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The ‘Rapture’: Clarifying Tommy Ice’s Clarifications

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This is the fourth installment of my response to Tommy Ice’s article “Answers and Clarifications for Gary DeMar.” You can reference the other three here, here, and here. I don’t expect Tommy or Brannon Howse to read them as thoroughly as I tried to write them, but I don’t want it to be said that there is not an answer for the type of prophetic material out there that is passed off as scholarship.

I realize that a lot of Christians don’t like the idea of ‘scholarship, ‘but when you study the Bible, it’s necessary to do the needed research. This means interacting with other positions in a thorough way. My four articles put the ball back in the court of Ice and Howse. Brannon Howse published the original article written by Ice. I’ve sent Brannon links to my response articles. I haven’t heard a word back from him. I’ll send him a l ink to this one as well and the rest of them when I complete the series.

It’s unfortunate that the young people who attend Brannon Howse’s worldview conferences are not getting the whole story on the topic of Bible prophecy if the content of Ice’s article is thought to be correct.

Tommy writes:

DeMar poses three questions that I have heard him raise for years. I have answered them in debates, which, of course he will never accept the answers. These questions are:

  1. Can you give me one verse that explicitly teaches a pretribulational
    rapture?
  2. Can you point out one verse from the New Testament that teaches that the
    temple will be rebuilt?
  3. Where in Revelation is the seven-year tribulation found?

I don’t recall Tommy ever giving an adequate answer to any of these questions in the debates we’ve had while I have repeatedly refuted the above dispensational claims in numerous articles and books. In this article, I’m going to respond to the first question about the “rapture.”

Tommy attempts to answer the “rapture” question by an appeal to Revelation 3:10–11:

“Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.”

The pre-trib rapture position is dependent on a number of prophetic beliefs being true, that is, supported by the Bible. I’ll list two of them: a church-Israel distinction and a gap between the 69th and 70th week of Daniel’s 70-week prophecy (Dan. 9:24–27). Not only is there no single passage or group of passages that support a pre-trib rapture, there are no passages to support a church-Israel distinction or an indeterminate gap in the 70-weeks prophecy. I’ve dealt with the so-called church-Israel distinction in chapter 1 of my book 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered and Daniel’s 70-weeks prophecy in Last Days Madness. The following is from the book Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants on why a gap between the 69th and 70th week of Daniel’s 70-week prophecy is “contrary to a vision of chronological sequence”:

The vision of Daniel’s seventy weeks . . . refers to a period of seventy sabbaticals or periods of seven years required to bring in the ultimate jubilee: release from sin, the establishment of everlasting righteousness, and consecration of the temple. . . . In the climactic seventieth week, Israel’s King arrives and dies vicariously for his people. Strangely, the desecration of the temple similar to Antiochus Epiphanes in the Greek empire is perpetrated by the Jewish people themselves, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem. These events are fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the coming King. His crucifixion is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices and the basis of the new covenant with the many. His death is ‘not for himself,’ but rather vicarious. The rejection of Jesus the Messiah and the desecration of him as the true Temple by his trial by the high priest result in judgment upon the Herodian temple, carried out eventually in A.D. 70. The notion of a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week is contrary to a vision of chronological sequence. The prophecy is remarkable for its precision as it fits the event concerning Jesus of Nazareth. [1]

If Tommy believes that Revelation 3:10 is the premier verse that teaches a pre-trib rapture, then the position is in deep trouble. First, there is no mention of “the church” or anybody being taken off the earth prior to a seven-year tribulation period in the above two verses or in the immediate or broader context, so I don’t see how this is an answer to my first question.

Even so, Tommy argues for the rapture in Revelation 3:10–11 this way by assuming what he must prove:

Clearly Christ is speaking to the church since these are letters to the seven churches. The church is promised to be kept out of the time of testing which is said to be the tribulation because it will be a time in which the whole world will be tested.

Jesus is speaking to seven first-century churches in Revelation 1–3 not to the church 2000 years in the future. To follow a literal interpretation, as Tommy insists on, the promise is made only to the Church in Philadelphia (3:7). Notice the audience reference in Revelation 3:10: “Because YOU have . . . I also will keep YOU from the hour of testing. . . .” Jesus is NOT speaking “clearly to the church.” He’s speaking to a church. If the seven churches represent the church at large, it represents the church as it existed in John’s day. We’ll come back to this point below.

Second, Dispensationalists like Tommy manufacture a “rapture” theology from Revelation by claiming that in the first three chapters of Revelation the word “church” is used repeatedly but beginning in Revelation 4 the word “church” is not used until Revelation 22:16. But notice what Jesus said: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Te Revelation was “for the churches.”

When John is told in Revelation 4:1–2 to “come up here,” dispensationalists claim that this is a symbolic picture of the rapture. Tim LaHaye, a co-author with Tommy Ice on several publishing projects, writes:

“Inasmuch as John was the last remaining apostle and a member of the universal Church, his elevation to heaven is a picture of the Rapture of the Church just before the Tribulation begins.” [2]

Revelation 4:1–2 doesn’t say anything about the church being taken to heaven prior to a seven-year tribulation period or that John’s vision “up here” is a “a picture of the rapture.” Dispensationalists begin with a developed rapture doctrine from their church-Israel distinction belief and then impose that belief on verses that say nothing about such a distinction.

Third, Tommy Ice and Tim LaHaye misapply the way “church” is used in Revelation. LaHaye writes:

There are sixteen references to the Church in Revelation 1–3, [3] whereas chapters 6–18, which cover the Tribulation, do not mention the Church once. The natural conclusion drawn from this is that the Church that was so prominent during its two thousand-year history (as predicted in chapters 2–3) is not mentioned in chapters 4–18 because those chapters describe the Tribulation, which the Church does not endure. [4]

LaHaye’s thesis, and those who follow him (and Tommy Ice is one of them), is based on the unproven assumption that Revelation 2–3 covers “the church age, using seven historical churches to describe the entire age.” Where does the Bible say this? Not only doesn’t Revelation 3:10–11 teach a pre-trib rapture, but it doesn’t teach the belief that the seven churches in Asia Minor represent a 2000 year church age (so far).

The first three chapters of Revelation deal with seven literal churches (1:20) in Asia Minor in the first-century: the church in Ephesus (2:1), the church in Smyrna (2:8), the church in Pergamum (2:12), the church in Thyatira (2:18), the church in Sardis (3:1), the church in Philadelphia (3:7), and the church in Laodicea (3:14). In the first three chapters of Revelation, local churches are addressed, not the church generally. There is no reference to “the church” anywhere in Revelation.

To bring this section to a close, Revelation 3:10–11 doesn’t say one thing about the church being taken off the earth in a so-called rapture. As David Chilton writes, “Note well: Christ is not promising to rapture them or take them away, but to keep them. In other words, He is promising to preserve them in trial, to keep them from falling (Jude 24).” [5] To keep them from what? From the impending judgment that was predicted by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse, a judgment that would come before that generation passed away (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32).

Now let’s take a close look at the details of Revelation 3:10–11. While many translate the Greek word oikoumenē (οἰκουμένης) as “world,” as in the “whole wide world,” the word is better translated as “inhabitant earth” or “known world” (e.g., Matt. 24:14; Luke 2:1; Acts 11:28; 17:6, 31; 24:5), “a common Hebraistic idiom for designating the inhabitants of a country.” [6] The New Testament writers would have had “the civilized world of that day, i.e., the Roman Empire” [7] in view. If Jesus (Rev. 1:1) wanted to convey a world-wide tribulation In Revelation 3:10–11, He could have made this clear by using the word kosmos. But even kosmos  (world) often denotes limited geography (e.g., Rom. 1:8). For a comprehensive study of the way the New Testament uses oikoumenē, see chapter 8 in my book 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered.

Then there’s the Greek word gēs (γῆς), often translated as “earth,” but given the context, the use of oikoumēne, and the timing, is best translated as “land.”

Then there is the timing factor in the use of the Greek word mello (μελλούσης) — “about to.” It was a period of trial that was “about to” come on the oikoumene (Rev. 3:10), that is, upon their time and place. A warning that was written 2000 years ago on what was “about to happen” can’t still be waiting to happen. Consider these words from Darrell L. Bock:

“Matthew 24:6 appears to suggest that these calamities [described by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse] are in the near future by noting that the disciples ‘are about’ μελλήσετε (mellēsete] to hear of wars and rumors of wars.” [8]

To confirm that Revelation is describing events that were soon to take place, we read the following in Revelation 3:11: “I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” Grant R. Osborne makes the following comment on the Greek word translated “quickly”: “The emphasis in ταχύ is on imminence, not swiftness. This does not mean Christ is coming ‘quickly’ but ‘very soon’ (as in 1:7; 22:7).” [9] John is not saying that whenever Jesus comes, and that could be 2000 years from the time John wrote, it will be fast. He means that Jesus’ coming is about to happen.

Thomas Ice, an editor of Tim LaHaye’s Prophecy Study Bible along with Ed Hindson, calls in support from Greek lexicons to claim that “soon” and “quickly” are “descriptive of the manner in which the action takes place,” [10] which contradicts what Osboorne says above.

Let’s look at some lexicons to see if they substantiate the claim made by Ice that words like “soon,” “quickly,” “near,” and “at hand” are describing only how Jesus will come when He comes and not the fact that His coming was on the verge of happening when Revelation was written and read by a first-century audience.

The Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament states that ταχύς (translated as “quickly” in Revelation 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20) means “without delay, right away, at once, soon (afterward).” [11] Let’s plug the above lexicon’s definition into Revelation 3:11 to see if it matches the meaning given to it by futurists like Hindson and Ice: “I am coming without delay, right away, at once, soon, hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.”

Paul Benware, who follows Ice’s line of reasoning, claims that what Revelation means to convey is “the idea that when the events of the Lord’s return take place, they will occur rapidly once they begin.” [12] Mal Couch’s commentary on Revelation 1:1 — “the things which must shortly [en tachei] take place” — argues in a similar way: “The Greek phrase en tachei probably means that when these events begin, they will take place with ‘rapid fire’ sequence or ‘speedily.’” [13] If, according to Couch, this is what Revelation 1:1 “probably means,” then why doesn’t it read, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place” when they begin to occur? What happened to a literal interpretation of the Bible? Greek expert Kurt Alan’s analysis results in a different meaning:

In the original text, the Greek word used is taxu, and this does not mean “soon,” in the sense of “sometime,” but rather “now,” “immediately.” Therefore, we must understand Rev. 22:12 in this way: “I am coming now, bringing my recompense.” The concluding word of Rev. 22:20 is: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘surely I am coming soon.”’ Here we again find the word taxu, so this means: I am coming quickly, immediately. This is followed by the prayer: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”. . . The Apocalypse expresses the fervent waiting for the end within the circles in which the writer lived — not an expectation that will happen at some unknown point X in time (just to repeat this), but one in the immediate present.”  [14]

The same meaning must be applied to Revelation 3:11. If Jesus wanted to convey the idea of a delay (Rev.. 1:1; 2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:6–7, 12, 20) about His’ coming, then He would have done so by using “when.” [15] He didn’t.

Revelation 3:10–11 is not a “rapture” passage. Moses Stuart summarizes the passage well:

“I will exempt you from the severe trials of persecution which will be experienced by all the countries around you, or I will mitigate these trials.” [16]

The revelation given to John was about what was to happen “soon” (1:1), for the time was near (1:3) for them.

In the future, Tommy Ice needs to deal honestly with his readers by outlining for them how people who take a non-dispensational view of prophecy issues take that position. It’s getting old having to go over the same material that has been out there for more than 25 years (in terms of my work) and hundreds of years in terms of the works of others.

  1. Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, IL Crossway, 2012), 563–564.[]
  2. Tim LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 99.[]
  3. By my count, the words “church” and “churches” are used nineteen times in Revelation.[]
  4. LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled, 100.[]
  5. David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation, 128–129.[]
  6. Moses Stuart, A Commentary on the Apocalypse, 2 vols. (Andover, MD: Allen, Morrill and Wardwell, 1845), 2:95. Stuart also commented: “[T]he phrase is often used indefinitely for a wide extent of country; and so it may designate the whole Roman empire. Here the most probable meaning is the same, or at least the whole region of the Roman Asia Minor, or the whole country around the region of Philadelphia.”[]
  7. William Everett Bell, Jr., “A Critical Evaluation of the Pretribulation Rapture Doctrine in Christian Eschatology” (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1967), 304.[]
  8. Daniel L. Bock, Luke: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 2:1666.[]
  9. Grant R. Osborne, Revelation: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Academic, 2002), 194, note 24.[]
  10. Thomas Ice, “Preterist ‘Time Texts,’” The End Times Controversy: The Second Coming Under Attack (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2003), 103.[]
  11. Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, The Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 376. Emphasis in original.[]
  12. Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy, 172.[]
  13. Mal Couch, gen. ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 200.[]
  14. Kurt Aland, A History of Christianity: From the Beginnings to the Threshold of the Reformation, trans. James L. Schaaf (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1985), 1:88.[]
  15. The temporal conjunction “when” (hotan) is used 123 times in the NT, with 9 occurrences in Revelation. Here’s an example of how Revelation describes a future coming by actually using the word “when” (hotan): “and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while” (Rev. 17:10). Here we see the mention of a delay.[]
  16. Stuart, A Commentary on the Apocalypse, 2:95.[]

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