|A138 : by Tony Garland |
I am encouraged to know you are finding A Testimony of Jesus Christa to be of help as you study and teach God’s Word.
As you observe, the commentary gives reasons why I do not believe the pre-wrath rapture view is an accurate reflection of what Scripture teaches concerning the relative timing of the rapture. Having said that, neither would I refer to it as “heresy” because it is well within the pale of orthodox Christianity. The term “heresy,” as generally used in protestant Christianity, generally designates views which are considered to be unorthodox:
Heresy: of, relating to, or characterized by departure from accepted beliefs or standards : UNORTHODOX
— Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary., Eleventh ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
Differences in views regarding the timing of the rapture constitute an in-house debate among Christians. None of the views concerning the timing of the rapture that I've encountered would be considered heterodox. This follows because eschatology was not formalized until relatively late in church history—and has relatively little bearing upon the essentials which define the Christian faith.
Responding to your numbered questions above:
- It is my view that some Jews will come to faith anywhere Jews may be found during the time of the end. Some in Jerusalem will come to faith as the result of the ministry and resurrection of the two witnesses followed by the great earthquake (Rev. 11:13) as well as through subsequent intervention by God (e.g., Zec. 12). Some will have been in Judea and obeyed Jesus’ warning to flee to the mountains (Mat. 24:15) — possibly to the region of Petrab (Ps. 60:9-12; 108:10-13; Isa. 16:3-5; 26:20-21; 42:11-13; Hos. 2:14-17; Mic. 2:12-13). Others will be found dispersed among the nations (Eze. 20:33-38; Rev. 12:17). It is my view that God’s work of turning “ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26) will be global in scope and operate throughout the 70th week of Daniel resulting in numerous opportunities for believing Gentiles among the nations to minister to Jews during a time of great global persecution (Mat. 25:37-40).
In Rev. 13:8 we read, “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (NKJV). As you observe, in the critical text, the phrase “whose names” is τὸ ὄναμα αὐτοῦ [to onama autou] “the name [neuter singular] of him [genitive singular]” which raises the question as to whether the name mentioned in the passage might not be that of the Beast rather than his worshippers. However, there are several reasons to understand this passage in a way which associates the name with each individual rather than the object of their worship — the Beast:
- The phrase which provides additional description concerning the name is placed in apposition to the worshippers, not the Beast. Greek scholars consider it to be an epexegetical construction (explanatory; drawing out the meaning of something) referring to the worshippers.
- Not all Greek texts reflect the singular adopted by the critical text at Rev. 13:8. Some Greek texts have the plural pronoun “whose” as well as “names” including some Majority Text manuscripts, Textus Receptus, and Codex Sinaiticus.
- A plural variation among the Greek texts was chosen as the best reading by the critical text in a significant parallel passage (Rev. 17:8) which reads ὧν οὐ γέγραπται τὸ ὄναμα ἐπὶ [hōn ou gegraptai to onama epi] “who/which [plural] not it is written [singular] the name [singular] upon” — the pronoun “who/which” is plural in the critical text indicating the group made up of individuals, each of whose name is omitted from the Book of Life. Here too, a number of Greek texts also specify “names” (plural), including some Majority Text manuscripts, Textus Receptus, and Codex Sinaiticus.
- Of every English translation I could check, none takes the name as pertaining to the Beast. This reflects a unified conclusion among the many translation committees, each of which includes Greek scholars, that the name is to be understood as that of the worshippers rather than the Beast.
- Unlike other unbelievers, there is no indication in Scripture that the Beast or the False Prophet ever stand in judgment at the second resurrection (Rev. 20:11-14) where the Book of Life serves a confirmatory role establishing one’s destiny in the Lake of Fire. Instead, the Beast and False Prophet are cast directly into the Lake of Fire at the Second Coming of Christ (Rev. 19:20). Since the Book of Life doesn’t serve any function in establishing the destiny of the Beast or False Prophet, it seems unlikely that Scripture would attach significance to their lack of appearance therein.
It appears that the singular construction is applied to the plural group to emphasize that although the worshippers act in unison in their acceptance of the Beast, they remain individually responsible for their actions and resulting omission from the Book of Life.
When considering the relative timing of the rapture with regard to the Tribulation, and especially when responding to the pre-wrath rapture view, it is easy to become so focused on the issue of when does God’s wrath begin, that one can forget that the basis for a pretribulation view of the timing of the rapture is based on numerous observations — many of which are unrelated to the issue of the timing of God’s wrath. Although I do believe that there are strong arguments for understanding the time of God’s wrath being initiated at the opening of the first seal by the Lamb (Rev. 6:1), and certainly no later than the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12-17), these are not the only reasons for understanding the rapture to occur before the Tribulation.
We can debate about what it means for the Church to be promised exemption from God’s wrath (1Th. 1:10; 5:9; Rom. 5:9; Rev. 3:10; 6:17) and exactly when His wrath begins, but we should also consider other important lines of evidence which favor a pre-tribulational rapture:
- Redeemed in Heaven - The song of the redeemed includes resurrected individualsc (Rev. 5:9). These individuals appear to have been resurrected and are present in heaven prior to the opening of the first seal (Rev. 6:1).
- Jacob’s Trouble - One of the tribulation’s central purposes concerns the nation of Israel rather than the Church (Rom. 11:25-26). That is why the Old Testament refers to this period as the time of “Jacob’s Trouble” (Jer. 30:7 cf. Dan. 12:1). It is a time known by students of God’s Word as “Daniel’s 70th Week” when God’s purposes focus more directly on Daniel’s people and city: the Jews and Jerusalem (Dan. 9:24-27 cf. Rev. 11). The Church which is the body of Christ, a mystery not previously revealed in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:3-6; Col. 1:26-27), would seem to occupy the historical (and grammatical) “gap” between the 69th and 70th week of Daniel (Dan. 9:26).
- Church not Mentioned - There is no clear Biblical reference to the Church on earth within passages describing the Tribulation period (Rev 4-22).
- Kept from the Time - Regardless of the timing of God’s wrath, the Church is promised an exemption from the time of testing coming upon those who dwell upon the earth (Rev. 3:10). Notice too that the time of testing does not concern purging or purifying the Church. Instead, it is designed to reveal the steadfast rejection of God by those who “dwell upon the earth” — a technical phrase in the book of Revelation denoting those who remain unsaved at the time of the end.
- Christ can Come at Any Moment - The rapture is imminentd (1Cor. 15:51; 1Th. 4:15): Christ can return for the Church at “any moment.” Any eschatological scheme which asserts that some other discernible prophetic event must precede the rapture (e.g., the beginning of the Tribulation, the abomination of desolation at the mid-point) contradicts the teaching that Christ could come for the Church “at any moment.” If such a scheme were true, it logically follows that the Church should be watching for these related personages and events (e.g., Antichrist, a treaty with Israel, the abomination of desolation) rather than Christ.
- Comfort and Hope - The arrival of Christ for His Church is intended to be a comfort and blessed hope (1Th. 4:18; Tit. 2:13). If the Church must endure six of the seven seals representing “man’s wrath through Antichrist” (as the pre-wrath rapture view holds), how can this inspire hope and provide comfort? Does the blessed hope include enduring an unparalleled time of global warfare (2nd seal, Rev. 6:3-4), famine (3rd seal, Rev. 6:5-6), the destruction of one quarter of the earth’s population (4th seal, Rev. 6:7-8), Christian martyrdom (5th seal, Rev. 6:9-11), and geophysical and astronomical cataclysm (6th seal, Rev. 6:12-17)? Although we recognize that some believers will experience these conditions, this is not the stated destiny of the Church!
- The Restrainer - The Antichrist cannot come to power until the “restrainer” is removed (2Th. 2:6-7). Although many proposals have been offered concerning the identity of the mysterious “restrainer,” the view which best explains all the factors involved would seem to be understanding the restrainer as the restraining ministry of the Holy Spirit permanently indwelling the body of Christ, the Church. The Antichrist cannot sign a covenant with Israel initiating Daniel’s 70th seven (Dan. 9:27) until he is revealed, but the restrainer must be removed before he can be revealed (2Th. 2:6-8).
- Sheep, Goats, and Brethren - When Jesus returns at the Second Coming, all the living among the nations are gathered and judged (Mat. 25:31-46). The passage makes no mention of resurrection. These are people who remain living when Christ returns after the Tribulation. Three groups are involved. The sheep and His "brethren" (Mat. 25:40) both enter the Kingdom. These must be believers since they enter the kingdom. Since the goats are clearly unbelieving gentiles and the sheep must be believing gentiles, who then are Christ’s brethren? We know from other passages that the concept of Christ’s “brothers” can denote different groups in different contexts: 1) his literal brothers born of Mary (Mat. 12:46; John 7:5; Acts 1:14); 2) the apostles (John 20:17); 3) the Jewish people (Mat. 1:2; Rom. 9:3-5) and, 4) those who have faith and obey God (Mat. 12:50; Heb. 2:11). In the context of Mat. 25, we are left with an understand that “My brethren” denotes believing Jews — as distinct from both believing and unbelieving Gentiles. This scene describes believing Gentiles being rewarded for acts of ministry to believing Jews who experienced great hardship during the period prior to Christ’s return. The believing Gentiles evidently came to faith after the rapture (since they remain), but were present to minister to Jews during the time of Jacob’s trouble. This infers that the rapture precedes Daniel’s final week and must certainly precede the abomination of desolation which triggers the Great Tribulation (Mat. 24:15-21 cf. Dan. 12:1). (Incidentally, a post-tribulational “U-turn” rapture is precluded since all believers would have been transformed at the moment of Christ’s second coming (1Cor. 15:52) and none would remain in their natural bodies to be gathered from the nations nor to populate the millennial kingdom.)
- Typology - Although doctrine is not to be derived from typology, there are several intriguing passages which some understand to point to aspects of the rapture. Enoch “walked with God” and was taken before the flood brought global judgment (Gen. 5:24) whereas Noah was preserved through the flood (2Pe. 2:5-9). Immediately after Jesus dictates the 7 letters to the churches of Asia (which are also written for churches of all ages as is evident from Rev. 2:11 and similar), John hears a voice like a trumpet instructing him to “come up here” (Rev. 4:1). Thereafter the Church is not mentioned on earth: during the seals, trumpets, and bowls of Revelation (Rev. 5-19).
In regard to Rev. 9:4, I do agree that this describes a time where God is actively judging the earth and which corresponds to a period before which the Church will have already have been taken up.
You stated, “I could never imagine that God will protect the 144,000 Jews but let the church suffer.” I look at it a bit differently.
The issue of the timing of the rapture is not about whether God allows believers to suffer: Scripture makes plain that many believers will suffer and pay the ultimate price of martyrdom (Dan. 7:21,25; Luke 21:16-19; Rev. 6:10; 7:9-14; 12:11; 13:7; 20:4). Nor does the issue concern whether God intends to test or “prove the mettle” of believers. The issue concerning God’s purpose for the rapture requires an appreciation of the uniqueness of His bride “the Church” (John 3:29; Rom. 7:4; 2Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-32; Rev. 19:7) — His own body (1Cor. 12:27; Eph. 1:22-23; 3:6; 5:29-32; Col. 1:18) — and what God has said of her in relation to a unique period characterized by the final outpouring of God’s own wrath upon a rejecting world.
As heart-fealt as our personal sympathies, desires, and thoughts about what God would or should do might be, they are ultimately irrelevant in the face of what Scripture reveals. And Scripture reveals He has promised an exemption for the Church: those believers, since the Day of Pentecost, who happen to occupy the unique historical role of having been baptized into Christ (1Cor. 12:13) will be snatched away and will not undergo His direct wrath.
But His plan also makes clear that the ultimate outworking of sin will result in bloodshed and suffering for believers, in general, throughout history — including during the Tribulation when multitudes, after the rapture, come to faith. Many among these will give the ultimate testimony to God through the witness of martyrdom. These lose their lives, but not a hair of their heads is lost.
And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls. (Luke 21:17-19, NKJV)
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. (Rev. 12:11, NKJV)
The following resources may prove useful when evaluating the pre-wrath rapture view:
- Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. “A Review of the Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church.” (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministriese. n.d.)
- McClean, John A. “Another Look at Rosenthal’s ‘Pre-Wrath Rapture’.” Bibliotheca Sacraf, vol. 148 no. 592 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, Oct-Dec 1991).
- Showers, Renald E. Maranatha Our Lord, Come: A Definitive Study of the Rapture of the Churchg (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1995).
- Showers, Renald E. The Pre-Wrath Rapture View: An Examination And Critiqueh (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001).
- Stanton, Gerald B. “A Review of the Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church.” Bibliotheca Sacrai, vol. 148 no. 589 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, Jan-Mar 1991).
May the Lord bless your ministry as you uphold and make known His Word.