Ben Witherington on “Rapture Theology”
I have written on the topic of “Rapture Theology” — more properly called Dispensationalism — before. But, in case you doubt my perspective — or want further reinforcement of it — here are some videos from the Asbury Theological Seminary’s Seedbed that discuss this topic.
Dr. Ben Witherington III, a well known conservative New Testament scholar discusses the history of Dispensationalism and it’s interpretation of Scripture. I have included three videos by Dr. Witherington.
Where Did Rapture Theology Come From?
Love Your Enemies
From my daily Bible reading:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” — Matthew 5:43-48 NRSV.
“Love your enemies. This is the most sublime piece of morality ever given to man. Has it appeared unreasonable and absurd to some? It has. And why? Because it is natural to man to avenge himself, and plague those who plague him; and he will ever find abundant excuse for his conduct, in the repeated evils he receives from others; for men are naturally hostile to each other. Jesus Christ design’s to make men happy. Now he is necessarily miserable who hates another. Our Lord prohibits that only which, from its nature, is opposed to man’s happiness. This is therefore one of the most reasonable precepts in the universe. But who can obey it? None but he who has the mind of Christ. But I have it not. Seek it from God; it is that kingdom of heaven which Christ came to establish upon earth. See on chap. iii. 2. This one precept is a sufficient proof of the holiness of the Gospel, and of the truth of the Christian religion. Every false religion flatters man, and accommodates itself to his pride and his passions. None but God could have imposed a yoke so contrary to self-love; and nothing but the supreme eternal love can enable men to practice a precept so insupportable to corrupt nature. Sentiments like this are found among Asiatic writers, and in select cases were strongly applied; but as a general command this was never given by them, or any other people. It is not an absolute command in any of the books which they consider to be Divinely inspired.” (more…)
From my daily Bible reading:
“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” — Matthew 1:21 (NRSV).
JESUS. The same as Joshua, יהושע Yehoshua, from ישע yasha, he saved, delivered, put in a state of safety. See on Exod. xiii. 9; Num. xiii. 16….
This shall be his great business in the world: the great errand on which he is come, viz. to make an atonement for, and to destroy, sin: deliverance from all the power, guilt, and pollution of sin, is the privilege of every believer in Christ Jesus. Less than this is not spoken of in the Gospel; and less than this would be unbecoming the Gospel. The perfection of the Gospel system is not that it makes allowances for sin, but that it makes an atonement for it: not that it tolerates sin, but that it destroys it.
— Comments by Adam Clarke (1762-1832).
“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two eons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me. Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.'” — Matthew 26:36-39 (NIV)
There is something mysterious about Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. There was a depth of suffering there that is impossible to imagine. In the gospel of Luke we are told that while he prayed “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44 N1V). It is hard to conceive how one we know of as the Son of God could be in such emotional torment. He says to his closest followers: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” There is something incomprehensible about the sorrow of the Savior. Like the disciples, we observe the scene of Gethsemane, as it were, at a distance. There is something here into which we cannot enter. It is beyond us. (more…)
On Peace, Love and Perfection – Matthew 5:38-48
In this passage Jesus is continuing the series of antithesis statements he began in verse 21. In these he fleshes out what he means by coming not to to destroy the law but to fulfill it. He goes beyond the law — not relaxing it, but pushing it further — pushing it toward its spiritual fulfillment. Jesus forces us to consider more than just outward fulfillment — he challenges us at the level of our motivations — our inner lives.
In verses 21-37 the issues were: destructive anger, covetous sexual desire, divorce, and the swearing of oaths. Here the issues are vengefulness, enemies, peace, and universal love for all. Here the issue is how we treat — and think about — each other. This passage can be seen as a unit because of its closely related themes.
This is also one of those passages in the New Testament that uses the word τέλειος — often translated “perfect” — which gave rise to the phrase “Christian Perfection”— often used by John Wesley (and his followers) to talk about the spiritual life. The phrase was misunderstood from the beginning and still is today — and it’s easy to see why. Looking at verse 48 in its context may help to sort out some of the confusion.
But, our goal in looking at this passage is much larger than that one issue — it is to understand how Jesus interprets the Old Testament law and applies it to life. (more…)
How Jesus Fulfills the Law – Matthew 5:21-37
Jesus has already stated that the purpose of his ministry was in no way to destroy the Law and the prophets (that is, the Old Testament) but to fulfill them. In this passage he begins to flesh out what that means. He seeks to bring the Old Testament law and teaching into its fulfillment by expounding its inner intent and purpose for the people of his own day.
In “fulfilling” the law, he fills it up with meaning, demonstrating how it reveals to us the will and purpose of God. It is for this reason that the Israelites meditated upon the law — seeking not just to keep it but to understand its inner meaning.
This passage begins a series of antithesis statements: “You have heard that it was said…”But I say….” In doing this he in no way seeks to undermine the importance or authority of the Old Testament’s teaching. He is stating the inner intent of the law — the spiritual significance of the law — for the moral and spiritual lives of the people. Notice that his sayings in these verses do not relax the law — in fact, they make them more demanding. In Jesus’ teaching the issue is not just murder, but destructive anger and rage. In Jesus’ teaching the issue is not just adultery, but the lust that makes people into objects. The issue is not the words of an oath, the issue is basic honesty.
Jesus seeks to establish among his disciples a righteousness greater than that of the Scribes and Pharisees — not more meticulous, but more in line with the will and purpose of God revealed behind the letter of the law. (more…)
Light, Salt and Righteousness – Matthew 5:13-20
Read this passage in light of the missional nature of the church — a topic discussed in this video of Ed Stetzer, that I recently posted on this blog. Stetzer says, for example, that it’s not so much that the Church has a mission as that God’s mission has a Church.
The mission of God requires a people who are bearers of God’s light and presence in the world. As Christ came into the world to mediate God’s presence to the world, his followers — the disciples to whom this Sermon is addressed — are now to continue and extend that mission.
The church doesn’t exist for itself; it exists to serve the world. It is not ultimately about the church; it’s about the people God wants to bless through the church. When the church loses sight of this, it loses its heart. — Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith p. 165.
Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with a series of shocking statements about who had the blessing of God. The blessings of God’s Kingdom were falling upon unlikely people. Jesus now continues with a series of sayings about his disciples and their role in the world. They are people who are sent on God’s mission to bring hope to the world. (more…)
The Beatitudes – Matthew 5:1-12
This past summer I preached for the evening services at the Family Bible Camp at the Albright Park Camp & Retreat Center in Reed City, Michigan.
It was a very natural place for me to be, and I was glad to preach there. I have a fondness for the tradition of the holiness camp meeting, and it felt right to be there preaching in that old tabernacle.
And, it occurred to me: why not preach on the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew? I remembered the importance of the Sermon on the Mount in the preaching of John Wesley, and I wondered if a series of messages suitable to a camp meeting could be delivered based on it. I think it went very well. (more…)
A Radical Call – Matthew 4:12-23
A story can be told in more than one way. Two witnesses may see events in a significantly different way.
I think sometimes preachers, commentators, and theologians give in too easily to the temptation to get behind the story of Jesus rather than reading it for what it is . The way the story is told cues us to the meaning the gospel writers saw in the story. It is story-telling that we encounter in the Gospels, not some kind of scientific history writing. The story has a point. That’s why the gospel writers tell it.
In addition, people often too quickly attempt to harmonize and explain. And, I think the temptation is strong in this passage. (more…)