Biblical Covenantalism

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (10)

Part Nine

This installment may be thought of as a digression, but I think it belongs to the overall argument.

Imagine a world where the removal of the saints from Planet Earth happened but no one had the foggiest idea of when that might be.  If the NT alluded to such a thing there would still be some hope that we just may be the ones to get called up.  The doctrine of the rapture would still be a “sure thing”, it just wouldn’t be very concrete in our minds. Well, as a matter of fact, as a starting place for considering the rapture this isn’t that bad; there are far worse ones.  A “worse” one would be the dogmatic insistence that the catching away of the Church as pretribulational is a dead-cert.  Another would be the blithe notion that the rapture occurs when Jesus returns to earth and any theories to the contrary are speculative fancies.

What we want when faced with studying the rapture is a method which casts its procedural net over all the relevant scriptures and tries to incorporate its results within the boundaries of more readily identifiable doctrines.  Taking fundamental and necessary (C1 & C2) biblical truths as a baseline, the various snippets of prophetic teaching which intersect what can be known about the rapture must be weighed and set within the most comfortable theological context: a context from which many objections can be answered, and the number of those that can’t are at least reduced.  This comes down to ones best choice among competing explanations (a C3).

In these posts I have put quite a bit of weight on Daniel’s Seventy Weeks prophecy in Daniel 9.  A full exegesis of that passage (9:24-27) is beyond the scope of this series, and what persuades me may not persuade others.  One reason for this is the amount of work I have put into studying the biblical covenants and how they connect with the Return of Christ and His kingdom.  This is an important theme of Daniel 2, 7, 9 and 12, and it connects with many other elements in the Prophets.  (Chapters 2, 7 and 12 all concern events just before or at the final culminative kingdom of Christ (on earth!), so it is more than likely that chapter 9 does too).

Before bringing this series to an end with two summary posts I ask the reader’s forbearance once more as I again make an argument from this future time period. I have also tried to show that there exists a correspondence between the 70th week, especially from its halfway (3 1/2 year) point, and what is known as the Great Tribulation.  An obvious point of contact is the “time, times and half a time” formula found in both Daniel and Revelation.  In Matthew 24:8 our Lord speaks about “the beginning of sorrows”; an expression even prewrathers like Marvin Rosenthal believe refers to the first part of the Seventieth Week, even if he does not associate it with the “Tribulation” as such (nor the “wrath of God” for that matter), which he thinks comes after.  So it is pretty much agreed upon by all except those who try to squeeze it into the first century that the 70th week lies ahead of us.  However, a major difference surfaces between the pretrib position and mid, post and prewrath views concerning what I would see as an incongruity with God dealing with Israel and the Church in the 70th week.  As I have said before, in my reading of Scripture this period is determined on Israel (with whom God is not explicitly dealing right now), not the Church.  Moreover, it centers on Jerusalem and the temple.

The “Temple” and “Abomination” in the Seventieth Week

Daniel 9:26 stipulates that Messiah will be “cut off” after 69 of the 70 weeks.  The next verse says that “He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering”.  Some hold that this refers to the finality of the cross-work of Christ, which effectively made the sacrificial system redundant.  But this “positive spin” on the text has some problems.  For one thing the context (v.26) refers to “the people of the prince who shall come” destroying the city (Jerusalem), and the sanctuary (the Temple), which is hard to think of positively.  These two connected entities – Jerusalem and the temple – are featured heavily in the chapter (9:12, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26, 27).  In the book Kingdom through Covenant, Peter Gentry tries to vindicate the “positive” interpretation, although he admits to difficulties.  I have the bad manners to quote myself in my review of that work:

To put it in a nutshell, the authors believe that the six items listed in Daniel 9:24 were all fulfilled in Christ at the first advent (541, 553-554 – though they admit “anoint the most holy person” is abnormal, typology again steps in to help).  “Messiah the Prince” or “Leader” of 9:25 is equated with “the prince [or leader] who shall come” of verse 26 even though it appears that he comes after “Messiah is cut off.”  From chapter 7:8, 23-25 the antichrist arises from the fourth kingdom (the Roman empire), seemingly just prior to the second coming (7:13-14 with 7:21-22).  This prepares the reader for “the people of the prince who is to come” who “shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (9:26).  Two questions loom before us if we follow Gentry’s and Wellum’s interpretation.  The first concerns the fact that the “he” of verse 26b causes the sacrifice and offering to cease “in the middle of the [seventieth] week.”  If this refers to Jesus then it also refers to His crucifixion.  That would leave three and a half years of the seventieth week left to fulfill.  This is generally where those who don’t like a second coming context will jump thirty-five or so years into the future and see fulfillment in Titus’s armies in A.D. 70.  Gentry admits the “people” who destroy city and sanctuary do “appear to be enemy armies” (560), so he has to read two peoples into the context: the Jews who “destroyed” the city metaphorically circa A.D. 30, and the Romans who adopted a more literal method in A.D. 70!  (more…)

Me4

Christ as the Center of Scripture – Videos 5 & 6

Parts Three and Four

Here are the fifth and sixth videos of my TELOS Conference presentations of Biblical Covenantalism. These presentations cover the pivotal role of the Lord Jesus Christ in “the Creation Project” set out in God’s Word; especially in His Covenants:

Fifth Talk: CHRIST AND THE NEW COVENANT

Sixth Talk: CHRIST AND THE CONSUMMATION OF ALL THINGS

I hope that these six presentations elucidate my approach more clearly for some visitors to this blog.

PHeneburyVideo

Christ as the Center of Scripture – Videos 1 & 2

Here are the first two videos of my TELOS Conference presentations of Biblical Covenantalism. These presentations cover the topics of Hermeneutics and Creation.

First Talk: CHRIST and INTERPRETATION

Second Talk: CHRIST and CREATION

These video presentations give a detailed overview of Biblical Covenantalism and the exalted place it gives to the Lord Jesus Christ; a place which is not artificially read onto the pages of the Bible, but which comes clearly from its plain wording – especially from the words of the biblical covenants!

Parts Three and Four

 

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (Pt.9)

Part Eight

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

One People?

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.

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (Pt. 8)

Part Seven

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…)

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (Pt.7)

Part Six

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…)

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (Pt.6)

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.

(more…)

Teloscompass

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. (more…)

Teloscompass

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…