Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wrongly Dividing Paul: A Response to "Right Division Includes Paul," by Stephen Hill

In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul instructs Timothy to rightly divide (or correctly cut) the word of truth. However, if it's possible to rightly divide Scripture, it's also possible to wrongly divide it. Unfortunately, I believe that in his article, "Right Division Includes Paul" (http://thewordontheword.blogspot.com/2015/02/rightly-division-includes-paul.html), Stephen Hill has done the latter. The position I will be defending in this paper is that the letters Paul wrote before his Roman imprisonment are just as much for and to the body of Christ today as the letters he wrote during his Roman imprisonment. Contrary to the position defended by Stephen in his article, I believe that any supposed "dispensational discontinuity" between Paul's "Acts" letters and his "post-Acts" letters is nothing more than an illusion based on certain unwarranted assumptions that have been brought to the text. 

Quotations from Stephen's article will be in bold. 


In the fifth paragraph of his article, Stephen writes: "When we directly compare Paul's statements between different epistles, we notice some stark differences - especially between the pre-prison and prison epistles. Before I go over several of these differences, I will let Paul speak for himself in regards to his progression and changing message: 


... I shall also be coming to apparitions and revelations of the Lord. I am acquainted with a man in Christ, fourteen years before this, (whether in a body I am not aware, or outside of the body, I am not aware - God is aware) such a one was snatched away to the third heaven... into paradise and hears ineffable declarations, which it is not allowed a man to speak. -2 Corinthians 12:1-4 (CLNT) 


Here, Paul describes himself years after an amazing experience receiving revelation. He begins by explaining that he shall be coming to revelations of the Lord and that the revelations he had already received were not yet permissible for him to teach. Paul wrote these words in 2 Corinthians, one of his earlier letters, well before the words he penned in his later letters. Thus, Paul himself made it clear to the Corinthians that 1) he would receive more revelation in the future, and 2) he was not allowed at the time of his writing to the Corinthians to teach all he had been shown by Christ to that point. Both of these facts are vital to understanding Paul's later writings. Acts 26:16 confirms Paul's progressive revelation by stating that he was made a minister and witness both of the things he had already seen and the things that would be shown to him." 


When Paul says, "I shall also be coming to apparitions and revelations of the Lord," he's simply referring to what he is about to make known in the next verses (i.e., that fourteen years ago he was snatched away to the third heaven, etc.). He is not saying that he is going to be making known in future letters the ineffable declarations he heard while in the third heaven. Although Stephen speaks of what Paul heard as being "not yet permissible for him to teach," there is no indication that Paul believed he would ever be allowed to make known the things that he heard. He doesn't say he would be allowed to make known these declarations at some future time, and there is no indication that he ever did make them known. As far as what is said in Acts 26:16, there is no question that Paul received revelation from Christ progressively. However, this fact is perfectly consistent with the position being defended in this article, and in no way supports Stephen's position.

In Acts 28:16, Paul is recounting to King Agrippa what Christ said to him when he first appeared to him. By this time, nearly thirty years had transpired since this event. This is more than enough time for Christ to have made known everything he promised to make known to Paul when he first appeared to him and commissioned him as the Apostle to the nations. And even if Christ continued to reveal new things to Paul after he was imprisoned, there's no good reason to understand any subsequent revelation as involving an administration distinct from that which was given to Paul before his imprisonment.  


According to the Acts 28:28 dispensational theory, the administration given to Paul after he was imprisoned in Rome is distinct from the administration given to Paul before his imprisonment. This theory claims that, before his imprisonment, Paul's ministry pertained to Israel's earthly kingdom and those who will enjoy an allotment in it. After his imprisonment, however, Paul's ministry involved the disclosing of secret truths pertaining to the body of Christ and their unique calling among the celestials (some Acts 28:28 proponents believe the body of Christ referred to in Paul's prison epistles did not exist before this time, while others believe it did exist but was essentially an extension of redeemed Israel, with a terrestrial allotment). Most Acts 28:28 proponents point to the "secret" mentioned by Paul in Ephesians 3:6 in support of their position that Paul's imprisonment marks a new administration. Later in his article, Stephen writes: 


"Though Paul never said this, it is highly likely that the revelation he had received and was initially not allowed to share was the mystery God had kept hidden of the salvation of the Gentile nations and their superior allotment. The fullness of this amazing truth is not revealed by Paul until his prison epistles, although due to the transitional nature of God's program, hints of it can be seen in Paul's later pre-prison epistles - particularly Romans (see chapter 15)." 


Stephen likely has Ephesians 3:6 in mind when he speaks of the "superior allotment" of the nations. However, what I believe we have in Ephesians 3:6 is simply a concise statement of certain truths that Paul had already been making known to the nations prior to his imprisonment in Rome. Every truth that constitutes the "secret" of Ephesians 3:6 can be found in letters written PRIOR TO Paul's imprisonment. Consider the following:  


1. The truth that those among the nations who believed Paul's evangel are a "joint body" with the Jews who believed Paul's evangel (which included, of course, Paul himself) is explicitly taught in 1 Cor. 12:12-13 (cf. Rom. 12:4-5) and implied in places like Gal. 3:27-28. Whether circumcised or not, all were baptized in one spirit into the same body of Christ.  


2. The truth that the nations are "joint heirs of an allotment" is explicitly taught by Paul in Rom. 8:17 and implied elsewhere. Notice that there is nothing said anywhere in his pre-imprisonment letters which suggests that the nations who were members of the one body of Christ at this time were, with regards to their allotment, in any way less spiritually blessed, or had any sort of disadvantage, in comparison to the Jews (such as Paul) who were in the one body of Christ at this time. Nowhere are we told (nor is it ever implied) in these earlier letters of Paul that the allotment of the Gentiles who believed Paul's evangel of the uncircumcision was in any way distinct from, or inferior to, that of the Jews (including Paul himself) who believed his evangel of the uncircumcision. Instead, we find that, even before Paul's imprisonment, the nations were "joint heirs of an allotment" with their believing Jewish brethren (such as Paul) in the one body of Christ. Within the body of Christ, the circumcised had no advantage over the uncircumcised; there was no distinction. Having believed Paul's evangel of the uncircumcision, they were members of the SAME body and were heirs of the SAME allotment with Paul and any other Jewish believer who believed Paul's evangel.  


3. The third truth Paul mentions is that the nations are "joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus." Assuming (as is likely) that the promise in view is "life eonian" (see Titus 1:2-3), this truth that the nations are joint partakers of this promise with the Jews who believed Paul's gospel (which, again, includes Paul himself) is implied in all of the above verses, and elsewhere. Consider especially 2 Cor. 5, where Paul speaks of the future eonian life "in the heavens" that is in store for all who believe his gospel, whether Jew or Gentile. Although the exact expression "eonian life" is not used in this passage, it's clear that this is what Paul is talking about here. These all were given "the earnest of the spirit" (cf. Eph 1:14) and an eonian expectation in the heavens. And they together awaited "the glory that is going to be revealed for us," when we (the sons of God) are unveiled, our bodies are delivered, and we are conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:18-30).


"His earliest letters were written primarily to his fellow Jews and Gentile proselytes who attended the synagogues (see 1 Cor. 10:1-4 as an example), his mid-ministry letters were written to Jewish and Gentile believers, and his later letters were written to non-Jews who were previously "apart from Christ, having been alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, having no hope, and without God, in the world" (Eph. 2:12). Study Paul's letters chronologically, and you will discover that the pre-prison epistles are loaded with Old Testament references, while the prison epistles contain hardly any." 


In light of Stephen's comments above, it is ironic that there are actually more OT references and quotations in the letter of Ephesians than there are in 1 and 2 Thessalonians combined - and yet, these two letters were probably the first letters that Paul wrote (as Stephen himself acknowledges later). The simple fact is that, whether uncircumcised OR circumcised, the people being addressed in all thirteen of Paul's letters had believed (or professed to believe) Paul's distinct "evangel of the uncircumcision," which he was heralding among the nations (Gal. 2:2, 7). In other words, the gospel that had been believed by every one of the members of the ecclesias to whom Paul wrote was a gospel that was distinctly for uncircumcised people, and the ecclesias that were being formed through the heralding of this gospel were not "Jewish" or "Hebrew" in character.  


The new body that was being formed through the ministry of Paul was not merely an extension or subcategory of the believing Jewish remnant that was being called out of apostate Israel through the ministry of Peter and the other eleven apostles. Rather, this was (and is) a body of people who were (and are) being blessed by God apart from the mediation of national Israel and apart from the ministry of Christ's twelve disciples. Unlike the unnamed Roman Centurion in Luke 7:2-9, and unlike Cornelius in Acts 10, the nations Paul addressed in his epistles were not enjoying God's blessing because they were blessing Israel in some way, or because they feared and worshipped the God of Israel prior to believing Paul's evangel. No, as early as his first letter to the Thessalonians (which, again, was probably the first letter Paul wrote), it's evident that many, if not all, of the Gentiles who believed Paul's evangel of the uncircumcision were formerly idol-worshipping pagans (see, for example, 1 Thess. 1:9).  


In his letter to the Galatians (another early epistle), it would seem that many, if not most, of the members of this ecclesia were not only uncircumcised Gentiles, but converts from paganism (see, for example, Gal. 4:8). And what Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:1 presupposes that many of the members in this ecclesia were not even familiar with the basics of Israelite history. It would be absurd to think that any Jew (or even any Gentile proselyte who attended the synagogues) could possibly be "ignorant" of the things of which Paul speaks in 1 Cor. 10:1-4, and yet Paul declares, "I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren..." He's primarily addressing Gentiles who were former idol-worshippers who were largely ignorant of Jewish history and who may have been tempted to return to their former pagan practices (see the rest of the chapter, especially v. 14). But what about when Paul says "our fathers" in verse 1? The answer is simply that Paul's "our" does not include those whom he's specifically addressing here (i.e., those whom he did not want to be ignorant). "Our fathers" simply means, "the fathers of us who are Jews/Israelites," without any implication that those whom he addressed here were in this category. 


"As this great transitional shift was occurring and Paul's audience changing, it was vitally important that Paul only reveal what God permitted him to reveal at certain times. This is precisely why Paul's later letters are different in many ways from his early letters. In addition, God's entire program was changing." 


Stephen's assertion regarding a "great transitional shift" and a "change" occurring in Paul's audience is not just an oversimplification of the facts, but is, I believe, actually contrary to the facts. From the very beginning of Paul's calling, the Gentiles to whom Paul was commissioned by Christ to herald his distinct gospel were those whose eyes needed to be opened, who needed to be turned from darkness to light and from the authority of Satan to God (Acts 26:16-18) - in other words, idol-worshipping pagans (as opposed to God-fearing Gentile proselytes whose righteous living had made them acceptable to God - see Acts 10:34-35).

Although we read in Acts of Paul heralding the truth concerning Christ to unbelieving Israelites on several occasions, bringing the gospel to Israelites and to the God-fearing Gentile proselytes who blessed Israel and attended the synagogues was simply not the primary reason for which Paul was made an apostle. Nonetheless, Paul had a deep love in his heart for his "relatives according to the flesh" (see Romans 9:1-5; 10:1; 11:13-15), and it was undoubtedly this love that made it necessary for Paul, the apostle of the nations, to attempt to persuade some of his Jewish brethren of the "trans-administrational" truth concerning Jesus Christ. 


It's true that, in at least some of the ecclesias to whom Paul wrote, there seems to have been a minority of believers who were Israelites according to the flesh and Jewish in their background. Given this fact (along with the fact of Paul's own Jewish background), it's no surprise that Paul would quote or allude to the Hebrew Scriptures in his writings. Not only would we expect to find more "Old Testament" references in letters written to larger and/or more racially diverse ecclesias (as the ecclesias in Rome and Corinth likely were), but we would also expect there to be more OT references found in longer letters (such as 1 Corinthians and Romans) than in shorter letters - which, of course, is exactly what we find. But it needs to be emphasized that the ecclesias to whom Paul wrote - including the ecclesia in Rome - consisted primarily of uncircumcised Gentiles. And any circumcised members of these ecclesias became - and would've remained - members precisely because they had believed - and continued to believe - the same evangel of the uncircumcision that was being heralded among the nations.  


As was the case with Paul, the primary status and identity of the circumcised members of the ecclesias to whom Paul wrote was no longer that of "Jew" or "Israelite." At the time Paul wrote, there was "one body" into which those who believed Paul's evangel were being spiritually baptized. And it was (and is) a body in which circumcision and all fleshly distinctions were (and are) completely irrelevant (1 Cor. 12:12-13; 2 Cor. 5:16-17; Gal. 3:27-28). The same cannot be said, however, for the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, or for the believers to whom Peter and James wrote (1 Pet. 1:1; James 1:1). 


"During the beginning of Paul's ministry when Israel was the focus, signs, gifts, healings and miracles were prevalent as God was dealing with the Jews who required a sign (1 Cor. 1:22). As Paul's ministry increasingly moved toward a focus on the nations who sought wisdom (also v. 22), the signs and gifts continually dwindled until they were non-existent." 


Israel was most assuredly not the focus at the beginning of Paul's apostolic ministry (at least, not after the events of Acts 13). The sad state of first-century Israel is described by Paul in 1 Thess. 2:14-16: "For you [Thessalonian believers] became imitators, brothers and sisters, of God's churches in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, because you too suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they in fact did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us severely. They are displeasing to God and are opposed to all people, because they hinder us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they constantly fill up their measure of sins, but wrath has come upon them completely." 


Based on what Paul says above, it certainly doesn't sound like Israel was "the focus" when he wrote what was probably his earliest letter. Instead, God's indignation was already upon the nation of Israel. It is evident that the callousness that Paul refers to in Romans 11 had already come on Israel (with the exception of a believing remnant), and that the only thing that awaited the nation in Paul's day was the doom of national judgment, which Christ himself had pronounced upon her during his ministry. Christ spoke of the terrible judgment that was coming upon Israel as a result of her apostasy right after his "triumphal entry" (see Luke 19:41-44). In Matthew's account, Christ tells the religious leaders of his day, "Truly, I say to you, all these things [i.e., the judgment he had just spoken of in the previous verses of this chapter] will come upon this generation" (Matt 23:36). He goes on to lament over Jerusalem in vv. 37-39: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house [i.e., the temple] is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" And then the very next words Christ speaks (Matt 24:2) are a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, which took place in 70 AD. 


Even the growth of the Jewish ecclesia (consisting of the believing Jewish remnant who were being called out of the apostate nation through the ministry of the twelve apostles) came to a near-standstill after the stoning of Stephen outside of Jerusalem. And this was before Paul had even set food on the road to Damascus. Every indicator at this time pointed to the fact that God was about to do something new, and that this new program would involve neither Israel as a nation nor the remnant of believing Israelites who had been called out through the ministry of the twelve apostles.  


Miraculous Signs and Gifts


But if Israel wasn't the focus at the beginning of Paul's ministry but had already been calloused by God (with the exception of a called-out remnant), how then do we explain the miraculous spiritual gifts given to Paul? I believe there is a better explanation for the giving of these gifts than that which Stephen provides. The spiritual gifts given to Paul and those who believed his evangel of the uncircumcision were signs to the circumcision (i.e., those among the Jewish remnant who were converted through the ministry of the twelve apostles) that God was doing a new work through Paul to build a new thing: the body of Christ. Tongues are said to be a sign for unbelievers; in this case, they can be understood as being a sign for those among the circumcision saints who did not believe (or would not have believed) that God was working through Paul and the Gentiles who believed his distinct gospel (1 Cor. 14:22). In addition to this, the miracles that Paul performed (including the supernatural gifts that were given to others through him) were the signs of his special apostleship from the Lord (2 Cor. 12:12; Gal 2:7). These signs and gifts authenticated Paul's unique apostleship in the sight of both the nations to whom he was sent as well as the Jewish remnant. Without such supernatural signs, neither Peter, the saints in Jerusalem, nor any other Israelite would have been assured that Christ had commissioned Paul to bring salvation to the nations (Acts 9:15; 15:12; 22:21).

In connection with this point, it was the spiritual gifts possessed by the apostles that enabled the Scriptures to be both written and identified by believers at this time (1 Cor. 14:37). The closer we get to Paul's completion of the inspired canon of Scripture (which took place during his imprisonment), the less miraculous activity we find taking place (2 Tim 4:20). But even in 1 Timothy we still read of the "laying on of hands" (1 Tim 5:22; cf. Acts 19:4-6; 2 Tim 1:6-7). Once all Scripture was complete and the canon was established, there was no more need for further supernatural manifestations of the spirit. Paul knew that the miraculous gifts would not last among the body of Christ and, as early as his epistle to the Corinthians, began immediately preparing the body of Christ for the time when they would vanish (1 Cor. 13:8). Only faith, hope and love were going to remain. Remain among whom? The body of Christ, of course. Contrary to the claims of some Acts 28:28 dispensationalists, the body of Christ referred to in this epistle did not vanish when the supernatural gifts did. It simply attained to a greater level of maturity. Certain gifts disappeared, but the body of Christ itself continued.
 


"Reading the pre-prison passage of 1 Corinthians 11, one would assume that we need to partake in the Lord's Supper. Paul clearly instructs the Corinthian believers to and even says that he received the practice from the Lord before passing it along to them. Yet, in Colossians 2, we read Paul's instruction to let no one judge us for what we eat or drink or for whether we observe religious festivals." 


Paul says he accepted certain facts from the Lord pertaining to what took place on the night he was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23). Now, based on what Jesus himself declared on this night (and which Paul quotes him as saying), all that the twelve disciples would've understood concerning Jesus' death was that it ratified the new covenant. That was the extent of the meaning that Jesus' words and actions on that night would've had for them. But Paul knew something about Christ's death that the twelve disciples didn't understand at the time, and which gave the observance of the Lord's dinner by the body of Christ a whole new meaning and significance.  


For Paul, the ultimate purpose and meaning of Christ's death displayed the wisdom of God which is "not of this eon," and which was "concealed" by God and designated "before the eons, for our glory..." (1 Cor. 2:6-10). It was part of a "secret" that had been "hushed in times eonian." According to Paul's gospel, Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3). Paul explains what this means elsewhere: the fact that Christ died for our sins means that the world will be conciliated to God (2 Cor. 5:18), that all humanity will be justified and given life (Rom 5:12-19; cf. Rom 3:22), and that all humanity has been ransomed (1 Tim. 2:3-6). Christ's death secured the exaltation of - and ultimate subjection of all to - Christ (Phil 2:8-11; cf. 1 Cor. 15:24-28), and is the means by which all will be reconciled to God (Col. 1:19-20). It is evident, then, that the death of Christ had a greater significance for Paul and those who believed his gospel than was made known by Christ when he celebrated Passover with the twelve disciples. 


Thus, whenever the body of Christ took part in the Lord's Dinner, they were announcing the Lord's death until his coming - not merely his death as the ratification of the new covenant (which was known among the "circumcision believers," and was not a secret), but his death as the means by which the world will be reconciled to God and God will become "all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28), and by which those who believe Paul's distinct gospel are justified and receive eonian life. And the "coming" (presence) of the Lord that Paul had in mind is not Christ's return to the earth to establish his kingdom (when he descends upon the Mount of Olives), but rather his manifestation to the body of Christ in the air, at the "snatching away" (as referred to in 1 Thess. 4:13-18, Phil. 3:21 and Col. 3:4).  


Now, it's significant that Paul nowhere commands believers to partake in the Lord's Dinner, or states that the body of Christ has to partake in it. Participation in this dinner on an individual or corporate basis was, it would seem, completely voluntary. If an ecclesia wanted to partake in this dinner to "announce the Lord's death until He should be coming" (v. 26), they were free to do so, as long as they did so in an appropriate way. But there is no indication that they were under any obligation to do so. Thus, there is no contradiction between what Paul says in 1 Corinthians concerning the Lord's dinner, and what he says in Colossians. 


But what about the judgments that fell upon those who were eating and drinking "unworthily?" At this time in Paul's ministry, the "signs and wonders" that Paul mentions in Rom. 15:18-19 (as being part of his apostolic ministry "for the obedience of the nations") were still being manifested. This was never meant to have a permanent place in the secret administration that began with Paul's calling, but (as noted earlier) was merely meant to authenticate his apostleship and apostolic authority. As has been previously argued, such signs and wonders (including miraculous healings, the infliction of judgments and the power to speak in foreign languages) do not indicate a different administration, for they were never meant to be a permanent part of the administration which began with Paul's calling. 


"Water baptism is another major stumbling block when Paul's letters aren't rightly divided. Reading 1 Corinthians 1, one would be inclined to uphold the practice of water baptism in keeping with John the Baptist and the other Jewish apostles. Paul, himself, was water baptized, and states that he water baptized two individuals and one household (1 Cor. 1:14-16). Yet, in the following verse (17) he states that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the evangel. Later, in Ephesians 4, Paul lists the elements of oneness that compose the unity of spirit and lists "one baptism" (that is, spirit baptism) rather than water. Through right division, we discover that water baptism was predominantly a Jewish work, performed at the beginning of Paul's ministry while Israel was still in focus. As God set Israel aside and drew the nations in, spirit baptism reigned supreme and water baptism was irrelevant for believers of the nations. Nearly all believers today uphold water baptism as a necessary act of faith or even a saving act in itself. If they rightly divided Paul's epistles, they would understand that their baptism in spirit renders water baptism meaningless and unnecessary." 


While it's true that Paul baptized a few people early on in his ministry, it's significant that he thanks God that it was only a few! It is clear from 1 Corinthians 1:17 that Paul was eventually instructed by Christ through further revelation to cease practicing water baptism: "For Christ does not commission me to be baptizing, but to be bringing the evangel, not in wisdom of word, lest the cross of Christ may be made void." Now, I agree with Stephen that water baptism was clearly an essential part of the Israelite kingdom program/administration (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:38). But this being the case, Stephen's position becomes problematic. For if Paul's ministry at this point was "Israel-focused" and just an extension of what the twelve apostles were doing (as Acts 28:28 dispensationalists claim), then the fact that he was not commissioned by Christ to baptize would be inexplicable. The only way to account for this otherwise puzzling admission on Paul's part is simply that Paul's commission was in accord with a different administration (i.e., the "administration of the grace of God"), rather than the administration under which Peter and the other apostles were ministers. 

The Snatching Away: For the Body of Christ, or Not?


"Perhaps the most confusing issue in Paul's letters - even for many who rightly divide them - is the so-called "rapture," or "snatching away." Paul describes this event briefly at the end of 1 Thessalonians 4. A careful reading of the passage shows that Paul believed this event was imminent at the time of his writing, for he states that he and the other living believers would not precede those who had "fallen asleep," or passed away, in being snatched away. As we know, this event still has not occurred, long after Paul wrote these words. Was he wrong, or lying, or was something else at work?" 


If what Paul said in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 should be understood to mean that Paul expected the snatching away to necessarily take place within his lifetime, then I submit that these words would ALSO have to mean that Paul expected himself and everyone to whom he wrote to be alive and surviving at the time, since he says, "..we, the living, who are surviving to the presence of the Lord, should by no means outstrip those who are put to repose..." and "...we, the living who are surviving..." But does Stephen really think that Paul was convinced that he would, without a doubt, be among "the living who are surviving to the presence of the Lord?" I doubt it. But according to this reasoning, this conclusion would seem to follow.

I think a more reasonable interpretation is simply that, because Paul and those to whom he wrote were obviously alive at the time he was writing, he includes himself and other living believers as being in, and representative of, that particular category of believers that he has in view (i.e., those believers who will be alive and surviving when the snatching away takes place). I don't think Paul expected to necessarily be in that category of believers who are "alive and surviving" when Christ comes to remove the body of Christ from the earth before the coming "day of the Lord." As far as Paul knew at this time, it could've been the Lord's will that he (as well as those to whom he wrote) be martyred prior to this event, and would thus be among the "dead in Christ" at the time. 


Two Distinct Resurrections


It should be noted that what Paul says in 1 Thess. 4:15 concerning the living not preceding (or "outstripping") the dead in Christ at the time of the snatching away is in direct contrast to the situation involving the living and dead saints of Israel at Christ's return to earth. Nowhere are we told in either the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures that the dead saints of Israel will be resurrected before Christ returns to earth to set up his kingdom, or that their resurrection will coincide with the vivifying of people who will still be alive at the time. Long before Paul wrote to members of the body of Christ in Thessalonica, it was prophesied in Daniel 12:11-13 that the resurrection of Israel's saints will be 75 days after Daniel's 70th week concludes: "And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days. But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days."  


The "1,290 days" refers to the last half of Israel's 70th week plus an additional 30 days (i.e., 1,260 days + 30 days = 1,290 days). And the "1,335 days" refers to the last half of Israel's 70th week plus an additional 75 days (1,260 days + 75 days). We know that Daniel's 70th week will conclude with the return of Christ to earth in glory and power, since (among other reasons) it is this event which will bring the 42 month (1,260 day)-long reign of the Antichrist to an end (see Rev. 13:5; 19:19-20). Thus, the resurrection of Israel's saints will take place 75 days after Christ's return to earth - i.e., the last day of the 1,335 days spoken of by the messenger (the "end of the days"). Christ referred to this time several times in John's Gospel, calling it (appropriately) the "last day" (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; cf. Martha's words in 11:24). That the dead saints of Israel will not be resurrected until the last day of the 1,335 days referred to in Daniel (and thus after Christ has returned to earth and defeated the man of lawlessness) is further confirmed by the chronology of the events prophesied in the Unveiling. The chronology of events provided in this book (beginning at chapter 19) is as follows:  


1. Christ returns in glory and power, accompanied by "the armies of heaven" (Rev. 19:11-18).
2. The Antichrist and the kings of the earth and their armies assemble to do battle with Christ (19:19).
3. The Antichrist and his armies are defeated (19:20-21).
4. Satan is cast into the "submerged chaos," where he must remain bound for a thousand years (20:1-3).
5. The "former resurrection" takes place, and the thousand year reign of Christ and his saints begins (20:4-6).
6. The thousand-year imprisonment of Satan ends, and he is "loosed a little time."  


This inspired chronology fits perfectly with what we're told in Daniel 12 concerning when Daniel (and, by implication, the rest of Israel's saints) will be resurrected. However, neither the prophecies of Daniel nor the prophecies of the Unveiling correspond with the event involving the body of Christ that is prophesied by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:15-18 and 1 Cor. 15:50-53. The resurrection of Israel's saints and the resurrection of those to whom Paul wrote (both before and after his imprisonment) are completely different events taking place at completely different times. Any theory which ignores this important distinction rests on a failure to correctly divide the word of truth. 


"1 Thessalonians 4 describes Christ coming down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, resurrecting the dead in Christ first, followed by living believers, being snatched away into the clouds of the air to meet Christ. As we know, though, 1 Thessalonians is a pre-prison epistle, written early on in Paul's ministry. In fact, many scholars believe 1 Thessalonians is Paul's first letter. Our next step, then, is to search Paul's later epistles to see what, if anything, he has to say about this event. 


"When we do just that, we discover a surprising passage. In Colossians 3:4, Paul makes the new declaration that members of the Body of Christ will appear with Christ at the moment of His appearing in glory."  


Stephen's argument rests on what I believe to be a false dichotomy. Although different wording is used by Paul, there is nothing said in Col. 3:4 that is inconsistent with what is said in 1 Thess. 4. Consequently, there is nothing said in Col 3:4 that necessitates understanding this event as something distinct from the event described in 1 Thess. 4. In 1 Thess. 4:16-17, Paul writes, "...for the Lord Himself will be descending from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the Chief Messenger, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall be rising first. Thereupon we, the living who are surviving, shall at the same time be snatched away together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." 


In these verses, Paul is describing an event in which Christ will be appearing in the atmosphere above the earth. Although we have no idea how much time it will take Christ to reach his atmospheric destination after beginning his descent from heaven, we know that the snatching away takes place while Christ is appearing, or being manifested, in this particular atmospheric location. Will Christ be appearing in glory when this event takes place? Of course he will. And will those snatched away to meet him in the air and among the clouds be appearing together with him in glory at this time? Without a doubt.  


In 1 Cor. 15:43, 49 Paul writes that the dead will be roused in incorruption and glory, and will be "wearing the image also of the Celestial." We're also told in Romans 8:18 that "glory" will be revealed for us when we're "unveiled" as the sons of God and our bodies are delivered. Paul speaks of our glorification again in Rom. 8:30. So based on what Paul says in his pre-prison epistles, we can reasonably conclude the following: There is a future event coming in which 1) Christ is going to be present in the atmosphere above the earth, 2) he will be appearing in glory at this time, and 3) certain people will appear with Him in glory at this time.  


This is essentially what Paul writes in Col. 3:4. There is no good reason to understand this verse as anything other than a reference to the same event which Paul describes in greater detail in 1 Thess. 4. Although Paul doesn't include all of the details (why would we expect him to?), what he does say in Col. 3:4 is perfectly consistent with what is said in 1 Thess. 4, and can, without any difficulty, be understood as a reference to the same event.   


"While the 1 Thessalonians 4 event would take place with Christ coming down and a series of specific elements (command, trumpet, etc.), the Colossians 3 event is described as Christ remaining in His place of glory and occurring in an instant. Rather than the Body being snatched away and meeting Christ among the clouds, it will immediately appear with Him in His glory."  


Stephen is reading certain assumptions into the text here. Contrary to Stephen's assertion, Paul does not say that Christ is "remaining in His place of glory" when the event takes place in which he will be "appearing" or "manifested." In fact, it would make little sense to say that Christ will be "appearing" or will be "manifested" where he is right now, for Christ is already appearing in glory in this location right now (we certainly have no reason to believe that Christ and his glory is somehow hidden or veiled to the celestial beings present in heaven right now). Thus, what Paul says in Col. 3:4 actually implies that Christ will be changing locations, and thus will be appearing in glory somewhere that he is not presently visible and being manifested. And where will this be? Fortunately, we don't have to speculate. According to what Paul says in 1 Thess. 4, Christ will be appearing to the body of Christ in the atmosphere above the earth (i.e., "in the air" and "in clouds").  


So contrary to Steven's assertion, Paul is not describing "two events" that are "quite different." He's referring to the same event. He simply provided more details in his earlier writing - details which answer the question of where Christ's appearing/manifestation will take place: "Whenever Christ, our Life, should be manifested (Manifested where? See 1 Thess. 4:16-17), then you also shall be manifested together with Him in glory (Manifested together where? See 1 Thess. 4:16-17)."


"By rightly dividing the passages, we realize that Paul described the seemingly imminent event of 1 Thessalonians 4 as he did because at that point it was in line with God's program for Israel and the revelation God had given Paul to teach. At that point in time, Israel was still the dominant focus in God's program and the "snatching away" was the event that would soon precede Christ's second coming to a finally repentant Israel."  


Here we find what I believe to be more unwarranted assumptions being made by Stephen. Nowhere does Paul speak of the "snatching away" as being an event that "would soon precede Christ's second coming to finally repentant Israel," or as involving Israel at all. Nor is there any indication that "Israel was still the dominant focus in God's program" when Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians.  


"As this was not God's actual, long-term plan, Israel as a whole remained hardened, the event never took place, and Paul later informed the Colossians of a previously unrevealed, future event - our appearing. 1 Thessalonians 4 remains the future expectation of believers of Israel, but the appearing Paul later revealed in Colossians 3 is now the future expectation of the Body of Christ. Thus, members of the Body of Christ who still look to the rapture look toward an event that is promised to Israel, not us. Rather, we should be living in expectation of our future appearing with Christ when He is made manifest." 


The event referred to in 1 Thess. 4 is just as "previously unrevealed" as the event referred to in Col. 3:4., since they are, in fact, the same event. Paul received his knowledge of the event described in 1 Thess. 4 from the risen and ascended Christ, not from the Law and the Prophets. Unlike the resurrection of Israel's saints (which will take place 75 days after Christ's return to earth), the vivifying of both the dead and the living members of the body of Christ together was a previously unrevealed "secret" (1 Cor. 15:50-53). As such, it was untraceable in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Response to "The Hope of Israel vs. That Blessed Hope"

The following is a response to an article written by Clyde L. Pilkington, Jr. (which can be read here: http://www.biblestudentsnotebook.com/bsn485.pdf). For a fuller response to the so-called "Acts 28:28" dispensational position, see my first two blog articles from March.  

What is "The Hope of Israel?" 

Clyde begins his article with the following claim: "During his Acts period ministry, Paul was bound with a chain for “the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20), but immediately following his proclamation to the Jews in Acts 28:28, he was in bonds for “the mystery of the gospel” (6:18-20)." 

This, I believe, is a false dichotomy. Paul's ministry before his imprisonment in Rome involved the body of Christ just as much as it did after his imprisonment in Rome. It would be a misleading oversimplification of the facts to say or imply that Paul's ministry was "Israel-centered" before his imprisonment, and "Gentile-centered" afterwards, or that his ministry before his imprisonment involved only truths that could be found in Moses and the Prophets, whereas his ministry afterwards had to do exclusively with previously unrevealed secret truths. Although this may or may not be Clyde's belief, the entire article seems to imply such a false dichotomy. 

So what is the "hope/expectation of Israel" referred to by Paul in Acts 28:20? It should be noted that even IF the "hope" of which Paul speaks here is something which distinctly and exclusively belonged to Israel, it would not mean that it was the exclusive or primary focus of Paul's ministry up to this point. However, although each section of Clyde's article begins with the words, "the Hope of Israel..." Clyde never actually defends his claim that the "hope of Israel" of which Paul speaks is "Israel's earthly inheritance" or "the re-establishment of Israel's kingdom." This is simply presupposed by Clyde throughout his article, and what he says in each section is simply meant to further confirm this position. However, nowhere does Paul identify this hope as such. Instead, there are contextual indications that the hope/expectation Paul had in view here is simply the resurrection of the dead. And as such, this hope of Israel would not be exclusively or distinctively Israel's hope. Rather, this hope would be what may be called a "trans-administrational hope." 

After Paul was arrested in Jerusalem (Acts 21:27-36), he was given the opportunity to speak before the council (Acts 22:30). Just a few verses later, we read:  

"Then when Paul noticed that part of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, he shouted out in the council, 'Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead!' When he said this, an argument began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)" (Acts 23:6-8, NET Bible).  

What is the resurrection of the dead? It is simply the event by which human beings who have died are restored to a living existence. Notice that Paul doesn't say "I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of believing Israelites so that they may inherit the earth." No, it's simply "the resurrection of the dead," as a basic and general truth. The basic truth that Paul is affirming here before the council is the same basic truth that the Sadducees denied (just as they denied the basic truth of the existence of angels and spirits). 

In the next chapter, Paul spoke the following words while standing before Felix: 

"But I confess this to you, that I worship the God of our ancestors according to the Way (which they call a sect), believing everything that is according to the law and that is written in the prophets. I have a hope in God (a hope that these men themselves accept too) that there is going to be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust." (Acts 24:14-15)  

Here again it is clearly the resurrection of the dead that is in view. And it is not just the resurrection of believing Israelites, but the resurrection of "both the just and the unjust." Every human being is in one of these two categories, and we'll look at further evidence a little later that Paul's understanding of the resurrection at this point in his ministry was that it was all-inclusive in scope.  

Paul goes on to say in vv. 19-21, "But there are some Jews from the province of Asia who should be here before you and bring charges, if they have anything against me. Or these men here should tell what crime they found me guilty of when I stood before the council, other than this one thing I shouted out while I stood before them: 'I am on trial before you today concerning the resurrection of the dead.'" 

Paul refers to this hope or expectation once more in Acts 26:6-8, while standing before King Agrippa:

"And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain as they earnestly serve God night and day. Concerning this hope the Jews are accusing me, Your Majesty! Why do you people think it is unbelievable that God raises the dead?"  

From these passages it seems evident that the resurrection of the dead is THE "hope of Israel" that Paul had in mind in Acts 28:20. Are there other things that could be referred to as Israel's hope or expectation? Certainly; God himself is said to be the hope of Israel on certain occasions (Ps. 39:7; Jer. 14:8; 17:3; 50:7). And reigning on the earth as priests and kings during the next eon is another. But based on the context, it is clearly the resurrection of the dead that Paul has in view when he speaks of "the hope of Israel."  

Now, when Paul spoke of "the resurrection of the dead," what exactly did he have in mind? We know that, years before Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, put in chains and given the opportunity to address the council, he had already written to the body of Christ concerning the resurrection of the dead. This subject is, of course, addressed at length by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. And in this remarkable chapter, we find that the resurrection is something that concerns every dead and dying member of Adam's race. Consider, for example, vv. 20-22: "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in Christ shall all will be made alive."  

For Paul, the resurrection of the dead - i.e., the vivifying or making alive of those who are dead - was not just something that concerned Israel only (although it was an important hope or expectation of Israel). The abolishing of death (which will involve the resurrection of all who are dead) is something that concerns all humanity, both circumcised Israelites and uncircumcised Gentiles. Thus, for Paul, the resurrection of the dead - although something that could legitimately be referred to as being Israel's expectation - was not Israel's expectation exclusively. At the time Paul spoke the words recorded for us in Acts 28:20, the resurrection of the dead was clearly something anticipated by both Israel AND the body of Christ (i.e., the one body of Christ consisting of all who believed Paul's "evangel of the uncircumcision," and of which Paul considered himself a member).  

In light of the evidence, then, I think it would be a mistake for anyone to assert or imply that the hope/expectation of Israel which Paul had in view in Acts 28:20 was "Israel's earthly inheritance" or "the re-establishment of Israel's kingdom." The hope that Paul had in mind was a more general and fundamental truth than this - i.e., the resurrection of the dead. But why would Paul refer to the resurrection of the dead as "the hope of Israel?" 

The answer is simply that Paul was (wisely) emphasizing the common ground that he had with the unbelieving Israelites to whom he spoke at this time. By the time Paul spoke to these Jewish leaders, the truth of the resurrection of the dead had become a "trans-administrational truth." Although Israel and the body of Christ will be enjoying different allotments (one terrestrial, the other celestial), members of both groups MUST first be resurrected/vivified by Christ in order to enjoy their respective allotments. It's also true that, although the resurrection had become a common hope shared by both believing Israelites and members of the body of Christ, it was Israel's hope and expectation long before it was the hope of non-Israelites (to whom this truth had only been recently revealed, relatively speaking).  

Thus, although much of Clyde's article simply takes for granted that the "hope" or "expectation" of Israel that Paul had in view concerned the re-establishment of Israel's kingdom and the millennial reign, I think this view is contrary to the larger context and the circumstances involved in Paul's being in chains.  

Clyde goes on to say, "This means that, from the beginning of Paul’s ministry (Acts 9:20) to the setting aside of national Israel (Acts 28:28), a period of about twenty-one years, he suffered for Israelites; but after he had delivered God’s final appeal to Israel as a nation, he became a prisoner for the “Gentiles” (3:1)." 

First, we are not told that Israel was "set aside" in Acts 28:28. This is something that is simply assumed by proponents of the Acts 28:28 dispensational position. There is no more indication that Israel was set aside by God when Paul spoke to the Jewish leaders in Rome than there is that it was set aside by God when the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, or during the Jewish Revolt of 135 AD. As Charles Peart notes, "There isn't one shred of Scriptural evidence that anything unusual occurred in Acts 28 except that a few more Jewish leaders of synagogues refused to believe that Jesus is their Messiah - as many are also doing to this very day." Instead, there is good reason to believe that Israel as a nation had become calloused and was "set aside" by God before Paul even wrote his first epistle, or even before Christ appeared to him on the Damascus road. Second, Paul's "Acts ministry" involved the formation of the body of Christ, and he suffered for uncircumcised Gentiles just as much as he suffered for Israelites during this time. And there is no indication that Paul's suffering for Israelites during the Acts period was disconnected from his ministry involving the evangel of the uncircumcision and the formation of the body of Christ.  

We must keep in mind that Paul himself was an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:4-5), and his love for his Jewish brethren according to the flesh motivated him to reach out to them on several occasions. He no doubt longed to see some of his brethren according to the flesh come to a knowledge of the truth and believe his evangel of the uncircumcision, thereby becoming members of the body of Christ just as he had become. But in order for this to happen, it was necessary that they come to a knowledge of the truth concerning Jesus' identity - i.e., that he is the promised Messiah and offspring of David, and that he had been raised from the dead. But such basic truths as this (concerning the identity of Christ and his resurrection) were just as much a part of Paul's evangel after his imprisonment in Rome as they were before. Consider, for example, the following words Paul wrote to Timothy in his final letter: "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal" (2 Tim. 2:8-9).  

"The Hope of Israel Anticipates the Coming of Jesus Christ" 

The next section of Clyde's article involves what I believe to be yet another false dichotomy. In this section, the underlying presupposition seems to be that Paul couldn't have used different words to refer to the same event. What's interesting is that the Bible translation Clyde uses for this article (apparently the KJV) makes it seem like there is only one word being used by Paul in the passages quoted throughout this section: a single word translated "coming." But this is simply not the case. In fact, in the first three passages from 1 Corinthians that Clyde quotes, THREE different Greek words (apokalupsiserchomai and parousia) are used by Paul to refer to what Clyde would agree is the same event. Had Clyde used a more accurate translation here (such as the CLNT), it would've been more evident to the reader that Paul used multiple words to refer to the same event, and the force of the "contrast" that Clyde was apparently trying to create would've been lost, thereby undermining his case. But the fact is that Paul clearly used multiple words to refer to the same event, and there is no good reason to believe that the word epiphaneia (as used in his prison epistles) must refer to a different event.  

The word epiphaneia is used by Paul in 2 Thess. 2:8, 1 Tim 6:14, 2 Tim. 1:10, 2 Tim 4:1, 8 and Titus 2:13. It is this word which, in Titus 2:13, Clyde thinks refers to something distinct from the coming of Christ in 1 Thess. 4:15. But what's interesting is that, even in these examples, the same word doesn't refer to the same event in every passage. The epiphaneia referred to in 2 Tim. 1:10 is not the same event as that referred to in Titus 2:13. And even though the word epiphaneia appears in 2 Thess. 2:8, Clyde  apparently believes that 2 Thess. 2:8 refers to the same event that Paul speaks of in 1 Thess. 4:15 (which, according to Clyde, is Christ's coming to establish his kingdom on earth)! It is clear, then, that Paul was quite flexible in the words he used in referring to events that are the same and events that are different, and we can't simply assume that one word refers to one event and another word refers to another. And the fact that the first time Paul uses the word epiphaneia is in 2 Thess. 2:8-9 is significant, for it tells us that this word is completely neutral with regards to where Christ's "advent" (his "manifestation" or "showing forth") takes place. The word could just as naturally refer to his glorious presence in the air (as described in 1 Thess. 4:13-18) as it could refer to his presence elsewhere.  

All of this being the case, there is simply no good reason to believe that the epiphaneia referred to by Paul in his prison letters is something distinct from the event described in 1 Cor. 1:7, 1 Thess. 2:19, 3:13, 4:13-18, 2 Thess. 2:1, etc. The event described by Paul as the epiphaneia ("advent") in Titus 2:13 can easily be understood as the same event described by Paul as the parousia("presence") in 1 Thess. 4:15 and the erchomai ("coming") in 1 Cor. 4:5. When Clyde asserts (after quoting several passages from Paul's pre-prison epistles) that "Paul does not mention the "Coming" of Christ anywhere in his latter epistles," I cannot help but think that Clyde is simply begging the question here. When our "Acts 28:28" presuppositions are set aside (including presuppositions concerning the "hope of Israel"), there is simply no good reason to understand the epiphaneia of Titus 2:13 or 1 Tim. 6:14 to be referring to something different than the apokalupsis of Christ, the erchomai of Christ and the parousia of Christ to which Paul refers in his earlier epistles. For since we know that Paul used different words to refer to the same event (which even Clyde cannot deny), then it's simply not the case that Paul can't be referring to the same event in his latter epistles by his use of the word epiphaneia. That would simply make for four (rather than three) different words that Paul used to refer to the same event which he believed the body of Christ should be anticipating - i.e., an event in which Jesus Christ will descend from heaven and be manifested in glory to the body of Christ in the sky.  

It should also be noted that the word Paul uses in Col 3:4 in reference to the event that Clyde believes is spoken of in Titus 2:13 is phaneroō. Significantly, this word is found also in 1 John 3:2 in reference to the event described in Matt. 24:30-31. I'm not sure if Clyde would agree that the phaneroō in Col 3:4 speaks of a different even than that described in 1 John 3:2 (I believe it does), but if so, this would be yet another example in which the same Greek word is used in reference to two different events involving Christ and certain believers.  

"The Hope of Israel Anticipates the Revelation of Jesus Christ"  

After quoting Luke 17:30, Clyde then quotes 2 Thess. 1:7 ("And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels"), noting that "Paul does not mention the “revelation” (or “unveiling”) of Christ anywhere in his latter epistles." But in response to this all that needs to be said is, "So what?" Paul uses the word apokalupsis in reference to a future event involving Jesus Christ only one other time in all of his epistles (in 1 Cor. 1:7). Since Clyde believes that Paul referred to this future event more than just two times in his pre-prison epistles, he must admit that Paul had more opportunities to use this word again if he'd wanted to. But this Paul did not do. So why should we expect him to have used it again in his later epistles, rather than a different word of his choosing? Again, Paul clearly had no hesitation about using different words to refer to or describe the same event. The words that he decided to use probably just depended on what he wanted to emphasize at the time. 

Moreover, nowhere is it said that the event described in 2 Thess. 1:7 is the same event described in verses like 1 Cor. 1:7 or 1 Thess. 4:13-18, and it would be begging the question to simply assume that this is the case. Just because the same word is used in 1 Cor. 1:7 (for example) and 2 Thess. 1:7 doesn't mean Paul is necessarily referring to the same event. Again, we know that Paul sometimes used different words to refer to the same event as well as the same words to refer to different events. It is the context that must help us determine what event is in view.  

Finally, we have good reason to believe that 1 Cor. 1:7-8 refers to the same "day of deliverance" that Paul anticipated when he wrote his prison epistles (see Eph. 4:30-31). For in 1 Cor. 1:8, Paul refers to this event as "the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (in 1 Cor. 5:5 it is simply, "the day of the Lord Jesus" and in 2 Cor. 1:14 it is "the day of our Lord Jesus"). But Paul refers to this same event (which is clearly distinct from the "day of the Lord") in Phil 1:6, Phil. 1:10, Phil 2:16, 2 Tim 1:18 and 2 Tim 4:8. Based on what Paul says concerning this "day" throughout his epistles, it clearly refers to the time when the body of Christ will be delivered by Christ.  

"The Hope of Israel Has Jesus Christ Coming in the Clouds"  

Next, Clyde quotes Matthew 24:30. Clyde and I both agree that this verse refers to Christ's return to earth to establish the millennial kingdom. But then, Clyde tries to equate this event with the event described in 1 Thess. 4:17, emphasizing the fact that "clouds" are mentioned here but not in his later epistles. But once again, Clyde seems to be reading the "Acts 28:28" position into the text. The fact is that the mention of clouds in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 simply doesn't make this event the same as Matt 24:30. Why shouldn't clouds be mentioned in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 if the atmosphere above the earth is where the body of Christ is going to be meeting Christ after we've all been vivified, and before we ascend to the celestial realm? And more importantly, why should we expect Paul to refer to an event using the same exact details (in this case, "clouds") that he speaks of elsewhere when describing the event?  

As with the word apokalupsis (unveiling), Clyde wants to make a big deal out of the fact that Paul speaks of "clouds" in 1 Thess. 4:17, but doesn't mention these clouds later in his prison epistles. But this proves absolutely nothing. Not only does Paul not speak of these "clouds" in his prison epistles, he doesn't mention them again in 1 Thessalonians or any other epistle written before his imprisonment! The only other use of the Greek word nephele ("cloud") in Paul's epistles is in 1 Cor. 10:1-2. But there, the word has absolutely nothing to do with the event described in 1 Thess. 4:13-18. So why should we expect Paul to mention these clouds again in his prison epistles, even if he were referring to the same event? According to the reasoning Clyde is using here, one would be justified in concluding that the "dispensational dividing line" was right after Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians! Clyde's argument is, once again, based on an erroneous assumption - the assumption that Paul would've mentioned these clouds again if he had the same event in view in his prison epistles. But we simply have no good reason to assume this.  

"The Hope of Israel Anticipates the Second Coming of Jesus Christ with a TRUMPET, at the LAST TRUMP"  

Clyde's next comparison is between Christ's words in Matthew 24:31 and Paul's words in 1 Cor. 15:52 and 1 Thess. 4:16. But unless one is already presupposing that the two events are identical, there is no good reason why one should understand them as identical merely because both involve the sounding of a trumpet. If the two events are in fact distinct (and pertaining to distinct groups of people), there would be nothing out of place or unfitting about a trumpet sounding at both events. And as is the case with the use of the word "clouds," the fact that Paul doesn't mention a trumpet in his prison epistles does not prove or suggest anything. The mere fact that Paul does not mention the trumpet referred to in 1 Thess. 4 and 1 Cor. 15 in another epistle in no way means that Paul did not anticipate the event involving this trumpet when he wrote without referring specifically to it. Even Clyde must acknowledge that, in Paul's "Acts ministry" epistles, Paul refers to the event in which this trumpet will be sounded far more times than the mere two instances in which the trumpet is actually mentioned. Since Clyde would not argue that a lack of mention of the trumpet elsewhere in his earlier epistles is evidence that Paul didn't anticipate the event involving the trumpet, why would a lack of mention of the trumpet in his later epistles be any more supportive of his position? One has to already be presupposing the Acts 28 dispensational position in order for this to count as "evidence."  

What about the "last trump" that Paul refers to in 1 Cor. 15:52? Is this a clear reference to the "loud sounding trumpet" of Matt. 24:31? Only if one is already presupposing that these two events are the same. Apart from this prior assumption, I see no compelling reason to believe that Paul was referring to this event in 1 Cor. 15:52 or 1 Thess. 4:16 rather than to a distinct event involving a separate group of people. But what about Revelation 11? Is the sounding of the trumpet of the seventh angel of Revelation 11 the "last trump" referred to by Paul? Clyde writes, "The last trump means that there are earlier trumps. If this were somehow a special “last trump” which is supposedly distinctly for the Body of Christ, where are the preceding ones?"  

The "last trump" of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians is not a reference to a series of different trumpets being blown in succession (as is described in Revelation, where each angel is said to have its own trumpet). Rather, the expression "last trump" may refer to the last blast or sounding of a single trumpet - i.e., the trumpet referred to in 1 Thess. 4:16 as "the trumpet of God." When we compare what Paul says in this passage and 1 Cor. 15, it seems as if there will be a single trumpet - the "trumpet of God" - that will be blown multiple times. It is the last "trump" of this one "trumpet of God" that will coincide with the vivifying of every member of the body of Christ, whether dead or alive. 

Clyde goes on to say, "Interestingly enough, at the seventh and final trumpet (or last trump) recorded in Revelation 11:15, there is a resurrection of Israel’s saints. At that time these saints are also judged and rewarded (:15-18)." 

Actually, we are not told that there will be a "resurrection of Israel's saints" (or any resurrection at all) when the seventh messenger trumpets. Clyde is unfortunately playing fast and loose with the text here. What we are told is that, after the sounding of the seventh angel's trumpet, the twenty-four elders declare that "...the nations are angered, and Thy indignation came, and the ERA for the dead to be judged, and to give their wages to Thy slaves, the prophets, and to the saints and to those fearing Thy name, the small and the great, and to blight those who are blighting the earth."

That which is said to have come is the ERA or SEASON (karios) in which this event (as well as others) takes place - not the event itself. There is no mention whatsoever of a resurrection taking place when the seventh messenger trumpets. However, when the "last trump" referred to by Paul occurs, we are told that there will be an IMMEDIATE resurrection/vivification of believers. And not only does the final sounding of this "trumpet of God" coincide with an immediate resurrection/vivification (rather than an "era" in which a judgment - and by implication, a resurrection - of saints will take place), the resurrection/vivification is not said to be for "Israelite saints." It is for those who believed the evangel that Paul was preaching at this time - i.e., the evangel of the uncircumcision. Even before Paul's imprisonment, those who believed Paul's evangel (and consequently became members of the "one body" of Christ that existed at this time) consisted primarily of former idol-worshipping, uncircumcised Gentiles rather than Israelites (see, for example 1 Thess. 1:9).  

The simple fact is that the resurrection of Israel's saints doesn't even take place at the time Christ returns to earth. We are told that those whom Christ referred to as "His chosen" will be assembled through the agency of messengers (Matt. 24:31), but based on the larger context of this chapter, this group of people are most likely believing Israelites who will have survived the great affliction and lived to see Christ's return. It is these whom Christ said would be saved if they endured to the consummation (Mt. 24:13), whom Christ said the great signs and miracles being performed by false prophets during the great affliction could deceive, if possible (v. 24), and for whose sake these perilous days would "be discounted" (v. 22). Absolutely nothing is said about anyone being resurrected or vivified at this time. And considering the huge significance of such an event as the resurrection of Israel's saints, its absence from this passage is especially glaring.  

So when will Israel's saints be raised, if not at the time of Christ's return to earth? Since Daniel will undoubtedly be among those believing, faithful Israelites who will be resurrected, if we can determine when he will be raised, then we can determine when the rest of Israel's saints will be raised as well. In Daniel 12:5-7, we read about the last half of Israel's 70th seven-year "week" or "heptad" ("a time, times, and half a time," or 1260 days). Now, we know that Daniel's 70th "week" will conclude with the return of Christ to earth in glory and power. There are a number of reasons for believing this, but one of them is as follows: the Antichrist - also known as the man of lawlessness, the wild beast, etc. - is going to be given authority over the entire world for 42 months, or 1,260 days (see Rev. 13:5). This period of time is the second half of Daniel's 70th "week." We also know that it is Christ's return to the earth that brings the reign of the Antichrist to an end (see Rev. 19:19-20). So Christ is going to return to the earth at the very end of Daniel's 70th week. It is this glorious event that brings this present wicked eon to a complete end, and ushers in the next eon. 

Now, at the end of Daniel 12 we read, "And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days." Here Daniel is told of a period of 1,290 days which will follow the midpoint of the 70th week. It is the last half of the 7 year period plus an additional 30 days (1,260 days + 30 days = 1,290 days). In the next verse, we read: "Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days. But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days."

The "1,335 days" refers to the last half of Israel's 70th week plus an additional 75 days (1,260 days + 75 days). Apparently, something really amazing - something those who are alive at the time will be blessed to experience - is going to take place on the 1,335th day. But what? Notice what the messenger says next: "And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days." In other words, Daniel's being told that he would "rest" (that is, die) and then "stand" (be resurrected) at the end of the days being referred to here (what's neat is that the word translated "resurrection" in the Greek scriptures - anastasis - literally means, "to stand up" or "to stand again"). Thus we see that the resurrection of Israel's saints - which will obviously include Daniel - will take place 75 days AFTER Christ's return to earth - i.e., the last day of the 1,335 days spoken of by the angel (the "end of the days"). 

What's fascinating is that, in John's Gospel, Christ often spoke of the resurrection as taking place on the "last day" (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54). Martha believed that her brother Lazarus would rise on the "last day" as well. They were evidently familiar with Daniel's prophecy that the resurrection of Israel's saints is going to take place on the last day of the 1,335 days referred to at the end of the book. That the resurrection of Israel's saints is going to take place 75 days after Christ returns to earth (and not WHEN he returns) is further confirmed by the chronology of the events prophesied in the book of Revelation. The chronology of events provided in this book (beginning at chapter 19) is as follows: 

1. Christ returns in glory and power, accompanied by "the armies of heaven" (Rev. 19:11-18). 

2. The Antichrist and the kings of the earth and their armies assemble to do battle with Christ (19:19).  

3. The Antichrist and his armies are defeated (19:20-21).  

4. Satan is cast into a prison (the "submerged chaos"), where he must remain bound for a thousand years (20:1-3). 

5. The "first" or "former" resurrection takes place, and the thousand year reign of Christ and his saints begins (20:4-6). [Note: We know that the "former resurrection" doesn't involve the martyrs referred to in this passage exclusively, since we're told that "they ALSO LIVE and reign." Since the reference to their "living" speaks of their being resurrected in the "former resurrection," we know that there are others who will be resurrected at this time as well (for example, those who will be seated on thrones and judging). The martyrs are simply emphasized here because Revelation deals primarily with the time period during which their martyrdom takes place (i.e., the second half of Daniel's 70th week, under the reign of the Antichrist).] 

6. The thousand-year imprisonment of Satan ends, and he is "loosed a little time." 

Obviously we could go on listing events until we get to the creation of the new heaven and new earth and the descent of new Jerusalem, but the point is that there is a chronological order to the events that are prophesied as taking place from the time of Christ's return on. And this inspired chronology fits perfectly with what we're told in Daniel 12 concerning when Daniel (and, by implication, the rest of Israel's saints) will be resurrected. However, neither the prophecies of Daniel nor the prophecies of the Unveiling correspond with the event involving the body of Christ that is prophesied by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:15-18 and 1 Cor. 15:50-53. The resurrection of Israel's saints and the resurrection of those to whom Paul wrote (both before and after his imprisonment) are completely different events taking place at completely different times. Any theory which ignores this important distinction rests on a failure to correctly divide the word of truth. 

"The Hope of Israel Anticipates the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to be Accompanied with Glory and Power, and by Wrath"  

Little needs to be said in response to the final two sections of Clyde's article. Clyde's argument is simply that, in 2 Thess. 1:7-9, Paul refers to the coming of Christ referred to in Matt. 24:30 and Revelation, but does not mention this event in his prison epistles. But in order for this to prove anything or support the Acts 28:28 position, Clyde would have to show that the event described in 2 Thess. 1:7-9 is the same event involving the snatching away and vivifying of the body of Christ, described in 1 Thess. 4:13-18. But I don't think Clyde has succeeded in doing this. Instead, his arguments rest almost entirely on certain assumptions he's made. Moreover, it's not necessarily the case that Paul makes no mention of this event in his prison epistles (see, for example, Col. 3:6-7 and 2 Tim. 4:1; cf. Acts 10:42 and 1 Pet. 4:5-6). But even if Paul did make no mention at all of this event in his prison epistles, it would provide no support for Clyde's position. For nowhere else in his earlier epistles does Paul use the sort of language used in 2 Thess. 1:7-9 to describe a future event involving Christ. According to the reasoning Clyde is using here, one would be justified in concluding that the "dispensational dividing line" was right after Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians!  

Clyde concludes his article with the following: "This hope involves the Second Coming of Christ to the earth to establish His righteous kingdom as taught in the Circumcision writings. Though the hope of I Thessalonians 4 has as its expectation meeting Christ in the atmospheric clouds and simply returning to the earth to reign and rule with Him (“and so shall we ever be with the Lord”), “that Blessed Hope” is the expectation of our glorious appearing with Christ in the celestials, there to establish His righteous rule in the heavens, all necessary prior to the reinstatement of Israel’s prophetic program." 

I believe Clyde makes a couple of unsubstantiated assumptions here. First, he has not demonstrated that the "hope of Israel" involves "the Second Coming of Christ to the earth to establish His righteous kingdom as taught in the Circumcision writings." He has simply assumed this. As argued at the beginning of this article, the hope of Israel that Paul had in mind was the resurrection of the dead, which is a trans-administrational hope. Although it could legitimately be referred to by Paul (in the presence of the Jewish leaders in Rome) as "the expectation of Israel," it is not the exclusive expectation of Israel. It is also the expectation of the body of Christ, and is in fact something that pertains to every human being who will die. 


Second, Clyde creates what I believe to be a false dichotomy between the event described in 1 Thess. 4:16-17, and the "happy expectation" referred to in Titus 2:13, as well as the appearing of Christ referred to in Col. 3:4. Neither of these verses need refer to an event distinct from the event described in 1 Thess. 4 and elsewhere in Paul's earlier epistles. Was the snatching away described in 1 Thess. 4 not a blessed hope or happy expectation for Paul and his believing readers at that time? Who could possibly deny that this was the case? And is not Christ going to appear to believers when he meets them in the air after the snatching away takes place? And will believers not appear together with him in glory at this time, as well as in heaven afterwards? Again, I don't see how this can be denied.