Book Review: The Rapture Exposed by Barbara R. Rossing


Revelation is a difficult book of the Bible to understand so I turned to The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (2004) by Barbara R. Rossing for some insight. I was particularly intrigued by the subtitle since Revelation is known for his scary, albeit symbolic, imagery. First order of business for Rossing is pointedly unraveling the theology of the Rapture. I’ve long known this to be a bogus teaching, but didn’t know a lot of the details. Turns out the Rapture originated less than 200 years ago in a school of thought called dispensationalism and is based on some selective literal readings of scripture verses sprinkled through the Bible mixed with some complete fabrication. Rossing points out the disturbing implications of Rapture belief including a lack of concern among dispensationalists for the earth and its people today as well as our government’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

The second half of the book works through the imagery and symbolism of the book of Revelation. In Rossing’s interpretation, Revelation is a book of love and hope for a future where the earth is renewed and God dwells among us. Not that Revelation is so much a prediction of the future as a depiction of the world in the time it was written when Israel and many other lands were under the wicked domination of Rome. The victory over Rome and evil is led by a meek, sacrificial animal the lamb (representing Christ) who fights not with swords but with words and love. This is a great book for a hopeful understanding of this oft-misunderstood book of scripture.

While “Revelation has acquired the reputation of being a book of considerable blood and terror,” [Lee] Griffith argues, this reputation “may not be so well deserved.” Revelation does not advocate the use of violence or bloodshed. Revelation is more a book about terror defeated than terror inflicted, “which is why worship and liturgy are such a central feature of the book.” – p. 119

As I have suggested, Revelation carefully redefines the word “conquer” to make clear that the Lamb and his followers conquer only by their testimony and faithfulness — not by making war or killing. War is something done against God’s people by evil beasts and by Rome, not something that God’s saints or the Lamb practice in this book. Two verses of Revelation do indeed refer to Jesus as “making war” — Revelation 2:16 and 19:11 — but the way he makes war is crucial. Jesus makes war not with a sword of battle but “by the sword of his mouth.” The word is Jesus’ only weapon — this is a reversal as unexpected as the substitution of a lamb for a lion. These reversals undercut violence by empasizing Jesus’ testimony and the word of God. – p. 121

Revelation gives us eyes to see God’s tree with lights on it, the biblical tree of life in our midst! Revelation gives us eyes to see the whole world with a kind of sacramental vision.

One of the most powerful ways to experience such a sacramental vision is through worship. Whether in first-century Ephesus or on the place where you live today, the “Aha” experience of worship takes you on an apocalyptic journey again and again, bring Revelation’s visions to life through singing, praying, hearing the words of scripture, and sharing in bread and wine. In the liturgy you actually go into heaven to taste and see God’s water of life, given without price. You gather with God’s people at the river, you join with all the living creatures in praising God around the throne. You journey with them to the radiant, holy city, and you taste its gifts, given for you. — p. 161

Revelation’s vision for us, for our world, is a vision in which we do not leave earth behind. Instead, we go more deeply into the world — into the world that God created and still calls “good.” We follow the river flowing under our feet; we see the world with new eyes. The message of Revelation is that the place where we will see the river of God flowing from the throne is in the world, in the middle of our city. The storyline of Revelation ends on earth. — p. 169

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