So frail are our minds through mortality that it is almost impossible for us to sum up adequately the totality of our knowledge of any subject. While attempting to do this about our snatching-away, so as to present the facts in a compact and reasonably complete form, I have already met with certain difficulties that even yet have not been sufficiently cleared up.
An example of this problem is Rom. 11:25-27. Some still insist that this deals with Israel's blindness. Others, knowing better, recognize that the passage refers to insensitiveness, not blindness; yet, even so, too often they fail to perceive what this implies. A blind person is often, perhaps usually, more sensitive than a person with sight, not less so. During the period covered by the Gospels, Israel were far from insensitive. There was no sort of stupor among them. Instead, they reacted sharply and even violently to what the Lord Jesus and the disciples said and did. It is altogether absurd to think of them being in a state of stupor then. If that active hatred be "stupor," words can have no meaning. Furthermore, in Acts 2:37 the heart of Peter's hearers was pricked with compunction and many welcomed his word, but in 7:54 Stephen's speech stung his hearers much more violently. They were harrowed in their hearts and gnashed their teeth at him and presently (v. 59) stoned him. Even the repetition of Isa. 6:9, 10 in Acts 28 does not deny that they felt sufficiently in what was soulish and material. The insensitiveness to which Paul refers later is in all that is spiritual, and must not be confused with Isa. 6:9, 10.
Similarly, in days to come, particularly in the seventieth seven of Daniel's prophecy, will Israel be in a state of stupor? How can they be? A tremendous ferment will be in progress. To quote the admirable words of another: "All the indications ate that the final generation in Israel before the Lord comes will be the wickedest and most apostate which ever lived." Yes, but this cannot possibly apply to people who are insensible, in a stupor, insensitive; even if that condition be only in part. People, simply, are not wicked, do not apostatize, when stupefied or under any sort of anaesthesia; and certainly in that state could not in any circumstances aspire to be the wicked est and most apostate which ever lived. To achieve any eminence, even such an eminence of evil, one needs to be active, positive, dynamic; the act must be deliberate and energetic, with a definite intention firmly and resolutely carried out to its consummation.
Even in these present days, the Jew is not in a stupor or even insensitive in every respect; but largely in spiritual matters. His insensitiveness is out of part, partial. Principally it is spiritual insensitiveness; in other things, too it exists in a measure, but it is far less noticeable. In music the Jew is often exquisitely sensitive, even though he never scales the greatest heights where Gentile composers have been supreme. Most often his activities in this sphere appear in jazz bands; but what he does, he does well. In finance and commerce he certainly does not suffer from stupor. Yet much of the feeling that exists against Jews is unjust. Some are by ordinary worldly standards good men. Some are bad—but this applies to all humanity. It is wholly wrong to judge Jews by the worst of them, as if there were no Gentiles fully as bad as these worst. It is easy to find a Jew who is worse than his Gentile neighbours, but it is equally easy to find one who is better. Much that is good in the world would have languished and died but for the support of Jews. Their partial stupor is in spiritual matters, and when it lifts from them they will once again resume the intense activity that marked them in our Lord's day. Even though some of the activity will be in apostasy, some also will end in faithful witness to God.
We must ever keep in mind that all spiritual things are not good things. Some are Divine, but others are utterly evil. It is when Israel's insensitiveness passes off in spiritual matters that their greatest and most active wickedness will appear, as well as their severest sufferings.
One of the greatest triumphs of the Slanderer is the successful propagation among most of humanity of the idea that what is spiritual is necessarily good. That lie does untold harm I Even now, as I write this, a movement is afoot in England to revive speaking in tongues. Ecclesiastics are being urged to support it wholeheartedly on the ground that it is a spiritual activity. So it is, in a measure; but it is an evil spiritual activity, because tongues under the guidance of the Holy Spirit have long since ceased, as the Apostle Paul foretold.
The word stupor occurs only in Rom. 11:8. In its context is the verb callous, pOraO or make insensitive, which occurs also in Mark 6:52, 8:17; John 14:40; 2. Cor. 3:14. The corresponding noun pOrOsis, insensitiveness, occurs in Mark 3:5; Rom. 11:25; Eph. 4:18. In John 12:40 the verb tuphloO, make blind, is associated with pOroO in an abbreviated reference to Isa. 6:9, 10; but the original quotation from Isaiah does not contain either word, but an entirely different one pachunO, stouten, here in Matt. 13:14, 15 and in Acts 28:27, only. We must be careful not to read these quotations into Romans 11—not that there is necessarily no connection, but because the contexts are different.
Perhaps someone may take exception to the assertion further back that the insensitiveness to which Paul refers is in what is spiritual, largely if not entirely. Yet how can it be otherwise in this context? The subject of Romans 11, and indeed in most of Romans, is what is spiritual. In Rom. 9:1-5 Paul lists the outstanding general blessings of Israel, and then abruptly leaves them to discuss blessings that are purely spiritual, not material and fleshly as well, as these eight are. In Chapters 9—11 Israel is placed beside Gentile believers for the setting out of information about Israel which we need to know. Throughout the only common ground between us and them is in matters spiritual. Nothing else has any relevance at all; and the fact that stands out most plainly from Rom. 11:25-32 is that Israel's spiritual blessings are in view. No other consideration comes in at all. Anyone who supposes that v. 27 has to do with anything else must himself be spiritually blind. To assume that those closing days in which Israel will need their Rescuer will also be times of Israel's insensitiveness is not only to go beyond the facts of Scripture but also beyond sober reason.
This brings us to the question of "the Apostasy." What is apostasy? Simply, standing away from truth. Now, it seems to have escaped general notice that nobody can apostatize from divine truth who has not first accepted it, in some measure at least. The actual process of "standing away" implies prior recognition of some sort. It is a positive action, not the negative action of merely ignoring the truth. One does not like it, so one takes a stand from it. Right through the history of the nominal church there have been revivals followed by apostasy, when people have deliberately stood away from revealed truth. Such as these are no~ "the Apostasy," and none of them can be, for there has never been any revival or fresh outburst of faith in Christendom so pronounced as to make any standing away from it sufficiently important to be so described, or any possibility of one. Any who suppose that the influence of true Christians has ever been so pronounced as that are simply deceiving themselves. Moreover, every expositor worthy of serious consideration realizes that "the Apostasy" is an apostasy of Israel, not of any Gentile company. Yet if there has not been, or will not be, as things are, any Gentile company of sufficient significance to be able to produce "the Apostasy" by standing away from the truth; even less can there be any such company of Israel. Present conditions must end before any so notable a company of Israel can come into being. Israel cannot apostatize now. To talk about "the Apostasy" setting in before the complement of the Gentiles is snatched away from this earth is no more sensible than talking about divorcing a person who is not even married! The Evangel now is of the uncircumcision. While it is in force, no covenant evangel is possible; consequently no one is eligible to apostatize from a covenant evangel. The matter is as simple as that—so simple that Scripture does not even trouble to explain anything so self-evident.
It has been very cogently said: "The rapture of a Gentile Church to heaven cannot possibly be a fulfilment of these Hebrew prophecies. Any pious Israelite would be shocked to think that 1. Thess. 4 was part of ancient Hebrew prophecy or even connected with it." Exactly so! Consequently, any system of interpretation which places 1. Thess. 4 within the framework of Israel's prophecies must be written off without further ado. And therefore 1. Thess. 4 must be fulfilled before any of Israel's unfulfilled prophecies can even start to resume fulfilment at all; and this includes "the Apostasy."
A further problem confronts us in 1. Thess. 5:4 (C.V.): "Now you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should be overtaking you as a thief." The Thessalonians would be able to recognize the approach of the Lord's Day as it begins to overtake the world, whereas the world would not. And we see that happening at this very moment; for all the signs are pointing plainly to the imminence of that Day. We perceive the signs. The world is altogether blind to them. However, this is not the point at issue; for it has been stated by some that the meaning is not that the Lord's Day was not to overtake the Thessalonians, but that it was not to overtake them as thief.
Let us take another look at it. Literally, it reads: "Now you, brethren, are not in darkness that the day, you, as thief, may be 'overtaking,' for you all are sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor yet of darkness. Consequently, then, we may not be drowsing, even as the rest, but we may be watching and we may be sober." The verb 'overtaking' is katalabE, from katalabanO, get down, grasp. The first occurrence of this form is in Mark 9:18: "And whenever it may be getting him down, it is tearing him." Next, John 12:35: "Be walking while ye have the light that the dark time may not be downing you," or "grasping you." The third is in the passage under examination. Already it is plain that overtake is discordant. It means something more than and other than "get down" or "grasp"; for it contains, rather, the idea of catching up to and even surging beyond, as when one runner in a race overtakes the other. But the idea of "the Day catching up to and outrunning the Thessalonians is quite foreign to the context, as if they were desperately racing to escape from it. Anyhow, night thieves do not usually overtake their victims; if they happen to disturb them they are more likely to grasp them and to down them, as this passage implies.
Take this verse with its context, and the unreasonableness of the idea "overtake" becomes evident. The Lord's Day is coming in as night-thief. Those who may be saying "Peace and stability" will have complete ruin standing over them unawares and may by no means escape. "Now you, brethren," are in an entirely different situation. You are not liable to be downed, grasped, by the Lord's Day as the others are, "as thief." "Consequently, then, we may not be drowsing, even as the rest, but we may be watching and we may be sober." Why? Because we are "all sons of light and sons of day." "Yet we, being of day, may be sober; putting on faith's cuirass and love's (cuirass) and helmet, expectation of salvation." Why? "Seeing that God has not placed us into wrath" (or "indignation") "but into procuring of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ."
How anyone can read this passage as meaning that the Lord's Day would in any circumstances get down and grasp the Thessalonians, or us, is a mystery! Yet, apparently, even at the time some of Paul's readers so misunderstood it, with the result that he had to supplement it with 2. Thess. 2:1-5. Even so, some of us still fail to understand his meaning.
A full statement of our present knowledge concerning the Lord's Day, with the supporting evidence, is set out in Vol. 19, pp. 251-255 and Vol. 20, pp. 269-274. For convenience the findings may be summarized thus: The time periods of as yet unfulfilled Hebrew Prophecy and the Lord's Day itself do not cover the same span of time; for it appears that the seventieth Seven must run before the Lord's Day starts. The precise time of that start is not defined for us anywhere, because it is no business of ours at present. The Lord's Day starts some time after Matt. 24: 29-31, but no mention is made there of a period when anyone can plausibly say, "Peace and security" (1. Thess. 5:3). The coming of the Son of Mankind either precedes or marks the beginning of the Lord's Day and cannot scripturally be equated with the presence of the Lord Jesus in 2. Thess. 2:8, nor His presence then with that in 1. Thess. 4:15 and 2. Thess. 2:1. The term "the Lord's Day" is found in the Greek Scriptures only in Acts 2:20, 1. Thess. 5:2, 2.Pet. 3:10 and "the Day of the Lord" in 1. Thess. 2:2 and "the Lordly Day" in Rev. 1:12. The difference is largely one of emphasis. In the Septuagint, "Day of Lord" occurs in Isa. 2:12; 13:6, 9; Eze. 13:6; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11; 3:14; Amos 5:18; Obad 15; Zeph. 1:14, 14; Mal. 4:5 and "Day of the Lord" in Eze. 30:3; Amos 5:20; Zeph. 1:7. The form kuriakE is absent. The fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 is severed off from the Lord's Day by the fact that it includes no extermination, no darkness, no overtaking as thief, no Temple of God, as at the point of time covered by 2. Thess. 2:3-12; and there is no room for it in the horrifying series of events set out in the prophecy of Matt. 24.
Nevertheless, we have to keep our balance. Although we have no part on earth in the Lord's Day, we must remember that it is the Lord's Day and that when it happens we shall be ever with Him. Consequently we shall share His pain as He witnesses the horrors let loose through the activities of the man of lawlessness and his dupes that are to scourge this earth after we have been snatched away; and we shall share the joys of His vindication when the Lord's Day comes. His vindication will be our vindication too. To the world we are of no importance now. In that Day we shall still be of no importance in ourselves but glorious beyond measure in Him.
We are awaiting a Saviour, so the Apostle Paul tells us in Phil. 3:20; and we are awaiting Him from and out of our Homeland in the heavens, in which Homeland is our citizenship. Taken with 1. Thess. 4:13-17 this ought to be clear enough. When He is ready, He will snatch us away to meet Him in air, in the lowest part of the heavens, but none the less within them, into our Homeland to which we belong. Here, again, nothing is said in either passage about Him coming to us. On the contrary, we will be going to Him and with Him to where we belong. As Mr. Otis Q. Sellers said, we have substituted our going to Him for His coming to us—and very rightly, for we have gone back to Scripture, to the unquestionable fact that in none of these passages does Paul speak of His coming to us. If only people could appreciate this simple fact, how many problems would vanish at once! Perhaps the matter would be plainer if we had a more definite idea of what "coming" implies. I cannot call to mind any passage of this sort in which Scripture uses" come" and" coming" where coming to earth, to the actual solid ground, is not stated or implied. We find that where earth is contrasted with heaven or the heavens, the contrast is between solid ground and the air or something beyond. One has to say "beyond" in this context, for although outer interstellar space may sometimes be meant, usually Scripture is referring to something not only outside space the contents of which we can see or measure, but also beyond the present capabilities of our minds to understand at all. As usual too, where such concepts are in view Scripture is most careful to avoid explanations; for in such circumstances they can only mislead. But there is no obscurity about "earth." It means the solid surface of this planet—but never is there any element of indefinability about it as sometimes when "the heavens" are referred to.
Some minds seem to thrive on mystification, but Scripture always avoids it; so they speculate about "the heavens" and even "superheavens" instead of following the reticence of Scripture and refusing to chatter about things that God has not chosen to reveal. Even worse than such behaviour is the deliberate invention of notions such as the much talked-of "secret rapture," an expression which is nowhere used in Scripture. Yet it is in free use by people who like to be called "believers" and who would be horrified if they were told that their action is plain unbelief and a most impertinent addition to God's Word. In our Vol. 21, pp. 266-268, Mr. Thomson admirably exposes one such example of tampering with Scripture. The offender contends, without attempting to offer proof, that our resurrection will be "a quiet, secret one where Christ the Head and the church which is His body are united and manifested in glory (Col. 3:4)." Yet this passage says nothing about resurrection, let alone a quiet one or a secret one.
The trouble with this particular person is that he is trying to work up some sort of a case for a novel heresy which itself depends on another heresy, the now discredited "Acts 28:28 frontier" theory. From such people we should resolutely turn away. However good their intentions may be, they are in practise the most dangerous enemies of God's truth.
Friendly discussion of these problems has gone on in our pages for some years now, and from it I for one have learnt much, and learnt it chiefly from careful consideration of opposing views. One conclusion has been established beyond doubt: 1. Thess. 4:13-17 is not a part of ancient Hebrew Prophecy or even connected with it. Mr. Thomson contended that any pious Israelite would be shocked at such an idea (Vol. 16, p. 168), and he was entirely right! We simply must not mix Israel's prophecies with Paul's prophecies for us; and this truth is the key to understanding the latter. Mr. Thomson wrote: "The rapture of a Gentile Church to heaven cannot possibly be a fulfilment of these Hebrew prophecies." This key truth unlocks the doors of all these problems.
Take a dominating passage, Acts 3:19-21, and apply the principle. It deals with sending Jesus, Israel's Messiah, from heaven to earth, and the repentance Israel must show before that can happen. So we ask: "What has that to do with 1. Thess. 4:13-17?" The answer is, and unavoidably must be, "Nothing whatever." At once this rules out any interpretation of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 which involves Christ leaving heaven and coming to earth, or involving the word "coming" at all. At once we are delivered from a host of problems and difficulties invented by foolish expositors. And we are delivered, too, from the mistakes of wiser men; for example, Tregelles' view that 1. Thess. 4:13-17 cannot be fulfilled before "the Apostasy" of 2. Thess. 2:3 takes place; for this view entangles it in Israel's times and seasons.
How I wish I had perceived this so clearly years ago! Several things I have written meantime would never have got into print. Certainly I am not blameless in this matter; but the chief blame rests on those who have caused the confusion in the first place by making pronouncements which they never thought out fully.
Rom. 11:25-27 is a special case, for it is a prophecy about Israel written for ourselves. Consequently, it impinges on Israel's prophecies as well as ours, but it does not mingle them. Israel's insensitiveness is to last till the complement of the Gentiles may be entering. That is the only point of contact, and it tells us nothing about Matt. 13:14, 15, Acts 28:28 or Acts 3:19-21. What relation it may have to these passages is, so far as we are concerned, wholly deductive; and however sound our deductions may appear to us to be, they are not themselves God's Word. Consequently we invite confusion and error if we obstinately insist on treating them thus.
Once again Acts 28:28 has had to appear; and about it one word more only, I hope, remains to be said. Nobody, so far as I am aware, has ever taught that the saving work of God has been taken away from the Israelite or the Jew by race; but from Israel (Vol. 19, p. 64). The Israelite can enjoy it, but only if, like Paul, he surrenders all claim to covenant standing. It is the complete eclipse of covenant standing that makes noncovenant standing possible at all. So the individual Jew, even though he may claim to be Israelite, must surrender even that vestige of covenant standing before the saving work of God can reach him at all. He has to stand on level with the Gentile if he would stand at all.
I would much like to be assured that after this we need no longer argue about Acts 28:28 or its relation to Prophecy. There is, however, little hope of such relief; for the successors of J. J. B. Coles decline to answer criticisms of his "frontier" theory or the doctrines that depend on it; and apparently there is no way of forcing them into the open. So their poison seeps everywhere and most effectively precludes the formation of any united front against the manifold errors of Christendom. To change the figure; as always, the darnel crowds out the wheat, and the harm done is specially disastrous at this time when the faith has almost vanished from the earth. All we can do is witness as faithfully as we are able, listening for the shout which will bring us from patient endurance to triumph inexpressible.
After the foregoing had been typed for the printer, my friend, Mr. Marcus A. Meredith, of Swansea, wrote to me with a truly brilliant suggestion concerning the theory that Acts 3:20-21 precludes any fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 until the time of the coming of the Lord Jesus to the Mount of Olives. He asked one simple question: "When the Lord Jesus appeared on the Damascus road to Paul, was this a violation of Acts 3?" The answer—the only possible answer—is that it was not. So at once we perceive that if the Lord Jesus could appear in air as He did then, so soon after the pronouncement of Acts 3:20, 21; He certainly can appear in air again and can snatch us away without violating it. I have consistently argued all along that the fulfilment of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 is the next event of unfulfilled Prophecy; and now the objection based on Acts 3:20, 21 falls flat on its face, so to speak, and can be ignored. For, note, the account of Paul's experience does not say that the Lord's feet touched ground on that occasion; and anyhow, that appearance did not occur on the Mount of Olives, as will His coming in Acts 1:11. So we can now with assurance keep these things apart from Paul's prophecies concerning ourselves, as we ought to have done all along.
This contribution by Mr. Meredith places the coping stone on my case set out in "Acts and 1. Thessalonians" and this paper; and I most earnestly hope it will receive the careful attention called for in view of our present circumstances. Some thing is most seriously wrong when sober and respected Christians can write to the effect that Jewish believers of the Evangel of the circumcision are those to whom the prophecy of 1. Thess. 4:13-17 applies. This epistle is the least "Jewish" of the Church Epistles; yet this unquestionable fact seems to make no impression at all on such writers. How strange!
What I have written in these two papers does not seriously affect what I wrote in Vol. 24, p. 264 and before. I believe that I am right now in teaching that in 1. Thess. 4:13-17 the Lord Jesus will not leave the heavens; but if I should turn out to be mistaken in this, what I wrote then will stand again. Either way, no difference will have been made to the fact that we must not read 1. Thess. 4:13-17 into Israel's times and prophecies.
R.B.W. Last updated 15.4.2006