The Rapture is When?

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

by Darrel Cline

Van Kampen, in chapter eight, takes on what he considers the primary pretribulationist arguments for their timing of the Rapture. Though he admits that he does not know the language of the New Testament, he apparently determined to take on the Greek meanings in various texts anyway. So, let's go with him to see what he has to say...and to see if it will hold water.

The Promise to the Messenger of Philadelphia

In Revelation 3:10, Jesus gave a promise to the messenger (translated "angel" by the KJV) of the church in Philadelphia. He told this person that because he had kept the word of "My patience", He would, in return, keep him from the hour of temptation, which was to come upon the entire world to test the inhabitants of the earth.

Now notice: the person Jesus addresses "has [already] kept" Jesus' word, and, by that, has now received the promise from Jesus that, on the basis of his past faithfulness, he will be kept from the hour that is coming. In other words, the person Jesus is writing to has been faithful and now gets a promise that Jesus will keep him from the hour that is to come upon the earth. Question: Can this person now believe that Christ will keep him? Of course he can! Based upon what? Jesus' promise, which, in turn is rooted in the historical fact of the person's past faithfulness to Jesus.

Next question: does this person represent himself in Jesus' words, or is Jesus using him, as He did His disciples in Matthew 24, as an archetype of the "seventieth week disciple"? In our discussion of Jesus' use of His disciples in Matthew 24 as archetypes of seventieth week disciples, we appealed to the plain facts of the text in which Jesus addressed them as those who, observing the Sabbath in Jerusalem, would see the abomination of desolation, and would need to flee Jerusalem post-haste, thus making them "seventieth week Jewish disciples".

Is there any indication in the letter to this person in Philadelphia that Jesus is not directly addressing him as himself? The only hint that he might not be himself in Jesus' address to him is the reference to the fact that Jesus was going to keep him from the hour that is to come to test the whole world. Some might use this to say that Jesus was addressing the man as one who would be alive when the "hour" comes upon the world. However, Jesus didn't say that. He simply promised him that He would keep him from that "hour". Thus, if He kept that "hour" from coming while the person was alive on the earth, His promise would be fulfilled; and, if (given the fact that the timing of the "when" is unrevealed) the person was living on the earth when the "hour" was about to come, He would have Jesus' promise that He would then fulfill and "keep him from it". Therefore, since that "hour's" coming is indeterminate, Jesus was most likely addressing the person as himself with either of the above options available for fulfillment of the promise.

The critical fact to keep in mind is this: Jesus' promise is clearly rooted in the man's faithfulness before the "hour" has arrived. The "hour" had not arrived by the time the letter to the person from Jesus did, and the promise to the person was that he had already been sufficiently faithful to be a recipient of the promise. Thus, faithfulness prior to the arrival of the hour is the foundation for the promise about the hour.

The next issue is, what is that "hour"? Van Kampen claims that it is the period of Satan's persecution of the elect, which he claims will begin in the midst of the seventieth week of Daniel. But is he correct? How do we know?

Let's begin with the description of the "hour". The text tells us that it is a time which will come upon the world as an "hour of temptation" to "try" the inhabitants of the earth. What will this be? Van Kampen says, on the basis of James 1:13, that it is the time of Satan's wrath against believers. His argument is that James says God doesn't "tempt" people, so the "hour" cannot be God's wrath (page 173).

His argument fails at two major points. The first is that his position then becomes "the hour when the elect of God are tempted", while the text says it is the "world" and its inhabitants that are tempted or tried.

The second is that Van Kampen again falls victim to his concordance in that he points to the use of the Greek word translated "tempt" in I Thessalonians 3:5; I Corinthians 7:5; and Matthew 4:1 to attempt to prove that Satan is always the "tempter". At this point, I have to question Van Kampen's integrity because I know he did a concordance search of the word behind the word translated "temptation" and he had to have seen the two references to the Lord's instruction that we pray that God would not lead us into temptation [same word] (why pray that if it is impossible?) and he had to have seen Hebrews 3:8 [same word] where the children of Israel were led by God into a day of temptation in the wilderness, and he had to have seen John 6:6 [same word] where Jesus "proved" Philip, and he had to have seen Hebrews 11:17 [same word] where God "tried" Abraham. I think it unconscionable of a man to know that the concordance does not support his argument and then put it forward anyway.

How then do we harmonize James' claim that God does not "tempt" anyone when other texts use the same word to describe God's actions toward men? The answer is in the statement of James. He says that God does not tempt men to do evil. That does not mean that God does not set trying circumstances before them. It only means that He does not seek their failure. This is the reason the translators translated the same word with different English words. When Satan "tempts", he seeks man's failure of faith; when God "tries" or "proves", He seeks the strengthening of the man. Both Satan and God put men into difficult situations, but they do not have the same motivation. If someone stacks weights on a weight lifter's bar, he is putting a challenge before the muscles of the weight lifter. If he does it to crush the weight lifter, he seeks his failure, but if he does it to challenge the muscular development of the weight lifter, he seeks his success. The word is the same whether used of a desire to defeat or a desire to strengthen and it is the context that tells us which person and which objective is in view. So Van Kampen's concordance study is worthless, and his conclusion that this must be Satan's wrath is highly suspect.

Thus, because the text says the "hour" is to come upon "all the inhabited earth" to try those who dwell there, and Van Kampen's position is that the "hour" is to only come upon the elect of God, his argument fails. Then, because his claim is that the word used in the text (translated "try" in the KJV) means "Satan's temptation", and the word is clearly used in the Scriptures to refer to God's "trying" of men, his argument fails again. Thus, there is nothing left to the argument. He has not established that the promise made to the person in Philadelphia refers to Satan's wrath. He hasn't even come close.

Next, we have the particulars of the promise itself. Jesus told the person that, based upon his past faithfulness, He would keep him from the hour of temptation/testing. Van Kampen claims, on this point, that there are two Greek words that we need to understand clearly. The first one is the word translated "keep" and the other is the word translated "from". He says of the word translated "keep",

...it carries the idea of protecting someone while he is within a sphere of danger, not that of keeping him away from the danger altogether ... Only those who are within a specific sphere of danger need to be watched over or guarded ... This is exactly what tereo [the Greek word in view] refers to in this context: guarding those who persevere -- who are faithful to Christ -- during the hour of testing that will someday come upon the whole earth.

That's an interesting pontification, given the fact that "tereo" has a fair range of meaning and it is deliberately used as a word-play by Jesus in addressing the person as one who has "kept" His word (Revelation 3:8, and 10). He said that because the person has "kept" His word, He will "keep" the person. How does this play out?

Well, what is involved in "keeping the word of Christ"? First, the word of Christ always exists within a context of multiple other options for the individual who would "keep" it. In other words, the "keeper" of the word is one who chooses to submit himself to the meaning of the word of Christ in the face of multiple other options. Therefore, one issue is that of deliberately choosing Christ's instructions in a context of multiple other possible instructions. This sense -- that those instructions exist within a set of multiple options -- makes the play on words indicate that the person who has been given the promise is going to be selected by Christ out of a host of optional others. This fits the context because Jesus identified the person as one who, unlike the host of others, has "kept" His word. That will be the criterion for the applicability of Jesus' promise. Because the person chose the words of Christ over all others' words, Christ will choose him over all those who are unlike him in regard to the "keeping of His word".

Second, the word of Christ always exists within a context of multiple loyalties in which the "keeper" of His word must choose loyalty to Him. This sense of deliberate loyalty indicates that the word-play includes the fact that Christ is promising the same kind of loyalty to the person that he has shown to Him.

Thus, "keeping His word" involves two things. First, there is the belief that the words are true in content so they "ought" to be kept. Second, there is the love for the Person who utters them so I "want" to keep them.

Therefore, the promise, made clear by the word-play, is that Christ will choose the person out of the midst of a host of others and He will do so because He wants to show loving loyalty to him. There is, in this, no necessary sense of "danger"; there is only the sense of special selection because of mutual love. The idea of "danger" arises from the coming of the "hour that is to try the whole earth", not from the word-play.

And that brings us to the next Greek word that Van Kampen wants to highlight. It is the word "ek". Van Kampen says, "The confusion is exaggerated by the multiple meanings of the English word 'from'. Once again, a proper rendering of this little Greek preposition will solve the problem perfectly, bringing absolute harmony to all three phrases that make up our critical text."

[By way of an aside, the "three phrases" are "the word of perseverance", "the hour of testing", and "will keep you from". I have not addressed the "word of perseverance" at this point.]

Unfortunately, Van Kampen bases his understanding of "ek" from a Greek class that he once audited. It's too bad he didn't take the course for credit and then pursue it a bit more because if he had he would have discovered that "ek" is not much clearer than "from". In fact, if he had just pulled a Greek dictionary off the shelf, he would have discovered that the definitions for "ek" cover two and a half pages of double-columned content! So much for the ease of getting "a proper rendering of this little Greek preposition"! One of the problems with "plain and simple" folks is that they are too willing to dismiss too much because they think they already see plainly and they don't need to be bothered with the facts. A.T. Robertson, who wrote four pages of discussion about "ek" in his massive work on the grammar of the Greek New Testament, said that there is a "strict" idea of "from within" (page 597) involved with "ek", but that there is also evidence in the New Testament of a blending of the meanings of "ek" and "apo". What does this mean? Only that Van Kampen's urge to "use the Greek on us" isn't very convincing. The argument will not be settled by a pontification about what "ek" means based upon an introductory course in New Testament Greek.

What will decide the issue? Well, it will help to read Van Kampen's material. Its confusion ought to help us understand that his position is not valid. He claims, on page 177, that "tereo ek" means "a watchful protection within the sphere of danger, with a safe deliverance out from the midst of it". It is his position that Christ's promise to the person in Philadelphia is that He will guard him when the hour of testing comes upon him and when it has run its course, He will take him out of it. In other words, Jesus said to this person, "Because you have kept My word, I am going to subject you to a far greater pressure and danger -- but don't worry, I will watch over you and, when it threatens to destroy you, I will jerk you out in the nick of time!"

Van Kampen has a unique way of twisting promise into threat. First, he told us that we should be eagerly looking for Christ's glorious coming for us, but not to think that it is imminent, but the persecution of the Antichrist is! This is supposed to make us look eagerly for our Savior? Now he tells us that our faithfulness to Christ is going to give us the privilege of being subjected to Antichrist's persecution! How wonderful! Not to worry, though, Jesus will deliver us from it before it kills us!

Let's think about this a bit further. It is Van Kampen's view that "ek" means that Jesus has promised to rapture this person in Philadelphia "out from within the Great Tribulation of Satan's persecution of the elect of God". This has to mean, then, that everyone who has been faithful to Christ is going to be raptured. In fact, in his discussion of "the word of My patience" [this is the phrase I did not address], he says that the faithfulness is established "during" the time of Satan's persecution of the elect. In other words, his position is that if you are faithful during the persecution of the Great Tribulation, you have a promise from Jesus that He will rapture you "out from within" before it kills you. He says this in spite of his own quote of Matthew 24:9 which pointedly says "...they...will kill you..."! The "you" in the text are His faithful disciples.

What Van Kampen's view does is turn Revelation 3:10 into a worthless promise. Jesus, Himself, said that during the persecution of the seventieth week of Daniel, many of those who are faithful to Him will be put to death (Van Kampen's view of the fifth seal demands this also). Jesus cannot, then, turn right around and promise those who are faithful to Him that they will be raptured. One of those statements is a lie if Van Kampen's scenario is true. I prefer to believe Van Kampen got it wrong!

The only way Van Kampen's scenario can stand is if we take the "...they...will kill you..." of Matthew 24:9 to refer to disciples who cave in under the pressure of the persecution. That way, Jesus' promise to the faithful that He will rapture them "out from the midst" can stand as a promise that He will not let anyone who is faithful be put to death, while those who cave in under pressure will be put to death -- and Jesus didn't promise to deliver them. But, the Antichrist isn't going to kill those who cave in! He is only going to kill those who refuse to cave in. Those who apostatize will not be put to death; only those who refuse to deny Christ and refuse to take the mark will be put to death. But, Jesus was supposed to have promised that if they were faithful, He would "guard them in their time of danger" and the "rapture them out from the midst" before it destroyed them. In other words, under Van Kampen's view, Revelation 3:10 means "because you have been faithful to Me, I will deliver you over to the Antichrist, and if you manage to escape from his persecution till I get ready to come, I will pull you out of the midst of it"!

Conclusions About Revelation 3:10

Van Kampen admits that the "tereo ek" of Revelation 3:10 refers to Jesus' promise to rapture His faithful saints (page 178). He also teaches that "the fifth seal shows that some [read "many"] will die for their allegiance to the true Christ" (page 150) during the persecution of the Antichrist. Then he has the blindness to teach that Revelation 3:8 is a promise from Christ that He will rapture those who are faithful to Him during the Great Tribulation. This is typical of the kind of confusion Van Kampen has entertained all through this book. He has managed to turn promise into threat and to reduce the eager expectation of the believer to dismay and make the words of Christ hopelessly contradictory so that His promise is worthless.

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