The rapture and beyond

Daniel Hummel shows how deeply dispensation­alism has shaped American religion.

Evangelicals in the 20th and 21st centuries have continually had to reckon with the culture of dispensationalism. Popular dispensationalism, with its hyper-fixation on the end times, has shaped the religious right since its inception in the late 1970s. As a child attending an evangelical church in the Left Behind era, I often heard preaching about the rapture or the coming of the Antichrist. Christian media have been replete with themes of the end times, from books on prophecy fulfillment to songs about being left behind.

More recently, the “Snapture” in Marvel’s 2018 blockbuster Avengers: Infinity War—a scene in which a character’s snap of the fingers causes half the world’s population to instantly dissolve into dust—brought dispensationalism back into mainstream culture. In most of these cases, the rapture appears in isolation from other critical components of dispensationalism, which include God’s covenants with humanity during various dispensations of history and separatism between the church and the world.

Dispensationalism is a form of premillennialism, the belief that Christ will return to earth before the millennium spoken of in Revelation 20 occurs. In dispensationalism, the millennium is the final dispensation of history, after which time will come to an end; presently history is in the dispensation known as the church age. The Bible has foretold that throughout the church age, society will continually deteriorate until the rapture, after which God’s judgment will descend in the seven-year tribulation and the terrifying reign of the Antichrist. Following the tribulation, Christ will return to earth and defeat the Antichrist before beginning his 1,000-year reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem.