The Comings and Goings of Bible Prophecy :: By Jonathan Brentner

On October 25, 1964, Minnesota Vikings’ star defensive end Jim Marshall recovered a fumbled football but then ran sixty-six yards the wrong way, ending up in his own end zone. Thinking he had scored a touchdown, he spiked the ball, which sailed out of bounds, resulting in a safety and two points for the opposing team. Despite Marshall’s error, the Vikings defeated the San Francisco Forty-Niners that day 27-22.

This same type of disorientation affects many teachers of Bible prophecy, too. They become disoriented and confuse the comings and goings of Scripture. They end up running the wrong way.

For example, adherents of Replacement Theology claim that God rejected Israel after Jesus’ crucifixion. As a result, they teach that Ezekiel 36:22-38 refers to the church rather than the Jewish people. They regard the references to cleansing from sin, a new heart, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as proof positive that these verses refer to New Testament saints.

With the use of symbolism, they allegorize the other specifics of this passage in order to make them fit with their predisposed understanding of the text.

What does this have to do with sound biblical sense of direction? Notice the words of verse 24:

“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.” (emphasis added)

In Ezekiel 36, along with several other passages regarding the regathering of Israel back to their Land, the Lord promises to bring His people back from the ends of the earth to the Land He promised to the Patriarchs.

Jesus, on the other hand, commissioned His followers to go out to the nations of the world (Matthew 25:19-20; Acts 1:8).

How can a passage that’s based on the Lord bringing His people back to the Land fit the church and that of Jesus’ sending His followers from Israel out to nations? It cannot. It’s like attempting to fit a round peg in a square hole.

Although many additional reasons exist as to why Ezekiel 36:22-38 can’t possibly refer to the church, a key argument for rejecting the Replacement Theology interpretation is that it confuses the comings and goings of God’s people. With Israel, God brings His people back to the land of Israel from the ends of the earth. Jesus, however, sends His church out to the ends of the earth.

Jesus Will Receive the Kingdom at His Return to Earth

The current confusion regarding the comings and goings of Bible prophecy reminded me of a sermon I once heard in which the pastor, who adhered to a variant form of Replacement Theology, also sprinted the wrong way with his understanding of Scripture.

While preaching on Acts 1:6-11, he said that Jesus received His rule over the nations of the earth at His ascension, at His going. He based his conclusion on Daniel 7:13-14 and 26-27, which he said reached fulfillment when Jesus left the earth amid the clouds as His disciples watched Him disappear. He compounded his misunderstanding of Scripture by reading from Revelation 5, which he said referred to Jesus’ arrival in Heaven after His ascension.

Notice, however, what the Lord Himself said about the fulfillment of these verses from Daniel 7:

“Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.'” (emphasis added)

Do you see it? It’s a common mistake among those who teach that God has rejected Israel.

Jesus placed His reception of the earthly kingdom, the fulfillment of Daniel 7:13-14 and 26-27, at His coming rather than at His going. Before the Sanhedrin and high priest of the day, Jesus boldly claimed that He was the “Son of man” about whom Daniel wrote in chapter 7 and placed the fulfillment of this prophecy at His return to the earth, at His “coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Those who claim that Jesus fulfilled the words of Daniel 7:13-14 at Jesus’ ascension into the clouds err in no small way. They contradict what Jesus said about these verses and keep going in the wrong direction.

The Comings and Goings of the Rapture Versus the Second Coming

Many of those who teach that there’s no Tribulation period and thousand-year reign of Jesus also say there’s no such thing as the Rapture. Some in this crowd, however, still believe that we will meet Jesus in the air in the future. But they equate this event with the Second Coming.

Such an interpretation of our “blessed hope” is impossible for a great many reasons. For one, the resurrection of the “dead in Christ” happens first, immediately, at Jesus’ appearing for His Church (1 Thessalonians 4:16) whereas at His Second Coming, the Lord raises the tribulation saints last in a sequence of several other events; it might not even occur until many days after His return to the earth (Revelation 19:11-20:4).

But there’s also the matter of the comings and goings.

With the Rapture, we go up to meet Jesus in the air, after which He takes us to His Father’s house in Heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:17; John 14:2-3). Colossians 3:4 says that when Jesus appears, we “also will appear with him in glory.” Our destination at the time of the Rapture is “glory,” which is most definitely not a place on the earth.

An early church bishop named Cyprian (AD 200-258) wrote about the event we now refer to as the Rapture. In his book Treatises of Cyprian, he referred to “an early departure” of the church by which believers would be “taken away” before a time of “shipwrecks and disasters” on the earth. He continued with these words:

“Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence, and sets us free from the snares of the world and restores us to paradise and the kingdom.” [1]

Cyprian viewed the Lord’s return for His church as a “departure,” at which time He “snatches us” away from the earth and takes us to “paradise” before a time of trouble on the earth.

Jesus made it clear that at His appearing, we go to where He is, to His “Father’s house” (John 14:2-3). We go from the earth to Heaven.

At His Second Coming, we return with our Lord back to the earth (Revelation 19:11-20:4). The direction is from Heaven to Earth.

It’s an important distinction that, along with many other considerations, makes it impossible to equate the Rapture with the Second Coming.

Those that adhere to a form of Replacement Theology mistakenly claim that:

  1. God’s promise of regathering the people of Israel from the ends of the earth actually refers to the church and thus also to Jesus’ sending His followers out from the Land to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel.
  2. Jesus received His earthly kingdom when He ascended to Heaven despite the Lord’s claim that this will happen when He comes back to the earth.
  3. The Rapture is really the Second Coming when believers stay on the earth rather than when we meet Jesus in the air, and He then takes us to His “Father’s house” in Heaven.

Back in the day, I recall seeing video clips of Jim Marshall running the wrong way after picking up a fumbled football. Today, I watch as those who reject a future restoration of a kingdom to Israel spike the football, believing they have scored a great victory. Sadly, they don’t realize they have raced against the flow of God’s Word, and their celebrations will be short-lived.

With Bible prophecy, it’s necessary to distinguish between the comings and goings if one is to qualify, in the words of 2 Timothy 2:15, as “rightly dividing the word of truth.” Words matter if we are to avoid running the wrong way when it comes to Bible prophecy (see Proverbs 30:5).


Note: In Hereafter, It’s Far Better Than You Can Imagine, Terry James and I describe the future glory that awaits us as believers, beginning with Jesus’ appearing to take us home. From beginning to end, we emphasize the jubilant joy that awaits us in Heaven. The last chapter contains twenty-seven frequently asked questions and answers pertaining to Heaven and our experience there.

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[1] Cyprian, Treatises of Cyprian, “On the Mortality,” section 25.