Friday, May 26, 2017

Restoring Unity to Paul’s Epistles: A Refutation of Tom Ballinger’s Defense of the “Acts 28” Theory, Part 7 (The "Hope of Israel"; Grafted Into Israel?)


Ballinger: The hope of Paul’s Acts epistles was the hope of Israel. In Acts 28:20 Paul told the Jews in Rome, “For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel, I am bound with this chain.”

Acts 28 proponents make much of the fact that, in Acts 28:20, Paul declared to certain prominent Jews in Rome that it was “on account of the expectation of Israel” that he was chained as a prisoner. They understand this single statement by Paul as essentially summarizing his apostolic ministry up until this point. For example, in another article promoting the Acts 28 theory, Clyde Pilkington wrote that “…from the beginning of Paul’s ministry (Acts 9:20) to the setting aside of national Israel (Acts 28:28), a period of about twenty-one years, he suffered for Israelites; but after he had delivered God’s final appeal to Israel as a nation, he became a prisoner for the “Gentiles” ([Ephesians] 3:1).”

Taken at face value, this statement by Clyde seems to convey the following idea: the primary, if not exclusive, focus of Paul’s apostolic ministry up until his imprisonment in Rome was national Israel, and that it was only after he came to be under house arrest in Rome that the focus of his ministry turned to the Gentiles (if this isn’t what Clyde intended to convey by the above statement, then I’ll let the reader judge whether or not the statement is misleading). However, the idea that Paul’s exclusive (or even primary) focus during the “Acts era” of his ministry was on Israel is demonstrably false.

Both the epistles that most Acts 28 proponents would agree were written by Paul during the “Acts era” as well as the historical record of Acts itself proves that, from the time Paul and Barnabas were “severed” to God for the work to which God had called them (Acts 13:2), Paul was faithful to the dispensation he received from Christ to certify the evangel of the grace of God among the nations (Acts 20:24; 22:21; 26:17-20). In fact, it was this very commission from Christ which ultimately led to Paul’s becoming a prisoner in Rome!

From the very beginning of his ministry to the nations (and because of this commission), Paul was met with hostility and antagonism from the Jewish people (Acts 13:44-51). And when we carefully examine the chain of events which led to Paul’s arrival in Rome as a prisoner, we discover that the catalyst for his imprisonment were two major events recorded for us in Acts 21-22 that involve Paul’s work as the apostle to the nations. First, in Acts 21, we read that Jews from the province of Asia “threw the entire throng into confusion” with the accusation that Paul had taught “all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this holy place” and had brought Greeks into the sanctuary (Acts 21:27-29). This led to the formation of a large mob and a violent assault on Paul which would’ve resulted in his death had the Roman soldiers and centurions in the area not intervened (vv. 30-32).

After Paul was taken into custody and led into the citadel, he was permitted to speak to the Jewish people and give a defense. We then read that the crowd was momentarily quiet and listened to what he had to say – that is, until he recounted to them his commission from Christ: “And He [Christ] said to me, ‘Go! For I shall be delegating you afar to the nations” (22:21). This single statement (in which Paul was quoting the Lord himself) so enraged Paul’s Jewish audience that he had to once again be removed from the scene by Roman soldiers (which, this time, was with the intent of interrogating him). From this point on, Paul becomes, for all intents and purposes, a Roman prisoner (Acts 23:18), with protective custody quickly turning into outright imprisonment and to his eventually being tried before Roman authorities.

Significantly, while he was on trial before King Agrippa, Paul declared that it was his obedience to Christ’s commission – a commission which essentially involved going “afar to the nations” - which led to his being apprehended by the Jews (Acts 26:18-21). Since it was this event which ultimately led to Paul’s imprisonment, we can conclude that his imprisonment was, from the very beginning, “for (the sake of) the Gentiles.” Thus, Clyde and other proponents of the Acts 28 position are simply mistaken in their belief that Paul’s suffering before the events described at the end of Acts was for the sake of Israel (either exclusively or primarily), and that it wasn’t until after Paul’s declaration in Acts 28:28 that Paul became a prisoner “for the Gentiles.”

But if that's the case, what then did Paul mean when he declared that it was for the "expectation of Israel" that he was a prisoner? As we'll see in the next section, Paul had in mind an expectation which, although belonging to Israel, is not at all exclusive to Israel.  

The “Hope of Israel” and the Resurrection of the Dead

Ballinger: “Paul refers to the hope of Israel 4 times in Acts.

1. In Acts 23:6 he mentions the hope as being resurrection.
2. In Acts 24:15 he mentions the hope as being resurrection.
3. In Acts 26:6-8 He mentions the hope as being resurrection.
4. In Acts 28:20-23 he mentions the hope in connection with the Kingdom of God.”

In response to what Ballinger says concerning the “hope” being “in connection with the Kingdom of God,” the expression “kingdom of God” need not be understood as referring to (or as referring exclusively to) the kingdom of God as it will exist on the earth during the eon(s) to come. In fact, the very next mention of the kingdom of God is found in the last two verses of Acts: Now [Paul] remains two whole years in his own hired house, and he welcomed all those going in to him, heralding the kingdom of God, and teaching that which concerns the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, unforbidden.” Ballinger would have to admit that the “kingdom of God” in view in v. 31 should not be understood as referring exclusively to Israel and the earth; at the very least, it refers to the kingdom of God in a general sense (irrespective of its location), with a possible emphasis on the kingdom as it will be present in the heavenly realm (see Rev. 12:9-12). This being the case, there is no good reason to see the previous mention of the kingdom of God in v. 23 as necessarily referring exclusively to Israel, either.

So what is the expectation of Israel that Paul had in view in Acts 28:20-23? I submit that it’s the same “hope” or expectation as that referred to in the other verses referenced by Ballinger. That is, I believe that what Paul had in view was simply the resurrection of the dead (i.e., the restoring to life and “rousing” of those who have died). For scriptural evidence supporting this view, see the first section in my response to Clyde Pilkington’s article, “The Hope of Israel vs. That Blessed Hope” (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2015/04/a-response-to-hope-of-israel-vs-that.html). In this article, I provide the following explanation for why Paul would refer to the resurrection of the dead as the “expectation of Israel” in Acts 28:20:

“Paul was (wisely) emphasizing the common ground that he had with the unbelieving Israelites to whom he spoke at this time. By the time Paul spoke to these Jewish leaders, the truth of the resurrection of the dead had become a "trans-administrational truth." Although Israel and the body of Christ will be enjoying different allotments (one terrestrial, the other celestial), members of both groups MUST first be resurrected/vivified by Christ in order to enjoy their respective allotments. It's also true that, although the resurrection had become a common expectation shared by both believing Israelites and members of the body of Christ, it was Israel's expectation long before it became the expectation of non-Israelites (to whom this truth had only been recently revealed, relatively speaking).” 

Years before Paul arrived in Rome, he had come to understand that the resurrection of the dead is a truth that pertains to the vast majority of humanity (see 1 Cor. 15:20-22). It was not something that pertained exclusively to the nation of Israel. However, despite its universal relevance, it could appropriately be referred to as “the expectation of Israel” (for the truth of resurrection could be found in the Hebrew scriptures, and without a resurrection, no Israelite who died prior to the setting up of the kingdom of God could enjoy an allotment in the kingdom). By referring to the resurrection of the dead as the “expectation of Israel,” Paul was emphasizing the central importance that it had (or should have had) to Israelites. But why would Paul state that it was on account of this truth that he had a “chain lying about” him?

Answer: the reader of Acts will understand Paul to have had in mind his judgment before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:6; 24:21), where Paul himself put the resurrection “front and center” as the reason for his being judged (and, by implication, for his having to stand and testify before various Roman authorities). Moreover, by stating that it was on account of the “expectation of Israel” that he had a “chain lying about,” Paul was implying that his unjust treatment by the Roman authorities was based (at least in part) on his defense of a fundamental Jewish doctrine. Paul’s carefully chosen words on this occasion were likely (and understandably) calculated to enlist the sympathies of the Jewish leaders to whom he spoke (for it was not uncommon for Jews to be persecuted, and it wasn't that long ago that all the Jews had been expelled from Rome; see Acts 18:1-2). In any case, Paul’s words would have served to remove (or at least minimize) any suspicions these Jewish leaders may have had concerning Paul and his ministry (for although they’d apparently never heard of Paul personally, they had heard many negative reports concerning the “sect” that they perceived Paul as belonging to; see verses 21-22).

Ballinger and I are in agreement that, when Paul spoke of the “expectation of Israel” in Acts 28:20, he had in mind the resurrection of the dead; again, this is clear from multiple verses in the last six chapters of Acts, beginning with Acts 23:6 (where the word translated “dead” is plural, and literally means “dead ones”). However, Ballinger and I disagree as to the exact nature of the “resurrection” that Paul had in mind.

I believe that Paul had in mind the resurrection of the dead in a general sense (i.e., as a basic and fundamental truth that concerns every human who has died). Ballinger, however, believes that the “resurrection” Paul had in mind here and elsewhere was only the resurrection of righteous, believing Israelites into the kingdom of God – i.e., the resurrection which Christ had in view when he spoke of the “resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14). However, this narrow understanding of what Paul had in view when he referred to the resurrection in the last six chapters of Acts is not consistent with the facts.

Paul didn’t say in Acts 23:6 that he was being judged “concerning the hope of the resurrection of righteous Israelites into the kingdom.” No, he said it was concerning “the resurrection of the dead” that he was being judged. As already noted, Paul’s defense of the resurrection of Christ and the dead in general in 1 Corinthians 15 makes it clear that he understood the resurrection of the dead to be a fundamental truth concerning everyone who has died, or who ever will die. What Paul was affirming before the council in Acts 23 was the basic, general truth that he knew the Sadducees denied. And the Sadducees didn’t merely deny that righteous Israelites would be resurrected; they denied that anyone would be resurrected, period.

That Paul had in view the resurrection in a general sense (rather than a specific future event limited to righteous Israelites) seems further confirmed from the following words that Paul spoke while standing before Felix: ”Yet I am avowing this to you, that, according to the way which they are terming a sect, thus am I offering divine service to the hereditary God, believing all that is written, according to the law and in the prophets, having an expectation in God, which these themselves also are anticipating, that there shall be a resurrection which is impending for both the just and the unjust (Acts 24:14-15).

It is clearly the resurrection of the dead in a general sense that Paul had in view in the passage above. Paul was not just referring to what Christ had in mind in Luke 14:14 (the “resurrection of the just”), since he referred to the resurrection of the “unjust” as well. Although Ballinger references this verse above (as one example of how Paul “mentions the hope as being the resurrection”), he apparently didn’t realize that it contradicted his view that the resurrection Paul had in mind was limited to righteous Israelites entering into the kingdom of God. Depending on how inclusive one believes the resurrection will ultimately be (and we know that Paul believed that everyone who has died or will die will be vivified in Christ), the categories of “just” and “unjust” can be understood as including every human who will ever die.

Ballinger goes on to say: ‘The hope of Israel” was to be resurrected into the kingdom of God. In fact, the only way they could get into the Kingdom of God was by resurrection.”

Here we find Ballinger involved in what appears to be a contradiction. Previously, Ballinger was laboring to prove that what Paul revealed in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-53 (where we find that a certain category of believers will be made immortal without dying) should be understood as part of the “hope of Israel!” And not only this, but Ballinger also tried to argue that Christ was revealing the same exact thing in John 11:26! Thus, in the same article, Ballinger is arguing (1) that some believing Israelites (and Gentiles) will enter into the kingdom of God without dying and being resurrected, and (2) that “’the hope of Israel’ was to be resurrected into the kingdom of God,” and that in fact, the only way they [Israelites] could get into the Kingdom of God was by resurrection(emphasis mine).

I suspect that it was Ballinger’s Acts 28-tinted glasses that caused him to miss such a glaring contradiction as this. In any case, Ballinger’s blunder only further undermines the case he is trying to make in his article. The fact is that resurrection is essential for anyone who has died to be able to enter the kingdom of God. And this is the case irrespective of whether we have in view deceased Israelites, gentiles, or whether we have in view the kingdom of God on earth or the kingdom of God in the heavens.

A little later, Ballinger writes concerning this subject (emphasis mine): In [1 Corinthians 15:51] he told them they would all be changed, and the change would take place in resurrection. I Corinthian 15 and I Thessalonians 4 are “the hope of Israel.” The hope of Israel was resurrection into the Kingdom of God, which is exactly what Paul is writing about in this chapter.

Here we find even more confusing and contradictory remarks from Ballinger (as it’s been said, “error begets error”). I’d always believed that resurrection was only necessary for dead people. But Ballinger assures us that, according to Paul, the change that will be experienced by the two categories of saints referred to in 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Thess. 4 (i.e., those who will be dead and those who will still be alive) will “take place in resurrection”! And it is this “resurrection” (a “resurrection” that will, apparently, involve both dead AND LIVING saints in the body of Christ) which is, according to Ballinger, “the hope of Israel.” Does Ballinger not understand what “resurrection” is? Whatever the case may be, Ballinger’s view concerning the resurrection seems to be something of a muddled mess. In another place, Ballinger writes, ”Whenever Paul writes about resurrection he always uses the word “hope” (see Titus 2:13; Acts 28:20; Ephesians 1:18). The word “hope” is the scriptural name for resurrection.”

It would’ve been more accurate of Mr. Ballinger to say that the word “resurrection” (anĂ¡stasis) is “the scriptural name for resurrection.” The word “hope” or “expectation” can sometimes refer to (or involve) resurrection, but they are not synonymous in meaning. The idea that resurrection is being referred to whenever Paul (or any other scriptural author) used the word “hope” or “expectation” is simply incorrect. In fact, in neither Titus 2:13 nor Ephesians 1:18 is resurrection directly in view. In the former verse, the “hope” or expectation” in view is the advent of Christ, and in the latter, Paul likely had in view the celestial allotment of those in the body of Christ. Although the advent of Christ will involve resurrection for those saints who will be dead at the time, the advent of Christ is not the same as “resurrection.” And the same can be said for our allotment.

Grafted Into Israel?

Ballinger goes on to ask the following question: How did Gentiles end up with Israel’s Hope?” Ballinger then answers his question as follows: “Because in the Acts period, they were grafted into Israel, the good olive tree, according to Romans 11:17. Being grafted into the tree, they partook of the fatness of that tree. The fatness of the olive tree was the blessings and promises made to the fathers of Israel, who were the root of the tree. One of those blessings and promises was their hope of resurrection.”

As demonstrated in a previous article, Paul’s olive tree parable is perfectly consistent with the view that there has always been a clear-cut distinction between Israel and the body of Christ, and between the eonian expectations that pertain to each group. The “root” of the olive tree most likely represents the fathers of Israel, and the “fatness” most likely represents the promises made to the fathers. It is these of which the nations (the “wild olive” bough) had become “joint participant” with the remnant within Israel (the remaining “natural boughs”). As is argued in the aforementioned article, the promise-based blessing that pertains distinctively to the nations is justification by faith (Gal. 3:5-9); thus, unless Ballinger and other Acts 28 proponents think that the nations are no longer being justified by faith, then they are just as much “joint participant of the root and fatness of the olive” today as they were when Paul wrote to the saints in Rome.

Later, Ballinger states that “We are not grafted into Israel the good Olive Tree and partake of her fatness, for the tree has been cut down!

Ballinger neither quotes scripture nor provides a scripture reference in defense of his brazen assertion that the olive tree “has been cut down.” And no wonder: there’s not a shred of scriptural evidence to back it up. It’s not even hinted at or implied by Paul. Like the Acts 28 theory as a whole, the idea that the olive tree of Romans 11 “has been cut down” is something that Acts 28 proponents have pulled out of thin air.

Restoring Unity to Paul’s Epistles: A Refutation of Tom Ballinger’s Defense of the “Acts 28” Theory, Part 6 (Changed at the Third Woe?; Delivered from the Coming Indignation)

We shall all be changed…at the third woe?

Since it is at the sounding of what Paul called the “trumpet of God” and the “last trump” that both the living and dead members of the body of Christ are introduced into a state of immortality and incorruption, it would seem that whoever is sounding this trumpet is the authorized agent by whom the dead and living saints that Paul had in view are to be vivified. Given this fact, I believe it is Christ himself who will be the one trumpeting at this future time, for only Christ has been given the authority to vivify the dead.

Ballinger, however, believes that the identity of the implied trumpeter in 1 Cor. 15:52 is the seventh of the seven unnamed angels referred to in Revelation 8:2: ”If Paul said they would be raised at the last trumpet, it means that there are other trumpets blown before it. There is no denying the fact that before the Second Coming of Christ trumpets are going to be blown. In Revelation 8-11 there will be at least 7 trumpets blown before Jesus comes. In I Corinthians 15 Paul said the dead would be raised at “the LAST TRUMPET.” If there are 7 trumpets blown before He comes, to which trumpet is Paul referring? That’s easy: it’s number 7 in Revelation 11:15…”

That Paul, in 1 Cor. 15:52, had in mind the sequence of trumpet-soundings referred to by John in Revelation 8-11 is simply assumed by Ballinger and others who hold to his “post-tribulational” interpretation of 1 Thess. 4:15-17 and 1 Cor. 15:51-52. Apart from one’s already holding to this particular interpretation, I find it doubtful that one would even be motivated to try and understand the “trumpet of God”/“last trump” referred to by Paul as being identical with the trumpet that will be sounded by the seventh messenger in Rev. 11:14. Paul certainly doesn’t say that he had this particular sequence of trumpet-soundings in view in 1 Cor. 15:52, and it’s unlikely that either he or the original recipients of I Corinthians were even aware of such a sequence.[1] In any event, there is nothing said by Paul or John that demands the interpretation affirmed by Ballinger.

The key to biblical interpretation is not merely the comparison of like words (such as “trumpet”), but rather the context of various passages of Scripture. And when we compare the context in which the “last trumpet”/”trumpet of God” is referred to by Paul and the context in which the trumpeting of the seventh angel is found, the differences - both in what is said and what is not said - are great enough to warrant the belief that the two events are not the same. The context of Revelation 10-17 and that of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 are completely different.

The sounding of what Paul called the “trumpet of God” and “last trumpet” is associated with the descent of Christ from heaven to rescue those who are not appointed to indignation from indignation by removing them from the earth (1 Thess. 1:10; 4:15-17; 5:9-11), while the trumpeting of the seventh angel is associated with further calamity and indignation coming upon the inhabitants of the earth (Rev. 11:18-19). In fact, the trumpeting of the seventh messenger is said to bring about the third “woe” in a sequence of three “woes” (Rev. 8:13; 9:12; 11:14). And these three “woes” will have been preceded by four earlier trumpet-related calamities (Rev. 8:6-12) which – like the tumultuous events that will be brought about by the breaking of the seven-sealed scroll - can all be understood as expressions of God’s indignation or “wrath.”[2]

However, nowhere does Paul say or hint that the sounding of the “trumpet of God” at Christ’s descent from heaven will result in calamity or “woe” for anyone (nor is the trumpeting of the seventh angel said to be accompanied by, or to result in, the descent of the Lord himself from heaven, the voice [singular] of the “Chief Messenger,” the rousing and rising of the dead in Christ, the change of the living, or the snatching away of any saints to meet the Lord in the air). Thus, while the sounding of the “trumpet of God”/”last trumpet” is associated with a time before God’s indignation begins (for it is that which will sound when the time comes for those not appointed for indignation to be removed from the earth), the trumpeting of the seventh messenger will occur during (and near the end of) a period of time that will already be characterized by God’s indignation.

Delivered from the Coming Indignation

Before explaining his view concerning the nature and duration of the coming “wrath” or “indignation” from which the saints to whom Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians would be saved, Ballinger writes: ”People use I Thessalonians 1:10 to try to prove that the resurrection in I Thessalonians 4 takes place before the tribulation period begins. They point out that it says that they would be delivered from the “wrath to come,” and that they were not appointed to wrath in I Thessalonians 5:9.”

Since the only way that Paul qualified the “wrath” referred to in 1 Thessalonians was by saying it’s “to come” or “coming,” I think that it would be reasonable to believe that those to whom Paul wrote are not appointed to – and thus aren’t in any danger of facing - any future indignation (in contrast with their being delivered from some future indignation after having already gone through a time of indignation). We’ll see, however, if Ballinger provides us with any compelling arguments that should lead us to reject this view.

Ballinger goes on to write: However…Paul also told them that the Day of Christ which was His coming and their gathering together unto Him was not at hand, for it was to be preceded by a falling away and the revelation of anti-Christ, which all takes place during the tribulation, not before (II Thessalonians 2:1-6). You cannot ignore these facts when reading I Thessalonians 1:10.

Paul did not, in fact, tell the Thessalonians that the “Day of Christ” was to be “preceded by a falling away and the revelation of anti-Christ.” Although the KJV has “day of Christ” in 2 Thess. 2:2, the oldest and most reliable manuscripts have “day of the Lord,” and most English translations have made this correction. Moreover, Paul need not be understood as saying that the day of the Lord would not begin until after the apostasy and the unveiling of the man of lawlessness had occurred. Rather, Paul’s use of the word “first” in v. 3 (prōton) was most likely intended to convey the idea that the events referred to in verses 3-4 will be the first in a sequence of events that will occur during the day of the Lord (and as thus marking the beginning of this period of time rather than being precursors to it).

In any case, Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 2 do not support Ballinger’s view that the snatching away (which Paul refers to in v. 1 as “the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to Him”) will be preceded by the events referred to in verses 3-4. Instead (as as I’ve argued in greater depth elsewhere), there is good reason to believe that the issue to which Paul is responding in this chapter would not have even arisen had Paul previously taught the Thessalonians that the snatching away would take place sometime after the “apostasy” and the unveiling of the man of lawlessness had occurred.

Ballinger continues: The question then that we must answer is, “What then is the wrath to come”? That expression appears 3 times in Scripture: Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7 and I Thessalonians 1:10. In Matthew 3 and Luke 3 it is identified as the day that Jesus comes in fire to burn up the chaff after He gathers the wheat into His garner. That day of wrath is at the very end of the tribulation. He will gather out the believing remnant right before “the wrath to come” (II Thessalonians 1:7-9; Jude 1:14-15; Revelation 19:11-21; I Thessalonians 5:2-9; II Peter 3:10; Malachi 4:1-3). It’s the wrath of I Thessalonians 5:9 that they were not appointed to receive, the “wrath to come” from which they were delivered [according to I Thessalonians 1:10].

According to Ballinger, when Paul referred to “the coming indignation” (or “wrath to come”) in 1 Thessalonians, he didn’t have in mind all indignation that is to come. Rather, Paul simply had in view the very last part of the indignation that is to come – i.e., the “vengeance” which, in 2 Thessalonians, Paul wrote will be dealt out to unbelievers when Christ is unveiled “from heaven with his powerful messengers,” and which will result in “eonian extermination from the face of the Lord” for “those who are not acquainted with God and those who are not obeying the evangel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:7-9). According to Ballinger, then, the only indignation from which Paul was reassuring the Thessalonian saints they would be rescued by Christ (via the snatching away prophesied in 1 Thess. 4:16-17) is the indignation which is going to be suffered exclusively by unbelievers on the day when Christ returns to earth. I find this view to be problematic for at least two reasons.

First, the idea that believers will have to be removed from the earth in order to be spared from vengeance that will be dealt out exclusively to the remaining unbelievers on the earth at Christ’s return just doesn’t make much sense. Consider the calamity that is associated with the pouring out of the “first bowl,” as described in Rev. 16:2 (and which, chronologically, is after the seventh messenger sounds his trumpet). We’re told that an “evil and malignant ulcer” will come on “those of mankind who have the emblem of the wild beast, and worship its image.” This expression of God’s indignation is specifically for a certain category of humans (“those of mankind who have the emblem of the wild beast, and worship its image”). Similarly, the “vengeance” that we find referred to by Paul in 2 Thess. 1:7-9 is not something that will be directed toward everyone on the earth when Christ returns; it is reserved for, and directed at, unbelievers only. Why, then, would believers have to be snatched away at this time?

Ballinger’s view would be a little less puzzling if those whom he believes are to be snatched away are being removed from the earth because – as I believe - they’re being relocated to another realm (i.e., heaven). But this isn’t what Ballinger believes. According to Ballinger, since 1 Thess. 4:15-17 has to do with Christ’s “Second Coming,” those being snatched away are coming right back down to the earth almost immediately after leaving the earth! While this point is not, in itself, evidence against Ballinger’s view, the puzzling nature of such an event suggests that something may be amiss with Ballinger’s interpretation. Moreover, given all of the calamities that will have already come upon the inhabitants of the earth during the months and years leading up to Christ’s return, why would God wait until the very end of this time of indignation to remove believers from the earth, when they won’t even be the ones whom the angelic agents of God’s vengeance will be “targeting” at this time?

The second (and, to me, biggest) problem with this view, however, is that it seems to be contrary to the sequence of events revealed by Christ himself. According to Christ’s “parable of the darnel of the field” (Matt. 13:24-30), the “darnel” is to be “culled first” when harvest time comes (i.e., before the “grain” is “gathered into the barn”). Christ provides his disciples with the key to understanding this parable in verses 36-43. There, we read that, at the end of this eon, the “Son of mankind shall be dispatching His messengers, and they shall be culling out of His kingdom all the snares and those doing lawlessness, and they shall be casting them into a furnace of fire…Then shall the just be shining out as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

Since, according to Christ’s parable, the darnel is culled and bound into bundles before the grain is gathered, we can conclude that, when Christ returns at the end of the eon, the “just” will be remaining on the earth while the wicked are “culled out of the kingdom” via the agency of the dispatched messengers. It is only after the unrighteous have been “culled out of the kingdom” that the righteous (those believers who “endured to the consummation” and survived the time of “great affliction”) are then assembled by Christ’s messengers from their scattered locations throughout the earth. Similarly, in Christ’s explanation of the parable of the dragnet (Matt. 13:47-51), we’re told that “the messengers will be coming out and they will be severing the wicked from the midst of the just. This, too, conveys the idea that it is the wicked – not the “just,” or righteous - who will be removed from the earth at the time of Christ’s return. Thus, there seems to be a chronological discrepancy between what Christ reveals concerning events taking place at his end-of-the-eon return, and Ballinger’s view concerning the timing of the snatching away.

But what about the “impending indignation” referred to by John the baptist in Matthew 3:7 and Luke 3:7? John need not be understood as referring exclusively to the indignation that will come upon the unrighteous on the literal day of Christ’s return. Instead, the “impending indignation” can be understood as that which will characterize the entire 3½ year-long period leading up to, and climaxing with, Christ’s return at the end of the eon. In Luke 21:34-36, Christ declared to his disciples: ”Now take heed to yourselves, lest at some time your hearts should be burdened with crapulence and drunkenness and the worries of life's affairs, and that day may be standing by you unawares, as a trap, for it will intrude on all those sitting on the surface of the entire earth. Now be vigilant, on every occasion beseeching that you may be prevailing to escape all these things which are about to occur, and to stand in front of the Son of Mankind.”

Is the “day” that Christ had in mind here (the day which “will intrude on all those sitting on the surface of the entire earth”) the literal day of his return to earth? No. As in many places in Scripture, the word “day” is being used figuratively to refer to a period of time having certain characteristics which distinguish it from what came before (see, for example, Jeremiah 30:5-7; Zechariah 14; John 8:56). In this case, the “day” in view is the period of time that is elsewhere called the “day of the Lord” – specifically, that period of time in which “all these things which are about to occur” will be occurring.

But what “things” did Christ have in mind? In the “Olivet Discourse” (of which Christ’s words in Luke 21:34-36 are a part), Christ focused primarily on events that will be taking place in Israel, and which will most directly impact believers who will be living in and around Jerusalem during the final 3½ (some believe 7) years leading up to his glorious return to earth. In Luke 21:20-27, we read the following:

“Now whenever you may be perceiving Jerusalem surrounded by encampments, then know that her desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee into the mountains, and let those in her midst be coming out into the country, and let not those in the country be entering into her, for days of vengeance are these, to fulfill all that is written. Yet woe to those who are pregnant and to those suckling in those days, for there will be great necessity in the land and indignation on this people. And they shall be falling by the edge of the sword and shall be led into captivity into all nations. And Jerusalem shall be trodden by the nations, until the eras of the nations may be fulfilled. And there shall be signs in the sun and the moon and the constellations, and on the earth pressure of nations in perplexity, at the resounding of the sea and the shaking, at the chilling of men from fear and apprehensiveness of that which is coming on the inhabited earth, for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then they shall be seeing the Son of Mankind coming in a cloud with power and much glory.”

The tumultuous events taking place during these “days of vengeance” (and which Christ described as indignation on this people”) are clearly part of the “all things” which, in verses 35-36, Christ said were “about to occur,” and concerning which he told his disciples to “be vigilant, on every occasion beseeching that you may be prevailing to escape.” Significantly, two of the same words used by John the Baptist in Matthew 3:7 and Luke 3:7 appear again in Christ’s discourse (Luke 21:21, 23). Consider the following:  

John the Baptist in Luke 3:7: “Progeny of vipers! Who intimates to you to be fleeing from (pheugo) the impending indignation (orge)?”

Christ in Luke 21:21, 23: “Then let those in Judea flee into (pheugo) the mountains… for there will be great necessity in the land and indignation (orge) on this people.”

In both verses, we find that people living in the land of Judea will be in need of “fleeing” from future indignation (significantly, we read in Rev. 12:6 and 12:13-17 that those who heed Christ’s exhortation and flee from the place where this coming indignation will begin will be miraculously protected by God for the remaining days of this eon). That both John and Christ would use the same two words in such close proximity to each other - and especially in the same Gospel Account (i.e., Luke’s) - is unlikely to be a mere coincidence. Based on the above data, a reasonable conclusion to draw would be that John and Christ both had in mind the same period of time, and that the “impending indignation” referred to by John should be understood as including (without being limited to) the events referred to by Christ in his Olivet Discourse (which will begin approximately 3½ years before Christ’s return).

For the sake of argument, however, let’s say that, in Matthew 3:10-12 (and in the parallel passage from Luke), John is putting an emphasis on the climactic time when, at the end of the eon, Christ will come with “all his holy messengers” and deal decisively with all remaining unbelievers on the earth at his return (i.e., the wicked who will have survived the prior day-of-the-Lord indignation). Even if this is the case, we can still understand the “impending indignation” to which John referred in v. 7 as including much more than the events occurring on the actual day of Christ’s return (for it is only the earlier events that will occur during the time of “indignation” from which an Israelite will be able to “flee”).

Ballinger goes on to say:  “…and it so happens that, when the seventh trumpet is blown in Revelation 11, a resurrection of the Saints takes place, they are judged and rewards are given out to them (read Revelation 11:15-18; also read II Corinthians 5:8-11).”

Actually, we are not told that there will be a “resurrection of the Saints” (or any resurrection at all) when the seventh messenger trumpets. What we are told is that, after the sounding of the seventh angel’s trumpet, the twenty-four elders declare that “...the nations are angered, and Thy indignation came, and the ERA for the dead to be judged, and to give their wages to Thy slaves, the prophets, and to the saints and to those fearing Thy name, the small and the great, and to blight those who are blighting the earth.” That which is said to have come is the ERA, or SEASON (karios), in which this and other events take place - not the events themselves. There is no mention whatsoever of a resurrection taking place when the seventh messenger trumpets. However, when the “trumpet of God” referred to by Paul sounds, we are told that there will be an IMMEDIATE resurrection/vivification of believers.




[1] There is no evidence that Paul had received revelation concerning these seven messengers and the specific calamities resulting from the sounding of their trumpets during the day of the Lord; rather, it was to the apostle John - while he was on the island of Patmos - that this particular prophetic information was revealed, and it was John who was chosen to make it known. And given the fact that there is compelling internal and external evidence pointing to John’s having written this work near the end of the first century – i.e., during the reign of Caesar Domitian, circa 95-96 AD - it’s unlikely that the saints in Corinth to whom Paul wrote would have even been familiar with such a sequence of trumpet soundings. Moreover, even the earlier dating that some propose for the writing of Revelation – i.e., circa 65-66 AD (during the reign of Caesar Nero) would be too late for the original recipients of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to have knowledge of the sequence of trumpet-soundings revealed to John and recorded in Revelation 8-11.

[2] For a more in-depth defense of this position, see part three of my study on the timing of the snatching away (http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2016/01/a-study-on-timing-of-snatching-away_68.html).

Restoring Unity to Paul’s Epistles: A Refutation of Tom Ballinger’s Defense of the “Acts 28” Theory, Part 5 ("Then Shall Come to Pass the Word"; "Saying None Other Things"; "Shall Never Die"; "At the Last Trump")

“Then shall come to pass the word which is written”

Ballinger: Also, in I Corinthians 15, when writing about the same hope of resurrection (which some call the “rapture”), he says, So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be BROUGHT TO PASS the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O grave, where is thy victory?” (:54-55). If Paul means what he says, and says what he means, the hope of I Corinthians 15 was prophesied in “the Word of the Lord.” Paul is quoting from two different books in “the Word of the Lord,” Hosea 13:14 and Isaiah 25:8, to show the Corinthians their hope.

We’ve shown in part four that, by the phrase “the word of the Lord” in 1 Thess. 4:15, Paul did not have in mind anything found in the Hebrew Scriptures - and this includes Hosea 13:14 and Isaiah 25:8. Nowhere in these verses do we find the information made known by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:15-17. Rather, the information found in these verses had been revealed to Paul by the Lord Jesus Christ at some point during Paul’s apostolic career (prior to the writing of 1 Thessalonians). In light of this, let’s now consider Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 15:54-55: Now, whenever this corruptible should be putting on incorruption and this mortal should be putting on immortality, then shall come to pass the word which is written, Swallowed up was Death by Victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?

Notice the words “whenever” and “then” in v. 54. The word “whenever” has a much wider scope than the word “when.” It means that every time a corruptible, mortal body is changed into an incorruptible, immortal body, the “word that is written” comes to pass (ginomai, to come to be, or to occur). Paul is not talking about the fulfillment of Isaiah 25:8 or Hosea 13:14; he doesn’t even use the word translated “fulfilled” or “filled up” (pleroo) in reference to these verses of Scripture (for some examples where a verse or passage from the Hebrew scriptures is said to have been “fulfilled,” or “filled up,” see Matthew 2:23; 4:12-16; 13:14-15; 27:6-10; Luke 24:44; John 13:18; 17:12; 19:36; Acts 1:16; 3:18; 13:27; James 2:23).

The “word which is written” will “come to pass” any time (“whenever”) a deceased or mortal person (or a group of such persons) is vivified. Thus, when the deceased saints in the body of Christ are roused incorruptible, and the still-living saints are changed into immortal beings (which is the event that Paul has in view in the immediate context) death will, for them, be “swallowed up by victory” and will have lost its “sting.” And when all the deceased saints of Israel are vivified (which will be 75 days after the day of Christ’s return to earth), the “word” that Paul quotes will again “come to pass.” But even then, it cannot be said that this “word” will have been fulfilled, since there will remain a third and final class of human beings who are to be vivified (and for whom death is to be “swallowed up by victory”).

Ballinger: The mystery of I Corinthians 15:51 is not the resurrection, but that there will be some caught up without dying. This is a mystery hidden in the Scriptures, for in :55 Paul quotes Isaiah 25:8 which says, “O Death where is thy sting?” In other words, in the Old Testament Scriptures it was written down that somebody was going to get out of this life without experiencing the sting of death.

The rhetorical question, “Where, O Death, is your sting?” in no way presupposes or implies that anyone would be vivified without dying. These words are just as applicable for all who are to be roused from the state of death and introduced into a vivified, incorruptible state as they are for those members of the body of Christ who will never die. For all who are vivified, it can be said that death has lost its “sting” (i.e., its power to harm/injure), since those who have been vivified can no longer die. The words of 1 Cor. 15:55 (“Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?”) can, therefore, be the triumphant proclamation of everyone over whom death no longer has any power.

“Saying none other things”

Ballinger: This agrees with what Paul said in Acts 26:22 where, when summing up his Acts ministry, said, Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day witnessing both to small and great, saying NONE OTHER THINGS than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come. Paul’s Acts ministry and what he wrote in his Acts epistles can be found in the Old Testament Scriptures, and that includes the hope he wrote about in I Thessalonians 4 and I Corinthians 15.

According to Ballinger and other Acts 28 proponents, Paul never said anything during the entirety of his “Acts ministry” that can’t be found in the Law and the Prophets. That anyone who is actually familiar with the content of Paul’s epistles could take this idea seriously is, to me, astonishing.

Before Paul travelled to Rome as a prisoner, he wrote the following to the saints in Rome: Now to Him Who is able to establish you in accord with my evangel, and the heralding of Christ Jesus in accord with the revelation of a secret hushed in times eonian, yet manifested now and through prophetic scriptures, according to the injunction of the eonian God being made known to all nations for faith-obedience...” (Rom. 16:25-26). The “prophetic scriptures” through which the secret was “being made known to all nations” are Paul’s own letters. Paul clearly understood what he wrote to be inspired scripture (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 2 Pet. 3:14-16), and all of his letters can be characterized as “prophetic” - both in the sense of their being part of the “oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2) and in the sense of their containing prophecies concerning future events (events which involve not only the saints in the body of Christ but also the nation of Israel, unbelievers, all mankind and the universe as a whole).

Unlike what Peter declared in Acts 3:21-24 (concerning “all the things which God speaks through the mouth of His holy prophets who are from the eon”), the “secret” that Paul had in view in Romans 16:25-26 had been kept “hushed in times eonian.” It was not manifested until after Paul was called by Christ (Gal 1:1, 11-16). This fact brings us to our second point. All that one needs to do to demonstrate the error of the Acts 28 proponent’s use of Acts 26:22 is to find one thing found in Paul’s “Acts epistles” that wasn’t previously revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures. Here are some examples:

1. Salvation has come to the nations through the “tripping,” “offense” and “casting away” of Israel (Rom. 11:11-15, 19), and this state of affairs is to continue “until the complement of the nations may be entering” (vv. 25-26).

2. All who believe Paul’s evangel - whether “Jew or Greek” - are spiritually baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:12-13), which is the body of Christ (v. 27), and have become a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).

3. The last generation of those in the body of Christ will “not be put to repose” (die), but will “put on immortality” at the same time that the deceased saints in the body of Christ will be “roused in incorruption” (1 Cor. 15:50-53).

4. Both categories of saints in the body of Christ will be “snatched away together” by the “Lord himself” to meet Christ in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

5. All who are in the body of Christ will, at this time, become “celestials” and will “wear the image of Christ, the “Celestial One” (1 Cor. 15:47-49).

6. Related to the last point, the realm in which we will enjoy eonian life after we’ve “put on incorruption” is not on the earth but rather “in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1), and our “home” is, therefore, where the Lord is, presently (vv. 6-9).

7. After death has been abolished by Christ and every being in the universe has been subjected to him, Christ will be “giving up the kingdom to His God and Father” and “shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all” (1 Cor. 15:24-28). Referring to the subjection of all to Christ and to God’s becoming “All in all” is simply another way of conveying the same truth found in Col. 1:20 and elsewhere.

Having noted some truths revealed by Paul (and concerning which “the prophets and Moses” were completely silent), let’s now consider what Paul meant in Acts 26:22. Although Ballinger seems to prefer the King James Version, I consider it a relatively inferior translation on which to build (or with which to support) one’s doctrinal positions. But even the KJV translation of Acts 26:22 does not lend support to Ballinger’s position.

Notice that Ballinger leaves out the very next verse, which specifies what “things” Paul had in view when he declared that he was “saying none other things that those which the prophets and Moses did say should come.” In v. 23 we read: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.” More recent translations confirm this understanding of Acts 26:22-23. Consider the following:

New English Translation (NET)
“I have experienced help from God to this day, and so I stand testifying to both small and great, saying nothing except what the prophets and Moses said was going to happen: that the Christ was to suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, to proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
“To this very day, I have obtained help that comes from God, and I stand and testify to both small and great, saying nothing else than what the prophets and Moses said would take place— that the Messiah must suffer, and that as the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles.”

English Standard Version (ESV)
“To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

Concordant Literal New Testament (CLNT)
“Happening, then, on assistance from God, until this day I stand attesting both to small and to great, saying nothing outside of what both the prophets and Moses speak of impending occurrences -- if it be the suffering Christ -- if He, the first out of a resurrection of the dead, is about to be announcing light both to the people and to the nations.”

Why would Ballinger quote verse 22 but not verse 23 (especially when, grammatically, v. 23 can’t even be separated from what is said in v. 22)? I strongly suspect that it’s because Ballinger realized that doing so would weaken his position that Paul was referring to everything he had ever said during his apostolic ministry, without any exception or qualification. Since Paul’s words in verse 23 put a significant restriction on the “things” that Paul had in view in verse 22, it would seem that Ballinger felt it necessary to simply omit them altogether. This type of selective “proof-texting” seems to be rather common among proponents of the Acts 28 position, unfortunately.

“He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die”?

Ballinger: When the resurrection of Matthew 24 takes place, believers who are alive will be caught up without dying.

The problem with what Ballinger says above is that, unlike what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4, there is no resurrection referred to by the Lord in Matthew 24. In order to see the coming of Christ referred to in Matthew 24:30-31 as the same event referred to by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:50-54 and 1 Thess. 4:15-17, Ballinger and other Acts 28 proponents have to read into the Lord’s words what isn’t there. They have no choice but to do this, since the words “dead,” “sleeping,” “put to repose,” “roused,” “resurrected,” “rising,” “corruptible” and “put on incorruption” appear nowhere in Matthew 24:30-31 or the surrounding context.

Ballinger goes on to say: This fact is brought out by the Lord in John 11. In John 11, Lazarus, Martha’s brother, died, and she wanted Christ to raise him from the dead. Jesus said to her, “Thy brother shall rise again.” Martha saith unto Him, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said unto her: “I am the resurrection; and the life: he that believeth in Me; though He were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (:23).

When Jesus said, “He that believeth in Me though he were dead, yet shall he live,” He is referring to those who are dead when the resurrection of the last day takes place. When He said “whosoever liveth and believeth in Me,” He is referring to those who are alive when the resurrection of the last day takes place, and He says that they “shall never die.”

As we’ve seen, the “fact” to which Ballinger is referring at the beginning of the above paragraph is no “fact” at all. There is no resurrection referred to in Matthew 24. As far as John 11 goes, nowhere in the Lord’s conversation with Martha does he say that the “dying” believers he has in view in v. 25 will be resurrected when, before or immediately after the event referred to in Matthew 24:30 (when “all the tribes of the land shall see the Son of Mankind coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory”).

Not only this, but there is nothing said by the Lord in this chapter (or elsewhere in the Gospel Accounts) about living saints not “preceding” or “outstripping” saints who are dead, of the dead in Christ “rising first,” or of both living and dead saints being changed, at the same moment, into incorruptible, immortal beings before being snatched away to meet him in the air (1 Thess. 4:15-17; 1 Cor. 15:51-53).

Ballinger: This is what Jesus is referring to in John 11 when He said, “He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” That was the only time that Christ mentioned that fact to anyone. Prior to Paul it was the general consensus that, by the time that resurrection took place, all believers would be dead. Yet God opened up the Scriptures to Paul and he was the first man to understand that fact fully and write about it. Nevertheless, it was in the Old Testament Scriptures, even though concealed.

If our Lord actually declared that “He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die,” then he uttered a falsehood, because everyone who was living and believing in him during his earthly ministry is now dead, and countless believers in Christ have died since then. Ballinger should have availed himself of a better, more accurate translation of Scripture while he was writing his article; had he done so, he would’ve discovered that Christ was not saying something so manifestly erroneous and stupid as is found in the KJV translation of John 11:26.

The CLNT corrects the error of the KJV by translating Christ’s words as follows: “And everyone who is living and believing in Me, should by no means be dying for the eon.” To say that those who believe in Christ “should by no means be dying for the eon” is simply another (more emphatic) way of saying that they will have eonian life – something that will be true for a believer regardless of whether they die before the Lord’s return or not.

“At the last trump”

In part six I’ll be arguing against Ballinger’s understanding of what Paul meant by the “last trump” in 1 Cor. 15:52 (which, as we’ll see, is the standard “post-tribulational” view – i.e., the view that what Paul referred to in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 and 1 Cor. 15:50-52 will take place after the time of “great affliction” referred to by Christ in Matt. 24:21-22, and will occur at some point during the eon-terminating coming of Christ described in Matt. 24:30, Rev. 1:7 and Rev. 19:11-16). The objections I’ll be raising against Ballinger’s view should, I believe, lead any clear-thinking student of scripture to reject it and consider other possible understandings of what Paul may have meant here. Before I examine and respond to Ballinger’s view, however, I want to go ahead and articulate what I believe is a better interpretation of what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 15:52.

Among the views that have been suggested by students of scripture (of which there are several), I think the simplest is that Paul was using the figure of speech known as “association” (or “metonymy”) when he used the expression translated “at the last trumpet” (en tēi eschatēi salpiggi). According to this figure of speech, something associated with a thing is put for it; in the case of 1 Cor. 15:52, the word “trumpet” can be understood as referring to the sound made by a trumpet - i.e., a trump or trumpet-call.

The close association between a trumpet and the sound that it makes is clear from the English word “trump,” which can refer to either the instrument itself or the sound produced by it (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trump). It is worth pointing out that, although the Greek noun salpigx has the primary meaning of “trumpet” (or ”war-trumpet”), both Strong’s and the Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon have provided secondary definitions for salpigx: “the sound of a trumpet” (Strong’s) and “a trumpet-call” (Liddell-Scott). The only reason I haven’t appealed to these “secondary definitions” of salpigx is because I see them as implying (and being derived from) the use of the figure of speech association/metonymy.

That Paul was employing the figure of speech metonymy is the view affirmed by Frederick William Danker in his Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). Danker notes that the word translated “trumpet” in 1 Cor. 15:52 (salpigx) means, “by metonymy, the sound made by a trumpet.” Thus, when Paul is understood as having used the figure of speech “association” or “metonymy” in 1 Cor. 15:52, we can understand the expression “at the last trumpet” as simply meaning “at the last trumpet-call,” or “at the last trump.” And this would mean that Paul didn’t have in mind more than one trumpet in 1 Cor. 15:52; rather, he simply had in mind more than one trumpet-call, or trumpet blast.

This interpretation is, I believe, to be preferred to any view which involves multiple trumpets being sounded (either in unison or in sequence), since in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 - a passage which all would agree undoubtedly refers to the event in view in 1 Cor. 15:52 - there is no sequence of trumpets referred to or implied. Rather, Paul refers to only a single trumpet (the “trumpet of God”) as being sounded at the time Paul had in view. In light of this fact, 1 Cor. 15:52 can be understood as conveying the idea that, just before the dead and living saints in the body of Christ undergo their vivifying change, the “trumpet of God” will be sounded by Christ at least twice, and it is at the last blast or trumpet-call of this single trumpet that the miraculous (and nearly instantaneous) event which Paul had in view will occur.[1]



[1] It should be further noted that the question of whether the word “trumpet” can even refer to the literal instrument (rather than the sound it makes) depends on the meaning of the Greek word translated “at” in the expression “at the last trumpet.” The preposition en (which appears three times in v. 52, and is translated “in” twice and “at” once) denotes “(fixed) position (in place, time or state), and (by implication) instrumentality (medially or constructively)” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/en.html).

Although the interpretation I’ve advanced is consistent with either meaning of the word en in 1 Cor. 15:52, only the “instrumental” meaning of en (“by means of”) is consistent with the view that Paul was referring to the actual instrument itself in the expression “last trumpet” (rather than the sound made by the instrument). For although it would make sense to say something will occur either (1) at the time of a trumpet-call or (2) by means of a trumpet-call, it wouldn’t make sense to say that something is to occur “at the time of a trumpet” (or at the time of any musical instrument).