"If a lost person hears, understands and rejects the Gospel before the Tribulation, would he or she be able to be saved during the Tribulation?" Some think the answer is "No," while others think it is "Yes."
We believe that people will have the possibility to be saved in the Tribulation regardless of how much they have been exposed to the Gospel before the Rapture. Here's why:
WHAT ARE THE ISSUES?
The notion that one who has heard the Gospel and rejects it before the Rapture will thus be unable to be saved in the Tribulation is argued from 2nd Thessalonians 2:10-12, which reads as follows: . . . and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness." Proponents of this view contend that God, through the Antichrist, will actively delude those who do not believe. While this is true, nothing in the passage suggests that the delusion is the result of an individual's unbelief due to his rejection of the Gospel before the Rapture. There are a number of reasons why I do not think that 2nd Thessalonians supports this view.
ANSWERING THE ISSUES
First, 2nd Thessalonians 2 does not say anything about an individual hearing, understanding and then rejecting the Gospel. It does make a universal statement about those who do not love the truth. Thus, all unbelievers are referred to in the same way as one group. There is no basis in this passage for identifying a subclass of unbelievers, such as those who have heard the Gospel, understood it, and rejected it.
Second, the context of the entire passage relates to what will happen in the forthcoming Tribulation period. The context for when "they did not receive the love of the truth" in verse 10 clearly will be taking place during the Tribulation. The 2nd Thessalonians 2 passage is talking about the response of unbelievers during the Tribulation. If the passage were referring to an unbelieving response prior to the Tribulation, with a result that such a decision would impact one's destiny during the Tribulation, then the passage would have probably been worded differently in order to convey such a message. Since it is not so configured, then there is no support for the belief that a person's rejection of the Gospel necessarily seals his fate if he enters the Tribulation. Specific support that verses 8-12 encompass events that will transpire in the Tribulation begins in verse 8, which says, "And then that lawless one will be revealed . . ." In other words, "then" denotes a shift from the current Church Age into a future era: the Tribulation. Nothing in verses 8-12 takes any part of that passage out of the context of the Tribulation. All, in my opinion, would agree that verses 8-9 refer to things the Antichrist will do during the Tribulation. Verse 10 is clearly related to its preceding context and speaks of something that will take place during the Tribulation.
Third, verses 11-12 further explain verses 8-10; It has been argued that when Paul says, "God will send upon them a deluding influence . . ." his use of the future tense in the verb send supports the notion that this is a future deluding influence and thus provides a reason for the view that I am rebutting. However, the future tense does not support that view. Instead, it refers to the whole of what is being said in verses 11-12. he future tense in the passage relates to the acts of unbelief (taking place in the Tribulation) as well as Cod's judgmental response. So this does riot support that view. Verse 12 provides the purpose for God's judgment during the Tribulation, which is to judge unbelief.
FURTHER REASONS AND OBJECTIONS
The Bible teaches that the heart of all humanity is fallen and depraved (Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Jeremiah 17:10; Ephesians 417-18, etc.). All unbelievers, from Adam on down, are described as being "spiritually dead" (Ephesians 2:1-3) and "blind" (2nd Corinthians 4:4). Thus, for any individual to believe the Gospel at any time in history requires a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to regenerate and open the sinner's eyes to God's gracious offer. Left to ourselves, we will reject the Gospel when it is preached. What sinner has ever "heard and understood" the Gospel without the miraculous work of God enabling a dead and blind individual to see and believe? No sinner, on his own, has ever "heard and understood" the Gospel in such a way as described by the notion I am dealing with to make such a view feasible. No, unbelievers unaided by the sovereign work of God will remain in their unbelief and rejection equally during the current Church Age as well as during the future generation. Thus, every unbeliever will have an opportunity to hear and believe the Gospel during the Tribulation regardless of the extent of evangelism that they have received before the Rapture.
Revelation 13:8-10 says the following in conjunction with the rise of the Antichrist at the midpoint of the Tribulation: "And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints." Such language about belief and unbelief in the Tribulation-in relation to the Antichrist-as in 2nd Thessalonians 2, does not support the issue that I am addressing. Instead, it speaks of destiny as the factor determining salvation: God's sovereign will! In other words, anyone's salvation during the Tribulation will come about in the same manner as it does during our present Church Age.
Some who advocate the view that no salvation is possible in the Tribulation for those who previously heard the Gospel say that if their view is not true, then some unbelievers will be given a second chance. This is also faulty thinking based upon a mischaracterization. The notion of a second chance, which no one will ever receive, relates to those who have departed this life through death and have gone into eternity without Christ. That is not what will be going on when any unbeliever is left behind at the Rapture. Instead, all unbelievers will simply be passing from one phase of history (the present Church Age) into another phase (the Tribulation). They are not leaving history and passing into eternity yet. All unbelievers passing from the Church Age into the Tribulation will continue to have an opportunity to receive Christ until they have been either saved, killed, or have received the mark of the beast in the second half of the Tribulation. This is not a second, chance, since unbelievers will still be in history, not heaven.
We can see that 2nd Thessalonians 2 is a summary of Antichrist's "career" that will take place during the Tribulation Period. Nothing in the text even suggests a relationship between things that will happen in the Tribulation and the current Church Age. So why does such a belief have a significant following among Pretribulationists?
It appears to me that the view that I am opposing has been developed by sincere Pretribulationists who want to press an urgency to their preaching of the Gospel message. How so? If the Rapture occurred before people accepted Christ, then it would be the same as if they had already died without Christ. Thus, at that moment, an extra urgency could be added to the argument that unbelievers should trust Christ now, since they may never have another opportunity. While it is true that this would pragmatically increase the urgency of the matter, it is not an idea supported by Scripture. It is easy to see why believers pleading with sinners to accept Christ would want to challenge unbelievers with all possible ramifications of their decision. However, pragmatics are never a valid reason to go beyond the limits of God's Word.
While this is not the most important issue in the Bible, it is one that I am frequently asked about at prophecy conferences and when I am fielding questions on radio and television. Since I have not really seen anyone give a written answer. I thought I would do so at this time. I believe that millions of unbelievers will be saved during the terrible time of the Tribulation. For that we can all be thankful. Many of those who will be saved will include some who had heard the Gospel many times before the Rapture. In the meantime, we, as believers, should make every effort to preach the Gospel of God's grace before the Rapture so that as many as possible will be taken at the Rapture, thus escaping the horrors of the Tribulation. Even though we are intensely interested in seeing as many as possible come to Christ, the ends do not justify the means. We should not exceed the bounds of Scripture in our proclamation. Adding threats that God has not actually made will not result in a single individual being saved who would not otherwise come to faith. People are saved by the preaching of the Gospel in conjunction with the power of the Holy Spirit that only God can apply. The immanency of the Rapture should be used in conjunction with the preaching of the Gospel, but, again, we cannot exceed the bounds of Scripture. Maranatha!
Revelation 11 speaks of two individuals called the" two witnesses." Who are these two witnesses and what is their purpose during the tribulation?
According to Revelation 11:3-14, there will arise two unique witnesses proclaiming the gospel for a period of 1260 days during the tribulation. Their supernatural ministry is related to Jerusalem and the nation of Israel, in which they perform a special witness to God's program of judgment.
Most prophecy teachers have identified these two witnesses as Moses and Elijah (or perhaps Enoch and Elijah). Reasons for such an identification include the fact that both Moses and Elijah were involved in the transfiguration, which anticipated the second coming of Jesus Christ (Matthew 17:3). Additionally, Malachi 4:5 states that Elijah will be sent again by God to Israel "before the great and terrible day of the LORD." Thus, since one is clearly identified (Elijah), then it appears likely that either Moses or Enoch would aid Elijah in this ministry that will take place during the tribulation.
These two individuals, specially sealed by God to be a witness to Jerusalem and Israel, will arise probably during the first half of the tribulation. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, the two witnesses will be able to perform miracles and they will be protected by God against those who try to harm them until their mission is complete. For three and a half years they will minister in Jerusalem without being harmed. At the end of the 1260 days, God will remove their special protection so that the Antichrist will then kill them and their bodies will be left in the streets of Jerusalem for three and a half days after which God will resurrect them and rapture them to heaven. Once they have ascended to heaven, a great earthquake will occur, destroying a tenth of Jerusalem killing 7000 people.
The two witnesses will be clothed in sackcloth (Revelation 11:3) which is symbolic of the fact that they are prophets of doom (cf. Isaiah 37:1-2; Daniel 9:3). While Jerusalem is not mentioned by name as the city of their ministry, Revelation 11:7 says that their dead bodies will lie "in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified." The reference to the crucifixion clearly places these two witnesses in Jerusalem. The reference to Sodom and Egypt implies that during this time there will be licentious behavior and Jewish persecution in the city.
HAS BIBLE PROPHECY ALREADY BEEN FULFILLED?
"The Olivet Discourse is not about the Second Coming of Christ. It is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70." -David Chilton (Preterist)
"The Book of Revelation is not about the Second Coming of Christ. It is about the destruction of Israel and Christ's victory over His enemies in the establishment of the New Covenant Temple. In fact, as we shall see, the word coming as used in the Book of Revelation never refers to the Second Coming. Revelation prophesies the judgment of God on apostate Israel; and while it does briefly point to events beyond its immediate concerns, that is done merely as a "wrap-up," to show that the ungodly will never prevail against Christ's Kingdom. But the main focus of Revelation is upon events which were soon to take place." -David Chilton (Preterist)
I attended the Legonier Ministries National Conference with about 4,000 other people in Orlando, Florida. Legonier is the ministry of Dr. R. C. Sproul. I attended because for the first time in 30 years the topic was on Bible Prophecy. Guess what? The predominate view, led by Dr. Sproul, was that most of what you and I believe to be future prophesies have already been fulfilled by first century events. This view now being champion by Dr. Sproul and others is known as preterism.
WHEN WILL PROPHECY BE FULFILLED?
What is preterism? Before I explain that in more detail, I want to orient you to the four views that people hold in relation to the timing of prophetic fulfillment. The four views are simple in the sense that they reflect the only four possible ways that one can relate to time: past, present, future, and timeless. When speaking of the fulfillment of Bible prophecy these four timing possibilities are called preterism, historicism, futurism, and idealism.
The preterist (Latin for "past") believes that most, if not all prophecy has already been fulfilled, usually in relation to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The historicist (present) sees much of the current church age as equal to the tribulation period. Thus, prophecy has been and will be fulfilled during the current church age. Futurists (future) usually believe that almost no prophetic events are occurring in the current church age, but will take place in the following future events: the tribulation of seven years, the second coming, the 1,000 year millennium, and the eternal state. This is the view that I hold to. The idealist (timeless) does not believe either that the Bible indicates the timing of events or that we can determine their timing in advance. Therefore, idealists see prophetic passages as a teacher of great truths about God to be applied to our present lives.
PRETERISM VS. FUTURISM
Idealism, as an approach to Bible prophecy, is rarely followed outside of liberal scholarship and thus is not a significant factor in the mainstream of current evangelical debate over when prophecy will be fulfilled. Historicism, once the dominate view of Protestants from the Reformation until the middle of last century, appears to exert little attraction as a system of prophetic interpretation to conservative Christians, outside of Seventh-Day Adventist circles. However, it must be noted that most historicists take a preterist view of the Olivet Discourse, but disassociate it from the tribulation as found in Revelation and some New Testament Epistles. During the last 150 years, within evangelicalism, futurism has grown to dominate and overcome historicism. At the turn of the millennium, we see an attempt to challenge futurism arising from evangelical preterism. We must await the next millennium to see where this development will lead. But the last five to ten years has seen an increase in the ranks of preterism, from hundreds to thousands, as someone as well-known as R.C. Sproul has adopted this view.
WHAT IS PRETERISM?
Preterists argue that major prophetic portions of Scripture such as the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation were fulfilled in events surrounding the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Preterists believe that they are compelled to take such a view because Matthew 24:34 and its parallel passages say that "this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." This means it had to take place in the first century, they argue. Revelation, they advocate, says something similar in the passages that say Christ is coming "quickly" or that His return is "at hand." Having settled in their mind that these prophecies had to take place in the first century, they believe they are justified in making the rest of the language fit into a local (Jerusalem), instead of a worldwide fulfillment. Most preterists believe that we are currently living in at least an inaugurated new heavens and new earth, since all the Book of Revelation had to have a first century fulfillment.
THREE KINDS OF PRETERISM
There are at least three kinds of preterism. For lack of better terms we will call them mild, moderate, and extreme.
MILD preterism teaches that the Book of Revelation was fulfilled during the first three centuries as God waged war on the two early enemies of the church: Israel and Rome. The first half of Revelation teaches that Israel was defeated in A.D. 70, while the last half of Revelation is about God's conquest of Rome in the fourth century when Constantine declared the Roman Empire Christian. Thus, this earliest form of preterism teaches that Revelation was fulfilled in the first 300 years of the church's history.
MODERATE preterists believe that almost all prophecy was fulfilled in the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. They do believe that a few passages still teach a yet future second coming (Acts 1:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) and the resurrection of believers at Christ's bodily return.
EXTREME preterists, or consistent preterists, as they prefer to be known as, hold that all future Bible prophecy was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. If there is a future second coming, they say, the Bible does not talk about it. Extreme preterists believe that there is no future bodily resurrection, which place them outside the realm of Christian orthodoxy.
I have never personally encountered a mild preterist. I have only meet them in books like Isbon T. Beckwith's The Apocalypse of John. Today, most of those calling themselves preterists would fall into the moderate camp. R. C. Sproul, Kenneth Gentry, Gary DeMar, Gary North, and Greg Bahnsen belong in this group. However, extreme preterism is growing and has made noticeable gains in recent years. Although David Chilton's books on preterism are from the moderate perspective, he did convert to extreme preterism before his death a few years ago. Other extreme preterists include: Max King, John Bray, Ed Stevens, and Walt Hibbard.
STRANGE PRETERIST IMPLICATIONS
The preterist understanding greatly affects events, personalities, and chronologies. If preterism is true, (it is not) then what a different view of the past and future than what we have been led to believe up to this point.. If it is true, then what a vastly different view of Christianity it would produce. The following list includes many of the strange beliefs that preterism yields:
The Great Tribulation "took place in the Fall of Israel. It will not be repeated and thus is not a future event."
The Great Apostasy "happened in the first century. We therefore have no Biblical warrant to expect increasing apostasy as history progresses; instead, we should expect the increasing Christianization of the world."
The Last Days "is a Biblical expression for the period between Christ's Advent and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70: the "last days" of Israel."
The Antichrist "is a term used by John to describe the widespread apostasy of the Christian Church prior to the Fall of Jerusalem. In general, any apostate teacher or system can be called 'antichrist'; but the word does not refer to some 'future Fuhrer.'"
The Rapture is "the 'catching up' of the living saints 'to meet the Lord in the air.' The Bible does not teach any separation between the Second Coming and the Rapture; they are simply different aspects of the Last Day."
The Second Coming "coinciding with the Rapture and the Resurrection, will take place at the end of the Millennium, when history is sealed at the Judgment."
The Beast "of Revelation was a symbol of both Nero in particular and the Roman Empire in general."
The False Prophet "of Revelation was none other than the leadership of apostate Israel, who rejected Christ and worshiped the Beast."
The Great Harlot of Revelation was "Jerusalem which had always been . . . falling into apostasy and persecuting the prophets . . . which had ceased to be the City of God."
The Millennium "is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, which He established at His First Advent. . . . the period between the First and Second Advents of Christ; the Millennium is going on now, with Christians reigning as kings on earth." "Other postmillennialists interpret the millennium as a future stage of history. Though the kingdom is already inaugurated, there will someday be a greater outpouring of the Spirit than the church has yet experienced."
The First Resurrection of Revelation 20:5 is a "Spiritual resurrection: our justification and regeneration in Christ."
The Thousand Years of Revelation 20:2-7 is a "large, rounded-off number. . . . the number ten contains the idea of a fullness of quantity; in other words, it stands for "manyness". A thousand multiplies and intensifies this (10 X 10 X 10), in order to express great vastness. . . . represent a vast, undefined period of time . . . It may require a million years."
The New Creation "has already begun: The Bible describes our salvation in Christ, both now and in eternity, as 'a new heaven and a new earth.'"
Israel In contrast to the eventual faithfulness and empowerment by the Holy Spirit of the Church, "ethnic Israel was excommunicated for its apostasy and will never again be God's Kingdom." Thus, "the Bible does not tell of any future plan for Israel as a special nation." The Church is now that new nation (Matt. 21:43) which is why Christ destroyed the Jewish state. "In destroying Israel, Christ transferred the blessings of the kingdom from Israel to a new people, the church."
The New Jerusalem "the City of God, is the Church, now and forever."
The Final Apostasy refers to Satan's last gasp in history (Rev. 20:7-10). "The Dragon will be released for a short time, to deceive the nations in his last-ditch attempt to overthrow the Kingdom." This will be "in the far future, at the close of the Messianic age," shortly before the Second Coming.
Armageddon "was for St. John a symbol of defeat and desolation, a 'Waterloo' signifying the defeat of those who set themselves against God, who obey false prophets instead of the true." "There never was or will be a literal 'Battle of Armageddon,' for there is no such place."
(Words contained within the above quotations in this section are taken verbatim from preterist writers themselves.)
I believe it is important for lovers of Bible prophecy to be aware of these false views so that they not be caught off guard when they encounter such views. This is why I am informing you about this subject. After this month's introduction to this strange new fad within the field of Bible Prophecy known as preterism, I will continue a regular article about preterism. I will be dealing with the major arguments of preterism and why they are not biblical. Then I will conclude with a presentation of why prophecy should be interpreted literally and thus understood as future events to our time.
WHY THE RAPTURE?
Over the years I have asked many different Christians what they believe is God's purpose for the rapture. I have found that most Christians, regardless of their view on the timing of the event, have never thought much about this question. In all of our debate and contemplation on this matter have we stopped to ask, "Why the rapture?"
Those of us who believe that our Lord will rapture the church out of this world before the seven-year tribulation are known as pretribulationists ("pre"= before). I believe pretribulationism provides the best answer to the question: "Why the rapture?" Why? Because pretribulationism has a distinct purpose for the rapture that harmonizes with God's multifaceted plan for history.
For other viewpoints, the rapture is an issue that is more of a problem that gets in the way of their overall view, rather than functioning as a blessed hope. These other views must awkwardly cram the rapture event into their schemes, thus finding no real purpose for that event.
For example, if the rapture and second coming occur simultaneously, as in posttribulationism, then it seems strange that believers would be translated to heaven (rapture) while Christ is returning to the earth (second coming) to live for 1,000 years. Such a "yo-yo" view of the rapture lacks purpose. Pretribulationism not only does not have such internal problems, instead pretribulationism thrives on its teaching that "the great snatch" precedes the tribulation while the second coming follows it. This article will not be about the many biblical proofs for why the rapture is scheduled to occur before the tribulation. Rather it will discuss some implications of the pre-trib view.
RAPTURES THROUGH THE BIBLE
1 Thessalonians 4:17 describes the translation of believers from our current body to the resurrection body as a meeting of the Lord in the air. The Bible records similar meetings in the past, but the rapture of the church will be the first group meeting in history. In the past our Lord has only taken individuals to heaven via instant transport, the next time He will take a whole bus load. Are you ready! The various rapture events of Scripture are times in which God takes a believer to the next life apart from experiencing the curse of death. Apparently this is part of God's plan to bless some, not all or most, with such a direct trip into His presence. Other than the rapture of the church what are some of the other rapture events?
As far as the biblical account records, Enoch became the first individual to be raptured and taken to be with the Lord. Genesis 5:24 records the remarkable event of Enoch's translation to heaven. "And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him" (Genesis 5:24). What does it mean that Enoch "was not, for God took Him?" It means that Enoch was translated, without dying, and went directly to be with the Lord. Enoch was raptured, to use the language of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 or he was "taken," to use the language of John 14:3. That Enoch was raptured or translated to heaven is clear when compared with the dismal refrain "and he died" that accompanies the legacy of the other patriarchs mentioned in Genesis 5.
Enoch's rapture is confirmed by the divinely inspired New Testament commentary found in Hebrews 11:5 which says, "By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God." The New Testament word "taken up" in Hebrews is the same one selected by those who translated the Old Testament into Greek. This word conveys the idea of being removed from one place to another. Thus, it is clear that both the Genesis passage and the thrice repeated reference to Enoch in Hebrews teaches the idea of translation to heaven.
Enoch is also mentioned in Jude 14-15, but not in reference to his translation to heaven. Jude refers to the fact that he gave a prophecy about God's judgment related to the second coming of Christ. The fact that Enoch is said to have "prophesied" makes him a prophet. I will have more to say later about the significance of prophets and their role as an ambassador representing the Lord. The connection of Enoch as a prophet relates him to the next person we want to examine who was raptured-Elijah.
Elijah is often seen as the first and thus representative of Israel's post-law prophets. He will make some kind of visitation during the tribulation (Malachi 4:5) and was joined with Moses as the two from the past who appeared at Christ's transfiguration (Matthew 17:3). Like Enoch, Elijah was translated to heaven without dying. 2 Kings 2 records this interesting event with an emphasis upon the mode of Elijah's transportation to heaven. 2 Kings 2:1 says he was taken "by a whirlwind to heaven." In 2:11 the whirlwind is further described as "a chariot of fire and horses of fire." No doubt this was an appearance of the Shechinah glory of God since Hebrews 1:7 says, "and of the angels He says, 'Who makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.'" God objectively marked Elijah as a genuine prophet by identifying him with the glory of God and his rapture to heaven.
We can see a pattern developing. Enoch was raptured before judgment while Noah remained and was preserved through the judgment. Elijah was raptured while Elisha remained behind. How does this relate to the rapture of the church?
BIBLICAL COVENANTAL PROTOCOL
God's relationship with man is always mediated through one or more of the biblical covenants. In order to see the role that prophets (who sometimes perform an ambassadorial role), serve within the covenantal structure we must first discuss the nature of the biblical covenants.
First, covenants are contracts between individuals for the purpose of governing that relationship. God wants to bind Himself to His people-to keep His promises so that He can demonstrate in history what kind of God He is. Second, relationships in the Bible-especially between God and man-are legal or judicial. This is why they are mediated through covenants or treaties. Covenants usually involve intent, promises, and sanctions.
What is the role that prophets play within the covenantal framework? We need to understand the covenantal role prophets play in the Bible as a springboard for explaining why some would be raptured and how that could relate to the rapture of Christ's New Testament bride.
THE ROLE OF PROPHETS
Old Testament prophets had a varied job description. One of their primary responsibilities was to expound upon and interpret how the nation was doing in reference to the Mosaic Covenant. Israel's prophets were not social reformers, as some liberals have suggested. Instead, they provided a Divine viewpoint of Israel's history from the reference point of the sanctions provided in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. If the nation kept covenant and obeyed the Lord, then the kinds of blessings promised in Deuteronomy 28:1-14 would "shall come upon you and overtake you" (Deuteronomy 28:2). When Israel's disobedience would mount, God would call and commission a prophet to remind and warn the nation of their responsibility to obey the terms of their covenant. God, through the prophets, would warn them that if they persisted in rebellion then He would execute the harshest curse provided for in the sanctions-expulsion from the land of Israel (Leviticus 26:27-39; Deuteronomy 28:49-68). When the nation began to reach the point of continued disobedience, God's prophet would bring a lawsuit against the nation for violation of their contract with God.
It appears in the Old Testament Prophets that God is following the pattern of a certain protocol common in the Ancient World in His dealings with Israel. Understanding this background provides a framework for seeing tremendous significance in events like Isaiah's call into the throne room of God (Isaiah 6) and Elijah's "rapture" to heaven via the fiery chariot (2 Kings 2). We can see the significance of knowing this background material from an example found in Deuteronomy.
HISTORY AND PROPHECY
The form in which the Mosaic Covenant is written in parallels that of a suzerain/vassal treaty of the second millennium B.C. This would be similar to the way New Testament writers frequently used a style of letter writing known as epistles to communicate God's Word. Today one might write in the form of a personal letter, business letter or memo. A general knowledge of literary style helps provides depth of understanding that would be otherwise missed. Such is the case with ancient treaty formats.
The "historical prologue" section of these treaties were used in the ancient world to provide a historical account of the dealings up to the point of entering into the treaty. Such a provision would supply a historical content leading up to the occasion for a covenant between the great king (the suzerain) and lesser nation (the vassal). This is exactly what we observe in Deuteronomy 1:6-4:49, except with a different twist. Not only does the Great King (the Lord) provide an overview of His dealings with His vassals (the 12 tribes of Israel), in Deuteronomy 4:25-31 He provides a prophetic overview of the nation before they ever entered the land, which He was giving them. A summary of these events would be as follows:
Israel and her descendants would remain long in the land (verse 25).
Israel would act corruptly and slip into idolatry (verse 25).
Israel would be kicked out of the land (verse 26).
The LORD will scatter them among the nations (verse 27).
Israel would be given over to idolatry during their wanderings (verse 27-28).
While dispersed among the nations, Israel would seek and find the LORD when they search for Him will all their heart (verse 29).
There would come a time of tribulation, said to occur in the latter days, during which time they would turn to the LORD (verse 30).
The reason for Israel's ultimate obedience: "For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them" (Deuteronomy 4:31).
Of course, such a feature is totally absent from any other suzerainty treaty of that period. Knowing that such treaties included only a historical summary brings glory and greatness to our Lord to know that He added a feature to this section that only He could supply a prophetic overview.
SOME IMPORTANT TREATY FEATURES
In the ancient world, one of the things a suzerain would do after completion of a treaty covenant is that they would set up a monitoring system to keep up with compliance. Such a system would usually include an individual or two that we would identify today as an ambassador. I am not saying that biblical prophets mirror exactly the role of an ancient ambassador. What I am saying is that even though the biblical prophet functioned as more than an ambassador, their office included many ambassadorial functions. Ambassadors would be commissioned by the great king, instructed in the details of their agreement, and sent to the vassal nation to be the eyes, ears, and sometimes the mouthpiece for the suzerain. As with modern ambassadors a suzerain might recall his representative for consultation. If a vassal became rebellious, requiring a suzerain to impose his direct rule though military power, he would sometimes personally inspect the situation before recalling his ambassador and declaring war upon his wayward servant. Throughout the Bible God's representatives are occasionally presented as ambassadors of the Lord (in some English translations), whether prophets or angelic messengers (for example, 2 Samuel 10:4ff.; 2 Chronicles 32:31; 35:21; Isaiah 30:4; Malachi 2:7; to name just a few).
There are many biblical examples of such acts that take upon greater meaning when seen as part of the protocol of covenantal relationships. The Triune visitation and judgment of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) makes sense as enforcement of the Noahic covenant. The angelic visitation of Lot and other activity before the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah evidence various covenantal protocol (Genesis 18-19). Isaiah's visit into the throne room of God and his commissioning to bring a lawsuit upon the nation for their violation of their covenant with the Lord is surely part of a larger picture of covenantal rules (Isaiah 6). Certainly the taking to heaven of Enoch and Elijah (both called prophets) signaled to disobedient vassals that the Great King was about to declare the judgment of war upon the pre-flood world and the Northern Kingdom.
1 Corinthians 10:11, speaking of some Old Testament events says, "Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, . . ." The word "example" is from the Greek word tupos, which means "form, figure, or pattern." The English word "type" is developed from the Greek word and provides the basis for why Bible students coined the term "typology." Typology refers to Old Testament patterns that illustrate doctrine-usually New Testament doctrine. It is wrong to teach a doctrine from a type. Types serve only to illustrate a doctrine that is taught clearly, or directly from the biblical text.
Old Testament raptures, while not teaching the New Testament truth of the rapture of the church, do provide us with Old Testament types, patterns, or illustrations of the rapture. Thus, Enoch and Elijah stand as types of the rapture of the church. I believe that the purpose for both Old Testament and New Testament raptures come into clearer focus when seen within the framework of the covenantal protocol of recalling one's ambassador from a distant land. AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST
Paul describes New Testament believers as "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20). As I have noted earlier, an ambassador is one who represents a dignitary, often in a foreign land. Corresponding with Isaiah's commission in the Old Testament, the church has been given its Great Commission through Christ's apostles (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:6-10). This commission includes the command to preach the gospel throughout the world until the end of the current age. Instead of just a local responsibility, as with Israel in the Old Testament, the New Testament church has a global responsibility as Christ's ambassadors to entreat and beg humanity to "be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20). Paul ask the Ephesians church to pray for him "that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak" (Ephesians 6:19-20). The primary issue during the current church age between God and all mankind is the issue of belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. When, in God's estimation, the world reaches the point of global rejection of Christ, then, as with Israel before her global deportation, God will recall His ambassador-the church-before the judgment of the tribulation. Since the church is described as heavenly citizens (Philippians 3:20), it makes sense that she is raptured before God's war commences against "those who dwell upon the earth" (Revelation 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8, 14; 14:6). This is one of many purposes for the New Testament doctrine of the pretribulational rapture of the church.
OTHER NEW TESTAMENT RAPTURES
There are other examples in the New Testament of rapture events. These are not passages that teach the rapture of the church, but they do serve to strengthen our understanding that the rapture involves the translation of someone from one point to another. This is illustrated by Philip, who was "snatched away" by the Spirit of the Lord after evangelizing the Ethiopian eunuch and "found himself at Azotus" (Acts 8:39-40), which is located in what we call today the Gaza Strip.
Twice Paul mentions that he was "caught up (raptured) to the third heaven" and received "visions and revelations of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). Paul's heavenly trip reminds us of Isaiah's throne room commission (Isaiah 6:1-13). Perhaps a rapture was involved in this incident. Paul, via rapture, received a commission, message, and revelation that became the foundation for the unique purpose for the church during this age, "which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit" (Ephesians 3:5).
Reminiscent of Elijah, the two witnesses during the tribulation are summoned "into heaven in the cloud" (Revelation 11:12). Certainly these special Divinely commissioned and protected messengers fulfill the role as ambassadors for our Lord to the Jewish nation during the tribulation. Along the same line, the "male child" is said to be "caught up (raptured) to God and His throne" in Revelation 12:5.
The Bible provides us with six, possibly seven citations of the rapture of individuals throughout history. This provides a strong support that a group-the church-will be raptured in the future as 1 Thessalonians 4 teaches. Some opponents of the rapture seek to suggest that the worldwide disappearance of millions would be too odd to consider as a realistic possibility. Such is not the case if the Bible is the criterion for establishing possibilities. In fact, the Bible reveals a significant number of raptures or trips directly to heaven that provides assurance that God can and will take millions at one moment in time. Are you ready for the rapture?
THE PRETRIBULATIONAL PURPOSE FOR THE RAPTURE
Only the pretribulational view of the rapture has a meaningful position that not only best explains a purpose for the great snatch, but it is the only perspective requiring the church to be translated before the tribulation. Other views of the rapture really don't have the internal logic of their position that require a rapture at any point. Since all other views have the church going through at least some part of the tribulation, then it does not follow that the church must be removed before a later part of the tribulation occurs or shortly before the second coming. Other views cannot argue that the church is unique, since she is commingled with part or all of the tribulation meant for Israel. In other words, other views really do not have elements in their systems that require a rapture that cannot be meet by the single event of the second coming. In fact, posttribulationists create an impossible situation by blending the rapture and second coming by having all believers translated at Christ's return leaving no believing element for the sheep and goat judgment or to populate the millennium.
The purpose of the rapture is clear, within pretribulationism. It is a needed event to remove the church so that God can complete his unfinished program with Israel that will result in her conversion and eventual millennial blessings. The end of the church age and the corresponding rapture of the church are needed in order to avoid a conflict of purpose for the two peoples of God-Israel and the church. Since the church age is a time in which both Jewish and Gentile believers are co-equally joined within the Body of Christ (Ephesians 2:13-16), it must be ended before our Lord can return and restore national Israel (Acts 15: 15-18). God's single plan for history included multiple dimensions (Ephesians 3:8-10) with Israel serving God as His earthly people and the church as His heavenly bride. Progress in God's plan for Israel has been sidetracked and suspended through the dispersion of His elect nation throughout the world. In the mean time God is building His church. When it comes time for our Lord to work out in history Israel's destiny of fulfilling her role as "the head and not the tail" (Deuteronomy 28:13), the church will have to be removed since there cannot be Israelite supremacy and a co-equal relationship of Jewish and Gentile believers. The rapture of Christ's Bride ends the church age and returns history to a time in which God will administer His plan through His elect nation Israel. Thus, just as the first sixty-nine weeks of Daniel 9:24-27 transpired under such an administration, so will the final week that we know as the seven year tribulation.
After the rapture, during the tribulation, the Lord will judge "those who dwell upon the earth" for their rejection of Jesus. He will do this by turning the covenantal curses of Israel upon the nations as a judgment for their persecution of Israel during the Diaspora (Deuteronomy 30:7). Further, the tribulation will result in Israel's conversion (Ezekiel 20:37-39; Zechariah 13:8-9; Romans 11:26) and recognition that Jesus is the Messiah (Zechariah 12:10). This will in turn bring the blessings of the millennium upon Israel and the world. Thus, we see the necessity of the church's removal before the prosecution of God's supernatural war upon the earth. This removal we call the rapture fits the biblical pattern of God's recall of His ambassador before the beginning of conflict. God's heavenly people-the church-will be brought home, clothed and made ready for her march down the wedding aisle at the second coming providing a beautiful picture that fits the details of biblical prophecy into a coherent outworking of God's historical plan. As Christ's bride, who is eagerly watching and waiting, we can only respond by saying, "And the Spirit and the bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost" (Revelation 22:17).