The Rapture is When?

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

by Darrel Cline

Problems in Chapter Seven

In chapter seven of Van Kampen's book, he launches into selected passages of the book of the Revelation in order to attempt to bring his argument to a climax by claiming that Jesus' Olivet Discourse, Paul's Thessalonian letters, and the Revelation of Jesus Christ all teach the same theological construct. In that construct, the most prominent features are the claims that

  1. the seventieth week begins with the Church present [a claim that pays no attention to the distinctions of the "ages"],
  2. it continues up to the mid-point at which time the Antichrist launches his "wrath" against the Church [a claim that pays no attention to the fact that the "Great Tribulation" threatens the existence of all human flesh on the earth],
  3. that "wrath" is cut off by Christ's "parousia" sometime in the second half of the seventieth week [a claim that is rooted in Matthew 24:31 and is compromised by the fact that Jesus probably had Deuteronomy 30:4 in mind], and
  4. the Day of the Lord begins at the time of this "parousia" and God vents His wrath against the ungodly world which He has just emptied of any "elect" except for the 144,000 and the nation of Israel who are to repopulate the world after the establishment of Christ's Kingdom [a claim that is rooted in the emotion-based argument that God's wrath cannot be vented against His elect, and is compromised by the reality that though His wrath is not directed toward them, their presence on earth means they will endure some of its impact].

In this critique, thus far, we have attempted to show that the approach to the text that Van Kampen uses is fundamentally flawed on two fundamental levels. First, he makes the very popular "concordance" error which consists of two assumptions that remain undemonstrated -- 1) the assumption that the various human authors of the words in the divine text have the same referent in mind when they use the same words that other writers also used; and 2) the assumption that superficial similarities indicate the same subject material. Second, he makes the also very popular "plain and simple" error which consists of the assumption that words are easily understood.

The first of these errors has a large following primarily because of the way Bible study tools have developed over time and because of the reluctance of people to engage the text as it stands. Since concordances have become a major tool for study, people have used "word use" arguments that only have validity IF the individual texts have been sufficiently engaged to know the thought flow found in each of them. The problem here is that it takes a lot of careful work to engage an author to the point that one has discovered what he is actually talking about and how he has developed his thoughts in writing. Without this careful engagement, assumptions of understanding are a lot easier to make than to prove.

The second assumption in this first error also has a recognizable root. Superficial similarities are rather easy to spot. That the similarities in the writings of two different people may not indicate the same "subject" is often completely ignored. For instance, the same verbal phrase "the great divorce" in various human authors could have extraordinarily disconnected meanings. For C.S. Lewis, it signaled a disagreement with the idea that there are no 'real' either-or realities (see his preface to the book, The Great Divorce). For a student of history, it could refer to a particularly significant marital breakdown that led to some particularly interesting historical consequences. For a person to whom a divorce occurred, it could refer to his/her own painful experience, or, alternatively, it could refer to his/her own huge relief over the dissolution of a relationship, so that the dissolution was "great!", i.e., wonderful. That all of them are within the boundaries of the meaning-field embraced by the words "divorce" and "great" is granted, but this only creates a superficial similarity that does not carry much significance.

Words have various boundaries within the "field of meaning" and words used together form various "types of meaning". The more general the word, the larger the territory it encompasses within the field of meaning; and the more general the groupings of words, the more ambiguous is the "type" of meaning. For instance, the word "tree" has a general place in the "field of meaning" that allows us to distinguish it from a "bush", or a "flower", or a "cow". Generally, "tree" means something that has roots, trunk, branches, leaves, bark, and sufficient size to distinguish it from a "shrub" which has many of the same components.

But, the "type of meaning" that is developed in a conversation that uses the word "tree" has rather large possibilities because the word can cover oaks, ash, mesquite, redwood, cedar, pine, birch, cherry, apple, etc., etc. Only a specific context can tell us which "tree" is under consideration. Van Kampen has made the undemonstrated assumption that the word "parousia" and the phrase "Day of the Lord" have single referents in respect to time while at the same time building in an elasticity that enables him to say that some comings of Christ are not "parousia" (like the very obvious descent of Christ from heaven in Revelation 19), but one particular coming is. By the same method, he assigns "the Day of the Lord" to one specific framework even though it is demonstrable that there are multiple days involved and there are multiple manifestations of wrath, any one of which could be included or excluded from the Day. The truth that he has overlooked is that there is a great possibility that there is a particular type of meaning covered by "parousia" that has applicability to more than one chronological setting. This is clearly true for the phrase "the Day of the Lord" as a general reading of Joel will easily confirm. Joel announced a meaning-type called "the Day of the Lord" and he clearly announced it for his own generation. That its components will again show up in the latter days only shows that it is a "meaning-type" that has more than one chronological application, and who is Van Kampen to say that "parousia" has only one particular day in mind?

Let me illustrate. In Christ's first "coming", there were several associated concepts. There was the reality of an arrival in the form of a baby. There was an extended presence while the baby grew into adulthood, and there was an even longer presence if we tack the years of ministry on to His arrival into the condition we call adulthood. Then, there was also the presence of the divine glory, though it was hidden to some degree by His humanity. John claims "we beheld His glory...as of the only begotten of the Father" (John 1:14). There was, in addition to the glory, an innumerable host of actions and words that attended this "parousia". All in all, the first "parousia" was in place for approximately 37 years, from the winter of 4/5 B.C. to the Passover of 33 A.D. The components of the "parousia" were multiple: forerunner (John/Elijah), arrival, presence, glory, actions, words, etc. Even the resurrection and the multiple appearances to His disciples were included in this first "coming".

But, in spite of this, Van Kampen wants us to buy into "parousia" as having only one chronological referent that, he claims, is only after the time of Satan's persecution of the elect. He refuses to recognize that the Bible teaches another extended presence that will exist in such a way as to allow the biblical writers to say "at His coming" this or that will occur and not mean that the this and the that will have to all occur on the same day. Just as we say, "at His first coming, Jesus healed many", and say, "at His first coming, Jesus died for sinners" and do not mean only a particular day, so also can the biblical writers say similar things without being required to mean that everything that Jesus is going to do at His coming is going to happen on the same day. The Rapture of the Church is going to happen "at His coming". Revelation 19 is going to transpire "at His coming". The gathering of Israel from one end of heaven to the other is going to happen "at His coming". But, there is no basis (other than the flawed concordance-based method of study) for assuming that all of these events will happen on the same day.

The bottom line is this: the Bible says that Jesus has another period of destiny in this world. But it also says that there are a host of things that are going to happen during that period of destiny. They are not all going to happen simultaneously. In fact, Jesus' destiny in this world is going to endure for something over a thousand years. Every thing He does during that period of time can easily be said to occur "at His coming". When He comes, the lion and the lamb will lie down together. At His coming the Kingdom will be established. When He comes the nations will again rebel against Him. Etc. The real issue in this entire scenario is that Van Kampen claims the Church will be subject to the majority of the seventieth week of Daniel. That's why he wrote his book. He thinks he has discovered the "when" of the Rapture and that his discovery has eliminated any concept of imminence and has established a critical need to teach the Church that she is going to face the wrath of Satan before she will be raptured to be with the Lord.

But, he has not satisfied the demands of legitimate exegesis based upon a legitimate historical/verbal hermeneutic. His book is as illogical and unconvincing to many of us who have looked into the issues with some care as he thinks pretribulationalism is. But he arrogantly assumes his accuracy and suggests ungodly motives in everyone who disagrees with him and then compounds his errors by claiming that it is all "plain and simple". Thus, the section on the Revelation is more of the same. He conveniently ignores or overlooks the data that suggests his construct is wrong, and He postures again and again on how Jesus on the Mount of Olives, Paul, and Jesus in the Revelation all teach the same thing: his construct. He is correct in saying they teach the same truths in that they do not contradict each other, but he is, in my opinion, simply in error in his understanding of their words...partly because of his method of "study" and partly because of his "Charger" personality that seems to leave little room for the humility of faith.

The section on the Revelation is long. A detailed refutation of his assumptions of "plain and simple" meaning would, itself, take a book to unveil. So my plan is to only deal with the highest points where I have a disagreement with the position taken.

A Church Within the Church?

One of pretribulationism's arguments that the Church is gone by the time the events of the seventieth week unfold has traditionally been that the term "church" (ekklesia) is not found from the conclusion of the letters to the churches in Revelation 3 until the events of Revelation 19 are concluded. Van Kampen felt some kind of need to explain this away, so, on page 134, he wrote: "...it will not be the church in general that undergoes Antichrist's persecution...it will be the faithful remnant within the church that will..." But here he resorts to a clearly unbiblical argument in which he inserts the notion that there is a "Church" within the church. That's an interesting notion. Consider Acts 2:47, where Luke wrote: "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."

Clearly, being "saved" is a prerequisite to being a member of the Church. The idea of a "Church" within the church would require a notion of "the not so saved" and "the really saved" that cannot stand the scrutiny of the doctrine of the Church in the New Testament. Some have argued that because the New Testament refers to local assemblies of the saints as "churches", and some of the folks within those local bodies were spiritual frauds, that the New Testament concept of the church is that of a mixed multitude -- some true believers and some fraudulent professors of faith. However, you will look a long time before you will find any indicator in any text in the New Testament that "salvation" is not a prerequisite for membership in the Church. That some men are liars and attach themselves to a visible body of saints does neither of two things: 1) it does not make them members of the Church; nor 2) does it corrupt the meaning of "Church" to an identity that includes "those who profess Christ, regardless of the genuineness of that profession". None of the letters of the New Testament writers ever use the word "Church" as a tag to identify people without faith. None of the instructions in those letters can be carried out without the enabling power of the Spirit Who indwells each member of the Church, and there is no assumption that they can. It is convenient for Van Kampen to make an artificial distinction within the Church, but it is one which the New Testament refuses to support. Therefore, the absence of any reference to the Church in Revelation 4-19 is still a legitimate fact and it may well, indeed, indicate that none of the truths contained in that section have a direct bearing on that sanctified body, made pure by the blood of Jesus.

Van Kampen compounds his error with a further claim: "...the word church is never used in the three classic Rapture passages referred to by pretribulationists...also, except for general references in the first verses of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, neither of those two great prophetic books uses the word church either." This is the classic crab-walk (moving sideways to escape having to go forward or backward) and illustrates how badly Van Kampen wants to dismiss the context of the particular texts to which he wants to appeal. In the justification of using Matthew 24, Van Kampen used three texts in that Gospel where the word ekklesia is found (one of which has nothing directly to do with the New Testament church and one of which was spoken only after the "age" of Israel had been temporarily set aside) to justify claiming "everything taught in the larger context of this discourse pertains directly to the church" (page 102). But, now that the shoe is on the other foot, he wants nothing to do with having the "church" closely associated with the "classic Rapture passages". So, which is it? Is the larger context definitive, or is isolating the text from its context legitimate? The truth is that the word "church" is contextually linked to two of the three classic Rapture passages.

(John's Gospel is excepted because it is a record of Jesus' words and speech before the founding of the Church and we would not expect the word "church" to be found in it. Also Note: Jesus' words to His disciples in John 14:1-3 [called by Van Kampen one of the "three classic Rapture passages"] were spoken AFTER the end of the sixty-ninth week had expired, so that the things He said may well have had the new "age" in mind even if the disciples were not clearly aware of it. And, by the way, the John 14 passage is the first post-sixty-ninth week statement about the disciples' personal hope, and it clearly does NOT correspond to the Deuteronomy 30:4 hope of Israel).

The word "church" is also definitively connected to the Thessalonian letters and it dominates the material found therein since the letters were addressed to the "church". One further quote: "...John uses the word 'saint' to depict the genuine bond-servant of Christ, not the word 'church'. That is why the word 'saint' is used thirteen times in the heart of the book..., and the word 'church' is avoided altogether!" (page 134). The problem with this is that Daniel, the author of the prophecy of the seventy weeks, used the word "saint" to refer to the believing element of the nation of Israel. It is far more likely that John reverted to "saint" because he was writing about the same body of people that Daniel had written about, and avoided the word "church" because it didn't fit the reality of the situation.

So, we actually have just more unorthodox maneuvering by Van Kampen to explain away the absence of reference to the church in Revelation. There is no "Church" within the Church. There is only the Jews, the Gentiles, and the Church of God (1 Corinthians 10:32).

Letting the Olivet Discourse Interpret Revelation

On page 135 Van Kampen wrote, "...the relevance of the book of Revelation to every genuine believer will become even more obvious, especially when we let the Olivet Discourse interpret the book for us." This is a two-edged sword. There is more truth here than Van Kampen wants to admit! But, at the same time, it is a flawed hermeneutic that allows the wholesale importation of one text into another before both have been interpreted according to their own content and context. How else will we know if the "import" is legitimate?

Naturally, what Van Kampen really means is that we will better understand his view of Revelation and his construct of the Rapture in the last segment of events recorded there if we let his view of the Olivet Discourse govern all of our thinking about the content of this book. But, what if we import MY understanding of the Olivet Discourse into the interpretation of Revelation? Obviously, then we will come to vastly different conclusions regarding the Rapture! We have already seen that Van Kampen's view of the Olivet Discourse does not deal with certain pertinent details of that text, especially the unavoidable references to the "disciples'" observance of the Sabbath, life in Jerusalem, and the historical setting of Jesus' discussion of the "age" that ends with the end of the seventieth week. Given those flaws, why would we want to import his understanding of the Olivet Discourse into our understanding of the book of Revelation?

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