In addition to dispensationalism’s insistence that in the New Testament God’s redemptive program changed from Israel to a new entity called “the Church,” another fundamental principle of dispensationalism is that there are no prophetic signs prior to the fictional “rapture.” Not one. Zilch. Nada. None. This is because, according to dispensationalists, the Church had its beginning at Pentecost. At that point, the prophetic clock as it relates to Israel supposedly stopped (the end of Daniel’s 69th week: 483 years). It will not start again until the “rapture” (the start of the 70th week) which they argue is still a future event (Jesus coming for His Church) that is different from the Second Coming (Jesus coming with His Church). Again, following the dispensational hermeneutic, the so-called Church Age has no prophetic history in the Old Testament. This means that no Old Testament prophecy can find any fulfillment from the time of Pentecost when the Church Age had its start and the “rapture” when the Church Age is said to end.
The Rapture and the Fig Tree Generation
Since the national reestablishment of Israel in 1948, countless books and pamphlets have been written defending the doctrine assuring readers that it could happen at any moment. Some prophecy writers claimed the ‘rapture’ would take place before 1988. We are far removed from that date. Where are we in God’s prophetic timetable?Buy Now
The “rapture” is said to end the Church Age and begin God’s dealings with Israel again after nearly a 2000-year postponement. Dispensationalists believe the “rapture” is always “imminent,” that it can take place at any time during the Church Age. Gerald B. Stanton puts it this way: “The rapture is signless … and is so presented in the Scripture that every generation may enjoy the hope, challenge, and other blessings of His appearing.” Take note of the phrase “every generation,” because it will serve as an important piece to the “rapture” puzzle that is often missed by those who hold to the any-moment rapture theory. According to Stanton and every other dispensationalist, it means the “rapture” could have taken place in Paul’s generation (1 Thess. 4:17) and any subsequent generation thereafter. Jesse Forest Silver wrote that the apostolic fathers “expected the return of the Lord in their day.” Was the stage being set in the post-apostolic era? How could it when all the major players that dispensationalists say are in place today didn’t even exist, including what Tim LaHaye says is the “Super Sign,” the return of the Jews to their land in 1948?
If the doctrine of imminency is true to itself, the rapture could have taken place prior to the destruction of Jerusalem when the city was sacked by the Romans in AD 70, in 1000, 1066, 1492, 1517, 1776, 2001, or today. In theory, the “rapture” could have happened “at any moment” after Pentecost. Here’s how dispensationalist John MacArthur, who is a representative of the signless, any-moment rapture view, explains the position:
It could happen at any moment. It is a signless, imminent event, it is the next thing, no signs necessary … [There are] signs before the Second Coming, [but there are] no signs before the Rapture. We live in the light that at any moment in any fraction of a moment, trumps [sic] sounds, the angel calls and we go. This is the next event in God’s plan. It’s only for those who know and love Christ. We’re here to serve you and help you.”
MacArthur is not the only dispensationalist to make the any-moment, signless argument. James F. Stitzinger argues in a similar way: “The coming of Christ at the rapture is imminent, in the sense of an any-moment coming. Though there are no signs for the rapture, there are signs of the second coming to follow and these may appear before the rapture. Note Phil 3:20–21; 1 Thess 1:10; 4:16; Titus 2:13; Jas 5:7–9.” Paul Feinberg agrees: “[T]here is no mention of any signs or events that precede the Rapture of the church in any of the Rapture passages. The point seems to be that the believer prior to this event is to look, not for some sign, but the Lord from heaven. If the Rapture was a part of the complex of events that make up the Second Advent, and not distinct from it, then we would expect that there would be a mention of signs or events in at least one passage.” The key phrase is, “there are no signs that precede the ‘rapture.’” You’re going to read a lot of prophecy writers who claim it as the fundamental doctrine of their prophetic system. Without it, there would be no modern-day prophecy movement.
No, there are no signs. Yes, there are signs. We might restate it something like this, “On the one hand … but on the other hand.” Here’s a perfect example. Todd Strandberg and Terry James, authors of the book Are You Rapture Ready?, write, _“_The Bible gives no specific signs that will precede the Rapture. It will be unannounced. Instantaneous. World–stunning.” Sounds like they are in line with the signless, any-moment “rapture” paradigm. Then in the following two sentences, they contradict themselves: “The Bible’s prophets, on the other hand, list many prophetic signs that well precede the seven-year period of world trouble known as ‘Tribulation,’ or ‘Apocalypse.’ Interestingly enough, prophecy scholars are finding that signs similar to those Bible prophets have for the Tribulation era are all around us.” This type of prophetic schizophrenia runs through nearly every popular prophecy book written today.
The mantra that there are no signs before the “rapture” is an indispensable part of the dispensational system because imminency “is a necessary deduction from pretribulationism.” It is the logical extension of the belief in an unforeseen parenthesis that the Old Testament prophets knew nothing about. If the Jews had not rejected Jesus, as dispensationalists explain their system, the Kingdom as it was promised to Israel would have begun at Jesus’ first coming. So “when the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God suspended the prophetic timetable at the end of Daniel’s sixty-ninth week and began building a new and heavenly people: the church.” E. Schuyler English, who was chosen in 1954 by Oxford University Press to serve as chairman of a revision committee to edit and update the Scofield Reference Bible, explains it this way:
An intercalary [inserted into the calendar] period of history, after Christ’s death and resurrection and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, has intervened. This is the present age, the Church age…. During this time God has not been dealing with Israel nationally, for they have been blinded concerning God’s mercy in Christ…. However, God will again deal with Israel as a nation. This will be in Daniel’s seventieth week, a seven-year period yet to come.
Scofield had set the pattern for this type of interpretation in his 1909 edition of his Reference Bible. Referencing Matthew 4:17b, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand,” Scofield made these comments on the passage: “‘At hand’ is never a positive affirmation that the person or thing said to be ‘at hand’ will immediately appear, but only that no known or predicted event must intervene. When Christ appeared to the Jewish people, the next thing in the order of revelation as it then stood, should have been the setting up of the Davidic kingdom.” Of course, a study of “at hand” (engus) teaches the opposite. It always means something that is proximate, on the horizon of being accomplished, whether referring to people or events (e.g., Mark 14:42; Luke 21:8; John 2:13; 6:4; 7:2, 6; 11:55Rom. 13:12; James 5:8). Milton Terry, the author of Biblical Hermeneutics, a work that is recommended by dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists, offers a good antidote to the claim that time words like “near” and “shortly” mean an extended period of time:
When a writer says that an event will shortly and speedily come to pass, or is about to take place, it is contrary to all propriety to declare that his statements allow us to believe the event is in the far future. It is a reprehensible abuse of language to say that the words immediately, or near at hand, mean ages hence, or after a long time. Such a treatment of the language of Scripture is even worse than the theory of a double sense.
Even so, there are those who insist on interpreting the Bible literally who cannot abide by Terry’s interpretive explanation. For example, Larry Spargimino argues that these time words “refer to human affairs. Man has a different sense of time than God.” This means, according to Spargimino, that when you come across words like “near” and “shortly” in a prophetic context, they can mean their opposite.
Just to see if anything has changed about the meaning of engus, I checked the newly published Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, where two of the three authors served as field linguists and teachers of graduate linguistics in Southeast Asia, and one served in several countries as a Greek consultant for Wycliffe Bible Translators: “[engus] adverb (1) of space near, close to (JN 3.23); absolutely close by, near at hand, neighboring (JN 19.42); (2) of time near, imminent, close (MT 26:18); (3) figuratively, of close or intimate relationship near, close up (EP 2.17).”
The essential belief that the “rapture” is a signless event has not stopped dispensationalists from making prophetic announcements or writing books that list signs they claim are evidence that the rapture is near. The late Jerry Falwell, who stated on a December 27, 1992, television broadcast, that he did “not believe there will be another millennium … or another century,” wrote the following on July 23, 2006:
It is apparent, in light of the rebirth of the state of Israel, that the present-day events in the Holy Land may very well serve as a prelude or forerunner to the future Battle of Armageddon and the glorious return of Jesus Christ.
Mark Hitchcock follows the standard dispensational position that “[t]he Rapture is an imminent, signless event, which, from the human perspective, could occur at any moment,” but then goes on to write other books outlining the signs that he claims are evidence that the “rapture” is near.
So why the massive display of contradictions? Because if there are no signs before the so-called rapture, then they couldn’t sell any books. It’s that simple.
10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered
As a result of many failed predictions, many Christians are beginning to take a second look at a prophetic system that they were told is the only one that takes the literal interpretation of the Bible seriously. In this book, Gary DeMar has taken on the task of exposing some of the popular myths foisted upon the public by prophetic speculators.Buy Now
Mark Hitchcock, Could the Rapture Happen Today? (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 205), chap. 7.
Gerald B. Stanton, “The Doctrine of Imminency: Is It Biblical?,” When the Trumpet Sounds: Today’s Foremost Authorities Speak Out on End-Time Controversies, ed. Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1995), 223.
Stanton writes: “Paul seemed to include himself among those who looked for Christ’s return (1 Thess. 4:15, 17; 2 Thess. 2:1)…. Many have concluded that the expectation of some was so strong they had stopped work and had to be exhorted to return to their jobs (2 Thess. 3:10–12).” (“The Doctrine of Imminency: Is It Biblical?,” 224.
Jesse Forest Lee, The Lord’s Return (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1914), 62–63. Quoted in Stanton, “The Doctrine of Imminency: Is It Biblical?,” 225.
As dispensationalist and promoter of the imminency (“any moment”) “rapture” doctrine Earl D. Radmacher states, “The words imminent and impending are not found in Scripture.” (Earl D. Radmacher, “The Imminent Return of the Lord,” Issues in Dispensationalism, eds. Wesley R. Willis and John R. Master [Chicago: Moody Press, 1994], 248.) It’s not so much that the words are not used, but that the concept itself is not found in Scripture because of the meaning of specific way words are used to identify when events are to take place. Radmacher acknowledges that it is difficult to develop the doctrine of imminency based on specific words: “With respect to the word engus, when it is used in Matthew 26:45–46) . . . the thing spoken of as being ‘at hand’ took place while the speaker was yet speaking: ‘“Behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, he who betrays Me is at hand.” And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve,… came.’” (251). Radmacher then compares the Matthew passage with 1 Peter 4:7 which states, “the end of all things is at hand [engus],” literally, “has come near.” Radmacher concludes that engus (“at hand” or “near”) means that an event “may happen in a few minutes (Matt. 26:45–47) or in a few thousand years (1 Peter 4:7)” (251). This can hardly be true, especially when a full study of engus is made. It’s not used in such a way that the reader is left with the impression that an event could happen at any moment, either in a week or two thousand years, but that the event is on the horizon. Similar language is used in Zephaniah 1:14–18 which is a description of what was going to happen to Judah and “all the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (1:4) when “the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into [Nebuchadnezzar’s] hand” (Dan. 1:2). Similar “end of the world” language is found in Psalm 18 for what are obviously local events.
Paul D. Feinberg, “The Case for the Pretribulation Rapture Position,” The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational?, ed. Ben Chapman (Grand Rapids, MI: Academic Books, 1984), 80.
Todd Strandberg and Terry James, Are You Rapture Ready?: Signs, Prophecies, Warnings, Threats, and Suspicions that the Endtime is Now (New York: Dutton, 2003), xiii–xiv.
Richard L. Mayhue, Snatched Before the Storm!: A Case for Pretribulationism (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1980), 4
Timothy Weber, “The Dispensationalist Era,” Christian History, 18:1 (Issue 61), 34.
E. Schuyler English, A Companion to the New Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), 135.
Cyrus Ingersoll Scofield, The Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1909), 988, note 3. Think through the implications of Scofield’s statement. If the nation of Israel as a whole had embraced Jesus as the Messiah, then Daniel’s 70th week would have commenced immediately. But what happens in this final week? The antichrist makes a covenant with Israel. Russia swoops down and is joined by the Islamic nations (two entities that did not exist in the first century). Then to add insult to injury, after trusting in Jesus, two-thirds of the Jews living in Israel are slaughtered (Zech. 13:8). Can you see how dispensationalism is an impossible interpretive system and why gaps are necessary to make it work? Dispensationalists can keep pushing prophetic events into the future by always claiming that everything will be fulfilled “after the rapture” when no Christian now living will be around to test what they saw.
“[The Greek word engus] is an adverb of time formed from two words: en (‘in, at’) and guion (‘limb, hand’). Hence the meaning is literally ‘at hand.’ The Arndt and Gingrich Lexicon offers one word, ‘near,’ as the meaning. [W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, eds., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 4th ed. [Chicago: University of Chicago, 1957], 213.) Thayer expands on the idea of the word: ‘of Time; concerning things imminent and soon to come to pass.’ [Joseph Henry Thayer, ed., Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament (New York: American Book, 1889), 164. Some of Thayer’s examples are: ‘the coming of the Lord is at hand’ (James 5:8); ‘the time is at hand’ (Luke 21:8) ‘the day is at hand’ (Rom. 13:12); ‘the end is at hand’ (1 Peter 4:7).] He lists Revelation 1:3 and 22:10 in his series of examples. The word is used frequently of chronologically near events, such as approaching summer (Matt. 24:32), the Passover (Matt. 26:18; John 2:13; 11:55), the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2), etc.” (Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation, 3rd ed. [Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1998], 140).
Robert L. Thomas, “The Hermeneutics of Progressive Dispensationalism,” The Master’s Perspective on Contemporary Issues (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1998), 190.
Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1883), 495–496.
Larry Spargimino, The Anti-Prophets: The Challenge of Preterism (Oklahoma City: Hearthstone Publishing, 2000), 140.
Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 126.
Jerry Falwell, “On the threshold of Armageddon?” (July 23, 2006): www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=51180
Hitchcock, Could the Rapture Happen Today?, 80.