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.

When we arrive at 2 Peter 3:10, the Day of the Lord is linked to the dissolving of the elements which compose this present heavens and earth!  Some writers want to situate this total dissolution prior to or at the Second Coming (e.g. Fruchtenbaum), but that cannot be done without bidding adieu to, or at least unsettling the idea of a future Millennium.  The obvious time reference is to Revelation 20:11-21:2, after the thousand years, not to circumstances surrounding the 70th Week or the return of Christ.  Although Peter does refer to the Return in the context in 3:4, the “Day of God” language in 3:12 and the mention of “New heavens and a new earth” in 3:13 indicate (at least to me) that Peter thinks about the “Day of the Lord” as the appearing and kingly session of Christ back on earth which culminates in a totally new Creation.  Thus, the Day of the Lord for Peter starts when Christ comes “as a thief in the night” and only ends at the destruction of this present Creation a thousand years later.

I realize I am assuming a pre-new Creational kingdom, which I do not intend to argue for here, but which is exegetically obvious unless a transmogrifying theology is interposed to whittle it out of existence (e.g. Isa. 11; 62; Zech. 14; Matt. 19:28; Rom. 8; Rev. 20).  Hence, in 1 Thessalonians 5 the Day of the Lord could indicate the actual coming of Christ.  Then again it could refer to a “Day” after the rapture anywhere within the seven year period of Daniel’s prophecy.  It could be the whole seven years; half of it, or the last months.  Indeed, a recent study makes the “Day of the Lord” so generic that it can almost mean anything covered by judgment and mercy (See Paul House’s essay in Central Themes in Biblical Theology, eds., Scott J. Hafemann & Paul R. House, 179-224).  We’ll have to keep sifting the materials.

Part Six

 

 

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21 comments

  1. I understand the main point of Paul’s concern in 1 Thess. 4:13 was regarding περὶ τῶν κοιμωμένων. He seems to be more concerned with some aberrant teaching concerning the dead in Christ who have passed on that he is in a secret rapture. Moreover, chapter five seems to shift gears, but not in the way that a new coming is introduced, but rather a new concern. And that concern seems to be, not the coming of the Lord but rather, τῶν χρόνων καὶ τῶν καιρῶν. So it seems to me that 1 Thess. 4-5 are both speaking with the second coming with the former emphasizing the main concern being the state of the dead and the latter focusing on times and seasons of that coming. The formers eases their anxiety concerning the dead in Christ while the later eases their anxiety concerning those who are living in Christ. Just my perspective.

    How are you brother Paul? Long time no chat.

    1. EDITED: APOLOGIES

      I understand the main point of Paul’s concern in 1 Thess. 4:13 to be περὶ τῶν κοιμωμένων (concerning the dead). He seems to be more concerned with some aberrant teaching regarding the state of the dead in Christ than he is in a secret rapture. Moreover, chapter five seems to shift gears, but not in the way that a new coming is introduced, but rather a new concern. And that concern seems to be, not the coming of the Lord but rather, τῶν χρόνων καὶ τῶν καιρῶν (times and seasons). So it seems to me that 1 Thess. 4-5 both speak about the second coming with the former emphasizing the state of the dead and the latter focusing on times and seasons of that coming. The formers eases their anxiety concerning the dead in Christ while the later eases their anxiety concerning those who are living in Christ. Just my perspective.

      1. Why would a post-tribulational coming ease anyone’s mind concerning the living? I know that if Paul is teaching a post-trib rapture my mind is not eased one bit and I am unable to comfort anyone knowing we will have to endure this terrible time. And why would they be concerned about the dead if a post-trib rapture were true? I know I would ENVY the dead knowing that they miss out on the awful time of tribulation.

        The only way I can see them being concerned about the dead is if they were not sure that they would be coming with the living in a pre-trib scenario, as they escape the time of wrath.

        As far as the times and seasons bit, no one knows anyway, so it is useless for Paul to write much about it.

        Just my thoughts, not a bit of rancor here.

      2. I don’t think we need a tribulation in order for the coming of the LORD to put our minds at ease. In fact, for the believer, the DAY OF THE LORD is always seen as THE event of great comfort both to the living and the dead. You have stated that the only way for the DAY OF THE LORD to give you comfort is for it to fit your eschatological presuppositions. Perhaps that is a misguided way of looking at what Scripture everywhere describes as the culmination of redemptive history. In other words, perhaps the question is not “does it give you comfort?” but “should it give you great comfort?” And I believe the answer is clearly in the affirmative. We do not need a rapture theory to recognize that there may have been questions in the ancient Thessalonian Church about the state of the dead and the timing of the second coming. The language is pretty clear that these were the actual issues that Paul was treating in the immediate context or so it seems to me.

        Suppose someone was teaching that only those who were alive when Christ returns would actually be saved. That would be concerning I think.

        My point is that I do not at all think Paul had a rapture theory in mind when he penned this letter to the Church either in chapter 4 or 5.

        By the way, Paul H and I are old friends from our Tyndale days where he was my professor. I love and appreciate him dearly and he knows it. This is just a friendly debate seeing that I am a confessional reformed baptist with a historic premil bent.

      3. Ed,

        If you read this I tried to comment on your blog but found it hard to get a comment accepted. Anyhow, I see where you’re coming from. My purpose in these posts is to raise the rapture issue in a slightly different light and show how any picture of the “catching up” requires the assortment of evidence into a composite picture which best makes sense.

        I hadn’t realized you were no longer a dispy 😉 I agree that rejection of DT is logical once one is convinced of TULIP. I realize others would disagree with that assessment, but I tried to prove it in some posts I did in 2011: https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/dispensationalism-and-tulip-total-depravity/

        Anyway, sorry I couldn’t post at your site and sorry this reply is so late.

        God bless,

        P

  2. I am confused beyond measure. Why would our (or what we thought it was) blessed hope be so elusive, so hard to pin down? Does it exist? Did it ever exist?

      1. Sorry, Alf, I didn’t get any notification that you’d commented to me. And of course, you’re right. Sigh. I get edgy on this issue because I am heartily sick of too many so-called prophecy experts throwing our Blessed Hope overboard!!!

    1. Vina,

      I feel your pain (well, to an extent 🙂 ), but Alf is correct. Please be patient. One of the things I do NOT want to do is to claim the pre-trib position stands head and shoulders above the other views – especially at the exegetical level.

      As Ed points to in his comment above, it doesn’t look like Paul was very concerned with the timing of the rapture. If he was it must be admitted that he could have been a bit clearer. So the conclusion in favor of a pre-trib rapture ought to be arrived at from a different angle. This is why in the Rules of Affinity the doctrine gets a C3.

      God bless,

      Paul

      1. Others have made the same point that Paul’s focus likely wasn’t rapture timing. From memory, I think F. F. Bruce argues this. He warns about being too confident-dogmatic re the 1 & 2 Thess texts.

        Like Andrew, I’m also a convert from posttrib, but must agree with Paul that the Rapture timing is a C3 doctrine. Well, maybe a C2.5 😉

      2. Dear Paul, I just hope you never relegate this teaching to realm of “speculation” like Roger E Olsen seems wont to do on many issues:(

  3. Another perspective: As we do not seem to have “a definitive proof text” regarding the time frame of the rapture, but infer its placement from various Scriptural passages, it appears from this student at least, that (1) God certainly will rapture His saints in His time and not before,or after, and (2) the overarching truth to be gleaned from our study of God’s word regarding the possible rapture event is that we need to be ready for it. The gospel needs to be the focus of our teaching and preaching regarding the rapture event.

  4. Re: your three paragraphs, The Coming of Antichrist.

    Your use of 2 Thess 2:1,3 suggests these verses support a pretrib rapture by linking the onset of the Day of the Lord to the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week (D70thW), and the revealing of Antichrist.

    You wrote: “Thus it would seem that the Day of the Lord…is coterminous with the appearance of Antichrist..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…” [this] “gives the nod to a pre-trib understanding”

    But the text of 2 Thess 2:3 says the DOL “..will not come unless the apostasy [and revealing of the man of lawlessness] comes FIRST (mae elthae..PROTON)..”. That is a different sense altogether.

    Three observations:
    #1 –>This seems to rule out the use of 2 Thess 2:1-3 as evidence that the Day of the Lord starts with the beginning of D70thW. If ABC “comes first” before XYZ, then ABC cannot be “coterminous” with XYZ.
    #2 –>Having the Day of the Lord start simultaneously with D70thW week means that the apostasy and Antichrist’s revelation must still “come first” i.e. come before D70thW.
    #3 –> 2 Thess 2:4 identifies this “revelation” of Antichrist.. not with his signing a covenant at the beginning of D70thW, but with him seating himself ‘in the temple of God, an abomination that happens half-way through D70thW, not at its beginning.

    Your thoughts, Paul? -GA

    1. These are good points and signal the very sorts of things I am trying to wade through in this series. I agree particularly with your third observation about the revealing of the man of sin. We have a little way to go.

      P.

      1. Hey Paul,
        I am not aware of any problems leaving comments on my blog. Interesting. I will take a look and see what I can find.

        Even at Tyndale I was not a full DT proponent. I had some things that I just could not see. I have shifted to a very humble covenantal view holding to the 1689 SLBC. However, I am still historic premil in my eschatology for now. I am very open and very humble when it comes to these subjects as they are secondary and there are many, many godly men, such as yourself and others on both sides of the issue. Most of my time lately has been absorbed in Christian philosophy as I continue to work on my critical thinking skills and Christian apologetics.

        I like the way that guys like Pascal Denault approach the covenants. That being said, I still see problems there. I am especially concerned about the effort to downgrade the discontinuity that exists between the Old and New. The balance is delicate and the hermeneutic that supports can be somewhat fickle at times.

  5. Great thoughts on the Day of the Lord, Paul. I believe Blaising also makes this case in some recent BSAC articles.

  6. Dr., When you say,”(I am aware that many amillennialists want to say this is Christ, for what appear to be the most absurd reasons)” Are you referring to in Daniel or to Revelation?

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