The “Rapture” is back in the news, with the mainstream Left Behind remake starring Nicholas Cage hitting theaters. A writer at the Huffington Post has a great piece dissecting the Rapture theory from a Protestant perspective that’s really Catholic. He gives a great explanation of the difference between the Rapture and the Second Coming, the purpose of Revelation as a liturgical text (see Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper), and so forth. However, he misses the other “proof text” for the Rapture, Matthew 24:36-42:
* 36p “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son,* but the Father alone. 37*q For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38In [those] days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. 39They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be [also] at the coming of the Son of Man. 40*r Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42*s Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
If you’re driving around with a bumper sticker that says, “Warning: in case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned,” you’d better stop and think about what Jesus actually means here: the people who will be “taken” in this metaphor *are the ones going to Hell*: “It will be as the days of Noah.” Noah was left to start the world new without the previous corruption. The “rapture” if it happens in some literal way, would not be about leaving the good people behind so they don’t suffer; it would be about taking out those who are more evil so the remnant can rebuild.
However, the qualifier of all this that we know not the day or the hour. We should be watchful and ready, not just for the end of the World but more realistically for our own deaths, and be right with God.
Which brings me to the teaching that begins this whole chapter, 24:6-8:
b You will hear of wars* and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for these things must happen, but it will not yet be the end. 7c Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place. 8* All these are the beginning of the labor pains.
I have never understood why people take, “You will hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed” to mean, “We should be alarmed! There are wars and rumors of wars!” This has been the reading of this passage not just from Protestants but from Catholics, even going back to the ECFs, and it puzzles me.
What just struck me, however, was that, maybe, this is a case where the problem comes from the interpretations being made by celibate males in a “separate spheres” world. They didn’t know how labor works.
In a world where female midwives deliver babies and the men are off hunting or fishing or farming, and get news, “Hey, your wife just gave birth!”–perhaps in some cultures to barely see the baby–most men just don’t know how labor works, and even in cultures like ours, few pay attention or remember enough to get the metaphor.
“The beginning of the labor pains” is *weeks* of, “I just felt a contraction!” “I wonder if I’m going into labor!” Then labor itself is often stereotypically long (“36 hours of labor,” and so on). The childbirth classes say, “It’s never like the movies. You don’t just suddenly go into labor and deliver a baby.” Actually, our children’s births were “just like the movies.” My wife’s labors were extremely fast when they came on, but always had weeks of “Braxton Hicks”–which can begin as early as the “second trimester.” Like most couples with a first, we thought labor was starting every time she had one. Then, when the time came, it was unmistakable–like true love or aortic dissection.
She started having “really bad back pain,” after we’d spent the day making the final preparations for birth. We got to the ER 2 hours into labor, and the triage nurse said, “You’re 10 cm dilated! Why did you wait so long?”
“I didn’t!! I just went into labor 2 hours ago!”
With the second full-term birth, we were more nonchalant about the Braxton Hicks. Woke up Sunday, February 29, and boom! Labor, 9 AM-2 PM.
Our son was more the “Is it time yet?” We went to the hospital, I think, 3 times. had to cancel a final exam because we thought she was going into early labor. The third time, we spent the evening at the hospital, and we were now past due date. We joke that the Dude has never liked change or going places. The midwife scheduled an induction for the next morning and said to be at the hospital at 6, IIRC. She woke up at 3 with labor.
With our youngest, we had just moved into a new townhouse in a new town a week before. My parents had taken the eldest. We had two toddlers in a new house in a new town, and had not even finished pre-registering at the hospital. They were all in bed, and I was up watching a movie when Mary came and told me her water broke. We jumped in our minivan–which thankfully had OnStar. I contacted OnStar, and they patched me through to the hospital, so they had some knowledge we were coming. I panicked about the younger kids and missing the birth. A security guard came and took them to the cafeteria with her during her lunch break (may God bless that security guard at Lexington Medical Center). By the time I got into the delivery room, the baby was born. The doctor had just gotten in there a few minutes before. As I understand it, the conversation went something like,
“Hi, I’m Dr. So-and-so. Do you normally–”
Over and over, Jesus (and St. Paul) tells us, “Just when they’re saying ‘peace and security,'” “I will come like a thief in the night.”