Is the rapture still going to happen? And if so, when?
With contributing scholars from schools like Moody Bible Institute, Dallas Theological Seminary, and The Master’s Theological Seminary, Evidence for the Rapture is a convincing and thoroughly biblical case for the rapture.
This collection of exegetical essays looks at the rapture from a number of biblical angles: the words of Jesus in the Gospels, Paul’s teachings in the epistles, and even prophetic and apocalyptic literature. In sound exegetical technique, the authors corroborate Scripture’s main teachings on the end times to provide a trustworthy and concise treatment of a multi-faceted issue.
For the last several hundred years, the doctrine of a pretribulation rapture has been a fixture in many churches and institutions. Evidence for the Rapture is a fresh polish upon this long-standing doctrine.
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About the Author
John Hart is professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute for over 30 years. He received his TH.D. from Grace Seminary where he wrote his dissertation on Matthew 24.
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Evidence for the Rapture
A Biblical Case for Pretribulationism
By John F. Hart
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2015 John F. Hart
All rights reserved.
The Rapture and the Biblical Teaching of Imminency
BY ROBERT L. THOMAS
Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks.
Imminence is a crucial teaching of Jesus and the apostles related to end-time prophecy. The English word imminence means an event that can occur at any time. An imminent danger is a threat that is close at hand and can happen at any moment. There can be no detectable signs that such a danger is about to take place.
When interpreting prophecy, however, some scholars use the word "imminent" less precisely to mean an event that may occur soon, but may also be preceded by specific signs or warnings. Contrary to this, pretribulationists understand the Bible to teach that some prophetic events, such as the rapture and the day of the Lord, will occur at a future time without any preceding signs or events. Therefore, if pretribulationism is the correct New Testament teaching, it must be demonstrated biblically that the rapture will occur without warning and without signs that necessarily indicate its nearness.
The testimony of the ancient fathers, the earliest leaders of the church after the apostles, could perhaps help answer this question. The church fathers definitely speak of future imminent events. But surprisingly, their testimony is mixed, sometimes speaking of the imminence of Christ's return and other times of the imminence of the future time of God's wrath. For example, Clement speaks of the return of Christ as imminent:
Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scripture also bears witness, saying, "Speedily will He come, and will not tarry;" and, "The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom ye look."
Ignatius speaks of the coming of God's wrath on the earth as imminent:
The last times are come upon us. Let us therefore be of a reverent spirit, and fear the long-suffering of God, that it tend not to our condemnation. For let us either stand in awe of the wrath to come, or show regard for the grace which is at present displayed — one of two things.
But Irenaeus speaks of both as imminent:
And therefore, when in the end the Church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, "There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be."
Why this apparent ambivalence among early Christian leaders who were following the same teachings of the New Testament that we follow today? I propose that there is good reason for their teachings that both are imminent. The return of Christ for His church and the return of Christ to inflict wrath and tribulation on the world is close at hand and can happen at any moment.
Years ago, I investigated the book of Revelation to substantiate this dual imminence, i.e., that both the coming of Christ and the coming of God's wrath on the world are imminent. This chapter will focus its attention on Paul's two epistles to the Thessalonian church, but it first must probe the question of how the New Testament teaching on imminence originated. The concept of the imminence of these two future happenings interweaves itself into New Testament teaching from beginning to end, raising the strong probability that the origin of the teaching was none other than Jesus Himself. Thus the first area to explore briefly will be some of Jesus' teachings on the subject.
JESUS' EMPHASIS ON IMMINENCE
The Olivet Discourse
In Luke 12:35–48, as part of His later Judean ministry, Jesus instructed His disciples about the need to be ready for His return:
"Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the doorto him when he comes and knocks. ...
"But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. "You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect. ..."
And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, 'My master will be a long time in coming,' and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers."
These two parables contain two pictorial expressions that became a vital part of Christian vocabulary throughout the history of the first-century church. The first is that of the master standing at the door and knocking, and the second is that of the unexpected coming of a thief. Both figures are designed to teach the imminence of Christ's return. In each parable the unexpected coming brings blessing to the followers who are prepared, but in the latter parable that coming brings punishment to those who are unprepared.
On Tuesday of His last week on earth, Jesus taught similar lessons regarding the imminence of His return. In Matthew's and Mark's Gospels when giving the parable of the fig tree immediately after speaking of His return in glory to the earth, He derives this application from the parable: "When you see all these things, recognize that He is ... at the door" (Matt. 24:33). The signs given in Matthew 24:4–28 are within Daniel's Seventieth Week (Dan. 9:24–27) and indicate the nearness of Jesus' return to earth as described in Matthew 24:29–31. These signals of nearness cause this parable to differ from the parable in Luke 12:35–48, which contains no signs of nearness. Neither are there signs available in Luke 17:26–37 where Jesus, with several similar comparisons, predicts the imminent coming of the kingdom of God.
But in Matthew 24:36 Jesus turns the page to speak of the absence of all signs as signals of the beginning of Daniel's Seventieth Week. His words are, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." Here He indicates the complete unexpectedness of what will overtake the world. He changes attention from the signs that indicate the nearness of His coming to establish the kingdom to speak of events that will have no signals to indicate that they are "at the door." In other words, 24:36 speaks of something different from "all these things" twice referred to in connection with the parable of the fig tree in 24:32–34. After 24:36 Jesus turns to look at the Seventieth-Week events as a whole (the entire future tribulation of seven years) and how the beginning of that week will catch everyone by surprise.
Jesus proceeded to illustrate the complete unexpectedness of the series of events of that week by noting the parallel of His coming to inflict wrath on the world with the way God caught the world by surprise with the flood in Noah's day (24:37–39). The victims did not know until the flood happened. That will be the case when the Son of Man returns. The world will not know until the tribulation period is under way. They will have no warnings such as those alluded to in the parable of the fig tree.
Jesus continued His emphasis on the imminence of His return by describing two workers in the field and two grinders at the mill (24:40–41). In each case, one will be taken in judgment as were those outside of Noah's family, and the other will be left as were the members of Noah's family. The picture presented is that of complete surprise. Outside Noah's immediate family, no one had the faintest idea that a series of cataclysmic events was about to occur. On that basis, Jesus commanded the disciples to watch, because neither they nor anyone else knew or knows on what day their Lord would come (24:42).
At that point Jesus gave the men five parables to enforce His teaching of imminence. The first is in the gospel of Mark and the last four in the gospel of Matthew. The Markan parable tells of a man who left home for a journey and gave his slaves tasks to accomplish while he was gone. He gave special instructions to the doorkeeper to remain on the alert because they had no idea when the master of the house would return (Mark 13:33–37). This parable contains nothing to indicate the master would return within a given timespan, so the slaves were to remain on the alert into the indefinite future.
Matthew's first parable, the second in this series by the Lord, tells of the master of a house who did not know during what watch of the night the thief would come (Matt. 24:43–44). Though not stated explicitly, it is implicit that the master did not know on what given night the thief would come, if he would come at all. As a result, the thief broke into his house because the master was not watching. In light of that comparison, the Lord tells His disciples to be prepared because the Son of Man will come at an hour they do not expect. This marks the Lord's second use of the figure of the unexpected coming of a thief. The parable fixes no limited time frame during which the thief had to come.
Matthew's second parable in this series describes the slave who is faithful and wise and the slave who is wicked (24:45–51). Their master will richly reward the slave whom he finds fulfilling his responsibilities when he returns, but will punish severely that wicked slave who uses the delay in his master's return to abuse the authority given to him. "The master of that slave will come on a day when he [the slave] does not expect him and at an hour which he did not know" (24:50). That slave can expect weeping and gnashing of teeth. The parable fixes no maximum time limit for the master's absence.
The fourth parable in the series, the third in Matthew's gospel, speaks of ten virgins, five of whom were foolish and five wise (25:1–13). When the bride-groom came unexpectedly in the middle of the night, the foolish virgins had no oil for their lamps. By the time they purchased oil, it was too late, and they found themselves locked out of the wedding feast where the wise virgins had been admitted. Neither group knew a fixed period within which the groom would return, but one group was ready, the other was not. The lesson: "Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour" (25:13).
The fifth and last parable in the series comes in Matthew 25:14–30, the parable of the talents. Prior to leaving on a journey, the master gave one slave five talents, another two talents, and a third slave one talent. The one with five talents gained five more, and the one with two gained two more. Upon the master's return, they received his commendation with a promise of being given more responsibility. The slave with one talent buried his talent and received the master's rebuke for not investing it to gain more. That slave's destiny was outer darkness. The lesson of this parable is that of serving the Lord responsibly while awaiting His return. Readiness for His return also entails responsible action while He is away.
To synthesize Jesus' teachings: in the flood and sowers-grinders illustrations and in the first four parables, the incontrovertible lesson Jesus teaches is that of the imminence of His return to judge, and therefore, the need for watchfulness and readiness for that return whenever it should occur. It is no wonder that the early church and the church throughout the ages has looked for the imminent return of her Lord. He will return with no prior signals to herald His return. Since nothing remains to occur before His coming, that coming is imminent.
The Upper Room Discourse
On the Mount of Olives, the dominant theme of this Tuesday of Jesus' final week was Christ's return to judge, as He spoke to the disciples as representatives of the nation Israel. On Thursday of that week, He spoke to them in an entirely different role in His discourse in the upper room. This time He addressed them as representatives of a new body to be formed about fifty days later, that body being the church. He injected His imminent return in a more subtle fashion, but He nevertheless made His point. In John 14:3 He said, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also." Imminence is part of the verb form "I will come," the Greek word being erchomai. Used in parallel with the future indicative paralempsomai, which means "I will receive," the present tense erchomai is clearly a futuristic use of the present tense, a use of that tense that strongly implies imminence. The sense is, "I am on my way and may arrive at any moment."
This is a coming for deliverance for the faithful, however, not a coming for judgment. He will retrieve the faithful and take them back to the Father's house with Himself (John 14:2–3). There they will remain with Him until He returns to the earth to establish His earthly kingdom for a thousand years.
We conclude, therefore, that Jesus was the one who initiated the teaching of the imminence of His return both to judge the world and to deliver the faithful. As we proceed, we will see how that teaching caught on with the first-century church. Subsequent books of the New Testament indicate that two figures used by Him to portray that imminence caught the attention and remained in the memories of early Christians. One was the surprise arrival of a thief and the other was the picture of a master standing at the door ready to enter at any moment.
EMPHASIS ON IMMINENCE BY NEW TESTAMENT WRITERS OTHER THAN PAUL
In the late forties of the first century AD, James wrote in his epistle to Jewish believers in the Diaspora (i.e., the dispersion of the Jews) about dual imminence. This dual imminence involved the imminence of judgment on the oppressors of the poor (James 5:1–6) and the imminence of Christ's coming as an incentive for the long-suifering of the faithful (vv. 7-11). James has Christ standing at the door, ready to enter and rectify past injustices (v. 9). That was one of the figures introduced by Jesus in His Olivet Discourse. In the late sixties Peter wrote to believers in what is now north central Asia Minor about the imminent arrival of the day of the Lord (2 Pet. 3:10). Using a later part of that day to represent the whole period, he spoke of the day's coming as a thief, both to encourage mockers to repent and to help the faithful to persevere. That was the second figure used by Jesus on the Mount of Olives. In the last decade of the first century, John wrote to seven churches in first-century Asia to persuade the unrepentant to repent and the faithful to hold fast (Rev. 2-3). One of those churches he exhorted to watchfulness as a thief would in light of Christ's coming (Rev. 3:3).
But our task in the present essay is to examine the writings of a fourth New Testament writer, Paul, and to see how he taught the dual imminence of Christ's return and the day of the Lord, especially in his Thessalonian epistles.
PAUL'S EMPHASIS ON IMMINENCE IN 1 THESSALONIANS
The Day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5
Paul very clearly teaches the imminence of the wrathful phase of the day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5:2–3: "For you yourselves [i.e., the Thessalonian readers] know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, 'Peace and safety!' then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape." The apostle offers further evidence of the widespread impact of Jesus' use of the thief figure to express imminence. He reflects the negative impact of the day of the Lord in speaking of the destruction that will beset earth's inhabitants when it arrives. By comparing the period to the birth pains of a pregnant woman, Paul shows his awareness that the Old Testament and Jesus Himself used that comparison to depict the time just before Jesus' personal reappearance on earth (Isa. 13:8; 26:17–19; 66:7ff.; Jer. 30:7–8; Mic. 4:9–10; Matt. 24:8).
Later in the paragraph, in discussing the exemption of believers from the horrors of this period, Paul gives indication that the day is a period of wrath: "For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:9). This first phase of the day of the Lord (i.e., the tribulation of seven years) will witness the outpouring of God's wrath against a rebellious world.
Excerpted from Evidence for the Rapture by John F. Hart. Copyright © 2015 John F. Hart. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: (John F. Hart)
Chapter 1: The Day of the Lord and the Rapture, by Dr. Craig Blaising
Chapter 2: The Rapture and the Biblical Teaching of Imminency, by Dr. Robert L. Thomas
Chapter 3: Jesus and the Rapture: Matthew 24, by John F. Hart
Chapter 4: Jesus and the Rapture: John 14, by Dr. George Gunn
Chapter 5: Paul and the Rapture: 1 Corinthians 15, by Dr. Michael Vanlaningham,
Chapter 6: Paul and the Rapture: 1 Thess. 4–5, by Dr. Kevin D. Zuber
Chapter 7: Paul and the Rapture: 2 Thess. 2, by Dr. Nathan Holsteen
Chapter 8: John and the Rapture: Revelation 2–3, by Dr. Andy Woods
Chapter 9: John Nelson Darby and the Pretribulation Rapture Argument in Revelation 12:5, by Dr. Michael Svigel
Chapter 10: Israel: Why the Church Must Be Raptured Before the Tribulation, by Dr. Michael Rydelnik
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