The Rapture is When?

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

by Darrel Cline

The Rapture in Revelation 7?

We have come in our study of Van Kampen's position on the book of the Revelation to his claim that the Rapture of the Church is presented in the seventh chapter of Jesus' Revelation to John. He says of the great multitude pictured there in 7:9, "I can't see how this great multitude can be anyone [sic] other than the raptured saints of God, along with those resurrected who had previously died 'in Jesus'" (page 156). His arguments consist of the following:

  1. he believes the material of chapter seven follows immediately and simultaneously on the heels of the sixth seal;
  2. he claims that "the timing of the arrival of this great multitude in heaven precisely parallels the timing Christ gave His disciples in the Olivet Discourse, as to when the elect of God would be gathered together -- raptured -- from one end of the sky to the other (Matthew 24:29, 31), an event that occurs immediately following the announcement of God's wrath in the sun, moon, and stars";
  3. he claims that the terminology that is used to describe this multitude (every nation, tribe, people, tongue) is the same terminology used in 5:9;
  4. he sees this multitude praising God for their deliverance from the persecution of the earth;
  5. he sees the multitude being greeted by the Father, the Lamb, the angels, the twenty-four elders, and the four living creatures, but there is no previously raptured group mentioned;
  6. he claims that the best argument is that the people of this multitude are standing there in resurrected bodies; and
  7. his last argument is that one of the elders specifically identifies the group as those who have come out of the Great Tribulation

He concludes "... by comparing Scripture with Scripture and applying a little common sense, we see that this great multitude must describe the raptured saints and the resurrected 'dead in Christ', now 'standing' before the throne of God" (page 161). So, for those of us who are bereft of common sense, and reject his concordance-based methodology of study, I would like to examine these seven arguments to see if there is anything there.

The First Argument

The first claim Van Kampen makes is that chapter seven is chronologically sequential to the seals. This argument is fatally flawed for at least three reasons. The first of these is that there is no evidence at all that the seals are chronologically sequential. Van Kampen, having misconstrued significant parts of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 24, is now completely blinded to the words of the text of Revelation by forcing it to "follow", not Jesus' teaching in Matthew 24, but his own understanding of those words. He, obviously, would have us believe that he and Jesus speak the same truth, but the fact is that he is only giving us his "interpretation" of Jesus' words and he has approached those words by a method that leaves much to be desired. I realize that these are fairly strong words, so how do I justify them?

First, the seals, as we have already shown, are not characteristically chronologically sequential. There is an incidental chronology between the two pairs of horses/riders. The first and second riders dominate the entire seventieth week. There is no indication at all that the bow of the first rider and the sword of the second rider are sequential developments and, given the assumption that the seals characterize the entire period, there is a fair amount of evidence that they develop simultaneously. Now it is true that the famine and death follow hard on the heels of the conflict established by the bowman and the swordsman (and that produces a bit of chronological sequence), but the focus is cause and effect rather than a timing factor. Then, there is no textual evidence that the martyrs of the fifth seal are limited to the seventieth week. It is highly likely that the martyrs actually cover all of human history and serve as a justification of the seventieth week in order to answer the "why?" question that the seals automatically bring up. Then, the sixth seal has both the beginning and the ending events of the week contained in it, so it cannot be sequential to the others. Thus, Van Kampen's argument that the material in chapter seven is chronologically sequential to the sixth seal is not established.

The second reason this argument is fatally flawed is that it is impossible for the 144,000 to be saved at the time of Jesus' coming at the end of the tribulation of those days. The reason for this is that Malachi 4:5 specifically says that Elijah will come before the Day of the Lord and that his ministry will turn the hearts of the people. This is as clear a statement of "salvific impact" as you will find regarding the impact of Elijah's pre-Day of the Lord work. Since the 144,000 are the classic representatives of the nation of Israel and God's plan for that nation, it would be strange indeed if they were not saved under Elijah's ministry, which, at least begins before the Day of the Lord. Van Kampen dates his ministry's beginning point at the time of the abomination of desolation [I disagree, but it is of little consequence at this point] and his claim that the 144,000 are not saved until Jesus' coming signifies that Elijah won't have any fruit until after Jesus comes. Why does Van Kampen argue this way? Because he says that if the 144,000 were saved prior to Jesus' coming, they would be raptured along with the rest of God's elect. Well, what about Elijah? And the other witness? According to Van Kampen, Elijah will be here during the entire second half of the seventieth week. That means that, according to Van Kampen's scenario, the rapture comes, but Elijah has to stay here. This is weird theology. It is far more probable that the 144,000 come to faith in Jesus the Messiah during the on-going ministry of Elijah. But, of course, that would mean that the rapture pre-dates Elijah's coming and ministry and Van Kampen cannot abide that!

And the third reason the argument is fatally flawed is that the structure of the Book of Revelation denies chronological sequence to the events contained in the portions of the revelation that lie between the sixth and seventh items in the various judgments. In all three cases of the sevens (the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls), there is an hiatus that interrupts the flow. Chapter seven is the interruption between the sixth seal of 6:12-17 and the seventh seal of 8:1. Then, the first six trumpets of judgment are sounded in 8:7-9:21. That progression is interrupted by all of chapter 10 and the first 14 verses of chapter 11. After 11:14, the seventh trumpet sounds. The bowl judgments follow the pattern with the exception that the hiatus is only one verse in length (16:15), or, perhaps four verses (16:13-16), depending on what one sees as the contents of the sixth bowl. At any rate, the trumpet judgments are the dead give-away because even Van Kampen acknowledges that the ministry of the two witnesses begins a good while before the first trumpet begins to sound. He acknowledges that Elijah is one of the two witnesses. He says (but I disagree with him here) that Elijah's ministry begins at the abomination of desolation. This is, according to his scenario, a long time before the first trumpet sounds. So, he knows that the hiatus materials are not sequential to the judgments that are poured out prior to the revelation of the hiatus material. Since his own teaching contradicts his chronological sequence argument, his argument falls to the ground by his own internal inconsistency.

So, Van Kampen's first argument fails. The seals are not chronologically sequential, the salvation of the 144,000 after the beginning of the Day of the Lord is contrary to Malachi 4:5, and the structure of the book of the Revelation consistently puts an hiatus between the sixth and seventh elements in each of the three major sets of judgments (seals, trumpets, and bowls) that are not necessarily chronologically sequential to the sixth part of the set.

The Second Argument

As we noted above, Van Kampen's second argument is that the timing of the arrival of this multitude of people in heaven "precisely parallels" the timing Christ gave His disciples in Matthew 24:29-31. This argument fails for several reasons also. First, as we have already seen, the announcement by Jesus of the coming of the Son of Man to send His angels to gather His elect from one end of heaven to another is an announcement that not only uses the terminology of the Greek translation of Deuteronomy 30:4 (which indicates that it is the probable source of His statement), it also fits the scenario of the "gathering" of the nation of Israel to the land as He promised. In the uncontested rapture passages of the New Testament, there is never any terminology regarding the Church that parallels Moses' idea of Israel scattered from one end of heaven to another. Given the arguments of our study of Matthew 24, this argument fails on the fact that this "gathering" is not of the Church.

Second, there is no "precise parallel" between the Olivet Discourse and the Book of the Revelation, so this argument fails on that account also. Van Kampen has assumed this parallelism and, take it away, and almost all of his entire scenario falls to the ground.

Third, there is nothing in the text of Revelation 7 that tells the timing of the "arrival" of this great multitude in heaven. It simply records its presence "after" the record of the sealing of the 144,000, which is also an untimed event. Thus, this argument is built off of pure assumption, so it also fails at that point.

The Third Argument

This argument, in Van Kampen's own words is built like this. "...this 'great multitude which no one could count' is described by John as coming 'from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.' Comparing Scripture with Scripture, we see that this great multitude is described with the same terminology that the heavenly beings used in describing those for whom Christ died, 'from every tribe and tongue and people and nation' (5:9), two chapters earlier... If this specific but unusual terminology is used in chapter 5 to describe the elect of God from the beginning of time, those for whom Christ died, why wouldn't the identical terminology be a reference to the same group of men and women when it is used again just two chapters later?" Now, reader of mine, read that again and tell me: Where is the Church in these words? Van Kampen admits that this terminology has been used of the elect of God "from the beginning of time". That means that it has applied to God's elect from Adam to the end of the millennium. Within that time, there have been different groupings of the "elect of God", including the elect peoples of the nations from Adam until the Church, the elect people of Israel from Moses to Pentecost, the elect peoples of the Church from Pentecost to the Rapture, and the elect peoples of the nations after the Rapture to the end of the Millennium. The assumption that the terminology automatically signifies the raptured saints is just that: pure assumption. So, this argument fails on that basis. Pure assumption is not a good argument for developing our doctrine.

The pretribulationist argument is that this is a multitude of people from every nation and tribe and people and tongue that are saved during the seventieth week of Daniel. They do not base their argument upon this "specific but unusual terminology" (I, frankly, do not understand why Van Kampen sees this as unusual), but the fact remains that there is nothing in the terminology that does not fit the pretribulationist's argument and that means that it is no argument for Van Kampen.

The Fourth Argument

Van Kampen then proceeds to argue that this multitude is the Church because it is praising God for their deliverance. His "interpretation" is that the "deliverance" is "physical deliverance from the persecution occurring on the earth" -- making this the Rapture -- but appealing to Christ's words in Matthew 24:13 that "the one who endures to the end...shall be saved." The problem with that is that Christ's words in Matthew 24:13 are set within the context of the national hope of Israel which was not "rapture" but deliverance INTO THE KINGDOM. Israel was not looking to be taken out of the world; she was looking to be established as the ruling nation in the world. The Israelite who "endured to the end" would be ushered into the Kingdom of Messiah. Van Kampen must have realized something along this line because the last line of his paragraph in which he puts this argument forward reads, "There is no way to be sure, but I would guess..." Sorry, when everything is "plain and simple", there need be no guesses. If the text doesn't establish it, it falls to the ground.

The Fifth Argument

The next argument is that the multitude is greeted by the Father, the Lamb, all of the angels, the twenty-four elders, and the four living creatures, but there is no mention of the raptured elect. This may actually be Van Kampen's strongest argument. It is rather odd that the heavenly scene never directly presents the raptured Church in any of its settings, unless this setting refers to the Church. But this is an argument from silence, not from revelation, so it, too, does not stand with any real validity. A small parallel is given in the book of Daniel. In the record of the fiery furnace, we are told that all of the leaders of the king's national bureaucracy were summoned to worship the image of the king and there is no mention of Daniel. Why wasn't he mentioned? Who knows? Speculation from silence is always possible, but never authoritative.

The Sixth Argument

This argument is called by Van Kampen "the best argument". It consists of the claim that the multitude is seen standing before the throne, clothed in white robes, and holding palm branches in their hands. From this he makes the bold pronouncement that they have their glorified bodies. But, if you will remember, Van Kampen also claimed that the martyred dead in the fifth seal were in heaven. They spoke (does this mean they had mouths -- i.e., "bodies"?) and they were given white robes (does this mean they had bodies on which to put the robes?) Van Kampen's argument ignores the fact that this is a vision of people. They would naturally look like people (i.e., bodies) or he would not be able to recognize them as people. Even in the fifth seal, where John says he saw the "souls" of the martyred dead, they received and wore white robes. So this argument also falls to the ground.

The Seventh Argument

This argument consists of Van Kampen's appeal to the words of the elder who told John that this group was of those who came out of the Great Tribulation. Van Kampen attempts a little Greek grammar lesson in his argument regarding these who come out of the Great Tribulation [but his understanding of the grammar is simply one of a couple of options; it is neither determinative, nor even very likely], but he completely misses the identificational issue. The elder asks John who these folks are. This is John. One of those who heard and understood Jesus' Olivet Discourse. But he didn't know who this group was! What is plain and simple to Van Kampen was completely missed by a man who had personally been instructed by Jesus Himself and had served Him unflinchingly for more than 60 years! Amazing. I wonder how it was that John was so dense he couldn't get this "plain and simple stuff"!

Next, the answer of the elder is beyond dispute: the multitude came out of the Great Tribulation. No matter how you slice it, there is no way you can identify the vast majority of the elect of the Church as having "come out of the Great Tribulation". In terms of the duration of the Church's time on the earth (going on its twentieth century now), the majority of the Church has already lived and died unless, of course, God's plans are for the Church to continue for several more centuries.

At any rate, there is only one generation of humanity that is going to have a group from within it that will "come out of the Great Tribulation". So, if the innumerable multitude is the Church, the elder's identification of it is at least unclear, if not misleading. When you add two clear facts together [John didn't know who they were; and they all come out of the Great Tribulation], the likelihood that this is the Church is very remote. Very.

Conclusions

Van Kampen's presentation is superficially convincing -- as long as you do not go to the texts or ask what the foundations are for the assumptions that are made. Anyone who wants to accept his construct will have to do so on the tenuous arguments made on the basis of a supposed parallelism between Jesus' teaching on Olivet and His revelation to John, His beloved, but apparently ignorant, disciple. If you are willing to accept "comparison of Scripture with Scripture" without insisting first that each Scripture be understood in its own context and verbal strictures, you are fair game for the pre-wrath view of the Rapture. On the other hand, if you are willing to look into each book and do your homework in careful analysis of the historical setting, of the wording and linguistic structure of each part of the thought, and of the progress of revelation, you will probably find that "comparing Scripture with Scripture" will lead you to a different theological construct than what is presented in Van Kampen's book.

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