Eschatology — the study of the end of this life and the advent of the world that is to come — is, by nature, a bit speculative. The Bible does give us guidance but it is often slightly cryptic, imaginative, and figurative. How, too, do you talk about something that is not exactly like this world?
I am going to use today’s post to do what many blogs do regularly: float ideas out there for review that are still in the formative stage. I would love to hear what you think of these thoughts.
Like many, I grew up thinking of the next life as a place called Heaven that is out there past the wild blue yonder, certainly a place out there far away from our present, evil world. A lot of education, steady reading of the Bible with new glasses on, and a bit of N. T. Wright and others have changed that view of the world to come radically. I am uncomfortable with escapist theologies that paint this world that is precious to God and still owned by God as evil and disposable (Psalm 24:1). I am finding more and more each day that indicates the new world (or Heaven, if you want to it that) will be right here on a renewed earth. Emotionally this question really made a lot of things click for me: what parent would say of a rebellious and sinful child, I’ll get rid of him and get a new one? God is in the business of redeeming; it only stands to reason that applies to all He created.
Let’s read this passage with that way of thinking in mind:
You see, the royal appearing of the son of man will be like the days of Noah. What does that mean? Well, in those days, before the flood, they were eating and drinking, they were getting married and giving children in marriage, right up to the day when Noah went into the ark. They didn’t know about it until the flood came and swept them all away. That’s what it’ll be like at the royal appearing of the son of man. On that day there will be two people working in the field. One will be taken; the other will be left. There will be two women grinding corn in the mill. One will be taken; the other will be left. (24:37-41)
Many of us are familiar with the belief that there will be a time slightly before the Second Coming of Christ when many Christians will be taken up out of this world and taken off to Heaven. This is usually called the Rapture. That is a belief I have never held, probably because I come from an amillennial tradition. But as you can imagine, this belief doesn’t fit with the way I am proposing we should understand the future. We are not going up and off to anywhere. The New Jerusalem is coming here to a cleansed and renewed earth (Revelation 21-22).
This passage quoted above is often cited in supported of the Rapture. Two people are in a field and one is taken away. There it is. But why do we think that the one taken away is taken away to Heaven?
I would like to suggest that the one taken away is taken off for punishment. He is part of the cleansing, that which has to be taken out of this world in order for renewal to take place. I would cite the very example Matthew uses in this passage as support. In the days of Noah, you did not want to be swept away. You wanted to be one of the eight left behind on the Ark. If you were taken, it was punishment. Likewise, if you are one of the two men in a field or two women grinding corn, you don’t want to be taken away. You want to be the one left.