Chapter Three

Among Bible students, the fact is well known that in this age there are three distinct groups of people dwelling together.  These are the Jew, of whom Paul wrote:  “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Rom. 10:1); the Gentile, of whom Isaiah spoke when he said:  “In his name shall the Gentiles trust” (Matt. 12:21); and the Christian, who is no longer seen as Jew or Gentile, but as a “new man” through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:14, 15).  All three of these distinct groups are brought together in one verse (I Corinthians 10:32):  “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.”

These three divisions of the human family, particularly the Jews and the Christians, are the subjects of extended consideration in the Scriptures.  Even in the field of prophecy each as its own distinctive program.  It is one of the most elementary rules of Bible study and interpretation to determine from the context to whom or of whom God is speaking, for only by so doing will the reader be enabled to interpret rightly the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15).  The popular little chorus, “Every promise in the Book is mine,” rightly expresses faith and confidence in the Bible, but the theological implication of the words would be difficult indeed to defend.  A better concept and a more accurate principle is expressed in the tenet:  “All Scripture is for us, but not all Scripture is about us.”

It is the purpose of this chapter to indicate briefly that Israel in the New Testament is not the same as the Church,[1] that each has its own distinctive program in relation to the second coming of Christ, and that the Posttribulation rapture theory rests directly upon Scriptures plainly meant for Israel.  It has previously been demonstrated from the nature of the Tribulation that one basic premise of posttribulationalism is false.  A Scriptural investigation of the nature and program of the Church will reveal additional weaknesses in the foundation upon which this theory has been erected.

I.       Israel Not the Same as the Church

A.      Israel Stems from Abraham

Genesis 12:2, 3 records the important Abrahamic covenant in which God made plain His purpose to do a new thing upon the earth:  “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:  And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee:  and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”  Whatever Abraham was nationally before being called of God, it is at least certain that his spiritual characteristics were far superior to those of the surrounding heathen, and the Jewish race which found its origin in him has been likewise unique, both nationally and spiritually.  Romans 9:4, 5 records eight special divine favors granted to Israel.  However, it is in the great Old Testament covenants made by God with this people that one discovers the five unconditional and eternal promises of Jehovah which constitute Israel’s great national heritage.  These are:

(1)             a national entity (Jer. 31:36)

(2)             a land (Gen. 13:15)

(3)             a throne (II Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:36)

(4)             a king (Jer. 33:21), and

(5)             a kingdom (Dan. 7:14).

The origin of the twelve tribes, the progress of the nation, the kingdoms, the captivities, and the restorations of Israel are familiar matters to any student of the Old Testament.  Nor does it require a great deal of searching to discover that Israel enters the New Testament unchanged.  It was to Israel that the twelve disciples were commissioned to proclaim their message:

These twelve disciples Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And as ye go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 10:5-7).

Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only (Acts 11:19).

Most of the early church was comprised of converts from among the Jews, and although Paul was commissioned to carry the gospel “far hence unto the Gentiles,” he expressed the great burden of his heart in the verse previously mentioned:  “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Rom. 10:1).  This passage might well be pondered by those who glibly identify Israel and the Church in the New Testament.  Israelites who are born anew by the application of the precious blood of Christ enter into the Church which is His body, as do believing Gentiles.  Thus is the middle wall of partition broken down, but these are reckoned no longer as Jew and Gentile, but as “one new man, so making peace” (Eph. 2:14-18).  Redeemed Jews lose their former identity when they enter the Church of Christ, but Israel as a nation, and Israel as a distinct religious group, continues unchanged throughout this present age.  They are a nation “scattered and peeled” (Isa. 18:2, 7), a “proverb and a byword among all nations” (Deut. 28:37), yet God has His hand upon His ancient people and will in Tribulation days purge them (Deut. 4:30, 31) and cause them to recognize and receive His Son (Zech. 12:10; Rom. 11:26).

B.      The Origin of the Church Is Pentecost

While those who gloss over the many Biblical distinctions between Israel and the Church seek to find the origin of the Church with Abraham, or at some other point in the Old Testament, it is not difficult to prove that the Church originated with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  The statement of Christ to Peter in Matthew’s gospel is alone sufficient to prove that the Church was not yet formed at the time of the utterance:

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).

Except for the foreview of Matthew 16:18 and 18:17, the Church is not seen at all until Acts 2:47, which is after Pentecost.  It is true that έκκλησία, ekklesia, is used in Acts 7:38 and Hebrews 2:12 of the community of Israel in the sense that the wilderness they were a “called out body,” but this does not place Israel in the body of Christ any more than it makes the mob in the Ephesian theater members of the true New Testament Church (Acts 19:32), for those disorderly worshipers of the goddess Diana are likewise spoken of as an έκκλησία.  This word in its non-technical usage merely indicates a group of people segregated for a special time or purpose from the general mass of humanity.  The Christian usage of the term is distinct from both the heathen and the Jewish, the Spirit of God thus elevating a familiar expression to a new and lofty service, namely, to designate the people of God during the course of this present age.  The Church did not invent the word at all but has merely assumed its service, which clearly explains its presence in Acts 7:38 and 19:32.  The employment of έκκλησία at these points in no wise militates against the truth that the origin of the true New Testament Church was yet future during the early ministry of the Lord.  Chafer has given a concise summary of four reasons why the Church, the body of Christ, had its origin at Pentecost:

Things cannot be the same in this age as they were in the past age, after the death of Christ has taken place, His resurrection, His ascension, and the advent of the Spirit on Pentecost.  In like manner, things cannot be the same in the coming age as they are in this age, after there is brought about the second advent of Christ to reign on the earth, the binding of Satan, the removal of the Church, and the restoration of Israel.  Those who see no meaning in this declaration have hardly considered the measureless determining issues, it may be seen (a) that there could be no Church in the world – constituted as she is and distinctive in all her features – until Christ’s death; for her relation to that death is not a mere anticipation, but is based wholly on His finished work and she must be purified by His precious blood.  (b) There could be no Church until Christ arose from the dead to provide her with resurrection life.  (c) There could be no Church until He had ascended up on high to become her Head; for she is a New Creation with a new federal headship in the resurrected Christ.  He is, likewise, to her as the head is to the body.  Nor could the Church survive for a moment were it not for His intercession and advocacy in heaven.  (d) There could be no Church on earth until the advent of the Holy Spirit; for the most basic and fundamental reality respecting the Church is that she is a temple for the habitation of God through the Spirit.  She is regenerated, baptized, and sealed by the Spirit.  If it be contended that these conditions could have existed before Pentecost, it is easily proved that the Scriptures do not declare that these relationships obtained until after Pentecost (cf. John 14:17).  A Church without the finished work on which to stand; a Church without resurrection position or life; a Church which is a new humanity, but lacking a federal head; and a Church without Pentecost and all that Pentecost contributes, is only a figment of theological fancy and wholly extraneous to the New Testament.[2]

Here, then, is one clear and vital distinction between Israel and the Church:  the time of the origin of each.  In addition, there is a marked difference between the two in respect to their calling.  Israel’s calling is earthly, while that of the Church is heavenly.  This in no wise suggests that the one does not receive everlasting salvation and abundant spiritual blessing, or that the other may not on earth receive of the good things God has provided.  It does mean, however, that Israel’s promises center in the possession of an earthly heritage and kingdom (Gen. 13:14, 15; 17:8; Deut. 11:12; Dan. 7:14, etc.), while the promises to the Church center around “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3), for theirs is an “heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1), Israel “shall dwell in their own land” (Jer. 23:7, 8), but the inheritance of the Church is “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven” (I Pet. 1:4).

The headship of Israel resides in Abraham, but the Head of the Church is the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:23).  To Israel, Christ is Messiah, Immanuel, and King, but to the Church, He is Lord, Bridegroom, and Head.  The Holy Spirit came upon some in Israel, anointing them for unusual service, but He indwells even the weakest member of the Church (I Cor. 6:19, 20).  Israel is designated as the servant of Jehovah (Isa. 41:8), but those who compose the Church are members of the family and the household of God (Eph. 2:19).  Israel as a nation had a priesthood, but the Church of Christ is a priesthood (I Pet. 2:5, 9).  Israel is revealed as the wife of Jehovah, now untrue but later to be restored, but the Church is spoken of as the spotless bride of Christ (Eph. 5:27; Rev. 19:7-9; 21:9).  At least twenty-four distinct contrasts between Israel and the Church have been enumerated,[3] but enough has been said already to indicate that any system of interpretation which merges, blends, and confuses that which God has clearly separated, dishonors the Word and leads the student of Scripture into blind paths of exegetical disharmony and theological error.

II.      Do Christ and Paul Disagree?

It is generally safe to assume that when two passages of Scripture, although similar, fail to agree in their important points, that they are speaking of different events and possibly concern different peoples.  Seeking to harmonize the Scriptures and to apply to Israel and to the Church those things which particularly pertain to each, many Bible students have employed interpretative principles which have come to be called “dispensationalism.”  Dispensationalists believe that it is neither honest nor proper to claim for the Church all the blessings promised to the nation Israel, meanwhile rejecting all her curses.  They believe that the primary interpretation of some sections of the Bible concerns Israel and cannot be appended to Church truth on the basis that “every promise in the Book is mine.”  They believe that certain relationships the Church sustains to her risen Lord are never true of national Israel.  They do not attempt to rend the Word of God, but to honor it and to understand it by rightly interpreting it.  As applied to the question at hand, dispensationalists hold that Matthew 24 speaks of Israel in the Tribulation and not of the Church, which they believe to be already raptured (possibly between the eighth and ninth verses of this chapter).  They hold that I Thessalonians 4:13-18 is the primary passage which deals with the rapture of the Church, and that Matthew 24 describes a different event and a different people, namely, the revelation of Christ in respect to Israel following the Tribulation.  Posttribulationalists contend that this is to make Christ and Paul disagree; moreover, they back up their claims by loud and often violent attacks upon the entire dispensational principle.  While this chapter cannot take an excursus into the dispensational problem (which method has been ably demonstrated by a score or more of prominent writers: Ottman, Gaebelein, Pierson, Ironside, Chafer, to name a few), it will seek to indicate briefly that the Matthew passage contains a heavy Jewish cast and that its details are in contrast to, rather than in harmony with, the passage in I Thessalonians 4.

But first, by way of illustrating their position and attitude, permit a few words from the opposing brethren:

If we adhere to the simple terminology of our Lord and Paul about “the last day,” “the present Age,” and “the coming Age,” all will be plain, and we shall be saved at the very outset from the danger of getting lost in a labyrinth of dispensational traditions, which lose nothing by comparison with the refinements of the Rabbis.[4]

We are delivered now from the Judaising system of interpreting the discourses of Christ: instead of handing them over to the semi-converted Jews, ignorant of Christ and redemption, we shall apply them to Christians who know and love Christ, always remembering that there are many passages that pre-suppose the existence of a Jewish Christian Church in Palestine, at a past or future epoch of its history: a Church necessarily under the Law of the land, yet rejoicing only in Christ Jesus as the Saviour and Shepherd of Israel.[5]

Robert Cameron, while allegedly tracing the history of pretribulationalism, remarks:

The whole company caught at this solution, cried “eureka” – handed over the Olivet discourse to a Jewish Remnant, and proclaimed the new dogma to the world.[6]

No part of the New Testament seems safe from their pruning-knife....  As Paul is said to be the revealer of the Secret Rapture, his writings have been spared by most, but not by all.

. . . The “Wisdom” of “that old serpent, the devil” is revealed in no better way than in the way in which he enlarged the scope of Modernism by introducing it in the guise of Pre-Tribulation-Rapturism....  Thus tens of thousands who perhaps would not listen to a sermon or read an article by such Modernists as Shailer Matthews or Harry Emerson Fosdick, will eagerly swallow this disguised Modernism, and smack their lips over it, when it is presented by a Torrey, a Gray, a Scofield or a Gaebelein on this side of the ocean, or by a Panton, a Marsh, or a Sir Robert Anderson on the other side; and because it has the strong endorsement of such great men, many thousands of evangelists and ministers, who do not know its true character, present it from hundreds of evangelical platforms, and a multitude of professedly evangelical publishing houses turn out multiplied millions of copies of tracts, papers and books containing it.  And the same evangelicals will anathematize and excommunicate those other evangelicals whose eyes have been opened to see the delusion, and so will have none of it.  “An angel of light”?  Yes, Satan can and often does appear as such.  “Wise as a serpent”?  Yea, verily!  Satan is just that.[7]

It seems hardly to occur to these friends who so strongly denounce the dispensational method and confess that their brethren are the tools and dupes of Satan, that perhaps the reason so many thousands of evangelists and ministers cannot join the handful “whose eyes have been opened” is that their dispensational convictions are the result of independent and reverent Bible study rather than the product of mass delusion.  It is not at all a question of men blindly following the teachings of men, although one might do worse than adopt the conclusions of spiritual giants such as those mentioned in the above citation.

Turning now directly to the chapter in question, Matthew 24, several important factors are immediately apparent:  The setting and the cast of the chapter is unmistakably Jewish.  The context is the lament over Jerusalem, when Christ wept for the nation Israel which had rejected Him (John 1:11; Acts 7:52).  The discourse arises out of a discussion concerning the coming destruction of the temple, as crystallized by the question of the disciples:  “Tell us, when shall these things be?  And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”

It has been noted previously that Jerusalem and Judaea, the worship of the temple, and the desolation of its holy place are in view.  The message under consideration is the gospel of the kingdom.  The prayer men are commanded to pray is that their flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day.  Are posttribulationists Jews, that when they flee the rage of the beast they should be restricted by the Mosaic legislation over the length of a sabbath day’s journey (Acts 1:12).  Do these who insist that the Church is in view put men redeemed by God’s grace back under a law which, because of its severity and powerlessness to save, was a curse? (Gal. 3:10).  Are Christians bound by a sabbath law which caused even those who lit a fire on the sabbath (Ex. 35:3) or gathered sticks on the sabbath (Num. 15:32-36) to be stoned to death?  We think not!  How then is this the Church?

Without question, Matthew 24 describes the time of the great Tribulation.  The trials and the heavenly signs parallel those of the Revelation; the reference to the “abomination of desolation” (Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11) standing in the holy place is unmistakable; the designation “there shall be great tribulation” is conclusive.  The phase of Christ’s coming which is in view is the revelation, the return of the Son of Man to the earth.  As vital as all this is, it is not the rapture.  Where is the Church?  Where is there any mention of a resurrection?  Posttribulationists insist that where the rapture is, there will the resurrection be.  Where is there any indication that the sixty-nine weeks of Daniel’s prophecy should concern Israel alone, as it does, but that the seventieth week should find its fulfillment, not in Israel, but in the Church?  It is difficult indeed to see the Church at all in this prophetic picture, whereas in the light of Old Testament predictions, Israel fulfills it perfectly.  Is it not far more consistent to understand this chapter as foreview of Israel’s place in the Tribulation than to maintain that the Church, the bride of Christ, is purged for seven years before her marriage, with no honeymoon afterwards?  The Tribulation is the time of Jacob’s sorrow, but the Church, with a perfect standing before God and clothed “in a righteousness so perfect and blessed that even the law of Mount Sinai can find no fault therein,” has no need of such purging.  Believers in Christ are washed in the blood, accepted in the Beloved, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and sealed unto the day of redemption.  Why then thrust the Church into the Tribulation?

If Matthew 24 is not the rapture, Christ and Paul are not in disagreement.  Christ revealed a few things concerning the future Church, but the main body of Church truth is found in the epistles, not in the gospels.  Unto Paul was given the privilege of revealing the mystery, in other ages not made known but now revealed by the Spirit, “that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph. 3:1-6).  Likewise was Paul used to reveal the mystery of the union of Christ with His Church (Eph. 6:32), and the mystery of the indwelling Christ (Col. 1:26-28).  It is not strange, therefore, that Paul should be further used to reveal the mystery of the rapture of the Church, a truth previously introduced by Christ (John 14:3), but not developed until the Pauline Epistles.  “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (I Cor. 15:51, 52).  Here, and not in Matthew 24, is revealed the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the rapture of the Church.  Here, and in I Thessalonians 4:13-18.

The fact that the Church and her removal finds no mention in Matthew 24 does not argue that there is not rapture any more than it argues that there is no Church.  At this time, the rapture is past and the Church is in heaven, and so do not enter into the discussion.  It is, of course, argued by the posttribulationalists that the Church is mentioned in the chapter under the name “elect.”  “For the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened,” and false Christs shall attempt to deceive “the very elect” (Matt. 24:22, 24).  This is a problem only to those who desire to make it so.  Oswald T. Allis is typical of those who believe that these verses speak of the Church, saying “the precious word ‘elect’ ... is used everywhere else of Christian believers.”[8]  But such is not the case, as the Scriptures make abundantly clear.  In Isaiah 42:1, the term is used for Christ:  “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth.”  In I Timothy 5:21, the term is used for angels:  “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels. ...”  In Isaiah 45:4, “elect” clearly applies to the Israelites:  “For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect.”  This is also true of Isaiah 65:9, 22: “a seed out of Jacob ... mine elect”; “my people, and my elect.”  In I Peter 1:2, the same word is used of the Church of Christ:  “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God.”  Christians are exhorted in Colossians 3:12:  “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.”  To say that the term “elect” speaks only of the Church is to ignore the plain testimony of Scripture, and those who use it as a technical term to force the Church into Matthew 24 are indulging in trickery and not exegesis.  Barnhouse’s remarks are very much to the point:

There is a Biblical authority for calling the elect in Matthew 24:22 a group other than the church of which we are a part.  This is by no means a suggestion that anybody can be saved in any other way than by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, revealing the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  In spite of man’s weak faith through the ages and the thousands who even today are babes in Christ, we must not be drawn into the false idea that God has only one people and that He has always worked in exactly the same way....  We must recognize the fact that ... God has future purposes which are outside His work in the Church.[9]

A direct comparison between Matthew 24 and I Thessalonians 4 will strengthen the conviction that two different events are in view.  There are some similarities, to be sure, both dealing with the general subject of Christ’s return: in each there is the sound of a trumpet and the gathering of the Lord’s people.  In each, there is the need for readiness.  But here the similarity stops, and if other points of agreement are found, they must be forced to fit a pattern of resemblance.  This, Reese proceeds to demonstrate, with the remark that those who disagree “make dark what is clear: complicated, what is simplicity itself; and contradictory, what is beautifully harmonious.”[10]

The terminology is not the same.  Matthew 24 speaks of the sign of the Son of Man, the name Christ commonly used in His earthly relationships, but In I Thessalonians 4, it is “the Lord himself.”  In Matthew, there are signs in the heavens, the sun and the moon refusing to shine, the stars falling, and the powers of heaven shaken.  These are in keeping with the Jewish content of the passage, for the Jews are a “sign people” (I Cor. 1:22); however, one looks in vain for such signs and marvels in the I Thessalonians passage.  In Matthew, there are judgments, warnings of Antichrist, and instructions for escape; in the Thessalonians passage, judgment is not found, Antichrist is not in view, and provision for escape is not mentioned for it is not needed.  In Thessalonians, there are no signs preceding the coming, and no personalities or events to detract from “the Lord himself.”  In the former, the tribes of the earth mourn, for this is Christ’s coming to the earth in judgment.  In the latter, however, there is no mourning, no mention of the earth or the tribes of the earth, in fact, no coming to the earth at all, for the meeting is in the air.

The first appearing is public and involves sinners; the second is private, with no judgment, the Church alone being in view.  Two classes of men are spoken of in Matthew: the Jewish elect, and the sinful nations.  Two classes are mentioned in the Thessalonians passage:  “them which are asleep,” and “we which are alive”; these together comprise the Church, and neither class corresponds to saved Jews or unsaved nations.  In Matthew, there is the sound of a trumpet, but it is blown by an angel; in Thessalonians, a trumpet is sounded, but is “the trump of God.”  In the one, angels gather God’s elect; in the other, it is Christ Himself.  The former implies that time is involved; the latter event is instantaneous.

In Matthew, the Jews are gathered “from the four winds,” that is, from the four extremities of the earth, but they are gathered back to Palestine as the prophets so often foretold.  In Thessalonians, the saints are gathered unto the Lord, being caught up “to meet the Lord in the air.”  The first action is explained in Deuteronomy 30:1-6; the second action is explained in John 14:1-3, and the two are vastly different.  In the Matthew passage, there is no mention of resurrection, but in Thessalonians, “the dead in Christ shall rise first.”  In Matthew, rapture is past, but in Thessalonians, the Church is caught up.  In Matthew 24:32-44 (unless the theory is accepted that this is a recapitulation, and again speaks concerning the Church) it is a blessing to remain for entrance into the Kingdom, the rest being taken away in judgment.  In I Thessalonians 4, it is a blessing to be taken in rapture, the unsaved being left to go through the Tribulation.  (That being taken away in judgment is the probable interpretation of Matthew 24:40, 41 is seen by a comparison with the context found in verses 37-39.  It was the godless, outside the safety of the ark, that were taken away with the flood into death and judgment.)

Other contrasts might be mentioned between these two passages under consideration, but why look further?  All is contrast, and if the two are made to describe the same event, all is confusion.  Where is Reese’s “simplicity and beautiful harmony”?  Wherein does it make dark what is clear, to say that two different aspects of Christ’s coming are in view?  Pretribulationalists have no desire to complicate the simple, and surely greater simplicity is achieved in the interpretation of these passages by recognizing that Christ and Paul were talking about different events.  Complicated indeed is the confusion and contradiction involved when events of such marked contrast are superimposed the one upon the other under the assumption that they are identical.  Let it be said in the interest of all that is honest and all that is sensible in the study of the Word of God, that it neither discredits nor complicates the Bible to distinguish between things which are different.  The doctrine of the decrees of God, the doctrine of the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ, the doctrine of election, and even that of redemption, all offer their various complexities.

The Bible presents its truths without apology, and in the understanding of the same the path of over simplification may border perilously close to the rocky pitfalls of unsound doctrine.  So it is in the matter of the Lord’s return.  If the coming of the Lord for His saints, His return to earth with His saints, the day of the Lord, the day of Christ, the resurrection of the just, the judgment of wicked nations, the judgment seat of Christ, the marriage supper of the Lamb, and the other notable events associated with Christ’s coming must all occur at one time, and that “in the twinkling of an eye,” great is the complexity and confusion of such a proposed program.  When, however, it is recognized that the coming of the Lord in its larger context involves two movements on His part, with seven years between to absorb the events which require more time than a fleeting moment, all of the Scriptures involved fit naturally and harmoniously into such a pattern.  The many complex wards of the prophetic lock yield to the touch when the rapture of the saints is distinguished from the revelation of Christ upon the earth – proof to the interpreter that he has found and issuing the appropriate key.

It is therefore entirely in error to say that belief in a pretribulation rapture causes Christ and Paul to disagree, for the one is speaking primarily to Israel about the great Tribulation and the return of the Son of Man to the earth, while the other is revealing to the saints of this age the hope of the rapture of the Church and the relationship the living will bear to the dead in Christ at His coming.  Actually, it is the Posttribulation rapture theory which is in deep error at this point, for it is perched insecurely upon a foundation of primarily Jewish Scriptures.  When some seek to find the future of the Church in the eschatology of Israel and when they use elect as a technical term for the Church in all ages, it is not be wondered at that their prophetic program is in error.  By following the same line of reasoning, the entire Christian Church could be thrown in the lap of Seventh Day Adventism, the modern counterpart of ancient Galatianism.  Let Matthew 24 be descriptive of Israel in the Tribulation, culminating in the revelation of Christ, and let I Thessalonians 4 be descriptive of the rapture of Church saints prior to the Tribulation, and the harmony of Scripture for which some profess to seek will become immediately apparent.

III.    Tribulation Saints

Posttribulationalists point out and expostulate with great fervor the fairly numerous references to saints in the book of Revelation.  In Revelation 11:18, reward is given to the saints; in 13:7, there is war with the saints; in 13:10 and 14:12 is mentioned the patience of the saints; 16:6, 17:6, and 18:24 speak of martyrdom, and refer to the blood of the saints; 19:8 is a reference to the righteousness of the saints; while 20:9 records a final rebellion and attack on the camp of the saints.  These who are called saints, it is assumed, can be none other than Church saints; ergo, the Church is in the Tribulation.  Reese adds to Revelation 11:18 his argument on the time of the resurrection,[11] and thinks that if he defeats Kelly at this point every other pretribulationalist will take to his heels.

It is hardly necessary to enter into a detailed analysis of these verses.  A few moments spent with a Bible concordance will reveal that Old Testament Jews are called “saints” in upward of two score different Scriptures.  Saint, like the term elect, is not a technical name for members of the Church, but may be used to designate any of God’s people in all ages.  There is absolutely nothing to forbid these references in the Revelation from referring to Jewish saints in the end-time.  Indeed, since these saints are linked with the prophets, the commandments of God, and the song of Moses, and since Christ is addressed as King of saints, it would seem that such an identification has much to commend it.  These saints are redeemed; they have “the faith of Jesus”; many of them become martyrs for Christ – they are saved, but they are part of the Jewish remnant of the Tribulation and not part of the Church of this age of grace.

How some posttribulationalists love to multiply epithets and heap up scorn over the “theory of a Jewish remnant.”  These are the “semi-Christian, semi-converted Jewish Remnant of uncertain standing in the Last Days,”[12] the “two-headed, two-tongued monstrosity in Israel and Christendom at the End-time,”[13] “half-converted Jews, still in their sins,”[14] “an army of half-regenerated ... Jews”![15]  It is hardly worth wasting good paper to comment on such unbecoming scorn.  Let it be a sufficient answer to quote Joel’s prophecy of this end-time period which clearly indicates that such a remnant shall appear:

And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.  The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come.  And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call (Joel 2:30-32).

Two groups comprise the “earth-dwellers” of the Tribulation:  Gentiles, and Israel.  Both of these must find their place in this period in order to fulfill Old Testament prediction, such as that of Isaiah when he writes:  “Come near, ye nations, to hear ...  For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies ...”  (Isa. 34:1, 2), or that of Ezekiel as he records God’s words to Israel:  “I will ... gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered ... And I will purge out fro among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me” (Ezek. 20:34, 38).  However, there is no prophecy that the Church will be so purged.

The epistles, given particularly to guide the Church on her pilgrim pathway, maintain a significant silence as to any purpose God might have in thrusting His Church into such a period.  Nor is there any instruction concerning how the Church should act if she were so tested; nor is there any protection promised her from the rage of the Beast.  The purpose of the Tribulation, for Israel, is that she should be purified (Mal. 3:3, 4) and judged for her rejection of Christ (Matt. 27:25).  However, the protection of those Jews who will, in that day, turn to the Lord is assured.  One hundred forty-four thousand of Israel are sealed of God to protect them from His judgments (Rev. 7:1-8; 9:4).  For those who flee the Beast, a refuge in the wilderness has been prepared (Rev. 12:6, 14).  Unto the two witnesses, protection is given, for “if any man will hurt them, fire proceededth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies” (Rev. 11:5).

But for the Church, no promise of protection is indicated, no ministry is given them to accomplish, no purpose of God to be fulfilled in them is stated.  Such silence is highly significant, and particularly so when God is so explicit when it comes to the nations and to Israel.  Then, when it is further noted that in Revelation 2-3 the repeated emphasis is upon “the Church,” but from the fourth chapter, through all the plagues, the judgments, the horrors of the Tribulation, the Church is not again mentioned or seen, the conclusion seems obvious that the Church is not present.  When finally she reappears in the book of Revelation, the Church is the bride of Christ (Rev. 19:7-9) and in heaven.  When Christ descends to judge and to rule the earth, she is seen accompanying Him.

It is a constant accusation by those who deny the pretribulation rapture that such a doctrine appeals to unworthy motives.  To Reese, it is “so comforting and pleasing to the flesh.”[16]  To Allis, it is “singularly calculated ... to appeal to those selfish and unworthy impulses from which no Christian is wholly immune.”[17]  It is interesting that Allis implies many objections to pretribulationalism, listing this as his first, but when it comes to the demonstration of his objections, this is the only point – the rest are singularly missing!  He has developed this one objection, however:

In so far as the “any moment!” doctrine of the coming owes its popularity to a desire to escape the evils which are to come upon all the earth, it is by no means a commendable doctrine.  It makes its appeal to the human frailty of the Christian, instead of challenging him to face the worst of earth’s ills courageously.[18]

Now while it must be admitted that the average pretribulationalist has not desire to enter the Tribulation, and has no ambition to leave his family to starve while he fights a battle with the Beast and endures a martyr’s death, yet it is distinctly untrue that his motive in all of this is craven cowardice.  Each of these chapters will lend its weight to the assurance that the rapture will be pretribulational, and his basic reason will ever be the clear testimony of Scripture and not the supposed weakness of the flesh and the cowardice attributed to him.  He will remember the conclusions of this present chapter, that Israel is not the Church, that their prophetic programs are not identical, that the very nature of the Church demands exemption from the Tribulation, and that posttribulationalism rests precariously upon Scriptures designated primarily for Israel.  Rather than presumptuously seeking to enter into a period for which he was not intended, he will gratefully abide by God’s program of rapture before Tribulation, and in it all his prime motive will not be fear but a sincere desire to be governed only by the revelation God has given.

But now, suppose for an instant that the Church does enter the Tribulation, should she add her witness to that of redeemed Israel?  When before did God ever have two separate witnessing bodies upon earth?  God is not a God of confusion.  Does He not terminate a former course of action before establishing a new one?  To whom would the saved Jews of that period belong: to the 144,000 who are Jews, or to the Church, where there is no such distinction?  For whom would God answer prayer in that day?  The Church is instructed to pray for her enemies (I Tim. 2:1; Rom. 12:17-21; Matt. 5:44; 6:12) and to speak evil of no man.  Israel in the Tribulation, however, will cry unto God to judge her enemies and avenge her blood on them that dwell on the earth (Rev. 6:10).  Under such circumstances to whom would God listen, and which prayer should He answer?  We need not put God in such a dilemma.


[1] The chief passage used by those who content that Israel and the Church are identified in the New Testament is Galatians 6:15, 16:  “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.  And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.”  In these verses, Paul brings out the contrast between the Jew and Gentile, which contrasts is now of no avail for those who have believed on Christ and so become one “new creature.”  God’s blessing is herein declared to be upon those who “walk according to this rule” (among the Galatians, who were Gentiles) and upon “the Israel of God” (the Jews who have found refuge in Christ).  These two classes, joined by the conjunction και, are on the same level and of the same rank in the Church of Jesus Christ.  The verse in no wise identifies Israel as a nation with the Church, which is Christ’s “new creation,” as the many contrasts brought forth in the following section will demonstrate.  Posttribulationalists lean heavily upon this supposed identification of the Church and the nation Israel.  However, one of their number, Howard W. Ferrin, clearly and forcefully refutes such a contention in an address:  “Is the Church Ever Called Israel?” published in The Sure Word of Prophecy, John W. Bradbury, compiler.  Ferrin proves that “Israel” in Galatians 6:16 speaks of “believing Jews,” and not Israel as a nation, and concludes:  “It is also evident that these Jewish promises have not been fulfilled to the Church.  It follows then, that Israel has not been deprived of them ... the Church is not Israel” (pp. 160, 161, his italics).

[2] L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, IV, 45, 46.

[3] Ibid., pp. 47-53.  See Also Charles L. Feinberg, Premillennialism or Amillennialism (1st edition), pp. 187-90.

[4] Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, p. 56.

[5] Ibid., p. 294.

[6] Robert Cameron, Scriptural Truth About the Lord’s Return, p. 71.

[7] John J. Scruby, The Great Tribulation: The Church’s Supreme Test, pp. 120, 126, 127, 128.

[8] Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, p. 210.

[9] Donald Grey Barnhouse, “Some Questions About Our Lord’s Return,” Revelation, XII (November, 1942), 527.

[10] Reese, op. cit., p. 258.

[11] Ibid., pp. 73-80.

[12] Ibid., p. 111.

[13] Ibid., p. 115.

[14] Ibid., p. 269.

[15] Ibid., p. 320.

[16] Ibid., p. 225.

[17] Allis, op. cit., p 207.

[18] Ibid., p. 208.