Monday, June 8, 2009

The Great Commission; the Church and the 144,000

Mat 28:19-20 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

These verses are often appealed to when building a case against the pre-trib rapture view. Recently, one author at a popular website invoked NT Greek Grammar to attempt to drive home the point that the pre-trib view somehow fails to comply with the Lord’s commands. Quite frankly, resorting to nuances in Greek Grammar is unnecessary in this case. The author went on to make a statement to the effect that pretribulationists were in direct disobedience to Jesus' command in Matthew 28:20.

Here’s another statement made on a different website:

"Your view of eschatology is important to how you live as a Christian. If you believe in the 'Pre-Trib' rapture, your main expectation is escaping this world. If you realize a 'Pre-Wrath' rapture, your main expectation is to complete the great commission. One view promotes an escapism mentality, the other an urgency to preach the Gospel to the whole world."

I find the above statements myopic and judgmental. Presumably, if you hold to a pre-trib view, you also have an escapist mentality (thereby influencing your hermeneutics) and that somehow affects your ability to witness to the unsaved and your walk with God. Two Scriptures immediately come to mind – Luke 21:36 KJV and Rev 3:10.

For the record, it was the pretribulational camp that sustained and witnessed to me as I weaned myself off the New Age and searched for the truth - the likes of Chuck Missler, Hal Lindsey, Jack Kinsella, John MacArthur, Lambert Dolphin, Ray Stedman etc. These people don’t witness solely on a pretribulational rapture platform. The fact that they are pretribbers is incidental to the work that they do. In fact, when I read my first Hal Lindsey book, I was a rapture skeptic yet that fact did not affect the impact the book made on me.

So, are pretribulationists really recalcitrant regarding the great commission? There are several issues that I want to raise relating to this subject:

First and foremost one should note the inconsistency of the accusations in light of the belief system which the above commentators espouse. That particular view teaches that the Lord returns to rapture the Church at some point between the Abomination of Desolation and the end of the 70th week of Daniel. It further asserts that the day of the Lord coincides with the rapture and that this is the beginning of the end of the age that culminates at the end of Armageddon (Van Kampen The Sign pp 282, 423). In other words, the end of the age has not yet been completed when the Church is raptured to heaven, in that system. The end of the age is not a single event but a protracted period of time in the pre-wrath view.

Given this, I would point out that if we employ the same demands on that system that were applied to pretribulationism, then that system fails as well because the Church is gone BEFORE the end of the age is finished. To be consistent, a strict reading of Mat 28:19-20, as implied by the above statements against pretribulationists, would suggest to me that the Church should still be around UNTIL the completion of the end of the age as taught by that view.

The 144,000:

We know that more people are saved after the rapture of the Church. If that were not the case, then no saved persons (other than the remnant of Israel) enter the Millennium in their physical bodies. If people are saved after the pre-wrath rapture, then who witnesses to them - the 144,000? This also makes me wonder what term we would use to identify those people "Left Behind" and saved after the rapture. Are they the Church/elect?

Some dispute the idea that the 144,000 are evangelists. I believe they are. They are called bond-servants (doulos) in Rev 7:3. The same word is used for John and the Church in Rev 1:1 and Rev 2:20 etc. If the 144,000 are bond-servants and we are also, then perhaps these individuals are also evangelists.

Thayer Definition: doulos
1) a slave, bondman, man of servile condition
1a) a slave
1b) metaphorically, one who gives himself up to another’s will those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing his cause among men
1c) devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests
2) a servant, attendant

Regarding the 144,000, Marvin Rosenthal makes some interesting comments in “The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church” page 185 - “It is almost like a baton being passed between runners. The 144,000 must be sealed for protection to go through the Day of the Lord before the church can be caught up to the throne in heaven. God will not leave Himself without a people on the earth.”

Note again that, at that point, the end of the age hasn’t yet been completed according to that view. In fact a pretribulationist may well argue that the end of the age BEGINS at the opening of the first seal when God once again directly intervenes to bring about His program for the whole world. Speaking of the end of the age, Arnold Fruchtenbaum in "Footsteps of the Messiah" page 624 - "In rabbinic theology of that day, the rabbis spoke of two ages: this age, in which we now live; and the age to come, the Messianic Age...." But justifying the concept of a beginning of the end of the age requires more than quoting a single Scripture.

Some further points:

If the 144,000 take the baton and apparently carry on the great commission – were they witnessed to by the Church? If the answer is NO, then it is inconsistent to use the great commission and the timing of the 144,000 in Revelation against pretribulationism, and any argumentation then becomes redundant.

If the answer is YES, then that leads to even more issues – at least to my mind:

If the Church has just witnessed to the 144,000 before the rapture then, presumably, the 144,000 are also saved. If they are saved then why aren’t they raptured along with the Church? Why do they have to experience the day of God’s wrath?

If they are saved and not raptured then that implies a certain form of dispensationalism. Are we not all the “elect” in Christ and are not pretribulationists and dispensationalists chided for claiming the tribulation saints aren’t members of the Church?

If the sealing of the 144,000 by the angels isn’t related to salvation but rather protection throughout the day of the Lord, then that also highlights problems regarding the reason for the shortening of the great tribulation (Matt 24:22). If the 144,000 can be sealed for protection during the DotL then, in the same way, the Church can be protected through the full length of the GT and the wrath of the DotL. Some will protest that the GT is cut short because there is no more persecution by the Antichrist, yet Rev 20:4 seems to contradict that view.

I have seen the argument that some persecution still occurs but that it is greatly restricted. That scenario would then require a word other than the Greek koloboo for “cut short” or “amputated”, and it also infers that God would be unable to keep protecting the Church throughout this “restricted persecution” period (Unless those days had been cut short no flesh would be saved). But if the GT persecution is restricted after a certain point then, again, there is no need to rapture the Church because we know that some people (other than the 144,000) become saved and survive the DotL after the rapture to enter the Millennium. If these saved people are to be considered part of the Church then that also means the Church goes through God's wrath. If they are not part of the Church then that means that pretribulationists are correct in teaching a different classification of saints within the 70th week.

Earlier, I mentioned the timing of the 144,000 because this is another issue brought up against the pre-trib view. Yet there is no reason to believe that the 144,000 come onto the scene after the 6th seal simply because John said “After this I saw”. The six seals were brief outlines covering only negative/judgment aspects of that timeframe. Chapter seven is a narrative break providing additional positive details. Throughout Revelation, after each of the six events – seals, trumpets and bowls – there is a narrative break. That chapter 7 isn’t chronological is supported by the fact that later on in Revelation – after the 7th seal – we are given information about events that occur much earlier; in the case of pre-wrath, at the 5th seal. But I acknowledge that arguments regarding the four winds and the great apostasy etc are utilized to try to place the 144,000 later in Revelation. All these arguments are suggestive that the 144,000 have an evangelical mission after all.

I find Acts 11:1-18 interesting in light of Matt 28:19-20. Did the disciples somehow misunderstand the great commission?

Acts 11:18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life."

Paul (a Jew) was specially commissioned to go to the Gentiles as well as Israel (Acts 9:15). Who originally witnessed to Paul? Compare Acts 9:1-6; 22:17-21 and especially…

Gal 1:11-12 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

There is nothing in Matt 28:19-20 that detracts in any way from the pre-trib view. The Lord was talking to His Jewish disciples and also the future Church. He didn’t need the disciples to witness to Paul and He doesn’t need the Church to witness to the 144,000. It is true that He is with us till the end of the age. How does that fact preclude a pre-trib rapture? In both the pre-trib and pre-wrath view, the Church is gone before the completion of the end of the age – yet this does nothing to violate the Lord’s command. We are still with the Lord; He is still with us and He is still able to save some earth dwellers after we are gone.

Mat 24:14 "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come."

Rev 14:6 And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people;

I’ll let Kristen Wisen have the last word:

“Therefore, Matthew 24:14 is fulfilled, not through the efforts of man, but through the gospel angel. Many people believe that through missionaries, once the gospel reaches the whole world, we can usher in the return of Christ – almost like God is waiting for us to get it done. But Revelation explains to us that God will take this into His own hands. It doesn’t mean we don’t evangelize, because we are to be obedient to the great commission in Matthew 28, but I think it is an interesting end times note.”

See page 9 of her article HERE.