Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What is the day of the Lord?

As mentioned in my previous post, not all pretribulationists agree on when the day of the Lord begins. There is also disagreement as to its scope and whether it includes the Millennium or not. For my purpose, I want to concentrate on when the day of the Lord actually begins because most rapture believers agree that it contains God’s wrath and the church is not destined to see His wrath.

Most often when people quote verses relating to the day of the Lord they’ll appeal to Joel 2:31 and Joel 3:14-15. Frequently these verses are associated with the cosmic signs of the 6th seal and Matt 24:29. For these people, the day of the Lord is the time of God’s wrath and is a distinct period within the last half of Daniel’s 70th week, or at the end. Some believe the day of the Lord begins at the 7th seal some time after the Abomination of Desolation. Many hold similar views but they do not see the seals occurring chronologically and so, according to their system, the day of the Lord occurs at the end of the week.

If we were to take the day of the Lord as a single event ONLY occurring AFTER the mid-point of the 70th week, we come to what I consider to be contradictions in Scripture. I struggle to see how an event with all the precursors we see in Revelation can be imminent or sudden and yet harmonize with what Paul is telling us in the following verses:

1Th 5:1-6 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 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. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.

To summarize what Paul is saying: The day of the Lord will come like a thief – a thief takes something away and comes suddenly without announcement. The thief idea also occurs in Rev 16:15 but in that verse we do not have the same surprise element of Thess. Some see this remark as a parenthesis. Paul tells us that the day of the Lord comes when they are saying “peace and safety”, which is not occurring at Rev 16:15. Note that Paul also associates the destruction with the beginning of labor pains.

In Matt 24:8 the Lord mentions birth pangs occurring long before the Abomination of Desolation. In light of that, the birth pangs may be associated with the DotL and labor pains of 1 Thes 5. Can the earth dwellers be experiencing peace and safety after the Abomination of Desolation or post mid-week? Two main views have the DotL occurring after that event. An end of the week DotL has to occur after the gathering of the armies for the Armageddon campaign. And both post mid-week DotL versions occur after the 2nd seal where Scripture clearly tells us that peace is taken from the earth.

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.

If we take both Rev 6:3-4 and 1 Thes 5:1-6 literally, then some aspect of the DotL must occur BEFORE the 2nd seal. One can try to stretch the timing of the seal within the framework of one’s presuppositions but the problem cannot be avoided. One should also note that the results of the 2nd seal are non-discriminatory and therefore include believers and unbelievers alike.

Problems also emerge for those who hold the DotL occurs at the 7th seal, regardless of where they place it within the 70th week.

Rev 6:15-17 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"

Some translations have “is come”. The claim is that the unbelievers are crying out in terror at the expectation that wrath of God/DotL is about to come (7th seal). In my opinion this has at least three problems:

One is of a linguistic nature – the expression the great day of his wrath is come is in the indicative mood with the augment. According to Dana and Mantey “A Manual Grammar of the Greek new Testament” pp 193-94, normally, that kind of aorist tense verb refers to an occurrence of that event in the past unless the context clearly indicates otherwise. A T Robertson and R L Thomas concur. See Showers’ “Maranatha – Our Lord, Come”. My position is that the unbelievers are simply reacting to what has just transpired and in light of what has been happening in the previous seal judgments. Therefore the wrath of God is present at that stage.

The next problem is that the statement is made by unbelievers who are in darkness (I Thess 5:4) and John is only quoting them, so it cannot be accepted without analysis.

Finally, given that they are terrified unbelievers (no peace and safety) and - according to Paul – in darkness, how could they possibly prophesy the 7th seal coming wrath of God/DotL and still harmonize literally with the 1 Thess 5:1-6? This is a contradiction.

The grouping of Joel 2:31, 3:14-15, Matt 24:29 and Rev 6:12-17 as a single event also has some problems:

We learn from Joel 3:14 that armies are gathering in the valley of decision before the day of the Lord. At the 6th seal we see the earth dwellers hiding in caves and among the rocks - NOT gathering for battle. No armies are said to be gathering there between the 6th and 7th seals. The only place where we read that the armies begin to gather in Revelation is at the 6th bowl (Rev 16:12-14). Any argument for a gathering of the armies between the 6th and 7th seals is speculation. It also contradicts the requirements for a harmonization of 1 Thes 5:1-6 and Rev 6:3-4. If armies are gathering for war at that time (before the DotL) then there isn’t any peace and safety.

Finally, a sequential and chronological order for Revelation has problems for those who see the cosmic signs of Rev 6, Matt 24 and Joel 3 as the same event because the Lord says “after the tribulation of those days”, yet the great tribulation lasts for three and a half years.

So there seems to be contradictions with comparing Scriptures describing the day of the Lord. Sometimes a narrow view is quite appropriate yet at other times it doesn’t fit. What’s the answer? I think a possible solution is that the term “day of the Lord” is not always meant to depict a narrow, single-day event.

“In itself, ‘the Day of the Lord’ is a general and comprehensive expression for the consummation of God’s purpose, alike in victory and judgment.” J. A.T. Robinson “Jesus and His coming” p 19

“It is a day that is a special time; and it is the Day of the Lord, belongs to Him, is His time for working, for manifesting Himself, for displaying His character, for performing His work – His strange work upon the earth…” A. B. Davidson “The Theology of the Old Testament in International Theological Library” p 374

"Though the 'Day of the Lord,' as the expression implies, was at first conceived as a definite and brief period of time, being an era of judgment and salvation, it many times broadened out to be an extended period. From being a day it became an epoch." A B Davidson “Theology of the Old Testament” p 381

J Barton Payne (The Theology of the Older Testament p 464): “The comprehensive phrase, by which the Old Testament describes God’s intervention in human history for the accomplishment of His testament is yom Yahweh, “the day of Yahweh’”

E W Bullinger in referring to the day of the Lord of Joel 2:31, “It is called ‘the great and terrible day of the Lord’, as if though it were the climax of the whole period known as ‘the day of the Lord.’”

The term “the great and terrible day of the Lord” of Joel 2 applies to Joel 3. Mal 4:5 also uses the term “the great and terrible day of the LORD” to describe the same event.

Given this, Dr Renald Showers in his book “Maranatha – Our Lord, Come” postulates (in agreement with other scholars) that there are two aspects of the day of the Lord. The broad aspect is when He begins to sovereignly inaugurate His program with the opening of the first seal - while the narrow aspect is the culmination of the great and terrible day of the Lord that we see in Joel.

In other words it’s like a teacher telling a student to prepare for an exam which will occur on a day yet to be revealed. All the student is told, at that point, is that the “terrible” exam will take place at 3:00 PM on that day. One day at 9:00 AM the student suddenly notices that the teacher is setting up the room where the exam will take place. So at 9:00 AM of that day, it is still exam day but the “terrible” exam does not commence until 3:00 PM.

The opening of the first seal is the beginning of the labor pains that are associated with the suddenness of the broad day of the Lord. Let’s look at some of the relevant verses again:

Mat 24:8 "But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

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 6:4 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.

Further reading:

The Day of the Lord

Analysis of the Use of Cosmic-Sign Passages



Tuesday, April 14, 2009

II Thessalonians 2

Please note: The link to Larry Wolfe's website no longer works. I'll keep tabs on it in case the website comes back on line.

Any study of 2 Thes 2 can be said to be ambitious. This isn’t a study - my goal is to simply demonstrate that the pretrib position is well-defended in respect to these verses and is a response to statements that 2 Thes 2 debunks the pre-trib rapture. As an example, Rev Larry Wolfe goes as far as to assert (contrary to the evidence) that pretribbers ignore the issue:

"Pre-Tribulation Theory has no clear Biblical basis of support, but in distinct contrast it does have problem passages which are ignored instead of explained, such as II Thess 2:1-8."

Before I go any further, I should challenge readers to examine Paul Feinberg’s study (HERE) so that they can grasp some of the arguments behind the pre-trib and post-trib positions. The only drawback with his essay is that it is in-depth and one has to engage several issues. There are some observations that should be considered when reading 2 Thes 2. First of all, we should note that these verses are a response to a concern of the Thessalonians and that it relates to the gathering/rapture and the day of the Lord. Second, these verses should be understood in light of Paul’s previous letter, as Feinberg shows. Ironically, the latter portion of Feinberg’s excellent study is used in a pre-wrath PowerPoint presentation that utilizes Feinberg’s argument against the claim by some that the apostasia is the rapture. But, sadly, the full thrust of his article is ignored.

2Th 2:1-2 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

One reason people get off track is the assumption that the gathering spoken of by Paul and the day of the Lord are one and the same event. If you hold to that presupposition then you will probably take the view that the Thessalonians were concerned that the DotL/rapture event had begun (due to some rumor or perhaps persecution) and they had been left behind. Given this, wherever you believe the day of the Lord begins will determine your rapture timing. However, if Paul is speaking of two separate events – the rapture/gathering followed later by the DotL - then we see a slightly different perspective in the later verses. Are they the same event? There is no Scriptural or linguistic reason to support this. It is true, however, that some contend that -while they are distinct - both events happen simultaneously. This ARTICLE might help to illustrate the differences in opinion.

Mal Couch’s essay (HERE) amplifies and elaborates on the following observations:

2Th 2:1 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him (The rapture)

2Th 2:2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. (The day of the Lord – NOT the rapture)

2Th 2:3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it (the DotL) will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,

1) Note here what Paul is not saying. He is not stating that the man of lawlessness is revealed at the Abomination of Desolation. The man of sin may be revealed when he confirms the covenant with many (Dan 9:27) or before then. On p 566 of “Footsteps of the Messiah” Arnold Fruchtenbaum says this, “There is to be a revelation of the identity of the Antichrist that precedes the Tribulation, and it is for believers living at that time. The rapture may or may not have occurred by then….Whoever the believers may be at the time, they will receive a revelation as to the identity of the Antichrist and it will happen some time before the Tribulation.”

2) Also, he is not saying that the rapture cannot come until then – he is talking about the day of the Lord. Pretribulationists are not unanimous regarding when the day of the Lord begins. Some believe it begins at the opening of the first seal, some at mid-week and some at the end of the week (posttribulational). Yet none of these differing views of the DotL disprove the pretrib rapture in light of 2 Thessalonians.

2Th 2:4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.

V4 is additional information about the Antichrist but, once again, Paul is not saying that this is the occasion of his revelation. The following pretrib viewpoints on 2 Thess 2 vary somewhat in some details and nuances and yet they are all viable arguments defending the pre-trib position.

McAvoy on 2Thes2

McAvoy makes the argument that certain events (the apostasia and the revealing of the man of sin etc) that are generally considered to precede the day of the Lord, may actually characterize and/or initiate it.

Carfrey on 2Thess2

Hockman on 2Thes2

Constable on 2Thes2

Guzik on 2Thes2

Correction Concerning the Day of the Lord—Part 1(2 Thes. 2:1-5)

Robert L Thomas

Some will no doubt object that a plain reading of Scripture (in this case 2 Thes) will support their own position. I disagree.

1) The apostle Peter:

2Pe 3:15-16 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.

2) A simple reading of the verses, minus presuppositions, also supports the pretrib view, as has been demonstrated.

3) If Scripture was always that simple we wouldn’t have arguments between Dispensationalists and Covenentalists or about the doctrine of OSAS etc.

4) 2 Thess has been strongly debated by many holding different perspectives ie pre-trib, mid-trib, pre-wrath, post-trib and no-rapture.

Ultimately, my point is that despite some ill-informed assertions, pretribulationism has no problems with the Thessalonian Epistles and - contrary to the allegation that it ignores the issue – in fact it engages debate effectively. It would also be fair to say that a case can be made for a variety of views within the context of 2 Thess 2.

Finally, given that Paul was addressing their fears, I find it odd that having corrected them, he not once warned the Thessalonians about actually going through the Great Tribulation. Assuming that the day of the Lord isn’t part of the GT, one would think that since Paul saw this sort of wavering in the face of impending Tribulation, he would have said something stronger. At the end of it all, what he ended up saying was this:

2Th 2:15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.

Perhaps the answer is that Paul was simply telling them that they hadn’t missed the pre-trib rapture and they were not in the Tribulation (or the day of the Lord).

Further reading:

Differences between 1 Thessalonians 4 and Matthew 24

“Meeting the Dignitary” or “ Retrieving the Bride”?

An update

While I don’t think 2 Thes 2 poses any difficulty for pretribulationists, there are other verses that can be problematic as well – 2 Thes 1 is one example. But it should also be noted that ALL the rapture views have problematic Scriptures. Anyone who doesn’t think so just hasn’t been exposed to all the arguments and debates. This is one reason why I try not to be dogmatic.

2Th 1:6-10. These verses are used by posttribulationists and amillennialists to prove that their view is correct and that pre-trib is wrong. If God is giving relief to the “church” at the moment that He is revealed with His mighty angels in judgment then what about the secret rapture?

Dr Mike Stallard has a paper (HERE) setting out the issues and providing some pre-trib solutions to the debate. Scroll down and click on the “Post-Trib and Amillennial Uses of 2 Thessalonians 1” article and it will open up to a WORD document.

Perhaps the problem/solution is one of man’s expectation of timing as compared to God’s.

2Th 1:10 “…when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day

Is that day, the day of the Lord? Will His revealing be a progressive event preceded by the rapture “relief” and inaugurated by the sovereign act of opening that first seal? What may appear to be a single event may actually transpire over a course of time.

Luk 4:17-21 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, "THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD." And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

These verses relate back to Isa 61:2 - To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,

Notice that the Lord stopped in the middle of that sentence and closed the book. The rest of that prophecy was for a later time, yet I’d wager most scholars reading those verses would have argued strongly that the events were all within a single time frame. Perhaps the same principle applies to the above Thessalonian verses.

For an excellent premillennial and pretribulational exposition of Thessalonians, I highly recommend reading Dr Richard Mayhue's "1 & 2 Thessalonians".