by Preacher Todd Clippard, Burleson Church of Christ, Hamilton, AL.
(Reprinted with permission January 2016)
The title of this article is an adaptation of a bumper sticker sometimes seen that reads, “In case of rapture, this car will be empty.” Many people believe in what is called “the rapture.” By the “rapture,” it is generally meant that all faithful Christians will be secretly carried away to heaven to be with Jesus (thus the driverless car). This secret “catching away” will precede an intense persecution of Christians and a period of world domination by the “Antichrist.” Following a 7- year period referred to as the “tribulation,” Jesus will descend from heaven with the raptured saints and make war against the Antichrist. They will overcome him and set up an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem where Jesus will reign over the earth for 1000 years, after which the final Judgment will take place.
Unfortunately, most of what is taught concerning the rapture is not consistent with what the Bible teaches. For example, most be surprised to know the word “rapture” cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. Despite this, many religious groups and people believe in what is called “the rapture.” The “rapture” and “tribulation” are central to the false theory of premillennialism. Not only is the word itself absent from the Scriptures, the concept of a rapture is nowhere to be found. Some cite 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 as proof of the rapture, “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” KJV. However, one can see that this verse actually refutes the notion of a rapture. Note how this changing “in the twinkling of an eye” takes place “at the last trump,” not 1007 years before the last trump as is taught by premillennial doctrine.
Consider John 5:28-29 – “The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” This verse clearly teaches that all men, both good and evil, will be raised from the dead at the same hour.
Finally, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 should put this matter to rest once and for all: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” NKJV
This text explicitly teaches that the Christian’s reunion with the Lord will take place “in the air” and shall remain in that state. Premillennialism says the “raptured” saints shall be with the Lord in the air during the 7-year tribulation and then return to Earth for a literal 1000-year reign of Christ upon the earth. A summary and biblical refutation of premillennial doctrine can be seen online at http://www.burlesonchurchofchrist.com/incaseofrapture.htm.
What About the Tribulation and the anti-Christ?
In our previous articles, we showed how Matthew 24 foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and not the end of the world. We also examined the false doctrine of an event called “the rapture.” By way of reminder, the event known as “the rapture” is nowhere taught nor even implied by the Scriptures. As the rapture is central to the doctrine of premillennialism (pre-mil), the whole of this doctrine must be rejected. However, for the sake of study, we will expose the false doctrines of a global tribulation and the character known as “the anti-Christ.”
Pre-mil doctrine espouses a seven-year period of global distress prior to the return of Jesus. This seven year period is called “the tribulation.” During this time, the Jews will begin to rebuild the temple. The Jews will also (unknowingly) enter into a 7-year agreement with “the anti-Christ.” After 3 ½ years, “the anti-Christ” will be revealed, at which time he will stop the daily sacrifice and set up his own image in the temple. During this time, Jerusalem will be trodden under foot, nations will unite against the city and overcome it. Great suffering will occur and many will be carried into captivity; those remaining will turn to Christ. When the kings of Earth gather to battle against the Christians, Jesus will descend with the saints to deliver the faithful and destroy the enemy. Thus ends the tribulation and the power of the anti-Christ.
Does the Bible teach such a thing? Absolutely not! In connection with the rapture, pre-mil says the faithful will escape the tribulation, being secretly snatched away prior to its outset. But Acts 14:22, entrance into the kingdom with tribulation, not after or apart from it. Second, in Revelation 1:9, John called himself a “companion in tribulation.” At the time of John’s writing, the distresses of Matthew 24 were already begun or accomplished against Israel, (depending on the time of the writing), and now the Romans had begun a persecution against the church (Rev 2:10, 13; 3:10).
Concerning the reality of a single character known as “the anti-Christ,” John wrote the following: “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists; whereby we know it is the last time” (1 John 2:18). John said there were many antichrists present at the time he wrote his epistle. But just exactly who is antichrist? John answered that question four verses later in 1 John 2:22: “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” Also, anyone who denies that Jesus came in the flesh is antichrist (cf 1 John 4:1-6). Therefore, anyone who denies that Jesus came in the flesh or denies His deity is antichrist! This would include Jews, Muslims, or anyone who denies the deity and incarnation of Jesus. There is no such character known simply as “the anti-Christ.”
What About Jesus’ 1000-Year-Reign and Earthly Kingdom?
Will Jesus reign for 1000 years over an earthly kingdom? According to pre-mil theory, following the “rapture” and seven year “tribulation,” Jesus will return to make war against “the antichrist.” Tribulation martyrs will be raised to reign with Jesus and the other saints for 1000 years, during which time Jesus will sit on the throne of David, reigning in his earthly kingdom in Jerusalem.
Does the Bible teach this? It does not. For example, when on trial before Pilate, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Though admitting Himself to be a king (v 37), He makes it clear His kingdom was no threat to Caesar or any other earthly kingdom. Paul also said our war is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph 6:12). Yet pre-mil teaches world domination by the kingdom of Christ.
Also, the Bible prohibits Jesus from reigning on the earth. In Jeremiah 22:30, the prophet says of Coniah, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Write this man down as childless, A man who shall not prosper in his days; For none of his descendants shall prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah'” (emphasis mine—jtc). Thus, the Lord Himself declared that no descendant of Coniah would sit on David’s throne, ruling from Jerusalem. Now look at Matthew 1:11 and the genealogy of Jesus. Jesus was a descendant of Coniah, called Jeconiah in this verse! Therefore, Scripture forbids Him from sitting on David’s throne in Jerusalem.
“But wait!” You ask, “Doesn’t the Bible teach that Jesus would sit on David’s throne?” Indeed it does, but it also defines what that means. Obviously, it cannot have reference to Jesus reigning over a physical kingdom in Jerusalem, but what does it mean? The answer is found in Acts 2:29-31, where Peter defined exactly what the Bible meant when it said Jesus would sit on David’s throne:
“”Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption” (emphasis mine –jtc). Peter says the resurrection of Jesus is what David meant by the Christ sitting on his throne.
This harmonizes perfectly with Daniel 7:13-14, “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” Jesus received His kingdom and began to reign in it following His resurrection from dead and His ascension into heaven. Jesus is a king reigning in His kingdom NOW. His kingdom is the church (Matt 16:18-19).
Judaism Re-established, the Resurrection, & the Judgment
Pre-mil proponents claim the Levitical priesthood will be re-established when Jesus returns, with animal sacrifices re-instituted in the temple. But to what end would such sacrifices be offered? Certainly not to effect remission of sins, for “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb 9:28).
Also, all Christians now serve as priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9). Finally, Hebrews 8:8-13 says the old covenant with the Levitical priesthood was faulty and in need of replacement. Jesus replaced this faulty covenant with the new covenant, the New Testament, which He brought into force when He died on the cross (Heb 9:12-28).
Pre-mil theology is also wrong concerning the resurrection. This ties closely to the error known as “the rapture.” Pre-mil’s rapture and subsequent doctrines of the resurrection teach three separate resurrections: one at the rapture, the second coming of Jesus (seven years later), and the general resurrection after the 1000-year reign. The Bible teaches no such thing. In John 5:28-29, Jesus said ALL the dead would be raised when He returns. In Matthew 25:31-32, Jesus said when He “shall come in all his glory and all His holy angels with Him, then shall he sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” While we understand these verses (through v 46) concern the final Judgment, we must also consider the time frame of this event. The text says the Resurrection and Judgment of the world will take place when Jesus comes again, not 1000 years afterward.
Another text for consideration is 1 Corinthians 15:23-26: “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
If you mark in your Bible, underline the words “at His coming” in verse 23. Then circle the words “then cometh the end” in verse 24 and draw a line connecting them to “at His coming.” This will help you to understand what will take place when Jesus comes again – THE END, meaning the end of the world.
Pre-mil theology says Jesus will return to begin a 1000-year earthly reign, after which comes the end. The inspired apostle Paul says the end will come when Jesus comes again, not 1000 years afterward. Verse 24 also says at the second coming Jesus will deliver up the kingdom to the Father, not establish it to reign for 1000 years. Verses 25-26 say Jesus now reigns and will continue to do so until the last enemy (death) is destroyed (by the resurrection of all men from the dead). Pre-mil theology is wrong at every turn from beginning to end, yet millions continue to believe and teach this dangerous doctrine.
Are the “signs” of Matthew 24 upon us?
With this article, we begin a series addressing many of the false doctrines currently taught concerning the second coming of Christ. First, it must be understood that there are no signs pointing to the second coming of Jesus Christ. Matthew 24 is one of the most wrongly interpreted chapters in all the Bible. In truth, the signs of Matthew 24 point to the destruction of Jerusalem, and not to the second coming. In Matthew 24:1-3 the disciples were asking about Jesus’ statement concerning the destruction of the temple, and incorrectly linked that event to the end of the world. The disciples (incorrectly) looked for the re-establishment of the physical nation of Israel, even until the day of Jesus ascension (Acts 1:6). It is inconceivable that they could consider the existence of a Jewish state without the presence of the temple.
Jesus’ answer in the remainder of chapter 24 and in chapter 25 corrects the disciples’ misunderstanding. In Matthew 24:4-35, Jesus tells the four the signs preceding Jerusalem’s destruction. In 24:36-25:46, Jesus tells of the events of His second coming and the Day of Judgment for all men that will take place at His return.
The key to understanding Matthew 24 is verse 34. Two phrases of utmost importance are “this generation” and “these things.”
Consider the phrase “this generation” in v 34. Of whom would the disciples understand Jesus to be speaking? Answer: Themselves and their contemporaries. However, some premillennialists believe “this generation” refers to the entire Jewish race. Thus, since the Jewish race is still present in some form, the events in question (vv 4-33) are yet in the future (though many are teaching the events are unfolding before us). Billy Graham has often said “Matthew 24 is knocking at the door.” Others believe “this generation” to be those who see the signs of verses 4-33. Both views are wrong.
“Generation” (Gr genea) appears 43 times in the New Testament and 17 of those occurrences appear as “this generation.” Matthew used the phrase “this generation” 5 times in his gospel account (11:16-19; 12:34-45; 23:33-36). Jesus was referring to then present-day Jews in all the previous accounts, particularly Matthew 23:36 which is in the immediate context of Matthew 24. So it only makes sense to believe “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 refers to the same people.
Also of importance is the identification and record of the events known as “these things.” “These things” refer to the signs found in Matthew 24:4-12 and included: false Christs – vv 4-5; wars and rumors of wars – v 6; famines, pestilences, and earthquakes – v 7; persecution of the saints – vv 9-10; multiplied false prophets and mass apostasy – vv 11-12.
Both biblical (Acts 11:28, cf v 7b) and secular (Josephus) accounts show the fulfillment of the list of “these things” in the years immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. (Flavius Josephus’ Wars of the Jews, Books V & VI is particularly helpful in this respect). Thus, there is no reason to believe the current state of national or world events has any bearing on the imminence of the Second Coming.
Concerning the presence or nearness of “the last days,” the Bible teaches that we have been living in “the last days” for nearly 2000 years (Acts 2:16-21;Hebrews 1:1-2; 1 John 2:18). The last days refers not to a specific date and time, but rather a dispensation of time. We are now living in “the last days,” the days of the Christian Dispensation. First was the Patriarchal Dispensation, then the Mosaic, and now the final period of time, the Christian Dispensation.
Premillennialism Denigrates Christ and His Church.
In the final installment, we examine how this doctrine denigrates Jesus and His church.
First, pre-mil impugns the power and authority of Jesus. In Matthew 28:18, Jesus said all power (authority) was given to him in heaven and on earth. In John 6:38, Jesus said He came to do the Father’s will. Pre-mil says Jesus’ original intent was to establish an earthly kingdom, but was rejected by the Jews. But as He breathed His last on the cross, Jesus cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Now, did Jesus accomplish His mission or not?
Second, pre-mil denigrates the importance God placed upon the church. Pre-mil says the church was God’s “Plan B” after the original plan to establish an earthly kingdom was thwarted by the Jews. However, one of Jesus’ stated purposes was to build His church (Matt 16:18). Jesus died to purchase the church (Acts 20:28). Jesus loves, nourishes, and cherishes His church (Eph 5:23-29). Also, the saved are added to the church (Acts 2:47), and Jesus will save only the church (Eph 5:23). Finally, the manifold wisdom of God is made known by the church (Eph 3:10).
Third, pre-mil denies that the kingdom is the church. In Matthew 3:2 and 4:17, both John and Jesus preached the message of the nearness of the kingdom. In Mark 9:1, Jesus said some then living would live to see its establishment.
In Matthew 16:18-19 and 18:18, Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to the apostles. Why do that if the kingdom was still thousands of years from fruition?
Consider: from the Old Testament to Acts 2, the kingdom is always spoken of in the future, yet to be established tense. From Acts 2 onward, the kingdom is spoken of in the present, already established tense. What event took place in Acts 2 to cause this distinction? The church was established on the day of Pentecost.
In Acts 28:23 Paul testified of the kingdom as an established fact; he didn’t prophesy of it as being in the future. Colossians 1:13 says God has translated (note past tense) us into the kingdom of His Son. In Revelation 1:9 John identified himself as a companion in the kingdom. And the Hebrew writer spoke of having received a kingdom which cannot be moved (cf Matt 16:18).
The truth is that Jesus is NOW a king and is reigning in His kingdom—the CHURCH. When He comes again, it will not be to establish a kingdom, but to save it by delivering it up to God the Father (1 Cor 15:23-24).
End post 2 of 2
Questions welcome at http://www.burlesonchurchofchrist.com