Thy Kingdom Come – The Tribulation (Part 2). The Church.
I. Article Title. The Church. (The nature; The church as a mystery; Distinctions between Israel and the church; The doctrine of imminence; The work of the Restrainer; The necessity of an interval.)
A. The nature of the church.
1. One must carefully observe certain distinctions between the church and Israel which are clearly set forth in the Scripture, but often neglected in the consideration at hand.
a. There is a distinction between the professing church and national Israel. It should be observed that the professing church is composed of those who make a profession of faith in Christ. To some this profession is based on reality and to some on no reality at all. This latter group will go into the tribulation period, for Revelation 2:22 indicates clearly that the unsaved professing church will experience this visitation of wrath. Membership in the group called national Israel is based on a physical birth, and all in this group who are not saved and removed by rapture and who are alive at the time of the rapture will, with the unsaved professing church, be subjected to the wrath of the tribulation.
b. There is a distinction between the true church and the professing church. The true church is composed of all those in this age who have received Christ as Savior. Over against this we have the professing church composed of those who make a profession of receiving Christ without actually receiving Him. Only the true church will be raptured.
c. There is a distinction between the true church and true or spiritual Israel. Prior to Pentecost there were saved individuals, but there was no church, and they were a part of spiritual Israel, not the church. After the day of Pentecost, and until the rapture, we find the church, which is His body, but no spiritual Israel. After the rapture we find no church, but a true or spiritual Israel again. These distinctions must be kept clearly in mind. The rapture will remove, not all who make a profession of faith in Christ, but only those who have been born again and have received His life. The unbelieving portion of the visible church, together with unbelievers in the nation Israel, will go into the tribulation period.
2. Since the church is the body, of which Christ is the Head (Eph. 1:22; 5:23; Col.
1:18), the bride, of which He is the Bridegroom (1 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23), the object of His love (Eph. 5:25), the branch of which He is the Root and Stem (John 15:5), the building, of which He is the Foundation and Cornerstone (1 Cor. 3:9; Eph. 2:19-22); there exists between the believer and the Lord a union and a unity. The believer is no longer separated from Him, but brought into the closest oneness with Him.
3. If the church is in the seventieth week, she is subjected to the wrath, judgment, and indignation which characterizes the period, and because of her oneness with Christ, He, likewise, would be subjected to that same visitation. This is impossible according to 1 John 4:17, for He can not be brought into judgment again. Inasmuch as the church has been perfected and delivered from all judgment (Rom. 8:1; John 5:24; 1 John 4:17), if she is subjected to judgment again, the promises of God would be of none effect and the death of Christ would be ineffectual. Who would dare to assert that the death of Christ could fail to accomplish its purpose?
4. While the members may be experimentally imperfect and need experimental cleansing, yet the church, which is His body, has a perfect standing in Christ and could not need such cleansing. The nature of the testing in the seventieth week, as stated in Revelation 3:10, is not to bring the individual to cleansing, but to reveal the degradation and need of the unregenerate heart. The nature of the church prevents such a testing.
5. Again, Revelation 13:7 makes it clear that all who are in the seventieth week are brought into subjection to the Beast and through him to Satan, who gives the Beast His power. If the church were in this period she would be subjected to Satan, and Christ would either lose His place as Head, or He, Himself, because of His union with the Church, would be likewise subjected to Satan’s authority. Such a thing is unthinkable. Thus it is concluded that the nature of the church and the completeness of her salvation prevent her from being in the seventieth week.
B. The concept of the church as a mystery.
1. Closely related to the previous consideration is the concept given to us in the New Testament that the church is a mystery. It was no mystery that God was going to provide salvation for the Jews, nor that Gentiles would be blessed in salvation. The fact that God was going to form Jews and Gentiles alike into one body was never revealed in the Old Testament and forms the mystery of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:1-7; Romans 16:25-27; Colossians 1:26-29. This whole mystery program was not revealed until after the rejection of Christ by Israel.
2. It was after the rejection of Matthew 12:23-24 that the Lord first makes a
prophecy of the coming church in Matthew 16:18. It is after the rejection of the Cross that the church had its inception in Acts 2. It was after the final rejection by Israel that God called out Paul to be the Apostle of the Gentiles through whom this mystery of the nature of the church is revealed.
3. The church is manifestly an interruption of God’s program for Israel, which was not brought into being until Israel’s rejection of the offer of the Kingdom. It must logically follow that this mystery program must itself be brought to a conclusion before God can resume His dealing with the nation Israel, as has been shown previously He will do. The mystery program, which was so distinct in its inception, will certainly be separate at its conclusion. This program must be concluded before God resumes and culminates His program for Israel. This mystery concept of the church makes a pretribulation rapture a necessity.
C. The distinctions between Israel and the church.
1. Chafer has set forth twenty-four contrasts between Israel and the church which show us conclusively that these two groups can not be united into one, but that they must be distinguished as two separate entities with whom God is dealing in a special program. These contrasts may be outlined as follows: (1) The extent of Biblical revelation: Israel—nearly four-fifths of the Bible; Church—about one-fifth. (2) The Divine purpose: Israel—the earthly promises in
the covenants; Church—the heavenly promises in the gospel. (3) The seed of Abraham: Israel—the physical seed, of whom some become a spiritual seed; Church—a spiritual seed. (4) Birth: Israel—physical birth that produces a relationship; Church—spiritual birth that brings relationship. (5) Headship: Israel—Abraham; Church—Christ. (6) Covenants: Israel—Abrahamic and all the following covenants; Church—indirectly related to the Abrahamic and new covenants; (7) Nationality: Israel—one nation; Church—from all nations. (8) Divine dealing: Israel—national and individual; Church—individual only. (9) Dispensations: Israel—seen in all ages from Abraham; Church—seen only in this present age. (10) Ministry: Israel—no missionary activity and no gospel to
preach; Church—a commission to fulfill. (11) The death of Christ: Israel—guilty
nationally, to be saved by it; Church—perfectly saved by it now. (12) The Father: Israel —by a peculiar relationship God was Father to the nation; Church—we are related individually to God as Father. (13) Christ: Israel—Messiah, Immanuel, King; Church— Savior, Lord, Bridegroom, Head. (14) The Holy Spirit: Israel—came upon some temporarily; Church—indwells all. (15) Governing principle: Israel—Mosaic law system; Church—grace system. (16) Divine enablement: Israel—none; Church—the indwelling Holy Spirit. (17) Two farewell discourses: Israel—Olivet discourse; Church—upper room discourse. (18) The promise of Christ’s return: Israel—in power and glory for judgment;
Church—to receive us to Himself. (19) Position: Israel—a servant; Church—members of the family. (20) Christ’s earthly reign: Israel—subjects; Church—co-reigners. (21) Priesthood: Israel—had a priesthood; Church—is a priesthood. (22) Marriage: Israel— unfaithful wife; Church—bride. (23) Judgments: Israel—must face judgment; Church— delivered from all judgments. (24) Positions in eternity: Israel—spirits of just men made
perfect in the new earth; Church—church of the firstborn in the new heavens.
2. These clear contrasts, which show the distinction between Israel and the church, make it impossible to identify the two in one program, which it is necessary to do if the church goes through the seventieth week. These distinctions give further support to the pretribulation rapture position.
D. The doctrine of imminence.
1. Many signs were given to the nation Israel, which would precede the second advent, so that the nation might be living in expectancy when the time of His coming should draw nigh. Although Israel could not know the day nor the hour when the Lord will come, yet they can know that their redemption draweth nigh through the fulfillment of these signs. To the church no such signs were ever given. The church was told to live in the light of the imminent coming of the Lord to translate them in His presence (John 14:2-3; Acts 1:11; 1 Cor. 15:51-52; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Tim. 6:14; Jas. 5:8; 1 Pet. 3:3-4). Such passages as 1 Thessalonians 5:6; Titus 2:13; Revelation 3:3 all warn the believer to be watching for the Lord Himself, not for signs that would precede His coming. It is true that the events of the seventieth week will cast an adumbration before the rapture, but the object of the believer’s attention is always directed to Christ, never to these portents.
2. This doctrine of imminence, or “at any moment coming,” is not a new doctrine, as is sometimes charged, systematizes, and popularized it. Such a belief in imminency, marked the premillennialism of the early church fathers as well as the writers of the New Testament. In this connection Thiessen
writes: “they held not only the premillennial view of Christ’s coming, but also
regarded that coming as imminent The Lord had taught them to expect His return at any moment, and so they looked for Him to come in their day. Not only so, but they also taught His personal return as being immediately. Only the Alexandrians opposed this truth; but these Fathers also rejected other fundamental doctrines. We may say, therefore, that the early Church lived in the constant expectation of their Lord, and hence was not interested in the possibility of a Tribulation period in the future. “
3. Although the Eschatology of the early church may not be altogether clear on all points, for that subject was not the subject of serious consideration, yet the evidence is clear that they believed in the imminent return of Christ. This same view of imminence is clearly seen in the writings of the Reformers, even though they have had different views on eschatological questions. Chafer quotes some of the reformers to show that they believed in the imminency of the return of Christ. Luther wrote, “I believe that all the signs which are to precede the last days have already appeared. Let us not think that the Coming of Christ is far off; let us look up with heads lifted up; let us expect our Redeemer’s coming with longing and cheerful mind.” Calvin also declares: “Scripture uniformly enjoins us to look with expectation for the advent of Christ.” To this may be added the testimony of John Knox: “The Lord Jesus shall return, and that with expedition. What were this else but to reform the face of the whole earth, which never was nor yet shall be, till that righteous King and Judge appear for the restoration of all things.” Similarly, the words of Latimer: “All those excellent and learned men whom, without doubt, God has sent into the world in these latter days to give the world warning, do gather out of the Scriptures that the last days can not be far off. Peradventure it may come in my day, old as I am, or in my children’s days.”
4. The doctrine of imminence forbids the participation of the church in any part of the seventieth week. The multitude of signs given to Israel to stir them to expectancy would then also be for the church, and the church could not be looking for Christ until these signs had been fulfilled. The fact that no signs are given to the church, but she, rather, is commanded to watch for Christ, precludes her participation in the seventieth week.
E. The work of the Restrainer in 2 Thessalonians 2.
1. The Thessalonian Christians were concerned for fear that the rapture had already taken place and they were in the day of the Lord. The persecutions which they were enduring, as referred to in the first chapter, had given them a basis for this erroneous consideration. Paul writes to show them that such a thing was impossible. First, he shows them in verse 3 that the day of the Lord could not take place until there was a departure of the saints from the earth, as already mentioned in verse 1, is beside the point here. Second, he reveals there was to be the manifestation of the man of sin, or the lawless one, further described in Revelation 13. Paul’s argument in verse 7 is that although the mystery of iniquity was operative in his day, that is, the lawless system that was to culminate in the person of the lawless one was manifesting itself, yet this lawless one could not be manifested until the Restrainer was taken out of the way. In other words, some One is preventing the purpose of Satan from coming to culmination and He will keep on performing this ministry until He is removed (vv. 7-8). Explanations as to the person of this Restrainer such as human government, law, the visible church will not suffice, for they will all continue in a measure after the manifestation of this lawless one. While this is essentially an exegetical problem, it would seem that the only One who could do such a restraining ministry would be the Holy Spirit. This problem will be considered in detail later. However, the indication here is that as long as the Holy Spirit is resident within the church, which is His temple, this restraining work will continue and the man of sin cannot be revealed. It is only when the church, the temple, is removed that this restraining ministry ceases and lawlessness can produce the lawless one. It should be noted that the Holy Spirit does not cease His ministries with the removal of the church, nor does He cease to be omnipresent, with her removal, but the restraining ministry does cease.
2. Thus, this ministry of the Restrainer, which will continue as long as His temple is on the earth and which must cease before the lawless one can be revealed, requires the pretribulation rapture of the church, for Daniel 9:27 reveals that that lawless one will be manifested at the beginning of the week.
F. The necessity of an interval.
1. The word apantēsis (to meet) is used in Acts 28:15 with the idea of “to meet to return with.” It is often argued that that same word used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 has the same idea and therefore the church must be raptured to return instantly and immediately with the Lord to the earth, denying and making
impossible any interval between the rapture and the return. Not only does the Greek word not require such an interpretation, but certain events predicted for the church after her translation make such an interpretation impossible. These events are: (1) the judgment seat of Christ, (2) the presentation of the church to Christ, and (3) the marriage of the Lamb.
2. Passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:9; 1 Corinthians 3:11-16; Revelation 4:4; 19:8, 14 show that the church has been examined as to her stewardship and has received her reward at the time of the second advent of Christ. It is impossible to conceive of this event as taking place without the expiration of some period of time.
3. The church is to be presented as a gift from the Father to the Son. Scofield
writes: This is the moment of our Lord’s supreme joy—the consummation of all his redemptive work. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water by the word, THAT HE MIGHT PRESENT IT UNTO HIMSELF a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless BEFORE THE PRESENCE OF HIS GLORY with exceeding joy” (Jude 24).
4. In Revelation 19:7-9 it is revealed that the consummation of the union between Christ and the church precedes the second advent. In many passages, such as Matthew 25:1-13; 22:1-14; and Luke 12:35-41, the King is seen in the role of Bridegroom at His coming, indicating that the marriage has taken place. This event, likewise, requires the expiration of a period of time and makes the view that the rapture and revelation are simultaneous events impossible. While the length of time is not indicated in this consideration, yet an interval between the rapture and the revelation is required.
II. Article References.
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Th. D. (1871-1952). J. Vernon McGee, Th. D. (1904-1988). Merrill F. Unger, Ph. D. (1909-1980). Charles L. Feinberg, Ph. D. (1909-1995). John F. Walvoord, Th. D. (1910-2002). J. Dwight Pentecost, Th. D. (1915-2014). Charles C. Ryrie, Ph. D. (1925-2016). Robert L. Thomas, Th. D. (1928-2017). Stanley D. Toussaint, Th. D. (1928-2017). Robert P. Lightner, Th. D. (1931-2018). Harold W. Hoehner, Ph. D. (1935-2009). Thomas S. McCall, Th. D. (1936-2021). Edward E. Hindson, Ph. D. (1944-2022).
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B. In this article, I have chosen theologians whom have proven themselves to be highly respected by others in the Biblical doctrine of eschatology (the study of what Scripture teaches about the end times), and other doctrines of scripture. All of the references in this article have a connection with Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) as graduate or instructor. Other source of information in this article: Henry C. Thiessen.
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