Laughably Sad and Laden with Error

By Rev. Charles Cooper

A Critique of Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum's "so-called" review of Marv Rosenthal's book The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church

After several callers to our ministry questioned our lack of response, I thought it time to read and respond to Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum's "so-called" review of Marvin Rosenthal's book The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church. Fruchtenbaum certainly puts a strain on the definition of "review." At 74 pages on 8 1/2 by 11-inch paper, single-spaced, this "so-called" review would be better labeled a defense of his brand of pretribulationism. Fruchtenbaum continually attacks Rosenthal for arguing against the generally held views of pretribulationism while at the same time offering his views. Many of which are not generally accepted in the pretrib camp. This "so-called" review has little benefit except for those who take Fruchtenbaum's views hook, line and sinker.

It is both confusing and annoying. It is confusing because the reader has to try to understand the differences between Fruchtenbaum's brand of pretribulationism and other pretribulationists. It is annoying in that the reader finds little if any explicit scriptural support for Fruchtenbaum's positions, which he presents as unassailable.

From the very beginning, Fruchtenbaum writes in such a way that any reader would form an unfavorable impression of Mr. Rosenthal and therefore, read his work with great suspicion. By writing his "so-called" review, Fruchtenbaum continues the on-going campaign of pretribulationists to keep blind those who blindly adopt the pretrib position. Fruchtenbaum writes, "Those who are scholarly will easily see through all this snow, (Fruchtenbaum, page 73)". The direct implication of such a statement is obvious: any one who reads Mr. Rosenthal's work and accepts his conclusions is not a scholar.

To read Fruchtenbaum's "so-called" review, a person unfamiliar with the debate about the timing of the Rapture could conclude that Mr. Rosenthal is an idiot to even question that pretribulationism is not correct. Pretribulationism is nothing more than the blind (scholars) leading the blind (the uneducated). However, before I demonstrate the proof of this fact I will point out one compelling problem with Fruchtenbaum "so-called" review. He repeatedly insists that Mr. Rosenthal argues for issues, which are not germane to pretribulationism and/or the positions that he (Fruchtenbaum) supports. Fruchtenbaum fails to let the reader know that many of his positions are exceptions to mainstream pretribulationism. The division among pretribulationists on many issues makes commenting on the pretrib position very difficult. Fruchtenbaum writes,

Rosenthal wants to make the first half of the seven years not part of the Tribulation, or Great tribulation, but only "the beginning of sorrow.... Rosenthal has not actually proved that verses 4-8 are part of the seven years. He merely assumes it to be true and cites Pre-Tribulationalists who agree with him.

As a reader, before I can agree or disagree with Mr. Rosenthal, I must decide which pretribulationist is presenting the correct view of Matthew 24:4-8. Fruchtenbaum is a bit presumptuous to suppose that I would agree with him, particularly given that he offers no proof for his position.

Again, Fruchtenbaum writes,

In a chapter entitled "And Then the Day of the Lord," Rosenthal argues against the common view that the term "Day of the Lord" includes the Millennium. Many [pretribulationalists] have assumed this, based on the common use in the Old Testament of the phrase "in that day," which speaks of both the Tribulation and the Millennium.... The "Day of the Lord" does not include the Millennium, and on this point Rosenthal is correct.

Again, as a reader, I am forced to decide which pretribulationalist I want to agree with concerning the composition of the "Day of the Lord."

Fruchtenbaum writes,

One need not take Rosenthal's bold statement too seriously. Pre-Tribulationism does not stand or fall upon the issue of when the Day of the Lord actually begins in relation to the seven years. Rosenthal states the issue in such either/or terms because he is looking for evidence of his position. In this chapter, he again will use straw-man arguments. He will also tend to make a view held by some Pre-Tribulationists germane to the system; which it need not be. The following is one example:

The vast majority of pretribulational writers believe that the Day of the Lord will begin with the Rapture of the church—that it will encompass the entire seventieth week and beyond. (p. 138)

True; some do. But some do not. The reviewer [Fruchtenbaum] does not start the Day of the Lord with the Rapture, but with the signing of the seven-year covenant.

So, which pretribulationist group am I going to believe?

Fruchtenbaum writes,

The straw-man approach is Rosenthal's insistence that Pre-Tribulationists have to have the Rapture take place just before, or at the start of, the seventieth week of Daniel. Some Pre-Tribulationists have taught this. Many have not; and that has never been this reviewer's position.

Question? Which pretribulationist should I believe?

Fruchtenbaum writes,

This reviewer [Fruchtenbaum] believes the following two points: the rapture will occur before the seven years; and, a major cosmic disturbance will come before the seven years. However, it is impossible to know which will come first.

If "it is impossible to know which will come first," then Rosenthal has every right to his view about the sequence as Fruchtenbaum does.

Fruchtenbaum writes,

On the first issue, Rosenthal uses basically the same argument as Pre-Tribulationists do for identifying Elijah with one of the two witnesses. Nothing really new here. However, it should be noted that not all Pre-Tribulationists believe Elijah is one of the two witnesses.

Which pretribulationists should I believe?

Fruchtenbaum writes,

One more observation, however, is worth noting: whether or not these 24 elders represents the Church saints is not at all crucial to Pre-Tribulationism; and, in fact, many Pre-Tribulationists have taken the view that they are celestial beings. Their identity is not crucial to the system.

Which pretribulationists should I believe?

Fruchtenbaum either dismisses an issue as not essential to the pretrib system or takes a position that is an exception to the general position of pretribulationism. At each point, Mr. Rosenthal is attacked. However, even a casual reading of Mr. Rosenthal's book will demonstrate that he was not writing against every exception some pretribbers have to their own position. Equally, Mr. Rosenthal sought to answer as many questions as possible about issues related to the timing of the Rapture of the church. Thus, he deals with issues, which are indirectly related to the timing of the Rapture. However, Fruchtenbaum gives the unfair impression that Mr. Rosenthal totally missed the most important issues concerning the Rapture or failed to deal with his (Fruchtenbaum's) personal exceptions to pretribulationism.

Now to the matter of the blind leading the blind, as I promised.

Fruchtenbaum writes,

However, Rosenthal ignored Matthew 24:9, which he places in a prophetic context, and which he places in the first half of the seven years. That verse uses "tribulation" in reference to the first half of the seven years! Rosenthal totally contradicts himself, and one wonders whether he merely missed the word in Matthew 24:9, or deliberately chose to ignore it since it totally devastates his argument in this chapter.

The issue: Does Matthew 24:9 refer to the first half or the second half of Daniel's Seventieth Week?

Matthew 24:9 "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name." (Italics added)

Fruchtenbaum argues that Rosenthal is incorrect to limit Matthew 24:4-8 to the first half of Daniel's Seventieth Week. Fruchtenbaum offers no proof other than to say that Rosenthal is wrong. However, Rosenthal is correct. Matthew 24:4-8 covers the first half of Daniel's Seventieth Week. Matthew 24:9-14 covers the second half of Daniel's Seventieth Week. Matthew 24:15-28 details the second half of Daniel's Seventieth Week in terms of the persecution by Satan/Antichrist.

Fruchtenbaum writes,

Rosenthal has not actually proved that verses 4-8 are part of the seven years. He merely assumes it to be true and cites Pre-Tribulationalists who agree with him.

Since Fruchtenbaum disagrees with other pretribbers concerning Matthew 24:9, it would appear that there is not a consensus among pretribbers about the correct meaning of this passage. Therefore, he can hardly be dogmatic. In defense of Mr. Rosenthal's position, this review would argue that the Lord's metaphor of the child birth sequence supports the three phases view--beginning birth pangs (first signs), hard labor (persecution) and delivery (Rapture). By the use of the Greek adverb of time tote (tote), Matthew indicates a temporal sequence. Matthew uses it six times in chapter 24. In each case, it represents a temporal sequence. In this case, tribulation follows beginning birth pangs. Daniel 9:27 indicates that the first three and a half years will be different in nature than the second three and a half years. Revelation 12:13-17 indicates that Antichrist's persecution of believers begins at the mid-point of the Seventieth Week.

The Scripture does not mention any specific persecution directly against believers during the first half of the Seventieth Week. Rosenthal does have good support for his position. Contrary to what Fruchtenbaum states.

Fruchtenbaum writes,

To claim, as Rosenthal does, that the first five seals are not the wrath of God but only the wrath of man is to try to force his position on the text…. To claim that these seals are only describing the wrath of men goes contrary to the context, since all the seal judgments originate in heaven. In fact, the very damage that they do is described in the Old Testament as resulting from the wrath of God.

Fruchtenbaum sets forth what he considers evidence that the four judgments described in the first four seals were demonstrated in the Old Testament as works of God. He quotes Ezekiel 14:21. It states, "For thus saith the Lord Jehovah: How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the evil beasts, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast!"

Fruchtenbaum fails to notice that these words are spoken against Jerusalem and not one fourth of the world as indicated in the fourth seal of Revelation 6:7. Rosenthal does not say that God has not used these judgments in the past as Fruchtenbaum indirectly intimates. The issue is whether Scripture indicates that God will use these judgments in the future against one fourth of the world. There is no prophecy in the Old Testament that God is going to use these judgments against the world during the "great tribulation." Not one!

Fruchtenbaum writes,

In other words, the period of Jewish persecution and the period of "great tribulation" for the Jews will be suddenly cut short in the sense that it will not be allowed to continue even one day beyond its allotted time.... Once the last second comes, it will be suddenly cut short for the sake of the Jewish survival.

This is Fruchtenbaum's explanation of the meaning of the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:22. The Lord said, "Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short." Rosenthal teaches that the persecution of Satan/Antichrist will be cut short by the Rapture of the elect to heaven. The three and a half year period will continue, but the object of Antichrist's persecution will be taken away at the Rapture.

Now let me ask you a question.

If I say to you (the reader), "My vacation was cut short." Equally, if I say, "My prison term has been cut short." What have I said to you? Did I finish my vacation or did I return early? Did I serve out every single day of my sentence or was I released early? What person in their right mind would walk away having concluded that I stayed until the last second? It would be the greatest abuse of language I personally have ever seen for Jesus to state that "those days of persecution will be cut short" and mean that they will run their full course.

Fruchtenbaum writes,

The straw-man approach is Rosenthal's insistence that Pre-Tribulationists have to have the Rapture take place just before, or at the start of, the seventieth week of Daniel. Some Pre-Tribulationists have taught this. Many have not; and that has never been this reviewer's position.

Since this is Fruchtenbaum's "so-called" review, one should expect that he set himself up as the authority. Fruchtenbaum consistently attacks Rosenthal for stating a position of pretribbers, which he himself, does not take by and large. Fruchtenbaum's gripe is therefore with other pretribbers and not Mr. Rosenthal.

Fruchtenbaum writes,

Pre-Tribulationism simply means that the Rapture will come sometime before the seven years begin. It may come just before; it could come many years before.... Rosenthal insists that "The Scripture do not allow that kind of extended gap between the Rapture and the Day of the Lord judgment...." Where in Scripture does it say that the Day of the Lord immediately follows the Rapture? Neither of the two central passages on the Rapture say that. Nor does any other. One should note that Rosenthal does not provide a single passage that actually says that the Day of the Lord immediately follows the Rapture.

Let me quickly say that Fruchtenbaum does not offer one passage of Scripture to demonstrate that the Day of the Lord could come many years after the Rapture. Fruchtenbaum accuses Rosenthal of incorrectly interpreting the analogy of Noah and Lot used by Christ. "There is nothing Jesus said that implies that the judgment came ‘on the same day' that Noah entered the ark…so there can also be a period of time between the Rapture and the start of the seven years," says Fruchtenbaum. Fruchtenbaum quotes Luke 17:27 in defense of his position. However, Genesis 7 indicates that there was no time lap between the entrance of the last animals into the ark and the beginning of the rain. It would appear that Fruchtenbaum's gripe is with the Scriptures and not Mr. Rosenthal.

Fruchtenbaum writes,

A simple, honest look at Revelation six, without preconceived notions, will clearly show that all the seals are divine judgments from God, and so the judgment of God is already present in the first half of the seven years.... (Italics added)

However, if Revelation 6 "clearly shows that all the seals are divine judgments from God" there would be little debate. The breaking of the seals by the Lamb indicates his sovereign authority over the process, but it does not necessitate that "the seals are divine judgments from God." God authorizes what He allows Satan to execute.

Fruchtenbaum writes,

The point Rosenthal is trying to make is that a major cosmic disturbance is predicted to take place before the Day of the Lord.... First of all, as to his exegetical error, Rosenthal lumps all mentioned cosmic disturbances into one, ignoring the timing given in the text. For example, the Isaiah 13:9-10 and Joel 3:14-15 passages clearly take place within the Day of the Lord, as even a casual reading of the text will show. Joel 2:30-31 describes cosmic disturbances before the Day of the Lord. In the prophetic scheme of things, there are several cosmic disturbances.

Perhaps Fruchtenbaum should check his eyesight. Joel 3:14-15 does not indicate that the Day of the Lord has begun. It says, "For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision." "Is near" is a long way from "is happening at this very moment". Perhaps, Fruchtenbaum should check his reading skills. Rosenthal states unambiguously on page 124 of his book that the Day of the Lord will contain darkness. This is a clear example of Fruchtenbaum attempting to cloud the issue with smoke and mirrors. Rosenthal recognizes that there are several cosmic disturbances that occur during Daniel's Seventieth Week. The issue Rosenthal is addressing deals with the cosmic disturbance, which precedes the eschatological Day of the Lord.

In an attempt to convince the reader that Rosenthal is totally off base in articulating a Rapture after the Seventieth Week of Daniel begins, Fruchtenbaum writes,

The straw-man approach is Rosenthal's insistence that Pre-Tribulationists have to have the Rapture take place just before, or at the start of, the seventieth week of Daniel. Some Pre-Tribulationists have taught this. Many have not; and that has never been this reviewer's position. Rosenthal is simply trying to force a position on all Pre-Tribulationists so that he huffs and puffs to prove his own position. Pre-Tribulationism simply means that the Rapture will come sometime before the seven years begin. It may come just before; it could come many years before.... Rosenthal insists that "The Scriptures do not allow that kind of extended gap between the Rapture and the Day of the Lord judgment." That is nothing but a dogmatic statement which has neither the force of logic nor Scripture to support it, to use Rosenthal's own framed phraseology.... One should note that Rosenthal does not provide a single passage that actually says that the Day of the Lord immediately follows the Rapture. His evidences are all based either on analogy or presupposition, not on exegesis.

There are probably those who have read and those who will read Fruchtenbaum's review and will swallow his conclusions completely. Nevertheless, those who are willing to examine his work more closely will find in it one false and misleading conclusion after another. Every attempt to show Mr. Rosenthal's errors exposes the weaknesses and complete futility of the pretrib system. The issue concerning the timing of the Rapture in relation to the starting of the Seventieth Week of Daniel is not as cut and dried as Fruchtenbaum presents it.

In contradiction to Fruchtenbaum, Robert L. Thomas, a devoted defender of pretribulationism, argues that there can be no gap between the Rapture and the beginning of Daniel's Seventieth Week. He writes in an article entitled "The ‘coming' of Christ in Revelation 2-3," published in Bibliotheca Sacra, the following paragraph:

That means that Christ allowed for no time between His coming to catch away the church to be with Himself and the beginning of Daniel's seventieth week. To postulate a period between the rapture of the church and the seventieth week, during which ten nations must unite, (fn.56) during which will occur the regathering of Israel, the emergence of a great world ruler, rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, and a covenant of peace with Israel, (fn.57) or during which some other events must happen, runs counter to the joint imminence of these two future happenings. Exegetical conclusions must override whatever theological necessities seem to demand. Examinations of passages relevant to the ‘comings' of Christ in Revelation 2–3 have dictated that the two come simultaneously. Ryrie's opinion is that the Scriptures are noncommittal regarding the issue of whether or not there is a time gap between the rapture and the seventieth week:

Though I believe that the Rapture precedes the beginning of the Tribulation, actually nothing is said in the Scriptures as to whether or not some time (or how much time) may elapse between the Rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation. (fn.58)

Exegetical results of this study indicate otherwise, however. For both deliverance and judgment to be imminent, the rapture of the church must be simultaneous with the beginning of Daniel's seventieth week. (fn.59)

Which pretribulationist should I believe?

Enough of this. We could go on and on! One last quote will serve as our conclusion.

Fruchtenbaum writes,

[T]his reviewer will venture a prophecy of his own. This work will have its day for a short season, and it will attract many if only because it is novel; novel ideas, no matter how wild, always attract a following initially. Others will be snared because of the vastness and volume of information given, and will not sit down and carefully weed out and investigate the information. They will assume it is true because of the multitude of words rather than its factual accuracy. Others will follow it because they already have a bias against Pre-Tribulationism, and they will accept without a critical eye this book's phony portrait of Pre-Tribulationism.

It is a good thing that we are no longer under the Law of Moses. Fruchtenbaum would have to be stoned for giving this prophecy, especially if it fails to come true. I wonder how many years "a short season" represents. Its been 8 years and every day our ministry receives phone calls from new people taking the position and teaching it to others. I see no sign of death in the near future.

I would like to appropriate Fruchtenbaum's own paragraph to reflect the following:

This work [Fruchtenbaum's "so-called" review] will have its day for a season, and it will attract many if only because it is novel; novel ideas, no matter how wild, always attract a following initially. Others will be snared because of the vastness and volume of information given, and will not sit down and carefully weed out and investigate the information. They will assume it is true because of the multitude of words rather than its factual accuracy. Others will follow it because they already have a bias against [the prewrath position], and they will accept without a critical eye this book's phony portrait of [the prewrath Rapture].

 

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