According to modern interpretations of the Book of Revelation, combined with interpretations of the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel, there will come a day when all those who have died will rise from their graves and ascend into a realm above our sky to stand before their Creator and account for their beliefs and actions. At that time, these interpretations say, most will be cast into everlasting torture, but the few who have remained faithful will stay with the Creator to live in His loving presence forever.
Recently, using a translation of the biblical word for “day” as 1000 years, and declaring that on May 21, 1988 “God’s spirit left all the churches” and that since then “Satan rules,” the people associated with American Family Radio have declared that a 23-year “warning period” is ending on May 21, 2011 and that all “the faithful” will be lifted up directly into Heaven on that date in what is commonly called “The Rapture.”
From then until October 21, 2011, they tell us, will be a period of terrible tribulation for all humanity, with, they say, the world ending on that date. You can find all the information you want about how they (and particularly, their director, Rev. Camping) figured all this out at www.familyradio.com.
To place all this in a different context, The biblical book called Revelation, (the last book in the Christian Bible) was written on a Greek island about 60 years after Jesus’ resurrection by someone who called himself John and is assumed to be the youngest of Jesus’ disciples. It’s one of thousands like it written at that time, called “apocalyptic writings” (the Greek word “apocalypsis” means “lifting the veil” like a bridegroom does) because they describe visions of the usually unseen, and often of the future. We now think of apocalypse as something to be afraid of because most of these writings are pretty violent and most presentations of John’s book focus on the violence in it.
The other prophecies being relied on are the warnings of prophets (which means “speaker of God’s word”) to the people of their times, telling them what they need to do to experience God’s always-present love–and what life is like without that experience.
The concept of a Book of Judgement is deeply woven into the ancient Hebrew and modern Jewish tradition, with the most holy of holy days, Yom Kippur, being the day when God looks over the past year and decides what to enter into that book. It’s known today as the “Day of Atonement” because most modern Jews practice making up for any wrongdoings they’re aware of on that day. Orthodox Jews expect that, one day, all people will be resurrected and will experience Eternity based on what’s in that Book.
John’s Revelation extended that ancient idea, saying that those who follow the Shepherd (remember the 23rd Psalm: “the Lord is my Shepherd…”?) and believe in the Son of Man (he doesn’t say “Jesus Christ”) will remain cared for and loved while those who don’t will be like the goats who wander off on their own and will be left in the wilderness where there is only hardship and thirst.
Nowhere in Revelation does it say that people will be lifted out of their lives in a moment of Rapture, leaving their tools and clothes behind. That, too, is an interpretation, based on a line in the Gospels in which Jesus is quoted as saying, “2 men will be standing in the field; one is taken and 1 is left; 2 women will be at the grinding stone; one is taken and 1 is left.” There’s no suggestion in the text that they will be lifted directly into Heaven to be with God.
Ever since the Bible was made public, people have interpreted it in their own way. In fact, when Martin Luther (already a Doctor of Divinity) first encountered a copy of the Bible,while he was at the Vatican trying to speak to the Pope, he found it on a shelf of “potentially heretical” books–the Roman Church knew that when people tried to understand it they would go all over the place with it!
So, while many declare that their own interpretation of the Bible is “literal”, let’s keep in mind that they’re reading a translation of a translation (Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek into Latin into German into English for the King James version) and that someone living in 21st century America thinks very differently from how someone trying to live by the laws of an ancient culture living in a backwater 1st-century Roman colony thought.
Part of the how we know all this is that there’s not a whole lot of difference between the Aramaic that people in isolated areas of the Middle East use today from what was used back then, and people like George Lamsa, who grew up speaking that language, and Rocco Errico, one of his students, have shown us that many of the translated phrases we think mean one thing are in fact idioms that mean nothing like what we thought!
As a result, many other devout Christian interpreters of the Bible have suggested that the reference to 2 men in the field and 2 women at the grindstone is , like many of Jesus’ sayings (and probably John’s Revelation), a metaphor for our own inner process, rather than a forecast of things to come.
So, whether or not there is a Rapture, will there be a Judgement Day? Will there come a time when all humanity, from all times, is called to stand before the Creator and answer for each thought and action?
If one follows the stories of those who’ve been declared dead and then returned to talk about it, the answer is “yes and no.” No, not everyone will be called all at once in a huge gathering of animated corpses to be told what their fate will be. Yes, each of us, as we leave this body, is called to experience a “life review” to learn from it and, as Danion Brinkley says about his experience, “feel the pain inflicted on others” as well as the joys.
If one follows some of the modern prophets (Christian and not-so, including A Course in Miracles), the words “Last Judgement” refer to the last time any human being ever makes a critical evaluation of themselves or another. After that, there is only the experience of Loving Appreciation–which some (who appear to have been there) say is what being in Heaven feels like.
Did that final judgement happen on May 21, 2011? Well, not exactly, but many people on the spiritual path did experience a shift in their awareness and expectations over that weekend. Now they’re not so easily “hooked” by things that might had disturbed them even the week before. They’re less fearful and more comfortable in the world.
Maybe, as Camping started saying on May 23, there was a shift–a spiritual shift–and we’re all a little less judgmental toward ourselves and others… I hope so!