The Rapture According to John Walvoord

The following is a short paper written for a seminary class. The prompt was “Survey writings of Dr. John F. Walvoord on eschatology in 1 & 2 Thessalonians; write a summary and your reflections.” Enjoy!


 

Introduction

Dr. John F. Walvoord was, by any standard, a massive intellect. His impact on Dallas Seminary needs no explication. The prolific nature of his contribution to the published world, particularly concerning prophecy, is rivaled by few if any. This paper will first undertake to summarize Dr. Walvoord’s basic views on the end times, primarily the rapture and its biblical grounding in 1 Thessalonians, its nature and timing, its purpose, and the man of lawlessness and the restrainer in 2 Thessalonians. The paper will then reflect on these end times views from a first-person perspective. The four primary texts written by Dr. Walvoord in ascertaining these views are Major Bible Prophecies, End Times, The Millennial Kingdom, and The Thessalonian Epistles all of which were, written exclusively by Dr. John F. Walvoord.

Summary of End Times Views from 1 and 2 Thessalonians

The bulk of Dr. Walvoord’s work as it relates to 1 and 2 Thessalonians deals with the rapture as “the major passage on the Rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.”[1] A component of the rapture involves the transformation of a believer’s current body to his resurrection body called “the translation of the saints.”[2] 2 Thessalonians also clarifies some points about “the man of lawlessness,” which is an allusion to Old Testament prophecies, primarily in Daniel. Since this paper is specifically about 1 and 2 Thessalonians and his writing was so voluminous on the subject, the majority of space here will be devoted to Dr. Walvoord’s views on the rapture.

The Rapture in Scripture

As stated, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is the primary text that teaches, or reveals the rapture. Dr. Walvoord argues in multiple places that “the concept of a rapture is not found in Old Testament prophecy.”[3] This likely adds to the variety of interpretations about it. As with other doctrines in the church, those that are revealed for the first time in the New Testament (such as the church itself) tend to be variously interpreted and applied.[4] A reality worth recognizing is that the fewer textual attestations a doctrine has, the less clear the doctrine can be. Of course, this reality makes the doctrine no less true and no less worth studying. Dr. Walvoord understood these facts well.

Dr. Walvoord also follows a similar pattern most of the times he deals with the rapture. He begins by pointing out that the doctrine is first revealed, not in 1 Thessalonians, but in John 14.[5] In this section of the Upper Room discourse, Jesus tells his disciples that he “goes to prepare a place for them,” assumedly, in his Father’s house. Since it is clear from Revelation 21-22 that the ultimate destination of all who believe in Christ will be a New Jerusalem on a New Earth, not in ουρανος (heaven) which is the dwelling place of the father (Matt 6:9-10), it makes sense that this is a reference to the rapture and not the second coming.[6] Dr. Walvoord contends that the disciples didn’t understand this distinction of events at the time.[7]

Dr. Walvoord also refers to 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 when discussing the rapture, in which, Paul states that believers alive at the “last trumpet” will not “sleep,” (a euphemism for death) but instead be changed in the “twinkling of an eye.” This passage perfectly aligns with Paul’s teaching in the primary rapture text, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Paul says that “we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them (the dead) in the clouds and meet the Lord in the air” and that it will happen after “the trumpet of God,” which correlates the two passages.[8]

The Rapture’s Nature and Timing

Dr. Walvoord makes very clear that the rapture is distinct from the Second Coming. He always treats the two events separately, and in one instances does a direct contrast, saying, “the scriptures make no mention of a rapture in connection with the second coming of Christ. The picture of the Second Coming is totally different from that of the Rapture and most certainly does not represent any event of the past.”[9]

Pretribulation Timing

Dr. Walvoord also goes to great lengths to defend a pretribulation rapture.[10] One of his main logical reasons largely relates to the rapture’s purpose, and so will be discussed in the next section. Another of his logical reasons relates to the imminence of the rapture. Dr. Walvoord spends a good deal of time defending the imminence of the rapture, that it could happen at any moment. He holds it as one of the main points about the rapture, and the main reason Paul teaches it in 1 Thessalonians: Christians must be ready for it.[11]

Dr. Walvoord’s main textual reasons lie in the progression from 1 Thessalonians 4 to 1 Thessalonians 5. First the rapture is described at the end of chapter four, and then a discussion of the tribulation is undertaken in chapter five. It seems as if this progression is chronological in presentation. Furthermore, Walvoord contends that Paul’s meaning in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 is to say that Christians will be spared from the tribulation by being raptured. He states that, “Christians in the present age who are looking forward to the Rapture are assured that they will be delivered from the day of wrath (1 Thess. 5:9).”[12]

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the reasons Dr. Walvoord provides for accepting a pretribulation rapture, they are merely those which this writer finds most compelling.[13]

Multiple Resurrections

Dr. Walvoord also repeatedly emphasizes the importance of recognizing the progression of various resurrections of believers. He asserts that this is one of the reasons Paul must clarify the doctrine of the rapture to the Thessalonians, because “it is evident that Paul had taught them that there would be a number of resurrections in a chronological order as the Scriptures portray—not just one general resurrection as some believe today.”[14]

The Rapture’s Purpose

The confidence in the salvation of Christians, not just from final torment but also from the wrath of the tribulation, is the main purpose for the rapture, according to Dr. Walvoord. As he puts it, it gives Christians hope. “One of the main reasons for Paul’s teaching on the Rapture is that he did not want Christians to sorrow as the world does without any hope (1 Thess 4:13).”[15] This, he argues, is the purpose of most all prophecy.[16]

The Man of Lawlessness

The “man of lawlessness” or “man of sin” is mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as showing up after a great apostasy, and all of this will occur before the “Day of the Lord.” In earlier works Dr. Walvoord sees a clear connection between this “man of sin” and either the beast or the false prophet of Revelation 13.[17] In later works he is more confident in calling him the Antichrist, and linking him specifically to the first beast alone.[18] He also connects this character with the man from Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy. Dr. Walvoord confidently interprets this to mean that this man, the Antichrist, will “be revealed in the sequence of important prophetic events that occur at the end time in the Tribulation, including the revival of the Roman Empire, his conquering ten countries, and then his making a covenant with Israel that will supposedly bring peace to the Middle East for seven years (Dan. 9:27).”[19] The important thing to remember as it relates to 2 Thessalonians is that Paul is teaching that Day of the Lord will occur after he has been revealed and that the “restrainer” is what prevents him from being revealed. Dr. Walvoord makes a compelling case that this restrainer is the Holy Spirit indwelling in and acting through the church. He states that the rapture is the removal of this restrainer of the man of lawlessness from the earth. [20]

Reflection

It is hard to write a reflection on Dr. Walvoord’s work objectively, because I have so much admiration and respect for the man in question. I grew up in a church planted by a DTS graduate and I was taught the interpretive conclusions of Dr. Walvoord from a young age. I must admit that his influence, and that of other DTS professors from his time, have played a large role in my own interpretive conclusions. They wrote well and made compelling cases for their views.

Having gone over Dr. Walvoord’s views in particular for this assignment, I must say that I still agree with the majority of his interpretations. He draws his conclusions from the text and works diligently to put the various pieces of information together in a way that is consistent logically. He harmonizes scriptures that appear to be at odds with each other far better than most.

That said, there are a few minor points of contention where I would say Dr. Walvoord may be imposing his interpretation on the text instead of drawing his interpretation from it. First, when he states that, “Christians in the present age who are looking forward to the Rapture are assured that they will be delivered from the day of wrath (1 Thess. 5:9),” I do not think 1 Thessalonians 5:9 supplies this much detail.[21]

The plain reading of 1 Thessalonians 5:9 suggests not that the tribulation wrath is in view, but the final destination of wrath for unbelievers. The actual verses say, “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.” The contrast Paul presents here is between “wrath” and “salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This might be a reference to salvation through the temporal wrath of the tribulation, as Dr. Walvoord argues, but the further additions “who died for us” and “we will live together with Him” both associate themselves more with an ultimate finality of salvation, i.e. the New Jerusalem.

This is an example of the minor points of contention I have with a few of Dr. Walvoord’s interpretations, however, they are mostly irrelevant. The ultimate reality is that I greatly admire this man’s dedication to the Word. He fully believed that every scripture is profitable, and strove to accurately handle them. He did his work quietly for the purpose of building up the body of Christ, and he did it well. His commitment to work hard at understanding even the difficult passages is an inspiration to me that I will cherish the rest of my life, and I strive daily to practice my craft like Dr. Walvoord did, hopefully awaiting the return of my savior but being busy about the work of the church in the process.

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Bibliography

 

Walvoord, John F. End Times: Understanding Today’s World Events in Biblical Prophecy. 2010. Reprint, Plano, TX: IFL Publishing House, 1998.

———. Major Bible Prophecies. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991.

———. The Millennial Kingdom: A Basic Text in Premillennial Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959.

———. The Rapture Question. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.

———. The Thessalonian Epistles. 1971. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967.

[1] John F. Walvoord, End Times: Understanding Today’s World Events in Biblical Prophecy (1998; repr., Plano, TX: IFL Publishing House, 2010), 21.

[2] John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom: A Basic Text in Premillennial Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), 240.

[3] John F. Walvoord, Major Bible Prophecies (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 267. Dr. Walvoord also notes “the first revelation of the rapture” as being John 14:2-3 in other books which justifies the statement that he argues the point of this quotation in multiple places. See note 5 for references.

[4] Paul reveals the mystery of the church as one new body in Ephesians 3, and states that this mystery “in other generations was not made known to the sons of men.”

[5] The Thessalonian Epistles, 58; End Times, 20; Major Bible Prophecies, 267.

[6] Major Bible Prophecies, 267.

[7] Ibid.

[8] The Millennial Kingdom, 240-244.

[9] End Times, 150.

[10] Major Bible Prophecies, 281-287.

[11] End Times, 29-36.

[12] Major Bible Prophecies, 286.

[13] A more exhaustive summary of his arguments can be found in The Millennial Kingdom, 251-255, and Major Bible Prophecies, 281-304 and in The Rapture Question (rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979).

[14] John F. Walvoord, The Thessalonian Epistles (1967; repr., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 59.

[15] End Times, 24.

[16] Ibid.

[17] The Thessalonian Epistles, 121.

[18] Major Bible Prophecies, 318.

[19] End Times, 35.

[20] The Thessalonian Epistles, 124-127.

[21] Major Bible Prophecies, 286.

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