Trying to Get the Rapture Right (12)

Part Eleven

This is the final part of this exploratory series on the rapture of the Church.  It’s main purpose has been to show that none of the competing positions on the “taking out” of the saints merits more than an “inference to the best explanation.”  Within the Rules of Affinity this would be a C3.  I have looked at posttribulationism and midtribulationism in the last post; here I shall look at the prewrath and pretribulational views.

PreWrath

This view is of very recent vintage, but for all that it has articulated its position well and has won many advocates.  In my opinion this position mounts some serious challenges for the other approaches.  It deserves to be taken seriously.

The arguments in favor of prewrath rapturism are quite impressive taken as a whole.  Examined individually less so.  PreWrathers, as Postmils, have the psychological advantage of having the rapture and the Second Coming coincide.  But the edge might seem to be lost by having the Lord zip back off to glory for the wrath to get meted out on the Earth.  Although they explain the logic of the wrath (from the first trumpet, through the bowls of wrath and the Battle of Armageddon) coming on the earth-dwellers after the Second Coming/Rapture, the posttribulational option looks less complicated.

I do think they have an argument for claiming that the wrath of God is restricted to the end of the seven year period.  Many pre-trib replies to this are not always satisfying.  But it suffices me at least to read that the “horsemen” released in the first four seals come forth only after Christ opens each one.  In Revelation 6:1-8 (the first four seals), the sequence is, the Lamb breaks the seal, then a living creature invites John to witness the result.  We also see what appears to be Divine empowerment and permission in, for example, Revelation 6:2 (“a crown was given to him”), 6:4 (“it was granted to [him] to take peace from the earth,…and there was given to him a great sword”), and 6:6 where a voice (from the throne?) issues directions to the rider on the black horse.  Even though the word “wrath” isn’t used until the end of the chapter (the sixth seal), certainly all this calamity wrought by the riders stems directly, not from the Antichrist, but from God Himself.  Is that not God’s wrath?  Yes, I know the wrath of 6:16-17 is connected with Christ specifically, but 14:19 with 19:15 with Isaiah 63:1-6 persuade me that the sixth seal is about the Second Advent.

Another attraction of PreWrath is the use of Matthew 24 (Mark 13), and Luke 21 alongside of 1 Thessalonians 4. Hart’s pretrib exegesis manages this, but the PreWrath view is more natural.  Still, I can’t get over the fact that the Olivet Discourse is so Israel-directed (Pt.8).  And if that is so then I think it is hard not to have both the Church and Israel raptured at the same time.  PreWrath advocates may be just fine with that, but this underlines even more the conflation of Israel and the Church within the Tribulation.  (Are they two distinct entities, or one – the Church?)  I see Israel there clearly enough (Pt.9), but not the Church (Pt.10).  Plus, as I pointed out, if Christians are in the Tribulation under Antichrist, then they will be tempted to take the mark and even worship the beast to save their lives (as Christian’s compromised during Diocletian’s persecution).  That raises the specter of Christians losing their salvation according to Revelation 14:9-11.

It would be wrong to accuse the PreWrath position of merging Israel with the Church, since many would stop short of doing this.  But mixing the two programs of God together in the Tribulation makes it hard to avoid making the two into one body of believers.

Their interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 seems plausible (Pt.7).  But this demands a more static and technical sense be given to the “Day of the Lord”; values which I have shown to run contrary to the biblical data on the varied usage of the phrase (Pts 6 & 7).  In Part 6 we also saw that Armageddon and the final days of the Seventieth Week just prior to Christ’s return appear to be what is indicated by the “Day of the Lord” as used in Joel 3:14-16 (cf. Rev. 19:15).

Further, Daniel 12:1 with 12:6-7 measures the “Great Tribulation” coming upon Israel as “a time, times, and half a time”, or three and a half years.  Since this period starts at the mid-point in the Seventieth Week (Pt. 5), and is terminated by the Second Coming (see Dan. 7:20-25), there is just no room for the PreWrath teaching.

For these and other reasons I think the PreWrath view is finally implausible, although it deserves a C3 as a solid attempt at the rapture question.

Pretribulationism

Well, I am a pretribulationist, and I think it has the most going for it and the fewest difficulties.  Some of the difficulties are imposing.  I’m thinking particularly about the problem of “split” Second Coming.  The coming of 1 Thessalonians 4:15 is a parousia, referring to Christ’s presence, which fits Paul’s theme of comfort in the passage.  In John 14:3 it is erchomai, His actual journey back to earth.  Then again Titus 2:13 speaks of His epiphaneia or “glorious appearing.”  The terms go together well enough and it is vain to lend them technical meanings, but the suspicion arises when pretribbers want to designate some of the mentions to the rapture and some others (e.g. Matt. 24:27, where two of the above terms are used by Jesus), for His posttribulational return.

Anyway, this aspect of my chosen position gives me certain unease, but I believe the pros far outweigh the cons.  Before collecting the main reasons together I do want to say something about the term “secret rapture.”  To me this way of speaking is plain daft, and I don’t know but that it is employed a great deal more by pretrib detractors than by its advocates.  But the rapture is no more secretive if it is before the Tribulation than if it is half-way or prewrath or posttrib.  One might point to the argument which I myself have used about knowing the “when” of the rapture if it is not pretribulational, but if that is all that the word “secret” means then it is plainly the wrong word.  “Surprise” is much more suitable.  So I wish those cultured despisers of pretribulationism would resist the urge to go for a cheap shot against it by recourse to some “secret rapture.”

In this series I have often fastened on the distinguishing of the Church from national Israel and its prophetic future (e.g. Pts.4 & 6).  I have noted that the rapture is for the Church, which will be completed before the program for Israel is “completed” (Pts.7, 8 & 9).  The Day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5 is a time of wrath to which the Church is not vulnerable.  The decidedly Jewish flavor of the Tribulation argues for a pretrib rapture, as does the notion of imminence (Pt.8).  Other problems associated with alternative positions seem more difficult to resolve theologically, since they impinge upon other important doctrines.

In Conclusion

I have stressed that the doctrine of the catching away of the saints spoken of by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and supported for better or worse by other passages can never be decided exegetically because of the spareness of the available materials.  This opens the door to theological concerns, which must try to fit a rapture explanation into their systems.  It is in large part because of this that there will never be agreement on the timing of the rapture.  The best that can be hoped for, and the best that can be attempted, is a solid workable hypothesis; an “inference to the best explanation”, or a C3 in the Rules of Affinity contrived by yours truly.

Naturally, what data is admitted or omitted often depends upon the prior commitments of the interpreter: in this case, me.  Therefore, although a person may have come to a pretty firm conclusion about the rapture, it is wise to keep in mind the defeasible character of the teaching and refrain from finger-pointing or “clubbish” mindsets on the rapture question.

I am sure that in this set of articles I have managed to annoy quite a few non-pretribulationists, irritate the more partisan fans of pretribulationism, and perhaps bore the undecided.  Still, I truly hope that some people will appreciate what I have tried to put across.  For all that, “if one is inclined to be contentious, [I] have no other practice.”

For those interested in a fruitful dialogue between representatives of the different positions, I direct them to the interchange at Lindsey Kennedy’s site here.  Although I am pretribulational, I thought PreWrath advocate Alan Kurschner did the best job of explaining his position.  Most evangelical scholars today; at least those in the limelight, seem to espouse posttribulationism, so I don’t feel the need to link to any particular website.  For those looking for a well articulated advocacy of pretribulationism I recommend Andy Woods’ series at Spirit&Truth.  Here is a link to his articles.

  

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6 comments

  1. You are right about premillennial opponents making hay over the so-called “secret” of the rapture. Both Leon Morris (PNTC) and Gordon Fee (NICNT) ridicule the idea. The text doesn’t suggest the rapture will be a secret at all; it actually tells us that it will be great shock and surprise. After all, the shout which accompanies Christ’s return, the loud voice of the archangel and the accompanying trumpet blast will likely give the event away!

  2. Hi Paul,
    Thank you for a most excellent series. I have really enjoyed reading it! Just a comment about your comment about the pre-wrath view being a very recent vintage. This is not the case at all, as several of the early writers confirm. The concept of the pre- tribulation rapture figured as a normal part of the fledgling church’s understanding about the return of Jesus. The men quoted wrote shortly after the time of Jesus. Some were closely associated with those who were familiar with the then uncorrupted teachings of the very early church.

    Iraneus (130 A.D. – 202 AD) is best known for his five-volume treatise, “Against Heresies” in which he exposed the false religions and worrying, developing cults of his day. He writes clearly about a pre-trib rapture in volume 5 of his works.

    Ephraim (306 AD – 373 AD) was made a deacon in the church in Syria in 338 and later became the bishop of Nisibis. In his work, On The Last Times 2, he wrote:

    “We ought to understand thoroughly therefore, my brothers, what is imminent or overhanging, for all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins.”

    Cyprian (200 AD – 258 AD) was Bishop of the church in Carthage. He wrote describing the end times Great Tribulation:

    “We who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as possible. Do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an early departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent? Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence, and sets us free from the snares of the world and restores us to paradise and the kingdom.”

    ….and there are others. The understanding of a pre-wrath rapture was most certainly a part of the understanding of the early church but can only be found if you study the right literature.I suppose that’s why many are unaware of this. The misunderstandings we see today that are associated with the rapture (and many other erroneous theologies that arose at the same time) are the workings of the early church, particularly from the 2nd century onward.

    Julie

  3. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the series. You seem to be a level-headed pretribulationist, which is refreshing. I will try to find time in the future to address relevant portions in all your posts. However, in the meantime, I want to address some points in this current installment on my _The Biblical Prophecy Program_ in the next couple of weeks.

    I do want to suggest one correction. The link that you placed in my name points toChris White’s video. That is not my video. You can place a link instead to my website ( http://www.alankurschner.com/ ) where your readers can find primary literature on prewrath eschatology. Thanks.

    Okay, look forward to the near-future interaction.

    Regards,

    Alan E. Kurschner

  4. Good evening Dr. Henebury,

    I finally had a chance to read all of your Getting the Rapture Right articles last night. This is a subject which I have been considering of late and I really appreciate your balanced approach. I must admit to seeing the pre-wrath view as viable challenge to the pre-trib position.

    In any case your point of view seems to be fairly dependent on your interpretation of Daniel 9. Have you ever considered what the rapture would look like outside the framework of Daniel 9?

    I’m a futurist who believes in the rapture, the 2nd coming and the literal fulfillment of the yet unfulfilled covenantal promises to the Jewish people. What concerns thought is regardless of your position (futurist, historicist or somewhere in between) few if any have addressed the base assumptions of Ezra and Nehemiah’s place in the 2nd temple era as it relates to Daniel 9 and the “commandment to restore and build. (One of the few who have attempted this is Dr. Floyd Nolan Jones in his Chronology of the Old Testament.)

    In building your own view of Daniel 9 how did you deal with the problematic Biblical evidence that Ezra’s father died in the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar. Or the fact that most of the priests and Levites which came up with Joshua and Zerubbabel (Neh. 12) were still alive at the dedication of the wall in Jerusalem in the 20th year of “Artaxerxes” (Neh. 10).

    There are many other pieces of reasonable evidence found in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, Haggai and Zechariah that show that Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries of Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes. What’s troubling though is there is virtually no reasonable evidence showing that these Biblical heroes lived all the way to the reign of the Persian Longimanus. Even more troubling is that this seem to be a subject that most are not even aware of.

    Considering the importance of Daniel 9 to our eschatological framework shouldn’t our foundation be based on solid Biblical evidence not well meaning assumptions? Someday if you get a chance I’d love to see you tackle our foundational assumptions about Daniel 9 in the same way you’ve dealt with the subject of the Rapture. Until then,

    Warm regards,
    William

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