Antichrist Before the Day of the Lord (Kurschner)

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Kurschner, Alan. Antichrist Before the Day of the Lord: What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Return of Christ. Prompton Lakes, NJ: Eschatos Publishing, 2013.

Will Jesus rapture us before the Great Tribulation?  According to 2 Thess. 2:3, he will not. Alan Kurschner, a noted pre-wrath proponent, marshalls a number of arguments showing the error of the pretribulation rapture theory.  Throughout the argument he makes use of numerous charts and diagrams. It’s common among Reformed types to ridicule prophetic charts, but I can’t really think of a better teaching tool.

In its simplest form, Kurschner’s argument goes like this

Beginning of birth pains —– Revealing of Antichrist —- Great Tribulation —- Parousia —-Outpouring of God’s wrath — The End.

Our dispensational friends say that Daniel’s 70th week is the Great Tribulation.  Since Christians are exempt from God’s wrath (1 Thess. 5:9), the Church is exempt from the Great Tribulation,  Kurschner responds that Daniel’s 70th week starts before the wrath of God; therefore, the church is there for part of it.

Central to Kurschner’s argument are the parallels between the Olivet Discourse and Paul’s teaching in Thessalonians.  This suggests that Paul learned it from Jesus, but in any case it shows that Paul and the gospel writers are talking about the same events.

Kurschner correctly argues that Antichrist will be a specific individual. (Yes, I am aware that Antichrist only appears in the Johannine literature, but you know what I am talking about.  Don’t split hairs). Mark uses the masculine participle for standing (hestekota; cf Kurschner 12).

Kurschner’s most important argument is that the Lord’s Coming will be a single, yet complex event (17).  He will return in glory to get his church, but that won’t end world history. He has other things to do as well (e.g., come up from Bosrah, stand on the Mount of Olives and split it wide open, etc). We see a parallel to Christ’s first coming.  When we say Christ was born as a baby, we don’t reduce all of the First Coming to the manger-event. His first coming also included the rest of his life.

Outline of Events

1) Beginning of Birth Pangs.  Against preterism and historicism, Kurschner argues that Jesus reveals a cluster of conditions that must happen before his return (Matt. 24:27, 30).  If this cluster happens in proximity to the Lord’s return, then both partial preterism and historicism are ruled out. Historicism is ruled out because the birthing metaphor suggests proximity to that generation.

1.1) The birth pangs encompass False Christs, Wars, and Famines (20).

2) The Great Tribulation. This begins when Antichrist causes the Abomination of Desolation, which leads to martyrdom et al.  As Kurschner notes, “If the church is raptured before the Antichrist, then why does Paul so passionately warn believers concerning the Antichrist’s deception at his revelation” (42).

The heart of the book is Kurschner’s analysis of Revelation, and it is this which initially gave me the most trouble.  If it is true that the Seals/Bowls/Trumpets are sequential, and if the church is raptured around chapter 7, then it is hard to see how the Trumpets aren’t at least coterminous with the seals.  Kurschner solves this problem by noting that the Trumpets follow a parenthesis in chapters 12-14. John warns the believers not to take the mark of the Beast; this only makes sense if the events in chapter 13 happen before the events in chapter 7.  The parenthesis argument works, though I think it probably needs its own monograph.

Per Revelation, the problem for pretribulationists is that the saints in Revelation 6 were martyred by Antichrist, yet they are pleading to God for the outpouring of his wrath.  This signifies several things: the saints are in the tribulation, yet God’s wrath hasn’t happened. Therefore, the Tribulation isn’t coterminous with God’s wrath.

Kurschner has several fascinating appendices detailing the structure of revelation and what the earliest fathers taught about the rapture (hint: It’s pre-wrath; see the following: Didache 16.4-5; Hippolytus On Daniel II.7; Irenaeus V.30.3-4).

Review of Ice-Kurschner debate

I recently listened to the (overly!) long debate between pre-tribulationist Thomas Ice and pre-wrath Alan Kurschner.  Both men did very well and this debate, unlike almost all debates, was actually productive.  Both sides provided good information and any reasonable listener would have come away understanding both sides.

I’m fairly cynical about debates in general. If you are going to debate, it needs to be in a formal, in-person format.  Radio/Skype debates are out.  I’ve given my reasons why.

Reformed people are generally clueless about the nuances within premillennialism, so I’ll explain.  Both sides, pre-wrath and pre-trib, agree that the church does not face God’s wrath (1 Thess. 5:9). Pre-tribs, on the other hand, identify the whole tribulation as God’s wrath, which is why they don’t think the church will be present during the whole tribulation.

Incidentally, Daniel’s 70th week = the great tribulation. Both sides agree on that.

Overview of the Debate

The debate format itself was overkill. It went something like:

20-25 minute opening statements
15 minute rebuttals.
12 Minute rebuttals.
10 minute rebuttals (seriously)
12-15 minute cross examinations.
7 minute closing statements.

The transcript is 80 pages long.

The Transcript of My 2015 Debate with Thomas Ice Is Now Available

You can read it for yourself.  While I am pre-wrath, I will be fair and say Ice did a good job.

Thomas Ice

Ice tried to make a few jokes throughout his presentation and they all fell flat.  He didn’t convince anyone of dispensationalism, but I do have to say he is a better debater than I remember.  While it is tangential, he did a good job in showing how the church is a mystery that was revealed in the New Testament.  Reformed people need to hear that.  We have a tendency to say that the Church either replaced Israel or was Israel in the Old Covenant.  I  know Stephen used the word ekklesia in Acts, but it is a logical fallacy to read a full-orbed ecclesiology into a single word.

Ice’s delivery itself was quite good and easy to listen to, discounting his lame attempts at humor.  His main criticism of Kurschner was that Alan also reasoned in a circle.

Alan Kurschner

Alan had a more focused delivery. He also spoke at twice the speed of Ice.   My only criticism is I think he should have spent more time in his opening statement on the Seals/Bowls/Trumpets in Revelation and why we will experience Seals 1-6.  Kurschner thought that Joel was the best way to present pre-wrath.  I’m not so sure.

There wasn’t a clear knock-down moment on either side. I do think Kurschner won by technical knockout at the very end.   The key verse is 2 Thess. 2:3.  The apostasia must happen before Antichrist is revealed, and then the rapture happens.  Ice wants to read apostasia as “spatial departure” rather than deception, abandoning the faith, etc.  Kurschner asked him when has it ever meant that in Koine literature.  Ice couldn’t come up with any examples.

3 Views on the Rapture

Though the book is dated (pre-wrath has replaced mid-tribulationism), it remains valuable for a number of reasons.  Reiter’s essay on the development of American premillennialism is worth the price of the book. Many have a tendency to lump all premils as rednecks who are looking for the Red Heifer.  But what Reiter shows is that early premillennials were aware of difficulties in the system, and they tried to fix them.Image result for 3 views on the rapture zondervan

Feinberg gives the standard pre-tribulational argument. Key argument: God has not only exempted the church from God’s wrath, but from the season of God’s wrath (Feinberg 58, 63). Feinberg’s key argument is that Revelation 3:10 means that God will keep the church out of the tribulation.  

He further claims there must be an interval of time between the Rapture and the 2 Coming (72). The Millennium has nonglorified bodies.  And since all wicked will be immediately judged in the Second Coming (Matt. 25:31-46), then there must be a category of saved yet nonglorified bodies?

Response: Douglas Moo

The most fatal argument is that the martyred saints in Revelation 6 are asking God when his wrath will begin?  This implies it hasn’t happened yet. Therefore, the time of Tribulation is not totally a time of wrath.

Response: Gleason Archer

Feinberg admits that the Day of the Lord referred to in 2 Thess. 2:3-4 does not start until the middle of the week (Feinberg 61). This is very close to pre-wrath.

Douglas Moo gives the post-trib argument, and since it is relatively familiar to American evangelicals, I will focus on Gleason Archer’s mid-tribulational view.  It never gained much ground and has since been replaced by pre-wrath.

The Case for the Mid-Seventieth Week Rapture

The rapture will precede the second advent of Christ. So far that sounds like pre-trib, but there are a few differences.  Archer places the rapture in the middle of Daniel’s 70th week.

Rider on the White Horse in Revelation 19.  This is the big weakness of post-tribulationism.  Where do these saints come from (Archer 120). These saints appear to have already been “clothed” (2 Cor. 5:2; 1 John 3:2).

Two phases of the Parousia (cf. response to Moo, 213ff).  There is no hint of apocalyptic struggle in the primary rapture passage (1 Thess. 4:13-18). In verse 14 it says “God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through (dia) Christ Jesus.” Those who have died in Christ will not be raised until the rapture (214). They will not accompany the Lord in his descent without their resurrected bodies.

Conclusion

So who won?  Not really anyone.  Feinberg made a few good points, but his church/israel dichotomy hamstrung his whole project.  Moo’s responses were fairly good but post-trib is just so complex that I can’t follow him. Archer’s placing the rapture midway through the 70th week is interesting, if a bit arbitrary.  I think Alan Kurschner’s recent teaching on pre-wrath holds more promise.