Friday, February 12, 2016

The Pretribulational Rapture and the Millennium

I’m currently reading Evidence for the Rapture: A Biblical Case for Pretribulationalism.  I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Moody Press, but this is not my official review.  Rather, in this post, I want to wrestle with the relationship between the pretribulational rapture and the millennial reign of Christ.  I will interact with an essay in this book, and also another book that Moody Press sent me to review (and which I did review): Dispensationalism and the History of Redemption.

Let’s define some terms first.  The Great Tribulation is when God will pour out God’s wrath on the earth.  It is also called the “Day of the Lord.”  It includes the rise and rule of the Antichrist, God’s judgments on the earth, and the Battle of Armageddon.  It lasts for seven years.  The Great Tribulation precedes Jesus Christ returning to earth, overthrowing evil, and setting up his righteous rule on earth.  This rule of Christ on earth will last for a thousand years, a millennium.  It will be a time of paradise and peace.  During that time, Satan will be confined to a bottomless pit.  At the end of the millennium, Satan will be released from the bottomless pit and will deceive nations, including Gog and Magog, who will try to attack the camp of the saints and the beloved city.  God will defeat them.  Then, God will raise people from the dead and judge them according to their works.  Those who are not found in the Book of Life will go to the Lake of Fire.

The rapture refers to Christ coming back, resurrecting the saints, and taking the departed saints and the living saints up to heaven.  There is debate about whether this rapture will occur before the Great Tribulation (pretribulational), or after the Great Tribulation (post-tribulational).  There are other Christian perspectives that will disagree with my definitions of the Great Tribulation or the millennium.  I do not want to muddy the waters in this post by describing their definitions on these topics.

Now let’s interact with some essays.  Both essays believe in the pretribulational rapture.  The first essay makes a pretty good argument for it.  The second essay, ironically, makes me doubt the pretribulational rapture!

A.  In Dispensationalism and the History of Redemption, Stanley D. Toussaint has an essay entitled “God’s Plan for History: From the Ascension to the Second Coming of Christ.”  On page 182, Toussaint offers an argument for the pretribulational rapture that was previously unknown to me:

A fourth line of defense lies in the necessity of a span of time between the rapture and the end of the tribulation.  (This argument is primarily in opposition to the posttribulation view of the rapture.)  The Scriptures teach that when the Lord Jesus returns to reign there will be a judgment of all the people who are alive at the end of the tribulation.  The judgment of Jews is described in Ezekiel 20:33-44, and that of Gentiles in Matthew 25:31-46.  Only saved, living people will go into the kingdom.  They will reproduce and live normal lives.  Isaiah refers to boys, a nursing child, and a weaned child in the coming age (11:6-8).  People will die after living long lives (Isa. 65:20).  They will build houses, plant crops, and bear children (Isa. 65:21-23).  Many of the children born to those who live in the kingdom will finally rebel against the Lord (Rev. 20:7-9).  If the rapture of the saved will take place at the end of the tribulation this will be impossible.  In the posttribulation view everyone would have resurrected and heavenly bodies.  They would not be able to reproduce! (Cf. Matt. 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:34-36.)  If the rapture occurs before the tribulation, then people will be converted during the tribulation and if they live through that terrible time they will go into the kingdom with their natural bodies.  They will cohabit and have children.  Then the Old Testament prophecies of life on earth will be fulfilled.

We have two models: the pretribulational rapture and the posttribulational rapture.  The scenario of the pretribulational rapture is this: Christ comes, resurrects the saints, and takes the risen and the living saints to heaven with him.  Then, God pours out God’s wrath  on earth.  During that time of Great Tribulation, there are people who were left behind at the rapture who subsequently become saved (or they believe in God and Christ—-there is some debate among pretribbers about whether the tribulation saints technically count as Christians).  These tribulation saints go through the Tribulation.  Some are martyred.  Some survive.  Christ then returns at the end of the Tribulation, destroys evil, and sets up his righteous millennial rule on earth.  The surviving tribulation saints are the ones who enter into that earthly kingdom.  They live temporal, earthy lives, albeit under conditions of paradise.  They have children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren in the course of Christ’s millennial reign.  This fulfills the Old Testament prophecies in Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc., about God setting up a righteous paradise on earth, in which people live and die.  Whereas the tribulation saints are righteous, their children and grandchildren are not necessarily, and they are the people who rebel against God at the end of the millennium.

The post-tribulational scenario, by contrast, is this: The saints are NOT taken to heaven prior to the tribulation.  Rather, they stay on earth.  They endure the tribulation.  Some are martyred, and some survive.  There is no distinction between the raptured saints and the tribulation saints, in this scenario: all of the saints are tribulation saints, living during the tribulation.  At the end of the tribulation, Christ comes back and overthrows evil, and that is when Christ resurrects the dead saints and takes the risen and living saints with him to heaven (the rapture).  They are given immortal bodies, and they neither marry nor are given in marriage.

Toussaint has a problem with the post-tribulational scenario: How does it account for the millennium, or the earthly paradise consisting of mortal people that the Hebrew prophets talk about?  For Toussaint, it fails to account for that, or it fails to do so adequately.  If all of the saints are given immortal bodies right after the Tribulation, then who are those people on earth, living and dying during the millennial reign?  Toussaint presumes that wicked people will not be the ones entering and living under the millennial reign: Christ will destroy the wicked at his coming, while allowing the righteous to enter his kingdom on earth (then they will have children and grandchildren, some righteous, and some not).  For Toussaint, the pre-tribulational position makes all of these pieces fit together: the saints are raptured and given immortal bodies prior to the tribulation, people then convert to God during the tribulation (tribulation saints), Christ comes back and sets up his righteous millennial rule, and the surviving tribulation saints live under that rule as mortals, living, dying, marrying, working, and having children.

Sounds reasonable to me!  Or, at least, it seems to me to be a good argument for the pre-tribulational rapture.

B.  In Evidence for the Rapture, Glenn Kreider has an essay entitled “The Rapture and the Day of the Lord.”  Of particular interest to me is Kreider’s interaction with two biblical passages: Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, and Jesus’ statement about one being taken and the other being left in Matthew 24:40-42.  Kreider seems to interpret both in light of each other.  Allow me to quote these passages, from the KJV.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43:

24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn…
36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Matthew 24:40-42:

40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. (Mat 24:40-42 KJV)

In Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the righteous and the wicked are living in the world together.  Long before the harvest, when the wheat and the tares are still seeds or are growing alongside each other, God is reluctant to uproot the tares (the wicked) because that could uproot the wheat (the righteous) as well.  God lets both grow together until the harvest.  At the harvest, God gathers the tares and burns them, while gathering the wheat into the barn.  This represents God gathering the wicked and burning them in fire, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  The righteous, meanwhile, shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

In my opinion, Kreider is nebulous in his interpretation of this parable.  On the one hand, Kreider seems to apply the parable to the pretribulational rapture: Christ comes, takes the saints to heaven, and leaves the wicked to endure God’s wrath during the Day of the Lord, which is prior to Christ’s return to rule.  Under this interpretation, the fire into the wicked are thrown in the parable is not (only?) hell, but it refers to the Day of the Lord, or the Great Tribulation, when God is pouring out God’s wrath on earth before Christ returns to rule.  On the other hand, in places in the essay, Kreider seems to support another interpretation: Christ comes, takes and punishes the wicked, and leaves the righteous to enter his millennial kingdom.  Kreider appears to interpret Matthew 24:40-42 in light of this latter interpretation.  While another essay in the book interprets the one taken and the one being left in terms of the pretribulational rapture,  Kreider goes another route: the one taken is the wicked one taken to be punished by God, while the righteous one is left to enter Christ’s millennial rule.

This raises a lot of questions in my mind, especially when I compare this essay with Toussaint’s essay that I discussed in (A.).  So who does Kreider believe that the wheat/left people are?  If they are on earth and enter Christ’s millennial rule, then are they the earthy tribulation saints, the ones who will enter the millennial rule, live, die, work, reproduce, etc.?  But how can they do all these things, when Jesus says that they will be shining like the sun (Matthew 13:43)?  That sounds not-quite-earthy to me!  In addition, the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares does not seem to me to leave much (if any) room for the pretribulational rapture.  The wicked and the righteous dwell on earth together, then God comes, throws the wicked into hell, and exalts the righteous with astral-like bodies.  There does not appear to be a notion of God removing the righteous from the wicked world.

There may be ways to get around this.  Perhaps one could say that the ultimate destiny of the righteous, including the tribulation saints and their righteous offspring, is to shine like the sun: they would do so after living under the millennium as earthy beings and dying.  Their shining like the sun concerns their afterlife, not their life in the millennial kingdom.  The Parable does not have to mention every single detail or stage of God’s plan, one could say.  Another relevant detail may be the reference in Revelation 20:8-9 to the camp of the saints and the beloved city that Gog and Magog try to attack at the end of the millennium.  Could this camp or city during the millennium contain the tribulation saints who are shining like the sun?

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