Rapture Ready?

Are you ready for the ‘Rapture’? That is, are you living such that you are prepared for Jesus to return to first raise up the dead in Christ, then to ‘catch up’ those in Christ yet still alive?

As Christians, we should all be living as if the ‘Rapture’ were a near-future event. (I’m preaching to myself here, too.) But the relevant question to ponder is this: When does the ‘Rapture’ occur relative to the “Great Tribulation” period or the “Day of the Lord”?

Here’s one take, by Pastor Greg Laurie:

The Great Escape? Will there be a pre-Tribulation ‘Rapture’ (PTR)? Will those alive when Jesus returns escape the “Great Tribulation”? Is this PTR position supportable Biblically?

I strongly contend that the PTR view collapses under Scriptural scrutiny. In the following I shall show how and why.

Before doing so, let me state that I am not writing this to be argumentative or anything of the sort. Quite the contrary, I write this out of love and concern for my Christian brothers and sisters.

I recognize this is a secondary doctrine (eschatology) and, thus, not something to divide over. Yet it seems that the very fact that this is a secondary doctrine induces some (or even many) to forgo any critical analysis. In other words, those who believe in the doctrine accept it without reservation (perhaps because the thought that we might go through the Tribulation is just too much to bear?1). My concern is that adherents to PTR could be lulled into a false sense of security, and when real persecution should come, they may be spiritually unprepared. This weighs heavily on me.

Unwrapping the ‘Rapture’

One of the usual tenets of the PTR is that the ‘restrainer’ in 2 Thessalonians 2:6 and 2:7 is the Holy Spirit.2 As part of this view (with respect to PTR), some, or even many (though not all—see below), believe the Holy Spirit is ‘removed’ from the earth when the Church is ‘Raptured’. This then sets up the Great Tribulation period during which the “man of lawlessness” (2Thess 2:3, 8), aka the Antichrist (1John 2:18) is revealed. Yet, at the same time, adherents to this tenet of the PTR believe that “the saints” (hoi agioi) referenced in Revelation 13 and beyond refer to ‘Tribulation saints’, meaning individuals saved during the Tribulation period—usually understood as seven years long. But how can individuals come to Christian faith during this Tribulation with no Holy Spirit to indwell them, let alone bring about initial conviction unto salvation (John 16:8—11)?

The PTR requires two ‘Second Comings’ of Jesus. The first is for the ‘Rapture’, the second is for the final stage of the Great Tribulation. In attempts to alleviate the inherent incongruity of two ‘Second Comings’, some proponents claim there will be one ‘Second Coming’ but in two aspects (‘Rapture’ → ‘Great Tribulation finale’). But this strains language, especially given the presumed seven (literal) year tribulation gap separating the two. Pastor Laurie above makes the hard distinction between the Rapture, which immediately precedes this Great Tribulation period, and the Second Coming when “Jesus returns with His believers . . . to end that period, and to establish His Kingdom on the earth.” Can such a distinction and such a gap be supported Biblically, in proper context?

The ‘Rapture’ is said to be “secret”. Yet the primary passage used to support the doctrine is 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (as Laurie does in the video above), in which ‘the Rapture’ is preceded by a loud command (shout) and the trumpet of God (4:16). It is difficult to imagine how such imagery can be construed as secretive—that it can be understood as quiet enough not to disturb non-Christians. Below is larger context:

4:13 Now brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who are sleeping, so that you will not grieve as the rest—those who have no hope. 14 For since we believe Jesus died and rose again, in this way also God will bring those who have fallen asleep through Jesus along with Him [Jesus]. 15 For this we say to you, by word of the Lord: We who are alive, those remaining until the coming [Parousia] of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 Because He, the Lord, will descend from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; 17 then we who are alive, those remaining, shall be caught up [harpazō, ‘raptured’] together along with them, in the clouds, to meet [eis apantēsin] the Lord in the air. And so we shall be forever with the Lord.3

I contend that two ‘Second Comings’—or two aspects of one ‘Second Coming’, or (per Laurie) “the Rapture” followed by “the Second Coming”—must be read into the relevant texts (eisegesis). One Coming, one Parousia, is the most natural reading of the associated passages. Surely Occam’s razor (do not multiply unnecessarily) should be applied here. The last sentence of v 17 above (And so we shall be forever with the Lord) most logically implies the closing of the present age and the beginning of the next. In other words, in view of the closing sentence above, does it not seem that the ‘Rapture’ occurs just before the end of this age?

The Greek word Parousia (see v 15 above) will play a key role in our analysis below. This term is understood to refer to Jesus’ Second Coming, i.e., His (one) return (see dictionary definition here.).

How Many Trumpets Herald Jesus?

It will prove instructive to compare 1Thess 4:16—17 with similarly-themed passages.

In Jesus’ teaching on the Mount of Olives (Olivet Discourse) regarding the end times, He is asked by His disciples (Matt 24:3), “Tell us, when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of Your coming [Parousia] and the end of the age?” Note that their question combined Jesus’ return with the end of the age.

In response, Jesus provides a list of things which must occur prior to His return [Parousia], seemingly in chronological order. This includes famine and seismic activity (24:7), Christian persecution unto death on account of faith in Jesus (24:9), apostasy and betrayal (24:10), deception (24:11), increasing wickedness leading to cold hearts (24:12)—all before the beginning of the end (24:14). These events are followed by the “abomination of desolation” (24:15; cf. 2Thess 2:3), which leads to unequaled “great tribulation (thlipsis)” (24:21). This then is followed by Jesus directly answering the latter part of their question:

24:23 “Then if anyone should say to you, ‘Look! Here is the Christ!’ or ‘Over there!’, do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and display great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 Take heed! I have forewarned you. 26 So if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness’, do not go out; 27 For as lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will be the Parousia of the Son of Man.

29 “Immediately after the tribulation [thlipsis] of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give its light, and the stars shall fall from the sky. The powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in the sky, and all the tribes/people of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels/messengers with a great trumpet, and He will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

Here we have a ‘trumpet’, which clearly occurs after some awful celestial events (24:29).4 Does this not appear like the end of the age? The italicized portions are quoted or paraphrased from, respectively, Joel 2:31 (sun . . . not give its light),5 Joel 2:10 (stars shall fall),6 and Daniel 7:13 (Son of Man coming). Joel 2:31 is not quoted in full, its latter portion reading …before the great and awesome Day of the LORD comes (cf. Acts 2:20).7 And Joel 2:10 is followed by this in 2:11: The Day of the LORD is great and dreadful; who can endure it? Since these celestial events are followed by “the sign of the Son of Man in the sky”, this seems to imply His appearing signifies what is elsewhere called the Day of the Lord (LORD).

More importantly, Jesus’ return (Parousia) will be both clearly visible to all (24:27, 30) and in concert with the gathering of His elect (24:31). Will there be two trumpets with two separate gatherings: (a) first the dead in Christ and those ‘raptured’ (1Thess 4:16-7), (b) and then some later gathering of “Tribulation saints”? A look at the next similarly-themed passage should definitively answer that question.

Chapter 15 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contains the most extensive narration on Christians’ future resurrection hope, including a description of the post-earthly bodies of the faithful. Paul begins with a proclamation of the Gospel message (1Cor 15:1-4; cf. 1Thess 4:14a), which he then uses as a basis for our future hope (1Cor 15:22-23; cf. 1Thess 4:14b-4:17) and for the final end to Christ’s (and our) adversaries (1Cor 15:24):

15:22 For just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in order: Christ, the first fruit, then all those of Christ, with His coming [Parousia] 24 Next: the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, after He has nullified every ruler, and every authority and power.

So, according to Paul the Apostle here, all those in Christ “will be made alive” (resurrected [or ‘raptured’, see 15:51 below: Not all will sleep]) with His coming/Parousia. Compare Paul’s usage of Parousia here with his usage in 1 Thessalonians 4 and also Jesus’ words in Matthew 24. Also note that in the Corinthians passage just above, Jesus’ Parousia is followed by the end. This seems to concur with the chronology of events in 1 Thessalonians (4:17: And so we shall be forever with the Lord.) and Matthew (24:35: Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall never pass away.).

But there is more. In describing our future ‘resurrection bodies’, the Apostle compares and contrasts with our current flesh and blood bodies (1Cor 15:43—44a, 49):

15:43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.  44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body . . . 49 Just as we bear the image of the earthly [Adam], we will also bear the image of the Heavenly [Jesus].

Our new ‘spiritual bodies’ will be just like Jesus’ post-resurrection glorified body!

Paul now brings us to the climax of this passage:

15:50 Now this I say, brothers [and sisters]: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, neither does the perishing inherit imperishability. 51 Take note! I tell you a mystery: Not all will sleep, but all will be changed— 52 in an instant, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must be clothed with imperishability and this mortal clothed with immortality. 54 But when the perishable has been clothed with imperishability and the mortal has been clothed with immortality, then the written Word will be fulfilled: Death has been swallowed up in victory!

Paul explicitly refers to this trumpet call as the last trumpet. And he refers to ‘the Rapture’ in not all will sleep. In other words, this should be understood as a parallel passage to 1Thess 4:16—17. Thus, the Thessalonians passage cannot refer to a separate gathering from the First Corinthians passage. And it certainly appears that Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 refer to this same gathering. Moreover, the quote of Isaiah 24:8 (Death has been swallowed up) in 1Cor 15:54 connotes the same finality as the similar verbiage in 1Thess 4:17 and Matt 24:35 (as noted above).  Sure the words in the surrounding contexts are a bit different, but each passage has different emphases, accounting for these variations.

Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, observes:

The tribulation is quite clearly linked with the Lord’s return in some passages. First, the loud trumpet call to gather the elect in Matthew 24:31, the sound of the trumpet of God in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, and the last trumpet at which our bodies are changed in 1 Corinthians 15:51—52 all seem to be the same trumpet—the last trumpet that is blown just before the millennium (or, on the amillennial view, the eternal state). If it is indeed the “last trumpet” (1Cor 15:52), then it is hard to see how another loud trumpet call (Matt 24:31) could follow it seven years later.8

Apparently some PTR teachers construe Matthew 24:31 as describing separate, later events than the Thessalonians passage. The burden of proof is on the PTR teachers to conclusively demonstrate that these are indeed completely separate events, and, more generally, to provide a coherent overall doctrine. This would include (though not be limited to) explaining how the Matthew passage refers strictly to the gathering of “Tribulation saints”, while the Thessalonians passage excludes them, and how the “loud command” and “trumpet of God” of 1Thess 4:16 can be understood as “secret” and quiet enough not to awaken unbelievers.

Once again, I think Occam’s razor should be employed. The Parousia is mentioned in all three passages. Most logically, this refers to the one return of Jesus—to gather all the saints and bring about the end of the current age. This is the Day of the Lord—our blessed hope, yet a Day for God’s wrath to rain down on his adversaries.

Tribulation Saints and “The Church”

Pastor/teacher John MacArthur is another example of one who holds to the PTR. To his credit, however, he rejects the view that the Holy Spirit leaves at the PTR. Instead, MacArthur claims the Spirit remains and is ‘taken out of the way’ (2Thess 2:7) midway through the seven year Tribulation so the Antichrist can be revealed; yet the Spirit’s presence continues on the earth even after that.9 Laying aside for now the other problems with the PTR (as detailed in the previous section), MacArthur’s view here retains one of the attendant problems of the ‘Holy-Spirit-leaves-with-the-Raptured-Church’ camp: the relation of the “Tribulation saints” to the universal Church.

The best way to explain is to begin by quoting from his sermon “A Jet Tour Through Revelation”, as found in his book Truth Endures:10

The end of Revelation 3 is the end of the message to the churches. We do not hear the word “church” again in the book of Revelation until the very end of chapter 22 when Jesus says, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches.” The church is not particularly in view from here on until the church is called by another name in the millennial Kingdom, and that is the “bride.”11

The Greek word for “church” is ekklēsia (plural ekklēsiai).12 In the New Testament (NT), with respect to Christ-followers,13 this word refers to gatherings or congregations of believers, as it does for the seven churches in Revelation 2—3. This word is even used of a gathering at Prisca and Aquila’s home (Romans 16:3—5). True believers are referred to as hoi agioi, “the saints”, or more literally “the holy ones”—always in the plural, never in the singular. The saints/holy ones are inseparable from “the Church”. We may call an individual gathering at a specific locale a “church” (ekklēsia), but every ekklēsia is part of the one larger, universal ekklēsia: “the Church”. All true “holy ones” (agioi) belong to the same universal ekklēsia as the Apostle Paul and the Apostle John.

To exemplify, the two terms overlap in the beginning of First Corinthians (1:2): To the church/assembly [ekklēsia] of God which is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints [agioi], with all those calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place—both theirs and ours. Thus, Paul is implying that the Corinthian ekklēsia is made up of agioi.14 And so it follows that all Corinthian agioi make up the one ekklēsia at Corinth. And in Paul’s address here he also includes others outside Corinth: all those calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place. All these are obviously agioi, as well. This implies a universal ekklēsia. Certainly, we could expand this to include all agioi throughout the centuries, constituting one universal ekklēsia.

After Revelation 3, hoi agioi (“the saints”, “the holy ones”) are referenced multiple times (13:7, 10; 14:12; 16:6; 17:6). Therefore, these hoi agioi are part of the universal ekklēsia.

With this background, let us return to the MacArthur quote above. Though we do not see the word “church” (ekklēsia) again until Jesus’ summation in Revelation 22, clearly “the saints” (hoi agioi), as used between chapters 3 and 22, refers to believers in the Tribulation period, i.e., individuals in “the Church”. Given this, MacArthur’s argument unravels. More pointedly, though “church” is not mentioned again after chapter 3 (until 22), “the saints” are, and since “saints” make up the “church”, it is dubious to make the distinction he makes. “Tribulation saints” are part of “the Church”.

To recap: While MacArthur avoids the conversion problem for “Tribulation saints” other PTR teachers create, he retains their failure of accounting for “Tribulation saints” (agioi) as part of the Church (ekklēsia). And, like other PTR enthusiasts, he fails to explicitly account for their end-times gathering.

Once again, the simplest solution is that the ‘Rapture’ occurs at the end of the age and includes ALL “holy ones”, all members of the universal Church (ekklēsia).

To see that we are not being overly harsh in our judgment of MacArthur’s position, following is his stance on just where the ‘Rapture’ occurs in Revelation:

Now we come to chapter 4 and leave the church age. People often ask, “Where does the Rapture come in?” It’s in the white spaces between chapters 3 and 4. You have the church on earth in chapters 2 and 3; all of a sudden we appear in heaven in chapter 4.15

Setting aside the obvious eisegesis inherent in such an assertion (“white spaces”?!), MacArthur, knowingly or not, excludes Tribulation saints from “the church age”. Similar to other PTR teachers, he has orphaned them. With his claim that “the church age” ends at the ‘Rapture’ “in the white spaces between chapters 3 and 4”, he leaves Tribulation saints ‘churchless’—more explicitly than other PTR teachers.

If, per MacArthur, Tribulation saints are excluded from “the church age”, then what age would they be in exactly? Is there an “age” between the PTR and the millennial Kingdom (or eternal state)? Is it “the Tribulation age”? Is there Scripture to substantiate such a view?

Wrapping Up

As the critical, analytical reader can see, there are flaws in the PTR doctrine. And I cannot view these as anything less than fatal flaws. If a reader can trumpet a Biblically coherent PTR doctrine—one devoid of the flaws exposed here—I will listen raptly.

I will close with commentary from Gene L. Green:

[1 Thessalonians 4:13—18] has suffered much ill as it has been mined to provide clues concerning the timing of the “rapture” of the church . . .  In the haste to answer this question, the real purpose of [this passage] is overlooked. This teaching was presented to comfort those in grief by connecting the confession of the creed (“Jesus died and rose again”) with the reality of the resurrection of the dead in Christ. This is not the stuff of speculative prophecy or bestsellers on the end times . . . The decidedly bizarre pictures of airplanes dropping out of the sky and cars careening out of control as the rapture happens detract from the hope that this passage is designed to teach. The picture presented here is of the royal coming [Parousia] of Jesus Christ. The church, as the official delegation, goes out to meet him, with the dead heading up the procession as those most honored. One coming [Parousia] is envisioned, which will unite the coming King with his subjects. What a glorious hope!16

 Glorious indeed!

[see also Escorting the King of Kings?]

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1 Why would we think end-times Christians should escape persecution and even martyrdom considering the first century Apostles and disciples were martyred? That’s not to mention those persecuted and martyred in the intervening centuries, or those persecuted and martyred throughout the world in our present age.

2 Yet not only is the Holy Spirit completely absent from the immediate and surrounding context, the Spirit as ‘restrainer’ does not fit well grammatically. Specifically, though the occurrence of ‘restrainer’ in 2:6 is grammatically neuter in the Greek, thereby matching the grammatically neuter pneuma (Spirit), 2:7’s ‘restrainer’ is instead grammatically masculine. The argument then sometimes goes that the grammatically masculine word paraklētos (paraclete: counselor, helper, advocate), which is used for the Spirit in John’s Gospel (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), is to be understood here. But this strains credibility, since this word occurs for the Spirit solely in the Gospel of John, never in the Pauline epistles. A related argument extends on this use of the grammatically masculine paraklētos for the Holy Spirit, in that masculine pronouns are used in John 14—16 and these masculine pronouns are claimed to refer to the grammatically neuter pneuma, thereby “personalizing” (indicating personhood for) the Spirit (whereas the neuter pneuma and its associated pronouns are erroneously construed as implying non-personhood). But this not only confuses grammatical gender with biological gender, it fails to recognize that these masculine pronouns refer back to the grammatically masculine paraklētos, not the neuter pneuma, thereby conforming to conventional grammar norms. A similar argument posits that a masculine grammatically gendered ‘restrainer’ would be appropriate given the Personhood of the Holy Spirit, as derived from contexts indicating such Personhood (the Spirit can be grieved [Eph 4:30], can be lied to [Acts 5:3], etc.). Yet, again, this overlooks that the Holy Spirit is absent in this context, while simultaneously presupposing erroneously that masculine grammatical gender can imply P/personhood, while the neuter cannot. See CrossWise articles Misgendering the Spirit and The Holy Spirit as “Restrainer” in 2 Thessalonians 2?. See also Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp 331, 332, cf. 338.

3 My translation, as are all here.

4 These celestial events bear strong resemblance to those described in Revelation 6:12—14, which are followed by pleas from the inhabitants of the earth: …hide us from the face of the One seated on the Throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great Day of Their wrath has come, and who is able to stand? (6:16—17).

5 Cf. Isaiah 13:9—10.

6 Cf. Isaiah 34:4.

7 Cf. Rev 6:17. Jesus’ Jewish audience might know these passages well enough to mentally ‘fill in’ the Day of the LORD (YHWH) verbiage. See Peter’s address to the crowd in Acts 2:14—21, particularly 2:20 which sources Joel 2:31.

8 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p 1134; emphasis added. The parenthetical comment is taken from the same page, but two paragraphs above this particular quote. This comment is included here in order to retain his thoughts in the current context. In other words, since the author had used this parenthetical comment earlier on the page in a similar context, the thrust of his comment is assumed to carry over, and so appending it here seems appropriate.

9 See this video segment John MacArthur – The Restrainer (“The Coming Man Of Sin” Part 4), as edited by “310revelation” from a larger sermon at gty.org. Accessed 8/14/2021. Note that MacArthur assumes some of the faulty pronoun arguments as detailed in note 2 above.

10 John MacArthur, Truth Endures: Commemorating Forty Years of Unleashing God’s Truth One Verse at a Time, 1969—2009, Phil Johnson & Mike Taylor, eds. (Panorama City, CA: Grace to You, 2009), pp 125—151. I would be terribly remiss if I did not mention the following: In my car as I was listening to MacArthur on local radio, an advertisement for Grace to You (gty.org) followed, stating that first time callers could receive a booklet of the sermon “A Jet Tour Through Revelation”, free of charge. I requested a copy, but was delighted to instead receive a full-length hard cover book with an accompanying note card: “Thank you for requesting a free copy of John MacArthur’s booklet, A Jet Tour Through Revelation. Due to the unexpected death of a member of our editorial staff, production of the booklet was delayed. As a result, we’ve taken the liberty of sending you John’s new book Truth Endures. It contains the “Jet-Tour” material you requested, as well as eleven additional, full-length messages. Please enjoy it with our compliments. We apologize for any inconvenience. Grace to You.”

11 MacArthur, Truth Endures, p 132.

12 The modern word “church” carries multiple meanings, has a skewed etymology, and generally confuses the meaning behind the NT use of ekklēsia in relation to Christ-followers. See CrossWise article Re-Assembly Required.

13 This word is not exclusively reserved for Christ-followers (see Acts 7:38; 19:32, 39, 40). See article referenced in note 12 above.

14 The first three clauses, separated by commas, are all in apposition (all dative clauses), meaning these three refer to the same group. This is akin to: Bob, my neighbor, the baker at Bob’s Bakery. They all refer to the same entity.

15 MacArthur, Truth Endures, p 132.

16 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC); Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.5 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 229; emphasis added. For more on the Parousia, see Not One Parousia, But Two.

Pre-Tribulation “Apostasy” as ‘Rapture’?

I recall my reaction when I first heard it. Confused and in a temporary state of cognitive dissonance, I thought to myself, “It can’t mean THAT!” I may have even said it aloud.

I was alone, driving my car, listening to Dr. J. Vernon McGee, whom I very much enjoy generally. I find his slow, Southern drawl aurally appealing, and his occasional dry humor sometimes makes me laugh. But, more importantly, his core doctrinal beliefs are orthodox. Yet here he was making statements that raised my eyebrows.

He was working through 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, which was and is of particular interest to me. When he came to the words “falling away” (KJV) in verse 3 (other translations read “apostasy”, “rebellion”), he claimed this meant not merely apostasy in the sense of renouncing faith, but also “the departure of the true Church”, aka the “Rapture” of the Church. In other words, Dr. McGee asserted that the Greek word apostasia meant both here. Upon reflection I thought, “That sure extracts a lot of meaning from one word!”1

Below you can hear his explanation (timestamped at the appropriate spot):

At present I cannot recall if it was in response to the above2 or if I had a different motivation, but I downloaded a pdf titled “Who Is Antichirst?” from the Thru the Bible website, which contains similar verbiage.3 In its text McGee relates how, upon doing an independent word study, he concluded (just as above) that the Greek term apostasia means both “Rapture” and “falling away” in this context:

. . . The root word means “departure” or “removal from.” And the verb means “to remove, to depart, to leave.” It comes from two words: histēmi, meaning “to stand,” and apo, meaning “away from.” . . . Apostates, we understand today, are men who held the truth at one time . . . and now they apo-histēmi, they stand away from it.4

So far, so good.5 However, it’s the next portion that goes beyond the typical understanding of the word. McGee continues to focus on “departure”, but he appends an entirely new meaning to the definition he had just provided:

. . . What departure is [Paul] talking about? Well, the same departure he talked about in his first epistle to the Thessalonians. That’s the Rapture of the church . . .6

McGee then references 1Thess 4:16-17. Yet there Paul uses a different word—anistēmi (verb, ana + histēmi; noun is anastasis), as opposed to apostasia. They are close, but they are not the same word. Lewis Sperry Chafer notes the difference:

Note: The word “Rapture” does not occur in Scripture. The Greek word associated with the Rapture of the Church is anastasis, better translated “resurrection.”7

This is a distinction with a difference. A big one. The prefixed preposition ana means “up”, as opposed to apo, which means “from” (as found above in 2Thess 2:3).

Nevertheless, Dr. McGee specifies two “departures”—to occur one after the other—for this one word in this specific context:

1. The true church is to the leave the earth;

2. The professing church will just move away from the truth.8

Now, I am one who searches for multivalence (multiple meanings, paranomasia) in words. Such literary devices add richness. But with McGee’s explanation of two events, one preceding and then directly impacting the other, this hardly seems plausible here. In other words, even if the word apostasia could be construed as having both meanings, Paul would have had to use it twice, in succession, in order to get his point across. Even so, Paul would much more likely have chosen anastasia instead of apostasia for the first usage (and this would have provided a fantastic opportunity to rhyme with synonyms—Paul was fond of using various poetic devices for effect).

Disappointingly, this appears as though it could be a case of arguing from a predisposed theological position (eisegesis) rather than a careful interpretation of the text (exegesis).

To be clear, I’m not suggesting the reader stop (or never start) listening to Thru the Bible radio broadcasts. On the contrary, I find them edifying. As I stated above, McGee’s doctrinal stances are orthodox. And my criticism here is regarding an interpretation of a secondary doctrine (eschatology, specifically, the ‘Rapture’).9

None are perfect. And this is why we should always read with a critical eye and listen with a critical ear.

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1 I am now reminded of D. A. Carson’s excellent Exegetical Fallacies (2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996]), in which the author explains Unwarranted adoption of a semantic field (pp 60-61): “The fallacy in this instance lies in the supposition that the meaning of a word in a specific context is much broader than the context itself allows and may bring with it the word’s entire semantic range” (p 60). However, the specific issue here is slightly different in that McGee is importing an additional meaning foreign to New Testament and contemporaneous usage. This will be discussed further below.

2 At one time I uncritically accepted the “pre-tribulation ‘Rapture’” view. After studying the doctrine at some length, I have since rejected that position.

3 I can no longer find the link to this download. Included on the title page of my “Who is Antichrist” print-out: “This message was originally published in 1973, later fell out of print, and then was revised in 2006 for online publication. The message is also included in the hardback book, J. Vernon McGee on Prophecy, copyright 1993 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.” In keeping with the site’s Copyright Policy, I hereby include the following: “Who is Antichrist”, by Dr. J. Vernon McGee © Thru the Bible Radio Network, www.ttb.org.

4 “Who is Antichrist”, p 9. Note: though the original text does not place the accent over the “e” in “histēmi”, I added it here, since this is the usual transliteration for the η (eta), in order to prevent confusion with the ε (epsilon).

5 Though I have seen this sort of thing quite often in the technical literature, I might question the methodology in looking to an associated verb form (histēmi, apo + histēmi) when the text contains a noun form instead (apostasia). This may provide helpful background at times, but it seems best to focus primarily on the noun form when the text in question contains a noun. See my comment at note 7.

6 “Who is Antichrist”, p 9.

7 From the website “Chafer Theological Seminary”, chafer.edu: Glossary: “R”, as accessed 07/04/2021. Though Paul uses the verb form of this word in 1Thess 4:14 and 16, he tends to prefer egeirō (“raise”) when otherwise using a verb referring to our future resurrection; however, when using a noun, he favors anastasis. When referring to the ‘Rapture’ event itself, most point to the verb harpagēsometha (from harpazō), “caught up together”, in 1Thess 4:17, though the timing of this event relative to the Tribulation period or “Day of the Lord”, is hotly debated.

8 “Who is Antichrist”, p 9.

9 Though beyond the scope of this present article, it can be argued—and I would—that the apostasia is not to be split from the revealing of the “man of sin”. In other words, the two refer to the same thing; that is, the apostasia reveals the identity of the “man of sin”. If this is indeed the case, then this context does not refer to Christians “falling away”, apostatizing, from the faith.

Providing Christian Witness

Some may think battle lines have only recently been drawn. But the battle began long ago. Paul provided instructions on how to wage this war in his letter to the saints in Ephesus, the Ephesians. Of course, his instructions are for the entire Church age.

In the face of threatening opposition, we don’t wield a sword to slice off Malchus’ ear (John 18:10; Matt 26:51). Jesus soundly rebuked Peter for doing so (John 18:11; Matt 26:52). This foolish act prompted Jesus to heal the man’s ear in response (Luke 22:51). We are to clutch a very different kind of ‘sword’.

The way we are to do battle is difficult, yet relatively easy. We stand. And pray. We put on the armor of God and stand firm (Eph 6:13). For our battle is not against earthly flesh and blood, it is against dark spiritual forces (Eph 6:12).

6:14 Therefore, stand: your waist belted in truth, adorned with the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and your feet equipped for the gospel of peace 16 —in everything taking up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the evil one’s flaming arrows. 17 And grasp the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. 18 With every prayer and request, pray in the Spirit at all times, in this keeping alert, in all perseverance and petition for all the saints.

We clothe ourselves in Divine armor (Eph 6:11). Then we stand for truth and righteousness, ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. We do this while holding onto our faith in Christ in order to ward off the devil’s attacks. We latch onto our salvation and the Word of God. And we persevere in prayer for all the saints.

We stand. We pray. These are the defensive and offensive weapons we must use in this spiritual warfare. And they are all we need.

The ‘easy’ part is doing this through the Spirit (consider Moses parting the Red Sea). The hard part is submitting to the Spirit and staying submitted.

In this we provide testimony for Christ. And this testimony may result in earthly martyrdom for some. It certainly has over the past two millennia.

In fact, there is one Greek word for testimony, witness, and martyr. It is martyria (also martyrion), and closely related is martys (or martyros). The first noun refers to the testimony provided, the second to the person providing the testimony. Also, there are associated verb forms (martyreō, martyromai). Both a noun form and a verb are used in John 1:7:

This man [John the Baptizer] came as a witness (martyria), to testify (martyreō) about the Light

In Acts 22:20, Paul identifies Stephen posthumously as Jesus’ witness, by using the other noun form martys (cf. Rev 2:13; 17:6). He was recounting the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60):

And when the blood of Stephen your witness (martys) was being shed, I myself was standing there, even approving of his death, guarding the coats of those who were executing him.

Though some English versions translate the Greek martys here as martyr, this may be a bit anachronistic; that is, it may have been a bit later that the term was understood as martyr in the sense we know it today. Nonetheless, Stephen’s witness (Acts 6:8—7:60) lives on in Scripture. It was his testimony (Acts 6:8—7:53) that led to him being the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:54-60). His martyrdom surely provided more notoriety for his witness. And observe what Stephen himself witnessed during his martyrdom: He saw “the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). How glorious!

Are you prepared to be such a witness, such a martyr (martys), if necessary?

Can I get a witness?

Being Blessed

Who doesn’t want to be blessed, be happy? Obviously that’s rhetorical. I’m sure you would like a blessing bestowed upon you—to be blessed, to be happy. Let’s be blessed!

The Greek word for “blessed” or “happy” is μακάριος, makários. The second syllable receives the accent, so we pronounce it ma-kA-rē-os. It even sounds happy!

Scripture provides direction on how to be blessed. This is predicated upon belief, of course. Blessed are those who believe despite not being direct eyewitnesses to Jesus’ post-resurrection body (John 20:24-29).

The word is first found in the New Testament in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount—the Beatitudes, beginning in Matthew 5:3. Jesus closes the section by pointing to our future heavenly reward (5:12):

5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . 11 Blessed are you when they insult you, persecute you, and speak all kinds of evil against you falsely because of Me. 12 Rejoice! Be overjoyed even, because great is your reward in heaven! For in this same way they persecuted the Prophets who were before you.1

The way up is down.2 The last will be first.

The word also occurs in James 1:12:

1:12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for in becoming approved he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.

The first part of this verse summarizes James 1:2-4. By trials we are purified, proven to be true.3 Our relationship with God has contingency: We must persevere. And we will receive trials. Especially the stubborn, like me. In 5:11 James uses the verbal form of this word (makarízō) in a context about the blessedness of Job due to his perseverance in suffering. His example provides hope for the rest of us:

5:11 See how blessed are those who persevere! You have heard of Job’s perseverance and you have seen his ending on account of the Lord—because the Lord is full of compassion and tender mercy.

But are we fit for the test? More pointedly, am I?

This theme of blessedness both opens and closes the book of Revelation. This last book in all Scripture might be better known as God’s revelation given to Jesus Christ, which was subsequently delivered to His servant John through an angel.4 God gave it to Jesus, who then gave it to an angel, who subsequently gave it to John. It is God’s revelation specifically intended for us!  Here are the first 3 verses:

1:1 [This is] the apocalypse/revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must come soon. He delivered it through His angel to His servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ in all he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and keep the things written in it, for the time is near.5

So the book opens with a promised blessing to the one reading it. This extends to those heeding the revelation of God and Jesus. You haven’t yet ventured into a full reading of Revelation? Take heed: “the time is near.” Just before the final usage of “blessed”, and just after describing the wondrous Garden with its River of Life (see Looking Past the Future), Jesus reprises and synopsizes the introduction (22:7):

22:7 See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of this prophecy in this scroll.

The final use of “blessed” comes just a few verses from the very end. Jesus’ words here provide a nice summary of what is expected of our life here to gain the life hereafter—life in the Garden city containing the River of Life:

22:14 Blessed are those who wash their garments, so that they may have the right to the Tree of Life and may enter through the gates to the city.

To be blessed, we must read and keep God’s word. Be blessed!

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1 My translation, as is all here. I take the καί (kai) in v 12 as ascensive (“even”), given that the second imperatival verb is more intensive lexically than the first (chairō, “rejoice” > agalliaō, “be exceedingly joyful”). Moreover, “be overjoyed” is in the middle voice (agalliasthe), and in this context I interpret this combination as akin to being reflexive in some sense (“be yourselves overjoyed”). That is, the verb’s root meaning lends itself to intransitivity (both verbs do), depending on context, and in the context here it’s surely intransitive. When this intransitivity is coupled with the middle voice I view it as indicating reflexivity (self-inducing an emotional state?).  See Carl W. Conrad, “New Observations on Voice in the Ancient Greek Verb. November 19, 2002”, ([unpublished], accessed 12/31/2020), which seems to support my position here regarding this verb in its middle voice, “It appears the verb is intransitive in every instance [in the NT], though one may readily understand a middle sense: ‘feel joy’” (p 15). Conrad compiled helpful lists of functions for the middle (pp 9-10), of which category 10 “Emotion” (p 10) fits here (this list culled from Suzanne Kemmer), or the more specific “Class 3: Self-Involvement: B. Emotional States” (Neva Miller’s own designation) could work. Maybe it isn’t necessary to put too fine a point on all this, but the categories help to fully consider lexis and voice within the overall syntactical structure, in order to arrive at a better understanding of the text/context, I think. I certainly need to more fully consider Conrad’s work.

   Additionally, Conrad suggests—and I think his points are well-reasoned—that the active voice be understood as the “basic” (p 11) or default voice, and any other (he prefers “subject-focused” for what are variously called middles, passives, or middle/passives) be considered a marked usage comparatively (pp 7-9). Accepting this stance would appear to solidify my contention that καί should be understood as ascensive in this context.

2 I like the way Charles H. Talbert (Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making in Matthew 5—7 [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004]) summarizes the Beatitudes: “The Content of the Beatitudes is twofold: promises of eschatological blessings and a portrait of the recipients of these blessings. The first four Beatitudes deal with the vertical relationship; the final four plus one focus on horizontal relationships” (p 54). I really need to read this book cover-to-cover instead of merely skimming sections….

3 Or not!

4 The inscription preceding the first verse in the manuscript tradition simply reads Apocalypsis Iōannou, which translates as “Apocalypse of John” or “John’s Apocalypse”. But this merely identifies the author of the written work, as opposed to its actual genesis, which is spelled out in the first verse. In any event, our own tradition that simply truncates this wonderful work to the title Revelation does it a terrible disservice! The work provides its own self-inscription via the contents of what we label verses 1 and 2.

5 The word translated “read” in verse 3 is more accurately “reads aloud”. Understood in this way, one person would be reading the manuscript in front of an audience. The orator would certainly be blessed, and those hearing and obeying it would likewise be blessed.

Convicting Myself

Listening to John MacArthur on Christian radio today inspired me to write this post. The gist of the segment was an encouragement to study to the point of being able to teach the subject to another. A Biblical study, of course.

If all Christians did this, each one would obviously have stronger Bible knowledge. Iron could more readily sharpen iron.

One of the points he made was that more thorough research would lead to more Holy Spirit conviction. I can attest to this. Some of the articles I’ve written here on CrossWise have resulted in self-conviction. To my shame, I must confess some have been short-lived. That means I must study Scripture even more!

Another point he made was that you should know your subject so well that you could use simple words to teach it.  At the least you should be able to keep jargon to a minimum.

This led me to a recurring question in my mind: Are my articles written in such a way that they are too much for the average reader? Sometimes I think they are.

In my quest to learn about a given subject for posting, I usually spend a lot of time on the research. I suspect, much more than most. A goal at this blogsite has been to provide high quality information on the subject at hand.1 Am I doing so at the expense of readability?

But then again, one of my goals is to induce readers to learn more about the material. For example, on a subject such as Christology—one integral to our faith—the writer must necessarily go into detail and use terminology that may be unfamiliar to some readers. So, I feel that if were to write too simply some of the finer points, important ones, would not be well-conveyed.

Yet I have another goal: I want to write better. I want to write at a higher level than I did last year and the year before that one. I want to continue to grow in this regard.

Part of this goal is to increase my vocabulary and to write using more linguistic devices such as alliteration, puns, humor (to provide levity), etc. On the former, I usually provide a hyperlink to a dictionary definition for less common words. On the latter, the intent is to make the content more enjoyable (though I’m aware overuse can deter instead).

I’m looking for feedback on all this. Don’t worry, you’re not going to hurt my feelings. After a year like the one we’ve had, I’ve learned to be more resilient. And I don’t think I was thin-skinned before that.

Am I too verbose, long-winded? Too boring or technical? Are readers even reading this far?

And, please, I’m not searching for accolades, either. I want honest feedback. Thanks in advance.

______

1 That’s not to say the articles don’t have room for improvement. And that’s not to say I’ve not made some errors. (Correct me, please!) Or that there’s not room for disagreement, discussion on controversial topics. (Let’s discuss!) Also, this statement necessarily excludes those short blog posts interspersed for a change of pace or for humor—or when I’m short on ideas, inspiration or time.

Psalm of the Day



Psalm 130 (129 LXX/Septuagint)


De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
Domine, exaudi vocem meam.
Fiant aures tuæ intendentes in vocem deprecationis meæ.
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est; et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine.
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus: Speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israël in Domino.
Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israël ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.


Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive as I voice my pleadings.
If Thou, O Lord, kept record of iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness; for that you be revered, Lord.
In my innermost being I long for His word; my very being yearns for the Lord.
As a night watchman anticipates morning, let Israel hope in the Lord.
But in the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption,
And He will deliver Israel from all iniquities.

Today an Eternal Present was Unveiled in the City of David

Merry Christmas!

10 . . . The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen closely, for I proclaim to you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 Today your Savior—Who is Christ the Lord—was born in the city of David.”1

This is the day we celebrate the birth2 of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,3 Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.4

Joy to the world! / The Lord is come! / Let earth receive her King. / Let every heart prepare Him room / and heaven and nature sing.

A bit over two millennia ago, the eternal Word5 became the eternal-temporal Theanthrōpos,6 the God-man.7 Deity came in humility, clothed in humanity, born in Bethlehem. God the Father loved the world so much that He provided His one, unique Son8 as a sacrifice for us all, by ‘lifting Him up’ on the cross,9 so that everyone who believes in Him would not  perish, but would gain eternal life,10 adopted as God’s children.11 This entrance into eternality begins the very moment of initial belief12 and will remain for the overcomers—those enduring until the end.13

This day we should, in reverential awe, commemorate this glorious, eternally present,14 eternal gift.15 We should remember this selfless, sacrificial gift16 every day—but especially today. Those temporal gifts we give and receive—largely in celebrations overshadowing the true meaning of this season, this day—those temporal gifts we exchange, some by compulsion, will perish. But not this gift. This gift, available to all, has already been given—at such cost!17 The Giver of this gift is Himself the Gift,18 Who seemingly perished forevermore after being crucified.19 Yet He rose again!20 And He lives yet still.21

But this gift is more of an exchange—though a very one-sided one at that. To receive the gift of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement22—in which He has already paid the due penalty for all mankind’s sins past, present, and future23—one must repent,24 turn to Jesus as Lord and Savior,25 and then ‘take up one’s cross daily’.26 This means obeying Jesus’ commandments27 and following His path, to the point of physical death, if necessary.28 However, even if following Christ directly results in temporal death (which is an inevitable eventuality whether following Him or not) one receives the much more valuable eternal life. Yet, even more, as part of this exchange one receives God’s indwelling Spirit29—the Holy Spirit, the paraklētos,30 the Spirit of Truth31—in Whom one possesses both the navigational compass and the strength to endure His pathway.

Yet Jesus’ requirements are not burdensome.32 When the Christ-follower inevitably sins33—and one easily does so when living by one’s own strength rather than by and in the Spirit34—He is quick to forgive the penitent.35

To those who believe in and follow the Messiah, His Resurrection guarantees this eternal present;36 but, it was the conception37 and subsequent birth38 of the Eternal-temporal39 providing the necessary precursor. As Christians, as Christ-followers, let us remember this day for the momentous and joyous occasion it was and is: the arrival of the Gospel in the Gift wrapped in strips of cloth lying in a manger.40 To those with opened eyes He was unveiled.41 To the blind He remained veiled, but to those blind subsequently receiving sight He was revealed.42

Let us not be side-tracked by the temporality of contemporary glitz and glamour. Let us not take this day for granted. Let us take it to heart. Let us take its inherent message to the outer extremities.43 Let us be God’s instruments through which this Gift is unveiled, blind eyes opened.

The world awaits.44

——–

(If you think you might be experiencing a case of déjà vu, you are not exactly wrong. This is a lightly revised and slightly expanded version of an article I posted on Christmas day last year.)

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1 Luke 2:10-11, my translation.
2 It is very unlikely, though, that December 25 is the actual day Jesus was born. See When was Jesus Born?
3 Luke 2:10-11; Matthew 1:25; cf. Micah 5:2.
4 John 1:41; 4:25.
5 John 1:1.
6 From Theos = God, anthrōpos = man.
7 John 1:14.
8 John 1:14; 3:16.
9 John 3:14 (cf. Numbers 21:8-9); John 12:32-33.
10 John 3:16-17; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:4; 1John 4:9-10.
11 John 1:12.
12 John 5:24-25.
13 Matthew 24:13; Revelation 2:7, 10-11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 10-12, 19-21; 14:12.
14 John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2-3.
15 Revelation 13:8; cf. Revelation 17:8. There is ambiguity in the syntax of the Greek in 13:8. Is it that the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world (KJV, NIV, e.g.), or is it that certain names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (ESV, NASB, e.g.)? [This implies there are yet others who were written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (cf. Rev 3:5).] One could harmonize this with the words whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world from 17:8 to resolve this, yet it seems difficult to have a book of life without the Life Giver’s substitutionary atonement (Hebrews 2:17) having been provided first. So maybe both are true? Resolution is not even found in John the Baptizer’s words in John 1:29 regarding the “Lamb of God” (cf. Rev 5:6-14), for the verb airōn, takes away, is a present active participle, which grammatically indicates durative action (imperfective aspect), but the temporal reference is unclear. Is it yet-future from the Baptizer’s words (in then-current context looking forward to the cross), or is John stating that it is already in effect? Relatedly, this verb airō can connote being taken ‘up’ as well as taken away, which can provide a bit of—likely intended—double entendre, polysemy. In other words, sins are taken up/away as He is taken up/away. This double meaning likely applies—unknowingly by the speakers and in ironical fashion with the benefit of hindsight—in John 19:15 when “the Jews” (hoi Ioudaioi) responded to Pilate’s statement “Here is your king!” with aron aron, staurōson auton, “Take up/away, take up/away; crucify him!” Their command resulted in Him being glorified (John 12:23; 13:31-32; 17:1) and thereby receiving the name above every name (Philippians 2:9-11; cf. What Did Pilate State in John 19:22?: Conclusion).
16 Philippians 2:5-8.
17 Hebrews 2:9-18; 4:15. Each and every one of us—at and beyond the age of accountability, at the least—has played his/her part in lifting Him up on that cross.
18 John 11:25; 14:6.
19 Matthew 27:48-50; Mark 15:36-37; Luke 23:36; John 19:28-30.
20 Matthew 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-8[20]; Luke 24:1-49; John 2:19-22; 10:17-18; 20:1-31; 1Corinthians 15:1-4.
21 Revelation 1:18.
22 Hebrews 2:14-18.
23 Romans 3:25-26; Hebrews 9:11-15, 26-28; 10:12, 19-24.
24 Matthew 4:17; Luke 3:8-14; Acts 2:38; 3:19; Romans 2:4.
25 But this cannot be done in one’s own strength; see the words of Jesus in John 6:44: No one is able to come to Me unless the Father, the One Who sent Me, draws him[/her].
26 Matthew 10:38-39; 16:24-26; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23-24; 14:27; John 12:25-26.
27 Matthew 4:17; 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; John 8:31-32; 13:34/15:12; 15:10; James 2:8-11; 1John 5:3.
28 Matthew 16:24-26. See What did Jesus mean when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me”?
29 John 3:3-8; 14:17; Romans 8:15-17; 1Corinthians 2:12; 3:16; 6:19; 2Corinthians 6:16.
30 John 14:15-16:15; Acts 1:8; 2:1-39; 1John 4:1-6. See also Who is the Holy Spirit?
31 John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1John 4:6; 5:6.
32 Matthew 11:28-30; 1John 5:3.
33 1John 1:8-10.
34 Galatians 5:16-26; 1John 1:6-8.
35 Hebrews 10:22-23; 1John 1:9-2:2.
36 1Corinthians 15:20-23.
37 Luke 1:34-35.
38 Luke 2:1-7.
39 John 1:1, 14.
40 Luke 2:10-12.
41 Luke 2:8-20.
42 John 9:1-41; 2Corinthians 3:14-18.
43 Matthew 28:19-20.
44 John 3:16-21, 31-36; Romans 8:18-27.

An Eternal Christological Conundrum

Though I don’t recall the source offhand, I remember reading that many pastors, preachers, and expositors are afraid to discuss the Trinity and Christology. They’re concerned about confusing congregations and readers. They’re concerned about misspeaking and, as a consequence, being branded a heretic.

And we’re all the poorer for it. The object of our faith—Jesus Christ, our Savior—gets short shrift. This results in audiences not conceiving the full grandeur of His Person. Some reduce the Divine Savior to the merely human. Conversely, some exalt Christ so highly they Deify His humanity. In this post we will focus on one aspect of the latter.

To this end, first, we’ll provide a brief definition of God, centering on His attributes. God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (all-present, everywhere at once). I think Thomas V. Morris provides the most succinct statement on the interrelationships and interworkings of these three attributes:

Perhaps the best understanding of the attribute of omnipresence is that of its being the property of being present everywhere in virtue of knowledge of [omniscience] and power over [omnipotence] any and every spatially located object [creation].1

Next, we’ll provide a framework for God’s mode of existence as compared to ours.

Time is an aspect of the created order. Yet God is transcendent, existing in the eternal realm, outside time and creation. There is no physicality in the eternal realm.

God, as a spirit Being (John 4:24), is not bound or impacted by the physical or time limits of creation and, thus, has the ability to interact with and within the created order. God lords over creation.2 He transcends time, creation’s necessary constituent.

But what is eternity, the eternal realm? And how does time, with its chronological series of events—the past, the ever-fleeting present, and the future—relate to eternity? Do the two intersect in any way? I have found no better explanation, and no better basis for exploration, than the words of Lewis Sperry Chafer:

…Whatever time may be and whatever its relation to eternity, it must be maintained that no cessation of eternity has occurred or will.  God’s mode of existence remains unchanged.  Time might be thought of as something superimposed upon eternity were it not that there is ground for question whether eternity consists of a succession of events, as is true of time.  The consciousness of God is best conceived as being an all-inclusive comprehension at once, covering all that has been or will be.  The attempt to bring time with its successions into a parallel with eternity is to misconceive the most essential characteristic of eternal things.3

This seems right to me. We cannot think of chronological order in eternity. We cannot impose our temporal thinking of past, present and future onto the eternal realm. We cannot impose temporality upon eternality.

Temporality can be conceived as akin to a number line. We can metaphorically place ourselves at an ever-moving zero for the ever-fleeting present time, while construing events left of zero (negative numbers) as the past, and events to the right (positive numbers) as the future.

Since our finite minds cannot conceive eternality, it would be impossible to construct any sort of analogy with any level of confidence. However, for the sake of simplicity, let’s consider it like the symbol for infinity, in the sense of being boundless or endless.

There is no beginning and no ending. Once you are metaphorically on the infinity loop—in the eternal realm—there is no past and no future. You will find no beginning and no end. There is no time, unless you wish to call it the eternal present. But I think even that distorts the reality, since it includes a time element. Perhaps better: once in the eternal realm you simply exist.

God is metaphorically on the infinity loop. God has unbounded eternality. By contrast, all those granted eternal life have bounded eternality. They are bounded at the point of entry. ‘After’ that (it’s difficult to refrain from temporal references!), they enjoy the same unbounded eternality as God.

Using the above framework, we can now discuss the Eternal-temporal: the Divine-human Person of Christ.

Starting with the Definition worked out at the Council of Chalcedon, we affirm—as the totality of Scripture demonstrates—that Jesus was/is fully God and fully human, possessing both a Divine nature and a human nature. This doctrine logically entails one important aspect: From our temporal perspective, Christ’s humanity began at a point in time (Virginal Conception).

On the other hand, His Deity is eternal, with no beginning and no end—no temporality. Accordingly, His Divine nature has unbounded eternality.

To keep things as simple as possible, we’ll borrow John the Gospel writer’s terminology. The Word, the Logos, was with God in the beginning, and the Word was God; the Word existed as God (John 1:1-2). The Word was the agent of all creation, for all things came to be—all things came into existence—through the Word (John 1:3). Then the eternal Word became the Eternal-temporal Word-made-flesh (John 1:14), i.e., Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

Putting this in temporal perspective, prior to year zero—the dividing line between BC (before Christ) and AD (anno Domini = “in the year of our Lord”)—the Word existed with no flesh. At year zero the Word acquired human flesh, instantaneously culminating in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Divine-human, the God-man. This begins the Incarnation (John 1:14). At that point the Divine Word became forever hypostatically united with human flesh.

Taking the previous paragraph and simplifying it, we could illustrate from a temporal perspective:

The Word w/out flesh > the Word w/flesh

Strictly speaking, the Word w/out flesh is not Jesus; Jesus is the Word w/flesh. That is, in the verbiage depicted in John 1:1-3 the Word could not have had flesh, for this describes pre-creation (John 1:1-2), followed by the creation event (John 1:3). At this point, clearly, the Word had no flesh and, thus, cannot rightly be called Jesus. We can certainly state, “Jesus had a pre-incarnate existence as the Word.” That is, there is continuity in the Person.

With this understanding, we would have to agree that Jesus Christ, aka the Word with flesh, has bounded eternality—bound at the moment of the Virginal Conception. To deny this is to unduly exalt Jesus to the point that He is super-human—in violation of Chalcedon. Correspondingly, we would have to affirm that the Word w/out flesh has unbounded eternality, in keeping with the “fully God” portion of Chalcedon.

Some might object that such strong distinctions illustrate the heresy of Nestorianism. But not necessarily. We can affirm that the Word with flesh, aka Jesus, has unbounded eternality in virtue of His Divine nature—which has existed and will continue to exist eternally, of course. Simultaneously, we can affirm that the Word with flesh, aka Jesus, has bounded eternality in virtue of His human nature—bound at the point of the Virginal Conception.

Yet, from an eternal perspective, it could be argued that the Word has always existed with flesh (cf. Revelation 13:8; 17:8). This would fully take into account Chafer’s statement, “The consciousness of God is best conceived as being an all-inclusive comprehension at once, covering all that has been or will be.” By extension, we might think that every true Christian has always been seated in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6). But might that call into question free will (cf. Revelation 3:5)? I suggest we not try to sit on God’s Throne, that we not attempt to ponder from an eternal perspective. Let’s stick with the temporal.

With all the foregoing in mind, we can do proper justice to the truth of Colossians 1:16-17 (cf. Hebrews 1:2):

16 …and all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 And He Himself exists before all, and in/by Him all things hold together.4

John the Gospel writer apparently drew from Paul’s words here. All things were created through Him (the Word without flesh). That is, the Word is the Agent of creation (John 1:3). And all things were created for Him (the Word with flesh). That is, all things were created for the God-man, Jesus Christ. The first clause of verse 17 can be translated and interpreted a few different ways. It could be translated: He is before all. Some interpretations include: (a) the Word exists before all created order; (b) Christ, in his Divine nature, exists before all created order; (c) the Word, as God, is preeminent; (d) Christ, as the God-man, is preeminent. The text may well be purposefully ambiguous such that there is intended polysemy, inviting more than one interpretation.

But what about the final clause? Prior to the Incarnation it was simple enough: the Word without flesh was holding all things together. However, can the God-man hold all things together while walking the earth, limited in physical presence? To claim Jesus did so via His Divine nature (in abstraction from His human nature) might smack of Nestorianism. How can we resolve this?

With ease. God is omnipresent. We should not imagine God being constrained within/to Jesus’ human body any more than we might think the Holy Spirit is constrained within each believer’s body. Surely, there are not as many ‘Holy Spirits’ as there are Christians! In the same way, Jesus’ Divine nature, being omnipresent, can be in hypostatic union in the Person of Christ yet still continually sustain the cosmos.

In other words, we must not construe this passage as conveying that the Divine-human Jesus was holding the cosmos together, as if Jesus’ human body was omnipresent. Now, it was His Divine nature for sure, but the Divine nature was exhibiting the attribute of omnipresence (along with omnipotence and omniscience) in performing this function. This Divine function was not interrupted by the Incarnation.

In conclusion, we do no violence to the Deity of Christ if we affirm that the Word existed without human flesh, that the Word was not “Jesus Christ” prior to the Incarnation. In fact, we would unduly Deify Jesus’ humanity should we claim Jesus existed before creation. In other words, we cannot substitute “Jesus Christ” for “the Word” in John 1:1. This would make nonsense of the Scriptures. But we can claim that Jesus Christ preexisted as the Word in John 1:1. Or that the Word (John 1:1-3) is the preexistence of Jesus Christ.

All in proper—temporal—perspective…

[Related: Probing the Prologue in The Gospel According to John: John 1:1-2 and John 1:3-5]

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1 Thomas V. Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press, 1986), p 91.  Brackets added.
2 Though he allows free will.
3 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, [© 1948, 1976 Dallas Theological Seminary] 1993), pp VII.141-42.  Emphasis added.
4 My translation, with assistance from Murray J. Harris, Colossians and Philemon, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), pp 42-43; Constantine R. Campbell, Colossians and Philemon: A Handbook on the Greek Text, Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2013), pp 11-14.

Christmas Came Early!

Who can forget the part in A Charlie Brown Christmas when Linus recites Luke 2:8-14 (KJV)? This captures the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This captures the meaning of Christmas.

But, arguably, the story of Christmas comes a bit earlier than that. Before the Virgin Birth was the Virginal Conception. This is found in Luke 1:26-38 and Matthew 1:18-24.

Yet the implication of Jeremiah 1:5 shows that Christmas came even earlier:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you came out of the womb, I sanctified you and appointed you a prophet to the nations.

If God assigned Jeremiah’s role before forming him in the womb, then he surely knew Jesus’ assignment before His miraculous birth! Can we know how early?

We know from John chapter 1 that Jesus predates His earthly existence as “the Word” (Logos).

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… (John 1:14).

The first portion “And the Word became flesh” can be understood as either the Virginal Conception or the Virgin Birth. I think it means the former. Whichever the case, strictly speaking, “the Word” predates Jesus of Nazareth. That is, before John 1:14 “the Word” existed without human flesh. In fact, a careful reading of John 1:1-3 illustrates that “the Word” predates creation, for He was the Agent of all creation:

1 In the beginning the Word existed, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (by nature). 2 He [the Word] existed in the beginning with God. 3 Through Him [the Word] all things came to be…

While God is the Creator (see Rev 4:11, e.g.), “the Word” was the Agent by which all things were created. Thus, when “the Word became flesh” the uncreated Agent of all creation became part of all creation!

Yet we still haven’t answered the question of whether or not we can know how early Jesus’ assignment was. The book of Revelation implicitly provides the answer!

Depending on which Bible version you have (the Greek syntax here can be construed two different ways), the implication of Revelation 13:8 (cf. 17:8) is such that either: {a} names were placed in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world (NIV, ESV, NASB, HCSB) or {b} the Lamb (Jesus) was slain before the foundation of the world (KJV, Douay-Rheims, ISV, YLT). In either case, this indicates salvation was worked out before creation.

Thus, Christmas came VERY early!

A Test of Faithfulness and Obedience

Listen to an amazing account of faithfulness and obedience. Though I think I can be bold, I am not so sure I could have followed through on this. In fact, to my shame, I’d have to admit that I doubt I would have. Would you have?

Words accompanying the vlog above:

The secret to a powerful life is simple: love God most. There is no life more powerful than a consecrated, Christ-magnifying, Word-filled life. The choice is ours. What Can God Do with An Ephesian First-Love Surrendered Life? Consider the Praying Man of Morocco. Here’s one I met 40 years ago while in the BEE ministry. I was asked to ride a train to Switzerland from Germany and drive a van carrying 6,000 Bibles into North Africa. The reason was a believer in Morocco was surrendered to God and being used by Him. I won’t know his name until Heaven, but He prayed for God to reach his Muslim people. He contacted Believers in the West. He agreed to be the tool. He prayed for God to bring the Bibles. We delivered them to Him.

The vlogger is going through the book of Revelation. The Ephesian church (church in Ephesus) is referenced by Jesus Himself in Revelation chapter 2 (HCSB):1

1 “Write to the angel [or messenger] of the church in Ephesus:

“The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand and who walks among the seven gold lampstands says: 2 I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. 3 You also possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My name and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you [other mss2 add quickly] and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. 6 Yet you do have this: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in [other mss read in the midst of] God’s paradise.”

In the first verse the “One who holds the seven stars in His right hand and who walks among the seven gold lampstands” is a reference to Jesus (cf. Rev 1:12, 16). He is resplendently described in the Apocalypse (Revelation) as compared to the Gospels (Rev 1:13—16).

Sadly, many Christians do not include the book of Revelation in their reading. It is said to be confusing, open to too many interpretations, scary, and the like. Yet it’s the only book in all of Scripture which promises a blessing to those reading it and to those taking its words to heart! See 1:3 and 22:7.

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1 Scripture quotations marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

2 The abbreviation “mss” in the bracketed portions is for “manuscripts”, as in New Testament Greek manuscripts.

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