cycle of the Ancient Near East, where the Bible was written, this day points toward completion of the growing season when the long-expected “latter rains” come. It is the completion of the civil year, a tradition even the United States government has adopted. These are all good reasons for God to command His people to set this day apart by blowing trumpets and observing a special Sabbath day of rest.
Yet there are some confusing things about Yom Teruah. This “Head of the Year” happens on the first day of the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar. One would expect that the New Year would be in the first month, but God Himself directed that the first month would be in the spring (Exodus 12:1-2). That month, called Nisan or Abib in Hebrew, is the month of three great feasts of the Lord: Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits. In that time long ago God delivered His people Israel from bondage in Egypt. Yet the First Month is not the same as the Head of the Year in the Seventh Month, Tishrei. Both months have prophetic significance according to God’s plan for the redemption and restoration of His creation. Through the Feasts celebrated in these months the Lord tells a prophetic story. In the First Month He redeems and delivers His people, and in the Seventh He restores them. One might say He is pressing the reset button to get things back to the way they were before sin caused all this trouble. But why is this “Jewish” feast of Yom Teruah, or any of these “Jewish” feasts, important to Christians?
The answer to that is quite simple: These are not Jewish feasts.
How do children learn to be adults? More importantly, how do they learn to be real men and real women? More importantly still, how do they learn to be godly men and godly women? Two men of God, Moses and the Apostle Paul, give us the answer:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. (Deuteronomy 6:4-8 NKJV, emphasis added)
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (II Timothy 2:1-2 NKJV)
Molding godly people out of irresponsible children is a task for mature, godly men and women who determine purposefully to pass on what they know. It is a conscious decision which carries weighty responsibility and a lifetime commitment. The heartaches can be many and wearisome, but the rewards are far greater, not only for the individual, but for all humanity, and for the Kingdom of God. Few answer the call of godly mentorship and discipleship. That is a tragedy played out before our eyes in broken lives and broken nations. And yet it only takes a few to reverse that trend. One man may speak volumes into the lives of many young people. Our Messiah Yeshua showed us the model; the 12 men He discipled changed the entire world.
Running with the Marines
Long-distance running has been one of my favorite activities. I am not too old to try a marathon one day, but so far I must remain content with completing several half marathons. My favorite race is the Marine Corps Historic Half in Fredericksburg, Virginia. It truly is a community event. The race starts at the exposition center high up on the ridge west of Fredericksburg, and for about eight miles runs gently downhill through the historic city and past Mary Washington University until it reaches the Rappahannock River. All along the way there are bands playing, choirs singing, school and church groups handing out water, a children’s drum chorus from a local school, and of course Marines everywhere. They mark the course, direct the runners, provide first aid when necessary, and cheer on everyone just by their presence. There is something very special about a Marine, and even in a long race like a half marathon the sight of that uniform brings encouragement and confidence. And the runners do need it, particularly as the miles add up. Once the course reaches Sophia St. next to the river, it runs level for about two and a half miles, and the cheering crowds begin to thin out. About the time the runners pass the VFW post, the only people there to offer encouragement are a couple of representatives from the Rappahannock Nation, beating drums to remind everyone that long ago all the land was theirs.
At some point in my youth I grew curious about why we Christians celebrate Christmas in December. When I asked my elders where to find Christmas in the Bible, they pointed me to Luke 2 and Matthew 2. Although those famous passages explained the details of Jesus’ birth, neither they nor anyone I asked could explain how those accounts got translated into the festivities of December 25. The best answer I got was something like this, “We really don’t know when Jesus was born. It probably wasn’t in the winter, but since we don’t really know, December 25 is as good a day as any.”
That answer never satisfied my curiosity as a child, and it should not satisfy any serious believer in Jesus, especially when we consider the high quality of Luke’s gospel. Dr. Luke was a meticulous scholar who recorded great detail both in his gospel and in the book of Acts. His accounts, such as those in the first two chapters of his gospel, included evidence he had acquired from people who witnessed the events. In particular, he must have talked with Mary the mother of Jesus to understand her thoughts and words. How is it possible, that she would forget when her Son was born, or that Luke would not tell us that detail? It truth, it is not possible to overlook such an important detail, and in fact Luke did tell us. All we need to understand the answer is a little Bible knowledge, not only of the scriptures, but of the Hebraic context in which they were written. Most of what we need is in Luke 1, with a little help from I Chronicles 24. We begin with the story of a priest in the Temple at Jerusalem: Please click here to continue reading