Monday, July 24, 2017

Evidence For the Rapture: A Biblical Case For Pretribulationism

(This is my full review - most of the other sites I posted an edited version as the full review could not be posted due to size limits) 
Evidence For the Rapture: A Biblical Case For Pretribulationism - General Editor John Hart is a compilation of several essays by several men in defense of the pretrib rapture.

I wanted to read this book primarily because it is a topic that our church is examining at the moment (we're in Matthew 24). We've been wrestling with the concept of the rapture and are actually leaning strongly in a Post-tribulational direction. My dad, a pastor has held a pretrib rapture stance for all of his life, until recently, and he wants to make sure that there is no compelling exegetical argument that he has not heard defending a pretrib rapture (and he's heard many arguments for it). I saw that this book was available for me to choose in the reviewing program I'm a part of and so I snatched it up.
Each chapter of the book deals with various arguments for a pretrib rapture, dealing with texts like 1 and 2nd Thessalonians, Matthew 24, and Revelation, and topics like the Day of the Lord and the separation of the church and Israel. Having read the arguments in this book I haven't been convinced that we need to stop heading in the direction of a posttrib rapture. I'll give some of my reasoning below:

One of the first arguments given is the "imminence" of the return of Christ. We are told in God's Word that no one knows the day or the hour, not even the Son, but only the Father. (Mat 24:36) We are told that His coming will be like a thief in the night (Matt 24:43-44). The author of this particular chapter, dealing with Matthew 24, Robert L. Thomas, argues that verses like these (and others) indicate that this particular coming of Christ will be without any warning. As to the verses in Matthew 24 that seem to indicate that there will be signs to be looked for that will be indicators of His returning to the earth in a short time (Matt24:33), Thomas explains that he believes that certain parts of Matthew 24 (like 24:4-28) are dealing with the time WITHIN Daniel's 70th week, and are speaking of one being able to realize the nearness of His return to earth (parable of the fig tree "then ye see all these things, know ye that he is nigh") in the 2nd Coming. Other parts (after vs. 36) are dealing with the BEGINNING of the 70th week of Daniel, which in Thomas' view, also includes Christ's return to gather up His church in the rapture, has NO signs, could begin at any moment, and is inaugurated by the snatching away of the church from the earth. "…the beginning of the week will catch everyone by surprise."

But I am not seeing, in the text, how one can, all while keeping the context in tact, separate the coming of the Son of Man into two comings or two "phases" of one coming, as one of the writers put it. And I don't see any warrant for seeing one of the 'comings' as only a partial return to earth. The text of Matthew 24 seems to indicate that Christ is speaking about one coming of Christ, and that this coming of Christ will be a return to the earth. It also indicates there will be certain signs that "He is near" and yet we do not "know the day or the hour". When you think about it, even at the time when the signs of His nearness are seen we will still not necessarily know the day or the hour of His return. Yes the Abomination of Desolation marks the middle of the week, but we are given two countdowns at the end of Daniel, both of which seem to count down from the time the abomination of desolation is set up (Daniel 12:11-12). If we say that Christ is returning immediately at the end of the three and a half years, do we count down from the very hour and minute that the Abomination is set up? Or are we counting days in general? Perhaps Christ will come at midnight at the beginning of the day immediately following 3 1/2 years. Or perhaps he will come at noon on that day. And what time are we using? If we are in America at the time that this happens then Israel is in a different time zone than we are. So, do we calculate from the time it is set up in our time? What calendar are we using? Jewish,Gregorian,babylonian?(assuming there will be such a thing at the time).

The essay writers point out that Christ uses the example of a thief breaking into a house, and that He also says that it will be as in the days of Noah. But It seems that those illustrations are more for demonstrating what it will be like for the unbelievers, those who are not watching. We know that believers (whom we presume will be watching) will not necessarily be overtaken by that day as a thief (1st Thess 5:4), though it will overtake the unbelievers like one. As to the days of Noah, yes unbelievers were ignorant of the day and the hour of the flood and were in the midst of daily activity when it came but a friend recently pointed out to me that Noah ended up knowing the day of the flood before hand. He was told when it would happen seven days before (Gen 7:4). He did not necessarily know the hour, but he knew the day and was told what to do before that day (go in to the ark).

This book contains some rather fascinating arguments, some that I had never thought of before. One such argument, by George A. Gunn, uses John 14:1-3: "Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions; 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 come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." (Joh 14:1-3) Gunn essentially makes a case that there must be a pretrib rapture as this prophecy cannot happen at the 2nd coming because at that time Christ will be returning to the earth, not to the dwelling places He prepared for Christians in His Father's house, and it is presumed that Christ will return to the earth to bring Christians to those dwelling places in the Father's house, which is in Heaven. "Since the destination points to a venue in heaven, not earth, the promise cannot point to a postribulation rapture and is most consistent with a pretribulation rapture." I do not see that this section of Scripture negates a pretrib rapture. I'll give one plausible reason at this moment: what about the New Jerusalem that apparently comes down from Heaven onto the earth? What if the mansions/dwelling places for Christians are in that City? Then Christ could prepare a place for us, come back to earth in the 2nd Coming and bring the New Jerusalem to earth as well.

One of the most recurring arguments pretribulatonists use, included in the arguments in this book, is that the church must not experience the wrath of God. One of the verses used for this position is 1 Th 5:9: "For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ". One of the essay writers, Kevin D. Zuber, uses 1 Thessolonians 5 to argue that since we are not appointed to wrath and since we are not of the "realm of darkness" that unbelievers are in and are children of the light(see 1 Th 5:4-5), therefore we will be raptured out of the world before the wrath of the Lord is dealt out upon the earth. Here are some of his statements: "Since the rapture will take all living saints to be with the Lord at the same time that the day of the Lord commences, no believer need fear that he will be found in the day of the Lord." "...neither they nor any saint will enter the day of the Lord". "Since believers are nonparticipants in the realm of darkness, they have 'the promise of non-participation in "the day of the Lord"".

I do not see that that is what Paul was getting at. Paul tells the Thessalonians ""For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. When they are saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall in no wise escape. "(1Th 5:2-3) This sudden destruction comes upon UNBELIEVERS (those of the darkness) as a thief in the night. "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief: for ye are all sons of light, and sons of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep, as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober."(1Th 5:4-6) It doesn't even look as though Paul is even hinting that they would not go through the tribulation. He tells them that they are not in darkness, and that therefore the day shouldn't come as a surprise to the believers, but it doesn't say that God will remove them from the earth at that time. Believers will not be those saying, "peace and safety", and they will have things to watch for, such as the Abomination of desolation, and must be very careful not to apostatize from the faith (at that time there will be many extremely good deceivers leading people astray - Matt 24:23-24). If they are in Jerusalem, at the time that it is set u,p then they will obey Christ's command to flee to the mountains. If they are anywhere else, then perhaps they will hide as well, but no matter where they are in the world, they will not take the mark of the beast. To unbelievers living at that time these events will be "sudden destruction; and they shall in no wise escape", but to believers living at this time these horrible things are apparently signs of coming redemption for them, and are not "sudden destruction":

"But when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads; because your redemption draweth nigh. And he spake to them a parable: Behold the fig tree, and all the trees: when they now shoot forth, ye see it and know of your own selves that the summer is now nigh. Even so ye also, when ye see these things coming to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh. (Luk 21:28-31) 

 "even so ye also, when ye see all these things, know ye that he is nigh, even at the doors." (Mat 24:33)
When Paul tells the Thessalonians that they are not destined for wrath but for salvation through Christ, we know that this is talking about our soul's salvation from the eternal wrath of God, not the temporary wrath that He will pour out upon the earth at the end. Zuber argues that Christians will not be on the earth during the temporary wrath of God upon the world. But we know that this is not the case. It looks as though perhaps millions (or more) of believers (apparently not just Jewish Christians) will be on the earth during that time (Rev 7:9-14, Rev 6:9-11,Rev 12:17, Dan 7:21-27). There will be Christian martyrs during the tribulation, but this does not mean that those martyred are experiencing God's wrath, but rather the wrath of Satan. If one holds to the view that only those who are in darkness are the ones that live through the tribulation then they would need to believe that those who become believers once the tribulation begins are among those who are "appointed unto wrath"! Are the so-called "tribulation saints" living in darkness rather than the light? Are the 144,000 Jewish believers "appointed unto wrath" and "living in darkness"? I do not see how one can biblically hold that view.

Related to this is the last essay in this book, by Michael Rydelnik, dealing with the distinction between the church and Israel, and because of this distinction how the church must be gone by the time the tribulation begins because God will be refocusing His attention on Israel. He says that "The distinction between the church and Israel should yield a belief that the rapture of the church will take place before the tribulation of the end of days (a pretribulation rapture)." Also, "It is 'a time of trouble for Jacob' (suggesting that the church will have already been removed)." But we also know that it will be a time of trouble for multitudes of Gentile believers, "After these things I saw, and behold, A GREAT MULTITUDE, WHICH NO MAN COULD NUMBER, out of EVERY nation and of ALL tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands….he said to me, These are they that come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:9, 14 emphasis added, ). One could also make the case that the saints spoken of in Daniel, who are persecuted by the Antichrist, include Gentile believers (Daniel 7:21-27;see also Rev 13:7, 17:6) That's a HUGE amount of believing Gentiles, which seems to indicate that, though the tribulation will be a time of trouble for Israel, this does not necessitate the church being absent during this time.

Another of the arguments given in this book is that," Paul routinely described the church ,or the body of Christ, as consisting of all people from all nations on equal footing as join heirs in one new man or spiritual organism….(quotes Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female…. " and Eph 2:14) "…Thus national barriers or boundaries no longer positionally divide believers from one another in the church age. Today, the preeminent servant of God is no longer national, ethnic Israel but rather the church, or the body of Christ, consisting of believers in Jesus from all nations…." the argument goes on making the case that the book of Revelation tells of "a time when national barriers will once again be erected as God will again use national Israel as His special instrument to bless the world…the Pauline concept of the church as a body with no national barriers is also absent from this time period."

When I look at those passages I do not see that it says that God broke down ethnicities, but rather that He included Gentiles, as Gentiles, in the people of God, thus making salvation by grace through faith and available to all people, breaking the wall of hostility between the Jews, who had the God-given law and ordinances to set them apart from the nations/Gentiles. This fits with passages like Acts 15, where the Apostle Peter is dealing with Jews who insist that Gentiles must keep the law of Moses in order to be saved, "And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." (Act 15:7-11)

Yes, in Christ there is no Jew, Greek, male or female, but this apparently does not mean that there are no Jews, Greeks, Males or females in the church, nor does it mean that they cannot have distinct roles. If this is what being in the church means then females would be allowed to be pastors and to hold authority over men because gender barriers would be broken down, as well as ethnic barriers. If gender has no relevance in the church then passages like 1 Tim 2:11-15 and Eph 5:22 contradict Galatians 3:28.

It would seem then that the Gentiles and Jews have been brought together in one body, all while staying Jews and Gentiles in the process. The Jews are saved as Jews and the Gentiles as Gentiles. This fits with what the Scripture tells us of the church,

"But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and he came and preached peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh: for through him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father. So then ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone; in whom each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit. (Eph 2:13-22)

"This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." (Eph 3:6)

Israel appears to exist even during the "times of the Gentiles", and the so-called church age. Paul speaks about how "he is a Jew who is one inwardly" (Romans 2:29), not merely with the outward qualifications but with the inward "circumcision" of the heart(but still with those outward qualifications). If there are no Jews in the church then why did Paul use the term? Yes we have verses like "For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel…" (Rom 9:6), but, and I know most pretrib folks would agree with me in this, members of Israel to whom God has chosen to show mercy, they are Israel (Romans 11:7). God did not cast off all of Israel, Paul himself pointed out that he himself was an Israelite and that there was, even at that time, a remnant of Israel who believed (Romans 11:5). The believing remnant of Israel, then and now, is the "the Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16, and, here is where I differ from pretrib rapture people, the "Israel of God" is apparently a part of the church. God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles, not by taking away their ethnic identity but by saving both by faith, thus making it possible to save Jews and Gentiles as Jews and Gentiles. The church is not a body of indistinguishable parts, but a body made up of many parts with different functions (1Cor 12:14-21).

And this fits the picture of the bride of the Lamb, in Revelation 21, "And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were laden with the seven last plagues; and he spake with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (vs 9-10) This city has twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the wall of the city has 12 foundations with the names of the 12 Apostles of the Lamb (see vs. 12-14).

I do not see that it is biblical to believe that God will set up the "wall of enmity" between Jews and Gentiles again in the future, nor to think that that believing Gentiles of that time will be made "strangers and aliens" yet again. Rather it appears more biblical to believe that any believing Gentile at that time will still have "access in one Spirit", with the Jews, to "the Father"(Eph 2:13-22). They will still be reconciled to God together, as Jews and Gentiles, "in one body through the cross(vs 16)". This body will still be "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone"(Eph 2:20). I repeat: that fits with the picture of the bride of the Lamb pictured in Revelation 21: 9-14 which includes the twelve sons of Israel.

I am still a premilennialist who has strong dispensational leanings, I still believe that God has a plan for Israel, that they will repent when Christ comes again and that He will give them the promised earthly land of Israel in the future and that Christ will reign over them for a thousand years on this earth. But I think that it is biblical to believe that even that this saved Israel of the future will be a part of Christ's body, the church. The Israel of God is a separate entity from Gentiles who are chosen of God, but they are 'separate' and yet in one body, the church. 
In other words, I believe that it is biblically consistent to think that the church will be on the earth during the tribulation, and that living believers will be gathered up/raptured with the resurrected saints when Christ comes again to the earth at the end of the tribulation. 
I thought that the writers of this book did a good job at defending their points, they made sense, they just didn't make enough biblical sense to me, for reasons like the ones given above. I just wasn't convinced. But It was a very interesting and intriguing read, I would recommend it to anyone wanting to study the pre-trib rapture position.

Many thanks to the folks at MoodyNewsroom for sending me a free review copy of this book! (My review did not have to be favorable)

This book may be purchased at (among other websites):  Amazon and Christian Book Distributors

Sunday, July 9, 2017

God's Smuggler - Young Reader's Edition

God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew with John and Elizabeth Sherrill: Young Reader's Edition is quite an interesting read.
It gives you an overview of the life of 'Brother Andrew, as he later became known, he was a Bible smuggler.

Andrew, like everyone, did not start out life as a Christian, he was struggling with life-purpose into his early adulthood.  He became a Christian and had a growing desire for knowledge of the Word of God and an eagerness to put into practice what he learned and to share the Gospel with others.

After becoming a Christian, Andrew became aware of, and concerned with the peril of churches in countries that were under communist rule.  He found that the Bible, in many of those countries, was scarce and hard to obtain, despite the idea being touted by the communists that they promoted freedom of religion.  In some countries there were no Bibles being printed, in others there were plenty of Bibles available but hardly anyone was interested in owning one, and in one country the communists advertised that they were printing their own translation of the Bible, but they delayed its publication and did not allow any other publication of Bibles.  Andrew sees a ministry opportunity in this need for Bibles and starts smuggling Bibles into those countries.  This book details many of the ways that God protected Andrew and his co-workers in their getting the Bibles past the various country borders.

 I do need to mention a couple of things that I didn't feel comfortable with the prophetic 'impressions' that Andrew and other people had about certain things: Feeling positive that God would give a car, or getting a confident thought that God would not let authorities harm them on a certain day.  How does one know that one's confidence is in God at those moments and not merely in one's own feelings/desires? Perhaps this may be considered a drastic example, but what if I am locked up in jail for being a Christian and I'm not given any food.  I will  think that I need food, I may even have an impression that God will supply it, but what if it turns out that God wants me to starve, die and be with Him?  That was my problem, and the fact that Andrew never seemed to believe that God would ever say "no" to anything he asked (like getting a helpmeet for instance).  I know that they didn't mean it this way but it could come across to a kid as if God will give you any material, earth-based thing for which you ask. 

But other than those things I really liked the book.  One of my favorite parts to read was of a time before Andrew became a Bible smuggler.  He went to a missionary training school, and quite a unique one!  The school actually sounded like a real mission school based on faith in God and His provision rather than teaching potential missionaries to solicit people for funds and help.  "The real purpose of this training….is to teach our students that they can trust God to do what He said.  He would do……They cannot be effective if they are afraid or if they doubt that God really means what He says in His Word."   On their practice Evangelistic trips they would be sent out with only one pound, and would rely upon God to supply their needs and His supplying did not merely take the form of money, it also took the form of food and clothes being given at just the right time.  That seems to be a more biblical form of missionary activity than what one sees nowadays, and more faith-based.  I know that all missionaries are not like this, but many come across as if they focus on money  and the help of people   If they really are called to the mission field, God will give the needed supplies even without them going to people for help.   So I was very refreshed to see the perspective of the people in this book in regards to their trust in God to supply all their needs.

 I believe that I would have liked this account a lot as a kid and a teenager.  It was very well written, intriguing and it left me wanting more.  It is quite fascinating to see what God has done in the lives of other Christians and to see the various circumstances God put them in in order to conform them to the image of Christ and to bring the Gospel to other people.   I think that this was an abridgment of the original work and so one can probably find an unabridged copy of this account if one wants to learn more (which I will probably end up doing).

Many thanks to the folks at Cross Focused Reviews for the free review copy! 

A couple of the websites where one may purchase this book are and Christian Book Distributors