Biblical Covenantalism

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (12)

Part Eleven

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

PreWrath

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further, Daniel 12:1 with 12:6-7 measures the “Great Tribulation” coming upon Israel as “a time, times, and half a time”, or three and a half years.  Since this period starts at the mid-point in the Seventieth Week (Pt. 5), and is terminated by the Second Coming (see Dan. 7:20-25).

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

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (11)

Part Ten

As I bring this series to a close, I want to provide some summaries of the various rapture positions, along with a few pros and cons.  Of course, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, and I understand that much more could be said in support of each position.  Still, my main goal has been to come at the doctrine from a slightly different angle and to present the theological issues which arise.

Posttribulationism

The posttrib position is that the church goes through the Tribulation.  Proponents of this view rightly call attention to what they see as a natural correspondence between the Second Coming of Jesus and the rapture of the Church.  Christ only comes once, they say, and it makes no sense to seek out any other event slotted into God’s calendar seven years before that great event.

Passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, and John 14:1-3 do not refer explicitly to the timing of the rapture, and it is understandable that posttribulationists think that the burden of proof would be on those who want to separate the rapture and the Second Coming.  Also, while I hesitate to call Matthew 24:40-41 a rapture passage, I have said that (accepting it as an end trib passage), in light of Revelation 14 it has something going for it.

For me, the strongest verses for postribulationism are those in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10.  These words are spoken to the church, and yet they imply that the saints are awaiting the revealing (apokalypsis) of the Lord in terms very reminiscent of advent passages like Isaiah 63 (cf. Rev. 14:19-20), Malachi 3:2 and 4:1. I admit that of all the texts appealed to by posttribulationists, 2 Thessalonians 1 gives me the most trouble.

Using the Rules of Affinity we might display it like this:

Proposition: “The church remains on earth until the Second Coming (viz. post-trib rapture)”

Text: “and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels” – 2 Thess. 1:7

On the face of it this looks like at least a C2 (an inevitable conclusion).  But the “Rules” only function properly when the context is verified.  And the context does not mention the rapture at all.  This means that the rapture view must still be studied via other pertinent verses.  The “Rules” would have to be brought in there and the conclusions may effect the “inevitability” of the result above.

The way I interpret it is that the comforting of the saints happens before the Second Advent on whichever view is taken, so these verses are not standalone verses which settle the wider argument.  What this means is that, like it or not, posttrib advocates must cast their nets wider to draw in specific rapture texts and fit them into their scenario.  While I am happy to admit that beginning with this passage the preponderance of evidence is with the post-tribulational position, I think it begins to weaken when other texts come fully into view.

Some problems for posttribulationism are, firstly, (and circumstantially) that one might expect the three main verses (1 Thess.4; 1 Cor. 15, and Jn. 14) to make reference to the Tribulation, but none of them do, which seems unusual, especially since this period of time does receive emphasis at various points within Scripture.

Second, as noted in Part 2, the ignorance of the rapture doctrine in 1 Thessalonians 4 compared to the knowledge of the Day of the Lord (1 Thess.5) indicates that they are not the same thing.  All one can say is that the one comes before the other, but more data is needed to try to understand when.

Another problem is what has been seen as the “yo-yo” effect of the church being caught up and coming right back down.  This looks pointless and appears to flatly contradict John 14:3.  One might get from under this by claiming that the “coming again” (erchomai) of which the Lord speaks is His coming to a saint at death, but I can not accept that as an explanation.

Fourthly, the fact that the church appears to be absent from the chapters in the Book of Revelation which refer to the Tribulation (i.e. Rev. 6-18), which appears to coincide with Daniel’s Seventieth Week (See Parts 4, 5, & 6) throws suspicion upon a posttrib scenario, especially when it is accepted that this period has national Israel squarely in mind.

In the fifth place, this position conflates national Israel with the Church and thus violates OT covenants with Israel, and has to do interpretive gymnastics with several crucial NT texts (e.g. Acts 1:3, 6-7; Rom. 11:24-27).

When we come to the interpretation of Daniel 9:24 things become even more suspect.  The transgression (of Israel in the context) is certainly not finished, and and an end of sins has not occurred.  Everlasting righteousness has not in any way arrived, and “the Holy Place” (not Messiah) has not been anointed.  Even if one spiritualizes the other prophecies in the verse, and ignores the introductory clause, it won’t work.  How could the stoning of Stephen or the armies of Titus be interpreted as a fulfillment of any of the six prophecies in this verse?

Finally, the teaching on Imminency must be faced (Part 8), along with the problem that all alternatives to pretribulationism must deal with, and that is the fact that once in the Tribulation and its troubles, however they are allocated according to mid, prewrath, or posttrib perspectives, people will know the year when Christ is coming back.  That surely goes against Matthew 24:36.  But the Church is instructed to watch for Christ (e.g. 1 Thess. 1:9-10), which would be an exercise in futility if the rapture were not imminent, since signs and events do precede the Second Advent.

Still, posttribulationism does have enough data to pull together a hypothesis which can claim some scriptural support and is thus a C3. (more…)

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.

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