The Rapture is When?

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

by Darrel Cline

Problems With Van Kampen's Grasp of Paul's Teaching

Beginning with chapter six (page 109), Van Kampen moves into Paul's teaching about the Rapture. Therefore, since this is a response to what he has written, we will go there next. However, before we do, there are a couple of things that might help clarify the muddy waters here.

The Difference Between Israel's Hope and the Church's Hope

When one looks into the Old Testament promises for Israel regarding the coming of Her Messiah and the Kingdom Age which He will establish, it is clear that Israel's hope has everything to do with the establishment of a glorious kingdom on this earth with Israel as the Head and not the Tail and with David's Greater Son sitting on the throne of David in Jerusalem. Isaiah pictures this glorious period of earth history as a time when all of the covenant promises of God to Israel are fulfilled to the maximum and the nations of the world stream up to Jerusalem to be taught the ways of Messiah.

For these promises to occur, it is imperative that the nation NOT be raptured. Thus, for anyone to take Jesus' teaching regarding the glory of the kingdom to come and try to put the Rapture into the teaching is to misread His words altogether. Instead of "rapture", Israel's future involves the coming "Day of the Lord". So Jesus' teaching about Israel's hope focuses upon the events involved in that period of great trouble on the earth to initiate the birth pangs of the birth of the nation as well as to bring on the heavy "labor pains" and the eventual birth itself.

On the other hand, the promise to the Church is that Her Savior is coming to finally and instantaneously bring Her to the glory of immortality and perfection in godliness. For this to happen, She MUST be raptured or resurrected.

Thus, the hope of Israel was not a rapture, but the hope of the Church is.

On another note, the "ages" decreed are two distinct ones. Daniel was told specifically that God's dealings with his nation would develop through seventy weeks of years, and that the final week would be the time when Israel's ancient enemy, the Dragon, would be dealt a final defeat in the person of the wicked king of the fourth imperial period of human history. Neither Israel, nor the disciples of Jesus, had any inkling that the years were not going to run subsequently without disruption.

But, their lack of understanding of that point did not keep it from developing anyway as a mystery of God. After the culmination of the sixty-ninth week, the dealings of God with Israel were fundamentally set aside as He began the "age" of His Church. Thus, there are two different "ages" involved and two different "ends of ages" to be considered. This distinction is ignored by Van Kampen even though he was fairly heavily schooled in dispensational theological perspectives. The return to the divine program for Israel will begin again when the seventieth week begins according to Daniel's prophecies in Daniel 9. Until then, the Church is God's fundamental focus.

The point of importance here is that Van Kampen blends the two ages so that they overlap and culminate together in the latter stages of the seventieth week of Daniel. He does this without warrant. God did not begin His Church until after the sixty ninth week had expired and there is no indication that He is going to return to His dealings with Israel while the Church is still here.

In fact, there would be rather large difficulties if this were attempted. The first, and foremost, is that God's dealings with the nation involves a return to His covenant dealings with them, which involves their return to the practice of the covenant prescriptions (offering sacrifices, observing the Sabbath, etc.). For God to leave the Church here, with Her lack of interest in sacrifice and Sabbath, while returning to His covenant with Israel would yield an enormous confusion for both the Church and Israel. But, there is no hint that such confusion exists in the plan of God. The Church is going to be removed before the covenant practices of Israel are reinstituted, and Israel will begin to relate to God by faith in His Messiah, Jesus, while observing their covenant commitments to God. This is why Jesus taught that the desecration of God's Temple in Jerusalem would be the "abomination of desolation" and it is the reason He exhorted His Jewish disciples of the seventieth week to remember the Sabbath and to pray that the desecration did not occur on a Sabbath.

So, as we go into a consideration of what Paul taught, we need to go with the understanding that Paul's teachings were for the Church, during the "age" of the Church and had only implications for Israel in that the age of the Church will end when the age of the seventy weeks reconvenes.

The Major Problem of Teaching the Rapture as a Seventieth Week Event

The major problem of teaching the Rapture as a seventieth week event consists in its impact. The Rapture is going to empty the world of believers in Jesus. It is going to do this in two ways: first, the graves of believers are going to be emptied by resurrection; and second, the influence of the Church in this world is going to be eliminated by the instantaneous transformation and exit of this world by the living saints through the Rapture.

Van Kampen likes this scenario late in the seventieth week because it theoretically allows God to pour out His wrath without catching any of the "elect" in the debris. His position is compromised severely, however, by his teaching of the immediate salvation after the Rapture of the 144,000 Jews (who are "elect") and the continuing presence of those "elected" from Israel to form the physical seed bed for the nation's numerical growth during the kingdom age. No matter how you slice it, "elect" people are going to be on the earth throughout its history and the wrath of God is going to impact them to some degree. Van Kampen's scenario fails at this point.

However, as we have shown, the Rapture is going to empty the world of the presence of believers and a late seventieth week Rapture renders the plans of God for the nations during the Kingdom age practically impossible. It is of far greater probability that the Rapture will precede the seventieth week so that the following seven years set the world up for the fulfillment of the kingdom promises which include the active presence and function of many nations of peoples who must have been "born again" before the culmination of that week.

With this in mind, we will now turn to Paul's teaching in the Thessalonian epistles.

What Did Paul Say?

In the classic "Rapture" passage of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul taught the Thessalonians that they were to be expecting the coming of the Lord at any time. His words were "...we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them..." (verse 17). Both he and they expected to be "alive" and "remaining" until His coming. Imminence, plain and simple. His teaching was occasioned because he had taught them that expectation while he was with them, but had, apparently, not dealt with what was going to happen to those who died before Jesus came (only a concept of imminence would have overlooked the possibility of intervening death by some). Therefore, the Thessalonians needed to understand that physical death did not compromise the hope of Jesus' coming. Indeed, Paul taught, those who die before He comes are actually "with Him" now, will return "with Him" [those "also which sleep in Jesus God will bring with Him" (verse 14)], and will be reunited with their bodies by resurrection before the living saints will be caught up to Him ["...we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (go before) them which are asleep" (verse 15)]. Be aware that Paul only taught that the bodies of the dead are "asleep", not that the persons are. Those sleeping bodies will be raised from the grave by the Lord as He descends from heaven (verse 16).

Therefore, by this paragraph, Paul taught the possibility of the imminent return of Christ before that generation of believers were to die. Then, by the same paragraph, Paul addressed an oversight in his teaching that had been occasioned by both his absence and the unexpected death of one or more believers. These unexpected deaths were creating a bit of a problem for the Thessalonians, so Paul wrote the words we read here.

This paragraph constitutes the core of the "Rapture" doctrine. It is embellished to a degree by I Corinthians 15:51-57, but that passage mainly only establishes the details regarding the instantaneous transformation of the living saints from mortal to immortal. It doesn't do anything identifiable in respect to the timing of the Rapture in respect to the prophecies regarding the coming Day of the Lord.

But, to return to 1 Thessalonians, if we ignore the chapter break between chapters 4 and 5, we see that Paul goes on to tie his teaching of the Rapture to his teaching of the "times and seasons". This teaching involves the prophesied coming of the Day of the Lord. In 5:2, he tells them what they already know -- that that prophesied Day is going to be an unannounced surprise in the same way that a thief sneaks in, in the darkness of night, in an unexpected way. Clearly, by this, Paul had taught them that the Rapture and the Day of the Lord were linked together as events that would transpire when Jesus "descends from heaven" (4:16). This would easily fit the idea of the Rapture occurring at the arrival of the Lord, thus ending the age of the Church, and then the Day of the Lord develops out of the presence that He establishes at the time of the Rapture and gradually brings the culmination of the age of Israel.

Then, he proceeds into verse 3 by telling the Thessalonians that the people will be saying "Peace and safety" just prior to the beginning of the "sudden destruction". It is interesting that the "they" of 5:3 remains undisclosed. This implies that the Thessalonians know who "they" are. It is more than likely that "they" are both the peoples of Israel as well as the peoples of that area of the world. This "peace and safety" theme indicates that there will have been some rather significant issues resolved that lead "them" out of conflict and danger into a time when they think they have achieved both peace and protection for the future. The statement "peace and safety" is, however, more probably a very recent or immediately anticipated achievement because the implication is that the scenario is as follows: First, there is an extended time of serious conflict and danger with almost irresolvable issues at stake that make the people willing to make considerable compromises with their adversaries. Then, a breakthrough, that causes them to break out in rejoicing because peace and safety has finally and, perhaps, suddenly been achieved. This breakthrough, however, is deceptive because it leads into the experience of sudden destruction.

It needs to be noted, however, that the "sudden destruction" is not quite what the words seem to imply because they are immediately followed by an analogy. The analogy is "as travail upon a woman with child". In other words, there will be a time of destruction that begins suddenly (as the first contraction of childbirth) but does not take full effect except over time as the "travail" (contractions) gets worse and worse.

At this point, there are several things that are beginning to dovetail. It was Jesus that said, in the Olivet Discourse regarding the question of the developments of the seventieth week, that there were certain events that would constitute "the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:8). He called them "war, pestilence, famine, and earthquakes" (Matthew 24:7). Thus, if the onset of the birth pangs are identified by Jesus as war, pestilence, famine and earthquakes, and Paul says that the Day of the Lord initiates these beginning of contractions as of a woman in labor, what we have is Paul teaching that the Rapture will occur first, then the Day of the Lord will begin with the outbreak of wars, famines, pestilence, and earthquakes. The "peace and safety" refrain will be broken by this outbreak of wars. It was a vain hope.

The next issue in the dovetailing of these things is the teaching that the seventieth week of Daniel will begin when the antichrist makes a covenant with "the many" for one week of years. If conflict and danger for many has been finally resolved so that "the many" are beginning to say "peace and safety", it seems highly likely that the beginning of the seventieth week signals the basis for the cry "peace and safety" but it is rather swiftly shattered by the outbreak of wars and other initiating birth pangs. Thus, the pretribulational Rapture is not as far-fetched as Van Kampen would have us believe since the prophecies of Daniel's seventieth week indicate a return by God to His dealings with His nation as well as a time of calling a wicked world to account. The coming of Jesus for the Church both ends the age of the Church and initiates the extended period called the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord falls suddenly upon a people who have just believed that they have finally achieved "peace and safety". This scenario is completely denied by Van Kampen's construct of the coming of the Day of the Lord late in the latter half of the seventieth week. If anything, Van Kampen's construct not only removes the coming of the Day from the "coming as a thief" motif, it actually generates the possibility of making a pretty good guess as to its timing. The surprise of the thief is ruined if his coming is anticipated within a given bracket of time. Better for him if he comes when no one expects him to. Just what Jesus said, by the way. It will be a far greater surprise to this world if the Day of the Lord comes at a time when everyone is rejoicing over the achievement of peace and safety than if it comes late in a period described by Daniel as filled with wars and conflicts.

Does Paul's Teaching in 2 Thessalonians Confirm These Conclusions?

If we go from 1 Thessalonians to the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians, we note that Paul once again has some things to say to the Thessalonians about the Rapture. He opens the chapter by referring to "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and ... our gathering together to Him..." This is clearly the Rapture.

But what does he have to say this time? In the former teaching, he calmed the Thessalonians by establishing the imminent hope and explaining how physical death does not alter it. But, according to 2 Thessalonians 2:2, the Thessalonians are again upset by a difficulty they did not anticipate. They have been "troubled" by what appears to be teaching that "Paul" would sanction (a "word" or "letter as from us") to the effect that the Day of the Lord has come.

Why would this trouble them? Because they had been taught that the Rapture would precede the coming of that Day. If they had been taught that the Rapture was going to happen some time within the Day of the Lord, they would have been looking for His coming. But, they had been taught that they would escape the Day of the Lord by reason of the Lord's prior coming for them. Thus, if the Day of the Lord is "at hand", they have either missed the Rapture -- indicating a falsity of faith on their part -- or their hope of escaping from the birth pangs of the Day of the Lord has been dashed. In either case, Paul addresses them to calm them by telling them that the Day has not yet come. They have neither missed the Rapture, nor are they about to be subjected to the onset of the birth pangs.

Why?

Because, Paul says, the Day of the Lord will not come until a couple of other things come first. 2 Thessalonians 2:3 says two things have to occur before the onset of the birth pangs. First, there has to be something the translators call "a falling away". Then, there has to be the "revelation" of the son of perdition.

What are these two events?

Van Kampen says the "falling away" is what Jesus was describing in the Olivet Discourse as "the love of the many growing cold". But is this correct, or is it simply his assumption that he is reading into this text? How do we know?

First, we need to understand a couple of facts. The first fact is that there is no indication from either first or second Thessalonians that Paul taught anything about a developing apostasy caused by the cooling of the love of many. To assume that he did teach this is just that: pure assumption.

The second fact is that the word translated "a falling away" is the Greek word "apostasia", from which we have our English word "apostasy". The word literally means "to stand away from". It signals a departure of some kind. If you were to look in the exhaustive lexicon of the Greek language produced by Liddel and Scott, you would discover pretty quickly that "apostasia" has as its second definition "departure, disappearance", and that there are a multitude of other variations. Thus, when the context of the term is dealing with a departure from faith, it is legitimately called "apostasy". But, when the context has no indication of a departure from faith, how should we define it? We can do as Van Kampen does by way of his concordance-based hermeneutic and import the context of Matthew 24. Or we can do our homework within the context of the text. So, since importing contexts is never safe, let's do our homework.

The Structure of Paul's Teaching

If we look carefully at the content of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, this is what we find:

2:1-2 -- Paul's introductory comments, identifying his concerns
2:3a -- the possibility of deception
2:3b -- the "apostasia"
2:3c -- the revelation of the son of perdition
2:4 -- the description of the son of perdition
2:5 -- Paul's reminder that he had taught them this
2:6 -- You know what withholdeth that he might be revealed
2:7 -- the mystery of iniquity works, but there is a restrainer that will be removed
2:8a -- then the revelation of the Wicked One
2:8b -- the destruction of this Wicked One
2:9 -- the characterization of the coming of the Wicked One as Satanic in power in lying
2:10 -- extraordinary deception of the lost
2:11 -- the deception reinforced by God
2:12 -- God's purpose in His part of the deception: condemnation

If you will note, there are some recurring themes. First, verses 2:3a and 2:9-12 have to do with "deception". Then, verses 2:3c and 2:8a have to do with the revelation of the wicked son of perdition. Also, verses 2:4 and 2:8b-9 have to do with Paul's characterization of the antichrist in regard to his attitude, actions, and destruction. There are two parts that are somewhat ambiguous. The first is the statement about "apostasia" in 2:3b and the second is the statement about the "withholder" in 2:6-7. However, we should note that Paul's material fits together as statement and restatement like this:

2:3a -- focus upon deception -- 2:10-12
2:3b -- focus upon "departure" -- 2:6-7
2:3c -- focus upon "revelation of the Man of Sin" -- 2:8a
2:4 -- focus upon "characterization" -- 2:8b-9

This is in the form of:

A (1)
B (1)
C (1)
D (1)

B (2)

C (2)
D (2)

A (2)

This makes the material of 2:3b, concerning the "apostasia" and the material of 2:6-7, the departure of the "withholder" basically equivalent. In other words, the "departure" of the apostasia, and the "departure" of the withholder are statement and restatement regarding similar issues in the same way that the material about deception is similar and the material about the antichrist is similar.

Another observation is that Paul interrupted his statement / restatement with verse 5 by reminding them that he had taught them this material. When we couple this interruption with another observation, things become even more clear. That observation is this: in the original statement (2:3-4) Paul's focus was upon the "believers" in their connection to the truths about antichrist, but in the restatement (2:6-12) his focus shifts to "unbelievers" in their connection to these truths. What significance does this have? It appears that Paul is, in the first statement, reminding the believers of their escape from deception while in the second statement pointing out that unbelievers will not escape from deception because they hated the truth while it was available to them.

For me, this is helpful in attempting to determine what Paul's meaning is in regard to both the "departure" that precedes the revelation of the Son of perdition and the "departure" of the withholder that precedes the revelation of the Wicked One. Let's ask one question: is there an "apostasy or a departure or a disappearance" taught by Paul to the Thessalonians? The answer is, he does not teach a departure from faith, i.e., an "apostasy", but he does teach a departure / disappearance from this world, i.e., the Rapture, which he also calls in 2:1 "our gathering together unto Him".

Now, let's ask another question: is there a "withholder" that has both a neutral gender identity [2:6 -- "you know WHAT withholdeth"] and a masculine gender identity [2:7 -- "HE who now letteth will let until he be taken out of the way"] of which the Thessalonians would be familiar [2:6 -- "you know what withholdeth"]? The answer is the Holy Spirit. His neutral gender identity is generated by the fact that the Greek word for "spirit" is neuter, and His masculine gender identity is generated by the fact that the Bible teaches Him to be Deity and personal Indweller of the members of the Church. The Thessalonians were familiar with the power of the Holy Spirit in restraining the manifestations of the powerful demonic forces because they were witnesses of the power of exorcism exercised by those who possessed this Holy Spirit. In fact, the record of Acts tells us that it was such an exorcism in Philippi that led to Paul's ministry in Thessalonica.

Now Van Kampen posits another identification for the "withholder". He says it might be Michael. But there are multiple problems with that. First, Revelation 12:7-12, when compared to Daniel 12:1, gives a far greater probability of meaning to Michael's "standing up" than does Van Kampen's scenario. Second, there is NO teaching anywhere in the New Testament that Michael is responsible for the restraint that is currently being exercised over the development of the "mystery of iniquity" but there is abundant evidence that the Holy Spirit exercises that kind of restraint just like He did in the days of Noah. And, third, this is simply another example of importing data into the text rather than trying to decide what is actually there grammatically and historically.

Now, note that both the reference to "apostasia" and the reference to the removal of the "familiar Withholder" have to do with "removal" so that the Son of Perdition can be revealed.

It is not a big step from Paul's words to the idea that the Church is going to be "gathered together to Christ" in a major "departure / disappearance" from this world in such a way as to cause such an upheaval as to make the coalescing of the power of the man of sin possible, nor is it such a big step from Paul's words regarding the "familiar neuter / masculine Withholder" to the idea that the indwelling Spirit, Whose presence will be "taken out of the midst" [a literal translation of "taken out of the way" in 2:7] by the removal of the Church, will make possible the revelation of the man of sin..

Since the Thessalonians were obviously upset by the teaching that the Day of the Lord had already come, the easiest thing in the world for Paul to have said to them is: remember, I told you that it would not come before the Rapture. This, if we understand the "departure / disappearance" as "our gathering together to Him", is precisely what he did say.

But, in addition to this "departure", there is one other event that will pave the way for the onset of the Day of the Lord: the "revelation" of the Son of perdition. What will "reveal" this Son of perdition? That is a good question. Daniel's prophecies said that the seventieth week would actually begin by the confirmation of a peace covenant by this man with "the many" -- including Israel and her adversaries. That could easily be the "revelation" of which Paul wrote, but that is a non-contextual import into this text. However, Paul also wrote about the characterization of the man as a vehement opposer of God who would gain the power to set himself up in the Temple of God as a deity. Anyone who could get away with taking such action would have to be a very powerful world ruler, so it may be that the rise to world renown by an outspoken anti-theist might also be what Paul had in mind. There is also a third possibility. If the "departure" that paves the way for the "revelation" of the Son of perdition is the Rapture, anyone who could step into the chaos that the Rapture will create and rise to world power would be "revealed" to be the final world ruler.

Now Van Kampen dogmatically asserts "The Day of the Lord can only occur after Antichrist, the man of lawlessness, has been revealed and has taken his seat in the temple at the midpoint of the final seven-year tribulation period, demanding the worship of the world..." (page 122). His claim that the man of sin has to take his seat in the temple before the Day can begin is, however, another violation of the structure of the text. Paul does not say that the Antichrist is "revealed" by his taking his seat in the temple (2:3c-4) any more than he says that the Antichrist is "revealed" by the Lord's destruction of him (2:8). Remember the statement / restatement. Paul is merely showing two of the most significant things that will occur in respect to the Antichrist, not what will "reveal" him to be Antichrist.

Then, a more fatal statement is made on page 126: "...Paul tells the confused Thessalonians that He will 'bring to an end [the lawless one] by the appearance of Christ's coming [parousia]!'" Here Van Kampen quotes Paul as saying that Christ will bring an end to the man of sin by His parousia. Revelation 19 is "beyond clear" that the "end" of the man of sin does not occur until Jesus' descent from heaven for the battle of Armageddon. Thus, Van Kampen confuses us further by telling us that the parousia accomplishes what Revelation 19 says Jesus accomplishes after the battle of Armageddon while insisting that Revelation 19 is not the parousia. Only by an extraordinary elasticity of terminology can Van Kampen make his case -- an elasticity that he refuses to allow others to teach, but which he teaches as it suits his construct.

The conclusion to the matter is this: we got our categories out of the text in its historical setting. Those categories involve the teaching that the Rapture ("disappearance") and the revelation of the man of sin must precede the outworking of the Day of the Lord. We did not import material from Jesus' teaching in the Olivet Discourse to plug into the text even though Jesus' teaching there of the onset of sorrows is very likely equivalent to Paul's teaching of the onset of the "travail", and, if that is the case, the Day of the Lord begins at, or sometime very close to the beginning of the seventieth week when those "beginning birth pangs begin". This scenario is at least as "plain and simple" as anything Van Kampen has proposed and it has the advantage of being contextual.

But Van Kampen is not through yet. He feels compelled to give us "one last warning" by going to the last chapter in 2 Thessalonians. There he uses Paul's words to again leap into a browbeating session on all of us who do not believe that he has handled the text correctly. If he had established his understanding from the book itself rather than importing assumptions of what Paul taught, his words of caution might have a more significant impact, but the fact that his own treatment of the text is not contextual means that if his understanding of the warning is correct, we should not have anything to do with him!

Previous ChapterReturn to Contents PageNext Chapter

Back to Pastor's Study

24526