I often get people who are reformed or covenant especially replacement theology that dispute with me or others who hold to dispensational theology especially a pre-tribulation rapture saying that dispensationalism and a pre-tribulation rapture was just invented in churches in the 1800s especially by the Plymouth Brethren. Although it is true that dispensationalism and a pre-tribulation rapture came to be taught again in the churches in the 1800s and it was especially by the Plymouth Brethren it is not true that this was something new or based on a faulty or novel interpretation of the Bible especially the New Testament. It is well-established fact that the early or apostolic church including when all the New Testament written was at first all and through that period mostly or largely Jewish in composition and perspective. As the Church moved more into Europe starting with the missionary work of the Apostle Paul and then by others, Christians encountered Gentiles and Gentile culture including especially Greek Culture. One of the primary characteristics of Greek culture in those days was that spiritual is good while physical is bad and the main goal of people was to leave this world and be freed of their physical bodies. (They didn't believe in a spiritual body as in 1 Corinthians but that they would be disembodied spirits in heaven or outside this world.)
However another way that Greek culture responded to Bible teaching was against the Jewish idea or the literal Messianic Kingdom after the coming Christian believe again of the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth to earth to set up God's kingdom on Earth. The Old Testament and some references in the New Testament teach that in the Messianic or Millennial Kingdom the people both Jews and Gentiles that trust in Messiah Jesus in the tribulation and enter the Messianic Kingdom in mortal bodies will be able to eat and drink physical food and beverages and give birth to children and die that are physical actions or phenomena. This is according to the Jews or Israelites an almost ideal time short of eternity or like a preview of eternity but taking this literally was an abhorence or something intolerable to the Greeks including Greek Christians because it presented an almost ideal period of time and place but with people enjoying physical pleasures like eating and drinking and having sex and children although also dying and the Greeks including many Greek Christians believed an ideal or almost ideal society could only be experienced spiritually and certainly not with experiencing physical experiences like physically eating or drinking or having sex or children. Therefore some of the early Greek Church fathers sought to and some were quite successful at combining Greek philosophy likely including Plato with Bible teachings including of the Messianic Kingdom. Some of these Greek church fathers were Philo, Origen, and alhough they were not Greek also Jerome, Constantine and Augustine but they had some of the same ideas and ways of thinking. Some of the Greek philosophy Christians like Origen were of the school of philosophy and the Greek church at Alexandria, Egypt. Jerome was the first main western Christian leader to bring Greek philosophy and the allegorical interpretation into the western Church that later became dominated by the Roman Catholic Church. Augustine at first held to dispensational or literal interpretation including the kingdom of God but after he trusted in Jesus and turned from his sexual excess with women he put Greek philosophy as his main basis of interpreting the Bible which he had already heard partly because he turned against even legitimate physical pleasures such as legitimate use of food and drink or of sex between a man and woman in marriage in this life and he turned against the literal description especially in the Old Testament of all those physical things practiced in the messianic kingdom and adopted a spiritual or allegorical interpretation that God is spiritually dwelling each individual Christian and that is the kingdom of God in this age. That is true but that is not the main meaning of many references to the kingdom of God especialy of the messianic kingdom in the Old Testament. Augustine was also influenced by the current events of his day with the near collapse of the Roman Empire with the standing firm of what had become the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church which he saw to be the true Church even though there were already beliefs or practices in it that weren't biblical such as the allegorical interpretation and infant baptism or the idea that everyone in that church was a true believer whether they had personally consciously placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that He died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the dead to give us new life or not. All these influential Greek or Gentile Christian leaders contibuted to what can now be called covenant or even replacement and reformed theology in which many of the promises to the Jews or Israelites or an ideal or almost ideal society of God's covenant blessings to them through their covenants with God through Abraham, Moses and David would instead be realized through Jesus Christ spiritually reigning through the Church in this present age or to be spiritualized to God's blessings for the Church in heaven in eternity. This is even though it is quite clear from the context in many of these scriptures about the Messianic Kingdom such as in Isaiah that they are to be taken literally and not figuratively. After this symbolic or allegorical interpretation was adopted by Contstantine and Augustine it became the standard prophecy interpretation from that time to the present. Mainline protestant churches such as Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian or in Canada the United Church and also the Reformed Church continue with this basic allegorical interpretation of God's Kingdom or prophecy. Although it is true in the New Testament that the Lord Jesus and the apostles mentioned a spiritual aspect of the Kingdom of God including in their time and the Church age if one reads carefully they also mentioned and gave allowance for a future literal fulfillment of the kingdom of God visibly with Jesus visibly ruling over all the earth before eternity as in the Messianic Kingdom of the Old Testament.
Consistant with a continued belief in a belief in a literal Messianic Kingdom that will primarlily be ruled by Israel's Messiah Jesus of Nazareth and restored Israel although also with believers of the nations and true Church is the idea with scriptural support that God has to restore Israel back to obedience to Him (as for instance many Jews are still secular and don't even take much interest or obedience in the Old Testament scriptures) in a period sometimes called in the Old Testament the 70th week of Daniel or the time of Jacob's trouble. As this time will be a time for God to shift focus to his chosen earthly people Israel then there would have to be de-emphasis on the church and there are scriptures that the true Church will be removed from earth to heaven before the 70th week of Daniel and the rule of the Antichrist or man of sin etc. This removal of the Church for God to judge the world and restore his chosen earthly people Israel is often called the rapture or catching up (to heaven) of the church and is well supported in scripture in passages like 1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 15, John 14, Ephesians 1 and 4, 2 Thessalonians 2. All the above is why the belief in dispensationalim including a literal Messianic Kingdom, period of tribulation for the Jews and pre-tribulation rapture for the Church is not just a late invention in the current Church age in the 1800s but was the main teaching of the apostolic mostly Jewish Church of the New Testament but was lost with the eventual Hellenizing or Gentile effect as the Church grew into the Gentile including Greek or Latin world in Europe. So there is firm and in context as well as strong historical basis in believing that a dispensational view of prophecy and a pre-tribulation rapture are not later marginal beliefs of the Church but a recovery of prophetic teaching of the apostolic, New Testament and mostly Jewish Church that was not spoiled as much as the professing Church as a whole is now but a Greek or allegorical interpretation of the Bible including prophecy.
This scripture passage mentions some of the Ephesian Christians who had trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ after hearing the preaching of the word of truth the Christian scriptures. The word of truth is also called the gospel of their salvation. God says through the apostle Paul that having believed or at the time they believed, which is a more accurate translation that after you believed, they were sealed with the Holy Spirit that Christians receive upon trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and SAviour who died for our sins and rose from the dead to give us new life. The sealing of the Holy Spirit is a way that God keeps Christians in His salvation in this life and is a foretaste of the greater blessings God will give Christians in the life to come. This is what it means that the Holy Spirit especially His sealing is an earnest especially until we get our new resurrection or spiritual bodies. Christians will receive this redemption of our body at the rapture of the Church when true Christians who have died since Pentecost will be raised from the dead with these new bodies and Christians physically living on Earth when the rapture occurs and are the last generation of this present Church age will be instantaneously changed into our spiritual and eternal bodies and brought with the passed away Christians to meet Jesus in the air and then taken to heaven all before the start of the tribulation or time of God's wrath or 70th week of Daniel on Earth. The only people that will be sealed by the Holy Spirit on Earth during the tribulation will be the 144,000 Messianic Jewish witnesses and probably the 2 witnesses and the fact that no other believers on Earth during the tribulation are mentioned as sealed by the Holy Spirit is an indication that all true or born (and sealed) by the Holy Spirit Christians or members of the Church will be removed to Heaven before the start of the tribulation on Earth. The scripture reference from Ephesians 1 of the sealing until the redemption of the purchased possession the redeemed or spiritual bodies of Christians implying all true Christians will be taken in the rapture of the Church to heaven before the tribulation is as follows:
That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye (having) believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:12-14
In verse 30 of Ephesians 4 God's word the Holy Bible mentions for Christians not to grieve the Holy Spirit (who forevermore anyone who becomes a true Christians in this age by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Saviour). Christians can grieve the Holy Spirit by thinking, saying or doing things that are against God's will especially that we know to be wrong from God's Word the Holy Bible. This grieving can be more intense or last longer even when Christians confess the sin to God and return to faithfully living for God and Jesus if the sins are more serious for instance doing a sin rather than just thinking or talking about it. However even if Christians have committed a serious sin and the Holy Spirit is very grieved especially if the Christian have confessed the sin to God the Holy Spirit will still continue to indwell the Christian and if we truly trusted in the Lord Jesus that He died for our sins on the cross and rose again to give us new life we will have the Holy Spirit from that time indwelling in our heart no matter what sin we do as it is God the Father and Jesus that keep us in God's salvation not our good works. True Christians will be kept, even if we grieve the Holy Spirit, until physical death or for the last generation of the Church on earth which is probably the present generation until the redemption of the body when the dead in Christ will be raised from the dead and those that are physically alive when Jesus comes for His Church will immediately have our present natural or corruptible bodies changed into spiritual or incorruptible bodies fit for heaven and dwelling with our Creator God and thus have our bodies redeemed. We will at that time, probably very soon, be caught up or raptured, to meet the Lord Jesus Christ in the air or the upper atmosphere or near outer space and then be brought to heaven with Him and the rest of the true Church from Pentecost to the rapture through the present time. This day of redemption is not talking about the redemption of our spirits as that already happened the day we trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Saviour in this life and became born again with the new nature in Christ. The scripture reference from Ephesians 4 of God's assurance to true Christians or sealing us with His Holy Spirit even when we grieve Him until the Day of Redemption (of our bodies) is as follows:
And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:30
Ephesians 5 contains a very famous passage in the New Testament that features an analogy of the Lord Jesus Christ as the husband of a marriage relationship and His true Church as His bride or wife. There is described in this passage the respective roles of both the Lord Jesus and His Church on one hand and the husband and the wife of a human marriage relationship on the other. What I want to focus on is the role of the husband in loving his wife as an analogy of Christ loving His Church and leading to His presenting His Church to Himself without blemish at the rapture.
As many people know there is some dispute about this passage in Christendom. Some people such as myself and I would say other evangelicals or bible believers who hold to dispensational theology and see the end of the present Church Age being characterized generally by an apostasy or falling away in belief and practice from sound biblical especially New Testament truth before the rapture of the Church and before the tribulation or 70th week of Daniel on earth compared to particularly Charismatic or Pentecostal or other Christians who generally have a Kingdom now theology where they think the Church will get increasingly better and more holy includning by self effort before the rapture of the Church or second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and don't have a large part for a falling away at the end of this Church Age. One passage that Kingdom now theology including charismatic or pentecostal christians including some who I have talked with personally in my home town use to support their idea of a last days theology is this passage in Ephesians 5. They use it to emphasize that the Church needs to be without spot or wrinkle before it is presented to Jesus at the rapture of the Church (or some of them might say the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ).
Although this passage does say that the Church is to sanctified and cleansed by the washing of water by the word and their are some aspects of Christian living such as hearing, reading and studying God's word the Holy Bible and applying what we learn to our lives for Jesus that is partly the responsiblity of each Christian towards sanctification and cleansing, there is also a critical aspect of sanctification and cleansing of each person who becomes a Christian through the initial reading or hearing God's word that brings us into the Church and results in our initial or positional salvation in Christ Jesus. This latter act is a result of the grace of God and not of works and is a result of God bringing us initially to hear or read His word and giving us faith to believe it including that we are sinners and that Jesus paid the full price for our salvation through His death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection from the dead to give us God's new life. Ultimate salvation when we as Christians leave this world and enter eternity and heaven is also only a work of God not ourselves and is also totally based on what Jesus did for us on the cross to pay for our sins and provide eternal life and a new godly nature for us and make us acceptable before God the Father and Himself (Jesus God the Son or the Son of God). Although we are as Christians supposed to hear and read God's word the Holy Bible and apply it to ourselves to gain more experiential holiness, cleansing or sanctification all of us as Christians in this life can't by our own efforts make ourselves or prepare to present ourselves to Jesus even at the rapture or His second coming by our own efforts without spot or wrinkle or any such thing if this is taken to mean sinless perfection.
I believe this expression about the Church when it is presented to Jesus at the rapture with the term without spot or wrinkle does mean sinless perfection but I believe the main contribution to this will be based on what Jesus did in dying or giving Himself for the Church on the cross (and rising again) and that will enable Him with our believing faith in Him especially for positional (and ultimate) salvation to present us to Himself a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. The reason I say this is especially simply because of the grammar where this scripture says that He presents the Church to Himself ... not the Church presents herself to Him ... a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle. Therefore I think there is nothing that we have to wait for as Christians for Jesus to come for His Church at the rapture such as a last days revival in the Church Age and that Jesus could come for us any day very soon. I believe based on other scriptures especially elsewhere in the New Testament that at the rapture of the Church when the Church is presented to Jesus as a whole Jesus will seperate us in our sinless new nature or born again nature in Christ from our old man or old fleshly nature and we won't have the old fleshly nature for eternity or when we as Christians leave this world. I also believe at the rapture of the Church all members of the Church will be resurrected (for those who have physically died already) or be changed (for those Church members who are still physically alive on earth when the rapture happens) into our sinless eternal spiritual bodies and no longer be in these present fallen fleshly or earthy bodies. I think it will be these two changes mentioned above that can only be accomplished by God including God the Son the Lord Jesus Christ that will enable Jesus to Himself present to Himself a glorious sinless or without spot or wrinkle Church and is not something we as Christians individually or collectively by ourselves could ever fully accomplish.
(However we should as Christians individually and collectively still strive to fully God's leading including by His Holy Spirit and the new nature in Christ for experiential cleansing including by reading, studying or hearing and applying to our lives His word the Holy Bible and that this will benefit us including eternally to earn rewards or crowns for faithful Christian living that is in addition to positional or ultimate salvation that is completely dependent on God's grace through Jesus' death on the cross to pay for all our sins and His rising from the dead to give us new life and God the Father and Jesus giving us the faith to believe in Jesus or in God the Father through Jesus. So I think the key point in this passage that has been overlooked by many Christians is that Jesus will present to Himself a Church without spot or wrinkle etc. not that the Church will present to Jesus such as Church that many Christians believe or act like they believe in both how they view and apply to their lives this scripture passage. The scripture reference from Ephesians 5 of the Lord Jesus Christ having the analogy of the husband and who has given Himself on the cross to be able to present to Himself at the rapture a glorious and sinless Church without spot or wrinkle is as follows:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25-27
For more information, comments, questions, or advice contact Doug atContact Spirit and Truth Ministries