The Temporary Ekklesia Theory holds that Jesus came and got the living Christians in 70AD, and took them to Heaven. Their “earthly bodies” were “changed”–not swapped out for other bodies, but transformed–into “heavenly bodies”, and they were taken. (Study 1 Corinthians 15 on this point.) The idea that Jesus came and got them tends to explain lots of things. For instance, it explains the great blackout of Christian writings that started in 70AD. It also explains how “the church” in the decades that followed began to depart quite significantly from the original teachings and practices, for it simply was not the same body as the original.
It’s important to understand, though, that this theory about the Christians being taken did not come about simply as an attempt to explain these things. No, the evidence is much stronger than that: Jesus himself promised it, more than once. Let’s look at the evidence.
Matthew 24:29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Mark also bears witness to this conversation, giving recounting some different details:
Mark 13:24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
It’s important to note that this gathering was to involve people on the face of the Earth. It should not be considered to pertain only to the faithful in Sheol/Hades. Those who were to be gathered, Jesus called his “elect”–all of them. These were the Christians, the “saints” or “holy ones”, those “whom he chose” (Mark 13:20). Jesus was to send out his angels to gather them to one place–from wherever they might be in the world. That would be an extraordinary event, to be sure. And for what purpose was it planned? What was going to happen once they were gathered?
We’ll get back to that question shortly, but first, let’s see that God had prophesied about this gathering through someone else. This time, it wasn’t through Jesus, but through the official high priest in Jerusalem—an evil man, Caiaphas, who prophesied in spite of himself:
John 11:45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
Why would Jesus need to gather all the believers together if his goal were to “start the church” as so many believe, and to “spread the gospel throughout all the world”? Hmmm. This does not fit the standard model! Even so, such a gathering was forthrightly expected by the apostles and those who believed through their message. Consider Paul’s words to Thessalonica, as he gave them some important information about that timing of that gathering:
2 Thessalonians 2:1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
Do you see how plainly they expected to be gathered together at some point? Not only had Jesus stated it in his teachings about his angels gathering people from all over the earth, but he had revealed even more about it to his apostles at the Last Supper:
John 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
Jesus made several promises to his apostles that night, and many of them they never repeated as being for all believers, just as they never repeated the “Great Commission” as being for all believers. But this promise—the promise that he could come and get them—this one they were publishing as being a promise for all the faithful Christians. I’ll explore the evidence for this more below.
And now it becomes clearer what the purpose for this world-wide gathering would have been. He was coming back, not only for the apostles, but for all the faithful among the Christians. He had explained why they did not belong here:
John 15:18 If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
“I chose you out of the world…” This is one of the reasons that I think it’s important to use the Greek word ekklesia, rather than the medieval word, church. Ekklesia, when taken literally means “the called-out ones”. While it was an ordinary term in Jesus’ day, pertaining to town meetings to which people were “called out” (of their homes and shops), I believe it is very likely that it had a double entendre–or a double intent. Otherwise, it is a grand coincidence that those that Jesus called his ekklesia (“called out ones”) were also being called out of the world and into Heaven:
1 Thessalonians 2:12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
That “kingdom and glory”, of course, were not here on the Earth, but in Heaven. This was certainly no call to “join the local church”.
John 11:23 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Jesus told Martha that those believers who remained alive would “never die”. Now, how could this be if he weren’t coming to take them alive to heaven? How could it possibly be? The only other option is that he would have made some living believers immortal. But do you know any Christians who have been alive since the First Century? I don’t.
With this passage in view, how shall we interpret Jesus’ promise to those in Ephesus?:
Revelation 2:7b To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
He was coming back, and would grant them access to this tree, yet the tree was in Heaven, just as it is today. So how could this be? How could he give them what he was promising unless he were going to take them with him back to Heaven? Or shall we rather opine that Jesus was lying to them in order to manipulate them to behave better than they would otherwise? Surely not.
Or consider Jesus’ promise to those in Thyatira:
Revelation 2:26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Just how were these people supposed to exercise authority over the nations without thrones? And how were they supposed to have thrones if they were still on the Earth? And how could they receive the “morning star” before being glorified into their “heavenly bodies”?:
2 Peter 1:19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts
Note that this “morning star” event was to be contemporary with the dawning of “the day”—the return of Christ. So once again, these living believers were expecting to be glorified upon his return.
Consider Jesus’ promise to Sardis:
Revelation 3:4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
How were they to “walk with” him? On the Earth? And what would they do afterward, when he left again? Were they to walk around in their white robes, missing the very master who considered them worthy of Heaven, and yet did not take them there with him? Shall we view this as another promise of Jesus’ that didn’t really play out as advertised? Of course not. He took these people with him, after which he vouched for them before God and his angels.
And to Philadelphia, he promised:
Revelation 3:11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
So these were promised that if only they would conquer what lay ahead, he would make them pillars in the new Jerusalem. They had to wait until he came, of course, yet some would have us believe that they would have to wait even longer than that. That is, that he would come and then leave them, apparently to live out their lives, and then to die, after which they could go be pillars in the heavenly temple. But again, this does not fit with:
John 11:26: everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
These in Philadelphia would have lived until his return, thus satisfying the condition of this promise. They were “never” to die. How, then, do so many suppose that this is exactly what they did do?
And now we turn lastly to the promise to the faithful among the Laocideans:
Revelation 3:21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
This one is even more intriguing than the others, for Jesus goes so far as to compare their conquering with his own. In his case, of course, he overcame at the cross, and about 40 days later, he was in Heaven, seated on his throne beside God. Now, I will freely admit that “as I also” doesn’t demand that both situations be exactly alike in every respect. In order to satisfy what Jesus was saying, only the similarities he had in mind would have to come true. It is very likely, however, that anyone hearing this fantastic promise would not imagine that its fulfillment should require a gap between the day he returned, and whatever day they should each die in the years thereafter. And once again, of course, if his prophecy were true that those who lived until his return would never die, then what would these people be waiting for? Some third coming of Jesus? Or are they still walking about in Laodicea today, awaiting him to fulfill his promise?
The So-Called “Spiritual Gathering”
Far too many Preterist authors twist all this into some sort of “spiritual gathering”, by which they mean a gathering that was no gathering at all. In their model, Christians who already had the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and thus had direct communion of some sort with none other than God himself, were in need of being “gathered” into a “spiritual kingdom” with all the other believers in the world, including the dead ones, whom Christ would raise up in 70AD. Thus do they reason that they themselves are in this “gathering” along with the likes of Abraham and Moses. None of them ever claim to be in fellowship with Abraham in any literal sense, yet they claim to have somehow been “gathered” to him—though it seems not to make any practical different whatsoever.
This is all silly, of course, once one realizes that the evidence is pointing toward a literal catching up of all the believers in the First Century. In this case, the nature of this “gathering” is obvious and needs no explaining-away whatsoever.