Imminence of Christ's Coming
1 Thessalonians 1:10
1 Thessalonians Lesson #023
October 27, 2015
“Father, we are thankful that we can come before Your throne of grace today. That as we prepare to study the Word, know that God the Holy Spirit, who indwells every believer, also fills us with His knowledge, His active sanctifying work occurs when we are in right relationship with You. Father, we know that as we walk by the Spirit, You are working in us: encouraging us, strengthening us, and reminding us of what we have learned in terms of Your Word, and using that to produce spiritual growth.
Father, we also continue to pray for our nation. We pray that You would rear up spiritually mature men who can lead, guide, and direct us, those who understand the establishment principles derived from the Scriptures, principles of wisdom, who can be focused on what is best for the nation, and not what is best for their political career.
Father, we pray now, as we continue our study in 1 Thessalonians, that You help us understand the things that we are studying and that we may have a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches about what we can expect next in terms of Your prophetic time table. We pray this in Christ’s Name, Amen.”
In our last lesson, as we are going through 1 Thessalonians 1, we came to 1 Thessalonians 1:10, which foreshadows the eschatological or prophetic material that Paul will remind the Thessalonian believers about when he comes to 1 Thessalonians 4–5. This is the build-up to one of the most significant passages in the New Testament. It really does teach about what is called the Rapture of the church. We will get into that a little bit more as we get into our study.
As we look at 1 Thessalonians I will start with what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10, “For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” that is our spiritual life Phase Two, “and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
That phrase “wrath to come” is not always, but often, especially when “wrath” is used in conjunction with the verb “to come” indicates something in the future, not the “wrath” in terms of eternal judgment, but it is a term often used for God’s judgment in time. This is called “Daniel’s Seventieth Week” or the “Time of the Tribulation,” a seven-year period when God’s wrath is poured out upon the earth. The implication here is that we, as the church, are delivered from that. We will not go through that seven-year period of time.
This is known theologically as the Pre-Tribulation Rapture. It means that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ will be taken out of the earth to be with the Lord in an instant, a blink of the eye, when Jesus returns in the clouds for His church. The central passage for this is in 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”
Technically that is a resurrection, not the Rapture. “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them ...” That is the key word. In the Greek it is the word HARPAZO. It was translated into the Vulgate with the word rapio, which is where we get the English word “rapture.” Sometimes people will say that “rapture” is not even in the Bible. You cannot find the word anywhere in the Bible. This is not a biblical doctrine that is really a false argument. It is based on a misunderstanding of translation and language.
The Rapture clearly is taught. The issue is when this occurs, the timing of the Rapture:
- Does the Rapture occur before the Tribulation, before the seven years?
- Does the Rapture occur in the middle of the Tribulation?
- Or does the Rapture occur a little bit closer to the end?
That is a somewhat recent view developed by Marvin Rosenthal, who previously had held to a Pre-Trib Rapture. His view is that only the last most severe part of the Tribulation is called the “wrath of God.” The church does not go through the “wrath of God.” The church is removed. It is sort of a three-quarter Tribulation view.
There are number of problems that I have with his view, not the least of which is the way he organizes the timing and the schedule of the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments, and the way he artificially uses this term “wrath of God” for the sixth seal judgment, which I believe takes place near the first half of the first half, which would mean something like a year to a year and a half in the first part of the Tribulation. In this sixth seal judgment there is this asteroid shower.
During this time the leaders of the earth, the kings and the generals of the earth, are hiding in the caves to hide from the “wrath of the Lamb.” The “wrath of the Lamb” is poured out from the very beginning of the seven-year Tribulation. That is clearly the same as the “wrath of God.” Rosenthal plays with a lot of terms. He gets into a lot of technicalities that are manufactured in order to come to his conclusion.
The Pre-Trib Rapture always generates a lot of hostility from those who disagree with it. Primarily from those who come from a non-dispensational background. You get some who come from a dispensational background, like Marvin Rosenthal, but for the most part these are advocates of what is known as Covenant Theology or Amillennialism.
In Covenant Theology or Amillennialism they hold to a system of biblical interpretation that is not consistently literal. By that I mean that they will look at other areas of Scripture as being literal, for example, the prophecies regarding the first coming of Christ are taken literally:
- That the Messiah would be born literally in Bethlehem.
- That He would be literally born of a virgin.
- That He would literally be betrayed for the price of 30 pieces of silver.
- That the one who betrayed Him would be a friend.
Numerous other prophecies that were fulfilled in the first advent they will take literally, but prophecies that have not been fulfilled they often take in a spiritualized or non-literal or allegorical manner. For example, in Amillennialism, in Revelation 20 that speaks of the facts:
- That Satan is bound for a 1,000 years.
- That Christ will reign for a 1,000 years.
- Then Satan will be released at the end of a 1,000-year period.
The term 1,000 years is used six or seven times in that passage. Their view is that those are not literal 1,000 years, but yet other numbers in Scripture are taken literally. What is the basis within the text itself to not take 1,000 as a literal one-thousand-year period? There is no basis for that. They spiritualize that to mean an extremely long period of time, or an idealized period of time, something of that nature. That is a non-literal interpretation.
The question is: If you are going to interpret fulfilled prophecy literally, then what gives you the justification to interpret unfulfilled prophecy in an allegorical and non-literal fashion?
They really do not have an adequate answer for that. In fact, there have been a number of “Amils” who have recognized that if they consistently interpreted the Bible in a literal fashion, then they would end up Pre-Millennial.
A very famous critic of dispensationalism and an advocate of Covenant Theology, as well as one of the founders of Westminster Theological Seminary, was a theologian by the name of Oswald T. Allis. He is quoted as making that exact statement that if you were to take these things literally you would end up being Pre-Millennial.
Understanding or believing in the Rapture is a subset of those who interpret the Bible literally and understand a Pre-Millennial Rapture. If you do not have a belief in Pre-Millennialism, then you are not going to be thinking at all in terms of what is going to happen to the church, because in Amillennialism the church is equivalent to the Kingdom.
We are living in the Church Age, but that is the spiritual form of the Kingdom. When you are living in the spiritual form of the Kingdom Jesus is already on David’s throne in Heaven. He’s on a spiritualized form of David’s throne.
For the Amillennialists the next thing that is going to happen in God’s prophetic timetable is Jesus is going to come back to the earth. There will be the judgment. Then you will go into eternity. That is their viewpoint.
From their perspective, therefore, those who are dispensationalists are making a lot of issues out of things that are misinterpreted because they are not literal. Then they go back and make all kinds of egregious claims that have been disproven by recent scholarship.
One of their claims is that the whole doctrine of the Pre-Trib Rapture was invented by John Nelson Darby. Actually, some of them will go so far as to say that John Nelson Darby was going to some meetings in England and heard a young woman by the name of Margaret MacDonald give a prophetic utterance. This was long before the charismatic movement, but they were into various forms of mysticism. That is where they say Darby came up with a Pre-Trib Rapture.
The reality is that if you analyze Margaret MacDonald’s statement, which has been recorded for posterity, it does not indicate anything other than a possibility of a Post-Trib Rapture, because she clearly has the church going through the Rapture.
Over the last 30 years there have been numerous articles that have been written analyzing these historical events. Dr. Tommy Ice has written a number of them. He did a lot of research and investigation on the Margaret MacDonald statement back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Sadly, what happens is that the people who make these Pre-Trib Rapture claims keep making them. It is as if dispensationalists can talk and talk and talk and promote evidence and evidence after evidence, but those who disagree with them, those who criticize dispensationalists, and Pre-Trib Rapture, ignore their scholarship. They never interact with it, which raises the question as to whether they just have an agenda to promote, or whether they are really serious about discovering what the Bible says.
There is a new film that is coming out, in fact, by the time you watch this it may be out. They have been saying that they were going to release this film ever since last January. They have had four or five release dates. The most recent e-mail indicates a release date somewhere by the end of August. It is called Left Behind or Led Astray. I even hesitate mentioning that because that sort of legitimizes it.
But there have been several things, if you watch the trailer that come out that are typical of anti-dispensational, anti Pre-Trib Rapture arguments that indicate that once again you have people who have enough knowledge to put together a sophisticated critique, but unfortunately they have not done the research. They have ignored a lot of basic things that have been said.
One of the things said is there was no Pre-Trib Rapture in the early church; therefore, it is not in the Bible. Anyone who spends any time studying what is referred to as the apostolic fathers, the apostles, or the apostolic age. That is when Paul, John, Luke, and Matthew are still alive and writing before the Canon is closed. The apostolic period is the period from roughly AD 33 to the time of Christ’s death until the AD mid 90s when the Apostle John, the last apostle, dies and passes off the scene.
Then it overlaps because for a while John is the only one left alive. From roughly the 80s, some say 70s up to the mid 100s you have the period called the Apostolic Fathers. The apostolic fathers were those early church fathers who knew the apostles. In some cases they were disciples of the Apostles. Men like Polycarp, who was taught and trained by the Apostle John. There were numerous others:
- Clement of Rome, who writes an epistle to the Corinthians himself.
- Early writings, such as the epistle of Barnabas,
- And another called The Didache, which was an early basic doctrine type of document. Didache means “the teaching,” and it is called the “Teaching of the Twelve.”
In that early stage you have some people look at these writers because they do not have enough time to distinguish between that which is canonical and that which is not canonical, but it has some spiritual value to it. That was their perspective. One of these arguments comes along and begins to question and throw doubts. Basically, their assumption is that anything that is not there early is not accurate.
The problem is that you go into the early apostolic fathers, and if you read what they believe about salvation they are really confused. They believe you have to be baptized or you were not saved. Most of them believe in baptismal regeneration.
They did not have a clear understanding of the Trinity because the Trinity is not really thought through analytically and defined until you get to the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, you have a lot of problems because in the early church, from about AD 80 until about AD 150, they are rearticulating what Scripture says in a non-analytical fashion.
It is only as you get more into the 2nd century that you get issues related to persecution and opposition. You get various philosophers that are anti-Christian who are writing anti-Christian diatribes. You get the development of a group of men that are called the “apologists” or the defenders. They begin to think more analytically about Scripture and answering these questions.
For example, in the early church regarding the Trinity:
- They believed Jesus was God.
- They believed the Holy Spirit was God.
- They believed the Father was God.
- But nobody was asking: Why don’t you have three Gods? If those three are each God, why don’t you have three Gods?
They believed in monotheism, but nobody is answering those kinds of questions that call for more detailed analytical thought.
You do not have this kind of analytical thought characterizing that particular period in the early church, but you do have clear indications in some writings in the early church that believed in a distinction between God’s plan for Israel and God’s plan for the church. You have people like Dr. Larry Clutchfield, who has done some great work on that.
You also have another person by the name of Pettigrew, who has done some work on Israel and the church showing that you have certain basic themes in the early church that relate to dispensationalism. One of the most significant of these doctrines is the doctrine known as the imminence of the Rapture, the imminence of the Second Coming that Jesus taught that He was coming at any moment.
If Jesus is going to come at any moment that means that there are no signs. There are no prophecies that have to be fulfilled prior to His coming. We come to understand that there are two aspects to Jesus’ future coming:
- Phase one is a coming that is imminent, that could be at any moment, and we call that the Rapture of the church.
- Phase two is when Jesus comes to the earth. That is technically the Second Coming proper.
There is sort of a prelude to the Second Coming, seven years earlier, that we refer to as the Rapture of the church. One of the reasons we believe this is because there are so many passages in the Scripture and in the early church where they believed clearly that Jesus could come back at any moment.
They did not have to wait for the Antichrist. They did not have to wait for the abomination of desolation. They did not have to wait for the 144,000 to come on the scene. They did not have to wait for any of the seal, trumpet, or bowl judgments. They clearly understood that what they were looking for was Jesus Christ, not the Antichrist.
What I want to do at this early stage, as we are first introducing the concept of the Rapture, is to look at this doctrine of imminency. In terms of the early church:
What did they believe about the imminence of Christ’s return?
In 1 Clement, this is Clement of Rome, who is the leader of the Church of Rome. Roman Catholics believe he was the 2nd or 3rd pope. That is not valid whatsoever, but he was the leader of the Church of Rome. He wrote an epistle to the Corinthians. He said:
“Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, ‘Speedily will He come, and will not tarry…’ ”
He was expecting the return of Christ to be soon and sudden, and he was not looking for the Antichrist or anything else to come in the intervening period. This is clearly an indication that he believed that the Lord would suddenly come to His temple. He goes on to say:
“… and, ‘The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom ye look.’ ”
Then a couple of decades later you have Ignatius in Ephesians 11. Ignatius was a martyr around AD 120. He says:
“The last times are come upon us. Let us therefore be of a reverent spirit, and fear the longsuffering of God, that it tend not to our condemnation. For let us either stand in awe of the wrath to come, or show regard for the grace which is at present displayed—one of two things.”
Ignatius sees that the last days are near. They are imminent. We are right at the door.
Irenaeus, who is the Bishop of Leon in France, wrote against heresies quite a bit. He says [in Against Heresies]:
“And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, ‘There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be.’ ”
Irenaeus wrote roughly between AD 150 and AD 170. That is a fascinating statement by him. He clearly indicates that he understands imminency.
There have been other quotes and statements that have been discovered through the research of the Pre-Trib Rapture Study Group. A lot of times in the early church, when somebody who was nobody would write, in order for people to read them they would assume a pseudonym for somebody significant. They would write under that name. This was the case of a Syrian bishop by the name of Ephrem. He wrote in and around the 3rd century, but later on there was someone who copied his style and used his name. This person is referred to as Pseudo-Ephraem.
Pseudo-Ephraem writes in the 4th century. He did not have a seven-year Tribulation. He only had a three-year Tribulation, but he has the church being removed prior to the Tribulation. That is still a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. This is clearly evidence of a very unsophisticated concept that the next thing that is going to happen is Jesus is going to return for the church. The church is not going to go through the Tribulation. We find this in the first 400 years of the church.
Another thing that is interesting, to put this historical stuff out there at the beginning, is that a book just came out by a history professor at the Colorado Christian College in Colorado. His name is William Watson. The title of this book is Dispensationalism before Darby. This man is one of those nerdy little historians that has spent years of his life specializing in the period of British church history in the 1600s and 1700s.
For fun Watson goes over to England and he prowls around all these old libraries in Oxford and Cambridge and other of the old schools there. He reads the sermons, and many of the sermons of the Puritans were printed. He reads through those.
What he has discovered is that there are a huge number of Puritans in the mid-1600s who understood that the church would not go through the Tribulation. He has given some of this evidence in papers he has given at the Pre-Trib Rapture Study Group.
This book has just been published. In fact, I got my copy last week. I think it came out about three months ago. This kind of information is not on anybody’s radar. Once it gets published like this, it is amazing that the critics of dispensationalism and the Pre-Trib Rapture ignore it.
There used to be a man who would go to the Dallas Seminary library. His name was Dave MacPherson. He has a book that was an attack on Darby. He was one of the ones who promoted that whole thing about the fact that Darby got the Pre-Trib Rapture from Margaret MacDonald.
MacPherson went around and he would put these little fliers for his book inside all these books on the Rapture in the Dallas Seminary library. As a student you would be thumbing through a book and you would be studying it and all of a sudden one of his little fliers would come out.
But even long after this information on Pseudo-Ephraem and several others came out, MacPherson continued to promote that same thing, because they have a theological agenda and it is not to discover biblical truth.
Here we have three quotes and there are numerous other quotes that could be found that indicate a sense of imminency in the early church apostolic fathers. They believed that Jesus was on the cusp of His return. Nothing needed to take place prior to that.
This is the idea in chart form, our Prophetic Panorama:
- We have the Church Age, where we now live. Christ is going to return in the air at the Rapture, and Christians are going to be taken up with Him.
- There is a gap, a transition period that occurs between the Rapture and the beginning of the seven years of the Tribulation. This is the time when the Antichrist will rise to power and then sign a peace treaty or covenant with Israel. That is what kicks off the Tribulation period.
- At that same time, it is hard to put this in a chart form, probably before the Tribulation actually begins you have the Judgment Seat of Christ that takes place. It is an evaluation judgment of all Church Age believers.
- Then these Church Age believers will return with the Lord Jesus Christ at the Second Advent, as He comes to the earth to establish His Kingdom, which is referred to as the Millennium, a literal 1,000-year reign.
- Then the present heavens and earth will be destroyed, the new heavens and new earth are created, and we go into eternity.
When we look at what Paul at this passage, Paul says:
2 Timothy 4:8, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
It is important to study what is going to happen with regard to Christ’s future coming and how this is laid out in the Scripture, because this is so significant that if you love Christ’s appearance, then you are preparing yourself spiritually for that return. You are preparing yourself for the Judgment Seat of Christ. You are living your life for the Lord.
Let’s start off with some definitions:
- Imminency means the “at any moment” return of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ can return at any time. He could return before I am done with this class. He could return five years from now. He could return ten years from now. He could return at any time. Nothing has to happen.
That does not mean that some prophecy related to what will happen within the Daniel’s 70th week, for example, some people may think that the return of the Jews to the land now is prophetic fulfillment. It depends on how you define that, but that is not a precursor to the Rapture. That is not a sign of the Rapture. That is something related to what will take place in the Tribulation. I prefer to think of that as simply stage setting. The Rapture is not dependent or conditioned upon anything else happening.
- The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word imminent as something that is: “hanging overhead, constantly ready to befall or overtake one; close at hand in its incidence.”
Last week as we were all looking at the radar every day, to find out what this tropical storm “Bill” was going to do, its arrival was imminent. It was going to hit Houston and drop tons of rain on us at any moment, and at the last minute it jogged to the other side. That is the idea. We did not know quite when we were going to get these rains. We kept hearing that they were coming, they were coming, they were coming, but they never came. We missed the storm, but we thought it was imminent. Everybody was changing their plans, staying home from work, avoiding the freeways, and any place that could flood.
1. What we learn about the imminency of the Rapture is that it is certain it will occur, unlike the arrival of tropical storm “Bill.”
- It is certain it will occur. We know Jesus will return for His saints.
- But it is uncertain when it will occur.
It is not dependent, conditioned, or contingent on any other event. Nothing has to happen. Therefore, Paul expected it in his lifetime. Clement expected it in his lifetime. Irenaeus expected it in his lifetime. Many, many others expected it in their lifetime. However, in the Middle Ages this whole doctrine got lost.
Why did it get lost?
It got lost because, as the early church, through the influence of Origen and Augustine, shifted from a literal interpretation to an allegorical interpretation that dominated the western and eastern church from roughly AD 400 up until the Protestant Reformation in AD 1500, when you started to get a return to a literal interpretation. During that period nobody is thinking in terms of a literal return of Christ to establish His Kingdom.
If you are not thinking in terms of a literal return of Christ to establish His Premillennial Kingdom, then you are never going to think about the Rapture either. The Rapture is not even going to occur. Premillennialism is a theologically contingent doctrine for understanding the Rapture.
In terms of imminency:
- It is not contingent on any other event.
- No prophesied event necessarily intervenes between the present time and the Rapture.
The Church Age is the only dispensation that has historical trends and no prophetic fulfillment. The Church Age began with the advent of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2 it begins with the baptism by the Holy Spirit, and it ends with the Rapture of the church. This is often referred to as a mystery because it was not revealed in the Old Testament.
2. The doctrine of imminency is important to understanding the Pre-Tribulation return of Jesus Christ at the Rapture.
This is the definition of the Rapture: The resurrection of all dead Church Age believers and the removal of all living believers from the earth at the end of the Church Age before the beginning of the Tribulation.
Technically it is that removal of the living. That is where the term Rapture, those who are caught up to be with the Lord in the air, those who alive and remain, are caught up to be with the Lord in the air.
You have the resurrection of those who are dead and the Rapture, the removal of all living believers from the earth before the beginning of the Tribulation.
3. You have different views:
Pre-Tribulation Rapture—the view that the Rapture will occur before the Tribulation and will include all believers. This view has: Church Age à Rapture à Tribulation à Millennium.
Partial Rapture—the view that the spiritual Christians go up at the Rapture before the Tribulation. But if you have been a naughty Christian and you have not gotten in fellowship, and then you are going to have to go through the Tribulation.
It is amazing how many Christians do not understand forgiveness. They do not understand grace. They think that if you have been a disobedient believer that somehow you are going to be punished for your sins. This is the Partial Rapture view.
Mid-Trib Rapture—the view that the Rapture occurs in the middle of the Tribulation. It occurs about the same time as the abomination of desolation.
The most obvious problem with that view is that it has certain prophetic signs that occur ahead of time. It is not going to happen. You are going to be looking for the Antichrist to show up on the scene before you are going to be looking for the return of Jesus. All through the New Testament the focus is on the return of Jesus.
Post-Trib Rapture—the view that emphasizes that Jesus comes at the end of the Tribulation. There are a number of problems with that exegetically. One of the simplest arguments is: If all believers are raptured at the end of the Tribulation, then they will all get resurrection bodies. There will not be anyone with a mortal body who can propagate and procreate the human race into the Millennial Kingdom. The Post-Trib Rapture really falls apart for a lot of reasons.
4. The purpose of the imminency is to keep every believer in a constant state of expectancy: looking, waiting, hoping for the return of Christ that we might be ready, prepared, that we might not be ashamed at His coming, as the Apostle John warns in 1 John 2:28.
If you knew that Jesus was not going to return in your lifetime, you might not live quite as obediently as you do thinking that He might come tomorrow. The reality is that even if Jesus does not return in or near our lifetime, we are going to die. We could die tomorrow. We could die the next day. We need to always live in this state of expectancy.
If Christ does not return until after the Tribulation, after the rise of the Antichrist, after the seal judgments, trumpet judgments, and bowl judgments, then we are really looking for those things to occur first. We may relax in our Christian life.
5. Believers are to look for the blessed hope of the Savior:
- We are to LOOK for the Savior, Hebrews 9:28; Titus 2:13.
- We are to WATCH for the Savior, 1 Thessalonians 5:6; Luke 12:37.
- We are to WAIT for the Savior, 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:10.
We are waiting for Him. We are focused on that as believers. We are not waiting for something else. We are waiting for His return.
6. No prophecy occurs between the baptism of the Spirit and the Rapture means that the Rapture is imminent. It could occur at any time. No one knows what hour. Nothing is intervening.
This is such a critical point to understand. We are not looking for something else. This is a problem that you have with a certain number of dispensationalists today. The people who are caught up with what I call the “newspaper exegesis.”
Hal Lindsey was one of the worst. Hal did a tremendous job and had a superb influence on a whole generation, probably two generations, of people who have read his prophetic books and watched his television shows. But Hal borderlines, if not steps over the line, into historicism. He is trying to identify current events as that which fulfills prophecy.
In dispensationalism we do not look at current events and try to figure out whether this is related to the Antichrist? Could the Antichrist be this President or that President, this person or that person or another person?
We are focused on the fact that the next event is going to be Jesus’ return. We are not going know who the Antichrist is until he signs that covenant with Israel. We will already be in Heaven.
If you go back to the early 1900s there were a lot of these prophetic movements that were popping up all over the United States and all over England. These were date setters. The ones involved were saying that Jesus was coming back this year. Some of the worst would sell everything they had. They would put on white robes and sheets to be prepared. They were already dressed for Heaven. They would go up on some mountain top and wait for Jesus.
There were so many of these kinds of radical movements that people were tired of hearing about this. We see some of that today. There was a book by Edgar C. Whisenant that came out back in 1988 called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. Oops! It did not happen. So he wrote another book called The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989 … 1993 ... 1994. Then we did not hear any more from him.
No prophecy is necessarily fulfilled, so we are not looking for that. Today we have people getting all excited and stimulated by Joel Rosenberg. Joel believes in a Pre-Trib Rapture. His theology is fairly straight, as far as I know, but he believes that the battles of Ezekiel 38–39 are going to occur before the Tribulation, maybe even before the Rapture, which is not an uncommon view.
People we know, Tommy Ice, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Tim LaHaye, David Cooper, and a number of others hold to that position. It is one of three most likely scenarios for understanding the timing of Ezekiel 38–39. But in Joel Rosenberg’s case, right now he is looking at what is happening on the scene:
- You have Iran flexing their nuclear muscles. They are getting a certain amount of support from Russia. This is the first time in a long time, if ever, that Russia has entered into any kind of a positive alliance with Iran.
- You look at what is going on with Libya in the past, but it really does not fit right now.
- Turkey has some other issues, especially with Iran.
These are the places that are mentioned as the allies who are going to instigate the Ezekiel 38 invasion of Israel. Rosenberg is looking at what is going on there and trying to see how this fits this prophetic timetable. This is just a waste of time, in my opinion, because none of these things have to take place prior to the Rapture. The Rapture is a signless event. It could happen at any moment.
7. The resurrection of the church, like our dying, is completely out of our control. The timing is out of our control. Nothing we can do can speed it up. Nothing we can do can slow it down. It is based on God’s schedule, not our schedule.
One of the interesting things is that in the Jewish community you get a couple of rumors that are pretty rampant to explain why evangelicals support Israel:
- One thing they say is that the only reason that evangelicals support Israel is because they want to convert them all to Christianity. That is their only motivation—conversion—so you had better watch out for those evangelicals. Do not trust them!
- A second thing they say is that the only reason that evangelicals want to support Israel is because they want to get all the Jews back in to the land, then Jesus is going to come back and kill all the Jews, or they are all going to get killed in the battle of Armageddon.
It is a subtle form of anti-Semitism. That is a popular view that is out there. What they are saying is that Christians can speed up the process by getting all the Jews back into the land.
Actually, there was a Jewish Rabbi by the name of Manasseh ben Israel, who lived in the mid-1600s and at the time of Oliver Cromwell in the 1640s in England. At this time the Jews had been kicked out of England for about 400 years. Jews had not been living in England at all. They had been completely expelled from England. Manasseh ben Israel got the idea that because Deuteronomy says that God is going to scatter the Jews to all the nations of the earth, that if there is a nation without a Jew, then they cannot be restored to the land yet.
Manasseh ben Israel went to Cromwell and said if he would let Jews back into England, then that will speed up the coming of the Messiah and the return of the Jews to their national homeland. That was a twist on this same argument.
The point is that the Bible says the timing is set. There is nothing we can do. You can get all the Jews back into Israel tomorrow, and it will not change the timing of the Rapture one little bit. Nothing affects that. That is locked away in the secret counsels of God.
We have no control over the time or the manner of the Rapture any more than we do the time of the manner or time of our death.
8. The resurrection of the church is totally beyond our control because resurrection is the Lord’s victory.
1 Corinthians 15:57 talks about the resurrection as the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That is not a timing event that we can impact.
9. While the Rapture is imminent, the Second Advent is not.
There are signs. When the apostles came to Jesus, there on the Mount of Olives, and asked what the signs of His coming would be, then Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse, an explanation of all the things that are going to happen. There will be wars and rumors of wars, famines, plagues, all these things. That is not talking about things that are going on now. We have had famines, plagues, wars and rumors of wars since Noah got off the boat.
Jesus is saying that this is something distinctive. These are plagues on steroids. This is wars on steroids. This is wars, diseases, plagues, and famines that go far beyond anything ever experienced in history, because this is going to be a sign of His coming. These are wars and plagues that are related to the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments of the Tribulation that are 10 or 15 or 20 times more intense and severe than anything ever experienced before in history.
The Second Coming is going to be preceded by all of these signs. There has to be the abomination of desolation. All of these things have to take place before the Second Coming. The Rapture, the next coming of Christ, is not based upon any fulfilled prophecy.
10. The Rapture could have occurred at the time of James or Paul because no prophecy had to be fulfilled before the resurrection occurs.
James expected it in his lifetime. Paul expected it in his lifetime. Peter expected it in his lifetime, and yet it did not happen. That is the doctrine of imminency.
11. Distortion of the doctrine of the imminency of the Rapture results in instability and foolish explanation or speculation about the timing of the Rapture.
People just go crazy about this. We need to live each day as if Jesus is coming back tomorrow. We also need to live as if Jesus is not coming back for another 200 years. We have a lot of Christians today, in America especially, who think that things look so bad that the Rapture needs to be very soon. There is a little problem with that. If you are a Christian in any Islamic country, or if you are a Christian in probably 80% if the world, things have always looked bad.
We gave been living in a little bubble for about 300–400 years, and because that bubble is diminishing, and is probably going to go away, does not mean the Rapture is any closer. We have to recognize that. I think that to some degree a lot of our critics are partially correct when they say that Christians look at the Rapture as an escape clause, that they are not going to go through tough times. I think we need to recognize that.
We do believe that Paul clearly taught that we are going to go through difficult times, tribulation, even martyrdom. It could be extreme, but the Rapture is not an escape clause from that. But it is that when life gets tough we often think “I sure wish the Rapture would occur tomorrow. There is not a single problem in my life that the Rapture would not solve in a heartbeat.”
What are some key passages that demonstrate the imminency of Scripture?
2 Peter 3:3–4, “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.’ ”
This indicates in my mind that there is going to be a long period of time before Jesus returns. There is nothing in between. It indicates that there is going to be the coming of Christ and that during that time there are going to be those who taunt the church and said that nothing has changed. The last days. We always have to distinguish between the “last days of the church” and the “last days of Israel.” The “last days of Israel” is the Tribulation.
This is not talking about what is going on in the Tribulation, but what is going on during the Church Age. The principle there on the bottom of 2 Peter 3:4 “all things continue just as it was from the beginning of creation,” is basically formalized in a principle of geology called uniformitarianism—that all the processes that we see at work on the earth today have been the same forever and ever. Nothing has ever changed.
We can look at the decay rates today and assume that they always decayed at that same rate, and we can extrapolate back to determine that the earth is three or four million years old. We can look at erosion. We can come up with the date of the earth because if the Mississippi River delta is putting out so much silt per hour, then we can extrapolate back and come up with a different understanding of the age of the earth.
The trouble is that you can look at about 20–30 different processes and come up with widely varying ages of the earth, because they do not stay the same. We saw this recently when I was on the Grand Canyon trip. But there have been collections of this done. You can look at places like Answers in Genesis. I think I went through this in the study of the flood back in Genesis, but there are numerous charts that give decay rates for the age of the earth based upon different systems.
- If you are looking at the dust on the moon, the earth is very young because there is not much dust on the moon.
- You can look at ice cores on Antarctica and the earth is not that old.
- You can look at silt rates in the Mississippi delta and come up with a different age.
All of these indicate different ages. But the point that we also see in this passage is this idea that Jesus has not returned yet, and that the next thing that is going to happen on the agenda is the return of Christ, not these other events.
Then we have John 14:1–3, which is really a great Rapture passage. A lot of people do not think of it that way, but it really is. Here Jesus tells his disciples who have just learned He was leaving and want to know where He is going and how they can get there. They do not know. Jesus said:
John 14:1–3, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places.”
A lot of us memorized this from the King James Version and it said “mansions.” That was a mistranslation because the Latin word that was used to translate this was mansionis. Unfortunately, that word simply refers to a place to live, often a temporary place to live. This is not mansions. We are not going to get some great palatial place.
I know that burst so many bubbles. I know people who have been to great places, great vacations on this earth, and they have pictures. They say that when they get to Heaven that this is what I want my mansion to look like, Lord. But this is a temporary dwelling place.
Where are we going to dwell permanently? We are going to go to Heaven. We are going to go to our heavenly dwelling place. The light is on and we are going to stay there for a short time. Then we return to the earth with the Lord. We are going to rule and reign on the earth with the Lord through the Millennial Kingdom.
Then what happens?
New heavens and new earth and we are going to live in the New Jerusalem above the new earth. Our dwelling place really is not in Heaven forever and ever. That is a misunderstanding. It is an outgrowth of the allegorical view that Jesus comes back, everything is destroyed, and we go to Heaven.
John 14:2–3, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
Jesus is not emphasizing anything that intervenes, or that He is going to come again and it be a surprise.
Jesus said in Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”
This means soon. Once the time comes everything will unfold in a rapid fashion. It does not mean that He is going to come in the next four or five years. It has the idea of when I am coming all of these things that will happen will domino very quickly. We have to be prepared for that coming.
James 5:7, “Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
It is near. It is the next thing that is at hand. It is going to happen in the prophetic timetable.
James 5:9 pictures Jesus as “standing right at the door.” It could happen at any moment.
1 Thessalonians 1:10, “and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:7, “so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That is what the believers are waiting for. They are not waiting for the revelation of the Antichrist, but the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 3:20–21, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”
That is what we are waiting for.
1 Thessalonians 4:15, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
It is just this same thing over and over and over again. That that is the next thing that we are looking for.
Titus 2:13, “looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.”
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha.”
The Lord is near.
Philippians 4:5, “Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.”
This is what we are looking for.
The Didache, 16. 1 (ca. AD 70 to 90) we read:
“Be vigilant over your life; ‘let your lamps’ not be extinguished, or your loins ungirded, but be prepared, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come.”
In that film, the trailer that I mentioned earlier, that is one of the first things that they come out with and say: In The Didache they do not understand anything. But you have a clear statement here of the imminency of Christ. That He is going to come back at any moment. That is the next thing to happen.
John Calvin said the same thing:
“Be prepared to expect Him every day, or rather every moment.”
Calvin was not consistent because he was an Amillennialist.
John Calvin also said:
“Today we must be alert to grasp the imminent return of Christ.”
And John Calvin talking about 1 Thessalonians 4:
“It means by this to arouse the Thessalonians to wait for it, nay more, to hold all believers in suspense, that they may not promise themselves some particular time … that believers might be prepared at all times.”
The Westminster Confession recognizes the reality of imminence:
“… shake off all carnal security and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come.”
This is the doctrine of imminency. If Jesus’ return can occur at any moment, then it has to be before all of the signs, all of the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments, all the things that happen during the Tribulation period. Otherwise it will not happen at any moment, and it will not happen at an hour we know not of.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things and be reminded of Your faithfulness, Your goodness, and the fact that You have told us that Jesus is returning. We can count on it. We just do not know when. We need to be prepared for it.
The implication is, from the doctrine of imminency, that we do not need to be concerned about going through the Tribulation, though we may indeed go through serious opposition, persecution, and tribulation in this life. We know that Your grace can sustain us in everything for our hope is in You. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”