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The Real Story Behind the Pre-Conflagration, Supposed ‘Pre-Trib’ Rapture

December 16, 2013 10 comments

Recently an online posting has been circulating around, listing a number of well-known Christians throughout history who supposedly believed in a pre-tribulational rapture.  This posting does not include any actual source quotes from the people claimed to have believed in a pre-trib rapture, but asserts a “pre-trib” view for many of the early church fathers including Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Victorinus, as well as post-Reformation pre-19th century teachers including John Gill and Morgan Edwards.

I had already seen several quotes from the specific early church fathers, statements that show they understood that the saints (same group as the church), would experience the future time of antichrist.  Here are a few such statements, showing also their futurist (and premillennial) understanding of the events in Revelation:

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, XXV, 4

And then he points out the time that his tyranny shall last, during which the saints shall be put to flight, they who offer a pure sacrifice unto God: ‘And in the midst of the week,’ he says, ‘the sacrifice and the libation shall be taken away, and the abomination of desolation [shall be brought] into the temple: even unto the consummation of the time shall the desolation be complete.’ Now three years and six months constitute the half-week.

Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 47

For this is meant by the little horn that grows up. He, being now elated in heart, begins to exalt himself, and to glorify himself as God, persecuting the saints and blaspheming Christ, even as Daniel says, ‘I considered the horn, and, behold, in the horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things; and he opened his mouth to blaspheme God. And that horn made war against the saints, and prevailed against them until the beast was slain, and perished, and his body was given to be burned.’

Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 61

That refers to the one thousand two hundred and threescore days (the half of the week) during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church, which flees from city to city, and seeks concealment in the wilderness among the mountains,…

Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, 20:1

The little season signifies three years and six months, in which with all his power the devil will avenge himself trader Antichrist against the Church.

As to the many current-day claims of pre-trib belief before the mid-19th century, it is interesting to note here that previous generations of dispensationalists —  Darby himself, also Scofield and later John Walvoord – all recognized and admitted that the pre-trib teaching was in fact a recent development.  This agrees with S. Lewis Johnson’s observation in 1989 during his series through Revelation, that those who held to pre-trib acknowledged that it was a recent teaching. The claims of pre-trib belief prior to the mid-19th century, are themselves a revision introduced by more recent pre-trib and prophecy teachers.

The idea that historicist Christians, including Morgan Edwards and John Gill, believed in a type of “pre-tribulational rapture,” comes from a twisting of their “pre-conflagration” statements, such as the following from John Gill:  He’ll stay in the air, and His saints shall meet Him there, and whom He’ll take up with Him into the third heaven, till the general conflagration and burning of the world is over, and to preserve them from it….   I note here, first, that these statements still show an idea of one First Resurrection and not a two-stage coming with one group before the Great Tribulation followed by another resurrection/rapture after that event – really a type of “pre-wrath” rapture of believers taken out before God’s wrath.

A further point of distinction must also be noted here:  the difference between historicist and futurist ideas of the book of Revelation.  The historicists were generally premillennial (John Gill, and at least a few others), but they understood the Great Tribulation in a non-literal way, as occurring throughout church history, with the events in Revelation describing longer periods of time, symbolic descriptions of various wars with the Turks or other enemies throughout the church age.  According to the historicist view, the Great Tribulation is already occurring, we are already experiencing it:  an idea obviously incompatible with the very notion of a pre-Tribulational rapture of one group of believers.  If the whole church age is the Tribulation, a “pre-trib rapture” could only occur before the church age began, which becomes speculative nonsense.

Thus, the present-day claims of a pre-1830 belief in a pretribulational rapture of the church, “found” in the statements of 18th century historicist pre-conflagrationists, is really deceptive handling of true Christian doctrine (what these men actually believed) and church history.   Here I also can appreciate the honesty of the earlier dispensationalists, such as Walvoord, who at least recognized the correct time period for the origin of the pre-trib rapture idea.

“Protestant Purgatory”? Confusion Regarding Regeneration and the Holy Spirit

March 28, 2013 14 comments

(Yes, it’s just a nickname, ‘Protestant Purgatory’… not actual purgatory, though something with the similar feature of a third “holding place” pre-Calvary.  Moving along to the main issue of this post: people who think Regeneration equals Permanent Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.)

A recent online discussion brought out something quite strange: Christians who actually believe the “Protestant Purgatory for Old Testament Saints” myth, the idea that the Old Testament saints were not regenerated (since they did not have the Holy Spirit indwelling) and did not go to heaven but to “Abraham’s Bosom,” a type of purgatory holding place until Calvary, at which time Christ moved them to heaven.  It turned out that this idea (at least the second part, about the OT saints not going to heaven) comes from a particular teacher of Internet and Youtube popularity; his teaching (link provided by the person in this discussion who believes this) can be found here.

The reasoning for this idea, as presented in the discussion, included emphasis on Luke 16, the parable/story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, along with other questionable ideas such as that the Old Testament never used the term “born again,” and thinking (without scriptural reasoning) that the disciples themselves were not saved and no different from unbelievers before Christ’s Resurrection/Pentecost.

As a friend later observed, “I think the problem is a faulty understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible and the history of redemption. It is not correct to say that only those who have the dwelling of the Spirit can be regenerated, because we are not saved by the dwelling of the Spirit; but we have the dwelling because we have been saved (or regenerated).”

Surely such confusion and error is a symptom of today’s “Youtube generation” and an evangelical community not grounded in the scriptures. Scanning through S. Lewis Johnson sermons on the topic of regeneration and the post-Pentecost indwelling of the Holy Spirit, for instance, I find that he stated, casually in passing reference: Now the Old Testament says that believers were regenerated, and so we have to answer, “Yes the Old Testament says believers were regenerated.” “Were the Old Testament believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit permanently?” Now personally I have to reply, “No.”  But he didn’t go through the OT scriptures to prove it, just assuming that everyone understood this.  John MacArthur likewise makes passing reference to this as a fact, as in his two part lesson about the salvation of infants that die: there are only two places a soul can go when it dies, either into the presence of the Lord (heaven) or away from God’s presence (hell).

So much could be said in response to this error/myth, but for a summary of the obvious hermeneutical and doctrinal problems here:

1) Does anyone else (among the scholars and Bible teachers) teach this idea?  The “checking principle” of hermeneutics demands humility on the part of anyone teaching a unique interpretation, that perhaps his interpretation is wrong.  Actually, it turns out that this idea (OT saints went to some holding area) is a “fictitious and fabulous” error of the papists, denounced later by Protestants such as (18th century) John Gill (Spurgeon’s predecessor, covenantal premillennialist and high Calvinist) (reference his commentary here).  Which makes one wonder why any 21st century Protestant Calvinist would teach an error from the Catholics of old.

2) Excessive focus on a parable and drawing strong doctrinal support from such a text.  Also this approach to God’s word ignores the whole body of teaching concerning the history of redemption and the nature of salvation and regeneration as taught throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.

3) Teaches the idea of purgatory, a non-biblical idea, and a non-biblical different “truth” for Old Testament times: a third place for the soul/spirit to go, rather than the two places of biblical Christianity (into the presence of God or away from God), this third place of limbo, a holding area or purgatory for all people who died before Calvary.

Expanding on point two above, the body of teaching concerning redemption, salvation and regeneration, S. Lewis Johnson in this message explains the logical necessity of regeneration:

regeneration is needed for three reasons. First, because of the condition of humanity, we are naturally dead. We are alienated and enemies. We are blind. We are hardened. We are slaves of sin. We are ignorant. The Bible says that if we have not been born again, that we are really of the devil, and so that the condition of humanity is sufficient to make very plain to us, the necessity of regeneration if we expect to enjoy the presence of God some day.

Regeneration is also needed because of the character of holiness; that sin separates us from a holy God, and because God is a holy God, he cannot have fellowship with sin, and we are dead in sin. And so the holiness of God separates us from him, and we need regeneration, a new birth. We need to become a new creation. And finally, regeneration is needed because of the character of heaven itself. In the Bible, we are told in the Book of Revelation that “there shall not enter into heaven anything that defileth.” Heaven is not like earth, and consequently, if we are to enter into heaven, we must be pure. Therefore, we need a new birth. We cannot enter into heaven, dead in sin. We cannot enter into heaven the slaves of sin. We cannot enter into heaven in any way touched by sin. What we need is a perfect righteousness and a perfect holiness, and that can only come to us through a new birth, and a consequent justification of life.

That believers before the Cross were regenerated and not the same as natural man is obvious.  Jesus’ words to Nicodemus make clear that to be born-again was a present reality, and something that Nicodemus, as a teacher, was expected to have known. If no one was regenerated with a new heart before the Cross/Pentecost, Nicodemus would have had a very good excuse for not knowing this.  That Nicodemus should have known this also makes clear that the Old Testament taught the same as the New, that believers of all times were given a new heart and that they went to be with the Lord at their death, same as with us in the Church age.  God’s word is also quite clear on where Enoch and Elijah went, that they were raptured and taken into the presence of God (heaven); to say they went instead to some other “holding place” until Christ’s death is unscriptural and ridiculous.

Matthew 16:17 tells us that flesh and blood had not revealed to Peter his understanding (that Jesus was the Christ), “but my Father who is in heaven. Throughout the Old Testament God chose and elected His leaders and prophets.  Daniel was one beloved by the Lord (Daniel 10:19).  Numbers 11:29 and Deuteronomy 29:4 point out that God did put His spirit on some individuals. The Deuteronomy text points out to the unbelieving people that “the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear,” which in context is a clear contrast between the great numbers of unbelievers and the relative few including Moses, Joshua and Caleb, who had been given a heart to understand.

Charles Spurgeon: Achan, The Doubtful Penitent

June 7, 2010 Leave a comment

This weekend’s readings through Spurgeon, volume 3 (1857), included an interesting one in which Spurgeon took a text of three words that occur in many places:  the words, “I have sinned.”  Spurgeon looked at seven such individuals from the Bible, as a sampling of the seven types of such a confession:

  • Pharaoh:  The Hardened Sinner
  • Baalam:  The Double-Minded Man
  • King Saul:  The Insincere Man
  • Achan:  Doubtful Penitent
  • Judas:  Repentance of Despair

and finally two positive types:

  • Job: Repentance of the Saint
  • The Prodigal Son:  The Blessed Confession

The one I found most interesting is the case of Achan, from Joshua 7.  As Spurgeon says, the confession really is one to which we truly hope that Achan at last was saved, but we cannot know for sure.  In my own readings of this story, I had wondered if Achan, in the end, truly repented and was saved — though punished justly for his wicked act.  Certainly Achan gives a full confession when he is confronted, giving full glory to God in that; and Joshua treats him kindly.  In Spurgeon’s sermon I found that at least some of the learned Bible scholars have also concluded the same, a confirmation that my reading and comprehension are at least as solid as some other believers.  John Gill and Spurgeon supported this understanding from Joshua’s words to Achan, that “the Lord brings trouble on you today” (meaning today, but not afterwards).  From Spurgeon:

But I find in the Mishna, an old Jewish exposition of the Bible, these words, “Joshua said to Achan, the Lord shall trouble thee this day.” And the note upon it is—He said this day, implying that he was only to be troubled in this life, by being stoned to death, but that God would have mercy on his soul, seeing that he had made a full confession of his sin.” And I, too, am inclined, from reading the chapter, to concur in the idea of my venerable and now glorified predecessor, Dr. Gill, in believing that Achan really was saved, although he was put to death for the crime, as an example. For you will observe how kindly Joshua spoke to him. He said, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.” And you find Achan making a very full confession. .. It seems so full a confession, that if I might be allowed to judge, I should say, “I hope to meet Achan the sinner, before the throne of God.”

Yet as Spurgeon observed, Matthew Henry did not see it the same way.  Today I looked up a few other online commentaries, to learn that John Calvin sided with Matthew Henry, while John Darby’s synopsis points out the recovery of the soul as the result of Christian discipline:

But it is well to remember here that christian discipline has always the recovery of the soul for its object. Even if the offender should be delivered unto Satan, it is for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord — a most forcible reason for exercising this discipline, according to the measure of our spiritual power; for we cannot go beyond that. At the least we might always humble ourselves before God, in order that the evil may be removed.

Given the differing opinions, Spurgeon appropriately cites Achan as an example of the death-bed conversion, the case where we hope for the best but cannot know for sure, and tells of other doubtful cases, death-bed conversions he had witnessed.

To end with Spurgeon’s final words on the matter:

Oh! to die with a full assurance; oh! to die with an abundant entrance, leaving a testimony behind that we have departed this life in peace! That is a far happier way than to die in a doubtful manner, lying sick, hovering between two worlds, and neither ourselves nor yet our friends knowing to which of the two worlds we are going. May God grant us grace to give in our lives evidences of true conversion, that our case may not be doubtful!