Friday, September 05, 2014

The Bible Supports A Two State Solution

This summer’s conflict in the Gaza has brought a lot of questions and debate about Israel’s use of force, but if you worship in the same circles I do, you know that there is one group whose support for Israel has been unwavering: Evangelical Christians. Support for Israel is so absolute that questions about Tel Aviv’s behaviour don’t need to be hushed, because no one is asking any The land belongs to the Jews. God promised it to them. The ‘Promised Land’ is their land and the Palestinians are just Arab interlopers with no rights to it. But what if this isn’t true? Many would be shocked to learn that if we base our support for Israel on Biblical promises, then we have to also recognize that the Palestinians share the same right and the land was also promised to them as well. That’s right: the Bible supports a two state solution.

Okay, where in the Bible does it say this? Let’s start at the beginning. In Genesis (12:1-9) God called Abraham away from his family and into the land of the Canaanites. God promised the land to his descendants. Hence, the Promised Land. Later God narrowed the scope of the promise. Not all of Abraham’s descendants would be heirs to the promise. God chose to continue the promise through Isaac and not through Ishmael, Abraham’s older son (Genesis 21:12, 26:3-5). Isaac also had two sons, Esau and Jacob, and again God chose the younger son to be the heir of the promise (Genesis 28:13-15). Jacob would be called the Prince of God, or Israel, and he would give that name to the children of all twelve of his sons. Collectively the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be the children of Israel. After serving as slaves in Egypt God brought them out and into the land of promise (Exodus 3:7-8, 33:1). Joshua brought them across the Jordan River (Joshua 3) and ever since then the promise has been kept and the land has been theirs.

In popular accounts of this story, however, God broke His promise. Yes, He gave them the land, but then He took it away. Twice. The first time was the seventy year Babylonian Exile. Before this the Israelites had formed a kingdom and then this kingdom split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Both stopped following after the Lord and He sent great empires to destroy them. The northern kingdom, simply called Israel, was destroyed by the Assyrians. Judah, named for its predominant tribe, would later fall to Babylon. While Israel was destroyed (though many of its people found refuge in Judah), Judah was allowed to return home after seventy years in exile. Centuries later it would fall again. This time to Rome. The Romans would destroy the temple in Jerusalem and carry the people off, leaving the land to be refilled by foreigners until the Jews returned and re-established their nation after almost two thousand years. A great story? Maybe. But I have a better one: God promised the land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s descendants and He kept His promise. Since the time Joshua led the children of Israel across the Jordan down to today, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have inhabited their land of promise.

What about the Babylonian Exile? When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the temple he took many thousands of the people into captivity. These people represented the leaders, the ruling class, and that is only appropriate. Read the Bible. It was always the kings and priests who led the people away from the Lord and into sin and idolatry. The people of the land remained. In fact, the Book of Lamentations was written in Judah during the Babylonian Exile. God gave the land to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to the children of Israel and it remained in their hands, even if they were under the authority of a pagan king.

What of the Roman exile story? In many of the popular histories that I’ve seen the Romans destroy the Temple and carry the Jews off into captivity, just as the Babylonians had before. This idea lends itself to a re-reading of Old Testament prophecies of a return as though they were fulfilled in 1948 and not under Zerubbabel, but in reality the many Jews who lived outside of Judea were not drawn into this conflict at all. And there were enough Jews left free and living in Judea to mobilize two more rebellions against Rome. The last one, the Bar Kokhba Revolt, ended more than 60 years after the destruction of the Temple and had much graver consequences. Emperor Hadrian decided to destroy Judaism altogether and killed about half a million Jews. He might have gone much further if he had not died two years after the revolt. Hadrian renamed Judea Syria Pal├Žstina. However many survivors were sold into slavery, there was no influx of immigration to the newly named province. Its inhabitants were the survivors of the revolt, just as they were after the first and second revolt. That’s right. There was no exile and there is no historical account of such an exile. Thousands were taken as slaves, but the people remained in the land.

Over time those people acculturalized, that is they adopted the language and customs of their conquerors. I don’t know how complete it was under that Romano-Byzantine Empires. The Romans replaced the Jewish Temple with one dedicated to Jupiter. When Rome turned to Christianity a church was built there, but that was replaced by the Dome of the Rock when the Caliph Umar conquered Jerusalem in the 7th century. Except for the brief period of the Crusader Kingdoms and the 66 years since the founding of modern Israel, Arab culture has dominated the area. Arabization has meant that the peoples of the area came to be, culturally and linguistically, Arabs, even if they did not convert to Islam. One might think conversion of Islam would be a necessary part of becoming an Arab, but the millions of Christian Arabs and the cultural life of Jews and other minorities in the Middle East say otherwise. Most of the Jews did convert, whether by coercion or choice. History and DNA tests make it very clear that Jews and Palestinians were originally the same people. Yes, some Palestinians intermarried, with Christians and Muslims, but the same is true of the Jews.

The popular history, where the Romans took the Judeans from the land and left it open to Arab interlopers with no God given right to be there is wrong. From the time Joshua crossed the Jordan until today, God has kept the promise He made to give the land of the Canaanites to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s descendants.

This is a new and unwelcomed idea for many and some obvious objections come to mind. Let’s look at three:

1) Why should the Bible influence modern Israel or Palestine? Why should ancient stories direct modern politics? Certainly the Zionists who founded modern Israel were not looking to the Bible for guidance. They were motivated by their experience with 19th century anti-semitism. As Jews they had faced centuries of persecution and violence, but in the 19th century it took a different form. In the wake of the Napoleonic wars the ghettos were broken up and many of the restrictions they had been forced to live under began to disappear. Jews responded to this freedom by working hard to secure their place in the new Europe and found success in the arts, sciences, business, and politics. One, Benjamin Disraeli, even became the British Prime Minister. It seemed obvious that Jews had as much to offer their countries as any other citizen. Then came the Dreyfus Affair. Alfred Dreyfus was a French officer accused being a spy for the Germans. It was many years before he would be cleared of the charges and restored as an officer, but the true basis of the charges seemed clear from the beginning: he was a Jew. The very success of the Jews had turned them into an existential threat to the nation states of Europe. It was now clear to many Jews that no matter what role they had or how hard they worked, they would never be safe until they had their own land, their own country. I’ve heard that they considered more than one possible place to colonize, but ultimately there was one goal: a Jewish state in the land of their forefathers. It took half a century to make it a reality, but they did and they came, not as immigrants, but as colonizers intent on creating a Jewish nation state in the land of their forefathers in spite of the people who already inhabited the land. So, yes, you don’t need to tie modern Israel to the stories of the Bible, but the support of the Evangelical community does have its origins in the Bible and the promises made by God to Abraham. In that context secular reasonings really don’t come into play. I doubt many of them are even aware of the secular and socialist leanings of the early Zionists.

2) Aren’t the Jews are descended from Isaac and the Arabs from Ishmael? How can the Palestinians be descended from Isaac if they’re Arabs? The idea that the Arabs are descended from Ishmael isn’t found in the Bible. Rather, it is a claim made by Islam. Some of the northern tribes of the Arabian peninsula considered themselves to be descended from the Ishmaelites of the Bible. The Qurayish tribe claimed descendance from Ishmael’s son Kedar and Mohammed was a member of this tribe. However true this claim may be, it is vital to understand that most Arab peoples today are not descended from the people of the Arabian peninsula. Rather they are the product of fourteen centuries of Arab culturalization. Once their nations came under the control of the Arabs, the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa began to adopt their language and culture. Like the Palestinians they are a product of Arabization and conversion and not descendants of Ishmael.

3) ‘But they aren’t Jews!’ This is a common argument from those who acknowledge the Jewish origins of the Palestinians, including the modern Sanhedrin, but don’t want to consider the implications of that fact. And the Palestinians themselves would be the first to agree that they are not Jews. But it isn’t that simple. The land wasn’t promised to ‘the Jews,’ but to the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and both the Palestinians and the Israelis meet this criteria. The Palestinians didn’t negate their ancestry by embracing Christianity or Islam. Still, the temptation is there to see the Jewish claim as somehow more authentic, because they are seen as a continuation of the religion and culture that existed in the Kingdom of Judah (the word Jew has its origins in the word Judean, the name of a citizen of Judah). But the worlds of modern Israel and first century Judah are not the same. In the first century the language of those in Judah was a form of Aramaic and the Jews throughout the rest of the Roman Empire commonly spoke Greek. In fact, almost all of the Old Testaments surviving from that era are in Greek. Worship revolved around the temple in Jerusalem and its priesthood. Rabbinical Judaism as it exists today is something that developed in the centuries following the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Christianity actually predates it. I’m not pointing out these facts in order to question Judaism’s authenticity, but many Evangelicals look to modern Jewish practices as though they had stepped directly from the Old Testament. In reality they have a history and have been developing for two thousand years. At the centre, however, is the relationship between God and Abraham and the promises that grew out of that. Promises that were extended to Isaac, then to Jacob, then to all the children of Jacob. That includes both modern Israel and Palestine.

So, if both groups have a valid claim to the Promised Land, then it makes sense to give each of them both a home there. A two state solution has the potential to curb, and in time perhaps even eliminate, the hostilities that have defined much of their relationship. And supporting such a solution is still supporting Israel. ‘Two states’ presupposes there will be an Israel. So why do so many Christian throw their support so strongly, and so exclusively, behind Israel? Ignorance is one reason. Most aren’t aware that the Palestinians share a common ancestry. Media is another reason. The story is typically presented as the Israel defending itself against the Palestinian threat, with little attention to the other side of the story, the Israeli colonization of the Palestinian homeland. Moreover, when it comes to Evangelical Christians questions of prophecy, the end times, and the return of Christ also come into play. Christians support Israel in order to, to paraphrase Lenin, give prophecy a push. It is exciting to watch God’s Word being realized, but having confidence in His Word doesn’t mean putting aside our moral responsibilities and ignoring or rationalizing actions and attitudes that contribute to things that in any other context we would find abhorrent.

When God sought to punish Judah He used Babylon, but the fact that He made use of Babylon’s ambitions in order to further His own aims did not absolve Babylon from the consequences of her actions (Jeremiah 51:7-9). Comparing ourselves to Babylon may seem odd, but we need to consider that ‘God’s will’ is does not mean freedom from consequences. You are still answerable to Him for your actions in this life, even if you act believing you are furthering His will. For every Israeli that dies many more Palestinians also die. The death of three Israeli teenagers led to the deaths of two thousand Palestinians, almost all of them innocent civilians and hundreds of them also children. What part of that do you expect God to be pleased with? No one believes that the Israelis are going to disappear. Some believe that they can deny the Palestinians their own nation state and everything will be fine, but when you consider their current populations and their birthrates, it is obvious that these Greater Israel scenarios would soon lead to an Arab majority. What then? Ethnic cleansing? Apartheid? I suspect many of Israel’s Evangelical ‘friends’ would embrace a world in which Israel is despised, seeing it as another sign of the end times, but what kind of friend is that? Why should Israel stand with Babylon? As friends, if we are friends, we should look to a solution that aids Israel. We shouldn’t race to play at being Babylon. That never ends well.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Still two and a half weeks to go before the day, but my blogging being as infrequent as it has become, I thought I'd do it now while the iron was hot.

I just read a very interesting article about the origin of December 25 as the birthday of Jesus. A popular modern myth is that we've just taken over the pagan celebration of Saturnalia. This has certainly caught a lot of people's imagination, but at the time December 25 was first used Christians were still being persecuted by Rome and weren't in the habit of associating themselves with its holy days. The appropriation of pagan rites would come later, as the Church proselytized northern Europe. It also looms large in the imagination of us Protestants, who, accusing Catholics of practicing paganism never considered that the charge would be extended to us!

The article addresses this myth, but goes on to review ancient writers who believed that Jesus was conceived on March 25 and that He died on the same day, creating a cycle. Such cycles were common in Jewish scholarship. They believed the creation of the world, the birth and deaths of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), and the Passover all happened on the same dates. Nine months after March 25 is December 25.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Myth of the Missing Church

This post is in many ways an addendum to the last one. In that one I looked at the idea that God had two peoples and two plans. In this post I want to look at one claim that is made in support of this idea: between Revelation 3:22 and Revelation 22:16, from the messages to the seven churches to the end, there is no mention of the Church in the Book of Revelation. An interesting point, if it were true.

The word ‘church’ is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia. While the English word ‘church’ originally meant the house of a lord, the Greek word meant a political assembly or town meeting--in fact, in the New Testament it is translated ‘assembly’ when it doesn’t refer to the people of God. In the New Testament ekklesia is used to refer to gatherings of Christians, though it is understood that all Christians together constituted the Church. It is the word ekklesia that does not appear between Revelation 3:22 and Revelation 22:16.

The use of the word, by the Jews, pre-dates Christianity by more than two centuries. As the Jews migrated to the Hellenistic world, they began to translate their scripture into Greek. The Hebrew word for assembly, qahal, was translated ekklesia. It is used sixty-four times in the Old Testament. Even the assemblies of Moses and Nehemiah are called ekklesia. When the New Testament was written, it was written in Greek, using the terminology already developed by Jewish scholars to express their ideas in the Greek language. A first century Christian, reading the scriptures in Greek would not have been surprised to see God’s Word refer to His people as the ekklesia. It would have spoken to the continuity between the Old and New Testaments.

This continuity flatly contradicts another claim made by many pre-tribulationists: that the Church is not mentioned in the Old Testament. In the first century Christians would have understood that they were the ekklesia of God, just as the people in the wilderness or the worshippers in Jerusalem. The only difference being that they were a part of the covenant written on the heart (Jeremiah 31:31-33) and not on tablets of stone.

But if the word ekklesia isn’t used for nineteen of Revelation’s twenty-two chapters, does that mean the Church isn’t spoken of? Not at all! God’s people are discussed throughout the book. We’ve even seen some of these references in our discussion already:

Revelation 7:9-14:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Between chapters three and twenty-two we read of the elders whose blood has been washed in the blood (5:8-9), the martyrs (6:9-11), the multitude mentioned above, we learn of the Beast who wars against the saints (13:7). There are so many references to the Church, in fact, that I am not going to attempt to list them, but if you were to do no more than a word search of ‘saints’ in the Book of Revelation, you’ll find it alone occurs thirteen times.

Pre-tribulationists argue that the word saint, in this context, refers not to the Church, but to the Jews, who have seen their covenant renewed now that the Church has been raptured away. But the scripture I did choose to quote makes it very clear that this is not the case: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb... These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Out of the Tribulation will come a Church made up, not just of Jews, but of every nation.

The myth of the missing Church hinges on the word ekklesia. It’s an important word, but it is not the only word the Bible uses to describe God’s people. Like so many other aspects of pre-tribulationist position, accepting this ‘proof’ of the teaching depends on accepting the teaching itself first.

This is the final of my planned blog posts on this subject, but I realize it is a rich field with many more questions to consider and maybe in the future I will do just that, but for now I hope these posts have helped clarify this debate for you. If you’ve any questions, please ask.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

One Church Complete

In my last post I demonstrated that the scriptures clearly have Jesus returning for His Church after the Tribulation. If that’s so, then where does the idea of a pre-Tribulation rapture come from? It originates in a doctrine called Dispensationalism.

Now I am not going to use this discussion to debate Dispensationalism. First, because I’ve discussed it elsewhere; and, second, because not all Dispensationalists are “pre-trib.” Most are, but not all. While the basic precepts of the doctrine are widely held among Evangelicals, many have adapted aspects of it to fit their own understanding of scripture. Still, the idea of the Pre-Tribulation position originates in Dispensationalism.

While people who love to study and discuss prophecy tend to concentrate on today’s events, linking them to scriptures to show Jesus is returning soon, the 19th century was actually dynamic and influential periods of prophecy studies. Protestants had linked prophecy to Historicism, a teaching that viewed the Book of Revelations as a panoramic history of the Church: as one read through Revelation, one saw a history of the Church laid out from the Apostles time to the coming of the Lord. Catholics responded with two forms of interpretation: Preterism, which teaches that the prophecies of Revelation concerned the early Church and describe its trials and victory in the first century, and Futurism, which teaches that Revelation, following the letters to the seven Churches, is exclusively focused on the End Times. In the 19th century a form of Futurism began to gain favour among Protestants through the teachings of John Darby.

As I’ve said, I’ve written about Dispensationalism before, but for the purposes of this discussion, there is one teaching of Dispensationalism, or Darbyism, that is important to understand. Darby taught that God has two people: an earthly people, the Jews, and a spiritual, or heavenly, people, the Church. It is the Jews who are the true people of God. The Church is only a parenthetical statement in God’s dealings with His people. The Pre-Tribulation rapture serves to get it out of the way, so God can once again focus solely on the nation of Israel. The scriptural evidence given for this rests on Daniel’s Seventy Week.

Daniel 9:20-27:

And whiles I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God; Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision. Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
Seventy weeks, divided into three periods: seven weeks, sixty-two weeks, and one week. There is a long held consensus—not just amongst Dispensationalists, but Protestants, Catholics, and Jews—that these weeks are periods of seven years, not seven days. A four hundred and ninety year period, divided into periods of forty-nine years, four hundred and thirty four years, and seven years. The forty-nine years and four hundred and thirty four years together, “that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince” equal four hundred and eighty three years. That would mean that the Messiah would come 483 years after the Artaxerses ordered the reconstruction of the Temple in 444 BC, that is, in 39 AD. However the years given are of 360 days each—this was long before the adoption of the Georgian calendar with its years of 365.25 days—and pushes the end of the 483 years back to approximately 32 AD. Well within the accepted period of Christ’s earthly ministry.

That’s a powerful prophecy. No wonder history tells us that the Jews of the time were anticipating the Messiah. But what about that last week?

And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
According to Dispensationalism, this week happens in the future. It refers to the years of Tribulation that precede Jesus’ return to set up His thousand year reign. The Church happens between the 69th and 70th weeks, a limited time when God’s salvation is extended beyond Israel. But does the prophecy actually say that? It doesn’t. Now this passage is very rich in prophetic importance and I could spend a great deal of time reviewing it and trying to make sense of it, but that isn’t the purpose of this study. This study is about when Jesus comes for His Church and this particular entry is about the idea that there are two peoples of God, the Jews and the Church. This passage is given as evidence, usually in the form of complicated flow charts, to show that the Church era falls between the 69th and 70th weeks. It doesn’t say that and the Bible doesn’t teach that. The Church is not an interruption in God’s plan. It is the fulfillment of God’s plan.

The word ‘testament’ can be interchanged with the word ‘covenant.’ The old covenant, the Law, is the Old Testament. The new covenant, grace, is the New Testament. God prophesied through Jeremiah that He would make a new covenant with His people:

Jeremiah 31:31-33:

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
The writer of Hebrews confirmed that the Calvary is this new covenant:

Hebrews 10:16:

This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;
Rather than destroy the old covenant, Jesus said that He would complete, or fulfil, it:

Matthew 5:17:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

Some mistakenly believe this means that God has closed the door on the Jews in order to open it to the Gentiles. Indeed some Dispensationalists go as far as to condemn those who do not accept their idea that the Church is only a footnote in God’s plans as believing exactly that. But the root of God’s special relationship with Israel is not the in Law, but in their descendance from Abraham. The Law represented the old covenant with Israel, grace the second. Consider the prophecy in Jeremiah: “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” With the house of Israel. The second covenant differs from the first in two significant ways: it is of the Spirit and not the letter, and it is open to all. It began with Israel, then extended to the Samaritans, then to the Gentiles:

Galatians 3:24-29:

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, meaning Gentile, but we are all Abraham’s seed, “and heirs according to the promise.” Even if the Temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem and the sacrifices reinstituted, it would be of no effect. The Law was fulfilled in the Perfect Sacrifice of Calvary and being fulfilled there is no reason for God to turn back the clock. The Church isn’t a break in the plan. The Church is the plan and always has been.

In my next blog I am going to look at some related claims: that there is no Church in the Tribulation, that the Church is not mentioned in either the Old Testament or the Tribulation period described in Revelation, or that if the Church is in those passages of Revelations, it is a new Jewish Church. All these claims will be refuted. Until then.

Monday, December 17, 2012

"After The Tribulation"

Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 all tell the same story. Jesus’ disciples take Him to the Temple to see the buildings and He tells them that not one of its stones will be left upon another. Afterwards they all retire to the Mount of Olives and the disciples ask Him about the End Times. It’s a significant passage because the disciples ask Him about the subject specifically and He answers them at length.

He repeatedly warns them not to be deceived by false prophets or claims that He has already returned. He also warns them that they will face great persecution. So much so that, “ye shall be hated of all men for my namesake.” But He assures them that, “he that endures to the end, the same shall be saved (Mark 13:13).” The gospel will be preached in all nations, the Abomination spoken of by Daniel will be revealed, and then will come a “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world, no, nor ever shall be (Matthew 24:21).”

Matthew 24:23-31:

Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

“Immediately after the tribulation.” It really can’t be much clearer than that.

Mark 13:24-27 reads:

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
Again, “after that tribulation.” Pre-tribulationists deny that these scriptures refer to the “Rapture,” instead they argue that they are about Jesus’ return to set up His Millennial kingdom on Earth, but if that’s true, then why are the angels gathering up the elect? Weren’t they already gathered up when they were raptured?

Mark 13:27:

And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.
Nope. “From the uttermost part of the earth” makes it pretty clear there are still Christians here.

In Revelations chapter five John sees Jesus as the “Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth (verse 6).” The Lamb is worthy to open the book sealed with seven seals. As He opens the first four seals the four Horsemen are released. The fifth seal is opened and the martyred saints cry out for justice; they are given white robes and are told to rest “until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled (Revelations 6:11).”

The sixth seal is opened and great cataclysms shake the earth and the heavens. Angels seal 144,000 servants of God, “in their foreheads (Revelations 7:3),” 12,000 from each tribe of Israel. Then John sees “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues (Revelations 7:9) worshipping before the throne of God. He is told, “These are they which came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelations 7:14).” Came out of the great tribulation.

When the seventh seal is opened there is silence in heaven for half an hour, then the seven angels are given seven trumpets. Another angel offers the prayers of the saints on the altar and then cast the fire of the altar on the earth. With the fifth seal the martyred saints cried for justice and were told to wait until those of their fellow saints who would be martyred were martyred. With the sixth seal those saints are before the throne of God. With the seventh seal God’s justice is being meted out onto the earth. As each trumpet is sounded great terror is unleashed on the earth and on humanity. Even the bottomless pit is opened and Hell is power to hurt mankind for five months—except “those men which have the seal of God in their foreheads (Revelations 9:4).”

1 Corinthians 15:51-53 reads,

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
At the last trump.

Revelations 11:15:

And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
When the last trumpet sounds Jesus will return and His saints will put on incorruptible—at the same time!

Matthew 24:25-27:

Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
There is no secret rapture. Jesus is coming and all the world will see Him.

In continuing this study I next want to look at where the idea of a secret rapture, distinct from the Second Coming, originated. Before that, however, I recently read an interesting piece in the New York Review of Books and want to blog on that first. Til then!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Christmas Pageant

Our church's Sunday School department gave a short nativity play today. My youngest daughter, Makayla, and my granddaughter, Talia, were both in it. Makayla was Mary and Talia was Joseph. Our Sunday School has a lot more girls than boys.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

How Firm A Foundation?

I had hoped to blog more than once a month, but the year has been a busy one for me. Today I want to look at some of the verses Pre-Tribulationists commonly quote to support their view. The first three are about the Rapture itself; the last two are used to argue that the Church will escape the Tribulation.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

I’ve talked about this verse in another context. The Church of Thessalonica was concerned that those who have died would not share in the Kingdom once Jesus returned. Paul’s purpose in writing was to assure them that this was not true. When Christ returns all Christians, past and present, will meet Him in the air.

1 Corinthians 15:51-53:

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

In his letter to the church in Corinth Paul is again talking about the return of Jesus. This is a favorite for many Pre-Tribulationists who use it to reinforce the idea of His imminent return. We’ll all being going about our regular lives when in an instant—in the twinkling of an eye—Jesus will take His Church away and leave everyone else to the Tribulation. It will be so fast that those who aren’t raptured will have no idea what’s happened. Hence, a ‘secret’ rapture. But does it say that? Let’s re-read this passage, putting into a broader context:

1 Corinthians 15:35-58:

But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

What kind of bodies will we have in the Resurrection? Surely the dead decay and turn to dust? Paul assures the Corinthians that there are different kinds of bodies. There is the earthly and the heavenly. The earthly body is natural and corruptible. The heavenly body is spiritual and incorruptible. When Jesus returns the dead will meet Him in their spiritual, incorruptible bodies, and so will the living. In the twinkling of an eye our mortal bodies will be transformed, incorruptible. We will never know death or the grave.

Revelations 4:1:

After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.

This passage is often quoted, but unlike the others it is never taught to be understood as literal. In chapter four of Revelations John has just had a vision of Jesus and has been given instructions to relay to seven churches in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), then he is invited through a door in the air which leads to the throne room of God. Many Pre-Tribulationists believe this passage speaks symbolically to the whole Church: Come up hither. But, of course, it only does that if you first accept the premise that the Church will be taken up before the Tribulation. There is nothing inherent in the verse itself with which to make the argument. In that it is very much like the first two verses quoted above. Neither Paul’s letter to Thessalonica nor his letter to Corinth actually says that the Church will escape the Tribulation. Both are popular because both paint vivid pictures of the Church when Jesus returns, but to accept them as proof texts for a Pre-Tribulation rapture requires that we accept the doctrine of a Pre-Tribulation in the first place. As such they aren’t really proof texts at all.

Now let’s look at a couple of scriptures used to argue that the Church will escape the Tribulation.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11:

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.

While it is the beginning of a new chapter, this is actually a continuation from previous quote from 1 Thessalonians 4. They have been told they will all rise to meet Jesus and now they are being commended for being ready to meet Him. Those in darkness will be caught unaware by His coming, but the church of Thessalonica is not in darkness. No, it hasn’t been given special knowledge of His coming; rather, knowing that He is coming, they have repented and put “on the breastplate of faith and love, and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.” As such they will escape Hell. They and everyone else who has prepared themselves by taking advantage of the salvation made possible by Calvary. The “wraith” is Hell, not the Tribulation. Until the rise of Pre-Tribulationism that is how every Christian understood this passage, and even with the rise of Pre-Tribulationism it is how most Christians still understand it.

Revelations 3:10

Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.

How this verse came to be used as an argument for Pre-Tribulationist position is a long story, involving more than one method of interpreting the Book of Revelations. The verse is a part of the instructions John was given for the seven churches of Asia Minor. In this case the church of Philadelphia:

Revelations 3:7-13:

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.

Before Pre-Tribulationism, before Dispensationalism, there was a method of interpretation called Historicism. It interpreted Revelation as a panorama of Church history and saw each of the seven churches was representing a period of Church history. This has been adopted by Dispensationist in general and by Pre-Tribulationists. Now it is important to keep in mind that this passage records Jesus’ message to the church of Philadelphia. The message is entirely positive. They are a humble church, of “little strength,” but Jesus will raise them up to great honor because they have remained true in spite of persecution. That is what the passage is actually about. To say Philadelphia represents the Church that will be raptured is odd, because it is not the last of the seven churches. If it were the End Time church, wouldn’t that make the next church, the church of Laodicea the one that reigns with Christ through the Millennium? But the Laodicean church is upbraided for it lukewarmness. Jesus actually threatens to vomit it out of the Church if it does not repent. It cannot be the Millennial Church. In fact, most Historicists see it as the End Time Church, liberal and worldly.

What makes Revelation 3:10 so attractive to Pre-Tribulationists is that, once it is fitted into the doctrinal program is appears to give the promise that God’s people will be spared the hour of temptation. This idea flies in the face of the many thousands, and even millions, of Christians who have suffered and died for the faith. Let’s compare this verse with another written by John:

Revelations 3:10:

Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.

John 17:15:

I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.

In Revelations Jesus is talking of the one church, but in John He is praying for the whole Church. Both, however, are saying the same thing: against evil, against persecution, against temptation Jesus will preserve His Church. If, like the Philadelphian church, we remain strong in Him, He will make us strong and honor us for our sufferings. Neither 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 nor Revelations 3:10 are promises to take the Church out the Tribulation.

So where then does the idea come from? I am going to look at that, but before I do I am going to look at some proof texts for the Post-Tribulation position. Fair is fair. If I am going to criticize another’s position for being anti-scriptural, I should be able to scripturally prove my own.

Hopefully, it won’t take a month to do so, but right now my time in the Word is generally split between my own devotions and preparing my Sunday lessons (I am currently teaching the Adult School lessons for our church). So, soon, and hopefully it will be up quicker than this post was. Thanks for your patience.