Dr. Jack Van Impe must be worried about the PreWrath Rapture position. In his weekly newsletter dated December 3rd, 2007, he has composed an article in which he attempts to refute it. The article is worth reading simply to count the number of times that he tries to portray the teaching as no big deal by writing things like "it has been largely dismissed as improbable and unbiblical", "Rosenthal’s theory has never gained ardent followers", "virtually every reviewer has brought its limitations and biblical inaccuracies to light", and "this position is shot through with speculation and misinterpretation of Scripture". This type of writing immediately put the question in my mind, "If it’s largely dismissed, doesn’t have any ardent followers, every reviewer has already dealt with it, and the position is shot through with misinterpretation, why bother to write a lengthy article to rebuff its claims?"
Let’s examine Dr. Van Impe’s critique of the PreWrath Rapture view to see if he understands the issues that are being grappled with here. First off, Dr. Van Impe drastically misrepresents the view. This will result in anyone simply reading his critique of the PreWrath Rapture position, without actually reading what PreWrath consists of, coming away with a view of PreWrath that is faulty. If it were accurately represented, there would be the danger of people seeing the truth of the position.
Misrepresentation #1- Dr. Van Impe claims that PreWrath sets a date for the rapture. PreWrath does no such thing. Dr. Van Impe claims that this comes directly from Marvin Rosenthal’s book The PreWrath Rapture of the Church. Nowhere does Rosenthal make this assertion. This is one of the main tenets of the PreWrath position and Dr. Van Impe somehow missed it. The PreWrath position is built upon the foundation that no man knows the day or hour of Christ’s return which happens at the same time as the rapture. Dealing with this issue here actually covers most of what Dr. Van Impe writes in his entire first section, including his quote from Dr. Gerald B. Stanton. Dr. Van Impe claims that Rosenthal "suggested that the Rapture will take place twenty-one months after the time designated by the midtribulationist", further he writes "the Church … is now present during the first three-quarters of this most horrible period in history", and then his quote from Stanton, "he attempts to set the time of the Rapture … some 1,890 days after the Anti-Christ makes his unparalleled covenant with Israel". All three of these quotes make Rosenthal out to be a date setter for the rapture. He then directly states his misrepresentation by Stanton’s quote which reads, "The Lord’s people should not be confused by vehement argumentation designed to set the day of His appearing."
If Dr. Van Impe and Dr. Stanton had actually read Rosenthal’s book, they would know that the PreWrath position maintains that the rapture takes place sometime in the latter half of Daniel’s seventieth week, but that no man can know the day or the hour at which this occurs. There is no attempt on Rosenthal’s part to calculate exactly how much time elapses between the abomination of desolation and the rapture. Certainly Rosenthal expounds the scriptures that the abomination of desolation begins the great tribulation instead of the great tribulation beginning at the onset of Daniel’s seventieth week. And most certainly does Rosenthal maintain that the rapture will occur sometime during that final three and one half year period, but nowhere is there even a guess that the rapture will occur three-quarters, 21 months (plus 42), or 1890 days into Daniel’s seventieth week.
The PreWrath view is quite easy to follow and quite scriptural. The Great Tribulation begins at the midpoint of a seven year period which is known as Daniel’s seventieth week. When the Great Tribulation begins, there will be three and one half years left for God to fulfill His goals stated in Daniel 9:24. Sometime during that three and one half year period, the Lord will return, cut short the Great Tribulation, rapture the church, and bring wrath upon the ungodly. So the PreWrath rapture will occur after the Great Tribulation but before God’s wrath. PreWrath maintains that the church will not suffer God’s wrath according to the promises found in Romans 5:9, I Thessalonians 1:10, 5:9, and Revelation 3:10.
Let’s read what Rosenthal actually writes in The PreWrath Rapture of the Church. Beginning on page 223, "In addition, no one can know the day or the hour of Christ’s coming (parousia). That is clearly taught by the Lord Himself (Matt. 24:36-37). However, men are to know the general time period of Christ’s coming. That is also taught by the Lord (Matt. 24:32-33). The apostle Paul warned the Thessalonians that the Lord’s coming (parousia) would be as "a thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:2). Then he explained the response of both the saved and the unsaved to the Lord’s coming. Concerning the unsaved he wrote, "For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape" (1 Thess. 5:3). The picture Paul portrayed is of an unsaved world caught completely off guard and unprepared for Christ’s return. But of the saved he wrote regarding Christ’s coming (parousia), "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all sons of light, and sons of the day; we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober-minded" (1 Thess. 5:4-6; see also 2 Pet. 3:12).
No amount of rationalizing can explain away the fact that if the coming of the Lord is imminent and pretribulational, He will, of an absolute necessity, return as "a thief in the night" even for the believers. The Pauline admonition to watchfulness for an event which has no prophesied events to precede it would be the ultimate exercise in futility. If, on the other hand, Christ’s coming and the Rapture occur after the events of Matthew 24:4-28, as the thesis of this book contends (immediately prior to the opening of the seventh seal), then the Lord’s words make perfect sense. "So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things [the events portrayed in the first five seals], know that it [His coming (parousia)] is near, even at the doors" (Matt. 24:33; cf. Luke 21:28). That day need not overtake a believer like "a thief in the night" precisely because events of the seventieth week will announce its approach – not the very hour, but the general time period – exactly as the Lord taught. End quote.
So you see that Rosenthal teaches the scriptures as the Lord taught them. No man will know the day or the hour, but the general signs can be known. Rosenthal makes no attempt to set a time after the abomination of desolation when the rapture will occur. That time cannot be known by man and Rosenthal agrees with this. So Dr. Van Impe is severely misrepresenting Rosenthal.
Further, PreWrath places the wrath of God beginning sometime after the sixth seal according to the book of Revelation’s timeline. Before the sixth seal, we plainly see the church going through the tribulation during the fifth seal. At the sixth seal there is the announcement of God’s wrath. The trumpets will sound shortly after this and bring fire, brimstone, and destruction upon the earth. The PreWrath rapture could also be termed a Sixth Seal Rapture since the church is in God’s presence immediately following the sixth seal, see Revelation 7:9-17.
If Dr. Van Impe had taken the time to study these fundamentals of the PreWrath position, he may have realized how much he has in common with PreWrath. Consider the following quotes from his book, Revelation Revealed.
Quote #1- Although it isn’t clear in which category Dr. Van Impe places the fifth seal, this quote reveals much on how he views the sixth seal. From page 76, "It is interesting to note that the judgments of the first four seals were under the jurisdiction of the Antichrist. The opening of the sixth seal, however, begins the administration of the supernatural judgment from heaven."
So here, Dr. Van Impe plainly states that it is not until after the opening of the sixth seal that we have the supernatural judgments from heaven. This is exactly what PreWrath teaches. Is this an isolated quote, or is it one of the underlying beliefs of his book? Let’s look again.
Quote #2- Notice the use of the word "wrath" in this quote from page 87. "The trumpet judgments were prophesied by Enoch as recorded in the book of Jude, verses 14 and 15, and were anticipated by the Psalmist as well: he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth (Psalm 97:13). Paul also confirmed these judgments in Acts 17:31. This is the moment when the wrath of God is to be revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Romans 1:18). Before the first trumpet sends forth its blast in verse 7…"
Here again, Dr. Van Impe’s insight into scripture shows how he agrees with this basic tenet of the PreWrath position. He specifically states that the first trumpet is "the moment when the wrath of God is to be revealed from heaven".
Quote #3- Commenting on Revelation 8:3 he writes, "The prayers, of course, are occurring on earth. They are imprecatory prayers for judgment as we saw in Revelation 6:10. They cry: How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? These prayers have reached the throne of God!" Then commenting on Revelation 8:4, "At this point, prayer is answered, and judgment is prepared."
It is uncanny to see how perfectly Dr. Van Impe’s thoughts line up with the PreWrath position. At the fifth seal we saw the saints going through the great tribulation and crying out to God for vengeance. Dr. Van Impe correctly uses a great word, "imprecatory", which basically means to curse by means of a higher power. These saints who are going through the great tribulation are crying out for God to curse those who are persecuting them. And, in Dr. Van Impe’s correct interpretation, that vengeance upon the ungodly, that wrath of God, is not executed until after the prayers come up before the throne of God just before the trumpet judgments in Revelation 8. How much closer to the PreWrath position can you get than Dr. Van Impe’s comments on Revelation 8:3-4?
Dr. Van Impe, if you are reading this, I ask you to open The PreWrath Rapture of the Church and turn to page 211 and examine the chart entitled Convergence Before the Seventh Seal to plainly illustrate how much your views have in common with PreWrath. I’m assuming you have a copy of the book in your possession since you claim to be familiar with the position.
Misrepresentation #2- Dr. Van Impe also is in error when he states that PreWrath places the rapture just before Armageddon instead of before the entire wrath of God. Here is Dr. Van Impe’s quote: "The only solace given to Christians in the prewrath theory is that they will be raptured before the great Battle of Armageddon – small comfort since the Church would have already endured the worst of the great Tribulation judgments."
If Dr. Van Impe would look at the illustration on page 147 entitled The Seals, Trumpets, & Bowls, he would understand that PreWrath places the rapture of the church before the first trumpet thereby exempting the church from the wrath of God during all seven trumpet judgments and all seven bowl judgments, not just from the Battle of Armageddon.
After we get past the misrepresentations, there are a couple of old stand-by PreTrib arguments that are set forth. The first is that the rapture must occur before the tribulation if the church is to be looking forward to Christ’s coming. Consider the following quotes by Dr. Van Impe. "The problem with this view is that rather than the Church looking forward to the return of Christ, the focus now shifts to the fearful expectation of the coming of Antichrist." And another quote, "For the Christian, the pretrib position must remain paramount because it encourages us to look forward to that "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13)-that any-moment-return of "the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." And just one more, "If Rosenthal were correct in his assumptions, a prewrath Rapture would be the Christian’s ultimate nightmare, hardly the "blessed hope" promised in Scripture." Please note that these statements are just that. There is no exposition of the scriptures in Dr. Van Impe’s article for me to refute. So please allow me to simply respond to the statements.
First off, Dr. Van Impe uses the term "blessed hope" to describe the rapture of the church, when the only use of the term in the scriptures actually describes the glorious appearing, not a secret rapture, Titus 2:13. The glorious appearing is described in scripture as the time when Christ will appear with all of His holy angels after the great tribulation, see Matthew 13:37-43, 16:27, 24:29-31, 25:31, Mark 8:38, and Luke 9:36. So how can Dr. Van Impe insist that the blessed hope is the rapture of the church when it is really the glorious appearing?
Second, I wonder if Dr. Van Impe believes that the Apostles John, Peter, and Paul looked forward to the coming of Christ instead living in a fearful expectation of Antichrist. The Apostle John certainly looked forward to the coming of Christ. He writes in I John 2:28, "when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming." Then he writes in I John 3:2, "when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." But in this same epistle John writes concerning antichrist in I John 4:3, "this is that spirit of antichrist whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world." John was keeping his eyes open for the antichrist as well. Read what he writes in I John 2:18, "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." It doesn’t get much plainer that John knew that the appearance of the antichrist was a sign of being in the last time. John knew to look for the antichrist, yet looked forward to the appearing of Jesus Christ.
Was Peter’s catalyst for holy living due to the fact that Jesus may rapture him at any moment? No. Peter looked forward to the coming of Christ which would result in the present destruction of this world which compelled him to live holy before God. Consider II Peter 3:10-14, "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless." Nowhere does Peter mention that the Lord may come to snatch him away at any moment, but that the promise of His coming (II Peter 3:4) would occur in connection with a destruction by fire of this present earth upon which we are standing right now. That was his motivation to live a holy life.
And finally, how about Paul? Of course he looked forward to the blessed hope of Christ’s glorious coming, but he also knew to keep his eyes on the rise of the man of sin, the son of perdition, otherwise known as the antichrist. In II Thessalonians, after describing Christ’s glorious coming with His holy angels in chapter 1, when Christ would pay back the ungodly for putting the church through tribulation, Paul tells the believers in chapter 2 that the day of Christ would not come until after the man of sin would be revealed. He then goes on to describe the man of sin receiving worship in the temple of God, his power, signs, and lying wonders, and how those who have rejected Christ will embrace this deceiver. Since Paul is explaining how all of this would happen first, does this mean that Paul lived in a fearful expectation of antichrist? Of course not! That’s what makes His coming a blessed hope because Christ will take vengeance on those who do not know God, will consume the man of sin with the spirit of his mouth, and will destroy that wicked one with the brightness of His coming, II Thessalonians 2:8.
The second old stand-by Pre-Trib argument concerns the use of the word "elect" in Matthew 24:22. Dr. Van Impe cites OT scriptures showing that Israel can be referred to as the elect. Then he shows how there are instructions for those living in Judea during the time of the Great Tribulation and how the instructions mention the Sabbath. There is a weaker point he mentions about the area being in Jerusalem, but he quotes Luke’s version which is a different topic altogether so I will not address that. He also mentions being beaten in the synagogues as proof that this is a Jewish passage, but he quotes a section of Mark that is not distinctly referring to the Great Tribulation, but refers to persecution that will occur from Christ’s ascension until the end of the age. So I will address the first two issues that Dr. Van Impe raises concerning Judea and the Sabbath.
Firstly, Jesus used the word "elect" and not the word "Israel". Secondly, Jesus had already declared that Jerusalem would be left desolate, Matthew 23:28, and that the kingdom would be taken from them and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof, Matthew 21:43. We have to remember that the Olivet Discourse occurs at the end of a ministry already rich with teaching on the kingdom of God. Even in the midst of Jesus’ ministry to Israel, He knew about the elect from all nations that would later form the church. Thirdly, in the book of Romans Paul would declare that not all Israel had obtained that which they sought, but only the elect of Israel, Romans 11:7. Not all national Israel are elect, so the use of the word "elect" proves that Jesus was not speaking about the nation of Israel since we know that not all national Israel are elect, according to the Biblical definition in Romans 11:7.
Dr. Van Impe does not mention the use of the word elect in Matthew 24:31, but it must be the same group as Christ gives no reason for changing his focus anywhere in the discourse. The gathering of this elect must be the same elect that were mentioned as suffering the Great Tribulation. It is supposed by PreTrib that the gathering of the elect described here is the gathering of the nation of Israel. But this gathering does not match up with the Old Testament descriptions of the gathering of Israel. In Isaiah 11:11-16, the Lord destroys a portion of the Egyptian Sea in order to create a highway for the Israelites to journey back to the promised land. Isaiah 35:8-10 mentions this highway as well. Zechariah 10:8-12 also speaks of rivers drying up as Israel is gathered into the promised land. Angels do not gather Israel into the promised land, they walk there on foot. The gathering of the elect is just before national, ethnic Israel is regathered into the land. Isaiah 26 and 27 gives this progression. "My people", or God’s elect, are gathered behind closed doors, 26:20. Then the Lord comes to pour out His wrath, 26:21. Then after this the nation of Israel is gathered to worship the Lord at Jerusalem, 27:12-13.
But what about Dr. Van Impe’s point concerning Judea and the Sabbath? If the Olivet Discourse is for the church, then the sections pertaining to those living in Judea are directed at Jews who have become Christians. Why would Jews who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah follow His teachings about fleeing when the abomination of desolation occurs? Those who embrace Jesus as Messiah will follow what He has commanded when the Great Tribulation begins. Not all Israel will follow these commands since the nation will not have wakened from her spiritual sleep until near the end of Daniel’s seventieth week. So again we see that these commands are not for all of the nation of Israel, but for the church. The commands which concern Judea and the Sabbath are for those Jewish Christians living in the area of Judea as the abomination of desolation takes place in Jerusalem. These Jewish Christians [who are a part of the church] will be delivered safely by following the commands laid out in Matthew 24:16-20. So we must concede some application to the nation of Israel here. But this cannot be directed toward the blinded nation of Israel who wouldn’t listen to the Lord at His first advent. This fits with the entire scope of the Olivet Discourse which is directed toward the Jewish disciples who would become the foundation stones for the church and martyrs for Messiah Jesus.
In closing, the PreWrath Rapture position is actually gaining a strong following on the internet as is evidenced in numerous prophecy groups. PreTribbers are concerned because most PreWrathers can easily defend their views against PreTrib objections. PreTrib proponents must do something about the momentum that is being gained by the position. I believe that Dr. Van Impe’s article is a response to this momentum.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman