The Rapture and 1 Thessalonians 4

Some Christians believe in a two-fold coming of Christ.  They say the first coming is a rapture where Jesus will quietly and secretly take his people and they will simply disappear from the face of the earth.  The Scripture used to back up this theory is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.  For example, verse 17 says, …then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air… (NASB).   Much more could be said on this, but I like William Hendriksen’s brief critique:

“Dispensationalists like to stress the statement, ‘and the dead in Christ will rise first.’  They interpret as if the entire passage were somewhat on this order: ‘And the dead in Christ shall rise first; then, a thousand years later, the dead not in Christ shall rise.’

“However, nowhere in the entire paragraph does Paul say, ‘then the dead not in Christ shall rise.’  Paul is thinking only of believers, of no one else.  He is drawing a contrast between the dead in Christ and the still living in Christ.”

“On the one hand there will be those believers who at Christ’s coming will already have died.  On the other hand, there will be the survivors, children of God who will still be living on earth.  What the apostle is saying, then, amounts to this: ‘Don’t worry about your dear ones in the Lord, who have already died.  In no sense at all will they suffer any disadvantage when Jesus returns.  On the contrary, those who are still alive on earth will have to wait a moment until the souls of those who died have re-inhabited their bodies.  In that moment of waiting the survivors will be changed in the twinkling of an eye.  Then together, as one large multitude, those who formerly constituted the two groups will go forth to meet the Lord.”

Also, as far as a “secret” rapture goes, Hendriksen points out verse 16 in 1 Thessalonians 4:

“Note the words: ‘For with a shouted command, with a voice of an archangel and with a trumpet of the God the Lord himself will descend from heaven.’  This has been called ‘the noisiest verse in the Bible.’  It surely indicates that the coming of the Lord will be public and audible.”

William Hendriksen, The Bible on The Life Hereafter (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959), 183-184 (emphasis in original).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The 2 Witnesses of Revelation 11

(This is a slightly edited repost from May, 2008)

Just who are those two witnesses in Revelation 11:1-14? Who are those two “olive trees” and “lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth”?  Well, some say literally there will be two specific men/witnesses with unsurpassed power at the end of the age.  Others say similarly that these are two prophets who prophesy during the rapture.  On the allegorical side, some have suggested that these two are the Law and the Prophets or the Old and New Testaments.

I agree with the commentators who say that the two witnesses symbolize the Christian church between Christ’s ascension and return (Beale, Mounce, Hendriksen, Poythress, etc).  Hendriksen said it like this: “These witnesses symbolize the church militant bearing testimony through its ministers and missionaries throughout the present dispensation [age].” (More Than Conquerors [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1940], 155).  Similarly, Bauckham: “Two individuals here represent the church in its faithful witness to the world” (The Theology of the Book of Revelation [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993], 84).  Finally, Poythress agrees: “We find here a symbolic representation of Christian witness…[the two witnesses] represent the witnessing church, just as the seven lampstands in 1:12, 20 represent the seven churches of 1:11” (The Returning King [Phillipsburg: P&R, 2000], 127).

Greg Beale gives these reasons why this interpretation fits well:

1) The witnesses are called ‘two lampstands,’ similar to Rev 1.20, where John explicitly calls the churches “lampstands.”

2) In comparing Rev 11.7 and Dan 7.21 (clearly John alludes to Daniel here), Daniel notes that persecution is aimed not at a few individuals, but corporate Israel (called “the saints”).

3) In Rev 11.9-13, the entire world will see the defeat and resurrection of the witnesses – this means that the witnesses are visible throughout the earth – around the globe.

4) The two witnesses prophesy for 3.5 years, the same length of time other followers of Christ are oppressed (11.2, 12.6, 14; 13.6). Especially relevant is chapter 12, where the woman fled persecution for the same amount of time. Beale notes that the woman and the two witnesses signify the same thing: the corporate people of God, the church.

5) Elsewhere in Revelation, the entire community of believers is identified as the source of the testimony to/of Jesus (6.9, 12.11, 17; 19.10, 20.4).

6) Finally, note that the powers of Moses and Elijah in the OT are attributed to both of the witnesses, not split between the two witnesses (see 11.6 for example).  Beale: “They are identical prophetic twins.”

The above six points are a summarized version of Beale’s commentary: Revelation (Grand Rapid: Eerdmans, 1999), 574-5.

See also Dennis Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001), 170-1; he compares 11.7 and 13.7 to make the same point as the above named authors.

rev shane lems
hammond, wi

A Readable Commentary on Revelation

If you’re looking for a clear, concise, readable, and solid commentary on Revelation, I recommend Vern Poythress’ The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2000).  Though this commentary doesn’t comment on all the details in Revelation, it does a fine job of providing a big picture overview of the book.

I appreciate Poythress’ commentary because so often commentators spend too much time and energy on the smaller details of Revelation.  Because the details are the main focus, the big picture is lost.  Poythress keeps the main point the main point: “God rules history and will bring it to its consummation in Christ.  If you read it with that main point in mind, you will be able to understand it.  You will not necessarily understand every detail – neither do I.  But it is not necessary to understand every detail in order to profit spiritually from it” (p. 11).

He continues by saying we sometimes have trouble interpreting Revelation because we approach it from the wrong end.

“Suppose I start by asking, ‘What do the bear’s feet in Revelation 13:2 stand for?’  If I start with such detail, and ignore the big picture, I am asking for trouble.  God is at the center of Revelation (Rev. 4-5).  We must start with him and with the contrasts between him and his satanic opponents.  If instead we try right away to puzzle out details, it is as if we tried to use a knife by grasping it by the blade instead of the handle.  We are starting at the wrong end.”

“Revelation is a picture book, not a puzzle book.  Don’t try to puzzle it out.  Don’t become too preoccupied with isolated details.  Rather, become engrossed in the overall story.  Praise the Lord.  Cheer for the saints.  Detest the beast.  Long for the final victory” (p 12-13).

In case you are wondering, Poythress’ work resonates with other commentaries such as William Hendriksen’s excellent More than Conquerors, Dennis Johnsons’ Triumph of the Lamb, and Gregory Beale’s NIGTC on Revelation.  Though there aren’t any study questions, Poythress’ commentary would be a good book to use for a Bible study on Revelation (one might break it up into 14 lessons, give or take).  There’s an exhaustive Scripture index as well, which I’ve found helpful.  If you’re looking for a readable commentary on Revelation, get Poythress, and be sure to check out the other ones I’ve just mentioned.

Vern Poythress, The Returning King (Phillipsburg; P&R, 2000).

shane lems