Last night we took a brief break from our series on prayer to address one of the questions that came up during our Proximity series. The question was "will the rapture occur before the tribulation?" To look at the question we had to start by defining some big theological words (fun!).
Rapture: This is a belief that when Jesus returns he will take up all the Christians into heaven. They will disappear of the face of the earth (leaving behind their clothes for some reason) and remain there until judgment day.
Tribulation: This is a period of time that is supposed to take place after the rapture and last 7 years. It is a time of suffering and chaos on the earth.
Another image that relates to these terms is the Millennium, a thousand year period between Christ's coming and final judgment or between Christ's first and second coming, depending on which view you hold. There are three views:
Premillennialism: This view goes along with the rapture and tribulation. It holds that Jesus returns before the start of a literal 1000 year period. This is marked by the rapture and a thousand years later it ends with the final judgment.
Postmillenialism: This view holds that the millennium is already done. All the prophecies about the end time have been completed (likely at 70 AD when the Temple was destroyed). The kingdom will be fulfilled on earth through human power and progress. The world will get better and better and all of the sudden the kingdom will be here. World War 1 pretty much shattered this view and if that did not do it than World War 2 did.
Amillennialism: This view holds that the millennium is a symbolic figure representing the time between Jesus' first coming and second coming. Some of the prophecies of the end times have already occurred and some are to occur in the future. The "millennium"continues on until Jesus returns. Therefore there is no "rapture" according to that definition and the tribulation is representative of persecution (something that still goes on today).
At Jericho we would hold an amillennialistic view. That the millennium is symbolic time which we are still in as we await Jesus return. The theology of a rapture comes from 1 Thessalonians 4:17:
Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. (NLT)
Paul is actually drawing on an image that would be familiar to his Roman audiences. This image is a parousia, a term we use in theology to refer to Jesus' second coming but in Roman times it would refer to a ruler's state visit. When the ruler, like Caesar, would come to a city, the people of the city would leave the city and meet him on the road and travel back to the city with him. Paul is using this image to suggest that when Jesus returns we will be taken up to him off the earth to the clouds (raptured) and then will return with him to the earth. This is in contrast to the common theology of the rapture that we will be taken to heaven where we will stay.
What you believe in this area affects how you will act on the earth. If you are a premilliannial, rapture, tribulation holder then you would usually hold that when Jesus returns earth will be destroyed and we will live forever in heaven. Under this view there is not really a point for caring for creation because it will be destroyed anyways and it would be viewed as completely corrupt. If you hold a more amilllennial view then usually you would believe that when Jesus returns he is setting up heaven on earth and it is on earth with Jesus that we will live for all eternity. Caring for creation thus has eternal significance as that care will carry on into the Kingdom of God. Creation is seen as inherently good, though corrupt, but just like Christ redeemed us from our corruption without destroying us so too will he redeem creation from its corruption without destroying it.