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…

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7 comments

  1. Hi Dr. Henebury,

    Great post! Good food for thought..

    With your proposition concerning the “taken” in Mat 24 being those who are , I am wondering how you would explain Luke 17:35-37? I have never really been able to make heads or tails of these verses!

    In regards to Rev 3:10, I find the 2nd part of Rev 17:12 interesting:

    “They will receive authority to rule as kings with the beast for one hour”

    Blessings,
    Peter

    1. I was going to comment on this anyway–before pfpeller raised his question about Luke 17:35-37. (Will also be interesting to see what Paul thinks, of course.)

      It would seem that the answer Jesus gives in verse 37 is a clear allusion to Job 39:27-30:

      Does the eagle mount up at your command, And make its nest on high? On the rocks it dwells and resides, On the crag of the rock and the stronghold. From there it spies out the prey; Its eyes observe from afar. Its young ones suck up blood; And where the slain are, there it is. (Job 39:27-30)

      This seems a reference to the general theme of predatory birds eating those slain in judgment: Deu. 28:26; 1K. 14:11; 1S. 17:46; 39:30; Ps. 79:2; Eze. 29:5; Eze. 32:4; Eze. 39:4; Eze. 39:17-20; Jer. 7:33; Jer. 12:9; Jer. 15:3; Jer. 16:4; Jer. 19:7; Jer. 34:20; Mat. 24:28; Luke 17:37; Rev. 19:17-18

      This is one of the reasons I personally interpret ‘taken” to be “taken in judgment” — as in the days of Noah.

  2. I just noticed I did not finish my sentence in the post above :). Sorry about that..

    Tony, thanks for your input.

    Luke 17:35-37 (possibly verse 36 shouldn’t be there, but that is not important to this discussion) is the passage more than any other which causes me to question my pre trib view of Mat 24:36-44. There are some very creative interpretations out there that try to make Luk 17:37 fit into the pre trib scheme, but I have never been very comfortable with any of them. I have spent much time and energy searching for one :).

  3. 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.

    I should also mention–in relation to what I offered above attempting to explain Jesus’ statement concerning the destination of those “taken”–that I am in agreement with the basic conclusion of Hart that the peri de allows the focus to take in an earlier time in the sequence of events (although I don’t think a technical analysis of the Greek is needed to see this).

    Where I differ from Hart is that I take it to refer to the arrival of the Day of the Lord (the beginning of the tribulation, the “thief coming” of Jesus on an unprepared world) rather than a pre-tribulational taking of the saints.

      1. In my view, two other pieces of evidence in favor of the removed ones being judged is 1) the parallelism between “the flood came and took them all away” and the “one will be taken” of each pair; 2) the thief metaphor, its negative connotations, and parallel to 1Th. 5:2-4. (Parallels between Matthew’s passage and Paul’s (1Th. 5) include: coming as a thief; the appearance of normalcy, labor pains (cf. Mat. 24:8), and the warning to be watchful.)

  4. Tony and Pete (particularly),

    I hope to return to some of these questions, and I confess that you may be right (though I can’t accept Hart’s view). But right now I’m concerned with a general approach.

    I want to deal with this doctrine from a slightly different angle than merely lining up the views and knocking down the ones I disagree with. Perhaps the next installment will show this more clearly.

    Your brother,

    Paul

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