Friday, April 06, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Snatched Up

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Tom: So we did the Millennium, IC. Care to walk me through the ‘Rapture’?

Immanuel Can: I thought that was the same as the Second Coming. Next you’re going to tell me that Israel still exists and that I wasn’t predestined to election before the foundation of the world.

Tom: Do I need to put a </sarc> at the end there? Never mind. Sometimes you open a can and the worms just go everywhere ...

IC: Well, one way to manage the worms is to focus on making the distinction between the Second Coming and the Rapture.

Tom: Okay then.

Managing the Worms

IC: Essentially, all Christians believe in some kind of Second Coming. But many have no idea about the Rapture, and wouldn’t know the two were distinct.

Tom: Okay, I’m going to put on my devil’s advocate hat and give you a working over. So first, what’s a Rapture? I have it on good authority that word isn’t even in the Bible. I figured it was just something you crazy evangelicals made up.

IC: Heh. It’s just a label. Call the event whatever you want, if it makes you uncomfortable. The term “rapture” itself comes from Medieval Latin, it’s true: but it’s actually the best Latin synonym for “caught up” (Greek: harpazo, meaning to “snatch up” or “take away”), which comes straight from the New Testament. So it’s a perfectly reasonable term, and a very biblical concept.

The Second Coming vs. the ‘Rapture’

Tom: Alright then, so what IS the difference between the Second Coming and the Rapture? Wouldn’t it make more sense for Jesus to do both at the same time? If he’s going to raise the dead, why not just do it all at once? It seems very complicated, and to me, complicated means unlikely.

IC: Well, the Rapture is described in 1 Thessalonians, chapters 4 and 5. The Second Coming is described in several places in Revelation, especially chapter 19. However, those aren’t the only references to each. The big picture is this: the Rapture is a case of the Lord coming to the air, for the believers, and catching them up to himself; the Second Coming is a case of the Lord returning to earth, with the believers, to conquer and judge the people of the earth. The place, the subjects and the task in hand are all very different. And the scripture is quite clear about those differences, however “complicated” we may think that is. So what else, Tom?

The Church in the Old Testament

Tom: Well, I get the whole Second Coming thing out of the Old Testament. You find it all over the place there. But I don’t see where you could find much in the Psalms or Prophets to point you to an early escape from the world for believers. Is there some way to explain how this Thessalonians passage you mention fits in with the rest of God’s revelation, or it is possible you’re just misunderstanding Thessalonians?

IC: You could say the same about the Church. The Church itself isn’t mentioned in the Old Testament, is it? At least, it’s not mentioned by name, and only hinted at in terms that would not necessarily convince, say, a disbelieving Jewish rabbi or secular skeptic. However, there’s so much clarity to the idea of the Church in the New Testament that nobody reasonable any longer doubts it’s there. Likewise, one would only have to read 1 Thessalonians to be faced with an obviously irreconcilable difference between what is being described there and all the Second Coming passages. Then one has to find a way of dealing with that … it’s so clear that it’s not really up for denial.

Darby Done It!

Tom: What do you think of the argument that the Rapture is the invention of J.N. Darby and that prior to his popularizing it in 1830, no church taught it in their creed, catechism or statement of faith?

IC: Okay; let’s suppose it were true. The idea that people hadn’t thought about this aspect of scripture before doesn’t tell us whether it’s an unwarranted invention or a genuine new discovery, does it? Maybe Darby did us the greatest favor he could by uncovering something about which we’d been quite oblivious or even blinkered in the past by false authorities or by our misguided respect for tradition. Is that possible? Sure. Darby is also credited with (re-)discovering the “priesthood of believers”; and he was clearly right about that, though ancient traditions of clergy stood against him.

But in point of fact, the idea that Darby invented the doctrine is simply verifiably untrue. William Watson, Thomas Ice, John Walvoord and Larry Crutchfield have all made cases that the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture goes a long way back … very likely prior to Iranaeus (180 A.D.). But that doesn’t really matter either way — old things aren’t necessarily made true by being old. Likewise, new things are not made wrong by being new.

Veith Without Works is Dead

Tom: Agreed. What would you say to Walter Veith’s argument that the “secret rapture doctrine … gives a false hope. It does not encourage people to change their lives and make themselves right with God.”

IC: I’d say he’s simply wrong. He’s got what’s called a “non-sequitur” error there: what he says just does not follow. There’s no reason to suppose that the sudden rapture of Christians gives less incentive to repentance in the here-and-now than the Second Coming does. He thinks maybe it does, because he wrongly imagines that it implies a “second chance” as he calls it, for unrepentant persons; but that is decidedly NOT what the Rapture implies. In fact, miss the Rapture after you’ve heard the gospel, and you get NO second chance, as you see in one of the key Rapture passages. And while there are definite signs preceding the Second Coming, there is no clue as to exactly when the Rapture will happen, but it will overtake people suddenly. So if anything, the Rapture is more of an incentive to repentance, not a disincentive. Veith’s just messed up on that.

Tom: If I can doff my devil’s advocacy hat for just a sentence, he also makes a terrible hash of the verses he uses to support his objection to a second chance, but that’s neither here nor there.

Three Million Pageviews CAN’T Be Wrong

Right. Hat back on. Here’s an interesting quote from a man who claims three million pageviews annually over 130 domains, all of which are devoted to debunking the Rapture. That’s an impressive level of commitment!
“This false doctrine on the secret rapture is contradictory to the words of Jesus in Matthew 13 when He said the wheat and tares would grow together until the ‘end of the world’ and then would be separated. Christ said, concerning the righteous, John 6:40 ‘… and I will raise him up at the last day.’ No one denies that this means the last day of the world. But how could it be the ‘last day’ if this gathering of the saints takes place seven years before the end of the world?”
Hah! Gotcha there, IC. Let’s see you unpack that one!

IC: It all keys on who the “saints” in question are, doesn’t it? He jumps to the blithe conclusion that it must refer to the saints of the Church Age, but fails to notice that in Matthew 13, the Church doesn’t even exist yet: it started at Pentecost. Prior to that, Christ is clearly speaking to Israel about these things, not to the Church, which did not exist and could not even have been foreseen by his disciples at that point. That Israel’s faithful remnant will exist at the Second Coming is promised by scripture. And these are the only “saints” that can be meant there.

Days and ‘Days’

Tom: Excellent response, and I didn’t even catch that aspect of it. I was going to say that I believe his idea of “day” too limited. As we do in the English language, in both Hebrew and Greek, the word “day” can mean either a literal 24-hour period or a period of unspecified duration, such as an era. Like when we say, “back in the day”. You can only figure out which it is from the surrounding context. The expression “the day of the Lord”, for instance, is used by Peter to describe a period of time much longer than 24 hours. You’ll find the Hebrew prophets do the same when you look closely at all the things they say are scheduled to happen in the “day of the Lord”.

So the idea that “last day” refers to a 24-hour period really needs some solid evidence. There’s no reason to assume the Lord is being literal. I take it to mean the Lord is saying something like, “I will raise him up at the end of the age.”

IC: Yes. Time-markers like “day”, “week” (lit. “seven”), and even “generation” are used at least two ways in scripture, as one or many. There are particular “days”, and then there are eras, like the “day of salvation”. There is a single generation (perhaps 40 years) and a whole pattern of “the generations”. Messing up these time-markers can lead to errors about the Lord’s schedule.

The God of the Gaps

Tom: Right, since you’re batting away all these softballs I’m throwing at you, one more for the road. Steve Wohlberg is one of many who make the case that the view of prophecy that allows for a rapture of believers prior to God’s wrath being unleashed on the world demands an unreasonable gap in Daniel’s seventy prophetic “weeks” between the first 69 weeks and week 70. I’ll link to his entire argument rather than try to recap it here:

Mr. Wohlberg sums up:
“It is illogical to insert a 2,000-year gap between the 69th and 70th week. No hint of a gap is found in the prophecy itself. There is no gap between the first seven weeks and the following sixty-two weeks, so why insert one between the 69th and 70th week?”
My question to you, IC, is can you think of any other Old Testament prophecies that insert a previously-unforeseen 2,000 year gap right in the middle of a sentence? One, for instance, that even Mr. Wohlberg could not possibly argue with?

IC: I have a feeling you have something in mind ...

One Sabbath Day in Nazareth

Tom: I’m thinking of a certain synagogue in Nazareth on a particular Sabbath early in his ministry, where the Lord Jesus stands up to read the prophet Isaiah. He announces that he has been sent:
“… to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor …”
(By the way, “year” in Isaiah is figurative too, you’ll notice, and speaks of a remission period of unspecified duration rather than a calendar year, but that’s just gravy on the previous point.)

Anyway, the Lord rolls up the scroll, hands it the attendant, sits down and declares “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The crowd loves it.

But he stopped right in the middle of a sentence. The first part of the sentence he was then right in the process of fulfilling all throughout Judea and Galilee. The rest of it has yet to be fulfilled, if you go back and read Isaiah’s prophecy. And no, Mr. Wohlberg, there is no debate to be had about that one.

In Short

IC: Yep, I was right … you did have something in mind. And it was a good one.

The words “… and the day of vengeance of our God,” conclude the passage. I’m thinking that “day” is probably going to be either a lot shorter or a lot longer than a strict twenty-four hours, depending on how it measures out; but that’s just a guess.

Tom: Got that one from my dad, and after 30 years or more, it keeps on giving.

IC: When we remove the concept of the Rapture, we remove the Christian’s “blessed hope”, which is the imminent return of the Lord. Instead, that return becomes predictable and easy to time, being at the end of a seven-year period of intense, worldwide turmoil, pain and judgment which we call “The Tribulation”. Now, the Tribulation is marked throughout by clear signs of onset and progress.

See the problems?

Tom: And that’s why we’re Dispensationalists. Not because we think we’re better students of prophecy than others, or because we have every detail of God’s purposes figured out, but because every other interpretation currently on offer is, well ... obviously flawed and markedly worse.

No comments :

Post a Comment