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This is a little different from my normal blog format, and it’s partially because my normal podcast doesn’t have an episode this week, but it’s also because it wasn’t written as a blog.
What you’ll read below stems from a discussion I led in my small group a couple of months ago. We spent four weeks on how to read Matthew 24, with me making the case that the entire thing is prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and that it is not about a supposed rapture of the church. One of our members respectfully disagreed and said she didn’t see my points, so we set up our next discussion to be a non-debate of sorts. She presented her case, and we opened things up for questions, and then I presented mine and took questions. We didn’t have a back-and-forth exchange where we tried to demolish each other, but we did have a charitable exchange of ideas specifically addressing our interpretations of Mathew 24:36-51.
Here is my presentation, wherein I attempt to disprove the notion that Matthew 24 teaches a pre-tribulational rapture:
There are two ultimate points of disagreement here:
- Has all of Matthew 24 been fulfilled? My position is obviously that it has and that it doesn’t teach a rapture of the church.
- The driving force behind the doctrine of the rapture is rooted in a distinction between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church.
The system known as dispensationalism and the doctrine of the rapture were invented by John Darby in 1830s England and were popularized by the 1850s. Its core distinctives were that Israel and the Church have essentially nothing to do with each other, so God has to remove the Church from the world in order to finally deal with Israel again. Therefore, the rapture doctrine was developed.
What is important, however, is to let Scripture interpret Scripture, especially when the second person of the Trinity interprets it.
Before his crucifixion, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees in John 5 for not seeing that the Scriptures – which in his day only meant the Old Testament – were all about him. After his resurrection, he does a Bible study in Luke 24 with two disciples on the road to Emmaus about how the Old Testament points to him.
We get a window of what that looked like from Paul in Col. 2:17. The Old Testament is a shadow of the things to come, and the substance belongs to Christ himself. Gal. 3:7-10 tells us that the true children of Abraham are those born of faith and chapter 6 refers to the Church as the “Israel of God.” Romans 9 digs in even deeper: “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel;” those who belong to the true, spiritual Israel are those who belong to the promise of the Gospel. The Church did not replace Israel as the people of God. Rather, the true Israel was expanded to include those of all tribes, peoples, and nations.
What we see consistently is that Israel is the parenthesis to the global church. Dispensationalism gets this exactly backwards.
Charles Spurgeon, a contemporary of Darby’s in England, said this, which has been edited to tame some of his sarcasm: “Distinctions have been drawn by certain exceedingly wise men (measured by their own estimate of themselves), between the people of God who lived before the coming of Christ, and those who lived afterwards. We have even heard it asserted that those who lived before the coming of Christ do not belong to the church of God!
“Why, every child of God in every place stands on the same footing; the Lord has not some children best beloved, some second-rate offspring, and others whom he hardly cares about.
“These who saw Christ’s day before it came, had a great difference as to what they knew, and perhaps in the same measure a difference as to what they enjoyed while on earth meditating upon Christ; but they were all washed in the same blood, all redeemed with the same ransom price, and made members of the same body.
“Israel in the covenant of grace is not natural Israel, but all believers in all ages. Before the first advent, all the types and shadows all pointed one way —they pointed to Christ, and to him all the saints looked with hope. Those who lived before Christ were not saved with a different salvation to that which shall come to us. They exercised faith as we must; that faith struggled as ours struggles, and that faith obtained its reward as ours shall.”
But how is it that the true Israel is the Church? Because the Church is in Christ (Romans 6) – we’re in or connected to the only faithful Israelite who ever lived, who wasn’t even 100% from the line of Abraham, as he was also descended from Gentile women – Rahab and Ruth the Moabite.
Just like Jesus is the second and true Adam, he’s also the second and true Israel.
Now, we have to remember that Matthew was written to a primarily Jewish audience. See if you can pick up on some themes.
Jesus goes to Egypt under a man named Joseph in chapter 2.
He comes out of Egypt and goes through the Red Sea of baptism in chapter 3
He then spends 40 days in the wilderness and actually obeys God in chapter 4, on the way to his conquest of the land promised to him, which is the entire earth.
And so we come to the beginning of Matthew 24:
The disciples ask 1) when will the temple be destroyed and 2) what will be the signs of the end of the old covenant age and the Lord’s coming.
This is all one thing in their minds, and Jesus responds as he has consistently taught them.
Remember: Scripture interprets Scripture. We’ve already (Author’s note: By already, I mean in previous weeks) talked about how the Old Testament uses the phrase, “The coming of the LORD,” but what about Matthew itself?”
I’ve made a point to use the plural “y’all” in the following verses, so we know exactly who Jesus is talking to.
“When they persecute y’all in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to y’all, y’all will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” – Matt. 10:23
So, the Son of Man will come in some sense before the Apostles will have had the chance to fully evangelize first century Palestine. What else do we have?
“Truly, I say to y’all, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” – Matt. 16:28
He’s already been teasing this conversation for some time, and he tells his disciples to not be led astray, to not be alarmed by wars and rumors of wars, that they will be delivered to tribulation and murdered. He tells them that when they see the military force spoken of by Daniel, which the original readers would have understood, to get out of town. Don’t turn back.
If this is a rapture text, what sense would it make for Jesus to warn people to 1) get out of town and 2) not to go back and get extra clothing? If they were being raptured, they wouldn’t need either of those, and they wouldn’t even be able to because they’d be in midair. This is Jerusalem’s parallel to Sodom. The powers of the heavens will be shaken (more on that shortly), and the Son of Man will come on the clouds in glory. This equates him to being God and is parallel to passages like Exodus 34 and Isaiah 19. He then sends his angels out in gospel harvest throughout the world, which is still going on now.
In verse 34, Jesus tells his followers that the generation he was talking to wouldn’t pass away, putting a timeframe of about 40 years for these things to happen. If they didn’t, Jesus was a fraud and we shouldn’t worship him. We have to be careful with verse 35 about heaven and earth passing away. Jesus isn’t saying that heaven and earth will be destroyed and then recreated. Remember that in Romans 8, creation groans and anticipates the revealing of God’s people. It WANTS us to be revealed, not because the creation will be destroyed, but because it will be renewed by God working through his renewed people. We’re new creations, but we have the same bodies and souls as before.
There are two texts Jesus is referring to. The first is Jeremiah 33:25, where God equates his establishment of covenant with how surely heaven and earth are established. Jesus here isn’t talking about destroying and recreating everything that exists but establishing a new order – the new covenant that we’re in now.
The second is Isaiah 65, where, after God pronounces judgement on covenant-breaking Israel and says he’ll save his elect, he says he creates a new heavens and earth but also says people will still die and sinners will still die and go to hell, so he’s not talking about literally recreating heaven and earth but the new covenant order.
And on to our text for today, finally.
Concerning the day and hour of what? Of all the things he just spoke of. In his humanity, Jesus didn’t know the exact day or hour of his coming and Jerusalem’s destruction, but he DID know a timeframe – this generation.
In verses 37-39, He says the coming of the Son of Man, which I’ve already established has precedent for not being the Second Coming but judgement, will be like the days of Noah. By that, he means that the unbelievers swept away won’t have a clue about what’s coming. They’ll be doing their thing until verse 40 when one is taken and another left. Well, who was left in the days of Noah? Noah and his family were left. Everyone else had their lives taken. This takes us all the way to verse 44 with, “Therefore y’all must be ready,” because he’s still talking to the disciples, and he’s not telling Peter, James, and John to be prepared to be taken out of the world via rapture.
Who then is the faithful and wise servant/slave? The one who obeys Christ. The one who is in Christ, and our master and Lord Jesus has set us over all his possessions, which is everything. We currently reign with him over everything, though that hasn’t been totally realized. We’re in the already/not yet.
Unbelieving Jews believed that Yahweh was delayed in sending his Messiah, and beat their fellow Jews who believed in Jesus, and they got drunk, and Christ came on a day they didn’t expect in AD 70, and he judged them with the harshest of condemnation. Remember that in Matthew 11 he said that it will be “more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for y’all.”
But there is good news. We don’t have to worry that we’ll be left behind, because we’re in Christ, and he doesn’t lose any of the sheep that the Father has given him. He has made the perfect sacrifice on our behalf in order to present his church as blameless before the Father, and our salvation is secure in him.