Barbara S. Rossing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation Churches of Christ have never much been into the whole Rapture and Tribulation thing. In fact, I graduated from Lipscomb and knew nothing about the Rapture other than the bumper sticker: “In Case of Rapture, this Car Will Be Driverless.” That always struck me as a bit smug – and not very concerned about those, you know, left behind.

Not that many years ago, when the Left Behind series came out, I had several church members ask me what I thought about it, and my honest answer was I’d not read it, didn’t intend to read it, and found the whole question uninteresting. Who cares about the details of the end of time? The only thing that matters is whether we’re saved or lost!

I was wrong. In The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, Rossing has persuaded me that (a) the Left Behind approach to the end times is not only error but a particularly nasty kind of error and (b) the end times matter.

It’s a good book, a good read, and an important study. Rossing doesn’t write quite the way I like to read. The order wasn’t what I wanted, so many of the questions that were central to my thinking didn’t get answered until late in the book – but they did get answered.

And she’s a little more leftwing in her politics than I am – spending more time on the Israeli-Palestinian controversy than I care for. But she makes some vitally important points about it that we need to hear.

Here’s the gist of the book –

  1. The Rapture, Tribulation, etc. theory that’s behind the Left Behind series of books and the preaching in many churches was first taught in the 19th Century. It’s less than 200 years old. Somehow, the early church fathers, the Reformation leaders, and many other great scholars of the scriptures overlooked this doctrine – which has only recently emerged front and center for many Christians.
  2. The basis for this teaching in Daniel and other passages is not only thin, but wrong. There’s simply no evidence that there will be a Rapture of Christians into heaven with the unredeemed left behind. Indeed, many of the central “proof texts” refer quite plainly to the general resurrection and not some earlier Rapture. Yes, there will be a resurrection of all, but no one will be left behind.
  3. Rapture theology as taught in the Left Behind series is false and dangerous.
  4. It teaches an earthly war in which Christ is victorious – reducing his kingdom to an earthly kingdom fighting with earthly weapons.
  5. It justifies the use of violence by Christians against non-Christians.
  6. It teaches a disposable earth that will be left behind in the end and so does not require our care.
  7. It teaches that we have to help God by working to help Israel expand its borders and rebuild the temple – even though the Jews will be left behind. Nowhere does the Bible predict that the temple will be rebuilt, and yet this is a central claim of the Left Behind Rapture theory. This imperative to expand the borders of Israel has, of course, huge geo-political implications, and makes enemies of the Muslims. And while Israel is delighted for the support of American Christians, they are well aware that this support is fraught with dangers. After all, the Christians have their own agenda that may well not fit into Israel’s agenda for itself.

The best part of the book, for me, is the scriptural exegesis, particularly of the Revelation. You could teach a good series of classes from the book. Or if you wanted to teach a class on Revelation, the book would provide an excellent resource of insights into Revelation.

For example, most standard commentaries don’t say much about the non-violent agenda of the Revelation, but Rossing carefully compares the methods and weapons of God against those of God’s enemies in the book, and demonstrates that God works through persuasion – through the word – whereas God’s enemies use violence and brutality to achieve their ends.

So does [the fact that the beasts of chapters 11 and 13 conquer and kill] mean that our own “conquering” will also involve making war and killing? No, because chapter 12 describes a very different model for God’s people: “They have conquered him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.” [Rev. 12:11]

It’s not a complete commentary on Revelation, and doesn’t address all elements of Rapture theory, but Rossing does a very capable job of undercutting the primary claims of the theory and replacing it with a much truer, sounder theory of what Revelation is all about.

The Lamb in Revelation is covered in blood, but it’s the Lamb’s own blood, not the blood of the Lamb’s enemies. Indeed, Jesus is described as a Lamb because his sacrifice of himself is the victory.

This book would make an interesting and worthwhile small group or Bible class study for many audiences – especially an audience that’s been exposed to the Rapture doctrine.

I would warn you that the book does not address all the questions that might come up. No real explanation for the thousand-year reign is offered. Neither do we have a complete explanation of Jesus’ prophecies of the end times, although she addresses most critical points.

In short, I wouldn’t stand before a class and take this topic on armed with only this book, because my students ask hard questions. I suspect most churches have classes that ask hard question. But this would be the first book I’d have in my arsenal. It gives, I believe, a correct overarching reading of the texts in this context. It’s a valuable, necessary contribution to the literature.


26 Responses

  1. Besides Dispensationalism (Left-Behind-series) there is also a classic Pre-Millenialist view, held to by the early church hathers of the second and most of the third century (Papias, Irenaeus, Justin, Hippolytus The first one who really thought of an alternative was Origen. A-Millenialism actually came to be the accepted end-time-theory in the 4th century.

    As for me, I hold to the classic Pre-Millienaist view held to by the disple of John, Papias, and Irenaeus, the disciple of Polycvarp of Smyrna (also a disciple of John). Their connection to John is interesting, because their views (most likely) reflect how John himelf understood the prophecy.

    But as I understand it, it is no qjuestion that is vital for fellowship. To my knowledge Stone was Pre-Mellienalist and the Campbells were Post-Millienalist. And still they could become united in Christ, who will show at the end who was right.

    In Christ

  2. ordered via your link. Thanks for the recommendation. I am teaching through Revelation and this should be helpful.

  3. When the Left Behind video game came out a few years ago, one commentator asked what the response would have been if a game had come out showing Moslems killing non-Moslems in a similar fashion. I dare say there would have been quite an outcry.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  4. Jay and Abasnar,

    I hold to the historic pre-mill view. George Ladd presents that view well in THE BLESSED HOPE and his commentary on REVELATION. Bob Gundry wrote the book, FIRST THE ANTICHRIST. All are excellent for exposing the errors and outright heresy of Dispensationalism. Dis. teaches: two concurrent covenants, two ways to be saved, and 2 peoples of God. It is against the clear teaching of the NT. It posits a “literal” understanding of the OT prophecies, and does not take into account the Sensus Plenior use of the OT by the NT. The Dispensationalists make the same error the first century Jewish leadership made. They expected a warrior Messiah, much like the current “Left-behind” crowd.
    I was A-mill for many years thanks to the bad teaching in the COC about the Last Days. I have recovered from that. One thing which prevented me from accepting Historic Premill. position was the Dispensational Premill, with all its errors and deviancy. Once I learned that the Historic Premill position was much nicer and less vicious, I accepted that over a period of years.

  5. Sounds like the same attack that Henry Boll endured in the early 20th century.

    We have a premillennial CoC here in Lexington. It is the oldest CoC in the city. It was started in 1915 after all the other restoration churches in Lexington went with the Christian Church around the turn of the century.

    Around 1940 an amillennial church was started here (they had a building by 1942) and in 1961 a CoC in Indiana planted an institutional church here (mainline if your prefer).

    Today, I don’t think any of the CoC that grew out of those two later streams have anything to do with the premillennial church at all. All because Foy E. Wallace taught everyone’s grandparents that Bollism was dangerous.

    I’m not a premillennialist either, but point 3 above is not a fair summation of premillennial opinions. And denouncing it as “dangerous” is not going to persuade anyone who does agree already .

    A respectful discussion of why the text of the Revolation does not support a modern premillennial interpretation could be valuable. Unfortunately, then we’d have to listen to some of their very reasonable arugments for why it does not perfectly support an amillenial, postmillenial or preterist view either. It’s easier to just attack them.

    But this serves only to strengthen a wall that never should have been built in the first place.

    We aren’t progressing; we are just going in circles.

  6. I spoke to a leader in the Premill COC a few years ago, and he indicated that at least his church was Dispensational Premill. That teaching come over here at the turn of the century (1900) and got infused into some of the very old historic premill beliefs.

  7. Mike,
    ‘Point number 3 is a fair summation of Disp. premill. position. That is part of a discussion I have had with Disp. folks since 1985. Jews consitute Israel as a distinct people of God from the church, and both are saved if they obey the covenant under which they lives. Ephesians teaches that there is one people of God composed of Jews and Gentiles who accept Jesus as the Christ in faith and obedience. One people of God. The Jews are not the root in Romans, they are a branch. One day before the Lord returns there will be a significant remnant of Jews who will accept Jesus as Messiah, on the same basis as we gentiles-through the shed blood of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. There is only one way to be saved, and it is by faith from first to last.

  8. My own studies over the past few years have moved me to a guardedly historical premillenialistic view.

    The rapture however is created out of whole cloth and as stated above creates some very unBiblical outcomes.

    I have no real problem with a literal or an allegorical take on Revelation. But if it is to literally take place God’s faithful will be there through all of it witnessing to His faithfulness to the last.

  9. i’m just curious–how literal is “literal” being used here? Are there some who believe a literal multi-headed beast will exist at some point? That there will be a literal dragon that literally spews water out of its mouth?


  10. I have never had the opportunity to talk directly with a member of the CoC premil. But I do have the impression from what I have read that it would have been better for communication lines to have remained in tact between them and the mainstream churches when they began to appear in the early 1900s.

    However, what we have now is a near maniacle obsession with the rapture that justifies a “victorious end-time Christian war”. I have heard all 4 points listed by Jay voiced and defended in one form or another by church leaders and preachers, some even from what many would call mainstream denominations. And, just guess how they approach the discussion; “If you do not believe what the Bible says about the rapture then you do not believe the Bible”. Oh, how that language sounds familiar!

    My Progressive Christianity is not one that I have arrived at without much thought and many, many experiences that have left me wounded, bleeding and in tears…sometimes by my own mistakes. But I have come to the point in my life where the love of God has created within me a mindset in which God and humankind occupy the same thought, and if I will not forsake this faith for people who say that one is going to hell if he or she does not know exactly when salvation takes place I am certainly not going to lay it aside for those who need or choose to believe that “In the name of Jesus, blood will run”.

  11. Good point Guy, I guess literal as to the 1,000 year reign at some future point in some future perfected Kingdom. I reckon at some point none of us are full blown literalists.

  12. I – for my part – like apocaplyptic language and imagery. I am convinced it will happen exactly like it is written, but it will look and feel completely different. Kind of like Daniels prophecies about Alexander the Great – fulfilled “literally”, and yet there was no victorious goat in ancient histrory that I know of.

    So, in a way, it is quite clear how literal we have to interpret revelation: very literal, and yet it will come as a surprise … Interestingly the 69/70 weeks till the first coming of Messiah were fulfilled quite to the point.

    What makes me believe in a more or less literal millenium (1000 years literal or symbolic – anyway a limited time period) is that it is between two resurrections; and Satan will be bound in chains. Now he is going around like a lion seeking to devour us; this won’t be possible in the Millenium, where Satan will be bound – and released at the end for a final test. When I read a book from the A-Millenialist view-point the argument was brought forth, that Satan is bound for the believers; but according to Peter’s warning about Satan being like a hungry lion, this can’t be right.

    A second reason: Paul said to the Corinthians, that it is not time yet to reign with Christ (1 Cor 4:8ff). First we havbe to suffer with Christ and be raised from the dead (which will happen at the end – 1 Thess 4). So the A-Millenialist idea that the first resurrection is our spiritual resurrection (the new birth) is not in line with the hope and co-reign in Christ’s Kingdom as being shown in the NT.

    So there are two more things to be taken literal: Satan will be bound – we will be raised bodily to reign with Christ on Earth.


  13. I don’t know there is just something odd about a World that can watch itself on the TV, information sent at the speed light, oil leaking into the sea, hurricanes,floods, international bankruptcy, and fighting a war in the middle east, Osama and Obama, twin towers, Israel nukes, I am sure the Jews didn’t get it in 70 AD and I am sure America won’t get it in 2010 and beyond.

  14. Maybe I’m just plain stupid about this (I admittedly don’t study this issue that much), but I was under the impression that when Christ returns, it’s simply for a ‘pickup’ of all Christians (1 Thess 4:17). Not trying to be contrary, just looking for answers.

    Also, if the focus of Christ’s message while He was in the world was about setting up this kingdom ‘not of this world’, why would He switch tracks at the end and suddenly have to have a literal 1000 years of sitting on an earthly throne?

  15. Mike,

    I don’t think you’re being entirely fair.

    Sounds like the same attack that Henry Boll endured in the early 20th century.

    Foy Wallace Jr. declared Boll and his followers damned and worked hard to drive them from the denomination. I’ve done no such thing. I just disagree — and I think it’s a dangerous doctrine for reasons stated. But I’ve never said it damns or severs fellowship — and I don’t think it does. In fact, my congregation has members who accept the Left Behind theory to some degree, although it’s not taught in my church.

    A respectful discussion of why the text of the Revolation does not support a modern premillennial interpretation could be valuable.

    I agree. I think you’ll find Rossing’s book to be exactly that — in the sense that she’s respectful of the reader. She does not respect the theory, as she believes it’s doing great harm. She produces pretty good evidence.

    There is, I think, a fundamental difference between disagreements over issues such as instrumental music and the frequency of communion (no real effect of the mission of God through the church) and disagreements over whether we should help Israel conquer its neigbors, re-build the temple, and prepare for an age when Christians kill non-Christians at the command of Jesus (very real effect on the mission of God through the church).

    Again, that doesn’t make the disagreement a salvation issue, and my thinking is nothing like Wallace’s. Wallace’s analysis was “since you disagree with me, you must be going to hell.” My thinking is that any doctrine that interferes with God’s mission should be challenged to make room for better teaching.

  16. This is interesting. I had never thought of the 1000 year reign of Christ as literal. I thought it figurative like He owns the cattle on a “thousand hills” or He shows love to a “thousand generations.” When I was in the CoC, our particular group mostly took a preterist view of Revelation and one of the prevaling books on the subject at that time “The Book of Revelation” by Foy E. Wallace, Jr. (1966). I thought he did a pretty decent job of interpreting what is literal and what is figurative language within Revelation and gave good arguments as to why. But since our church had little or no contact with the “denominational” world at that time, I had never heard of things like the rapture simply because it wasn’t in the bible. Wallace taught the tribulation and abomination of desolation was fufilled in the 1st century (e.g. Matt 24:34).

    Since I consider the “Left Behind” series complete fiction, I would be interested in knowing if there are some good books out there that intelligently argue that Jesus is coming back to earth to set up a physical kingdom and reign a literal thousand years on it. I don’t see it in Revelation 20.

  17. Big Fry,

    (1Th 2:19 ESV) For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming [parousia]? Is it not you?

    (1Th 4:16-17 ESV) 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. …

    5:23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    This passage speaks of the general resurrection. There’s arisen an interesting discussion re whether Paul is saying that we meet Jesus in the air to then go to heaven, or if we then escort him to the earth. The text actually doesn’t say explicitly. I discussed this way back at

    I’ve also discovered this excellent analysis of the meaning of parousia. It had the technical sense of the arrival of a king or emperior followed by his presence. And the custom of the day was for the citizens of the city to run out to meet the king and escort him into the city.

    Now, there are several good reasons to take this view, the main one being that other passages that address the end of time speak of heaven or the New Jerusalem coming to earth — not Christians flying away to heaven.

    (Rev 21:1 ESV) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

    Rev 3:12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.

  18. This passage speaks of the general resurrection. There’s arisen an interesting discussion re whether Paul is saying that we meet Jesus in the air to then go to heaven, or if we then escort him to the earth.

    I’m not sure whether I got you right, Jay: Do you mean with “general resurrection” the resurrection of the just and unjust alike? If so, I’d disagree, because only the dead in Christ will rise first. There is a first and a second resurrection, and these are separated from one another by the Kingdom.

    (BTW: When Christ judges the nations in Mt 25 it is not about the resurrection, but about those living at this time – if we take this scenario literally. It migfht well be, that our Lord only wants to explain the standards by which we are going to be judged.)

    But anyway, I am quite surprised about how little emphasis is placed on the end-times in the CoC. Not that I mean we should overstress it like the Dispensationalists, but if that’s something we are really looking forward to, we’d gfix our mind on it, we’d be trying to understand the times in which we are living, we’d do mission work, we’d purify ourselves knowing that the judgment begins at the house of God. And – most certainly – we’d stop discussing divisive side issues and become more unifed as the one Bride of the Lamb.

    In Christ

  19. I’m disappointed to read this post. I see it defaulting to the classic:

    “so and so believes X.
    I don’t believe X, but let me tell you about X.
    And by the way, people who believe X also believe Y.”

    “Rapture theology … justifies the use of violence by Christians against non-Christians”

    Where does that one come from? I have worshiped with “pre-mills” most of my life and have never heard that one.

  20. I was very surprized many years ago on the ferry from Le-Havre/France to Rosslare/Ireland. I was not a Christian back then, but I understood Jesus to say that CHristians shall love their enemies and thus cannot be in the army.

    I noticed a group of US-soldiers who had their Bible study on the ship and ask them how they as Christians can be in the Army. THey anwered me – in short – when Christ will return, every Christian will fight on His side at Armageddon.

    That’s the firstand only time I heard this; and I have been a premillenialist most of my Christian time and a pacifist.


  21. I’m disappointed to read this post. I see it defaulting to the classic:
    “so and so believes X.
    I don’t believe X, but let me tell you about X.
    And by the way, people who believe X also believe Y.”

    I agree Dwayne. It sounds eerily too much like too many COC denomination meetings. People find it pleasurable to try to say “I am right and they’re wrong!!” and to blast on and condemn other Christians who disagree with them over non-essential issues.

    Satan and his workers know that people like to argue over anything and that it distracts us and wastes time that we could be using to reach out to the lost.

  22. Authors like John Hagee are among the forefront of those advocating this violent form of “Christianity”. It doesn’t get preached from the pulpit (much), but it’s definitely present in their writing and politics.

  23. A major writer who is a theologian and discusses a;; of this well is Steven SIzer. He is an evangelical Episcopal minister and has written extensviely on Dispensationalism and Christian Zionism. One of his best books is GOD’S CHRISTIAN WARRIORS. He has a six part dvd set on this topic you can download from his site. Please check this out.

    Dispensationalism is violent, and its mindset is the same as the Jewish Zealots in Jesus and the Apostles’ day. Both Jesus and the apostles and the early church did not buy into the Zealot violence for the Roman-Jewish War of AD 66-70 AD.
    Some of my family members are dispensational and sanction ANYTHING that Israel does or has done to Palestinians, and they even state that the Israeli attack on the USS LIberty in 1967 was justified. One relative, a brother in law, enlisted in the army because he thought the US-Iraq War would help bring about the Second Coming. I daresay one reason that Richard Land of the Southern Baptist church drove his church to be the only church body to endorse the Iraq War is that a good part of the SBC has taken the Dispensational roller coaster/

    All I am say is, according to my best informed study of the Bible, that I am Historic Premill and a pacifist. One reason I reject the Disp. interpretation is that it is inherently violent. I do not have all the answers, and there are some question to be considered in the Hist. Premill. view. There are 4 ways to interpret Revelation, and the futurist is only one of them. I recognize some of the truth of of historicism, preterist, and Idealistic views. I think all 4 have some truth,but I lean to the Historic Premill. futurist view. I think that dispensationalism is an outright heresy, and may or may not be a “salvation issue”. God knows.

  24. Dwayne,

    In context, I think it was clear that I was speaking of “The Rapture, Tribulation, etc. theory that’s behind the Left Behind series of book” and “the Left Behind approach to the end times.” But to avoid all ambiguity, I’ve edited the post to make that abundantly clear each time I refer to the theory.

    In the Left Behind books, the Christians obtain machine guns and blow away the non-Christians all in the name of Jesus. As Abasnar has pointed out, there are in fact many Christians being taught that this end time scenario has ethical implications for how we should treat the enemies of Jesus today. This concerns me greatly.

  25. Have you, Jay ever thought of the implications of the A-Millenialist theory? After all, it became widley accepted with the rise of Constantine. It was around this time that Premillenialism was dismissed by the church in general.

    This new theory could see the union of state and church as the “Golden age” as Christs reign in and through the church in a Christian state. Actually it also comes close tp post-Millenialism, because this new Christendom had an almost imperialistic zeal. But the idea of an actrual reign of Christ and a co-reign of emperor and church was to eliminate every sin in “God’s Kingdom” by state laws and even capital punishment.

    Under this new theology, contrary to the ethos of the Historic Premillenialism, Chrsitians made political careers, served enthusiastically in the army and persecuted and killed heretics of all kinds.

    The same was repeated in Geneva, or under Cromwells Puritan rule in England. A Calvinistic reign of terror.

    Just to give you a glimpse of what I’m thinking: Violence is not a problem of Dispensationalism only. it has been very dominant under a- and post-millenial theology, too. And I fear the latter more than the first, because their violence has always been in the presence and not just a furure vision of “revenge”.


  26. Have you seen Gordon L Isaac’s book, “Left Behind,or Left Befuddled”? He focuses on the “Left Behind” phenomenon and theology in a fairly even-handed fashion, while disagreeing with it strongly.

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