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The issue which we are approaching has to do with the possibility of Jesus' return to evacuate the Church from the earth before a future period of intense tribulation. If we favor the possibility of such a pretribulational rapture, it becomes incumbent to stand in constant readiness for the event. However, if Jesus will return solely after the tribulation, that readiness should include mental and moral preparation for prior experience of the tribulation itself. The exhortation to "endure to the end" and the special warning about the leading astray of, "if possible, even the elect" (Matt. 24:12, 13, 24) highlight the danger of dismay and loss of faith on the part of whatever saints do find themselves in the last great time of testing.
Ten to twenty years ago this issue peaked on the American evangelical scene, and then abated. But recent events in the Middle East have revived interest in biblical prophecy concerning the future. It therefore seems appropriate to reconsider the chronology of the rapture-the more so since in the last spate of publications on the topic posttribulationism gained neither the volume of press nor the exegetical backing which were given to pretribulationism. George Ladd's The Blessed Hope, written in a popular style, takes a largely historical approach. And the standard posttribulational polemic by Alexander Reese has long been out of date, not to mention its embarrassingly bombastic style.
This work moves within the ambit of conservative evangelical premillenarianism apart from questions of realized versus consistent eschatology and higher critical issues of various sorts, all of which would need discussion in a larger frame of reference. It should (but cannot) go without saying that in matters of disagreement the appearance here of the names of writers on the topic at hand ought not to be taken as personal attack, but only as means of documentation. The attempt has been to evaluate normative views as represented by acknowledged leaders in the field. However, for the sake of comprehensiveness, some idiosyncratic arguments by other writers occasionally receive attention. There is no implication that such arguments or their refutation settles the issue as a whole. In the same vein, general statements to the effect that "pretribulationists say ..." do not necessarily impute the following view to all pretribulationists. The same holds true for statements concerning the views of posttribulationists.
The present thesis is threefold: (1) direct, unquestioned statements of Scripture that Jesus Christ will return after the tribulation and that the first resurrection will occur after the tribulation, coupled with the absence of statements placing similar events before the tribulation, make it natural to place the rapture of the Church after the tribulation; (2) the theological and exegetical grounds for pretribulationism rest on insufficient evidence, non sequitur reasoning, and faulty exegesis; (3) positive indications of a posttribulational rapture arise out of a proper exegesis of relevant Scripture passages and derive support from the history of the doctrine.
In the terminology of this book, "Christian" and "Church" refer to saints of the present age. "Church" is capitalized when used in the generic or universal sense by way of distinction from "Israel." "Israel" refers to the physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, either nationally considered or ideally considered as a spiritual body of redeemed people. Context determines the particular reference of the general term "saints." The "tribulation" points to the future period of Daniel's seventieth week and the Antichrist's career, although, strictly speaking, the term should refer to the persecution within that period of time rather than the period of time itself. The terms "second coming," "return," "advent," and "Parousia" all refer to the posttribulational return of Christ with attendant events unless qualified otherwise by the immediate context. The alleged pretribulational advent, resurrection, translation, and rapture of the Church are always so qualified by modifiers or by context. As used here, "Armageddon" refers to the final crisis at which Christ will come, not to preceding campaigns or battles.
It is hoped that the following pages will contribute to an understanding and appreciation of the posttribulational position and that it will do so in a manner characterized by "the wisdom from above ... first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy" (James 3:17).
In the chronological question concerning the rapture, the dispensational issue centers in the field of ecclesiology. An absolute silence in the OT about the present age, a total disconnection of the Church from the divine program for Israel, and a clean break between dispensations would favor pretribulationism: the Church would not likely be related to the seventieth week of Daniel, or tribulation, a period of time clearly having to do with Israel. But a partial revelation of the present age in the OT, a connection (not necessarily identification) between Israel and the Church, and a dispensational change involving a transitional period open the door to the presence of the Church during the tribulation.
Excerpted from Church and the Tribulation by Robert H. Gundry Copyright © 1973 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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