Early Church Teaching On Pre-Tribulation Rapture


by Grant Jeffrey


“A Noted Byzantine Scholar That Taught The Pre-Tribulation Rapture in A.D. 373” Quote by: Grant Jeffrey’

Over the last thirty years I have been fascinated with Bible prophecy because it authenticates the Scriptures as God’s inspired Word and it points to the imminent return of Jesus Christ to usher in the Messianic Kingdom. I am always delighted when God leads me to new information that confirms His Word. In my ongoing research into recent archeological discoveries and into writings of early Church leaders, I have made several exciting new discoveries that I want to share with my readers. In this chapter we will explore a number of interesting discoveries about the following subjects: the finding of a teaching about the Pre-Tribulation Rapture from the first centuries of the early church; the archeological discoveries of the tombs of Mary, Martha and Lazarus that prove the historical accuracy of the Gospels; and the proof that miraculous healings, raising of the dead, and the Charismatic gifts were common among believers during the first three centuries following the resurrection of Christ.

The Pre-Tribulation Rapture Was Taught by the Early Church

Obviously, the truth about the timing of the Rapture will ultimately be found only in Scripture. The Protestant Reformation was based essentially on this return to the authority of the Bible. The Latin phrase Sola Scriptura, meaning “Scripture Alone” became the rallying cry of the reformers who ignored centuries of tradition and church councils in their insistence that truth could only be discovered in the Word of God. While the ultimate resolution of this discussion must be based on our interpretation of Scripture, it is important to answer the errors of our opponents who disparage “the blessed hope” of the Rapture with misinformation about the modern rediscovery of the truth about the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.

Many post-tribulationist writers have attacked the Pre-Tribulation Rapture doctrine by claiming that it cannot be true because no church writer or reformer ever taught this doctrine until approximately 170 years ago. While the real question for sincere students of Scripture must be whether or not the Bible truly teaches this doctrine, the argument that no one ever saw this “truth” throughout eighteen hundred years of Church history has been very effective, causing many Christians to abandon their belief in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture. The only problem with their argument is that they are totally wrong.

Many contemporary writers claim that the Pre-Tribulation Rapture theory first originated around A.D. 1820. They ascribe the theory’s initial creation to either Emmanuel Lacunza (Ben Ezra, 1812), Edward Irving (1830), or Margaret Macdonald (1830), and finally to John Darby (1830). For example, Dave MacPherson in The Incredible Cover-Up (1975 stated); “Margaret Macdonald was the first person to teach a coming of Christ that would precede the days of Antichrist . . . . Before 1830, Christians had always believed in a single future coming, that the catching of I Thess. 4 will take place after the Great Tribulation of Matthew 24 at the glorious coming of the Son of Man when He shall send His angels to gather together all of His Elect.” Reverend John Bray, in The Origin of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Teaching (1982) declared; “People who are teaching the Pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching today are teaching something that never was taught until 1812 . . . . Not one of those early church fathers taught a Pre-Tribulation Rapture . . . . I make the offer of five hundred dollars to anybody who will find a statement, a sermon, article in a commentary, or anything, prior to 1812 that taught a two-phase coming of Christ separated by a stated period of time, such as the Pre-Tribulation rapturists teach.” These writers, among others who despise the teaching of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, dogmatically assert that it was taught for the first time in 1830 by John Darby and the Plymouth Brethren or one of the other individuals mentioned above.

A number of these authors will have to drastically revise the next edition of their books based on two remarkable textual discoveries that conclusively prove that a number of Christian teachers, centuries before John Darby rediscovered this biblical teaching, clearly taught that the Rapture would occur before the Tribulation period. During the summer of 1994, after more than a decade of searching, I discovered several fascinating manuscripts that contain clear evidence of the teaching of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture in the early church.

Ephraem’s Teaching on the Pre-Tribulation Rapture

“For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the Tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins” (On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, by Ephraem the Syrian, A.D. 373).

The early Christian writer and poet, Ephraem the Syrian, (who lived from A.D. 306 to 373) was a major theologian of the early Byzantine Eastern Church. He was born near Nisbis, in the Roman province of Syria, near present day Edessa, Turkey. Ephraem displayed a profound love of the Scriptures in his writings as illustrated by several of his written comments quoted in the Works of Nathaniel Lardner, Vol. 4, 1788. “I esteem no man more happy than him, who diligently reads the Scriptures delivered to us by the Spirit of God, and thinks how he may order his conversation by the precepts of them.” To this day, his hymns and homilies are used in the liturgy of the Greek Orthodox and Middle Eastern Nestorian Church. While the sixteen-volume Post-Nicene Library includes a number of homilies and psalms by Ephraem the Syrian, the editors noted that he also wrote a large number of commentaries that have never been translated into English.

Ephraem’s fascinating teaching on the Antichrist has never been published in English until now. This critically important prophecy manuscript from the fourth century of the Church era reveals a literal method of interpretation and a teaching of the Pre-Millennial return of Christ. More importantly, Ephraem’s text revealed a very clear statement about the Pre-Tribulational return of Christ to take His elect saints home to heaven to escape the coming Tribulation. In addition, Ephraem declares his belief in a personal, Jewish Antichrist, who will rule the Roman Empire during the last days, a rebuilt temple, the two witnesses and a literal Great Tribulation lasting 1,260 days. It is also fascinating to note that he taught that the War of God and Magog would precede the Tribulation period. I discovered another text by Ephraem, called The Book of the Cave of Treasure, that revealed he taught that Daniel’s Seventieth Week will be fulfilled in the final seven years at the end of this age that will conclude with Christ’s return at the Battle of Armageddon to establish His kingdom.

The following section includes key passages from Ephraem’s important text, written about A.D. 373, and translated by Professor Cameron Rhoades, of Tyndale Theological Seminary, at my request.

On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World

“1. Most dearly beloved brothers, believe the Holy Spirit who speaks in us. Now we have spoken before, because the end of the world is very near, and the consummation remains. Has not the first faith withered away in men? …

“2. We ought to understand thoroughly therefore, my brothers what is imminent or overhanging. Already there have been hunger and plagues, violent movements of nations and signs, which have been predicted by the Lord, they have already been fulfilled, and there is not other which remains, except the advent of the wicked one in the completion of the Roman kingdom. Why therefore are we occupied with worldly business, and why is our mind held fixed on the lusts of the world or the anxieties of the ages? Why therefore do we not reject every care of earthly actions and prepare ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Christ, so that He may draw us from the confusion, which overwhelms the world? Believe you me, dearest brothers, because the coming of the Lord is nigh, believe you me, because it is the very last time . . . . Because all saints and Elect of the Lord are gathered together before the tribulation which is about to come and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins (Italics added). And so, brothers, most dear to me, it is the eleventh hour, and the end of this world comes to the harvest, and angels, armed and prepared, hold sickles in their hands, awaiting the empire of the Lord . . .

“3. When therefore the end of the world comes, there arise diverse wars, commotions on all sides, horrible earthquakes, perturbations of nations, tempests throughout the lands, plagues, famine, drought throughout the thoroughfares, great danger throughout the sea and dry land, constant persecutions, slaughters and massacres everywhere . . .

“6. When therefore the end of the world comes, that abominable, lying and murderous one is born from the tribe of Dan. He is conceived from the seed of a man and from a most vile virgin, mixed with an evil or worthless spirit . . .

“7. But when the time of the abomination of his desolation begins to approach, having been made legal, he takes the empire . . . . Therefore, when he receives the kingdom, he orders the temple of God to be rebuilt for himself, which is in Jerusalem; who, after coming into it, he shall sit as God and order that he be adored by all nations . . . . then all people from everywhere shall flock together to him at the city of Jerusalem, and the holy city shall be trampled on by the nations for forty-two months just as the holy apostle says in the Apocalypse, which becomes three and a half years, 1260 days.

“8. In these three years and a half the heaven shall suspend its dew; because there will be no rain upon the earth . . . . and there will be a Great Tribulation, as there has not been, since people began to be upon the earth . . . . and no one is able to sell or to buy of the grain of the fall harvest, unless he is one who has the serpentine sign on the forehead or the hand . . . .

“10. And when the three and a half years have been completed, the time of the Antichrist, through which he will have seduced the world, after the resurrection of the two prophets, in the hour which the world does not know, and on the day which the enemy or son of perdition does not know, will come the sign of the Son of Man, and coming forward the Lord shall appear with great power and much majesty, with the sign of the word of salvation going before him, and also even with all the powers of the heavens with the whole chorus of the saints . . . . Then Christ shall come and the enemy shall be thrown into confusion, and the Lord shall destroy him by the Spirit of his mouth. And he shall be bound and shall be plunged into the abyss of everlasting fire alive with his father Satan; and all people, who do his wishes, shall perish with him forever; but the righteous ones shall inherit everlasting life with the Lord for ever and ever.”

To summarize the key points in Ephraem’s text on the last days:

1. Ephraem’s manuscript lays out the events of the last days in chronological sequence. Significantly he began with the Rapture using the word “imminent,” then, he described the Great Tribulation of three and a half years duration under the Antichrist’s tyranny, followed by the second coming of Christ to earth with his saints to defeat the Antichrist.

2. Significantly, at the beginning of his treatise in Section 2, Ephraem used the word “imminent” to describe the Rapture occurring before the Tribulation the coming of the Antichrist. “We ought to understand thoroughly therefore, my brothers what is imminent or overhanging.”

3. He clearly described the Pre-Tribulation Rapture: “Because all saints and the Elect of the Lord are gathered together before the Tribulation which is about to come and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins.”

4. He then gives the purpose of God rapturing the church “before the tribulation” so that “they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins.” Ephraem used the word “confusion” as a synonym for the Tribulation Period.

5. Ephraem described the duration of the “Great Tribulation” (the last half of the Seven Year Tribulation Period) in sections, 7, 8, and 10 as follows: “forty-two months” and “three and a half years” and “1260 days.”

6. He summarized: “There will be a Great Tribulation, as there has not been since people began to be upon the earth” and described the Mark of the Beast system.

7. He declared that Christ will come to the earth after the “three and a half years” Tribulation Period in Section 10: “And when the three and a half years have been completed, the time of the Antichrist, through which he will have seduced the world, after the resurrection of the two prophets . . . will come the sign of the Son of Man, and coming forward the Lord shall appear with great power and much majesty.

Dr. Paul Alexander, perhaps the most authoritative scholar on the writing of the early Byzantine Church, concluded that Ephraem’s text on The Antichrist taught that the Lord would supernaturally remove the saints of the Church from the earth “prior to the tribulations that is to come.” Ephraem wrote that the saints will be “taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins.” Dr. Alexander believed this text was written by some unknown writer in the sixth century but he concluded that it was derived from an original Ephraem manuscript (A.D. 373). Other scholars, including the German editor Professor Caspari who wrote a German commentary on this Latin manuscript in 1890, believed that Ephraem’s manuscript was written by the genuine Ephraem in A.D. 373. Professor Cameron Rhodes, professor of Latin at Tyndale Theological Seminary, translated Ephraem’s Latin text into English at the request of my friend Dr. Thomas Ice and myself.

Ephraem and Daniel’s Seventieth Week – The Tribulation Period

A question naturally arises in the mind of Bible students about how long Ephraem believed the Tribulation would last. While Ephraem correctly describes the “Great Tribulation” as three and a half years his other writings revealed that he believed the whole Tribulation Period, “that sore affliction,” would last “one week” of seven years. Ephraem’s book, The Book of the Cave of Treasures, written about A. D. 373, taught about the genealogy of Christ. He wrote the sixty-ninth week of Daniel 9:24-27 ended with the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah. He stated, “The Jews have no longer among them a king, or a priest, or a prophet, or a Passover, even as Daniel prophesied concerning them, saying, ‘After two and sixty weeks Christ shall be slain, and the city of holiness shall be laid waste until the completion of things decreed.’ (Daniel 9:26). That is to say, for ever and ever.” (italics added, page 235, The Cave of Treasures). In Daniel’s prophecy, he foretold that Jerusalem would be rebuilt “even in troublesome times” during the initial period of “seven weeks” of years (forty-nine years). Daniel’s prophecy declared that this initial period of “seven weeks” of years would be immediately followed by a further period of sixty-two “weeks” of years ending with the cutting off of the Messiah (483 years). The combined total of sixty-nine weeks of years (seven weeks plus sixty-two weeks) was to conclude with the rejection of Christ. As quoted above, Ephraem taught that Jesus Christ was slain at the end of the combined sixty-nine weeks of years.

However, in the section of his book dealing with the future of Gog and Magog, Ephraem wrote about the final (seventieth) week of Daniel as follows. “At the end of the world at the final consummation . . . suddenly the gates of the north shall be opened . . . . They will destroy the earth, and there will be none able to stand before them. After one week of that sore affliction (tribulation), they will all be destroyed in the plain of Joppa . . . . Then will the son of perdition appear, of the seed and of the tribe of Dan . . . . He will go into Jerusalem and will sit upon a throne in the Temple saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and he will be borne aloft by legions of devils like a king and a lawgiver, naming himself God . . . . The time of the error of the Anti-Christ will last two years and a half, but others say three years and six months” (italics added). Although there are some curious elements in his description of prophetic events, it is clear that Ephraem believed that the seventieth final week of Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks will finally be fulfilled during the final seven years of this age when the Antichrist will appear. This evidence of a belief in a “gap” or “parenthesis” between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week of Daniel 9:24-27 from the fourth century of the Christian era is significant. It is worthwhile to note that this teaching that there would be a “gap” or “parenthesis” between Daniel’s 69th week and the 70th week of years was also taught by others in the early church including the Epistle of Barnabas (A.D. 110) and the writings of Hippolytus (A.D. 220).

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Please visit Grant Jeffrey’s web site: http://www.grantjeffrey.com/

 

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Mayim’s Endnote

Difference between Day of Christ and Day of the Lord- Gaebelein

Day of Christ/Day of the Lord: In the Annotated Bible, Arno Gaebelein writes:

There is an important difference between the day of Christ and the day of the Lord. The day of Christ concerns the Church, the saints of God. The day of the Lord concerns the earth– Israel and the nations. The day of Christ begins when He takes His saints in glory and they are with Him. The day of the Lord will bring, as stated before, the visible manifestation of the Lord from heaven. The day of Christ comes first and the day of the Lord follows at least seven years later. The following passages speak of the day of Christ, and it will be seen that that day is for God’s people only (1Co_1:8; 2Co_1:14; Php_1:6-10; Php_2:16). The day of the Lord does not concern the saints at all; it falls on the world. Before the day of the Lord can come, His saints have to be gathered together unto Him.

The Age to Come – Preterism Refuted

The Age to Come – Preterism Refuted

Dr. Thomas Ice

An important issue that divides most preterists from futurists is the meaning of the biblical phrase “the age to come.” Also, one’s understanding of a related term “the present age,” is significant to a right understanding of the biblical view of prophecy. I believe that this present age refers to the current church age that began almost 2,000 years ago on the day of Pentecost when the church was founded. It will end with the rapture of the church. The age to come is a reference to the millennial kingdom that will commence with the second coming of Christ and last for one thousand years.

Preterist Misunderstanding

It will not surprise regular readers to learn that preterists usually believe that the phrase “current age” referred to the approximately 40-year period between the earthly ministry of Christ and the destruction of the Jerusalem in a.d. 70. Preterism teaches that most, if not all, of the Book of Revelation and the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21) were fulfilled in conjunction with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in a.d. 70. They also believe that “the age to come” refers to the current age in which we now live, which began after a.d. 70. Gary DeMar says the following:

The “end of the age” refers to the end of the Old Covenant redemption system with its attendant sacrifices and rituals. . . . The “end of the age” refers to the termination of the exclusive Jewish entitlement to the covenant promises and the inclusion of the Gentiles into the blessings of the covenant and the privileges of the gospel and kingdom (Matt. 21:41, 43; 22:10). “End of the age” is a covenantal phrase. With the temple destroyed, there would be no way and no need to carry out the rigorous demands of the sacrificial system, a system that was predestined to pass away with the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement of Jesus.[1]

Wow! DeMar produced a lot of speculative thought out of those four little words, “end of the age.”

Preterists tend to believe that the phrase “present age” or “this age” refers to the approximately 40-year period between the earthly ministry of Christ and the destruction of the Jerusalem in a.d. 70. Thus, as DeMar indicated, that means that after a.d. 70 we are in what the Bible refers to as “the age to come.” Full preterist (i.e., no future second coming) Don Preston says, “If we understand Jesus’ ‘this age’ to be the Mosaic Age in which he was living and the ‘age to come” as the Christian Age, there is no difficulty.”[2] However, is that how the Bible really uses that phrase and related phrases? I do not think so!

Jewish Perspective of Bible Prophecy

The Jewish perspective of Bible prophecy viewed history as consisting of two ages. The first was this present age, the age in which Israel was waiting for the coming of the Messiah. The second was the age to come, the age in which all promises and covenants would be fulfilled and Israel would enter into her promised blessings as a result of Messiah’s coming. The present age would be terminated by the appearance of Messiah, and the coming age would be introduced by His advent. The present age, then, was to end in judgment, and the coming age must be preceded by this devastation.[3]

The disciples, who were questioning Jesus on the Mount of Olives, linked Christ’s words of judgment about the destruction of the present Temple with the invasion of Jerusalem that was predicted by Zechariah. The disciples believed that it would precede the advent of the Messiah.

In Zechariah 14:4 the prophet describes the advent of Messiah to institute His kingdom as follows:

And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south.

This coming was to be preceded by an invasion and capture of Jerusalem (Zech. 12:1-3; 14:1-3). However, Jerusalem would be delivered by the coming of Messiah from the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4-5) and then the glory of the kingdom would be realized (Zech. 14:14-15). This is when the “age to come” would arrive.

Christ’s Perspective of Bible Prophecy

Jesus uses the same vocabulary, in the same way when He says, in Matthew 12:32 “And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come.” Christ clearly distinguishes between the present age and the age to come. Meyer says of “this age,” that it “is the period previous to the coming of the Messiah . . . as Jesus understood it: the time before the second coming.”[4] He says of “the age to come,” that it is “the period that succeeds the coming of the Messiah . . . as Jesus understood it: the time that follows the second coming.”[5] Jesus says, in Matthew 13:49 “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels shall come forth, and take out the wicked from among the righteous,” as He continues to speak within the contemporary Jewish framework.

The disciples concluded that the judgment Christ had predicted was the one that would terminate this present age. After this judgment Messiah would come to introduce the age to come. Thus they asked their questions that precipitates the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:3 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Later, after His resurrection but before His ascension, Jesus gave His disciples the Great Commission and said in Matthew 28:20 “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” continuing to speak within the framework of “this age” and “the age to come.”

The Apostle’s Perspective of Bible Prophecy

The Apostle Paul continues use of the same language when he says in Ephesians 1:21 that New Testament believers have been given a position in Christ “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come.” Paul tells us in Galatians 1:4 that Christ “gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” Paul also tells Christians in Titus 2:12 that God’s grace instructs “us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”

Paul’s continues to use the phrases “this age” and “the age to come” in the way that Christ used it. Even though Jesus had come, Paul still views the current church age as the time leading up to the coming of the Messiah, thus, we are still in “the present age.” This means that the “age to come” has not yet arrived and will come at the second coming, a time which is still in our own day a future event.

Even after a post-resurrection, 40-day period of instruction by Christ to the disciples “of the things concerning the kingdom of God” they ask Jesus in Acts 1:6 “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus did not rebuke or correct the nature of their question as illegitimate, instead He said, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” This clearly implies that there will be a future kingdom, as they thought, . . . but not yet. The kingdom is a reference to the age to come. Our Lord tells His disciples to go preach the gospel throughout the world.

In Acts 3, Peter is preaching the gospel to Israel and says in 3:17 that his Jewish brethren and their rulers “acted in ignorance.” The he says the following:

But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.

In a similar vein, we see in Acts 15 that James says to the Jerusalem Council:

And after they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, “after these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, in order that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name.”

James did not believe that “the age to come” or the kingdom had arrived, or he would not have made the above statement. It is clear that the New Testament writers of the Epistles continue to use the phrase “this age” to refer to the time before the arrival of the Messiah, who will at that time bring with Him the kingdom, which is also still future to our own day.

Implications

Since the second coming of Christ has been postponed until after the current church age and tribulation, the current church age is presented by the writers of the New Testament Epistles as the last period of history until this present age is terminated, which will give rise to “the age to come.” Three New Testament passages (Rom. 16:25-27; Eph. 3:1-13; Col. 2:4-3:3) teach that the church age is a temporary mystery in the overall plan of God. Thus, the church age is a continuation of “this present age” from the time of Christ. Yet because of further New Testament revelation about the church age, we know that when it ends at the rapture, there will not be anymore stretching out of the time frame what will lead to “the age to come”-the time of Messiah’s kingdom.

There is an urgency concerning the entire church age in which we now live. For example, Paul, speaking of the entire church age, calls it “the present distress” (1 Cor. 7:26). Because Christ could return at any moment at the rapture, church age believers are always to be ready and always waiting for His return. Notice the following list of New Testament passages that teach this doctrine: 1 Corinthians 1:7; 16:22; Philippians 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:28; James 5:7-9; 1 Peter 1:13; Jude 21; Revelation 3:11; 22:7, 12, 17, 20.

Preterists see the end of the age occurring by a.d. 70. Since the New Testament Epistles were written to instruct Believers in how to live until this present evil age comes to an end, it follows that all the doctrine and instruction applies only during the 40-year period that ended in a.d. 70. Logically, which they rarely realize, it means that they are wrong to apply the teaching and instruction of the Epistles to their lives, since they believe that they are living in “the age to come.” This explains why some preterists believe that they are in the New Heavens and New Earth, yet they have no specific revelation, which tells them how to please God. NO! We are not living in the eternal state. We are still awaiting the any-moment return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Maranatha!

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Endnotes

[1] Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999), pp. 69-70.

[2] Don Preston, Into All The World: Then Come The End (Ardmore, OK: no publisher, 1996), p. 31.

[3] J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come: Tracing God’s Kingdom Program and Covenant Promises Throughout History (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1990), p. 248.

[4] H. A. W. Meyer, “The Gospel of Matthew,” 2 vols, in Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1878), vol. 1, p. 342.

[5] Meyer, “Matthew,” vol. 1, p. 342.

Dr. Renald Showers explains the Rapture, Day of the Lord, Tribulation, and much more!

Are you confused about the rapture, Day of the Lord, Second Coming of Christ, the Tribulation and Great Tribulation?

This from Dr. Renald Showers’ Series “35 most asked question concerning Bible Prophecy” is an excellent resource to save, study, and share.

This first clip of 49 answers the question: Does the Book of Revelation teach that the Rapture will take place before the Tribulation?

Refuting the Van Kampen Rosenthal Pre-Wrath Rapture Ruse

Refuting the Van Kampen Rosenthal Pre-Wrath Rapture Ruse

Robert Van Kampen became one of the wealthiest men in America after founding an investment firm in 1974. Van Kampen died, aged 60, in October 2000, awaiting a heart transplant. In the 1970s, Van Kampen developed what is known today as the “pre-wrath” rapture position. Van Kampen was also known to have possessed the largest collection of rare and antique Bibles in North America.

According to one who spent time with Van Kampen at his Chicago area home when he was developing his view, he first eliminated pretribulationism and then excluded posttribulationism. Thus, he had to come up with another view. That view is what he called the “pre-wrath” rapture theory. That title is a misnomer, since pretribulationism is 100% pre-wrath. If we follow consistency in labeling, Van Kampen’s view should be called the three-quarters rapture position, since he teaches that the church will be raptured somewhere in the middle of the last three and a half years of the seventieth week of Daniel.

I believe that if Van Kampen were not a wealthy individual then very few, if any, of us would have ever heard of his view. Van Kampen spent a number of years searching for an advocate of his newly developed viewpoint until he was finally able to persuade Marvin Rosenthal to adopt his new theory. I have a friend who was interviewed extensively by Van Kampen (in the 80s) for the pastorate of the church he attended in the Chicago area. My friend spent hours on the phone with Van Kampen, as he tried to convince him of his strange rapture view. In the end, my friend could not agree with Van Kampen, so he did not have the opportunity to become the pastor of that church. It was clear that Van Kampen was searching for someone to champion his rapture position. Van Kampen finally convinced Marvin Rosenthal of his view. Rosenthal wrote a book called The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, which was published by Thomas Nelson in 1990. Van Kampen apparently subsidized the publishing of the book by buying thousands of copies and sending them to ministers all over North America. This is how the new position was spread. Later Van Kampen came out with his own book called The Sign (three editions, 1992, 1999, 2000) from Crossway Books. He then had published The Rapture Question Answered: Plain and Simple (1997) with Revell.

What Is The Three-Quarters Rapture Theory?

Van Kampen’s three-quarters rapture view is a blend of midtribulational and posttribulational rationale. Instead of seeing the 24 terms describing the seventieth week of Daniel as denoting various characteristics of a single period, Van Kampen chops them into compartmental segments that contain either the wrath of man and Satan or the wrath of God. Through redefinition, Van Kampen limits the wrath of God to the final year and three-quarters of the seven-year period and deduces that the rapture occurs right before that time period. Van Kampen distinguishes the rapture and the second coming with a gap of one and three-quarters years between them, even though he makes a big deal that they are a single event. Van Kampen has the church continuing through the first three-quarters of the tribulation until the three-quarters point rapture occurs. Thus, the three-quarters rapture theory. Note the chart of Van Kampen’s three-quarters rapture theory. Van Kampen’s theory requires several unique features concerning the church and the tribulation. First, he chops the seventieth week of Daniel into three parts: 1) the beginning of birth pangs (first three and a half years), 2) the great tribulation (first half of the second half of the seven years), 3) the day of the Lord (last half of the second half of the seven years, plus a thirty day period after the second coming). By arbitrarily compartmentalizing the seventieth week of Daniel in this way, Van Kampen prepares the way for his view by saying that the first two period (first three-quarters of the seven-year period) is the wrath of man and Satan but not God’s wrath. By speculating that God’s wrath only occurs during what he labels as “the day of the Lord” (the last quarter of the seventieth week of Daniel), therefore, he says the rapture occurs at that point and keeps the church out of the wrath of God, as promised in the New Testament Epistles.

The Van Kampen innovation differs from the pretribulational view at key points. Pretribulationists agree with Van Kampen that the church will escape the time of God’s wrath. However, pretribulationism equates the time of God’s wrath and the Day of the Lord with the entire seven years of the 70th week of Daniel. Thus, I believe that Scripture supports the pretrib notion that the church will be raptured before the entire 70th week of Daniel.

Some Reasons Why Van Kampen’s Theory Is Wrong

The Van Kampen view of the rapture is not only built upon faulty interpretation of the Bible, but also upon flawed data and logic. In 1990 Marvin Rosenthal released the first published expression of the Van Kampen rapture view in all of history. I immediately purchased and read the book. While I detected many problems with the book, one item stuck out around page 100. Rosenthal made the following statement: “The Greek word thlipsis, translated tribulation or affliction in many English Bibles, occurs twenty times in the New Testament” (Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath, p. 103). Having done a word study of thlipsis just the week before in my normal study for teaching the Bible in my pastoral duties, it was fresh on my mind and I knew that my computer concordance showed that it actually occurs 45 times in 43 New Testament verses. Why had he not even considered over half of the New Testament references?

The point that Rosenthal was attempting to make when he committed such a glaring factual error was that the word “tribulation” is never used to refer to the first half of Daniel’s 70th week (Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath, pp. 103-08). I don’t believe that to be the case since Matthew 24:9 is an instance where “tribulation” (KJV = “afflicted”) refers to the first half of Daniel’s 70th week. Dr. John McLean explains:

Rosenthal has not only overstated his case but has stated as true fact that which is clearly false. A cursory reading of a Greek concordance reveals that the word “tribulation” (thlipsis) is used in prophetic contexts to refer to both the first and second halves of the seventieth week of Daniel. Matthew 24:9, which chronologically relates to the first half of the seventieth week as evidenced by its preceding the midpoint of the abomination of desolation (Matt. 24:15-21) states: “Then they will deliver you to tribulation (thlipsis), and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name” (NASB). Clearly the biblical text describes the first half of the seventieth week as a time of tribulation.               The second half of the seventieth week is also described as a time of tribulation. Second Thessalonians 1:6 uses the Greek word thlipsin while referring to the second coming of Christ which occurs during the second half of the seventieth week of Daniel: “For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction (thlipsin) those who afflicted you” (NASB). Therefore, it is proper and even biblical to refer to, and even describe, the seventieth week of Daniel as “The Tribulation,” or “A Time of Tribulation.” (John McLean, “Chronology and Sequential Structure of John’s Revelation” in Thomas Ice & Timothy Demy, eds., When The Trumpet Sounds (Harvest House Publishers, 1995), p. 341.)

Interestingly, Rosenthal restricts thlipsin “tribulation” to simply trials to be experienced (Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath, p. 237), while at the same time locating such tribulation in the first half of Daniel’s 70th week (Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath, p. 152). Like Dr. McLean and pretribulationists, Rosenthal equates Matthew 24:9 with the fifth seal judgment as stated in Revelation 6:9-11. This is exactly the understanding of pretribulationism. Yet if Rosenthal admits the obvious logical conclusion”that the tribulation in Matthew 24:9 is the tribulation”then it would provide another item that contradicts his new view and would support the only true pre-wrath position that actually does harmonize all Scriptural data”pretribulationism. Instead, Rosenthal would rather foster an internal contradiction within his system that he apparently expects his followers to overlook.

God’s WRATH

As noted earlier, Van Kampen defines only the final quarter of Daniel’s seventieth week, as the Day of the Lord, which according to him is the only time of God’s wrath. He sees the first three quarters as the wrath of man and Satan. But does the Bible make such distinctions? I do not believe it does.

Wrath in Zephaniah

Zephaniah 1:14-18 heaps together a cluster of terms that characterize the future Day of the Lord. Verse 14 labels this time as “the great day of the Lord” and “the day of the Lord.” Then verse 15-18 describe this time with the following descriptions: “that day is a day of wrath,” “a day of trouble and distress,” “a day of wasteness and desolation,” “a day of darkness and gloominess,” “a day of clouds and thick darkness,” “a day of the trumpet and alarm,” “I will bring distress upon men,” and “the day of the Lord’s wrath.” The context supports the notion that all these descriptives apply to the Day of the Lord. Such biblical usage does not allow an interpreter to chop the Day of the Lord into compartmental segments as Van Kampen insists. The text plainly says that the Day of the Lord is a time of both tribulation and God’s wrath. All of the many descriptives in this passage provide a characterization of the Day of the Lord that applies to the entire seven-year period. The Zephaniah passage clearly contradicts the basis upon which Van Kampen attempts to build his recently developed theory. Zephaniah is not alone in providing an obstacle to the Van Kampen speculation.

Wrath in Revelation

Revelation 6:1-17 records the six seal judgments, which are the first reported judgments of the tribulation. Revelation 6 and the seal judgments also contradict the Van Kampen formulation since the Bible describes all six judgments as “. . . the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come . . .” (Rev. 6:16c-17a). Even though Van Kampen cannot recognize God’s wrath, the unbelievers at the beginning of the seven-year tribulation will be able to. Revelation 5 reveals that only the Lamb (Christ) was qualified to open the seals that would begin the first judgments of the tribulation. As we connect the dots of Revelation 5 and 6, there is no basis for saying that the events of the seal judgments are somehow disconnected from Scripture”s characterization as God’s wrath. The following observations about the seal judgments support such a connection:

“The Lamb is the Individual Who breaks, and thus initiates, all six of the seals (Revelation 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12) clearly indicating that He (God) is the source of the events or wrath. These are explicit references to the wrath of God, not the wrath of man or Satan as taught by Van Kampen.

“One quarter of the earth”s population is killed (Rev. 6:8).

“The fifth seal reveals that multitudes of Christian martyrs are slain as a result of seal activity, which has to be considered the wrath of the Lamb. God allows this to occur when the Lamb breaks the seal in this part of the seal judgments.

“At the end of the six seal judgments an assessment is given as follows: “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Rev. 6:16-17). “Him that sitteth on the throne” is God the Father as indicated in chapter 4, thus it is clearly God’s wrath. It is also the Lamb’s wrath (Christ). The passage clearly says “the great day of his wrath is come,” meaning that all six of the seal judgments are classified as God’s wrath.

Van Kampen attempts to say that the events of the seal judgments are not really “God’s” wrath, but the wrath of man. Rosenthal declares, “The word wrath occurs eight times in the book of Revelation. All eight occurrences follow the opening of the sixth seal. The word wrath is never used in connection with the first five seals” (Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath, p. 176). Rosenthal neglects to tell his readers that Revelation 6:16-17 is a summary statement of all the previous seal judgments. In spite of the Van Kampen claim to follow the plain interpretation of the text (Van Kampen, Rapture Question, p. 23-24.), I believe that Revelation 6:16″17 relates to all six seal judgments for the following reasons:

“Revelation 6:15-17 is an overall report of the human response to God’s judgment as administered through all six seal judgments. A similar evaluation is recorded after the trumpet judgments in Revelation 9:20-21. In both cases, humanity does not repent so God continues prosecution of the war. This argues in favor of associating this report with the preceding seal judgments.

“The controlling verb in verse 17, “is come” (lthen), “is aorist indicative, referring to a previous arrival of the wrath, not something that is about to take place” (Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary (Moody, 1992), p. 457). Rosenthal’s attempt to say that this verb is a future aorist (Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath, pp. 166-67), cannot be supported by the context. Such contextual support is necessary to adopt his unusual use of the aorist indicative. Further, if a future look were intended by the verb then John most likely would have used the future tense. Such stress and strain in biblical interpretation demonstrates the forced notion that Van Kampen’s new invention is not the product of sound biblical exegesis.

“Revelation 5 narrates a heavenly scene of Christ pictured as a slain, but victorious Lamb. The Lamb is pictured as worthy to open the seals on a scroll, which result in judgment”the judgment described in the succeeding chapter as the seal judgments. In chapter 6, each one of the seal judgments commences as a result of the Lamb’s breaking of each seal (Revelation 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12). Since all six seal judgments begin the same way, with the breaking of the seal by the Lamb, one should not be at all surprised that Revelation 6:16-17 summarizes all six judgments as “the wrath of the Lamb,” and “the great day of his wrath.” This cannot be the wrath of man or Satan.

The above information provides ample biblical proof that all six seal judgments are the wrath of God (Lamb). The Van Kampen view teaches, as do pretribulationists, that the first seal judgment (the rise of antichrist) begins in the first part of the seventieth week of Daniel, right after the seven-year period commences. Since all six seal judgments are designated in Scripture as God’s wrath it means that the entire seventieth week of Daniel is called the wrath of God in Revelation 6. Therefore, this passage does not support the Van Kampen interpretation. Since the church is promised deliverance from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9, 1 Thess. 1:10, 5:9, and Rev. 3:10), it is clear in light of Revelation 6 that the church will be raptured before the seventieth week of Daniel.

THE DAY OF THE LORD

Another key point has been noted by Robert Thomas about the language of the text in Revelation 6:17 that argues against the Van Kampen theory is the following:

It is difficult to capture the Greek wording in English without a periphrasis such as “the day, that great day.” “The great day” is a title borrowed from the OT (Joel 2:11, 31; Zeph. 1:14; Mal. 4:5). . . . The primary passages from which John draws his images in the description of the sixth seal prove the reference of this phrase to be to the day of the Lord (Joel 2:11, 30-31; cf. Isa. 2:10-11, 19-21; 13:9-34;13; 34:4, 8; Ezek. 32:7-8; Hos. 10:8)” (Thomas, Revelation, p. 458).

This passage links all the seal judgments to God’s wrath, in contrast to Van Kampen, and even associates it with the day of the Lord. Such biblical facts contradict the recent Rapture view of Van Kampen. This would also support the pretrib understanding that the day of the Lord includes the entire seventieth week of Daniel and thus a time of God’s wrath from which the church is promised deliverance. A biblically accurate summary of the day of the Lord is provided by Dr. Charles Ryrie, who says the following:

In the Bible, the Day of the Lord always involves the broad concept of God’s special intervention in human history. The concept includes three facets: 1) a historical facet about God’s intervention in Israel’s affairs (Joel 1:15; Zephaniah l:14-18) and in the affairs of heathen nations (Isaiah 13:6; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 30:3); 2) an illustrative facet, in which a historical incident of God’s intervention also illustrates a future intervention (Isaiah 13:6-13; Joel 2:1-11); 3) an eschatological facet about God’s intervention in human history in the future (Isaiah 2:12-19; 4:1; 19:23 25; Jeremiah 30:7-9). Only this third, the eschatological facet, pertains to our discussion of the rapture’s timing (Charles C. Ryrie, Come Quickly, Lord Jesus (Harvest House, 1996), p. 106).

Rosenthal invests much in his belief that the day of the Lord is limited to the final quarter of the seventieth week of Daniel. “If expositors get the starting point of the Day of the Lord right,” insists Rosenthal, “the timing of the Rapture becomes clear” (Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath, p. 117). This is true! But Rosenthal is not able to answer two major points relating to the day of the Lord and the timing of the rapture as put forth by Dr. Ryrie.

First, how can the rapture precede Armageddon and yet be a single event with the second coming, which puts a stop to Armageddon? Armageddon is not a single, confined battle; it is a war (Revelation 16:14). For the church to miss Armageddon, the rapture cannot be a single, continuous event with the second coming. . . . Second, if the Day of the Lord commences with the judgments at the end of the Tribulation, then how can it begin with a time of peace and safety (1 Thessalonians 5:2,3)? Even a superficial knowledge of the Tribulation does not give the impression that there will be any time of peace and safety, except perhaps at the very beginning; certainly not at the end (Ryrie, Come Quickly, pp. 106-07).

In order to make their view work in the abstract, Van Kampen must redefine the nature and scope of terms like the day of the Lord. However, their work does not fit when all of Scripture is considered. Further, their wrong understanding of the key biblical terminology sets the stage for their erroneous conclusion that the rapture will occur three-quarters of the way through the seventieth week of Daniel, instead of before.

CONCLUSION

The brand new innovation of the three-quarters rapture view of Van Kampen is a recent demonstration of just how important it is to build one’s view of Bible prophecy upon an accurate biblical analysis of foundational items such as the nature and scope of the tribulation. As Van Kampen demonstrates in his writings, if one errs at this crucial point then it paves the way for faulty conclusions. It should be clear that Van Kampen must resort to strained characterizations of things like the day of the Lord, the tribulation, and the scope of God’s wrath in order to first avoid pretribulationism and second to support his new three-quarters rapture view. Bible believing Christians should continue to draw strength and hope from the fact that our Lord could rapture His church at any moment. We will not be left standing when our Lord moves history to the point of the commencement of the seventieth week of Daniel. This is our true Blessed Hope. Maranatha![NOTE: For anyone interested in reading an excellent, in-depth critique of Van Kampen and Rosenthal’s views from a pretribulational perspective, I highly recommend Renald E. Showers, The Pre-Wrath Rapture View: An Examination and Critique (Kregel, 2001).] [1]


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