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THEOLOGY > Future > End of the Age >  Rapture Question > "Elect" in the Olivet Discourse  



Three times the word “elect” is used by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:22, 24, 32; Mk. 13:20, 22, 29), and it appears twenty-three times in the Greek New Testament. “Elect” is the Greek word eklektos and is translated “chosen” seven times and “elect” sixteen times in the New King James Version. Of the seven times eklektos is translated “chosen,” five times the reference is to people and two times the reference is to Christ. Of the sixteen times it is translated “elect,” fourteen times the reference is to people; one time the reference is to angels; and one time the reference is to Christ. Therefore, nineteen of the twenty-three times eklektos appears in the New Testament it refers to people, either as individuals or as a group. Below is a chart to demonstrate the translation and use of eklektos in the New Testament.

“chosen” (7 times)

refers to people 5 times (Matt. 20:16; 22:14; Rom. 16:13; I Pet. 2:9; Rev. 17:14)

refers to Christ 2 times (Lu. 23:35; I Pet. 2:4)

“elect” (16 times)

refers to people 14 times (Matt. 24:22, 24, 31; Mk. 13:20, 22, 27; Lu. 18:7; Rom. 8:33; Col. 3:12; II Tim. 2:10; Tit. 1:1; I Pet. 1:2; 2 Jo. 1, 13)

refers to angels 1 time (1 Tim. 5:21)

refers to Christ 1 time (I Pet. 2:6)

Who are the people identified nineteen times by the word eklektos in the New Testament? Who is spoken of? Is the word uniform in its meaning? Does it refer to the same group each time it is used in the New Testament? Or is it used of one group in some passages and another group in other passages? When the word refers to individuals, is it understood that the word identifies them with a certain group?

Two possibilities have been suggested: one, the word always refers to the people of God, the Church; two, sometimes the word refers to the Church, but at other times it refers to ethnic Israel, the Jews. The former is the historic view of the Church; the latter is the novel interpretation of the Dispensationalists.

Historic Premillennialists would identify the “elect” or “chosen” as being the Church, the people of God; these various words function as virtual synonyms. The elect are those who are chosen by God to be the recipients of His redeeming grace. They are the ones who are “in Christ,” all of the elect together constituting the Lord’s bride. In the Olivet Discourse, the “elect” ones are on the earth during the Great Tribulation. This point is without dispute (see Matt. 24:22, 24, 31). And if the “elect” are synonymous with the Church, then it is plain that the Church will not be caught away before the Great Tribulation but will remain on the earth during that awful time. The identification given to this one word settles the issue: Premillennialism is substantiated with this single word, while Dispensationalism is proven to be in error by this word.

But the Dispensationalists affirm that the word “elect” in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 refers to the nation of Israel, not the Church. In this manner they restrict the topics of the Discourse to Israel and, therefore, references to the Church are not to be found in this passage. As discussed in another article (see: Sequence of End-Time Events), they claim that the Olivet discourse is uniquely Jewish and does not relate to the Church. Jesus is addressing Jews and is speaking to them of the affairs of the Jewish nation. Believers are absent completely from the pronouncements of Christ in this crucial passage. One should not expect, they claim, to find the Church in the Discourse. Consider two quotes from Walvoord: “The Tribulation is portrayed as dealing primarily with Israel”; and “the church is in no way involved in this time of future trouble” (The Rapture Question, 45, 46). If the Church is not involved in the Tribulation, then, according to them, the elect cannot be identified with the Church. Most of the time in the New Testament the word, they assert, does refer to the Church; but in the Olivet Discourse, the word refers to Jews. The reason for this identification is obvious. Since they claim that the Church has been caught away before the Great Tribulation, then this word “elect” cannot refer to the Church, because the Church is not on the earth. Therefore, the word must refer to another group, hence the Jews.

It seems that the system determines the interpretation rather than the interpretation determining the system. Dispensationalism mandates the identification given to this word, whereas the study of the word itself invalidates the entire structure of Dispensationalism.

Is there a sound basis for claiming that the word “elect” refers to the Jewish people in the Olivet Discourse? Or is this an unusual and highly unlikely identification? Is it proper to interpret the word uniformly throughout the New Testament?  Or does the word speak of one group in some passages and an entirely different group in other passages? Does the word always refer to the same group? Does the word always refer to those who are related to Christ? Or are there two groups of the elect, each standing in a different relationship to Christ? How can these questions be answered?

To determine the people referred to by the word, an examination must be made of each passage where the word eklektos appears in the New Testament and is used of people. Following is a list of the nineteen passages, with the translation of eklektos indicated by the italics:

For many are called, but few chosen (Matt. 20:16);

For many are called, but few are chosen (Matt. 22:14);

but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened (Matt. 24:22);

so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect (Matt. 24:24);

and they will gather together His elect from the four winds (Matt. 24:31);

but for the elect's sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days (Mk. 13:20);

to deceive, if possible, even the elect (Mk. 13:22);

and gather together His elect from the four winds (Mk. 13:27);

And shall God not avenge His own elect which cry out day and night (Lu. 18:7);

Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? (Rom. 8:33);

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord (Rom. 16:13);

as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies (Col. 3:12);

I endure all things for the sake of the elect (II Tim. 2:10);

according to the faith of God’s elect (Tit. 1:1);

elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father (I Pet. 1:2);

But you are a chosen generation (I Pet. 2:9);

To the elect  lady and her children (2 Jo. 1);

The children of your elect sister greet you (2 Jo. 13);

and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful (Rev. 17:14).

Listed above are the nineteen references to people in the New Testament where eklektos appears, being translated by the words “chosen” and “elect.” Three times the word is used of individuals (“Rufus” in Rom. 16:13; “the elect lady” in 2 Jo. 1; and the “elect sister” in 2 Jo. 13), and the remaining sixteen times it is used in a corporate sense of God’s people. Even the use of the word when referring to the three individuals indicates that the individuals are part of the larger group of elect. Rufus, who was elect, was part of the Church at Rome. It is obvious from the context that the elect lady and the elect sister are identified with Christ and His Truth and were abiding in the doctrine of Christ. The fact that they are elect implies that they are part of an elect group. Whether used individually or corporately, the word speaks of those who belong uniquely to the Lord.

The eklektos  are those who are “chosen” (Matt. 20:16; 22:14); they have been foreknown by God (I Pet. 1:2); they are characterized by faith (Tit. 1:1); no charge can be brought against them that will separate them from God (Rom. 8:33); they comprise a “chosen generation” (I Pet. 2:9); they cannot be deceived by the Antichrist (Matt. 22:24; Mk. 13:22); they will be gathered together at the end-time (Matt. 24:31; Mk. 13:27); God will ultimately avenge His elect (Lu. 18:7); they are “the elect of God” (Col. 3:12); and they are “God’s elect” (Tit. 1:1), that is, they belong to Him. When all of these descriptions are viewed together, the reader begins to get a feel for who these people are. They are known by the Father and are related in a redemptive sense to the Son. They are saved people, the people of God, the bride of Christ—they are the Church.

It is inconceivable that the “elect” of Jesus are different from the “elect” of Paul and Peter. For instance, Jesus says: “Shall God not avenge His own elect?” (Lu. 18:7); whereas, Paul writes: “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?” (Rom. 8:33). Are not the elect that belong to God in Luke where Jesus speaks the same as the elect spoken of by Paul in Romans? Both belong to God (“His own elect” and “God’s elect”), and God cares for both. He will avenge them and will not listen to a charge against them. Both passages speak of the same group. What Scripture justifies separating the elect in these verses? To justify the separation, there must be explicit or implicit teaching at some place in the Scriptures. There is none. Consider the statement of Jesus concerning the “few” who are “chosen” (Matt. 20:16; 22:14) and the statement of Peter about a “chosen generation” (I Pet. 2:9). The “few” who are chosen comprise the “chosen generation.” Again, there is no justification for separating these passages; Jesus and Peter are speaking of the same group. Obviously, the word eklektos in the New Testament, whether used by Jesus, Paul, or Peter, is to be interpreted in the same way. All of the references to the elect belong together.

It is also even more inconceivable that Jesus used the word eklektos in two different ways: as Jews in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, and as believers or the Church the rest of the time. Any unbiased reader would think that all of the references made by Jesus to the elect are speaking of the same group. In Luke 18:7 Jesus speaks of God hearing and responding to the continual prayers of the “elect.” The first seven verses of the chapter tell of the woman who kept coming to the judge until he finally heard her and assisted her. If an earthly judge will do this, what will God do for His elect, His own? Is Jesus speaking of one “elect” in Luke 18 and of a different “elect” in Matthew 24:31 when He says that the angels will gather together His “elect?” Are the “elect” of Luke 18 different from the “elect” of Matthew 24 for whom the days of the Tribulation will be shortened? To distinguish between the “elect” of Luke 18 and the “elect” of Matthew 24 is careless exegesis, especially when Jesus never hints of a distinction. And no Scripture in the New Testament requires a distinction.

Also consider the word “elect” in the flow of Matthew. In 16:18 is the well-known statement: “I will build my church,” and in Matthew 28:19-20 is the Great Commission that was given to the Church. In between these two passages is the reference to “the elect” in the Olivet Discourse. Are the believers in 16:18 and the believers in 28:19-20 different from “the elect” in Matthew 24? According to the Dispensationalists, 16:18 and 28:19-20 apply to the Church but Matthew 24 is addressed to literal Israel. There is no hint, even a subtle hint, in the texts that a distinction should be made between the people of these three passages. Surely the Lord intends all three to be related. He is creating a people (16:18) as His people witness to others (28:19-20), and it is the total people that He will gather together at His return (24:31). These passages should be united rather than divided. In Matthew there is only one elect.

From this consideration it is obvious that when used of people, the word eklektos refers to a single group and always the same group, the people of God, true believers, the Church. There is no basis for limiting the word to only physical Jews in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 as the Dispensationalists do, but then allowing the word to have a broader meaning in the rest of the New Testament. They limit eklektos when spoken by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse to ethnic Jews but assert no such limit when Jesus uses the word in Matthew 20, 22, and Luke 18. It is difficult to comprehend Jesus speaking of one elect in Matthew 20 and 22 and a different elect in Matthew 24. Such interpretations reveal the importation of a system onto Scripture, forcing Scripture to support the system, when the system itself is totally absent from the Scriptures. In no New Testament passage does the word refer only to ethnic Jews. To claim that the word in the Olivet Discourse refers to ethnic Jews is to use the word in a manner contrary to its use in all other passages in the New Testament. There must be a clear exegetical basis for such a novel identification. There simply is none. It is unbelievable that some believers will totally divorce the Church from the Olivet Discourse and not allow the elect there to be the same as the elect in the rest of the New Testament. The word “elect,” wherever used in the New Testament, refers to believers who belong to Christ and, therefore, belong to the Church.

The identification given to this one word is definitive. If the “elect” is equated with the Church, then, according to the Lord Himself, the Church is on the earth during the Tribulation. Even Walvoord agreed: “This definition makes impossible any other view than the posttribulational concept” (The Rapture Question, 19). He added: “If these believers in the Tribulation are properly described as members of the church, it leads inevitably to the conclusion that the church will go through the Tribulation” (19-20). No other conclusion is warranted. And the word “elect” in the Olivet Discourse refers to believers (the Church) on the earth during the Great Tribulation.

However, in the “little apocalypse” (Mk. 13 par.) and Lk. 18:7,
the church is spoken of as the elect (eklektoi).
This is in the context of the persecution which . . . they are to endure,
the suffering which they are to bear in the course of discipleship,
and the protection which they will be given by God,
who entirely for their sake will go so far as to shorten the time.
Dictionary of New Testament Theology

The term occurs again in Mk. 13:19ff.; Mt. 24:12ff.
Here it has an eschatological content but with no sectarian slant.

Posttribulationists can point
to the posttribulational gathering of the elect as an expression
which easily lends itself to the rapture.
The burden of proof falls then on those
who would put the rapture before the tribulation.
Robert H. Gundry

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