Thursday, September 20, 2007
'Because the Time is Near' by John MacArthur. Part 3.
We have seen that Revelation 3.10 gives no real basis for the doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture and is best read literally. Not every faithful Church has been kept from great tribulation. We think of the Waldensians, the Huguenots and the Scottish Covenanters. The promise to Philadelphia is not universal. THEY were kept from the great empire-wide persecutions. That does not mean that no faithful Church will suffer hardship. Certainly this text gives us no reason to sit around confident that everyone else will have to go through the tribulation, but we will not. Yet Dr. MacArthur says:
"The rapture is the subject of three passages in the New Testament (John 14.1-4; 1 Corinthians 15.51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-17), none of which speak of judgement but rather of the church being taken up to heaven. There are three views of the timing of the rapture in relation to the tribulation: that it comes at the end of the tribulation (posttribulationism), in the middle of the tribulation (midtribulationism), and the view that seems to be supported by this text, that the rapture takes place before the tribulation (pretribulationism)" (P. 93).
We may be accused by some of denying the rapture. Not at all, we hold that, at the second coming, all believers then remaining alive will be caught up to meet Christ in the air. What we deny is the unbiblical tradition that this rapture will happen before seven years of tribulation after which Christ will return in glory to usher in a personal millenial reign upon this present earth. We have already seen that Dr. MacArthur's key text in Revelation 3.10 cannot possibly hold the burden he places on it. Now we shall see that none of his other text support a pre-tribulation rapture either. If this is the case, the doctrine of the pretibulation rapture is dead in the water.
First let us consider John 14.1-14. Dr. MacArthur says that this text does not speak of Judgement, but of the Church being taken up to heaven. Now, the first part of this is true, but the problem is that the text is very narrowly focused. "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and recieve you unto myself," is the only part of this text that refers to the rapture. It is an assurance that Christ will recieve His people to Himself, a great and precious promise, but it is too narrowly focused to convey the sort of information MacArthur says it should to contradict his position.
The second text is 1 Corinthians 15.51-54. This great passage is foucused on the resurrection of the dead. What Paul is dealing with here is the fact of the resurrection and the nature of the resurrection body. These verses are to reassure us that those Christians alive at the Second Coming will not be second-class citizens of heaven, but will also recieve resurrection bodies. Again, the focus here is not on the chronology of the Second Advent. The same is true of 1 Thessalonians 13-17. This chapter was written to reassure bdelievers that those who had died in the faith would not lose out, but that all off us would meet Christ in the air. Indeed, this passage says, "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven swith a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God," hardly language describing a secret rapture!
1 Thessalonians must be interpreted at least in light of 2 Thessalonians, which seems to have been written to correct Thessalonian misunderstandings of 1 Thessalonians, and there we read that the Second Coming follows the rise of the Man of Sin (2 Thess. 2), "whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming."
Without the extremely doubtful support of Revelation 3.10 and 2 Thessalonians 2.7 (understood by classical Dispensationalists to refer to the Holy Spirit. They reason that the only way the Holy Spirit could be taken out of the way is for the Church to be raptured. But then there could be no 'Tribulation Saints' unless man is able to save himself, something Dr. MacArthur does not believe), the doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture is based only on silence. Thus it is shown to be an unbiblical tradition of men that ought to be discarded. We have in our hands a popular Plymouth Brethren commentary of the past, 'An Outline of the Revelation' by C.A.C. This work takes the Seven Churches as representing seven epochs of Church History. The Brethren writers comments on Philadelphia, "It shews that the Lord intends to have under his eye at the close of the Church's history on earth something quite different from the corruptions of Popery, or the lifeless formalism of Protestantism" (P.49). C.A.C. (the old Brethren writers liked to hide behind their initials) could say this, Dr. MacArthur cannot and will not. Yet both use this verse in the same way! Why? Because Dr. MacArthur is, we are afraid, still fettered by the remains of an unbiblical hermeneutic. Despite protests to the contrary, he is not consistently literal!
God willing, having demolished this teaching, we shall continue with this review. We would once again point out that we have nothing personally against Dr. MacArthur. Indeed, we have always found his books very helpful and have just ordered his 'Why One Way'. Nevertheless, since he has accused those who disagree with him on eschatology of inconsistency, we feel we ought to make some effort to rebut this charge.
[Note. We have been given reason to investigate further the date of the book of Revelation and may, if satisfied, adopt the Preterist reading in future.]