A Case for the Prewrath Rapture by Alan Hultberg

The second position presented in Zondervan’s latest version of Three Views on the Rapture is the Prewrath Rapture.  In every circumstance in this book, the positions are listed in this order, pretribulational, prewrath, then posttribulational.  The reason is most likely that the pretrib position places the rapture at the earliest chronological point in the end times sequence, posttrib puts it at the latest possible point in the end times sequence, and prewrath puts it somewhere between those two.  So pretrib presented the case first, followed by prewrath, then last of all there is posttrib.  The responses are listed the same way.  If Blaising has a response, his is listed first.  If Moo has a response, his is listed last.  Hultberg’s response is either first or last depending on which one he is responding to.  Maybe that’s not detrimental to this review, but I thought it was interesting.

Alan Hultberg writes his thesis on the Prewrath Rapture attempting to prove two foundational points.  The first is that the church will enter the last half of Daniel’s 70th week.  The second is that between the rapture of the church and the return of Christ is when the eschatological wrath of God will occur here on the earth, which Hultberg will later equate with the Day of the LORD.  As my readers can probably see, the first point is against the pretrib position while the second point is against the posttrib position.

Hultberg begins in the Olivet Discourse showing that the plain language that Jesus used shows that the church will experience the great tribulation of which Jesus spoke.  He interacts with Walvoord and Renald Showers who assert that Jesus was addressing the disciples as members of the Jewish community.  Hultberg doesn’t object to this categorization.  Rather he concedes this point and moves to establish that the church in some sense inherited the promises of the Jewish kingdom.  Rather than see a radical discontinuity, Hultberg sees a direct continuity between the twelve disciples and the new testament church.  His main points are that Israel comes to its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ, the new community that Jesus founded was centered in the twelve disciples, and that the purposes of the discourses in Matthew were to train the church in discipleship.  But the point here that sticks out more than others is that “The Jewish rejection of Jesus leads to the rejection of Israel and the establishment of the church.”  The parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33-45 especially with the proclamation of verse 43 is where Hultberg makes his case.

Hultberg is not so concerned with proving from the Olivet Discourse alone that the rapture is included in Matthew 24:31 with the gathering of the elect as with the fact that the church will live through the description of events that Jesus gives.  The sign that Jesus stated that the disciples are to watch for is the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel.  The church will see this sign and enter the great tribulation.

Hultberg moves to the Thessalonian epistles to continue his case.  He notes the dependence of Paul’s description of the coming of Christ (in I and II Thessalonians) to the content of the Olivet Discourse.  The specific event of the rapture described in I Thessalonians 4:13-17 has parallels in the Olivet Discourse such as a trumpet blast, angels, along with Jesus in the clouds to gather the saints.  He brings II Thessalonians 1:6-10 into the picture noting the further parallels with the glorious coming of Christ with His angels.  So according to Hultberg, even though the rapture is not specifically mentioned in the Olivet Discourse, the apostle Paul places it at the gathering of the elect in Matthew 24:31.

If up to this point Hultberg has been laying the foundation, now he begins driving anchors deep into the ground.  It is necessary to read the argumentations for yourself but I will attempt to sum up.  He asserts that I Thessalonians 5:1-11 continues the same topic that chapter 4 ended with, the coming of Christ and the rapture of the church.  These are identified with the phrase “the Day of the LORD”.  The coming of Christ as a thief does not mean as a signless event.  Interacting with Walvoord’s view, he states that the Day of the LORD would overtake believers, but not as a thief.  The exhortation for watchfulness on behalf of believers shows that they will experience it in some way.  While unbelievers will be overtaken by the wrath, believers will be brought to salvation not having to experience that wrath.  Moving to the second Thessalonian epistle, Hultberg continues Paul’s line of thinking in showing that the rapture will be preceded by certain events, including the abomination of desolation.  II Thessalonians 2 is straight forward.  The coming of Christ and gathering of the saints (which occur together) will not occur until after the revealing of the man of sin, also known as the antichrist.  The church must enter the Danielic tribulation and see the abomination of desolation in order for this to occur.

Now Hultberg moves to the book of Revelation, where I think he excels.  He concludes his first section by pointing to passages like Revelation 7:9-17 and Revelation 13:1-18 which picture the church either in the Danielic tribulation or coming out of the Danielic tribulation.  Then he moves into his second section which is designed to differentiate between Prewrath and Posttrib.  Essentially the idea is that even though the church will witness the abomination of desolation and enter the Danielic tribulation, there is a rapture which occurs before the wrath of God which spans a length of time.  The sequence which Hultberg illustrates points to “a complex parousia involving the rapture, an outpouring of wrath, and the return of Christ to earth.”  While the rapture occurs after the midpoint of Daniel’s seventieth week, it also occurs before the end of Daniel’s seventieth week.

Two passages are cited to give this chronological sequence in the book of Revelation.  The first is Revelation 6-8.  Hultberg has already spent considerable time in noting that the great multitude of Revelation 7:9-17 is the church.  Now he sets forth the Prewrath, sixth seal rapture as taught by Rosenthal and VanKampen.  But intertwined with his view is that Revelation 14-16 also portrays the rapture, something that neither Rosenthal nor VanKampen taught.  Hultberg sees the rapture occur at the sixth seal which results in the church before the throne of God in Revelation 7:9-17.  He also sees the rapture occur in what he terms “the parousia harvest” in Revelation 14:14-16 which results in the church before the throne of God in Revelation 15:2.  In Revelation 6-8, the wrath of God occurs after the rapture in the seven trumpet sequence.  In Revelation 14-16 the wrath of God occurs after the rapture in the wrath harvest (grape harvest) and the seven bowl sequence.  Within this section Hultberg frequently refers back to the Olivet Discourse and the Thessalonian epistles for comparison noting that they all have parallels with each other.

Hultberg represents the Prewrath position very well.  He has an additional task of anticipating the objections of his colleagues which will be giving their responses, and he has done this well also.  I believe his writing style is easy to follow while substantively engaging the opposing views.  I also laud the introduction of an official publication within the Prewrath community setting forth the idea that Revelation 14:14-16 pictures the rapture of the church.  The critiques of the Prewrath position will get their own post.  For now I encourage my readers to get this book.  There is much more in there that space constrains me from delving into.

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

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