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.

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