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…

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20 comments

  1. Hi Paul,
    i really appreciate your research. Maybe you haven’t seen this yet, from Defending/Contending blog. (http://defendingcontending.com/2015/01/04/a-christotelic-view-of-daniel-924-27) Its quite a piece of work, but i just don’t understand how one can say (with a straight face) that the first 3 1/2 years (1260 days) is literal, but the second is symbolic of the time between Christ’s ascension and second coming! (yeah, it says that…p22-24) Thats just one of the many stretches made, including the assumption that the whole “seventy sevens” is symbolic. (but wait, they just said the first 3 1/2 of the seventieth is literal…wha???) It’s a struggle out here, brother! Keep up the good work!

  2. the preterist version of the 70th week is also laughable….they say that the first half was Jesus’ ministry, and the second half was some 30 years later with the 3 1/2 year siege of the Romans on Jerusalem ending with the temple being destroyed. what gets me is that the “he” of the 70th week in vs 27, which obviously speaks of the “he” that is the ruler of the “people that will come”, somehow mysteriously and conveniently switches back to Christ, in order for their viewpoint to make sense. but the exegesis required is just horrendous.

    1. Yes these preterist views do appear to involve a stretch as Gary D suggests and I find them unpersuasive. I also understand that it appears peculiar that the “he” that is the ruler of the “people that will come”, should switch back to Christ. I have however read this criticism of our own position:

      The “prince who is to come” isn’t the subject of the clause in v. 26, his people are. Grammatically, It appears odd for the pronoun of v. 27 to be referring to someone who isn’t even a subject of the preceding text, but is only mentioned for the sake of specifying who the actual subject(s) is. Also in v.27 “one who makes desolate” appears. If this is the Antichrist, why would the Antichrist be introduced again in v 27b if he were already the subject of the verse? And why would he be reintroduced with a different title altogether than the one he supposedly holds already from v. 26, i.e., the “prince who is to come”?

      These objections are of varying strength but do perhaps show why our own position is not compelling to some.

      1. Justin,

        Good thinking, although I think the objections to the “prince” in Daniel 9 are muted by several considerations. Two come to mind. Firstly, Daniel employs the term “prince” in different ways and always with little preamble. In the second place, the explanations which seek to get around the identification of the “prince who shall come” with the little horn of chapter 7 (e.g. in ‘Kingdom through Covenant’) are always pretty lame.

        P

  3. Dr. Henebury,
    Where do the believers from “every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Rev. 7:9, 14-15) fit in the Tribulation? If they are Gentile believers they are not saved Israel. Since the church is raptured, to whom do they belong?

    Thanks,
    Jon

  4. I have been caught up (but not raptured!) in other things in the last month so my apologies, Paul and Pfellar, for not acknowledging your responses to my comments in the first rapture blog.

    I had rather naively it seems only seen two positions re Matt 24:36-44. 1) it is a pre-trib passage and believers are raptured or 2) it is a post-trib passage and the unsaved are taken into judgement. Since I thought the passage was contextually post-trib I understood that it must be the unsaved who are taken. I hadn’t encountered Paul’s thinking that it could be a post-trib passage and those removed are believers.

    For me then there are 4 issues:
    1) peri de has to be factored in somehow UNLESS of course we can show that it need not always mean a change of subject.
    2) Lk 17:34-37 does seem to indicate being taken into judgement. I note that Hart tries to show that it doesn’t but I personally found his discussion of this verse and the commentators he drew on to be especially weak.
    3) the eating and drinking and marrying do suggest business as usual. Folk are not only oblivious to impending judgement but also to the devastation already occurring around them. Admittedly it will be worse in the Middle East but the destruction described in Revelation is worldwide and devastating so why would Jesus appeal to concepts that do indeed suggest that people are going about their normal activities including marriage when there seems a very good chance that at least one of the partners is suffering from plague and the drinking water is off!?
    4)I find it difficult to reconcile Matt 24:36-44 with the sheep and goats judgement. Whether Matt 24 is understood as a post-trib removal of the unrighteous, or as a post-trib removal of the saints (the rapture having occurred prior), or even a post-trib rapture, these all entail a separation of saved from unsaved. Why then is there another separation in Mt 25:31-46? Walvoord in “The Rapture Question” suggests that Matt 24: is a “preliminary phase” to Matt 25? But if a separation has occurred then it has occurred! There is nothing preliminary about it. Why are they separated only to be brought back again for separation?

    A satisfactory handing of Matt 24 will need to address many issues but for me these four are prominent ones.

    God bless

    1. Excellent questions. I am tempted to try and deal with them in these posts, but I don’t think the effort would bolster anything I wish to pursue here. Thank you however for the food for thought.

      Your brother,

      Paul H

      1. Thanks Paul, yes I can see that addressing these questions would indeed be a distraction at the moment although it’s good to get the questions down for the record. Thanks too your comments above re the prince’s identity in Daniel 9. That’s a good point.

  5. I think your C3 level is totally at odds with your BC. It appears to be preserving the scripture silencing and twisting of a dispensational grid. It is way too subjective and not useful. Let the covenants work themselves out and nix the dispensational grid. The separation of Israel and the church is going to end up with catastrophic exegetical results which is what dispensationalism has done. It claims to merely preserve a distinction, and if that is what it had done, all would be well! But it rather does extreme damage and it won’t fly or it will end up bringing done whatever it is attached too. A future 70th week is not the result of a literal hermeneutic. Let the 70th literally come after the 69th and the covenants work out just fine. There is absolutely no negatives in seeing the apostles and the early ALL JEWISH followers of Jesus Christ as the faithful remnant of Israel also ending up becoming the foundation of the church. There can’t be any problems with that early ALL JEWISH church promoting the 70th week’s new covenant for and to national Israel, having national Israel set aside, and then having the faithful remnant be the foundation for the international church.

    1. It is the working out of the new covenant beyond Israel unto the nations through Jesus Christ the seed of Abraham that makes the Body of Christ possible.

    2. Ross,

      We have been over this ground before. I am not persuaded by your reasoning. This particular opinion is a pretty subjective thing. I do not see what you are driving at re. C3.

      In my opinion there is usually more than one “literal” interpretation, although always within the parameters of the words in context.

      1. I am not ready to articulate the argument that appears obvious to me but I hope to do so in the future. I hope to be able to demonstrate that a future 70th week is blatantly not-literal interpretation and I am not sure how to do that without seeming trite. Furthermore, I hope to demonstrate that a literal 70th week comports fully with scripture, (as several CT theologians have come CLOSE (but fall short) to proving). Finally, that it is also not just a natural fit with your BC, but a necessary conclusion of it! I do not believe your C3 argument has any weight because it seems to me to be so broad as to nigh accommodate many specious teachings. Post-trib arguments are not refuted by pre-trib responses which hold no more water than Acts 28 dispensationalists’ claims for a dividing line at Acts 28. I bring them up because of the excellent arguments by Henry Hudson that show there is no exegetical basis for pre-trib at all. He demonstrates this by showing how the whole spectrum of dispensationalists simply move the goal posts and bend all arguments to fit. Acts 2 can pick proof texts from the Gospels and Paul, Mid-Acts from Paul alone, Acts 28 have none but must retain the notion because a dispensational grid requires it…when scripture does not. The fact is that no dispensationalist has an exegetical basis, merely an imposed theological grid forced on scripture. With the grid, the argument is reasonable, but if one is honest, they will admit that such reason is yelling over and silencing scripture. In other words, it is flagrantly exceeding the parameters. It points back to the dispensational notion of a “distinction” between Israel and the church. A “distinction” is good and proper, but dispensationalists do not make a mere distinction, they have created an exaggerated separation that makes the Grand Canyon and the gulf between Lazarus and the rich man in hades look like a crack in the sidewalk!

  6. This sound all very familiar, Ross. I suspect you’ve stated much of the above before on Paul’s blog. It would be helpful if you made an attempt to articulate your points a little more clearly on your own blog rather than making critical statements here.

  7. Ross, while I was grateful for the link to Hudson’s work which you gave me in the past, and I appreciated his demeanor, I was far from satisfied with his interpretation. Further, your rather intemperate way of dissing dispensationalism is not helpful. Whatismore, I am not at all tied to “dispensations”, so you are barking up the wrong tree brother.

    1. I came across another work with a close parallel to Henry’s argument, which I can’t think of at the moment, and I think with a little polish it will gain a lot more traction and will then show a considerable impact. I don’t mean to come across as intemperate but it seems obvious that it is time to move beyond dispensationalism. Anyone emotionally attached to the theology they have been taught are not going to align any closer to Scriptural truth and are already trapped in a tradition. I wish everyone to be cognizant and at this level of discussion I hope emotional attachments can be laid aside in preference for the search for truth. My apologies in any case. I guess my challenging you on being tied to dispensations is a result of my perception of your refusal to allow the seventieth week of Daniel to overlap the early church. It seems to me you are retaining the dispensational grid interpretation rather than allowing Biblical Covenantalism to play out in that case. Retaining a pretrib rapture also seems to me to quite possibly reinforce that. Is it possible you are retaining some parts of the dispensational shell? Offered with all respect.

      1. I hear you Ross, but I don’t think you really hear me. At least it seems that I have said several times on this blog that I am no slave of dispensationalism, neither am I ardently devoted to pretribulationism. I believe, and have stated clearly, that no rapture position is exegetically airtight and that theological considerations (the best explanation) must be employed.

        You say that Hudson’s and your view of the 70th Week is exegetically solid and superior to the other views (esp. the standard dispensational view), but I have not seen much by way of proof. My “refusal to allow the 70th week of Daniel to overlap the early church” comes from its rather poor performance in explaining the OT prophecies and its anticlimactical denouement.

        You have asserted that BC better fits with this view, but I have seen no evidence that it is so. If I am retaining parts of the dispensational shell it is because I am in agreement with those parts, not because I am slavishly following DT.

        I don’t think you mean to come across disrespectful, and I do not take offence. I just want more than assertions that your view is right.

        God bless,

        P

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