WHEN WILL THE CHURCH BE RAPTURED?
THAT IS THE sixty-four dollar question. Surely no one who takes the Bible seriously and literally will deny there is a rapture. Paul in First Thessalonians teaches this so patently that we must accept the fact and try as best we can to understand it in the light of all the events which comprise the end times. For those who say the Church will go through the tribulation, the rapture, time-wise, can only take place at the same time, or a very short time before the glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus himself on this earth. For them, then, the rapture is preceded by known, recognizable, and predicted events which must come to pass before the Church is caught away.
A host of believers agree that the Church will be raptured before the seven-year period generally called the tribulation of which the great tribulation takes place the last half of the seven-year period. Many, if not most, of the pretribulational rapturists hold that the event can take place at any time. It is to this viewpoint, and to the people who hold this view, that the question must be addressed: Is the rapture of the Church an event that could have taken place any time after Pentecost when the Church first came into being? It is possible, of course, for those who believe the rapture can occur at any time now to hold that it could not have happened earlier. All the predicted events needing to be fulfilled before the rapture have indeed come to pass. Thus the rapture can now take place at any time. A great host of pretribulational rapturists, however, seem to be saying that the event in question could have happened any time during the church age.
Leaving aside the question whether the rapture can now occur at any time and assuming that no predicted prophecies remain to be fulfilled before it happens, we will consider the question whether Jesus could have come again at any time after the Church began at Pentecost. It must be said immediately that Jesus could not have come at the very least before the twentieth century. Stated another way, there were known and predicted events which had to take place before the Lord could rapture the Church. We will look at the biblical evidences which substantiate this statement. Then we will show that a number of the best-known pretribulation rapturists said the same thing at least by implication and that some were quite inconsistent by seeming to say things which were antithetical to each other.
BIBLICAL DATA AGAINST AN ANY-MOMENT RAPTURE IN BYGONE DAYS
In Luke 21:24, Jesus said that “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” Two important points are contained in this prophecy: (1) Jerusalem, which was then in the hands of the Jews, would be wrested from them and controlled by the Gentiles; (2) the control of Jerusalem would last until the “times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”
Jerusalem was seized from the Jews under Titus and Vespasian in A.D. 70. This was some years after the resurrection of Jesus and after the Church had begun at Pentecost. Christ could not have returned before this event happened unless the prophecy was not meant to be fulfilled. That would be impossible. This one prophecy by itself invalidates the notion of an any-moment rapture after Pentecost. One might argue that he could have come any time after A.D. 70, but this is also impossible from the biblical data.
The Jews, as we have seen, are now back in the land, and Jerusalem once more is under their control. In the short 1967 war, the Jews passed through the Mandelbaum Gate which separated the old Jerusalem from the new city and took over the ancient section of Jerusalem. From that day to this, the Gentiles have not had control of the city. It is useless to suppose that this is not the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy recorded in Luke’s gospel. The possibility that Jerusalem will be taken away from the Jews again and later come under their control before the end times has no support from Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible suggest that Jerusalem will be taken from the Jews twice. We should not construct charts to fit preconceived notions. None of us was or is on God’s program committee for setting up the events connected with the end of the age.
The return of the Jews to Jerusalem is, in itself, a compelling reason for us to say that Jesus could not have returned to this earth until this prophetic event took place. Good men may have supposed that Gentile ascendancy over Jerusalem would cease after the rapture, not before. And certainly we ought not to claim that Scripture explicitly states, when this event was predicted in the Bible, that the rapture would come after the return to Jerusalem. But we know that this has happened. Its having happened makes clear that since the Church has not been raptured, the event had to take place prior to the rapture. We can understand and excuse earlier earnest students of the Word who were wrong about this matter. But we have further light and can see now that those who held to an any-moment rapture were incorrect in their interpretation of Scripture.
A third reason why an any-moment rapture is an impossibility is related to the Great Commission and the Church. It is true that dispensationalists who hold to a pretribulational rapture say the Jews will finish the work of world evangelization after the rapture of the Church and when the Holy Spirit has been withdrawn. C. I. Scofield says (p. 1343) that what he calls the everlasting gospel “is to be preached to the earthdwellers at the very end of the great tribulation and immediately preceding the judgment of the nations (Matt. 25:31, refs.). It is neither the gospel of the kingdom, nor of grace. Though its burden is judgment and not salvation, it is good news to Israel and to those who, during the tribulation, have been saved (Rev. 7:9-14; Luke 21:28; Ps. 96:11-13; Isa. 35:4-10).”
The Great Commission as given in the Acts of the Apostles just prior to Christ’s ascension into heaven was directed to the Church and not to Israel. The disciples were present then and also when they were given the commission to evangelize the world as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. In the Lukan account, they were commanded to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father which was the coming of the Holy Spirit whose power they needed to help them. This refers to Pentecost. Then, in Acts, Jesus says to the same disciples who will constitute the Church at Pentecost: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
This statement of the Great Commission was not only a command; it was also a promise. It says they shall be witnesses unto the uttermost part of the earth. The rapture of the Church, therefore, had to await the fulfillment of that prophecy and that command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. At the opening of the nineteenth century, that commission had by no means been fulfilled yet. Christ would not come and the Church would not be raptured until that commission had been fulfilled. And as long as the rapture does not take place we know that the Church is to be busy finishing the task of world evangelization.
We must now scan the writings of some of the great expositors on the subject of the rapture who have been identified as holding to an any-moment rapture of the Church from the earliest times as a possibility. Harry A. Ironside is the first example.
HARRY A. IRONSIDE
Dr. Ironside was the pastor of the famed Moody Church in Chicago. He was a splendid preacher and Bible teacher as well as an able writer. In 1915 he wrote a book titled The Midnight Cry, which centered around the soon coming of the Lord for the Church, the preface to the 1928 revision he wrote:
So rapid have been the changes, and so markedly has the way been prepared for the predicted end of the age … that it has been thought wise to bring it more nearly up-to-date by adding considerable new matter and making a few revisions. None of the latter have in the slightest degree modified the views originally set forth, as every passing year has but convinced the writer of the certainty of the prophetic program revealed in the Word of God and confirmed by the signs of the times [my italics].
Obviously that which is “confirmed by the signs of the times” cannot be something which was confirmed in all of the earlier ages, for then the signs would mean nothing. Instead, Dr. Ironside found, in his day, something different from other ages which led him to conclude that the rapture was around the corner. This is further confirmed by what he wrote later on:
The apostolic band and believers in the earliest period were all looking for His return. Yet He came not, and long centuries have since elapsed. What evidence is there that now His advent is so nigh, and that there may not be as long a time to elapse ere He comes back than has already passed? … What can be gleaned from the past history of, and present conditions prevailing in the Church of God that would indicate the soon closing-up of the present age and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ? [pp. 10, 11].
Later Dr. Ironside said things even more specific which indicate how wrong one can be when concluding that the time of the rapture is at hand:
But now that nearly twenty centuries (two of God’s great “days”—2 Peter 3:8) have elapsed, we can look back over the long course of the Church’s pilgrimage and see how all her varied states and experiences were foreknown and foretold and the heart thrills with joyful expectancy as we look ahead. For the next [my italics] miraculous event must be the shining forth of the Morning Star, the coming of the Lord Jesus, and our gathering together unto Him [p. 12].
Dr. Ironside did not live long enough to see the passing of the control of the city of Jerusalem from Arab to Jewish hands. He evidently believed the Church would be raptured before that event took place. He was wrong. Even more clearly he said with passionate urgency:
Reader, let me press my point again.—The world-wide Gospel proclamation and world-wide apostasy at the same time are clear proofs that the end is close upon us. [p. 28].
But since we know that neither of those conditions had existed in any previous age of the Church’s history, the Lord could not have come for his Church until they did exist.
Dr. Ironside was saying that now the time was ripe and what had never been true before was true when he wrote.
Furthermore, he did what we shall see Dr. Scofield did too. He identified the messages to the seven churches as portraying seven periods in the Church’s history of which the Laodicean age is the last. He said:
Laodicea is the closing period of the Church’s history, and who can doubt that we have now reached the very time predicted? It behooves us to act as men who wait for their Lord, knowing that His coming cannot be much longer delayed [p. 35]. Is it not clear that the Church could not have been raptured until the Laodicean age was reached?
Dr. ironside called the Laodicean age the “closing period of the Church’s history.” How then could there have been an any-moment rapture when he knew that the Church had to go through six prior ages before the arrival of the Laodicean age?
Dr. Ironside said “the apostolic band and believers in the earliest period were all looking for His return.” Does the Scripture say this in the sense he understood it? Hardly. What is more important is whether we who have come after them have read into the biblical account of the last days some things which may not truly represent what they had in mind when they were speaking about the coming of the Lord. Of this, we shall have more to say a bit later.
C. I. SCOFIELD
The Scofield Bible has had a long and honored ministry for almost three quarters of a century. Cast in the dispensational tradition, it has been “the Bible” for hundreds of thousands of believers. The Scofield notes have suckled several generations of Christians and have provided them with a systematized theology on a more popular level. Before the copyright expired, a revised Scofield Bible was issued by the Oxford Press and included in its list of revisers men like E. Schuyler English, Wilbur M. Smith, Frank Gaebelein, and John Walvoord. Some of the Scofield notes were changed considerably in the revision, with the view to correcting internal discrepancies.
Curiously, the original Scofield Bible does not list the rapture of the Church in the index at the end of the Bible. Nor is it listed under Church. In the note for Thessalonians 4:17, C. I. Scofield did not use the word “rapture.” He wrote: “Not church saints only, but all bodies of the saved, of whatever dispensation, are included in the first resurrection as here described, but it is peculiarly the “blessed hope” of the Church,…” This note was changed in the revised Scofield. Moreover he denominated the rapture of the Church as the first resurrection but when he footnoted Revelation 20:6 which speaks specifically of the first resurrection he did not connect it with the rapture. How there can be two first resurrections remains for later consideration.
When speaking of the Day of the Lord the Scofield Bible says it is preceded by seven signs:
“The sending of Elijah… cosmical disturbances … the insensibility of the professing church… the apostasy of the professing church, then become Laodicea… the rapture of the true church… the apocalyptic judgments and… “the ‘day of God,’ earth purged by fire” (p. 1349).
Since Elijah has not yet come, it appears that this is one of the prophetic signs which yet remains to be fulfilled once Dr. Scofield placed the rapture after the appearance of Elijah. Thus he could not hold to an any-moment coming for the Church from the earliest day. (The new Scofield Bible has altered this footnote.)
Dr. Scofield also adopted the same view of the messages to the seven churches as Dr. Ironside. He wrote:
Most conclusively of all, these messages do present an exact foreview of the spiritual history of the church, and in this precise order. Ephesus gives the general state at the date of the writing; Smyrna, the period of the great persecutions; Pergamos, the church settled down in the world, ‘where Satan’s throne is,’ after the conversion of Constantine, say, A.D. 316. Thyatira is the Papacy, developed out of the Pergamos state …. Sardis is the Protestant Reformation, whose works were not ‘fulfilled.’ Philadelphia is whatever bears clear testimony to the Word and the Name in the time of self-satisfied profession represented by Laodicea [p. 1332].
In the outline for Laodicea, Scofield called it “the final state of apostasy.” Thus it is evident that the seven churches represent seven periods of church history of which Laodicea is the last. This obviously means that there could not have been an any-moment rapture of the Church until the church age was finished.
ARNO C. GAEBELEIN
Arno C. Gaebelein is listed as one of the consulting editors for the Scofield Bible. He wrote a book, Things to Come (N.Y., n.d., “Our Hope” Publication Office). It comprised four lectures on prophecy. Dr. Gaebelein, like Drs. Ironside and Scofield, could not logically hold to an any-moment rapture of the Church from the days of the apostles. In his book he spoke about certain predictions of things to come taken from the New Testament. He said the predictions are grouped around six things: (1) Denial of the faith; (2) Denial of sound doctrine; (3) Denial of the power of godliness and therefore unholy living; (4) Denial that Jesus is come in the flesh; (5) Denial of the Lord himself; (6) Denial of authority. The conclusion he drew from this list is that at no earlier time in the history of the Church have these things been true. So he wrote:
And now we come to the most solemn fact. We behold about us the complete fulfillment of all these predictions. Not one of them is unfulfilled. It is true in the past there have been false teachers, departures from the faith and delusive teachings, but never before has the fulfillment of these predictions been so intense, so persistent, so widespread as in our days. Nothing more remains to be fulfilled….
Again we say it is a most significant fact that we behold about us the literal fulfillment of all these predictions concerning the last days. What an evidence this is that the Bible is the Word of God … The next great event is nothing less than the Coming of the Lord for His Saints [pp. 8 ff., italics mine].
In fairness to Dr. Gaebelein, it should be said that he believed in the any-moment coming of Christ for his Church at the time he wrote his book. It is also clear that he could not have believed in an any-moment rapture of the Church from the days of the apostles. He said there were predictions which had to be fulfilled. He said these predictions had been fulfilled. He said that the next event in the order of things was the rapture of the Church. Like Dr. Ironside and Dr. Scofield, he did not know of the return of the Jews to Palestine, and of the end of Gentile ascendancy over Jerusalem. Thus he was wrong in concluding that all the prophecies requiring fulfillment before the rapture had indeed taken place. And while some of us may think we have come to that moment when nothing more remains to be fulfilled before the rapture, the experience of these men should teach us to be undogmatic about this.
MARTIN R. DEHAAN
Dr. DeHaan was the featured speaker on the Radio Bible Class program for many years before his death. He enjoyed a magnificent ministry, was thoroughly orthodox in the Christian faith, and was a strong defender of that faith. He was a firm believer in the imminent coming of the Lord for his Church. Again the question arises whether he believed that the imminence of Christ’s coming was taught and believed from the beginning of the Church age, or whether he held that all of the prophetic events needing to be fulfilled before the rapture of the Church was possible had taken place. His writings show clearly that he could not have held to the imminence of Christ’s coming from the earliest days. This conclusion derives from his own statements which indicate that many prophecies had to be fulfilled before the Lord could come for the Church. If he did hold to imminence from the earliest days, he was simply inconsistent and was unaware of that inconsistency.
In his book Coming Events in Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962) he spoke about the course of this age. He said:
In Matthew 13 Jesus teaches His disciples by the use of seven parables of the Kingdom the characteristics of this present age of mystery…. While all of the parables describe the general condition of professing Christendom during this entire dispensation, they aJso represent seven successive periods of Church history [my italics]…. Today the first six historic periods of Church history are almost completed. We are now in that period of the hidden treasure and the precious pearl. Within the past few decades more prophecies concerning Israel, God’s treasure, have been fulfilled than during the past nineteen hundred years [pp. 93-95].
In connection with Daniel’s prophecy Dr. DeHaan wrote: In Daniel 12:4 we read:
“But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”
The meaning of Daniel’s words could not be understood until they actually came to pass, and that would be at the time of the end. Up until this present generation we could not understand what Daniel meant by the words, “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” They were sealed until the time of the end. Today we know what Daniel meant—there is no doubt about it any more; and so we know it is the time of the end [my italics]. What an accurate description of today we have in the phrase, “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” [p. 101].
These extracts show unmistakably that Dr. DeHaan could not consistently hold to an any-moment rapture prior to the writing of his book. There were prophetic events which had to be fulfilled before the rapture could occur. There were, he said, seven successive periods of Church history; that is, one period followed another. This meant that Christ could not come for the Church until the six periods of Church history had taken place. In his statement from Daniel’s prophecy, Dr. DeHaan says that Daniel’s prophecy was sealed until the time of the end. Now it has been unsealed and we know it. “It is,” he says, “the time of the end.” Clearly, then, until this took place Christ could not return for his Church. So an any-moment rapture from Pentecost onward was an impossibility. This does not mean, of course, that Dr. DeHaan may not have been saying that the time when an any-moment rapture could take place has come upon us now.
Dr. DeHaan did raise an important question about the relationship between a belief in the imminent coming of the Lord and spirituality and evangelistic activity. He said:
Show me a man or a church or an assembly which truly believes in the personal imminent return of Christ at any moment, and I will show you a man or an assembly that is spiritually on fire, striving for holiness, ablaze with zeal for souls, and fired with the spirit of evangelism [p. 40].
And then later on he wrote:
Anything which destroys the imminency, the possibility of His any-moment return, robs us of that blessed hope, for the greatest incentive to holiness and evangelism and soul-winning and service throughout [my italics] the history of the Church has always been the blessed promise of His Word, “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 3:10). And only thus can the words of our Lord mean anything at all when He says, “Watch, therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” [p. 132].
Since Dr. DeHaan’s own statements indicate that he could not consistently have held to an
any-moment rapture until this present age (the time in which he was writing), then this puzzler remains: Did men like Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Edwards, and thousands of others lack “spirituality on fire,” a “striving for holiness,” and were they lacking in evangelistic zeal and were they not “ablaze for souls”? And did the fact that there were prophecies which had to be fulfilled before the rapture of the Church “rob [them] of that blessed hope”?
Earl D. Radmacher, a confirmed and ardent pretribulation rapturist who stands for a signless time for the event to take place, had this to say about getting believers into spiritual living because the rapture may be close upon us. He wrote: Great discredit to prophecy has been brought over the years and today by those who, even with proper motivation, seek to use “the signs of the time” to bring believers into line, so to speak.
I find that I can identify very much with Robert Mounce when he says: “This approach seems to say that what is really important is to be in good shape at the particular point in time when Christ returns. (It’s the old I-don’t-want-to-be-caught-in-there-when-Jesus-returns syndrome). It suggests in a veiled way that the mark we get on our ethical report card is the mark we happen to receive on the pop quiz given at the Parousia rather than the cumulative grade for the entire course.” [“What If It Were Today,” Eternity, February, 1974.] Surely we can look for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ, even if it is still a thousand years away. Surely we are not to determine how we shall live on the basis of the nearness or the farness of the coming of Christ. We are called to be faithful regardless of these things. And yet there is a great truth contained in the warning about watching for the coming of the Lord. Christ will come for each one of us one way or another. He either will come in his second advent or he will come for us in death when our days on this earth are over and we can work no more. Those of us who believe in the imminence of the Lord’s coming should be at work with zeal and commitment, but we should work this way even if we thought his coming was to be delayed beyond our lifetimes.
I. M. HALDEMAN
I. M. Haldeman, pastor of the First Baptist Church in New York City, was a great preacher and a fervent believer in the any-moment coming of the Lord. His writings indicate that he also could not have consistently maintained that the any-moment coming of the Lord was held and taught in Scripture from the earliest times.
Like the others quoted here, Haldeman said that certain prophetic events foretold in Scripture had to be fulfilled before the rapture of the Church was possible. His book The Signs of the Times was written to show that the time for the coming of the Lord was upon us and he proved it from the signs of the times. But if these signs were common to all ages, that would have meant nothing new had come. It would simply have been a rehash of what was old. But Dr. Haldeman spoke of new things which had never transpired before which were signs to him that the coming of the Lord was now upon us.
Among the news events which convinced Dr. Haldeman that the coming of the Lord was now imminent had to do with the Jews. In the preface to the eighth edition of his book he said:
The Jew is back in Palestine. He is there under a mandate from the League of Nations, and that mandate delivered and sustained, as foretold by England, who backs it with her army and navy—”the ships of Tarshish.” They are returning to the homeland by the thousands every month and, as the prophets foresaw, in a state of intensified unbelief…. The desert is “blossoming as the rose” [p. v].
By so much, then, as the Zionist movement is a climactic sign and witness in these times that the day of the Lord is at hand, by just so much it is a witness that “at any moment” the “door of heaven” may be opened, the Lord may speak, and all those who own his name be bidden to rise and meet him, see him face to face, and share his glory. This is the deeper meaning of Zionism [p. 366],
The Jew had been out of the land of Palestine for almost two thousand years when Dr. Haldeman wrote this. Now they were coming back. And he regarded it as a necessary prerequisite before the Lord could come. His any-moment coming was based upon the fulfillment of what Dr. Haldeman believed to be all of the prophetic Scriptures that had to be fulfilled before the coming of the Lord. So he promoted an any-moment coming at his point in history because the signs of the times which had not come to pass in earlier history had now been fulfilled.
Dr. Haldeman supplied many other evidences to support his thesis that the soon coming of the Lord as evidenced by fulfilled prophecies was upon us. He did not know when he wrote the book that the Jews would wrest Jerusalem from the Arabs before the rapture, but he would surely have included that among the fulfilled prophecies indicating the soon coming of Christ. So we must repeat once more that the return of Jerusalem to Jewish control is one of the clearest signs that an any-moment rapture of the Church could not have occurred until this event took place.
Dr. John Walvoord, the president of Dallas Theological Seminary which was founded by Louis Sperry Chafer, is a keen student, scholar, and teacher of the dispensational viewpoint, which generally has included in its system a belief in the pre-tribulational rapture of the Church. There are dispensational-ists today who do think the Church will go through all or at least part of the tribulation period. Dr. Walvoord is not one of them. He holds firmly to the pretribulational viewpoint. Later we will discuss the time of the rapture. In that regard the question is whether Dr. Walvoord holds to an any-moment rapture of the Church because all predicted prophecies which had to be fulfilled before the rapture could take place have now been fulfilled; or that there could have been an any-moment rapture from Pentecost onward. It is here that Dr. Walvoord appears to be inconsistent. He does appear to commit himself firmly to the view that the rapture was imminent from the earliest days. Then he goes on from there to speak of signs which nullify imminence as he holds it. He wrote:
ARE THERE SIGNS OF THE LORD’S RETURN?
When the rapture of the church was explained, no signs were ever given indicating the specific
expectation of that event. . . This attitude characterized the early church, which believed that Christ could
come at any day. This has been the hope of the church from the first century until now. Any suggestion or theory
which implies that Christ could not come today is not what has been commonly believed through the centuries
[Armageddon, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), p. 198].
At this point we must introduce the evidence connected with the writings of Dr. Earl D. Radmacher, president of the Western Conservative Baptist Seminary of Portland, Oregon. He is a Dallas Theological Seminary graduate, possesses an analytical mind and is a strong defender of the pretribulational rapture. In his tract Signs of a Signless Event? (Western Baptist Press, 1976) Dr. Radmacher is keenly aware of the fact that so many of the pretribulationists who hold to a doctrine of imminence also talk about signs in connection with the event. He holds that this is a gross inconsistency. He wrote:
Nowhere does the Scripture place any necessary action or event before the rapture [p. 7]. In answer to Oswald Allis, therefore, I would admit that there is a glaring inconsistency in those who preach about the signs of a signless event. There are no signs of the times because we are not in the time of the signs [p. 8].
Then Dr. Radmacher went on to say:
I realize that some will respond by saying that prophetic fulfillments cast their shadows before them and that, although there are no prophecies to be fulfilled before the rapture, there are after the rapture. The weakness of this argument, however, is that we have no idea of the length of the time period between the rapture and the first prophesied event, the manifestation of the Antichrist [p. 8].
Dr. Radmacher and Dr. Walvoord are fully agreed that the rapture is a signless event. As we shall see, however, Dr. Walvoord falls into the trap Dr. Radmacher mentions. He does employ “signs” whether he uses the word or not. They appear in principle in his book on Armageddon. Dr. Radmacher is conscious of a inbuilt problem in his signless position. Thus he allows for some time to pass between the moment the rapture occurs and when the Antichrist establishes his covenant with Israel which marks the beginning of the Day of the Lord. In order for the Antichrist to sign a covenant with Israel, Israel must be back in the land and in control of Jerusalem. Until recently, however, Israel has not been back in the land and at no time until this generation could it be said that Israel had control of the city of Jerusalem. Dr. Radmacher knows fully well that Israel must be back in Palestine at the end times, and of necessity this is a sign of the rapture which must occur before the end times according to pretribulationism. And he knows that if Israel is not in the land when the rapture occurs, it would take some time for her to return and to take over the city of Jerusalem. So he solves this problem by introducing an unspecified time period between the rapture and the Day of the Lord. Very few pretribulationists hold to this view.
If the rapture had occurred a thousand years ago, as Dr. Radmacher says it could have, we would still be waiting for the rise of the Antichrist. And if Israel were not in the land and Jerusalem not in her control, it would be something which would not happen in a short space of time. Dr. Radmacher and Dr. Walvoord both have the same problem. They offer opposing solutions, both of which create further problems. Dr. Radmacher is correct in saying that men like Dr. Walvoord are logically inconsistent. Dr. Radmacher, on the other hand, introduces a view which is logically consistent but practically mind-boggling. Unless he can point to biblical evidence showing that the time interval between the rapture and the beginning of the Day of the Lord is quite short, he has opened the door wide to a time period of indefinite length (for he openly confesses “we have no idea of the length of the time period between the rapture and… the manifestation of the Antichrist”) which could mean a thousand or ten thousand years. The whole tenor of Scripture links the rapture and the end times so closely together that Dr. Radmacher’s case seems hopeless. It would be far simpler for men like Dr. Walvoord to say they are mistaken in their understanding of Scripture with regard to the rapture as signless in any meaningful way. In the case of Dr. Walvoord, the book he wrote in conjunction with his son shows that he (they) do exactly what Dr. Radmacher opposes. They make statements which can only be interpreted as denying an any-moment rapture from the days of the apostles. Dr. Walvoord wrote:
THE PROPHETIC PULSE OF JERUSALEM
The prophecies about Jerusalem make it clear that the holy city will be in the center of world events in the end time… In our present rapidly moving world scene with the Middle East once again becoming the center of the stage, it becomes dramatically clear that these events may not be too far distant….
As signs [my italics] that we may be moving into this period multiply, the direction of present world events also points to the conclusion that the coming of Christ for His Church, promised in John 14, may occur any day [Armageddon, pp. 96, 97].
Especially significant is Dr. Walvoord’s statement:
Prophecies about Israel, and especially Jerusalem, provide important reference points for all of prophecy. The most significant prophetic event in the twentieth century has been the restoration of Israel. All the prophecies of the end of the age indicate that at that time the Jews will be back in their land and in precisely the same situation in which they find themselves today.
All areas of prophecy combine in the united testimony that history is preparing our generation for the end of the age. In each area of prophecy a chronological checklist of important prophetic events can be compiled. In each list in regard to the church, the nations, or Israel, the events of history clearly indicate that the world is poised and ready for the rapture of the church and the beginning of the countdown to Armageddon [Armageddon, pp. 199, 200].
Dr. Walvoord provided what he termed “A Prophetic Checklist for the Church.” He said:
This checklist includes the major prophetic events in the order of their predicted fulfillment [my italics].
1. The rise of world communism marks the new beginning of the politics of atheism.
2. Liberalism undermines the spiritual vitality of the church in Europe and eventually America.
3. The movement toward a super-church begins with the ecumenical movement.
4. Apostasy and open denial of biblical truth is evident in the church.
5. Moral chaos becomes more and more evident because of the complete departure from Christian morality.
6. The sweep of spiritism, the occult, and belief in demons begins to prepare the world for Satan’s final hour.
7. Jerusalem becomes a center of religious controversy for Arabs and Christians, while Jews of the world plan to make the city an active center for Judaism.
8. True believers disappear from the earth to join Christ in heaven at the rapture of the church. And then he went on to add numbers 9 through 13 which are not relevant to this discussion of the any-moment rapture of the Church.
Dr. Walvoord’s approval of imminency from the days of the apostles is in conflict with the statements I have just quoted. The two viewpoints are apparently opposed to each other.
How do we resolve what appears to be a contradiction? The contradiction is this: Scripture appears to accept in principle what it denies when it speaks of prophecies which must be fulfilled before the rapture takes place. And this becomes Dr. Walvoord’s problem as well. Jesus specifically foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and it happened as he foretold it. This brute fact took place in A.D. 70. Jesus had not yet come, and the day of the Lord had not yet begun. Were the apostles wrong in holding to the imminency of the Lord’s return, or have we misunderstood what they had in mind? Moreover, Christ said the Church would be witnesses unto him to the ends of the earth in Acts 1:8. This had to take time and Jesus could not have returned for the Church until his own prophecy about the Church was fulfilled. The Jews have taken Jerusalem. This fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy came almost two thousand years after it was uttered. Either we must disclaim this as a fulfillment of the particular prophecy or agree that the rapture of the Church is indeed preceded by the fulfillment of certain prophecies. If the latter judgment is correct, then an
any-moment rapture from the days of the apostles cannot stand.
It is always possible to argue that had the apostles known then what we know now, the situation would be different. Even if this were so, we must insist on the principle that Scripture cannot contradict Scripture, whether the authors knew or didn’t know what we know today by way of fulfilled prophecy. Moreover, the Holy Spirit is the divine author of the Word of God and he knows the end from the beginning. Therefore, we must conclude that the early church’s attitude toward the coming of the Lord was something other than that understood by those who hold to imminence. Dr. Walvoord said that: The detailed development of pretribulational truth during the past few centuries does not prove that the doctrine is new or novel. Its development is similar to that of other major doctrines in the history of the church[The Rapture Question, p. 192].
Assuming this to be so, we must still insist that any early or late development of any truth cannot contradict any Scripture. To look for the coming of the Lord to rapture the Church does not in itself imply imminency. I look forward and have looked forward to being with Jesus Christ at death. I have waited more than sixty years for what has not yet happened. I can wait during my lifetime with expectancy for the future coming of Christ, whether it is soon or will come a thousand years from now. Scripture says that Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). The Holy Spirit assured him that Jesus would come in his day (Luke 2:26]. But the prophecy of the first advent of Jesus began with the prediction in Genesis 3:15. Many people were waiting for that first coming of the Lord. They waited for thousands of years. And a thousand years are as a day in the sight of God. Jesus did not come and he could not have come until the fulness of time. And Daniel’s prophecy of that first advent pinpointed the time. But this did not keep the people from looking for the coming of Jesus the first time, even though they waited for approximately six hundred years after Daniel’s prophecy.
Every premillennial scholar agrees that specific signs, giving detailed information about events which will transpire during the tribulation period, are found in Scripture. The overwhelming verdict of those who hold to a pretribulation rapture is that this so-called “signless event” is followed immediately by the seven-year tribulation period. Thus, immediately following the rapture of the Church, Israel and the Antichrist will enter into a covenant. “Three-and-a-half years before the second coming of Christ,” says Dr. Walvoord, “the dictator in the Mediterranean will desecrate a future Jewish temple and stop the sacrificial worship of God being carried on in this temple” (Armageddon, p. 95). The obvious is all too apparent. There could be no rapture until the Jews come back to Palestine and Jerusalem is in their hands so they can rebuild the temple. This rebuilding of the temple could not take place unless Israel was in the land and in control of old Jerusalem unless the rapture occurs an indefinite period of time before the Day of the Lord commences. The Jews must be in the land before the tribulation begins. The Jews are in the land, although the rapture has not yet taken place. Thus, it becomes plain that the signs having to do with the tribulation are pertinent to the rapture and that these signs make an any-moment rapture from the days of the apostles an invalid thesis.
In conclusion, the following statements may be made about the any-moment rapture of the Church:
1. The predictions about events taking place during the tribulation period, events which have been fulfilled by way of preparation, make an any-moment rapture of the Church from the day of the apostles invalid.
2. It is possible for us to speak of Christ’s imminent coming in this generation even though the word imminent is not found in Scripture per se. We can conclude that his coming looks to be likely during the next three or four decades. But this must be a tentative conclusion, since others who preceded us were certain of his earlier return and were proved to be wrong. It may be that a longer period of time than we presently envisage may be necessary to prepare the scenario for the tribulation period.
3. We have closed the door to imminency from the days of the apostles, but we have left open without discussion what may be the most important question in the minds of multitudes who think the Lord is coming shortly. The question is this: Will the Church go through the tribulation, or will it be raptured before the tribulation begins, or during the middle of that terrible time? We cannot dodge this question, and to it we must now address ourselves.
From the book The Gathering Storm by Harold Lindsell