Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (Pt.6)

Part Five

This series explores the various avenues which have to be gone down in order to get the doctrine of the Rapture of the Church right.  I am deliberately avoiding the more conventional comparative approach. This may annoy some and intrigue others.  I hope the former group is smaller than the latter!    

The Day of the Lord, Cosmic Upheavals, and the Return of Christ

The concept of the Day of the Lord describes different yet related things.  If I pick it up where I left off last time, with 2 Peter 3:10, the Day of the Lord is matched specifically with the dissolution of the present created order.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

My understanding of this verse is that it takes a telescopic view of the whole intervention of the Divine presence to throw off the reign of sinful men and replace it with the rule of the Son of Man.  This overthrow and reign (specifically with a rod of iron – Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15), terminates when earth and heaven flee away (Rev. 20:11), and then the reign is continued under perfectly harmonious conditions where “there is no more curse” (Rev. 22:3).  If the kingdom-age – the “regeneration” which Jesus speaks of in Matt. 19:28. Cf. Lk. 22:29-30 – intervenes between the end of “this age” and the New Heavens and Earth, then Peter’s designation of the Day of the Lord does not refer only to the Second Coming, and certainly not to an outpouring of wrath just prior to the Second Coming.  In 2 Peter it more definitely refers to the Advent, rule, and final destruction of the planet at the very end of the millennial kingdom-age.  What this means (if I may recap what I have pointed out before) is that while “the Day of the Lord” may speak of whole or part of the Tribulation in some contexts, it does not settle the dispute about where we put the rapture (I will address whether one should equate the “Day of the Lord” with the Tribulation below).  This lack of finality is because the phrase “Day of the Lord” is somewhat flexible, and its association with the taking out of the church is placed within and partakes of that flexibility.

Saying this does not mean that the doctrine of the rapture becomes nebulous.  It is a real future event for Christ’s Church.  But it does mean that the timing of the rapture is arrived at only through deductions from inductively concluded premises.  Let me illustrate.

Pretribulationists are prone to identify “the Blessed Hope” spoken of by Paul in Titus 2:13 as the taking out of the Church, and I think they are right to do so.  But I don’t think they are right automatically.  That is, they are not entitled on exegetical grounds to simply deduce that “the Blessed Hope” equals the rapture because the rapture is pretribulational.  I do not think the exegetical case for any rapture position is decisive, and am trying to show why.  Thus, exegesis of the several rapture texts will substantiate that there is a rapture, and that the Body of Christ is its subject, but only valid inferences will determine the timing of the rapture.

Here’s a longer illustration.  Going back to the Olivet Discourse we read:

For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.  But immediately after the tribulation of those days the Sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.  And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. – Matthew 24:27-31

The cosmic phenomena which Jesus mentions occur “immediately after the tribulation of those days”, and are connected to the Second Coming in verses 27 and 30.  The “gathering”, which some (not this writer) believe to be the rapture of 1 Thessalonians 4, happens around that time.  No doubt the saints are moved to safety right before Armageddon; whether by rapture to glory (which is somewhat speculative), or in another way it is not necessary to decide right now.

Furthermore, this “gathering” looks similar to the one in Matthew 13:47-50, or that in Revelation 14:14-20; both of which seem to happen at (or in close proximity to) the Second Advent, not at any distance prior to it.  With this set of passages the locus is at the very end of the Seventieth Week.  One might wish to insert a longer period of time between the upheavals and the Advent (say, six months up to three and a half years), but these verses are not encouraging in that regard.

Another group of “Day of the Lord” scriptures support this interpretation of equating the very end of the Tribulation with the Second Advent as Day of the Lord:

Joel 2:31 speaks of the signs mentioned in Matthew 24:29f., and puts them “before the great and terrible day of the LORD”.  If the Day of the Lord is the Return of Jesus in this text then perhaps there is an interval of some extent between the two events?  But Joel 3:14-16 indicates that this “before” is “in the Valley of Decision” where “the day of the LORD is near”.  That passage reads,

Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! 
For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.  The sun and moon grow dark 
And the stars lose their brightness.  The LORD roars from Zion 
And utters His voice from Jerusalem, 
And the heavens and the earth tremble. 
But the LORD is a refuge for His people 
And a stronghold to the sons of Israel. – Joel 3:14-16

This text places the cosmic disturbances at the time of the great battle (Armageddon).  The “day of the LORD” is said to be “near”, which indicates that in this passage it backs up to the Second Coming proper. The celestial troubles happen at Armageddon and not before.

What I’m saying is, if the “day of the LORD” in Joel 3:14f, is the same as the “great and terrible day of the LORD” in Joel 2:31, then the adverbs “before” and “near” refer to things immediately prior to the Lord’s Second Coming and not to a longer protracted period of wrath extending over months or years.  The “wrath” here (though not everywhere) would be the Second Coming!  This is how it is in Revelation 19:15, (which matches Revelation 14:14-20, see above), and Isaiah 63:1-6, which is a Second Advent passage.  This would mean that the “immediately after the tribulation” reference in Matthew 24:29 comes promptly before or even at Armageddon.

As well, if one takes the opening of the sixth seal in Revelation 6:12-17 as referring to the Second Coming (and its match in Isa. 2:10-21 points to that conclusion), the report may easily be taken as speaking of the events directly in front of and including the Advent, just as the passages above have indicated.  The example shows that these texts argue for “the Day of the Lord” and the cosmic signs occurring together in and around the great battle in “the Valley of Decision” and its ending at the Second Coming.

This rather elongated example shows that while there may be some fodder for post-tribulationism, there is little in this for the other positions to bite into as far as the rapture is concerned.  Pretribbers are not threatened with the connections I’ve made, even if many of them like to interpret the gathering up of Matthew 24:31 in a different way than I have, and some will object to putting the sixth seal at the end of the Seventieth Week.  Though Prewrathers have wrought valiantly on these passages to prize a wider time-period for the rapture before the “wrath” of God, which is poured out at least several months before the Lord’s return, I do not think they are successful at proving their point.  As I have tried to demonstrate, the heavenly chaos happens at Armageddon, and that battle is soon settled by the Second Coming of the King of kings.  Pretribulationism and Posttribulationism can handle this, but Posttribulationists, and to a lesser extent Prewrathers, confuse Israel and the Church, the latter having both groups going through the Tribulation concurrently.  We’ve already seen this in Part Four but there is more to say. (more…)

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (Pt.5)

Part Four

In this piece I want to go behind the subject of the rapture so as to approach it from another angle. Please bear with me.

The Book of Revelation has been the subject of varied interpretations.  Since the Greek word apocalypsis means “a disclosure” or “unveiling” the different interpretative approaches to the Book is quite ironic if not a little embarrassing.  The opening verses of Revelation inform us that it concerns “things which must shortly take place” (1:1; 1:19).  Because John write of “things which must take place after this” (4:1) it is hardly surprising to read him describing his book as a “prophecy” (1:3).

Now although scholars like to cite etymology to try to prove that prophecy is more “forth-telling” than “foretelling”, the Bible itself does not assist them much.  For instance, when Jehoshaphat wanted to hear from a prophet of the LORD it wasn’t because he wished to hear a declamation on the present reign of his ally Ahab.  Rather he wanted to know about the future (see 1 Kings 22).  John’s Revelation is about the future.  But it is about a particular time in future history.  That time may be determined by the contents of the Book.

The Coming of Antichrist

Without going into detail about it, Revelation 4 and 5 set the scene for the major events depicted in the rest of the Book.  At the close of the fourth chapter the doxology fixes attention on creation: what I like to call “the Creation Project”, summed up in the idea that God’s purpose (teleology) drives an eschatology.  The fifth chapter of Revelation refers to the seven-sealed scroll which only the Lamb could open.  These seals reveal, among other things, the Four Horsemen, the first of which might be interpreted positively, except for what follows in his wake; which is the removal of peace, famine, and death.  Further, the souls under the altar of the fifth seal are of righteous people killed “for the word of God and the testimony which they held” (6:9).  Clearly chapter six records evil occurrences in the world, but when?  I venture to say that the easiest answer is during the coming Tribulation, which I have associated with Daniel’s seven year 70th week.  Now if “the prince who is to come” of Daniel 9:26 is, as is likely, the one who confirms a covenant at the beginning of the 70th Week and breaks it half way through (Dan. 9:27), then it is no extravagant surmise to identify the “prince” as the Antichrist.  (I am aware that many amillennialists want to say this is Christ, for what appear to be the most absurd reasons).  Anyway, this “prince/antichrist” is, I believe, the white-horse rider of Revelation 6:2.  This rider (who many amils also absurdly identify with Christ), looks like the white horse Rider of Revelation 19:11ff, who is Christ, but, for the reasons given above, is surely Antichrist.  Thus, Antichrist steps on to the scene at the beginning of the seventieth week and makes a covenant with Israel, Daniel’s people.  Israel then is once again at the forefront of God’s actions (cf. also Rev. 7:1-8; 11:1-2, 8: 12:1-5, etc.).

If we introduce 2 Thessalonians 2 into the scene we see that Paul tells the Church that our gathering to Christ will not occur “until the rebellion (apostasia) comes, and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thess. 2:1, 3).  Paul is clearing up a misconception about the arrival of “the Day of the Lord.”  That “day” is connected to the start of the apostasy and the revealing of the man of sin or Antichrist.  Thus it would seem that the Day of the Lord as the Apostle here uses the term is coterminous with the appearance of Antichrist, the white horse rider of Revelation 6, which is, it seems, and as noted above, at the beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week.

If this is in fact the case, then certain entailments follow.  The first is that it would seem to do away with attempts to restrict the term “Day of the Lord” (he hemera tou kuriou) to either a mid, pre-wrath or post-tribulational scenario.  The second is that our gathering (episounagogay) with Christ (2:1) is linked with the onset of the rebellion or apostasy, (although I see nothing in the argument which makes the apostasy the rapture itself – a la E. Schuyler English), in which case the rapture will happen in or around the beginning of the Tribulation.  It’s not a knock-down argument, but it certainly gives the nod to a pre-trib understanding of “Day of the Lord” in this particular passage.

The Problem of “Day of the Lord”

Obviously this is a massive subject, and I am permitting myself the luxury of dealing with it in a somewhat piecemeal fashion, but just a brief look at some assorted passages will help us get a basic understanding of the term.  It will mean I have to meander a little through certain scriptures.  I’ll begin with Paul.

The Apostle Paul only uses the words three times.  We have noted 2 Thessalonians 2 above.  In 1 Corinthians 5:5, when speaking about the handing over of a man to Satan “for the destruction of the flesh” he gives as his reason “that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”  In passing we should mention that the addition of the name “Jesus” after the phrase is well attested, but I don’t think it changes anything.  The time reference is not indexed so one cannot say for sure precisely when this will be.  So like so many rapture supporting verses it can be used by all schools.

The next passage is in 1 Thessalonians 5:2.  I’ll provide the context:

Now concerning the times and the seasons brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.  For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, “there is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they shall not escape.  But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief… For God has not destined us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4, 9

This passage follows on from the rapture section at the end of chapter 4.  In that section the Apostle writes as if the snatching out was a new teaching for the Thessalonians (4:13).  Here though the church is said to be well aware of the teaching concerning the Day of the Lord.  Okay, but that still does not place the rapture at any specified point in the eschaton.  Perhaps then it would be well to examine the two figures which Paul uses, one of which is drawn from the Old Testament.

The reference to “birth pangs” or “labor pains” is an analogy for discomfort and distress.  For example, in Psalm 48 it is used to illustrate the reaction of the kings of the earth upon seeing God’s City, verses 1 to 8 possibly predicting the future kingdom.  Then in Isaiah 13:6-13, which is a Day of the Lord passage (13:6, 9), the events surrounding God’s judgment on the world (v.11) resemble closely the climactic events circling around the Second Coming (i.e. cosmic disturbances 13:10, 13).  References in Micah and Jeremiah follow along similar lines.  Sometimes it is hard to extract these end times predictions from more immediate contexts as the prophets often view contemporary troubles from the vantage of the present aeon and its eventual overturn at Christ’s appearing in judgment.  But there is no warrant for making it all figurative; still less for calling upon the shapeless crock which is “apocalyptic” (which within some sectors of evangelicalism is coming to encompass well nigh everything).

Paul’s usage of the metaphor of labor pains to describe the present groaning of the earth in Romans 8:22 shows that it can speak of the creation’s ages-long waiting on its redemption and not about the eschaton itself.  This means that there is nothing in the phrase itself which connotes the Tribulation or Second Advent.  But when linked to other end times cues, like in 1 Thessalonians 5, it does bespeak the great distress that will ensue.

So getting back to our text, the “labor pains” motif does argue for an intensified period of trial at the end of the age, but again, is it the cusp of the Tribulation, or half-way, or what pre-wrathers point to as the tail-end when the bowls of wrath of Revelation 16 are poured out?  It’s hard to say exactly.  And this sort of lack of precision is typical.

Okay, so what does Paul mean by the Day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5?  Well, it is something preceded by the rapture (1 Thess. 4:17), though no interval is given.  It appears to be identical with the “wrath to come” in 1:10 (cf. 5:9), so we will need to examine that term below.  It also comes suddenly, which the figure of the “thief in the night” illustrates distinctly.  However, this “thief” metaphor is not referring to the rapture, but something occurring after it has taken place.  For instance, Revelation 16:15 has the term used to speak of the Second Coming (cf. Rev. 19:11ff.).  The word indicates a nasty surprise, which the Lord’s return in anger will surely be (2 Thess. 1:5-10, about which more has to be said).  Post-tribulationists warm to such passages, but the other positions are not overturned by it, because “thief” is not technical.  This can be seen from Peter. (more…)

Back from Chicago: Moody’s Founder’s Week

Last night I got back late, very late, from the Moody Founder’s Week Conference in Chicago.  The annual conference is free to attend and, even for a cynic like me, worth going to.  I thought I’d write some things about it while the impressions were fresh.  The theme of the conference was “Running the Race” from Hebrews 12.

I missed Paul Nyquist’s opening sermon on Monday.  Evidently he did some of the main expository groundwork on the text which some of the other speakers built upon.  The next day opened with fine sermons by Bryan Clark and Ron Hutchcraft.  Hutchcraft was naturally funny, but built into his sermon solid lessons from the text.  I skipped the afternoon sessions all week (there were none on Tues) because either I wasn’t too interested in the speaker or I wasn’t interested in listening to another speaker, or, I had other things i wanted to do.  I was told the two student speakers on Wednesday and Thursday were both very good.  Tuesday night’s sermon at Moody Church by Mike Fabarez was well put together but too long.  Fabarez did very well building up to what I thought was a conclusion, but then proceeded to keep talking and dulled the edge of his presentation.

On Wednesday Phil Vischer gave a stirring testimony of burnout recovered by the fresh understanding that God loved him more than Big Idea!  Vischer was at once amusing and poignant.  He took us to several Pauline passages to bring out how important it is to do things through Christ’s strength and not our own.  I benefited from both his candor and his wisdom. Nancy Leigh DeMoss used her time to recite from memory the career of Jesus using passages from both Testaments.  It was impressive without being very helpful.  While I am sure she was genuine, doing such feats of memory inevitably become performances.  “So what?” was my thought initially, and I haven’t altered my opinion.

That night Josh MacDowall warned about the ubiquitous menace of pornography, especially as it relates to children watching it.  He did some scaremongering but perhaps that was necessary.  He showed the congregation some gadget called “Oculus” which will be released soon and which you place over your eyes in order to enter another realm – an artificial one.  MacDowall said that four companies with a vested interest in this device are porn providers.  His warnings were sobering, even if he failed to bring in the blood of Christ and Christian consecration as the antidotes.

Thursday brought us Erwin Lutzer and a message about preparedness.  It was a good sermon but nothing to rave about.  At the end Lutzer had everyone stand up and repeat a prayer against fearfulness.  I really do not like this sort of manipulative practice, however genuinely it is done.  Daniel Carroll of Denver Seminary came next and was really outstanding.  Carroll spoke from the heart from Psalm 42 and hit a note which is never heard in today’s churches: the need for expressions of doubt and lament.  He said that real life is tough and unfair and God seems sometimes seems not to be there.  The Psalms have more laments than any other genre, and for good reason.  But we have cut it out of our prescriptions for life and are the poorer for it.  Carroll’s fine mixture of exegesis and humble yet passionate entreaty were the highlight of the week.  Billy Kim preached about the need for prayer and holiness and love for the lost: again, very good.

Finally, on Friday morning I heard Voddie Baucham and Ramesh Richard.  These two together made this the best session overall.  Baucham spoke soberly about how young people particularly are more concerned with niceness than about Truth.  His subject was the Gay agenda and how to argue biblically and intelligently against it; or perhaps as important, how to reason it out in ones own head.  Top marks for a sermon of sustained intellectual engagement.

Ramesh Richard was also very good.  He chose words to think about the Christian race with.  I had to get ready to go and so my attention was not as fixed as it should have been, but I do remember his terrific emphasis on glory as “giving Jesus weight in the areas of your personal, family, and work life.

All in all this was an edifying time.  May God help me to apply what I learned to my own life and ministry!

Oh, and I also picked up the second volume of Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology and Hurtado’s God in New Testament Theology for a steal!  Score.

exodus

Review: ‘A Commentary on Exodus’ by Duane A. Garrett

A review of Duane A. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus, Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2014, 741 pages

This latest commentary to be released by Kregel comes from the veteran commentator Duane Garrett of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Garrett is known for contributing solid works on Hosea and Joel, Amos, and several commentaries on Wisdom Books.  He is known for his balanced approach and careful exegesis.  This new work on the Book of Exodus helps to maintain his standards.

Kregel’s Exegetical Commentary series has already made a strong impact with works by Allen Ross on Psalms and Robert Chisholm on Judges/Ruth, and Garrett doesn’t let the side down.  His Exodus Commentary is a fine work of scholarship, being nicely “weighted” towards the first part of the Book (to ch. 24) for preachers.

The one hundred and thirty page Introduction runs through issues such as sources (the critical approach with which the author is unimpressed), the author’s own translation policy (which I found very helpful), historical background (including interesting cameos of Pharaohs), topography, and Book analysis.  Lengthy discussions of the date of the Exodus and the Yam Suph crossing are sandwiched in there.  After a detailed look at arguments for both an early 15th century movement and a late 13th century date, Garrett concludes that although the exodus certainly happened, it is better not to be dogmatic on a set date, or to repair to novel reinterpretations of Egyptian chronology to try to settle the matter.  This conclusion will not satisfy everybody (like this reviewer), but one cannot claim that the writer has not looked into the matter seriously.

Preachers will find that the coverage of the first chapters are full, the treatment of the miracles is ample, while the actual wilderness journey in chapters 15:22 to 19 is very well done.  Garrett keeps up the theme of movement through the section, as well as taking care to discuss different interpretations.  I found his comments on the Ten ‘Words’ good but a little slender.  Students wanting more reflective ethical evaluations will have to turn to Douma, Frame, or Rooker.  However, the coverage of the “Sinai Covenant’s” Book of the Covenant connects chapter 20 with chapters 21-24 in a way many will appreciate.

Another notable feature of this book are the several excursii on important places and themes. some of these are thought-provoking (e.g. whether the plagues ought to be interpreted as directed against the gods of Egypt).  Some of them a little disappointing (as when Garrett prefers not to believe the Nile was turned to blood), and some extremely good (like the lengthy discussion of the Hardening of Pharaoh’s heart).  There is also a (rather too compressed) appendix on ‘The Songs of Exodus” at the back.  Of note in the book is the author’s stress upon the theological contribution of Exodus to Israel’s identity.

One major complaint I have is the editorial decision to dispense with indices.  Who decided that? Further, the usefulness of the commentary would be greatly improved by an analytical Table of Contents. It is in these not unimportant areas that the publisher fails both author and reader.  Nevertheless, this is a commentary worth considering.  I would place it close to Douglas Stuart in the NAC series, and Walter Kaiser in the EBC, although for me Kaiser still takes the laurels.

 

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (4)

Part Three

So far I have tried to establish a base in biblical texts for my further inquiry into the rapture.  Remember, I write as a non-too-dogmatic pre-tribber whose interest in these posts is to think through the various approaches.

Few Major Rapture Passages

All proponents of the rapture must acknowledge that there are very few direct references to the catching up of the saints.  Without 1 Cor. 15 and Jn. 14, perhaps Matt. 24, but especially 1 Thess. 4, we would not be talking about it.  Of these, only the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage can be deemed a direct statement about the ‘catching up’ or ‘seizing out’ of the saints in the end time.  By a direct statement I mean a text which plainly and unequivocally puts across a doctrine.  Examples of this in other areas include, Gen. 1:1 stating that God created all things, or Rom. 5:1 which says Christians are justified by faith.  These are C1 statements in the Rules of Affinity.  Well nigh all the major doctrines of Scripture can be ascertained and proposed via C1 passages.

What this means is that in addition to these texts supporters of the viewpoints must marshal arguments from other statements of Scripture (hopefully direct statements) about related teachings.  It is the proper inclusion and assimilation of these teachings which creates the differing schools of thought on our subject.

Because this is so, we must show some humility in our assertions.  I have concluded that the rapture and its timing is (and can only be) a C3 doctrine.  That is to say, it has no direct C1 scriptures (other than 1 Thess. 4), or “inevitable” collusion of direct statements (C2) to substantiate it, yet it does enjoy many supportive statements from which one may derive solid inferences (C3).

Some of theses related teachings include the interpretation of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks; the event(s) concerning the “Day of the LORD”; and the correct placement of certain biblical events mentioned in the Olivet Discourse, the Thessalonian correspondence, the Book of Revelation, etc.

But also there are theological considerations which have to be weighed and balanced.  Such things as the differentiation of Israel from the Church, the meaning of the ‘Tribulation’ and ‘Great Tribulation’, and the role of Antichrist, and also the matter of imminence need to be thought through.  All in all I am of the opinion that there are better conceptions of the rapture and worse ones.  The best on will be able to deal adequately with the most biblical data while suffering from the fewest (and least damaging) problem areas.  In other words, the best rapture scenario will be an inference to the best explanation.

Daniel’s Heptads (70 “Weeks”)

The ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel includes the famous prophecy of the seventy sevens.  Here is the passage:

Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.
So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.  Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.  And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate. – Daniel 9:24-27

The run up to these verses is integral to its understanding.  In 9:2 the “seventy” crops up in relation to the Babylonian Captivity.  It is worth noting that Daniel understood this number of years from a straight-forward reading of Jeremiah (e.g. Jer. 25:11).  The next “seventy” relates to the “sevens” or heptads decreed upon Daniel’s people Israel (see his prayer: 9:7, 11, 16-17, 20) and the temple (9:17, cf. 20).  Also worth a mention is the reference to God’s covenant faithfulness in 9:4 (a hendiadys probably speaking of God’s faithful love (hesed) within the unconditional covenants to Israel), on the basis of which Daniel has confidence in prayer.  It is crucial to allow Gabriel’s words to dictate the objective of the heptads.  This is about Israel (the “Your people” of vv.15, 16 & 19) and Daniel’s “holy city” Jerusalem (cf. v.19).  Ergo the proposition “the seventy weeks refer to literal Israel” would bear a direct affinity to these verses and be a C1.   Only by interposing a) a competing and alien symbolical hermeneutic, b) a theologically determined reticence to accept Gabriel at his word because, c) one believes the Church is the “new Israel”.  Such a foreign proposition (as per K. Riddlebarger) would look like this:

“the seventy weeks concerns ethnic Israel for the first sixty-nine (and a half), but the last week (or three and a half days) concerns the Church as “New Israel.”  

That would be an inference based on another inference, neither of which can be grounded in the text, and would constitute a C5 rating.

I think it is fair to say that most post-tribulationalists conflate Israel and the Church.  This is almost inevitable since they have the Church passing through the whole time period.  Those who equate the Tribulation with Daniel’s seventieth week hard hard put not to do this.  Many of them would say that the Church is right now in the Tribulation, which is also in the seventieth week.

Setting the rapture at the end of the Tribulation for such reasons seems intolerant of Gabriel’s message and Daniel’s prayer, and when assumed in support of that position, actually demeans it.  To me, any posttribulational rapture view (or any view for that matter) which cannot keep national Israel as the people upon whom the entire seventy weeks must be fulfilled has disqualified itself.  Whatismore, it would seem that mid-trib and pre-wrath positions both come against a similar problem, even if they maintain the Israel/Church distinction; the problem of which people group (Israel or the Church) is that period of time for?

Let me say it another way.  Assuming we equate the seventieth seven and the Tribulation (which would make the Tribulation seven years long), it would appear that the mid-tribulation and pre-wrath rapture views must explain whether God’s attention is mainly on Israel, who is the central player in Daniel 9, or on the Church, which was not even in existence in Daniel’s time (cf. Jn. 7:39; Rom. 6:1-4; 1 Pet. 1:3).  If it is Israel then the Church would be playing a secondary role in the Tribulation while God deals with Israel, which seems like a problem.  Surely God is not focused on Israel so much in our day because He is dealing with the (mainly Gentile) Church (Rom. 11:25)?  But if the Church must pass through some of Daniel’s seventieth week in a subordinate or an auxiliary role surely we have a theological confusion?  To state “The seventieth week or Tribulation mainly has Israel in view” is a C1 proposition based on the Book of Daniel.  The same chapter knows nothing of the Church.  And if the Church is also to pass through half or three quarters of the seventieth week, based on other passages, then it is almost disorienting to think about both Israel and the Church being the main objects of this awful period. Finally, while supporting texts from Daniel 12:1 and Jeremiah 30:5-7 provide a rationale for Israel’s passage through these turbulent times, I fail to see any comparative rationale for the Church’s involvement.

More next time…

FYI

For those readers wandering why I haven’t posted for a while let me explain.  1. My sister is in town and we haven’t seen each other for 13 years.  2. I have just finished doing a conference.  3. I will be attending the Moody conference coming up.

 

I ask for patience and prayers!

 

Your brother,

 

Paul

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (3)

Part Two

The Main Verses: Matthew 24:36-44 continued

There is no doubt in my mind that this passage is a second coming passage.  There is also no doubt in my mind that the language of “one taken…another left” in Matthew 24:40-41 is apposite to the present discussion.  In the surrounding context Jesus refers to a gathering up together (episounazousin) of the elect (24:31).  So Jesus does speak of a removal of saints.  But is this “taking out” to be understood as the being “taken” a few verses later?  I think there is a real possibility that it should.

Perhaps most Dispensationalists say that those “taken” are taken to judgment.  In verse 39 those who didn’t make it into the Ark (because they couldn’t be bothered to go) were taken away by the flood waters.  But from my reading of the Second Coming passages in Isaiah 63:1-6; Malachi 3:2; 4:1-2, and Revelation 19:11-21, it does not appear to be such a good idea to be “left” hanging about.  This agrees with the flood story, where it was infinitely preferable to be removed to safety in the Ark than to be left to face the elements.  Further, in Revelation 14:14-16 the earth is reaped of the saints, “the harvest [which is a good image] of the earth”, before the wicked are gathered to “the winepress of the wrath of God” in terms too reminiscent of Isaiah 63 to ignore.  Thus, Revelation 14 should not be overlooked in the discussion of this passage.

John Hart of Moody Bible Institute argues that Matthew 24:29-31 is about the Second Coming proper while verses 32-44 are about a pretribulational rapture.  His essay is quite ingenious, but, like so much minute exegesis, rests upon petitio principii.  The very reason for the investigation is to prove that the exegete’s position is possible.  This often relies on converting certain words into technical terminology. In short, Hart proposes that the shift in verse 36 indicated by the peri de, (which seems to hark back to at least verse 21 and following), changes the outlook from the end of the Tribulation and (back to?) a pretribulational perspective.  Hart also thinks the “normalcy” depicted in verses 38-41 is hard to reconcile with posttribulational circumstances, but easier to envisage prior to the Tribulation.  My take is that life goes on pretty much as usual, even allowing for the awful conditions, for a lot of folks in the Tribulation (cf. Matt. 24:48-51; Rev. 18:9-19), at least in terms of the items Jesus mentions.

Of course, if Hart’s version is true then Paul’s rapture teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is no new doctrine (as Hart agrees); Paul just hasn’t informed them about it yet.  They know about the Tribulation well enough, but the Apostle has not brought them up to speed on the rapture. I find these reasons completely unconvincing.  By the Rules of Affinity I would class the peri de argument for pretribulationism a C4.  It is too subtle to be persuasive and it presupposes what it needs to prove.  The circumstantial argument seems plausible on the face of things, but just because people will be living their lives as best they can at the end of the Seventieth Week does not mean all is well.  This commits the Either/Or fallacy.  It gains some purchase with 1 Thessalonians 5:3, but there is still work to do to link it strongly to just prior to the Tribulation. It is a possible inference and hence a C3.

But then, I would argue, a posttribulational “taking out” is a stronger C3, especially when coupled with Revelation 14:14-16.  For one thing, it does not read a hitherto unknown doctrine involving the as yet non-existent NT Church (cf. Jn. 7:39) into the context.  And remember, these disciples asked Jesus if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel in Acts 1:6.  I can scarcely see them doing that if they knew about the rapture of the Church prior to that!  So Jesus’ teaching (on Hart’s view) is too subtle for the disciples.

I must move on, but I think a pre-trib interpretation of any verses in the Olivet Discourse is difficult to countenance.  We will have to return to this passage further on.

2 Thessalonians 2:3

If this is a rapture verse then apostasia (“falling away” or “rebellion”) must mean “taken away,” which must mean “caught away”.  I know that there are some out there who convince themselves that this points to the pretrib rapture, but they have not convinced me (nor a good many of their fellows).  The verse makes better sense when the usual meaning of the word is retained.  One may dispute who rebels, (I think it is a general slump into disbelief), but to make them non-rebellious candidates for a rapture again begs the question.  If the “falling away” is identified with taking the mark or following the Beast this verse could be commandeered to serve a midtrib position.

2 Thessalonians 2:13 The rapture version of this seemingly soteriological verse comes about as a result of making soteria mean something like “deliverance” in this context.  But it is simply too obtuse to be considered as a serious rapture passage.  The excruciating lengths which have to be gone into to produce the possibility that Paul is referring to the rapture, plus its reliance upon a doctrine already supposedly proven, push the limits of credulity.  Besides, this view sidesteps the pretrib problem text in chapter 1:5-10 which employs OT imagery and appears to naturally invoke the posttribulational return of Christ in vengeance.

Revelation 3:10 I know there are other passages, and I’m sure we’ll run into them, but this verse is often used to bolster pretribulationism (notably by Paul D. Feinberg).  It reads:

Because you [the Philadelphian saints] have kept the word of My patience, I also will keep you from (tereso ek) the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole earth, to test those who dwell upon the earth.

If we allow, as is plausible, a proleptic application to Christians in the future, then the “keeping out” of the coming trial  (peirasmou) would fit a rapture, and indeed a pretribulational rapture.  This is helped by the fact that this “keeping out” is connected to the “hour”, and therefore the time of the event.  This scenario is a C3 scenario.

More to come…

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (2)

Part One

The Main Verses

In this installment all I want to do is to set down the main verses which are used in discussions about the rapture.  Let me make it clear that this is not to say that many other passages must be considered so as to understand the doctrine.  As I will be at pains to show, the rapture is not a teaching that can be established by simply comparing proof-texts.  The doctrine excites many passions and this can lead to wishful thinking in exegesis.  Some of the verses listed below are brought very hardly and reluctantly to bear on the doctrine we are considering.

We have already taken a quick look at 1 Thessalonians 4:17, but there are other salient passages.  1 Corinthians 15:50-58 is often brought in to help.  Then Jesus’s words in John 14:1-3 must be considered. Also joining the fray are 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and 13, Matthew 24:36-44, 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9, and Revelation 3:10.  Let’s try to situate each one of these.

1 Thessalonians 4:14-18

The main purpose of this passage is to give comfort to anxious saints who were concerned about loved ones dying off before the return of Christ.  To do that Paul tells the Thessalonians about something they seem not to have known (4:13).  This appears to be in contrast with what they knew very well, that is, the doctrine of the Day of the Lord (5:1-2).

There is no doubt that the snatching away of the saints described in this passage is for the purpose of finalizing the work of salvation begun at regeneration.  The Lord is described as coming from heaven amid the calls of a trumpet and of the archangel.  The meeting of all Christians with their Lord, including those who had been deceased for a long time, takes place “in the air”.  Nothing is said about which way Christ and His saints go from there, whether returning to heaven or continuing on to earth.  However, from the viewpoint of a taking out of people this passage is a direct statement (a C1 for the proposition that Christians will at some future time be ‘caught up’ to meet Christ in the air).

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

This passage is included in Paul’s resurrection chapter and comes only after Paul has spoken about the logic of resurrection; “as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” (15:49).  This “must” language is then given a terminal point in the next section where the Apostle writes,

Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. – 15:51-52.

This passage is revealing something new (a mystery), which speaks about a transformation of all Christians in an instant.  This “change” refers to the receiving of our resurrection bodies – those which will “bear the image of the heavenly.”

The language is clearly culminative, and one naturally connects it with Paul’s rapture teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4.  But there is no actual removal mentioned, only transformation.  This is not problematical since it fits nicely with Paul’s earlier argument.  But it is at best supportive of 1 Thess. 4:17, adding some new information about what occurs at the rapture.  Hence, it is a C3 statement for the rapture: if the the text coincides with 1 Thess. 4, as it seems to do, it declares that a change happens in an instant as the saint is caught away.

John 14:1-3

This passage is proleptic in that the “you” to whom our Lord refers is not primarily the disciples; for He says,

If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also – Jn. 14:3

Jesus cannot just be referring to those to whom He spoke but would intend His words to be taken in the context of His Second Advent (rather like the Preterist ‘proof-text’ in Matthew 10:23).  But what has this passage to do with the rapture?  Well notice that Christ is coming for “you”, which I take to be His people.  He comes to take them back to heaven (where He has been preparing places), although nothing is stated in regards to a transformation.

As for the timing of this gathering, it may appear cut and dried that it speaks to the Second Coming.  But if so, there is a problem created by our being with Christ in heavenly mansions (or rooms if you prefer) and Christ’s earthly reign.  If Christ is ruling on earth and we are in heaven the latter part of Jn. 14:3 cannot be true.

This leads to an inquiry over whether there will be an earthly reign of Christ.  If not, then there’s no problem.  But I’m going to step right over that question and just assume (for present purposes) that there will be one (in line with many OT passages and with Matt. 19:28).  Some may say that’s unfair and stop reading, but I am content to call the likes of H. Bonar, Ryle, Chafer, Bultema, Scroggie, R. Thomas, T. Garland, and even A. Hoekema to witness for me and move on regardless.

The timing of this event is obviously important to settle.

Those are the major rapture passages, but there are several which demand inclusion.

1 Thessalonians 1:10

This verse says we “wait for His Son from heaven” who “delivers us from the wrath to come.”  The mention of Jesus coming from heaven matches 1 Thessalonians 4 and John 14, but the “wrath” must be identified.  If it refers to the seven year Tribulation (derived, as we shall see, from Daniel 9), then the verse favors a pre-trib rapture.  However, if “wrath” bears a more restricted and technical sense, it could refer either to the last three and a half years of the said Tribulation (in which case it would argue for a mid-trib rapture), or the last part of the Tribulation when the bowls of God’s wrath are emptied out upon the planet (Rev. 16).

In any case this verse must be retro-fitted to an already established teaching to be of any corroborative help.

1 Thessalonians 5:9

God has not appointed us to “wrath”, but the same question of identification as above needs to be addressed to utilize this verse well.  It is not unfair though to mark the fact that these two verses are written to the Church.

Matthew 24:36-44

This passage must be understood in context, especially the “coming” of verses 27, 30, 37, and 39 must inform the meaning of “coming” in verse 44.  There can be no serious doubt that Christ is talking of His Second Coming in terms strongly reminiscent of OT prophecy (e.g. Dan 7; Isa. 63), and the parables of Matthew 13, especially verses 40-43.  This is after the Tribulation.

The question is, what does the Lord mean by “one will be taken and the other left” in 24:40-41?  Because of the close association with “the days of Noah” in 24:37-39 many expositors believe that the ones “taken” are whisked off to judgment.  Is this so?  Is there enough in the passage to come down on one side?  Furthermore, if those “taken” (paralambano) in verses 40-41 are actually raptured, doesn’t that pretty much seal a post-trib rapture?

More next time..

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (1)

I had been intending to write about the removal of the Church (the rapture) for quite a while now.  What galvanized me to do so now was a couple of entries by Ben Witherington and Roger Olson about the pretribulational rapture.  These men, (like them or not), do not usually write poorly, but their articles attacking the concept of the pretribulational rapture are pretty lame ducks, rehashing the same old populist presentations of Dispensationalism by sniping at Clarence Larkin’s charts, and bringing into the frame the names of Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye, only to mock them.

Now let me be clear about this, although I am a pretribultionist, I am not about to contend for the parity of the doctrine of the rapture and its timing with the doctrine of the Trinity, or justification by grace through faith.  I will not die on a hill fighting for the timing of the rapture, be it pre, mid, prewrath, or post – tribulational.

But something needs to be said.  Olson says he read Dwight Pentecost’s Things To Come when he was 19 or 20 and was unconvinced.  No problem.  But he also claims Pentecost’s book is about the rapture.  He says,

Seeds of doubt about the rapture were planted in my mind by a book that was supposed to offer biblical and theological support for it—Things to Come by dispensationalist theologian Dwight Pentecost. I read it when I was nineteen or twenty and sensed something was wrong. Why would it take hundreds of pages of convoluted exegesis and argument to establish something so simple?

The answer, as anyone familiar with the book is well aware, is “it wouldn’t and it didn’t”.  Pentecost wrote about Biblical Eschatology, which, as Olson knows, involves a good deal more than the rapture.  The trouble is (and I understand this), there is an almost visceral reaction to the populist presentations of the rapture by many – and Witherington and Olson are examples.

In a sense, I don’t blame them.  Books about prophecy from a pretrib perspective commonly come with covers sporting an eclipse (lunar or solar, either will do); sometimes a dragon or two.  Whole ministries exist to promulgate sometimes simplistic versions of Dispensational premillennialism, occasionally tainted with American exceptionalism.  When John Hagee writes about the “Four Blood Moons” we are not really surprised.  There is always a ready market for ‘signs of the times’ books and newspaper exegesis.  I distance myself from such things.  I distance myself a little even from those good men who can scarcely write an article about anything unless pretribulationism or pre-wrath or what-have-you has some space allotted to it.

Nevertheless, I am irritated a bit when Dispensationalism or pretribulationism is given short shrift by Christians because they think that if they can plaster the names of Lindsey or LaHaye over it they have have dealt with it.  To be fair to Olson he does share some of his experiences with the more vulgar expressions of the doctrine, but he never deals with the biblical arguments. He simply says it’s not biblical.  I wonder how he would react if Arminianism was dispatched in such a manner?

Witherington informs us (in this video) that Matthew 24 is one of the main proof-texts for the rapture.  That is surprising to hear since I know of scarcely any Dispensationalist who teaches that it is (actually I am open to a possible association with Rev. 14, but deny that it has anything to do with the rapture of the Church).  In point of fact, Dispensationalists nearly all teach precisely what Witherington teaches about the text!  How could he not know this?

Regarding 1 Thessalonians 4 Witherington says that it depicts a welcoming entourage who go out (or up) to meet the returning Christ before he reigns on earth.  This is a good interpretation and is one of the challenges to the pretribulational position.  It ought to be heeded though that this interpretation relies upon extra-biblical materials.

What I want to do in the coming weeks, though probably at intervals, is to set out some arguments for pretribulationism and compare them with the other positions on the rapture of the Church.  To help me to do this I will be making use of the Rules of Affinity, whereby I designate the doctrine of the rapture a C3 doctrine: that is, a doctrine which has no direct scriptural proof but which is an inference to the best explanation of the assorted data pertaining to the rapture which is found throughout the Bible.

The Meaning of Harpazo

To start things off we’ll take a quick look at the word from which we get the term “rapture.”  That way we can have a baseline to work from.

The Greek verb harpazo means “to snatch away, to seize, or steal (in the sense of grab)”.  Other than the central rapture text in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, harpazo is used in Acts 8:39 to refer to the relocation of Philip: “the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away”.  It is also used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2 and 4 to describe his (see 12:7) experience of being “caught up” to the third heaven.  We see it again in Revelation 12:5 of the male child (Christ) “who was to rule all nations” Who was “caught up to God and His throne”. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17 we read:

Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up (harpagesometha) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

As the commentaries all recognize, the idea behind the verb implies force and suddenness.  The big question is, when will this snatching up occur?  That will be the question we’ll be considering in this series.

 

If You Don’t Have It Already…Some Book Selections for Christmas and After

Thought I would write a quick post on some of the books I think are important acquisitions for a Christian’s library.  If you don’t yet have them (and in some cases, if you can get them), you should try to acquire them.  The list is somewhat eclectic and does not pander to what’s new, although some new titles were deliberately included.

This is not a Top Ten list, but all the books are, in my opinion, must haves.

1. Systematic Theology by John Frame

Although Frame said (in Salvation Belongs to the Lord) that he probably wouldn’t write a full scale Systematics, this book lives up to its promise.  It does not bother to interact with the never-ending swell of scholars’ opinions.  Instead, Frame quotes whom he must and concentrates on theological exposition.  He does not argue his covenant theology, but simply assumes it.  Nevertheless, this is a great book.

2. Systematic Theology: The Beauty of Christ by Douglas F. Kelly

The second and much anticipated volume of Kelly’s magnum opus (I was starting to wonder if we would see this volume).  Kelly’s handling of the material and his catholic appreciation of Christianity, while remaining Reformed, is noteworthy.  So too is his use of patristic and classic resources.

3. The Works of Hugh Binning

From the age of the Puritans comes this terrific big book of Binning’s theological sermons and writings.  The style is analytical and precise but clear and spiritual.  They evince a maturity which men three times his age never achieved.  Just as well, since Binning died young.  I love these sermons!

4. The Christian Mind by Harry Blamires

This book certainly deserves to be called a classic.  It remains one of the best internal critiques of the way evangelical Christianity has sacrificed the place of the mind in its self-understanding (far better than Mark Noll).  He wrote two follow-ups: Recovering the Christian Mind and The Post-Christian Mind.  They are both worthy.  The latter one does a very good job of showing how words are disconnected from their meanings and misused nowadays (which is ironic in an age of deconstructionism).  Two other hard to find but fine works are The Secularist Heresy and The Will and the Way.

5. The Meaning of the Pentateuch by John Sailhamer

A brilliant piece of exegetical and theological scholarship which has not been given the attention it deserves.  No easy ride, but worth the effort to get through.  His chapters on covenant and on Jesus in the OT are superb correctives to much of the misguided Biblical Theology being produced by evangelical scholars today.

6. Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen Meyer

Now with a chapter responding to his critics, this book and its excellent precursor, Signature in the Cell, inform us about the wonderful intricacies of life while clearly showing up the haplessness of evolutionary efforts to explain what is being discovered.  Another book worth mentioning is Cornelius Hunter’s very helpful Science’s Blind Spot.  The author shows how bad [natural] theology contributed to the push for methodological naturalism.

7. C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table ed. by James Como

A selection of pieces written by those who either knew or studied with Lewis, or else have been followers of his work.  This book really helps to set Lewis in his context as well as to show his patience and humility.  Only two chapters are disappointing.

8. Miracles by Craig Keener

Keener is one of the clearest scholarly writers around.  His (profuse} use of sources is a model for any writer.  This two volume book demonstrates the same careful balance as his previous and outstanding Historical Jesus of the Gospels, of which it is a kind of sequel.  Keener gives the reader exposure to lots of useful background on miracles in ancient sources.  He then shows how Hume’s arguments are in fact question-begging and how (he thinks) the tide is turning on the question.  His cumulative documenting of many cases of healings, etc. is difficult to ignore.  While not always convincing, this is a powerful resource which brings the question of miracles before us more than any other work.

9. Van Til’s Apologetic by Greg Bahnsen

Bahnsen’s knowledge of Van Til’s presuppositional method was encyclopedic.  His sympathy with Van Til and improvement of aspects of his thought make this the book on the subject.  Bahnsen’s Always Ready is still the best introduction to presuppositionalism.

10. Do You Know Jesus? by Adolf Schlatter

Writing approximately between the end of the 19th century and the period just before WW2, Schlatter was one of the top NT scholars of his era.  These meditations are short but engage the mind as much as the heart.  They follow the career of Jesus.  As such they provide spiritual food for thought on the only human being who really matters.

Honorary mention: Critical Stages of Biblical Counseling by Jay Adams

This books concerns itself with the first session, the “turning point”, and the end session of counseling. The advice is mature and sage from the doyen of the Biblical Counseling movement (although some of them seem to have forgotten it).  A very helpful book.