|RPM, Volume 11, Number 10, March 8 to March 14 2009|
Everett Carver holds three academic degrees including a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Arts from the University of Houston. He was ordained to the ministry in 1936 and has held pastorates in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. From 1955 until his retirement in 1974, he was employed by Gulf-Coast Bible College. There he served as Director of Counseling and Testing, as well as instructor in Bible, theology, and psychology. He retired with the title of Professor Emeritus.Three views of the rapture of the Church are worthy of note. Dispensationalists and other pretribulation rapturists claim that the Church will be raptured to heaven prior to the great tribulation they expect to follow. For seven years, the Church will have a marriage festival in heaven after which the saints will return to earth as part of the group accompanying Christ to establish His millennial kingdom. The rapture is generally held by these to be a secret event in which the righteous dead will be resurrected, and the righteous who are alive will be changed, and all will depart this world without sinners having any awareness of what was happening.
This article is taken from Mr. Carver's book, When Jesus Comes Again, P&R Publishing, pp. 267-277.
Posttribulation rapturists believe in pretty much the same order of events for the seven year period as far as the earth is concerned, but they say the Church will remain on earth during the great tribulation. At the end of the seven year period, these expect the Church to be raptured into the upper atmosphere, but not into heaven. A glorious meeting with Christ is envisioned as He enters the atmosphere of the earth. The Church serves as a welcoming committee, according to this view. Having met Christ, the Church then is supposed to turn about face, and it is to return to earth with Christ to establish His millennial kingdom.
The third view is the one held by this writer. This view is that held by Postmillennialists and Amillennialists. According to this view, the rapture will take place at the second coming. All the dead, both good and evil, will be resurrected. All those living, both good and bad, will be changed from mortal to immortal. A judgment of all men will follow, after which the righteous will be taken to heaven, and the wicked will be consigned to the lake of fire.
Theologically speaking, the doctrine of a pretribulation rapture of the Church is a "Johnny-come-lately." It was completely unknown to the Church until about one-third of the 19th century had passed. It is associated particularly with such names as Darby, Kelly, Gaebelein, Scofield, Ironside, and Blackstone. A number of influential men were at one time supporters of this doctrine, but they later repudiated it. W. J. Erdman and W. G. Moorehead, two of the consulting editors of the Scofield Reference Bible, were two of these. Others include G. Campbell Morgan, Philip Mauro, R. V. Bingham, Oswald J. Smith, and H. J. Ockenga. Some of these became Amillennialists; others remained in the Premillennial ranks, but gave up Darbyism, as it was called originally. Dispensationalism is the term now used.
Dispensationalism has been given that title because it emphasizes seven dispensations in the plan of God. But that is not the important innovation these people have implanted within the Christian community. The teaching to which I refer is called the pretribulation rapture of the Church. It is a special branch of Premillennialism. It requires two second comings, or what is often termed a two-phase second coming. It has transferred the "blessed hope" of the Church from the true second coming to a so-called secret coming seven years prior to the true second coming. The term "rapture" is applied to the Greek arpagesometha (caught up). Scofield's note on I Thessalonians 4:17 says of this rapture, "It is peculiarly the `blessed hope' of the Church." But Paul says this "blessed hope" is connected with the "glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). This can have no other meaning than the true second coming.
No text of Scripture can be cited that teaches the Church will be raptured to heaven seven years prior to the true second coming. The doctrine depends on interpretations of certain passages which in turn depend on interpretations of other passages. So much is pure assumption, rather than proof, that it amazes me that it has come to be so widely accepted. Tan, one of the more recent defenders of this doctrine, lists seven reasons for believing the Church will be raptured seven years prior to the second coming. Space will not permit a full quotation of Tan's seven points, but every effort will be made to present his ideas as clearly as possible.
His first point is that, "the nature of the tribulation demands that the church be kept from it." 1 This statement is meaningless apart from the Premillennial interpretation of texts which deal with times of tribulation. Being one of those who believe the tribulation of the Olivet discourse was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the above statement has no vestige of validity. His major effort at proof is a simple analogy. Now anyone who has studied logic knows very well that an analogy proves nothing, hence Tan's first point is rejected as meaningless.
His second point reads in part, "while signs of the second coming of Christ are given to the nation Israel (Matt. 24-25), the church is given no signs in passages on the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the translation of believers (cf. John 14:1-3; Thess. 4:13-18; I Cor. 15:51-58)." 2 Few, except "dyed in the wool" Dispcnsationalists, will be able to accept the idea that Matthew 24-25 is not written to the Church. For these the problem is whether the so-called signs of Matthew 24 are truly of the second coming. In the chapters on the Olivet discourse, this author has expressed the view that most of these are not signs at all. Rather they were events Jesus knew would occur, but which had no bearing on the second coming. Other signs were of the impending destruction of Jerusalem or apocalyptic expressions, rather than signs of the second coming.
From this very questionable foundation, Tan reaches a momentous conclusion. He writes. "The implication is clear: the church, which will not go through the tribulation, needs no intervening signs." 3 This illustrates the way Dispensationalists support then views by interpretations which rest upon other interpretations. If any single interpretation is incorrect, the entire structure falls. If their theory of Matthew writing to the Jews is correct, and if their belief regarding the great tribulation is correct, and if their interpretation of the way God will protect the Church from the great tribulation is correct; then this proves that the Church will be raptured to heaven before the great tribulation begins.
Tan contends that this interpretation is necessary so that the imminence of Christ's return may be maintained. He writes, "The coming of the lord for the church is always imminent." 4 I agree with this statement, but not with Tan's interpretation of that statement. Tan, along with most Dispensationalists, contends that no intervening event that demands fulfillment can come between any point of time and the return of Christ. They insist that the two-phase second coming is the only means by which the true imminence of Christ's return can be maintained. There are two fatal weaknesses to this claim.
First, the claim that the rapture of the Church seven years before the true second coming is that "blessed hope" cannot be sustained. The second coming cannot be a two-phase event. It was a one-phase event in Christ's departure (Acts 1:10-11), and these verses demand that His return be "in like manner." Christ's return will be a single event. It cannot be two separate comings separated by a span of seven years. No single text of Scripture establishes two future returns, and Acts 1:11 clearly indicates it will not be. The Bible supports the idea of a single return, rather than two returns.
The second problem with Tan's argument is that he teaches a type of imminence that is unbiblical. The biblical view does permit the intervention of certain events. Jesus foretold a number of things that would occur before His return. The destruction of the temple was one of these. These were not signs of His coming, but they were to occur before His second coming. Paul indicated that an apostasy would occur before the second coming (II Thess. 2:3). This was not a sign of Christ's return, but it would occur before His return.
Certain other prophecies, especially from the Revelation, tell of various events that would transpire before the return of Christ, but these were couched in terms that were sufficiently vague to enable each generation to anticipate the second coming during its existence. According to my interpretation, the apostasy that Paul mentioned in II Thessalonians 2 was to last for 1260 years (Rev. 11:3; 12:14); but this could only be known after the period was finished. Paul did not say how long it would last. And the Revelator couched the time in such terms as 1260 days and a time, and times, and a dividing of time. Only after the 16th century Reformation was it possible to properly assess these time elements of the Revelation.
From this it can be seen that the Bible teaching on imminence does not preclude the possibility of certain intervening events. It does preclude two things, however. First, the intervening events must not be worded in such a way as to enable any generation to know that the second coming could not occur during its lifetime. The other thing it must not do is establish a specific time when the Lord will return. Jesus said He would return at such a time as we think not. Therefore, any system of eschatology that establishes the time of Christ's return through a time schedule is definitely erroneous.
Note that Dispensationahsts and most Premillennialists do teach that certain things must be fulfilled before the rapture can occur. The Roman Empire must be reestablished for the Antichrist to rule over before the rapture. According to many of these, the European common market is the beginning. According to the time schedule these accept, the Antichrist will be ready to take over as soon as a European confederation firms up. Also, the nation of Israel had to become a reality before the rapture could occur. Therefore the imminence they teach for the rapture is denied by their time schedule of events. They should admit that prophecies must be fulfilled between this date and the rapture, or they should eliminate their teaching regarding a revived Roman empire and a restored Israel. The two are contraries which cannot be reconciled.
Tan's third point is a defense of pretribulationism against posttribulationism. 5 It involves the question of propagation of children during the tribulation period, and certain technical matters of millennial interpretation. Inasmuch as I find no basis in the Bible for a millennial kingdom, the arguments he presents in this division have no bearing on my position.
Tan's fourth point is also an attack on posttribulationism or a defense of pretribulationism. 6 The point here is that posttribulationists do allow a short interval between the supposed meeting with Christ in the air at the rapture, and the return to earth. He contends that even a short period of time makes a seven year period possible. This point is not really a point, for the time element the posttribulationists envision is after the great tribulation, as they see it, whereas the time the pretribulationists envision is during the great tribulation as they see it. Like point three, this point has no bearing on this refutation, for I reject a separate rapture of the Church. I believe the Bible teaches that Christ's second coming and the consummation cannot be separated in time.
Tan's fifth point involves a discussion of II Thessalonians 2:l-2. 7 Tan repeats what many Dispensational writers have said, "Someone in Thessalonica had taught the believers that the great tribulation was already present and that they had therefore been left behind (II Thess. 2:1-2)." 8 This is a blatant effort to read modern thinking into the eschatology of the first Christian century. The early Church knew nothing of a secret rapture of the Church separate from the true second coming. Nor does the context demand this assumption, although Tan attempts to prove otherwise. His attempt to make "a falling away" from the Greek apostasia refer to the rapture is a misguided effort on his part. He has taken an indefensible position. He writes,
The Greek word for "falling away," taken by itself, does not mean religious apostasy or defection .... The best translation of the word is "to depart." The apostle Paul refers here to a definite event which he calls "the departure," and which will occur just before the start of the tribulation. This is the rapture of the church.Then in an added footnote, we find,
The apostle Paul uses this word in I Timothy 4:1, "Some shall depart from the faith." The necessity for qualifying the word with the phrase "from the faith" shows that the word taken by itself has no such connotation. 9The term in question is apostasia. It is a member of a family of Greek words based on the joining of the Greek apo which means "from" to the Greek term histemi which means "to stand." Thus, the basic meaning of these words is "to stand from." This family of words includes aph-histemi, apostasia, and apostasion. Tan is mistaken where he says Paul uses the same word in I Timothy 4:1 as he did in II Thessalonians 2:3. The two words are from the same family, but they are not used in the same identical manner.
Apostasion is used exclusively of divorce in the New Testament. Apostasia is used exclusively for religious defection in the New Testament. Aph-histemi is used of various kinds of departures. Now it was this last word that Paul used in I Timothy 4:1. And since he was led to use this more general term, he was also led to add the qualifying phrase "from the faith." Had he used apostasia, the phrase would not have been needed. This single meaning of apostasia is sufficiently confirmed by the Septuagint version of the Old Testament that Thayer says "in the Bible" its meaning is to defect "from the true religion."
Tan insists that this departure would "occur just before the start of the tribulation." But Paul does not say so. Paul does not say how long this departure will come before any event. He simply indicated that this apostasy would occur before the second coming of Christ. It is my contention that this apostasy began in the third Christian century and ended with the Lutheran Reformation. If Paul had said that the apostasy would occur "just before the start of the tribulation," I would have to revise my theology. But it was not Paul who said that. It was Tan's assertion.
Tan's sixth point is that the 24 elders which appear in Revelation 4 "represent the saints who are raptured before the tribulation." 10 His argument is based on the claim that Revelation 2-3 gives a summary of the conditions the Church will exemplify during its existence. Tan believes that the history of the Church ends with Revelation 3. Chapter four is considered a picture of the raptured saints in heaven, or at least the 24 elders represent them. And all of this is literal interpretation, according to Tan.
First of all, the letters to the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 2-3) are not said to be symbols of the vicissitudes of the Church. I am the literalist at this point. I contend these letters are what they appear to be. So-called literalists depart from their literalism in saying they represent seven stages in the life of the Church.
They further depart from their claim of literalism by claiming that the command to John, "Come up here" (Rev. 4:1) is a symbol of the rapture of the Church. Again, I am the literalist. I believe this meant no more than that John needed to go up higher in order to see the things God desired to show him.
My interpretation of the 24 elders is closer to the literal than Tan's claim that they symbolize the raptured Church. In the New Testament, the term presbuteroi (elders) is reserved for two classes of people: aged people and those gifted persons who exercised leadership roles in the Church. Since the term presbuteroi is applied to these beings several times, it is nearer the literal to say they are representatives of the ministers of the Church, rather than the entire Church.
Tan failed to discuss the four beasts (living creatures is better) of chapter 4, but I wish to use them to further refute his position. When Israel encamped in the wilderness, three tribes camped to the east, three to the south, three to the west, and three to the north. The leaders of the three groups were Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan. Now the ensigns of these four tribes were the same as the objects the four living creatures resembled. Thus we have a symbolism based on Israel in encampment. The 24 elders are comparable to the Levites, who camped in a separate group.
Now I believe that the 24 elders and the four living creatures do symbolize the Church. However, the picture is of paradise, before the resurrection, rather than afterwards. And Tan, as well as other Dispensationalists, holds that the 24 elders symbolize the Church, in spite of his claim to interpret the Bible literally. This has the effect of forcing him to find what the four living creatures signify. Ironside interprets them as referring to the "attributes of God." 11 This is absurd, as if the attributes of God could be separated from His person. This is completely arbitrary. Nothing supports this view.
However, the fact that the four living creatures resemble the ensigns or standards of the leading tribes of Israel when they were encamped is strong reason to interpret the four living creatures as Israel. If the picture does refer to Israel, it may be interpreted in two ways. Literal Israel can be taken as a symbol of spiritual Israel, as I have done; or it could mean literal Israel. But Tan would be unwilling to admit that Israel is used as a type of the Church, so he would have to say that if the four living creatures do constitute a symbol of Israel, it must be literal Israel that is meant.
But this would involve him in a contradiction, for he places Israel on earth making a covenant with the Antichrist at the time the raptured Church is in heaven. Later, according to Dispensationalism, these same Jews are to suffer severe persecutions at the hands of the Antichrist. Therefore, it would be devastating to admit that Israel was in heaven during the seven year period. But the four living creatures do symbolize Israel as encamped in the wilderness. But neither Tan nor Ironside will admit this. We trust that these men will see the error of their position, just as various others have.
Tan's seventh point is that the Bible teaches several bodily resurrections, hence teaching one additional bodily resurrection is compatible with other texts of Scripture. 12 But the claim that there will be several future bodily resurrections is not taught by the Bible. A refutation of this claim is reserved for a future chapter in this volume.
It is also interesting to note the things that will be accomplished at the second coming (parousia) of our Lord. Christians will be established in holiness (I Thess. 3:13) at the coming (parousia) of Christ "with all his saints." If He comes "for" His saints at the rapture, and comes "with" His saints seven years later, as Dispensationalists teach, then Christians will be fully established after they have spent seven years in heaven, rather than at the time they are taken to heaven. This is not a reasonable conclusion.
Paul informs us further that "our gathering together unto him" will be at the parousia (II Thess. 2:1). It is most interesting to note that Paul goes on to say that "the man of sin" will be destroyed at the parousia (II Thess. 2:8). Thus the occasion of our being gathered together unto Christ will also involve the destruction of "the man of sin." But Dispensationalism says we will be gathered unto Jesus seven years before the Antichrist is destroyed. This effectively refutes the two-phase second coming.
In spite of the fact that most Dispensationalists admit that Luke 21:20 refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, they also contend that Luke 21:36 refers to the great tribulation and that this indicates that the Church will escape that time of persecution. But it has previously been shown that verse 36 refers to escaping the trials of the siege of Jerusalem, rather than some future tribulation. It is a fact of history that the Church did escape the privations and tyranny of that disaster.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death (I Cor. 15:26). But when will death be destroyed? The answer to this question very naturally is at the resurrection. But since Dispensationalism teaches several resurrections, the question remains unresolved unless the particular resurrection that eliminates death can be determined. Paul indicates this will be ". . . at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead [all of the dead both good and evil] shall be raised incorruptible" (and at this time) "Death is swallowed up in victory" (I Cor. 15:52-54). The Greek expression "swallowed up" is literally translated as "drunk down." The word is used symbolically or metaphorically to indicate destruction or annihilation. The several Greek lexicons I have consulted all agree that it does have that meaning, and some of them give this verse as an example of that meaning.
Now all agree that in I Corinthians 15 Paul has the resurrection of the righteous uppermost in his thinking. Thus, he contends that death is to be destroyed at the time the righteous are resurrected. This means that if the righteous are resurrected and raptured to heaven seven years before the true second coming, then death will not exist during those seven years, even here on earth. But Dispensationalists contend that people will continue to die, not only through the seven year period, but also during the millennial kingdom. But this contradicts Paul who says death is destroyed at the resurrection of the righteous.
Pretribulation rapturists point to I Thessalonians 4:13-18 as a key text. It is admitted that this passage refers to the resurrection and rapture of the Church, but one searches in vain for any indication that it is at a time other than that of the general resurrection. The ungodly are ignored in this passage just as they are in I Corinthians 15. Two resurrections are not set forth in either of these passages. The claim to the contrary has been refuted over and over again, but that does not stop the flood of literature defending two resurrections. The order of events is not the resurrection of the righteous and later the resurrection of the wicked, for the wicked are not mentioned. The first event is the resurrection of the righteous, and the second, the changing of the living righteous. Assuredly, the righteous are both first and second. The righteous dead come first; then the righteous living. And the closing phrase of verse 17 should clinch the matter. It reads, "And so shall we ever be with the Lord." This indicates that we will go to heaven, not for seven years, but forever.
Other passages such as 1 Thessalonians 5:9 and Revelation 3:10 are often interpreted as meaning the Church will be raptured before the great tribulation. But these verses say nothing of the rapture. The first of these indicates God's wrath will not fall upon the Church, but it does not say that the wrath of men will not affect the Church. The long list of martyrs proves that God has in the past allowed His children to suffer from the wrath of men. In Revelation 3:10, only the church at Philadelphia was promised this protection, and this need not mean that they were translated to heaven. God is able to protect us while we live in this world, when He so desires.
Since no text of Scripture clearly says the Church will be raptured to heaven seven years before the true second coming, it is well that we consider the way pretribulation rapturists interpret the main eschatological passages. Matthew 24 does not mention the rapture of the Church, but pretribulation rapturists contend that the rapture must occur before the abomination of desolation (Matt. 24:15). But they have to admit that they do not find this in Matthew 24. Surely Christ would have said something about the rapture if it was a separate event from the final consummation.
The next great eschatological passage is I Corinthians 15. This chapter does deal with the rapture of the Church, but it does not speak of it as a separate event seven years before the true second coming. To make up for this deficiency, Scofield twice refers the reader to I Thessalonians 4:14-17 (See his note on I Cor. 15:24 and his insertion between vv. 50 and 51 of I Cor. 15.) Of course when 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 is consulted, it isn't mentioned there either. And the fact that death is to be destroyed at the resurrection of the righteous (I Cor. 15:54) makes the claim of a secret rapture seven years before the true second coming completely untenable.
The effort to twist what Paul says in I Thessalonians 4 to make it say the righteous are to be resurrected 1,007 years before the resurrection of the wicked is still continuing. Since this passage is one of their stronger supports, pretribulation rapturists can hardly yield at this point even though it is evident to all true exegetes that they are guilty of reading foreign material into the passage when they so interpret it. Actually, this demonstrates the weakness of their position. The tragic aspect is that they are able to fool many by this twisting of Scripture.
In II Thessalonians the effort to establish the rapture prior to the true second coming of Christ centers around the terms "day of Christ" and "day of the Lord." These terms have the same significance. The claim that the day of Christ refers to the rapture, and the day of the Lord to the true second coming is not confirmed by sound exegesis. This teaching has been refuted earlier. And in this chapter it has been shown that "our gathering together unto him" (II Thess. 2:1), and the destruction of "the man of sin," both occur at the parousia of the Lord. The parousia cannot be stretched to include two future comings, which would be necessary for this book to agree with pretribulationism.
Pretribulation rapturists depend a great deal on their interpretation of the Revelation for much of their eschatology. A great deal of emphasis is placed on the idea that all of the Revelation beyond chapter 3 is yet future. Chapter 4 is said to teach the rapture of the Church and from there on is thought to teach of the seven year period during which the Antichrist is to reign. The weakest link in all of this is the pretribulation rapture. Revelation 4 says absolutely nothing about the rapture of the Church.
But since this interpretation is almost essential to their entire schedule, they are forced to read the rapture into it even though it is not there. They are forced out of their so-called literalism in accomplishing their objective. In Revelation 4:1 we read, "Come up hither, and I will shew you things which must be hereafter." This message was directed to John. I take it literally as referring only to John. Scofield comments on this clause, "This call seems clearly to indicate the fulfillment of I Thess. 4:14-17." So the literalist sacrifices his literalism in order to make people believe that the Church is symbolized by the apostle John. Since consistency is said to be a jewel, this strategem is a lack-luster imitation.
The weakness of posttribulationism is illustrated by its interpretation of I Thessalonians 4. George E. Ladd is one of the ablest defenders of post-tribulationism. He points out that the word used for the meeting of the righteous with the Lord in the air (I Thess. 4:17) is the same word that is used of the five virgins who met the bridegroom with lamps trimmed and burning (Matt. 25:6). He says, "It is just possible, and, as we shall show later on, even suggested by the word used for the meeting, that after this meeting, Jesus continues His descent to the earth, but now accompanied by His saints." 13
The Greek word used here makes no such suggestion. It means no more than "to meet." What follows must be supplied by the context. It is used three times for sure, and possibly a fourth time. The text in doubt is Matthew 25:1, but since the word is used in verse 6 of this chapter, the problem is of minor consequence. Of the three occurrences in the New Testament, the only one that involved a going out to meet someone, then followed by a return to the starting point was where the brethren at Rome went to meet Paul (Acts 28:15). These brethren did return to Rome with Paul, but we know this from the context, not from apantesis the word that is used.
The example that Ladd gives does not involve returning to the place where the virgins were waiting, but to the place prepared for the wedding. If this place has any meaning in the parable, it would refer to heaven — not to the earth. And in I Thessalonians 4:17, the destination is heaven. This is shown by the expression, ". . . and so shall we ever be with the Lord." We have previously shown that this means "after this manner" we shall ever be with the Lord. And the manner involved was a togetherness away from the earth — not on it.
The above is fairly conclusive that the Greek term does not of itself imply a return, but when the Septuagint version is considered the evidence is complete to the point of certainty. Thayer states that apantesis, the Greek word being considered, is often the equivalent of the Hebrew liqerath. Davidson gives one meaning of liqerath as of hostile meetings. Three citations from the Septuagint version are given to prove the accuracy of these statements.
"Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer" (I Sam. 4:1). The Septuagint version has "to meet" instead of "against" and is a translation of apantesis which in turn is a translation of liqerath. A similar condition is found in the meeting of Jehu and Joram (II Kings 9:21). The same words are in the Hebrew and Greek as in the above, and the context shows it was not a peaceful meeting. It ended in the assassination of Jehoram (Joram) by Jehu (v. 24). And when Josiah "went against" Pharaoh-nechoh of Egypt (II Kings 23:29), the same words are used. There can be no doubt of Josiah's intent. However, he was the one who was slain.
Since apantesis is used of such a variety of meetings, it is inaccurate to draw any implications from the word itself. All it says is that two persons or groups meet. What happens after that is entirely dependent on the context for meaning. Jehoram did not return with Jehu (II Kings 9:24) for Jehu killed him. Only one instance can be found in the New Testament where those who went out to meet a man returned with him. Ladd has made an assertion which cannot be accepted because it is false. When the Church meets the Lord in the air, Christ will take us on to that heavenly home He has gone to prepare for us; and it will be forever — not for just seven years.
In the Olivet discourse, Jesus does speak of some being taken and others left, but from the parables of the tares and the net, we know that it is the wicked that will be taken, leaving the righteous. Therefore, Christ Himself had earlier made it clear that the wicked would be taken out from among the righteous, rather than the righteous being taken out from among the wicked, as Premillennialists say it will be. Jesus did not teach a separate rapture of the Church.
Nor did Paul teach it. In that great resurrection chapter (I Cor. 15), Paul indicated that at the time they, the Church, were resurrected or changed, death would be annihilated (I Cor. 15:54). Premillennialists hold that death will continue to reign over those who are not raptured, and over those who are born after the rapture. This passage from Paul does not teach a separate rapture of the Church.
And only by the twisting of Scripture can I Thessalonians 4 be made to teach a separate rapture. The wicked are ignored in this passage as they are in I Corinthians 15. It is true that Paul says the righteous dead will be resurrected first, but to make this mean the wicked dead are to be resurrected at a later time is to misinterpret Paul. What Paul really says is that the living righteous will not be taken to heaven ahead of the righteous dead, and to this end the righteous dead are to be resurrected first, so that all can proceed to heaven in a single group. Paul does not say when the wicked will be resurrected in this chapter. And verse 17 implies we go to heaven forever at that time.
The effort to make the Revelation teach a separate rapture of the Church is equally indefensible. In Part One of this volume, the myth of a single hermeneutic was exploded. Those who claim to interpret the Bible literally cannot make the Revelation teach a separate rapture of the Church without departing from their literalism. They make the letters to the seven churches represent seven epochs in the life of the Church. This is without adequate justification. Even more bizarre is their claim that John's experience of being carried to heaven actually refers to the rapture of the Church. Thus, while claiming to be literalists, they feel perfectly free to depart from that position whenever such a departure seems to strengthen their position. What it does do is demonstrate their inconsistency.
The teaching of the resurrection of the dead was ably defended by many early writers, but the order of events is seldom given in an orderly manner. Therefore, it is difficult to know for certain just what some did believe would be the order of events. I found nothing in the writings of the early Church that spoke of a separate rapture of the Church. Lactantius, one of the ante-Nicene fathers, does allow for two physical resurrections, but he does not speak specifically of a rapture. 14 Commodianus believed in two bodily resurrections, 15 but I found nothing about a separate rapture in his writings. No positive testimony for a separate rapture was found in any of my research.
The evidence in opposition to a separate rapture of the Church is largely that for a single bodily resurrection, for without two or more resurrections of bodies, there can be no separate rapture. Justin Martyr believed in a "general resurrection at which time the judgment of all men would likewise take place." 16
Hippolytus believed in a single physical resurrection. 17
Victorinus said, "There are two resurrections. But the first resurrection is now of the souls that are by faith." 19
From Augustine onward, the evidence is almost unanimous in favor of a single resurrection. The statement quoted above from Victorinus came to be the accepted view.
1. Tan, op. cit., p. 338
5. Ibid., p. 339.
6. Ibid., p. 340.
7. Ibid., pp. 340ff.
8. lbid., p. 340.
9. Ibid., p. 341.
10. Ibid., p. 342.
11. Ironside, op. cit., p. 85.
12. Tan, op. cit., pp. 341-342.
13. George E. Ladd, The Blessed Hope, p. 78.
14. Lactantius, op. cit., vol. VII, pp. 216ff.
15. Commodianus, op. cit., vol. IV, p. 212.
16. Justin Martyr, op. cit., vol. I, p. 240.
17. Hippolytus, op. cit., vol. V, p. 222.
18. Victorinus, op. cit., vol. VII, p. 359.
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