Every so often you can read ‘prophecies’ about the end of the world. Often these ‘prophets’ claim to have a special kind of revelation through which they are able to understand the Bible better than anyone else, even better than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Matthew 24:36-44; Mark 13:32-37).
Now again, there is this ‘prophecy’ going around on the internet that on the 23rd of April something great is going to happen. The Rapture is going to happen. What is the Rapture? Well, there are some Christians (actually more than just some) who interpret the book of Revelation quite literally, as if it is described as history which will happen in the future, and not as a symbolic prophetic description of the time before the return of Jesus Christ. Within this ‘historical’ description of the future they then try to fit what the apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 about the believers who will be caught up (‘raptured’) together with those believers who have died, in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. However, they (wrongly) see this ‘rapture’ as separate from the coming of Christ, or the ‘second coming’ as they call it, which is described in 2 Thessalonians 1 and 2, Matthew 24 and Mark 13, 1 Corinthians 15 and the book of Revelation.
This ‘prophecy’, as so many others which claim to know the day and hour, clearly contradicts what our Lord Jesus Christ said in His true prophecies about His return in Matthew 24 and Mark 13. It is refreshing to read a clear and unequivocal article on the website of one of the largest news agencies in the world: Fox News in the US. This article emphasises what I just mentioned: these ‘prophecies’ are false because they go against the Bible. There have been many more of these false prophecies in the past, and they all failed. Why do the people never learn from it? As in the past, now also people sold their possessions and spent their money to spread the news of the return, or the rapture. Only to be disappointed when the day passes without the event happening. Deuteronomy 18:20-22 teaches us how in the OT Israel had to deal with such prophets.
Poor understanding of the Bible
Why do people come up with such nonsense?
It is my conviction that this is the result of poor and superficial Bible reading. Within this ‘evangelicalism’ , which is especially strong in the USA, there is a general disregard for the Old Testament. Not that they throw it out, but it is not important. We don’t live in the time of the OT, we live in a different era and therefore the OT is past. And that is where they go wrong. The Bible is a unity, all 66 books together. They are one beautiful great work of art, which show to us the glory of God in His work of salvation. This work started with the creation and subsequently the fall in sin. This work comes to its fulfilment with the return of Jesus Christ, when time will be swallowed up in eternity and the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven. As you can see: that is from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. If anyone takes away from this beautiful Book, he takes away from God’s glory.
Book of Revelation
The book of Revelation can only be truly understood if we have a thorough knowledge of the entire Bible, including, or maybe even especially of the Old Testament. There are so many connections between Revelation and numerous parts in the Old Testament. I’ve been studying the book of Revelation of and on over the past 30 or so years, because I too, just like so many others, am intrigued by it. Every time I turn again to Revelation, I discover new things. And I must admit that several times I have changed my mind if it comes to the explanation of certain elements of Revelation, because over the years I have gained a greater knowledge of the rest of the Bible. Based on the limited knowledge I had thirty years ago, I came to conclusions about which I now must say, based on a better knowledge of other parts of the Bible: I was wrong. At the same time, this prevents me from saying now: I am right about this or that part of Revelation. My knowledge is still limited and maybe in the future God will grant me an even deeper understanding of the prophecies in Revelation and of the entire Bible.
Confessions of the Church
What I do know for sure, is what we also confess as Reformed churches in our confessions, in the Lord’s Days 18-19 of the Heidelberg Catechism and in article 37 of the Belgic Confession: God rules from heaven over all creation. He governs this creation through His Son, Who is seated at His right hand and Who is the Head of His Christian Church. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. And I believe that this is what Revelation shows us: God in His anger over the sinfulness and corruption of this world is warning this world through His punishments, while at the same time Christ is protecting and gathering His Christian Church (Revelation 1-2, 7, 12, 14, 19-20), until Christ comes, on a day and hour that no one knows except God the Father (Matthew 24 and Mark 13), to judge the living and the dead.
‘See, I have told you beforehand’
Much of what is happening in this world, we can recognise as being foretold by our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Revelation and other places in the Bible: wars and rumours of war, earthquakes and many other ‘natural’ disasters, diseases and other plagues, even environmental disasters. But also the increasing of sinfulness and with that the hate (Matthew 24:13 : ‘And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.’, see also Revelation 22:11 : ‘Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.’), persecution of the Christian Church, even the rise of the very false prophets which proclaim the rapture on the 23rd or any other date (Matthew 24:11).
Connected with this superficial reading of the Bible are all kinds of ideas about the thousand year empire in Revelation 20. We can summarise these views under the category ‘pre-millennialism’, even though we must realise that also within that category there is a vast difference of scenarios. And connected with that also the views on the position of Israel, as special people of God besides the Church of believers from the gentiles. The Bible says clearly that there is One People of God (Ephesians 2:11-22). It is by faith that the believers from the gentiles are being counted as children of Abraham (See Romans 2:25-29, Romans 4:11-17, Romans 9:7-8, 24-26). It are the Christians from the gentiles who will be saved together with the believers from the Jews, and they together will form the fullness of Israel which will be saved (Romans 11:25-26).
Together with all the saints
It is not my purpose in this article to give an extensive treatise about pre-millennialism, about the position of Israel, and connected with that about dispensationalism, the covenant, infant baptism and much more. My purpose here is to show that from a superficial and wrong reading of the Bible a lot of false teachings arise, which contradict other parts of the Bible. This shows how important it is to read and study the entire Bible and be humble in claiming that you know the whole truth. The confessions of the Church are very helpful in determining what is the message of the gospel and to check our own explanations. In studying the Bible we are part of the Communion of Saints, which stretches over all times and places. We can benefit from those who studied the Bible before us, as well as those who in different parts of the world are studying the same Bible. We are given to each other as brothers and sisters, the Church of all times and places, to help and encourage each other (Hebrews 12:1-2), so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3: 17-19).