I am going to try to pick up my blogging again and perhaps speed it up, Lord willing. I plan to do more personal things on Facebook (where my activity has picked up) but more academic/technical things on our-hope.org. I have been asked to speak at the Pre-Trib Study Group this coming December giving an analysis of Sam Storms’ book Kingdom Come which I blogged about a few times. I hope to finish my string of blogs in response to Sam’s points which I had started to do. My paper at the Pre-Trib Study Group will be an expansion of the paper I delivered at the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics last year. I want to be constructive in my criticism and not bombastic in my disagreements. Please pray for me on this.
For this blog post, however, my main thought goes ahead to the upcoming Council meeting in September which I advertised in my last blog. My presentation is entitled “What Do Israel and the Church Share from a Traditional Dispensational Viewpoint?” I want to help traditional dispensationalists do a full-blown theology and not just hammer the distinction between Israel and the Church (which I firmly accept) as a matter of polemics in our debate with replacement theology. In doing this, one area that gives me pause is the constant use by dispensationalists of the distinction between Israel and the Church as a theological switch that provides proof for the pre-trib rapture. This argument would be more plausible if the distinction has been proven to be absolute on other grounds before we get to the rapture question. To be sure, some dispensationalists in the tradition have argued for a pretty absolute distinction by keeping the Church out of the future earthly kingdom. In addition, Lewis Sperry Chafer’s view of two distinct new covenants was at least partly caused by his desire to make the Israel-Church dichotomy more absolute. As to the idea that the Church as a heavenly elect will have no part in the future earthly kingdom, this seems to be countered by Luke 19:11-27 and like passages. As to the idea of two new covenants, very few dispensationalists today hold such a view. The book I edited entitled “Dispensational Understanding of the New Covenant” shows three views defended, none of which are the two new covenants view. No one showed up to defend this view at the Council when we discussed it.
Thus, although there are other issues that could be discussed here, it would seem that most dispensationalists allow some sharing between Israel and the Church at some point in their overall theology. This brings me to the argument from the distinction in favor of a pre-trib rapture (which I hold strongly and have argued for in print down through the years). Typically the argument is stated this way: (1) the tribulation period of seven years is noted as a time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer. 30:7), (2) therefore, that time is designed for Israel and not for the Church, (3) hence, the Church has no part in the tribulation, (4) the next step is to state how this requires a pre-trib rapture. However, there are two issues that must be dealt with in light of this claim. First, the Bible is clear that the tribulation is not just for Israel but for the whole world (Rev. 3:10, cp. Isa. 13:11). Thus, the statement that the tribulation period is for Israel because it is a time of Jacob’s trouble must be qualified and not used to limit the scope of who the tribulation targets.
A second way to look at the problem is to ask about the Church’s role in God’s coming earthly kingdom. If I am right about Church saints ruling on the earth during the millennium (Luke 19) and the new earth in the eternal state (Rev 22:5), this constitutes a sharing of the kingdom by saints from Israel and the Church. Some opponent of the pre-trib argument from distinction might ask why Israel and the Church can share the kingdom but not the tribulation period if their distinctive nature is so crucial to understanding God’s dealings with these two institutions.
In other words, the way that dispensationalists use the distinction between Israel and the Church as a hermeneutical or theological switch to adjudicate other exegetical or theological statements must be looked at more carefully. At this point, I have come to the conclusion that the argument from distinction is a correlative argument. The distinction fits with a pre-trib rapture but it does not logically compel it. Instead, I see the exegetical and theological information flowing mostly out of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, John 14:1-3, and Revelation 3:10 showing us that it is not so much that Israel and the Church are distinct that proves the pre-trib rapture but that God in space and time has sovereignly chosen and designed the Church to be raptured before the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week. I would appreciate any comments as I continue to reflect and work on my paper for the upcoming Council.