For the time being we will set aside the soteriological question raised in the previous post. To summarize, what we know is that grace was at work in OT times just as in NT time, because the allowance of salvation by faith is by its nature an expression of God’s grace. That is, as best I can discern, held consistently by both amillennialists and premillennialists. Though there have been differences over the centuries it seems everyone comes back to that point. What remains a question for me is whether that salvation on OT times is secure and if so, was the means of security then the same as it is today? This will involve some lengthy exegesis and, at first glance, has a good chance at ending in mystery. So that specific concern will be tabled for the time being.
Before we jump in let’s consider a problem we have in our Bibles. That problem is the chapter and verse markings. These get in the way of reading They leave pieces isolated and destroy the continuity of the context of passages. Fortunately today we have the Internet and the WWW. Now you can grab a book of the Bible, strip out the chapter and verse markings (because they are artificial) and read the text with its natural flow. I would encourage you to do that with I Thessalonians (and, of course, every other book of the Bible). This should prove helpful as we exegete more passages during this study.
The starting point for rapture exegesis is I Thessalonians 4. We read at verse 13 and into chapter 5
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
The premill interpretation is this: The Lord will return to gather His saints together to avoid eschatological judgment.
Paul’s first point is that the living will not go into God’s presence apart from those who have died before that time. When the Lord returns he will be gathering saints old and new together to be with Him for eternity. This is intended to be a comfort to those who are concerned about loved ones who have passed before the Lord’s return.
As is so common in Jewish writing this one comes with a contrast. (Contrast on the sentence and phrase level is common, esp. as one reads Proverbs. It often occurs on the paragraph level as we see here.) First Paul speaks of the believers. Then he speaks of the state of the lost, those who live arrogantly and believe they have created a peaceful and safe world. Theirs is the judgment of the day of the Lord.
This gathering together occurs in sequence. The Lord gathers his saints together then judges the world. On this amillennialists generally agree. Where the two not agree is when this occurs. When is this final eschatological judgment? For the dispensationalist the day is the period of time, seven years, when the Lord judges the earth before taking control for a millennium. “Day” is taken figuratively (both sides accept that). The first question is whether or not this period of time represents that “day” or if the day is something else. What follows that is how this event or period fits into the rest of the eschatological plan.
For the amillennialist this is seen as a positive event. It represents the saints greeting the Lord on His return to establish His kingdom. The ἀπάντησιν (4:17) is seen as a greeting and not the inauguration of judgment. Anthony Hoekema says
5. The “rapture” of all believers now takes place. Believers who have just been raised from the dead, together with living believers who have just been transformed, are now caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). That there will be such a “rapture” the Bible clearly teaches. But I have put the word rapture between quotation marks in order to distinguish the amillennial conception of the rapture from the dispensationalist view. Dispensationalists teach that after the rapture the entire church will be taken up to heaven for a period of seven years while those still on earth are undergoing the great tribulation.
Amillennialists see no scriptural evidence for such a seven-year period or for a transference of the church from earth to heaven during that period. Risen and glorified bodies of believers do not belong in heaven but on the earth. The word translated “to meet” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (apantesis) is a technical term used in the days of the New Testament to describe a public welcome given by a city to a visiting dignitary. People would ordinarily leave the city to meet the distinguished visitor and then go back with him into the city. On the basis of the analogy conveyed by this word, all Paul is saying here is that raised and transformed believers are caught up in the clouds to meet the descending Lord, implying that after this meeting they will go back with him to the earth. (italics in original)
There is some value in this approach. It seems to do more justice to the theme of the text by maintaining a positive tone, one of encouragement to believers who are concerned about those who have died before Christ’s return. Dispensationalism contains, as I see it, the unfortunate 19th century pessimism built around apocalypse. Like Mormonism (and that only incidentally, though expansion of both shares a calendar) the emphasis is on events. For many are mistaken and confuse eschatology with “apocalypsology.” The theme is not a concern about destruction and survival. Eschatology represents our anticipation of the Lord’s redemption of all creation and how He accomplishes it. It is a positive event and the amillennialist does a better work of maintaining that tone.
The pessimism of apocalypse seems to dovetail well with dispensationalism in general. Though this is anecdotal rather than exegetical one should note how many sermons one hears in fundamental and fundamentalist churches regarding how only a “few” will come to faith. “Many are called but few are chosen” takes “few” as “a small number” rather than “the minority.” Though they may be on missions and evangelism there is an assumption about our inability to reach the everyone effectively with the Gospel. As a result the gospel, except for missions, often remains in the Sunday morning revival service under pastoral control. Too often it does not go out to the home workplace.
Of course the overly-optimistic perspective of the postmillennialism, when it failed to deliver the promised results, contributed to this pessimism. How? I would suggest that the move from postmill to premill, as the theological rising star of the 19th century, was an emotional swing. This could be seen clearly after the WWI. Postmill could not bring humanity to peace. Theological postmill, that is. (The secular version, known as liberalism and progressivism , continues to try to create a better world though without God.) Premill maintained an excitement about the imminent return of Christ while avoiding the faulty notion of an earthly kingdom today. Though this excitement has its own errors it did at the time fill the emotional gap left with the collapse of postmillennial dominance.
But not all of the events predicted by the premill and dispensationalist were about apocalypse. One should note that Chafer assembled his systematic theology during the 1930s. This was the first complete dispensational systematic theology. It was only about a decade later that the state of Israel was established.
Forces had been at work in this direction. The Balfour Declaration (1917) would certainly have been known to him as it would have been to his theological predecessor, C. I. Scofield. It appeared that dispensationalism might have been right about certain matters. This series of events in the first half of the 20th century would propel dispensational fundamentalism and its hermeneutic. So much so that, just as in the 19th century, a number of failed predictions about the return of Christ have come and gone.
Christian revival movements often return to a primitive form in order to clarify their message. One might say that a small step in this direction was taken with the Feformation, but a greater step with the radical reformation and the Anabaptist movement. Believers moved from teaching a faith that was controlled by the church (Rome) or a grace that was found in knowledge or commitment (Calvinism/Protestantism), but in a changed heart. Though the concept of the changed heart is not absent the former two the radical movement sought to strip away the things that would get in the way of faith as a way of life.
In a similar fashion the hermeneutic of the dispensational fundamentalist seems simplistic. The idea of read everything “plain language” is very appealing. And in most instances it is suitable. The premill simply maintains that this approach deserves to be used with greater consistency. I agree. Many in the early church agreed. But plain language, as we discussed earlier, is not always enough. History has provided too much of value to discount it so easily.
 Gray, John, “Black Mass, Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia” Here Gray summarizes the theological history of modern liberalism.