Tag Archives: Dispensationalism

Not Apostasy, But Rapture!

Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians was written as a response to a query that church had sent to the Apostle. The Thessalonians were troubled by a letter they had received, purportedly from Paul (but actually a forgery), alleging that they had entered into “the day of the LORD” (2Thess2:2). They were troubled by this since Paul had previously taught them that the rapture of the Church would happen before the outpouring of God’s wrath during the Tribulation period (1Thess4:13-5:9); if this allegation were true, and the day of the LORD had indeed begun, that meant the believers in Thessalonica had been left behind! It should be noted that the believers in Thessalonica were undergoing intense (albeit local) persecution (1Thess3:2-4), so that it was no doubt tempting for them to believe that the Tribulation had begun.

Paul’s reply was to immediately remind them of what he had previously taught them (2Thess2:5); namely, that the Antichrist cannot even be “revealed”, which begins the Tribulation (Dan9:27), until after an event he calls “the falling away” (2Thess2:3). The Greek noun translated “falling away” is apostasia, transliterated as ‘apostasy’ in some English versions. The correct translation of apostasia is ‘departure’; exactly what kind of departure is in view depends upon context, and can just as likely mean a physical departure as it does a departure from the faith (i.e., apostasy). It is interesting that all English translations before the KJV rendered apostasia in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as “departure”, whereas the KJV and most subsequent translations render it “falling away” or something which similarly implies the ‘departure’ is religious in nature. There is nothing in the context of 2 Thessalonians 2, however, that demands (or even suggests) that the departure to which Paul refers be non-physical.

Furthermore, in the Greek text there is the definite article in conjunction with apostasia, so that the best translation is not “a falling away”, but “the departure”. The use of the definite article means that Paul is referring to a specific event that he expects is already known to the Thessalonians. Since Paul’s first epistle to them included the most detailed revelation of the rapture of the Church in the N.T., and in fact mentions the rapture in every chapter (1Thess1:9-10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-17; 5:1-11), while not one reference to a religious apostasy or departure from the faith occurs, context demands that the specific departure to which Paul refers is the rapture. The context of 2 Thessalonians 2 also supports this, since the rapture, referred to as “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him”, introduces the chapter (2Thess2:1). Thus, the evidence is overwhelming that the departure Paul holds out as necessarily taking place before “the day of the LORD” and the revealing of the Antichrist is the rapture of the Church. Thus, 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is the most explicit teaching of the Pre-Trib rapture in the Bible.


What on Earth is Satan Doing?

“. . . for we are not ignorant of [Satan’s] devices.”  (2 Corinthians 2:11)

Introduction. Each year as part of the Christmas season, believers traditionally read the gospel accounts from Matthew and Luke which record the events associated with the birth of Christ: the supernatural conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38), the decree of Caesar Augustus that providentially caused Joseph and the very pregnant Mary to travel to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-5), the unlikely birth of Jesus in a stable (Luke 2:6-7), and the appearance of a host of angels to a group of shepherds leading them to visit the newborn babe and find him lying in a manger (Luke 2:8-20). Although most Christians are somewhat aware that the visit of the wise men (i.e., Magi) did not occur on the night of Christ’s birth, nor did their visit take place at the stable, the Biblical record of it is usually included in these Christmas readings (Matthew 2:1-12). In most cases the Christmas readings are concluded at this point, for the record immediately turns very dark if continued: Joseph is warned by an angel to flee into Egypt with Mary and the young Jesus to escape King Herod’s slaughter of all the babies up to two years old in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:13-18).

A wicked King Herod was the human instrument in the slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem, but Revelation 12:3 reveals that this event was diabolical in origin, being planned and perpetrated by the “dragon”, who is Satan himself (cf. Revelation 12:9). Apparently Satan believed that if he could murder Jesus, he could thwart the plan of God and perhaps somehow escape his own prophesied destruction by the Messiah (Genesis 3:15). Although this was Satan’s first direct attempt to destroy the Messiah, it was not his first attempt to prevent His coming—nor would it be his last attempt to prevent His coming again.

Satan’s Strategy. Immediately following God’s primeval prophecy of the destruction of the Serpent (i.e., Satan; cf. Revelation 12:6) by the seed of the woman (i.e., Messiah; Genesis 3:15), Satan began working to thwart the fulfillment of this prophecy. Initially, he worked to prevent the coming of Messiah; when Messiah came, he worked to destroy Him; and after Messiah’s death, resurrection and ascension, he worked (and continues to work) to prevent His return. Initially, Satan’s work was necessarily very broad in scope, since he had little information on which to act. However, as God progressively revealed more and more information regarding the nature of Messiah’s origin and coming, Satan’s attack became more narrowly focused. In the following sections, a few highlights from some of Satan’s activities undertaken in his attempt to thwart the plan of God and his own prophesied destruction are briefly surveyed in: 1) the Old Testament, 2) the New Testament, 3) the Church Age following the close of the canon of Scripture, and 4) the future Tribulation. As will be seen, the broad-based activities of Satan very quickly devolve into a narrow, focused persecution of Israel. The annihilation of the nation of Israel and extermination of all Jews is Satan’s only hope to avert his own destruction.

In the O.T. At first, Satan had to act on very little information. He only knew that his prophesied protagonist (hereafter referred to as the Messiah) would be a male descendent of Eve (Genesis 3:15). When Eve gave birth to Cain, she actually (albeit incorrectly) believed he was the Messiah (Genesis 4:1). Satan worked to sow discord between Cain and his brother Abel, resulting in Cain committing the first murder; apparently Satan believed the sin of murder would disqualify Cain as the Messiah—but Cain was not the Messiah.

A thousand years later, in the days of Noah, a new tactic of Satan surfaces. Satan had been working, apparently for centuries, to corrupt the human gene pool by the interbreeding of human women with his demonic horde (Genesis 6:1-2), which produced a race of “giants” (i.e., Nephilim; Genesis 6:4). As human-demon hybrids, the offspring of such giants would be unqualified to be a kinsman-redeemer for the human race (cf. Hebrews 2:14-16). So widespread was the scope of this Satanic attack, it required the destruction of the entire human race in the global flood of Noah in order to frustrate (Genesis 6:17); only Noah and his family were preserved through the flood in order to repopulate the earth, for Noah was “perfect in his generations” (i.e., his family’s genetic code was free of Nephilim corruption; Genesis 6:9).

Satan employed this same tactic again (note Genesis 6:4, “and also after that”), but on a much more limited scope. When the children of Israel first arrived at the Promised Land (i.e., Canaan), they found dwelling there the “sons of Anak”, a new race of “giants” (Numbers 13:33). Now knowing that God had chosen Abraham to be the progenitor of the Messiah (Genesis 12:3), and that four generations after Abraham God would give Abraham’s seed the land of Canaan as their inheritance (Genesis 15:16,18-21), Satan again began his work of corrupting the human gene pool from which Messiah must come. The elimination of all vestiges of Anakim genetic corruption from the Promised Land was at least one reason God commanded Joshua and the Israelites to “utterly destroy” all the indigenous people they found dwelling in Canaan (Deuteronomy 7:1-3).

The preparation of the Anakim in the Promised Land was a long-term (contingency) project of Satan while Jacob’s family was sojourning in Egypt for four generations, but he also engineered more direct attacks on the Hebrews using Pharaoh as his diabolical instrument. These included Pharaoh’s early command to the Hebrew midwives to kill all sons born to the Hebrew women (Exodus 1:15-16) as well as his ultimate attempt to destroy the fleeing Hebrews with the armies of Egypt (Exodus 14:5-9). In order to preserve the seed of Abraham, God destroyed Pharaoh and the armies of Egypt, to the very last man, in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:28).

As time went on, and as the nation of Israel became established in their own land, God revealed that the Messiah would come from the line of King David (1 Chronicles 17:11-14). At this point, Satan could further focus his attacks on David and his family. Although Scripture records a myriad of such attacks, some subtle and some not so subtle, the most direct was Queen Athaliah’s attempt to completely exterminate the royal seed (2 Chronicles 22:10). In that instance, the only member of the royal seed to escape death was the infant Joash, being hidden for six years and installed as king at the age of seven after the death of Athaliah (2 Chronicles 22:11; 24:1).

Attention is called to a final instance from late in the Old Testament period. With the nation of Israel still in exile, dispersed throughout the Medo-Persian empire, Satan raises up an influential Amalekite named Haman in the court of the Persian King Ahasuerus (i.e., Xerxes; Esther 3:1). Because of his hatred for Mordecai the Jew, “Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus” (Esther 3:6). God foiled this diabolical attempt at Jewish genocide by providentially installing Esther as Xerxes’ queen, whose Jewish identity had been kept secret until after Haman’s plan was revealed (Esther 2:10; 7:3-6).

In the N.T. Satan’s many attempts recorded throughout the Old Testament to prevent the coming of Messiah all failed. The New Testament opens with the record of the prophesied birth of Messiah to the virgin Mary in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:16-25; Luke 2:1-20). The Messiah having been born, Satan moves King Herod to slaughter all the babies born in Bethlehem over a two year period in a desperate attempt to murder the Messiah (Matthew 2:13-18). When Jesus the Messiah begins His ministry, Satan immediately and directly confronts Him with multiple temptations to sin (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-14), since a sinful Messiah would be disqualified as “the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29; cf. 1 Peter 1:18-19). Finally, Satan personally indwells Judas (John 13:26-27) in order to betray Jesus and move the Jewish people to demand His crucifixion (Matthew 27:22-26). Like Jesus’ own disciples on the road to Emmaus, Satan mistakenly believed that the crucifixion of Jesus meant the mission of Messiah had been thwarted (Luke 24:21).

During the Church Age. The close of the New Testament canon has not meant an end to Satan’s work. Indeed, throughout the Church Age, Satan has continued his work to destroy Israel and completely exterminate the Jewish race. Consider just two examples, one that began early in the Church Age and one that has occurred late: 1) the origin and ascendancy of Islam, a religion dogmatically devoted to the destruction of Israel (cf. Psalm 83), and whose consummation on earth cannot be accomplished until every last Jew has been killed; 2) Hitler’s holocaust, in which one out of every three Jews on earth was killed, and which required World War II (the greatest of all wars) to stop. But why, if Jesus (the Messiah) has already come and successfully completed His work of redemption, is Satan still working incessantly to destroy Israel? Because Scripture makes clear that it is only after Jesus’ return that He will destroy Satan (Revelation 20:1-10), and Jesus Himself revealed that He will not return until the nation of Israel repents of their rejection of Him and petitions His return (Matthew 23:37-39; cf. Hosea 5:15). Thus, even today, Satan believes that by exterminating the Jews he can prevent the return of Jesus (not the Rapture, but the second advent) and his own prophesied destruction.

In the Future Tribulation. Satan’s final and futile attempt to exterminate the Jews (and prevent the return of Jesus) will take place during the Tribulation (i.e., Daniel’s 70th Week; defined in Daniel 9:27 and detailed in Revelation 6-19). It is during this period of time that Satan will be allowed (by God) to raise up his own seed, the seed of the Serpent (Genesis 3:15), which the Apostle John calls the “antichrist” in his epistles (1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7) and the “beast” in Revelation (e.g., Revelation 11:7; 13:1). “And the dragon [Satan] was wroth with the woman [Israel], and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ [Jewish believers]” (Revelation 12:17).

Conclusion. What on Earth is Satan doing? The Apostle Paul testified that believers “are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11). It is clear from the inspired and inerrant historical record preserved in the Bible that Satan worked throughout the Old Testament to prevent the coming of Messiah. Once God revealed that Messiah would come from Israel, Satan’s tactics centered on the destruction of the nation of Israel and the complete eradication of the Jewish race. Throughout the Church Age, even to this very day, Satan continues his work to destroy Israel and the Jews in the desperate hope of preventing the return of Messiah. The Word of God, however, is clear, and its promises are sure: all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25-27), Jesus will return (Revelation 19:11-16), and Satan will be cast forever into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:10).

 


The Rapture — A Necessary Inference

With the rise of Dispensationalism in the 19th century, the use of a literal (i.e., grammatical-historical) hermeneutic to interpret Scripture began to be employed in an increasingly consistent manner in all areas of Biblical revelation.  This new (or renewed) consistency in the use of a literal hermeneutic naturally led to new insights in many areas of theology.  As an example, a literal hermeneutic applied to prophetic passages in the New Testament led students of the Bible to conclude that the Rapture of the Church was a phase of the return of Christ that had to be distinguished from the 2nd Coming.  That is, the yet future return of Christ will actually be comprised of two distinct events separated in time:  1) the Rapture of the Church, in which Christ comes in the air to receive His Bride and take her back to heaven with Him (e.g., John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), and 2) the 2nd Coming, in which Christ comes from heaven with all His saints to establish His kingdom on this present earth and personally reign over it for a thousand years (e.g., Matthew 24:30; Revelation 19:11-16; 20:4-6).

From its inception the idea that the future return of Christ would be comprised of two phases received two principal criticisms.  First, that there was no place in the New Testament that explicitly taught that there remained two future “comings” of Christ, separated in time; thus, such an understanding was based on inference alone.  Second, that this understanding of the return of Christ was a “new” doctrine; since it had never before been taught or believed by Christians of previous generations (neither the Reformers, nor the Church Fathers before them), it was very unlikely to be true.  These two criticisms will each be briefly addressed.

Regarding the first criticism, it is obvious that nowhere in the New Testament is it explicitly asserted that there remain two future “comings” of Christ.  The understanding that there are to be two comings, a Rapture event that is distinct and separated in time from the 2nd Coming proper, is indeed an inference.  Nevertheless, it is a necessary inference!  A rapture event distinct from the 2nd Coming is a necessary inference from all the New Testament passages regarding the return of Christ, some of which reveal He will come for His saints in the air and return with them to heaven (Rapture), others that He will come with His saints from heaven to the earth (2nd Coming).  There must be two phases to this return, separated in time, since all that is said concerning it cannot be fulfilled in a single event.  This is entirely analogous to the Old Testament passages regarding the Coming of Christ.  Nowhere in the Old Testament does it say that there would be two Comings of Christ (Messiah).  However, revelation is given of Messiah suffering and dying for the nation (e.g., Psalm 22; Isaiah 53), along with revelation of Messiah setting up His kingdom on earth and reigning over it forever (e.g., Psalm 2; Daniel 2:44; Zechariah 14:9).  These two bodies of revelation could not be fulfilled in a single “Coming”, so from the Old Testament perspective it was a necessary inference that Messiah would come twice [1] (i.e., the 1st Coming and the 2nd Coming proper; since the Rapture exclusively pertains to the Church, it was a mystery unrevealed in the Old Testament).

Regarding the second criticism, it is conceded that the notion of a Rapture that is distinct and separated in time from the 2nd Coming was a new understanding that emerged in the 19th century as a result of Dispensational Theology’s emphasis on the use of a literal hermeneutic in prophetic passages of the Bible.  The earlier/classical Dispensationalists, including Darby, Scofield, and Walvoord, were all honest in admitting that Dispensationalism’s doctrine of the Rapture was a new understanding of Scripture not held by the Reformers or Church Fathers [2].  While many today are expending great energy in an attempt to find quotations from early Christian writers that indicate they believed in a Rapture that was distinct from the 2nd Coming, there is no necessity to do so.  Even if a few such genuine quotations are found [3], it will only serve to highlight the truth that Dispensationalism’s doctrine of the Rapture was an extreme, minority view held by virtually no one prior to the modern era.  But this in no way negates the validity of the doctrine.  Remember, the vast majority of Jewish believers failed to properly infer that the Old Testament taught Messiah must come twice, including the disciples of the Lord Himself, for which He rebuked them rather harshly (cf. Luke 24:25-27)!

In summary, Dispensationalism’s doctrine of the Rapture as distinct and separated in time from the 2nd Coming is a necessary inference from Scripture.  The fact that it is an inference in no way relegates it to being a second-class doctrine, nor does it mean that we cannot have full assurance of its certainty.  Furthermore, the fact that this particular doctrinal truth has only been recognized rather late in this present age is not a valid argument against its veracity.  God’s truth has been available on the pages of Scripture from the very moment it was recorded, but as Dr. Hannah notes “it is apparent that doctrinal development has taken place over the centuries and will continue to do so” [4].  Brethren, let’s boldly proclaim the doctrine of the imminent return of our Lord Jesus Christ (i.e., the Rapture) as the blessed hope of the Church (Titus 2:13)!

Endnotes:

[1] Some ancient Jewish rabbis, struggling to reconcile these two bodies of revelation regarding Messiah, postulated that there would be two Messiahs, a Messiah “ben Joseph” who would come to die for the nation, and a Messiah “ben David” who would come to reign over the nation.  Obviously this was not correct, but it nevertheless demonstrates their recognition that not all the revelation given in the Old Testament regarding the Coming of Messiah could be fulfilled in a single event.

[2] Although it is generally conceded by virtually all Church historians that the Church was predominantly Premillennial in eschatology for its first three centuries (until Augustine).

[3] Most such quotations that are offered are of a rather vague character, open to various interpretations.

[4] John Hannah, Our Legacy:  The History of Christian Doctrine (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 27.


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