The two responses to the prewrath position are worth studying in themselves. I point out that prewrath is making somewhat of a debut in this edition of Zondervan’s book. The last edition included the pretrib view, the midtrib view, and the posttrib view. Now with prewrath replacing the midtrib view, this gives us the opportunity to see in print how pretrib and posttrib respond to Alan Hultberg’s presentation of prewrath.
Craig Blaising writes the pretrib response. It becomes obvious within the first three pages that Blaising is going to take the debate into the arena of dispensationalism. This did not come as a total surprise to me since Progressive Dispensationalism is Blaising’s area of expertise, having coauthored Progressive Dispensationalism along with Darrell Bock. Here I was disappointed. Instead of addressing the true nature of the debate, Blaising mischaracterizes Hultberg’s position. He labels Hultberg’s view as supersessionist trying to cite David Turner against his position. Also, Blaising finds Hultberg’s point that the church will enter Daniel’s 70th week to be unconvincing in support that the church will not experience a pretrib rapture. He claims that Progressive Dispensationalism has no problem with seeing the church both before the rapture and after the rapture.
Blaising points to his primary essay which shows that the parousia of Christ is a complex event involving the labor pains, the rapture, the great tribulation, and the return of Christ. This can also be termed the Day of the LORD. So Blaising agrees with Hultberg when he sets forth the idea that the Day of the LORD includes the rapture, the eschatological wrath of God, and the return of Christ; Blaising just thinks Hultberg doesn’t include enough in that complex event. (Toward the end of his response he states, “The foremost problem with the prewrath rapture view, as it seems to me, is its reductionist view of the day of the Lord.”) He also asserts that the gathering of the elect in Matthew 24:31 is the OT prophesied event of the gathering of the nation of Israel as described in Deuteronomy 30.
Concerning II Thessalonians 2, I mentioned already that Blaising has another interpretation of verse 3. Since this is a major battleground between the two positions, it seems only logical that Blaising would bring it up. You are just going to have to read Blaising’s alternate understanding of this passage to see if you believe it has any merit.
Concerning the book of Revelation, Blaising states that Hultberg has not proven the identification of the rapture in either passage which he cites, neither chapter 7 nor chapter 14. He states that there is no mention of resurrection, transformation, or catching up in either of these passages. He also postulates that perhaps Revelation 7:9-17 does not occur in heaven at all but perhaps on the new earth. For the identification of the sixth seal as the beginning of the Day of the LORD’s wrath, Blaising points out that Hultberg is not consistent with his view that the wrath is seen as just arriving at the sixth seal. There is another identical use of the aorist verb at Revelation 11:18 which Hultberg admits is at the end of a period of God’s wrath. So the sixth seal as a time marker for the Day of the LORD could be retroactive just as the use in Revelation 11:18 is retroactive as Hultberg admits.
Douglas Moo writes his adversative (his word) from the posttrib point of view. He admits up front that Hultberg knows more about the book of Revelation than he does. But he still attempts to show why classic posttrib is the more preferable view. He begins asserting that Daniel’s 70th week is not necessarily a seven year period at the end of the age. This is problematic because Hultberg did not spend any time whatsoever developing this in his case. Hultberg just dove into the issue of the timing of the rapture without building this foundation. This plays into Moo’s thesis that believers are not necessarily rescued by rapture at the onset of the Day of the LORD. Examining language in I Thessalonians 4-5 he shows that instead believers will not be overtaken by surprise since becoming Christians has allowed them to enter into the eschatological day, the last days in which we are living.
Moo focuses the rest of his time in the book of Revelation, which is understandable because that is where the majority of the disagreement comes from between Hultberg’s presentation of prewrath and classic posttrib. For starters, Moo suggests that the 144,000 of Revelation 7:1-8 and the great multitude of Revelation 7:9-17 both represent the church. This skews the timing issue which Hultberg has presented as a sixth seal rapture. Moo also mentions two other possible references to the rapture which are Revelation 11:11-12 and 20:4 which he presents in his primary essay. Since Hultberg relies so heavily on chronological sequence, Revelation 20:4 gives him contextual problems since this is termed the first resurrection. Hultberg has interacted with this briefly in his primary essay, but does not answer definitively what is meant by this first resurrection. Hultberg has suggested it is either chronologically displaced or refers only to the resurrection of martyrs. Moo exploits the admission of a chronological displacement since undermining the chronology of prewrath would be a point in favor of posttrib, and he also points out the weakness of a martyrs only resurrection after the return of Christ.
Moo then revisits Hultberg’s chronological claims in Revelation 6-8 and 14-16. Moo has no problem seeing the rapture in the passages that Hultberg cites. In Moo’s opinion, these passages simply were not meant to teach a chronological progression. He states that the sequence in which John sees these things is not necessarily the sequence in which they occur on earth. He admits that there may be a parallel between the two passages, but states that we cannot be certain concerning the nature of timing. He notes that while the bowls are described as God’s wrath, the trumpets are never described in such terms. This undermines the idea of the prewrath rapture as Hultberg has presented it in the sequence of Revelation 6-8 (at the sixth seal) and Revelation 14-16 (at the parousia harvest of the Son of Man).
I want to bring up one issue which Hultberg mentions in his rejoinder. Blaising has stated that Hultberg’s view means he cannot be a Progressive Dispensationalist, which Blaising says Hultberg claims to be one. I find this to be a bit disconcerting that Blaising considers himself such an authority on Progressive Dispensationalism that he can determine who is “in” or “out”. I have read Bock and Blaising’s book and find nothing in Hultberg’s statements which would indicate he should be ostracized from that viewpoint. I quote Hultberg in his rejoinder to close this post. He writes, “Blaising claims I argue Matthew is supersessionist (teaching that the church forever replaces Israel), a perspective he maintains is wrong. However, I make no such claim. I merely show that Matthew views the church as “in some sense” the inheritor of the messianic kingdom. The church is the messianic community founded by Jesus, the present phase of the kingdom. One would be hard-pressed to find a Matthean scholar who would disagree with this, including David Turner, whom Blaising cites against me. My only point is that one cannot argue that in Matthew 24 Jesus speaks to his disciples as representatives of Israel and not the church.” I bring this up because Progressive Dispensationalism has specifically not made an issue out of diverse timings on the rapture. If comments like these in Blaising’s critique continue, an issue will have to be made about it. That would be unfortunate.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman
“All of the language describing the church in the New Testament is either directly drawn from or is compatible with the genres of covenant promise and the Messianic kingdom.”
A quote by Craig Blaising from Progressive Dispensationalism