I believe that the issue of the end times is to be hammered out by the Church in any and all generations. Not all evangelicals feel this same way and so many are resigned to let this be one of the issues that we can differ on and still be brethren. I agree with this statement but hope the brethren will take the time necessary to look at this material and give it a fair treatment. Our understanding of end time events is not the bases of our fellowship with other believers. However what I do not agree with is that the truth of God, in a given area, is not worth contending for and should be left for the ivory tower theologians to hash out. I want to say at the outset that this is a topic which is not undebatable. All of God's Word is eternal truth and therefore is a reflection of His character given for our benefit. Not discussing this topic is in my (humble) opinion a potential compromise in many respects of God's divine revelation to us. If we believe in something and carry it as a part of your belief system then we must be able and willing to stand behind it.
I am writing these articles to show some areas that are to this writers mind the "Achilles heel" of the pretribulational argument. When I say pre-tribulational I mean the teaching that Christ could return at any moment without any preceding events that may give a warning or a sign as to the time He will return.
I was a pretribulationist for many years and fought and defended it with conviction and vigor until the considerations which I now bring to the table, were brought upon my baring. In order for you to see what I am calling distortions and misrepresentations I want you to prayerfully consider what I am going to say and then be faithful to get out your Bible and look it up for yourself.
I would like to take the time to set the stage for you by giving you a brief history of the movement and some of its major exponents of its teaching. It is impossible for me to deal at length with this subject in these articles but I hope they will wet your appetite for personal study on this system of thought. This will be a three part series. Part one will consist of history and some objections to imminence. Part two will consist of a conclusion of the objections to imminence and start the objections to the division of the body of Israel. Part three will consist of objections concerning miscellaneous Scriptures and a conclusion. The arguments and comments are simply too lengthy and important to just skip over lightly.
The pretribulational position is part of a larger system of doctrine set within the framework of thought called Dispensationalism. The word dispensation is mentioned in the N. T. approximately twenty times. The idea behind its use in theological terms is administration or stewardship of a household. In a nutshell, this view seeks to divide the periods of human history into dispensations of time. These dispensations represent the differing ways in which God has worked and is working in His plan for the people of God. The motivating force behind these divisions is the use of a literal method of interpretation. This method maintains two distinct and separate programs for the covenants between God and the Nation of Israel and God and the N. T. Church (birthed on or about the Day of Pentecost). The administration and content of faith in each dispensation varies due to the progressiveness of Gods revelation in each time period. Thus the view from the outsider is that God has saved people differently in each dispensation and is a common argument leveled against this view. The dispensationalist would agree that the mysterious nature of the progressiveness of revelation has hindered mans ability to be fully obedient due (although he still somehow can be) to the lack of understanding made available by the lack of content in the faith given. So the argument continues to be waged to this day.
Dispensationalists have sought to present as a major focus of their teaching the Second Coming of Christ. They are credited with the popular idea of a two stage coming of Christ. The first stage, a secret, any moment rapture that will remove the Church saints from the wrath God which has been stored up for the chastisement of the unbelieving Nation of Israel. The second stage, will be the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to set up His millennial kingdom.
There are varying views on exactly how many dispensations there should be but for the purposes of this paper I will list those found in Clarence Larkin's classic work on this subject titled, Dispensational Truth. The dispensations are as follows: Creative ages, Age of Conscience, Age of law, Church age, Kingdom age, and the Perfect age.
The most influential of the early dispensationalists, J. N. Darby (1800-1882) was an aggressive young member of the Anglican Church in London. He gradually began to see the established Churches of his day in what he perceived to be decay and laxity. He departed from Anglicanism to the emerging Bible home study group movement known as the "Brethren Movement". Under the leadership of Darby the movement swept like fire across the Atlantic into Canada and the Americas. "Darbyism" is the name associated with early forms of dispensationalism. Through his strong and energetic work the founding of this teaching has covered the world with the dispensationalist views.
Though the dispensational view is in part the instrument through which the revival of Premillennialism (the teaching that Christ will reign for 1000 years here on earth) was brought to the front of our culture. It can be argued (successfully) that such men as B. W. Newton, S. P. Tregelles, A. J. Gordan, W. J. Erdman, and Nathaniel West (to name a few) had secured the Premillennial teaching without the influence of Darby. With that point aside, the early prophetic Niagara Bible Conferences annually met from 1883 to 1897 under the systemizer of dispensationalism, John Nelson Darby. As these ideas began to take hold in Canada and the U.S. the popularity of the premillennial viewpoint began to emerge and gradually the Scofield Reference Bible (which is dispensational premillennial in its method of interpretation) popularized the dispensational view by incorporating them into the footnotes.
There are many and varied reasons why Dispensationalism has caused much discord in recent years through its awkward conclusions. However, its prevailing over the ideas of Postmillennialism in the eighteen hundreds (the "Enlightenment") has benefited and catapulted to a large extent the study of end time events but has yielded much discontent in its wake.
It is due to these awkward conclusions, that this writer does not embrace a total dispensational theological system of interpreting the events of mankind. Furthermore, it is necessary for the Church and the saints to seriously evaluate the conclusions this system forces us to embrace. Suffice it to say that I do not believe that the Premillennial viewpoint has to suffer under the misrepresentation of this system to preserve the pure truth contained in Scripture; so, I remain in the Historical (posttribulational) Premillennial camp happily.
Pretribulationism as a system of eschatology is held by the majority of the western world and has as its champions many faithful pillars of the Church. The history of this movement has largely been revealed within the last hundred and forty years. The major proponents of this teaching are such men as J. N. Darby, C. I. Scofield, L. S. Chafer, H. Ironside, E. Sauer, C. Ryrie, Grant R. Jeffrey, J. D. Pentecost, Stanley Toussaint, A. G. Fruchtenbaum, Tim Lahaye, (to name just a few) and today the leading author and spokesman is Chancler of Dallas Theological Seminary, John Walvoord. Its success in our part of the country (Texas) is largely based on the presence of many theological institutions. These institutions have embraced its teaching and thus passed it on mainly through their courses in hermeneutics, ecclesiology, and eschatology.
The most popular stronghold and herald of dispensational pretribulational teaching and doctrine is to be found in our own back yard, at none other than Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). This seminary has some of the most influential and popular end time teachers, authors and video producers in the world. Permit me at this time to pay them credit for the fervor with which they have spread the message they hold and believe. Who among us has not watched the video produced by Hal Lindsey called "The Late Great Planet Earth"? Or who has not seen the shelves of any Bible bookstore packed with the best selling series of fictional novels, such as, "Left Behind"? Everything from "Left Behind" videos (for the unbeliever to watch after the rapture of the Church) to myriad's of books. Reference works commentaries, cassettes, television reporting prophetic news shows, tracts, and movies. On and on these men have done the task of educating the public with their beliefs with the utmost efficiency. The problem for this writer is that this teaching largely saturates the western world and yet, most have no idea that the views of this system are not in accord with classical orthodox teaching.
With this is mind, and as a reasonable starting point, I will begin this study with a look at the classic layout of pretribulational thinking in a diagram and then proceed to bring the points of Dispensational Premillennialism into question.
The Pretribulational rapture position has basically two main points on which the whole teaching stands. Both of these will be our topics of discussion. Please read the following definitions.
1. Imminence: Ready to take place, (any moment) - No predicted event could possibly precede the "second coming" of Christ. It must of necessity happen with suddenness, unexpectedness, and it must be totally incalculable that is to say no necessary precondition must alert of its approach.
2. Two Peoples of God: Israel and the Church are two distinct and separate peoples of God both having the same God but requiring separate programs. The Church has its beginning at the day of Pentecost and will end with the rapture of the Church before the seven years of tribulation get underway.
Given the definitions above, I will now set forth an argument for the Posttribulational point of view, exposing the problem areas we cannot harmonize with the scriptures. If the idea of "Imminence" is to be interpreted as Christ's any moment appearing, at which time he will gather or rapture the "Church Saints" (to be with Him in order that they may escape the wrath of God and also attend the marriage supper of the Lamb) the following questions will enable you to see the objections of this system. As a prime example of this system of thought Gerald Stanton says,
"How important is the concept of imminency in prophecy? Pretribulationists believe that imminency accurately reflects the Scriptures, and that it makes prophecy relevant in the Christian's daily life. Imminency inspires hope for the any-moment return of our Lord. Imminency is a concept that has been held by Christians throughout the churchs history and, yet, it has recently come under renewed attack by proponents of the pre-wrath rapture view. A denial of the doctrine of imminency erodes biblical truth and undermines holy living in the anticipation of Christ's return." [Gerald B. Stanton, When the Trumpet Sounds; Harvest House, p. 221.]
In response to Stanton, if Christ could have appeared "at any moment" for the last two thousand years, then how would it be possible to have had any Biblical prophecy fulfilled during the last two thousand years? This would be an obvious signal or precondition. Prophecy in the O. T. is foretold and thus can be historically interpreted. This is further rooted in the Pretribulational theory that this present "Church age" is not mentioned at all in the O. T. and is a hidden mystery age unknown to those of Old Testament times.
A. The two necessary preconditions:
The Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 writes:
"1 Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, (The Topic) we ask you, 2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, (The problem) as though the day of Christ had come. 3 Let no one deceive you by any means; (The warning) for that Day will not come unless (#1) the falling away comes first, and (#2) the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." (NKJ)
Two overlooked events (1. falling away, 2. man of sin revealed) requiring the setting up of the world events in coordination with Gods orchestrated prophetic timetable.
The falling away:
It would be negligence not to mention the requirement of the ratification of a seven year peace treaty (to mark the beginning of Daniels seventieth week; Dan. 9:27) with the "man of sin" or "son of perdition" (Antichrist) with Israel. This is an event that requires preparation and must first be drawn up. The ratification of this is not only necessary, but also quite possibly the first of these events (the falling away).
The "falling away" mentioned in this verse is the Greek word "apostasia" (ap-os-tas-ee'-ah); its definition in the Strongs Concordance is simple and clear: "646 feminine of the same as 647; defection from truth (properly, the state) ["apostasy"]: KJV-- falling away, forsake." The nation of Israel is depicted in this verse by default. That is to say that if the "son of perdition" is coming after the "falling away" the two at least have some sort of relation or interplay. The "son of perdition" is coming to the temple, which is in Israel (thus the default). The reasoning from the passage is that before he can arrive the falling away from truth must be the door upon which his entrance is opened. One must clearly be in place (the falling away) before the other is allowed to be enacted. Or until the other is in place the second (son of perdition) cannot follow because it is reliant upon the first for necessary support and thus sequence.
The man of sin son of perdition revealed:
If you have a covenant, you must have Israel back in the land (the possible subject matter of the covenant). Also the man of sin is not revealed to be the Antichrist until the middle of the week, or at the three and one half-year mark of the final seven years (see Rev. 12:7-17). Satan is cast out of heaven taking residence in the body of the slain "beast that was" (Rev. 17:11), and he being raised from the dead is the Antichrist (Rev. 13:2-3, 12 also 17:8-11) and will then go to Jerusalem and desecrate the Jewish temple by placing there the Abomination of Desolation (an image of himself in the Jewish temple). The falling away must of necessity be or closely follow the covenant signing, as it must be inside the seven year period to fit the context.
Here is a quote from the well-known author Dave Hunt.
"If Antichrist must come first, or if some event must happen before the Rapture, then one would not be watching and waiting for Christ but for that earlier event. If Antichrist must come first, then it would be senseless to watch for Christ until Antichrist had been revealed. Christians would be watching not for Christ, but for Antichrist or for Armageddon or whoever or whatever must precede Christ's coming.
Significantly, there is no record in the New Testament of anyone ever watching and waiting for Antichrist. Nor is there any record of anyone ever being instructed to do so. Christ exhorted us, His own, to watch for His return-not for Anti-christ or some necessary prior event." [Dave Hunt, How Close Are We; Harvest House, p. 247].
I would like you to notice the claim he is making, namely that no one is ever told to watch for the antichrist. I disagree. Based upon what we have just seen in 2 Thess. 2:1-3 the charge is simply the opposite. "Let no one deceive you by any means; for that day will not come unless the falling away comes first and the man of sin, is revealed, the son of perdition." These must be watched for first, not the return of Christ. This event will show us the position of our "blessed hope," that is our hope is in the revelation of His Son just before the final battle of Armageddon.
B. The Jewish people being re-gathered back into there land for a final fulfillment of Daniels seventieth week (the final 7 year period Dan. 9:27).
The long absence of Israel from the land removes the prospect of a "any moment" gathering or rapture. This is a pre-condition and as such, is downplayed by those who teach the Pretribulational theory. Do you see the issue? If Israel was dispelled from the land they must be regathered to the land. The regathering is foretold (in many O. T. passages) and so the imminence is lost by the fact of the prophecy.
After the Jewish State and the great city of Jerusalem were destroyed in 70 A.D. the people for the most part had been slaughtered. Those remaining were taken captive by the forces of Titus and sold as slaves. This was subsequently, the dispersing among the nations mentioned in many O. T. passages. This cannot be the case if one is to believe in the imminent or any moment rapture theory due to the many places in which this is clearly foretold. If it is foretold then it is a sign and if it is a sign then it is something to be looked for and thus the problem is compounded. Not only would this speak of a sign to look for before the return of our Lord, but it would tell of this present age in the O. T. and thus expose the erroneous idea of this age being a mystery.
Clearly National Israel must be in possession of the land to be yet again dispelled by Antichrist and his forces.
Deut. 30:1-10: Read
vs. 1 driven out of the land,
vs. 2 - return to the Lord,
vs. 3 returned back from captivity, gathered from all nations,
vs. 5 possession of the land, prosperity is greater than forefathers,
vs. 6 - national regeneration,
vs. 7 enemies judged
This is the classic historical panorama for the nation of Israel. To be noted are the references mentioned in vs. 1-3 in which the nation receives repentance? This is not to be confused with the Babylonian captivity. The nation under these deportations did not experience a national sweeping revival that brought about the possession of the land and prosperity with no strings. They were puppets with heavy taxation and continual neighboring conflicts. This passage looks forward to the day in which Israel is brought back to the land for having been chastised by the Lord.
Ezk. 38:1-16: Read; Notice 8-11"8 After many days you will be visited. In the latter years you will come into the land of those brought back from the sword and gathered from many people on the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate; they were brought out of the nations, and now all of them dwell safely. 9 You will ascend, coming like a storm, covering the land like a cloud, you and all your troops and many peoples with you. 10 Thus says the Lord GOD: "On that day it shall come to pass that thoughts will arise in your mind, and you will make an evil plan: 11 You will say, 'I will go up against a land of unwalled villages; I will go to a peaceful people, who dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates" (NKJ)
Ezek 38:14-16: Read, "14 Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "On that day when My people Israel dwell safely, will you not know it? 15 Then you will come from your place out of the far north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great company and a mighty army. 16 You will come up against My people Israel like a cloud, to cover the land. It will be in the latter days that I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me, when I am hallowed in you, O Gog, before their eyes." (NKJ)
National Israel is dwelling safely in a newly regathered, reconstructed state when the forces from the northern (antichrist) countries come and take a spoil.
Dan. 11:21-31, Read; Notice vs. 30 31: The forces (navel) off Cyprus repelling the northern invaders are just west of the coast of Israel (possibly deployed due to a threat of an impending invasion of Israel) in the Mediterranean. The invasion then gains momentum by united arms supporting the "vile person". The Antichrists forces are then turned to the defilement of the sanctuary fortress, located in Israel (they must be in the land). At which time he stops the daily sacrifices and places there the abomination of desolation (image of antichrist placed in the temple). Up to this point they were dwelling safely.
Zech.12:2-3, If God is to make the issue of Jerusalem the heavy and burdensome stone for the nations, the Jewish presence in the Land is the issue and the necessary tie between the Anger of God and the wrath poured out on all who would ease themselves from it.
Matt. 24:15-16, If you have an Abomination of desolation (Antichrists image being placed in the temple), and the warning for those in the province of Judea to flee the Jew is living in the land, thus he must flee out of it; see also Dan. 8:9-12, Dan. 11:31, 2 Thess. 2:4. A discussion as to the futurity of this event will be given in another article.
1 Thess. 5:1-4: Paul is asserting that the point of time in which this event will be fulfilled is yet in the future. In view of the Israeli deporting by Roman forces (Titus 70 A. D.) the Jew never had this supposed time of peace and safety. They did not dwell in the false security this passage looks forward to at any time under the Roman domination of Israel. Consider: "they", "them" (The Jew), as contrast to vs. 4, "you, brethren", "you", (The Christian). The Jew is the one claiming peace and safety, see example Jer. 4:5-31, noticing in particular vs. 10, 31.
Rom. 11:25 The fullness of the gentiles is not something that could have happened anytime within the last two thousand years. The argument from this passage is clearly problematic to imminence. The length of time necessarily required for Gods program of regeneration to be fulfilled upon all whom he foreknew requires only one thing, time. (Rom. 8:89-30)
Space would not permit the detailing all of these accounts would demand. However, here are a list for your consideration. Amos 9:11-15, Isaiah 27:12-13, Jeremiah 16:14-16, and Ezekiel. 20:40-44. At least a portion of these prophecies have been fulfilled (the regathering to be dispelled) when Israel was recognized as a state by the United States of America in 1948. Since then, nearly four million Jews have journeyed back to there homeland in search of a new start and the rebuilding of there nation, society and cultural influence.
C. The Abomination of desolation:
What is the Abomination of Desolation? Christ sends us to Daniel to find our answer. Dan. 11:31- it is the defilement of the sanctuary and the placing of an image in it. In order for theyre to be an "Abomination of Desolation" you must have a temple and a sacrifice. A sacrifice must be started (in this case newly started see Ezek. 38:8, Dan. 9:27) in order for it to be stopped. Turn to 2 Thess. 2:4 and notice that the son of perdition (Antichrist) will sit in the temple of God showing himself that he is God. Again, their is a necessary precondition
The Jewish people must rebuild the temple (at least in part see Ezra 3:3-5) and reinstate the daily sacrifice. Notice in Matthew 24:15 the sign associated with the middle point of the tribulation. "Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand)," Christ is telling those who will be alive during that time to watch for a specific event that will clue them as to the middle of the week (the three and one half year mark of the final seven years). This event is called the "Abomination of Desolation" and is referenced in the scripture only 4 times (Dan. 11:31, 12:11, Matt. 24:15, Mk. 13:14).
It should be noted that the pretribulationalist teachers infer that the "Church saints" will not be here for this chapter (Matt. 24). They cleverly make it applicable to only the Jewish nation. This is a gross hermeneutical distortion. This is an inference and must be treated as such. No where in the text is it mentioned that the church is not present and only Israel. They simply want you to believe this because it is necessary for their system of interpretation to work? Please get out your Bible and look for yourself. If you plainly read the chapter in its context you would only find a posttribulational "Second Coming" of Christ.
None if the apostles, including Paul, could have taught an any moment rapture due to what Christ said in Matthew 24:2; " 2 And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (NKJ) And in Luke 19:41-44 further proof is given that something had to happen first; And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation." (KJV)
In these passages the city of Jerusalem would be besieged surrounded and then thrown down until "not one stone would be left upon another". The destruction would go so far as to totally destroy the Jewish temple. This event did not take place until 70 A.D. some 37 years after the death of Christ. How can we consider the prospect of an imminent any moment coming if the Apostles themselves did not look for it?
As a sideline I would like to point out that both Peter and Paul knew of no any moment rapture as both of them were shown those things they must suffer for the sake of the Gospel. In the case of Peter, he was shown what manner of death he would die, as an old man; (see John 21:18; crucifixion). In the case of Paul he was shown what the cost would be for him to take the Gospel to the gentiles and before many kings. (see Acts 9:16). This would require the element of time and therefore the Lords "imminent return" could not have preceded this events.
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