Behold, the Dead Horse
Originally written back in 2013, I was always particularly fond of this message. I don’t remember it getting a lot of circulation back then, so I wanted to resurrect it and give it another go. I believe it is every bit as appropriate today, as it was back then. The main gist of this article has to do with prophecy fatigue and apathy, particularly in the Church. The longer we remain until the Lord’s coming, the more we will see topics like the Rapture and in particular, the Pre-Trib view, diminish in terms of adherents and relevance. I guess this strikes me as most peculiar, given that at a time when the Church should be the most alive and ready, we find her asleep at the wheel.
Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Revelation 3:3
The Rapture of the Church (also referred to as the Blessed Hope after Titus 2:13) is one topic that has seen a lot of miles put it on it. But it wasn’t always that way. After the first two centuries of the Christian church’s existence, the pre-tribulation position was subsumed by another view that would then hold sway for the next millennia- Amillennialism. This view came about by a rising and popular theologian by the name of Augustine in the fourth-century, who felt that since Christ had not returned by his day, then the prophetic texts in Scripture must be allegorical. So he threw the theological baby out with the theological bathwater. I’m sure he had good intentions, however, his intentions would become the dominant eschatological view for the next fifteen centuries. It would also come to mess up a whole lot of things.
Let us consider what the fruits of applying an allegorical interpretation to bible prophecy has wrought us: amillennialism (there is no literal kingdom), dominionism (we are the kingdom right now), preterism (most or all prophecy was complete in the first century), post-millennialism (Christ cant come back until we subdue the world for Him), kingdom now theology (a more functional approach to dominionism), replacement theology (the church has replaced Israel), to name a few. These aberrant views have caused a lot of death and destruction in their wake (Crusades, Inquisitions, cults, etc.).
And yet, we are in a worse position than that of the early church (ante-Nicene). The first two centuries, the Church undeniably believed in a Pre-Tribulation (or Pre-Daniel’s 70th Week) Rapture (catching up). This topic was resurrected in the 1800s with men like the Plymouth Brethren, who believed that Israel had to become a nation again and that the end of the age of the Church was at hand. That view (which is the correct view) gained enormous popularity throughout the 19th-20th centuries, but again, is being subsumed by numerous other aberrations. It would seem as it were, that man’s theological attention span cannot hold for more than two centuries. Many today feel that the topic of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture is outdated and old news. It’s been covered by so many teachers and pastors for so long, it has become the theological equivalent of the old English idiom of beating a dead horse.
I would like to emphatically counter this idea, and say, that if we had a 1,000 more years on planet earth, we would not even begin to scratch the surface of God’s wonderful plan of love and redemption He has for His people. I imagine that when Noah first began preaching that judgment was coming (2 Peter 2:5), he had many listeners. But as time went on, those people went back to their lives, and extended normalcy eventually turned them to scoffers (2 Peter 3:3-4). However, we know the Flood did come, and when it did, it was too late for those who had hardened their hearts against believing.
Here are three general areas for why I believe a proper understanding of the Rapture is important, relevant, and should not be abandoned, especially amongst the young and the new in the faith. Remember, Paul taught this to the fledgling church in Thessalonika.
The Pre-Tribulation Rapture (catching up) is a beautiful picture in type of a Jewish wedding, and is the ONLY model of the Rapture that so perfectly fits it. For me, once I understood not only was there a Pre-Trib Rapture, but understood why there was one, I’ve never looked back. In order to understand why the Rapture has to happen prior to any portion of the Tribulation, one has to have a firm grasp on Ecclesiology, and the role and nature of who is the Church.
Being a Pre-Millennial Dispensationalist, I understand that when Christ was here on earth, His role then was as a Prophet (Deut 18:15,18, Acts 3:22-23). At His trial and crucifixion He was our Sacrifice (1 Cor 5:7). The purchase price for His bride was His life. In His resurrection, He is both our Kinsman Redeemer and Priest and even now, serves as our Mediator before the throne of God (1 Tim 2:5). One day He will return in power and in glory before the whole world as the King of Kings. However, in keeping with the Jewish wedding model, He must return first to retrieve His bride at the conclusion of the betrothal period of which, only the Father knows. When He returns for His bride, He does so as a thief in the night (1 Thess 5:2), NOT with the sky receding back as a scroll and the peoples of the earth mourning at His appearing (Matt 24:30, Rev. 1:7).
So how does the Jewish Wedding model fit the New Testament concept of the Rapture of the Church?
We read in the Old Testament the explicit instructions to the sons of Aaron in that a Priest could NOT be married to anyone who wasn’t a virgin (Leviticus 21:13-14) because if he did, he could not go before God in the Temple to offer any sacrifices. We see in the Old Testament over and over, how national Israel ignored Moses’s warnings and went chasing off after other gods subsequently prompting their subjugation to pagan nations. Ezekiel 16 portrays a particularly graphic depiction of this national infidelity.
So all that to say, the New Testament Church isn’t any purer, because we aren’t. We fail God daily; I fail God daily. What makes us different from Israel then, is that we are now hidden in Jesus Christ and His righteousness. (2 Cor. 5:17-21) His righteousness is what God sees when He sees the Church. His relationship with His church reinforces this principle as High Priest and Mediator today. The Church is the Bride of Christ. The Church is not Israel. One cannot simultaneously be both the harlot and the chaste virgin. Things that are different are not the same.
The Church has not replaced Israel, nor have we become her, and we are certainly no more deserving of salvation than Israel was. National Israel, came from the Patriarchs was and still is God’s elect from among the nations. We (Christians) are wild branches of the olive tree, not the fig tree, and only grafted into the common vine of salvation through Abraham’s like-faith (Rom 4:16, Gal 3:7-9,14). Abraham pre-dated the Law given to Moses at Mt. Sinai by some 500 years. He was not justified by his circumcision, nor by his willingness to sacrifice his only son at Mt. Moriah. Abraham was justified by his faith that God would not only give him a son and many heirs, but could also raise Isaac back from the dead when God asked him to sacrifice him.
But Isaac was not Abraham’s only son. I distinctly remember Abraham having another through his handmaiden Hagar and his name was Ishmael. The beauty and the reality of it is, Ishmael was born out of Abraham’s disobedience and sin. God in His forgiveness will not remember our sins when we ask for forgiveness even though we still might have to deal with the physical ramifications. And Abraham’s sin is still being dealt with today between the Arabs and the Jews.
The New Testament Church, and Israel, both share in this common salvation. Neither is better, but we are different, separated unto God and unto His purpose He has chosen us. Just like that generation of Israelite’s who journeyed out of Egypt after 400 years of bondage in their Exodus to the Promised Land, we too are that chosen generation about to journey out of 6,000 years of bondage to sin and death, unto the real Promised Land. The Church does not and never was promised a kingdom here on earth, nor do we have a city to call our own. We are looking for that city above, whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11:10, 13:14)
The Book of Revelation (Greek- Apocálypsis) was meant to reveal or unveil God’s future plans for mankind. Jesus mentions the Church 19 times, and deals with 2,000 years of Church history in just three chapters (1-3)…yet reveals to John in 13 chapters (6-19) the seven-year Tribulation (or Daniel’s 70th Week) of which, He doesn’t mention the Church at all. Think about that for a moment.
The reason should be obvious, for had the Church been destined to go through the Tribulation, God wouldn’t have needed to go into such great detail because we would be living through it. In fact, if man had written the book of Revelation apart from divine revelation, the order of the material would have been reversed. Men would have spent most of the 22 chapters describing the Church age and would have included a small section on the Tribulation about the same length and depth as the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). Then at the end, there would have been at least five or six chapters, painfully detailing the account of the 2nd Coming. What is interesting though, is that the most glorious, culminating and catastrophic event in human history only warrants half of one chapter (Rev 19:11-21). And to those who would scoff at the idea that Chapters 2 and 3 do not chronicle the age of the Church, would do well to read Revelation 12 and see that this one chapter also covers thousands of years.
Disappointment and Discernment
I remember attending the Pre-Trib Conference in Dallas back in 2009. I was 35 back then and I remember looking across the audience of around 500 people sitting there, thinking, there was only about five of us who were under the age of 40. I would venture to say that the median age then was around 55 or higher. It was right then at that moment, that I realized that our little Eschatological community of Pre-Trib/Pre-Millennial Dispensationalists was a dying breed. I asked myself then, was it because the message was wrong? Was it too antiquated and outdated?
I don’t think so.
People always want something new and exciting, and Dispenationalism was new and exciting 160 years ago. But today, people either have prophecy fatigue and have dropped by the wayside, or they are bored and migrate towards the sensational. Simultaneously, many Pre-Trib ministries are trying to remain relevant and draw in newer, younger, and energetic crowds by providing that sensational teachings. The Emergent Church uses a similar technique by watering down the message and ramping up the experience. But we in the Bible Prophecy community have begun doing this by building entire ministries focusing exclusively on conspiracy theory, extra-biblical texts (as proof), and the extra-terrestrial into prophetic matters. In other words, we are both angling to remain relevant, but were attacking this problem from two different directions. There is an issue with both.
One doesn’t have to embrace the doctrine of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture to be a Christian. However, I liken those who don’t accept it as true, as the seeds that fell among the stony places, but were scorched by the sun, because they had no depth to their eschatological roots. These are they that understood this promise superficially or were never taught it to begin with, and when time wears on, they lose faith and hope in the Blessed Hope. People, who are not grounded in the Blessed Hope, are the ones who get swept up by false dates and false teachings. The most hardened Preterists and skeptics I know personally were at one time in their life, Pre-Trib or Dispensationalists. Somewhere along the way, they fell under the sway of a false teacher and got burned and then swore off the Blessed Hope forever. They allowed their shame at being duped, to be turned into bitterness…and bitterness caused their root to shrivel and die.
The growing Emergent church for the most part is either Preterist or Pan-Millennialist (no bother studying it, it will all pan out in the end). They see prophecy largely as fulfilled and irrelevant to their social-gospel agenda here on earth today. A secondary and unfortunate repercussion of their form of eschatology allows anti-Antisemitism and Supersessionism to creep in due to their confusion over who the Church is, and how it has somehow replaced Israel. Aside from the anti-Biblical stances on homosexuality, abortion, socialism, and core doctrinal issues like hell, salvation by grace through faith, and the inerrancy of Scriptures, Preterist and Pan-Millennialist are blinded to the lateness of the hour. I caution against these views, because when you take your attention off of looking up, you end up focusing on the drama here on earth…and that day will catch you unawares.
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Luke 21:34-35
The Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church really is the Blessed Hope, because when one really understands it, it has a way of sanctifying the believer in three distinct ways. First, it prevents one from ever being deceived into believing a false prophet’s claims of date setting, because you would know that the Rapture is imminent, and no one knows the day or hour (Matt 24:36). Secondly, a believer who is grounded in the Blessed Hope doctrine also has a well-grounded understanding of who the Church is and what our role is (John 14:1-3). Lastly, the believer who hold’s to the Blessed Hope doctrine is focused on looking up, not looking around (Luke 12:37-39).
Understandably, one’s standing with Christ is not dependent on a Eschatological viewpoint, however, not holding to the Blessed Hope will wreaks havoc on your understanding of the entire Word of God. There should be no excuse for us today, since we have a complete Bible and 2,000 years of history to look back upon. We are instructed to study to show ourselves approved by rightly dividing the Word (2 Tim 2:15).
Be cautious in following the teachings of just any one person. I’ve seen hopes dashed and hearts hardened within our community because too many people had their hopes pinned to 2011/2012/2014/2015/2017/2018, etc. 2011 was an interesting year, because certain teachers came along and said that Christ had to return by then in order for the seven-year Tribulation to be complete by 2018 (70 years from 1948). Living out your hope with these kinds of changing expectations is an emotional roller coaster and unhealthy. We shouldn’t be hung up on any dates, whether they are Jewish feasts dates, blood moons, solar eclipses, wars, or anything else. The Rapture isn’t dependent upon those things.
When you pin your hope on some specific event that some teacher taught, and that day comes and goes, you’re the one whose left standing there picking up the shattered pieces of your hopeful expectations, which lay scattered about on the ground. Put your hope in The ONE (Jesus Christ) who will never let you down. He is coming back, and all I can say is that I believe it is sooner rather than later.
“I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name…Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” Revelation 3:8,10