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Revelation, The Rapture, and James Montgomery Boice

June 25, 2020 3 comments

Continuing from the last post, which introduced Boice’s posthumous Revelation book (covering the first 6 chapters of Revelation) with a look at his comments on Revelation 1, I’m continuing through the later chapters (Revelation 2 through Revelation 6).  For this time, I’ll address a question/issue raised in the comments of my last post:  Boice’s pre-trib(?) eschatology.

I’m not aware of Boice’s teachings from earlier years, as to anything he said then regarding dispensationalism and the rapture.  As Donald Grey Barnhouse’s successor at Tenth Presbyterian Church, it’s likely that he at first continued with similar teachings.  As an interesting sidenote here, two great Calvinist Premillennial teachers of the mid-to-late 20th century were both directly influenced by Dr. Barnhouse:  S. Lewis Johnson and James M. Boice.

From the ‘next generation’ ministry, I’ve observed that SLJ retained more of Barnhouse’s dispensationalism, teaching at DTS in earlier years, and preaching at a Calvinist Dispensational Baptist church for many years (though in later years he moved away from some aspects of dispensationalism)—while studying Genesis on his own and changing his view to young earth, recent creation.  He appreciated his mentorship from Barnhouse, from whom he learned the Gap Theory Old Earth view–but respectfully disagreed and from scripture taught why the young earth view was true, rather than the Gap Theory.

James Boice, on the other hand, moved further away from dispensationalism, to the point of his very different teaching on the book of Revelation (more details below) – while retaining Barnhouse’s Gap Theory Old Earth teaching.  That is one area that I personally wish Boice would have reformed his view on, instead of continuing with the view he inherited from Barnhouse.  Yet even in this Revelation teaching from the last months of his life, Boice has over two pages (in Revelation 4) of commentary about astronomy with old-earth assumptions.  (As we all like to say about someone who has departed and now in heaven – Boice knows the truth now, as does S. Lewis Johnson in doctrinal ideas he was wrong about.)

Now to the chapter details regarding Boice on this topic, which reveal that Boice was not at all interested in teaching or promoting dispensational views, or even a pre-trib rapture.  For Revelation chapters 2 and 3, Boice’s commentary selections for quotes include G.K. Beale and John Stott.  In chapters 4 and 5 he quotes from William Hendricksen and G.E. Ladd.

Boice gives very little time to Rev. 3:10, not even mentioning the dispensational interpretation of this verse regarding the rapture.  By contrast, the late S. Lewis Johnson – in his later ministry years when he had moved away from dispensationalism, though still teaching at a dispensational church — taught two full messages,  providing both the “post-trib” and the “pre-trib” rapture arguments when he reached this text in his Revelation series (see this previous post).

The case is clearer in Boice’s commentary on Revelation 4:1, where he mentions and repudiates the dispensational view:

… the view of the dispensationalists, who see John’s being taken up into heaven as a picture of the supposed rapture of the church before the tribulation.  J.A. Seiss is quite dogmatic at this point, though not all dispensationalists are as certain as he is.  John Walvoord admits that the rapture is not explicitly taught in this passage, though he finds it represented as a type.  Why should dispensationalists see John’s being taken up into heaven in this light?

The obvious reason is that dispensationalists are committed to the idea of a rapture for other reasons, even before they get to Revelation, and this is the best place for them to insert it.  They interpreted the letters of chapters 2 and 3 as a preview of the history of the church and the judgements of chapters 6 through 16 as that final period of intense tribulation from which most of them believe the church will be delivered.  They argue that ‘after this’ means ‘after the church age.’

But there is no reason to interpret any of these words in that way.  John’s experience of being caught up to heaven is not the rapture of the saints—even assuming that there is such a thing as the rapture.

In Revelation 5, Boice presents five common views regarding the seven-sealed scroll in Rev. 5:1, himself preferring the fifth one – Ladd’s view that the scroll contains God’s total plan of judgment and redemption.  Here he shares Ladd’s description of this view.  The first view he mentions, that the scroll represents the “last will and testament of Christ,” may be the view favored by dispensationalism.  At any rate, both S. Lewis Johnson and John MacArthur, in their Revelation series, took this first view of the Roman last will and testament, expanding on the idea to include a contract.

I’m still reading, in the second half of Revelation 5, and overall very impressed with this publication: a lay-person reading, yet very thorough in exploring the lessons in the text.  Throughout, Boice brings out great truths:  the historical situation of the churches and their praise and rebukes from Christ; the attributes of God; theology of redemption and the atonement; God as the God of history; as well as worship and how we worship God through songs.  Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, One Lord: Lessons from the Apocalypse has all this and more, from the first 6 chapters of the book of Revelation.

The Apostle Paul, the Intermediate State, and the Resurrection

June 12, 2014 1 comment

Spurgeon once observed (I cannot recall the specific sermon, though somewhere during his first five years or so) that, given the choice between being among the dead who will be resurrected, or being alive and caught up, at Christ’s Second Advent, he would choose the former. His reasoning was in identification with Christ’s sufferings and the common experience of all men through the thousands of years, as contrasted with those still alive at Christ’s return – that they would not have had that same experience and identification with previous generations of believers who did experience corruption of this body and the disembodied state prior to the resurrection.

Yet a study through 2 Corinthians 5 (S. Lewis Johnson’s series) reveals something more basic, that most of us can surely relate to. Here the apostle Paul describes the intermediate state, and, consistent with his words elsewhere (1 Thessalonians 4, and 1 Corinthians 15), Paul understood the two alternatives available: to die and experience the intermediate state (unclothed), or the instant, in the twinkling of an eye experience of those who are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Here Paul expresses his own personal desire, that if the Lord wills, he would prefer to meet the Lord at His Coming:

The apostle is a person who is afflicted with what someone has called world strangeness. And so he lives here, but he’s not really happy here ultimately. To him, to live is Christ, but to die is gain. But he wants to die in a certain way. He doesn’t want to be naked, as he says in the following verse, inasmuch as we having put it on shall not be found naked…. He wants to avoid the disembodied state. He doesn’t want to be a spirit or soul without a body. The intermediate state is just such a state. Those who have died as Christians and have gone on from our presence now are with the Lord, but they don’t have their bodies yet.

. . . modern theologians and our contemporary New Testament scholars like to say Paul has changed his views of his life expectancy. That’s possible. He may have become convinced that the experiences are such and he’s growing old…. so far as his theological doctrine, there is no evidence at all that he changed his eschatology. Those two alternatives were always before the apostle. He always set them forth. And all he does here is simply reveal his preference; his preference is the rapture, being caught up in the presence of the Lord, and not his physical death. Paul’s preference is mine as well. And I imagine it’s the preference of every believing person.

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.

The Pre-Wrath Rapture View (Comparison/Contrast with Pre- and Post- Trib)

September 24, 2013 2 comments

I’ve recently been studying the pre-wrath rapture view, a more recently developed variation on the post-tribulation rapture. (The early proponents, Robert Van Kampen and Marv Rosenthal, published their books in the late 1980s.  Other proponents include Alan Kurschner and Pastor Ryan Habbena of Signet Ring Ministries.  As noted in this article, Steve Anderson’s pre-wrath view is considered ‘off’ and not part of the standard teaching.) This view attempts a compromise between the original post-trib rapture timing and the later developed pre-trib view.  As with post-trib, the pre-wrath view places the rapture immediately before the Day of the Lord (the wrath that we’re not appointed to).  Like the pre-trib view, pre-wrath (at least some of its proponents) understands Revelation 3:10 as complete removal — but recognizing that Revelation 3:10 does not mean removal from the full 7 year period.  Also similar to pre-trib, pre-wrath has a (shorter) interval of time during which the raptured and resurrected saints first go to heaven and have the Bema Seat judgment, while the world is experiencing the trumpet and bowl judgments.

The pre-wrath view also takes a similar approach to pre-trib, in its interpretation of the “unknown day” and the “thief in the night.”  While recognizing (as with post-trib) that the rapture is not truly an “any moment” event and that certain things must happen first, yet pre-wrath switches to pre-trib in terms of the “thief in the night” reference, reasoning that since we can know when the 70th week starts and when the 3 1/2 months starts and could count the days until the end of them, the rapture couldn’t take us by surprise in a “thief in the night” way — and therefore the rapture must be at some unknown time during the 42 months.  The standard post-tribulation view (as I understand so far) is that believers may not know the exact day/time when the 70th week starts; the 42 months (the midpoint) will probably be known to a fairly close time period.  However, the texts that speak of the “thief in the night” and other similar references are talking about unbelievers being taken by surprise.  Yet the context of these passages show that believers, those who believe and understand God’s word, will not be taken by surprise but will be prepared and eagerly anticipating Christ’s Coming while recognizing that it does mean experiencing persecution before that happens.

On the positive side, the pre-wrath view emphasizes the literal hermeneutic common to all futurist premillennialists, paying close attention to the details given us in the prophetic texts.  They especially focus on the sequence of events in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21), trying to correlate the sequence with the seals in Revelation 6, and also try to account for the 1260 days (the 42 months of the Great Tribulation, the second half of Daniel’s 70th week) plus the later time periods mentioned by Daniel: the 1290 days and the 1335 days.  According to pre-wrath, the rapture occurs in connection with the sixth seal, at some time near the end of the 42 months, and the trumpets and bowl judgments occur next, in sequence, and are the “Day of the Lord” wrath.

This view also puts forth another explanation of the two groups in Revelation 7.  Whereas a common pre-trib idea is that the 144,000 are Jewish evangelists who go forth throughout the world during the Great Tribulation, proclaiming the gospel – and the next scene of the vast multitude is the result of their evangelistic work, those who come to faith during the Great Tribulation and are subsequently martyred and seen in heaven, pre-wrath says (correctly) that the 144,000 are sealed so as to give them divine protection from the judgments about to come upon the world. According to pre-wrath, the rapture occurs here, and the scene of the vast multitude in heaven, before the throne of God, is showing the resurrected and raptured saints.  They especially connect the scene here back to the fifth seal, which showed the souls of the martyrs still waiting for God to take action, and that they are given white robes (but not yet wearing the robes); thus in Revelation 7, when they are wearing their robes, indicates that the rapture and resurrection has occurred and they have their resurrection bodies and thus now wearing the white robes.  That may indeed be the correct interpretation of the vast multitude in Revelation 7, as the follow-up from the fifth seal; it certainly seems to make more sense (per the literal, grammatical historical hermeneutic) than saying the 144,000 are evangelists and the second group their converts, when the emphasis in the text is on the 144,000 being sealed for their protection.

Where pre-wrath does not work, though, is in the details, including the placement of the rapture.  As this blog article point outs, the pre-wrath view is inconsistent in its handling of the 42 months:  Israel and the unsaved experience the full 42 months of the Great Tribulation, the time which starts with the antiChrist setting himself up in the temple (the Abomination of Desolation; what Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians 2) and the time of his rule and persecution; but the church believers are raptured out at some unknown point shortly before the end of that 3 1/2 years.  Revelation 13:5-7 establishes that the beast is allowed to exercise authority for 42 months and to “make war on the saints and to conquer them” during that time.  It clearly is all or nothing: either the saints (believers) are present OR absent from the 42 months period; but trying to end it before the 42 months for one group and not for the other is inconsistent.

The Premillennial Rapture Timing

August 26, 2013 4 comments

I recently finished S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 Corinthians series, and his passing remarks in one of the last messages (early 1995) prompted my own further study, in reference to the “rapture of believers” (not “rapture of the church”).

I briefly looked at the issue of SLJ’s later rapture timing view in this previous post, but now for a closer look at the scriptural arguments for dispensational premillennialism:  both pre-tribulational and post-tribulational rapture.  In the following four messages (from two series), SLJ set forth the scriptural reasons given for both the post-trib and pre-trib rapture timing positions.

The Divine Purpose, #16                                             Revelation Series, #9

The Divine Purpose, #17                                             Revelation Series, #10

So for future reference, here is a summary of SLJ’s presentations on this topic.   Please note that the following is not intended to be an exhaustive consideration of the topic and is not intended to list every reason in favor of a view (by either proponents of the post-trib or pre-trib views) but only a look at the reasons set forth in these four lectures. Since SLJ in his messages presented the post-trib view first, I will take the same sequence in this post.

Arguments for a Post-Trib Rapture:

The Nature of the TribulationThe Old Testament’s clear and specific references to the tribulation indicate that there will be believers upon the earth at that time.  They (post-trib view) will acknowledge that there is no instance of the wrath of God afflicting the saints.  In fact, there are indications that the saints are exempted from the wrath of God, during that period of time.  But there is much evidence that the saints will suffer persecution and affliction during that period of time.  So from the nature of the tribulation itself, they argue the nature of the tribulation does not demand that one be exempt from presence on the earth during that time.

Biblical Imminence:  The 1st Century View (Not a ‘pre-trib’ any moment rapture)

Jesus’ Parables:  He stated certain things were going to come to pass before He came again.  He said, for example, ‘There was to be a sowing of the seed,’ and then He said at the end of the age, certain things would transpire.  So, it’s obvious that the premises of His coming must be broad enough to include an interval.  They cannot be any moment.

Acts 1:8-9:  The first century apostles did not believe in a pre-trib “any moment” type of rapture.  Acts 1:8-9 indicates a time period must occur, for the accomplishment of this evangelistic movement that will reach to the ends of the earth.

John 21:18: Related to Acts 1:8-9, Peter understood that he would live to become an old man and was told what would happen to him when he was old.

Specific New Testament passages and associated Old Testament references:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 – Generally agreed, the rapture of the church takes place here.  Yet in verse 54, the apostle cites texts from Isaiah 25 and Hosea 14, applying to the Lord’s Second Coming.  Paul links these texts to what happens in verses 50-51.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:  the term “to meet” and references to the same things that are associated with the Olivette Discourse: angels, clouds, trumpet, gathering of the people of God.

Therefore, by these rather numerous parallels, since it’s evident from the Olivette Discourse that Jesus is talking about the coming of our Lord to the earth, it would be natural to assume that the apostle, using the same language, would be speaking about the same event.  And, furthermore, even the term “to meet” is a term that generally means to go out to meet someone and to come back to the same place from which you have come.  And so that would suggest that the saints meet the Lord and come to the earth, rather than are with the Lord in heaven for the period of approximately seven years.

  • 2 Thessalonians 1:7 – the rest that the saints will get from their trials, will occur at the time of Christ’s returning in judgment upon His enemies.  Well, according to the view that the church is caught up before the tribulation begins, they should have been given rest long before then.  But Paul links the rest with the revelation of our Lord. 
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 8 – the same term parousia (the appearance of His coming) is used in both verses, and verse 8 is clearly speaking of the Second Coming

The same term parousia that is found in verse 1, in behalf of the coming of our Lord is said in verse 8, to be the time of the Second Advent.  So, again, that text would seem to suggest that the time of the coming and the time of the gathering together is the time when our Lord comes to the earth.

Argument from the Apocalypse

  • Revelation 3:10:  Post tribulationalists believe that both of those promises are promises, really, not of a complete separation from the threatening evil, but of God’s undertaking to preserve believers through those particular evils.  In other words, post tribulationists say, ‘We will be upon the earth during the time of the judgments, perhaps, but God promises that we will be kept from the wrath of God poured out upon us which is going to be poured out upon others around us.’  So, it’s a promise of keeping through the judgments that are to fall upon the earth.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:  the rapture is the time of the resurrection of the body.  It’s very plain that in chapter 20, verse 4 the first resurrection is post tribulational.  Now if the first resurrection is post tribulational, and if the rapture occurs at the time of the resurrection of the body, then of course you must have a post tribulational rapture.

Arguments for a Pre-Trib Rapture:

Exemption from Wrath

He (pre-trib view) will generally say this, ‘If you will read the Book of Revelation, from chapter 4 through chapter 19, and see those great and massive worldwide judgments that will be poured out from heaven, in which, literally, millions of people will be destroyed, and hardly anyone could help from being affected in some way.’  He will say, ‘It’s inconceivable that a person could go through the tribulation and be kept from the wrath of God.’  And one must admit that it does seem a very difficult thing for a person to go through all of those judgments and not be touched by them.

Response:  (post-trib view):  God will deliver the saints from the wrath of God, but they’ll not be delivered from the persecution that will be part of that tribulational period.  So the statement that we are not appointed unto wrath, in the one case, by the post-tribulationalists, mean they are not appointed to the wrath of God, but they are appointed to suffer because of their testimony and through persecution during that period of time.

The Term “Church” in the Book of Revelation

Well known by pre-tribulationalists, the term ‘church’ occurs very frequently in the first three chapters of Revelation. Then the word ‘church’ is not found in chapters 4 through 21, and then again in Revelation 22:16: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches.”

Robert Gundry’s reply to this argument: “It’s true, the term church is not found in the descriptions of the things that are happening on the earth.  But for my friends, the church is not mentioned as being in heaven, either.”   Dr. Johnson further notes here, those chapters are not intended to describe what’s happening in heaven.  Those chapters are intended to describe what happens on earth.

Argument from Apocalypse – Rev. 3:10

In John 17, “to keep from an evil one” is an absolute or complete separation from a threatening evil, and the threatening evil incidentally is not the persecution of the world about them, but the threatening evil is apostasy as the text says.  They should be kept from the evil one,  So the text there means a complete separation from an impending or threatening evil, apostasy.  In the Book of Revelation, it is not something spiritual, but something physical.  And here, “to be kept from the hour of testing,” is the hour of testing that shall come upon the whole inhabited world or earth to try those that dwell upon the earth.

The Necessity of An Interval Between the Rapture and The Advent

If the millennium is to be peopled by some saints in nonglorified bodies, if the millennium is to be peopled by individuals who go into it not having been resurrected, that is not having been caught up at the Rapture and not having been raised from the dead and given a new body at that time, then one asks the question: where shall they come from if the Rapture and the Advent coincide?  In other words, if all believers are caught up to meet the Lord in the air and are given new bodies and our Lord comes right to the earth, and if the Scriptures do teach that there are people who enter the millennium in nonglorified bodies (reference Isaiah chapter 65:20, and even Revelation 7 through 10), then where do they come from?

S. Lewis Johnson briefly mentioned one post-trib answer, to where the nonglorified people of Israel come from in a post-trib scenario.  From thinking about it more, I can now see the possibility of having Gentiles in nonglorified bodies in the post-trib scenario and how it could work, including the people groups in the Matthew 25 Sheep and Goats account.

Additional online sources:

Pre-Tribulational View:

Post-Tribulation View (links updated, 2017, from previous links now gone):

What’s in a Name? (Understanding of Dispensationalism)

August 22, 2013 10 comments

An uproar in the online blog world this week started with David Murray’s post at Ligonier, actually an excerpt from his book, in which he suggested – rather casually, in passing – several reasons why preachers avoid teaching the Old Testament.  Reason #4 was quite out of place amongst the others: Dispensationalism, or rather the author’s mistaken concept of dispensationalism based on lack of familiarity with what dispensationalism actually believes and teaches, plus John MacArthur’s comments in this interview.   Jesse Johnson at the Cripplegate soon responded, and then David Murray at his blog featured a guest post from Dan Phillips, also in response to this erroneous idea that dispensationalism leads to neglect of the Old Testament.  The comments continue at those two posts, but what I want to focus on, here, is an overall look at some of the common doctrines (and some myths) associated with ‘dispensationalism’ by outsiders, and clarify these issues.

Dispensationalism Focuses Too Much On The Dispensations Rather Than the Covenants

This may be true of some seminaries and perhaps Arminian dispensational churches, at least the ones mentioned from people’s past experiences.  But current-day dispensationalism – and by this I mean Calvinist Dispensationalism as represented today at the Masters Seminary and associated teachers – gives the proper emphasis to the biblical covenants and understanding of the unconditional, unilateral covenants, especially the Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants.

Dispensationalism Leads to Neglect of the Old Testament

This issue has been well addressed this week by Jesse Johnson and Dan Phillips.  My own observation here is that actually the dispensationalists have a stronger overall unity of scripture and God’s overall purpose, including the overall biblical theme of the Kingdom of God, which covers everything from Genesis to Revelation (and special emphasis on the reverse-parallels seen in Genesis and Revelation).

Dispensationalism Teaches Two Ways of Salvation

This myth has been responded to many times, yet some non-dispensationalists keep repeating it, seemingly in willful ignorance.  See this article from Tony Garland, also this previous post and its quote from Dr. Richard Mayhue.  Dispensationalism has never taught such; dispensationalism addresses eschatology and ecclesiology but not soteriology.

The Pre-Trib Rapture

Current-day dispensationalism does consider the pre-trib rapture a secondary matter, of lesser importance and not essential to the basics of dispensationalism.  See, for instance, Michael Vlach’s list of six essentials of dispensationalism.  That said, it is true that the vast majority of dispensationalists, and even progressive dispensationalists, believe in the pre-trib rapture, though a few hold to mid-trib or pre-wrath (3/4) rapture.  I’ve found the writings of one person who refers to himself as a Post-Trib Progressive Dispensationalist (but that individual is also evidently a non-Calvinist).  It is also worth noting that, often, those who hold to the essentials of dispensationalism (as defined by Dr. Vlach) yet post-trib rapture, distance themselves from the term “dispensationalism” due to the strong association of that term with the pre-trib rapture.  S. Lewis Johnson in his day certainly viewed dispensationalism as closely associated with the pre-trib rapture, observing in the Divine Purpose series (mid-1980s) that this is one challenge for dispensationalists: to work on the fine points of the hermeneutical claims, the defense of their millennialism against recent challenges to their position on the relation of pre-tribulationism to dispensationalism on their soteriology and on their integration of dispensational truths and to the biblical covenantal unfolding of Scripture which they themselves often acknowledge.  Barry Horner (author of Future Israel) never calls himself a dispensationalist yet holds to the essentials as defined by Michael Vlach.  Horner further describes several of the 19th century classic premillennialists as “non-dispensational” though they too believed in the future restoration of Israel; among these teachers, notably B. W. Newton, S.P. Tregelles, and Nathaniel West, believed basically the same as the early dispensationalists (and current day dispensationalists as described here) but with post-trib rapture.

Premillennialism With Future Restoration of Israel to Their Land

This is one of the defining essentials of dispensationalism.  Here, too, is some irony.  As noted concerning the pre-trib or post-trib rapture, here is where some believers, who hold the essentials of dispensationalism (including Future Israel) yet are post-trib, distance themselves from the label of “dispensationalist.”  Yet it is on this very point, premillennialism with future restoration of Israel, that non-premillennialists over-generalize, unaware of the different variations in various individuals’ overall Christian beliefs: anyone who believes this “must be dispensational,” which of course includes the whole package of other ideas of that label (pre-trib rapture, antinomianism, two ways of salvation, neglecting the Old Testament).  Especially appropriate here, and to conclude, Barry Horner observes:

This writer’s frequent experience has been, especially within a Reformed environment, that upon his expression of a future premillennial hope, he is then subjected to careful scrutiny. Qualification is sought as to whether one is an historic premillennialist, after the manner of George Eldon Ladd, or a dispensationalist after the lineage of Darby, Schofield, Chafer, Walvoord, etc. The tone of the enquiry suggests that the former is acceptable while the latter is unacceptable. So explanation is made that one believes in a glorious future time when the redeemed people of God, distinctively comprising national Israel and the Gentile nations, will enjoy the consummation of their salvation on an earth of renovated spiritual materiality where the glorious, spiritually tangible and substantial Jesus Christ will reign from Jerusalem in the midst of Israel. At this juncture, the common response is that such a belief identifies one as a dispensationalist, especially since Ladd is said to have not incorporated such particularity concerning Israel within his premillennialism. In other words, if a person was an historic premillennialist, he would not retain any clear-cut distinction between Israel and the church, but especially within the one redeemed people of God in their future manifestation. When one then points out and specifically names a number of notable Christians who were not dispensationalists, such as Horatius Bonar, J. C. Ryle, and C. H. Spurgeon, even postmillennialist Jonathan Edwards, who nevertheless believed in the aforementioned scenario, that is Israel and the Gentile nations retaining their distinctive identity under the earthly reign of Christ, the frequent response is that of a blank stare.

What Is The Blessed Hope?

November 29, 2012 6 comments

Titus 2 came up in my recent Bible readings, and in a brief online discussion concerning what the Blessed Hope is.  Titus 2:13 is the key verse in reference to the “Blessed Hope”:   waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Often, though, online websites or audio series, particularly those that emphasize the pre-trib rapture, lose the focus: declaring that the blessed hope is the pre-trib rapture event itself, or things particularly associated with the rapture event.  Examples include this audio series (part A of the second series), and this article, which says: “Titus chapter 2 is an amazing chapter because it tells us that the rapture of the church is our ‘blessed hope’, in which we are to do the following while we wait on His return.” That article goes on to focus on what we are to do while waiting for His return, and that “the Blessed Hope is a means by which God uses it to prepare us and purify us as we wait. It is not simply a ‘get out of jail free card’, it is a refining tool of the Lord to make us ready on a daily basis. After all, death is a reality for over 250,000 people a day every day around the world, with lots of them being bible believing Christians.”

Yet such a view, with emphasis on the pre-trib rapture, misses the overall emphasis and what Titus 2:13, the Blessed Hope, is about: Christ Himself, and His appearing.  Teaching about the rapture and its timing is fine enough in its place, including discussion of the various scripture references to the rapture and indirect scriptural evidences for a pre-tribulational rapture.  Far too often, though, careless ideas creep into our doctrine, as with such statements about “the rapture of the church is our ‘blessed hope'” in which the focus is on us rather than on Christ Himself and His return.  Then too, the posts at rapture forums often focus on the great desire to escape from this life, to be raptured away – again a self-focused view.  Certainly our motives in this life will always be mixed at best, and even when we first come to Christ the primary reasons are indeed selfish.  Yet as Spurgeon often said, too often people have selfish motives for desiring Christ’s return in their lifetime: to escape their present circumstances, and/or to avoid the experience of physical death.  Let us instead keep our eyes on our Lord, truly desiring Him above all else, whatever our circumstances: Philippians 1:21, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Another consideration is that the vast majority of believers meet the Lord at death.  Only a relatively few will actually be living at the time and caught up, to meet up with those who have been resurrected (1 Thess. 4:17).  From that perspective, the blessed hope for those who die before Christ’s return, is to meet Him at death.  The full, final perspective, of course, includes all  the events at the Second Coming, especially the bodily resurrection: those already physically dead as well as those of us still living, all awaiting our glorified bodies.

In closing, some great observations from Spurgeon, in this message:

What is that “blessed hope”? Why, first, that when He comes we shall rise from the dead, if we have fallen asleep, and that if we are alive and remain, we shall be changed at His appearing! Our hope is that we shall be approved of Him and shall hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Also from Spurgeon, sermon #2509:

what is the blessed hope of the children of God—they are looking for the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ from Heaven! As they look back by faith, they see their Lord upon the Cross and then they see Him in the tomb—and then they behold Him risen from the grave. The last glimpse they catch of Him is as a cloud receives Him out of their sight. He has gone into Glory, but Believers have not forgotten those angelic words to the disciples, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into Heaven.” So we expect Him to come. And when He comes, then is to be the time of our highest joy!  Even though we are now called the sons of God, “it does not yet appear what we shall be.” Our glory, our full bliss, is as yet concealed, “but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like He, for we shall see Him as He is.” So, Brothers and Sisters, our hope is that when Christ shall come, we shall be perfected—that then we shall be rid of every sin and shall become holy even as He is holy, pure even as He is pure!

Popular Christian Slang Terminology: Pan-Trib and Pan-Mill

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

A popular slang term among Christians of recent years is “pan-” plus something, as in “I don’t understand all this, and don’t need to understand it, but it’ll all pan out.”  Two of these “pan-” terms refer to views on eschatology:  pan-trib and pan-mill.  I first heard the term “pan-millennial” from Christians in Reformed circles, whose only consideration of eschatology had been the presentations of equally confused (regarding the subject) Reformed preachers.  Like so many others, they remain content in that area of “pious agnosticism,” and now they even have a label to attach to their belief — a name that means they don’t know what they believe.

I first heard the term “pan-trib” used with a very specific meaning:  someone who is undecided concerning the timing of the rapture.  This came from an audio sermon a year or so back; the preacher and that church affirm futurist premillennialism.  The preacher explained the different rapture views (pre-, mid- and post) and the different strengths and weaknesses, from scripture, of each view, before finally admitting that he was “pan-trib” in that he could not decide from scripture the precise timing of the rapture.

Since then, however, I have heard the term “pan-trib” used by laypeople, to apparently mean the same thing as “pan-mill.”  (Actually, I have not personally known anyone to use that term, but have seen it mentioned by others at online blogs and message boards.)  Evidently these are individuals who are not even aware of the different millennial views, but have heard terms such as “rapture” and “tribulation” and so express their pious agnosticism in the simpler wording “pan-trib.”  A brief googling of the two terms on the Internet shows more references to the term “pan-millennial,” though a few message-board type sites list references to “pan-trib.”

Though both terms (as broadly defined) are excuses for a lazy approach to scripture, I would hold to the distinction in terminology and agree with the “pan-trib” definition used by the premillennial pastor uncertain of the rapture timing.  As with everything, of course, when someone throws out a term such as this, we need to clarify and ask them what they mean by that particular term.

As I have mentioned many times before, it really does matter what you believe, and God gave us all 66 books of the Bible to tell us these things.  The very book name, Revelation, suggests this is something God has revealed to us, and yet strangely too many Christians turn it into the great Concealment instead.

Church Bulletin Quotes: Thoughts concerning Corrie Ten Boom– versus J.C. Ryle

May 14, 2010 1 comment

The local, Reformed Sovereign Grace church does not correctly understand eschatology or ecclesiology.  Often the quotes put in the church bulletin reflect that poor understanding, such as quotes from Christian people who were not scholars or Bible teachers themselves — such as C.S. Lewis or Corrie Ten Boom.  Often the quotes from C.S. Lewis are harmless enough as they don’t speak to points at which C.S. Lewis erred.  Yet such quotes are more common than quotes from the great quotable preachers such as C.H. Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, the Puritans, and many others.   (Certainly we can learn from the Christian witness and experiences of laypeople, but here I am talking about quoting famous laypeople who may have been true Christian believers, but — like many non-famous believers — were confused and did not really understand some biblical doctrines.)

A recent quote from Corrie Ten Boom especially was not needed, as it is one that reflects Corrie Ten Boom’s lack of understanding regarding the future great tribulation — the same error as the local pastor.  The quote can easily be googled, and is part of Corrie Ten Boom’s anti-pre-trib rapture view.  It includes the statement that sixty percent of the world has already entered the tribulation.  She confused general persecution and tribulation with the specific issue of the future Great Tribulation, Daniel’s 70th week, and thus denied the fact of The Great Tribulation associated with our Lord’s Second Advent.

For a contrast, here is a good, biblically accurate answer concerning overall tribulation as well as the future great tribulation, from J.C. Ryle (who was not pre-trib rapture, either, but who clearly articulated a correct view of tribulation and the great tribulation):

From his exposition of Luke chapter 21:

The words of this prophecy were doubtless intended to apply to every age of the Church of Christ. They began to be fulfilled in the days of the apostles. The book of Acts supplies us with many an instance of their fulfillment. They have been repeatedly fulfilled during the last eighteen hundred years. Wherever there have been disciples of Christ, there has always been more or less persecution. They will yet receive a more full accomplishment before the end comes. The last tribulation will probably be marked by special violence and bitterness. It will be a “great tribulation.” (Rev. 7:14.)

Are Dispensationalists Really the Pessimistic Ones?

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Over at Dr. Reluctant, Paul Henebury responds to a claim that dispensationalists are pessimistic regarding the future, expecting that “the present age will end in apostasy and divine judgment” (Walvoord) and that “almost unbelievably hard times lie ahead” (Charles Ryrie).  That post points out the truth concerning what the Bible has to say regarding our glorious future and optimism, as distinguished from confidence in the Church:

Our confidence in the Church is less ebullient.  There is a big difference between what the Church is called to be (Matt. 5:14-16; Phil. 2:15; cf. 2 Cor. 3:2-3) and what it often is (1 Cor. 1:10-11; Gal. 5:15, 26).  The Church has spent most of its history underachieving.  We see no good reason why this sorry trend should not continue.  While fully recognizing the truth of the Great Commission, we do not see in it any guarantee that the Church will “Christianize” the earth.  … We believe the sanguine expectation expressed by some regarding the institution of the coming kingdom in the continued absence of the King is due to poor exposition of biblical texts and the effects of supersessionist theology on their interpretations.”

I have found in my own discussions with amillennial preterists, though, that one’s attitude towards Christ’s Second Advent is linked to one’s eschatology — and it is actually the non-futurist, non-dispensationalist that has the more negative view.  After all, if someone thinks that all Bible prophecy has been fulfilled except for Christ’s return, and thinks of Christ’s return as a simple, single event in which Christ shows up and immediately starts the Great White Throne judgment for all souls, the natural tendency is to associate the return of Christ with judgment, and judgment only.  The reaction to this idea is to desire that this world continue so that we can keep building up the Church, building up the Kingdom of God now, and save as many as possible — because once Christ returns it’s all over, it’s too late for anyone to be saved.  Another consequence is for such a believer to look at the dispensationalist, full of hope and desire for Christ’s return … and suppose that the dispensationalist is being negative and desiring God’s judgment on the ungodly.

Granted, Christ’s return does include judgment on the ungodly.  Yet it includes so much more, many wonderful things foretold in the New Testament.  The NT epistles abound with references to our blessed hope, to our eager anticipation of His coming for us; we are to expect His return at any time.  Further, the detailed events — which our God has felt it important to reveal to us — tell us of the vast multitude of saved believers coming out of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7) as well as the many future believers during the Millennial Kingdom before the final judgment preceding the Eternal State.  As Spurgeon said of this:

Nor let it be forgotten that the multitudes of converts in the millennial age will very much turn the scale. For then the world will be exceedingly populous, and a thousand years of a reign of grace might easily suffice to overcome the majority accumulated by sin during six thousand years of its tyranny. In that peaceful period, when all shall know him, from the least even unto the greatest, the sons of God shall fly as doves to their windows, and the Redeemer’s family shall be exceedingly multiplied. . . . We admit that the number of the damned will be immense, but we do think that the two states of infancy and millennial glory will furnish so great a reserve of saints that Christ shall win the day.

A biblically grounded view of the future actually gives us the greater optimism, a hope that agrees with what we actually observe in this world, so that we need not fret over the continual troubles in the world and the continual and escalating failures of the Church.  We eagerly await the resurrection / rapture, at which we will receive our glorified bodies, rejoicing also that the creation too will be delivered from its bondage to renewal  (Romans 8).  The preterist / amillennialist looks at the pending judgment as the main event when Christ returns, and supposes to himself —  well, the resurrection will be nice when it comes, but meanwhile I’d rather just stay here and help build up the Church and this (present) kingdom of God, because then it will be too late, the show will be over for everyone not yet saved.  Yet we can look at the whole picture as biblically presented, understanding with the apostle John that the Second Advent involves both the bitter and the sweet part of the scroll (Revelation 10), and say in full agreement with John, “Even so, come Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).