The Rapture is When?

A Critique of The Rapture Question Answered Plain and Simple
by Robert Van Kampen

by Darrel Cline

Problems in Chapter Five

In chapter five Van Kampen attempts to demonstrate that Matthew 24 is actually a text that addresses the Rapture of the Church. There are significant problems with the way he argues his case. Therefore, we must look into his arguments once again.

It is clear from his introductory comments on page 94 that he understands the claim by pretribulationists that the text is addressed to Jews and not to the Church. We looked into that in some depth in Part 7<249> of this study and noted that Van Kampen does not deal with the text within its Jewish context at all. He simply uses his "concordance" style of study and overlooks the details of the text as well as the realities of its historical setting. This refusal to accept the historical and verbal strictures that undeniably rest upon the text creates multiple problems. So, let's look at them.

The So-Called "Parousia Problem"

On pages 94-98, Van Kampen creates what he calls "The Parousia Problem". His claim is that the pretribulationist viewpoint creates a necessity of the Church's hope being the "second" coming and the hope of Israel becoming a "third" coming because the pretribulational view is that Christ comes in the air before the beginning of the seventieth week for His Church and then comes again to the earth at the end of the seventieth week to establish the Kingdom for Israel . Does this necessitate the conclusion of a second and third coming as "parousia"?

Before we answer that question, let us make note of this fact: even if one concludes that the biblical evidence argues for a third, a fourth, or even a fifth "parousia", that does not make the case that that conclusion is necessarily erroneous. In a footnote on page 16 in the book, The Sign, Van Kampen says, "...the concept of a dual coming is nowhere supported by Scripture...". The flaw in this claim is this: that is exactly what the Jews could have said at the first coming, but they were wrong. When Jesus came the first time, He came into a theological setting in which the scribes had wrestled with the text of the Old Testament and its message about Messiah and concluded that the text required two Messiahs. One of them they called Messiah ben Joseph because the text described a suffering Messiah. The other of them they called Messiah ben Judah because the text also described a victorous conquering Messiah. Jesus, however, contradicted their use of the text and taught the opposite of what they taught. Their teaching was of one coming and two Messiahs. Jesus taught one Messiah and two (or perhaps more) comings.

The point is that the evidence of the text did support Jesus' view even though the human theological development of the understanding of the text did not. So, Van Kampen needs to understand that if the text is put together in such a way that two, three, or even four comings is necessary for accurate fulfillment, that is what the text supports. Just because he doesn't see it that way does not mean it isn't that way. He could be as blind as the scribes of the first century were because they made some false assumptions to begin with. But, personally, I don't see that the text requires more than two comings (depending upon what one means by "comings"): one to provide salvation for sinners; the other to eliminate impenitent sinners so that the Kingdom can become a reality.

So, now, let's look into the way the New Testament uses the word "parousia". The word is found in the Greek text in 24 places. Four of those places are in Matthew 24 (24:3, 27, 37, and 39). The word is, interestingly, not found in the parallel texts of Mark 13 and Luke 21, but the concept surely is (in other words, a "concordance-based study will lead you astray here). It is also found five times in Paul's instruction to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 15:23; and 16:17; and 2 Corinthians 7:6,7 and 10:10). He uses it twice in Philippians (1:26 and 2:12), seven times in his communications with the Thessalonians (I Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1,8 and 9). James uses the term twice (5:7 and 8); Peter uses it three times (2 Peter 1:16; 3:4 and 12); and John uses it once (I John 2:28).

For definitional purposes, 2 Corinthians 10:10 and Philippians 2:12 are very helpful. In the Corinthian passage, the word is on the lips of his adversaries who say, "...his [Paul's] letters are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence [parousia] is weak, and his speech is contemptible." This text reveals that the word "parousia" has a field of meaning that includes the sense of "on-going presence" rather than merely "arrival" or "coming". A similar text is Philippians 2:12 where Paul exhorts the Philippians to faithfulness with these words: "...as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence [parousia] only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." This text reinforces the Corinthian text by establishing the field of meaning for "parousia" as including the concept of "an on-going presence".

Then, again for definitional purposes, I Corinthians 16:17 and 2 Corinthians 7:6 are also helpful. In I Corinthians 16:17 we read, "I am glad of the coming [parousia] of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus...". And in 2 Corinthians 7:6 we read, "Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming [parousia] of Titus." Both of these texts add something to the field of meaning: the "means" of the "on-going presence", i.e., their "coming".

So, in non-debateable texts, the word "parousia" is used with a field of meaning that includes both the idea of "moving from a distant place to a near proximity" (an activity that results in an arrival) and the idea of "a consequential on-going presence in the near proximity (many activities subsequent to the arrival event)". Thus, when "parousia" is found in any text, it must be decided whether the focus of meaning is upon "the act of movement from a distance to nearness to establish presence", or "the on-going presence in nearness".

Now, let's consider the use of the word in the Matthean texts that address Jesus and His commitment to "move from a distant heaven to the closeness of proximity to earth" (a "parousia") and His teaching about the events that will happen by virtue of His "on-going presence in nearness" (also "parousia").

Let's begin where the word is first used by Matthew in Matthew 24:3. The verse says, "And as He sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto Him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what [shall be] the sign of Thy coming parousia), and of the end of the world (aion: "age")?" (all quotes in this section are from the AV). The question for our consideration is this: what do the disciples want to know? Two things, actually. First, they want to know "when" the events are going to take place which Jesus had mentioned in verse 2. There He had made reference to the destruction of the temple buildings. His words were an obvious prophecy, and the disciples, just as obviously, were curious about "when" it would be fulfilled. Also, however, the disciples apparently understood that His prophecy had some implications about Jesus' future "coming" [parousia] and the subsequent "end of the world [aion -- better translated 'age']". Therefore, they asked Him "what" the sign would be that would indicate the fulfillment of His "parousia" promises as well as the "end [suntelia] of the world [aion]".

On the front end, let us make this clear: the use of "aion" signifies that the disciples were not thinking in terms of the end of the world as a final cataclysmic destruction of this earth, but, rather, were thinking in terms of the end of the "age" [a block of time that functions as a preliminary time of preparation for the establishment of the Kingdom of the Son on earth].

So, what did the disciples want to know? "When" were the temple buildings going to be torn down, and "what" would signal the fulfillment of the "parousia" promises that would both bring an end to the time of preparation and usher in a new age [aion -- the age of Messiah's restoration of the kingdom to Israel (see their question in Acts 1:6, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?")]? Therefore, we have to ask this pertinent question: what were the "parousia" promises, and when did Jesus make them? Since this is the first use of "parousia", we cannot find them by looking in a concordance; instead, we will have to go back in Matthew and read until we find Jesus talking about a future "coming" or "another on-going presence".

When we do that, we eventually get to Matthew 16:27. In this context, a couple of things have happened. First, the disciples have finally come to grips with Jesus' identity as "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). On the heels of that recognition, Jesus immediately begins to teach them that he is going to be persecuted and put to death, and rise again (16:21). Peter, who, like the other disciples, doesn't want to hear this, begins to rebuke Jesus (16:22), but He puts him in his place (16:23) and then follows up His teaching by saying, "...the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom" (16:27-28).

This context is very illuminating. Here Jesus identifies Himself with the "Son of Man" prophecies of Daniel 7:13-14. Here He says that He "shall come in the glory of His Father". Here He says that He will be accompanied by "His angels". Here He says that "He shall reward every man according to his works." Here He says that some of the living disciples will actually "see the Son of man coming in His kingdom."

Now, note: the fulfillment of the last prophecy was actually fulfilled six days later as recorded in Matthew 17:1-8. Also note: in that fulfillment, there were no angels and there was no rewarding of every man; there was only a transfiguration into "the glory of His Father" (17:2). So, Matthew 17:1-8 was not a complete fulfillment of the prophecies of the "coming of the Son of Man". It was only a foreview that identified Him as that Son (17:9). But, significantly, it made the "future" coming of the kingdom a "third coming" (Jesus had announced the presence of the Kingdom during His ministry (first coming); He prophesied this seeing of the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom that was fulfilled six days later (second coming), and He told of a future time when the Son would come in His Kingdom (third coming)).

Now, this is the first place in Matthew that we have the Messiah teaching His disciples that His first "coming" (as an on-going presence) was not going to result in the establishment of the Kingdom. For that, He was to "come again" in the glory, with the angels, to reward men according to their behavior. These were the "parousia" promises (at least some of them), and they form the foundation for our understanding of what the disciples wanted to know. They wanted to know "when" the temple was going to be destroyed, and "what" sign would indicate Jesus' return as the Son of Man, in the glory, with the angels, to reward men for their behavior so that His kingdom could be established (16:28).

What is the point? This: the word "parousia" isn't the only term that the New Testament uses to speak about the "parousia" of Jesus. So, a "concordance-based study" will leave one without some very pertinent details, one of which is that the disciples were asking what the sign would be for the coming of the Son of Man to establish His kingdom as given in Matthew 16:27. This is the reason we have argued that the disciples' focus was upon the "parousia" that would yield the establishment of the promised kingdom to Israel, not upon a yet-future "Church" hope of which they knew almost nothing, if indeed, anything. So, if Jesus actually answered their questions, He was not teaching them "Church" truth as future founders of the Church, He was teaching them "nation" truth as interested Jews who looked with longing upon the fulfillment of the Daniel 7, Son-of-Man, promises...i.e., the hope of Israel for the Kingdom of the Son of Man.

So, with this background, what were the disciples asking? Were they asking about Jesus' "parousia" as an "arrival" in terms of a movement from a distant heaven to earth, or were they asking about Jesus' "parousia" as an "on-going presence" in which many activities would take place to bring about the establishment of the Kingdom of the Son of Man, or both?

How shall we answer? Were the disciples more focused upon an "arrival" of the Son from a distant place, or an "on-going presence" during which the events would take place that would bring about the Kingdom? A parallel would be found in the first "parousia" as an on-going presence: Jesus' birth ("parousia" as 'arrival') was simply the means of establishing the on-going presence ("parousia" as 'presence') of approximately 37 years. Were people mostly interested in "when" He got here, or what was accomplished by His time here? Likewise, were the disciples asking "when" Jesus would "arrive", or were they asking when He, having arrived, was going to bring an end to the age? If the "second coming" is anything like the "first coming", Jesus will arrive some time before He accomplishes His final objectives.

I believe the answer is to be found in the second part of their second question. In their first question, they wanted to know when the temple was going to be destroyed. In their second question, they wanted to know what would signify two things: first, that the time for the "parousia" promises had come, and, second, that the "end of the age" had come. This second part of the second question indicates that they are not as interested in what "sign", or "signs" will indicate the Son's return ("parousia" as "arrival") to initiate the process as they are interested in what "sign" or "signs" will indicate that the end of the age has come.

In other words, though the end of the age requires the "arrival" of the Son of Man, their primary interest is upon the indicator that the end has come...i.e., that whenever the "arrival" part has taken place, when will the "on-going presence" bring about the end? The reason for this is that they had no inkling as to whether the "arrival" would simultaneously produce the "end" (which Jesus' words in Matt. 16 seemed to imply), or whether there would be an extended campaign after the arrival that would result in the "end". One caution here: timing implications are dangerous in light of Jesus' statement in John 5:28-29. There He "seemed" to teach a general resurrection of everyone at the same time.

But Revelation 20 teaches that the resurrection of the just is separated from the resurrection of the wicked by a thousand years. Making "timing" judgments when that is not the focus of the text is fraught with problems.

However, the disciples were asking a "timing" question, so I also believe that Jesus answered this particular question. In Matthew 24:27-31 Jesus said a sign would appear in supernaturally darkened heavens as "lightening" that blankets the sky, and "then" all of the tribes of the earth would see "the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory...and...His angels." This is an exact fulfillment of the details of the "parousia" promises of Matthew 16:27. And, by the way, if you care to read Revelation 19:11-21, you will see that it records a coming of the Son from the distant heaven to the earth (i.e., a "parousia") in extraordinary glory, with the armies of heaven, and executing the wicked according to their works (an on-going presence, i.e., a "parousia", in which the armies of earth are decimated and the fowls of the earth are gorged with their flesh). This is another exact fulfillment of the terms of Matthew 16:27 which formed the foundation of the "parousia" promises about which the disciples asked in Matthew 24:2.

I realize that Van Kampen vehemently opposes Revelation 19 as being a fulfillment of the "parousia" promises, but you can see it for yourself, and we will deal with his objections later in this on-going study. Let's bring this all together with one further observation. When the disciples asked about the "end of the age", they were aware of the prophecies of Daniel. In those prophecies, Daniel had written that "the age" would end with the culmination of the seventieth week. Therefore, when the disciples asked what would signal the end of the age, were they asking about what would signal the beginning of that final week, or what would indicate its end? According to Jesus' answer, which takes us through some of the events of that week, they were asking not about the beginning of the end, but the end of the end. In the beginning of His answer, he gives a couple of characteristics and then says, "...see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet." (24:6). Clearly, then, Jesus taught that the "end" would come when the Son of Man visibly descended from heaven with power and great glory (24:30).

The question is this: is this the "end" of the age as the disciples had asked? Or is it, as Van Kampen claims, "close to the end"? Now, I realize that this has been a long treatment of only the first use of the word "parousia" in the New Testament, but it required some contextual treatment (as does every text) in order to ferret out the nature of the issues involved in the words given. The point that is most germane to our discussion is that "parousia" in Matthew 24:3 is a word the disciples used to refer to the "coming" of the Son of Man as given in Matthew 16:27 where the word "parousia" does not exist, but the concept certainly does. In Matthew 16:27 Jesus presents a "parousia" in which He descends from heaven with glory and angels for the purpose of holding men to account in regard to their behavior. By answering the disciples in the way He did, He presented the "parousia" about which they asked as the final event of the age. By that event, the Son of Man would close the age and deal with men and set up His glorious kingdom for which the disciples longed.

For further explanation of the use of "parousia" in the New Testament, we will have to develop yet another section of this study -- which we will do as God wills.

Previous ChapterReturn to Contents PageNext Chapter

Back to Pastor's Study

25949