The very last words Jesus uttered to his disciples represented a mandate and emphasis on being “witnesses” (a word which has its own fuzzy ideas today). His concern, as I understand, was for us to embody his truth in the way that we live day to day. They asked Jesus a question that would require him to provide details of what the completion of his reign would look like. He basically told them not to worry about it (“It is not for you to know…”). The irony of this event is what “two men dressed in white” say after they see the Lord becomes hidden from their sight: “ ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’ ”
“Come back in the same way” has become a model of specific MO for Jesus to simply shift gears into reverse and one day fulfill the sketchy details of 2 obscure passages sited to answer the question asked by the disciples that Jesus avoided answering.
There is a lot of talk among Christ followers today over end times and a curiosity called “The Rapture.” The derivation of the word comes from a Latin concept of “being caught up” – literally ascending into the air. The idea is based on 2 obscure passages of scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and Matthew 24:29-31 (There are those who even split these 2 in dissecting eschatology, but I won’t follow this rabbit trail now).
How can so many hang their hat in regards to detail and characterization of eschatological matters on a handful of verses, when the whole issue of eschatology has such a multifaceted scheme throughout the rest of scripture? This is obviously a rhetorical question because it cannot be successfully answered.
If one took a per capita approach to detail with other passages, the “being caught-up” scenario of 1 Thess and the “gather/taken” of Matt. 24 would demand far less consideration. I’m not throwing that consideration out, but treating it in context with the characterization of other biblical scenarios. Unfortunately, such other passages (like 1 Cor 15:12-58) are crammed into the eisegetical plot created by biblical commentators beginning as recent as the 18th century and propelled in the 19th century by the likes of John Darby.
The rather lengthy theological train, left by Darby, continually hangs another hat on another passage (why should this scriptural potluck supper approach surprise me?) – namely 2 Tim. 2:15. Using the 1611 English translation used most often for this passage, it reads as follows: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (interesting how spell checker hiccupped on a couple of words here).
The rather clever and arrogant application of this has one taking all of God’s revelation and dissecting it into anatomical segments. The result is sort of like working a Rubik’s Cube where all the colors are mixed up but they actually belong neatly together. Just do an online search of “Dispensational Chart” and look at what is available out there. Print one out and see if you can discover the comprehensive clarity others have.
Sadly, this has resulted in many pulpiteers and Sunday School Quarterly readers – er I mean teachers, regurgitating this crafted contortion of God’s mysterious truth.
I decided to take a much closer look at this pivotal passage and have discovered that it is surprisingly closer to what Jesus really meant when he provided insight for his disciples in Acts 1.
“Rightly dividing” does not convey a segmenting of reveled truth but rather has a context which involves daily transformation. It has a progressive/procedural meaning from the Greek ὀρθοτομέω (orthotomeō). It has more to do with death to self and reigning with Christ, the context of which is provided in vv 11&12 and correlates with Heb 12:1-3 (Perseverance/fix).
“Study” does not have its academic/Western understanding. The word contains a meaning of diligence- perseverance – progressing. The same word is used in Gal 2:10 “Continue” (NIV; omitted in KJV) and in Eph 4:3 “Endeavor.”
Taking the concepts of the original language, we cannot come away with a Rubik’s Cube approach to God’s truth. In retranslating the verse, it should read: “Keep going to be an accurate representation as one who goes about the whole embodiment of truth without shame.”
I’m sure there are those who would have knee-jerk reactions to this exercise, but I truly believe that I have considered the context of Paul’s address to Timothy as well as the concepts conveyed in the words used in light of what Jesus teaches. Paul elsewhere addresses followers with these words from 2 Corinthians 3:1-3
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.How does this relate to the topic of focus? “The Rapture?” concept/dogma is a byproduct of taking the words of Paul to young Timothy as meaning a diligent academic focus combined with shuffling sections of God’s revealed Word over the ages into a constructed cube that dare not be disassembled – and then resting in the notion that God notarizes ones soul due to the effort. I believe that is the reason that you don’t see the same treatment of the complexity of I Cor 15. It would be like reducing a piece of paper past the 14th fold and cramming into the cube. It just won’t go, so it becomes a mere footnote, if anything.
Once again, I’m not discarding the possibility that the culmination of God’s Kingdom through the Messiah, Jesus, may result in a “caught up” scenario – and then again, it may not. I don’t know and I’m okay with that since Jesus said “…it is not for you to know…” Paul himself stated that we only know “in part” and that we will not fully know as we are now “fully known” until the culmination of all things.
It’s just that I believe that taking such an approach to God’s Word is the exercising of poor stewardship. If we isolate ourselves to highlight, copy and paste compliant passages to satisfy a constructed system, we neglect not only the essence of other passages of truth that don’t comply, but the salt and light principle the world needs to preserve its destiny.
Which takes us back to Jesus final words. His emphasis is on only living with the day to day opportunities we have as “witnesses.” Somewhere between putting a hand to the plow and not looking back – and – not worrying about tomorrow as each day has enough trouble of its own, is a thing called the present, otherwise known as “today.” Seems to me the increment of taking up the cross and following has a much similar frequency.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. ~1 Cor 15:58