A few days ago I was lecturing on Jewish apocalyptic literature (literature that deals with the end of time). I was explaining to the students that apocalyptic ideas generally surface during desperate times when people are hoping and praying for an end of the present age and for good to conquer evil. My lecture was specifically focused on the Book of Daniel, written during the dark time of Syrian rule when the people of Judah were forced to worship Greek Gods. I explained to my students that Daniel had a vision of a “Son of Man” (great king) descending to earth from the clouds to save his people. I went on to explain how this idea was later picked up and expanded on by the Christian, Paul (as in the Apostle Paul). It is a fact that Christians await the return of Jesus, and it was Paul who explained how it will play out. Here is what Paul wrote:
“For the Lord [Jesus] himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first, then we who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17
At this point in the lecture I ask if anyone knows what this event – Christians being sucked up into the air to meet Jesus in the clouds – is called. I typically have a few kids who know the answer: the Rapture. Using the below images I show the kids what this might look like.
I use the above illustration to explain to my students how many Christians envision total chaos when the Rapture begins. In other words, cars and planes will crash out of control as pilots and drivers are sucked out of their seats.It is usually at this point in the lecture when many of my students who are totally unfamiliar with this idea start to look at me as if I had just vomited up a goat.
I tell the students that according to conservative Christians not all people will be Raptured, many will be “Left behind.” Hence, the popular Left Behind book series and movie starring Kirk Cameron.
It was at this point in my lecture a few days ago a student by the name of Brady blurted out “how can people believe in this stuff?” I told him that people often believe what they are raised to believe. It is worth noting that most of my students have been raised in the church and have never heard of the Rapture. Why? The answer lies in the fact that mainstream protestant churches do not focus on end-of-time events, whereas conservative evangelical churches do. As a result, my evangelical students are consistently well versed in matters pertaining to the end of time (the Rapture, the Tribulation, the antiChrist, the mark of the beast, Judgment Day, hell, etc.).
During this lecture I remind my students that just last year many Christians were predicting the return of Jesus to occur on May 21. It was a date predicted by a popular conservative Christian by the name of Harold Camping. Camping founded a popular Christian radio show called Family Radio in 1958 and has hosted a call-in radio program called Open Forum since 1961. The followers of Camping, along with an organization called We Can Know, spent thousands of dollars on billboard space to get the word out. And, as you can imagine, atheists from all across the country could not resist throwing their voice into the discussion with their own billboards (scroll down to see the battling billboards).
It is important to point out that not all conservative Christians agreed with this prediction, and for sound Biblical reasons. The Bible does say “No one knows the day or the hour” of Jesus’ return, and none of my evangelical students expected the Rapture to happen on the 21st of May. Needles to say, none of my students were surprised that Jesus did not return.
I should point out that after the predicted date came and went the below billboard appeared. I’m not sure where it appeared, or who paid for it, but I find it hysterical!
In the seventeen years that I have been teaching world religion in Red Wing, Minnesota, I have had well over a thousand Christian students,and I can tell you honestly they are not all the same. The fact that all of my church-going evangelical students know everything about the Rapture and nearly all my church-going mainstream protestant students know nothing of it speaks volumes to the variations in what kids learn about in church. The Christian faith is very diverse, and there are many ways to be a Christian, just as there are many ways to be a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or Jew. Diversity is everywhere, and public schools need to help our kids understand it, all of it.