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April 1976 · Vol. 5 No. 2 · pp. 34–35 

Book Review

The Church and the Tribulation

Robert H. Gundry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1973. 224 pages.

Reviewed by Arthur G. Willems

In this work the Chairman of the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy and Professor of Religious Studies at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California, sets forth views which the publishers believe “will become the standard text on the posttribulational viewpoint of the rapture of the church.” Gundry sets forth three theses in support of his posttribulational view:

(1) Direct unquestioned statements of Scripture that Jesus Christ will return after the tribulation and that the first resurrection will occur after the tribulation, coupled with the absence of statements placing similar events before the tribulation, make it natural to place the rapture of the Church after the tribulation. (2) The theological and exegetical grounds for pretribulationism rest on insufficient evidence, non sequitur reasoning, and faulty exegesis. (3) Positive indications of a posttribulational rapture arise out of a proper exegesis of relevant Scripture passages and derive support from the history of doctrine.

The author is well acquainted with his subject matter and carefully develops his viewpoint. He begins with the doctrine of the church, holding that the coming church age was mentioned in the Old Testament. He views the change in dispensations at the beginning of the church age as gradual, extending over a period of years. To support his posttribulational view, he concludes that it is logical that the close of the church age could also be {35} extended, thus taking the church through the tribulation. He rejects the term imminence as descriptive of the Lord’s coming for the church and substitutes expectancy. This solves the problem of the predicted events prior to and during the tribulation before the Lord’s return.

In dealing with the divine wrath and judgment of the tribulation period, he concludes that the church will not suffer the divine wrath poured upon sinful men, but will suffer persecution at the hands of sinful men. God will not save the church by removal out of the tribulation but by protection in the tribulation.

Gundry considers all the relevant New Testament passages. In his chapter, “Pertinent Points in the Revelation,” he outlines his view that the church will be on earth during the tribulation (Rev. 4-18). He sees the rapture in the “harvest” of Revelation 14:14-16, which he says is “best taken as symbolic of the rapture.” The bride in the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9), includes not only the church but Israel as well. Concerning the day of the Lord, he believes that it is identical to the day of Christ and has its beginning after the tribulation. He rejects the argument from the Book of Joel that the day of the Lord will be “a day of darkness and gloom” holding that this is a reference only to the coming plague of locusts which Joel predicted.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 his view is that the problem of the Thessalonians was their belief that the dead will neither share in the meeting with Jesus nor the honor of joining the retinue as he descends. They also thought that the dead would not be raised until after the Messianic Kingdom. Concerning 2 Thessalonians, he believes that Paul “directs his remarks to the agitation of the Thessalonians at the prospect of an immediate return of Christ.” Paul assures them that before Christ will return the apostasy and the revealing of the man of sin must take place.

In the discussion of the Olivet Discourse, Gundry holds that the Jewish element of the Discourse can satisfactorily be explained by the view that Jesus was addressing the disciples not as representative of the Jewish nation but as Jewish Christians who belong to the church. He believes that Paul in 1 Thessalonians is referring to the Olivet Discourse. He refers particularly to the trumpet, clouds, and a gathering of believers. Jesus and Paul are thus speaking about the same event. In his view there are only two phases to the first resurrection—the resurrection of Jesus followed by the resurrection of all believers at the end of the tribulation. He views the great trumpet of Matthew 24:31, the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52, the trumpet of God in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “and perhaps the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15-18 as well” as being identical. Unlike most premillennialist dispensationalists he holds the unique view that there will only be one general judgment for saved and unsaved at the end of the millennium.

The book closes with a chapter on “historical confirmation” in which he quotes from writers from Ante-Nicene times to the present in support of his view. He holds that Edward Irving was the first to promote the doctrine of the pretribulation rapture of the Church. Irving disseminated this doctrine among the Plymouth Brethren of England. He is careful, however, to point out that pretribulationism should not be “stigmatized through association with the heresies of Irving and the outbreak of ‘tongues’ and prophetic ecstasies in his movement.”

Although the book is well organized and documented, there are some obvious weaknesses. At times he succumbs to the temptation of setting up {36} “straw men” and disposing of them with a few deft arguments. If it suits his argument he quotes sources that are probably not considered as authoritative. The author also has the tendency to shift the burden of proof upon the pretribulationist and seldom, if ever, does he recognize that the onus is his.

This work is probably being accepted as definitive by those who agree with Gundry’s posttribulational view. It should cause pretribulationists to carefully reexamine their position. However, in all likelihood they will remain unconvinced that the author has actually proved his theses.

Arthur G. Willems, Chaplain
Shafter, California

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