Periodical Review: “The Rapture In An Eleventh-Century Text”

One of the more common criticisms leveled against those who hold to a pretribulational rapture is what has been called the charge of “Darbyism.” This is the claim that the system of dispensational pre-tribulationalism was invented by John Nelson Darby in the 1830s. With this article written by Francis X. Gumerlock (“The Rapture in an Eleventh-Century Text,” Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 176, No. 701. Jan-Mar, 2019. p. 81-91), it is shown that the claim of Darbyism is a hollow one, and there is evidence that systems of belief similar to modern day pre-tribulationalism have been held throughout the church age.

What Gumerlock examines is a Bulgarian text written by a Christian in the eleventh century that seems to be describing a rapture like event during a time period matching descriptions from the book of Revelation. Before examining this text closely however, he gives a brief survey of various other texts from the last few centuries, dating back to the Middle Ages that seem to describe rapture like events. I will briefly summarize them here. (Note that Gumerlock surveys these in reverse chronological order.)

1832 – A Dissertation on the Seals and Trumpets of the Apocalypse, by William Cunninghame describes a two stage Second Coming of Christ.

1816 – Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty by Emanuel Lacunza taught that Christ would first come to catch up the faithful to heaven, which would be followed by a period of at least 45 days before the final coming of Christ.

1806 – Expositions des predictions et des promesses by Bernard Lambert also taught an intermediary coming of Christ in which He gathers His saints.

1788 – Two Academical Exercises by Morgan Edwards, along with the next work;

1761 – Immortality of the Soul have Christ appearing in the air years before the Second Coming to remove the saints from the Earth, which would then experience the Tribulation as described in the book of Revelation.

1654 – Brief Survey of the Prophetical and Evangelical Events of the Last Times by John Brown, along with the next entry;

1660 – History of the Scripture by John Birschensha have the saints being taken up to heaven before the tribulation and destruction of Babylon on earth.

1306 – The History of Brother Dolcino. Speaks of the religious beliefs of a religious community and leader in northern Italy that believed when the antichrist appeared, the believers would be taken up to heaven. When the Antichrist is killed, they return to the earth.

c. 1250-1350 – Voyage of Saint Brendan. A Venetian version of this work teaches that when the antichrist begins to persecute the believers, God will give refuge to His people by taking them to paradise. Related to this work, later published in 1536, Life of Brendan of Clonfert, teaches that at the end of the world, Brendan and his followers with the saints of Ireland, would go to the Land of Promise seven years before the last judgment.

The Eleventh-Century Narration of Isaiah

The full title of this work is Narration of the Holy Prophet Isaiah about the Years to Come and the Kings and the Antichrist. The total length of the work is 20 paragraphs coming up to about five pages of length once translated to English. It was discovered in the 1980s.

DATE

Internal evidence suggests the date of writing to be sometime in the 1070s. This is suggested to the description of an invasion of non-Christian people from the north, which have been identified as the invasion of the Usi people in 1064.

SOURCES

The Narration contains quotations from and allusions to both the Old and New Testaments, primarily the Psalms and Matthew’s Gospel. There is also a description of a battle between the Antichrist and Enoch and Elijah which appears to be an allusion to the two witnesses in Revelation 11. There are also several other references to extra-biblical literature.

SUMMARY

“Paragraphs 1-7 speak of three kings who will rule Bulgaria in the end times prior to a last king named Michael, during whose reign the Antichrist will be born. The reign of King Michael is described in paragraphs 8-13. Finally, paragraphs 13-20 narrate the persecution inflicted on Christians by the Antichrist, Antichrist’s battle with Enoch and Elijah, the rapture of the elect, the burning up of the earth, and the last judgement six years after the rapture and conflagration” (Gumerlock, 85).

THE RAPTURE IN THE NARRATION OF ISAIAH

Gumerlock includes large quotations of the relevant paragraphs here. I will also include them since they are so fascinating to read. Relevant portions concerning the rapture are italicized, and paragraph numbers, scripture references, and word clarifications are in brackets:

[14] Then Elijah will start arguing with the Antichrist, saying: ‘You are the deceiver.’ And the latter will be enraged in fury and will make a copper altar and will put Elijah and Enoch upon it and will jugulate [them], like prophet David said: ‘then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar’ [Ps. 51.19]. Then God will summon the true cross and the apostles and the gospels and all the elect who’ve pleased God, and the holy churches, and the christened graves all over the earth. God will lift the into the air and will set the earth afire. And the earth will burn, and also the mountains, and the mountains [sic], and the houses, as Prophet David said: ‘touch the mountains, and they shall smoke’ [Ps. 144.5]. Then the sea will boil as though in a pot and, as the sea will be burnt violently, thus everything [will be burnt] for three years. Only the land from where the Jordan takes its source will remain.

[15] Afterwards God will send the four great winds and they will scatter the dust far and wide. Then God will make two sources whiter than snow – one in the east and the other – in the west. And they will gush forth all over the earth. And the earth will become flat like paper and more beautiful than this world and seven times whiter. And the earth will lie for three years. And the earth will cry out to God, saying: ‘Take care of me, my Lord, for I’ve been lying for many years, but I am like a seven-year-old girl, purer than the creation itself. I’ve cleansed from all impurity.’

[16] Then with great strength and glory God will come down from heaven by the clouds in a place called Huskie. And the saints will assemble in the churches, and they will shine like stars – each one at their place. And there will flock many angels and archangels, thousands and thousands more, twelve legions, carrying God’s throne, and they will shine seven times brighter than the sun. And God himself will appear from heaven to judge the living and the dead.

Gumerlock then devotes space to examining the eschatology of these passages. Concerning the timing, he notes that after the rapture occurs the earth will be burned for three years, and then a great wind removes from the earth the ashes and two great fountains of water cleanse the earth. After the six years God Himself returns to judge the living and the dead. Gumerlock also draws comparisons with today’s view that holds that Christ returns seven years after the rapture, while the Narration says six years. Modern theory holds that the Church is raptured before the revealing of the Antichrist, while the Narration has the Antichrist present and persecuting the Church before the rapture occurs.

Concerning the subjects of the rapture, paragraph 14 of the Narration says that all of the elect will be raptured along with certain sacred objects. These objects will include the true cross, “the apostles and the gospels” (the sacred books of scripture), the church buildings, and the christened graves.

I found this article to be an extremely fascinating one. The historical understanding of the rapture throughout the ages is a topic that I personally have not examined, and therefore am very appreciative of the brief survey Gumerlock offers before handling the Narration of Isaiah. The takeaway from this article is that the claim of “Darbyism,” that the idea of pretribulationalism and the rapture, were somehow just made up out of thin air, is a claim that is not rooted in any historical analysis of theological history.

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