Book Review: Evidence for the Rapture: A Biblical Case for Pretribulationism

Evidence for the Rapture: A Biblical Case for Pretribulationism is an excellent recent, work that goes beyond the promise of the title to argue for the necessity of a pretribulational Rapture of the church. If your not familiar with this end-times position, it is the view that the deceased who came to faith in Christ through the Church, and living believers will be caught up out of the world to meet the Lord in the air and be taken to heaven where they will be kept safe during the seven years of tribulation that will come upon the earth.

Whether you agree with this position or not this is a work that ought to be in your library. It will equip pre-tribulationists with cogent arguments defending their view. Opponents will need to understand and respond to the arguments made by the ten contributing authors 

Evidence for the Rapture provides a reasoned, rational alternative to popular end-times works that sometimes resort to date setting. It also provides an exegetically derived framework that allows the student of prophecy to integrate all that the Bible has to say with regard to Jesus’ return. The book is aimed at a thoughtful, Biblically literate, and curious audience. Each essay carefully interacts with the text of the Bible. Whenever an argument is made from the original languages of scripture it is thoroughly explained. Sources are well footnoted so that those who want to know more about supporting and opposing arguments can consult the works referenced. 

Each of the essays provides an exegetically based defense of the pre-tribulation Rapture from different perspectives. Contributors are from Dallas Theological Seminary, Grace Theological Seminary, The Master’s Theological Seminary Moody Bible Institute, and Shasta Bible College and Graduate School. 

I enjoyed the book so much that it is hard for me to identify individual highpoints. Nevertheless, I am going to make a try. The opening essay by Dr. Robert Thomas addressing imminency is a fantastic survey that roots the doctrine firmly in the teaching of Jesus and then shows how His teaching echoes through the subsequent New Testament books. 

Similarly, the editor Dr. John Hart, demonstrates that the New Testament teaching about the Rapture of the Church is rooted in the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24.

Lastly, Dr. George Gunn ably defends the eschatological promise of Jesus to take His Children to a heavenly home in John 14:1—3 against recent attempts to argue for a non-eschatological interpretation. 

This is an important and much needed work in the area of Biblical eschatology. In the best tradition of dispensational hermeneutics each author grounds their argumentation in text of scripture. Without reservation I recommend this to those who both oppose and support this eschatological stance.

Women, Culture, and the Church

The respected and renown Bible commentator J.B. Lightfoot said that Jesus’ attitude toward women must have appeared to have been a social revolution.  What prompted this assessment?  I think Thomas Alworthy summed it up when he wrote that Jesus “had a sincere belief in the intellectual and spiritual possibilities of women.”

Unlike most people living in His era Jesus appreciated the spiritual capabilities of women.  In Mt 12:50 (it is in Mark 3:35 and Luke 8:21 too) Jesus said “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” As far as welcoming people into intimate fellowship sex was no barrier.  Jesus also said that His claims about Himself would cause division within the home.  He said, “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Lk 12:53)  In other words, unlike His contemporaries, Jesus was supporting the idea that women might adopt beliefs far different from their husbands.

Jesus also set Himself apart from His generation by appreciating the intellectual capabilities of women.  Take for example a pair of parables in Luke 15.  In the first parable, a man rejoices at finding a lost sheep.  In the second, a woman rejoices at finding a lost coin.  The point Jesus was making in both parables was that sinners are so important to God that His followers should work extraordinarily hard to recover them.  So, the presence of both a man and women in these parables shows that when it comes to reaching the lost, women have as big a role to play as men.  Jesus also taught women one on one.  Consider the women at the well in John 4:1-42.  Rabbinic dictum stated that a man should not even greet his own wife in a public place.  But Jesus broke with this tradition to speak with and even teach the Samaritan women.  We also find Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha where we find “Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.” (Lk 10:39) She was doing the better thing: learning from Jesus.

Jesus also appreciated woman’s ability to serve.  In Mark 12:41-44 Jesus used the example of a poor widow to teach the disciples that the value of giving is not in the quantity given but in the quality.  The Lord, in other words, used the example of this woman, to show the men how they were to live.  One time Jesus healed a woman in a synagogue on a Sabbath.  In response, she glorified God (Luke 13:13), but the male ruler of the synagogue was indignant (v. 14).  Another time a woman was healed by merely touching the hem of Jesus robe.  Jesus, knowing what had happened, sought her out.  She, in response, “came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed.” (Lk 8:47) In both of these instances the important point to note is that it was a woman who was glorifying Jesus and providing public testimony about Him.

Charles Ryrie has noted that “Jesus Christ opened the privileges of religious faith equally to men and to women.  He gave His message publically and privately to women as well as to men.  The frequent and prominent mention of women in the gospels is in itself noteworthy by contrast with their status in Judaism.”

In light of the example of the Lord every Christian, and Christian men in particular, should be appalled and grieved at a culture that reduces women to mere objects of sexual pleasure.  We can also be careful to keep this kind of cultural behavior from seeping from the culture and into the church.  In light of the reduction of women to sexual playthings prevalent in our culture let’s be doubly sure to heed the warnings of 1 Thessalonians 4:3 which says: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Th 4:3), and Ephesians 5:3 “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” (Eph 5:3, ESV).

Isaiah Said There Will be a Second, So is This the First?

In 722 B.C. then in 586 B.C. God’s judgment for Israel’s idolatry came crashing down.  The northern ten tribes succumbed to an Assyrian onslaught.  The remaining southern tribes were devastated by Babylon.  Yet this is not the end of the story of Israel.  In 538 B.C. the return from exile began.  But the return was only temporary.  In 70 A.D. a new nemesis emerged.  This time Rome dispersed the people of Israel among the nations and occupied the land.  Yet, even this exile is not final.  In fact, two world-wide returns of the Jewish people to Israel should be expected.  Isaiah assumed this when he wrote:

Then it will happen on that day that the Lord will again recover the second time with His hand the remnant of His people, … And assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (Isaiah 11:11–12) 

Is the first regathering underway?  Let’s look at some facts.  First, in 1948, after the reestablishment of the nation, just 6% of the world Jewish population of 11.5 million were in Israel.  In 2018 46% of the world Jewish population of 14.5 million had migrated there.  Second, the relatively high birthrates among Jews in Israel and the lower birthrates of Jews outside Israel are accelerating the trend toward more Jews residing inside than outside the nation.  Third, the growing anti-semitism around the world is accelerating the immigration of Jews to Israel.  Consider, for example, the rising trend of anti-semitism in Britain since Jeremy Corbyn has become head of the Labour Party. A survey of 10,000 British Jews showed that a third were considering leaving.   

So these three facts do, in my view, indicate that the first world-wide gathering of Jews to Israel has been underway since May 14th, 1948 when David Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the State of Israel.  This sets the stage for the second, and final, regathering that Isaiah predicted.

Emotion First? Not According to the Bible

When we first moved to here we started visiting churches.  One of my big surprises is how much sentimentality and emotion pervades the ministry of worship and the word. Recently a friend and colleague forwarded me an email he received that is designed to entice the recipient to sign up for a webinar. The lead in line for the webinar was that a famous Christian apologist came to faith by first making an emotional decision, and then later backed it up with reason. The email went on to say that nearly every buying decision is made emotionally not intellectually. So, of course, I need to learn offer the Gospel by first bypassing the mind by first appealing to emotions, which the webinar would teach me to do. 

I understand and even appreciate the emotional aspects of faith. Yet, the idea that I need to first get someone to make an emotional commitment to Christ, and only later help them find reasons for their faith just strikes me as wrong. Why? First, I think there is a false dichotomy here. But hold it, big word alert! What is a dichotomy? It is just a fancy way of saying that the two things being compared, in this case emotion and reason, are opposed to each other or entirely different. But are emotion and reason opposed to each other? Not at all! Instead we find that in the Bible emotion is to be controlled and informed by reason. Joshua was told not to fear because God was with him (Josh. 1:9), Ruth was told to quell her fear because Boaz would be her redeemer (Ruth 3:11), Joseph was to set his fear of taking Mary as his wife aside because her conception was a work of the Spirit, and of course Jesus told His disciples to rightly fear God because He can destroy both soul and body (Mt. 10:28). Note the pattern here; fear was to be controlled by reason. I think that is the relationship between emotion and reason throughout the Bible. Emotion is to be subject to reason, not the other way around.

Second, when God invites His people into communion He appeals to their minds first. Check out Isa. 1:18 where God says “Come now, let us reason together…”. When Paul visited synagogues on his missionary journey the Bible does not say that he appealed to their emotion. Instead it says that he reasoned with them (Acts 17:2, 18:4). In fact the Bible says that the noble-minded responded to Paul by examining the scriptures and comparing them with what Paul said, that is they thought through what they had heard.  Lastly, Jesus gave a warning about those who have a strong emotional response to hearing the word preached. He said that the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with great joy is the one who is rootless and his reception of the word is only temporary (Mt. 13:20-21)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that our apologist friend isn’t deeply rooted in the word with an enduring faith. By God’s grace I pray he is. No, what I am saying is that this is not the way the Bible tells us to engage with others. The example we see in the Bible is definitely not people making emotional appeals to “buy” the Gospel of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.  Rather, we see a simple and hopefully winsome appeal to consider the facts of God’s grace and align our emotions accordingly.

Yes, People Die During the Millennial Reign of Jesus

I don’t know why these things happen to me but just the other day a January 16 post on The Gospel Coalition website popped up on my feed.  The title of the post is “Will People Die During Christ’s Millennial Reign?”  The author, John Currid from Reformed Theological Seminary, tries to make the case that Isa. 65:20 refers to conditions in the eternal state.  

Here is what that verse says, “No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, Or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred Will be thought accursed. “

If you are not familiar with the issue, here is a little background.  Covenant theologians hold to a two-age model of history, the current age and the age to come.  The current age extends until Jesus returns, then the eternal state or age to come arrives.  Dispensationalists on the other hand contend that the scriptures envision a 1000 year reign of Jesus on earth between the present age and the eternal state.  Isa. 65:20 is one of the battleground texts.

Dr. Currid’s view is that the dispensational interpretation is problematic for two reasons.  First, it disrupts the context. Dr. Currid contends that since Isa. 65:17 is a declaration by God that He is creating a new heaven and new earth then Isa. 65:20, which discusses the longevity of life, must also address the period of time when the new heavens and new earth appear.

Second, the dispensational interpretation, says Dr. Currid, does not take the text literally.  His view is that a literal interpretation of this text requires that it be understood metaphorically. 

His analysis however fails for a number of reasons.  First,  the prophets regularly do not distinguish between the time frames in which future events occur.  Instead they will describe future events as if they happen at the same time when later revelation shows that there is a gap of time separating them.  This phenomenon is called prophetic foreshortening.  As I write this I am looking out of my window in Estes Park Colorado.  In the distance, I can see the soaring Long’s Peak.  I can also see shorter mountain peaks between where I sit and Longs Peak.  From my perspective, it looks as if the peaks are very near to each other.  Yet, since I have been to Longs Peak, I know that there is significant distance between each set of peaks.  That is Prophetic foreshortening and it is not a dispensational interpretive device.  Amillenialist Kim Riddlebarger agrees that some prophetic texts are best understood this way.

Dr. Currid neglects the commonly occurring prophetic foreshortening.  In order to fit into a two age model, he requires that Isa 65:17 and 20 both address the same period of time.  This leads him into his second failure.

Clearly Isa. 65:20 is saying that people will live a long time in comparison to what they were living when Isaiah wrote this prophecy.  How long? Isaiah says that those who don’t make it to 100 years old will be so exceptional they will be thought to have been cursed.  Of course, during the eternal state there will be no more death (Rev. 21:4).  So, to reconcile Isa 65:20 and Rev. 21:4 with the two age scheme, Dr. Currid is forced to say that this verse is a metaphor underscoring  that “one of the great blessings of the eternal kingdom will be longevity.”  So, by understanding that Isa. 65:20 is a metaphor the plain meaning that there is death is made to say that death has been eradicated.

In justifying his metaphorical approach Dr. Currid says that Isaiah is expressing the reality of eternal life using a figure of speech familiar to the original audience.  In other words, Isaiah’s readers would not have been able to understand what eternal life means so this metaphor employing the idealized language of greatly extended life is used to communicate that concept.  Yet this argument fails if you just look at Isa. 25:8.  Here is what that verse says: “He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:8)

It is clear that Isaiah’s readers were expected to understand what it means for God to “swallow up death for all time”.  If they could understand it in Isa. 25:8, they could understand it in Isa. 65:20 too. 

If we take the text at face value and let it speak for itself we find Isa. 65:17 addresses the creation of the eternal state where there is no more death, and Isa. 65:20 addresses an age when life is greatly extended.  Clearly these are two separate ages and both are different from the age in which we live.  The best solution then is that between the present age and the eternal state is an intermediate age.  In the progress of revelation we have come to see that this age is the millennial reign of Jesus.  So Dr. Currid, yes there is death during Christ’s millennial reign.

Pretend Palestine

“Palestine” is a word that we hear a lot lately.  Recently, I did a search for “Palestine” on the internet and it yielded 457 million results.  Many of those results were stories of suffering and conflict. Although “Palestine” is apparently ubiquitous on the internet and in the news, one word you will never find in the Bible is “Palestine”.  Admittedly, some theological writers have referred to Deuteronomy 30:1-10 as the Palestinian Covenant.  These 10 verses are God’s promise to return Israel to the Land He had promised to them.  A land bound by the Euphrates River, the Jordan  River, the Mediterranean Sea and the River of Egypt, which I understand to be a reference to the Wadi el-Arish.  But “Palestine” is never mentioned in these verses.  Why? Because it is a made up word for a made up country.

Referring to the land bound by these rivers and seas as Palestine is unbiblical, inaccurate, plays into a Satanic subversion, and does not reflect reality. It is inaccurate in that Palestine is not a geographic or political entity that is reflected in the Bible.  Instead, Palestine is a term originating in approximately 135 AD when the Roman Emperor Hadrian attempted to eradicate Judea.  He renamed this area from Judea (a Latinized form of the name Judah) to Palestine as an affront to the Jews.  So, to that extent, we can even say that the word Palestine is an anti-Semitic term.

After the fall of the Ottoman empire at the end of WWI, the name Palestine was used with reference to the area incorporating the region from the Jordan to the Mediterranean sea and from Galilee south to the Negev which fell under the British mandate.  So the designation of this area as Palestine began as an insult and was perpetuated by those who were occupiers and administrators but not inhabitants.  Obviously, as my internet search showed, the inaccurate and unbiblical designation of the land that God gave to Israel as Palestine continues to today.

It has been subverted in that Palestine as a political entity and people did not come into existence until 1964 with the original Palestine National Charter.  This charter continued Hadrian’s insult to Israel.  If you look up the charter it explicitly declares Israel to be an illegal nation (Article 17), with no right to a homeland (Article 18), and an agent of fascism (Article 19). The term Palestine, therefore, has been subverted to refer to pseudo-state and pseudo-nationality and a de jure nation with an anti-Israel agenda.

It is Satanic because this renaming of the land is directly contrary to what God has said.  From Hadrian’s decree, through the British mandate, through the Palestinian National Charter, to today’s news the substitution of the word “Palestine” for “Israel” opposes what God has both decreed and guaranteed by covenant and oath.

Finally, the term “Palestine” attempts to mask the reality that God has sovereignly given the land to the nation of Israel.  Not only did God give them this land by He pledged it to them by both unconditional covenant (Gn. 12:1-3, 15:7-21, 17:6) and oath (Gn. 26:3).

When will their be peace in the mid-east? When the people who reside there and the nations that try to have an influence there yield to God’s sovereignty over the world He has created.  No matter how artful a deal for peace that may someday be struck, no peace will come until the rule of the true Sovereign is honored.

Too New to be True?

Dispensationalism is a theological system that has been characterized by three essential elements: a consistently literal reading of the Bible, a separation between Israel and the Church, and that God’s overarching purpose is to glorify Himself.  It is popularly known by certain doctrines such as the physical removal of the church to heaven (Rapture) before seven years of divine judgment on the earth (Tribulation), the restoration of Israel to it’s divinely promised homeland, the one-thousand year reign of Jesus on earth (millennium), and Christian Zionism.

As a system dispensationalism is often criticized and disparaged as being “too new to be true”.  John Nelson Darby, the guy above, was an English pastor and theologian who lived from 1800—1882 is often cited as dispensationalism’s originator. But the fact is that Darby was systematizer not originator.  He was the recipient and beneficiary of ideas that had been circulating in theological and pastoral writing for 200 years or longer. 

In fact, concepts associated with dispensationalism such as Christian Zionism and the premillennial return of Jesus to the earth to reign for 1000 years did not originate with Darby. Instead these ideas had been in circulation among pastors and academics for hundreds of years before him.  Darby’s contribution was to organize and systematize these ideas into a comprehensive system of theology now known as dispensationalism, a theologicial system that has continued to be refined ever since. 

For example, the reformer and successor to John Calvin, Theodore Beza (1519—1605), the English protestant John Bale (1495—1563), John Foxe (1517—1587) all expected a restoration of the Jews to their homeland.  Edmund Bunny (1540—1619) in perhaps the earliest instance of Christian Zionism called on Christians to love the Jews and hope for their restoration to the land. Similarly Cambridge fellow Frances Kett (1547—1589) called for a return of the Jews to their biblical homeland. 

If you want to dig deeper into the history of dispensationalism I highly recommend Bill Watson’s book Dispensationalism Before Darby: Seventeenth-Century and Eighteenth-Century English Apocalypticism  Paper, $24.95, Kindle 15:99. It is meticulously researched and will provide you with extensive material to defend dispensationalism against detractors who claim it is “too new to be true.” 

But let’s push way back before Darby.  Here is what the church historian Philip Schaff writes:

The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age [prior to 325 A.D.] is the prominent chiliasm, or millennarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on the earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment.  It was indeed not the doctrine of the church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers.  (History of the Christian Church, II, 614).

So to accuse dispensationalism as ‘too new to be true’ is both silly and disingenuous.  There is plenty of evidence that the key features associated with dispensationalism were in circulation long, long before Darby. Furthermore, this accusation is just a red herring used by critics of dispensationalism to confuse the real issue.  What we should be discussing is not whether dispensationalism is new.  Rather we should discuss whether dispensationalism is an exegetically derived theological system resulting from the use of a consistently literal hermenutic that acurately explains the Bible.