4. An Examimation of Dispensational
We shall now examine the verses that are commonly used in support of the pre-tribulation rapture position.
First, Revelation 4:1: “After this I [John] looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.”
Those who hold the “secret” rapture teaching, generally believe that the seven churches mentioned in Revelation, chapters two and three, represent seven ages of the church — beginning with the church of the first century and continuing until the rapture. Since chapters 4 through 18 do not mention the word “church”, this is taken as proof that the church will be absent from the earth during this time. The verse that follows the third chapter (Rev. 4:1) tells how John in vision was taken up to heaven and saw certain things. John is used as a type of the church and this verse is then taken to mean that the church will be raptured at this same point — before the events of the chapters that follow! And since John was told he would see things that would be “hereafter”, this is taken to mean that the chapters that follow describe things which will take place “after” the church is gone!
But trying to apply Revelation 4:1 to the rapture is based only on assumptions, not plain statements. First, it is assumed that the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 represent seven ages of the church — from the first century to the rapture. Second, it is assumed — since the word “church” does not appear in the chapters that follow chapter three — that the church at this point is taken out of the world in a secret rapture. Third, it is assumed that not only the seven churches of Asia represent the church, but that John himself is also a type of the church, for it is taught that his being caught up to heaven pictures the rapture of the church. And finally, it is assumed that since John saw things which would be “hereafter” that this means after the church is gone. But now, step by step, we will take a closer look at these points.
1. Do the seven churches of Asia represent seven church ages — from apostolic days to the rapture? Since these seven churches with their varied spiritual conditions existed together in Asia during the first century, we see no special reason to believe that seven contemporary churches should represent seven successive ages of the church. We believe the lessons contained in the letters to the seven churches could apply to churches in similar situations in any century.
2. Next, it is claimed that since the word “church” does not appear in Revelation, chapters 4-18, we are to understand that the church is absent from the earth during this time, not coming into the picture again until chapter 19 in which we read of the marriage supper and the coming of Christ as King of kings.
But if the mere absence of the word “church” can prove that the church is absent in chapters 4-18, we would have to conclude that the church is also absent in chapter 19, for the word “church” appears nowhere in the entire chapter! Nor does the word “church” appear in chapter 20! It is not found in chapter 21! Would any contend that the church is absent in these chapters? It is not until the last chapter of Revelation that we find the term again, and that only in a closing remark: “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches” (Rev. 22:16).
The church is not mentioned in chapters 4-18, we are told, and this is taken as proof that the church is in heaven during this time. What? If the church is not mentioned, how could this prove it is in heaven? Since the church is clearly on earth in chapters two and three, and since it is not expressly referred to as being in heaven during the chapters that follow, the more natural inference would be that it is still on earth during these chapters. One thing is for sure: if the church is not mentioned in these chapters, there is no proof it is in heaven during this time!
We are told that the church is not mentioned in the chapters after Revelation 3:22. But technically, the church (as a whole) is not mentioned in the chapters before Revelation 3:22! Instead, all of the references are to local assemblies, local churches in Asia, each being but a part of that great universal church of God. Here are the facts: the words “church” (singular) and “churches” (plural) occur 19 times in Revelation 1-3. The four references in chapter one are about “the seven churches in Asia.” The word “church” is used in each of the addresses to the seven churches: “To the angel of the church in Ephesus”, etc. and at the conclusion of each of the letters: “Hear . . . what the Spirit saith to the churches.” In Revelation 2:22, “To all the churches”, refers to all seven of the churches mentioned. Thus the word is never used in these chapters as referring to the church in its totality. This is significant.
While it is true the word “church” does not appear after chapter three until the last part of Revelation, we believe the church is definitely referred to by other terms that are used in these chapters. Take Revelation 13:7, for example. “And it was given unto him [the beast] to make war with the SAINTS.” Is not this a clear reference to the church? Revelation 13:10 mentions the “patience and faith of the SAINTS” — patience and faith in the midst of persecution! The “SAINTS” are again mentioned in chapter 16:6. In chapter 17, we read about the Babylonian woman “drunken with the blood of the SAINTS” (verse 6) and that “In her was found the blood of the SAINTS” (18:24). Here, then, are several references to the saints; that is, those who make up the church.
But those who believe the rapture is pictured in Revelation 4:1, commonly teach that the “saints” in these chapters are not church saints, but tribulation saints — people that are no part of the church whatsoever! Yet when we find the word “saints” in connection with the marriage supper of the Lamb in chapter 19, then we are told this refers to the church! Notice the passage:
“The marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed In fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of SAINTS.” The Scofield footnote says: “The ‘Lamb’s wife’ here is the ‘bride’, the Church.”1 So it is agreed the saints here referred to are church saints. But to be consistent, if the “saints” In Revelation 19 are church saints, how can some rightly argue that the “saints” mentioned in the chapter before (chapter 18), the chapter before that (chapter 17), the chapter before that (chapter 16), and chapter 13 are some different kind of saints? By such arbitrary methods of interpretation, anything could be proved from the Bible!
3. Assuming that the churches of Revelation 2 and 3 represent seven church ages, coupled with the idea that the word “church” does not appear in certain chapters that follow, Revelation 4:1 is then taken as a reference to the rapture — assuming that John is a type of the church! Let us look at the verse again: “After this I [John] looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.” Though this verse was plainly a message to John, many dispensational writers feel this verse clearly refers to the rapture!
Scofield, for example, says: “This call seems clearly to indicate the fulfillment of 1 Thess. 4:14-17 [the rapture].2 The word ‘church’ does not again occur in the Revelation till all is fulfilled.” And De Haan says: “This brief passage from Revelation is one of the shortest yet one of the clearest pictures in Scripture of the rapture of the church.”3
But this verse is not talking about the rapture, it is not talking about the church, it is talking about JOHN! It was John who was — in spirit — taken into the heavenly realm and saw various things which would come to pass. John being thus taken up does not prove we should look for the church in heaven any more than his being taken in the spirit into the wilderness to “Babylon”, would prove the church was there! (Rev. 17:3-5).
Those who claim to “clearly” see a pre-tribulation rapture of the church in this verse must assume (among other things) that John is a type of the church. But John could not be a consistent type of the church in heaven during the period covered by chapters 4-18, for sometimes during those chapters he is represented as being back on EARTH! In Revelation 10:1 and also 18:1, for example, he sees an angel “come [not go] down from heaven” — wording which would place him below heaven in these scenes. In Revelation 11:1, in vision, he measures the “temple”, which apparently does not symbolize something in heaven, for it is pictured as having a court which is given to the “Gentiles” to tread down. Then in Revelation 13:1, John is standing upon the sand of the sea, and a beast rising up out of the water appears, etc. John is sometimes pictured as being in heaven and sometimes on earth. He cannot, therefore, be a consistent representation of the church in heaven during these chapters.
4. Adding to the foregoing dispensational teachings (that the seven churches represent seven ages of the church until the rapture, that the word “church” does not appear after chapter three, and that John is representative of the church in being taken up to heaven at Revelation 4:1), a final point is made in the attempt to establish a pre-tribulation rapture from the verse under consideration. We are told that when the voice spoke to John and said: “Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be HEREAFTER”, that the expression “hereafter” means AFTER the church has been raptured to heaven!
But the fact is, the same words in the Greek — “meta tauta” — that are translated “hereafter” at the end of this verse, are exactly the same words that are rendered “after this” at the beginning of the verse. The verse begins and ends with the same identical phrase in the original. Is it not inconsistent, then, to attempt to make it mean “after the church” in one instance and not in the other? And to make it mean “after the church” in both instances would be contradictory.
The normal reading of the passage is simply that John had received specific messages to the seven churches in Asia; after this he heard a voice saying he would be shown things which would be hereafter — that is, he would be shown events that were then future. It is inexcusable to try to make it mean anything more than this, for this same expression was commonly used by John. “Meta tauta”, though translated in various ways into English, appears in the following verses in John’s writings: “hereafter” (John 13:7; Rev. 1:19; 4:1; 9:12); “after these things” (John 3:22; 6:1; 7:1; Rev. 7:1; 18:1; 19:1); “afterward” (John 5:14); “after that” (Rev. 15:5; 20:3); “after this” (John 5:1; Rev. 4:1). To try to force a meaning upon the expression in one instance that is completely unheard of and unrelated to the use of the word in other parts of John’s writings is, we feel, very unsound.
Another dispensational “proof text” is found in the words of Jesus to the church at Philadelphia: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Rev. 3:10).
Those who use this verse in defense of the secret rapture position, assume that it is talking about a great tribulation period at the end of this age. There is no scriptural proof for this. Then it is assumed that since these are to be kept from the hour of temptation, that this means they will be raptured clear out of the world in order for this to be fulfilled. But, again, the text does not say this.
1. Let us consider this verse in its primary application — as it pertained to the church of Philadelphia, located in Asia Minor, In the first century. Was this church kept from a world wide time of temptation? As sure as the promise is true, they were. How were they kept? By being raptured to heaven? There is nothing to infer this. We believe they were kept by the power and grace of God.
If God fulfilled his promise to them, then the “hour of temptation” — what ever might be meant by the expression — must have occurred in their day. If so, it is evident that this verse offers no proof for a secret rapture to escape a great tribulation period 2,000 years later.
2. Let us consider Revelation 3:10 as it would apply with the teaching that the seven churches of Asia represent seven church ages. In this case, the passage again falls short of proving there will be an escape rapture from a tribulation during the last years this age. Had this been the case, Revelation 3:10 should have been given to the last church of the seven. But the promise of being “kept from the hour of temptation” was addressed to the sixth church.
Here, again, we see inconsistency in the secret rapture teaching. When it is being stressed that Revelation 4:1 teaches the secret rapture, we are told that the seven churches represent seven successive ages of the church, and that the last church age, the seventh, will end with the rapture. Then later, when commenting on Revelation 3:10, this is contradicted by saying that the message to the sixth church refers to an escape for the church at the end of the church age — as though the sixth church was the last church! In other words, when commenting on Revelation 4:1, the church ages are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Then later, in order to apply Revelation 3:10 to a pre-tribulation rapture, the ages would have to be twisted around like this: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ,7, 6, or, at least, the last two very arbitrarily merged together (as in the note on page 1332 of the Scofield Reference Bible).
Since the church in any century can benefit from the letters to the seven churches, let us view Revelation 3:10 as setting forth truth that could apply to the church in any century in which the same conditions exist. This will be a more general application.
3. It is a recognized method of Biblical interpretation to consider other verses that might shed light on a subject. We will apply this rule here and compare a verse that also contains the words of Jesus and one that was recorded by the same disciple. In both verses we will find basically the same wording and the same type of promise. But in the one — and this is significant! — it is plainly shown that believers can be kept from the temptation or evil of this world without being taken out of the world! We ask the reader to carefully compare the following passages:
“Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Rev. 3:10).
“They have kept thy word . . . I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:6, 15).
In both passages, the people referred to have kept the word. And because they have kept the word, God will “keep them.” In the one passage, they are kept from the hour of temptation; in the other, they are kept from evil. The fact that they are kept from temptation in the one verse and kept from evil in the other, does not materially change the meaning involved, for evil and temptation are very closely related words. Jesus, for example, taught the disciples to pray: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil “(Mt. 6:13). If we are kept from temptation, then surely we are kept from evil. The two go hand in hand.
Both of the passages we are comparing use the expression “keep from” in English, and in the Greek both use the same basic words. In both passages, believers are “kept from” evil or temptation, the one expressly explaining that this would be accomplished without them being taken out of the world — the exact opposite of the secret rapture teaching!
If it is possible to be in the world and yet be “kept from” the evil of the world, is it not also possible to be “kept from” the hour of temptation without being taken out of the world?
The fact that Revelation 3:10 mentions God’s keeping power at the “hour of temptation” is no reason to insist that by “hour” a seven year period of time is meant. In another passage, Jesus spoke about those which have no root “which, for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away” (Lk. 8:13). Whether we use the term “time of temptation” or “hour of temptation”, it is the time when temptation becomes great, it is that hour when people are especially tested. Applying it in the general sense, it might be in any century, any year, any day — not just the last seven years of this age.
It was such an hour of stress and test when Jesus was about to be betrayed and the disciples slept. Jesus said, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation” (Mt. 26:40-45). In that hour of temptation, they needed to pray. In prayer they could have received the necessary power to be “kept from” the temptation of that crisis hour.
Revelation 3:10 speaks about being kept from the hour of temptation “which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” Paul also spoke of temptation as being common to all men — but with special promise to the believer! “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man, but God . . . will not suffer you [the believer] to be TEMPTED above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:12, 13).
Here, then, is another reference about mankind being tempted, but that through Christ we can be kept from falling into temptation — because he makes a way of ESCAPE! Believers — here and now — escape from temptation without being raptured out of this world! “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of TEMPTATIONS” (2 Peter 2:9). He has been doing it for centuries.
We believe that Revelation 3:10 stresses God’s KEEPING power. “I will keep thee from the hour of temptation”, he promises. Other verses also speak of God’s keeping power, but none Imply a rapture out of this world. Jabez prayed: “KEEP me from evil . . . and God granted him that which he requested” (1 Chron. 4:10). And we, today, can also be “KEPT by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1 Peter 1:5), for God “is able to KEEP you from falling” (Jude 24), etc.
Thus by a study of the key words in the text under consideration, we find that believers can be “kept from” the world’s evil or temptation, can be “delivered out of temptation”, can find “a way of escape”, without being taken out of this world.
Some attempt to teach that the church will be taken out of the world because Revelation 3:10 mentions temptation that will “try them that DWELL upon the earth.” It is taught that those who “dwell” upon the earth are those who choose earth as a permanent abode, as compared to the Christians who have spiritual objectives. But this conclusion will not stand up, for in the original, the same word is used in describing our Lord DWELLING in Capernaum! (Mt. 4:13). None suppose that Jesus felt Capernaum was his permanent dwelling!
The three applications we have made of Revelation 3:10, summed up, are as follows:
While a verse like Revelation 3:10 might — if taken alone — provide a possible inference, all will admit that true doctrine must be based on plain statements, not inferences.
One more text should be noticed here: “Watch ye therefore and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to ESCAPE all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36).
It is true that this verse speaks of “escape”, but it says nothing about the church being taken to heaven in a secret rapture in order for this escape to be accomplished! This should be especially noted, for this is the very thing that some have attempted to read into this passage.
In this verse, Jesus said to his disciples: “PRAY always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape . . .” How? By a secret rapture to take them to heaven seven years before the end of the age? Apparently not, for in the prayer that Jesus himself prayed, we read: “I PRAY NOT that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:15). Would Jesus pray one way and then tell his disciples to pray another way? Surely this would be contradictory.
With what is this word “escape” to be connected? Is it a reference to escaping a period of time — a dispensational great tribulation during the last seven years of this age? It does not say so. A look at the context shows that the reference is to “THAT DAY”, the time believers shall be gathered to meet Christ in the air and destruction shall fall upon the world — the end of the age.
“Heaven and earth shall pass away [the end of this age] . . . take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be over-charged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so THAT DAY come upon you unawares.” [Obviously it could not come upon them unawares if they were to be raptured out seven years before the end of the age!]. “For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Lk. 21:33-36).
We notice the reference is to THAT DAY. Escape is promised to those who are prayerfully watching and not overcharged with eating and drinking. Let us notice now that these same things were mentioned by Paul. “THE DAY of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then SUDDEN DESTRUCTION cometh upon them as travail upon woman with child; and they shall NOT ESCAPE. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness that THAT DAY should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of the light . . . we are not the night. . . Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us WATCH and be SOBER. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night” (l Thess. 5:1-7).
Notice that this passage also mentions THAT DAY. It will bring “sudden destruction” upon unbelievers “and they shall not escape.” However, there will be those who will “escape” that sudden destruction — those who are sober, spiritually awake, and watching for the return of Christ.
Matthew’s account (a parallel of Luke 21) also mentions THAT DAY and that we must WATCH, for the time of this event is unrevealed. “For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage... and knew not until the flood came and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Mt. 24:36-44).
When God’s destruction fell upon the world in Noah’s day, those who heeded God’s message ESCAPED — they were not destroyed with the unbelieving world. According to the scriptures, destruction shall again fall on the earth — this time by fire — and again those who have heeded God’s message shall ESCAPE and not be destroyed with the unbelieving world. Whether we think of the end that came in Noah’s day or the end that shall come upon this world at Christ’s return, in neither event is it a case of the righteous escaping from a seven year tribulation period, but from the very destruction that brings the end.
We have, then, the words recorded in Luke, in Matthew, and by the apostle Paul regarding THAT DAY. All speak of the uncertainty of the time. Luke records that it will come “as a snare.” Matthew likens it to the days of Noah when “they knew not until the flood came” and destruction fell upon the world. And Paul says it will come “as a thief in the night”, a time when men will be saying “peace and safety” — not expecting sudden destruction to fall upon them.
All three of these passages give warnings against the eating and drinking which would result in a condition of unconcern and spiritual neglect. Luke speaks of “surfeiting and drunkenness”, Matthew speaks of “eating and drinking”, and Paul’s words exhort us to be “sober” and not “drunken.”
All three of the passages show that the time referred to by the term THAT DAY is the end of the age. Matthew and Luke both use the expression “heaven and earth shall pass away” in this connection, while Paul speaks of it as the time when “sudden destruction” shall fall upon the wicked. Each passage indicates that those who believe will escape this destruction. Luke’s account speaks of praying to “escape” these things, Matthew’s account likens it to the days when Noah escaped the destruction of the flood, and Paul says the wicked “shall not escape”, which implies that there will be an escape for those who are not wicked.
So looking at Luke 21:36 again, we find that an escape is taught — but the reference is to “THAT DAY” when “SUDDEN DESTRUCTION” shall fall upon the world. There is nothing in this text about escaping from a seven year tribulation period by means of a secret rapture before that period.
Those who are truly devoted to Christ shall escape all these things — the neglect, the over indulgence in eating and drinking — and “having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4), here and now, they shall also escape that fiery sudden destruction which shall bring an end to this age.
Copyrighted material used by permission of the Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association.
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