Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Seven Churches & the Rapture

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Revelation contains seven messages written to the seven churches of Asia.  Some Christians, particularly the Protestants, think that these seven messages contain a map of Church history from the first century until the end times.  The names of some of the seven churches to which John of Patmos writes are: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.  They were all located in what is now Turkey, in the Roman province of Asia Minor.  There were certainly more than seven churches in Asia Minor at the time.  Another one was the church at Colossae, to which Paul of Tarsus addressed his letter to the Colossians.

It is speculated that John of Patmos wrote to these seven for various reasons.  Partly because he may have been more familiar with these seven than some of the others.  Another factor is that all seven apparently lay upon a single circuit of the Roman road network, allowing a courier to drop off copies of Revelation as he went along his route.  John wrote from the island of Patmos, where he was exiled, although the reason for it is unclear..  Ephesus, to which he directed the first of the seven messages, was the closest of the churches to Patmos. The rest of the seven messages to Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea were in the order one would expect a courier to take to reach them all.

A major reason John wrote to seven churches was because of the symbolic value of the number seven.  Seven is prominent in the book of Revelations and much of early Jewish and Christian eschatological though.  Although the seven messages to the seven churches are often called "the Seven Letters," this is not accurate.  The book of Revelation is one long letter that is addressed to all seven of the Churches.

Revelations 1:4
4 Thus John writes to the seven churches in Asia, “Grace and peace be yours, from him who is, and ever was, and is still to come, and from the seven spirits that stand before his throne;”

Within that one large letter are seven sections containing particular messages to the seven churches.  Just as it is in Arabic literature, the number seven signifies wholeness or completeness.  The seven churches to which John of Patmos writes signifies the entire body of the Churches.  The problems they have and the kind of spiritual victories achieved can be seen in churches everywhere, both in Asia Minor and elsewhere, both in the first century and in later centuries.

Amongst Protestants, there are some who claim that the sequence of messages represents something far more specific.  Among those who believe in the Rapture, an innovated claim with no basis in the Bible and the early Church, are those who believe that the seven churches represent seven ages that map the course of Church history.  Thus, some speak of an age symbolised by Ephesus, followed by another age symbolised by Smyrna, followed by another symbolized by Pergamum, and so forth.  Each age is held to have the same kind of spiritual characteristics mentioned in the individual messages.  Advocates of this theory have even assigned dates to when each period began and ended.

The ages are as follows: The Ephesian Age was from 53 CE to 170 CE; the Smyrean Age was from 170 CE to 312 CE; the Pergamean Age was from 312 CE to 606 CE; the Thyaterean Age was from 606 CE to 1520 CE; the Sardisian Age was from 1520 CE to 1750 CE; the Philadelphian Age was from 1750 CE to 1906 CE; and the Laodicean Age was from 1906 CE to the alleged Rapture.

Advocates of this theory point to particular things mentioned in the message and say that they correlate to particular events and incidences in Church history.  They point to the message to Thyatira, which mentions the false prophetess Jezebel, as corresponding to the Middle Ages and to the Catholic Church, which they see both as misleading the people like a false prophet and as the whore of Babylon mentioned later in the book.  They then point to the message to Sardis as corresponding to the Protestant Reformation and in which Martin Luther rallies whatever still remains.

Revelations 3:2
2 Rouse thyself, and rally whatever else still lives, but lives at the point of death.  There are tasks my God Expects of thee, and I find them unfulfilled.

They hold that we are in the next-to-last age, the Philadelphian Age or the last age itself, the Laodicean.  But this is unconvincing and heretical, based on a fallacy that has no basis whatsoever in Scripture.  It is easy to find hidden prophecies in the Bible.  To anyone so inclined, passages, objects, names and events may fall into a pre-conceived narrative and predictions are made according to that narrative.  If these predictions fail to come true, then new ones are made.  It is ironic that the allegorical approach is be applied by the same people who are emphatic about resisting allegory and sticking with the literal sense of the text.

Protestant Evangelicals believe we are living shortly before an event called the Rapture, in which Jesus (a.s.) will return from heaven and take away those who believe in him.  They will go back to heaven for a period of time while all hell breaks loose on earth, a period known as the Tribulation.  This period is described in the book of Revelation.  It makes up the bulk of the book of Revelation, from chapter four up until the first part of chapter twenty.  But it does not actually fit into the Revelation narrative.

The first part of the Revelation, where the seven messages are found, deals with the first part of Church history, events that are past.  The end of the book of Revelation deals with the end of the world, the new heaven and the new earth; the prophesy of things to come.  The problem is figuring out how the middle part of the book applies to history.  This is contradicted by advocates of the Rapture, who hold that the bulk of the book applies to events that have to come.  That would in no way have been regarded as happening "soon" by the original audience, some twenty centuries past.

Advocates of the Rapture have gone to ingenious lengths to get the biblical text to fit their preferred narrative but it is still a house of cards based on much presumption.  It is built on multiple assumptions that are nowhere stated in the text and appear to go against what the text manifestly does say.  In particular, it goes against the John of Patmos’s claim that it would happen "soon."  There is no evidence of the Rapture anywhere in the Scripture and early Church teachings.  And when we apply the proof of the Qur’an and ahadits, we can see much in Revelations that can be explained and understood from a Muslim point of view but again, there is nothing about a Rapture.


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