by Jack Kelley
A number of people have wondered about using Acts 15:13-18 to support my position that the rapture of the church has to precede the beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week. Most of their comments have contained a request for a clearer understanding of why I do this, so here it is.
It was almost 20 years after the cross when the Council of Jerusalem took place. James, Peter, Paul, Barnabas, some believers from the Pharisees, and others had gathered to settle the issue of whether Gentiles had to convert to Judaism before they could become Christians. But another question, unspoken, was also on their minds and as Jews it was even more important to them. “If not, what’s to become of Israel?”
The Pharisees argued that the path to Christianity for Jews and Gentiles alike was through Judaism. To them this meant keeping the Law, being circumcised and following the traditions in addition to recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. Then Peter, Barnabas, and Paul presented a different opinion, based on seeing firsthand the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles. They said because of that, Gentiles should be allowed to come directly into the Church. Now let’s turn to Acts 15:13 for the outcome of the meeting.
When they finished, James spoke up: “Brothers, listen to me. Simon (Peter) has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. (Acts 15:13-14)
The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ that have been known for ages. (Acts 15:15-18)
What Does That Mean?
In simple language James, the brother of Jesus and Head of the Church in Jerusalem, said Israel was being set aside while the Lord took a people from among the Gentiles for Himself (or for His name’s sake.) Remember, 69 weeks of Daniel’s 70 Week prophecy had transpired. It was becoming obvious that with the Lord’s crucifixion the clock had stopped short of the promised 70 weeks. Although Jerusalem and the Temple had not yet been destroyed the Lord’s prophecy that they soon would be was a matter of public record.
Already there were signs that all was not well where the Temple was concerned. The Jewish Talmud records four ominous indications that trouble was coming. (Talmud Mas. Yoma 39b)
1. In the Yom Kippur service two goats were brought to the High Priest, one was to be “for the Lord” (the peace offering) and the other was “for Azazel”, also known as the scape goat. They were chosen by lot and the lot for the Lord’s goat had always come up in the High priest’s right hand. After the cross it never did again.
2. A scarlet cord tied the scape goat to the door of the temple during the service. After the High priest symbolically placed the sins of Israel on the head of the scape goat, he cut the cord leaving some on the goat’s horn and the rest on the Temple door. Then it was led to its death in the wilderness. Previously, the portion on the Temple door had always turned white when the scape goat died. This was seen as a fulfillment of Isaiah 1:18, “Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be white as snow” indicating Israel’s sins had been forgiven. After the cross the cord never turned white again.
3. The westernmost light on the seven branched Menorah would no longer stay lit. The number seven signifies divine completion, while man’s number is 6. The seven lights meant that together with God, Israel was complete and brought light to the world. But now, with only 6 lights that would burn, it was obvious God had left them.
4. The main Temple doors began opening by themselves. The priests saw this as a warning that Zechariah 11:1 would soon be fufilled. “Open your doors, O Lebanon, so that fires may devour your cedars.”
During the conquest of Jerusalem the Romans set fire to the Temple. It’s roof was made of cedar from Lebanon covered in thin sheets of gold. The intense heat from the fire melted the gold and it ran down the walls into the cracks between the stones. After the fire had burned out, the Roman soldiers dismantled the Temple stone by stone to get the gold. When they were finished the Lord’s Palm Sunday prophecy had been dramatically fulfilled. “They will not leave one stone on another because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:44) .
When James referred to Peter speaking of the Lord taking from the Gentiles a people for Himself in Acts 15:13-14 the Greek words he used for “taking from” were lambano ek. Together they mean to take (something) with the hand in order to carry (it) away from a certain time and place. In this case the something is the Church (the people for Himself), and the certain time and place would be carried away from is the restoration of Israel on Earth for the final seven years of their covenant with God. We know this because the first two words of Acts 15:15, which talks about rebuilding the Temple, are “after this”, after the Church is gone. Whether he knew it or not, James was saying the rapture of the Church would precede the beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week.
Then What Happens?
In Acts 15:15-18 James quoted from Amos 9:11-12 to confirm his understanding that after the Lord has taken the Church He’ll cause the Temple to be rebuilt. Like we saw above they knew it would soon be destroyed, but James used a prophecy from Amos that was already 800 years old to show the Temple will be rebuilt when the Lord has finished with the Church. After that the gentiles who will have missed the rapture will have one final chance to be saved as well. This settled the issue of Israel’s future.
From Daniel 9:24-27 we know that rebuilding their Temple will be a sign that Israel has returned to its covenant relationship with God and the remaining 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy is under way. The only reason for a Temple to exist is to allow Israel to conduct Old Covenant rituals and sacrifices. Daniel 9:27 says the anti-Christ will put an end to sacrifice and offering in the middle of the 70th week. This tells us a Temple will have been erected and sacrifices offered again beginning sometime earlier.
So here’s the scope of the passage. Following the cross, Israel was temporarily set aside while God began His redemptive work among the Gentiles. His first work was to build His Church, against which the gates of Hell will not prevail (Matt.18:18).
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25)
Romans 11:25 tells us that Israel was to be hardened in part during this time. Paul was talking about Israel’s heart which would be hardened against understanding. Remember in Luke 19:41-45 Jesus said the obvious fact that their long awaited Messiah had visited them would hence forth be hidden from their eyes. Paul said this would be the case all through the time the Lord was focused on the Church. The fact that some say more Jews have come to Jesus in the past 19 years than in the previous 1900 years may be an indication that the time of hardening is coming to an end.
In Paul’s day, the Greek word translated full number (fullness) was often used in a nautical sense. It referred to the number of crew members necessary for a commercial ship to set sail. Because of the dangers involved in being caught short handed during a storm at sea, ships could not leave port until they had the full number of sailors aboard. Also the word translated “come in” meant to arrive at a scheduled destination. (We’ve all heard the phrase “waiting for my ship to come in”.) In Romans 11:25 Paul used these metaphors to describe the Church leaving Earth and arriving at our Heavenly destination before Israel’s heart is softened.
When the full number of the Gentiles has been reached we’ll be whisked away to our Father’s house (John 14:2-3) while He turns His attention back to Israel. At that time, the remaining seven years of Daniel’s prophecy will play out. Through the most devastating judgments ever visited upon Earth the nations among which Israel has been scattered will be completely destroyed, Israel will be purified to prepare for the coming Kingdom Age, and the remnant of the Gentiles will get their final chance at salvation.
But Wait, There’s More
If you stop to think about, it these few verses in Acts 15 answer several important theological questions. They show the New covenant did not replace the Old Covenant, but merely interrupted it. They prove God didn’t intend for the Church to replace Israel in His plan forever, He just set Israel aside temporarily so the door of salvation could be opened to the Gentiles. In Isaiah 49:6 the Father said to the Son;
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
With the added insight from Romans 11:25 we can also confirm that Israel and the Church are like oil and water in that they don’t mix. For one to be here the other has to be gone. The two systems are theologically incompatible. You can’t have a system of faith evidenced by obedience to the Law complete with daily animal sacrifices functioning beside a system of grace through faith alone with no other requirement than to believe in the one He has sent (John 6:29).
Therefore the Church is not the next dot on a straight line from Creation to Eternity. It’s a giant right hand turn that takes believers to a unique and exclusive destiny that no other believers will share, and allows the Lord to fulfill His promises to Israel at the same time.
We tend to think the only reason for the rapture is to get the Church out of the way of the End Times judgments. But this shows us there’s another reason why the Church can’t be on Earth during any of Daniel’s 70th Week. We have to leave so Israel can come back to God. From the looks of it, our departure is coming soon. You can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah.