In 1990 Marvin Rosenthal came out with the book, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church. Then, later in that decade (1997), Robert Van Kampen came out with another book, The Rapture Question Answered Plain and Simple, in which he also attempted to establish Rosenthal's earlier publication's major thesis that the Church of Jesus Christ is destined to enter into the seventieth week of Daniel's prophecies regarding the plans of God for the nation of Israel and be subjected to Satan's wrath against God's elect.
As it turns out, according to Van Kampen, these two men were actually collaborators in the development of this new view of the timing of the Rapture of the Church. Between the two of them, they decided that God had given them the truth regarding this issue and that this "truth" meant that they needed to publish materials to attempt to turn the Church away from the popular pretribulational view of the Rapture because the "church" was going to be blind-sided by a false belief that it would escape from the days of severe persecution that are predicted to come upon the earth in the latter days.
I have put together this detailed response to Van Kampen's book but, before I would encourage anyone to wade through what turned out to be about 100 pages of printed matter, I would first encourage all interested parties to sit back and think a bit about a prior question: Why does the Word of God tell us "Rapture" truth?
To facilitate that thoughtfulness, I have decided to tell you why I think God has revealed His plans to "rapture" an entire generation of His people out of this world. By interacting with my thinking on this issue, perhaps your thinking will be sharpened and, perhaps, the critique I have written of Van Kampen's book will be of more service to those of you who, somehow, have happened to stumble across it.
The first issue that needs to be noted is that the undebated "Rapture" passages are all found in the New Testament epistolary literature. What this means is that it was written specifically for the Church.
It is true that the Gospels were also written for the Church, but that writing is complicated by two realities. The first is that Jesus' actions and words were primarily accomplished during the sixty-ninth week of Daniel; they were primarily addressed to the nation of Israel; and, because of that, we simply must be careful that we do not just run from reading to application without understanding the historical and verbal realities of the record. The second is that Jesus' actions and words have direct implications for both the nation of Israel and for the Church of Jesus Christ: the pictures of the Gospels are the pictures of Israel's King and the Church's Head and Savior. Same person; different identity -- because the Nation and the Church are different entities which relate to Jesus Christ at different levels and in different settings.
Because the undebated passages are found in the Church's literature, the teaching of the Rapture is for the Church.
That brings us to our second issue.
There is no indication, anywhere in the New Testament, that the teaching of God's plan to instantaneously remove His Church from this world "in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Corinthians 15:52; all quotes are from the public domain translation of the Authorized Version) is designed to give believers the impression that it would not be their lot to have to suffer persecution in this world. In fact, Jesus told His disciples quite the opposite in John 16:33 where He said, "...In the world ye shall have tribulation..." In addition to these words of Jesus, there is a host of other biblical, New Testament, texts which tell us that the more we attempt to adhere to God's Truth in this world, the more difficulties we will face from those who despise that Truth. Therefore, one of the things the Rapture truth does not do is give us any impression that it was designed by God to enable us to escape persecution and tribulation in this world.
Neither is there any indication, anywhere in the New Testament, that this plan of God to suddenly remove His Church from this world was designed to give His children any expectation that they would not experience a significant level of pain as they live in this world in mortal bodies. He did not promise the "Rapture" so that we might expect that if we wrench our backs we will not suffer the excruciating, shooting pain that such a thing always yields. The "Rapture" does not promise us that we will not get any of the various forms of extremely painful cancer. The "Rapture" does not promise us that we will not get involved in a horrible automobile accident and, perhaps, be burned to within an inch of death so that we have to go through months of rehabilitation that includes an enormous level of painful experience. The "Rapture" does not promise us that we will live healthy, be prosperous, and die (or be translated) quickly and painlessly.
In other words, the teaching of the "Rapture" was not designed by God to do either of two things: 1) it was not designed to give us any expectation at all that the world would not marshall all of its forces of wickedness against us so that it might persecute us with excruciating tortures and diabolical means of death (this kind of thing has happened somewhere in the world in every generation of the Church); and 2) it was not designed to give us any expectation at all that the mortality of the fallen world would not affect us in any of the myriad forms of degeneration that are currently visibly present (we should not expect that our children will all be born "normal", nor should we expect that we shall be spared any of the problems to which this fallen world has been subjected -- from biting ants to horrible degenerative diseases and/or "accidents"). In a word, the "Rapture" was never conceived of by God as a kind of promise of protection from either the spiritual conflict that is raging on this planet, nor from the physical conflict that also rages here.
This reality, that the Rapture was not designed by God to give us any hope whatsoever that life here would be easy and comfortable, actually undercuts the Van Kampen/Rosenthal camp's theory that the Church is going to be blind-sided by what they have decided is going to be its destiny under the wrath of the Antichrist. Does it really matter if it is the Antichrist who tortures us to death, or some petty tyrant who has managed by demonic instigation to gain the political muscle to torture us to death before Antichrist arises? Is it of any value to think that, though we can be beaten and mutilated by any number of governmental representatives in this wicked world, we cannot be so treated by the Antichrist "because we are going to be raptured" before he comes? The entire scenario of needing to tell the Church that it is going to be subjected to the persecution of the Antichrist so that it won't have a misguided notion of divine deliverance ahead of time is wrong-headed.
There is another reality to which we ought to direct our thinking for at least a short time. That is the reality that the doctrine of the Rapture is a doctrine which, in its fulfillment, only directly affects one generation of the Church. What I am saying is that there will only be one terminal generation. All of the other generations of the Church are going to live and die without seeing the fulfillment in their days.
What does this mean?
It means that there is actually something that the Rapture cannot do. Its details in fulfillment cannot be the experience of every generation of the Church. That means that if the doctrine is not to be relegated to the peripheral interests of the Church, its significance has to be found in something that its teaching can do, and not in what its teaching cannot do. The teaching of the Rapture cannot be expected to bring its adherents to its experience. Only one generation will experience that blessed experience. Therefore, the teaching of the Rapture must be expected to have some other impact upon its hearers.
So, what is the point of the teaching of the Rapture? The answer here depends entirely upon what its teaching is. If, as Van Kampen insists, the teaching of the Rapture includes a time orientation that puts it into the latter half of the seventieth week of Daniel, there is no real point to the teaching to anyone except the terminal generation. That would justify its presence in the Word of God because that Word contains the information necessary to every segment of the people of God and every time setting in which they find themselves. But it is the kind of teaching that really only fits into the "prophetic" portions of that Word, not in the "daily-living" literature of the Church. No generation except the terminal one really needs to know anything about the Rapture if its intent is to create hope for those under the persecution of the Antichrist.
On the other hand, if the teaching of the Rapture has a deliberately ambiguous relationship to the timing of the plan of God, its impact is altogether different. With ambiguity, every generation lives in hope of being suddenly caught up to be with Christ in the air. With ambiguity, every believer can live in hope that maybe today he will see the Savior face to face. With ambiguity, every believer has something to give him something to hold on to in the midst of the difficulties of his life. On the other hand, the absence of ambiguity coupled to a late seventieth week anticipation, leaves every believer to live without this hope. Without ambiguity, the difficulties of life tend to have no "light at the end of the tunnel". All we can hope for is to escape through death. The erasure of imminence from the concepts built into the Rapture is the erasure of the biggest portion of the believer's hope.
Tell a believer in love with Him that Jesus may come today, and you put a spring in his step for today. Tell him that Jesus isn't coming for a long time, and you take the spring out of his step and replace it with the leaden certainty that the bad will only get worse until he finally dies.
So, my reader, consider this question: why did God tell us, His Church, about the Rapture as a part of our "daily-living" instruction? Did He do it only to give late seventieth week believers some hope, or did He do it to give us all some hope?