THE RAPTURE OF THE SAINTS :
A PROBLEMATIC FACET OF POPULAR ESCHATOLOGY
by Jared L. Olar
One of the most blessed seasons of the sacred liturgical year is upon us, and many of us will again be setting aside time in our lives to worship God and His Son. Many Christians are aware that the first of the fall festivals, the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh ha-Shanah ), points to the Advent of our Savior and King. Ancient Israel was commanded by God to blow trumpets on that day, and even today the Jewish people perform that tradition. For Christians, those trumpets anticipate, among other things, the seven trumpets of John's visions which he was instructed to record in the Book of Revelation. And one of the best loved symbols associated with that festival is the seventh and last trumpet, which signals the return of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the saints.
Among the beliefs held by Christians about those final days, the belief in the Pretribulation Rapture is very widespread in the world of modern conservative evangelical Protestantism. Disbelief in the Rapture is one of the things which has distinguished the Worldwide Church of God from other Christian fellowships. Our beloved evangelist Dr.Herman L. Hoeh wrote an article critical of the Rapture which appeared in The Plain Truth in July 1959 (``The `Secret Rapture'-Fact ... or Fiction?''), and which was reprinted for many years. It is not one of my beliefs, and even now I suspect most of the members of our church do not believe in the Rapture. However, even in the WCG, which until recently was not fully a part of the evangelical Protestant world, and yet not entirely detached from it either, one could find a version of the Rapture.
Worldwide Church of God Eschatology-Some Background
Instead of a whisking away of God's saints to heaven at the start of (or, alternately, in the middle of) seven years of final Tribulation on earth, we have taught that the Church of God would be whisked away to ``the Place of Safety'' at the start of a three-and-a-half-year final Tribulation. Our scenario dates back to the 1950s, coming out of speculative (if not imaginative) interpretations of various prophetic texts in Old and New Testaments. These texts were taken as pointing to the wilderness in and around Petra in modern-day Jordan as the location for this place where God would miraculously preserve His People. As late as the 1980s, speculation about Petra as the Place of Safety still made the rounds of discussion in our church. If I am not mistaken, at least one of the Churches of God continues to hold to this concept as an unofficial article of faith.
This concept of the Place of Safety caused mixed emotions in our members. On the one hand, I have heard many of our members express the opinion that they would have preferred that God choose some other place besides a waterless desert to protect His flock. Others said that it would be an ideal means for God to protect us, as only by a miracle could so many believers possibly survive there-so would we truly learn dependence on God, as ancient Israel should have learned during the forty years of wandering. Most significant of all is the vague fear, sometimes unexpressed, of being ``left behind'' (to use the words of the title of LaHaye's recent book) when it was ``time to flee to the Place of Safety.'' Some members literally kept luggage packed so they would be ready for the trip to Petra. I've heard others speak of nightmares they had as children, of having to stay behind and suffer through the Great Tribulation while their parents flew off to the Jordanian Desert. Others of us had fears of being judged unworthy to be protected during theTribulation, oftentimes going to Rev. 3:10 as a keynote Place of Safety text. (It is also, as it happens, a keynote Rapture text.) That verse we took as a prophecy directed specifically to ourselves-we viewed our church as the primary manifestation of the ``Philadelphia Era''of the Church of God. We believed we lived on the very threshold of the Great Tribulation, and so Christ's promise to the church at Philadelphia was inevitably taken asa promise to keep us safe during the Last Days.
So we see that we did believe that God would protect His People during the Last Days. However, while the Rapture concept would say that ``the Place of Safety'' is heaven,we believed that God would somehow bring most of us to Petra, here on the earth. We believed that this transportation would be miraculous-accomplished by God's direct intervention-but not supernatural, as the instantaneous and simultaneous vanishing of every Christian on earth plainly would be. As for other believers, they would have to endure the horrors of the End Times-presumably because they weren't righteous enough(i.e., didn't understand or observe the teachings and customs of our church),or maybe had some special calling to die as martyrs for God's Way. Somehow I don't believe too many of us (if any) hoped to be in the group selected to endure the Tribulation and suffer martyrdom. No, it was fully understood that the better destiny was to endure a few years of heat and thirst. Quite understandably, none of us wished to be hauled off to Antichrist's concentration camps-even if such a death would only hasten our reunion with Jesus Christ and our brothers and sisters.
The Rapture Complex
Quite naturally, I know our own church fellowship better than I do other Christian groups, so you may take this next observation of mine for what it is worth. My above comments concerning the attitudes, hopes, and fears that were attendant to our Place of Safety speculations have a counterpart in the wider evangelical world. Intuitively I would suppose that, just as we developed what I'll call a Place-of-Safety Complex, so too there could be a Rapture Complex. And this intuition has been confirmed in my own experience with Christians outside our fellowship. The Rapture, like any idea, can be abused-it can become a means to scare or entice believers into obedience or subservience.We were confident that we would be protected in Petra. Why so confident? Because we were the One True Church, the place where most-even virtually all-Christians could be found.Outsiders would have to suffer, but we were the Woman who would ``fly into thewilderness, to Her Place, where she is nourished there a time, and times, and half a time,away from the Serpent's face.'' (Rev. 12:14) It is this attitude of superiority and exclusivity, which can spring unintentionally from End Time doctrines of divine protection, that I truly deplore. Just as we feared that God would judge us unworthy to go to Petra, I've found Christians who fear being left behind when the Rapture finally occurs. Just as we casually consigned multitudes to horrible suffering because they were, as we deemed,not right with Jesus, so I have found other Christians who do the same sort of thing in thecontext of the Rapture doctrine. To sum up, it can be, and is, misused to lay guilt trips or fear trips on fellow believers, just like our Petra ideas.
It is important to keep separate those issues which are distinct though related. I do not mention the Rapture Complex or the Place-of-Safety Complex as though these phenomena somehow indicate that these doctrines must be false, or else are unhealthy for Christians to ponder or to discuss. Far from it. The truth of the Rapture, or of such esoteric concepts as our old Petra speculations, stands or falls based on the testimony of the word of prophecy as given to us by the holy Spirit. Rather, my intention is, partly, to draw attention to the fact that we Christians sometimes are alike even when we differ. I also wanted to explain the sort of problems that arise when one's mind is focused too much on the Last Days and not enough on He who is the First and the Last. No, what we want is a balanced approach to these issues and ideas.
I no longer spend much time wondering how and where God will protect His saintsin the Last Days. I believe He will do so, and I leave it at that. If Petra has any place in End-Time events, well and good-my father-in-law and I recently discussed these things,and we agree that in those days some Christians and Jews may well find divine protection in the mountains and caves of the Judaean wilderness (Matt. 24:15-16). But even if that geographical locale had room for so many believers, I really see no compelling reason tobelieve He will bring the bulk of His People to that spot. (Of course, it would indeed be exciting, not to mention terrifying, to be at or near Jerusalem in the Day of His Return.)
Are the Rapture Doctrine and the Scriptures on Speaking Terms?
But does that mean that I now believe that the saints will be safe in heaven during those awful days? No, I do not. My reasons for this disbelief in the Rapture are not that different from the reasons I had way back when I assumed that our church would end up in Petra for three-and-a-half years. That is to say, so far as I can tell, the scriptural passages said to be describing a Pre- or Mid-tribulation Rapture simply do not seem to be mentioning such a thing at all. To explain these reasons, we should examine first what is probably the primary Rapture text:
``But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, so that you do not grieve the way others do who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will also bring with Him all of those who by the means of Jesus have fallen asleep. For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who have fallen asleep; because the Lord Himself shall come down from heaven with a commanding shout of an archangel's voice, with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ with be resurrected first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds, in order to join up with the Lord in the air. Thus, we will be with the Lord always. Therefore, comfort one another with these words.'' (I Thess. 4:13-18)
This is one of my favorite passages of God's word. Even now as I read these words at tingle travels up and down my spine. During the autumn festivals we have customarily performed powerful musical numbers such as With the Sound of Trumpets, or The Blessed Hope . This latter composition is nothing more than the words of the King James Version of this scriptural passage set to marvelous, glorious music, ending in an awesome crescendo of joy as we repeat, ``So shall we ever be with the Lord-forever be with the Lord!'' We have always, for reasons that I hope are obvious, regarded this passage as a description of the Second Coming of Christ and the Resurrection of the Saints which is to occur in the Day of His Return. This is why, as a young teenager, I was somewhat perplexed to learn that many Protestant Christians go to these verses in order to prove not the doctrine of the Resurrection, but instead the doctrine of the Secret Rapture. Where in this passage, I thought, does Paul say anything about a Pre- or Mid-tribulation Rapture? In fact, he doesn't mention the Tribulation here at all!
Afterwards, I learned that the Secret Rapture concept is several centuries old. McClintock and Strong's Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature fixes the origin of this concept in the Jesuits of the 1500s, specifically Joseph Ribera and St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine. Prior to that time Christian texts were utterly silent on the subject of the Rapture, for the simple reason that no one had yet thought of this concept. One may search the writings of the Church Fathers of the first few centuries of Christian history and find no references to this doctrine. It is also significant that the early creeds list the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Flesh-something obviously taught in this passage from I Thess. 4-but say nothing of the Rapture. Clearly, the blessed hope of the faithful is the Resurrection, not a Pre- or Mid-tribulation Rapture.
This concept is seen to be a relatively late development of Roman Catholic eschatology. How was the Rapture drawn from the scriptures? To determine the answer to that question, first we must remember that until very recently the Roman Catholic Churchhas relied primarily upon the Latin Vulgate version of the holy scriptures. Ribera and Bellarmine would have drawn on the Vulgate text of St. Jerome for their teaching and exposition regarding the Rapture. The old Vulgate renders I Thess. 4:17 as follows:
``Deinde nos, qui vivimus, qui relinquimur, simul rapiemur cum illis in nubibus obviam Christo in aera; et sic semper cum Domino erimus.'' (Biblia Sacra, 1927)
In the Latin, the words ``caught up'' (in boldface above) are rendered as rapiemur,which is a form of the verb rapio, meaning ``to seize and carry off.'' The Greek word underlying it here is harpagesometha (``will be caught up''), a form of the verb harpazo,which is the Greek equivalent of the Latin word rapio. This is the origin for the very term``Rapture''-the Latin Vulgate here says that when Jesus returns to earth, all of the saints,both living and dead, will be ``raptured'' into the clouds.
Since my Bible is in English instead of Latin, I had no idea that this specific passage was what gave rise to the term ``Rapture.'' Often, those who object that the doctrine of the Rapture is unscriptural point out that the word ``Rapture'' never appears in the Bible. This is only partly true. It does not appear in English Bibles, but the ``rapture'' is indeed mentioned in the Latin Vulgate. Of course, it remains to be seen whether this usage of harpazo and rapio in the Greek and Latin Bibles properly refers to a Pre- or Mid-tribulation Rapture.
Is the Rapture an Assumption?
In addition to this classic text from I Thessalonians, there are certain other passages commonly cited as evidence of the Rapture. In the Gospel of Luke, in the seventeenth chapter, we find Jesus talking about ``the days of the Son of Man,'' i.e. the End Times when He will return. He said,
``I tell you, in that night two will be in one bed; the one will be taken, and the other will be left. Two will be grinding together, one will be taken, and the other will be left. Two will be in the field; one will be taken, and the other will be left. In response they asked Him, `In what place, Lord?' So He told them, `Where the [dead] body is, that is where the eagles will congregate.' '' (Luke 17:34-37)
This is commonly taken as a picture of the Rapture on the eve of (or the midst of) the Great Tribulation, but it is important to observe that, just as in I Thess. 4, in this passage there is no clear statement that this separating selection is to occur at the start of or in the middle of the Tribulation.
Again we find the Latin Vulgate's rendering of the original Greek to be of immense help in explaining how these words came to be applied to the Rapture. Here is the rendering of Luke 17:34 in the old Vulgate:
``Dico vobis: illa nocte erunt duo in lecto uno; unus assumetur , et alter relinquetur.'' (BibliaSacra, 1927)
Notice that in this place the old Vulgate does not render the word ``taken'' with a form of the verb rapio. Instead, it shows assumetur , a form of the verb sumere . Let's consult the underlying Greek once more. Significantly, the Greek word here is not harpazo.Instead the original text says paralephthesetai (``will be taken''), a form of the verb paralambano, which can mean anything from selecting someone as an associate, to taking a wife, to carrying into captivity, to accepting something into your mind, heart, or life. In this place, Latin rapio might have been accurate, but would certainly have been misleading in that two different Greek verbs with somewhat different shades of meaning would have been rendered by the same Latin verb. St. Jerome made a very good choice, since the nature of the relationship of harpazo to paralambano is comparable to that of rapio to sumere. The first in the pair implies a dramatic suddenness, something perhaps unnatural or unexpected; while the second in the pair would be ordinary or natural, a deliberate selection or acceptance.
This may further be explained by examining the English usage of the words``assume'' and ``assumption,''which are both derived from sumere . When we say that someone has incorrectly ``assumed'' a thing to be true, or wrongly made an ``assumption,''what we really are saying is that they have ``taken'' something to be true. Again, in a religious context, we know of stories in which certain saints of old are said to have been``assumed'' into heaven. The Roman Catholic Church even celebrates the Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary, commemorating their belief that she was ``taken''bodily to heaven upon death. (Compare also the ancient legend that Enoch was ``assumed'' into heaven, no doubt based on the words of Gen. 5:24-``... he was not, for God took him.'')
It is this religious connotation, which associates ``assumption'' with ascent to heaven to be with God and His Son, which informed the teachings of Joseph Ribera and St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine concerning the Rapture. We can now see why these passages havecome to be understood to be discussions of the Rapture. But have these scriptures been correctly interpreted? Let us closely read the holy text:
First, we can safely conclude only that the connotation of the original Greek of Luke17 is that a selection will occur during the End Times, with one being accepted and the other one being rejected. Despite the fact that many believe (dare I say ``assume''?) this selection to be by means of the Rapture, it is important to notice that the specific means by which this selection is performed is left unmentioned. Is this a selection to be raptured, or in some other way to be protected during the final Tribulation? The context offers nodirect support for such an interpretation. Rather, Jesus cites the stories of Noah (vv.26-27)and Lot (vv.28-29, 32) to describe two fates-one fate is to be saved by God, the other fate is to suffer God's wrathful punishment. Observe that Noah and Lot were delivered from different judgments in different ways, but neither one of them was raptured to heaven.Christ's emphasis here is on the end results-salvation on the one hand, and condemnation on the other-not on the means of accomplishing either result.
A Gathering of Eagles
Finally, when Jesus is asked for a location in verse 37, it is significant that He did not take this opportunity to explain that the saints would temporarily be taken to heaven. Instead, He spoke those enigmatic words about eagles gathering around a body. What did He mean? In order to find out, we must now turn to the Olivet Prophecy in the Gospel of Matthew, where we find an extensive prophetic discourse on the Last Days, including words which parallel those found in the seventeenth chapter of Luke. In particular, this puzzling proverb appears in almost identical words in Matt. 24:28. In addition to that, further on in Matt. 24 we can find a ``one will be taken, the other will be left'' passage.
Notice that these parallels which we find in Matt. 24 occur at a different time and in a different setting and verbal context from those of Luke 17. Yet if the words in Luke refer to the Rapture, should we not safely conclude that the words in Matthew do so as well? Alternately, if Luke 17 is not a reference to the Rapture, may we not be justified in concluding that Jesus' parallel words in Matt. 24 also do not refer to the Rapture? Let's look closely at the words in Matt. 24:
``But of that day and hour no one knows, not the angels of heaven, but the Father only. But as the days of Noah, so also will be the coming of the Son of Man. Because, as they were in the days before the Flood-eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the Flood came and took everything-so also will be the coming of the Son of Man. At that time two will be out in the field-one is taken, and one is left; two grinding at the mill-one is taken, and one is left.Therefore, be on guard, for you do not know in what hour your Lord is coming.'' (Matt. 24:36-42)
Here in the Olivet Prophecy, Jesus' words appear in a context which stresses the suddenness and unpredictability of the Second Coming. In Luke 17, there is obviously a similar message, only in that place Jesus also cites the story of Lot and Lot's wife in addition to that of Noah. Just as the world was unprepared for and oblivious to the coming Flood, and Sodom was unprepared for and caught unawares by God's fiery judgment, so too will the world be napping when the End arrives. Jesus does not want us to be caught flat-footed. And more, the example of Lot's wife warns us against doubt or hesitation in that day-no looking back. When this selection process finally occurs, it will seem sudden to those who do not know how to read the signs of the times (Matt. 24:32-33). And it is humanly impossible to tell how God will manifest His choice-one will be taken, one will be left, yet to the human eye it will look like an arbitrary choice between two ordinary fieldworkers or two generic millers.
Now we return to the proverb of eagles gathering around a body. Let's examine the context of the proverb in Matt. 24:
"Then if they tell you, `Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out. `Look, He is in secret places,' do not believe it. Because as the spectacular light comes out of the eastern sky and shines all the way to the western sky, so also will be the coming of the Son of Man.Because wherever the carcase may be, there the eagles will be gathered together.'' (Matt. 24:26-28)
So we come back to the question of the meaning of this proverb. Why would Jesus speak this proverb when talking about the time of His Return? I am not entirely sure, but as far as I can make out, He was telling them, ``You'll know it when you see it.''In Matt. 24:28, I think He was saying that just as eagles and vultures do not get together unless they have found a carcase, so these things will not occur unless His coming is imminent or has occurred. But in Luke 17:37 when asked for a specific location, He said,``When eagles gather together, you can know intuitively that they are surrounding a dead body. So, when these things come to pass, you'll have the answer to your question-you'll be able to know it intuitively from the circumstances you observe.''
So He ducked the question. And why not? What purpose would it serve for them to know such a thing? That would be going off on a tangent from what He wanted to tell them. He wanted to tell them to be ready in the Day of His Return, but they wanted Him to tell them about times and places. Sounds familiar somehow.
Did God Beat Around the Bush?
I have stated that in these key Rapture texts, there is actually no explicit reference to a Pre- or Mid-tribulation Rapture. But could it not be at least implied in these passages? I cannot accept that alternative. What are we to make of the fact that the chief proof texts of this concept at best turn out only to imply the Pre-Tribulation Rapture? I would think that a Christian doctrine should be founded primarily upon direct references, and only given additional support from indirect references. This indicates to me that the reasoning and logic behind the Rapture concept is less than sound.
But the main reason I cannot accept the Rapture concept is because the weight of scriptural evidence places an interpretation upon Paul's words to the Thessalonians which is completely different from that customarily placed upon them. As long as we've been reading in Matt. 24, let's examine another passage from that chapter. Consider Jesus'words which He spoke to His disciples on the Mount of Olives:
``... Because there will be great tribulation .... Immediately after the tribulation of thosedays, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light .... Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will wail. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather His chosen ones from the four winds....'' (Matt. 24:21, 29-31)
Compare these words to those of Paul in I Thess. 4:13-18. It cannot be doubted that the events related in Matt. 24 are identical to those related by Paul in I Thess. 4. There are certain differences, of course. Jesus said this would occur immediately upon the conclusion of the Great Tribulation , whereas in this context Paul said nothing at all of the Tribulation.However, he did mention that the dead in Christ would be resurrected first, a thing unstated in Matt. 24. These are differences mainly of detail, of emphasis-the events being described are indisputably identical, as is shown from the imagery of angels and trumpet blasts appearing in both passages. When we put the testimony of scripture together in this way, we can see that the events Paul described will occur immediately after the Tribulation.
In addition to that, another detail in Christ's prophecy constitutes a problem for the beliefs commonly held about the Rapture. Notice carefully that Jesus said that when the sign of the Son of Man appears in the sky, everywhere on earth humans will become terrified. The general human population of the earth will see Jesus returning-and at that specific point, Jesus sends out His angels to gather all of the saints to Him. If this gathering is identical to the one of which Paul wrote in I Thess. 4, what are we to make of the widespread belief that the Rapture is to be secret and unannounced to the human race at large?
These are serious contradictions to the usual scenarios of a Pre- or Mid-tribulation Rapture. By the testimony of our Lord Himself, the ``Rapture'' will occur as soon as the Tribulation ends-not at the start nor in the middle of a seven-year Tribulation.However long the Tribulation lasts, when it is over the Saints-living and dead-will be``raptured.'' And it will occur as the eyes of the human race are drawn heavenward, catching sight of the King of Kings descending from heaven. At this point, recall that by the word of the Lord, Paul said that the dead in Christ will be resurrected first, and then those of us who are alive at that time. He did not say this only to the Thessalonians, but also to the Corinthians:
``Pay attention-I am telling you a mystery! Indeed, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-in a moment, in the glance of an eye, at the last trumpet. For a trumpet shall sound, and the dead will be resurrected no longer able to decay, and we shall all be changed.'' (I Cor. 15:51-52)
As in I Thess. 4, Paul alludes both to Christians who have already died and to those of us who are still living. But in this place he does not specify the order of our resurrection.However, he does state that the trumpet that sounds will be the last trumpet.This is significant, as will shortly become apparent.
We have seen that this resurrection is to occur at the end of the Tribulation, at the sounding of the last trumpet. With all of the things we have read and learned in mind,examine the words of this vision written down by the Apostle John:
``I will be gracious to My Two Witnesses [i.e. ``martyrs'']-they will prophesy for one thousand, two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.... When they finish their testimony, the Beast which is to rise out of the Abyss will wage war on them, conquer them, and kill them. Their bodies will be on the street of the Great City, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where our Lord was crucified. Those from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will see their dead bodies for three-and-a-half days-they do not permit their dead bodies to be placed in tombs.... After three-and-a-half days, a Breath of Life from God entered into them, and they stood on their feet.... They heard a great voice out of heaven, telling them, `Come up here,' and they went up into heaven in a cloud....And the seventh angel blew his trumpet , and there were great voices in heaven, saying, `The kingdoms of the world became our Lord's and His Anointed One's, and He shall reign forever and ever.' The twenty-four elders sitting before God on their thrones fell prostrate and gave great honor to God, saying, `We thank You, Lord God Almighty, Who is, Who was, and Who is coming, because You assumed Your great power and reigned.The nations were full of wrath, and Your wrath came-and the time for judging the nations, and to give the reward to Your servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to those who fear Your Name-both small and great....'' (Rev. 11:3, 7-9, 11-12, 15-18)
In this vision, we see two specially-appointed servants of God who will take a stand against the forces of the Beast and the False Prophet-two mighty saints versus two arch-sinners. Their ministry is to last three-and-a-half years, until they are martyred by the Beast. But in just three-and-a-half days, they are to be resurrected, and a great voice from heaven will summon them up into the clouds. Very soon after this John sees the seventh angel sound a blast on his trumpet, and he hears mighty angelic voices declare that the time has come for the nations to be judged and all the saints to be rewarded.
Put this vision next to the words of Paul and Jesus, and we can see that John had seen in vision what Jesus told His disciples and what Paul told the Thessalonians and Corinthians: At the last trumpet, the dead in Christ will be resurrected, and then the living saints will be changed-and together we will ascend into the sky, just as the Two Witnesses are shown doing in verse 12. Indeed, from the Book of Revelation we learn that ``the last trumpet'' of I Cor. 15 is actually the last of seven trumpets.
We should also notice the reference to the response the nations will have to the blast of the seventh trumpet: ``The nations were full of wrath.'' Compare this to the words ofJesus in Matt. 24: ``... all the nations of the earth will wail.'' This is further evidence that the same events are described in each place, Matt. 24, I Thess. 4, and Rev. 11. This means we must place the ``rapture'' of the Two Witnesses and the blast of the seventh trumpet after the Tribulation, not just before or in the middle.
Now, if one believes in a seven-year Tribulation, with a Pre-tribulation Rapture, then the ministry of the Two Witnesses must commence ten-and-a-half years before the Return of Christ-since they are obviously being ``raptured'' in verse 12. Alternately, if one believes in a seven-year Tribulation with a Mid-tribulation Rapture, then their ministry must commence at the start of the Tribulation and end with the Rapture. But if we take Jesus' words in Matt. 24:29 into account, then we can only conclude that the TwoWitnesses are to perform their ministry during the Great Tribulation. Notice that their resurrection takes place three-and-a-half days after their deaths. Three-and-a-half days would certainly qualify as ``immediately after the Tribulation of those days.''
Whether they start their ministry at the beginning of a three-and-a-half year Tribulation or halfway through a seven-year Tribulation is a separate, though related, issue.Only one of these two options can be correct. As we have seen, the Rapture concept as popularly understood today is only as old as the latter half of the sixteenth century. But the concept of a seven-year reign of Antichrist has a far greater antiquity, dating back to Irenaeus of Lyons in the latter decades of the second century. I happen to disagree with Irenaeus on this point, but that is a subject for another article.
I will conclude this study with this: One of our pastors was recently the guest at a Baptist church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He told the congregation there that although our church has taught that the Rapture is scripturally unfounded, if just before the Tribulation begins we members of the WCG happen to find ourselves suddenly ascending into the heavens, we will not complain, ``Hey! Put me down! This shouldn't happen until the Tribulation is over!'' On the contrary, we pray always, ``Thy will be done.''If at that time God is going to send me to the deserts of Jordan, so be it. If He hides me in the heavens, all the better. That being said, I believe in neither a Pre-tribulation Rapture nor a Mid-tribulation Rapture. In whatever way God will divinely protect His People, we must now recognise that a great many of God's People will suffer and die in the Tribulation (Rev. 7: 14), just as in the days of Isaiah (II Kings 21:16; Isa. 57:1-2).
The Rapture concept is unsupported by the holy word of prophecy. Therefore, whether I live to see it or go to my rest before that day, I am confident that the prophecy of I Thess. 4 is to be fulfilled after the Tribulation, not long before our Lord sets foot on the Mount of Olives.
Note of Acknowledgment: I extend my deepest gratitude to Father James Kruse of theRectory of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Pekin, Illinois, for the use of his edition of the old Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome, Biblia Sacra-Juxta Vulgatam Clementinam Divisionibus, Summariis et Concordantiis Ornata, 1927.
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