So far in our critique, we have noted that Jesus Himself taught the psychological importance of not saying "My Lord tarries..."; that there often exists a reason in the person (a quirk of personality) for the conclusions he draws from the words of Scripture that actually contradict or twist the meaning of the very Scriptures he quotes; that there are significant problems with the notion that the Scriptures are "plain and simple"; and that there are significant problems with the claim that a "face-value" hermeneutic will solve everything.
Now we find ourselves moving into chapter two. There are several claims made in this chapter that I want to address.
On page 40, Van Kampen says that "the overriding question every student of eschatology has to face and ultimately deal with is this: Will the church have to face this intense time of persecution by Antichrist, or will she be removed before this time referred to as a "great tribulation" ever begins?" I beg to differ. Overriding questions deal with overriding concerns for those involved.
The truth is that the Church, by and large, will not have to deal with the persecution of the Antichrist for one simple reason: for the most part, the Church will have died and be awaiting the resurrection of the mortal bodies long before the Antichrist appears on the scene. This is, admittedly, only a conclusion to which we can come as those who have lived almost 2,000 years after the prophecies have been made, but history stands undeniable. The truth of history is that multitudes of generations of the Church have already lived and died, and the truth of the prophecies is that only one generation of the Church will be alive when the time comes for the fulfillment of the prophecies of the seventieth week. Thus, whether the Church is raptured prior to the beginning of that week, or sometime within the context of that week, there is only one generation that is involved. That means that there is only one generation "at stake" and the question of exposure to the persecution of the Antichrist is therefore limited to one generational segment of the Church. Thus, it is not an overriding concern for any except the terminal generation. And, it is only an overriding concern for that generation if it has some fault in its love for the Great Lover of the Church. The essence of the Gospel is that He laid down His life for us and, therefore, we stand ready to lay down our lives for both Him and each other (I John 3:16).
Actually, there are a couple of things going on here. First, if Van Kampen is correct in his claim that Jesus is not coming for His Church until late in the seventieth week of Daniel, he has destroyed most of the foundation for the Church's eager looking for the coming of the glory of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Each day that the church arises from sleep to pursue the day's activities with the knowledge that the seventieth week has not yet begun is a day in which the Church can easily say, "He won't be coming any time very soon...My Lord tarries." Thus, to eagerly await what is obviously not going to happen any time soon is for most of us a fruitless exercise. It is only the idea that Jesus might come today that gives the Church the impetus for eager expectation. So, Van Kampen's idea that the overriding question is whether the Church will face the persecution of the Antichrist is only important because, if it is true, it demolishes most of the eager expectation of the Church.
Second, the only way Van Kampen can recover from the cessation of eager expectation because of the lack of the imminence of His coming is to replace it with another sense of imminence: that of the seventieth week of Daniel. It is no accident that Van Kampen and Rosenthal declare that we must teach the Church that she is going to face the persecution of the Antichrist. Though it is patently false [even if they are correct, only one generation of the Church is going to face that persecution, and they cannot tell us when that generation will live] they believe that we must teach it because the generation that will face the persecution might be our generation. This is the only reason that there is any overriding necessity for teaching Her that She will face the Antichrist...to keep Her from being caught unaware. This is a doctrine of imminence, plain and simple. But, instead of giving the Church a doctrine of imminence that gives her hope, they give the Church a doctrine of imminence that fills it with dread! By this action, they have admitted that the Church needs to be taught a doctrine of imminence: the imminence of the coming of the Antichrist! Thus the eager hope that He [Christ] might come today is replaced by the dreadful possibility that he [Antichrist] might come today!
The question thus has become, "Is there some reason why God would subject the terminal generation of the Church to the wrath of the Dragon when He has not found it necessary to subject the whole Church to that wrath over the duration of her lifetime?" The point that I am trying to make is this: even if the terminal generation of the Church is actually numerically superior to the numbers of believers who have gone before, there would still have to be a reason for God to subject this terminal generation to the wrath of Satan. What would that reason be?
Whatever the answer, it must give a rationale for God's exposure of the terminal segment of His beloved Church to the unmitigated hatred of the Dragon. In respect to the terminal generation of the nation of Israel, there is a rationale: the nation has been obtuse and defiant from the days she consorted together with Rome to crucify her God without repentance. The nation did not repent and submit to the Messianic claims of Jesus while He was on the earth; the nation did not repent and submit while the freshness of the witness of those who testified of His resurrection was upon the earth; the nation did not repent and submit to those claims during, or after, the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of her consort in murder (Rome); the nation has not repented in spite of all the curses of the book of Deuteronomy being fulfilled through long centuries; the nation did not repent in the face of Hitler's Satanic intent to destroy her from the face of the earth in this generation; and the nation is still today vehemently opposing the witness of Jesus in spite of the fact that the children of God through faith in Jesus are her best allies in this troubled world (none love Israel like the true children of God!). What will it take to bring this troubled and blind, obstinate and determined, nation to spiritual insight? God's answer is: the time of Jacob's trouble; subjection to the awesome and unmitigated hatred of the Dragon.
There is, likewise, a rationale for the subjection of the world as a whole to the dominion of the Dragon: it has ever been a practice of God to turn folks over to their most intense desires. The world as a whole has always worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator and God has typically given them over to their foolish lusts. To turn the terminal generation of the world over to the dominion of the Dragon is in consistent harmony with this typical activity of God. The world wants to worship the creature? The beast is the ultimate form of the creature in rebellion; let the world discover by worship of this beast what it brings!
But, why would God subject the terminal generation of His Church to the unmitigated hatred of the Dragon when it has ever been His track record to restrain that rage against the Church? Even Job experienced only that wrath of Satan which God permitted under specific restraint. The Church's history has admittedly been filled with martyrs who were permitted to suffer for Jesus at the hands of hateful men, but it has never been left unprotected from the unmitigated hatred of this arch enemy of God except in the cases of special discipline (when, because of willful rebellion, certain individuals were turned over to Satan for disciplinary reasons). Therefore, it is up to the proponents of the notion that He is going to subject the last generation of His beloved Church to the wrath of Satan to establish a rationale for that action.
The New Testament teaches that believers are protected from Satan by their inclusion in the Church, so why would God turn that Church over to him to be the object of his rage and subvert this doctrine of the New Testament? Any true believer who has his head screwed on right is willing to stand true to Jesus no matter what the cost, but there is the question of why God would permit the cost to rise so high for a particular segment of His Church. What I am saying is this: I stand ready by the grace of my loving God and Father to pay any price necessary to remain faithful to Him in the face of anything that comes down the pike, but before I will be ready to declare to His Church that He is going to turn them over to Satan's wrath, I will have to be persuaded that He actually intends to do that. Neither Van Kampen, nor Rosenthal give a sufficient argument as we shall see in this continuing investigation of their pre-wrath dogma regarding the Rapture of the Church.
Someone is going to say somewhere along here, "But, Darrel, the Bible clearly teaches that God is going to subject believers to the wrath of the Dragon, so what is the big deal if those believers are His Church?"
What shall I say?
This: the Scriptures make a distinction between those who come to Christ prior to the unleashing of wrath upon the world (Satan's or God's) and those who resist impenitently until there is nothing left but to leave them to eat of the fruit of their way. The record of the seventieth week of Daniel is a record of God's final dealings with a world who has rejected Him; it is not a record of God's final dealings with a faithful Church. That there will, during that time, come into being a vast host of men and women and boys and girls who, precisely because they see the awesome price that worshipping the creature exacts, put their trust in Messiah Jesus, is a testimony to the grace of God -- that even in judgment, He extends mercy. But, make no mistake, the seventieth week of Daniel is a period of judgment and those who find themselves in it are there by reason of their own hardness. Yes, there will be those of God's elect who are subjected to the wrath of the Dragon, but it will only be because they resisted His grace and got caught by the unfolding of prophetic history. In that sense, God did not subject them to the wrath of the Dragon; they put themselves in that condition and belatedly discovered that God is merciful even in those days. They can, and will, be saved from the eternal consequences of their sins, but they have been caught up in the temporal consequences of their sins without remedy. There is a vast difference between yielding early to the summons of grace and partaking of the sweetness of eternal and temporal deliverance and resisting until God has to metaphorically "break one's back" to get a hearing. The Scriptures call those who yield before the outbreak of the seventieth week "The Church"; those same Scriptures call those who yield afterwards "the elect". The "elect" subjected to the wrath of the Dragon? Yes, because of resistance and hardness of heart. The "Church" subjected to the wrath of the Dragon?
Well, let's continue our investigation of the arguments!
On page 42 Van Kampen states, "The pretribulation position argued that the church would not see the wrath of God ... I had no choice but to agree because that was what the Bible clearly appeared to teach." This is the foundation for Van Kampen's intense declaration that we must make a distinction between the wrath of Satan and the wrath of God.
The question is this: does the position that the wrath of God does not begin until after the wrath of the Antichrist hold true to biblical revelation? The answer, interestingly, is found in Malachi 4:5-6. There the biblical text tells us that the prophet Elijah is coming before the great and terrible day of the Lord. This Van Kampen admits because he teaches that we must take the statements of Scripture "at face value".
Thus, the word "before" becomes highly significant.
Because the ministry of Elijah is detailed in Revelation 11. Admittedly, there is no statement in Revelation 11:3-13 that identifies Elijah as one of God's two witnesses, but Malachi, Jesus, and the scribes all taught that Elijah was to precede the Messiah. In a detailed consideration of the book of the Revelation, which details the events and major personalities of the seventieth week of Daniel, there is no one else besides one of the two witnesses that fills the requirement of the Elijah prophecy. This has been commonly known and understood.
What is the significance of this detailed teaching about Elijah in Revelation 11? This: the text tells us that these two witnesses have the authority to shut up heaven during the duration of their witness and that they have the authority to turn water to blood and to smite the earth with all kinds of plagues as often as they choose to do so. What does this mean? Well, in Rev. 11:3 the duration of the witness of the two prophets is given as 1260 days. That's three and a half years. That means that for three and a half years there will be no rain. It also means that for three and a half years there will be multiple plagues unleashed upon the earth by these representatives of God. Those two facts together say this: the wrath of God is going to be unleashed through His two prophets for three and a half years at the least.
Shutting up the heavens that they rain not is an action of the judgment of God. Releasing plagues upon the earth through His prophets is an action of the judgment of God. Therefore, the wrath of God is going to be unleashed through these two men either before the revelation of the man of sin, or during the time of that Apostate's dominion. In either case, the argument that the judgment of God in wrath upon the inhabitants of the earth is not going to occur until after the wrath of the Antichrist has taken its toll is patently denied "plain and simple".
Unless Van Kampen and company wish to declare that the two prophets are acting on their own -- so that the lack of rain and the imposition of plagues is their idea and not God's -- their entire argument falls to the ground on the basis of the "plain and simple" revelation of the ministry of the two prophets in Revelation 11.
Since Van Kampen says that he agrees that believers are not to be subjected to the wrath of God, unless he can substantiate the claim that the extreme drought of three and a half years and the multiple plagues unleashed upon the earth do not constitute wrath from God, his agreement forces the conclusion that the Church must be gone before the imposition of God's anger in drought and plague through His two personal representatives.