Tag Archives: Rapture

The Last Days of Israel

Jerusalem Israel

Some of my favorite Bible teachers on radio have been dispensationalists who believe in a pretribulation rapture of the church. They rarely bring up the subject. In fact, you could listen for years without hearing a sermon on the rapture. The same is true of the church I currently attend. When they say one’s stance on the rapture shouldn’t divide Christians, they mean it. They are more interested in building up the body of Christ and making disciples.

Unfortunately, there are other radio programs whose hosts and guests accuse anyone opposed to their teaching of a pretribulation rapture of anti-semitism and replacement theology. They claim that one’s stance on the rapture doesn’t affect salvation, but then repeatedly refer to themselves as the remnant and accuse those who don’t agree with them or who don’t constantly teach about eschatology of being false teachers. It seems the greatest sin one can commit, according to these teachers, is to neglect Bible prophecy and Israel.

I don’t agree with their assessment. It is possible to believe the people of Israel play an important role in Bible prophecy without believing in a secret rapture that removes the Church from the earth before the start of the tribulation. I also believe God’s priority for Christians is to become more Christlike, not self-proclaimed experts in eschatology.

A Quick Review

In an earlier post I made the claim that the Church is not a parenthesis in God’s redemptive plan, inserted into history because of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah. Thus the Church and Israel do not operate as distinct entities and the rapture is not required to separate them into their respective dispensations. Also, the Church and Israel do not have separate eternal destinies, one in heaven and one on the new earth.

In another post, I presented Bible verses indicating that Israel and the Church have the same savior, redeemer and husband. This suggests a continuity and oneness between Israel and the Church far more than it suggests two distinct groups of people.

Furthermore, both the Church and Israel are called God’s chosen people and a holy nation. They have the same shepherd and same king. Jesus declares they shall be one flock. It makes no sense for them to have different eternal homes.

Finally, a closer look at the “left behind” passage in Matthew 24:37-41 reveals that the rapture is not in view here because it is unbelievers who are “taken” in judgment and it is believers who are left behind to live with Christ in the Millennium.

Israel’s Status

So, if there is no rapture and no Jewish age to be completed in the future, what role do the Jews as a distinct people have in the eschatological events prophesied in Revelation?

Much of the debate* concerning Israel’s role in future events centers on how much of the prophecy in the Olivet Discourse found in Matthew 24 and 25 has already been fulfilled.

Most all Christians agree that the context of the Olivet Discourse (especially Matthew 23:37-39) is Israel’s rejection of their Messiah. Furthermore, they agree that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. was God’s judgment on Israel for their rejection of Jesus.

But was it a permanent setting aside? Has the Church, as some believe, replaced ethnic Israel?

Grafted Back In

Matthew 23:37-39 and other passages seem to refute such a notion.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:37-39).

Matthew 23:37 describes the anguish Israel’s rejection caused her Messiah. Israel’s house is left desolate (v 38) when Jesus leaves the temple (24:1).1 But they will see him again (v 39). During his triumphal entry (Matthew 21), they welcomed Jesus as King hoping to be released from Roman rule but rejected him as Savior from their sins. After the crucifixion the Jews, as a people, will not see him again until they repent, using once more the words from Psalm 118 which portrays the triumph of the 2nd Advent — Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord — this time in understanding and faith.

Not only does this passage refute the extreme preterism idea that Jesus returned in 70 A.D. (because the Jews did not repent); it also indicates that Israel has a very important role to play in the future. Jesus will not return until Israel as a nation (but with exceptions) repents.2

The above may seem like thin evidence, but Zechariah 12:10 also refutes the idea that Israel was permanently replaced in God’s redemptive plan:

I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. (NASB)

Though one fulfillment of this verse occurred at the cross (John 19:37), when examined along with Romans 11:11-26, it becomes clearer that in the future, Israel mourns its sin and is grafted back in to the root because they no longer persist in unbelief and are saved.3

Jesus wept over the city that rejected him (Luke 19:41) knowing that unless they did, he would never be crucified. He wept knowing that unless they rejected him, the fountain that would cleanse from sin all who believe in him (Zechariah 13:1, Hebrews 9:22) would never be opened in his side. He wept knowing  his Spirit of grace would one day be poured out on his people so they would recognize him, mourn and repent. Jesus wept, perhaps longing for the time when he would return (Matthew 23:39) to make Jerusalem’s desolation a distant memory and to dwell in their midst (Zechariah 2:11).

Jesus’ love for his people pours out of these verses like a flood. Should we not see as Jesus did? Ethnic Israel’s last days do not end in the despair of the destruction of Jerusalem as some preterists claim. Israel’s last days end in the joy of knowing her Messiah. Grafted back into the root, Jesus makes them one flock with all the elect to live together forever with him.

The apostle Paul concluded that God has not rejected his people forever (Romans 11:1) nor are they beyond recovery (v11) though they have experienced a partial hardening (v25). Christians need not believe in a pretribulation rapture that abandons the Jewish people to the horrors of the tribulation to affirm that God still has plans and promises for ethnic Israel.

The fact that the modern nation of Israel exists, populated with Jews gathered from around the world is potentially very significant to prophecy fulfillment. Is it time for Israel to be grafted back into the root? Is the world stage being set for their repentance and the return of Jesus?


  1. Preterists argue this desolation denotes the end of the old covenant. See further reading below.
  2. This, of course, could refer to Israel used in the sense of all saved people. However, since verse 25 refers to physical Israel and not spiritual Israel and since it would not be a “mystery” that all the elect, whether Jew or Gentile, will be saved, it is more likely that Paul sees a “restoration of the Jews in the sense in which they had been rejected, that is, the nation generally. Paul then is affirming that the nation of Israel as a whole will ultimately have its place in God’s salvation.” (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 421.)
  3. This differs from the mourning of Revelation 1:7 when, at the 2nd Advent, every eye will see him and unbelievers, without repentance, mourn as they face judgment. However, in Matthew 24:30 the mourning of the tribes of the earth (Israel) upon Christ’s return (KJV, NASB and ESV) is most likely accompanied by repentance.
*Further Reading – Interpretive Methods for the Book of Revelation

Note — The following discussion uses the term Israel to refer to the Jewish people as an ethnic group, not to the redeemed people of God comprised of both Jew and Gentile.

A person’s view of Israel’s role in future world events largely depends on the method he or his Bible teacher uses to interpret the Book of Revelation.

For example, preterists interpret the book of Revelation as a message of hope to persecuted believers of the late first century and early second century. Preterism comes in three forms – mild, moderate (or partial) and extreme (or full). Mild preterism sees the prophecies in the book of Revelation fulfilled in 70 A.D. in the downfall of Israel as a nation and in 313 A.D. when pagan Rome met its demise with the Edict of Milan. Extreme preterism believes the 2nd Coming occurred in 70 A.D. along with the spiritual resurrection of the saints. There is no future bodily resurrection of believers or unbelievers. The mild and extreme forms of preterism are untenable in my estimation.

The moderate preterist understanding of both the Tribulation and the bulk of Bible prophecy centers on political events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. In this view the kingdom has not been postponed as dispensationalism teaches, but is here now and is spiritual in nature. Thus there is no need for national Israel to have a future dispensation in which to fulfill prophecy. However, for the moderate preterist the Second Coming, Resurrection and Judgment remain in the future.

Idealists view Revelation as a dramatic portrayal of the battle between good and evil and its application to humanity’s struggles. It does not serve as a predictive text.

Those who hold a millennialist view mostly adhere to either a historicist or futurist interpretation of Revelation. Historicists believe fulfillment of Revelation’s prophecies can be found in the past, present and future. Futurists believe the events of Revelation await a future fulfillment.



  1. Toussaint, Stanley D., “A Critique of the Preterist View of the Olivet Discourse.” Bibliotheca Sacra161, no. 644 (2004). 469-490.
  2. Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 350-351.
  3. John Piper, “There Shall Be a Fountain Opened
  4. Richard D. Phillips, Zechariah, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007).
  5. Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, The Case for Historic Premillennialism, An Alternative to Left Behind Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, e version


Will the Church Go Through the Great Tribulation?

sunset heaven tribulation

If you attend an evangelical church, especially a Baptist, Pentecostal or non-denominational church, you might be surprised to know how many Christians do not believe in a pre-tribulation rapture or in a “great tribulation” lasting seven years or that Revelation chapter 20 speaks of a literal thousand-year period (millennium) when Christ rules on earth.

According to LifeWay Research, only one-third of American Protestant pastors believe in a pre-tribulation rapture and only half believe in a future, literal thousand-year reign of Christ.1

Who Believes What

The prevailing interpretations of Revelation chapter 20 can generally be categorized into three options – premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism.

Premillennialists believe:

  • Christ will return physically to reign on earth for a thousand years.
  • Jesus’ return will result in a sharp contrast between the worst period of history (the great tribulation) and the best period of history (the thousand-year reign of Christ).
  • Christ’s second coming will result in Satan being bound for one thousand years.
  • Near the end of the millennium Satan will be released and launch a final rebellion that Christ will squash and Satan and his demons will be cast into the lake of fire.
  • There will be two physical resurrections, one for believers and one for unbelievers, separated by the thousand years of the millennium.
  • The arrival of new heavens and the new earth follow the final judgment.

Amillennialists believe:

  • The thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 are symbolic rather than literal and represents the entire church age. Persecution increases toward the end, prior to Christ’s return, but there is no distinct seven-year period of tribulation.
  • There will be no earthly, personal reign of Christ (no millennium). Christ’s rule is in the hearts and minds of Christians who experience trials and tribulations throughout the church age.
  • The two resurrections of Revelation 20 are not separated by a thousand years and are not both physical resurrections as in premillennialism.
  • Final judgment immediately follows Christ’s return, whereupon both the righteous and the wicked will enter into their respective final states.

Postmillennialists believe:

  • The thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 are symbolic rather than literal and represents the entire church age. Persecution increases toward the end, prior to Christ’s return, but there is no distinct seven-year period of tribulation.
  • The kingdom is present now and Christ rules in the hearts of men.
  • Prior to Christ’s return, the world will, over time, get better rather than worse. Evil will be reduced to negligible proportions through conversion of most of the world. When enough people submit to God, a long period of earthly peace of unknown length (millennium) will result.
  • At the end of the millennium a brief period of evil and apostasy arise associated with the Antichrist.Then Christ will return which will immediately be followed by a resurrection that includes all people, the final judgment and assignment of the wicked and righteous to their eternal destiny.

So, it would seem that for a Christian to consider the rapture debate to be of any import, she must first decide whether or not the millennium is a literal thousand-year period and if there is a distinct period of great tribulation to be rescued from.

We should probably not attempt to convince anyone of a particular eschatological position based on who has held it in the past. It is interesting, though, to realize that Christians we may look to for guidance understanding the Scriptures or for inspiration in missionary efforts, have held a position on the end-times we find untenable.

For example, William Carey was a postmillennialist. Jonathan Edwards, who ranks very high on my list of favorite theologians, was a postmillennialist. In the wake of the Great Awakening in America many Christians thought perhaps this amazing spread of the gospel meant the millennium was approaching. But, the optimism of postmillennialism is captive to the times we live in, to world events. Two World Wars, the Great Depression and horrifying genocides in the twentieth century, unsurprisingly diminished enthusiasm for the idea that the world was getting better.

The time we live in influences us greatly. When the Church undergoes persecution, a millennium brought about by a dramatic, sudden intervention of God’s power seems more plausible. Perhaps this is why the early Church (until the time of Augustine) was largely premillennial in its eschatology.

Revelation 20

Proponents of the different millennial views, understandably, believe their view best explains various biblical passages. However, Revelation 20 is the only place in the Bible that mentions a thousand-year period in which Christ reigns and Satan is bound. It is the focal point of the millennial debate.

George Murray (in defense of amillennialism) argues we should interpret an obscure passage in light of more clear statements. He contends that one can read the entire Bible without discovering the doctrine of two resurrections separated by a literal thousand years until he arrives at Revelation 20. Then, by interpreting one sentence literally, he is obliged to retrace his steps and re-interpret all eschatological passages in light of this one sentence.2

Another common argument from amillennialists is that the book of Revelation is structured so that it describes the period between Christ’s first advent and His second advent numerous times but with different emphasis. So, according to this reasoning, Revelation 20 starts a new description that begins with Satan’s defeat at Christ’s 1st Advent (the binding of Satan) and ends with judgment day at Christ’s 2nd Advent (Christ’s reign).3

Denver Seminary professor Craig Blomberg counters this latter argument by addressing the logical flow of thought in Revelation 19 and 20. Amillennialists and postmillennialists break the narrative between the two chapters because in order for the tribulation to refer to the church age, Revelation 20 must begin a new description of the church age starting with events that take place at the 1st Advent. But since the end of chapter 19 reveals the fate of two members of the unholy trinity (the beast and the false prophet), readers expect to hear next about the fate of Satan, the mastermind of the group. This is indeed what happens. Since Revelation 20 reveals Satan’s fate, it makes sense to consider chapters 19 and 20 together, thus placing the events of Revelation 20 at the 2nd Advent rather than the first, supporting the idea of a literal millennium.4

Of course, this by no means settles the matter. Differing methods of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) and insights from other passages of Scripture contribute significantly to the differing conclusions reached by students of eschatology.

Pre or Post Tribulation Rapture?

Let’s lay aside for now attempts to resolve the millennial issue because, while it helps us understand what people believe, the purpose of this article is to answer the question – will the Church go through the great tribulation?

We don’t need to choose between amillennialism or postmillennialism to answer the question, because if either are correct, then there is no unique period of tribulation to escape from since the Church experiences tribulation throughout history.5 Also, neither teaches that the Church will escape the intensified tribulation at the end of the age.6,7

But what about premillennialism? Do all premillennialists believe the Church will be raptured before the tribulation? Evangelicals who believe Christ reigns physically on the earth for a thousand years and who believe there will be a future seven-year period called the Great Tribulation, typically subscribe to either historic premillennialism or dispensational premillennialism.

We don’t need to choose between historic premillennialism and post- or a- millennialism to answer our question because historic premillennialism teaches that Christ returns for his Church after the Great Tribulation. Only dispensational premillennialism teaches that Christ returns for his elect before the Great Tribulation (a pre-tribulation “rapture”).Therefore the debate as to whether the Church goes through the tribulation is really an in-house debate among premillennialists and centers around the timing of Christ’s return for his elect.

My next article will examine the pre-tribulation and post- tribulation rapture positions. After investigating the reasoning and assumptions that lead people to reach different conclusions about the timing of Jesus’ return while citing the same Bible verses, I will attempt to answer the question – will the Church go through the Great Tribulation?


  1. Smietana, Bob (2016) “Pastors: The End of the World is Complicated” http://lifewayresearch.com/2016/04/26/pastors-the-end-of-the-world-is-complicated/
  2. Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (1979). Grand Rapids, MI:Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., p 242
  3. The End Times: A Study On Eschatology and Millennialism, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, September 1989, p 39-40
  4. Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, The Case for Historic Premillennialism, An Alternative to Left Behind Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, e version, p 67
  5. Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, The Case for Historic Premillennialism, An Alternative to Left Behind Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, e version, p 66
  6. The End Times: A Study On Eschatology and Millennialism, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, September 1989, p 22
  7. However, it would appear from current world conditions, that postmillennialists have little reason to worry about the increased season of tribulation at the end as it appears it will be a long time before the the world attains a period of peace comparable to their envisioned millennium.



The End Times: A Study On Eschatology and Millennialism, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, September 1989

Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, The Case for Historic Premillennialism, An Alternative to Left Behind Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009

Millard Erickson, Contemporary Options in Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Books, 1977

Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology, Volume Three, Grand Rapids, MI:Zondervan Publishing House, 1994

People Get Ready

Dark Clouds On the Horizon

This past presidential election cycle awakened fears in the hearts of many Americans that might otherwise have lain dormant had there been a candidate who rose above the lesser of two evils criterion.

Christians across America sense that time is running out. Like a train speeding toward a canyon not knowing its bridge is out, our nation has failed to slow its moral decline or alter its course by taking a different track. On the contrary, we seem to be accelerating as we approach the abyss.

Couple this awareness of our own nation’s condition with the realization that the rest of the world isn’t faring any better, and it’s no wonder that a Barna poll taken in 2013 reported that 41% of all adults in America and 77% of evangelical Christians believe the biblical end times have arrived. Given the events of the past three years – increased terrorism, wars and a refugee crisis – even more people must wonder how close we are to the last days.

While some people, because of the results of Tuesday’s election, feel a measure of relief and hope that our nation’s headlong rush to disaster might be slowed or even reversed because the democratic candidate lost, others don’t. A sober analysis recognizes we are in the same state of moral decay as we were before the election. Even if our nation becomes great again by worldly standards, it will be to no avail if American Christians practice a powerless, ineffective and lukewarm Christianity that depends on political saviors.

We remain on the brink of disaster. And so does the world.

Do We Really Need to Understand Prophecy?

Considering the millions of copies the Left Behind series of books sold, one might conclude there is widespread interest in the study of the end times (eschatology), particularly by those who believe Jesus will return to take the Church to heaven before a seven-year tribulation period begins on earth. Though many denominations do not teach a pre-tribulation rapture, it is likely that more than a few Christians in those denominations adhere to the teaching simply because it is so ubiquitous.  Millions of Christians attend churches that do teach a pre-tribulation rapture. Thus, a significant number of people are anticipating future events to play out in a scenario similar to those found in the book series.

But what if events don’t go according to the script of these books?

In other words, does eschatology matter? If we are indeed close to the return of Jesus, does it matter which millennial view we hold or if we believe in a pre-tribulation rapture?

Evangelical, Bible believing Christians share important, core beliefs about the end times. Christ’s visible, public return to earth, the bodily resurrection of all humanity, and the judgment of the living of the dead resulting in eternal life for some and eternal destruction for the rest are not the beliefs that distinguish those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture from those who don’t.

Furthermore, Christians can love, trust, serve and obey God without agreeing on the timing of the rapture or  how to interpret Revelation 20.

Yet, I can’t imagine that God doesn’t want us to get his prophetic message right, especially as events unfold. If a prophetic passage is a call to prepare, shouldn’t we know what to prepare for, whether deliverance from or perseverance through tribulation? If prophecy serves as a warning shouldn’t we assume the warning is for us unless proven otherwise? Certainly Jesus didn’t intend his warnings in Matthew 24 to go unheeded. If prophecy is a call to repentance, shouldn’t we know what to repent of?

Finally, since prophecy, like the rest of Scripture, reveals God’s glory we should understand it as best we can.

Crucial Questions

To make sense out of the various views about the end times and particularly the doctrine of the rapture of the church, a number of pertinent questions should be addressed:

  1. Are Israel and the Church distinct and separate peoples of God with different destinies? If this is the case, then a pre-tribulation rapture is a necessity because the church must be removed prior to the 2nd Advent in order for the Jewish age to be completed. (I have already made a case against this idea here, here and here).
  2. Is suffering and persecution normative for the Christian and, if so, is the notion that God would remove his saints from a period of intensified persecution in the tribulation consistent with how he has treated his elect throughout history?
  3. Is the great tribulation limited to a seven-year period just prior to Jesus’ return to earth? To so restrict the time frame of the great tribulation allows for the possibility that the Church can escape it. However, if the tribulation occurs throughout the church age (as believed by amillenialists) or if it encompasses the period from 70 AD until the return of Christ, (as indicated by Matthew 24 and Luke 21) then, by definition, the church cannot escape the worst persecution in history even though it escapes God’s wrath.
  4. Does the Bible teach a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth known as the millennium? This is significant, because various interpretations of the end times hinge on this question.
  5. Is Revelation best interpreted by assuming the book’s major emphasis is on the final victory of God over evil or by assuming its primary function was to address first century persecution of Christians under Rome or does the book mainly teach timeless principles about how God acts in the world? These and other approaches to interpreting the book of Revelation lead to quite different conclusions. Perhaps the best interpretation of Revelation incorporates all of these approaches when applicable.

Because proponents of the pre-tribulation rapture position have done a better job of promoting their view of the end times, it may seem to those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture that it is overwhelmingly the majority opinion among Christians. They therefore hesitate to entertain the possibility that alternative viewpoints are correct.

This series of blogs challenges the pre-tribulation rapture view. I haven’t engaged in a serious study of prophecy for decades, but now seems like the right time to turn to the pages of prophecy for instruction concerning the Blessed Hope.