Third Talk: The Covenants of God
Fourth Talk: Christ and the Covenants
Parts One and Two are here.
Israel means Israel
I am a pretribulationist. I think my main reasons for being so are theological, in particular the covenantal issues concerning the nation of Israel are a central concern to me. But I am not pretribulational because I adopt a form of theological hermeneutics (now so fashionable in some quarters). I have already made it clear that rapture scenarios cannot (in my opinion) rise above a “best explanation” conclusion. That is equivalent to a C3 in my Rules of Affinity. It will just not do to conflate Israel’s restoration promises with the future of the Church. The Body of Christ needs no restoration.
Often in the prophetic literature we come across predictions of final restoration and comfort for Israel, presaged by a time of great upheaval. Many times the texts involved include the phrase “In that day.” A sampling would include: Isa. 10:20-23; Isa. 24:17-23; Isa. 35:1-10; Isa. 40:1-5; Isa. 61:1-3; Jer. 30:3-11; Ezek. 34:11-31; Ezek. 36:1-38;Dan. 12:1-3; Zech. 13:8-9; Zech. 14:1-9.
Frequently these passages come nestled within covenantal contexts, indicating the purposive current of God’s greater plan for the nation is still at work. The point is that there is a lot of expectation built up for Israel to run into a distinctive time of affliction. This time of woe precedes the coming again of Jesus Christ, as is shown in Matthew 24 and Mark 13.
I have already commented on the Israeli focus in tribulation texts in the Book of Revelation. If we isolate those passages which speak about a three and a half year period (corresponding too closely to Daniel 7:25 not to be intentional), we find this pattern:
Revelation 11:1-3 – the overrunning of the temple (Matt. 24:15-20; cf. 2 Thess. 2:4), in “the holy city” and the ministry of the two prophets.
Revelation 12:1-6, 13-14 – I have given reasons for identifying the woman as Israel (Pt. 6). Incidentally, I view pretribulationist attempts to make the “man-child” of 12:5 the raptured Church as highly unlikely.
The scene is decidedly Jewish and nationalistic. The Church is conspicuous by its absence. So if we tie these time references to the last part of the Seventieth Week we should not expect to find the Church there, thus avoiding an Israel/Church mixture which interferes with covenantal expectations. And if the link between these texts and “the time of Jacob’s Trouble” in Jeremiah 30:6 is sound, one again would expect Jacob (Israel) to be the subject, not the Church.
Even a post-tribulationist like Robert Gundry sees this:
The seventy weeks have to do with the Jews. We cannot spiritualize the phrase “your people”
(v.24) into a spiritual Israel inclusive of the Gentiles without doing violence to the plain sense of the passage. For example, the destruction of Jerusalem, spoken of prominently in the prophecy, deals with Israel the nation. And yet, since in the seventy weeks the goals listed in verse twenty-four were to be accomplished, the seventy weeks cannot have enturely elapsed, for the finishing of Israel’s transgression, the purging of her iniquity, and the bringing in of her everlasting righteousness have not reached completion. Paul writes of these as still in the future for Israel (Rom. 11:25-27). – Robert H. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation, 189
The (non PD) pretribulational position is the only one which does not confuse Israel with the Church. Hence, it is the only position which confronts the covenantal promises to national Israel squarely as direct (C1) propositions, conceding no appreciable “propositional distance” between the covenant promises and the inferences which can be based upon them. Posttribulationists do not have much regard for Israel/Church distinctions, since they admit a good deal of their brand of typological interpretation and supercessionist thinking to make sure the problem doesn’t arise. Midtribulationists and PreWrathers speak of a separation of Israel from the Church, as do Progressive Dispensationalists, but they eventually collapse everything down to the concept of “the one people of God”. This just ends up looking like a case of beating around the bush to arrive at much the same place as the posttribulationist.
But the idea of more than one people of God looks to be clear cut if all the direct statements of Scripture’s eschatological prophecies are allowed to stand unchallenged. It is on these exegetically derived premises that the theological issues ought to be determined. We must, at every juncture, ask, “what does it say?” Context must speak with decisiveness. The modern ploy of pushing out the context so that it envelops the whole Bible is palpably ridiculous to anyone familiar with and scrupulous about word meanings. Context cannot mean non-context. That is not how progressive revelation works.
In Part One I mentioned how Ben Witherington had explained the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4 as the entourage going out to meet the returning Christ in line with the custom of the day. But there is a problem. The Church is not an entourage, it is the Bride. One wonders why such a brilliant scholar doesn’t make the distinction. At least a part of the answer is because he cannot conceive of more than one people of God. I have elsewhere argued that not only does God like variety but the ‘three-in-oneness’ of “The Triadic People of God” pattern which emerges from tracing the flow of the Biblical Covenants seems completely consonant with scriptural revelation.
The Bible has a very specific and definitive outlook on the meaning of life. In the parlance of modern culture such an outlook is called a “Worldview.” There has been a lot of talk about worldview in recent years, and this is on the whole a good development. Worldviews are very important, and appreciation of them, and of the Christian-Biblical Worldview in particular, is without doubt a great benefit.
Briefly: What a Worldview is
A worldview is basically the lens or prism through which a person “looks”, and with which they interpret most of life. There are many definitions; some good, some not so good, but the key element of a worldview is a commitment of the heart. I don’t say total commitment. To be sure, no one consistently follows their worldview – and few in fact realize there is one to follow. But we all have one, and their influence upon us is often pronounced, for good or ill.
To illustrate this just think about the kinds of messages about which tell us how to think:
“Listen to your heart”
“You have your truth and I have mine.”
“People who think they are right and others are wrong are just bigoted”
“We evolved from some prebiotic slime and are here by cosmic accident.”
“We decide our own fate.”
These are all sayings which proceed from a false worldview, but a pretty prevalent one all the same. These sayings each are tinged with a pretended moral authority which makes them appear more imposing than they are. And people who absorb these kinds of beliefs will always tend to have little use for the concept of Truth as we’ve discussed it; or for absolutes, or indeed God. They will have no answers to the Big Questions of Life: the kind of questions teens often ask (a subject to which we’ll have to return). And the more tenaciously these trite sayings are held, the less patience these folks will usually have for Christian answers.
One thing is for sure; if any of these pat opinions take hold in the hearts of our kids, Christian Truth claims will be held with less conviction – maybe they’ll settle merely temporarily at the most superficial level of a childhood habit? We don’t want that!
Here I hope you begin to see why Apologetics; the defense of the Truth of the Christian Bible and its worldview, can be a great asset in encouraging right thinking. And let no one persuade themselves otherwise, it is thinking!
Consider this insightful observation:
“the Christian world-view takes seriously the teaching that God lays claim to all of life, and is opposed at every point by the counterclaims of his adversary. Ultimately, there is no spiritual neutrality in either scholarship or literature, sports or agriculture, art or journalism. Everywhere there are forces which seek either to honour the Creator’s intent or to replace it with a substitute.” – A. M. Wolters, “World-view”, in New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, edited by W.C. Campbell-Jack & Gavin McGrath, 761
Parents of younger kids and teens need to be switched on to the reality of this interminable spiritual warfare that is fought in the realm of ideas. We cannot, as Christians, believe in neutrality in any sphere. Everything they meet with comes “worldview-loaded.” Abstinence from the world is unscriptural, unworkable, and dangerous. We must be able to guide ourselves and our children in right thinking about the mixed messages they’ll encounter. To help them identify the Christian Worldview and see through false worldviews when they rear their heads (as they do every day); that is a powerful gift we can give them.
We must place our kids in the kinds of settings where they are encouraged and trained to think biblically. We must seek to surround them (I do not say imprison them!) with influences which steer their hearts toward the claims of God upon them as his creatures. They must be trained to recognize the messages all around them for what they are: either for Christ or against Christ!
Beginning next time, we will see how this can be done…
I have begun this series with this three-part introduction, trying to bring attention to the matter of Truth and the authenticity of our allegiance to it as Christian parents. My concern is that Christians nowadays do not prize Truth for what it is – an attribute of God – but rather treat it as something they can use a bit of when they think it needful. Francis Schaeffer used to say that the Church should live out what he termed “true truth” before the world. But the Church has forgotten the importance of Truth, and its role as the witness to the Truth in this dark and deceitful age. Truth must come first. Our preferences are not that important.
I realize that in putting matters this way I am not going to make many friends. But I am not concerned with making friends so much as with telling it as it is. And the fact is young people raised in Christian homes and attending evangelical churches are leaving those churches in droves.
According to a Barna poll 66% of these kids are deserting their Christian upbringing. And the figure may be even higher. A survey conducted by the SBC asserts that 88% of young people walk away from the faith never to return. And there is no sign of any abatement. Something is badly amiss, and Christian parents especially need to stop pretending everything’s okay so long as their kid or teenager has a good time at church.
Loyalty and Credibility
In surveys which have been done of young people who have ‘left the Faith’ the issue of deep commitment to what we Christians claim to believe crops up continually. Young people can sense when we are believing Christianity for its usefulness or pragmatic value, and when we are believing it because we know it is true and our allegiance is to it asTruth. The former carries no assurance because Truth is being used as a prop for our life-choices. The second is in rather short supply in our evangelical churches. There is a lack of integrity and sincerity about the Church today. Sincerity is the great by-product of holding loyally to the objective Truth of God’s Word. The term Paul used when describing the “Belt of Truth” in the Christian Armor (Eph. 6:14) demands such loyalty. You can’t put on this “belt” if you don’t prize Truth. You don’t prize Truth if you don’t submit to it and internalize it.
The Truth ought to have the sort of authority over us that old-fashioned Headmasters had over school children. But too often Truth is treated like modern Headmasters are. They have a position of authority, but there is very little they can do with it, and the kids who pay lip-service to them know this. Insincere people tend to let the side down and don’t much care if they do. Sincere people who have placed themselves in subordination to the Truth, whatever the cost, have the kind of integrity which our young people are looking for.
What it Takes
My big concern in this series is how to use apologetics in evangelizing and building up our children, whether they are aged eight or eighteen. But I felt I needed to stress this issue of authenticity; the difference between using something true and committing to it because it’s true. To do this we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about our churches. Does our local church emphasize Bible doctrine, or is doctrine and theology never really discussed? Does the leadership have an unequivocal stance on the six days of creation and Noah’s flood? When was the last time the ugliness of Sin was spelled out in a sermon? We must ask ourselves, Did we choose our fellowship primarily because of its commitment to the Truth, or did we choose it for the music or the programs?
1 Peter 3:15 tells us to,
…sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.
Here is the classic verse for Christian Apologetics. We are to be “always ready” to defend the Christian Faith. We are always to be able to “give a reason for our hope.” But please do not overlook how the verse starts: “sanctify [that is, set apart] the Lord God in your hearts.” To set God apart in our hearts demands of us that we allow His Truth to have full authority over us. In Christian venues where Truth is not seen as primary, we must respectfully depart and seek out those that do. No one leaves the Faith over the music. They do and are leaving over the matter of Truth. Let us defend the Truth, but let us be real!
The Church in the Seventieth Week?
Of the several options on the timing of the rapture only the pretribulational view keeps the Body of Christ entirely out of the Seventieth Week of Daniel 9. But that fact says little if in fact the Church is said in Scripture to go through some or all of it. To my mind, it is no good trying to place the Body of Christ in the Seventieth Week unless there are solid reasons for doing so and appropriate excuses for diminishing the very Jewish emphasis in passages which do concern this period.
We have seen that God had in mind “Your [i.e. Daniel’s] people” in the prophecy. It also focused in on “your holy city” – Jerusalem. It is within this same period that the Olivet Discourse is situated. And there, as we have seen, Jesus is talking to Jews about Israel. We get the same story when we look at Daniel 12 or Jeremiah 30. In the Revelation the Church is not mentioned after chapter 3 and the stress is mainly upon all things Israel (7:3-8; 9:4; 11:1-2, 7-8; 11:19; 12:1, 13-14; 14:1-4; 15:3; 16:16), which is just what one would expect from reading earlier texts.
Paul in Romans 11 uses the term “Gentiles” as a kind of eponym for the Church. For instance, in 11:11, 12, 13, and especially 11:25 he is pointing out that God has deliberately turned to the Gentiles in this era. Israel as a nation is judicially blinded (11:7-10, 25, and 32), and although there will always be a saved remnant even in the Church (11:5), the fact remains that the Church is predominantly Gentile in complexion. But Paul says that God will once again turn to Israel (11:24), once “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25b).
I do realize that this does not go on to say “when the Church is removed”. All I am concerned with is delineating the [national] Israel – Church divide which seems apparent in these passages from Revelation and Romans. I do not see the Church in any reference to the Seventieth Week. I do see that God is focused back on Israel as predicted in Daniel 9 (and 7 & 12). The “fullness of the [saved] Gentiles” must mean something, for it has to be accomplished before this turning can happen. It can either happen as some Dutch-school amillennialists predict, and God can save a bunch of Jews just prior to Jesus’ return, or it can happen with the rapture of the Church at its completion. I reject the first option because it ignores an important point in the Apostle’s argument; namely the fact that it is national Israel that is in view (see Rom. 9:1-5, 10; 10:1, 21; 11:1-2, 7, 25-29). All those approaches which do not recognize this are, I believe, at fault. This includes those Progressive Dispensationalists who are okay with people becoming “Christians” in the Tribulation, and there being just one people of God. It also ignores the specific Israeli focus of the Seventieth Week as I understand it. Those who are fine with God dealing with the Church and the nation of Israel at the same time have not provided a clear rationale for it that I have seen.
Lastly, since the Church shall be married to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25, 32) before Christ comes back (Rev. 19:6-9), I think it reasonable to relate this to a pre (or mid) tribulational rapture (I reject the mid-trib. alternative here because of what I’ve said above). I think this is grounds for rejecting post-tribulationism, as well as suspecting Pre-Wrath, which needs Christ to return to collect the Church. This is what forces them (along with some other views), to look for the signs of Matthew 24 with regard to the Church.
Is Imminency a Biblical Teaching?
The pretribulational doctrine of the imminent return of Jesus is not a necessary component of the approach, but the strength of it as a biblical idea definitely reinforces the pretribulational claim. This position says that the warning signs in the Olivet Discourse are intended for Israel (cf. 1 Cor. 1:22), not the Body of Christ.
1. James 5:8-9 – If Christ cannot return at any moment the coming of the Lord could never be said to be “at hand” and this passage simply makes no sense.
2. 1 Thess. 1:9-10 – The idea here is an expectant waiting for the Lord’s return. If the “wrath to come” is that of chapter 5:3 and 9, called “the Day of the Lord” (5:2). This is the “wrath” we have been delivered from. If my previous argumentation holds any water then this is not wrath after the Second Coming. If it is the Coming itself then it is hardly earth-shattering news for saints to be told they won’t get stomped on. (more…)
Positive thinking is not the same as having a hopeful or joyful frame of mind. Christians are to have joy in their lives, a joy fed by a sure hope. However, in today’s church culture, filled so often with upbeat songs, sentimental stories, and man-centered messages, there is a big push to keep it positive and slanted towards the light side. Positive thinking in this vein will always tend to produce wrong views of God. He simply must get with our programs.
Although God’s mercy and goodness is a given, He is not a God to be used to help us get through life. His claims on us transcend our wants and our happiness. If Christian parents do not understand and act on this principle, they may well be nurturing false beliefs about God and the Gospel in their kids’ minds.
The world bids us, “look into your heart.” God tells us that our hearts are “deceitful” and “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). The idea expressed by the prophet is of an ailing disposition which cannot produce anything but crookedness. Hence, the Bible unsurprisingly counters the world’s advice by stating bluntly that it is the height of folly to base anything on how we may think or feel about it. We do not consult our hearts. We consult God’s Word. Does our sanguine attitude to trendiness and personal choice not teach our kids that those values are to be highly prized by them? What happens to Truth in such an atmosphere?
The Price of Truth
Christianity, if it is anything, is true. And if it is not true we better abandon it, for we don’t want to live a lie. If, then, Christianity really is true (and it is), our allegiance ought to be to Truth. But Truth can only thrive in the right environment. The ground must be cleared so that God’s Truth is clearly seen and forcibly heard. I use the capital ‘T’ to emphasize the fact that Truth is outside us and above us. Truth is an attribute of God, therefore when we interact with it we engage God Himself, and God wants us always to treat Truth with that regard.
You see, Truth cannot stick where its claims are not acknowledged. That means we have a duty, both to ourselves and to our children, whatever their ages, to make sure the Truth does stick! Truth sticks when we admit our sinfulness and our helplessness. Truth sticks when we avert our eyes from this present evil age to the age to come. Truth sticks when we permit it to tell us what is right and what is wrong and what to do about it at every turn.
Our kids need to be taught that the reason people don’t believe in God is because they simply don’t want to face up to the fact that He is really there. Denying God’s existence always comes from an impious foolish heart, and stems without any exceptions from our sinful drive for independence. Let’s see how the Bible puts it. Consider this text:
“The fool has said in his heart there is no God” – Psalm 14:1
Where does this verse (repeated in Psa. 53:1) put the blame for unbelief? On the lack of external evidence for God? On the vagueness of that evidence? No. The blame is placed squarely on the unbeliever. The verse says that someone who denies God exists is a “nabal” – a corrupt fool. Not a very complementary way to speak about a person! If we look further we see that the verse locates the problem in the very place the world wants us to trust – in the heart. The trouble is not that there is not enough information to make “an informed decision,” but it is what we automatically do with the information God has given to us.
In biblical parlance, people don’t notice God because they are not looking at His world rightly. They are looking independently. They are interpreting the world independently. And the Truth can’t come home to a person who is not in the proper state to receive it. All real knowledge must be true. And Truth has its price!
To be continued…
So far I have tried to establish these important factors in determining the timing of the rapture of the Church. I fully realize that each of these points could be studied in more depth, but for my purposes I think the coverage is satisfactory. The factors are these:
1. The time of the rapture is exegetically indeterminable
2. Hence, if it is to be known it must be deduced
3. As such the timing of this event can only be arrived at by way of inference to the best explanation (i.e. the best rapture scenarios will be C3)
4. The 70th Week of Daniel is seven years long and commences with “the prince who is to come” making a covenant with Israel. This period is divided in half by the breaking of the covenant. The 70th Week has Israel in mind, not the Church.
5. The white horse rider who appears at the beginning of what I take to be the seven year period is the Antichrist. In light of the Day of the Lord in 2 Thessalonians 2 not coming until “the apostasy” and the revealing of the man of lawlessness/sin (2:3), the rapture seems to take place at the start of the seventieth week (although 2 Thess. 2:4 could be interpreted in a mid-trib fashion).
6. The concept of the Day of the Lord and its attendant images (e.g. “birth pangs”) are not technical terms which can be restricted to one event. However, the Battle of Armageddon is strongly connected with it.
7. In the Book of Revelation the Day of the Lord is associated with the Second Advent of Christ in wrath.
The Future Tribulation
I have asserted that the future Tribulation is seven years long mainly on the strength of equating it with the Seventieth Week. I have also assumed that the first seal in Revelation 6 signals the start of the Seventieth Week. Although it is evident that what is often called the “Great Tribulation” begins when the Antichrist “takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God,” (2 Thess. 2:4) – that is, the last three and a half years – yet the advent of the “Four Horsemen” of Revelation 6 shows that the whole Seventieth Week may be rightly called “the Tribulation” (cf. Matt.24:8). It is a time distinct from now (after “the times of the Gentiles” – Rom. 11:25), when God turns again to deal with Israel.
There is scarcely any reason for a seven year final determination on Israel if only three and a half of those years are adverse. Certainly the troubles depicted in Revelation 6:3-8; troubles reminiscent of those visited upon Israel by the Lord in Jeremiah 14 (when God instructs the prophet not to pray for them – Jer. 14:11), constitute tribulation.
The Day of the Lord and the Tribulation
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 is a crucial text for the Prewrath position, and it surely should be admitted that one cannot cavalierly state that the “protos” in “for that Day will not come unless there be a falling away first …” inevitably signals a pretrib rapture. It does not. I have been at pains in this series to show that the best educated guess at the timing of the rapture will be a deduction from various premises. Hence, although I am a pretribulationist, my reasons for being one come about through the way I arrange the different pieces of biblical data into a coherent picture.
The big question for the prewrath advocate is whether the “Day of the Lord” in 2 Thessalonians and Revelation begins only after the coming of Christ at the “prewrath rapture.” This seems to require a static meaning for the Day of the Lord. But we have already shown that in many cases this is precisely what the Bible does not teach. The idea of the Day of the Lord, while cohesive, is not static. Dumbrell rightly says,
the concept of the Day of the Lord, as considered by the prophets, is not singular in meaning; the connotation can be determined only by examining each context in which the phrase appears. – William J. Dumbrell, The Search for Order: Biblical Eschatology in Focus, 109.
Much the same holds true for the New Testament writers. So the thing to be determined is whether the usage of the phrase within an End Times context can be given this restricted nuance. (more…)
This is the first in a series of ongoing posts at Telos Ministries
We have all read the statistics of young people who flee the Faith in which they have been reared soon after hitting college. There is more than one reason for this defection. The first and most obvious issue is probably the state of the heart. Is this individual actually saved? I’m not asking, “did they think they were saved?”, I’m asking “were they saved?”
Now, before someone calls me on stating the obvious, or what is worse, of relying on the easy explanation, let me make a personal observation. This shall also act as my baseline
In my experience most churches and most Christian parents do not teach the Christian Faith in a way that supports Godward faith in the world we are called to live in. And the major reason for this is a general disinterest in or else fear of doing apologetics.”
There it is. There is the statement I am going to try to defend and, more importantly, expound in these posts. But I’m going to begin where too few Christians today would want me to. I’m going to put in a plug for some good old-fashioned negative thinking!
Starting in the Negative
People don’t like the negative. They would far rather things were all positive. There’s too much negativity in the world they say. I hear them, and I agree, but only up to a point. If the negativity comes from a dour outlook; a refusal to say anything nice or anything edifying, then without a doubt negativity is unwelcome. If a person is always looking on the bad side they must not be allowed to dampen our spirits for too long. Time with such people, even if they are our friends, must be measured lest we get dragged into the doldrums.
Yet when addressing important issues it is often proper to begin in the negative. To start off all sanguine often brings a temptation to keep on looking at the bright side even when it has stopped being bright. It is difficult to be analytical with a perpetual smile on ones face. How easy it is to fool someone if you can make them feel good! Isn’t that what con artists do?
Think of a shell game or many types of gambling. Commonly you will be lured into thinking you can track the little ball under the cups; often you’ll be allowed to get it right the first time. Or you’ll win a hand or two, or get “lucky” at the roulette wheel once or twice. You’ll start feeling positive, and you’ll get taken. “All that glisters is not gold.” A critical approach can keep us out of a lot of trouble.
I think that for most adult Christians, what they want from their Christianity is solid values, wholesome music, nice friends, lively youth activities, and a bit of teaching thrown in. They want it all upbeat and uplifting. With these ingredients in their lives, many of God’s people are satisfied with what they have. No need to go deeper, and certainly no need to connect their kids minds up to the ramifications of being a Christian.
More Than Mere Belief
The trouble is that church environments like this are not very biblical, nor are they very solid. Grown ups may have tempered the Christian Faith to their middle class outlooks, but young people are not content to ask no questions. And if they are not given the opportunity to think through Christianity, it is likely they will not really make it theirs!
More thoughts to come…
Photo courtesy of Ray Miller
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 prise a wider time-period for the rapture right before the “wrath” of God, which is poured out for at least several months after 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.
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…)