Friday, March 30, 2018

The Olivet Discourse: The Return of Christ

According to all three accounts of the Olivet Discourse, the coming of the Son of Man will be unmistakable. If something is the sort of thing that could leave one speculating, “I wonder if that was it?” whatever it was, it isn’t the it we were looking for. So many groups (e.g. the Moonies, JW’s, Branch Davidians, among others) could have been spared much of their folly if they’d only taken this word to heart. Nothing about Jesus' actual return will be subtle, and it will not leave intact the course of ordinary living that had been the norm up to the time of its occurrence.

Matthew describes this lack of subtlety as having the quality of lightning flashing across the whole sky. The point is emphasized and clarified by the reference to vultures gathered at a corpse. The point is that when the sign has fully occurred (i.e. the Great Tribulation, which is akin to the corpse) that Christ's return is there on the spot like the vultures gathered in the metaphor. So, there is nothing doubtful about whether or not it will occur, or when the time comes, that is has occurred, anywhere here on earth.

Matthew tells us that Christ's return will happen "immediately" (Koine: eutheos, at once) after the distress of those days, that is the Great Tribulation. The sense of urgency entailed cannot be overlooked, so the return of Christ will come on the heels of the Tribulation without any protracted delay. I envision this as happening right after the outpouring of the seventh bowl at the end of the 70 Weeks. In other words, the seventh bowl of wrath serves as the last bit of the Great Tribulation and ushers in the return of Christ.

All three accounts reference astonishing astronomical events in conjunction with the powers in the heavens being shaken. Luke does not mention them in sequential terms (i.e, as following the Great Tribulation as do Matthew and Mark), but his generality cannot be seen to dismiss the specificity of the other two. Matthew, uniquely, refers to the sign of the Son of Man appearing in the heavens before his coming in the clouds. That sign is never described by Matthew, never mentioned by Mark or Luke, so suffice it to say, it's something we don't need to understand in any depth to know that Jesus is coming back in the clouds (and in the same fashion as he ascended).

Furthermore, we are told that the tribes of earth will mourn at the sign, whatever it might be. Mourn, in this instance, means to bereave the loss or cutting off of something or someone. This is not regret or repentance, this is the agony of defeat (see 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). At this sign, the Gentiles (tribes) alive at that time finally recognize that they are cut off—that they backed the wrong horse and face nothing but judgment ahead. The blinders come off, the delusion dissipates, and they will see, finally, the truth about Christ with their own eyes, but without faith.

It is infinitely better to see that truth, now, by faith but without sight.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Olivet Discourse: The Secret Rapture

Some look at the description of Christ's return within the Olivet Discourse and jump to the conclusion that the secret (i.e. pre-tribulational) Rapture of the church is an unscriptural teaching. The sudden catching away of the church prior to the Tribulation and the ascendancy of the Antichrist seems to fly in the face of the text, which plainly states that the return of Christ and the rescue of his saints occurs at he end of the Tribulation. I don't blame folks for holding this position, in fact, I thought this way myself in my early days as a Christian. 

What changed my mind was a "Eureka!" moment while poring over Revelation 12 (see this). When I understood the imagery in that passage, it was as if I'd been given a key that unlocked everything else the Bible said about eschatology. Suddenly, just about everything fell into place, including the Olivet Discourse. As it did, I no longer disdained the Secret Rapture teaching, but found myself, to my surprise, accepting it and thereafter promoting it.

The mechanics of Jesus' return as detailed in the Olivet Discourse are the same regardless of which approach to the Rapture one takes. Astronomical wonders and some uniquely associative heavenly sign immediately precede the visible return of Christ through the clouds. The series of events will be absolutely unmistakable and inescapable, like lightning illumining the whole sky. As he comes through the clouds, he will gather his saints together from the four winds (all over earth) and from one end of heaven to the other.

Pre-tribbers and mid-tribbers assume at least some saints were already in heaven (i.e., raptured, not just the dead in Christ) when Jesus finally arrives on earth. The text explicitly states that he gathers his saints from from all over the heavens so that is certainly a valid perspective. How those on the earth are gathered is not intimated, it is only said that they are gathered in the lot. I see nothing in the text which implies that those on the earth are quickly whisked up into the air just to experience a meteoric descent back to earth immediately afterwards with Jesus.

Post-tribbers have to assume that very thing, the sequence as follows: Christ appears in the heavens, gathers the saints from heaven (the dead in Christ) and earth (those alive and remaining) in the air (necessitated by 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) and then immediately returns to earth with them in tow.

Among other issues with that scenario, it does not jive with Revelation 19:19-20:5. That text clearly states that there are saints who did not take the mark of the Beast and that are raised from the dead (raptured, for all intents and purposes) in isolation from the rest of the dead. The passages that deal directly with the faithful dead being raised or raptured (1 Corinthians 15:50-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) clearly state that all the faithful dead at the time of the Rapture rise together. Therefore, the unmarked saints from the Tribulation cannot be part of the faithful dead at the time of the Rapture

The only way the math works out is for those unmarked, Tribulation saints to die after the Rapture has occurred.

If those Tribulation saints must die during the Tribulation but after the Rapture, the post-tribulation perspective is untenable. The mid-tribulation perspective is not eliminated, not at least by the passage mentioned above. It does have issues with what follows in the Olivet Discourse (see this), however.  It seems the escape of the Rapture, at least for the broadest measure of the Church, must happen suddenly in the midst of ordinary life, and hence pre-tribulationally, according to the scriptures. 

I must admit my approach to the Rapture in the Olivet Discourse is not a slam dunk. The language Jesus used in these passages is ambivalent enough for anyone so determined to justify in their own mind seeing these passages in another light. I do believe my approach to the Revelation and Daniel is more than solid and that everything else fits together within my interpretative schema, whereas nothing does under a mid- or post-tribulational regimen. If either of those approaches are right, no worries, bad things will happen to awake the slumbering before Christ returns, and they won't be caught with their pants down

If my approach is right, we need to be ready now.