The Rapture was Clyde-built! Yes, the west of Scotland’s, or more precisely Port Glasgow’s, foremost contribution to the world of theology, is the widespread belief that Christians will be extracted from the world ahead of a great tribulation.
The notion that flowed from a young woman’s vision during a prayer meeting in 1830 has had massive traction. Percolating through the teaching of J N Darby and others it has taken root as the orthodox evangelical view of the end times and popularised through books, songs, sermons and the infamous “Left Behind” series. It remains a deeply rooted belief that undermines Christian commitment to creation care and informs the worldview of the powerful political religious right in the USA.
Be careful what you pray for – as they say! Margaret MacDonald’s prayer meeting picture has travelled further and deeper than I imagine she ever thought.
Now this is just a little blog, so let me leap to the point. Revelation, that great seedbed of speculation and conspiracy theories, tells us that Christians will endure, not avoid, tribulation. It shows us that there is no ejector seat to offer the prospect of bailing out of the wreckage of the world.
Instead, Revelation’s whole aim is to galvanise Christians to stand amidst the stress and pressure (what the Greek word for tribulation means) of a hostile world and to persevere in hope, knowing that God’s great purpose to renew the whole creation through the sacrificial death of Jesus is on track!
After all, the book is addressed to 7 churches facing a hostile, hegemonic empire from an apostle holed up on a prison island.
Revelation 6 (read ahead with chapter 7 for Sunday) reveals our present suffering in the image of the hooves of the horsemen of the apocalypse bearing down on us. They ride out with arrogant, self-aggrandising narcissism, economic exploitation, militarism and violence.
These are the headwinds we face in an anti-God world. We are enlisted into this cosmic battle, we are called to be dissident disciples swimming against the flow of our polluted culture and resisting the systemic influence of “Babylon”.
So how do we stay true to our calling in this clash of kingdoms and not capitulate to these imperious forces?
Revelation is peppered with outbursts of worship. These interludes push our attention towards God on the throne, revealing what is gloriously real. Worship is to be captivated by a vision of God that informs our actions and drives heartfelt praise.
The repeating chorus of Revelation is “come”: “come Lord Jesus”, “how long o Lord, until you come…” “the Spirit and the bride say come…”
“come” is the cry of the intercessor. Interspersed in chapter 6 with the pounding hooves of the apocalyptic horsemen is the intercessory plea “come”. “Your kingdom come, your will be done” is the prayer of the disciple awake to the world, its injustice and our need for forgiveness and restoration. History is shaped by the prayers of God’s people.
“your kingdom come, your will be done” is the prayer of the disciple awake to the world
Revelation is far from a fearful list of unmitigated horror. It is a book of future hope. It points our heads upwards to a God whose plans will not be thwarted and forward to a glorious future where the peoples of all nations will come before him in unlimited praise, the world will be redeemed and reconfigured and he will be all in all.
Now that’s reason enough to have a good week.