Monday, August 17, 2009

Thoughts on the Olivet Discourse - Part One

Any premillennial discussion on the Olivet Discourse will inevitably touch upon whether the rapture of the Church is mentioned there by the Lord. The main verse in question is Matt 24:31. Pretribulationists do not see this as the rapture but teach that it is the final regathering of Israel as per Old Testament promises. Where pretribbers disagree amongst themselves is that some contend that the rapture is implied in other passages of the Lord’s discourse, whereas others deny that contention.

Some of the weaker arguments (which I’ve used) against a rapture in the Olivet Discourse (OD) is to say that the Matthew account is Judaeo-centric or that the rapture was still a mystery pre-Pauline Epistles. I think the former argument is weak because two other Gospels (Mark and Luke) also contribute to the OD. However, it’s important to understand that just because a Scripture appears in the NT, it does not automatically follow that it applies directly to the Church. The latter argument is also problematic because pretribbers - including prewrathers, non -premillennial posttribbers and midtribbers - point to John 14:2-3 (given after the OD) as rapture verses.

Joh 14:2-3 "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

Premillennial posttribulationists strongly deny that John 14:2-3 is focused on the rapture because they teach it occurs at the end of the 70th week and the Lord remains on the earth with His Church. They argue that the Father’s house can be an earthly edifice. They argue that the Temple in Jesus’ time was called the Father’s house, therefore the Father’s house does not necessarily mean heaven. Another way posttribbers get around these verses is to use the following line of reasoning:

“Jesus said He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. He also said the Father dwells in Him. As we've seen above, Jesus referred to the temple of His body. And temple used in John 2:19 can mean a dwelling place." Full Article

Personally, I found the article unconvincing. The context of the verses indicates that the mansions are in the Father’s house and the Father’s house is in heaven, which is where the Lord was going – simple. But if these Johannine verses do represent the rapture then we should acknowledge that, at some level, the concept of the rapture was present pre-Paul, even though the disciples likely did not understand it. I also agree with Chuck Missler’s view that, while the Lord’s audience was Jewish (Israel), it was also the future Church. Hence, certain elements of the Lord’s narrative might be addressed to both groups, including tribulation saints. In considering this, we should not automatically assume that Matt 24:31 is the rapture or deny the OD’s Jewish focus which is based on the disciples’ questions.

The portion below is essentially a brief summary of Dr Fruchtenbaum’s OD view. Unlike the majority of pretribbers, he believes the rapture is found within the OD (not Matt 24:31). I suspect he has somewhat influenced Peter Goodgame’s Red Moon Rapture theory (and others). While I’m not entirely committed to all of it, I think Dr Frucht’s teachings have a lot of merit and are worthy of consideration.

Generally speaking, it is agreed that the Lord was asked three questions and for three signs by His disciples, and this formed the basis of the discourse (Matt 24:3; Mark 13:3-4; Luke 21:7).

1) “Tell us, when will these things happen” These things refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

2) “…and what will be the sign of Your coming,” Pretribbers, contend that this question does not concern the rapture but the visible second coming at the end of the week (Jewish focus). Pre-wrath teaches that this refers to both the second coming and the rapture but that it occurs before the end of the week (Church focus). Post-trib also teaches that this is the second coming and the rapture, but that this occurs at the end of the week (Church focus).

3) “…and of the end of the age?"

According to Dr Frucht, the Lord did not answer those questions in the same order they were asked. He answered the third question first, but before doing so, He provided characteristics of the Church age prior to the end of the age (Matt 24:4-6; Mark 13:6-7 and Luke 21:8-9). Matt 24:6 and Luke 21:9 inform us that the previous occurrences are not signs of the (coming) end of the age. Dr Frucht notes that from the time of Messiah up to the 1850s, many Jewish men and some gentiles have laid claim to be messiah (Rev Moon for example). And local wars have always been a feature of history. But these are not signs of the (coming) end of the age.

Having done that, the Lord provides positive signs that will indicate the approach of the end of the age (Matt 24:7-8; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:10-12). According to Dr Frucht, the term “nation shall rise against nation and kingdom and against kingdom” is a Hebrew idiom for a world war. He cites a Jewish source of that period – Zohar Chadash:

At that time wars shall be stirred up in the world. Nation shall be against nation and city against city; much distress shall be renewed against the enemies of the Israelites.

He also provides a quote from the Bereshit Rabbah:

If you see the kingdoms rising against each other in turn, then give heed and note the footsteps of the Messiah. (XLII:4)

On pages 95-96 of his book “Footsteps”, Dr Frucht details the exponential increase in both famines and earthquakes and makes a compelling case for his view. Between 1918 and 1919, a pestilence killed 23 million people. In 1920, the Great Chinese Famine occurred and in 1921, the Great Russian Famine. The list of earthquakes is too extensive to detail here but the trend has been upward. In Matt 24:8, the Lord tells us that these are also the beginning of birth pangs (travail). In summary, Dr Frucht concludes that the signs that the end of the age is close were fulfilled by WW1 and WW2; the increase in earthquakes and famines.

“But before all these things….” The Lord then goes on to discuss future experiences of the Apostles (Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19). Some argue that these verses refer to the Church during the tribulation and use them in an attempt to trip up pretribbers. However, Luke 21:20-24 makes it clear that these events are pre-destruction of Jerusalem and vv 20-24 are the signs.

On page 630 of “Footsteps” Dr Frucht gives account how in 66 AD a Jewish revolt broke out against the Romans. The Roman general, Cestus Gallus, came with his armies and surrounded Jerusalem. At that time the Jewish believers, remembering Christ’s prophecy, attempted to leave the city but couldn’t do so because of the armies. Gallus noticed that his supply lines were in jeopardy and that he didn’t have enough to maintain an extended siege. He lifted his siege in order to go back to Caesarea but was killed along the way by Jewish forces. So Jerusalem was, temporarily, no longer surrounded and every single Jewish believer was able to leave. They crossed the Jordan River and founded a new community in Pella, where they were joined by believers from Judea, Galilee and the Golan. In 68 AD Vespasian and his son, Titus, once more besieged Jerusalem. In 70 AD the city and the Temple were destroyed. According to Dr Frucht, 1,100,000 Jews were killed but not one Jewish believer died because they listened to the Lord’s warning.

Continuing on, Matt 24:9-26 and Mark 13:14-23 speak of the Tribulation (70th week). Matt 24:9-14 speaks of the events of the first half of the week. While these verses are similar to Mark 13:9-13 and Luke 21:12-19 - Dr Frucht points out that there are differences. Luke states that the events he was describing came before the signs of the end of the age (Nation against nation etc) whereas the Matthew passage begins with the word, Then. This implies that the events now being described by Christ come after the signs of the end of the age. I realize that there is plenty of possible argumentation here but – for what it’s worth – I’m impressed with Dr Frucht’s position.

Mat 24:13 "But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

One area for controversy is Matt 24:13. Non pretibbers will be quick to point out that this verse talks about the Church during the trib. Dr Frucht informs us that this is speaking of Israel’s remnant. We should ask ourselves as Christians whether our salvation is contingent on how we perform during the great tribulation or is our salvation worked out by our faith through grace. What about those who haven't had to endure the tribulation - are they still saved?

I understand that there are some who believe that the Church needs to pass through the tribulation (seals) as some sort of refining process so that it can be presented as a spotless bride. I wonder whether the rapture, then, is dependant upon that last Christian becoming spotless. How is it orchestrated that every Christian becomes simultaneously refined by the trib in time for the rapture? Is there a predetermined critical mass? Once again, what about those who have died before the tribulation - have they missed out on some special refinement?

Matt 24:15-20 and Mark 13:14-23 are the events of the second half of the 70th week. Matt 24:29-30; Mark 13:24-26 and Luke 21:25-27 discuss the signs of the second coming of the Lord.

Matt 24:31 and Mark 13:27 outline the final regathering of Israel - not the rapture. More on this in a later instalment.

Another contentious verse is Luke 21:28.

Luke 21: 28 "But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Dr Frucht points out that the operative word is BEGIN - when they begin to see these things. What things? The Lord isn’t just talking about the cosmic signs, as some claim; He is talking about the events of Luke 21:20-24 which was the sign of the destruction of Jerusalem. I think Dr Frucht is correct. Many claim that the Lord is referring to v 25 – but on what basis? Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD and, according to Dr Frucht, this fulfilled the judgment for the unpardonable sin. From that moment on, the rapture of the Church became imminent.

Again, quoting from Dr Frucht in “Footsteps” p 637:

He did not say we must wait until the end of the tribulation before looking up. What He did say was, “When you see these things begin to pass, then look up, for your redemption draws nigh.”

For a deeper study of the above, I highly recommend reading Dr Frucht’s “The Footsteps of the Messiah” - especially the OD section on pages 621 to 650.

To be continued...

Further reading:

Did Jesus Prophesy the Rapture?

A slightly different perspective:


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