Friday, June 13, 2003

Awaiting Christ’s Third Coming

Virtually all Christians believe in a rapture of some form or another, with the familiar definitive text coming from 1 Thessalonians:
16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.(1Th 4:16-17)

The questions which divide us are (a) when this is to occur and (b) whether there is a great seven year tribulation which occurs afterwards. More succinctly, does this passage refer to The Second Coming of Christ, bodily to earth, or does it refer to a secret second coming, or maybe the onset of The Second Coming, with the caveat that it takes seven years to complete.

The highly popular (and highly effective at generating revenue) 170 year young dispensationalist premillennial view proclaims the following complex schema:

The rapture occurs, resulting from a secret second coming, and the church is taken away. All non-believers are “left behind”.

There follows:
  • The appearance of the antichrist
  • The seven year “great tribulation”
  • The tribulation ends with the Battle of Armageddon, at which time Christ returns for the second time, a second time.
  • For 1000 years, Christ will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem.
  • The temple is rebuilt, memorial animal sacrifices are re-instituted (of all the aspects of this view, this one borders on an abomination, in my opinion).
  • At the end of the millennium, Satan will be released and a short-lived rebellion takes place. After it is crushed, the wicked are cast into the lake of fire and the eternal state begins.

Why is the rapture "secret"

This is complicated, and related to the belief that the tribulation occurs after the rapture.

The main reason is that Christ's "real" second coming is tied to judgment and the general resurrection. But neither (at least not the judgment of the wicked) occur before the tribulation, yet the tribulation occurs after the rapture. Hence the rapture cannot be the real second coming, but a preliminary secret mission to remove the church.

The church must be removed for two reasons; one is a red herring in my mind. The true reason the church is removed (in this schema) is so that God can go back to dealing with the ethnic Jews, a hallmark of dispensationalism.

However, another reason given is that there is scriptural support that believers are spared the tribulation. Unfortunately, there is also scriptural support that believers are not spared. In fact, if we look at the consummate tribulation text in the Olivet Discourse, we read:
19How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now--and never to be equaled again. 22If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. (Matt 24:19-22)
Virtually everyone agrees that this is a description of the tribulation, and that elect refers to believers (independent of one’s view of predestination). Surely then, there are believers at the time of the tribulation.

No problem, say the pretrib premills, these are believers that come to Christ after the rapture. The are given a "second chance" as it were.

The real mystery to me is who wouldn't believe in Christ after they were left behind, at least those millions who know (from reading Left Behind) what happened.

But the house-of-cards is on shaky ground here, apart from purely common sense questions. Consider this passage
6And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. 7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. (2Th 2:6-8
The problem is this:
  • The He who removes His restraint at the start of the tribulation, freeing the antichrist to make his mischief is the Holy Spirit.
  • This is consistent with removing the Church—since the Spirit indwells believers, if you remove the Church you remove the Spirit, and vice versa. So far so good.
  • Exactly how are those left behind to become believers without the Spirit?

As I said, I think removing the church so that it doesn't have to endure the tribulation is not the real reason. The real reason is dispensationalism and its belief that God is not finished with the ethnic Jews.

On the other hand, is there precedent for removing His people to avoid a tribulation?

And God sent horrible plagues upon Egypt, culminating with the death of the first born. To spare the Hebrews from this great tribulation, He removed them from the earth, and kept them safe in the sky until the his wrath was satisfied, then he returned them to Egypt from where His servant Moses led them out of captivity.

Uh – no that is not how it happened. The Hebrews both endured the tribulation and yet were spared the brunt of it, in situ. The same will be true for the Church.

Secret? Some secret

Another problem is that the rapture, as described in 1Th 4, does not sound very secret. It talks about Christ visibly returning, with the voices of the archangels, and the shouts of trumpets. Possibly graves are split open as the dead in Christ arise. At any rate, this is hardly the "poof, they’re gone" as described in Left Behind. To avoid this problem, we sometimes are told that all these things do happen, but they are visible/audible only to the believers who are being raptured away. Convenient—and mentioned nowhere in scripture.

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