Bosco and I have recently been discussing eschatology, following my two posts on the book of Revelation. Once discussion gets into finer details and substantial arguments against established positions, it becomes too cumbersome for the comments section, so I promised I would respond by writing a post. Addendum: the length of this requires 3+ posts.
Some preamble before I get into the main body of the post: I credit as sources for my analysis Charles Cooper and Alan Kurschner, who are advocates for the pre-wrath position on the Rapture. Charles Cooper runs a website (http://prewrathrapture.com/), which features articles and videos, including commentary on the book of Revelation. Alan Kurschner is a contributor to this website. Alan Kurschner has a website of his own (http://www.alankurschner.com/), and he also writes entries at http://triablogue.blogspot.co.uk/. Kurschner has written a book, Antichrist before the Day of the Lord, which I reviewed for AATW earlier this year (I also wrote a follow-up post on pre-wrath – https://jessicahof.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/more-on-pre-wrath/). I have recommended this book to Bosco as it presents a scholarly argument for the pre-wrath position, while also spending much time critiquing the pre-tribulation position. Bosco has asked me to summarize the book’s arguments, and I shall endeavour to do that as part of this post.
To an extent these posts will be concerned with logic and exegesis, rather than direct revelation from the Lord. The argument against the pre-trib position could be phrased in this way: “Sure, your position could be true, but why must it be true? Show me from Scripture why you are right.” There is a difference between an assertion, and a proof. Question-begging is to be avoided.
[Sidenote: I strongly encourage Catholic contributors and readers of AATW to take an interest in this material. Catholics claim pre- and post-Nicene fathers and writers as part of their tradition. They therefore should pay attention to men such as St Hippolytus; the author of the Didache; St Jerome; and St Cyprian. The eschatological doctrine these men teach is currently championed by Protestants and the Orthodox, not by the Catholic Church. However, Catholics should ask themselves why they are so commonly taught Augustine’s amillennial doctrine in preference to Hippolytus and Jerome, who are also claimed as part fo their tradition. Hippolytus and Augustine can’t both be right: they are mutually exclusive. Catholics should also be aware that a number of these doctrines are not dogmatically defined by the Magisterium. There is in fact no formal obligation to believe Augustine over Hippolytus in matters of eschatology. Consideration of Hippolytus would in fact be very helpful to Catholics in their efforts to reach out to Protestant and Orthodox believers.]
Why does all this matter? Aside from general admonitions throughout Scripture to contend for true doctrine, I would cite the fact that what we believe affects how we live. In schematic form: belief > perceptions > emotional & intellectual reaction > response (thought, word, deed). Our beliefs need to match reality. By this, I do not mean that we credulously believe everything we see and hear; nor do do I mean that we have no power to shape reality: we are beings endowed with free will. Rather, I mean that as Christians we are supposed to conform ourselves to Christ. God has decreed that a time of trouble (aka “tribulation”) is going to come upon the earth, such as never was seen before, nor will ever be seen again. He prophesied this through His servants the prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Joel, et al), by His Son, Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 24 et in aliis locis), and by Christ’s Apostles (Paul, passim per epistolas suas). The Church’s relationship to this “time of trouble” is not trivial. If many believers and church-members (the two are not identical or synonymous) believe that they will be exempted from persecution at the hands of Antichrist and his servants by the Rapture, but in fact are not, then they will be presented with a stumbling block: this is precisely the sort of thing that leads to difficulty and apostasy. The pre-wrath and post-trib positions avoid this problem: the person who subscribes to either of these views is in a better position to prepare himself for potential persecution. If the pre-wrath view is wrong, then its adherent has lost nothing; if pre-wrath is right, the pre-tribber will need to revise his outlook – to say the least. I should also say at this point that I agree with Bosco that one’s belief regarding the Rapture’s timing is not a pre-requisite for inclusion in the Resurrection-Rapture of the saints. Qualification for resurrection to eternal life is belief in Jesus the Messiah, the son of the living God (John 3:16, 6:40). However, one’s belief regarding the Rapture does affect the way one lives in the time leading up to it.
The key text under discussion for this post is 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (KJV)
“Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming”.
The following is a list of points that I hope are agreed upon by both Bosco and me as a basis for discussion.
-The “man of sin”/ “son of perdition” in this passage is the same as the Antichrist, a tyrannical figure who rules for 3.5 years just before the return of of Christ
-Christ destroys the Antichrist/son of perdition (“with the spirit of his mouth”) when He returns
-The Antichrist is revealed, that is we know that the man under scrutiny is the real Antichrist, by sitting in God’s Temple and blasphemously declaring he is greater than God; this act is also known as “the Abomination of Desolation”, a term which Christ also applies to the Antichrist himself (Daniel 9, Matthew 24)
-The Antichrist cannot be revealed until “the Restrainer” (=”he who now letteth” above in the KJV rendering) is taken out of the way
The following are points under dispute.
-The identity of the Restrainer
-The Church witnesses the revelation of the Antichrist
-The “day of Christ” above is the time when the Church is resurrected and raptured, and this day does not come until Antichrist is revealed, i.e. not until the Abomination of Desolation has happened.
The view of Bosco and others who subscribe to the pre-trib view is that the Restrainer in this passage is the Church indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Thus:
1. The Restrainer is the Holy Spirit living in the Church.
2. The man of sin (Antichrist) cannot be revealed until the Restrainer is removed.
Conclusion: the Church must be removed before Antichrist is revealed (=Rapture).
To further flesh it out:
1. Antichrist does not persecute the saints in earnest until after the Abomination of Desolation (Matthew 24:15, 21; v. 21 means the “great tribulation”/”great distress”/”great trouble” follows on the heels of what’s been described in the previous verses – viz. the Abomination of Desolation).
2. The Church must be removed before the Abomination of Desolation can happen.
Conclusion: the Church will not experience the “great tribulation” (= persecution of the saints by Antichrist).
In the next post I will put forward the pre-wrath arguments, and attempt to summarize points from Kurschner’s books. Post 3 will attempt to engage with the pre-trib arguments/assertions presented by Bosco.