Revelation 2-3, Seven Churches
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
March 31, 2020
For years I have heard sermons on the “imminent” (at any time) second coming of Christ to take away His church called the “rapture.” Its proponents teach that there are no necessary prophetic events which must occur before the rapture. The rapture could occur at any moment to end the church age. Paul expected the rapture to occur in his own lifetime. It could have occurred before the death of Paul when he wrote 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 or 1 Corinthians 15:51-56 and included himself using “we.”
For years I have also hear and read sermons and commentaries teach that the 7 churches of Revelation 2-3 represent (1) literal churches of Asia Minor in the first century, (2) individual persons in those churches, (3) prophecies of the church age from its beginning to the rapture, (4) types of churches throughout history and (5) individuals throughout history.
I agree with all of the above except #3. Although it is taught by Adam Clarke, The Scofield Reference Bible, The King James Bible Commentary and Spiros Zodhiates, it is NOT taught by Albert Barnes’ Notes, The JFB Commentary, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Walvoord and Zuck) or The Bible Exposition Commentary (Warren Wiersbe).
The doctrine of the imminent return of Christ to rapture the church CONTRADICTS the teaching that the 7 churches represent the church ages!!! Jesus’ return cannot be “imminent” (at any moment) if the so-called church age prophesy must occur first!!!
They cannot both be true!!!
Another difficult text is Jesus’ promise to Peter in John 21:18-19 “… when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. …” How do we reconcile Christ’s imminent return with Peter’s prophesied death (in approximately A. D. 68)?
A suggested solution: Since both First Thessalonians 4:13-17 and First Corinthians 15:51-56 were written before Peter died in A. D. 68, Jesus’ return to rapture the Church could not have been BEFORE Peter died. That means that Peter’s death was the only prophesied event that must occur prior to the rapture; therefore, the rapture was not “imminent” before Peter died.
The truth is that neither First Thessalonians 4:13-17 nor First Corinthians 15:51-56 teach the “imminent” (at any moment) rapture of the church!!! The doctrine was revealed to Bible scholars AFTER Peter died because all other prophesied events refer to God’s future dealings with Israel, and not the Church.
Therefore, we can confidently state that the rapture of the Church is presently an “imminent” (at any time) event. The Church will not suffer the wrath of God (1 Thes 1:10; 5:9) and the Great Tribulation of Revelation 6-18 refers to Israel, and not the Church (Dan 9:24-27).
As a related corollary, the 70 years spans from 609-608 B. C. when Ezekiel went to Babylonian captivity to 539-538 8 B. C. when Cyrus allowed the first return under Zerubbabel. It did not begin in 586 B. C.