THE DISPENSATIONAL INTERPRETATION
by Bob Wheeler
So far we have looked at our Lord’s Olivet Discourse and Paul’s epistles to the Thessalonians to see if the widely held belief in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture is really scriptural. Our conclusion so far is that it is not.
But what about the Book of Revelation? One would expect that if there is such a thing as a Pre-Tribulation Rapture one would find it there. Does the Book of Revelation teach such a thing?
The short answer, admitted by even many Dispensationalists, is “no.” Most interpreters would agree that the rapture is not mentioned in the book. What the book does make clear, however, is that the Antichrist will persecute the saints. Is this not proof positive that the church will remain on earth throughout the Tribulation? Most Dispensationalists, however, would emphatically deny it. But who, then, are there “tribulation saints”?
The usual Dispensationalist answer is that these are Jews who are converted after the church has been raptured. To most non-Dispensationalists this answer seems bizarre; “saints” are “saints.” The term is usually applied in the New Testament to Christians, whether Jew or Gentile. But to understand how Dispensationalists arrive at this conclusion one understand the internal logic of their system.
The Dispensational approach to Scripture involves making sharp distinctions between different things, especially in the way God operates from one period of time to another. In the introduction to his famous Scofield Reference Bible C.I. Scofield quoted approvingly St. Augustine: “Distinguish the ages, and the Scriptures harmonize.” (The various periods of time in Scripture are sometimes referred to as “dispensations.”) In his classic little booklet Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth Dr. Scofield argued, on the basis of II Tim. 2:15, that the word of Truth has divisions, “so any study of that word which ignores these divisions must be in large measure profitless and confusing” (p. 3).
The first such division that Dr. Scofield discusses in his booklet is between “The Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God,” and he says that “comparing, then, what is said in Scripture concerning Israel and the Church, he finds that in origin, calling, promise, worship, principles of conduct, and future destiny – all is contrast” (p. 6). He then goes on to say, “In the predictions concerning the future of Israel and the Church, the distinction is still more striking. The church will be taken away from the earth entirely, but restored Israel is yet to have her greatest earthly splendor and power” (p. 9). In other words, God had two different chosen peoples, Israel and the Church, and has a separate plan and destiny for each. Thus it is possible for Dr. Scofield to argue that the Great Tribulation pertains to Israel – it is “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7), and the Church has nothing to do with it.
The underlying premise, however, is faulty. Paul specifically says that Christ “has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation . . . that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross . . . ” (Eph. 2:11-22; NKJV). And even if the premise were true, the conclusion does not logically follow from the premise. Just because Israel is destined to pass through the last Great Tribulation does not mean that the Church will not also pass through the same Tribulation. As we shall see when we examine the Book of Revelation, that is exactly what Christian believers, whether Jew or Gentile, should expect.