Monday, February 15, 2016

Book Write-Up: Evidence for the Rapture

John F. Hart, ed.  Evidence for the Rapture: A Biblical Case for Pretribulationism.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

The rapture is the idea that Jesus Christ will come, resurrect the dead saints, and take the risen and living saints with him to heaven (I Thessalonians 4:16-17).  There is debate among Christians about whether the rapture will take place before or after the Great Tribulation.  The Great Tribulation refers to a seven year period that precedes Christ’s coming back to earth to rule.  The Great Tribulation includes the rule of the Antichrist, God’s wrath on the earth, and the Battle of Armageddon.

Evidence for the Rapture includes scholarly essays defending the rapture being pretribulational.  For these scholars, Christ will unexpectedly rapture the dead and living saints to heaven, the Great Tribulation will then occur, and then Christ will come back to earth to rule.  Post-tribulationists, by contrast, maintain that the Great Tribulation will occur, then Christ will take the risen and living saints with him to heaven when he is coming back to rule.  The saints will then accompany Christ back down to earth.

In this review, I will comment on each essay.

Robert L. Thomas, “The Rapture and the Biblical Teaching of Imminency.”

Thomas in this essay makes an argument for the pretribulational rapture that will appear throughout the book.  This argument points out that there are many passages in the New Testament that say that Christ will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.  For Thomas and other scholars in this book, that shows that the rapture is pretribulational, not post-tribulational.  If the rapture were post-tribulational, then Christ’s coming would not be unexpected: the events of the Tribulation would clue people in that Christ was coming soon, according to a timetable.  If the rapture were pretribulational, then it is unexpected: it would come out of the blue, and then would follow the Tribulation.  This is not a bad argument, but I wonder if the unexpected nature of the Day of the Lord necessarily means that the rapture is pretribulational.  More than one scholar suggests in the book that the second coming of Christ and the Day of the Lord can encompass the entire seven years of the Great Tribulation.  If that is the case, then could not the seven year Tribulation (not the pre-tribulational rapture) be what comes on people like a thief in the night?  In this scenario, people would be going about their business, then a great spiritual test and time of tribulation would befall the earth unexpectedly.

John F. Hart.  “Jesus and the Rapture: Matthew 24.”

Hart argues that the concept of the pre-tribulational rapture is in Matthew 24.  Hart contends that Jesus’ reference to one being taken and the other being left (Matthew 24:40-41) concerns the pretribulational rapture, a view that is not shared by another contributor to the book, Glenn R. Kreider.  Hart also argues that Jesus’ likening of the coming of the Son of Man (for Hart, this is the rapture) to the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37-39) shows that the rapture will be pretribulational.  Jesus notes that, in the days of Noah, people were going about their everyday business (eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage), until Noah entered the Ark and the Flood came.  The Flood came out of the blue.  Similarly, the coming of the Son of Man will occur unexpectedly, when people are going about their everyday lives.  Hart doubts that this would be true if the rapture were post-tribulational.  Could people blissfully go about their everyday lives, unaware of the coming of the Son of Man, if they are experiencing the plagues of the Great Tribulation?  Hart does not think so, which is why he thinks this coming will precede the Tribulation and will come out of the blue.  Hart also notes that God preserved Noah from God’s wrath on the earth, and Hart believes that God will do the same for believers by rapturing them to heaven prior to the Tribulation.  My problem with this argument is that Jesus in Matthew 24 talks about trials that Christians will experience during the Tribulation, and Jesus tells Christians what to do during that time.  The idea seems to be that Christians (the disciples, or the heirs to the disciples—-however one wants to interpret the second person in Matthew 24) will go through the Great Tribulation, rather than being raptured to heaven prior to it.

Glenn R. Kreider, “The Rapture and the Day of the Lord.”

This essay was unclear to me.  Kreider is interpreting Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.  I could not tell if Kreider was applying that Parable to the pretribulational rapture, or if Kreider was saying that the wheat (the righteous) would be taken to Christ’s earthly millennial kingdom, which occurs after the Great Tribulation.  In any case, this essay raised doubts in my mind as to whether this parable fits neatly (or fits at all) with the pretribulational rapture.

George A. Gunn, “Jesus and the Rapture: John 14.”

This essay argues that Jesus’ statements in John 14 about Jesus receiving Christians to himself and them being where he is applies to the pretribulational rapture.  What interested, and surprised, me about this essay was that Gunn seemed open to the possibility that these statements originally had a different context from its context in John 14: that the original context could have been eschatological.

Michael J. Vanlaningham, “Paul and the Rapture: 1 Corinthians 15.”

This is my favorite essay in the book because of how it brought Old Testament prophecies into the equation when addressing whether the rapture in I Corinthians 15 is pretribulational or post-tribulational.  The essay also interacts with how the New Testament interprets the Old Testament, and the question of whether the New Testament assumes the context of the Old Testament passages that it is applying.  Moreover, the essay also provided a rationale for God’s covenant with the nation of Israel, which dispensationalism believes is literal and lasting: “God’s plan was to radiate his magnificence to the world through His restoration and prospering of the nation…”  A problem that I had with the essay, however, is that it did not sufficiently address the meaning of the “last trump” that Paul says will mark the resurrection of the saints (the rapture) in I Corinthians 15:52.  Many post-tribulationists interpret the last trump as the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15, which occurs near the end of the Tribulation.  When Paul calls the trump “last” (eschate), is Paul implying that the trump is the last of a sequence?  Vanlaningham does not appear to think so, but I am unclear as to why he believes that Paul calls the trump “last.”

Kevin D. Zuber, “Paul and the Rapture: 1 Thessalonians 4-5.”

Zuber argues that the pretribulational rapture is not merely a topic of academic discussion but has spiritual application because it relates to the hope of the believer.  Zuber also responds to the post-tribulational argument that Paul in I Thessalonians 4 presents believers going up to meet Christ, then immediately coming back down to earth with him.  This post-tribulational argument interprets I Thessalonians 4 in light of the ancient practice of people going out of a city to meet a dignitary, then returning to the city with him.  This arguably differs from the pre-tribulational view that the saints in I Thessalonians 4 go up to meet Christ in heaven, then stay in heaven for seven years.

Nathan D. Holsteen, “Paul and the Rapture: 2 Thessalonians 2.”

In II Thessalonians 2, Paul is seeking to reassure Thessalonian Christians who fear that they are experiencing the Day of the Lord.  Paul says that they are not in the Day of the Lord, for the man of sin has not yet sat in the Temple of God, claiming to be God.  Holsteen (and Zuber) thinks that this makes sense in light of the rapture being pretribulational.  For Holsteen, the Thessalonian Christians are fearful about experiencing the Day of the Lord because they think that they just missed the rapture and that God left them behind!  If they believed that the rapture would come after the Day of the Lord, then they would have hope, not fear.  Holsteen seemed rather absolutist about what the Thessalonian Christians would have to believe in different scenarios, but his argument deserves consideration.  He does wrestle with scholarly interpretations of the Thessalonians’ fear, and that is admirable.

Andrew M. Woods, “John and the Rapture: Revelation 2-3.”

Woods argues that the letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation relate to the pretribulational rapture, or to people being left behind in judgment.  Woods believes that these letters relate to more Christians than the recipients of the letters in the first century.  Unfortunately, as far as I can recall, he did not really discuss how the pretribulational rapture, or imminent judgment, would relate to the first century recipients of the letters.  Why tell these churches something that did not apply to them?  Or did it?  If so, how?  On another note, this essay did contain an effective refutation of the view that the Greek term oikoumene applied to the Roman empire rather than the entire world.  For Woods, sometimes it applies to the Roman empire, and sometimes it has a broader designation.  We need to look at the context to tell which it is.

Michael J. Svigel, “What Child Is This?  A Forgotten Argument for the Pretribulation Rapture.”

John Nelson Darby, a key figure in dispensationalism, argued that Revelation 12 concerns the pretribulational rapture.  According to this view, the son who is saved from Satan’s flood is not just Christ, but also the church.  Meanwhile, the woman who gave birth to the son is Israel, which goes through the Tribulation.  Svigel contends that this view deserves another look.  This was an interesting chapter in terms of the history of the pre-tribulational rapture doctrine: Darby at first believed that only the particularly righteous believers would be raptured, while other believers would be left behind.  The essay also gets technical on Greek terminology.  Almost all of the essays in this book require attention to detail.  The book is not impossible, but it is not an easy read, either!

Michael A. Rydelnik, “Israel: Why the Church Must Be Raptured Before the Tribulation.”

This is a lucid essay that covers some of the arguments for the rapture that other essays missed.  Rydelnik argues that the beings in white singing praises to God in heaven (Revelation 4:4) are raptured saints.  One argument he makes is that “Their white clothes indicate that these were redeemed people who have exchanged their filthy clothes for white garments” (page 365).  Maybe, but not necessarily, since John 20:12 depicts angels wearing white!  Rydelnik also argues that the New Testament distinguishes between Israel and the church rather than viewing the church as the new Israel.  His arguments for that were all right, but I do not recall him addressing Paul’s statement that believers in Christ (which, presumably, includes Gentiles) are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29).

The book also addressed the question of whether the church fathers believed in a pretribulational rapture.  One essay quoted patristic statements about the second coming of Christ being imminent (and thus unexpected).  Another candidly acknowledged that they did not believe in a pretribulational rapture because they believed that they themselves were experiencing the Tribulation!

I give this book five stars, notwithstanding my disagreement in areas, because it is a scholarly, thoughtful, and thought-provoking book.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

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