WILL THE CHURCH GO THROUGH THE TRIBULATION?
THE QUESTION, “WILL THE CHURCH GO THROUGH THE Tribulation?” may well be one of the most
widely discussed, if not the most widely discussed subject in the area of eschatology
(the doctrine of the last things). Some of those who believe that the Church will be raptured before
the tribulation hold this view on the basis of their own wish to escape the awful calamities which
will overtake the world. Thus, for some of them, the pretribulational view does not derive so much
from their careful study of the Scriptures as from their personal desires. This attitude is understandable
because most people, if the choice were left to them, would prefer to be taken out of the world before
the time of Jacob’s trouble, the appearance of the Antichrist, and the outpouring both of the wrath
of man and the wrath of God.
We must remember that, in the final analysis, none of us is on the divine program committee,
planning the events of the end times, and all of us are closed up to Scripture for our opinions
on the time of the rapture of the Church and all the other items in our theology. In some matters Scripture is plain. No one can deny, for example, that the virgin birth is taught in Scripture. No one has to believe
in the virgin birth even though it is taught. But disbelief means a denial of what Scripture clearly
teaches. When it comes to the mode of baptism and the subjects of baptism, the Scripture is not
so explicit. And may it not be that when Scripture treats the time of the rapture, it may not be explicit?
Perhaps the only correct answer to the question of the time of the rapture is hidden in the secret will of God and is not part of the revealed will of God.
THE TIME OF THE RAPTURE NOT EXPLICIT
Again and again we have stated that Scripture says explicitly that there will be a rapture of the
Church. We also have stated that the viewpoint represented in this book is that of premillennialism.
We know that some people embrace the amillennial position and a few are postmillennialists.
I do not know of any amillennialists or any postmillennialists who say the Church will not go through
the period of the tribulation. Among premillennialists, some say the Church will be raptured before the
tribulation period begins, others say the Church will be raptured in the middle of the tribulation period,
and some say the Church will be raptured at the end of the tribulation period.
To the best of my knowledge no evangelical says that any particular position on this subject must
be held in order to be a Christian. Virtually all Christians refuse to make pretribulationism,
midtribulationism, or posttribulationism a test of fellowship. Moreover, none of the well-known
confessions of faith constructed by protestant churches through the ages takes a stand on the time of
the rapture of the Church. In fact, the pretribulational viewpoint seems to have come into the Church
only in the last several centuries. We must hasten to add that this does not, by reason of that fact,
mean that it cannot be a correct viewpoint.
In past centuries, many books on systematic theology popularized the postmillennial viewpoint,a doctrine which is not now held in high esteem by most biblical scholars in the evangelical tradition. Indeed even though premillennialism can be shown to have existed in the Church through the ages, it is only in the past several centuries that it has become widely held by Christians.
Once we agree that the time of the rapture should not divide believers, we can go on to observe that two of the resolute defenders of pretribulationism and posttribulationism state that neither view is explicitly taught in the Word of God. John Walvoord, the president of Dallas Theological Seminary, is one of the strongest advocates of dispensational pretribulationism. In his book The Rapture Question, he wrote:
Ladd .. .[who is the strong defender of posttribulationism] concedes that [the] posttribulational rapture is an inference rather than an explicit revelation of Scripture in the following statement: “Nor does the Word explicitly place the Rapture at the end of the Tribulation.” The fact is that neither posttribulationism nor pretribulationism is an explicit teaching of Scripture. The Bible does not in so many words state either.
May we not conclude, then, that since the Bible is not explicit about the timing of the rapture, this area should not be a matter over which there should be division ? But when we have said this, we still are obliged to take a hard look at the data of Scripture to see if we can, for good reasons, lean in one direction or the other. What evidences can we adduce from the Bible to throw light on this difficult question?
THE DAY OF THE LORD
When discussing the pretribulation rapture, the phrase “the Day of the Lord” has important implications. Depending on the meaning of the phrase, different conclusions can be arrived at. John Walvoord, in his important book The Hapture Question, acknowledges that what he calls “the older pretribulationists” or the “early pretribulationists” were mistaken in their understanding of that phrase. They “identified the Day of the Lord with the millennium and placed its beginning at the return of Christ to establish His earthly kingdom, an interpretation later popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible.” By so doing, they endangered the view of imminence because instead of the coming being unexpected and unannounced, it could be virtually dated since “it would be preceded by such events as the great tribulation and other notable signs.” Moreover “it jeopardized their teaching that the translation of the church was uniquely an event unheralded and imminent.” Dr. Walvoord notes that this confusion enabled posttribulationists to strike back.
Two points should be noted here. First, Dr. Walvoord rightly observes that pretribulationism is of recent origin. He speaks of the “early pretribulationists” by which statement he virtually affirms that the view was not at all common to the period of church history preceding the Brethren writers with whom it originated. Secondly, he is saying that the view of these early writers about the meaning of the “Day of the Lord” undermined their case decidedly. He therefore speaks of “this apparent weakness” and “this area of confusion.”
Dr. Walvoord does provide us with another meaning for the phrase “the Day of the Lord” when he wrote: “There seems to be some evidence that the Day of the Lord begins at once at the time of the translation of the church (cf. 1 Thess. 5:1-9). The same event which translates the church begins the Day of the Lord …. When the Day of grace ends with the translation of the church, the Day of the Lord begins at once” (p. 162 f.). So we must first accept the definition given concerning the Day of the Lord and go on from there to see whether the definition squares with the Scripture where the phrase is used. And it is here that the pretribulational position suffers from difficulties. What are they?
The first difficulty arises with the use of the term “the Day of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 5:2. Here it can surely be argued that the possibility for a pretribulation rapture is to be found in the text. One can say that the Day comes as a thief in the night in the sense that the rapture takes place before some of the known and predicted events of the tribulation period begin. Moreover Paul says that “God hath not appointed us to wrath,” and if this is taken to mean deliverance from the terrors of the tribulation, it is appropriate. But the problem rises from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. In chapter one of that second letter, Paul is talking very specifically about the second advent of the Lord Jesus. He wrote:
We ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure…. And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire taking vengeance … when he shall come to be glorified in his saints and to be admired in all them that believe in that day [2 Thess. 1:4-10].
Paul is here writing to a specific church. He never once suggests that they will be raptured before Christ comes in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God. Rather he quiets their fears in the midst of their troubles and says they are to be granted “rest with us” while they wait for the return of Christ. There does not appear to be any pretribulational rapture in this Scripture. The problem grows in size when chapter two of Second Thessalonians is taken into account. In verse one of chapter two Paul wrote:
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ [in the Greek it is Lord] is at hand.
It takes little imagination to suppose that, accepting the definition of the phrase “the Day of the Lord” as suggested by Dr. Walvoord that Paul should have said to the Thessalonians immediately: “You can be sure that the Day of the Lord has not started because the Church has not been raptured. And before that Day starts you will be taken away.”
But he did nothing of the sort. He went on to do something which is still more troublesome to pretribulationism. He said that the Day of the Lord would not come until “there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”
When this Scripture is taken literally, it can only mean that before the Day of the Lord comes, some known and predicted events must take place first. And he lists events that we know from other Scripture will take place during the tribulation period. This can only mean that the Church will go through the tribulation or at least some part of it. It is here that E. Schuyler English, in his book Rethinking the Rapture, comes to grips with the phrase the apostasia or the apostasy. He makes the claim that Liddell and Scott say there is another possible usage of the word apostasia, meaning departure. On that basis, he claims that the true meaning here is that the Day of the Lord will not take place until first there is the departure, that is the rapture of the Church. He takes this viewpoint for one simple reason. If the apostasy must take place first, then the Church will go through some part of the tribulation. Therefore he must rapture the Church before the apostasy takes place. This is circular reasoning for he uses the word departure for apostasy in order to prove what he has already assumed. In other words he must use departure for, if he does not, his case for a pretribulational rapture which he assumes is lost.
Is the use of the word departure for apostasy reasonable? In the first place, the church fathers to a man understood this chapter of second Thessalonians to be speaking about the apostasy. No version of the Bible uses the word departure. The King James uses the phrase a falling away which cannot mean departure unless it is used in the sense of departing from the faith, not the Church being caught up to meet the Lord in the air. The New International Version, which was put together by evangelical scholars, uses the phrase the rebellion which is far removed from departure. The Revised Standard Version uses the phrase the rebellion. If the word apostasia did refer to the rapture (departure), it would not follow logically what Paul said in verse one, “our gathering together unto him.” It would seem to make Paul say, in effect, “Our gathering together unto him will not take place until the rapture (our gathering together unto him),” a nonsense statement.
Nowhere in the New Testament is apostasfa, which appears only twice, translated departure. Thus it appears that the use of the word departure is forced on the text to protect the pre-tribulational rapture which is lost if the phrase the apostasy or the rebellion is used.
The phrase the Day of the Lord has been understood by pre-tribulational rapturists to be a period of time which begins with the rapture of the Church and goes on for the period of the tribulation or at least until the second advent of Jesus Christ. It is here that another grave problem arises from Paul’s second chapter of Second Thessalonians. We will look at it first as though the phrase the apostasy means the departure and refers to the rapture of the Church before the Day of the Lord begins, rather than the apostasy of the churches.
Paul wrote that the Day of the Lord will not come unless, and quoting the Greek in the order the words appear, “unless comes the apostasy (or the departure) firstly and is revealed the man of lawlessness the son of perdition the (one) setting against and exalting himself over everything being called God or object of worship, so as him in the shrine of God to sit, showing himself that he is a god.” Then Paul wrote about the mystery of lawlessness and the taking away of the restrainer. After this Jesus Christ shall consume the Wicked One with the spirit of his mouth and shall destroy him with the brightness of his coming. Thus the Day of the Lord will not and cannot come until the man of sin is made manifest and the mystery of lawlessness exhibited.
This rather clearly certifies that even if the Church were to be raptured before the tribulation, the Day of the Lord would still not begin until these other signs had been fulfilled. This forces us to ask the question whether the phrase the Day of the Lord does refer to the seven-year period known as the tribulation or whether it refers to a day at the end of the age when Christ comes to rapture the Church and to dispose of the Antichrist, the man of sin, the beast, and the false prophet. Any literal interpretation of Second Thessalonians leads to the conclusion that the Day of the Lord does not begin the period of the tribulation even if the Church were raptured before the tribulation because other events must occur before the Day of the Lord commences.
THE FIRST RESURRECTION
A second and troublesome problem for the pretribulational position is the phrase the first resurrection. On the surface it would appear that the phrase points to a single event that occurs and then does not occur again. The pretribulational position requires that this phrase be understood to mean that there are several resurrections occurring at different times within the term the first resurrection. Are there any grounds for supposing this to be so?
The saints of God will be raised from the dead at the time of the rapture. This is stated clearly in First Thessalonians four. That Scripture says: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” The rising of the dead in Christ is a resurrection. Of that there can be no doubt. Dr. Scofield, in his footnote for this Scripture wrote as follows:
Not church saints only, but all bodies of the saved, of whatever dispensation, are included in the first resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15:52, note), as here described, but it ispeculiarly the “blessed hope” of the Church (cf. Mt. 24:42; 25:13; Lk. 12:36-48; Acts 1:11; Phil. 3:20, 21; Tit. 2:11-13).
Several peculiarities should be noted before we discuss the term the first resurrection as used by Dr. Scofield. He refers to verses in Matthew and Luke about the blessed hope of the Church which he says is the rapture. But the verses in Matthew and Luke which speak of the coming of the Lord (“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” [Matt. 24:42]; “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” [Matt. 25:13]; “Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not” [Luke 12:40]), never mention the Church which, according to Dr. Scofield, is a mystery unfolded after Pentecost and explicated in the epistles.
How these passages from Matthew and Luke can be understood to be the blessed hope of the Church is indeed a mystery. Moreover, these verses say nothing about the time when this will happen, so that even if they did refer to the rapture or the blessed hope which is the rapture, there is nothing in these verses to determine whether it will be a pretribulational rapture. In fact, in Matthew 24 the word to watch is preceded by a terrible description of tribulation which comes before the statement about the coming of the Lord. But the greater problem still exists about the first resurrection to which we now turn our attention.
All who hold to a pretribulational rapture must also hold to the notion that the first resurrection includes more than one resurrection event separated by a period of time of not less than seven years. They say there are really two first resurrections; one at the time of the rapture when the saints who are dead are raised from the dead, and another at the end of the age when Jesus has beaten back the Devil in the battle of Armageddon. Again we look at one of Dr. Scofield’s notes:
Two resurrections are yet future, which are inclusive of “all that are in the graves” (John 5:28). These are distinguished as “of life” (1 Cor. 15:22, 23; 1 Thess. 4:14-17; Rev. 20:4), and “of judgment” Qohn 5:28, 29; Rev. 20:11-13). They are separated by a period of one thousand years [Rev. 20:5]. The “first resurrection” that “unto life,” will occur at the second coming of Christ (1 Cor. 15:23), the saints of the O.T. and church ages meeting Him in the air (1 Thess. 4:16, 17); while the martyrs of the tribulation, who also have part in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4), are raised at the end of the great tribulation [p. 1228].
The rapture passage in First Thessalonians says nothing whatever about the first resurrection. It simply speaks of a resurrection of the dead at the time of the rapture. Only in Revelation is there found the statement: “This is the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5). When the context is examined it will become plain immediately that it is spoken of in connection with them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years [Rev. 20:4, 5].
This certainly seems to be speaking primarily about those who were beheaded or martyred during the great tribulation period. They were brought to life and lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. There has been no such resurrection to date. When it occurs, it indicates that the people spoken of will be on earth with Christ which can only mean the millennium. No direct word appears either about those who still were alive when this happened as is true in First Thessalonians chapter four, nor does it specifically mention the dead in Christ from earlier ages. But it does say that this is the first resurrection. It does not say it is the second phase of the first resurrection, allowing for an earlier resurrection in a pretribulational sense. It constitutes a problem for both the pretribulational and post-tribulational positions. Since Second Thessalonians chapter two does speak of the Day of the Lord coming after the man of sin has been revealed and so on, one can infer that the saints of all ages will be involved in this first resurrection spoken of in the Revelation.
Scofield, in his note on First Thessalonians chapter four, includes all the Old Testament dead in the rapture, that is Israel and the Church. If Revelation chapter twenty is to be taken very literally, it is hard to see how the Old Testament saints could be included in this first resurrection. Perhaps this is why some pretribulationists have altered the new Scofield Bible to take out the statement that the Old Testament saints who are not in the Church are raptured at the same time the Church is raptured and those dead Old Testament believers are resurrected. If the Old Testament saints are not raised at the rapture from the pretribulational viewpoint, when are they raised to life? Surely not from Revelation chapter twenty, which seems to be speaking about the tribulation saints. No other place in Scripture speaks about the resurrection of the Old Testament saints apart from these two passages as the event relates to timing. They seem to be left in limbo.
If the Old Testament saints are raptured along with the Church in a pretribulational rapture, is not the dispensational distinction between Israel and the Church lost? And once that distinction is impaired, a posttribulational rapture becomes far more likely. If Israel of the Old Testament is left to be raised from the dead in the event spoken of in the Revelation, the passage does not say so explicitly and we are back again to two resurrections in any event: that of the Church earlier and of the great tribulational dead later so that the term the first resurrection loses force and effect. It appears to me that pretribulationists and posttribulationists must read something into the text in Revelation chapter twenty in order to make their respective positions square with their exegesis.
Most pretribulationists seem to say that the Church will not reign with Christ on earth during the millennium. Israel will be on earth during this period and the Church will be in heaven. This creates a tough problem when considered in the light of the ubiquity of Jesus Christ. By ubiquity we mean that Christ is in a body and wherever Christ is, his body must be also. By reason of the incarnation and the kenosis in which Jesus emptied himself, the Church has always understood that wherever Jesus is really present, his body must be present also.
This distinction lies at the heart of the ordinance or sacrament of the Lord’s Table. If Christ is really present at the sacrament of the supper, then he must be there in his body. So the Roman Catholic Church teaches the real presence of Christ in the Mass. That is precisely why people in the Baptist tradition say that Christ is only symbolically present in the elements at the Lord’s Table. He is not really present. The God-man is in a body. Wherever the God-man is, the body must be also.
How, then, can Christ be in heaven with the Church and on earth with Israel all at the same time? Is it not far more likely that the Church and Israel will both be on earth during the millennium? And is it not likely that Israel is numbered among the saints in the Church? Does not this question demand a re-examination of the viewpoint that there are two peoples of God: Israel and the Church which are separate entities that cannot be fused, intermingled, or be considered as one body in Christ.
THE WRATH TO COME
The period of the great tribulation is divided in Scripture into two parts of three and a half years each. During the first half of the tribulation, the wrath of man is poured out. The beast out of the sea and the beast out of the earth will have come forth. They will collaborate with each other in their persecutions. The Book of the Revelation (13:11 ff.) describes how men will be given the mark of the beast, the number being 666. Whoever refuses to bear the mark will be martyred. Will the wrath of man keep people from being saved? Not at all!
John in chapter seven makes clear that there will be Jews and Gentiles saved during this period. 144,000 Jews from among the tribes of Israel will be saved. The angel said: “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads” (7:3). We must remember that the total number of Jews in the whole world does not exceed four-tenths of one percent of the world’s population. The number of Israelites sealed is, of course, far smaller than this. Numerically the Jews are so few as to be negligible. Their importance in God’s plan, then, is astronomically greater than their numbers. On the other hand John says of the Gentiles: After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands…. These are they which came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb [7:9, 14].
It is evident that the multitude of Gentiles who are saved during the first half of the tribulation are spoken of as being virtually innumerable, which simply means here a very large number. Apparently they refused to bear the mark of the beast. And they have come to know Christ as their Savior. Are these Gentiles to be numbered as among the Israelites? Nothing in Scripture warrants such a designation. Are they to be numbered among those who are members of the body of Christ the Church? If the Church has been raptured before the tribulation and that is the end of the Church so that none can be added to it, then there must be a third group of people besides Israel and the Church. But Scripture allows for no such possibility. They must be part of the Church of Jesus Christ. Thus, even if the Church as known by God before the beginning of the tribulation has been raptured, there are still people who will be saved and who are members of the Church who will go through the tribulation. Thus, some part of the Church must go through the tribulation if this be true. This makes for a real problem for the pretribulationist.
On the other hand, posttribulationism has its own problem at this point. If the Church does go through the tribulation and if these multitudes who are saved during this period are members of the Church, what about the Scripture which asserts that “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9). The Greek word used for wrath here is the same word used in Romans 2:5, in Matthew 3:7, and Luke 3:7 which all speak of the wrath of God. The word also appears in the Revelation having to do with the second half of the tribulation period when the wrath of God is poured out on this earth. Only two possibilities exist: either the Church has been raptured before the wrath of God is poured out, but it would most likely be a midtribulation rapture coming after the Church has experienced the persecution of the Antichrist; or God would supernaturally preserve his people from his wrath even as he protected the children of Israel from the plagues which wrought havoc among the Egyptians. Thus the phrase “not appointed us to wrath” as used in First Thessalonians 5:12 probably means what it does in Matthew 3:7 and Luke 3:7 where it does not refer to the Church at all but to the final judgment and the lake of fire.
In Revelation 16:1, where the Scripture reads “the seven bowls of the wrath of God,” the word used for wrath is a different word meaning the anger of God. The seven bowls of wrath are the anger or wrath of God and this aspect of the tribulation comes during the last half of the seven-year period. It is hardly possible to suppose that the multitudes coming out of the great tribulation who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb would have been martyred by the outpouring of the wrath of God. God does not make martyrs by pouring out his wrath on his own people. Martyrs are made by the enemies of God. We know from Scripture that not all of God’s people are martyred by the Antichrist by the end of the first half of the tribulation period.
In Revelation 16:15, Jesus is speaking. He says: “Blessed is he who is awake, keeping his garments that he may not go naked and be seen exposed.” Obviously these must be saints of God who do not have the mark of the beast on them and who have not been martyred. Shortly the battle of Armageddon is to be fought. These saints have not experienced the wrath of God. In addition Jesus Christ says, “Lo, I am coming like a thief.” This is strange language if the Church has been raptured, for elsewhere in the Gospels and the Epistles where the idea of imminence or soon coming of the Lord for the Church is mentioned, the phrase “like a thief in the night” is used.
Pretribulationists understand this phrase to mean both imminence and unexpectedness. Yet Christ uses it here when the time with respect to the second advent can be fixed with virtually absolute certainty. For pretribulationists, the second advent occurs seven years after the rapture of the Church when the “Day of the Lord” begins, which is the seventieth week of Daniel. Once the tribulation begins, seven years must elapse before the end of the age. Thus the phrase “like a thief,” contrary to pretribulational understanding, should not be understood to mean imminence in “an any-moment sense,” but only that when the time comes Jesus will come like a thief even if it is only a twenty-four hour period. Within that short period, he could come when we were not ready for him unless we were to stay awake and watch.
REVELATION CHAPTER FOUR AND THE RAPTURE
Pretribulationists generally are agreed that the Church is raptured at the beginning of chapter four of the Revelation. Chapter three outlines the messages to the seven churches, each one of which is mentioned specifically. Other churches were in existence at this time so that it cannot be said that the seven churches were the only known churches and thus comprised the whole body of Christ, the Church. Unless it can be established that the messages to the seven churches were in fact messages to all of the churches, then it would not follow that the call “Come up hither” (Rev. 4:1) applied to the entire Church. At best it would apply only to the seven churches if the calls are understood to have something to do with the rapture.
The language of Revelation 4:1, 2 is such that a pretribulation rapture must be read into the verses, for it is by no means clear that the verses speak of the rapture explicitly. The Scripture says “after this I looked” which has to do with John. “The first voice which I heard” also has to do with John. The command, “Come up hither, and I will shew thee things to come” has a singular “thee,” not the plural. And “immediately I was in the spirit” speaks only of John and says nothing whatever of the seven churches. As John proceeds, he says, “I was in the spirit” (v. 2); “I saw four and twenty elders” (v. 4); “I saw in the right hand of him” (5:1); “I wept much” (5:4); “I beheld” (5:6); “I beheld” (5:11); “Heard I saying” (5:13); and this personal witness continues.
C. I. Scofield is not at all dogmatic that chapter four begins with the rapture of the Church. He wrote: “This call seems [my italics] clearly to indicate the fulfillment of 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17. The word “church” does not again occur in the Revelation till all is fulfilled.” He uses the word seems indicating his own uncertainty. He speaks of it as being the fulfillment of 1 Thessalonians four. Any examination of the passage shows that it does not deal with the time of the rapture. Nor does he refer to 2 Thessalonians two to prove the pretribulational rapture of the Church either in this footnote in the Revelation (p. 1334) or in the footnote to Second Thessalonians two. Revelation 4:1, 2 is unclear, and to use it to support either the pretribulational or the posttribulational position is out of place.
THE MARRIAGE SUPPER OF THE LAMB
In Revelation 19:7 ft, the marriage supper of the Lamb is described. Apparently it takes place just before the second advent of Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Who is the wife or the bride to which reference is made? C. I. Scofield has a curious note about this:
The “Lamb’s wife” here is the “bride” (Rev. 21:9), the Church, identified with the “heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22, 23), and to be distinguished from Israel, the adulterous and repudiated “wife” of Jehovah, yet to be restored (Isa. 54:1-10; Hos. 2:1-17), who is identified with the earth (Hos. 2:23). A forgiven and restored wife could not be called either a virgin (2 Cor, 11:2, 3), or a bride. First, we know that Israel at this point is back in the land and is under assault by her foes. The Lord will come to rescue his people Israel. Whoever among those of Israel who are at that time among the redeemed obviously are not included in the marriage supper of the Lamb if it is for the Church and if Israel and the Church are separate. The participants in the marriage supper are called saints (Rev. 19:8). The word church, however, nowhere appears in this passage.
Dr. Scofield does what some pretribulationists will not do. He says the wife or bride is the Church. If that is true, then the Church appears earlier than in Revelation 22:16 even though the word Church is not used. If the wife or bride is the Church and the Church is raptured before the tribulation begins, then the marriage supper is delayed by approximately seven years. Why should there be a gap? Would it not be consistent to suppose that it is at this point that the Church is raptured and its members invited to the marriage supper? Since the word saints is used for the members of the Church consistently in the epistles, why should it not here be understood to be the Church which has just been raptured? If this is true it leaves some problems for which there is no easy answer. At the coming of the Lord, Israel is mentioned prominently in Zechariah, for example. In the Old Testament prophetic writings prominence is given to Israel, its being regathered in the land, the rebuilding of the temple, and a period of peace and plenty. It is hardly to be supposed that, as amillennialists say, the Church is the new Israel and that all of the prophecies pertaining to Israel are fulfilled in the Church. Israel, in the land today and in control of the city of Jerusalem, has nothing whatever to do with the Church, for the Israelites are back in the land in unbelief. They are not now members of the body of Christ. There are a number of prophecies made about Israel which have not yet been fulfilled. Ezekiel specifies that there will be the rebuilding of the temple and he describes the details so precisely that to nullify his prophetic word would do violence to Scripture and to fulfilled prophecy. It is incredible to suppose that God the Holy Spirit went to all that trouble to describe that which will never become a reality. Whether all of these prophecies will be fulfilled before the second advent or whether some of them will take place during the millennium remains to be determined.
The Apostle Paul in Romans 9—11 interrupts his discourse after the eighth chapter to focus on Israel. He indicates that God still has a concern for his people Israel. And there is a time coming when all Israel will be saved. It is difficult to fit Israel fully into the picture with the Church and commingle them so as to impair any distinction between them. Here the pretribulationist and the dispensationalist have a point which should not be overlooked. Neither dispensationalism nor reformed theology, which calls the Church the new Israel, can produce a foolproof case for the respective viewpoints. Both sides are left with problems.
We may be forced to conclude that the reconciliation of the data for both Israel and the Church may rest in the secret will of God and has not been fully revealed to us and will not be revealed to us until the events of the future unfold before our eyes. It is, of course, far easier to be a confirmed dispensationalist or a confirmed Reformed theologian while pushing the problem areas to one side. It might be better for us to forget our systems and acknowledge that we do not yet see clearly with respect to the conflicting evidences. This does not mean we should cease our efforts to fit the pieces of the puzzle together.
What we need today, in the light of the many changes which have taken place in the last several decades, is a prophetic conference for those who are thoroughly in accord with the view that the Bible itself is utterly trustworthy. The crucial issues could be discussed openly and the varying viewpoints not only presented but replied to and argued. It is highly unlikely that the proponents of either viewpoint will surrender their position but at least it may result in further refinements of both positions, taking into account the developments of a prophetic nature which have taken place in the last two decades. Such a conference would be a healthy corrective to isolated conferences in which only one position is promoted. It would also acquaint the people in the pews with the data for the differing positions and give them food for thought.
A number of pretribulationists hold that view because they do not want to go through the tribulation. Their attitude derives more from that desire than from a serious interaction with the data. If the Church does go through the tribulation, some who hold the view may be badly shaken because they have assumed their view is so certain that any loss of it may have serious consequences. A prophetic conference could make them aware of the fact that neither viewpoint claims explicit support from Scripture. The reason why it is important for pretribulationists to understand this is that they have everything to lose if they are wrong, whereas the posttribu-lationists have nothing to lose.
If it should turn out that the pretribulationists are correct, the posttribulationists will learn of their error when they are caught up before the tribulation. But having been raptured, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Their disappointment will turn to joy because they will be in the presence of Christ. Their faith will not be threatened, and they will not be shaken in the possession of their faith on this score. It is therefore more important for the pretribulationists to learn that neither view is certain than for posttribulationists to do so.
It is also important for pretribulationists to learn that those who entertain this view are quite divided among themselves. Thus Dr. Walvoord can fault the early advocates of this view. And the Scofield Bible has been altered at important points in the new Scofield Bible. And the Scofield Bible itself is inconsistent in its presentation of the position. When these facts are known, it will make all holders of the viewpoint more tentative and less dogmatic. This will be a considerable gain.
EVANGELIZATION DURING THE TRIBULATION
There is another vexing problem which the holders of the pretribulational viewpoint must wrestle with seriously. I have not personally seen the argument I have in mind presented in any of the writings I have examined to this point. The question I will ask staggers my imagination and appears difficult to answer. In adducing it, a scenario must be laid down first.
We will suppose, for the purpose of our discussion, that the Church will be raptured before the tribulation period begins, or as the Day of the Lord commences. We will suppose that Jesus came for the Church today—the very day the reader is perusing this book. What would the implications of that coming be?
First, it would mean that no further prophecies remained to be fulfilled in advance of that coming. Moreover, all unfulfilled prophecies would then have to be fulfilled following the rapture and in a period of seven years. For those who think a period of time may elapse between the rapture of the Church and the seventieth week of Daniel, we can only say that this is pure invention. It has no support in Scripture. Once this door is opened, the period of time could be a thousand years with the Holy Spirit withdrawn and no church witness during that period. So we will stay with the traditional view that the catching away of the Church is followed by the seventieth week.
During the seven-year period, certain events must occur. The Roman Empire must be reestablished. The temple must be rebuilt and the sacrifices recommenced. The Israelis must enter into a covenant with the Antichrist, who is yet unknown. In order that a covenant be made with him, he must quickly come to the forefront. During this short period, the Israelis will evangelize the world, something the Church has not done in two thousand years, and this will take place with the Holy Spirit having been withdrawn. The Antichrist will place the mark of the beast on earth’s multitudes and millions upon millions of believers will be martyred. In the middle of the period, the covenant between the Antichrist and the Israelis will be broken and then the wrath of God will be poured out.
Multiplied millions of troops must be assembled in the Near East to fight the last battle of Armageddon. Time and space limitations must be taken into account, and we know that simply keeping such large armies supplied and serviced will be a massive operation requiring a considerable space of time just to make preparations for it. Food, armaments, oil, and other supplies for the number of soldiers said to be involved in this conflict is mind-boggling. For every soldier there must be four or five support and supply people behind him. If they move on foot, it would take much time. If they have modern vehicles of transportation, there is nowhere enough to care for such armies now and there wouldn’t be for some time to/come.
What caps the climax to this scenario is that fact that when the rapture of the Church takes place, every last Christian will be caught away immediately. This means there will not be a single evangelist, a single missionary anywhere in the world of more than four billion people. There will be no Christian schools, no Christian radio and television programs. The Antichrist will not be able to find a single Christian to persecute nor anyone who is a Christian on whom to print the mark of the beast or to kill if he refuses to receive the mark. The Scripture asks “And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” (Rom. 10:14, 15). At this time, there is no one to be sent and there is no one to send anybody. There are no missionary agencies, no recruits, nothing. Since there are no preachers, how will people get converted? There will be no converted Israelis sitting by to take up the slack. Every converted Israeli in this age is a member of the body of Christ the Church so all of them will have been caught away, too.
Thus, in the ensuing seventieth week, vast, undreamed of multitudes must become Christians. There will be no mature believers around to nurture them or help them. They will have little knowledge of the intricacies of Christian doctrine and especially eschatology. The 144,000 Jews who come to the New Testament in salvation will be no better off than their Gentile friends. Moreover, world evangelization is to take place among the peoples of the world who speak in thousands of different tongues. Reaching them in their own languages in seven years is no small job! The matter is further complicated by reason of the fact that John in his Revelation states that only those who do not have the mark of the beast are among the elect. But with all the Christians caught away, vast multitudes of people will undoubtedly have received the mark of the beast before they heard the good news of salvation. Already having been marked, there is no provision in Scripture for repudiating that mark and they probably will have already worshiped the beast during the time they were unconverted.
The problems may be fewer in comparison for the midtribulational rapturists, but it is equally difficult to perceive how they, in three and a half years, with every last Christian gone, can do what will still need to be done according to the prophetic Word. From that perspective, every Jew and every Gentile saved during the first half of the tribulation must of necessity be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and will therefore be caught away in the rapture. Once more we will face a world without a single Christian witness with multiplied millions still to be saved and to be martyred when they refuse to bear the mark of the beast.
These are matters which require the most thoughtful consideration and demand adequate answers if pretribulationism is to remain an option in eschatology.
I personally would like very much to hold to pretribulationism with dogmatic certainty. But the data, in my opinion, seems to lean more in the direction of the posttribulation position. However, posttribulationism leaves me without satisfactory answers about Israel in relation to the end times, the Church, and the lack of explicit biblical details which would answer my unanswered questions. Of one thing I am absolutely certain. There is a rapture. And I must let God be God. He holds the pieces of the puzzle in his hands and whatever he wants to do will be perfect when I understand how the pieces fit together. I am ready for either a pretribulational or a posttribulational rapture. But there is one question which remains to be discussed: believing that the signs of the times point to the soon coming of our Lord, how then shall we live while we wait with expectancy for that for which the people of God have looked for two thousand years?