The “Rapture”? It’s all about New Urbanism

If you’re like me, at some point in your working life you’ve wound up working beside people who were sure the “rapture” was going to come, where God swept good human beings up into heaven, and left the rest of us (including heretics like you and me) to deal with the calamitous “end days.” I’ve had some great conversations about the “rapture” during coffee break. (My older sister, Jean, has some great stories of rapture-talk in her new book, Rose City: A Memoir of Work.)

And we know the “rapture” is true because it’s in the Bible, in the book of Revelation. Except it’s not. Nowhere in the Bible is there any mention of some “rapture” where human beings get swept up into heaven. Instead, God and the heavenly city of Jerusalem come down here to earth, as is told in chapter 21:

2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

This new Jerusalem sounds like the kind of urban paradise New Urbanism talks about, complete with urban agriculture and no cars and lack of crime and even clean power generation:

1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Barbara Rossing, in her eco-theology essay “Alas for the Earth! Lament and Resistance in Revelation 12,” in The Earth Story in the New Testament, points out that most fundamentalists get the “rapture” backwards:

…the issue is to understand how Revelation’s ecological lament takes shape in our own global situation. Escapist scenarios of a “rapture” can only serve to deflect attention away from earth and away from [Revelations]’s critique of imperialism. There is no rapture of people up to heaven in Revelation. If anything, it is God who is “raptured” down to Earth to dwell with people in a wondrous urban paradise (Rev. 21.3; 22.3). The plot of Revelation ends on Earth, not heaven, with the throne of God… located in the center of the city (Rev 22.3) that has come down to earth. [p. 191]

So next time your fundamentalist co-worker asks you if you’re ready for the “rapture,” you can tell them that yes, you are indeed a supporter of New Urbanism.

A later post about a green evangelical Christian

13 thoughts on “The “Rapture”? It’s all about New Urbanism

  1. Chalicechick

    My brother moved out of our basement, but his mail keeps coming to our house.
    We forward the real stuff on to him, but send the junk mail back “Not at this

    But for some time, my husband and I have thought about sending the mail back


  2. Scott Wells

    I smiled when I read this because you quote some of my favorite passages in the Bible. (I preached on Rev. 22:2 the Sunday after 9/11, here in Washington. My former church has a window with this motif.) Plus we “all” know that Rapture theology isn’t any older than the steam locomotive.

    Then again, I live in a very urban/urbanist neighborhood in DC, so I’m prone to like it.

  3. JH

    There’s a popular bumpersticker out here:
    In the case of Rapture,
    this car will be unoccupied.

  4. Pingback: Of Kirk and Ale » The “Rapture”? It’s all about New Urbanism

  5. Kevin Carson


    According to the LaHaye account of the Rapture, people will disappear out of their clothes. I guess there’ll be a lot of happy panty-sniffers out there.

  6. Administrator

    Scott: I have to say, I’m pretty fond of Rev 22.2; I like Rev 21.3-4 even more — for me, that’s Universalism in a nutshell.

    Bill: Count yourself lucky indeed.

    JH: So what you need is one of those bumperstickers that says, “When the rapture comes, can I have your car?” I’ll see if I can find one to send to you….

    Kevin: Umm… that’s kinda kinky, actually. And here I thought these “rapture” folks were all straightlaced.

  7. JH

    Oh no, not straitlaced at all! One of my students just wrote the most
    amazing essay about at group of “swinging” Pentecostals who live
    in her trailer park. The most astounding bit of detail in that piece
    was about their pastor, head swinger apparently, who was trimming a tree
    on a bucket truck and the bucket swung into some power lines. Yep. He
    got fried, and was stuck on the power lines for nearly half an hour while
    his flock (lovers, too, presumably) watched in horror from below.
    Rapture indeed.

  8. Dave

    Well, the word “rapture” that people use to describe an event might be recent, but the event
    it refers to is not new:

    1 Thess 4:16
    For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.

  9. Administrator

    Dave: The Universalist in me has to point out that 1 Thess 4.16 is not the same as the popular conception of the “rapture,” since according to the verses you cite, it’s quite clear that everyone gets saved.

    Next, the hermenuticist in me has to point out that 1 Thess 4.16 contradicts Rev 21-22, where God comes down to earth. As a hermenuticist I’d say that where you find a contradiction in the text, interpretation enters into the phase of a conversation with the text (vide e.g. Gadamer), which typically results, not in dogmatic exercises like “rapture theology,” but in an ongoing process of revelation.

    Finally, the post-modernist in me says: distrust all meta-narratives that resolve all contradictions. When you start deconstructing “rapture theology,” you find some really nasty stuff inside. Yucky.

  10. nbgal

    Actually, Dave isn’t wrong… 1 Thess 4:16 takes place BEFORE Rev 21-22. You have to read the whole new testament in context to get a good overview of the timing of events. Sure you can pick it apart verse by verse and come to any conclusion you want… but context is very important. The word “Rapture” may be a modern term to describe 1 thess 4″16, but it is clear from the verse that NOT everyone gets saved. Read it again “…and the dead in Christ will rise first…” In Christ is the key phrase… If you are “IN Christ”… in other words a believer in Christ.

    I have to wonder what you think 1 Thess 4:16 is describing?

    [quote]post-modernist in me says: distrust all meta-narratives that resolve all contradictions [/quote]
    I guess that’s a good way to dismiss any arguements that differ from yours. Meta-narratives aren’t all fluff, all the time.

  11. Administrator

    ngbal — I’m going to assume that you to engage in a real conversation; and that you really are interested in reading t bible seriously, in coversation with other people who take it seriously and from whom you might learn. With that in mind, here are some things to think about:

    You write: “Sure you can pick it apart verse by verse and come to any conclusion you want… but context is very important.” Yup, that’s exactly my point. From my point of view, you are in fact conveniently picking two verses out of context and using them to justify what seems to me to be a pre-conceived notion rooted not in a close reading of the text but in a fairly recent theological approach to reading the Bible. You’d be on firmer gorunds if you used narrative theology, and tried to draw on established church doctrine (and speaking of narrative theology, if you haven’t read Karl Barth, I think you might actually feel in sympathy with him). My point, then, is that anyone doing systematic theology has to engage in a measure of intepretation — that’s why we wind up with systematic theologies that differ as widely as James Cone’s “A Black Theology of Liberation” and Karl Barth.

    You also write: “1 Thess 4:16 takes place BEFORE Rev 21-22.” You need to specify what you mean when you say “before.” Do you mean “before” in some sort of end-times chronology that you have worked out? — because any such chronology is extra-Biblical and therefore an external (human) interpolation. Or are you speaking historically, i.e. that the first letter to the Thessalonians was written before Revelations? — true, but to make that argument you should show some solid connection between the Pauline writings and the writer of Revelation, which is possible but which you haven’t done. Or do you mean simply that the book of 1 Thessalonians comes before the book of Revelation in the traditional ordering of the books of the Bible? — in which case, it’s hard to see what difference that makes one way or the other.

    You also write: “Meta-narratives aren’t all fluff, all the time.” Actually, maybe they are when it comes to the Bible! Meta-narratives are a fairly recent human invention which started in the Enlightenment. Augustine wasn’t using meta-narratives, Thomas Aquinas wasn’t using meta-narratives. What worries me about rapture theology is that I feel it’s not deeply rooted in the Bible — rapture theology strikes me as human interpolations into scripture. It is very easy to be swayed by limited human interpretations of scripture; it is much harder to listen to the leading of the Spirit, which can lead us out of our limited humanness into Truth.

    I hope you take these comments in the spirit in which they are intended — and keep up with your Bible reading.

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