(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.
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.
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:
Read the series so far.
In this piece I want to go behind the subject of the rapture so as to approach it from another angle. Please bear with me.
The book of Revelation has been the subject of varied interpretations. Since the Greek word apocalypsis means “a disclosure” or “unveiling,” the different interpretative approaches to the book are quite ironic if not a little embarrassing. The opening verses of Revelation inform us that it concerns “things which must shortly take place” (Rev. 1:1, 1:19). Because John write of “things which must take place after this” (Rev. 4:1) it is hardly surprising to read him describing his book as a “prophecy” (Rev. 1:3).
Now although scholars like to cite etymology to try to prove that prophecy is more “forth-telling” than “foretelling,” the Bible itself does not assist them much. For instance, when Jehoshaphat wanted to hear from a prophet of the Lord it wasn’t because he wished to hear a declamation on the present reign of his ally Ahab. Rather he wanted to know about the future (see 1 Kings 22). John’s Revelation is about the future. But it is about a particular time in future history. That time may be determined by the contents of the book.
(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.
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.
There is no doubt in my mind that this passage is a second coming passage. There is also no doubt in my mind that the language of “one taken…another left” in Matthew 24:40-41 is apposite to the present discussion. In the surrounding context Jesus refers to a gathering up together (episounazousin) of the elect (24:31). So Jesus does speak of a removal of saints. But is this “taking out” to be understood as the being “taken” a few verses later? I think there is a real possibility that it should.
Perhaps most dispensationalists say that those “taken” are taken to judgment. In verse 39 those who didn’t make it into the Ark (because they couldn’t be bothered to go) were taken away by the flood waters. But from my reading of the Second Coming passages in Isaiah 63:1-6, Malachi 3:2 and 4:1-2, and Revelation 19:11-21, it does not appear to be such a good idea to be “left” hanging about. This agrees with the flood story, where it was infinitely preferable to be removed to safety in the Ark than to be left to face the elements. Further, in Revelation 14:14-16 the earth is reaped of the saints, “the harvest [which is a good image] of the earth,” before the wicked are gathered to “the winepress of the wrath of God” in terms too reminiscent of Isaiah 63 to ignore. Thus, Revelation 14 should not be overlooked in the discussion of this passage.
In this installment all I want to do is to set down the main verses which are used in discussions about the rapture. Let me make it clear that this is not to say that many other passages must be considered so as to understand the doctrine. As I will be at pains to show, the rapture is not a teaching that can be established by simply comparing proof-texts. The doctrine excites many passions and this can lead to wishful thinking in exegesis. Some of the verses listed below are brought very hardly and reluctantly to bear on the doctrine we are considering.
We have already taken a quick look at 1 Thessalonians 4:17, but there are other salient passages. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 is often brought in to help. Then Jesus’s words in John 14:1-3 must be considered. Also joining the fray are 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and 13, Matthew 24:36-44, 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9, and Revelation 3:10. Let’s try to situate each one of these.