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Wednesday's Church
In Defense of the Faith
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
Wendy Wippel

You know the old saying…Monday's child is full of grace, Tuesday's, fair of face, Wednesday's, full of woe.  Statistics tells us that, by denominational affiliation, three-fourths of the church is full of woe.  Why?  Misinterpretation of one passage of scripture.  Leading (inevitably) to one big ol' mess of confusion.  And contention.

The passage in question is Matthew 24, an insider's briefing on the end times delivered by the mouth of Jesus Himself:

"Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.

“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. …and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matthew 24:15-31 NKJV)

In my book, the first rule of Bible Interpretation is to know your audience.  Matthew is inarguably written to the Jews, the purpose of his gospel is clearly to prove to the nation of Israel that Jesus, having fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy, is the promised Messiah.  His Jewish audience is to watch for a specific sign: a desecration of the Holy of Holies called 'the abomination of desolation'.  They are to pray that the urgent flight necessitated by the abomination of desolation does not occur on the Sabbath. 

(Neither the desecration of the Holy of Holies nor the Sabbath being a big issue for your average Gentile. )

The second rule of Bible Interpretation is to correctly handle the whole word of God.  The Bible tells us that God breathed out the Scriptures, and as a book with One Author, the Bible can be justifiably expected to be consistent in expression and coherent in theme.  So correctly handling the Scriptures consists of seeking to understand the Scriptures as a whole, and using the Bible to interpret itself, i.e., seeing what other Scriptures can shed light on a particular passage whose interpretation might be in question.

This should not be a novel approach, but it is.  Cherry picking verses out of context is at the root of nearly every doctrine that divides the church.

This passage in Matthew is a perfect example.

Note the sequence of events:

  • The abomination of desolation, which we know (Daniel 9:24-27) is at the midpoint of tribulation.
  • Presence of false messiah(s) and false prophet(s)
  • Finish of tribulation
  • Messiah comes in the clouds and sends His angels to gather the elect "from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."

The elect are being gathered here at the end of tribulation, leading many otherwise well-intentioned believers (Wednesday's church), to conclude that the rapture of the church, the coming of Jesus for His bride, will occur after the tribulation.  But does that interpretation stand up to correct handling of the Word?

Applying Wendy's first rule of Bible Interpretation, "Know Your Audience",  Matthew's audience, again, was the Jews. 

So who are the elect?  Jesus says that for the sake of the "elect" the period of tribulation shall be shortened, otherwise none would be saved.  We know (Daniel 9:24-27) that the seven years of tribulation are decreed for the Jews. We know that the tribulation purges the Jews so that two-thirds die (Zechariah 13:8) and the righteous one-third remaining will be the all of Israel that is saved. (Romans 11:26)  The elect are then gathered.

The Greek word "eklektos" means chosen.  And who was "chosen"?  The Jews.  The work eklektos is also used for the church in the epistles, but there is no reason to assume that "elect" means the church.

And Matthew's audience-- the Jews-- would have undoubtedly viewed elect to mean themselves. 

They had ample reason to.  Namely, three specific promises of God:

“Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you." (Deuteronomy 30:3-4)

"And it shall come to pass in that day … you will be gathered one by one, O you children of Israel. So it shall be in that day: The great trumpet will be blown; They will come, who are about to perish in the land of Assyria, And they who are outcasts in the land of Egypt, And shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem." (Isaiah 27:12-13)

"He will set up a banner for the nations, And will assemble the outcasts of Israel, And gather together the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth." (Isaiah 11:12)

Same promises, same trumpet, same subjects.  The elect being gathered after the tribulation, based on the whole counsel of God, is clearly the Jews.  And the gathering of the elect in Matthew 24 is nothing but God keeping the promises He made. Namely, here, promises to the Jews in Deuteronomy and Isaiah.

One of my favorite Bible teachers is known to say that taking a text out of the context is a con job.  I'll add a corollary.  Keeping the text in the context will save you a lot of confusion.  

And if you're in the body of Christ?  No woeful faces.  The trumpet we're waiting for could very well be today.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Celebrate Diversity!



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