Rapture, Armageddon and the End Times — Are you still Waiting?
I don’t know if any book is as confusing to the modern reader as Revelation. Or if there has ever been a book so misunderstood or open to the wildest interpretations. There are many who believe that today we are in the “End Times” and that through some “Prophetic Gap” we are now, after 2000 years, on the cusp of the “Rapture” (where believers and only believers are swept up in a miraculous and divine ascension to heaven) and the subsequent battle between good and evil on the plains of Armageddon (Armageddon is the Greek name for Megiddo an ancient City-State, located In Israel. Today it is a popular tourist site). And that somehow the State of Israel, because it now is in possession of Jerusalem and the West Bank, partially fulfills Revelation’s End Times prophesy.
I can appreciate the desire by many in the clergy to make the Bible relevant to modern audiences. And to give hope to many suffering souls that their ascension to heaven could happen in any minute. But, keep in mind that a preacher’s job is to fill his church with people and his collection baskets with money. In any case, while I doubt if I will change any minds, you may be interested in a different, more logical interpretation.
First, it is clear that John of Patmos intended that the events of his prophesy would be imminent, not centuries in the future:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. (Revelation 1:1)
Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophesy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)
Second, like Ezekiel and Daniel, (see my article A Skeptics Understanding of the Old Testament)Old Testament apocalyptic writers, his message was intended to give heart and encouragement to fellow believers, not in the 21st century, but in his day and specifically to seven churches located in Asia Minor, then under the tyrannical Roman ruler, Domitian — who demanded to be worshiped as God. (The Anti-Christ as described in John’s prophesy, was most likely Domitian). It was the overwhelming power of Rome that John viewed as a world-state, ruled by men like Nero and Domitian who persecuted followers of their God, as Nero did by ordering the beheading of the Apostle Paul. John sees the martyrs, those who refused to bow before Roman rulers, as gathered before the Lamb of God. It is at this point when the mortal believers are at their lowest point and all seems lost that Rome is about to feel the wrath of God and his church in heaven: First will come the destruction of Rome — mistress of the pagan world; next, the battle of Armageddon — the great battle of good versus evil, after which the four horsemen of the apocalypse defeat the hostile powers of paganism, ending in the defeat and imprisonment of their master — Satan! For the next thousand years Christ reigns, with all the Christian martyrs at his side. God’s last judgement brings the final overthrow of Satan, resurrection and judgment of the dead and a final end to suffering, sin and death as Christ rules in his New Jerusalem forever.
The bizarre and colorful imagery of John was written in the style of Daniel; and like Daniel, was written in a code that their followers would understand, but not their subjugators, namely the Babylonians and Romans.
To all you End Times believers, I’m sorry to say that none of the events came to pass, there was no great battle between good and evil and it is highly unlikely that we are at the end of a two-thousand-year-old “Prophetic Gap”. In addition, there were no angelic armies that assisted in the Zionist takeover of Palestine to create the State of Israel; nor was it God that called his chosen people back to the Promised Land. (See my article, Understanding the Modern History of Israel.)
We will never know if John’s purpose was simply to give heart and false encouragement to the beleaguered churches suffering Rome’s persecution, or if he himself believed his own writings. In either case, it never came to fruition. Interestingly though, Rome did eventually fall and Christianity has risen to heights that would amaze the early believers. And just because it hasn’t happened yet does not mean that Jesus won’t someday return to earth.
However, Christ promised to return to earth within the lifetime of his followers, at which time all would ascend to heaven:
Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32)
…there are some standing here, which shall not taste death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom (Matt 16:28)
After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (Written by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. At the time, Paul believed that Christ would return in his lifetime.)
That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. (Matthew 24:40) Obviously, of the two men in the field, the one taken would be the follower of Christ.
When Christ’s second coming didn’t happen in his followers’ lifetimes, Christians changed their focus to the resurrection and the promise of eternal life. Still the idea of Christ’s return and the ensuing events of the “End Times” continues to live on in the imaginations of many Christians.