Thursday, August 20, 2009

Olivet Discourse – Part Two

Mat 24:29 "But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Mat 24:30 "And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.

Mat 24:31 "And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

Rev 6:12-14 I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

Joe 3:14-15 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon grow dark And the stars lose their brightness.

Many compare the verses above and immediately connect them all together. Some will bring into account Matt 24:22 and Mark 13:20 to suggest that the great tribulation has been cut short – unlike the post-trib, mid-trib and pre-trib view. So the rapture occurs soon after the 6th seal (before the wrath of the 7th) because the gathering of v31 is the rapture. That view also holds that the great multitude of chapter 7 is the newly raptured Church. On the surface, it almost seems to fit...

This particular view is dependant on the order of the seals to be chronological and sequential. If the order of the seals is concurrent; it would mean that the 6th seal occurs late in the 70th week. Personally I still don’t have any firm conviction on this either way but I’m seeing more people considering a somewhat concurrent opening of the seals.

However, if the great tribulation isn’t actually cut short in the way the view demands, the system fails. This was discussed previously where I gave a few reasons why I think it’s untenable. I’ve come across several versions of just how God theoretically cuts short the GT and, IMO, each one has flaws. One prominent advocate has claimed God changed His mind – despite Scripture in Revelation (and elsewhere) contradicting this and despite the theological implications. A further argument has it that the persecution is curtailed so that Israel and more people can be saved. If it is curtailed then it isn’t cut short (amputated) and Rev 20:4 assures us that martyrdoms occur after the rapture. Claiming the GT is cut short only for the elect doesn’t gel literally with the stated reasons in Matt 24:22 and Mark 13:20. The days are cut short for the elect; else no flesh would be saved. If the Church is raptured and resurrected; that explanation simply doesn’t make sense.

One interesting angle by another prominent apologist of this view has it that the GT is cut short because the AC is involved in a war/battle (not just persecution) with the saints and that if the war were allowed to continue, all flesh would be destroyed. So the elect are removed before this can happen.

Rev 13:7 It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him.

I think the distinction between “warring” and “persecuting” is strained. Notice that the AC overcomes the saints so there’s no need for God to rapture the Church to save the planet. The reason given for the shortening is for the sake of the elect, not to save the planet. I struggle to understand how the Church could find itself in such a military conflict with the AC (and such a position of power) that the whole world is endangered. This idea seems to contradict Rev 13:4. Why would God allow the conflict only to rapture the Church at such a critical moment? Assuming the author used Rev 13:7 as a source for this possible battle – would a comparison of the saints in that verse with the saints in Dan 7:25 compromise the idea that the GT will be shortened? Are they the same saints? Are there different saints in Daniel’s 70th week? Ironically, at another time, the same author stated that perhaps the GT was never three and a half years in the first place. But if that were the case then there would be no need to cut short something that is already a designated length.

Joel tells us that armies are gathered in the valley of decision at around the time of his cosmic signs. Yet during Rev 6:15, we find virtually everyone hiding in caves. The first we read about armies/multitudes gathering anywhere is at the 6th bowl (Rev 16:12-16. While I'm aware that there are attempts to explain this, it's important to understand that such attempts are conjecture.

Another issue is Matt 24:30. Where in Revelation is the Lord’s first coming in power and great glory noted? It can only be found in Rev 19:11. Given Matt 24:29-31 describes the rapture following the tribulation; I find it problematic that Revelation is totally silent where its occurrence is argued to be patently obvious. Also, if the Lord comes somewhere between the 6th and 7th seals, some time after midweek, why does it take Him so long to conquer the earth? There are other issues here that relate to the movements of the Lord in relationship to the Church and the world, and whether this constitutes a single or multi-phase Second Advent (Parousia).

Some note the slight difference between the cosmic signs of Matt 24 and those of Rev 6 and conclude that they aren’t the same (Fruchtenbaum, LaHaye, Goodgame etc). The Lord tells us that the sun is darkened and the moon does not give its light, whereas in Rev 6 the moon is red like blood. History has recorded many blood red moons. Of course, as far as I know, none of them yet have occurred during massive earthquakes. But it is also true that there are other earthquakes and cosmic signs in Revelation (Rev16:9-10, 18 etc). Note the uniqueness of the earthquake in Rev 16:18.

If the moon appears red, it is giving off light. If it isn't giving off light, it can't be red. Is making this distinction being pedantic? Perhaps. But, to be consistent in our methodology, I also note that when it comes to other concepts, many get fussy and scramble for Greek grammar texts to prove their points. The Parousia; the differences between airo and paralambano; aorist verbs in Rev 6:17 and the usage of tereo ek in Rev 3:10 are good examples of such “fine tuning” when people feel so inclined. Maybe the Lord was only using a figure of speech as He did in Matt 24:22 and Mark 13:20.

Of course, proponents of this view also need to assign a technical meaning to the Lord’s description of the tribulation (Matt 24:21). In other words, “the great tribulation” is exclusively related to Satan’s persecution of the elect and does not include God’s judgments. Scripture indicates otherwise (Matt 24:21, Jer 30:5-7, Dan 12:1 and Joel 2:1-2). If the GT involves God’s judgments then tribulation does not cease until long after the 6th seal.

Prewrathers and posttribbers agree that Matt 24:31 is the rapture and they see a direct correlation between the cosmic signs of Joel, Rev 6 and Matt 24:29. The differences are that posttribbers deny that the GT is cut short; that the great multitude is the raptured Church and that the seals are chronological. As far as the seals are concerned, most pretribbers believe them to be chronological and sequential (some don’t) but the most important distinction for pre-trib is that Matt 24:31 is NOT the rapture.

If the GT is three and a half years and v 31 is the rapture then that means that it occurs at the end of the 70th week. However, this then raises issues relating to who populates the Millennium. In fact the closer the rapture occurs to the end of the week the more problematic this is for pre-wrath as well because they allow for this to occur as few as five months before the end of the week (Caution -I may stand to be corrected on this). Rev 13:8 is emphatic that there are only two classes of people during the tribulation – saved and unsaved. Contrary to this, some argue that there may be three classes of people; the saved, Israel and those who haven’t taken the mark of the Beast - but aren’t quite saved - and who therefore escape the rapture to populate the Millennium. It’s difficult for me to understand how anyone would willingly risk the consequences of refusing to take the mark and yet not be saved. This idea is contra-biblical conjecture and actually relies a good deal on the AC's kingdom being limited.

Douglas Moo once admitted, “...that a posttribulational scheme cannot explain how nonglorified individuals enter the Millennium...I find this argument the most difficult to handle — not only because the argument presents a difficulty for the posttribulational view, but also because the relevant evidence is both sparse and complex.” Douglas J. Moo, “Response,” in The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational p 161.

The pre-millennial Sheep and Goats Judgment (Matt 25:31-46) is a further obstacle. Robert Gundry tried to sidestep the dilemma by arguing that the judgment may occur post-millennial, in which case you have a situation where the only people left in their carnal bodies to populate the Millennium are saved Israel and unsaved gentiles. Another point to ponder is the rapture and Israel’s repentance. Why isn’t the rapture so timed so that Israel is included, given that the Church is caught up and immediately returns with the Lord to the earth? There are different programs for the Church, the nations and Israel.

What about Matt 24:31? Is it really the rapture?

One website makes the following statements:

Compare Matt 24:31 "And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect..." and 1 Cor 15:52 "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the dead in Christ shall rise..." Should we make these two separate incidences also? The elect being gathered could be Israel... oops, the parallel passage in Mark 13:27 says they are gathered from earth and heaven. If this isn't the rapture, what is it?

Another criticism was made on a recently defunct website (Bible Truth Zone) – “How does the pretribulationism (sic) attempt to justify omitting the Church from the Olivet Discourse? The most common approach by pretribulationists to resolve the glaring problem which the Olivet Discourse poses to their view is to "dispensationalize" (sic) them away…”

Elsewhere, the author notes – “Pretribulationists want to make this gathering of the elect refer to the regathering of Israel back to the land of Israel at the end of the seventieth week. Such a position faces insurmountable problems.”

No examples of these alleged problems are offered. Pretribulationists do argue that Matt 24:31 is the final regathering of Israel. Furthermore, they have good reasons for doing so. I don’t see any problems, let alone “insurmountable” ones - quite the contrary.

Mark 13:27 is no problem either. The word for heaven is ouranos and can mean air, heaven or sky: Deut 30:3-4 KJV- If any of thine be driven out unto the outermost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee…(see also Deut 30:5-6).

Was the Church a focus there? Ouranos can mean heaven and still not be problematic. For example, Dr Fruchtenbaum sees this as the OT saints being gathered from heaven (post-rapture, posttribulational, end-of-the-week, second coming). Others see it as all the saints arriving with the Lord at the end of the week. Personally I see it as just an idiom – from one end of the sky to another.

Scholars such as Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Thomas Ice, R L Thomas, Renald Showers etc have shown that Matt 24:31 is directly related to OT promises of a regathering that awaits fulfilment. Dr Showers has pointed out that as per 2000 AD only one third of the total Jewish population lives in Israel. Dr Fruchtenbaum “Footsteps of the Messiah” identifies two gatherings of Israel – first in unbelief and then in belief:

In unbelief in preparation of wrath for the purpose of refinement – Eze 20:33-38 and compare Isa 1:22, 25, 48:10; Jer 6:27-30, 9:7; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:2-3 and Zeph 2:1-2.

Then in belief and blessing – Isa 11:6-12, Isa 11:12, 27:12-13 (note the trumpet), Jer 16:14-15, 23:3-4, 7-8, 31:7-10; Eze 11:14-18, 36:24; Amos 9:14-15; Zep 3:18-20; Zech 10:8-12.

Isa 11:12 And He will lift up a standard for the nations And assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth.

Isa 27:12-13 In that day the LORD will start His threshing from the flowing stream of the Euphrates to the brook of Egypt, and you will be gathered up one by one, O sons of Israel. It will come about also in that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD in the holy mountain at Jerusalem.

T. Francis Glasson wrote: In the OT and also in later Jewish writings two things are associated with the gathering of the dispersed: the trumpet and the ensign (or standard). The following prayer still appears in the Jewish Daily Prayer Book: Sound the great trumpet for our freedom: lift up the ensign to gather our exiles and gather us from the four corners of the earth. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who gatherest the banished ones of thy people Israel. (Quoted from Authorized Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire. S Singer p 48) See Renald Showers' "Maranatha - Our Lord, Come” p 183.

In considering v 31 we should remember that the three questions asked by the disciples were exclusively related to their Jewish expectations based on OT promises. Acts 1:6 supports this conclusion. They didn’t ask about the rapture of the Church because their concern was on the restoration of Israel’s earthly kingdom. That desire hasn’t dissipated over the centuries. Matthew 24 was delivered during the Mosaic dispensation with a Jewish focus:

1) The preaching of the kingdom Gospel (v 14) (Bound to cause arguments!)

2) The destruction of Jerusalem and the second Temple

3) The abomination of desolation that takes place in a future Jewish Temple

4) The warning about fleeing on a Sabbath day (v 20) and the urgency of the inhabitants of Judea to escape to the mountains

In light of the above considerations, I suggest that the onus is on non-pretribulationists to interact with the OT (gathering) promises and somehow explain the sudden shift away from Jewish context and expectation, to a Church rapture.

Chuck Missler offers the observation that travelling on a Sabbath would be problematic nowadays because facilities shut down at that time. Maybe. Realistically, how many people (let alone Christians) will rely on public transport to head for the mountains after the AoD? If anything, the roads on a Sabbath would be clear of cars, which would be the preferred medium of transport. That being the case, fleeing would be expedited. The Lord’s words were a warning to future local Jewish, Sabbath keeping individuals – not the Church.

Another area of debate is the word elect in Matt 24:31. Some will argue vigorously that the elect in Matthew is the Church:

“That Israel is called God's elect in the Old Testament is without question (Isa. 45:4). However, not once in the New Testament is Israel so identified. Clearly, if we are to believe that the six usages in the Olivet Discourse that the word elect is to be understood as referring to Israel rather than its normal usage for the Church, clear and compelling evidence must be cited. The reality is that no such clear and compelling evidence has been brought forth. If the elect in the Olivet Discourse refers to the Church, as the weight if evidence clearly indicates. Pretribulation rapturism is fatally flawed. It is that fact which lies behind the attempt to make the "elect" in the Olivet discourse refer to the chosen among Israel.”

The author argues that because he can’t find any verse in the NT that refers to Israel as the elect then Israel cannot be the elect in Matt 24. That logic is "fatally flawed". The great multitude of Rev 7 is never called the Church yet his presuppositions are that it is. It’s inconsistent to attempt to blur distinctions between Israel and the Church in order to argue that the Church is present in the Tribulation and then argue that classifying Israel as the elect is invalid in the NT.

If it is correct that Israel is not the elect then how do we get around Rev 13:5, 7 in light of Dan 7:25? Are the saints in Dan 7:25, Israel or the Church? If ONLY Israel is the “saints that are given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time” then do they cease to be the elect in Revelation because they cannot be so in Matt 24? Or perhaps they cannot be the elect in Matt 24 but will be so in Revelation where they are conquered? Is there a difference between the terms saints and elect? Is there some sort of convenient dispensationalism occurring in Revelation and Daniel where the saints (Israel?) are conquered for three and a half years whereas the elect (Church) get raptured? The fact is that the term elect can refer to both Israel and the Church for different reasons and context determines who is being addressed. Matthew 24 is Jewish in context.

But is the assertion that Israel is never referred to as the elect in the NT valid? While it’s true that the word ekletos is not elsewhere used in the NT for Israel, the word eklogē is certainly used. The word is used for Jewish believers in Rom 11:5, 7 and Israel Rom 11:28.

eklogē; from G1586; a (divine) selection: - choice, choosing, chosen , those who were chosen.

Rom 11:28-29 ISV As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake, but as far as election is concerned, they are loved because of their ancestors. For God's gifts and calling never change.

1Ch 16:13 O seed of Israel His servant, Sons of Jacob, His chosen ones!

If Israel was the chosen nation in the OT then at what point in the NT did Israel become un-chosen? Is there some difference between being chosen to being the elect? The promises God made to them were unconditional and irrevocable. If they were the elect in the OT, they are still the elect in the NT. This is supported by Peter’s comments to the "Men of Israel" in Acts 3:12, 13-15, 25.

Act 3:25 "It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, 'AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED.'

See also Isaiah 6:10-13 and Isaiah 65:7-16.

Considering all this, it is consistent and contextually correct for pretribulationists to take the word elect in Matt 24:31 and understand it in light of all the OT prophecies dealing with the final regathering of Israel.

To be continued…

Further reading - in no particular order:

The Postponement of the Kingdom

The Sermon on The Mount

An Analysis of the Use of Cosmic-Sign Passages...



Consistent Pretribulationism and
Jewish Questions of the End

Posttribulationism and the Sheep/Goat-Judgment of Matthew 25
A Summary-Critique of Robert Gundry’s View


Differences between 1 Thessalonians 4 and Matthew 24

Who Are the Elect? by Helen Setterfield

A Comparison of the Synoptic Eschatological Discourses
and Revelation 6–20


Unknown said...

I see you are still blogging for the Lord old friend! Drop by my new forum
at growandknow. We can get some real fireworks started...iron sharpens iron....but all in Christian love!
God bless,
Your brother Mark

Alf Cengia said...

Good to see you, bro!

Yep, you got that right, I could certainly use the sharpening!

I see you're on fire over there. Keep up the good work.