Monday, November 15, 2021

Apocalyptic? #36: Wrapping Up the Rapture!


Putting 2 and 2 together

It’s now time to put 2 and 2 together:

1.      Since every other prophecy made by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (and elsewhere in the Gospels) concerning the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom can easily be placed as having been fulfilled within the 40-year time limit imposed by Jesus (as I have demonstrated, citing primarily Josephus), and

2.      Since every other prophecy made by John in Revelation concerning those things that “must shortly come to pass” (Rev. 1:1) from the perspective of 69 A.D. (when John wrote the book) can easily be placed as having been fulfilled within the seven-year war time limit (as I have demonstrated, citing primarily Josephus), and

3.      Since Jesus said that the Parousia would occur in the following time frame: “[S]ome who are standing here will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:28, Mark 9:1, and Luke 9:27), “[T]his generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:32, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32), and

4.      Since John, in 69 A.D., states that Jesus is "coming soon" (Revelation 3:11, 22:20), that the dragon’s "time is short" (Revelation 12:12), and that these things “must soon take place" (Revelation 22:6), and

5.      Since the Parousia is described by Paul as happening “in the twinkling of an eye” (I Corinthians 15:52) and, by Jesus, as happening as rapidly “as the lightning flashes from the east, and is seen even to the west” (Matthew 24:27), and 

6.      Since so many Jews (including Jewish Christians?) were either slain or escaped into hiding at that time that no one would know if they had been raptured, killed, or just gone into hiding, and

7.      Since Church historian S. G. F. Brandon observes: “[F]ar more amazing is the fact that . . . Christian Literature contains no record of the fate of its Mother Church in this calamity . . .

8.      Is it such a leap of faith for Christians to simply trust that Jesus’, Paul’s, and John’s prophecies of the Parousia (Rapture) actually occurred in the time frame in which they were predicted to occur?


Tracing the Exodus of the Jewish Church—Dead Ends

Where did the Jewish church go, as they followed the directions of Jesus to flee Jerusalem and Judea?  They could not flee to Cesarea (in Samaria), Ptolymais, or Tyre (land that was once the property of the tribe of Asher), because those towns emptied themselves of Jewish inhabitants before the war even began.   In the Northwest area of the Decapolis (land that was once the property of the tribes of Issachar and Manasseh), the cities of Abila, Gadara, Scythopolis, Geraza, and Pella were significant in the first century A.D.  Josephus had reported concerning Vespasian’s general Placidus that “Crossing over the Jordan into Perea (east of the Jordan and north of the Dead Sea—territory originally apportioned to the tribes of Manasseh, Gad, and Reuben in the time of Joshua), Placidus took the towns of “Abila” (Wars IV.IX.1).  Before the war with Rome began, the people of the city of Cesarea, in allegiance to Florus . . . massacred 20,000 Jews “and all Cesarea was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants(Wars II.XVIII.1).  Likewise, Scythopolis killed 13,000 (Wars II.XVIII.3), “Askelon slew two thousand five hundred [2500] . . . Ptolymais two thousand [2000] . . . Tyre also put a great number to death . . . those of Hippos and . . . Gadara did the like . . . as did the rest of the cities of Syria” (Wars II.XVIII.5).  Even the city of Alexandria (in Egypt), which had long been a safe haven for Jews in the Roman Empire, attacked (with two Roman legions) and killed 50,000 Jews (Wars II.XVIII.8).  Furthermore, Vespasian and his commander Placidus “plundered Gadara . . . insomuch that all Perea had either surrendered themselves, or were taken by the Romans” (Wars IV.VII.6). 

Tracing the Exodus of the Jewish Church—Pella?  I Don’t Think So.

There is a tradition (cited by fourth century church fathers Eusebius and Epiphanius of Salamis) that the Jewish Christians had escaped to Pella, just across the Jordan River in the Decapolis.  According to Craig Koester [Koester, Craig R. “The Origin and Significance of the Flight to Pella Tradition.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 51, no. 1 (January 1989): 90–106]:

Gerd Lüdemann argued that the tradition arose in the second century among Jewish Christians in Pella, who claimed to be the successors of the original apostolic church in Jerusalem.2 Lüdemann observes that pseudonymous writings in the NT tried to legitimate their form of Christianity by ascribing it to an apostle. He suggests that Christians at Pella traced their origins back to the original Jerusalem congregation in order to legitimate their form of Jewish Christianity (90).  . . . [H]e did not need to mention the place of relocation. Most scholars believe that Eusebius drew his information from a source.  . . . Lüdemann . . . plausibly suggests Aristón of Pella, a Jewish Christian who lived in the mid-second century.


While “Lüdemann . . . concludes that Epiphanius based all his Pella texts on Eusebius,” Koester concludes: “Epiphanius probably learned of the Pella tradition from an unknown source other than Eusebius.  . . . [T]he most plausible explanation for the origin of the tradition is that it recalls actual events of the first century.” 


F. F. Bruce (A New Testament Commentary, page 651) comments regarding the Revelation 12:6 passage (“and the woman fled into the wilderness”): “A reference to the flight of the Palestinian church in A. D. 66, at the outbreak of the Jewish revolt; according to Eusebius, she found a refuge in the territory of Pella beyond Jordan—but did some members settle in the wilderness of Judea?”  Later, regarding the Revelation 12:15-16 account (“The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman . . . the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river”), Bruce (652) comments: “This may refer to some incident . . . which threatened to cut off the church’s escape.  . . . [perhaps] a literal flood, like that which prevented the Jews of Gadara from escaping across the Jordan from the Romans in March A.D. 68.”  Or, perhaps, it was the opposite of a flood.  Perhaps, the Jordan—rather than flooding—dried up substantially so that Christian Jews could virtually walk across the Jordan on dry land, thus, leaving the Promised land in the same manner as in the miracle of crossing the Jordan to enter the Promised land in Joshua 3-4 (“the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river”).  All of this is speculation, of course.  Bruce speculated a “wilderness” settlement.  I have speculated a possible “parting of the Jordan” event.  And, we really do not even know if the destination of the Jewish church’s flight was Pella.  We simply seem to have good evidence that the church fled somewhere.

S. G. F. Brandon in his book The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church (176) cites “[t]he great English authority on apocalyptic matters, the late Dr. R. H. Charles” regarding the incident just discussed—the waters out of the mouth of the serpent being swallowed by the earth—they “refer to the flight of the primitive Christian community to Pella before the Fall of Jerusalem.”  Nevertheless, Brandon (170ff.) argues that Christian Jews could not have fled to Pella, because Jews—in response to Cesarea’s killing of Jews—had sacked Pella in retaliation in 66 A.D. and there would have been extreme animosity among the Gentiles in that city toward Jews of any variety who came to their city.  He asks (172): “[O]n what did they rely for their economic support in devastated Pella among embittered Gentiles? . . . [W]hatever may have been the fate of the Jerusalem Church, it is not credible that it migrated as a body to the Greek city of Pella.”  If not Pella, then where?  Alexandria, Egypt?  Roman legions had already killed 50,000 Jews there.  Before the war began, according to Josephus, Agrippa had argued to the Jews against being provoked into a war partly because of the difficulty of fleeing to safety:

[W]hen the Romans have got you under their power, they will . . . burn your holy city, and utterly destroy your whole nation; for those of you who shall survive the war will not be able to find a place whither to flee since all men have the Romans for their lords already . . . .  Nay, indeed, the danger concerns not those Jews that dwell here only, but those of them who dwell in other cities also; for there is no people upon the habitable earth which have not some portion of you among them, whom your enemies will slay, in case you go to war . . . and so every city that hath Jews in it will be filled with slaughter” (Wars II.XVI.4).


For example, when Vespasian defeated the city of Gadara, he sent his general:

Placidus against those that had fled from Gadara . . . [who] ran together to a certain village, which was called Bethennabris . . . the most courageous of them fled to the wall of the village.  And now those that guarded the wall . . . though they could not bear the thoughts of excluding these that came . . . the guards prevented them and shut the gates . . .so they got together in great numbers and fled to Jericho . . . but Placidus followed them and slew all he overtook, as far as the Jordan . . . there was no place whither they could flee . . . fifteen thousand of them were slain” (Wars IV.VIII.4-5).


Tracing the Exodus of the Jewish Church—The 7 Churches of Revelation?  Yes.

It would seem that the location of the seven churches in Asia Minor would be a good possible alternative (least of all possible evils) destination for flight.  We know, from Acts, Paul’s writings, and Revelation, that there were Jewish and Jewish Christian communities living in these seven cities.  These cities were far enough away from Judea that the Jews and Jewish Christians were not being strongly attacked for being Jewish (while those in cities nearer to Israel were already being slaughtered by the gentile citizenry).  In light of Agrippa’s argument, one can understand the PORNEIA of the “synagogue of Satan” in the cities of Smyrna and Philadelphia, as the non-Christian Jews attempted to save their own skins (and Jezebel, the Balaamites, and the Nicolaitans in the other cities as the Christian Jews attempted to save their own skins).  The seven churches were far enough away from Rome that they were not suffering terribly from Nero’s persecution of the Christians.  If, when John states in Revelation 1:9 (NKJV), “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ,” he is indicating a common plight of Christian Jews—that they had fled (rather than were banished) to regions around Asia Minor and had arrived primarily by sea (some of the 7 cities being near a seaport; the others on a major ground route connecting to seaports), it may be an indication that Asia Minor had become a primary destination to which Jewish Christians fled.  Indeed, it may be that Jewish Christians fled in several different directions, but what happened to them after 70 A.D.?  We, frankly, do not know.  They just simply disappeared.


How Long Would it Take to Reconstitute the Church?

The Jews reconstituted (rabbinic) Judaism, following the destruction of Jerusalem and annihilation of the sacrificial worship system in 70 A.D., in the Mediterranean coastal city of Jabneh (aka, Javneh, Jamnia, and Jamneel), located between Joppa/Jaffa and the former Philistine city of Ashdod.  According to William F. Albright’s article in The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia:

At the time of the destruction of Jerusalem [70 A.D.], Johanan ben Zakkai, a member of the Sanhedrin, who had fled from the city, established a small community of sages at Jabneh.  He became the head of a Beth Din (court) there which, with certain changes, took over the functions of the Sanhedrin.  Vespasian granted the request of Johanan ben Zakkai to found an academy there, and from that time on, Jabneh became the center of a new Jewish spiritual life.  Rabban Gamaliel II was the successor of Johannan as the president of the new Sanhedrin and the academy.  [Gamaliel II remained as president until 90 A.D.]


We have no similar historical records for the continuation of the Church, despite a “concern for apostolic succession” expressed in I Clement (which John A. T. Robinson dates in 70 A.D.) and “Ignatius’ plea [Ignatius died either in 108 or in the 140s A.D.] for unity around the monarchical bishop (quintessential interests . . . of ‘emergent catholicism’)” (J. A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament, p.9).  As I mentioned in an earlier post, the epistle from the church at Rome to the church at Corinth that is attributed to Clement as I Clement (although Clement’s name does not appear in the epistle) is neither canonical nor inspired, yet it shows internal evidence of having been written before 70 A.D.  It mentions the temple as still existing.  The concept of “apostolic succession,” however, as taken from I Clement has been used to justify the catholic concept of Peter as first pope and Clement as his successor.

There is NO DISCUSSION WHATSOEVER of a monarchical bishop in the New Testament.  What has occurred by around 100 to 140 A.D. is what Robinson calls “emergent catholicism.”  The Catholic Church has, by the second century, begun to be the “reconstituted” church, but it is almost completely devoid of Jews.  And there is no conclusive proof of any sort of succession of the church from the Apostolic age, although legends attempt to supply proof of such matters.  The church is now being run by Gentiles, despite the fact that not a single New Testament book was written by a Gentile.  Ignatius of Alexandria, Clement of Rome, and Polycarp of Smyrna are the three most prominent leaders in the reconstituted church.  While there is a wealth of New Testament literature from the 50s and 60s A.D., there is NO Christian Literature that is undisputedly from the late 70s to the early 90s.  The Epistle of Barnabas (sometimes mistakenly assumed to be written by the New Testament ally of Paul) could have been written as early as 70 A.D. or as late as 132.  The Shepherd of Hermas was written, most likely, late in the first half of the second century.  The church has both “literally” and “literarily” gone away.

How Could a Church be Reconstituted if There Were No Christians Left?

The 1969 Christian Folksong (“I Wish We’d All Been Ready”) that inspired the Tim LaHaye “Left Behind” books and movies states lyrically: “The Father spoke, the demons dined, the Son has come, and you’ve been left behind.”  Is that true?  If the Rapture occurred in the 70s, were some “left behind”? 

Not every Christian was promised that s/he would be raptured.  I am not yet completely convinced that the promised rapture included, for example, Gentile Christians.  The promise may have been intended only for Jewish Christians (those that were “standing here” in Jesus’ audience; the 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel).  On the other hand, Paul indicates that “we shall all be changed” (I Corinthians 15:51), possibly indicating that some Gentiles in Corinth may be among the raptured.  Whatever the case may be concerning Jews and Gentiles, Matthew 24:41 describes the Rapture event: “Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.”  Hence: “Left behind!”  Revelation 16:15 and Matthew 24:42-43 warn that Jesus is coming like a thief, so we need to be ready.  The parable of the Ten Virgins reinforces the point in marriage imagery.  I Peter 4:17 (KJV) warns that “judgment must begin at the house of God, and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God?”  Therefore, we should assume that not every Christian was raptured.  Did those who were “left behind” reconstitute the church?

If so, they were given the opportunity to repent.  However, those “Christians” who supposedly remained did not seem to have clear information concerning who the authors of the gospels, or the book of Hebrews, the Epistles of John, or the book of Revelation were.  Virtually all of the attributions of authorship have to do with “internal” evidence—things that might be learned by any novice studying the texts for the first time.  There are legends (again, based perhaps on interpretations of “internal” evidence) that Paul and Peter were killed in Rome, but these legends are also suspect.  I Peter 5:13 (NIV), for example, places Peter in “Babylon”: “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.”  These “Christians” assume that Babylon means Rome, but, if as I and others have argued, Babylon does not refer to Rome, but rather to Jerusalem, Mark’s home town, and the site of the church that meets in his mother’s house (Acts 12:12), we may have Peter dying in Jerusalem instead, where also Jesus’ brother James died in 62 A.D.—as substantiated by Josephus (Antiquities XX.IX.1).  Why would the reconstituted Church not know these basic historical matters?  Could it be because the “Christians” who reconstituted the Church were among those “left behind” or by novices studying the texts for the first time.  If they don’t know these things, how would they have any idea of the fate of the Jewish church? 

I grew up in the Restoration Movement, the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, who live by the motto: “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible.”  If the reconstituted Church cannot be relied upon for basic historical information concerning the transition from the Church of the New Testament to the Catholic Church, why should we rely upon their “creeds”?  Why should we look to them to interpret Jesus’ Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation?  Modern scholarly methods are superior and our knowledge of archaeology and textual criticism lend much support to revisiting long-held interpretations without interference from centuries-old creeds.


Why is That Not Bad News?

Atheists—since they desire to disprove the thesis that God exists—seize upon the fact that the New Testament writings (including the gospels, Pauline literature, and Revelation) place a time limit on the period before Christ’s coming (which event, they argue, did not happen within the specified time limit).  Therefore, they seek to prove that Jesus and John were false prophets and, thereby, to discredit the New Testament.  By arguing that the Parousia did arrive on schedule, we are pounding a major nail in the coffin of Atheism.  Atheists can be right about the New Testament placing a time limit on the period before Christ’s coming, and yet fatally wrong in their assessment that the event did not happen within the specified time limit.  Likewise, critical biblical scholars have lost a major premise upon which to hang their doctrine of the “delay of the Parousia” speculation.  Of course, these critical scholars are prisoners to their own prejudiced assumption “that supernatural events are not possible” (Noll, 20), anyway, so they would never admit that the Rapture could have happened at all.

Some Christians might look at the conclusion that the Church was raptured in the years following the Fall of Jerusalem as a source of huge disappointment.  The song lyrics state: “you’ve been left behind.”  Is that true?  If the Rapture occurred in the 70s, were you “left behind”?  No, because you were not alive in 70-73 A.D.  Furthermore, you have had the advantage of the tremendous growth of Christianity world-wide over the past two millennia.  You live in Western Christian Civilization.  This civilization has been growing for more than a millennium—nearly, two thousand years.  As Jesus and John promised in Revelation, Christ’s followers have been reigning with Him for all this time.  And, yet, Revelation predicts another coming test for Christianity—the rise of Gog and Magog—in our future.  Following the rise of Gog and Magog, you must be ready for the final act of human history—the end of the world and the beginning of the World to Come, the New Jerusalem dwelling in the New Heavens and New Earth.  We will begin to look at those events in subsequent blog posts.

Meanwhile, have you ever wondered about the I Peter 4:17 (KJV) warning that “judgment must begin at the house of God”?  Have you wondered whether God’s judgment on the Church would be so severe that only one-tenth or one-fourth or one-half of the Church would be saved?  Have you wondered if you would “make the cut”?  Then, take heart from the almost total dearth of (especially, Jewish) Christians left in the world after the Rapture.  They’re just simply all gone.  That fact seems to me to bode well for the Christians who will be around for the last round-up.  The implication is that God will be taking with him ALL who are true believers.  God is not willing to have ANY of his people “left behind” (II Peter 3:9).

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