The Rapture is When?

A Critique of The Rapture Question Answered Plain and Simple
by Robert Van Kampen

by Darrel Cline

Problems in Chapter Four

Van Kampen sets out in chapter four to give his biblical proof that the Rapture is to be timed at some point in the latter half of the seventieth week of Daniel. His primary text in this chapter is Matthew 24. On page 67, he claims "Christ's Olivet Discourse ... is the most critical of all the New Testament writings concerning the timing of when Christ will come to rescue the elect and destroy the wicked who remain." I doubt that anyone would have a serious dispute with this claim as made in these words. The disputes do arise, however, because of the ambiguity of the terminology Van Kampen uses in his explanation of the meaning of Christ's words. So let's look as the unproven assumptions he makes in his explanation.

The Church in Matthew 24?

On page 70, Van Kampen writes, "After the death and resurrection of their Lord, these loyal but now bewildered men would become the founding fathers of the church. As such, Christ needed to instruct them carefully concerning His return, for that glorious event would, understandably, become the great hope of the church (Titus 2:13)." Is this a demonstrably true statement, or is it fraught with presuppositions of meaning that corrupt the legitimacy of "face-value hermeneutics"?

It is demonstrably true that the disciples would become the founding fathers of the Church. It is not demonstrably true that Jesus' intent was to instruct them so that they could pass on His teaching so that what He said would become the great hope of the Church. There are several assumptions made here. The first is that He is speaking to His disciples as representatives of the Church that is to come. This has not been demonstrated. It is at least as likely that Christ was speaking to His disciples as representatives of the nation of Israel, not the Church.

Why is this "as likely"?

Because of their identity and because of His words in this body of instruction. Let's take them one at a time. In Matthew 19:28, Jesus, in response to Peter's question about what he will gain from following Christ, said, "Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (KJV). This clearly identifies them as the men who will rule over Israel in the days of the glory of the Son of Man. These coming days were to arrive after the culmination of the seventy prophesied weeks of Daniel as given in Daniel 9. It is demonstrably true that the teaching that Jesus was engaging in with His disciples was occurring in the midst of the 69th week. It is demonstrably true that the prophecies of the 70 weeks of Daniel were made in regard to Daniel's people, the Jews (Daniel 9:24). It is demonstrably true that 69 of those weeks of prophecy transpired just before Jesus was crucified. Thus, it is demonstrably true that Jesus' adult/actual ministry on the earth occurred entirely during the 69th week. It is demonstrably true that the disciples were caught up in the Kingdom Hope that was to follow the days of Jacob's trouble. There is no indication in this text that they had any understanding at all about how that related to their future identity as the founding fathers of the Church. To make this statement without any textual support is to read into the text something that simply isn't there, regardless of how "plain and simple" Van Kampen thinks it is.

Then, as pertaining to their identity in respect to the Olivet Discourse, they are identified by Jesus as those who will witness the events to which Jesus refers in His teaching. Among those events, the most important are the Abomination of Desolation and the Coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory. In 24:15, Jesus said, "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation..." Jesus was clearly speaking to them as those who would see that event. In 24:33 Jesus said, "When ye shall see all these things, know that it is near..." Again, Jesus was clearly speaking to them as observers of the events He has just described. But, history is undeniable: they never saw either of those events!

What does this mean?

It means that Jesus was speaking to His disciples as representatives of that generation of His disciples who would be witnesses of these things. He was not speaking to them as representatives of themselves. He was not promising them that they would see the Abomination or the Coming. He was simply teaching them as representatives of those who would see those events. Thus, we have their identity established as representatives of those who are disciples of Jesus during the future time frame when those events are to transpire, i.e., the seventieth week of Daniel.

Further, Jesus' instructions in 24:15-20 assume that they are to be eye witnesses as residents of Jerusalem, who are committed to the observance of the Sabbath. In other words, Jesus is addressing His disciples as representatives of the nation of Israel (observers of the Sabbath) and representatives of those who dwell in Jerusalem. Who ever heard of the Church as practicing the observance of the Sabbath during the seventieth week of Daniel? The Church has not observed the Sabbath since the first century, so why would it revert to that observance late in the 20th century or early in the 21st, or any time after that? This verse (Matthew 24:20), alone, denies Jesus has the Church in mind at all. This doesn't prove the Church is not going to be in the seventieth week, but it does prove that Jesus is talking to His disciples in respect to their representation of Israel, not their representation of the Church.

Therefore, in respect to the identity of Jesus' audience for the Olivet Discourse, we are taught that He considers them to be representatives of the Jewish nation, not the future Church.

Next, what is it that He tells them that makes it "as likely" that He does not have the Church in mind at all? First, the insertion of "Church" into the Olivet Discourse is a fundamental violation of basic hermeneutical principles in that it does not allow for the progress of revelation and makes interpretation of meaning impossible for the hearers because future revelation is needed before they can understand. What I mean is this: when Jesus spoke to His disciples, He spoke to them in categories they could understand at the time He spoke. The categories He had given them involved them being His co-regents in the days of His rule (19:28) and involved them as Jerusalem-dwelling witnesses of the Abomination of Desolation while being Jewish observers of the Sabbath (24:15-20). These were categories with which they were completely comfortable, and they had nothing obviously to do with the future development of the Church.

It is true that Jesus had mentioned His intention of building His Church in Matthew 16:18, but it is just as true that when He began to do that in Acts, Peter was as confused as everyone else about what God was doing and had to take things as they developed in order to come to understand that the Church was a unique development in history unknown in Old Testament prophecy. In fact, Paul said the development of the Church was a mystery into which he had primary insight and about which he became the primary instructor of God's people as to what He was doing (Ephesians 3).

Therefore, Van Kampen's generic use of the word "elect" in his opening statement in chapter 4 (quoted above) allows his statement to be true enough (there are "elect" Jews), but also general enough to be completely misleading (he has not validated his assumption that the elect in Matthew 24 include the Church). The point is this: if Jesus had seventieth week, elect Jews in mind while giving His instruction to His disciples, there is no "plain and simple" reason to believe that He was laying down instructions for Church-founders so that they could make the Church's hope what is clearly given as Israel's latter day hope.

It is no secret at all that the Jewish hope has always been a kingdom of righteousness, led by Messiah, that would have its genesis in the land of Israel and the City of Jerusalem and would, from there, extend to all nations. There was no teaching anywhere in the Old Testament about a "rapture" (other than Enoch's and Elijah's translations to heaven without being transformed). Therefore, when Jesus was teaching His disciples about the events of Daniel's seventieth week, He would have had to have introduced an entirely new category ("rapture") for the disciples if He actually intended them to understand His words. Van Kampen's "plain and simple" assumption that He did that has not been validated by his words (once again invalidating "plain and simple hermeneutics buttressed by concordance studies"). Since Jesus was not addressing His disciples as future founders of His Church, but as representatives of believing Jews in the seventieth week of Daniel, His words must be taken with that audience in mind.

To repeat, there is no evidence, not even a scintilla of evidence, that Jesus had the disciples' identity as future founders of the Church in mind as He answered their questions about the future hope of Israel.

From this inauspicious beginning, in which Van Kampen has not sufficiently considered the details of the text, he proceeds to take us through the text of Matthew 24. What can we expect now that we know he has not correctly identified the disciples? More assumptions made on the basis of "plain and simple" observations which have already proven to be inadequate simply because Van Kampen did his concordance work, but not his detailed study of the text in its own historical and biblical context? This blunder on his part invalidates most of the observations he makes on pages 71-77 because he blindly applies the teaching to the Church when it is only legitimately applied to the audience Jesus had in mind when He taught: the believing Jews of the nation of Israel who are living in the seventieth week of Daniel.

This brings us to Van Kampen's next most serious blunder...

The Timing of Israel's Salvation

On page 79, Van Kampen writes, "...Israel is not saved until after the seven-year tribulation period is complete." This is almost surely a completely false statement. But, to make sure that we are not faulting him unfairly, let us look into his "evidence" for such a claim.

First, we must understand that Van Kampen doesn't really believe what he wrote. It may be that he is simply using accommodation terminology, but he specifically teaches in this book (page 52) that the 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel are saved "right when the Rapture occurs sometime during the second three-and-a-half years of the tribulation period" (this is probably an erroneous claim of itself, but it does at least show that he believes that some Israelites -- a lot of them actually -- are saved before the period ends). He does, admittedly, go on to say in that same place that the rest of Israel is not saved until after the tribulation is complete, but to claim that there are 144,000 Jews saved during the seven year period and then to claim that Israel is not saved until the period is over is an interesting kind of double-speak. It would be one thing if his meaning was that the nation as a whole was not going to be saved until the end, but it is clear from page 79 (where we got the above quote) that his meaning is that no "elect Jews" are saved until after the period is over because he is trying to refute the claim that the persecuted of the period are Jews.

The fact is, however, that Jesus, in Matthew 24, told those "you" who were to be persecuted to pray that their flight would not be "on the Sabbath". There is only one group of people on earth who would have any interest in whether the flight from Jerusalem would be necessary "on the Sabbath". Certainly the Church wouldn't care. It has never had any compunction about what needed to be done on the Sabbath since it lost its Jewish majority in the first century. And, since Jesus, Himself, said that the "you" who were to be persecuted were Jerusalem dwellers, observers of the Sabbath, and believers in Jesus as the Christ, there is little to commend the claim that "Israel is not saved until the end of the entire period".

In his "proof" that Israel is not saved until the end of the seventieth week, Van Kampen gives three lines of evidence on page 79. First, he refers to Jesus' teaching that Jerusalem will be trampled under foot until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled (Luke 21:24). There is a huge "logic-jump" here. Since when does the fact that Jerusalem is dominated by Gentiles mean that the nation will not enter into Messiah's salvation? Who, then, are the "you" who are living in Jerusalem during the midst of the seventieth week who both believe in Jesus as Messiah and worship on the Sabbath?

His second line of "proof" is a reference to Paul's teaching in Romans 11:25-26. In that text the apostle wrote, "...blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved..." Paul said two things here. First, that the blindness is partial (some Jews would escape it), and second, that "all" Israel would not be saved until the "fullness of the Gentiles be come in." This is not, as Van Kampen would have us believe, evidence that there will not be any saved members of the nation until the end (which he patently admits by his teaching of the salvation of the 144,000 prior to the end). Rather than seeing the obvious, that the nation will be incrementally saved during the period so that the whole is ultimately saved by the time of the end, he attempts to prove that there won't be any of the nation saved during the time leading up to the end.

His third line of "proof" is an appeal to the words of Daniel 9:24 regarding the coming of "everlasting righteousness" as a consequence of the seventy week prophecy. Nowhere in that text are we told that the objectives of the seventy weeks will only be accomplished after their completion. Rather, the text says that the seventy weeks have been decreed so that the six-fold accomplishments might come to pass, not that all seventy weeks have to come to an end before any of the six objectives are realized. For instance, one of the six objectives is "to make reconciliation for iniquity". Jesus did this on the cross before the seventieth week had even begun. Therefore, it is another mere assumption that there will be no saved members of the nation during the seventieth week. It is far more likely that the nation will be coming to faith in Jesus as the Messiah throughout the seventieth week. In fact, the ministry of Elijah to the nation before the great and terrible Day of the Lord requires this. (Look carefully at Malachi 4's teaching of Elijah's impact on Israel.)

So, in summary, the "plain and simple" teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Olivet discourse is addressed to saved Jews who are living in Jerusalem who are exhorted to flee immediately when they see the Abomination of Desolation. These saved Jews are also exhorted to pray that their flight be not on the Sabbath: an exhortation that makes no sense when applied to the Church. So, assumption piled on top of assumption renders the "plain and simple" hopelessly compromised by undemonstrated leaps of logic. And that brings us to ...

The Gathering of God's Elect

On page 85, Van Kampen, quoting Matthew 24:31, says, "There is your rapture of the faithful who endure to the end! Plain and simple." The only problem is that the statement of Matthew 24:31 says, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" and it fits exactly with Moses' prophecy of Deuteronomy 30:1-4 where we read...

"And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, wither the Lord thy God hath driven thee, And shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, wither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee..." (KJV).

Therefore, because Jesus was addressing saved Jews who were living in the land in the days of the seventieth week, who had the national hope that the Lord their God would gather the nation even from the "outmost parts of heaven" at His coming, there is no reason for us to read the Rapture of the Church into the text at this point. Plain and simple.

It is without doubt that Deuteronomy 30 had formed a part of Israel's national hope. It is without doubt that a "gathering" from the outmost parts of heaven was included in that hope. It is without doubt that Deuteronomy 30:5, which promises the national salvation of Israel, puts this hope right smack in the midst of the context of Jesus' teaching about the "end". Thus, there is still no reason to assume the teaching of the Rapture in Matthew 24:31 because it is a prophecy of confirmation of Deuteronomy 30:4.

Consider this also: the Septuagint Greek Text of Deuteronomy 30:4-5 uses the same words as those used in Matthew 24:31. Couple that with the fact that none of the undisputed "Rapture" texts says anything at all about being "gathered from the ends of heaven"; they only address our being "caught up from the earth" to meet the Lord in the air.

The Rapture in Matthew 24:40-41?

Though Van Kampen chose not to deal with the rest of the Olivet Discourse in chapter four, I have decided to address the rest of the text because we are already in Matthew 24 in our thinking. It is Van Kampen's claim, on pages 178-183, that the underlying Greek text of Matthew 24, and even I Thessalonians 4, establishes his claim that the Rapture of the Church is taught in Matthew 24:40-41. Let's investigate this claim now while Matthew 24 is in our thinking.

Beginning from verse 32 in Matthew 24 and continuing into chapter 25, we note that there are a series of analogies to which Jesus appeals. First, in 24:32-36, He points to the analogy of a fig tree that is giving indication that summer is near. Then, in 24:37-42, He points backward to the days of Noah as an illustration of complete unpreparedness. Then, in 24:43-44, He uses an illustration of a thief coming at a time when the householder does not expect him. Again, in 24:45-51, He uses the analogy of a servant who has been given responsibilities to execute while his master is away. Continuing into 25:1-13 He appeals to the common illustration of the coming of the bridegroom and those who were supposed to be looking for his coming. The thing that all of these analogies have in common is the fact that the people did not know when the coming of the person who would require accountability from them would occur. In 24:36, Jesus said that no one but the Father knew when the coming would occur. In 24:42, Jesus exhorted His audience to watch because they did not know the hour their Lord would come. In 24:44, He said that his hearers should be ready because the Son would come when they did not expect Him. In 24:50, He said the Lord of the servants would come when the servant was not looking for him. And in 25:13, He said again that His hearers should watch because they did not know the day nor the hour when the Son would come.

The point of these observations is that in all of them except the one concerning the fig tree, there is a warning that the coming would mean different things to those upon whom He came. There would be the wicked who would be dealt with according to their slackness in being alert and behaving as if they expected their Lord to come, and there would be the wise who would be dealt with according to the fact that they gave diligence and were not caught unprepared.

Within these analogies is the passage wherein Van Kampen claims the underlying Greek text supports the teaching of the Rapture. But there are some problems. First, the undisputed Rapture texts teach that those "raptured" are instantaneously qualified to inherit immortality and then taken out of this world setting. But Jesus' teaching in this context focuses upon the coming of the Son to this world setting in order to establish His new world order. The hope of Israel was never to be taken out of this world, but to be established in a righteous kingdom within it. Since 24:27-31 teaches the coming of the Son to gather Israel to her Kingdom hope as Deuteronomy 30:4 had taught them to believe He would, there is no reason in the text, or its context, to think that Jesus was suddenly teaching a removal from this world as the "hope" for which His hearers should look.

Second, the focus upon the angels gathering the elect nation from the outer reaches of their dispersion, exactly fits the statement Jesus made in 24:40-41. There is no indication that the "taking" of the ones in the field and in the mill is a "taking from this world". The most normal reading of the text is that those "taken" have been gathered by the angels to the land to which the Son has come, and those who have been "left" are, like the unwary householder, the evil servant, and the foolish virgins, not gathered by the angels to the land because they had been disqualified by their lack of expectancy and godly behavior.

There is no question that in each of the analogies Jesus warns that the coming of the Son will result in dire consequences for those who did not look with expectancy for Him. This is a serious weakness in Van Kampen's thought because anyone who buys into it will, ipso facto, be subject to a cessation of actual looking for the coming Son.

This ought to be said: there are similarities between the hope of Israel and the hope of the Church, and those similarities tend to make understanding a bit more difficult than the "plain and simple" folks would have us believe, but there are enough contextual indicators in the places where those two hopes are taught to make understanding possible if we are willing to consider carefully the flow of thought through the texts.

Having said that, it also needs to be said that there are sufficient distinctions between the hope of Israel and the hope of the Church to enable us to see that they are not the same.

Israel's hope was for a "gathering of them by the Lord their God from the outer reaches of heaven to the land" (Deuteronomy 30:4). The "gathering" could easily be accomplished by the angels. But, the "gathering" had nothing to do with an instantaneous transformation from mortality to immortality. It had only to do with being brought to the land. Jesus' statement in Matthew 24:31 doesn't even fit the Rapture texts because there is no indication that the Church has been dispersed to the outer reaches of heaven so that it needs to be "gathered".

On the other hand, the hope of the Church is for a "gathering" to the Lord that enables us to "ever be with" Him. But, this "ever being with Him" concept requires the teaching of Paul that we must be instantaneously transformed to immortality before we are qualified to "ever be with Him" (I Corinthians 15:50-53). Nor is there any indication that the angels will gather the Church to Christ. It is a theoretical possibility, but Paul never indicates that we should expect that.

Our conclusion is this: Van Kampen has made much of his "plain and simple" comparison of Scripture with Scripture, but the reality is that he has selected his texts for comparison and ignored some of the details of the various contexts in which those texts are found. It is not as "plain and simple" as he would have us believe.

There is only one really appealing reason to believe that the Rapture is in view in Matthew 24:40-41: the text has a superficial similarity to a teaching by the apostle Paul that did not occur until years later. In other words, the only reason to believe Matthew 24:40-41 is teaching the Rapture is to read the Rapture into that text in its context. When Jesus spoke those words, there was no "rapture" doctrine, but there was a "gathering" doctrine from Deuteronomy 30:4. If Jesus intended to teach the "rapture" in His words, He had to have done it with the understanding that the disciples had no basis for understanding Him at all. In other words, He deliberately said things that could not be understood and then held the axe of judgment over all who did not understand! On the other hand, if Jesus was reaffirming the gathering of dispersed Israel as the Scriptures of Israel taught, He was telling His hearers things they could readily grasp and had already been exposed to and His warning to those who did not want to grasp them was absolutely warranted.

Therefore, chapter four of Van Kampen's book is fraught with assumptions and leaps of logic that render his "plain and simple" conclusions unconvincing and illogical.

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