Previous article in this series: July 2010, p. 427.
With great emphasis, dispensationalists claim that the rapture can take place at any moment. By this statement they mean that there are no signs that must take place before it occurs. And if there are no signs for us to see, there is no purpose in our looking for them.
Yet looking for these signs is precisely what our Lord has called us to do. If we are not watching, then we are sleeping:
Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch,
In spite of this, many dispensationalists try to persuade us that there is no need for us to do so.
Signs for Israel, but not for the Church
The Bible clearly and repeatedly speaks of the signs of Christ’s coming. That being the case, there is no way to deny that there are such signs if one wants to profess to hold to the Scriptures. There are, however, two effective ways to get rid of those signs, if you do not want them. One way is to say that these signs have already taken place in the distant past. This is the typical postmillennial way of denying the signs. Another way is to say that these signs will take place after the church has been raptured from this earth, so that there is no need for the church to be looking for them now.
Both methods have been very successful at getting people to believe that there is no need for us to watch for these signs today. They are two lullabies that are being used quite effectively to put multitudes to sleep.
It is the second of these two methods that is employed by the dispensationalists. They will admit that there are signs that will precede the second coming of Christ. But, they say, these signs are for Israel, not for the church. The church, they maintain, will be gone before they take place.
Note how the dispensationalists are once again making use of their erroneous Israel—church distinction. They use this distinction to get around many truths, including the one concerning the signs of Christ’s coming:
Many signs were given to the nation Israel, which would precede the second advent, so that the nation might be living in expectancy when the time of His coming should draw nigh…. To the church no such signs were ever given. The church was told to live in the light of the imminent coming of the Lord to translate them into His presence…. Such passages as
all warn the believer to be watching for the Lord Himself, not for signs that would precede His coming.1
Israel is given signs, but the church is given none. Israel will one day watch for the signs of Christ’s coming, but the church is to watch for the Lord Himself. Such are some of the strange distinctions that arise when one divides God’s people into two groups.
We do not stand gazing up into heaven, looking to catch the first glimpse of His appearance. We watch for our Lord by beholding the signs—signs our Lord has given us that we might be assured that His final coming really is approaching rapidly.
Separating the rapture from the day our Lord returns
The dispensationalist maintains that the signs will be seen by Israel, but not by the church. The day the church is raptured, they say, will be at least seven years prior to the day our Lord returns. Then, after the rapture, the signs of Christ’s coming will take place in that seven-year time period between the rapture and Christ’s second coming.
The Scriptures, however, speak of the church being raptured on the day our Lord returns:
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord,
It is on the very day that our Lord descends from heaven that the elect will be caught up to meet Him in the air.
Dispensationalists maintain that the rapture will take place at least seven years before our Lord comes back. If you ask them how they came up with this number, they will normally point you to Daniel 9:27, which, they say, teaches that the Antichrist will agree to make a seven-year covenant² with Israel, but will then later go back on his word, break off his covenant at the mid-way point, and begin to persecute Israel. This seven-year period, say the dispensationalists, is when the signs of Christ’s coming will take place.
God, they say, must first finish His work with the church, and take her to heaven. Only then will He return to His work of saving Israel. And saving Israel, they argue, is what God will be doing during this seven-year period. He will use the Antichrist’s persecution of Israel to get Israel to see their sins and turn to the Messiah. In this way, supposedly, Israel will be converted, so that they will be eagerly awaiting Christ when He returns.
That is the way typical dispensationalists argue. In that way they effectively strip the church of the signs Christ has given her to comfort and encourage her in the last days.
The “proof” that the church has no signs
Having made this distinction between two great days in the future—the day of the rapture and the day of our Lord’s return—dispensationalists proceed to teach that although there are signs that will precede the day of our Lord’s return, there are no signs that precede the day of the rapture:
Unlike passages that deal with the second coming of Christ and trace the tremendous world-shaking events which shall take place in the years preceding it, the Rapture of the church is always presented as the next event and, as such, one that is not dependent on immediate preceding events.³
Walvoord says the rapture “is always presented as the next event.” By this he means that whenever the rapture is referred to in Scripture there is never any reference to any signs preceding it.
But how many passages are there that explicitly refer to the rapture? Walvoord is implying that there are quite a few. Yet in the context he does not refer to a single passage other than I Thessalonians 4:16—17. There are certainly many passages that speak of the day of our Lord’s return. But there are not many passages that speak specifically of the rapture that will take place on that day.
It is true, of course, that this one rapture passage does not make any reference to any signs that will precede the rapture. But the fact that this passage does not make any reference to such events does not mean that they will not occur. They simply were not listed in this specific passage.
There are a number of passages elsewhere in Scripture that refer to the signs that precede the day of our Lord’s return. This specific passage did not have that as its purpose. This passage was to serve to assure God’s people that all believers—the living and the dead—will meet Christ together when He returns. So if we consider this passage in its context, we will not be surprised when we find that it does not contain a list of the precursory signs.
The importance of watching the signs
In Mark 13:37, our Lord made a specific reference to the fact that the calling to watch for these signs comes not only to some, but to all. It is not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles that have this calling to watch. Dispensationalists are effectively teaching that the church does not need to watch. They will never see these signs. But Christ said this command comes not only to some, but to all.
Christ is calling us to watch for Him by watching the signs of His coming. This passage from Mark 13 is one of those places where we find a detailed list of the signs of our Lord’s return. It is right after listing them that He commands His disciples, and us, to watch.
It is important for us to behold these signs. One who has been fooled by dispensational teachings would be likely not to recognize the Antichrist when he does arise.
Let us say, for example, that a Reformed believer was talking to a dispensationalist after the Antichrist had risen to the height of power. The dispensationalist would argue that the man could not be the Antichrist, because the church was still on this earth. Not watching for the signs, he would be oblivious to what was taking place.
We must not sleep. We must not be persuaded by those who would put us to sleep. Rather, we must remain awake and alert in these last days, thinking often of the words our Lord has spoken:
And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch,