Saturday, August 29, 2009

Olivet Discourse - Part Three

Mat 24:36 "But of that DAY and HOUR no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

A pre-trib challenge…

“But of that day and hour no one knows..." Matt 24:36. What day and hour? Shouldn't "that day and hour" have an antecedent somewhere? I know, I know, you are saying that the "day and hour no one knows" is referring to the rapture. Right? Well, there's one small problem with that. Pretribbers deny that the rapture is ever mentioned in this passage... in fact, some go so far as to say that this was written for the Jews and not for the Church. (Besides, how many Jewish people do you know who study the New Testament?”

First we should note that the above statement is only partially accurate. Some pretribbers do believe the rapture is alluded to in the OD. Also, somewhere in cyberspace, there’s a short video aimed at pretribbers that asks a couple of questions and then presumes the same response. It springs a trap on the unsuspecting pretribber by stating:

That’s right, you just admitted that Matt 24 makes reference to the rapture – and thus, Matt 24 applies to the Church!

Let’s think about that for a moment. The above responses respectively imply that, because the concept of the rapture may presumably be found within the Olivet Discourse, it then somehow follows by default that the elect is the Church; the rapture and second coming are a single event and the gathering is the rapture. That's a lot of assumptions to make based on a two minute video.

In reality, every tenet must be examined on its own merits. Those who claim that the gathering is the rapture and the elect are the Church should engage the arguments for each point rather than indulging in assertions (see my previous OD post).

Before I go to v 36 I want to make the following points: the author of the quote above asked how many Jewish people would study the New Testament. This question infers that everything written in the NT must be for the Church. Apparently that includes Matt 24:20. I wonder how many Christians living in the vicinity at the time would worry about that one.

The OT contains prophecies that were ignored by Israel, yet they were put there for a purpose. As with the OT, Israel (and whoever is in the Tribulation) will be expected to read the NT - and many will. Is it really reasonable to assume data would be left out of the NT just because it related to Israel, and is everything in the NT exclusively related to the Church? How about the 144,000 of Revelation?

Speaking of which, another question goes something like this: “You say the Church isn’t in the Trib, yet Jesus said Revelation was for the Church.”

Here’s what the beginning of Revelation actually says:

Rev 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants (doulos), the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John,

Who else are called doulos in Revelation and are they part of the Church? (Rev 7:3) Note that, just as in chapter seven where the great multitude are never called the Church when their identity becomes an issue, isn’t it interesting how inclusive Rev 1:1 is also? One should never build doctrine on this fact but it intrigues me why Revelation is so silent regarding the Church during the judgments. The defense that some of the epistles don’t mention the Church either doesn’t really cut it because Revelation DOES so numerous times – just not in the right places for non-pretribbers.

Getting back on track, what is the antecedent to v 36? First of all let’s examine the alternative and let’s look at some other Scripture. Previous to v 36 the Lord discussed the birth pangs; the tribulation; the cosmic signs; the gathering of the elect etc. So non-pretribbers assume that the day He is speaking of has to be the day of the Lord and the rapture. Yet when we read on we find the following:

Mat 24:37 "For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.

Mat 24:38-39 "For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.”

Mat 24:40-43 "Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.”

Mat 24:44 "For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.

Now let’s compare some more Scripture:

1Th 5:2-3 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.

Rev 6:3-4 When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, "Come." And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.

Rev 6:7-8 When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come." I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.

Pre-trib critics see the antecedent to be the actual final, physical, visible, Second Coming of the Lord. Whether post-trib or pre-wrath, this is preceded by cosmic signs that are associated with Matt 24, Rev 6 and Joel. The Joel 3 cosmic signs demand that multitudes are gathering for war prior to the rapture/DotL In a previous post I mentioned that one proponent of another view believed the AC was involved in a war with the saints on such a massive scale that it was critical that God rapture the Church thus shortening the GT so that “flesh would be saved”.

The obvious question is how do we reconcile all these “business as usual and peace and safety” messages in light of the contradictions? How can armies be gathering prior to the DotL/rapture (and the seal judgments) yet comply with the full meaning of Matt 24:38 and 1Thess 5:2-3?

Here’s the best response I’ve come across so far – “They only think they have peace and safety”.

One attempt to circumvent this problem is to argue that at the time of the Abomination of Desolation there is a short period of peace, thus satisfying 1 Thess 5. However, this doesn’t get around Joel 3. If the AC is involved in a crucial war and if armies are gathering for battle, on what Scriptural basis can you justify that the participants believe they have peace? This view also presupposes that Rev 6:4 is temporary. Finally, a temporary gap of peace beginning at the AoD contradicts the mission of the Two Witnesses (Rev 11:3-11).

Some may contend that the unregenerate are so deluded, they can gather for war and still proclaim peace and safety. In my opinion this is a strained assertion that lacks Scriptural backing.

Believers are explicitly told in Matt 24:42 that they cannot know the day the Lord is coming. If the rapture is post-trib we can sure get pretty close. But can prewrathers claim their system is any different? Does a short, unknown period of time (less then three and a half years) really fit the Lord’s contextual meaning when he addresses believers? I guess if one wants to be technical a believer wouldn’t know the exact day even if they were “watching” for the AoD. The point is that we can still get pretty close. If one wants to be consistently technical then the “peace and safety” issue on its own refutes the argument that v 36 alludes to the second coming.

Was the Lord really talking about a literal 24 hour day or did He use an idiom? Allen Beechick weighs in:

What Does "Hour" Mean?

Beechick is an example of a pretribber that sees a rapture and double imminence reference in Matt 24. While there are areas where I disagree with his conclusions, he capably defends pre-trib and points out various problems with the other systems. His work can be read HERE and his views on the Olivet Discourse HERE.

By the way, Rev 16:15 does nothing to support the post-trib view. The verse is a break in the story admonishing the reader of the consequences of not “watching”. It is not there to imply some sort of imminence at that late point in Daniel’s 70th week. That wouldn’t make any sense.

In light of the arguments above, Matt 24:36 cannot refer to Christ’s second coming in Power and Glory despite the best intentions of that little video. So what is the solution? Here is what Dr Robert L Thomas says regarding Matt 24:31:

The signs given in Matt 24:4-28 are within Daniel’s seventieth week and indicate the nearness of Jesus’ return to earth as described in Matt 24:29-31 These signals of nearness differ from the parables of Luke 12:35-48, which contained no signs of nearness. If signs must occur before His coming, His coming is not imminent. Neither are there signs given in Luke 17:26-37, where Jesus with several similar comparisons predicts the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. But in Matt 24:36 Jesus turns the page to speak of the absence of any sign that might signal the beginning of Daniel’s seventieth week. His words were, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven nor the Son, but the Father only.” His use of “day and hour” encompass a broader span than just a 24-hour day or a 60-minute hour. As is true throughout Matthew (cf. Matt 7:22; 10:19; 24:42, 44, 50; 25:13; 26:45), the two time-designations cover a broad period of time. Jesus is saying that no one has the faintest idea about when—in the broadest sense of the term “when”—the Son of Man will return. Here He indicates the complete unexpectedness of what will overtake the world at the time of His second advent. He changes the subject from the signs that indicate the nearness of His coming to establish the kingdom in 24:32-35 to speak of events which will have no signals to indicate that the advent is “at the door.” In other words, 24:36 speaks of a different arrival from the arrival signalled by “all these things,” twice referred to in connection with the parable of the fig tree in 24:32-34 After 24:36 Jesus looks at the events of Daniel’s seventieth week as a whole and how the beginning of that week will catch everyone by surprise, with no indication that it is “at the door.” ...IMMINENCE IN THE NT, ESPECIALLY PAUL’S THESSALONIAN EPISTLES

Dr Fruchtenbaum makes another observation. Matt 24:36 begins with the word But, which in Greek is peri de (1 Cor 7:1; 8:1; 12:1 etc). This construction points to the introduction of a new subject. See "Footsteps" page 641. Up until that point the Lord has been talking about the second coming but peri de introduces something new. Dr Fruchtenbaum and a few others believe the rapture is alluded to after this. I believe the change of subject also supports the idea that the beginning of Daniel's 70th week (the BROAD day of the Lord) is in view as argued by Dr Thomas. Whether or not the rapture is to be found after v 36 is another matter and the subject of much debate.

To be continued…

Further reading:


Dr Ron Bigalke Jr touches upon Grundy's post-trib view of imminence:

Gundry’s first premise was to redefine the doctrine of imminence. He wrote:

"We should first of all note a lack of identity between belief in imminence on the one hand and pretribulationism on the other. By common consent imminence means that so far as we know no predicted event will necessarily precede the coming of Christ. The concept incorporates three essential elements: suddenness, unexpectedness or incalculability, and a possibility of occurrence at any moment. But these elements would require only that Christ might come before the tribulation, not that He must. Imminence would only raise the possibility of pretribulationism on a sliding scale with mid- and posttribulationism."

The problem with Gundry’s definition of imminence is the two words “necessarily” and “possibility.” According to Gundry, imminence means that Christ will return “at any moment” after the tribulation. In Matthew 24:36, Jesus declared, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Gundry had to reinterpret this verse to mean, “The element of certainty is there, but it is slight.” Believers will know the approximate time, not the exact time of Christ’s return. “The shortening of the tribulation thus enables us to resolve general predictability and specific unpredictability without rending the exhortations to watch from their posttribulational context and without minimizing the function of signaling events by resorting to the historical [preterist] view with its vagaries.” Gundry’s definition of imminence means only believers in the tribulation will be watchful until prophetic events begin. Even when such events occur, believers “shall not know exactly”; rather the attitude is to “know approximately.”Imminence is redefined to “expectancy.” Midnight Call Magazine See Page 19.

Note also that Dr Bigalke adresses other premises of Grundy's posttribulationism.

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