Most pretribulationists make the deep-seated assumption that God does not work with Israel and the church at the same time throughout redemptive history. They believe that God has “postponed his dealings” with Israel during the church age and will resume them once again after the church is raptured. This theological framework impinges directly on their interpretation of the Olivet Discourse, because they cannot allow for God to be working with both Israel and the church at the same time period of the Olivet Discourse. This point fundamentally impacts their interpretation of imminence. I will contend that God has relatively postponed his dealings with Israel during this church age, not absolutely. While Israel is promised national and territorial restoration in the future when Jesus returns, God, nevertheless, is presently working with Israel during the church age. During Christ’s first coming, God extended his salvific program to the Gentiles, while continuing to work with Israel. In this article, I will give a critique of the pretribulation interpretation on Daniel’s 70 weeks’ prophecy. I will explain why pretribulationists believe God does not work with Israel and the church at the same time based on their interpretation of Daniel’s key passage of the 70 weeks of Daniel. Finally, I will critique this interpretation showing its inconsistencies.
Pretribulationism on Daniel’s 70 Weeks’ Prophecy
Why does pretribulationism deny that God works with Israel and the church at the same time? To answer this question, we must turn to one of the most important and fundamental prophecies recorded in the Bible, the book of Daniel:
Seventy weeks have been determined concerning your people and your holy city to put an end to rebellion, to bring sin to completion, to atone for iniquity, to bring in perpetual righteousness, to seal up the prophetic vision, and to anoint a most holy place. So know and understand: From the issuing of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until an anointed one, a prince arrives, there will be a period of seven weeks and sixty-two weeks. It will again be built, with plaza and moat, but in distressful times. Now after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one will be cut off and have nothing. As for the city and the sanctuary, the people of the coming prince will destroy them. But his end will come speedily like a flood. Until the end of the war that has been decreed there will be destruction. He will confirm a covenant with many for one week. But in the middle of that week he will bring sacrifices and offerings to a halt. On the wing of abominations will come one who destroys, until the decreed end is poured out on the one who destroys. (Dan 9:24–27)
The prophet Daniel anguished over the sins of rebellious Israel praying to God and confessing on behalf of his nation and asking for mercy, forgiveness, and repentance. While Daniel was praying, God sent a prophetic word through the angel Gabriel. Daniel was told that God would take a block of 490 years out from history: “Seventy weeks [i.e. 490 years] have been determined concerning your people and your holy city to put an end to rebellion, to bring sin to completion, to atone for iniquity, to bring in perpetual righteousness, to seal up the prophetic vision, and to anoint a most holy place” (Dan 9:24). In the generations ensuing Daniel, the first 483 years of the 490 were fulfilled by the time of the first century; however, the last seven years remain to be fulfilled. When those last seven years are fulfilled in the future completing the 490 year prophecy, the prophecy of Israel’s salvation will be accomplished. I want to make a couple of comments on this temporal framework. A very important verse is Dan 9:27:
He [the Antichrist] will confirm a covenant with many [Israel] for one week [i.e. seven years]. But in the middle of that week he will bring sacrifices and offerings to a halt. On the wing of abominations will come one who destroys, until the decreed end is poured out on the one who destroys. (cf. Dan 12:11)
This verse states “he” will confirm a covenant with many for “one week” (šābûa), which in this Hebrew context denotes seven years. The New English Translation rendering “confirm” may not capture the force of the underlying Hebrew verb gābar. The English Standard Version renders it “make a strong covenant,” which better captures the sense (cf. Ps 12:4); but the sense behind the Hebrew may better indicate oppressing, imposing, or coercing, suggesting that the other party to the covenant may not have much say in the matter. The “he” is an antichrist figure. The covenant may be for protection or permission to reinstitute the sacrificial system in return for some other service or action. It is implied that the Antichrist will break the covenant by stopping the sacrifices and offerings, causing abominations. This will occur in the middle of that week (i.e. the midpoint of the seven-year period). Accordingly, the “many” refers to Israel since the covenant relates to the stopping of the sacrifices and offerings associated with the Jewish temple. However, the “many” could also suggest that most of Israel will support the covenant, but a remnant will dissent.
Pretribulational theologians call this seven-year period the tribulation period. This expression implies that this entire period is characterized by God’s wrath. It is misleading because it is vague and it neglects the biblical distinction between the Antichrist’s great tribulation and the day of the Lord’s wrath. I prefer to use the more neutral biblical terms Daniel’s 70th week or seven-year period. Incidentally, prewrath eschatology views the seven-year period as unfolding in three phases. The first half characterized by the “beginning of birth pangs,” where the pre-revealed Antichrist will position himself politically. The midpoint begins the second phase where the Antichrist is revealed ensued by his great tribulation against the people of God. The third phase occurs when Jesus returns at some unknown point during the second half of the seven year period cutting short the great tribulation and then pouring out his day of the Lord’s wrath upon the wicked and the Antichrist’s kingdom.
Pretribulational theology is part of a larger theological system called Traditional (or Classical) Dispensationalism. It teaches a sharp separation between the church and Israel to the point that not only are there two distinct entities—which I agree— but going as far as to claim that God does not work with them at the same time in history; that is, in the past, present or the future (Contemporary or Progressive Dispensationalism does not make this temporal sharp separation, which is why there are many who are prewrath). Classical Dispensationalism basically claims that when the church was inaugurated at Pentecost, God postponed his activity with Israel and will pick up his program with Israel again only after the rapture of the church, concluding then that God will work only with Israel, and not the church, during the future seven-year period.
How do pretribs draw this conclusion from Daniel’s prophecy? In order to maintain this interpretation they must make assumptions. They must claim that since the church did not exist during the first sixty-nine “weeks” (i.e. 483 years), it cannot be there during the last seven years. This is fallacious for several reasons:
(1) It is logically wrong-headed, a non-sequitur. The church does exist now.
(2) It is an argument from silence. The passage is addressing Israel. Pretrib teachers are making Daniel’s prophecy say more than it intends. Daniel’s prophecy is not making claims of excluding the church. That assumption is being read into the prophecy. The prophecy is a positive statement for Israel, not a negative statement for the church.
(3) Pretrib theology typically calls Daniel’s 70th week a “Jewish” week. But more accurately it should be called a Gentile week because Daniel’s prophecy states that all seventy weeks (including the last week of seven years) will be characterized by Gentile domination. Only after this block of 490 years is complete, Daniel says, will Israel be redemptively restored. To be sure, God will be working with Israel during that period, but it will be characterized by Gentile domination against Israel until she finds salvation in their messiah.
Daniel’s prophecy to Israel is not replaced by the church. But God extends his redemptive program to the Gentiles, while keeping his promises to Israel.