The Rapture Debate
A mounting wave of interest has swept across America and the United Kingdom on the subject of the return of Christ. Near the crest of the wave is the turbulent question, being asked with ever increasing intensity: “Will Christ return before the Tribulation, or must the Church pass through that dread hour?”
Through the many years since the first publication of this volume, among evangelical Christians there has been a sustained interest in this frequently debated question. Perhaps the increasing social violence and governmental upheavals of the present era have encouraged such concern. Whatever the cause, much new material has been written as the Rapture debate enthusiastically continues. The time of the Rapture and its relationship to the coming Tribulation has become one of the burning issues of Biblical study and Christian theology.
Kept from the Hour was first written as a doctoral dissertation, completed in 1952 and published by the Zondervan Publishing House in 1956, followed by Marshall, Morgan and Scott (London) in 1958 while the author was professor of Systematic Theology at Talbot Theological Seminary, Los Angeles. While this volume makes no claim at being exhaustive, it does present the four main positions on the time of the Rapture and most of the primary issues and Scriptures involved. Subsequent volumes by many other writers have developed these themes and filled in a host of exegetical details.
Already in the early 1950’s there was considerable interest in the time of the Rapture, stirred up no doubt by a blistering attack upon the prevailing pretribulational view by the publication of The Approaching Advent of Christ, authored by a Presbyterian missionary to Brazil, Alexander Reese. Persuasive and “embarrassingly bombastic” (Gundry), Reese’s book became the standard posttribulational polemic and later writers have borrowed extensively from his attitudes and arguments.
Although the Rapture debate has four main viewpoints, in the intervening years the discussion has largely narrowed to an increasingly detailed and technical debate between the advocates of pretribulationalism and the advocates of posttribulationalism. Some of the best theological minds of our day have been attracted to each side of the issue and a considerable literature has been generated.
With all due respect for each author, it is our purpose here to review the books which, in the opinion of the writer, have the most to contribute or which take positions worthy of consideration.
THE BLESSED HOPE
In 1956, almost simultaneously with the publication of Kept from the Hour, there appeared a major posttribulational defense entitled The Blessed Hope, written by George E. Ladd, former professor of history and theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Dr. Ladd sets forth and defends the proposition that “the Blessed Hope is the second coming of Christ and not a pretribulational rapture.” Ladd is a Premillennialist who believes in an infallible, authoritative Scripture, but who now marshals the primary arguments in support of a posttribulational Rapture.
Unlike Reese, he is generally courteous, although he falls away from this high ground when he joins with Oswald J. Smith in labeling the Pretrib view “a dangerous heresy,” because it (in Ladd’s words) “sacrifices one of the main motives for world-wide missions, viz., hastening the attainment of the Blessed Hope” (146, 150). This simply is not true, for Pretrib missionaries and overseas professors have gone worldwide preaching and teaching Jesus Christ and His “so great salvation,” possibly in far greater numbers than their Posttrib brethren.
The Blessed Hope is promoted on its front cover as “A Biblical Study of The Second Advent and The Rapture.” It is therefore quite surprising to discover how little attention is given to the acknowledged three primary Scriptures on the Rapture, namely I Thessalonians 4:13-18, I Corinthians 15:51-54 and John 14:1-3. Nor is it difficult to discover why they are neglected. They simply do not teach posttribulationalism! They give no suggestion of Tribulation preceding the Rapture, or of an earthly reign of Christ immediately following. They set forth the Rapture as a comforting hope, and it would be of small comfort to tell suffering saints that far worse things might be in store. They distinguish the Rapture from the Revelation by calling the Rapture a “mystery,” a truth heretofore unrevealed (Col. 2:6), and not like the Second Coming which is clearly taught in the Old Testament (Zech. 14:4, 9, etc.). They promise that translated saints will be taken directly to the Father’s house, clearly a reference to heaven. Small wonder that Ladd and others almost ignore these vital Rapture passages.
Rather, he writes a whole chapter disputing dispensationalism and two long chapters, almost a third of the book, on the historical argument for posttribulationalism. He erroneously defines dispensationalism as “the method of deciding in advance which Scriptures have to do with Israel,” (130) and falsely argues that pretribulationalists make the Tribulation entirely Jewish. In his book, The Rapture Question, Walvoord comments that Ladd has set up “a straw man” to knock down, for pretribulationalists agree that the Tribulation finalizes the “times of the Gentiles,” and is a period when God brings judgment upon rebellious nations. Ladd then makes matters worse by suggesting that the 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:2-8) may represent the “true Israel of God,” by which he means the Church. But then he fails to explain why the Church originates from twelve tribes – are these the major denominations? Significantly, he can find no clear reference to the Church in any of the Tribulation passages.
Concerning the history of the Pretrib doctrine, Ladd asserts: “Pretribulationism was an unknown teaching until the rise of the Plymouth Brethren among whom the doctrine originated” (162). He names as Darby’s source an eloquent but erratic early charismatic preacher by the name of Edward Irving, about the year 1830. Many will resent the statement: “. . . that supposed revelation … came not from Holy Scripture, but from that which false pretended to be the Spirit of God” (41). This ugly implication that pretribulationism came from a Satanic source is a quotation from Tregelles, but Ladd includes it as if it were true. He also minimizes the fact that a host of God’s people are convinced that the idea of escaping Tribulation sprang from the words of Christ, John and Paul, and is rooted in the Apostolic hope of Christ’s imminent return.
Ladd gives no real evidence that Irving was pretribulational beyond the fact that he proclaimed “the imminence of Christ’s coming.” If this is sufficient evidence of pretribulationalism, then on Ladd’s own admission the early Church must have been pretribulational. While most will agree that the early Church fathers were not entirely clear on the details of their eschatology, “many posttribulationalists, such as J. Barton Payne, concede that the early church fathers believed in imminency and that this is the historic position” (Walvoord 1976, 47).
It is becoming increasingly evident that many Bible students in the general are of Irving believed and actively taught that the Church would not go through the coming Great Tribulation. This came about by a return to Biblical studies and the rise of futurism in the interpretation of prophetic Scripture. After centuries of neglect the whole doctrine of Christ’s return was being rediscovered, including a Pretrib Rapture, and it was attended with spiritual power and great blessing wherever it was proclaimed.
Although Ladd effectively presents the Posttrib position, there are many chinks in his theological armor. As authorities he prefers to choose and quote authors who agree with him even those who may appear immature or Amillennial in their eschatology. He attacks the concept of a “secret Rapture,” and thinks that by refuting “secrecy” he has disposed of a Pretrib resurrection and translation of the saints. He spends a full chapter discussing the Greek vocabulary for the Blessed Hope and in so doing attacks a non-representative position. While it is true that an early writer endeavored to make parousia a technical word for the Rapture, it is now broadly recognized that the three distinctive Greek words associated with the return of Christ are non-technical and apply equally to the Rapture and the Second Coming (cf. Pentecost 156-8; Stanton 20-22; Walvoord 1957, 155-58). The term “secret” and a technical use of parousia are no longer valid issues in the Rapture debate.
Ladd declares that we cannot accept a view which is not “explicitly taught” in Scripture, but later he makes the damaging admission: “With the exception of one passage, the author will grant that the Scripture nowhere explicitly states that the Church will go through the Great Tribulation” (5). That one exception is in Revelation 20, where “the Resurrection is placed at the return of Christ in glory.” But such an argument merely assumes that it sets out to prove. It ignores the obvious fact that the “first resurrection” is first in quality and not in time. For the first resurrection has many stages (I Cor. 15:23), and prior to the Revelation 20 resurrection there are others, such as the resurrection of Christ, the raising of certain Old Testament saints (Matt. 27:51-53), the resurrection of God’s two faithful witnesses (Rev. 11:11-12), and the raising of the dead in Christ at the Rapture (I Thess. 4:16). These are all included in the “first resurrection” because all are righteous.
In discussing the nature of the coming Tribulation, Ladd correctly states: “It is inconceivable that the Church will suffer the wrath of God” (122). But then he goes on to speak of unparalleled bodily suffering and widespread martyrdom of the saints the world during the Tribulation, making this period “the most fearful the world has ever seen.” “Martyrdom has ever been a mark of faithfulness to Christ…. Why should it be any different at the end?” (129).
He fails to explain how the saints will be protected from divine judgments which are worldwide, such as the sun scorching men with fire, the pollution of all fountains and waters, devastating earthquakes and possible nuclear holocaust. “There is no way to escape it,” says Blackstone, “but to be taken out of the world by the Rapture, in as much as the Great Tribulation covers the whole habitable earth” (Biederwolf, 550).
In addition, Ladd waters down the command to “watch” for the return of Christ, saying this does not mean “looking for” the event but merely a “spiritual and moral wakefulness.” He hardly considers the removal of the Restrainer with its strong pretribulational implications. He makes Revelation 3:10 teach “a promise of preservation and deliverance in and through” the hour rather than physical removal from the hour itself, and fails to note that martyred saints have not been preserved or delivered (Rev. 13:7).
In arguing against an interval between Rapture and Revelation, he ridicules the idea that seven years would give God enough time to reward the saints at the Judgment Seat of Christ, as though God were limited by human chronology! He then is forced to merge the Marriage Supper of the Lamb with the coming of Christ to wage war and judgment.
Also unanswered is the important Pretrib argument, that if every living saint is raptured at the Second Coming and none of the wicked are allowed to enter the Kingdom, this would make unnecessary the separation of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, and would leave none on earth in their natural physical bodies to populate the Millennial Kingdom.
Dr. Ladd is to be commended for his generally gracious attitude and his appeal to hold God’s truth in love and the unity of the Spirit. Certainly those who “love His appearing” should close ranks and stand together on the great fundamentals of the Word of God. But his presentation leaves much of the evidence for a pretribulational Rapture relatively untouched and fails to convince this reviewer that the Blessed Hope implies the prospect of martyrdom in the Tribulation rather than the daily hope of meeting Christ face to face.
IS THE RAPTURE NEXT?
A rather simple but effective presentation of the Pretrib viewpoint was published by Leon Wood in 1956, under the title Is the Rapture Next? It represents the result of a faculty study group of the Grand Rapids Baptist Theological Seminary and Bible Institute, who “entered the consideration with open minds to determine what the Scriptures had to say.”
Avoiding all personalities and lesser theological disputes, the procedure was to examine and attempt to harmonize two groups of Scripture: (1) Those which supply the stronger reasons for saying “Yes, the Rapture will precede the Tribulation,” and (2) “those which normally are thought to say No!, the Church will not be delivered from that time.” The final conclusion was reached that the latter group of verses do not say No at all, but “properly interpreted, are very much in keeping with the Yes answers” (9).
The following are among the contributing conclusions drawn: (1) The coming Tribulation is in a class by itself, designed with the purpose of punishment rather than purification. “The Church, whose punishment has been borne by Christ, logically should be expected to escape such a time.” (2) While “no definite Scripture passages indicate that the Church will then be on earth,” other passages such as Revelation 3:10 say clearly that it will not be here. (3) The Tribulation “has a Jewish character which is hard to reconcile with the Church’s presence.” (4) The Scriptures which urge an attitude of watchfulness for, or else joyful anticipation of, Christ’s coming “clearly imply that there will be no warning signal for last-minute preparation.” (5) The expression “end of the age” does not connote cessation of time “but rather completion of program by means of consummating events.” (6) When, in the Olivet Discourse, Christ answered the questions of His disciples relative to signs and times, He limited His answers to the Jewish aspect of last things because “the nature of the disciples’ thinking” still related to the predicted Kingdom rather than to the future Church. (7) The Posttrib argument from the “first resurrection” in Revelation 20:4-6 is clearly answered when it is recognized that “the word first is not intended to be taken in the sense of initial, but rather a reference to a type of resurrection, namely that of the righteous as contrasted with that of the wicked” (117-20).
The author concludes that our personal decision concerning the Rapture debate is significant because it results in “quite a different outlook” as we watch for Christ’s coming.
THE RAPTURE QUESTION
A major contribution to pretribulational literature was made in 1957 with the publication of The Rapture Question by John F. Walvoord, former President and now the Chancellor of the Dallas Theological Seminary. From a lifetime of studying and graduate level teaching of Biblical eschatology, Walvoord discusses in depth all of the primary issues and gives detailed exegesis of the relevant Biblical passages.
Walvoord sets forth the important of the Rapture question, which is one of the main areas of dispute in conservative eschatology” (8). He continues with an extensive study of the meaning of the Church, significant in the Rapture debate because Posttribs normally and without proof assume “that the word church is synonymous with the terms elect and saints,” and hold that “saints of all past, present, and future ages are included in the church.” While all agree that there are some of God’s “elect” present in the Tribulation (according to Pretribs they turn to Christ after the Rapture), if these are to be uncritically classified as members of the Church “it leads inevitably to the conclusion that the church will go through the tribulation.”
So widespread is this false assumption that Walvoord declares: “It is therefore not too much to say that the rapture question is determined more by ecclesiology than eschatology” (16). It might be added that if the word “elect” belongs exclusively to the Church, then the Church must include the “elect angels” and indeed all the saints since Adam!
Walvoord continues his discussion with the historical argument, the central feature of which is the doctrine of imminency. He gives important quotations from as early as the second century to demonstrate that the early Church lived in constant expectation of the coming of the Lord. And if the Rapture is truly imminent, it follows that it must be pretribulational.
Under the “hermeneutical argument,” he warns that many posttribulationalists tend to depart from normal literal interpretation, which is the hallmark of Premillennialism, toward a spiritualization of the key Tribulation passages. He goes on to show the “complete lack of evidence for the presence of the Church in the Tribulation,” distinguishing clearly between “tribulation” as a general condition of suffering or persecution and “Tribulation” which refers to the specific period of the outpoured wrath of God. “It has been shown that the purpose of the Tribulation is to purge and judge Israel and to punish and destroy Gentile power. In neither aspect is the church the object of the events of the period” (72).
Dr. Walvoord discusses the work of the Holy Spirit in the present age and the significance of the removal of the Restrainer. He presents the Judgment Seat of Christ in heaven and the judgment of both Israel and the Gentiles upon earth as necessary intervening events between Rapture and Revelation, and finds Ladd’s view that seven years would not be sufficient to review the lives of Church saints bordering on the ridiculous. HE counters the charge of Oswald T. Allis that the Pretrib view is “singularly calculated …” to appeal to those selfish and unworthy impulses from which no Christian is wholly immune” by declaring: “Unless martyrdom is something to be earnestly desired and cheerfully sought, it is difficult to see why it is so contrary to Christian principles to desire to avoid these contingencies” (133).
The last four chapters of the book take up a detailed examination of the three alternate Tribulation positions, closing with a most significant summary chapter entitled “Fifty arguments for Pretribulationalism.” Coming as they do from a trusted scholar whom many consider the dean of conservative, Biblical theologians for the past three decades, those who differ would do well to evaluate carefully these 50 arguments.
THINGS TO COME
In 1958 there was first published an excellent and extensive (633 pages) overview of Biblical Eschatology called Things To Come, written by J. Dwight Pentecost, who since 1955 and until recently has served on the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary. While his volume covers the entire scope of Bible prophecy, it is important to the Rapture debate because of its detailed examination of the four main positions and other related matters, such as the identity of the Restrainer, the position of Israel and the Gentiles in the Tribulation, and the resurrections and judgments normally associated with the Second Advent of Christ.
Pentecost strongly answers the notion of one general and final resurrection and supports the view that the resurrection of the Church is but one of the orders (tagma) found in I Corinthians 15:23. Therefore the mention of the “first resurrection” in Revelation 20:5-6 does not date the Rapture as posttribulational as the opponents of the Pretrib view constantly proclaim. As previously mentioned, there are many stages in the “first resurrection,” for it is “first” in quality rather than in time, distinguishing it from the resurrection of the unrighteous dead, which is the “second resurrection.”
Pentecost holds that “Pretribulation rapturism rests essentially on one major premise – the literal method of interpretation of the Scripture” (193). This he sustains by the cumulative evidence of 28 “Essential Arguments of the Pretribulation Rapturist,” all expressed convincingly and well supported by Scripture.
These include the scope and purpose of the seventieth week, which is judgmental and “will see the wrath of God poured out upon the whole earth.” The concept of the Church as a mystery, “not revealed until the rejection of Christ by Israel … distinct in its inception … certainly separate at its conclusion.” The distinctions between Israel and the Church show conclusively that these two groups are not to be united as a single entity. The doctrine of imminence “forbids the participation of the church in any part of the seventieth week.” The necessity for an interval between Rapture and Revelation to allow time for the Judgment Seat of Christ, the presentation of the Church as the Bride of Christ, and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. The 24 elders, “representative of the saints of this present age … resurrected, in heaven, judged, rewarded, enthroned … raptured before the seventieth week begins.” The sealed 144,000 from Israel, redeemed but with a “special Jewish relationship,” indicating that “the church must no longer be on earth.” The chronology of the Book of Revelation, which poses great difficulty for both the Midtrib and the Posttrib Rapture positions (193-218).
The full 28 arguments strongly support a pretribulational conclusion, and demonstrate clearly that the significance of the Rapture debate goes far beyond the mere chronology of our Lord’s return. Important also is Pentecost’s inclusion of a history of both Premillennialism and Amillennialism, and also a chapter setting forth the essential rules for the interpretation of prophecy.
THE IMMINENT APPEARING OF CHRIST
In 1962 there was published another major defense of the posttribulation position entitled The Imminent Appearing of Christ, by J. Barton Payne, at the time an Associate Professor of Old Testament in the Graduate School of Theology of Wheaton College. In keeping with a host of other students of Biblical Eschatology, Payne accepts the Premillennial view of the return of Christ. But in some aspects of his Rapture viewpoint he stands alone, subscribing as he does to the imminency of the return of Christ which Posttribs normally repudiate, yet coupling it with a strong posttribulational conclusion. He defends both of these positions, declaring that they were cardinal views held by the Apostolic Church. However, he should have seen that many early Church fathers were posttribulational simply because they believed they were then living in the Tribulation. Their theology was overly dominated by their strong persecution experience. However since they were in error in equating Roman persecution with the predicted Tribulation, it follows that they were also in error in drawing a posttribulational conclusion.
Payne writes off all Pretribs as “dispensationalists,” while most fellow Posttribs are labeled “predominantly negative” because they are simply “reacting post-tribulationalists.” His own unique position he calls the “classical Christian hope.”
The doctrine of imminency, largely based on the hope and comfort of Christ’s appearing, coupled with the exhortations to look and watch with expectancy, is normally considered one of the strong supportive arguments for the pretribulational position. How amazing it is that a future event, which will take place on one calendar day of human history, should be so worded that it becomes the hope and joyful expectation of Christians down through the running centuries! There is nothing else comparable to this in the history of the Christian Church. Now while we are glad that Payne acknowledges and supports the truth of imminency, it must be noted that he applies it to the Second Coming of Christ to earth following the Tribulation rather than to the Rapture itself.
How then does he explain the clearly described events of the predicted Tribulation, such as the reign of Antichrist, the defiling of the Temple, and the many judgments of the outpoured wrath of God so clearly revealed in the Book of Revelation? These “alleged antecedents” of the Tribulation, says Payne, do not destroy the imminency of the Second Coming for they are already past, fulfilled in early Church history or in the contemporary problems of Christianity!
While Payne argues vigorously, and perhaps to the beginning student convincingly, his conclusions strike this reviewer as inconclusive and strongly opinionated. To preserve the imminency of the return of Christ he is forced to adopt a non-literal interpretation of the entire Tribulation period. Says he: “The great tribulation, as classically defined, is potentially present, and perhaps almost finished” (133). The wrath of God poured out upon those who worship the Beast and upon the cities of the nations and great Babylon (Rev. 14:10; 16:19) “seem to relate to the now historic fall of Rome” (140). The seventieth week of Daniel, the rebuilt Temple and the abomination of desolation which shall defile it (Ezek. 40-46; Dan. 9:26-27; 11:36-37), declares Payne, “all of which are seen to lie in the portion that has ceased to have prophetic relevance beyond the time of Titus” (153).
In Revelation, Payne continues, “the universal rule (13:7), the emperor worship (v. 8), and the martyring of the saints (v. 7) fit ancient Rome, and ancient Rome only” (155). “The commercial activity that is described in such detail in 18:11-19 is distinctly that of the first century.” The fall of Rome and the balance of power found in the ten horns (17:16) “corresponds with such inspired truthfulness to fall of the historic Roman empire, dated in A.D. 476” (155). Pompously, Payne speaks of the “audacity” of those who require “a future reenactment of what had already been completely fulfilled.”
But what of the predictive signs signaling the imminent return of Jesus Christ which history cannot satisfy, such as the meteoric rise and career of the Devil’s Antichrist, the godless activities of the False Prophet, and the destruction of three of the ten kingdoms which shall arise in the endtime (Dan. 7:8, 24; Rev. 13:1-18; 17:12)? For Antichrist, Payne (at the time of writing) suggests “an unusually apt candidate for the Antichrist is Nikita Khrushchev right today!” (121). For the False Prophet, he suggests “the papacy, or some other anti-Biblical, ecumenical religious development.” And for the three unfortunate kingdoms Daniel’s little horn will destroy, he offers: “If Christ were to come back today, who would they be? The Hungarians … constitute a pitiable possibility” (108). All of these appear to be strange and obviously erroneous conclusions.
Large passages of Revelation are made to coincide with the contemporary scene. For example, “the four horsemen of the Apocalypse – aggression, war, famine and death … were never more alive than today” (112). The two witnesses of Revelation 11, he suggests, are “a church that witnesses to the law and to the prophets … an inevitable torment to the world.” Payne continues: “It seems that in many places now, as never before, when Christians are liquidated ‘they that dwell on the earth rejoice over them, and make merry.” Moreover, “in Latin America, and in other areas of Roman Catholic domination today, the prohibition of burial rights to Evangelicals is far from unknown” (118).
Now while it is sadly true that there are Christians today who have laid down their lives for the cause of Christ, to apply this to the two witnesses of Revelation 11 is an example of flagrant spiritualization and of prophetic Scripture.
What then of signs which obviously have not yet been fulfilled? Says Payne, “the signs are brief … giving the Christian the opportunity to pull his car over to the side of the road, but perhaps not much more” (92). So brief are the remaining signs before the believer is caught up in the Rapture! And all of these rare pronouncements simply to reconcile the truth of imminency with the theory of posttribulationalism!
The only necessary conclusion to be drawn is that the early Church was correct when it looked for the imminent return of Christ, but very wrong when it identified the Roman persecution with the predicted Tribulation period. If indeed some were posttribulational, it was their suffering and not the prophetic Scriptures which became the essential basis of this persuasion.
Payne’s fellow Posttrib, Robert H. Gundry, includes in his book The Church and the Tribulation an “Addendum on Imminent Posttribulationalism,” which is a severe and detailed refutation of Payne’s position. It requires the possibility, says Gundry, “that we have progressed to the very end of the tribulation” (193). We cannot suppose that all the great endtime events have passed unnoticed, for “they are revelatory signs and must therefore be recognizable upon occurrence.” Thus “Payne’s potential but uncertain fulfillment falls to the ground” (194).
Continues Gundry, Payne is wrong in denying “the principle of double fulfillment.” His view “lacks historical perspective.” It fails to provide an adequate fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse, “which describes a complex of events immediately preceding the return of Christ” (200). There follows much more detail to support Gundry’s very critical evaluation of Payne’s position.
In addition to the conflicts generated by the attempts to reconcile the imminency of our Lord’s return with Payne’s so-called “pasttribulational” view, other problems quickly rear their heads. Declares the author, John 14:3 is “irrelevant” to the time of the Rapture because it does not teach being translated to the Father’s house. Rather, “the interpretation which seems the more plausible contextually is that at a believer’s death ‘I come and will receive you unto myself’ in glory” (74). This makes John 14:3 a funeral promise rather than a blessed expectation of Christ’s return!
Payne also claims that Romans 5:9 and I Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9 are likewise “irrelevant passages,” for the “need simply to imply no more than God’s certain condemnation of sin…. He is delivering us from the wrath, right now.” Thus, they do not apply to the Rapture question. But such an assertion ignores the fact that the context of I Thessalonians 1:10 is “waiting for God’s Son from heaven,” and that for 5:9 the prior context is the “day of the Lord,” which certainly includes the Tribulation.
His discussion of the primary passage, I Thessalonians 4:13-18, is extremely brief and fails to explain how a Posttrib Rapture could be of comfort to early believers. While agreeing with him that “the chapter division is here an unhappy one,” Payne seems not to notice that Paul discusses the Rapture before he discusses the day of the Lord – a perfect pretribulational order.
Rather, he limits his exegesis to the expression “to meet the Lord in the air,” explaining that “the ones who do the meeting then turn around and accompany the one who is met for the rest of his journey…. The church is to meet Christ in the air and thus join in His triumphant procession down to earth.” Since they “advance without pause,” the Judgment Seat of Christ “could be instantaneous, in the air” (136). This would hardly comfort Dr. Ladd who argues, as we have seen, that seven years would not be long enough to judge and give reward to all his saints.
The return of Christ for His Church is certainly a wonderful hope, and The Imminent Appearing of Christ is an attractive theme and title. But in the writer’s opinion, much of the content of this book is a fallacious interpretation of prophetic Scripture. Certainly, it is a sad deterioration from the Bible and theology he was taught by the faculty during his own years at Wheaton College and its Graduate School. As a theologian who has spent a lifetime in the study and teaching of eschatology, it is with great regret that this review judges Payne’s central conclusion to be wrong, his objections to pretribulationalism answerable, and his attitude toward his Pretrib brethren frequently abrasive.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BIBLICAL PROPHECY
A much greater and less controversial work was published by J. Barton Payne in 1973, called the Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy, and subtitled “The Complete Guide to Scriptural Predictions and Their Fulfillment.” Because of its scope and scholarly content it is a volume of considerable value, weakened no doubt by Payne’s continual adherence to the viewpoints previously discussed.
Thus, the Rapture is minimized and the Church goes no further than meeting Christ in the air and returning immediately to earth on the Mount of Olives. In the words of Payne, this is “our rapture to Jerusalem” (561), which is certainly a peculiar view! The Restrainer is not seen as the Holy Spirit but is identified as “lawful government,” Paul using veiled language “as a means for avoiding offence to the Roman power” (565). Revelation 3:10 applies only to the first century church at Philadelphia, for “their devotion will carry them through the storm of Roman persecution” (606). Such an explanation completely ignores the immediate context found in verse 11, which is the return of Christ at the end of the Church age.
The prophecy and blessed promise of John 14:1-3 is skipped without mention. The 144,000 witnesses of Revelation 7 become “a chosen youth group of the church, the Israel of God” (597). And the Rapture is identified with Revelation 14:1-7 where the representative groups of the tribes of Israel are now seen in heaven! Much of this, of course, is one man’s opinion and cannot fail to disappoint those who now look for God’s Son from heaven.
THE CHURCH AND THE TRIBULATION
Also in 1973 there was published yet another significant book length presentation of the posttribulational view, entitled The Church and the Tribulation by Robert H. Gundry, Professor of Religious Studies at Westmont College.
While Payne is a preterist, holding that much of the Revelation was fulfilled in the Roman persecution of the early Church, Gundry is a futurist, joining with Pretribs and most of his fellow Posttribs in placing Revelation 4-22 in the eschatological future. Payne strongly believes in the imminency of our Lord’s return, while Gundry just as strongly rejects imminency, declaring that those “who find imminence in the Ante-Nicene fathers are grasping at straws” (182). Posttribs typically scorn dispensationalism and its implications, but Gundry upholds this method of Scripture interpretation, especially in its important distinction between Israel and the Church. Unlike Payne, who things that John 14:1-3 speaks of the believer’s death, Gundry holds it to be a promise of the Rapture. Also unlike most of his fellow Posttribs he does not “ignore the distinctions between tribulation in general and the time of unprecedented tribulation at the end of the age” (49).
Such extreme divergence of opinion within the posttribulational camp even on the primary issues of the Rapture debate makes critical analysis most difficult. It leads one to suspect that the Posttrib conclusion may be based more upon divergent human opinion than upon sound Biblical exegesis. In his book, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation, Walvoord discusses four distinct schools of posttribulationalism which have emerged in the twentieth century (21ff.), of which Gundry’s “entirely new approach” is but one. Since the Bible does not contradict itself, this notable lack of theological unanimity among posttribulationalists reflects a fundamental flaw in their interpretive system.
There is considerable complexity to Gundry’s arguments. He agrees of necessity with pretribulationalists that the Church will be exempt from the outpoured wrath of God (I Thess. 1:10; 5:9), declaring “the theological necessity that God’s wrath not touch a saved person” (46). But then he endeavors to distinguish different kinds of distress in the Tribulation period: the wrath of God upon the unregenerate, the ravages of Satanic and demonic forces, violence which stems from man’s own wickedness, the persecution of saints by Antichrist, and the final chastisement upon Israel (46). By so doing he relieves the severity of the Tribulation for the saint, making it more a time of Satanic wrath than divine wrath, thus endeavoring to give the Church safe passage through the Tribulation. Revelation 13:7 denies such a possibility.
He rearranges the sequence of judgments in the Revelation so that the seventh seal, the seventh trumpet and all seven bowls of wrath are “clustered at the end” of the period in one great “cataclysmic blast of judgment at Armageddon” (75-77). He argues that the wrath associated with the seal judgments (Rev. 6:15-17) falls only on unbelievers. The passage describing the multitude which “came out of great tribulation” (Rev. 7:9-17) is called an “episodical vision which leaps to the end of the tribulation” (76). From all this, Gundry concludes: “Divine wrath does not blanket the entire seventieth week, probably not even the latter half of it, but concentrates at the close” (63). After this ingenious scheme the Church goes through the entire Tribulation but is spared its primary judgments and the outpoured wrath of God!
Gundry is forced to admit that there is no clear reference in the Bible to a posttribulational Rapture of the Church. But then he holds that with many clear references to the resurrection of Old Testament saints and a gathering of the Tribulation “elect,” which is “indisputably located after the tribulation,” it is implied that the Rapture will occur there also.
Posttribulationalists must then add to all this end-time activity the gathering and judgment of the nations, the conversion of national Israel, the Judgment Seat of Christ, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the defeat of invading armies at Armageddon, the destruction of the Beast and the False Prophet, the fulfillment of dire Old Testament prophecies concerning end-time judgments, plus the final catastrophes of the seven seals, seven trumpets and seven vials of wrath. All in close proximity at the Second Advent of Christ! Posttribs thus have a way of lumping together all these future events into an already heavily overloaded “day of the Lord,” and they do so without really producing any orderly chronology of these events.
Why not a seven year period of wrath and judgment to give time for all this activity, as the Scriptures seem to indicate? The Church would escape both divine and satanic wrath by being translated with rejoicing prior to that final period of trouble, and there would be adequate time for the many other activities and events normally associated with Christ’s appearing.
Among his unique views, Gundry holds that “some of the wicked will survive the tribulation.” Hence, the judgment of the nations will be after the millennium. He believes that the 144,000 will be “orthodox (though unconverted) Jews,” both men and women, who will resist the Antichrist and go into the Kingdom to “populate and replenish the millennial kingdom of Israel” (82). The redeemed multitude who come out of the great Tribulation “constitute the last generation of the Church” (80).
He escapes the clear Pretrib inference of John 14:1-3 by declaring that the “Father’s house” is simply “a metaphor for the place of believers in the Father’s domestic domain.” So Christ is not promising that He will return and transport believers to heaven, but rather “He is going to prepare for them spiritual abodes within His own person. Dwelling in these abiding places they belong to God’s household” (154). Such an approach is commonly called “spiritualizing,” yielding an odd and novel interpretation to a familiar and blessed promise.
Concerning the Restrainer of II Thessalonians 2, Gundry gives some credence to “the prevalent view in the early Church” that the restraint of iniquity may be that of “divinely ordained human government.” He suggests that Paul speaks vaguely of fear that “the letter might fall into wrong hands and … be considered a teaching of sedition” (124). But this view fails, for human government is not removed during the Tribulation. Rather it is expressed by the presence of ten kings and then seized and dominated by the Antichrist.
Gundry goes on to favor the identification of the Restrainer as the Holy Spirit, for several of the early Church fathers held this view. Further, “it would seem that a person is required to restrain a person.” Also, the change of gender from the neuter to the masculine conforms to the same shift in gender when Paul writes concerning the Spirit. Thus far we would agree. However, Gundry then argues that the Greek grammar does not demand removal from the world. Rather, he says, the Spirit merely blocks the entrance of the Antichrist “until the appointed moment when He will step out of the way and allow the man of lawlessness to stride onstage before the admiring eyes of mankind” (127).
He further declares: “His partial withdrawal in a retrogression to the beggarly elements and immature status of the old covenant would amount to an annulment of Christ’s exhaltation” (126). How well he argues, and with such eloquent language! But what is he saying, and is his argument reliable? For Satan, cast down to the earth having great wrath (Rev. 12:12), does imply a major removal of restraint during that period. Moreover, to declare that the return of the Spirit to heaven would diminish His “Pentecostal fullness and power” might, by implication, suggest that Christ also has limited His power and ability to save just because He, too, has shifted from earth to heaven. The language of the text clearly implies a removal of the Spirit before the unveiling of Antichrist. He does not merely step to one side; rather, He is “taken out of the way.” Then, because the Spirit abides within the Church forever (John 14:16) and since the Church finds no mention in the many passages describing the Tribulation, it is fair to conclude that the removal of the Spirit has set the time of the removal of the Church as pretribulational.
Much more needs to be said in response to Gundry’s complex defense of posttribulationalism, but it would probably take another book equal to his 200 plus pages – far beyond the scope of this present review. He writes with considerable scholarship and debating skill, and his arguments are stimulating if not entirely convincing. A far more extensive answer to Gundry’s position is available in two books by John F. Walvoord, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation and The Rapture Question: Revised and Enlarged Edition (to be reviewed later in this series).
Gundry departs from the views of his fellow Posttribs so frequently that Walvoord is forced to conclude: “His arguments, in the main, are new and propound a form of posttribulationalism never advanced before.” This causes him to “refute most of the posttribulationalists who have preceded him.” Indeed, “in a number of particular judgments, if Gundry is right, every previous expositor of the Bible has been wrong” (1976, 19, 60-62).
Yet another commentary upon The Church and the Tribulation may be found in the chapter entitled “The Case for the Pretribulation Rapture Position” by Paul D. Feinberg, in the book The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational? However, the most extensive critique of Gundry’s book discovered thus far is the 75 page syllabus by John A. Sproule, entitled A Revised Review of The Church and the Tribulation by Robert H. Gundry. A scholarly presentation, it is especially helpful in its Greek exegesis of the cardinal Scriptures and in its firm answers to Gundry’s attack against the Pretrib concept of imminency. On this issue, Sproule concludes that Gundry assumes his conclusion, so that “his arguments crumble because their foundations are built upon presumptions rather than upon essentially conclusive evidence” (12).
THE INCREDIBLE COVER-UP
In 1973, Dave MacPherson, then a newspaperman of Kansas City, Missouri, published a vigorous repudiation of pretribulationalism under the title The Unbelievable Pre-Trib Origin. It was revised and expanded in combination with another booklet by the same author, The Late Great Pre-Trib Rapture, and published in 1975 under the title The Incredible Cover-Up.
In MacPherson’s widely distributed “A Letter to Southern Christians,” yet another title by the same author was promoted, The Great Rapture Hoax, “packed with the sort of shocking data that’s been known – and covered up – by Pre-Trib leaders for decades.” This letter further claims that “the Pre-Trib view wasn’t heard of anywhere on earth before the 1800’s,” that it was “originated by a young lassie in Scotland in the spring of 1830,” and that it was “pirated” and spread by John Darby, a Britisher who “regarded Americans as inferior creatures, worthy of exploitation.” Among other nasty declarations, MacPherson goes on to attack the honesty and morality of C. I. Scofield and promises that his book “will turn you inside out!”
It will immediately be apparent that his book titles are provocative, if not abusive. There has been no “cover-up” or “hoax,” for Pretrib authors and leaders have arrived at their conclusion from Biblical exegesis rather than from any presumed history of the doctrine, and most certainly with no desire to defraud. Furthermore, to attack the morality and integrity of fellow believers just to further an eschatological opinion is a disgrace to the Name and cause of Christ.
What then is MacPherson’s primary thrust throughout these several paperbacks? In his own words, “the two-stage teaching is an early nineteenth century invention which first saw the light of day in Great Britain and does not reflect the teaching of the New Testament” (1975, 6). “The pre-trib rapture theory ascended from the mists of western Scotland in the spring of 1830” (1975, 138). It had a “hidden background,” a “bizarre origin” (1975, 90, 1010), when a “dangerously sick” young woman by the name of Margaret Macdonald came under the influence of the Scottish revival and had a revelation in which she proclaimed an utterly new view that the Church would escape the coming Tribulation.
Extensive quotations from Robert Norton, at the time of M.M.’s “revelation” a 22 year old medical doctor, indicate that she, her sister and brothers, were members of the Catholic Apostolic Church of Edward Irving and came under early charismatic influence with the “gifts of prophecy” and “speaking in an unknown tongue.” Under such influence, Margaret Macdonald supposedly revealed that the Church would escape the Tribulation. Some have gone so far as to attribute her declaration to demonic forces. This “utterance” of M.M., MacPherson states repeatedly, is the origin of the pretribulational view that the Church will escape the coming Tribulation.
The true facts of the case prove otherwise. The recorded declarations of Margaret Macdonald show clearly that she was not trying to establish the details of the prophetic future, but rather lamenting the weak and sinful condition of the professing church. She cries over “the awful state of the land,” the “distress of nations,” the need for “purging and purifying of the real members of the body of Jesus.” She prays for “an outpouring of the Spirit” upon the Church so that believers will be “counted worthy to stand before the Son of Man.” “Those that are alive in him … will be caught up to meet him in the air.” But she declares also that the Church will go through “fiery trial” from the “wicked” one, who shall be revealed “with all power and signs and lying wonders.” Then, even more clearly, she declares “the trial of the Church is from Antichrist” – which to say the least is hardly a pretribulational concept!
Those interested in reading the entirety of M.M.’s “revelation” will find it recorded in the Appendix of at least two of MacPherson’s books, and also in pages 169-72 of The Rapture by Hal Lindsey.
What then are we to conclude from all this emphasis upon Margaret Macdonald? (1) Its importance has been blown far out of all proportion by those who seek to discredit pretribulationalism. Alexander Reese traces the Pretrib view to the “separatist movements of Edward Irving and J. N. Darby.” George Ladd, quoting Tregelles, traces “the idea of a secret rapture” to an “utterance” in Edward Irving’s church, which “came not from Holy Scripture, but from that which falsely pretended to be the Spirit of God.” J. Barton Payne says that “soon after 1830 a woman, while speaking in tongues, announced the ‘revelation’ that the true church would be caught up (raptured) to heaven before the tribulation” (156). Even Robert Gundry declares that “pretribulationalism arose in the mid-nineteenth century. The likelihood is that Edward Irving was the first to suggest the pretribulation rapture” (185).
However, Gundry in all fairness observes that “the origin of an interpretation of Scripture is not the measure of its correctness.” He says also of Irving that “tongues and prophetic utterances did not begin to appear in his church until late 1831, i.e., after the appearance of pretribulationalism” (187). It remained for MacPherson to try to demonstrate that beyond question the pretribulation view began with an 1830 “utterance” of Margaret Macdonald.
(2) It is cruel to imply that her utterance was purely emotional, or perhaps Satanic. She was a young and humble Christian endeavoring to call a cold and careless church back to the power and control of the Holy Spirit. The writer thoroughly concurs with Hal Lindsey when he says: “Although I don’t agree with the authenticity of her vision, records show her to be a beautiful sister in the Lord, filled with love and compassion for others” (1983, 173).
(3) There is nothing in the M.M. quotation to indicate that she was a pretribulationalist. She did not distinguish between the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ, but rather divided the Rapture itself into two or more parts based on spiritual readiness. This is the Partial Rapture position, very different from pretribulationalism. MacPherson is forced to admit this: “Margaret saw a series of raptures (and she was actually a partial rapturist, with or without the label”) (1975, 85). Indeed, she seemed to believe that the Church had already entered the Tribulation, a possibility strengthened by a statement published by Irving December 1831 in The Morning Watch: “We have, blessed be God, lived to see the commencement of the seventh vial, DURING THE OUTPOURING OF WHICH THE LORD WILL COME!” (Huebner, 23, emphasis his). This is certainly not pretribulationalism!
Readers who desire to pursue in detail the alleged origin of the Pretrib view with Margaret Macdonald and Edward Irving will appreciate the scholarly historical sketch by R. A. Huebner entitled The Truth of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Recovered. They will also find of interest The Origin of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Teaching by John L. Bray, who finds a Pretrib Rapture taught by a Jesuit priest, Lacunza, whose book The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty was first published in Spain in 1812 and translated into English and published by Edward Irving in 1827. This yields a possible Pretrib concept at least eighteen years before Margaret Macdonald. We can only conclude that during this general era many were studying the hitherto neglected truth of our Lord’s return, with some disagreement concerning the actual time of His coming but with many affirming a pretribulational Rapture.
(1) In his book, The Rapture Question: Revised and Enlarged Edition (1979), John Walvoord has an extended discussion of the Posttrib’s historical argument which includes five criticisms of MacPherson’s position (150-57). In brief, he does not prove any “cover up” for the Pretrib view is based on biblical exegesis and not upon the presumed history of the doctrine. The allegations of Tregelles are without support, and he was obviously a prejudiced witness. His quotations from Margaret Macdonald and Edward Irving prove that they were not pretribulational. There is no evidence that Darby derived his views from such a source, but rather from the study of the Bible itself and from his conclusion that the Church is the body of Christ. “Under the circumstance,” says Walvoord, “it would seem that common honesty would call for Dave MacPherson to write another book confessing that his entire point of view has no basis in fact as far as MacDonald and Irving are concerned” (155).
Another strong refutation of the Rapture views of Dave MacPherson has recently been published in the theological quarterly, Bibliotheca Sacra (April-June 1990). Entitled “Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture Did Not Begin with Margaret MacDonald,” author Thomas D. Ice discusses MacPherson’s background, claims and errors, and the response to his claims by a number of Biblical scholars. Important also is the author’s discussion of the “Progress of Dogma” and its relationship to the “Development of Eschatology,” and the emergence of the doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture. All of this is highly recommended reading.
It is MacPherson’s contention that the Pretrib Rapture view is a relatively modern heresy with a plot on the part of its adherents to hide its dubious background. He makes the awful charge that in China “The Pre-Trib Rapture view has caused the deaths of thousands of persons” because missionaries did not warn the people of coming persecution (1975, 103). His final conclusion seems to be that “the pre-trib rapture view is on its last legs – if it ever had a leg to stand on!”
Why such a tirade from a young newspaperman? Is it possible that we are witnessing a personal vendetta?
Dave learned his posttribulationism at an early age from his father and pastor, Norman Spurgeon MacPherson, a fine gentleman but an enthusiastic follower of Alexander Reese, whose arguments he considered unanswerable and whose viewpoints he actively promoted. He even wrote his own book on the subject: Triumph Through Tribulation, dated 1944.
Dave writes openly about the “prophetic narrowmindedness periodically erupting in my father’s California pastorate” and its effect upon his mother’s health. He recounts his own dismissal from a Bible Institute because he discussed prophetic viewpoints “differing in detail from the school’s official position.” Two weeks before the end of the semester, he says, “I was dismissed from the premises…. My dismissal was possibly the last straw. A few days later my mother died” (1973, 15).
While all of this is most regrettable, one must not respond to personal sorrow by breaking fellowship with fellow believers over prophetic detail, nor by attacking them and impugning their integrity because they support an alternate viewpoint.
THE TRIBULATION PEOPLE
Under the byline, “Before you assume you are not going through the Great Tribulation … Read this book!” there was published in 1975 The Tribulation Book by Arthur D. Katterjohn, former chairman of the orchestral instruments department of the Conservatory of Music, Wheaton College.
The son of a Baptist minister, he was taught “to respect the authority of the Word of God, and to love the words of Jesus.” Affirming his commitment to “honest debate,” he writes his book “for the Christian who wants to take another look at end-times doctrine.” Should the Church prepare to endure Antichrist and worldwide persecution, “or make ready for an unprecedented and unannounced return of Christ just before the tribulation period?” (10). His position, clearly declared from the very beginning, is enthusiastically posttribulational. For authority, he leans hard on the writings of Ladd and Gundry – even though these men differ on many essential issues.
Katterjohn writes his book with an easy-going popular style, occasionally unsuited for serious debate. For example, the biblical five foolish virgins who had no oil suddenly become “five flighty women” who “let their oil supply dwindle.” Elsewhere, the Christian life should not be “a flighty fixation on bubbly living” when actually it is a “tense and often painful struggle.” Perhaps such word pictures are calculated to catch the interest of young people in Sunday School discussion groups. Certainly his study questions at the end of each chapter are designed for that purpose, but unfortunately they are heavily charged with Posttrib innuendo, frequently assuming what he must clearly prove.
While erroneously declaring the millennial question to be a secondary issue, with “little practical difference” between amillennialism and Premillennialism, he holds that the time of the Rapture is “the most pressing question of the future” (77, 13). For Antichrist and the Great Tribulation are coming, and we may be the “Tribulation people” who must suffer and endure the ravages of the end-time.
Katterjohn gathers his evidence for a Posttrib Rapture under three main headings: (A) The Gospels and the teaching of Christ; (B) The Epistles and the teaching of Paul; and (C) the Book of Revelation and the teaching of John. This review shall give them a brief consideration in that order.
(A) In the Gospels, the primary focus is placed upon Christ’s Olivet Discourse. Katterjohn holds that it was delivered intimately to “the nucleus of the New Testament Church” and “makes no mention of Israel or the Jews.” Furthermore, he charges, those who do not agree with him make what Jesus had to say mean nothing for Christians today (17). This is a wild and unworthy charge, for carried to its logical end it would also remove from Christians any instruction and blessing from the Old Testament, which certainly was first given to Israel. “All Scripture is profitable,” and it is all for us even though it may not always be about us.
Most Bible students affirm that the Olivet Discourse, while giving instruction to all concerning the Tribulation yet to come, has at least “a Jewish character,” speaking as it does of Judaea, the Sabbath day, the holy place of the Temple, the tribes of the earth, the Jewish marriage custom, and the coming of the King and the Kingdom. This is Israel in the end time, and there is not a shadow of a hint that the Church, the “body of Christ,” will be present during that “time of Jacob’s trouble” being described by Christ (Jer. 30:7; cf. Dan. 12:1).
There is no legitimate proof for the Posttrib position which makes parousia a technical word for the Second Coming, the elect a technical word for the Church, or which declares that Pretribs make the “Gospel of the Kingdom” essentially different from the Gospel Christians know and preach today. In the words of the author, Pretribs teach “a different way of salvation for the hard-pressed believers under Antichrist’s reign,” even teaching “four different Gospels, as pretribulationalists do” (19). If Posttribs have to build their case upon such fabricated slander, perhaps it indicates that they have legitimate case.
Nor is the Matthew 24:40-42 passage, which Katterjohn calls “the sudden snatch,” descriptive of a posttribulational Rapture as some suppose, but in context is evidently a removal of some in judgment while others are left on earth to welcome the return of their Lord and enter His Kingdom.
Katterjohn affirms that “the coming of John 14 and the return in Matthew 24 are the same event” (37). But the presence of certain similarities does not prove identity and it would be just as easy to provide a list of differences. He is not sure if the dramatic promise “Where I am, there you may be also” refers to the “thousand-year reign of Christ on earth or the inauguration of His heavenly kingdom.” Probably in this context it means neither. However, no matter how plain the promise (Which he labels “poetic”), a Rapture to heaven, “my Father’s house,” must be denied by a Posttrib, for it is entirely contrary to their notion of an immediate return of the Church to earth after her meeting with Christ in the air.
(B) Under Pauline theology, our author declares that the terms elect, brethren, saints and Church are all used interchangeably, for this “unity of all men of faith is one of the cornerstones of Christian doctrine and cannot be jettisoned for the sake of an end-times theory” (41). This contributes to his erroneous view that the term “Church” comprehends the redeemed of all ages, and that the Rapture of I Thessalonians 4 and the posttribulational return of Matthew 24 are one and the same event.
He observes that there is no mention of the Tribulation in the I Thessalonians 4:13-18 passage, (nor should there be), “nor a secret, any-moment coming of the Lord, nor … our return to heaven after the rapture” (42). Later, he admits the invalidity of this common “argument from silence” when he observes that even “the term ‘second coming’ although a helpful tool for us, does not appear in God’s Word” (68).
The “trump of God” in verse 16, he declares, “is not a fickle kazoo beamed at church-age saints to alert them of a secret rapture … but a blast, a fearful booming fanfare to the arrival of the King” (44). The reference to a “meeting” in the air changes the direction of the saints, but not of the King as they descend to earth together. Perhaps all of this is a trifle more than Paul intended to say. This and the other major Rapture passages simply do not teach posttribulationism.
His exegesis of I Corinthians 15:51-52 is very thin. Twice he endeavors to define the term “mystery” (57, 91) and in the light of Colossians 1:26 is wrong on both counts. Like other posttribulationists, he identifies the “last trump” with “that final trumpet blast” of Revelation 11:15, implying that it sounds at the Second Coming of Christ. This is a well-worn argument, frequently answered in pretribulational literature. Such an assumption is entirely false because the context is radically different, band because the judgments of the seven vials of God’s wrath clearly intervene between the seventh trumpet and the Second Coming of Christ.
Even on the matter of “wrath” Katterjohn is in theological trouble, affirming: “The tribulation, it must be remembered, is not the wrath of God, but the persecution of the faithful, both Jews and Gentiles, by Antichrist” (41). God’s “wrath” is understood to be a final flash of divine indignation upon Antichrist’s regime. Moreover, “Christians, it must be remembered, will be removed before God’s final anger falls” (98). Thus, even an ardent posttribulationist must admit that the only way for the Church to avoid the outpouring of divine wrath is to be removed by a prior Rapture!
Katterjohn finds “no time or place element” for the Judgment Seat of Christ, even though I Corinthians 4:5 seems to locate it at the Rapture (cf. II Tim. 4:8; Rev. 22:12). Concerning the Marriage Supper of the Lamb he declares: “It is after His reign commences that the marriage supper is held” (79). This would place it upon the earth after the Second Coming, but perceptive readers of Scripture will find it in heaven before the return of the King (Rev. 19:7-9, 11-16). Indeed, two great events in heaven after the Rapture and before the Revelation give strong evidence that the Rapture is not simultaneous with the Second Coming of Christ.
His view of the important Restrainer passage (II Thess. 2:6-8) also finds itself in difficulty. He admits that “If their connection between ‘restrainer’ and Holy-Spirit-in-the-Church is correct, pretribulationism also is correct, for the Church certainly cannot live without the Holy Spirit” (49). However, he chooses to identify the Restrainer with “civil government.” As for the phrase “taken out of the way,” he prefers the meaning “to arise out of the midst.” Then without declaring a further opinion on this issue, he refers his readers to the views of George Ladd and Robert Gundry which, incidentally, contradict each other.
(C) Moving on to the Book of Revelation, Katterjohn states that “the Church is not explicitly mentioned in chapters 4-12, neither is the rapture,” but he adds “the Church is not mentioned as being in heaven either” (88). Thus he rejects the Pretrib identification of the twenty-four elders, suggesting that they are merely “representatives of the Old and New Covenants.” While such a view may be better than Reese’s “angelic lords,” the elders give small comfort to those who cannot find the Church in heaven during the Tribulation. The Church appears again under a different figure as the Bride of Christ, once more in heaven before the Revelation and reign of the Saviour.
Katterjohn declares that “Revelation 3:10 is a fundamental girder in the superstructure of the modern pretribulation theory” (86). It might be mentioned at this point that while Kept from the Hour draws its title from this verse, when Katterjohn lists it among “Books for Further Study,” he passes it off as “Arguments for pretribulationism based on Revelation 3:10.” This of course is outright fabrication, for a closer look would have revealed that the writer discusses Revelation 3:10 on four pages out of 320, and in the Scripture Index it has a mere two listings among 840. So while the verse is important, it hardly the sum total of Pretrib evidence as Katterjohn implies.
Our author argues that Revelation 3:10 gives the Church a promise of protection in the Tribulation, but not a removal from that hour. “The promise of protection for God’s people is essential to the whole fabric of Scripture” (86). He claims that the verse “is a great promise of protection through tribulation, both historically … and as the final persecution under Antichrist finds momentum” (87).
What kind of protection does he offer? Elsewhere he has written about “the besieged Church … headed toward inevitable extinction” (99), when “Antichrist will drive Christians into caves and cloister shelters” (100). “Resistance to him will be fatal to the flesh” (101). It will be “a horrible persecution” (128) when Antichrist “shall extend his rule over the entire globe and ultimately tread it down and break it in pieces” (129), and when “many will suffer martyrdom” (43).
In this the nature of our “blessed hope” and our promised protection in the Tribulation? Nothing more hopeless is implied in all of Christian eschatology. Death, and not a Posttrib Rapture, would become our hope! Rather than deep anguish and probable martyrdom in the Tribulation, it would be far better to die and to be immediately and forever with the Lord (II Cor. 5:8).
Katterjohn writes correctly that “the time of the rapture is a vital question, yet it should not be an issue that divides true believers” (115). Yet like many before him, it is not his doctrine but his attitude which divides. He declares that “certain pretribulational distinctives are founded on sandstone” and are “theories which find support only as shadowy inferences from the Biblical text” (101). Those who distinguish between redeemed Israel prior to Pentecost and the New Testament Church, he asserts, are guilty of promoting “caste systems (which) are the invention of selfish leaders who would avoid the humility of shared authority” (102). He states that according to Pretribs, the witness of the 144,000 is “a quasi-gospel preached by a Spirit-less tribulation remnant” (90). It is such inappropriate language, not the doctrine, which divides true believers.
To Katterjohn, Pretribulationists are “theorists” and “early removal buffs.” Is this what he would have called the writer’s former professor, Dr. Henry C. Thiessen, for many years the head of the Bible Department and Chairman of the Faculty of the Graduate School of Wheaton College? Thiessen was a warm and gracious professor, a theological scholar, a recognized Biblical linguist, and also a convinced pretribulationist (Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, 475-86). For years he sounded out the Word of the Lord to the students of Wheaton College, far more harmoniously it seems than this discordant note later emerging from the music department.
THE BLESSED HOPE AND THE TRIBULATION
Written with a far more commendable spirit than the two previously considered is a book published in 1976 by John F. Walvoord, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation, with the subtitle “A Historical and Biblical Study of Posttribulationism.” Clearly stated, “It is the purpose of this study to examine the claims of posttribulationists, their exegesis of important passages, and their handling of pretribulational arguments” (8).
In the midst of the “almost complete confusion” which reigns in the current interpretation of prophecy, in the mind of the reviewer this volume by Dr. Walvoord gives the most comprehensive response in print to the various positions and problems of the posttribulational school of thought.
The Rapture debate is not merely a theological argument, for the hope of the Lord’s return is a very precious truth, and “it would be difficult to present a greater contrast between the blessed hope of the imminent return of Christ and the prospect of probably suffering and death in the great tribulation” (10). These are dramatically contrasting prospects of the future for the Church of Jesus Christ.
Within the past century, at least four different types of posttribulationism have emerged. Walvoord discusses firs the “Classic Posttribulational Interpretation” of J. Barton Payne, whose major contribution to the Posttrib argument is his belief in the imminency of Christ’s return. This has previously been discussed under the review of the Imminent Appearing of Christ. Relative to this issue, Walvoord concludes that “the early church fathers were obviously wrong in believing that they were already in the great tribulation” (29), and that “Payne stands virtually alone” when he spiritualizes much of the Tribulation and attempts to add the early concept of imminency to a posttribulational conclusion.
A second view is the “Semiclassic Posttribulation Interpretation,” best illustrated by Alexander Reese in his book The Approaching Advent of Christ. Reese popularized the opinion that the Pretrib position arose about 150 years ago in the separatist movements of Edward Irving and J. N. Darby. He took as a key doctrine the idea that the Church is the true Israel and includes the saints of all ages. He offered evidence that “the resurrection of the Church occurs at the same time as the resurrection of Revelation 20,” from all of which he drew a strong Posttrib conclusion.
In this third chapter, Walvoord makes the telling point that “Posttribulationists also have never resolved the pressing question as to why there is a rapture at the second coming…. Why would saints meet Christ in the air at the rapture if they are going to return immediately to the earth? Why would it not be preferable for the church to go into the millennium in their natural bodies … and populate the millennial earth?” (38-39).
The “Futurist Posttribulational Interpretation” as exemplified by George Ladd in The Blessed Hope, is the third Posttrib position considered. While accepting a literal, future Tribulation, Ladd makes historical background his major argument, and then “practically ignores the three principal Scriptures revealing the rapture” (50).
In discussing dispensationalism, “Ladd departs from his usual scholarly approach and accuses dispensationalists of holding interpretations that no dispensationalist would support” (56). He finds it difficult to harmonize the “blessed hope” with the idea that “the church must go through the great tribulation and many, if not most, in the church are martyred.” Comments Walvoord, far better to live out “a normal life in a period prior to the rapture” and go “to heaven through death rather than living through the great tribulation” (57). Most posttribulational writers do not recognize the force of this problem in their own system.
Walvoord includes under this third Posttrib position the historical views of Dave MacPherson, and brings against him the five criticisms previously discussed in the review of MacPherson’s two books.
The fourth distinct Posttrib position is the “Dispensational Posttribulational Interpretation” of Robert H. Gundry. Walvoord comments favorably on Gundry’s “maturity of scholarly studies and his skill as a debater” (61), but faults him for using “circular arguments assuming what they are trying to prove,” and for presenting “only the evidence that supports his position” (62).
Gundry’s pivotal issues include his attack on the doctrine of imminency; his characterization of the Tribulation as primarily a time of Satanic wrath; his beginning of the “day of the Lord” at the end of the Tribulation; his interpretation that the Olivet Discourse discusses the Church and not Israel; his merging of the various judgments of the righteous into one divine judgment at the Second Coming; some novel suggestions regarding who will enter the millennial Kingdom; and his placing of the Rapture just before Armageddon, preceding the Second Coming of Christ (62).
Walvoord concludes that Gundry’s approach is different from that of any posttribulationist in the past, and that he abandons literal interpretation whenever it would lead to a contradiction of posttribulationism (68).
In the latter half of his book, Walvoord discusses the posttribulational denial of imminency and wrath; the contribution of the Gospels, especially of Matthew 24 and John 14; the comforting hope of I Thessalonians 4 and the Day of the Lord in chapter 5; the identification of the Restrainer; and the Rapture in its relationship to end-time events. He closes with two brief but excellent chapters: “Unresolved Problems of Posttribulationism” and “Pretribulationism as the Alternative to Posttribulationism.”
From the Pretrib perspective, this book affords a comprehensive and most worth discussion of the divergent views and unsolved problems of posttribulationism.
THE GREAT TRIBULATION DEBATE
A considerably different presentation of the Posttrib view was published in 1976 and called The Great Tribulation Debate, by Norman F. Douty. Subtitled “Has Christ’s Return Two Stages?,” it is a revision of an earlier publication dated 1956. Douty claims herein that he was converted to posttribulationism by the “weight of evidence,” although he admits he much prefers his former belief, which was that of a pretribulational Rapture (10).
While pointing out some of the dangers of doctrinal controversy, the author affirms that the “Tribulation Debate” is minor rather than major in importance, “a question of detail” (Scofield), requiring “a cool head and a warm heart.” Then having affirmed his love and respect for men like I. M. Haldeman, William L. Pettingill and W. H. Griffith-Thomas, plus Scofield, Barnhouse, Chafer and Thiessen, all pretribulationists with whom he is about to disagree, he writes, “For convenience sake, I have chiefly selected Dr. C. I. Scofield to represent the teaching I herein oppose” (10). This is a very limited objective, for Scofield is not always a representative Pretrib and his notes give a comparatively brief treatment of the subject. Thus from the very beginning, there is introduced an immediate weakness in Douty’s evaluation.
A more favorable feature is his constant appeal to the Scripture and to the Greek language in matters of exegesis. But it would take a prime Greek scholar (which Douty does not claim to be) to test the validity of his conclusions. The author is obviously widely read and to support his position quotes a host of other authors and scholars, mostly from a past generation. However, it does become rather tedious to find Dr. So-and-so pitted against Dr. So-and-so almost ad infinitum, rather than a warm-hearted and scholarly explanation of what each Scripture actually teaches. Those quoted are no longer with us to explain or defend their views.
Nor is Douty always kind. Pretribs are considered his “opponents,” and it would take “divine grace” to bestow on them an open mind, especially when self-interest is involved. “A camel can more easily pass through the eye of a needle than a Pretribulationist, occupying a place of honor, can look into this subject without prejudice” (11).
This reviewer found The Great Tribulation Debate a strangely perplexing and exasperating book. It ignores major pretribulational arguments and sometimes attacks non-representative viewpoints. The Pretrib position is frequently misrepresented and wrongly accused. For example, says Douty, “It is to be feared that Pre-tribulationism is producing a generation of soft Christians instead of one composed of those who can endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ” (130). The Pretrib view of the Gospel of the Kingdom is said to be “not the good news of salvation through the blood of Christ” (14). Pretribs are represented as believing that “what Christ taught during his public ministry was not intended for Christians but for Jews…. Thus, by one stroke, the Church of Christ is stripped of a large portion of her spiritual heritage. The Gospels no more belong to you, my brethren, than the Old Testament does” (17-18). Most of those of pretribulational persuasion will find such declarations completely untrue and offensive.
Three entire chapters are spent on the Greek words for Christ’s coming, endeavoring to prove that if these words are used of both stages of Christ’s advent there is really but one stage, and that posttribulational. As we have seen, a technical use of the Greek parousia is not an accepted pretribulational argument. The similarities between the Rapture and the Revelation passages are then catalogued, as though similarity of detail proves identity, making them one and the same event.
The “restraining influence” of II Thessalonians 2 is identified as civil government, for “the Spirit was poured out after Christ’s return to the Father for other purposes than to restrain human lawlessness. He did not come to do what was assigned to human government to perform” (98). Furthermore, in Revelation 3:10, “this preservation does not refer to the body, but to the soul. Christ promises, not exemption from physical torture and death, but spiritual keeping, whatever the circumstances” (104-5). To say the last, these are all highly debatable conclusions on the part of our author.
Even worse is his exceedingly limited treatment of the three major Rapture passages. The triple clause of I Thessalonians 4:16 denotes “one and the same thing,” so that the “shout” and the “trump of God” are identical with the “voice of the archangel.” Then, says our author, if we are “caught up together” we must be “united here upon the earth,” so that “Christ is here depicted as escorted to the earth by his saints” (76). To the contrary, the reunion of the saints occurs when we meet together “in the clouds … in the air,” and not at a posttribulational return to earth.
Douty ties all this together with John 14:1-3, closing with a rare conclusion: “Christ is on his way to the earth to deliver and convert the remnant of Israel, to judge Antichrist and his system, and to introduce his glorious reign – all of which he shall effect with speed. Then to the many mansions of his Father’s house will he conduct his glorified ones and from there carry on his millennial reign. It is not until the new earth appears after that reign that a glorified Head and Body shall reside below” (76, italics added).
Think of it, the Messianic Kingdom, with an absent King reigning from heaven rather than upon earth! Why so strained a view? Because a Posttrib must do something with John 14:3, for to take it literally leads directly to pretribulationism. As for the important I Corinthians 15:51-52 passage, it is brushed off with the comment that “the last trump” would not precede the seven trumpets of the Revelation. “If not identical with the seventh, it surely must succeed it in order to be the last” (39).
Douty gives major emphasis to the Olivet Discourse which, he declares, “is not essentially Jewish prophecy; it is Christian eschatology. Those addressed in the latter part of chapter 23 are Jews, but those addressed in chapters 24 and 25 are Christians” (36). Forgetting that the disciples did not yet understand either His imminent vicarious death or His subsequent resurrection (Matt. 16:21-23), or that they were primarily occupied with thoughts about the Messianic Kingdom (Matt. 18:1; 20:21; Acts 1:6), Douty holds that they were representatives of the Church and that through them Christ “addresses the prospective Church concerning things to come” (37). Since the coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory is “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (Matt. 25:29-30), Douty assumes this embraces the Rapture of the Church, which would make it clearly posttribulational.
His argument forms an interesting syllogism: The Olivet Discourse sets forth Church eschatology. The return of Christ to earth is clearly “after the Tribulation of those days.” Therefore, the Rapture must be posttribulational! However, he should not forget the early warning of Alexander Reese concerning a syllogism: If an error is found in either the major or the minor premise, that error also attaches itself to the conclusion. Douty’s error is found in his major premise, and this is sufficient to destroy his conclusion.
Douty closes his book with “A Plea for Toleration,” the strongest and most extensive this writer has seen in print. “What injury have we done you? True, we have disturbed your complacency, but what sin is there in that?” and so on for four full pages (133-37). In the light of how much we have in common, he pleads for moderation and for understanding. At this point we find ourselves in substantial agreement. Nevertheless, the book itself appears badly outdated in its arguments, making its contribution of doubtful present value. This reviewer is not aware that even his fellow Posttribs acknowledge the book or its arguments as authoritative.
THE LAST THINGS, AN ESCHATOLOGY FOR LAYMEN
In 1978 yet another contribution to the Rapture debate was published by George E. Ladd, entitled The Last Things, An Eschatology for Laymen. Certainly, it is a worthy endeavor to put theological themes into more simplified concepts and language suitable for the average Christian layman. Better yet, to discuss relevant and encouraging topics such as the predicted course of the present age, the “signs of the times” and world conditions in the end-time, the Rapture as a purifying hope and an incentive for faithful service, the rewards and crowns to be distributed for victorious living at the Judgment Seat of Christ, our position as the Bride of Christ at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the power and glory of the coming King, and the prospect of reigning with Him in His millennial Kingdom. If this were the main thrust of Ladd’s book, we would all welcome it and applaud the author.
But rather, we find before us a disappointing sequence of problems relating to the time of the Rapture, with a constant and withering attack upon dispensationalism. While we are grateful for certain conclusions we do hold in common with Dr. Ladd, who is a theologically conservative Premillennial scholar, this present volume is hardly an eschatology for laymen. It’s subtitle might better be worded: “My latest attack against dispensationalism”!
Actually, Ladd appears to be a modified dispensationalist, for in his own words he recognizes “the eras of promise after Abraham, the law under Moses, of grace under Christ, and of the Kingdom in the future” (9). Most probably he also recognizes the age of innocence before the fall of Adam and the very different situation following his expulsion from the garden. Recognizing six different economies is a fair beginning for an anti-dispensationalist. Years ago, in gracious personal conversation with this writer, Ladd affirmed that he was not a Jew, did not worship on the Sabbath, never prayed that his flight should not be on the Sabbath (Matt. 24:20), nor did he wear “a ribbon of blue” in the fringe of his garments (Num. 15:38). Apparently he does distinguish between Biblical ages and economies and does not always equate Israel with the New Testament Church, clearly forbidden in Revelation 2:9 and 3:9.
It is most unfortunate that such a storm has brewed over the concept of dispensationalism, when the Bible clearly indicates the presence of various ages (Eph. 2:7; 3:5, 21), differing economies (Matt. 16:18; Luke 21:24; John 1:17; Heb. 12:18-24), and even uses the term “dispensation” in the sense of a divinely planned economy (I Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10, 3:2; Col. 1:25 AV). While it is true that some have carried the dispensational principle to erroneous and extreme conclusions, not all who use this principle are “speckled birds” as they have been called, nor do any hold to “seven ways of salvation” as others have affirmed. Nor do they downgrade the value of passages obviously addressed to Israel.
What we need to do is to sit down and talk together, discovering what we hold in common as well as areas of disagreement. Then no longer treat dispensationalism as a theological system to be attacked or defended, but rather to restore it to hermeneutics (Biblical interpretation) as an extension of the basic question: “To whom, or of whom does this passage speak?” Then most of the bitterness engendered would evaporate.
Erroneously, Ladd makes pretribulationism “the most characteristic doctrine of Dispensationalists” (50). Actually, the more basic disputes fall into the area of ecclesiology. Using a “spiritualizing hermeneutic,” he assumes that the Church is “spiritual Israel” because he “finds the New Testament applying to the spiritual church promises which in the Old Testament refer to literal Israel” (24). This is assuming too much, for while it is true that the redeemed of Israel and the redeemed Church do share certain privileges as members of the family of God, it is a fallacy of the first magnitude to equate Israel and the Church on this basis alone.
Israel cannot always be considered as a redeemed community. The Apostle Paul cries out with great agony of heart for the salvation of Israel, his kinsmen according to the flesh (Rom. 9:1-3, 10:1). He sets forth the Jews and the Church of God as two entirely separate entities (I Cor. 10:32), so that the time of the resurrection of Israel does not demonstrate or even imply that the resurrection of the Church will be simultaneous. And when we find “immediately after the tribulation” God gathering “his elect” from the “tribes of the earth,” the clear inference is that Israel has come through the Tribulation, not the Church.
There are other problems. Ladd is not sure that the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 can be identified with Messiah, the anointed of God. He calls the Tribulation “a brief but terrible struggle between Satan and the Church … a time of fearful martyrdom” (49), hardly a “blessed hope” or a theme so attractive that we can “comfort one another with these words.”
Contrary to Ladd, Pretribs do not teach “two Second Comings of Christ,” nor of necessity even two “phases of His coming,” although this is merely a matter of definition. Nor do Pretribs need to limit the term parousia to the Rapture and epiphaneia to the Revelation. While a few have done so, Walvoord and other Pretrib theologians have clearly indicated that the vocabulary of Christ’s coming is non-technical, and equally applicable to both Rapture and Revelation.
He finds II Thessalonians 2:6-7 “very difficult” and claims that the “classical interpretation” is quite satisfying, namely that “the hindering power is the principle of law and order embodied in the Roman Empire with the Emperor at its head” (68). To the contrary, rather than being a restraint against evil, it can be demonstrated that the Roman Empire fell under the sheer weight of its own massive iniquity.
Nor can we agree when Ladd declares, “The 144,000 are the church on the threshold of the Great Tribulation,” explaining that these are “true spiritual Jews without being literal Jews: in other words, the church” (71). He forgets that in the Church we are no longer seen as Jew or Gentile, but all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14). He will not recognize a redeemed body of Jews in the Tribulation, clearly identified as being from the tribes of Israel, for this would be tantamount to a confession that the Church is no longer on earth.
In this book, Ladd demonstrates how the Posttrib pattern of thought leads perilously close to the Amillennial position. He departs from normal Premil literal interpretation when he declares: “The number 144,000, like other numbers in the Revelation, is a symbolic number, representing completeness” (71). The measurement of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:16 “is obviously a symbolic measurement” (113) and “the Kingdom of God is also a present reality.” Christ “is already seated at the right hand of God and reigning as King” (116). In defining Amillennialism, he says, “It must be admitted that there is some Scriptural support for such a view” (111).
He parallels Amillennial theology when he equates Israel and the Church, calling the latter “spiritual Israel.” He identifies the judgment of the Gentile nations in Matthew 25 with the Great White Throne of Revelation 20, admitting that if this would be followed literally, it would make no room for a millennium and would make him an Amillennialist. He avoids this by claiming the Matthew 25 account to be “a dramatic parable” of welcoming and receiving Christ. In a previous volume he declares: “Many millenarians will not insist that the earthly reign of Christ is to be of exactly 1000 years duration. The 1000 years may well be a symbol for a long period of time, the exact extent of which is unknown” (1952, 147). This type of Premillennialism would make an Amillennialist very happy!
The reviewer refrains from speaking of further problems associated with Ladd’s book. It contributes little that is new to the Rapture debate and is hardly “an eschatology for the laymen.”
CHRISTIANS WILL GO THROUGH THE TRIBULATION
There appeared in 1978 a distinctly different Posttrib book by James M. McKeever entitled Christians Will Go Through The Tribulation: And how to prepare for it. This is not a serious discussion of Biblical or theological evidence concerning the time and implications of the Rapture. The Posttrib position is strongly assumed, with some Scripture and a few scattered quotations from posttribulational authorities to back up the author’s conviction. Rather, its purpose is to give “very practical suggestions on how to prepare for the catastrophes that Christians will be experiencing during the Tribulation,” dealing with “physical preparation and the even more important spiritual preparation” (19).
Because of the promises which exempt the Church from divine wrath, Posttrib writers normally picture the Church as thoroughly protected by the sovereign hand of God, passing safely through the Tribulation much like Noah and his family sealed in the ark, placidly riding through the storm and judgment of the mighty Genesis flood. McKeever turns that picture upside down as he portrays the Christian fighting for his life and the welfare of his family in the midst of nuclear tragedy, human brutality and the threat of imminent starvation in a day when no many can buy or sell, save those who capitulate to the Devil’s Antichrist and wear the “mark of the beast.”
Our author is an ordained minister and Bible teacher, with a background of ten years with IBM and twenty years in the computer business. He gives evidence of being a fine-spirited man, sincere and dedicated. However, the reader will have to judge for himself the validity of certain stated convictions.
McKeever’s book is in three main parts, with Part 1 dealing with the “Crucial Questions” of the time of the Rapture and the many Scriptures, which, in his opinion, teach that the Church must pass through and endure the entire Tribulation. Ladd and Gundry are his primary authorities on this issue, with a little additional help from Katterjohn.
He discusses evidence that we may be living at the end of the age, and if so, some of the “Catastrophes We Will Face.” He reviews the extreme severity of the Tribulation judgments, the seals which are broken, the trumpets of judgment which sound, and the bowls of divine wrath which must be poured out. Plaintively he declares: “I wish that the Rapture were going to occur at the beginning of the Tribulation, and that my fellow believers and I would not have to experience the terrible things that are coming.” However, he concludes, “since I believe, as do growing scores of Christians, that the believers will go through the Tribulation, my family and I are making both physical and spiritual preparation for it” (56).
Skipping Part 2 for the moment, the third and final part of the book deals with Spiritual Preparation. This includes a “Call to Righteousness” with a challenge from Revelation 2 and 3, plus 12:10-11, to be overcomers of evil and the power of Satan. There follows a presentation of our personal relationship to the Holy Spirit, and the filling of the Spirit which is His control over our lives. Most of this teaching is essential and good, but on the “gifts of the Spirit” many of the Lord’s people will decline to follow.
McKeever believes that all the Apostolic gifts are available today and will be increasingly exercised in the coming Tribulation. He recognizes the dissension caused by “speaking in unknown tongues,” but affirms the validity of the gift, including the worship of God with an “angelic language.” He also affirms supernatural healing and in Indonesia, supernatural multiplication of good to feed the Christians and “even the dogs.” He writes about supernatural control over snakes, scorpions and wild animals, and of Christians having dominion over nature, commanding the rain to stop and a tornado to pass over. Even more, “In the body of believers with whom I fellowshipped in Pasadena, there is a man who was raised from the dead” (269)! Each reader will have to evaluate such unusual claims and read the rest of the book in the light of them. For the Scripture commands: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (I Thess. 5:21).
Part 2 is the natural conclusion of posttribulational theology. Christians must be prepared to survive nuclear war, social chaos, and the menace of Antichrist by constructing and stocking some kind of fallout shelter. “In a home without a basement, you could go in a crawl space beneath the floor and dig a hole …” (123). You must be prepared to survive famine. “I would suggest that a family have a three-month supply of wet pack food, and at least a twelve-month supply of air-dried and freeze-dried dehydrated foods” (140). Storage is a problem: “A year’s supply of wet pack food for a family of five would take up 60 percent of a two-car garage…. You can increase the storage life of canned foods … by turning them upside down periodically” (141-42).
You must prepare to survive earthquakes. “Most of the hazards are man-made.” Wire your tall pieces of furniture to the wall so they will not topple over, etc. In coastal areas, prepare for tidal waves (167-70). With no ability to buy or sell or even provide electrical or sewer service, you will need to develop a “self-supporting home,” with tanks to collect rainwater, a septic tank or other plan to dispose of waste, and a wind-powered generator for electricity. If you cannot move to a farm you must have a garden with small animals and birds for food. A large fish tank for catfish is highly recommended. Plus a food dehydrator, a water purifier, and possibly a composting toilet. Develop a root cellar and a springhouse for large storage; put in a system to collect solar heat, and preferably have most of the house underground to conserve energy. Etc., etc., etc. This is what a consistent posttribulationist must be doing, and how many of their number would qualify? This is Posttrib theology in shoe leather. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words!
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE RAPTURE
A brief but scholarly review of the main issues involved in the Rapture debate was published in 1981 by Charles C. Ryrie, under the title What You Should Know About The Rapture. Beginners in this subject will appreciate his clear introduction and simple charts of the four main positions, while more mature students will acknowledge that “prophecy is being discussed more than ever on an academic level,” as Ryrie debates with Gundry, whom he considers the primary spokesman of the modern Posttrib movement.
Concerning the historic background of pretribulationism, Ryrie deals with the various attempts which have been made to discredit the teaching of Darby by claiming he did not get his views from the Bible, but from a heretic and a mystic. The heretic was Edward Irving, who was deposed in 1833 by the Church of Scotland on the charge that he held the sinfulness of Christ’s humanity. The mystic was 15 year old Margaret Macdonald who, as we have seen, has been promoted by MacPherson and others as the first to proclaim a pretribulational Rapture.
Ryrie claims that the Irvingite eschatology was unclear, that there was no connection between Darby’s pretribulationism and the Irvingite teaching, and the claim that Pretrib doctrine began in an outburst of tongues in Irving’s church is, in the words of E. R. Sandeen, “a groundless and pernicious charge.” Furthermore, “As for the very young and chronically ill Margaret Macdonald, we can only truthfully label her as a ‘confused rapturist,’ with elements of partial rapturism, posttribulationism, perhaps midtribulationism, but never pretribulationism” (72).
Ryrie claims that most Posttribs have concentrated on countering pretribulational arguments rather than putting together an adequate chronology of the future. The Pretrib position is not an “escape mechanism,” but an attempt “to proclaim the whole plan of God accurately.” While granting that the Greek vocabulary used to describe Christ’s coming does not prove either a Pre- or a Posttrib Rapture, he affirms that a careful exegesis of the cardinal Scripture passages does sustain a pretribulational conclusion.
For example, II Thessalonians 1:5-10 emphasizes God’s judgment of His enemies, using words such as “righteous judgment,” “affliction,” “flaming fire” and “retribution,” a vocabulary strangely absent from the Rapture passages. This is because the subject of the passage is “vindication,” and not as posttribulationists say, a “release of Christians from persecution” (54). Moreover, throughout the most extensive Tribulation passage, Revelation 4-18, the Church is not mentioned nor seen on earth, but is found in heaven symbolized by the 24 elders.
While there will be “saints” in the Tribulation, the term applies equally to the “godly ones” of the Old Testament, the present age, and the Tribulation years yet to come. This term, together with phrases such as those who “die in the Lord,” and “those who keep the commandments of God,” as well as the word “elect,” describe those who shall trust in Christ during the Tribulation. “The chosen ones of the Tribulation days do not have to be the same as the elect of the church simply because the same term is used of both groups” (62).
Ryrie develops the question of populating the Millennial Kingdom. “When the Millennium begins, some people have to be alive in unresurrected bodies, who can beget children and populate that kingdom” (75). The Scriptures seem to teach that all the wicked will be judged prior to the Kingdom, and that all who are raptured will put on immortality. This is a major problem for those who believe in a posttribulational Rapture, for according this view none would be left in normal human bodies to enter and to populate the Kingdom.
For the Posttribs, Robert Gundry presents a twofold answer to this problem: (1) The 144,000 will not be saved during the Tribulation, but shall be “physically preserved” and “converted immediately after the rapture as they see their Messiah descending onto the earth.” (2) The Gentile parents will come from the wicked who will somehow escape death and judgment at the end of the Tribulation (Gundry, 83, 137).
Both answers are faulty, for the 144,000 are presented in Revelation 7 and 14 as redeemed witnesses, winning an innumerable multitude to Christ during the Tribulation, evidently dying for their faith and caught up with songs of rejoicing into the presence of the Lamb (Rev. 14:3-5). And Gundry’s “partial destruction” of the Gentiles which “would leave the remaining unsaved to populate the millennial earth,” plays havoc with the “sheep and the goats judgment” of Matthew 25:31-46, which is both final and soteriological.
Scripture clearly places this judgment at the Second Coming of Christ (Matt. 25:31-32), but Gundry is forced to locate it after the Millennium. Far more simple and Biblical to have a period after the Rapture but before the Revelation, during which many shall be redeemed, some of whom will enter and populate the Millennial Kingdom. This is the view that pretribulationism espouses.
In brief summary, Ryrie counters the Posttrib view that God somehow throws a “mantle of safety” over the Church in the Tribulation. He shows also that the “Day of the Lord” cannot begin with a time of “peace and safety” (I Thess. 5:3) if, as Posttribs proclaim, “it begins with the wrath of God poured out at Armageddon.”
Further, “Posttribulationism has a veritable logjam (of endtime events) at the second coming of Christ” (100). It fails to show how the righteous can be protected from the various wraths of the Tribulation period, surviving the wrath of God but subject to the wrath of Satan. Since many shall die, this would be a very “selective protection.”
Revelation 3:10 gives a better solution. It is not a selective safe conduct through that hour, but removal from the hour itself. As Ryrie puts it, “The only way to escape worldwide trouble is not to be on the earth” (117). The Rapture is not a threat of near extermination, but a bright and blessed hope which causes us to “love His appearing” (II Tim. 4:8).
THE RAPTURE: TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES
Widely read and acclaimed are the prophetic books of Hal Lindsey, beginning with the popular The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) and leading up to The Rapture: Truth or Consequences, published simultaneously in the United States and Canada in 1983. The language of these books is generally contemporary rather than theological because he is aiming at another age group and a different culture from the average student of Bible prophecy. Nevertheless, Lindsey deals with some profound Biblical themes as he exercises his “gift of simplicity.” His book about the Rapture especially is a serious discussion of the Biblical passages and doctrinal themes which indicate the relationship of the Rapture to the Tribulation, giving us “a blueprint of tomorrow’s history.”
Readers will appreciate Lindsey’s charts of the various Tribulation and Millennial views, and in the Bible exposition passages they will be impressed with his evident scholarship and continual use of the New Testament Greek. Those who enjoy comparing theological systems will find a helpful analysis of midtribulationist Mary Stewart Reife, When Your Money Fails, and posttribulationist Robert Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation.
Lindsey begins his discussion by clarifying the main issues at stake and stressing the areas of common agreement between the exponents of pre-, mid- and posttribulationism, many of whom are careful scholars and greatly used of the Lord. He clarifies the true nature of the Church and the importance of dispensational distinctions. He discusses the chronology and judgments found in the Book of Revelation, the important promise of Revelation 3:10, and the “search for the missing Church,” by which he means the Rapture. In summary, “the promise of being kept from the hour; the identity of those who dwell in heaven; the Church’s absence from earth in chapters 4 through 19; the bride’s presence in heaven before the second coming, all fit into the pattern of a pre-Tribulation Rapture scenario” (111).
In discussing the “Restrainer” of II Thessalonians 2, Lindsey presents strong evidence that “he who restrains” is undoubtedly the Holy Spirit. He concludes that “His unique ministries in, through and for the believer will be removed with the Church” (138). In the light of the permanent indwelling of the Spirit within the Church (John 14:16; Rom. 8:9), an even stronger statement might be that the removal of the Spirit before the revelation of Antichrist sets the time of the Rapture as pretribulational.
He argues effectively for various stages in the “first resurrection,” showing that the “dead in Christ” rise before the translation of living saints at the Rapture while the resurrection of Tribulation martyrs occurs after the coming of Christ at His Revelation (Rev. 20:4-6). Lindsey then closes his book with a listing of world events “moving toward a catastrophic end.”
Throughout The Rapture there is displayed a warm personal and spiritual note, so often lost in the midst of theological argument. Lindsey closes his discussion as follows: “The hope of the Rapture is a very practical force in my life at this point in history. It motivates me to obtain combat knowledge of the Bible in order to be able to face the perilous times that precede the Tribulation.” Even more, “It motivates me to win as many to Christ before it’s too late…. Although I grieve over the lost world that is headed toward catastrophe, the hope of the Rapture keeps me from despair in the midst of ever-worsening world conditions” (176). To which this reviewer adds a hearty “Amen!” – for this is the main thrust of the Blessed Hope!
THE RAPTURE: PRE-, MID-, OR POST-TRIBULATIONAL?
Bridging the considerable gap between the three primary Rapture viewpoints is a “head-to-head” debate entitled The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational? This 1984 publication is written by four personal friends, three of whom are colleagues on the faculty of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Mutually respectful in tone and highly academic in content, their essays provide an important addition to the Rapture literature, especially for those who desire to give careful attention to the use and meaning of the Greek words involved in the exposition of primary New Testament passages. While they are friends, these men do debate vigorously, and each has opportunity to bring his response to the two alternate positions.
Introducing the debate is an excellent essay by Richard R. Reiter, “A History of the Development of the Rapture Positions.” He traces the history of the Rapture-Tribulation dispute from the Niagara Bible Conference era, 1878-1909, through the period of pretribulation predominance from 1909-1952, to what he calls the “resurgence of posttribulationism” from 1952 to the present. Many will find it fascinating to read the view of great spiritual leaders of the past, such as John N. Darby, D. L. Moody, A. J. Gordon, James H. Brookes, C. I. Scofield, Arthur T. Pierson and Arno C. Gaebelein – all of them staunch pretribulationists – together with the rising challenge of Robert Cameron, Nathaniel West, William G. Moorhead and W. J. Erdman, all of whom espoused a posttribulational eschatology.
The growing harshness of the debate is revealed by “the bitterness of West’s tirade” through the “derogatory tone” of Alexander Reese to the abusive comments of Robert Cameron, who speaks of “opposing this Secret Rapture fly-away-from-tribulation theory” which is “only a trick of the Devil to fool God’s people so that they will not be on the firing line for God.” Such was the vitriolic tirade which began to emerge, primarily from the posttribulational camp.
Refreshingly, the following three authors rise high above such bitter denunciation, calling for “greater humility in regard to detail” and a “unity which allows for diversity and promotes toleration.” This is a welcome and timely appeal.
“The Case for the Pretribulational Rapture Position” is presented by Paul D. Feinberg, Associate Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology. He admits that a surrender of the widely held Pretrib position is not, as some have suggested, “the first step on the proverbial slippery step that leads one to the rocks of liberalism.” Nevertheless, the Rapture question is of the greatest importance because it “touches the extremely important issues of biblical interpretation, the relationship between the Church and Israel, and the course of human history” (47).
Feinberg argues for pretribulationism from three main positions: (1) The entire Tribulation period is characterized as the “outpouring of penal, retributive, divine wrath,” from which the Church of Jesus Christ is promised exemption – both from the experience of wrath and the time of wrath. He rightly distinguishes between divine wrath and the normal trials and sufferings of the present life, including persecution from evil men. The Christian life is pictured in the Scripture as a battle to be fought and an athletic contest demanding discipline and endurance. However, I Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9 clearly promise exemption from the coming wrath of God.
He debates the view of Gundry that “divine wrath does not blanket the entire seventieth week, probably not even the latter half of it, but concentrates at the close” by observing that “wrath” occurs in the Revelation as early as the sixth seal, and that it is difficult to see how famine, war and death would fail to touch believers as well as unbelievers. Even Revelation 3:10 indicates that this period of trial falls upon “the whole world,” and promises exemption not only from divine wrath but also from the very time of wrath. He argues from classical literature, the Septuagint and the New Testament that the Greek preposition ek indicates “a position outside its object,” and that the combination tareo ek promises “a preservation outside of a time period,” which demands the removal of the Church prior to the time period called Tribulation (68).
(2) Feinberg then argues for the necessity of an interval between the Rapture of the Church and the Second Coming of Christ, so that some can be saved to go into the coming Kingdom in nonglorified bodies and thus populate the earth during the millennial reign of Christ. There shall be Gentiles as well as Jews in the coming Kingdom, although Ezekiel 20:37-38 declares that “rebel Jews” shall not enter therein, while Matthew 25:31-46 similarly describes the destruction of wicked Gentiles. Since no wicked shall enter Christ’s Kingdom, “there must be a separation of the Rapture from the Second Advent so that people with natural, physical bodies can be saved and populate the millennial Kingdom” (79).
(3) There is a marked difference between Scripture passages describing the Rapture and those which describe the Second Coming of Christ to judge the wicked and to establish His Kingdom of righteousness. While there are no signs to alert the believer that the Rapture is near, very definite signs and events lead up to and signal the return of Christ from glory.
Every passage dealing with the Second Coming is set in the context of Tribulation and judgment, while the Rapture passages make no mention of such distress. The Second Advent texts do not teach the translation of living saints nor the resurrection of those who have died in Christ, but give promise only to martyred Tribulation saints. Also, when the Rapture passages are compared with Second Coming passages, there is a clear inconsistency concerning the time of the Rapture and the destination of those who shall be caught up.
Feinberg closes his section with the plea: “May our differences never becloud the joy and expectation of seeing our Lord at His visible and personal return,” and may our disagreements only “serve as a greater impetus to the study and clarity” of the prophetic Scriptures (86).
In the third chapter, Gleason L. Archer argues “The Case for the Mid-Seventieth-Week Rapture Position.” He prefers this title to “Midtribulationism” because he views the first three and one half years as a “lesser tribulation, not nearly as terrifying or destructive of life as those fearsome plagues that will dominate the last three and one half years” (139). Thus he claims that his view “is really a form of pretribulation Rapture.” However, his identification of the “last trump” of the Rapture with the “seventh trumpet” of the Tribulation, and his identification of the raptured Church with the 144,000 of Revelation 14 are much more reminiscent of the Posttrib position.
The final chapter of the book is written by Douglas J. Moo, assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity. He is to be commended for writing graciously, for expounding all the primary Scriptures, and for recognizing that “no true believer will experience the wrath of God.” However, he harmonizes this statement with the Posttrib position by declaring that “wrath appears to be concentrated in the last part of the Tribulation period.” He also uses a theory of selectivity, saying “God’s people can escape divine wrath through present during its outpouring” (174).
Moo counters the obvious fact that many Tribulation judgments fall upon the entire inhabited earth by departing from normal, literal interpretation. He affirms, “No description of the Tribulation indicates that it will involve greater suffering than many believers have already experienced” (176). This weak response is in direct contradiction of Daniel 12:1 and Matthew 24:21, which declare that “the Tribulation, the great one” will be an unprecedented period in the history of suffering humanity.
Unlike many Posttribs, Moo does face up to the implication of John 14:1-3, which strongly implies that those raptured go directly to the Father’s house, which is heaven. He responds: “The fact that believers at a posttribulational Rapture would rise to meet the Lord in the air only to return immediately to earth with Him creates no difficulty, for the text does not state that believers will go directly to heaven … only that they will always be with the Lord” (178). Responding to Moo, Archer calls this “a yo-yo procedure of popping up and down,” rightfully declaring that if anything, “these upward-bobbing saints will only impede the momentum of His earthward charges as He rushes down to crush the rebellious hosts of the Beast and all his minions. The most that can be said of such a ‘Rapture’ is that it is a rather secondary sideshow of minimal importance” (215).
To make the Rapture posttribulational, Moo identifies the “last trump” of I Corinthians 15:52 with the trump which gathers the elect of Israel in Matthew 24:31 into the Millennial Kingdom, “an event that is always posttribulational” (179). In discussing the coming “wrath,” Moo makes escape from wrath a reward, saying: “Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to live godly lives in order that they might avoid the judgmental aspects of the Day” (186). Here, he sounds more like a Partial Rapturist. However, since his treatment of the main Rapture passages is quite lengthy and involved, it may be best at this point to encourage a careful reading of these pages and then to consider the adequate response of Paul Feinberg found on pages 223-31 of the same book.
Concerning the similarities Moo indicates between the primary Rapture and the primary Second Advent passages, Archer observes that between the two “the differences in atmosphere, mood, and setting are so obvious as to discourage all hope of identifying the two as pointing to the one and same transaction” (217).
We are indebted to these men for bringing us a fair, friendly, and scholarly presentation of the three primary views relative to the time of the Rapture. As already indicated, they have made an excellent contribution to the growing literature of the Rapture question.
THE RAPTURE: A QUESTION OF TIMING
Yet another posttribulational defense was published in 1985 by William R. Kimball, entitled The Rapture: A Question of Timing. It grants that the Rapture is the “blessed hope” of all true believers, and is “firmly established as a centerpiece in biblical eschatology” (11). In the “Final Appeal” of the book, the author states that he does not wish to cast “a negative reflection upon the integrity, sincerity, or spiritual competency of those believers who may disagree with the prophetic positions I have taken.” Furthermore, he declares, “we must always exercise an attitude of tolerance toward those brethren who may disagree with our prophetic positions” (180-81).
This is, of course, the fair and proper attitude in prophetic debate. Differences aside, we are all one in Christ Jesus, and in love we are to honor and respect one another.
However, our author fails tragically to follow his own declared standard, making us wonder if it is more pious talk than true conviction. He calls his fellow Premillennialists with a different view of the Rapture “the pied pipers of pretribulationism.” They use “complicated twisting and exegetical gymnastics” and are guilty of “wrenching of scriptures from their context.” They hold “novel” and “radical” theories, “prophetic innovations” and “vagaries of … ever-changing speculations.” Their views are “blatant,” “evasive,” and “desperate” “maneuvers.” They hold a “wistful hope” of a “secret rapture escape,” “unheard of prior to 1830,” a “secret, silent and mysterious” “split rapture,” a “double coming,” a “doctrinal quagmire,” a “novelty” of “confusion” and “contradiction.” The “pretribulationist defense could be likened to the proverbial ostrich who buries his head in the sand.” Their “convenient scheme” when dealing with certain passages spells “irretrievable shipwreck to their position.” They teach a “mysterious evacuation,” a “heavenly elopement of seven years,” “a fragmentation of the second coming into two very distinct comings,” actually “a third coming.” Other men quoted call a Pretrib Rapture “a perversion of Second Coming truth, a delusion of the last days” (121), a “myth” among the sorriest in the whole history of freak exegesis” (59).
Such comments and namecalling, scattered throughout the book, such verbal abuse, make it difficult to listen to what the author actually has to say. Let us endeavor, however, to bring a brief evaluation of his primary arguments.
Kimball is guilty of broadscale attacks against non-representative positions. It is true that early in the Rapture debate, some used the term “secret Rapture” as a synonym for the pretribulational return of Christ, stressing that the Rapture will occur without warning signs and will find many unprepared. It did not mean “without a sound” or “the world will be unaware,” but simply that it would occur suddenly and for many be totally unexpected. However, as used by Tregelles, I. M. Murray and others, it became a term of posttribulational contempt. Like them, Kimball ridicules the term continually, making it “secret, silent and mysterious,” and thinks that by disproving “secrecy” he has destroyed the pretribulational Rapture.
The truth is that Pretribs are fully aware of the shout and the trump of God which accompany the Rapture, and agree that the world will recognize that Christians are gone. However, the term “secret” has been so misunderstood and maligned that most modern pretribulationists find no need to continue its use. There is no victory for posttribulationism in attacking the thought of a “secret Rapture.” Kimball may prove that it will be “a noisy, open and spectacular event” (59), but he is attacking a position which is no longer relevant.
Kimball opposes the idea that Revelation 4:1 actually makes John’s experience “a symbol of the church being raptured” (77). Once again, this is a minority and non-representative view. While the writer respects those who may accept it, he prefers the position that the Rapture falls chronologically between chapters three and four. While the experience of John at 4:1, as well as the resurrection of the two witnesses and the presence of the 144,000 in glory are significant events in themselves, they most probably do not typify the resurrection and Rapture of the Church.
Similarly, E. Schyler English once suggested that the “departure” of II Thessalonians 2:3 might be a reference to the catching up of the Church rather than an end-time apostasy or departure from the faith. His proposal was merely a trial balloon, and Pretribs were the first to shoot it down. It certainly never became representative of pretribulationism, but Kimball labels it “a desperate attempt to defend the any moment rapture theory,” and plagiarizing Reese he calls it an “example of freak exegesis.”
Posttribs who take minority views and endeavor to make them representative of pretribulational theology because they appear easy to attack are simply tilting at theological windmills, when they should be establishing sound exegesis and end-time chronology.
Concerning the history of the doctrine, Kimball strongly identifies himself with the view of Dave MacPherson, with all of its attendant problems. While correctly recognizing that the Church will not suffer the outpoured wrath of God, he holds that “Christians will weather the opposition and tribulations imposed by men until the second coming of Christ” (76). At this point, he should read Revelation 13:7, then review the warnings and instruction of Jim McKeever.
He holds that the promise of comfort found in I Thessalonians 4:18 is more relevant to the suffering and martyrdom of the first century than it is to their prospect of escaping coming Tribulation. He identifies the “last trump” of the Rapture with the “seventh trumpet” of the Book of Revelation, saying that “the timing of the rapture is restricted to the seventh, or last trumpet” (107). These are common views which have been frequently and convincingly answered. If the Rapture is concurrent with the seventh trumpet, because of the intervening seven vials of wrath it must be considerably before the descent of the Son of God from heaven.
Many believe there is a valid distinction between “coming for the saints” and “coming with the saints,” drawing from the prophecy found in Jude 14 and many other Scriptures. Kimball is satisfied that this means that Christ will “come again with His holy angels” (127), although it is doubtful if angels may be identified as “saints.” Sinless creatures need no sanctification.
Commenting on John 14:1-3, he declares that this does not mean that the Church will return with Christ to heaven, but simply “accompany Him in His final victorious descent to earth” (131). The Church is caught up, briefly “evacuated from the surface of the earth in conjunction with the awesome holocaust which will be suddenly unleashed upon an unregenerate humanity” (132). Thus he agrees that the Church must be raptured to escape the outpouring of divine wrath. But Pretribs find outpoured wrath beginning early in the Tribulation, with Revelation 6:16-17 and not with 19:11 at the glorious coming of the King.
Kimball closes his book correctly by saying: “Our essential unity and fellowship in Christ should never be severed or undermined because of our differences on prophetic points” (181). In the opinion of the reviewer, he has failed in this high purpose, and has written a book which adds nothing to harmony and little if anything to the posttribulational argument. Rather, the command to “love His appearing” has been completely lost in the midst of the bitterness of yet another posttribulational polemic.
THE RAPTURE QUESTION: REVISED AND
For the final and most significant defense of the pretribulational position, we have chosen to review the volume by John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question: Revised and Enlarged Edition. While the other books herein reviewed have been considered in chronological succession since 1956, including the original edition of The Rapture Question, this 1979 re-publication is worthy of special mention. It brings issues and arguments up to date as it answers the more recent challenges to the hope of the imminent return of Christ.
One hundred pages longer than the earlier edition, the book adds a full topical Index, and expanded Bibliography, and attractive boldface subheadings. For Scripture quotations, it has switched from the AV to the NIV, which in some cases yields a more simple and vigorous translation. However, to some Bible students raised with the familiar expression of the King James Version, there are some instances where the NIV terminology will probably come across with a peculiar sound, such as “the parable of the wheat and the weeds,” and in John 14, “there are many rooms in my Father’s house.”
Far more important however is the fact that Dr. Walvoord has added to his earlier edition six new chapters of Biblical exposition. He discusses the Rapture in the Gospels, in First Thessalonians 4 and 5, in Second Thessalonians, in First Corinthians and in the Book of Revelation. Significant also is the fact that his exegesis includes a direct response to the vigorous arguments of Robert H. Gundry, whose 1973 book The Church and the Tribulation was undoubtedly the strongest challenge to pretribulationism since The Approaching Advent of Christ by Alexander Reese, dated 1932.
It makes interesting and challenging reading to discover how a mature and skilled theologian like Walvoord answers the clever, spirited, and frequently involved arguments of a scholar like Gundry, both of them maintaining the highest level of Christian courtesy as fellow Premillennialists and brethren in the service of Christ. The fact that two such scholars should disagree at all, serves to illustrate the difficulty and complexity of the debate under consideration.
While the arguments and issues are far too extensive for adequate treatment within this brief evaluation, the main highlights may be pointed out as follows:
THE RAPTURE IN THE GOSPELS
Both Reese and Gundry take the position that explicit references to a Posttrib Rapture are found in the Gospels, especially in Matthew 13 and 24-25 and in John 14. Gundry argues from Matthew 13:30, the wheat and the tares, that the mere professors are gathered for judgment in the same crisis as the transfiguration of the righteous, causing great embarrassment to those who separate the two by several years. This does not logically follow, for the expression “first the tares” disrupts the Posttrib claim that Christ raptures the Church before He deals in judgment with the wicked. Also in the parable of the good and bad fish which immediately follows (vs. 48), the “good fish” are selected first, which is in opposite order from the burning of the tares before the wheat is gathered. On these points, Gundry gives no solid evidence for a Posttrib Rapture. In fact, observes Walvoord, in context Matthew is discussing the judgment of Christ’s Revelation, and the Rapture is not in view at all.
In Matthew 24-25, the subject matter concerns the “end of the age,” which is not the Church Age as such, but rather the interadvent age previously discussed in chapter 13. The period between the two advents of Christ includes both the Church Age and the coming Tribulation. In the Olivet Discourse, Christ is answering specific questions of the apostles relative to the future of Israel, a fact which Gundry chooses to ignore. While most Premils agree that there will be a gathering of all the “elect,” both of Israel and of the Gentiles, at the end of the Tribulation, the “elect” in question refers to Tribulation believers and not Church saints. For the two main features of the Rapture are entirely absent from the passage, namely the translation of the living and the resurrection of the dead in Christ. Our author concludes: “Proof that Matthew’s account of this event includes either a translation or a resurrection, however, is lacking” (187).
Furthermore, the Posttrib attempt to find the Rapture in Matthew 24:40-41 is inaccurate, for the context of verse 39 declares that those who are “taken” are the ones who are drowned, and “it would be strange to have a clear illustration like this be completely reversed in the application of verses 40-41” (188). Many will be taken away in judgment and some will be left to enter the millennial Kingdom. The Rapture as such is not under discussion, no matter how similar the language may sound.
Posttribulationism also fails to find the Rapture in Matthew 25:31-46, for the sheep and the goats are intermingled and require separation by a special judgment immediately following the Second Coming of Christ. This would be entirely unnecessary if a Posttrib Rapture had just taken place, for the Rapture “would be the first event and would automatically separate all the saved from the unsaved before Christ’s feet ever touched the Mount of Olives and before His kingdom was instituted” (192).
John 14:1-3 is taken by many to be the first clear mention of the Rapture in the New Testament from a chronological point of view. His coming for His own is here quite in contrast with the glorious event of Matthew 24, which is compared with the lightning shining from east to west. “Instead of Christ picturing a coming from heaven to the earth, He describes a coming for His saints to take them to the Father’s house” (194). Posttribs labor to eliminate such a Rapture because, as we have seen, it is in direct contradiction to their prophetic system. For example, instead of rapturing the Church to the Father’s house, Barton Payne refers John 14:3 to the death of a Christian, while Robert Gundry explains that Christ is going to prepare for them “spiritual bodies within His own Person.” And Douty declares that Christ first returns to earth to judge Antichrist and introduce His glorious reign before He returns to heaven to administer it. Such strained interpretations indicate “how posttribulationists, even those given to literal interpretation, will spiritualize when the plain text contradicts their point of view” (195). And in so doing they clearly contradict one another.
THE RAPTURE IN I THESSALONIANS 4
The commentary on I Thessalonians 4 and 5 by both Gundry and Walvoord is quite extensive and should be read carefully by all who seek an understanding of the respective viewpoints. In brief, Dr. Walvoord’s discussion includes the following thoughts. I Thessalonians contributes more to the doctrine of the Rapture than any other book of the New Testament, mentioning the Rapture in every chapter. If the Great Tribulation is going to precede the Rapture, this book would be the natural place in which to state it. Instead, the return of Christ for His Church is set before the Christians of Thessalonica as an imminent event for which they should look with hope and expectation. Concerning their Christian dead, they will first be resurrected, and this expectation should bring them comfort in the midst of sorrow.
Now in I Thessalonians 4:13-18, the coming of the Lord at the Rapture will be “with a loud command,” and will be joined by the “voice of the archangel, Michael,” a shout of triumph and victory from one who has led the holy angels against Satan and his angels throughout the centuries.
The “trumpet call of God” is frequently used in the Old Testament and in the New to signal important events, but the sounding of a trumpet does not identify two events as the same event. The Rapture is herein presented as imminent, with no preceding order of events which must be enacted. “It should also be obvious that if the Thessalonians would have to pass through the Great Tribulation before the Rapture, this would be a matter of greater concern to them than the possible problem of a delayed resurrection of their loved ones in Christ” (203).
In addition, Posttribs have yet to explain why, according to their view, the saints would have to leave the earth at all, since Christ intends them to reign with Him, and since they could so easily become the ones who will populate the millennial Kingdom. To a Posttrib, the Rapture is merely a brief incident of doubtful significance in the sequence of events known as the Second Coming.
Most important, this critical Scripture gives no warning of the Great Tribulation, and to those who think it is implied, “instead of exhorting Christians to comfort, posttribulationists should be preparing Christians for martyrdom” (209).
Walvoord concludes that I Thessalonians 4 is one of the strongest passages for the pretribulational interpretation of Scripture, and offers the least comfort to those who hold the posttribulational position.
THE RAPTURE IN I THESSALONIANS 5
I Thessalonians 5 is a chapter which has generated some heated disagreements, including as it does the difficult problem of the “day of the Lord.” Gundry aggress that this expression does not mean a 24 hour day, “but a longer period of time … which includes the millennium and the final judgment.” Note that he strongly resists any contention that the day of the Lord also includes the Tribulation. Accordingly, Walvoord reminds us that Gundry attempts to re-arrange the Book of Revelation so that the major judgments fall at its close, with “all the catastrophic judgments of the seals, trumpets, and bowls as if they were in some way simultaneous” (223). His motive “is to get the church raptured before major events of the day of the Lord take place.” Behind all this is the assumption that if the Tribulation is not a time of divine wrath, then Christians will escape the severity of the period.
Walvoord responds that Gundry is wrong on both counts. Not only do the saints suffer severely but also the Scriptures reveal that the Tribulation is primarily a time of God’s wrath. Even if it were only a time of Satanic wrath, Christians could not avoid great suffering and probable death. “The prospect of a church’s going triumphantly through the Great Tribulation relatively untouched is not supported in the prophecies of the Book of Revelation, as indicated by the martyrs in chapters 6 and 7” (230).
Actually, chapters 4 and 5 of I Thessalonians are setting forth the broad program of end-time events, with the day of the Lord beginning right after the Rapture. The Church does not enter this period, indicated by (1) the fact that the Rapture is discussed first; (2) by the change of pronouns from “we,” “us,” and “you” (vs. 1, 2, 4-6, 8-11) to “they” and “others” (vs. 3, 6, 7); (3) by the fact that people will be saying “peace and safety” which implies that the Tribulation has not yet begun; and (4) by the clear statement that Christians are not appointed to suffer wrath but are to obtain deliverance.
In this passage, the pretribulationist has the obvious advantage, for if the Church is raptured before this time of trouble, then all that is said in the passage becomes very clear. “The period of wrath will not overtake the church as a thief because the church will not be there” (221). The Great Tribulation is expressly a time of divine judgment on a world that has rejected Christ. Gundry’s posttribulationism forces him into “an extreme and untenable position by trying to bring the church through the Great Tribulation without experiencing great tribulation” (228).
THE RAPTURE IN I CORINTHIANS
Gundry’s position concerning the Restrainer in II Thessalonians 2 has previously been reviewed, so the writer will move on to I Corinthians 15:51-58. This Scripture is important because it is one of the two main passages on the Rapture in the entire New Testament. Included in the great Pauline resurrection chapter, the Rapture is presented as the major exception to the normal rule of death followed by resurrection. Those who are “alive and remain” at the close of the Church age shall escape death by physical translation into the presence of Christ.
This Scripture is normally given brief treatment by posttribulational writers because, as Walvoord explains, “The passage … contributes practically nothing to the posttribulational concept of the Rapture” (247). For the Rapture is a “mystery,” not revealed in the Old Testament, and this immediately sets it apart from the Second Coming of Christ, which is revealed. For that matter, “the translation of the church is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament in a passage that clearly speaks of the coming of Christ after the Great Tribulation” (248).
The main aspect of Gundry’s discussion revolves around the phrase “the last trumpet.” Posttribs normally associate this “last trumpet” with the seventh judgment trumpet of the angle in Revelation 11:15. Gundry makes the same identification but with a qualifying “perhaps,” suggesting also that it might be last “as one sounded at the end of the age, after the sounding of the seven apocalyptic trumpets” (Gundry, 148). This appears to be an admission that the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11 actually sounds considerably before the end of the Tribulation, a fact that Posttribs normally do not recognize. But rather than make such an acknowledgement he asks, “how could Paul have had an eye on the seven trumpets when John had not yet written Revelation?”
His final and more restrained explanation is that the trumpet will be the “last in its sphere, i.e., in the Church age, rather than last in a series.” This sounds very much like the Pretrib position, except that to Gundry it is a foregone conclusion that the Church age will include the Great Tribulation. He therefore places the trumpet at the very end of that period, which is actually assuming what he is trying to prove. Nor does he solve the significant problem that there are seven bowls of the wrath of God in Revelation 16 following the seventh trumpet but before the Second Coming of Christ.
Walvoord holds that the trumpets of I Corinthians 15, Revelation 11 and Matthew 24:31 are entirely different trumpets, for the one in Matthew deals with the saints of all ages who are assembled at the time of the Second Coming, the ones in Revelation relate to judgment and are blown by angels, while the one in Corinthians relates to the Church and is called the “trump of God.” Those who make “last trumpet” a technical term do so based on a prior assumption rather than upon solid Biblical evidence.
Furthermore, the resurrection of I Corinthians 15:52 is absolutely unique, for it is the only case where a resurrection is connected with the translation of the living. Also, in verse 58 there is an exhortation attached to the doctrine of the Rapture, relating it to our present service for Christ, but in no wise warning us that this great event can occur only after the Great Tribulation has run its course.
THE RAPTURE IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION
The last of these distinct chapters relates to the Rapture in the critical Book of Revelation. Declares Walvoord: “The prospect of a church’s going triumphantly through the Great Tribulation relatively untouched” is not supported by the prophecies of this great book (230). This is most significant, for in the Revelation specific details are revealed concerning the Tribulation and the coming of Christ nowhere else given in the entire Bible! “If … the Rapture is part of the events of the Second Coming, the strange absence of any mention of it certainly is a devastating blow to posttribulationists” (254).
There are, however, several specific passages involved in the Rapture-Tribulation debate. Among the most important is Revelation 3:10-11: “Since you have kept my commandment to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.”
As previously considered, the Greek tereo ek and its translation is important to the understanding of the passage. Gundry devotes ten pages to his discussion of Revelation 3:10 and insist that the Greek preposition means “out from within.” Walvoord, backed by practically all of the English translations, holds that it has the simple meaning “from.” More important, “the purpose of the promise is deliverance from ‘the hour of trial,’ a period of time, not simply preservation through the trials in that period” (257). The purpose is to keep them from the time of persecution, not to keep through the persecution. This makes “kept from the hour” a valid pretribulational promise.
Revelation 5:8-10 involves the 24 elders in heaven in the presence of Christ, seen by many Pretribs as representative of the Church raptured before the outpouring of divine judgments, and seen by Posttribs as simply angels singing a song of rejoicing over the redeemed. Since the main difference of opinion is based on alternate readings of the Greek text, the matter “remains debatable,” although the use of the revised text alone “does not prove that the twenty-four elders are angels” (259).
The fact that they are clothed in white raiment suggests rather that they are redeemed men, and their being described as having golden crowns implies that they have been judged and rewarded, as would be the case if there had been a pretribulational Rapture and a Judgment Seat of Christ following in heaven.
Walvoord reminds us of the main problem related to the Book of Revelation: “There is no clear mention of the rapture of the church from Revelation 4 through Revelation 18,” and this gives us a strong implication that it has already taken place (260). Gundry counters this absence by the fact that the book does not mention the Church as being in heaven either. But such an objection hangs on the identification of the elders and forgets that the Church as the Bride of Christ is seen in heaven prior to Christ’s Second Coming (Rev. 19:7-9).
Walvoord reminds Gundry that “there is no mention of a local church anywhere in Revelation 4-18,” leaving Posttribs to face not only the fact that the universal Church is not mentioned, but also that there is no local church seen on earth (261).
Revelation 7:1-8 and 14:1-5 introduce the calling and spiritual authority of the 144,000. Most Posttribs spiritualize this group and speak of them as representative of the Church on earth during the Tribulation. Gundry departs from this normal Posttrib position by offering an entirely new approach. He suggests that they are orthodox, unconverted Jews, destined to be protected by God during the judgments and then saved at the time of the Rapture. Walvoord counters this idea with the fact that those who go through the Tribulation without Christ must take the mark of the Beast and thus seal their destiny. Also, Gundry’s view would allow unsaved men to be called “the servants of God,” and later be given a “second chance” to trust in Christ. Furthermore, men clearly designated as saved Israelites cannot be members of the New Testament Church, where we are no longer seen as Jew or Gentile but one new man in Christ Jesus.
Another of the unique views offered by Gundry is that “God’s wrath will not stretch through the whole tribulation,” but follow Armageddon instead of preceding it. Walvoord calls this “a strange and unnatural exegesis.” But when to support his view, Gundry identifies “the first harvest” of the Rapture with the blood-bath of Armageddon, in Revelation 14:14-20, Walvoord charges: “Only an expositor desperate to support an insupportable view would appeal to a passage like this” (265).
Finally, Revelation 19 and 20 constitute a major problem for posttribulationists, for they contain no Scriptural proof for a Posttrib Rapture in the very passages which ought to include it. “In the most comprehensive and detailed account to be found anywhere in the Bible of the second coming of Christ, there is no resurrection or translation mentioned as an event occurring in the Second Coming itself.” Significantly, “The posttribulational Rapture, which should have been a prominent feature of the Book of Revelation if it were indeed a part of the great climax of the second coming of Christ, is totally missing in the narrative” (268).
Revelation 19 and 20 constitute a major problem for posttribulationists, for there is no proof for a Posttrib Rapture in the very passages that ought to include it. Walvoord concludes that “there is not a single verse in the entire Book of Revelation that teaches a posttribulational Rapture” (268). The Posttrib Rapture is a theory without Scriptural support!
THE PRE-WRATH RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH
Recently there has emerged a strong frontal attack against the pretribulational return of Christ, written by one who claims to have held that view and preached it with conviction for some 35 years. It is entitled The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church by Marvin J. Rosenthal, former executive director of Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. His 317 page book is generally well written and is attractively published, with 25 charts to clarify the various millennial and tribulational views, plus his own unique and somewhat complex position on the timing of the Rapture.
Rosenthal is clearly a Bible-believing, conservative and premillennial servant of Jesus Christ. He calls himself a “biblicist” who, although “not a scholar,” has invested his life in the preaching of the “whole counsel of God.” However, under the prodding of a friend he began to re-examine his view of the Rapture, particularly in it relationship to the coming Tribulation. The view he now espouses is no longer pretribulationism, nor is it midtribulationism or posttribulationism, but one which he calls “pre-wrath rapturism.” Although radically different from standard viewpoints, Rosenthal predicts that within five years it will be a “recognized position,” and within fifteen years “a major position of the believing church” (293). This reviewer recently questions the validity of that ambition or the necessity of adding a fifth position to an already overcrowded Rapture debate.
The primary thrust of the book is that the Church of Jesus Christ will be removed from the earth by Rapture prior to the outpouring of the “wrath of God,” and that the correct timing of the Rapture places it just be fore the fourth quarter of the “seventieth week of Daniel.” Speaking of God’s “final wrath on an unbelieving world,” he declares that “God’s children will be delivered from that day. That is the ‘blessed hope’” (35). Such a change of emphasis is unfortunate, for it moves the “blessed hope” of the believer away from the expectation and joy of being in the presence of Christ to the more human desire of escaping outpoured wrath in the coming judgment.
Nor does this “pre-wrath” emphasis contribute anything particularly new. Rosenthal freely admits that all Pre- and Mid-tribs expect to be caught up by Rapture before the outpoured wrath of God in the coming Tribulation. He points out that even Gundry’s variety of posttribulationism could qualify as “pre-wrath,” although Gundry does not use that designation (59). He simply declares “the theological necessity that God’s wrath not touch a saved person.”
Further research would have revealed a wider agreement among posttribulationists. George Ladd declares: “Everyone must agree that it is inconceivable that the Church will suffer the wrath of God.” J. Barton Payne comments: “Posttribulationists united in affirming that, ‘The church will endure the wrath of men … but will not suffer the wrath of God.’” Arthur Katterjohn writes: “Christians, it must be remembered, will be removed before God’s final anger falls.” William Kimball says: “The scriptures clearly teach us that the church will never suffer from the wrath of God…. This point is agreed upon by all.” And even so strong a posttribulationist as Alexander Reese assures us: “The essential fact for us to know is that Jesus by His death, has delivered us from the wrath to come, and that immediately prior to the full revelation of divine wrath, He will gather the saints to Himself.” So the mere declaration that the Rapture will be “pre-wrath” is hardly a spectacular discovery. It is solidly affirmed by almost all of Pre-, Mid- and Posttribulational persuasion because of the clear declarations of Scripture at this point.
A NEW POSITION FOR THE RAPTURE
It is evident that the timing of the Rapture, and not its relationship to divine wrath, is uppermost in the mind of Rosenthal in the writing of this volume. Coming periodically close to advocating a date-setting scheme, he defends with enthusiasm the view that the Rapture will be three-quarters of the way through the seventieth week of Daniel, with divine wrath to be found only in the final quarter. His evidence for such a conclusion is rather lengthy and complicated, based squarely on his personal division of the “seventieth week of Daniel” into three clearly recognizable periods, the “beginning of sorrows,” the “great Tribulation,” and the frequently predicted “day of the Lord.”
The Rapture is then placed immediately between the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, which according to his definitions is after the Tribulation but still “pre-wrath.” These viewpoints, Rosenthal proceeds to support by some 200 pages of strong and somewhat overbearing argumentation, with a sharp attack against any response which reminds him of his previous Pretrib position.
His terminology and unique division of the “seventieth week” are central to his argument. He endeavors, with several notable exceptions on his own part, to refrain from using the expression “Tribulation period,” saying that it contains a predisposition toward pretribulationism when it is used of the entire seventieth week of Daniel. Rather, he prefers to call the coming seven years of judgment and wrath simply the “seventieth week of Daniel.” These seven years he then subdivides as follows: (1) the first three and one-half years are “the Beginning of Sorrows.” (2) The first half of the second three and one-half years (which would be one and three-fourths or twenty-one months), he calls the “Great Tribulation.” (3) The final twenty-one months, the fourth quarter of the seven years, he then designates as the “Day of the Lord,” in which is found the “wrath of God.” Just prior to the Day of the Lord, at the sounding of the “seventh trumpet,” the Rapture occurs. Hence, the Rapture of the Church takes place between the third and fourth quarters of the “seventy weeks of Daniel,” just before the outpouring of the wrath of God. Therefore,, to Rosenthal, the Rapture takes place at a sharply defined moment of prophecy, and it is posttribulational but pre-wrath.
The thirteen chapters of argumentation in support of these claims are frequently tedious and repetitious, with a dogmatism which earns it a unique place in the literature of the Rapture debate. Rosenthal sets forth Walvoord, Pentecost and Ryrie as his former “heroes” in matters of eschatology (25), whose logic in his judgment is now faulty and whose exegesis can no longer be trusted. Rosenthal’s own opinions, however, are “indisputable” and “beyond refutation” (105, 109). His facts “cannot be set aside,” and for his primary conclusions “there simply is no question” (110). The doctrine of imminence, which he calls “a major pillar of pretribulation rapturism,” is “untenable,” and that is a “clear, unassailable truth that cannot be dismissed” (150). Differing with Pretribs, he declares that they are locked in an “unsolvable dilemma” (112). Such dogmatism is, to say the least, both unwholesome and irritating, for a great many of his statements clearly warrant further investigation.
Now in spite of all of this, it must be noted in all fairness that there are some excellent sections in the book, especially chapters two, and four through seven. Interestingly, this section is almost wholly irrelevant to the timing of the Rapture. Here much information is given on the history of Israel, together with her customs, feasts and leadership. He discusses the credentials of the King and the certainty of Christ’s Second Coming. Other subjects range from the virgin birth of Christ to modern humanism – themes taken no doubt from the author’s Bible lectures. Perhaps the desired impression is that since the author appears to be gracious, godly, and biblical, he would assuredly be a safe and seasoned student of Bible prophecy, bringing trustworthy conclusions concerning the blessed hope of the Church. The latter, however, is not the case.
While it is an unhappy task to bring critical evaluation of a book where on many points there is substantial agreement, as graciously as possible it must be done. Although it should be recognized that when an argument is as lengthy and complex as this, it would take a new volume of equal length to examine every detail. The following are some of the salient points which should be carefully evaluated by all serious readers of this volume.
THE TRIBULATION PERIOD
As previously noted, Rosenthal declares that the designation “the Tribulation period” should be omitted from any honest consideration of the time of the Rapture. It cannot be used as synonym for the entire “seventy weeks of Daniel,” for to do so, he says, predisposes one to pretribulationism, and the expression “Tribulation period” has no biblical justification (103). He believes that Pretribs have coined a technical phrase and superimposed it upon the Scriptures (105). If such is the case, it is fair to ask “Where is Rosenthal’s biblical justification for the new expression, “pre-wrath rapturism”? It is not found in Scripture and comes upon the scene as recently as 1990.
Admittedly, the King James Bible does not use the precise expression “Tribulation period,” any more than it uses the term “rapture,” “second coming,” or “premillennial.” But on at least six occasions it does speak of a coming “tribulation,” and Rosenthal freely admits that it is a period to be measured in years. Like the other terms, “Tribulation period” is simply a widely used term of convenience, less cumbersome and less in need of explanation than the expression “seventieth week of Daniel,” which also does not appear in the Bible. Indeed, on a number of occasions Rosenthal himself uses the term “Tribulation period” (107, 117, 143) and his own publisher uses it in the promotional material on the back cover of the book! However, his attempt to cancel the expression “Tribulation period” helps to pave the way for his novel three-fold subdivision of the same actual period of seven years.
THE BEGINNING OF SORROWS
Rosenthal calls the first three and one half years of Daniel’s “seventieth week” by the name “the beginning of sorrows,” borrowed from Matthew 24:8, for he finds a rough parallel between the Matthew passage and the first four seal judgments of Revelation 6. But similarity is not identity, and the likeness is superficial. There is a world of difference between the “many deceivers” of Matthew and the Devil’s Antichrist of Revelation; between the “wars and rumors of wars” and battles so powerful they take peace from the whole earth; between the earthquakes of Matthew and the cosmic disturbances of Revelation 6:12-13. Nor does Matthew 24:4-8 even vaguely hint of martyred saints in heaven, nor of an outpouring of God’s wrath so severe that a fourth part of earth’s population will be slain.
A view that deserves serious consideration is that the “beginning of sorrows” describes the prevailing conditions on earth at the close of the Church age, before the Rapture and the Tribulation. For those who wonder if these descriptions are relevant to our day, for famine, one may note Ethiopia. For pestilence, AIDS is evident. For earthquakes, one need only recall San Francisco and many other unfortunate cities. For nations rising up against nation, two World Wars testify to that reality. Calling the early half of the Tribulation “the beginning of sorrows” in Rosenthal’s book is merely a device to minimize this period and shift what he calls the “Great Tribulation” to the third quarter of Daniel’s seventieth week.
IT is a serious error to claim that “the first three and one-half years are not part of the Tribulation period” because God’s wrath does not start until “considerably further” into the seventieth week (106-7). Rosenthal declares: “The seals are not God’s wrath; they are God’s promise of eternal protection during man’s wrath” (145). Moreover, “the first five seals relate to man’s activity under the controlling influence of Satan. God’s wrath has not yet begun” (247). But this is not entirely true, for the seals also reflect the judgment of the sovereign God. All seven seals are broken by Christ, and the riders of the first four seals and their accompanying judgments are initiated by four “living creatures” who descend from the very presence of God (Rev. 4:6-8). They are responding to divine holiness when they command these riders, not to “come and see,” but simply to “Come!”
The judgments of these four seals include the sword, famine, pestilence and wild beasts, frequently used in Scripture as the expressions of divine wrath. Indeed, they are all included and named when God calls His “four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence” (Ezek. 14:21). This is likewise true of Leviticus 26:22, 25; Deuteronomy 28:21-25; Jeremiah 15:2-3; 16:4, Ezekiel 5:12, 17, and a host of other passages. It is a denial of Scripture to declare the first four seals are entirely the activity of men and do not include judgment from the Almighty. And a Rapture placed after the first six seals would certainly not be a “pre-wrath Rapture.”
THE GREAT TRIBULATION
Rosenthal also has peculiar and erroneous views relating to the “Great Tribulation.” Similar to the first four seals, he declares it “the persecution of God’s elect by wicked men,” namely man’s wrath against man, but never God’s wrath against man (105). He limits the Great Tribulation by declaring that it will be the third quarter of the seven year period, and that somehow even these days will be “shortened.” He fails to relate the Great Tribulation to the detailed descriptions of the book of Revelation. One can only conclude hat if the first four seals are the “beginning of sorrows,” and the Day of the Lord begins with the opening of the seventh seal (117), then the Great Tribulation which comes between must be limited to the brief compass of the fifth and sixth seal. This is exactly Rosenthal’s position, illustrated by a charge on page 161. With such a view he stands alone. It finds no adequate place for detailed teaching of Christ in Matthew 24:9-26, and makes the Great Tribulation, like the first four seals, simply the activity of the Antichrist rather than judgment from God. Then to Rosenthal, the rest of the seven years, the final quarter, starts with Revelation 8:1, and becomes the “day of the Lord” or the final day of the Lord’s wrath.
Rosenthal is in serious trouble when he limits the Great Tribulation to the third quarter of the seven year period. For Christ linked the Great Tribulation with the action of Antichrist defiling the Jewish Temple by setting up his image to receive worship, in fulfillment of the “abomination which makes desolate” in Daniel 9:27. This event in the middle of the “week” is the sign for the Jews to fleet from the wrath of Satan, from whom they must be protected three and one-half years “from the face of the serpent” (Rev. 12:14). Thus the “time of trouble” for Israel (Dan. 12:1) and the desolation of the “great tribulation” predicted by Christ (Matt. 24:21) must extend at least for a full three and one-half years and not for a period of twenty-one months.
Indeed, the finishing of Israel’s “rebellion” and the end of Antichrist’s “desolation” are linked with the entirety of the seventy weeks and not with a small portion of it (Dan. 9:24, 27). Even Gabriel testified that Antichrist’s “war” with Israel should last until the “end” of the period under consideration, evidently with a “flood” of divine judgment. Antichrist will make war with Israel and all the saints, until he is judged and they possess the Kingdom (Dan. 7:22). He will defile the earth and lead the nations in the final rebellion and war of Armageddon right up to the power and glory of the Second Coming of Christ. In a word, Tribulation conditions cannot be limited to one fourth of that frightful seven year period.
THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH
From the perspective of Rosenthal’s book, how does all this relate to the future of the Church? In brief, he insists that the Church must pass through the first 42 months of the Tribulation period under the pretext that it is only the “beginning of sorrows.”” The Church must then pass through an additional twenty-one months of Great Tribulation because divine wrath has not yet been poured out. Later, Rosenthal evidently has the Church back on earth during the outpouring of the seven vials of wrath, for “Christ will literally return to assume His kingdom at the seventh trumpet” (146), right at the end of the “seventieth week.” The notion that the seven vials will follow the Second Coming is clearly stated on page 146 and charted on pages 247 and 276.
Of the seven-year Tribulation the Church will miss only the small portion of twenty-one months Rosenthal entitles the Day of the Lord. So whereas believers will not experience wrath, they will be on earth during the severe judgment of the seals, according to Rosenthal. They will come under the dominion of the Beast and suffer and die at the hands of the Antichrist (Rev. 13:7), and even be present when the final seven vials of “God’s wrath” are poured out. Not much by way of comfort or blessing in an eschatology such as this!
All this can be avoided by recognizing that the “Tribulation,” “the great Tribulation,” and “Daniel’s seventieth week” are all substantially one and the same thing, and share identical features. These terms are simple descriptions of a coming period, not technical names or definitions around which to build a prophetic theory. While granting that the last half of the Tribulation period is more severe than the first, it is all designated “great tribulation” (literally in the Greek, “tribulation, the great one,” Rev. 7:14), simply because in the midst of earth’s trials there is no other period like it (Jer. 1:7; Dan. 12:1). “Tribulation” and “great tribulation” are spoken of together and clearly equated in Matthew 24:21 and 29. These descriptions have to do with the content, not with the duration of that period, and certainly do not designate the timing of the Rapture.
THE DAY OF THE LORD
Pretribulationists normally place the beginning of the Day of the Lord right after the Rapture in conjunction with the start of the Tribulation. Rosenthal rather violently opposes such a placement and makes it “perhaps the single greatest error in the debate concerning the timing of the Rapture” (117). To him the Day of the Lord must commence after the Great Tribulation is over. It fills in the final 21 months (half of three and one-half years) of the seven year “Tribulation period,” beginning with the opening of the seventh seal (117). But this misses the fact that there can be only one completely unprecedented day of sorrow in Israel’s future, and Joel 2:1-2 calls it the “day of the Lord,” while Daniel 12:1 calls it Israel’s “time of trouble,” and in Matthew 24:21 Christs identifies it as the “great tribulation.” The three are one, not separate periods which follow in sequence.
Rosenthal rightly reviews the frequent use of “day of the Lord” in the Old Testament, but denies that it extends to the “new heavens and a new earth” according to II Peter 3:10-13. He commences it at Revelation 8:1 on the basis of cosmic disturbances under the sixth seal (Joel 2:30-31; Rev. 6:11-12). He argues that the day of the Lord’s wrath must begin immediately after the Church is raptured, indeed “on the same day,” and cites the commencement of the flood on the same day Noah entered into the ark, and fire and brimstone fell out of heaven the same day Lot went out of Sodom. However, this is weak evidence to help establish a great New Testament doctrine.
A number of Scriptures unite to demonstrate that the Day of the Lord does include the first six seals. While Rosenthal speaks of these seals as the wrath of man, the beasts of the earth and the heavenly bodies of Revelation 6:8 and 12 are not under the dominion of man, but of God. The darkness of Amos 5:18-20 matches the darkness of the sixth seal. The judgment upon the proud and lofty in Isaiah 2:12, 17 finds clear fulfillment in Revelation 6:15, and the announcement of wrath in Isaiah 13:6-13 and Zephaniah 1:14-18 finds its counterpoint in Revelation 6:17. Isaiah 2:19 and Revelation 6:15 state that the wicked shall hide in the holes of the rocks and caves of the earth, a fact far too specific to be lightly ignored. Zephaniah 2:3 calls this period the day of the Lord’s fierce anger, surely fulfilled in substance at Revelation 6:8 with the destruction of one fourth of the world’s population. It is wrong to declare that the Day of the Lord begins with Revelation 8:1 when its predictions find such clear fulfillment in the seal judgments of Revelation six.
How could the Day of the Lord come unexpectedly, “as a thief in the night” if the severe judgments of Revelation six must come first? Why should men be found crying “peace and safety” (I Thess. 5:2-3) under such horrendous circumstances? Yet it is essential to Rosenthal’s prophetic system that the Day of the Lord begins with the opening of the seventh seal (155), which to him signals the end of the Great Tribulation and the moment of the Rapture. It is far better to understand that the Rapture precedes the entire Tribulation period, with the Day of the Lord commencing soon thereafter. This is the order and emphasis of I Thessalonians 4 and 5, which happen to be among the prime Scriptures on both prophetic themes.
It has been demonstrated in chapter four of Kept from the Hour that the Old Testament predictions of the “day of the Lord” and their fulfillment in the book of Revelation fit together like hand in glove, including the judgments under the first six seals. Placing the Day of the Lord after the Great Tribulation is erroneous and artificial, and denying that it extends to the “new heavens and earth” appears to be in violation of II Peter 3:10-13. For even in the Messianic Kingdom, Christ must rule the nations with a rod of iron and subdue all unrighteousness, and ultimately He must cleanse both the heavens and the earth. Certainly the Day of the Lord, the theme of such extensive prophecy, is of greater significance and extent than twenty-one months or six hundred and thirty days!
Rosenthal’s treatment of the three component parts of Daniel’s “seventieth week” is entirely unsatisfactory. His view essentially ignores the first three and one-half years and artificially distinguishes between the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, compressing each into a mere one fourth of the Tribulation period. This is a fractured foundation upon which to build any trustworthy conclusions relative to the blessed hope of Christ’s return.
SIX EVENTS SET THE TIMING OF THE RAPTURE
It has been demonstrated that Rosenthal dogmatically divides the last half of Daniel’s seventieth week into two parts, the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. Between the two he places the Rapture, but that is not all he places at this particular moment of time. So important to Rosenthal is this prophetic juncture of Tribulation activity that he dedicates to it six entire chapters, each with a great prophetic event, all converging at the time of the Rapture and demonstrating that the Day of the Lord relates exclusively to the last quarter of the seven year period. These are (1) Cosmic Disturbances; (2) the Coming of Elijah; (3) the Day of God’s Wrath; (4) the Sealing of the 144,000; (5) the Last Trump; and (6) the Apostasy and the Man of Sin. He holds that the convergence of these six events before the seventh seal form an “impregnable” argument supporting a “pre-wrath” Rapture three fourths of the way through the “seventieth week.” Such claims demand careful scrutiny. For the vast majority of students of prophecy are still convinced that the Rapture will be unannounced, unheralded by such signs, dateless but imminent. What then of the six signs which Rosenthal thinks will be “the prelude of the Rapture of the church and the Day of the Lord wrath” (153)?
(1) There shall be cosmic disturbances, according to Joel 2:31, “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.” Rosenthal identifies this with the sixth day and uses it to date the Rapture and the beginning of the Day of the Lord. But that can hardly be dogmatized, for the predicted Tribulation will not be limited to one display of cosmic power (cf. Rev. 8:10-12; 11:19: 16:8, 21), making Rosenthal’s argument uncertain at best. In Matthew 24:27, Christ places yet another great cosmic disturbance after the seventieth week when He shall appear with clouds and great glory and Israel shall mourn as they finally identify Christ as the long awaited Messiah.
Indeed, if there must be a cosmic disturbance before the Day of the Lord can commence, let it be during a brief transitional period after the Rapture but before the announcement of Antichrist. In Scripture, such transitional periods are not hard to find. There was a period of fifty days between Calvary and Pentecost, between “law” and “grace.” Rosenthal himself makes much of a transition of seventy-five extra days between the “seventieth week” and the setting up of Christ’s Kingdom (273). The whole Church age was thrust between prophecies of the two advents of Christ, as foretold in the Old Testament. Undoubtedly there will be time for the Great White Throne judgment between the Millennial Kingdom and the Eternal Kingdom. Similarly, there is no urgency which demands a tight chronology of events following the Rapture, and so the argument of our author concerning heavenly activity finds a ready answer. Indeed, the immediate context of the prophecy he uses from Joel 2:30-32 seems to relate the heavenly wonders more to the coming of the Messianic Kingdom than to a pre-wrath cosmic disturbance (cf. Matt. 24:29).
ELIJAH MUST COME
(2) Next, Rosenthal teaches that Elijah must come, and that if it occurs before a pretribulational Rapture “the doctrine of imminence is once again destroyed” (158). He is not sure if the two witnesses are Moses and Elijah or Enoch and Elijah, or whether it is Elijah in the flesh or merely one in the spirit and likeness of Elijah. He supports the view that Elijah will reappear and have a ministry during the last three and one-half years of the Tribulation. Since the witnesses die in the sixth trumpet after a full three and one-half years of witness, this makes it mandatory to place the seven vials of the wrath of God (according to his chronology after the Second Coming of Christ, a radical view which Rosenthal propounds and illustrates on his charts.
He makes much of Malachi 4:5-6, which seems to relate to the Second Coming of Christ when He comes to “smite the earth with a curse,” rather than to an earlier manifestation of the Day of the Lord adjacent to the Rapture. It must be noted also that in Matthew 11:14 Christ declared that in a potential sense, Elijah had already come in the person of John the Baptist. But if Malachi is indeed predicting the coming of one of the future two witnesses, the most probable understanding is that the prophecy places their coming relatively early in the prophetic “week” before the Day of the Lord is fully come. There is nothing here to date the Rapture, even if one assumes it should be dated.
THE WRATH OF GOD
(3) Next, Rosenthal uses the wrath of God to prove that the pretribulationist has a problem, “larger than big – it is mountainous and unscalable” (164). He makes the expression, “the great day of his wrath is come” (Rev. 6:17) to mean, not a past experience, but a prediction of “an event about to occur” (166-67). This, he declares, is a glaring problem for pretribulation rapturism, for “God’s wrath cannot be understood to include the first six seals” (171). “Wrath is impending. It is about to happen; it has not yet occurred” (167).
But the real problem lies at the door of Rosenthal. For he constantly asserts that the outpoured wrath of God does not commence until Revelation 8:1, the seventh seal, which immediately introduces the unprecedented judgments of the seven trumpets. However, his prophetic system is embarrassed, if not refuted, by the obvious fact that one of the strongest references to the wrath of God is recorded in Revelation 6:16-17 in conjunction with the sixth seal. But rather than revising his system, Rosenthal devotes eight pages of argumentation (163-70) endeavoring to prove two main points: (1) that this declaration of outpoured wrath is a prophecy spoken by the prophet John, and not an agonizing cry on the part of the wicked who hide from the face of God in the rocks and the mountains; and (2) that the use of the Greek aorist in the expression “the great day of his wrath is come” demonstrates that it “refers, not to a past event, but to an event about to occur, and that in concert with the opening of the seventh seal” (167).
Even the most casual reading of Revelation 6:12-17 reveals that the cry of verses 16-17 is a scream of terror from the wicked, rebellious human leaders who have endured war and famine, death and destruction, a shattering earthquake and a frightful disruption of heavenly bodies under the earlier seal judgments. Obviously, they are responding to past judgments and not judgments yet to come, for wicked men have no ability to speak a prophecy! It is true that the aorist tense normally has no time significance. But the verb elthen is in the aorest tense and indicative mood, and when this occurs it refers to a past action and not to a future. Hence, the proper translation is “the great day of his wrath is come,” or as the vast majority of translators put it, “the great day of his wrath has come.” It is a major error to force the translation to declare, “the great day of his wrath will come.” One can only conclude that this strong reference to the wrath of God is the direct response of the wicked to their shattering experience under the first six seals, and not a veiled prophecy of coming trumpet judgments.
Not only is Rosenthal in error in this matter, he proceeds to make matters worse by making the seals a symbol of ownership and protection, as though that is what God is doing in Revelation 6. While ownership and protection are certainly true for the Church through the sealing ministry of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30), it is not even vaguely related to the Lion of the tribe of Judah loosing the seven seals of the book of Tribulation judgment.
THE SEALED 144,000
(4) The fourth pillar supporting Rosenthal’s impregnable argument concerning the time of the Rapture relates to the sealed 144,000 and the “multitude which no man could number,” both round in Revelation chapter seven. He holds that the 144,000 Jews are “sealed for protection” from God’s wrath, but not sealed for witness and evangelism. A more normal view is that Israel is beginning to turn back to the Lord, and that these are sealed for service and evangelism to fulfill their destiny as God’s witnesses and “a light to the Gentiles” (Isa. 42:6; 43:10, 12: 49:6).
Rosenthal is not sure if they are regenerated, saying that is “a matter of speculation.” He flatly rejects the traditional view, as expressed by John Walvoord, that they represent “the godly remnant of Israel on earth in the great tribulation” (183). He at least implies their redemption when he says, “The 144,000 must be sealed for protection to go through the Day of the Lord…. God will not leave Himself without a people on earth” (185).
Rosenthal immediately focuses attention on the “great multitude that no man could number” and makes this important identification: “This great multitude represents the true church which goes into the seventieth week of Daniel. They are raptured at the end of the Great Tribulation but before the Day of the Lord beings” (185). Here, finally, he reveals the Rapture of the Church, three-fourths of the way through the seventieth week, just before the Day of the Lord, and identifies it with the “innumerable multitude”!
But the seventieth week is a precise period of seven years, each half of which is 42 months or 1,260 days. So mark your calendar! We cannot know the hour, but we can predict the day! From Antichrist’s covenant with Israel it will be 1,260 plus 630 days, a total of 1,890 days. From the commencement of the seventieth week, the date of the Rapture is precisely set! And if Rosenthal is correct that the 144,000 are “God’s people,” yet distinct from the “innumerable multitude,” and they go through the Day of the Lord which is the “wrath of God,” then added to all this confusion is a Partial Rapture.
However, the innumerable multitude is not like the Church, which goes to heaven as a group at the Rapture. Rather, they are martyrs who one at a time lay down their lives throughout the seven year period. The Greek present tense in Revelation 7:14 stresses that they “continually come” out of great Tribulation, and obviously do not go to heaven as a single group. It is likewise strange, if they do indeed represent the Church, that John could not recognize them, for John was an Apostle of Christ, a member of the early Church, and part of its essential foundation. Also the Church is composed of all believers since Pentecost, and cannot be limited solely to Tribulation martyrs.
Let it be said as gently as possible: This identification of the Church with the great multitude of the Tribulation is wrong and in fact it is radical eschatology. It teaches that the Rapture is after the Great Tribulation, which is posttribulationism. It implies a divided Church, some of whom are raptured while 144,000 of God’s people go through the time of God’s wrath. And though Rosenthal does not count up the exact number of days, his dating of the Rapture is so precise that he has fallen into the trap of advocating a date-setting system.
AT THE LAST TRUMP
(5) For his fifth supporting pillar, Rosenthal turns to I Corinthians 15:51-52, calling it the clearest text in all the Word of God for determining the timing of the Rapture. The four words, “at the last trump,” reveal in the clearest possible way the “precise occasion” when the Rapture of the Church will occur (189). He points out correctly that both Midtribs and Posttribs identify their Rapture position with the “last trump.” But pursuing his withering attack on pretribulationism, he declares: “Pretribulation rapturists do not make strong appeals to Paul’s statement that the Rapture will occur before the last trump to support their position…. If they mention I Corinthians 15 in a Rapture discussion, it is brief and without determinative significance” (189-90). This is a highly prejudiced and erroneous statement.
While he does have a good discussion of the use of a trumpet in the ritual of Judaism, he is content to make an emphatic statement which he supports by italics but not by evidence: “The last trump will be nothing more, nothing less and nothing different than the final, climactic, eschatological outpouring of the wrath of God” (193). In his thinking, this makes the “last trump” the equivalent of the entire Day of the Lord. He declares that the “rapture would occur at the last trump” (193), but also that “Christ will literally return to assume His kingdom at the seventh trumpet” (146). This makes the “last trump” a period of twenty-one months, rather than a point of time to signal the Rapture. This confusing position is obviously unacceptable. Rosenthal then returns to his main thesis, that the Rapture must occur at the beginning of the seventh seal and immediately before the beginning of God’s wrath (194).
There is a more simple and acceptable solution to the problem. The “last trump” is not an Old Testament trumpet of Jewish ritual, nor the same as the seventh trumpet of Tribulation judgment. It is a unique trumpet which sounds for the Church at the Rapture, which is at the last trump (and not before the last trump, as Rosenthal claims). There are evidently two trumpet blasts, one for the dead and another for the living. Hence, the living are raptured at the second, which is the “last trump.” While this view may be too simple for some tastes, it emphasizes that the “trump” is a joyful signal and not a dreaded period of time. It records that the dead in Christ and living believers will be raised in quick succession, to enjoy reunion and recognition together in the presence of Christ. Its purpose is not to reveal the time of the Rapture, a subject which our Lord has chosen not to reveal. It does give assurance that those who have died in the Lord have not missed the Rapture; if anything, they enjoy a slight time advantage because they are caught up just before the living (I Thess. 4:13-18).
THE APOSTASY AND THE MAN OF SIN
(6) The last of these supporting evidences for Rosenthal’s prophetic program is found in chapter 15 of the book, The Apostasy and the Man of Sin. This reviewer found it to be a strange co-mingling of truth, speculation, and falsehood. Equally troubling is Rosenthal’s stepped-up attack against pretribulationism, assigning it “impossible-to-resolve problems” when it is examined in the light of II Thessalonians 2. It is claimed that these leave “pretribulation rapturism mortally wounded” (196, 210), and in addition he sounds his usual denial of imminency.
In brief, that which is true would include the foreshadowing of Antichrist by the blasphemy and hatred of Israel under the Syrian leader, Antiochus Epiphanes. The speculative is his view of the Antichrist, who “once lived and ruled over a nation, then died, and will be raised to rule over the eighth empire” (209). Also “doubtful” is his claim that all his evidence is “clear and compelling.”
Regrettably, that which is false is more plentiful. It involves his declaration that in II Thessalonians 2:3-4, “The apostasy to which Paul referred … will involve Israel, not the church” (206). While the normative view of this passage is that the “apostasy” is a widespread departure from true Biblical faith in the end-time, in the light of I Timothy 4:1-3, Rosenthal insists that it is “a specific, definitive, identifiable event” (199), “when many of the Jews will totally abandon the God of their fathers in the same way they did in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes” (201). This opinion he primarily supports, not from Scripture, but from various quotations from the Apocrypha.
Moreover, Rosenthal declares, the apostasy has a “very specific and limited meaning,” a “total abandonment of Jehovah for a heathen god” (201). Hence, he concludes that the falling away of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is an identifiable event at a specific point of time, limited to Israel, and associated with Antichrist and his defiling the temple in Jerusalem at the mid-point of the Tribulation. The main thrust of all of this is that the Day of the Lord cannot come until the second half of the Tribulation, “and the Rapture, which occurs at the very outset of the Day of the Lord, cannot possibly be pretribulational.” He concludes that this leaves pretribulation rapturism “mortally wounded” (210).
These are highly questionable conclusions. Paul was not discussing a point of time or a final apostasy on the part of Israel, but a spiritual condition among professing Christians. In his previous epistle, he had taught the Thessalonians that the dead in Christ had not missed the Rapture and that living believers would not endure the wrath of the Day of the Lord. Now in his second epistle, he was explaining that they had not entered the Day of the Lord for several reasons. The Restrainer had not yet been removed, the final apostasy had not yet taken place, and the Antichrist with his world dominion had not yet emerged. All of this is a direct refutation of posttribulational thinking, including the view of Marvin Rosenthal.
In addition, almost every point of the summary chart on page 197 is open to question. A comparison with the chart on page 147 reveals that Rosenthal contradicts himself on the extent of God’s wrath and the time of the Second Coming of Christ. While his sincerity may be beyond question, many of his definitions appear to be homemade and supporting evidence is completed inadequate. It is part of the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit to reveal to believers “things to come” (John 16:13), which normally produces within the Church of Christ a certain agreement, a godly consensus even in the interpretation of prophetic truth. While believers do not always agree on the details, it is rare when truth must stand absolutely alone.
It is here contended that Rosenthal is in serious error when he attempts to set the time of the Rapture three-fourths of the way through the seven years of judgment and wrath, some 1,890 days after Antichrist makes his unparalleled covenant with Israel. Among evangelical Christians from all major Rapture perspectives, Rosenthal walks an isolated path when he asserts that these six notable signs unite in setting the timing of the Rapture. Believers are to wait and watch for Christ’s coming and live accordingly, for it is their blessed and purifying hope, evidently next on the prophetic program of God. But the Lord’s people should not be confused by vehement argumentation designed to set the day of His appearing, adding yet a fifth and doubtful position to an issue which has already been subjected to more than its share of debate.
THE PRE-WRATH RAPTURE
This closing section of the book consists of five chapters, designed to give final justification for Rosenthal’s unique position and a conclusive knockout blow against pretribulationism. In the judgment of this reviewer, who has followed the literature of the Rapture-Tribulation debate closely for nearly forty years, these final arguments as well as many of the former, range somewhere between “curious” and “radical.” But those who consider them must exercise considerable caution, for they can be rightly evaluated only by those well established in Biblical theology and well read in the area of eschatology. As always, the Biblical rule is to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (I Thess. 5:21, NASV), with as much prayer and with strong dependence upon the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13; I Cor. 2:10-12).
Chapter 16 discusses the primary Greek words used for the return of Christ, in parallel with much that has already been written on this subject in the Rapture literature. Rosenthal argues that there is only one “coming,” with the important feature that it includes not only the Rapture but also a “continuous presence” during which Christ judges the wicked in the Day of the Lord. It also includes His final return in glory (218). To quote the author: “The Lord’s coming … is a comprehensive whole. There is only one Second Coming. It includes the Rapture of the church, the outpouring of God’s wrath during the Day of the Lord, and Christ’s physical return in glory” (221-22, italics his). Furthermore, Rosenthal holds that the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints” (I Thess. 3:13) does not speak of Christ returning to earth with the “dead in Christ” or with raptured living saints, but rather He will come with His “holy ones,” namely angelic beings. All this introduces another major problem.
Rosenthal does not explain the destiny of the Church at the Rapture. What happens to all the raptured saints, both dead and living, in the 630 day interval when Christ has a “continuous presence” and is pouring out His wrath upon the wicked? The position of this book demands that the Church is not on earth during the time of outpoured wrath. But they are not raptured to heaven, for to Rosenthal that would imply “two comings.” Will the Church triumphant which meets Christ “in the clouds” continue to float about in those clouds for one-fourth of a seven year period while Christ has a “continuous presence” and performs his work of judgment on earth below? It is most significant that Rosenthal rejects the idea of raptured saints going to “the Father’s house.” Indeed, except for one mention of John 14:1-3 in a quotation of John Sproule, who calls it one of several “debatable Scriptures” (55), Rosenthal does not refer to this important passage at all, for it cannot be brought into harmony with his prophetic scheme. What happens to the Church during Rosenthal’s twenty-one month “day of the Lord”? He gives no answer to his. He simply affirms that there will be one “coming,” which embraces everything from the Rapture through the last quarter of the seventieth week, right up to the final manifestation of the King.
A further questionable view concerns the “sign” of Christ’s coming, requested by the disciples in Matthew 24:3. He writes that this sign will be “the manifestation of the glory of God” at His coming, when the “the natural light will be turned off and the supernatural light (God’s glory) will be turned on” (221). Most observers would locate this event within the Eternal State following the Millennial Kingdom and the Great White Throne judgment (Rev. 21:23-25), and not with the opening of the sixth seal. Yet Rosenthal argues that this “sign” is sufficiently clear that “the doctrine of imminency is destroyed by the question posed by the disciples” (224).
Chapter 17 introduces the often-debated text of Revelation 3:10 and the disputed phrase, “kept from the hour.” Rosenthal states that the dispute among commentators stems from the fact that they “have no generally understood that there are three sections to the seventieth week – the beginning birth pangs, the Great Tribulation, and the Day of the Lord” (233). Or, to put it more bluntly, they have not read his book!
This reviewer is disposed to agree with Rosenthal that “each scholar is inclined to interpret this phrase to substantiate his view of the Rapture,” as he himself does. Posttribs understand “kept from the hour” as divine protection through the Tribulation, while Pretribs interpret it as exemption from the Tribulation. The latter builds a stronger case, for the verse does not promise protection within the hour but exemption from the hour itself. This point has been well defended in pretribulational literature.
Surprisingly, Rosenthal takes an entirely different approach to the issue, declaring that this watershed Scripture in the Rapture debate “in fact has nothing whatsoever to do with the Rapture.” For the promise of Revelation 3:10 “refers to protection from the Great Tribulation, which occurs before the Rapture and the Day of the Lord begins” (234). Since he believes the “hour of temptation” begins in the middle of the seventieth week, some who remain steadfast in the face of adversity “will be kept from that hour … by physical removal” (a partial Rapture?), while “others will be kept ‘through the hour of temptation’ by direct, divine protection” (239). So Rosenthal removes this promise from application to the Rapture, applies both viewpoints to the prior Great Tribulation, and further confuses his readers by declaring that this promise to the church of Philadelphia does not belong to all Christendom. For “it is only the church of Philadelphia which is promised exemption from ‘the hour of temptation’” (237), other views interpreting this Scripture “nonliterally.” Confusing! At best, he is suggesting that the Scripture promises: I will keep you in one way or another from the last 25 percent of the hour!
In chapter 18 Rosenthal asks the question, “Are Pretribulation Rapture Arguments Really Unanswerable?” While admitting that “pretribulationism has more than its share of notables of the faith,” he adds that “church history is replete with men of distinction who had blind spots in their theology” (243). Then he gives eleven pretribulational arguments and his rebuttal of each, taking what comfort for his own position he can from each issue.
Space does not permit a further discussion of these arguments, nor a rebuttal of Rosenthal’s rebuttals. Suffice it to say that some of the arguments are not entirely representative of normal pretribulational positions, and many valid pretribulational arguments are not introduced at all. Both Walvoord and Pentecost present a substantial summary of pretribulational arguments, and these issues have been abundantly discussed in the literature on the Rapture debate. Moreover, Rosenthal’s rebuttals are largely a restatement of positions earlier defended.
However, two hitherto untreated issues are introduced. (1) The twenty-four elders of Revelation 4 are commonly believed to represent the Church in glory before the Tribulation, a position strongly defended by Pentecost and also by the present writer (Kept from the Hour, pp. 198-208). Rosenthal argues that the elders are not the Church at all, but rather “they represented the redeemed of the Old Testament economy,” even “redeemed Israel” (252, 254). But Israel is clearly identified in the Revelation and except for 14:1-5 is always seen on earth and not as a unique group in heaven. However the Church, referred to 19 times in the first three chapters, does not appear on earth at all in chapters 4-18, the critical Tribulation passage. It is more than a coincidence that a new group appears in heaven and is presented in great detail before the opening of the first seal. All the evidence identifies these 24 elders as representing the raptured Church. For they have been redeemed out of many nations and clothed in the righteousness of Christ. They have been crowned at the Judgment Seat of Christ and are now seated in the presence of the Lamb. Everything said in the song of the elders is true of the Church. All the details argue that at this point it is the Church in view rather than Israel.
(2) Also discussed in this chapter is Rosenthal’s view of the Restrainer (II Thess. 2:6-8). The normal pretribulational position is that the Restrainer is the Holy Spirit, removed before the open revelation of the Antichrist, and taking the Church with Him back to the Father’s house (John 14:2-3, 16). The normal posttribulational position is that the influence which restrains human wickedness is some aspect of human law or government. Rosenthal rejects both of these, declaring that he who restrains until “he be taken out of the way” is actually the angel Michael, who “steps aside” and no longer hinders Antichrist in his persecution of Israel (256-57). This appears to be the very reverse of the teaching of Scripture that Michael will defend and deliver Israel in the coming unprecedented “time of trouble” (Dan. 12:1; cf. Rev. 12:7-16). He will not abandon them in the midst of Israel’s worst hour, but will save them from it (Jer. 30:7).
In chapter 19 Rosenthal asks, “Why This View Now?” He defends the thesis that his view is neither new or novel, but only now systematized. His primary defense is from Daniel 12:4, which teaches that Daniel’s book would be sealed “to the time of the end,” when the knowledge of the book would be greatly increased. He draws the conclusion that it should not be surprising that “a new, more detailed systematic approach to the timing of the Rapture and the events of the seventieth week would be forthcoming” (278).
While it is self-evident that much of Daniel through history has been “sealed,” with far greater understanding of his prophecies being achieved as “the time of the end” approaches, this writer takes exception to Rosenthal’s idea that this sealing means that “God was guaranteeing its accuracy” (269). Accuracy, not for one, but for every book in the canon of Scripture is guaranteed by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (II Pet. 1:21) and does not require additional sealing. Nor can Daniel 12:4 be used to justify every new and novel prophetic theory to come along. Nor does it justify Rosenthal’s particular view of the timing of the Rapture, for the Rapture is a New Testament “mystery” (I Cor. 15:51), not found at all in the Old Testament, even in so wonderful a book as Daniel. It is self-serving for Rosenthal to claim support for his time of the Rapture theories from Daniel 12:4.
Perhaps there should be mentioned at this point a problem which runs throughout this book. Continually Rosenthal quotes Scripture, which is commendable, but almost invariably in the midst of the quotation he interjects his own definition or explanation, sometimes in brackets and sometimes in parenthesis. The impression is given that the reader cannot understand each Scripture unless he is helped along or prodded by Rosenthal. While separate commentary is legitimate, each Scripture is inspired by the Spirit with the potential of being taught by the Spirit, even the “deep things of God” (I Cor. 2:10-12). This is even true of prophetic material, for “when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth … and he will show you things to come” (John 16:13).
Rosenthal’s last chapter incorporates a final summary of his various positions, and also a final abrasive attack against pretribulationism and some of its leaders. The chapter sets forth the “Prewrath Rapture” view as a “catalyst for holy living,” without recognizing that much of that catalyst is lost if forty-two months of “sorrows” and another twenty-one months of battle and martyrdom from the Beast must come first.
It is reasonable to inquire about the effect of these new prophetic views upon their author as he prepared them in written form for the Christian public. For this, it is essential to return to the opening chapter, perhaps the most dismal portion of the entire book. Rosenthal testifies that the writing of his book caused him “the most difficult, tension-filled, heart-wrenching two and a half years” of his life (17). He speaks of sleepless nights and excruciating tension, of strained and somber board meetings, of agony of soul and the trauma of lost friendships and a lost job.
While readers respond to this agony with deep regret, it is hardly the mark of being taught and led by the Spirit. One would think that a new clarification of a divisive problem of eschatology which has troubled the Church for more than a hundred years, with the Spirit finally fulfilling the promise of Daniel 12:4 and shedding new light and understanding, would be accompanied by the joy of illumination and the peace of divine guidance. Such was evidently not the case.
Our brother should be commended for his diligence and thanked with appreciation for every insight which bears the clear stamp of truth. He should be the subject of prayer as he searches for further light on the timing of the Rapture. But the considered conclusion of this reviewer is that Rosenthal’s published views are a distortion of prophetic truth, sometimes curious, sometimes strange, and frequently false. But taken as a whole they are unworthy replacement for the blessed hope of Christ’s imminent return for the Church in Rapture experience.
NOT A BASIS FOR FELLOWSHIP
To conclude this review of major literature relative to the pre- or posttribulational Rapture of the Church, it should be noted that many of the authors close their arguments with a plea for greater tolerance and warmer fellowship between those who differ so strongly on various points of eschatology. This has been our plea from the very first edition of Kept from the Hour, that disagreement as to the time and manner of the Rapture “should not be permitted to deter evangelical unity on the reality of that blessed hope” (272).
It is encouraging to hear others sounding a similar conciliatory note. John Walvoord speaks of the return of the Lord for His Church as “a precious aspect of faith and expectation,” and refers to those who have not always agreed as to the chronology of that hope as “learned and devout saints” (1979, 276). In an earlier volume he declares: “Worth scholars may be found on both sides of this question” (1976, 8).
Barton Payne confirms that “writers of all schools increasingly insist that convictions be expressed with courtesy.” One’s views should be defended in “a spirit of Christian charity,” for the doctrine in question “is not of sufficient importance to cause evangelical cleavage” (1962, 169).
Robert Gundry writes concerning his presentation: “It should (but cannot) go without saying that in matters of disagreement the appearance here of the names of writers on the topics at hand ought not be taken as personal attack, but only as means of documentation.” He desires his pages to be written in a manner characterized by “the wisdom from above … first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (10-11). Such an attitude is most commendable.
George Ladd closes The Blessed Hope by declaring: “Neither pretribulationism nor posttribulationism should be made a ground of fellowship, a test of orthodoxy, or a necessary element in Christian doctrine” (167). Douglas Moo concludes: “I cannot, indeed must not, allow this conviction to represent any king of barrier to full relationships with others who hold differing convictions …” (211). Even William Kimball hopes that “our essential unity and fellowship in Christ should never be severed or undermined because of our differences on prophetic points” (181). Such mutual respect must be continually encouraged.
While the Rapture debate is far more that a dispute over the time of the Rapture and its relationship to the coming Tribulation, and while widely divergent views cannot be equally true or accurate, the central truth must be reaffirmed that since Christ is our Saviour and Lord, His possible soon coming for the Church is our mutual expectation and our hope! Our love for Him and anticipation of His return is far more important than a disputed point of doctrine or a favored rule of hermeneutics.
All of those engaged in the Rapture debate are Bible-believing, Premillennial brothers in Christ, and whenever He comes, we are going up together to dwell together with Christ for eternity. Meanwhile, as Paul Feinberg has so aptly put it, may our disagreements “serve as a greater impetus to study and clarity,” and “may our differences never becloud the joy and expectation of seeing our Lord at His visible and personal return” (86).
Amen, and “even so, come Lord Jesus”!
 Robert H. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 46.
 George E. Ladd, The Blessed Hope (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956), p. 122.
 J. Barton Payne, The Imminent Appearing of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962), p. 143.
 Arthur Katterjohn, The Tribulation People (Carol Stream, Ill.: Creation House, 1976), p. 98.
 William R. Kimball, The Rapture: A Question of Timing (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), p. 70.
 Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, n.d.), p. 226.
 Renald E. Showers, Th.D., formerly associated with Marvin Rosenthal at Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, has written an 88 page “critique and objection” to The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church. Academic, detailed, and highly Scriptural, at this point he details six pages of Scripture and argument to demonstrate that “the first four seals of Revelation 6:1-8 involve a great outpouring of divine wrath.”
 Kept from the Hour, pp. 70-91.
 H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, (New York: Macmillan Co., 1950), p. 178.