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 itscompletion. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Titus 2:13 – If Paul believed Christ would have to return only after a long time, why would he describe believers as “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”? He would tell them to look for the signs of Matthew 24 the way the Lord did to Israel.
- 1 Jn. 3:2-3 – This text indicates that the coming of Christ is a motivation to consecration. This would hardly be the case if the Apostles taught that He couldn’t return for a great while (i.e. if they denied imminency).
- Jn. 14:1-3 – Surely Christ will not come for believers just to bring them straight back again to Armaggeddon. He will take us to the mansions He has prepared for us.
- Rev. 22:7,12 and 20 – These again would be redundant statements if He could not come until some time after the start of the Tribulation.
- 1 Cor. 1:7 – Why wait for a revealing which is situated within or after the Tribulation?
- 1 Cor. 16:22 – If Jesus could not “come” at any time because the Tribulation precedes Him then why pray for this? After all, many saints are murdered in the Tribulation, or die en masse from other nasty things before the advent occurs.
Again, these are not airtight proofs of a doctrine of imminence, but they do pose questions which those who oppose the teaching should answer. i think a cogent argument for imminency can be built from these passages. And when brought together with the other reasons for pretribulationism already given they strengthen the abductive case for that point of view.
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.