The fourth chapter in A Case for Historic Premillennialism is The Posttribulationalism of the New Testament, Leaving “Left Behind” Behind by Craig Blomberg. This chapter has some good insights, but from my point of view being a PreWrather, the arguments set forth are some that I have actually debated against. Also, since each chapter is an essay in and of itself, Blomberg covers ground that is set forth in other essays. For instance, he discusses why he is a premillennialist as opposed to an amillennialist or postmillennialist. This issue is covered in chapters 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7. He also sets forth some of the issues already covered in the essay, Millennial Movements, in order for readers to adequately understand the debate between pretrib and posttrib. He spends ten pages in setting up before he even begins to address the issue of a posttrib rapture. However, in these opening pages he does point out that this rapture debate is not something in which the entire church is interested. It is largely a debate within premillennialism itself.
So he asks the question, “But does it really matter?” His answer is “yes and no.” On the one hand, he sets forth the basic belief of the return of Christ being necessary for orthodoxy, but concerning the issues of the millennium, tribulation, and rapture, “surely we can agree to disagree in love over the particulars on which intelligent, godly, Bible-believing Christians have never achieved consensus and yet fellowship and work together at every level of Christian service and activity.” On the other hand, he laments how “Christian counselors and therapists tell us that contemporary Americans may be the least theologically equipped generation in church history when it comes to dealing with personal and collective suffering and evil.” This coupled with people coming up with bizarre theories on how the latest current events will usher in the end of the world, causes concern since “a frightening percentage of the evangelical Christian public seems always to suffer a collective amnesia, forgetting how the same kinds of publications just a decade or two earlier turned out to include a considerable amount of false prophecy.” So with this two fold approach that it is both important, but it shouldn’t be divisive, Blomberg begins his actual study into the posttribulationalism of the New Testament.
Blomberg opens this section with a study on the use of the word thlipsis in the New Testament. This word is translated tribulation, affliction, trouble, distress, or persecution and is the word which is used when the Bible speaks of The Great Tribulation. This study of his is certainly worthwhile. He concludes that the normative use of this word is that of the trouble or persecution that Christians endure because of their faith or the fallen world. In the midst of thlipsis, Christians can have joy, know that it will not separate them from the love of Christ, and consider them light and momentary in comparison to an eternal perspective.
At this point the author turns to the use of the word in relation to eschatology. There must be a time of tribulation which is unequaled from the beginning and never to be equaled again. But lest you think that this work on Historic Premillennialism is going to be Futurist, there are set forth other principles in this section which also include Preterist tendencies pointing to “a great tribulation” in 70A.D. along with including a Historicist viewpoint believing that from 70A.D. until the end of the age could rightly be included in this great tribulation. While the author doesn’t define these different positions, these are the ideas that are portrayed as compatible with each other in one position. Another point concerning the multitude that comes out of great tribulation in Revelation 7 is made to show that this multitude is parallel term for the 144,000. Hence the author takes a symbolic approach to one of the few references to the term “great tribulation” dodging any firm commitment on the timing of this term. It seems like the author is saying that all of them are true. The great tribulation is an end times event, but it’s also a 70A.D. event and an ongoing experience for the church even today.
His point seems to be that if the church was present during 70A.D., and has been present all throughout tribulation against Christians up until the present time, they would also be included in an end times Great Tribulation. It is a general concept set forth, but worth considering. Against the backdrop of this basic foundation, the author then considers a couple of passages which pretribulationalists commonly use to defend their position. Matthew 24:40-41 is commonly used to teach that those taken are spared from the judgement of the great tribulation. But Blomberg takes the entire context to mean that those taken are taken for judgement. “The flood came and took them all away” is the correct view of the one taken. Christians will be the ones left to enjoy the millennium. He then explains John 14:3 to be, not strictly heaven, but a new heavens, new earth, and a new Jerusalem. So the place where Christ brings us to at His coming is the New Jerusalem with God’s eternal presence dwelling there.
The texts of I and II Thessalonians get some attention at this point. He touches on the greatest posttrib argument of all (in my honest estimation), that of the use of apantesis in I Thessalonians 4:17. The word “is used of a welcoming party leaving a city or a house in order to go down the road to meet an honored guest”. The welcoming party would then “form an escort party to accompany the person back to his home or town.” The word is used this way in Matthew 25:6 and in Acts 28:15. When Christian brothers came out to meet the apostle Paul, they greeted him and accompanied him back into Rome. The idea in the classic rapture passage then becomes one of accompanying royalty via an entourage from heaven to earth. The LORD descends and saints are caught up to provide a welcome here as He begins His reign. He includes I Corinthians 15 and II Thessalonians in his discussion as well, harmonizing them with his previous conclusions.
Then he embarks on the most heavily used pretrib passage that I have seen, Revelation 3:10. His upfront view is quite simple and I’ll quote him. ‘The Greek verb for “keep” in this verse is tereo; the preposition for “from” is ek. The only other passage in the New Testament that combines these two terms appears in another Johannine composition, in John 17:15. There, the night before his crucifixion, Jesus clarifies his petition to his heavenly Father: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” This text could hardly be more explicit in what it requests: protection from something harmful while Jesus’s disciples remain on earth. Revelation 3:10, if it is referring to the great tribulation, thus more likely supports posttribulationalism then pretribulationism.’
He briefly deals with the lack of the word church after Revelation 3. He dismisses Revelation 4:1 with a wave of the hand as even pretribulationalists should. He also touches on the midtrib rapture based on the ascension of the two witnesses. He views this as a chronology issue resolved as seeing that passage at the end of the great tribulation rather than at the midpoint. He touches on the prewrath rapture deeming it unnecessary because no posttribber will argue that God’s people will experience His wrath. He parallels the trumpets and the bowls with the ten plagues of Egypt pointing out that Israelites were not removed from the land but protected from the plagues supernaturally in the midst of them.
One of the last objections he deals with is the subject of the imminence of Christ’s return. He offers three responses. First, the idea of the return of Christ could be seen as interwoven with certain signs that will precede it. Second, he sets forth the idea that many of the events in Revelation could unfold in such a way as to prevent us from seeing exactly how far into the tribulation we might be at any given moment. He cites several examples here. Third, he distinguishes imminence from immediacy. Certainly it will happen, and once it does it will unfold quickly. “But no scripture ever claims that it” could happen “at any given second, minute, hour, or day… within some fixed interval from some earlier sign.” The way that third point is worded could reveal somewhat of a Historicist view interwoven here as we saw earlier.
He closes this section focusing on the hope of the resurrection in glorified bodies here on the earth. When pressed with the question of resurrected saints intermingling with those still in temporal bodies, he points to Christ. When Christ was resurrected, He did this very thing, interacting with the disciples for forty days
I found this chapter to be helpful in seeing things from a posttrib point of view. I have read Gundry’s book The Church and the Tribulation, so I’m not altogether unfamiliar with these ideas. I don’t agree with all of them, but some seem irrefutable to me. Here they are nonetheless to be examined by you, the readers of my blog. Four essays down, four to go.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman