Trying to Get the Rapture Right (Part 12)

(Read the entire series.)

This is the final part of this exploratory series on the rapture of the Church. Its 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 Christians 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.

Pretribulationism

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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There are 15 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Much appreciate the series. A modest case for a less-than-certain view is more persuasive than an overstated or exaggerated one. And there's no denying that every eschatological view on the table has difficulties. I continue to believe a pre-trib rapture is the most probable sequence of events, based on what God has chosen to reveal.

Paul Henebury's picture

Appreciate your comments Aaron.  I was trying to go for exactly the kind of "less-than-certain" approach you mention.  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Paul Henebury's picture

FYI,

I noticed that the last-but-one paragraph before the heading "Pretribulationism" was left unfinished.  The paragraph ought to read as follows: 

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

 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

James K's picture

The biggest problem with Prewrath then is that it doesn't fit inside the classic dispensational concept of 2 plans of God?

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Paul Henebury's picture

This is an attempt to trivialize and belittle the arguments I have presented.  That's the only response it deserves.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

James K's picture

Here is your conclusion:

"In this series I have often fastened on the distinguishing of the Church from national Israel and its prophetic future (e.g. Pts. 4 & 6). I have noted that the rapture is for the Church, which will be completed before the program for Israel is “completed” (Pts. 7, 8 & 9). The Day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5 is a time of wrath to which the Church is not vulnerable. The decidedly Jewish flavor of the Tribulation argues for a pretrib rapture, as does the notion of imminence (Pt. 8)."

In other words, the classic dispensational concept of 2 plans of God.

So if your conclusion is an attempt to trivialize and belittle then arguments your have made, so be it.  There is no question that you have stacked theological inference upon inference and found the conclusion of pretrib.  I salute you for the honesty of the series.  I even sent this article to a friend who is also not pretrib.  Don't read ill into what I was saying Paul.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Paul Henebury's picture

James,

If you care to read my writings (even on SI) you will see that I don't much care about whether or not I am a classic dispensationalist.  My concern here is not at all whether classic dispensationalism is right.  Therefore, your comment is a bit of a red herring.  I'm glad you found the series helpful enough to send it to a friend, but my arguments cannot be boiled down to "the classic dispensational concept of the two plans of God."  Besides, I actually hold to three plans of God within the one plan.  A triad.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

James K's picture

I know that about you Paul.  When you laid out 2 plans though, to which dispensational category would that most naturally fit?

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Paul Henebury's picture

Either classic, revised or possibly certain (Saucyite) progressive dispensationalism.  But I was not referencing dispensationalism in my methodological procedure.  Therefore, your comment is beside the point(s) made in my articles.  Really, I don't know what point you were actually trying to make.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

James K's picture

The prewrath position is exegetically determined, as you concede.  The pretrib view relies on a series of inferences, each of which is a major hurdle to overcome.  When examined exegetically, it is extremely weak and cannot support itself.

Your conclusion against prewrath was that it didn't fit inside the same system used as a support for pretrib.  My point, was that I am glad to see a pretrib admit all this.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Paul Henebury's picture

James K wrote:

"The prewrath position is exegetically determined, as you concede.  The pretrib view relies on a series of inferences, each of which is a major hurdle to overcome.  When examined exegetically, it is extremely weak and cannot support itself."

My response:

In the Conclusion, as well as elsewhere in the series I wrote: "I have stressed that the doctrine of the catching away of the saints spoken of by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and supported for better or worse by other passages can never be decided exegetically because of the spareness of the available materials."

James K. said:

"Your conclusion against prewrath was that it didn't fit inside the same system used as a support for pretrib.  My point, was that I am glad to see a pretrib admit all this."

Response:

What are you talking about?  If you read what I wrote in the actual body of the post you will see that I gave at least six arguments for why I reject the PreWrath view.  

In addition, you continue to caricature my arguments and not engage them.  You are wasting my time James.  Move on.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

James K's picture

Paul, if quoting your own positions are to caricature your arguments, then guilty.

I am appreciative of your series.  In it, you have embraced inference as foundational.  When a wide collective of inferences are then put together, you conclude that pretrib is best.  You have not denied this.  If anyone read this entire series and paid attention, they would conclude the same.

Your notion of an unclear rapture timing is due to your previously faulty inferences.  If you were more solid on those matters, the rapture wouldn't be as unclear as you think.

A+ for the effort. C- for the conclusion.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Paul Henebury's picture

[quote=James K]

"Paul, if quoting your own positions are to caricature your arguments, then guilty."

Reply: You didn't quote my positions, you misinterpreted them and misrepresented me.  I quoted my positions to prove to you the truth of what I alleged you did. 

You write:

"Your notion of an unclear rapture timing is due to your previously faulty inferences.  If you were more solid on those matters, the rapture wouldn't be as unclear as you think.

A+ for the effort. C- for the conclusion."

Reply: Then pray write your own article and have it posted at SI and we'll see how you argue your case (PreWrath presumably).

This exchange was going nowhere from the moment you deigned to start it.

 

Adieu

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I heard Dr. Bauder from Central Seminary say something like this:

"Every end-times system has problems. The challenge is finding the one with the least amount of problems!"

Paul has been quite forthright with his conclusions. No particular end-times position is a slam-dunk, and anybody who says it is simply isn't a serious person. There is no perfectly clear "thus saith the Lord" on the timing and sequence of the end-times events. Every position has weak points where data for detailed explanations are lacking. Hence, the division over the issue. 

The case for the pre-tribulational position can be described as the best explanation from the facts - it isn't a slam-dunk. You are simply making claims about Paul's inferences being incorrect. Which inferences, and what in Paul's explanations do you take issue with? You've (presumably) read a massive series, then dismissed it all by glibly saying, "your inferences are wrong." Fine. Where and why!? 

I wish you'd be more specific. What you've left us with is nothing. It's fine to disagree with the pretribulational position and even premillennialism in general. Just tell us why. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

James K's picture

Tyler, I have mad love for the pretrib position.  I held to it from my days before Bible college and into my seminary training.  Both schools I attended are pretrib.

As Paul has shown though, the position is not exegetically determined.  When answers to questions about the rapture have to appeal to an inference, you are not on firm theological ground.

Inquiring mind: why do pretrib refer to a tribulation and then great tribulation?

Pretrib fellow: look over there.

IM: what, where?

PF: You see, I hope that clears things up.  Next question please.

 

As for an example of inference.  Take Paul's insistence that Mt 24 is for Israel and not really the church.  This is supposed to remove the obvious connection of Mt 24 and 1 Thes 4-5.

The most recent Zion's Fire (Marv Rosenthal's publication) argues that Mt 24 has a strong Jewish flavor to it.

Now, if that is supposed to help the pretrib view, but a prewrath person is making the same case, then it doesn't help pretrib against prewrath.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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