Church in the Tribulation
In Defense of the Faith
Friday, June 17, 2016
For the purpose of this article "tribulation" will refer to the seven years of Daniel's 70th week. We understand that the church has always experienced tribulation. However, pretribulationists consider the entire seven years of Daniel's final week of tribulation as containing God's eschatological wrath.
I don't know about you but I've grown to love the expectation of Jesus' any-moment-return for the church. There was a time I anticipated enduring the last seven premillennial years of this age prior to Christ's coming. Today I believe pretribulationism - while not explicit - provides the most biblically satisfying view.
It is regularly asserted that pretribulationists are misled by popular writers and the doctrine is unbiblical. Books by Robert Van Kampen, Marvin Rosenthal, George E. Ladd and Robert H. Gundry etc are often recommended as biblical remedies by prewrathers and posttribbers alike. While the first two will disagree with the latter two on many points - what unifies them is the insistence that the church endures the great tribulation.
Non-pretribulationists employ several strategies of arguments to debunk the pretrib rapture. These arguments often sit on shifting sands. The 144,000 of Revelation 7:4 is one example. Non-pretribbers either symbolize them into the church or claim they don't have an evangelical role, thus requiring the presence of the church.
A prominent critic of pretribulationism recently claimed that pretribbers propagate the false notion that the 144,000 are evangelists in order to excuse the absence of the church. He asserts that they aren't evangelists. They are sealed by angels to protect them from God's wrath, but aren't redeemed until Christ's return. They are first fruits of Israel and nothing more.
One wonders, then, why they're referred to as "servants" (Rev 7:3). The same word servant-doulos is applied John (Rev 1:1). It appears at least 12 other times in Revelation. In one instance an angel refers to himself as a servant-doulos. In the rest of the examples the term is applied to saints. Doulos is also applied to Christians in the New Testament.
According to John MacArthur:
"Doulos frequently describes what it means to be a true Christian: “He who was called while free, is Christ’s slave [doulos]. You were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 7:22-23). It describes the lowest, abject bond slave; his service is not a matter of choice."
If doulos describes a true Christian and we are commanded to fulfill the great commission - then, logically, the 144,000 will evangelize. After all, they are servants. Ironically Marvin Rosenthal passes the evangelistic baton to them after the church is raptured because: "God will not leave Himself without a people on the earth” (The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church p 185).
Before Rosenthal, George Ladd (The Blessed Hope p 45) favorably cited anti-pretrib activist Nathaniel West. Unlike modern posttribbers and prewrathers, West believed the 144,000 are saved and sealed at the beginning of the 70th week as a result of the ministry of the two witnesses. Ostensibly this is because the Gentile church has been removed via martyrdom and persecution. West calls the 144,000 an "Israelitish Future Church." He certainly saw them as evangelists.
Ladd has the church experiencing the entire tribulation. It will be "sheltered from the wrath of God" but not from "tribulation at the hands of Antichrist" (pp 121-122). Is God really so selective with His protection? Why would God seal the Israelitish Church but not the Gentile Church? And how is Satan's Antichrist not a function of God's wrath?
This leads me to the shifting-sand arguments against the pretrib use of Rev 3:10.
Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.
Various challenges have been put forward to refute this verse as pretribulational confirmation. Some assert the promise only applied to the Philadelphian church. Yet the trial which would come upon the whole world didn't eventuate during that time. Therefore, in principle, the promise is still applicable today.
Gundry compared the expression "keep you from" in Rev 3:10 with the same Greek grammar in John 17:15 to argue that the verse means "preserved within" the hour of trial. One wonders how this can be the case when we see tribulation martyrs. That position has been refuted at length in articles by likes of Richard Mayhue and Jeffrey Townshend. You can read their responses and decide for yourself.
Marvin Rosenthal claimed that if the pretrib position (removal from) was correct (and he doubted it), then it would fit the prewrath view. In other words, exemption could only be from the period following the great tribulation. This assumes that Satan's wrath comes before God's wrath and cannot occur concurrently. In his view, the hour of trial can only apply to the Day of the Lord, which allegedly occurs after the great tribulation.
There's no biblical warrant to assume God's wrath cannot run concurrent with man's or Satan's wrath. Moreover there's abundant evidence that God's wrath is present throughout the 70th week. See the article God's Wrath and the bride of Christ.
Rev 3:10 isn't a technical promise with cleverly hidden clauses. Christ isn't saying, "I'm sparing you from my wrath only." Read plainly and simply, the Lord promises the church's exemption from a period of trial (peirasmos: testing, proving) which will come upon the world. This "testing" must include the deluding influence of the Antichrist (see 2 Thess 2: 9-12).
While the implementation of the beast's mark occurs midway through the week, the process of deception likely begins at the first seal. Furthermore, it is the cessation of the Restrainer’s activity which allows the appearance of the man of sin (2 Thess 2:6). This is God's judgment. Pete Garcia discusses the identity of the Restrainer HERE.
Why is the presence of the Antichrist a time of testing? Those who give allegiance to the beast and accept his mark will be eternally damned. Doesn't that sound like testing to you?
These were just a few examples of how non-pretribulationists approach verses in attempting to refute the pretrib rapture. I think scholars like Renald Showers, John Walvoord, Dwight Pentecost, Richard Mayhue and a host of others have defended pretribulationism very well over the years. On the other hand I haven't found the opposition's arguments consistent or very compelling.
I don't like tribulation - no one does if they're honest - but that isn't why I believe in pretribulationism. The Bible strongly implies the doctrine.
As stated above, I like the idea that the Lord could return any time for the church. Applied correctly the doctrine of imminence should ensure that faithful Christians are daily prepared for that possibility.
And that's a good thing.
About Alf Cengia
Last week: Coexistence and the Gospel
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