(Read the series so far.)
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: Dan. 9:7, 11, 16-17, 20) and the temple (Dan. 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:
[T]he 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 post-tribulational 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. What is more, 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…
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.