A few years ago, back in the 2012–13 range, I distinctly recall asking the Lord for further confirmation of the Pre-Trib Rapture, specifically in passages of the Old Testament. Afterwards, I remember landing on Isaiah 26:19–21 one day and was overwhelmed with excitement. Maybe you know the feeling—that sudden burst of joy springing up from your innermost being the moment you discover a precious gem hidden deep in the minefields of Scripture.
For example, Gary posted an article back on September 12, 2017 entitled “Blood Moons, Births, and Babies.” Toward the end of that post, he cited one of the lesser-known OT prophets, Zephaniah, and highlighted the possible future fulfillment of Zephaniah 2:1–3 as applicable to the Church—the male-child of Revelation 12:5who is born [resurrected to glory] and snatched up to God’s throne.
While the timing of the Rapture of the Church in Revelation 12 as it relates to the onset of the Tribulation period isn’t all that clear, other passages such as Isaiah 66:7–8 make the timing as clear as day (for a more detailed analysis, see my previous post “The Birth of a Nation: Part I“).
The Pre-Trib timing is made crystal clear in Isaiah 66:7, most notably, because of the repetitive use of the temporal preposition “before.” Likewise, Zephaniah 2:1-3 appears to be yet another confirmation of the timing of our deliverance in relation to the start of the 70th week.
Here’s a quote from Gary’s article mentioned above that I’ll use as a launching pad for this post:
Most importantly, according to Zephaniah 2:1–3, this group who seeks righteousness is gathered together before a certain decree takes effect (the 7-year covenant of Daniel 9:27?) and is hidden away before ‘the day of the anger of the Lord.’ These ancient Old Testament prophecies are coming to light like never before and they seem to be painting an increasingly pre-trib picture” (emphasis his).
Indeed, the picture is coming into focus. It’s not just one text or passage in isolation that illuminates the portrait of a Pre-Trib deliverance for the Church. Like a mosaic or impressionist painting, it’s the composite pieces and individual brush-strokes seen together that reveal the whole.
So, put your fine-art glasses on [i.e. Holy Spirit lenses] and walk with me through the gallery of Scripture to view the bigger picture. As I hope you’ll see, Zephaniah 2:1–3 is an integral piece of the Pre-Trib portrait. Therefore, the aim of this study will be to shore-up Gary’s initial hunch about the relevance of this passage for the Church today.
Seeking Shelter Before the Storm (Hiding in Yahweh’s Doomsday Bunker)
Zephaniah had a tough message to deliver to the people of his day. Most likely, he was not a favorite guest preacher in the synagogue circuit, and he definitely would not be first on the list to speak in the preeminent pulpits of our churches today.
It’s not that he’s a false prophet or anything like that. No, far from it. It’s just, well…he’s all doom and gloom, and nobody wants to hear that. Most people want to hear about how great tomorrow will be. Tell me something good. Tell me that God’s going to prosper me and keep me healthy, wealthy, and happy. Ah, but that’s not reality, and the truth is a hard pill to swallow.
The truth is that the Day of the LORD is near and rapidly approaching (Zeph. 1:14). It’s a day of darkness and gloom, destruction and desolation (Zeph. 1:15). This isn’t merely a local judgment, either. It’s global and worldwide in scope (Zeph. 1:2–3; 3:8).
Ok, ok, so do I need to build a bunker in the ground? Gather supplies to outlast my neighbor through the Tribulation? No, listen to Zephaniah. He offers a glimmer of hope to a specific nation, a people who are living in the days right before God executes His judgment on earth:
Gather yourselves together; gather together, undesirable nation, before the decree takes effect and the day passes like chaff, before the burning of the LORD’s anger overtakes you, before the day of the LORD’s anger overtakes you. Seek the LORD, all you humble of the earth, who carry out what He commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be concealed on the day of the LORD’s anger” (Zeph. 2:1–3, HCSB, emphasis mine).
A play on the prophet’s name embedded in 2:3 underscores the opportunity for a certain, humble nation to be hidden away and concealed before God’s judgments take effect. Clarifying the connection between the prophet’s name and his message, Old Testament scholar, Ronald B. Allen, writes in his book, A Shelter in the Fury:
The name Zephaniah…is built on two Hebrew words, a verb meaning ‘to hide’ and the proper name of God, Yahweh. Zephaniah means ‘Hidden by Yahweh” (pgs. 19–20, emphasis mine).
Thus, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, this passage in Zephaniah is truly a hidden gem. Amidst all the “doom and gloom” in the surrounding context, this window of opportunity is a welcome sight for anyone in right standing with Yahweh who is living on earth before the final judgment begins.
To really grasp the full effect of this passage, however, we need to examine the original Hebrew text. Paraphrased translations have their place, but there is a reason why a more literal translation such as the KJV should be consulted in this instance.
For example, a survey of the English translations for Zephaniah 2:1–3 shows a couple of minor discrepancies that are relevant to our study, especially verses 1 and 2:
First, is the gathered nation of verse 1 shameless, or undesirable/unwanted? Does the answer help us to further identify these people who are hidden “on the day of the LORD’s anger”?
Second, is “decree” the right word choice in verse 2? If so, what is this decree that is linked so closely with the Day of the Lord and its horrific judgments?
We’ll address these questions next.
Which Nation? What Decree?
By now, many of you who have studied the Bible for some time know that the Hebrew language is really flexible. Certain words like ruach have a wide semantic range with possible meanings of “wind,” “breath,” or “spirit.” Therefore, not only is the immediate Old Testament context crucial for interpretation and understanding, but we must also consider the New Testament’s use of the Old to see how prophecy functions in God’s economy.
In many instances, we discover that Old Testament prophecy can have multiple fulfillments as time and revelation progress. Perhaps the most striking and surprising example comes from Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 (see Matt. 2:15). The historical context of Hosea 11:1 reveals God’s son to be the nation, Israel, who is called out of Egypt during the Exodus. However, as time and revelation progress, Matthew is later moved by the Holy Spirit to latch on to this particular text. As a result, the referent shifts from the nation of Israel to Jesus, God’s Son, who is protected in Egypt until it is safe to go back to Israel again. Wow!
Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming “Day of the LORD” are similar in that they establish a pattern, or template, which the Holy Spirit can later appropriate to another time and place for fulfillment. Dr. Darrell Bock confirms this critical point on the New Testament’s use of the Old:
Although ‘day of the Lord imagery’ is fulfilled in certain events within the OT (e.g. parts of Joel 2), the nature of that fulfillment looks forward to the decisive period of such fulfillment (the ‘day par excellence’). In all these examples, the imagery is such that an aspect of the passage demands fulfillment beyond the short-term event and thus points to the presence of pattern. The prophetic character of the text resides in this ‘needs to be fulfilled’ feature in the pattern” (“Scripture Citing Scripture,” in Interpreting the New Testament Text, pg. 272, emphasis mine).
After marinating on Zephaniah 2:1–3 for a while, I now strongly believe that this passage fits the bill for the prophetic pattern previously described. For some, you will have no problem with this because you rightly discern the distinctions between Israel and the Church (for a study on an OT precedent for the continuity and discontinuity of Israel and the Church, see my previous post “Birthday Break-away“).
For others who wish to blur the lines where they should not be blurred, I pray that you understand that the “nation” in Zeph. 2:1 isn’t limited to ethnic Israel. In fact, as I will demonstrate below, the nation who fulfills Zeph. 2:1–3 in the future cannot be national Israel.
First, a word about the nation of Zeph. 2:1—are they shameless, or undesirable? The Hebrew text reads literally, “…gather together nation who is not longed for [Heb. kasaph].” For various reasons, rather than translating kasaph in its usual sense of “to long for; seek after,” some scholars have decided that “shameless” fits the context better and justify their decision by pointing to a related Arabic root word.
Given that kasaph is never translated this way in the four other OT usages (see here), it seems best to keep the sense of “longed for” in Zephaniah as well.
All right, so a nation not longed for is told to gather together—and this is when we are hit with a barrage of before’s:
1) Before the decree takes effect…
2) Before the burning of the LORD’s anger…
3) Before the Day of the LORD’s anger…
There is a minor textual issue in that the Septuagint (LXX) reads very differently in 2:2 and does not have the word “decree.” The weight of evidence, however, favors the Hebrew (MT) and the other ancient versions that all contain “decree” (the Latin Vulgate has a solid translation of our passage too, see here).
Since this is a critical juncture of our study, we need to examine this “decree” [Heb. choq] and its implications (see the nuanced meaning of this term especially in Ps. 2:7 and Isa. 24:5, here). The King James Version renders 2:2 quite well, “[gather together]…before the decree bring forth…” This is how the Hebrew reads literally and could even be translated, “…before the decree gives birth [Heb. yalad, a word also found in our major “woman in labor” passages such as Mic. 5:3 and Isa. 66:7].
When you survey the English versions, you’ll find that most have paraphrased the Hebrew to read something like, “…before the decree takes effect…,” or as the NLT renders it, “Gather before judgment begins…” These are all faithful translations that communicate the message of God’s prophetic word: The call goes out for a nation not wanted (not desired) to gather together before the the Day of the Lord strikes—before the decreed judgments of the end-times take effect. This nation who seeks the LORD at this time will also have the opportunity to be hidden and concealed while judgments from above rain down on the earth below (2:3; cf. Isa. 26:19–21).
At this point you should take note of the intentional ambiguity (or flexibility) of Zeph. 2:1. This prophetic offer from the LORD was available to the nation, Israel, right before the Babylonian invasion and exile (Zeph. 1:1; cf. 2 Kgs. 23:24–27). However, as we near the final Day of the LORD, Jacob’s trouble, and the 70th week of Daniel (7-year Tribulation period), this offer of a “Pre-Decree” escape is not for Israel anymore—it’s for the Church.
In the next section, I’ll demonstrate from key parallel passages how Zephaniah 2:1–3 applies to the Church (who was once an undesired nation: Deut. 32:21, Rom. 9:24–26; 1 Pet. 2:9) and cannot be fulfilled by national Israel (or Tribulation saints, to cover the bases).
Before the Decree Takes Effect (The Pre-Decree Resurrection/Rapture of the Church)
Are there other passages in the Bible that speak of a “decree” and also confirm its connection to the end-time judgments of the 7-year Tribulation period? Overwhelmingly, yes!
Let’s check ’em out:
So now, do not mock [Israel], or your shackles will become stronger. Indeed, I have heard from the Lord GOD of Hosts a decree of destruction for the whole land” (HCSB, emphasis mine).
He will make a firm covenant with many for one week [7 years], but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing of the temple until the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator” (HCSB, emphasis mine).
But one may object: The “decree” of destructive judgments from God [His wrath] may only apply to the latter half of the Trib, so the Church is not guaranteed an escape from the entire 70th week, perhaps only the trumpet or bowl judgments.
Hopefully, these next two passages will seal the deal for you. As the prophecy in Zeph. 2:1–3 clearly states, it’s a “Pre-Decree” gathering and hiding away for the Church. Daniel 9:24 informs us that specific periods of time are “decreed” for Israel alone, and 9:27 reveals that a certain end-time covenant signals the start of the last seven years—these are reserved judgments for the nation of Israel and the rest of the world that are allotted by divine decree!
So, here’s the last question to be answered: Does the New Testament confirm the 7-year duration of the “decree” in Zeph. 2:2 ?
For you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘Peace and security,’ then sudden destruction comes on themlike labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in the dark, so that this day would overtake you like a thief” (HCSB, emphasis mine).
This decree of destruction [Isa. 28:22] is the same as the Seven-Sealed Scroll of Revelation five…with the breaking of the seals, there is massive destruction of the earth. But this decree of destruction will be issued only when the covenant [Dan. 9:27] is signed. So then, the same point made in Daniel 9:27 is made by Isaiah. The Tribulation begins with the signing of the Seven-Year Covenant between the leaders of Israel and the Antichrist. Once that covenant is signed, the Tribulation begins and a decree of destruction is issued by God Himself” (Footsteps of the Messiah, pgs. 200–201, emphasis mine).
Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there was a white horse. The horseman on it had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he went out as a victor to conquer” (HCSB, emphasis mine).
The opening of the first seal coincides with Israel proclaiming “peace and security” after covenanting with the Antichrist, “…by peace [he] shall destroy many” (Dan. 8:25); and the rider on a white horse (counterfeit Christ) carries a “bow” and is given authority to conquer (the “bow” here could represent a counterfeit of God’s own peace treaty that He created in the days of Noah; see Gen. 9:12–17 for God’s “bow,” a sign of the covenant).
The Day of the Decree is Drawing Near
According to God’s word, the Church will not spend one nano-second in the coming 7-year Tribulation period. This time of trouble for Jacob (Jer. 30:7) is just that—the time of Israel’s darkest hour. Rather than getting the anticipated peace and security from their covenant with the nations, the woman [Israel] will instead go into labor and be chastised with covenant curses (Lev. 26; Deut. 31:17; cf. Rev. 6:3–8). The flood of the end will continue unabated until Israel comes under the everlasting protection of the New Covenant, and, instead of saying “peace and security,” the Prince of Peace will come when they say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD” (Ps. 118:26; Matt. 23:39).
All Israel will be saved, but it will first be wittled-down to a purged remnant (Isa. 10:20–23; Zech. 13:8–9; Rom. 11:25–27). Israel will be given a hiding place, but not before the “decree” of destruction takes effect (Rev. 12:6, 14).
In this study we affirmed the prophetic principle of an OT prophecy applying to more than the original, historical referent (e.g. Hosea 11:1 and Matt. 2:15). The text of Zeph. 2:1–3 was established, key issues were examined, and overall, the prophecy was shown to be flexible enough to apply to a future “nation” other than Israel. Finally, we traced the thread of the “decree” in Zeph. 2:2 to other key passages that cemented the doctrine of a Pre-Decree [Pre-Trib] Resurrection and Rapture of the Church.
Be encouraged, brothers and sisters in Christ! We are not appointed to wrath (1 Thess. 5:9), and that “wrath” includes the full seven years of the seven-sealed scroll! Let’s keep watch and eagerly wait for our rescue and escape. It won’t be long now. Before the decree takes effect, you and I will effectively be gathered and hidden.
In closing, I’ve got three, nay four, words for you: Pre. Trib. Rapture. Amen!