THE RAPTURE IN TWENTY CENTURIES OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION
James F. Stitzinger Associate Professor of Historical Theology
The coming of God’s Messiah deserves closer attention than it has often received. The future coming of the Messiah , called the “rapture,” is im minent, literal and visible, for all church saints, before the hour of testing, pre millennial, and, based on a literal hermeneutic, distinguishes between Israel and the church. The early c hurch fathers’ view s advocated a sort of imm inent intra- or p ost-tribulationism in connection with their premillennial teaching. With a few exceptions, the Medieval church writers said little about a future millennium and a future rapture. Reformation leaders had little to say about prophetic portions of Scripture, but did comment on the imminency of Christ’s return. The modern period of church history sa w a return to the ea rly chu rch’s prem illennia l teaching and a pretribulational rapture in the writings of Gill and Edw ards, and m ore particularly in the works of J. N . Darby. After Darby, pretribulationism spread rap idly in bo th Great Britain and the United States. A resurgence of posttribulationism came after 1952, accompanied by strong opposition to pretribulationism, but a renewed support of pretribulationism has arisen in the recent past. Five premillennial views of the rapture include two major views— pretribulationism and posttribulation-ism—and three minor views—partial, midtribulational, and pre-wrath rapturism.
The centra l theme of the Bible is the coming of God’s M essiah . Gen esis
3:15 reveals the first promise of Christ’s coming when it records, “He shall bruise you on the head , And you shall bruise him on the heel.”1 Rev elation 22:20 unveils the last prom ise when it records “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly,’ Am en. Come, Lo rd Jesus.” In fact, the entire Bible can be
1 All Scripture quotations are from the New Am erican Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated.
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understood in relation to this theme. The Old Testam ent declares, He is coming (Isa 7:14; 9:6). The four G ospe ls declare, He has come— and is com ing ag ain (John
1:29; 14:3, 18-19). Finally, Acts, the epistles, and the book of Revelation declare, Having come, He is coming again (Acts 1:11; 2 Thess 1:10; Rev 1:7).2
As Alva J. McClain points out, the revelation of the Messiah ’s com ing is a “revelation in which the different elements are related, not mechanical, but dynamic and progressive. . . . A revelation in which the different elemen ts are related, not in any merely external manner, but as the parts of a growing plant are related .”3 As Mark 4:26-28 describes it, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil. . . . The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.” In the same way, “[T]he doctrine of our Lord’s Coming into the world unfolds like a growing plant, which at every stage of revelation contains the germ of the yet unrevealed.” 4 Each element of this progressive revelation takes the reader deeper into the complexity of His coming.
- The Old Testament gives the promise of Christ’s coming.
- The Gospels unfold this coming in two comings.
- The Gospels unfold the first coming as a series of events, including the Virgin conception, birth, perfect life, ministry, atoning death, resurrection, appearances, and ascension.
- The Epistles unfold the second coming into two main phases; the rapture and the revelation.
- The Book of Revelation unfolds these two phases into a series of events, separated by 7 years (Dan 9:27). The first of these is the rapture, accompanied by the resurrection, translation, judgement seat of Christ, and the marriage supper of the Lamb. The second of these is the revelation, accompanied by Armageddon, the millennial kingdom, and the white throne judgement.5
The deeper one looks into the coming of Christ, the more complex, intriguing, and astonishing it becomes, much like the beau ty and complexity of human DNA under the microscope, or the heave ns as v iewed thro ugh a telescope (Ps 8:3 -4).
Sadly, many fail to discern this intrigue and approach prophecy w ith the use of Ockham’s Raz or princ iple (from the great English scholastic, W illiam of Ockham,
2 Thomas Dehany Bernard (The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament, Eight Lectures delivered before the University of Oxford on The Bampton Foundation, 1864 [New Y ork: American Tract Society, 1891] 22) term s this d yna mic of Scripture as progressive revelation and profoundly concludes that “the progressive system of teaching in the N ew T estament is an obv ious fact, that it is marked by distinct stages, and that it is d eterm ined by n atura l pri nc iple s.” See 22- 46 f or h is full d eve lopm ent.
- Alva J. M cC lain, w ith revisions by Dr. John C. Whitcomb, Jr., “Christian Theology: Biblical
Eschatology” (unpublished clas sro om syll ab us; W ino na La ke , Ind .: Gr ace Th eo log ical Se min ary , n.d .) 39.
- , 39-40.
- Ibid .
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1280-1 349). In Oc kham’s develo pme nt of a nomin alistic pursuit of the real, he insisted upon using the razor to slash away at complex explanations “of the hierarchy of being, of ideas and concepts, which sheer speculation had inven ted” in
the realist’s pursuit of what is real.6 He asserted that what could be done with fewer assumptions is done in vain with more, and therefore, he called for the “rejection and p runing of all concepts w hich are not absolutely necessa ry.”7 posttribulationalists, historic premillen nialists, po stmillennialists as well as amillen nialists8 all say, “Apply the razor!” and in doing so, reduce the two-phase second coming of Christ to one phase. Such tragic conclusions are similar to those of anti-trinitarians who find one person in the Godhead rather than three, or early students of Christology who said one nature of Christ rather than two distinct natures in the one person of the G od-m an (Phil 2:6-8). Rather than “apply the razor,” one shou ld plunge into the depths of biblical teaching on the comings of Christ, making clear the biblical distinctions, and look deeply into the issues and n uances of the text, rather than being satisfied with traditional answers originating in unquestioned preunderstandings w hen appro achin g the text.
The Subject at Hand
The study of the rapture is part of a wider study of the paro usia. The Greek word B”[email protected]\” (parousia) literally means “being along side,” “presence,” or “to
be present.”9 New Testamen t usage makes it clear that the paro usia is not m erely the act or arrival of the Lord but the total situation surrounding Messiah’s coming.10 Oepke writes, “The parou sia, in w hich h istory is anchored, is not a historical even t.
. . . It is rather the p oint w here h istory is mastered by God’s eternal rule.”11 The uses of the term in 2 Thess 2:1; Jas 5:7-8; 2 Pet 1:16; 1 John 2:28 all refer to the coming of Christ in general. Thus, the parousia looks backward to Christ’s first coming on
6 He iko A. O be rma n, The Dawn of the Reformation. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) 27.
- Ibid ., 54 .
- Each position entails an oversimplificatio n of the doctrine of Christ’s coming. For example, posttribulationism, which often operates within a dispensational framework, regards the second coming “as having one posttribulational phase.” Historic premillennialism, which takes a similar position but uses covenant theology as its underpining, eliminates the Israel-church distinction among the people of God.. Amillennialism disallows the earthly millennial kingdom and thus views Christ’s future coming as a brie f ev en t fol low ed by the eter na l stat e. S ee R olla nd Da le M cC un e, An Investigation and C riticism of “ H is to ri c” P re m il le nn ia li sm fr om th e V ie w po in t o f D is pe ns at io n al is m (Winona Lake, Ind.: Grace Theological Seminary, 1972) 5-9.
- Al bre ch t O ep ke , “B”[email protected]\”,” T D N T, 5:859.
1 0 Ge rald B. S tan ton , Kept Fro m the H our (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1956) 20 notes, “The primary meaning seems to be presence, rather than mere coming, as further illustrated by I Cor 10:10. . . . The eschatological use of the word seems to add the thought of arrival, or ad ven t, and is no t restricte d to eith er p ha se o f the sec on d c om ing ” [e mp ha sis o rigin al].
1 1 Oe pk e, “ B”[email protected]\”” 5:870.
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earth and looks ahead to the future, beginning with the rapture, followed by the seven-year tribulation, followed by the revelation (second coming), followed by Armegeddon, and finally the o ne-tho usan d-year millen nial or theocra tic kingdom. It is a wider term than “The Day of the Lord,” w hich is best und erstood in Scripture as the judgement which climaxes the tribulation period (2 Thess 2:2; Revelation 16–18) and millennium just prior to the eternal state (2 Pet 3:10-13; Rev 20:7–21 :1).12 The pretribulational view of the rapture to be considered here sees the rapture of the church taking place at the beginning of the next phase of the parousia and thus before the tribulation period begins.
The rapture represents the translation or removal of the church to be w ith Christ foreve r. Scripture de scribes this great event in 1 C or 15:52 by “the de ad in Christ shall rise first, and we shall be changed”; in John 14:3 by “I will come again, and receive you to myself”; and in 1 Thess 4:17 by “we shall be caught up together
with them in the cloud s . . . and thus sh all we alw ays be w ith the Lord.” Th e word for “caught up” in 1 Thess 4:17 is from the Greek word DBV.T (harpaz˙) which
means “to take by forc e” or “to catch up or away,”13 and is also related to the Latin verb rapio , meaning “caug ht up,” 14 or the noun raptura.15 Assuming that the rapture begins the parousia,16 several characteristics important to discussing the history of the rapture should be noted.
- The coming of Christ at the rapture is imminent, in the sense of an any-moment com ing. Though there are no signs for the rapture, there are signs of the sec ond com ing to follow a nd these may appear before the rapture. Note Phil 3:20-21; 1 Thess 1:10; 4:16; Titus 2:13; Jas 5:7-9
- The coming of Christ at the rapture is literal and visible. Rev 1:7 states “Every ey e shall see H im.”
- The coming of Christ at the rapture is for all church saints, deceased or living. First Thess 4:14, 17 and 1 Cor 15:51 record the order of this great even t.
- This coming of Christ occu rs before the outpouring of the great trial upon the earth. A literal translation of Rev 3:10 states that the believer is kept
R i ch a rd L . Mayhu e, “The Prophet’s Watchword: Day of the Lord,” Grace Theological Journal
1 3 W ern er F oe rste r, “ DBV.T,” TDNT 1:472.
1 4 Ro bert G. Clouse, “Rapture of the Church,” in Ev an ge lica l D ictio na ry o f Th eo log y, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984) 908.
1 5 New Sh orter Oxford E nglish Dictionary , 19 93 ed ., s.v. “ rap ture .”
1 6 Sup port for this position and the characteristics that follow can be found in other articles of this issue of TMSJ .
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in “a continuing state outside of” the hour of testing upon the earth.17
- This coming of Christ is premillennial, that is, before Christ returns to fight the battle of A rmag eddon an d set up the 1,000-year k ingdom, and judge unbelievers. First Cor 15:23-24 along with Dan 12:1-2 places the coming of Christ before these events.18
- This coming of Christ assumes a literal, normal hermeneutic in the interpretation of Scripture, and it recognizes a fundamental theological distinction between Israel and the church.
Having identified the pretribulation rapture and its major characteristics, this article will now focus on a history of those who have held this position.
The Rapture in Church History
The rapture in church history is really a history of pretribulationism. Other related, historically held view s do not distinguish betwe en the two phases o f Christ’s coming: rapture and revelation . Partial, midtrib, and pre-wrath p ositions are recent positions that have very little if any history.
The Early Fathers
A cursory examination o f the early church fathers reveals that they w ere predomin antly premillennialists or chiliasts.19 Clear examples in the writings of Barnabas (ca. 100-150), Pap ias (ca. 60-130), Justin Martyr (11 0-165), Irenaeus (120-
- , Tertullian (145-220), Hippoly tus (c. 18 5-236), Cyprian (200-250), and Lactantius (260-330) make this understanding impossible to challenge successfully.20
- No te the careful development of the issues surrounding Revelation 3:10 by Paul D. Feinberg, “The Case for the Pre tribu latio na l R ap ture Po sitio n,” in R ich ard Re iter e t al., Th e Ra ptur e: Pr e-M id-, or Po st-Tribulational? (Grand Rapids: Academie, 1984) 64-70.
1 8 See R o be rt D. Culver, “A Neglected Millennial Passage from Saint Paul,” Papers . . . read at the Eig hth An nu al M eeti ng of th e E va ng elic al T he olo gic al S oc iety , ed. Jo hn F . W alvo ord (Gra nd R apid s, 1955) 27-33.
1 9 M illard Erickson (The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology, rev. ed . [W hea ton, Ill: Cro ssway, 2001] 3 1) defines chiliasm as “Belief in an earthly millennium; in particular, in the early centuries of the church a premillennialism that held a very vivid an d im aginative view of conditions during the millennium.” George E. Ladd (Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God [Grand Rapids: Eerdman s, 1952] 23) forcefully concludes, “[W]ith one exception [Caius] there is no Church Father before Origen who oppose d the millenarian interpretation, and there is no one before A ugustine w hose extant writin gs o ffer a d ifferen t interpretation of Revelation 20 than that of a future earthly kingdom co nso na nt w ith th e n atu ral in terp reta tion of th e lan gu ag e.”
2 0 See Al ex an de r R ob erts an d Ja me s D on ald son , ed s., Th e A nte-Nicene Fathers , 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdman s, 19 81 ): B arn ab as, The Epistle of Barnabas 15 (14 6-4 7); P ap ias, Fragments of Papias
- (15 4-5 5); J ust in M arty r, Dialogue with Trypho 80 (2 38); Iren aeu s, Irenaeus Ag ainst Heresies 5, 30, 3-4 (559 -60); Te rtull ian , On the Resurrection of the Flesh 22 (56 0-6 1); H ipp oly tus , Treatise on Christ and Antichrist 65 (218); Cyprian, The Epistles of Cyprian 55 :1 (3 47 ), The Treatises of Cyprian 11:1-2 (496 );
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It is also significant to note that the early fathers largely held to a period of persecution that would be ongoing when the return of the Lord takes place and most would see the church suffering through some portion of the tribulation period.21 At the same time, it is very clear that the early church fathers believed in the imminent return of Christ, which is a central feature of pretribulational thoug ht.22 This lack of precision among the fathers as to the exact time of Christ premillennial return has led to confusion amo ng scholars as to how to understand the fathers in these areas. As Larry Crutchfield notes, “If anyone searches the fathers for a fully detailed, system atic presentation about the doctrine of last things, he searche s in vain. . . .”23 The following is a brief survey of imminency as taught by the early church fathers. Though these facts are informative and important to the contemporary discussion, that it is never appropriate to build a doctrine based on the teachings of the fathers must be kept in mind.
Clement of Rome (ca. 90-100)
Clement wrote, “[O]f a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, ‘Speedly will He come, and will not tarry’; and ‘T he Lord sh all sudd enly com e to H is temp le, even the H oly One, for whom ye look.’” “Let us therefore earnestly strive to be found in the number of those that wait for Him, in order that we may share in His promised gifts.”24 Clement quotes Hab 2:3 and Mal 3:1 in a clear statement of imminence.
Ignatius of Antioch (d. ca. 98-117).
Ignatius wrote, “The last times are come u pon us. Let us therefore b e of a reverent spirit, and fear the long-suffering of God, lest we d espise the riches of H is goodness and forbearance.” On the basis of Romans 2:4, he continues, “For let us either fear the wrath to come, or let us love the present joy in the life that now is; and let our present and true joy be o nly this, to be found in Christ Jesus, that we may truly live.”25 Ignatius wrote to Polycarp, “Be watchful, possessing a sleepless spirit,” and “Be ev er more becom ing more zealous than what thou art. Weigh carefully the times. Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became
an d L acta ntiu s, The D ivine Institutes VII, 24 -26 (21 9-22 ).
2 1 Charles A. Hauser (“The Eschat ol og y o f t he Ea rl y C h ur ch F at he rs ” [ un p ub li sh ed T h.D . dissertation; W ino na La ke , Ind .: Gra ce T heo logic al Se min ary, 1 961 ] 25 -57 ) caref ully s urv eys th e early fathers on this issue and concludes, “These men are sure that the Church would go throug h th e tribulation” (5 6).
John F . W alv oo rd, The Re turn of the Lord (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979) 80; also The Ra pture
2 3 Larry V . Cr utc hfie ld, “ The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation in the Ap ostolic Fa thers ,” in When the Trumpet Sounds, eds. Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House, 1995) 88.
2 4 Sa int C lem en t, Epistle to the Corinthians 23, 35 in Ante-Nicene F athers 1:11,14.
2 5 Ign atiu s, The Epistle to the Ephesians 11 in Ante-Nicene F athers 1:54.
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visible fo r our sakes.” 26
The Didache (ca. 100-160)
The final chapter of the D idache pro vides one of the clearest and comprehensive statements on imminency: “Be watchful for your life; let your lamps not be quenched and your loins not ungirded, but be ye ready; for ye know not the hour in wh ich ou r Lord com eth.”27 In the same paragraph, the author urges “gathering yourselves together frequently,” in light of the imminence of the Lord’s return. He then speaks of the appearance of the “world-deceiver” (which the context indicates is the Antichrist) and the persecution associated with his coming.
Barnabas (ca. 117-138)
The Epistle of Barnabas reflects a similar view of imm inenc y when it states, “For the day is at hand on w hich all things shall perish w ith the evil [one]. The Lord is near and his reward.” 28
Shepherd of Hermas (ca. 96-150)
The theme of imminency continues in the Shepherd of Hermas as the church is compared to a tower: “Let us go away, and after two days let us come and clean these stones, and put them into the building; for all things round the tower must be made clear, lest haply the master come suddenly and find the circuit dirty, and he be wroth, and so these stones shall not go to the building of the tower, and I shall ap pear to be careless in my m aster’s sight.”29
These statements of imminency have led George Ladd, J. Barton Payne,30 and Robert G undry to affirm that the early fathers held to posttribulationalism in the mode rn sense. Gundry states, “Irenaeus, who claims to hold that which was handed down from the ap ostles, w as as fo rthright a posttribu lationist as could be found in the present day .”31 Gundry’s assum ption, however, is unwarranted for several reasons. First, the early fathers (before 324) lived in a world of Roman persecution which was for them a way of life and a factor in all they believed and did. The
2 6 Ign atiu s, The Epistle of Ignatius to Polycarp 1, 3 in Ante-Nicene F athers 1:93-94.
The Didach e, or Teaching of the Apostles 16 in The Ap ostolic Fathers, rev. and tran s by J. B .
2 8 Ba rna ba s, The Ep istle of Barnabas 21, in Ante-Nicene F athers 1:149.
2 9 The Shepherd of Hermas S.9,7 in The Ap ostolic Fathers 465.
George Eld on La dd , The Blessed Hope (Grand Ra pid s: E erd ma ns, 1 95 6) 2 0. J. B arto n P ayn e, The
3 1 Ro be rt H . Gu nd ry, The Church and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids:Zondervan, 1973) 175.
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Romans called them “atheists” for failing to worship their gods.32 Seco nd, the early fathers treated these issues of persecution in a simplistic, unreflective manner, which is hardly a well developed posttribulational position.33 This data lead s Cru tchfield to describe thoughtfully the still unclear writings of the fathers as “intratribulation-al,” that is, “within” or “during” the tribulation.34
In the end, no o ne can p roduce a clear statement of patristic eschatology regarding the rapture. What can be concluded is the following:
- The early fathers placed strong emphasis upon imminency.
- They early fathers understood a literal coming of Christ, and a literal 1,000-year kingdom to follow.
- A type of imminent intratribulationism (Crutchfield) or imminent posttribulationism (Walvoord)35 with occasional pretribulational inferences was believed.36
- The early fathers understood a kind of “practical persecution,” due to times of general Roman persecution that they expe rienced, rather than a specific fulfillment of future tribulational wrath.
Cruthchfield rightly concludes,
This view of the fathers on imminency, and, in some, references to escaping the time of the Tribulation, constitute what may be termed, to quote Erickson, ‘seeds from which the doctrine of the pretribulational rapture could be developed. . . .” Had it not been for the drought in sound exegesis, brought on by Alexandrian allegorism and later by Augustine, one wonders what kind of crop those seeds might have yielded—long before J. N. Darby and the nineteenth century.37
The M edieval Church
The period between Augustine and the Renaissance was largely dominated by “Augustine’s understanding of the church, and his spiritualization of the
3 2 W . H. C . Fre nd , Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1965)
3 3 These two reasons are well developed by Crutchfield, “The Blessed Hope” 91-94.
3 4 Ibid ., 101.
3 5 W alv oo rd, The Rapture Question 53-54.
3 6 Crutchfield, “The Blessed Hope” 77. Millard J. Erickson (Co ntem por ary Op tions in Eschatology [Grand Ra pids : Ba ker, 1 977 ] 13 1) co nclu des the fo llow ing, “ W hile there are in the writings of th e early fathers seed s from wh ich th e do ctrine of th e pre tribula tiona l raptu re co uld b e de velo ped , it is diffic ult to find in them an unequivocal statement of the typ e o f im min en cy u sua lly b elie ve d b y p retrib ula tion ists.” In response to this Crutchfield adds, “The seeds were indeed there but were crushed under the allegorist’s foo t be for e th ey c ou ld s pro ut a nd be ar e arly fru it” (4 54 ).
3 7 Crutchfield, “The Blessed Hope” 103.
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Millennium as the reign of C hrist in the saints.” 38 There were only “sporadic discussions here and the re of a literal, future M illennium,” 39 making examples of pretribulationalism very rare. Medieval scholar, Dorothy deF. Abrahamse further explains the situation when she notes, “. . . Augustine had declared that the Revelation of John was to be interpreted symbolically rather than literally, and for most of the Middle Ages Church councils and theologians considered only abstract eschatology to be accep table sp eculation.”40 She goes on to observe, “Since the nineteenth century, however, historians have recog nized that literal apocaly pses did continue to circulate in the medieval world and that they played a fundame ntal role in the creation of importan t strains of thoug ht and legend.”41 Consistent with this conclusion, several important instances of pretribulational thoug ht hav e com e to light in recent years.
Ephraem of Nisibis (306-373)
Ephraem was an extremely important and prolific writer. Also known as Pseudo-Ephraem, he w as a m ajor theologian of the early Eastern (Byzantine) Church. His important sermon, “On the Last Times, the Antichrist and the End of the W orld,” (ca. 373) is preserved in four L atin man uscripts and is ascribed to S t. Ephraem or to St. Isidore.42 If not written by Ephraem, it is written b y one greatly influenced by him.43 This Pseudo-Ephraem sermon declares the following: “All the saints and elect of God are gathered together before the tribulation, which is to come, and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overw helms the w orld be cause of ou r sins.”44 Alexander offers an insightful comment on these words when he says, “This author, however, mentions another measu re taken by God in order to alleviate the period of tribulation for his saints and
3 8 J o h n Ha nn ah , Our Legacy, The History of Christian Doctrine (Colorado S prings, Col.: NavP ress, 2001) 315. See also, Robert E. Lerner, “The M edieval Return to the Thousand-Year Sabbath,” in The Apoca lypse in the Midd le Ages, eds. R ichard K. E mm erso n an d B erna rd M cG uinn (Ithac a, N .Y.: C orn ell University, 1992) 51-53.
3 9 Ha nn ah , Our Legacy 315-16.
Dorothy deF. Abrahamse, “Introduction,” in Th e By zan tine A poc alyp tic Tr adit ion by Pau l J.
4 1 Ibid ., 1-2. For further development of this important field of research, see Timothy J. Demy and Thomas D . Ice, “The Rapture and an Early Medieval Citation,” BSac 152 (1995):308-11.
4 2 Alex ande r, Th e By zan tine A poc alyp tic Tradition 136. The full text of the sermon may be found at <http://www .geocities.com/lasttrumpet_2000/timeline/eph raem .htm l> or in Grant R . Jeffrey, “A Pretrib Rap ture State men t in the Early Medieval Church,” in When the Trumpet Sounds (Eugene , Ore.: Harvest House, 1995) 109-15.
4 3 Paul J. Alexander, “The Diffusion of Byzantine Apocalypses in the Medieval West and the Beginnings of Joachimism,” in Prophecy and M illenarianism: Essays in Honour of Marjorie Reeves, ed. An n W illiam s (E sse x: L on gm an , 19 80 ) 58 -95 .
4 4 Ps eu do -Ep hra em , On the L ast Times 2.
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for the E lect.”45
In this sermon, Pseudo-Ephraem develops an elaborate biblical eschatology, including a distinction between the rapture and the sec ond coming of C hrist. It describes the imminent rapture, followed by 3½ years of great tribulation under the rule of Antichrist, followed by the coming of Christ, the defeat of Antichrist, and the eternal state. His view includes a parenthesis between the fulfillment of Da niel’s sixty-nine weeks and his seventieth week in Daniel 9:24-27.46 Pseudo-Ephraem describes the rapture that precedes the tribulation as “imminent or ov erhan ging.” 47
Codex Amiatinus (ca. 690-716)
This significant48 Latin manuscript from England was commissioned by Abbot Ceolfrid of the monastaries of Jarrow and Wearmouth in Northumberland. Ceolfrid intended to give it to the Pope as a g ift but died on his way to see him. It was produced during the era of the commentaries of Venerable Bede, who w as also a mon k at Jarro w and w hose works w ere heavily influenced by Jerome’s Vulgate.49 In the title to Psalm 22 (Psalm 23 in the Vulgate), the following appears: “Psalm of David, the voice of the Ch urch after being rap tured.” 50 The Latin phrase post raptismum contains a verb from the root rapio which can mean either “to snatch, hurry away” o r “to plun der, take by assault.”51 This title is not carried over from Jerome’s Vulgate and thus is likely the product of the Jarrow mon astary . A history of the period of Ceolfrid’s life presents no evidence of invasion or suffering52 as if the title was inserted for com fort in light o f a difficult condition in the church. In contrast, Ceolfrid w rites of the Christ’s future sudden return and the resurrection of the believer, “[W]e show that we rejoice in the most certain hope of our own
4 5 A l e x a n d er, The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition 210. For issues relating to the authorship, interpretation, and date of Pseudo-Ephraem, consult Demy and Ice, “Th e Ra pture and an Early Medieval Citation” 311-13.
4 6 Jeffrey, “A Pretrib Rapture Statement” 116-18.
4 7 Pseudo -Ephraem, On the L ast Times 2.
4 8 F.M . Ste nto n, Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947) 179.
Ernst Wu rthwein, Th e Te xt of th e O ld Te stam ent, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids:
5 0 Ibid ., 207.
5 1 Charlton T. L ew is and Ch arles S hor t, A New Latin Dictionary ( Ne w Yo rk: American Book Company, 1907) 1523.
5 2 W illiam Hu nt, “ Ce olfr id,” in Dictionary of N atio na l Bio gra ph y, eds. Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee (Oxford: Oxford University, 1922) 3:1333-34; H. W . Gw atk in e t al., e ds, Germ any an d the W estern Em pire, in The C amb ridge M edieval History (Cambridge: The University Press, 1922) 7:554-56.
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resurrection, which we believe will take place on the Lord’s Da y.”53 Though not conclusive and still in need of further study, it appears that Codex Amiatinus presents another example of pretribulational thought in the Middle Ages.
Brother Dolcino (d. 1307)
- recent study of the fourteenth-century tex t, The History of Brother Dolcino, composed in 1316 by an anonymous source, reveals another important pretribulational passage.54 As leader of the Ap ostolic Brethren in northern Italy, Brother Dolcino led his people through times of tremend ous pap al persecution.55
One of the group w rote the following astonishing words:
. . . [T]he Antichrist was coming into this world within the bounds of the said three and a half years; and after he had come, then he [Dolcino] and his followers would be transferred into Paradise, in which are Enoch and Elijah. And in this way they will be preserved unharmed from the persecution of Antichrist.56
Thus, the writer of this History believed that Dolcino and his followers would be transferred to paradise, expressing this belief with the Latin word transferren tur, the past participle of which is used to derive the English word “translation,” a synonym for rapture.57 Dolcino and his follow ers retrea ted into the mountains of n orthern Italy to await their removal at the appearance of Antichrist. While Dolcino and many of his followers were killed by a papal crusad e in 1306, the mov eme nt lasted into the fifteenth century.58
The Reformation Era
The Reformation in general is bleak with regard to prophetic teaching, as evidenced by the lack of writings and commentaries on prophetic books.59 The strongest statements concerning imminency during this period actually come from Anabap tists, known as the Taufer, who drew their theology from the Scriptures m ore
5 3 “Ce olfrid’s lette r to N ech tan ,” in Ve ne rab le B ed e, A History of the English Church and People, trans. and with an Introduction by Leo Sherley-Price, rev. by R. E. Latham (N ew Y ork: Dorset Press, 1968) 323.
5 4 Th is r es ea rc h is fu ll y d e ve lo p ed b y F ra n ci s G u m er lo c k, “A R ap tu re C itation in the Fo urtee nth Century,” BSac 159 (2002):349-62.
5 5 Ibid ., 356-57.
5 6 Ibid ., 354-55.
5 7 Ibid., 357.
5 8 M arjorie Re ev es, The Influence of Prophecy in the Later M iddle Ages (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1969) 246-47.
5 9 Tim oth y G eo rge , Theolog y of the Reform ers (Nashville, Tenn: Broadman, 1988) 323.
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than other groups that bo re the name Anabap tist.60 One such learned man was Balthasar Hubmaier, who after rebuking his radical chiliastic contemporaries, then says, “[A]lthough Christ gave us many signs whereby we can tell how near at hand the day of his coming is, nevertheless, no one but God knows the exact day. . . .
Take heed, w atch and p ray; for you known either the day nor the hour. . . . [T]he Judg e is already standing at the do or. . . .”61
Martin Luther and John Calvin also make similar statements concerning imminency. Calvin, when comme nting on Zechariah and M alachi, writes, “Whenever the day of the Lord is mentioned in Scripture, let us know that Go d is bound by no laws, that he should hasten his work according to our hasty wishes; but the specific time is in his own pow er, and at his ow n will.” Com menting o n Christ’s teaching in the Gospels, he writes, “[Jesus] wishes [the disciples] to be uncertain as to his coming , but to be prepared to expe ct him . . . every m ome nt.”62 Truly, the Lord’s return was one of the great undeveloped themes of the Reformation era.63
The Modern Period up to Darby
The mod ern pe riod is usually understood as beginning in 1648 with the final acceptance of the Protestant Reformation at the Peace of Westphalia. The period saw the rebirth of premillennialism for at least three important reasons.64
- Due to the influence of Renaissance humanism, the Reformers went back to the investigation of original written sources by the fathers and the Scriptures. This gave them access to fresh and accurate Greek texts, uncorrupted by the V ulgate traditions. It also exposed them to new editions of the early fathers including the distinct premillennial teaching of Irenaeus.65
- Much of the allegorical hermeneutic that dominated the Medieval period was repudiated. Calvin particularly reintroduced exegetical exposition
6 0 G e o r g e H. W illiam s, Sp iritu al a nd An ab ap tist W riter s, vo l. 25 , Library of Christian Classics (London: SC M , 1957 ) 19 -40, identifies this element of the Radical Reformation as the Evangelical Anabap tists, as d istin ct fro m th e S pirit ua lists, R ev olu tion arie s, an d th e E va ng elic al R atio na lists. T he Spiritualists and Revolutionaries, particularly, had elaborate futuristic views based on speculation.
Balthasar Hu bm aier , “Apologia,” Ba ltha sar Hu bm aie r, T he olo gia n o f An ab ap tism , trans. and eds.
6 2 For these and othe r exa mp les of Ca lvin’s com men ts on the se con d ad ven t, see J. G raham M iller, Ca lvin’s Wisdom, An A nthology Arranged Alphabetically by a Grateful Reader (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1992) 336-38.
6 3 George (Theology 323 ) quotes the great Pilgr im pastor, John Robinson (1576?-1625), commenting soon after the passing on of Calvin, “T he L ord hath yet m ore tru th an d ligh t to bre ak fo urth o ut of his h oly W ord .”
6 4 Thomas Ice, “Rapture, History of the,” Dictionary o f Prem illen nia l Th eo log y, ed. Mal Couch (G ran d R ap ids : K reg el, 1 99 6) 3 46 .
6 5 Iren aeu s, Against Heresies 5:31-36 in Ante-Nicene F athers 1:560-67.
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back into the church.66
- Many Reformers contacted Jewish sources and had learned Hebrew . This moved many of the Reformers to take passages concerning Israel mo re historica lly rather than co ntinuing to take them allegorically. This led to more historical or realized eschatological positions among the R eformers.67 Futurist interpretations including premillennialism bega n to be more promine nt in the church as noted ea rlier.
This more recent focus on premillennial thought in the late 1500s and early 1600s is not surprising. James Orr makes an astute observation concerning the way various doctrines have been the focus of interest and development at various periods of time. He writes, “[T]he articulation of the system [of dogma] in text-books is the very articulation of the system [of dogma] in its deve lopm ent in history.” 68 Theological articulation moves from Proleg ome na to T heology P roper, to Anthropology , to Christology, to Soteriology, and finally to Eschatology as the last major doctrine to be clarified. Orr speaks of law and reason underlying this development with the law having both a logical and historical develo pme nt.69 It is very significant that God in His providence brought into the church a rich development of eschatology. The following is a brief survey of pretribulational thinking that occurs during this period.
Joseph Mede (1586-1638)
Mede is considered the “father of E nglish prem illennialism ,”70 having written Clavis Apocalyptica (“Key of the Revelation”) in 1627 in which “He attempted to construct an outline of the Apocalypse based solely upon internal considerations. In this interpretation he advocated premillennialism in such a scho larly way that this work continued to influence eschatological interpretation for centu ries.”71
6 6 C o n s ul t “Calvin’s Method and Interpretation” and “Prolegomena to Exegesis,” T . H. L . Parker, Ca lvin’s New Testame nt Com mentaries, 2d ed. (Louisville, Ky.: Westminister/John Knox, 1993) 85-108, 19 2-2 05 . Se e als o R en ald E. S ho we rs, There Really is a Difference (Bellmawr, N.J.: Friends of Isra el, 1990) 136.
6 7 Luther performed all his deeds in the conviction that the Last Days were at hand, seeing the Pope as the Antichrist. See Norman Co hn , T h e P u rs ui t o f t he M il le nn iu m (London: Secker and Warburg, 1957) 26 1.
6 8 Jam es O rr, The Progress of Dogma (19 01 ; rep rint G ree nw oo d, S .C.: At tic P ress , n.d .) 21 .
6 9 Ibid ., 22. Hannah (Our Legacy 29) enumerates seven areas in the historical pro gressive artic ula tion of d oc trine en din g w ith “ Th e D oc trine of L ast T hin gs, o r Es ch ato log y (1 65 0-p rese nt).”
7 0 Ice, “R apture ” 346.
7 1 Ro bert G. Clouse, “Joseph Mede (1586-1638),” in The New International Dictionary of the Ch ristia n C hu rch , ed. J. D. Douglas, rev. ed.(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978) 646.
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Increase Mather (1639-1723)
This theologian and president of Harvard College (1685) was a significant American Puritan. Concerning the future coming of Christ, he wrote that the sain ts would “be caught up into the air” beforehand, thereby escaping the final conflagra-tion.72
Peter Jurieu (1637-1713)
Jurieu was a “prominent theologian and apologist in the French Reformed Church. He came to believe that Calvinists would be restored to France, because of his interpretation of the prophecies of the A pocalypse.”73 In his w ork, Approaching Deliverance of the Church (1687), he taught that “Ch rist would co me in the air to rapture the saints and return to heaven before the battle of Armageddon. He spoke of a secret rapture prior to His coming in glory and judgement at Arm aged don .”74
John Gill (1697-1771)
Gill was a profound scholar, Calvinist theologian, and Baptist minister at Horsleydown, Southwark, for over fifty years.75 He published his An Exposition of the New Testament in three volumes between 1746-48. In his commentary on 1 Thess 4:15 he wrote,
The Apostle having something new and extraordinary to deliver, concerning the coming of Christ, the first resurrection, of the resurrection of the saints, the change of the living saints, and the rapture both of the raised, and living in the clouds to meet Christ in the air, expresses itself in this manner. The dead saints will rise before the living ones are changed, and both will be caught up together to meet the Lord.76
Concerning 1 Th ess 4:17 he commen ts,
Suddenly, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, and with force and power; by the power of Christ, and by the ministry and means of the holy angels; and to which rapture will contribute the agility, which the bodies both of the raised and changed saints will have; and the rapture of the living saints will be together with them; with the dead in Christ, that will then be raised; so that the one will not prevent the other, or the one be sooner with Christ than the other; but one being raised and the other changed, they’ll be joined in one company and general assembly, and be rapt up together: in the clouds; the
7 2 Pa ul B oy er, Wh en Time Shall Be N o M ore (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1992) 75.
7 3 Robert G. Clouse, “Jurieu, Pierre (1637-1713),” The New International Dictionary 557.
7 4 Paul N . Benw are, Understanding End Tim es Prophecy (Chicago: Moody, 1995) 1 97-98; see also Grant R. Jeffrey , “W as the P reTrib P osition o f the R apture S een B efore John Darby” (unpublished paper presented at the Pretrib Study Group, Dallas, Tex., 1993) 2-3.
7 5 Robert G. Clouse, “John Gill (1697-1771),” The New Dictionary 413.
7 6 John Gi ll, An Exposition of the Ne w T estam ent, 2 vols. (London:William Hill Collingridge, 1853)
2:5 61 .
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same clouds perhaps in which Christ will come, will be let down to take them up.77
As Jeffrey observes, “there is some ambiguity in Dr. Gill’s 1748 teaching of the timing and sequence of prophetic events.” Yet Jeffrey notes many important conclusions, including
- The L ord will desce nd in the air.
- The saints will be raptured in the air to meet Him.
- Christ will preserve the sain ts with Him until the general conflagration and burning of the world is over.
- The saints will reign with Christ for a thousand years.78
Similar pretribulational views can be found in commentaries by Philip Doddridge (1702-17 51), James MacKnight (1721 -1800), and Thom as Scott (1747-1821 ).79
Morgan Edwards (1722-1795)
Edwards was a Baptist preacher, evangelist, historian and educator, having founded Rhode Island College (Brown University). During his student days at Bristol Baptist Seminary in England (1742-44), he wrote an essay on Bible prophecy. The essay was pu blished in Philadelphia in 1788 as Two Academical Exercises on Subjects Bearing the following Titles; Millennium, Last-Novelties. After a careful examination of this document, Thomas Ice concludes the following about Edwards’ position on the rapture from his statement, “The distance between the first and second resurrection w ill be som ewhat more than a thousan d yea rs.”80
- He believes that 1,003.5 years will transpire between resurrections.
- He associates the first resurrection with the rapture of 1 Thess 4:17, occurring at least 3.5 years before the start of the millennium.
- He associates the meeting of believers w ith Ch rist in the air with John 14:2.
- He sees believers disappearing during the time of the tribulation.81
Critics of rapture history who have argued that belief in the pretribulational rapture was not enbraced before John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) deny the clear
7 7 I b i d .
7 8 J e f fr e y , “A Pretrib Rapture Statement” 121-22.
7 9 Benw are, Un der stan din g End Times Prophecy 198. Scott taught that “the righteous will be carried into he av en , wh ere the y w ill be sec ure un til the time of th e ju dg em en t is o ve r.”
8 0 Thomas Ice, “Morgan Edwards: Another Pre-Darby Rapturist,” The Thomas Ice Collection (<http://www . according2prophecy .org/apredarby . html>) 1. See also, Fra nk M aro tta, Mo rgan E dwa rds: An Eig htee nth C entru y Pr etribu lation ist (Elkton , Md .: n.p., n.d.).
8 1 Ibid., 2.
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testimony of theologians and com men tators of e arlier periods. The clear statem ents of Pseu do-E phraem, John Gill, and others now make clear that pretribulationism has had a long and credible history of peo ple w ho understood it,, taught it, and who lived their lives in ligh t of it. George Ladd is no longer credible when he writes, “We can find no trace of pretribulation ism in the early church, and no modern pretribulationist has su ccessfully proved that this particular doctrine was held by any of the church fathers or students of the W ord before the nineteenth century.”82 Rapture critic John Bray m akes a sim ilar inappropriate com ment in the form of an offer.
People who are teaching the pretribulation rapture teaching today are teaching something that never was taught until 1812. . . . Not one of the early church fathers taught a pretribulational rapture. . . . I make the offer of five hundred dollars to anybody who will find a statement, a sermon, article in a commentary, or anything, prior to 1812 that taught a 2 phase coming of Christ separated by a stated period of time, such as the pretribulation rapturists teach.83
It is time for Mr. Bray to make good on his $500 .00 offer!
The Modern Period from Darby to the Present
John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)
Darby was a man of significant influence in the shift from historicism to futurism in premillenialial thought and the m odern force behind the development of dispensationalism. Darb y was w ell educated and h ad a fruitful ministry in the Church of England up until 1826.84 After much consideration and a series of providential circumstances, Darby broke with the Anglican church in 1828-29, envisioning “A spiritual church, joined to a heavenly Christ, indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and awaiting their Lord’s return.” 85 Darby soon began to teach openly an Israel-church distinction and a two-stage distinction in the second coming of Christ. This included a quiet appearance of Christ to remove all true Christians from the earth (the presence of Christ), followed by the removal of the restraining work of the Holy Spirit from the earth and the reign of Antichrist, after which w ould be the public appearing of Christ in glory. The pretribulational rapture view which Darby had discovered while in Bible study between 1826-27, was later supported by Edw ard Irving (1792-1834) and challenged by B. W. Newton.86 His views of the
8 2 B l e s sed Hope 31.
8 3 John L. B ray , The Origin of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Teaching (Lakeland, Fla. : John L . Bray Ministries, 1980) 30-31.
8 4 For a brief survey of his life and thought, see Floyd Elmore, “J. N. Darby’s Early Years,” in When the Trum pet Sound s, eds. Ice and Demy 127-59.
8 5 Ibid., 132.
8 6 F. R oy Co ad , A H istory of the Bre thren M ove me nt (Greenwood, S.C.: Attic, 1968) 129-30.
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church and especially his prophetic teaching spread like wildfire through the Plym outh Brethren movement, and after a visit America, they became popular throughout American evangelicalism.87 Two early proponents of Darby’s views in Am erica w ere James H. B rookes (1830-97) and J. R. G raves (1820-89).
Post Darby Period
The pretribulational position spread through influence of the N iagra B ible Conference era (New York, 1878-1909)88 and received wide exposure in the popular prophetic publications, The Truth, Our Hope , The W atchword , and Maranatha. It was also ca rried forw ard in W illiam Backstone’s book, Jesus is Coming (1909), and the work of C. I. Schofield in his po pular Scofield Reference Bible (1909), published in Britain and America, and other works.89 Prom inent pretribulational Bible teachers articulated the position on the Bible conference circuit, in the late nineteenth and early twe ntieth centuries including Arno C. Gaebelein (1861-1945), A. J. Gordon (1836-18 95), James M . Gray (1851-19 35), R. A. Torrey (1856-1928), Harry Ironside (1876-1 951), John F. Strombeck (1881-1959), Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871-1952), Alva J. McC lain (1888-19 68), Clarence E. Mason, Jr., Charles Lee Feinberg (1909-1995), J. Dwight Pentecost (1915- ), John F. W alvoo rd (1910- ), G erald B. Stanton (1918- ), and Charles Ryrie (1925- ). During this period, critics attacked it as the “any -momen t theory .”90
In the mid twentieth century almost every North American Bible institute, Bible college, and evangelical seminary expounded dispensational pretribulational-ism. This included Moody Bible Institute, Philadelphia College of Bible, The Bible Institute of Los Angeles, Talbot Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, and Grace Theological Sem inary. Many evangelical denominations and mov eme nts held to pretribulationism , including the Bible Presbyterian Church, The Evangelical Free Church, the Fellow ship of Grace B rethren , many independent Bible churches, indep endent B aptist churches, and Pentecostal denominations including Assemblies of God and Foursquare Gospel churches. The position was again popularized in 1970 by Hal Lindsey.91
A resurgence of posttribulational thought after 1952 challenged
8 7 See John M ’Culloch, “Brethern (Plymouth),” En cyc lop ae dia of R elig ion an d E thic s, ed. James Hastings (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1928) 2:843-48.
8 8 Rich ard R. Reiter (“A History of the Development of the Rapture Positions,” The Rapture 12) notes, “M any read ers co nclu ded that p retribu latino alism held by m any Plym outh Brethren in Britain was ad op ted wh ole sale by the [N iag ara ] co nfe ren ce.”
8 9 C. I . Sc ofie ld, Addresses on Prophecy (New York: A.C. Gaebelein, 1902) 89-103.
9 0 See ibid., 11-34, for a helpful history of this period. Also note the respective articles in Couch, ed ., Dictionary of Premillennial Theology.
Hal L in d se y a n d C . C. Carlson, Th e La te G rea t Pla net E arth ( Gran d R apids: Z ond ervan , 1970 ).
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pretribulationism with the writings of Geo rge Ladd (1911 -1982),92 J. Barton Payne (1922-19 79),93 and Robert Gundry (1932- ).94 These challenges have prompted
excellent responses which have added credibility to the pretribulational rapture view.95
In the past decade have come new important works supporting pretribulationism, including those by Paul Benware, Mal Couch, Larry Crutchfield, Timothy Demy, Paul Feinberg, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Grant Jeffrey, Thomas Ice, Paul S. Karleen, Renald Show ers, and Robert Thomas.96
David MacPherson, a Less Than Credible Side Issue
David MacPherson has now published five books, all setting forth the same contrived view of the origin of the pretribulational rapture.97 Hav ing first made h is assertions, MacPherson approaches his subject lookin g for pro of. He uses h is skills as a former investigative newsman to assemble selectively huge amounts of data, presenting his view with a vindictive, preachy, sarcastic tone.98 MacPherson aggressively attacks pretribulationism by attributing its origin to Margaret MacD onald, as a result of a prophetic revelation she had in the spring of 1830, at the age o f fifteen. Margare t was attracted to the charismatic influence o f the Irvingite Movem ent by 1830 and her pretribulational rapture vision was recorded and published by Robert Norton in 1861. “MacPherson uses this finding to project the notion that the doctrine of the pretribulational rapture is of demonic origin through 15-year-old Scottish lassie.” 99 MacPherson then claims that J. N. Darby and the Plymou th Brethren, w ho taugh t the pre-trib view, received it from Ma rgaret
9 2 Ge rog e E . La dd , C r u c i a l Questions About the Kingdom of God.
9 3 J. Barton Payne Th e Im min ent A ppe arin g of C hrist (Gran d R apids, 19 62).
9 4 Ro bert H. G un dry , The Church and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973). See John A . Sproule, A Revised Review of “The Church and the Tribuilation” (Postgraduate Seminar: New Testament Theology; Winona Lake, Ind .: Grace Theological Sem inary, 1974; Birmingham, Ala: Sou theastern B ible Co llege, n.d.).
9 5 A little k no wn ex am ple of th is is M cC un e, An Investigation and Criticism of “Historic” Prem illennialism from the View point of Dispen sationalism .
9 6 See notes in this article and the general bibliography (255-63) for the respective contributions of these authors. See also publications of the Pre-Trib Research Center (P.O Box 14111, Arlington, Tex. 760 94-1 11; e-m ail <[email protected] 711 online.n et>).
9 7 In order of publication, Da ve M acP he rso n, The Unbelievable Pre-Trib Origin (Kansas Ci ty, M o.: Heart of Amer ica B ible So ciet y, 1 97 3), The Late Great Pre-Trib Rapture (Kansas City, Mo.: Heart of America Bi ble So ciet y, 1 97 4), The In credible Cover-up, the True S tory on the Pre-T rib Rapture (Plainfield: Logos Inte rna tion al, 1 97 5), The Great Rapture Hoax (Fletcher, N.C.: New P uritan Library, 19 83 ), Th e Ra ptur e Plo t (Sim pso nv ille, S .C.: M illen niu m II I Pu blis he rs, 1 99 5).
9 8 Ad equ ate a ss es sm e nt s o f M a cP h er so n ma y b e f ou n d i n T h om a s D . Ice, “Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture Did Not Begin w ith Margaret Macdonald,” BSac 147 (1990):155-68, and John F. W alv oo rd, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976) 42-51.
9 9 Ice, “Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture Did Not Begin”157.
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MacD onald after 1830. MacPherson then asserts that an elaborate plot was devised by Darby, William Kelly (1821-1906), and others to cover up the origin.100
The reality of MacPherson’s five books is that he has still not produced the evidence for his claims and w hat he does offer has fundamental flaws.101
- Margaret M acDonald does not teach a pretribulational rapture in her prophecy and thus she could not give to Darby what she never believed herself. Even anti-tribulationist John Bray ackno wledges this!102
- MacPherson amasses an overwhelming amount of evidence that does not relate to his case, but which serves as a kind of smoke screen around the edges.
- Darby developed his view in 1826-27, at least three years before MacDon-ald’s vision! His visit with Margaret in 1830 was of no consequence.
- The Brethren were not united on this issue, so Newton, Mueller, and Tregelles w ould c ertainly have expo sed su ch a fraud on Darby’s part.
MacPherson engages in biased revisionism. No major scholar familiar with original sources has sided with him.103 Sand een calls it a “groundless and pernicious charg e.”104 F. F. Bruce, himself a Brethren autho r, writes, “W here d id Darby get [his view]? . . . [I]t was in the air in the 1820s and 1830s among eager Bible students of unfulfilled prophecy . . . . [D]irect dependence by Darby on M argare t MacD onald is unlikely.”105 It appears that M acPherso n’s converts are rab id anti-pretriublationists because McPherson has “proved” only what he set out to find.106
It is important to point out that judgmen t of the credibility of the pretribulational rapture is whether it is found in the Scriptures! Thou gh history informs one’s interpretation of Scriptu re, it shou ld not drive his interpretation. The real source of the pretribulational rapture will be developed in the ensuing articles
1 0 0M acP he rso n, The Rapture Plot 87-120.
1 0 1See Ice, “Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture Did Not Begin” 158-61.
1 0 2John L B ray , The O rigin of the Pre-Tribulational Rapture Teaching (Lakeland, Fla.: Christian Chiliasm; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 250. Charles R . Smith, “Review of Un belie vab le Pr e-Tr ib Or igin , by Dave MacP herson,” Grace S pire (May-June,1974):9.
1 0 3Ice, “Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture Did Not Begin” 161-63.
1 0 4
Ernest R. S an de en , The R o ot s o f F u nd a me nt al is m : British and American Millenarianism 1800-
1 0 5F . F . B r uc e, “R evie w of Th e U nb elie vable Pr e-T rib Or igin , Dave M acPherson,” Evangelical Qu arter ly 47 (1975):58.
1 0 6No te Ro bert G undry’s endorsemen t on the cover of Th e Ra ptur e Plo t, “As usual, Dave MacPherson overwhelms his critics with a supe rior kno wled ge of th e prima ry sourc es. His is a rare co mb ina tion of h isto rica l res ear ch an d in ve stig ativ e re po rting .”
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of this issue of TMSJ . Church history records a long and at times painful develop-ment of the articulation of the doctrine. As pointed out earlier, such is also the case with Christology, soteriology , and other do ctrines as we ll. The following is a brief summary of the history of doctrine as it relates to the pretribulational rapture:
- The apostolic fathers were premillennial but the details and implications of
the rapture do ctrine w ere no t worked out.
- By the fifth century the amillenialism of Origen and Augustine had all but eliminated premillenialism.
- This continued through the Reformation with the Reformers preferring to
ignore the millennium rather than teach against it. They were more “no-
mil” tha n “a-m il.”
The seventeen th century brin gs a rebirth of premillen ialism. A long w ith
it flourished postmillenialsm until the end of the French Revo lution (1789).
After 1800, premillenialism made a great surge but was still dominated by
historica l schools of interpretation.
- By 1826 literal interpretation of prophecy took hold and “futurism” saw the light of day!107
Ice concludes, “This environment of a literal, futurist, premillennial framew ork interacting with the progress made by systematic theology provided the momentum that led to the understanding of the pre-tribulational rap ture.”108 In the providence of God, the early eighteen hundreds became the first time since before the rise of allegorical interpretation tha t a climate existed conducive to the development of the doctrine of the pretribulational rapture. Features of this period include:
- The thriving of premillennialism which gave rise to pretribulationism.
- The return of pre millennialism brought w ith it the application of literal, normal hermeneutics to prophetic passages of Scripture such as Daniel and Revelation. A literal hermeneutic leads to futurism in interpretation.
- The return to a strong belief in im minency just as w as seen in the early centuries.
- These teachings of imminency and a pretribulational rapture received wide acceptance.109
In conclusion, this historical study leaves two striking realities:
- That dispensational premillennialism w ith its articulation of a pretribulational rapture is recent, and
1 0 7I c e , “Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture Did Not Begin” 166.
1 0 8Ibid.
1 0 9Ibid., 166-68.
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- That history is normative to (i.e., sets the standards for) the truthfulness of doctrine.
Five Premillennial Views of the Rapture
Once prem illenialism is embraced there are five views held concerning the rapture. The following is a brief identification of these views to serve as a reference point for further study in this series of articles.
Pretribulationalism— a major view
This view holds to the supernatural removal of the church out of the world before the tribulation (70th week o f Daniel) begins. It has the followin g main features: (1) it maintains a clear distinction between Israel and the church; (2) the church is exemp ted from the w rath of God (1 Thess 5:9); (3) it maintains imminency concerning the coming of Christ; and (4) it distinguishes between the rapture and the second coming.110
Partial Rapture View—a minor view
This view holds that only faithful, spiritual Christians will be taken by Christ at the rapture. Thus only those who are “watching and waiting” are taken. The rest will repent of their carnality during the tribulation. Matthew 24:40-51 is interpreted as “be on alert.” Issues related to the doctrine of salvation and divisions of the body of Christ plague this view.111
Midtribulational Rapture View—another minor view
This view teaches that the rapture will take place at the midpoint of the seven-year tribulation or after 31/2 y ears. The view holds that only the last half of Dan iel’s seventieth week is tribulation.112 The position struggles for convincing texts. Though asserting that only the last half of the tribulation co ntains judge men t, they struggle to deal with the fact that God pours out His wrath through the entire 70th week.
Pre-Wrath Rapture View—another minor view
This view was recently developed and popularized by Marvin Rosenthal and Robert Van Kampen.113 The view holds that the church will be raptured about
1 1 0Be nw are , Understanding End Tim es Prophecy 164-87.
1 1 1W alv oo rd, The Rapture Question 97-113.
1 1 2Gleason L . Ar ch er, “ Th e C ase for the M id-S ev en tieth -W eek Ra ptu re P osi tion ,” The Rapture 113-
1 1 3M arvin Ro sen tha l, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church (Nash ville: Tho mas N elson, 19 90); Ro bert Va n K am pe n, The Sign of Christ’s Coming and the End of the Age (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 199 2).
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three quarters of the way through the seventieth week of Daniel. The view divides the tribulation period up into (1) the beginning of sorrows, (2) the great tribulation, and (3) the Day of the Lord. The third period is the time of God’s wrath from which Christians will be spared. This threefold division creates numerous and significant
linguistic, exegetical, and theological problems regarding the seven-year length of God’s wrath and the length of the Day of the Lord.114
1 1 4
P a u l S. K arle en , T h e Pre -wr ath R aptu re o f the C hur ch, Is It B iblica l? (Langhoren, Pa: BF P ress,
|The Rapture in Twenty Centuries of Biblical Interpretation||171|
Posttribulational Rapture—a major view
This view has been w idely popularized by Ladd, Gund y, and others.115 It holds that the rapture occurs at the end of the great tribulation period, when Christ returns. Posttribuilationism differs from pretribulationism on several basic issues:
- the nature of the tribulation, (2) the distinction between Israel and the church, (3) the doctrine of imminency, (4) the distinction between the rap ture and the second coming, (5) the meaning of eschatological terms, and (6) sometimes hermeneutical issues.116 There are four distinct positions within this view.117
- Classic posttribulationism or historic premillen nialsim . Here the events of the tribulation are understood to have always been in place and the church is already under God’s wrath. Christ’s return is “imminent,” but the view relies on both allegorical and literal hermeneutics. This is the view of J. Barton Payne,118 and is sometimes known as moderate preterism as well.119
- Sem iclassic posttribulationism This view also holds that the tribulation is a contemporary even t but teaches that som e events of the tribulation are still future. The view forsakes imminency and also draws on conflicting hermeneutical principles. There are considerable differences between proponents of this view. This is a kind of catch-all view for those who do not fit the o ther catagories.
- Futurist posttribulational view. A relatively new but very popular view held by George Ladd and others. This view holds to a future seven-year tribulation followed immediately by the second coming. The church goes through the entire tribulation and the Israel/church distinction is blurred. Hermeneutics are more literal in this view.
- Dispensational posttribu lation. This is the view of Robert Gundry120 who attempts to keep the distinction between Israel and the chu rch clear, wh ile believing that the churc h will live through all seven years of tribulation. At the same time he believes that the church will also in some way be “exempt” from God’s w rath. In this view , imminenc y is aggressively denied.
These views mutually ex clude each other so that they cannot be combined. The posttribulational view puts great confiden ce in the length of time during which it has
1 1 5In add ition to re fere nc es c ited ab ov e, se e, T ho ma s Ice an d K en ne th L . Ge ntry , The Great Tribulation Past or Future? Two Evangelicals Debate the Question (Gran d R apids: K regel, 199 9).
1 1 6Se e R eite r et.a l, The Ra pture 169-232.
1 1 7W alv oo rd, The Blessed Hope 21 -69 ; B en wa re, Understanding End Tim es Prophecy 19 0-9 2..
1 1 8Pa yn e, Imminent Appearing.
1 1 9Ice, “Introduction,” The Great Tribulation 7.
1 2 0Gu nd ry, The Church.
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been held. The view suffers in its understanding of wrath during the entire tribulation period as evident in the views above. These views also blur the distinction between Israel and the church and make the rapture and second coming into one even t, despite their dissimilarities in Scripture. Again, the im minenc y of the Lord’s return is lo st.
The Scriptures are clear about Jesus’ coming, once in a manger and once in two phases, i.e., at the rapture and at the second co ming . Though this view is strong and cogent today, it has suffered from the lack of developm ent and clear articulation as have other doctrines in history. It is under attack from those who choose not to see future prophecies fulfilled in the same w ay that all past prophecies have been fulfilled. It is also under attack from those who use history to drive interpretation and those w ith different herm eneu tical or interpretive pre-co mmit-men ts when they approach Bible prophecy. Finally, it is worthy of deeper study, clearer argumentation, and fervent protection. May this series of articles strengthen, protec t, and p roclaim the marvelo us truth of the imminent return of Christ to rapture his church before the 70th week of Daniel begins.