Rapture Cult – Part II – Evidence

To those of you who are perplexed by this discussion, I offer my sincere apologies. Think of my posts this week as a ‘Last Hurrah’ before moving this site onto a more ‘secular’ footing. Israel Outlook really is intended to be a global security and foreign policy site, and I am moving it back in that direction. The more religious discussions will migrate elsewhere, to a more appropriate forum.

Unfortunately, that ‘more appropriate forum’ doesn’t exist yet, and I feel an urgent need to address this issue.

Bear with me a little longer.

– John

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I hate taking shortcuts, but my current project load doesn’t allow me the luxury of spending as much time on this subject as I would like, and this issue must be addressed comprehensively.

What shortcut am I taking here?

Well, a friend of mine dropped something in my inbox (thanks M!) that does a pretty good job laying out part of the scriptural context of what I’m trying to say. And, since this document is publicly available for free, I also offer it here in its entirety. You can see the document laid out rather nicely here:

The Case for a Post Tribulation Rapture

The Case for a Post Tribulation Rapture

There is also an interesting discussion here:

Focus Study: Pre-Tribulation or Post-Tribulation Rapture? (Part 1)

Focus Study: Pre-Tribulation or Post-Tribulation Rapture? (Part 2)

Focus Study: Pre-Tribulation or Post-Tribulation Rapture? (Part 3 Q&A)

So, without further ado…

————————————————————————–

 

The Case for a Post-Tribulation Rapture

A Study in Premillennial Eschatology

 

Written by Donovan Neufeldt

February 19, 2010


1. INTRODUCING RAPTURE DOCTRINE

The following paper describes something that we have come to know as the rapture, what the Bible says about it, and the importance of understanding the timing of it. Most conversations about the end times are dominated by the topic of when we are “caught up to meet the Lord in the air”.  This makes sense because if one can establish that we will not be here when the big trouble (or the “Great Tribulation”) occurs, one does not need to concern his/herself with studying it or preparing for it. However, if the Bible describes the church going through the midst of history’s most intense hour and there is a chance one may be living in a generation that will experience those final events of natural history, there is an imperative to ready oneself and one’s children that they might not fall in the midst of great shaking.

The rapture is a term used by theologians to describe what happens to the church at Jesus’ first appearance in the sky, namely being caught up gathered to be with him and receiving resurrected bodies. The passage always associated with defining the rapture is 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. The timing of it is thought of in context to the two halves of Daniel’s seventieth week, or the last seven years before the public, bodily, second coming of Jesus to the earth at the end of the age (Daniel 9:24-27).

The doctrine of the rapture is held exclusively by pre-millennialism, which is the belief that Jesus is coming back before the thousand-year messianic kingdom. Because this is the only millennial view that interprets Revelation 20:1-6 to mean what it says. Premillennialism is the foundational premise of this paper, yet it will not be developed nor defended in this paper because it is not my intended focus, and there is much information and books that describe the commonly held views of the millennium. Most Christians today are pre-millennial even if they do not know the terminology, so you probably do not need to understand these theological classifications to follow the rest of the paper.

There are four views concerning the timing of the rapture:

  • Post-Tribulation: The rapture occurs after the Great Tribulation at the same time as Jesus’ public, bodily return to the earth. The church is gathered to meet Him in the sky.
  • Pre-Tribulation: The rapture occurs before the last seven years prior to Jesus’ Second Coming. The church is in heaven during the seven years.
  • Mid-Tribulation: The rapture is half way through the tribulation, three and a half years before the Second Coming. The church is in heaven during the Great Tribulation.
  • Pre-Wrath: The rapture occurs at the sixth seal. The church is taken to heaven

The mid-trib and pre-wrath view are very recent ideas, are basically a variation of the pre tribulation perspective, and there are few who hold these perspectives. Because these three views are founded upon the same premises, only the pre-tribulation view is specifically addressed. If the premises for a pre-tribulation rapture are not biblical, all views except for the post-tribulation are false; if these premises are true, it is mere speculation as to which of these three views is correct. The Post-tribulation view is presented first, followed by an examination of the objections to it. Secondly the pre-tribulation view is presented, followed by a response to it. Finally a conclusion will be given based upon consistency with biblical text, the teachings of the early church, and reason.

 

2. THE POST TRIBULATION PERSPECTIVE

Unique to the post tribulation position is the literal interpretation of the phrase “in the air” from 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The belief is that at the end of the tribulation, after discernable signs occur as set forth by Jesus and the apostles, Jesus will appear in the sky. The saints who have previosly died will come with him, while the Christians who have survived the great tribulation will be caught up (raptured) to receive their resurrected bodies (all the saints will) and meet Jesus in the sky before he touches foot on the earth. This will not be a secret event that unbelievers will be uninformed of, but rather unmistakably public and very very loud (1 Thess. 4:16-17 is considered the noisiest passage in the bible). Saints will shoot up like roman candles to meet Jesus in the air as the earth watches and mourns.

2.1          ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF THE POST TRIBULATION PERSPECTIVE

The “blessed hope” of the early church in all known writings is the Second Coming of Jesus to the earth, not a pre-tribulation rapture into heaven. This is more fully developed in the following section using Biblical texts, but for now the extra-biblical Christian writings of the first and second century will be observed, that it might be made known what the belief was of the disciples of the apostles.

The Didache is called the first Christian catechism by many and even considered canonical by some early Christian Fathers[1]. This compilation of Christian doctrine was written close to the end of the first century[2], and the sixteenth chapter included a call for the church to prepare themselves to go through the tribulation, that they might not succumb to the deception of the antichrist[3]. Furthermore, early Christians including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, the Shepherd of Hermas, and Hippolytus, have written documents which warn of the Antichrist and his kingdom persecuting the church during the great tribulation. Irenaeus even clearly states that the resurrection of the church “takes place after the coming of the Antichrist”[4]. Enoch*, who walked with God and even prophesied the great flood of Genesis through his son named Methusalah (when he dies it will come), also may have understood eschatology well, as indicated by Jewish tradition. The book written in his name is introduced with the statement that the elect and righteous will go through the Great Tribulation (1 Enoch 1:1).

[*OUCH! He mentioned the Book of Enoch! That’s TERRIBLE! But, it doesn’t invalidate the rest of what he says. – JL]

2.2          BIBLICAL EVIDENCE FOR THE POST TRIBULATION SECOND COMING AND RAPTURE

It may be helpful to note that the early church was taught to prepare for the persecutions they would face in the Great Tribulation, but because this is not conclusive in itself, the Biblical texts, which are the final authority on all matters of life and doctrine, must be considered with much greater priority. Texts considered in this section are those which indicate that the Second Coming of Jesus and the rapture occur at the same time, those that indicate the rapture as necessarily following the great tribulation as well as those which deal with the general theology of tribulation.

2.2.1      Texts That Indicate That the Rapture and 2nd Coming Happen Together After the Tribulation

The Olivet discourse (Matt. 24-25) is perhaps the most well known passage in the study of eschatology because it is so saturated with information about the second coming and the circumstances leading up to it. In Matthew 24:21 Jesus speaks of the “great tribulation”, the beginning of which is marked by the abomination of desolation. This will be the most intense time of human history which will not be surpassed by any other (as explained in Matthew 24:15-28). In verse 29 Jesus continues to explain what will happen “Immediately after the tribulation of those days”; He explains that He will appear in the sky (v. 30) and gather his elect to Him. It is plain from this passage that after the great tribulation Jesus will come and rapture His church to be with him in the sky as a singular event.

Paul undoubtedly had learned from the teachings of Jesus in the Olivet discourse and then taught it to the church in Thessalonica. When he did so, he spelled out the details in such a way that it would be unmistakably understandable. This is known because in 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul uses the same language as Jesus uses in Matthew 24; common elements include the coming of Jesus, our gathering to Him (rapture), a warning against deception, and the abomination of desolation as a critical timing indicator. In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 Paul begins by pointing out that the second coming and the rapture happen together (v. 1), however, the explanation of the timing is worded slightly differently. Paul does not just say that these happen after the tribulation, but makes a bold warning,

“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day [the day of the 2nd coming and rapture as
written in verse one] will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed,
the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called
God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.”
(2 Thess. 2:3-4, NIV, emphasis and parenthesis mine).

Paul emphatically declares that the rapture cannot occur until after the abomination of desolation occurs. Because the revealing of the antichrist happens in the middle of the tribulation, this passage alone makes the post-tribulation rapture a necessity, and it makes a pre-tribulation rapture a biblical impossibility.

A number of verses when viewed together contextually also make a very compelling argument that the rapture and second coming happen together at the seventh trumpet judgement in the book of Revelation (which is at the end of the great tribulation). 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 looks at the rapture from the aspect of what happens to our bodies themselves. Paul states that he is telling us of a mystery, that our bodies will be resurrected incorruptible (at the second coming), however those who are still alive at the time of the last trumpet will be resurrected with the deceased, yet without dying. The three key words or phrases here are mystery, last trumpet, and resurrection of the saints, and these are said to happen here simultaneously. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 Paul gives overlapping content, saying that the Lord will descend from heaven (2nd coming) at the sounding of the trumpet of God, which is when the resurrection of the saints occurs, and we are caught up to meet the Lord in the air (the rapture). Revelation 10:7 says that at the sounding of the seventh trumpet (last trumpet of the seven), the mystery of God would be finished. One chapter later, in Revelation 11:15-19, the angel explains that when the seventh trumpet sounds, Jesus will take his power over all the kingdoms of the earth (a political view of what occurs at the second coming). Ephesians 1: 9-10 tells us that the mystery of God is that He would gather all things (in heaven and on earth) in Christ. Though this is not specific to only the rapture it is no exegetical stretch to believe that the second coming, rapture, and resurrection of the saints play a critical role in it (even aside from parallel passages). Daniel 12:1-3 was referenced by Jesus as referring to the great tribulation, and this passage states that at the end of it would be the resurrection of the saints. In Revelation 20:5 calls this the first resurrection. One may look in to this further by examining the resurrection and rapture of the two witnesses, which is described as occurring at the end of the 1260 day great tribulation (Revelation 11:3-14).

When all of these passages are looked at together we see a stunning overlap of parallel content, all happening at the same time. The summary all common elements could form the harmonious statement,

“At the seventh and final trumpet (at the end of the great tribulation), the mystery of God will be complete; this mystery consists of Jesus’ second coming, the rapture of the church and the first resurrection of the saints.”

Another biblical evidence for the post-tribulation rapture lies in the parable of the wheat and the tares as told and explained in Matthew 13. Jesus states that the harvest of souls and the context of this parable are at the end of the age (v. 39, 40). What is clearly shown in this parable is that both the “sons of the kingdom” and the “sons of the wicked one” grow up together into maturity till the end of the age, when they are both harvested and separated. If wheat symbolizes the church, then the church would necessarily be in the tribulation. Even J. Dwight Pentecost (who is among the most well known proponents of the pre-tribulation position admitted that only the post-tribulation view fits a literal normal interpretation of the parable[5].

2.2.2      Biblical Texts That Speak of the Church’s Activity and Condition During the Great Tribulation

The church is mentioned in Revelation 5:8, 8:3, 8:4, 11:18, 12:17, 13:7, 13:10, 14:12, 15:3, 16:6, 17:6, 18:24 (usually called saints, or the elect, who are in considered members of the church throughout the New Testament). These are all within Revelation 4-18, which is the description of the great tribulation. Revelation 14:12 in particular speaks of those who obey God’s commands and remain faithful to Jesus. This description is not only used in Rev. 12:17, but also used to describe John in Rev. 1:9, as well as Christian brethren in Rev. 19:10. John and the first century Christians were surely part of the church.

Matthew 24 and Luke 21 are particularly noteworthy passages as well, which describe the great tribulation with great detail from the lips of Jesus. This is the same “Olivet discourse” mentioned earlier. The noteworthy language here is that Jesus is addressing his disciples warning them about that time of great trouble, using the second person plural “you”. It is used 23 times in Matt. 24 and 29 times in Luke 21:8-36. Seeing that the disciples were part of the church, it is absurd for Jesus to warn believers so directly, passionately, and so unmistakably purposefully, if believers will be raptured before the tribulation. The entire discourse pre-supposes the existence of the Church during the great tribulation.

A few more specific points Jesus made in these passages warrant consideration as well. First is that in Matthew 24:14 Jesus said that only after a witness of the gospel is given in every nation will the end come. How is the church going to preach the gospel to unbelievers across the earth if the church is in heaven? In verse 22, Jesus says that the time of great tribulation will be cut short for the sake of the elect; if the elect are in heaven, unaffected by the tribulation, why is the tribulation shortened for their sake? Matthew 28:19-20 once again re-iterates that the church will be fulfilling the great commission in the power of the Holy Spirit “even until the end of the age.”

2.2.4      Biblical Texts That Promise Tribulation and Command Perseverance Through It[6]

Although the following refer to tribulation in general (not specifically to the great tribulation, although that is definitely included), there are many passages when Jesus and  the apostles promise Christians tribulation: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33), “They will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you” (Matt. 24:9), “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), “No one should be shaken by these afflictions… we are appointed to this. For in fact, we told you before that we would suffer tribulation” (1 Thess. 3:3-4), “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). The “command to persevere” (Rev. 3:10) in the midst of tribulation is also made clear in Jesus’ statement, “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:13), as well as His many exhortations to overcome to the seven churches of Rev. 2-3.

2.2.5      Reasons God Allows Christians to Go Through Tribulation

Jesus will allow the church to go though tribulation, ultimately, that he might have a glorious church, a pure and spotless bride (Eph. 5:27), that had made herself ready (Rev. 19:7) to meet the bridegroom (Matt. 25:10) and be an equally yoked bride (2 Cor. 6:14-18) leaning on her beloved (Song. 8:5) and victorious in whole hearted love and abandonment (Rev. 12:11, Matt. 22:27). This will not happen instantaneously as Jesus waves his hand, Jesus has always been “radically committed to process”[7] throughout all redemptive history, and will not suddenly change His leadership style by bypassing process and rapturing a carnal church. It is absurd to think that the church can be removed from God’s activity and understand it from a distance. God does not want His people experiencing Him at a safe distance from His activity, but rather He wants them in the thick of it, partnering with His heart. It is only in participation and experience that the knowledge of God comes alive in one’s heart.

Paul, Peter, and James explain more reasons for tribulation in the lives of believers, related to the above paragraph. The church is exhorted to not lose heart and be joyful in tribulation because it produces genuine faith, patience, righteousness, maturity, renewing of the inner man, the working of eternal glory, eternal perspective, and spiritual perfection/ completeness. These bring praise, honour, and glory to Jesus (1 Pet. 1:6-7, 5:10, James 1:2-4, Rom. 8:18, 2 Cor. 1:3-7, 4:16-18).

2.2.6      The Purpose Rev. 6-18: To Prepare the Church for the Tribulation

If the Church was not going to be on earth during the tribulation, the reason for including such passages as Revelation 6-18, Matthew 24, Luke 21, and the great majority of all other apocalyptic literature would be a complete mystery. The study of these passages would serve only to satisfy a curiosity and make for a neat little hobby or pass time. It is quite obvious that the purpose of the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic literature in the cannon of scripture is to prepare the end-time church for the unique dynamics of the last generation

3. ALL OTHER PERSPECTIVES NECCESITATE TWO SECOND COMINGS

Three views of the timing (pre-trib, mid-trib, and pre-wrath) are built upon at least three critical pre-suppositions. If these presuppositions are true it is very difficult to discern when the timing of the rapture is (only interpretations of inferences and tight semantics are used to distinguish). However, if any of these presuppositions are proven unbiblical, all three of these views are proven false as well. These pre-suppositions are: “There are two Second Comings of Jesus”; “There are two first resurrections of the saints”, and, “There are two last trumpets.” Most who have not learned the hermeneutical dance of dispensationalist scholars will recognise that they have never heard of a single scripture making such claims, and that all these premises are a contradiction in and of themselves.

As mentioned previously, the mid-tribulation and pre-wraths views are not specifically addressed because of minimal adherence and recent development. They are both a variation of the pre-trib view.

4. THE PRE TRIBULATION/ DISPENSATIONAL PERSPECTIVE

The pre tribulation position interprets the phrase “in the air” from 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (the primary passage from which the rapture is defined) to really mean in heaven, as opposed to meaning in the sky. The belief is that at any moment before the tribulation (defined here as the last seven years of natural history), the church will be translated into heaven. This will not necessarily be before discernable signs, because if it were, the foundational premise of immanence would be lost. This is a “secret coming” which is only visible to Christians. At the end of the seven years, Jesus will come with the church to bring about the messianic kingdom on earth (the 1000 year millennium).

4.1          ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF THE PRE TRIBULATION PERSPECTIVE[8]

The pre-tribulation rapture position was entirely unheard of until the early 1800’s it was first proposed by John Nelson Darby (considered the father of dispensationalism) in 1827.[9] He promoted his views across England, and it became much more widely accepted, especially amongst the Plymouth Brethren. Through his writings, it had been introduced in some American circles, and became accepted among many Presbyterians and Baptists.[10] During one of his trips to England, Dr. C.I. Scofield learned of the eschatology from John Darby, which he then taught in America. Scofield published the first study bible in 1909, which featured the author’s comments and dispensational views intermingled with the Bible text. Obviously, the first study Bible became very popular amongst many Christians, especially those training for ministry. Soon, the pre-tribulation rapture position became the official view of Dallas Theological Seminary as well as Moody Bible Institute, two of the largest Theological schools in the western world. The theory now dominates the west, although few subscribers are aware of how new this view really is.

4.2          BIBLE TEXTS THAT SAY THE RAPTURE IS BEFORE THE TRIBULATION [11]

[the blank space here is intentional. The author claims that there are no bible texts supporting a pre-trib rapture – JL]
 

4.3          ARGUMENTS FOR A PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE

All arguments used to support pre tribulation theory are based on inferences made in certain passages, deductive reasoning, and supposed implications of text (because there are no explicit verses that support this eschatology). Arguments from silence are also used, which means that doctrine is based on what that Bible does not say, rather than what it does. When one has greater allegiance to a theological system of thought than one has to the word of God, it is common to use these methods of interpretation instead of the plain sense meaning of the text.

Anyone who takes an introductory Biblical Studies or hermeneutics course will learn of exegesis and eisegesis. While the exegetical process brings out of scripture what is in there and what would be understood by the original audience, eisegesis takes an opinion or theological postulate and searches for verses to support it, usually to the neglect of the context of the passage in which the proof-text is found. In other words, it reads into scripture what may not really be there. The former treats the Bible with integrity, the latter does not, nevertheless, these arguments will be examined and a response given.

4.3.1      Protection from Wrath

In 1 Thessalonians 5:9 and Romans 5:9 Paul states that we have not been appointed to wrath, but to obtain salvation through Christ Jesus. Because the tribulation is seen as an outpouring of God’s wrath, it is thought that that Christians cannot be on earth to experience it. This is perhaps the strongest argument for a pre-tribulation rapture, and the distinguishing feature between this, the mid-tribulation, and the pre wrath view is how much of the tribulation they believe may be classified as “wrath”.

It is accurate to say that at least the great tribulation does consist of God’s wrath (Rev. 6:16-17, 15:1); however the servants of God are sealed (Rev. 7:3, 9:4, Ezek. 9:4-6)  and the judgements of God are not directed towards them, but towards reprobate kingdom of the antichrist and the oppressors of the earth (Rev. 14:9-11, Eph. 5:6). Revelation 6:17 even asks, who is able to stand in the day of God’s wrath, to which Revelation 7 answers, 144,000 Jews who have a special purpose and anointing (7:4), as well as and an innumerable multitude of Christians who will stand strong without wavering nor compromising in the midst of persecution (7:9-17).

This protection is consistent with God’s witness throughout history of how He delivers His people from a time of judgement or wrath. One example of this is the protection of Israel in the land of Goshen,
“On that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies
will be there, so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land. 23 I will make a distinction
between my people and your people…” -Exodus 8:22-23, NIV
The great tribulation that came against the Egyptian Pharaoh will be loosed again against the end-time Pharaoh (the antichrist) by the end time church (Micah 7:15, Rev. 8:3-5).

Jesus also alluded to the time of Noah and the flood as parallel to His activity and the condition of the earth in the days just prior to his return (Matt 24:37). God protected Noah and his people by keeping them safe in the ark, not rapturing them. Another example of God’s protection in the midst of judgement include Rahab’s household during Jericho’s destruction (Josh. 6:17).

Another method that God has used to deliver His people from His wrath is warning them and redirecting them away from the location He is about to strike with His wrath. This is evident when examining the evacuation of Lot’s family just prior to the destruction of Sodom. God will redirect his people during the great tribulation as well (Rev. 12:6,14; 18:4).

It is important to also recognise that we all currently living in a world that is experiencing the wrath of God (Romans 1: 18-31); the difference between wrath now and wrath in great tribulation will be one of degree, rather than kind.[12]

What then is Revelation 3:10 talking about if not the rapture?
“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that
is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” –Rev. 3:10

Several considerations must be made:
1. This promise applies to the church in every age that is faithful to the Word of the Lord and does not
deny the Lord. The promise is that the Lord will protect the faithful in the midst of tribulations.
2. There is no record of an “hour of trial” that came “upon the whole world” in the first century. The
persecution of the Roman Empire against Christians had an effect on the “known world” and serves
as a partial fulfillment of the Great Tribulation that will affect the entire globe.
3. Dispensationalists see this verse as a promise that saints will be raptured out of the world to escape
the tribulation at the end of the age. However, this verse is not talking about the saints being
removed from tribulations but rather being protected in the midst of them. If it were talking about a
pre-tribulation rapture, this promise could not be fulfilled to them and therefore would be
meaningless to them.
4. The two words translated “keep you from” are in Greek “tereo ek.” This unique construction appears
only one other place in the NT, in the book of John,
“My prayer is not that you take them out of (ek) the world, but that You should protect them from
(tereo ek) the evil one.” -John 17:15, NIV
5. The word for test/ tempt is peirasmos. In James 1:13 it is said that God does not tempt/test anyone,
using this same word, and therefore the testing cannot refer to God’s wrath. In 1 Thess. 3:5, 1 Cor.
7:5, and Matt. 4:1 this word is used to describe the temptation of Satan, which is definitely not
unique to the time frame of the great tribulation.
6. The concept is that one is kept or protected from the trial within the sphere of the danger of the trial.
It is literally translated “out of from within.” If it was referring to a rapture off of the planet, then one
of two things would have to be true of the Philadelphians:
1. Every single one of them backslid and therefore were not Raptured.
2. Jesus was a liar and did not keep his promise.
Both are unreasonable conclusions (we must always keep in mind the original audience Jesus was speaking to; doing otherwise is bad exegesis).

4.3.2      Surprise/ immanence

Many see a dilemma when looking at the bible texts that talk about the timing of Jesus’ coming. On one hand, there are many verses when Jesus said that no one knows the day or hour (Matt. 24:14, Mark 13:32-33), that He is coming at an hour His disciples do not expect (Matt. 24:44, 25:13, Luke 12:40), and like a thief in the night (Matt 24:43, Luke 12:39, 1 Thess. 5:2, 2 Pet. 3:10) Therefore it is believed and announced that Jesus could return suddenly, unexpectedly, or at “any moment.” The term used by those who believe this is the “immanence” of Christ’s return.

On the other hand, there are many passages that clearly tell us of many signs that must precede the second coming. These include the preaching of the gospel to all people groups and great revival (Matt. 24:14, Mark 13: 10, Rev. 7:9-17, Joel 2:28-29), the salvation of Israel (Matt. 23:39, Rom. 11:12,25-26), the “beginnings of birth pangs” and the great tribulation (Mark 13:7-8, 19-20, Matt. 24:15-22, Luke 21:20-24), the public appearance of the antichrist (the man of sin) who sets up the abomination of desolation (Matt. 24:15, 2 Thess. 2:3-4), the great apostasy or falling away from the faith (2 Thess. 2:3, 1 Tim. 4:1-2, 2 Tim. 4:3-4), the emergence and deception of many false prophets and false Christs (Mark 13:22, Matt. 24:23-24), as well as signs in the heavens and on the earth (Joel 2:30-32, Matt. 24: 29-30, Mark 13: 24-25, Luke 21:25-27).

How does one reconcile these? If signs must necessarily precede Jesus’ coming, how can it be said to be imminent? The pre-tribulation rapture theory has found a solution to this; Jesus’ second coming for the church (or secret rapture) is imminent and may occur before these signs take place, whereas his public, visible second coming is not imminent and will only happen after these have all occurred. However, in Matthew 24:3 the disciples asked what signs they could look for, that they might know when Jesus’ coming is near. Most of vs. 4-31 describe events and clear signs to watch for that happen during the great tribulation; why would Jesus tell them all these signs to watch for if the church will not even be here to watch for those signs?

George Ladd[13] and Wayne Grudem believe in a post-tribulation rapture and have come up with a different solution; that the second coming it still immanent, but “it is unlikely, but possible that the signs have already been fulfilled.”[14] This seems like a nice, politically correct solution, which even leaves room for some preterist thought, yet does not fit with Jesus’ and the apostles’ insistence on the know-ability of the signs of the times (Matt. 24:25,32-44, Mark 13:23, 1 Thess. 5:1-5, 2 Thess. 2:1-5).

Another solution is that the entire premise of an imminent return of Jesus is false and based on misinterpretation and misapplication of the texts mentioned earlier in this section. Could it be possible that the church ought not to be surprised by the second coming? Let us examine some scriptures.

First are those scriptures in which Jesus told his disciples “No one knows the day or hour.” It is important to note that Jesus does not say that we cannot, should not, and will not know the day and hour in the future.[15] Jesus simply said that no one knows now. Jesus even went so far as to command His followers to know the generation, season, and condition of the earth prior to His return (Mt. 24:32-36, Lk. 21:28-31), and proclaim judgement on those who were unaware of the critical time in which they were currently living (Lk. 12:54-56, 19:42-44). Paul also commanded us to know the time and season of Jesus’ return (1 Thess. 5:1-6).

On the tail end of this “no one knows the day or hour” passage is an important phrase that Jesus in the same breath, “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Mt. 24:37, NIV). So this begs the question, how did God communicate with His people during the days of Noah? Did they know when the flood would come or not? Well, one might say that the coming flood and the warning of a mandate to build an ark may have come as many as 800-900 years before the flood, during the life of Enoch (1 Enoch 88)*. His son Methuselah was also a walking prophetic time clock to the peoples as his name means “when he dies it will come.” 120 years before the flood, God told Noah when it would be (Gen. 6:3), and He warned Noah seven days prior, that he might get the animals onto the ark (Gen 7:4). During the 120 years, Noah built the ark and preached to his generation, warning them of the coming flood and lifting up a standard of righteousness (Heb. 11:5, 2 Pet. 2:5). Even though all of these warnings went out with clarity, none heeded them, and the unrepentant were taken by surprise when the flood came (Matt. 24:39). Notice that the faithful remnant of those following God knew when it would come and prepared, while those who were not watching and did not heed the warnings were taken in judgement; it came like a thief to them, but the faithful had light (1 Thess. 5:1-6).

[*YIKES! He mentions Enoch AGAIN! Oy… – JL]

God has said in His word that he does NOTHING, unless he first reveals it to His servants (Amos 3:7), which has always been His way throughout all redemptive history, and it will not change in the generation of Jesus return. The following are examples of major events that were prophesied in detail to the peoples who would live to see it: The Egyptian exile (Gen. 15:13-16, Exod. 12:40-41), the destruction of Nineveh (Jonah 1:2, 3:4, 4:10-11), the fall of northern Israel (Isa. 7), the Babylonian exile and captivity (Jer. 25:3-4, 11-12), the first coming of Christ (announced by Anna, Simeon, John the Baptist, and the angel Gabriel), the destruction of the Jerusalem and the temple (Matt. 24:1-2, Lk. 19:42-44), the famine in Acts 11:27-28. If this is God’s pattern throughout history, surely he will give warning before the great tribulation and second coming. The very purpose of this passage is not to get us to resign from watching and knowing when these events will take place, but the very opposite. Jesus was telling His disciple that no one knows the day or hour in order to prevent them from becoming apathetic, ignorant, undiscerning, and unwatchful like the unbelievers in the days of Noah, but to keep vigilant, discern the season, and be prepared as they approach the time he is describing. This is reiterated in the parable of the fig tree (Matt. 24:32-35) and the parable of the wise and faithful servant (Matt. 24:45-51).[16]

The “thief in the night” illustration is used to convey the very same message; that those who do not watch, but rather get caught up in moral compromise will be surprised by His coming and suffer loss (Luke 12:39). Little more explanation is needed, other than Paul’s explanation in 1 Thess. 5:1-6 and Jesus’ warning in Revelation 3:3, these passages speak for themselves very clearly.

Jesus also said that He is coming at an hour that His disciples did not expect (Matt. 24:44). This is because they all expected that it would happen right away (Luke 19:11, Acts 1:6). Jesus wanted them to focus on bringing a witness of the Gospel to every nation as a precondition to His return (Matt. 24:14, Matt. 28:19-20, Acts 1:8).

4.3.3      Speed

There are many passages that mention that the Jesus is coming back quickly, soon, or that the time is at hand. After almost 2000 years of waiting, how does one explain these exhortations? Do they mean that that Jesus’ coming is imminent? Was the Bible’s prediction wrong? Or is the term soon relative rather than definite, used to create a sense of urgency. Considering that which has been discussed, as well as the fact that soon/quickly and immanently are different words the first seems unlikely. Because the Bible is inspired and inerrant, the second is definitely incorrect. The latter of the three seems most likely in light of a number of scriptures that were dealing with this same question.

Allen Hood explains this well, saying that there is “something in the human frame that needs the urgency of the hour in order to passionately walk in obedience and holiness. Humans are designed for passion. Urgency empowers and impassions people to live wholeheartedly. In addition, there is great comfort in knowing what is coming. Knowing our frame, God created the heart to live from the place of urgency without torment. The urgency gives us moral courage and focus, and the signs give us comfort that God is in control and is directing all things.”[17]

Peter directly deals with the “delay” in 2 Peter 3, saying that the long delay before Jesus comes back is because of His patience and longsuffering, giving time that the greatest possible number of people could come to repentance (v. 9). He also points out that the “soon” is relative to God’s perspective saying that 1000 years is as a day to the Lord (v. 8) , Echoing Psalm 90:4. This is even given in a prophetic utterance dividing natural history into seven 1000 year days as a parallel to creation (written in the apocryphal epistle of Barnabus 15:3-6).

The apostle James tells us to be patient in waiting for Jesus return, just as the farmer patiently waits for the latter rain (James 5:7-8). The farmer here does not expect an imminent harvest, but waits for the rain before the harvest can occur, yet still believes that it is at hand, or quickly approaching.

Jesus gave a specific prophecy to Peter (John 21:18-19) during His resurrection appearances which would have undoubtedly have been known by much of the Christian community. He told Peter that when he would become very old he would stretch out his hands and be carried to his death (crucified as a martyr). This obviously means that the apostles could not expect Jesus to return until after Peter died.

Later in this same passage (which John wrote late in his life) he addressed a rumour in the early church, saying that he would not die, but live to see the second coming. In John 21:22-24 John clarified that Jesus did not ever really say that.

4.3.4      Language Use

There are a number of Greek words (parousia, epiphaneia, and apokalypsis) that are used to describe the second coming, which have varying connotations as they describe various aspects of Jesus’ second coming. Those of the pre-tribulation persuasion will often say that certain language indicates the topic of a secret rapture (second coming “for the church”) and other language indicates the focus of Jesus’ public coming “with the church”. While these words do highlight different aspects of His coming, it is quite clear that they all refer to one and the same event. These words may be examined to determine if any refers to a secret event prior to the tribulation, if not, this argument holds little weight.

Parousia is the word most often used to describe the second coming (used in Matt. 24: 27, 1 Thess. 4:15, 2 Thess. 2:1, 1 Cor. 16:17, 2 Cor. 7:6, James 5:7-8, 2 Pet. 2:3), and means arrival or presence. Dispensationalists will say that this word usually refers to a pre-tribulation rapture. From previous listed passages we find out that that Jesus’ parousia describes His arrival, appearance in the sky, it will initiate the rapture, will raise the dead saints, and it will destroy the Antichrist (which must happen after the tribulation). In none is there any distinction made to describe a secret coming before the tribulation.

The historical use of the word parousia was in describing the visit of a king or ruler to a city in his domain. As the king got near to the city he would be met by close family and other dignitaries, who would accompany him in his procession into the city to be seen by the people. This word gives a good picture of the second coming as described in the New Testament; believers (living and dead) will meet Jesus in the sky (1 Thess. 4:17) and accompany Him on his procession towards Jerusalem.

Epiphaneia means manifestation, and it is agreed upon by dispensationalists that this refers to the public revelation of Jesus with the church after the tribulation (2 Thess. 2:8, 1 Tim 6:14, 2 Tim 4:8). The blessed hope of the church is the epiphaneia of Christ, not a secret rapture (Titus 2:13)

Apokalypsis means unveiling, or revelation, and is also placed at the end of the tribulation by dispensationalists. The apokalypsis is said to be the eager hope of the church (1 Cor. 1:7), the time until which saints will suffer persecution and affliction (2 Thess. 1:6, 1 Pet. 4:12-13), and the day when Jesus will take vengeance on the wicked. This means (consistent with the dispensational allocation of this word) that the church will suffer affliction till the end of the tribulation. How can this be if the church is in heaven? It would seem as though this secret rapture is so secret that the New Testament writers did not even know about it.

To sum it all up, dispensationalists believe that at the rapture (parousia) the tribulation begins, church goes to heaven, and only saints see Jesus, yet at his public revelation (apokalypsis) the millennium begins, the church comes to the earth, and every eye sees Jesus. The scriptural reality, however, is that there are no passages that say the tribulation is after the rapture, that Christians go to heaven at the rapture, or that only saints will see Jesus at the rapture.

4.3.5      Absence of the Word “Church” in Rev. 6-18

It is often argued because the Greek word ecclesia (church) is not used in many of the main passages dealing with the great tribulation, namely Revelation 6-18, that members of the church are not involved because they have been raptured before the events take place. The places where the terms; saints, elect, believers, the righteous, etc. are mentioned (Revelation 5:8, 8:3, 8:4, 11:18, 12:17, 13:7, 13:10, 14:12, 15:3, 16:6, 17:6, 18:24) are then taken to mean Jews or in some cases “tribulation saints” (a new class of believer who is not part of the church and cannot receive the Holy Spirit nor the full benefits of the cross). These people are discussed more extensively in section 4.5.

One main problem with this is that in passages like the Olivet discourse Jesus was speaking to Christian believers who built the church in the second person plural “you”. Another is that both the terms, “saints” and “elect” are used about fifty times each in the New Testament to refer to the church. Additionally, the word “church” is not used in six of the epistles (2 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 2 John, and Jude). A consistent hermeneutic would demand that these are applicable to only Jews living after the rapture of the Church. Furthermore, Revelation 6-18 describes what is happening in heaven as well as what is happening on earth. One must then conclude that the Church is not in heaven either during this time. Finally, Rev. 14:2 explicitly shows that Christians are on earth during the tribulation.

4.3.6      Comfort

Dispensationalists understand the doctrine of comfort to mean that God will deliver the church from tribulation. In 1 Thess. 4:18 Paul tells the church to comfort each other in light of the day of the Christ’s return (and specifically the rapture). The question is then posed, “how would that be comforting if they would have to go through the tribulation first?”

First, we must understand that to comfort one another means to strengthen or encourage one another. The church was already under persecution and facing tribulation. They could be comforted in the thought that their suffering would end when Jesus returns and in that they would meet their deceased brethren once again.

The Bible does not say that God will comfort believers by always delivering us from tribulation (although sometimes He does), but the Bible does say that God will comfort, console, strengthen, and give peace to us in the midst of our tribulations, trials, and sufferings (2 Cor. 1:3-7, John 16:33). Although the reality is that the church will experience trials and sufferings at the hands of the wicked during the tribulation, God will also give the church grace, strength, and endurance during it. The church can also find comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is coming soon. The comfort of believers ought not to be in outward circumstance, but in a steadfast confident trust in the goodness of God.

The false comfort teaching of the pre-tribulation escapology[18] has had some disastrous effects when embraced by the persecuted church.

Consider the words of Corrie Ten Boom, who saw the terror of Nazi concentration camps in WWII,

I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution.  In China the Christians were told: ‘Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes, you will be translated, raptured.’ Then came a terrible persecution.  Millions of Christians were tortured to death.  Later I heard a bishop from China say, sadly: ‘We have failed.  We should have made the people strong for persecution rather than telling them Jesus would come first.’ Turning to me, he said: ‘Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes – to stand and not faint.’ I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are in training for the tribulation.  Since I have gone already through prison for Jesus’ sake, and since I met that bishop from China, now every time I read a good Bible text I think: ‘Hey, I can use that in the time of tribulation’ Then I write it down and learn it by heart.”

4.3.7      Left Behind

Many think that the people taken while in the field, at the mill, or sleeping in Mattew 24:40-42 and in Luke 17:34-36 are suddenly raptured, but is that what the text is even talking about? Matt 24:39 reveals that they will be taken in the same way that the wicked were taken by the flood in the days of Noah. Genesis 7:23 makes it clear that Noah and those in the ark were the only ones “left behind”. This is why when the disciples ask Jesus where these people are taken, Jesus answers by saying, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather” (Luke 17:37). These people are obviously taken in judgement and death. With this understanding, all Christians will be left behind and will be thankful because of it.

4.4          THE RESTRAINER

The pre-tribulation position says that the restrainer of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8 is the Holy Spirit who will be removed from the earth along with the church prior to the tribulation. This interpretation makes several assumptions on the text. First, one must assume that the restrainer (who is referred to as a “he” and an “it” in both the masculine gender and the neuter gender) is the Holy Spirit, despite that the text does not say this. The apostle Paul and any careful theologian would not call the Holy Spirit an “it”. Second, one must assume that the restrainer is taken off the earth, though the text says only that he will be taken out of the way. Third, one must assume that the restrainer is taking the church with him to heaven. This is an impossibility according Paul’s previous sentence (2 Thess. 3-5).

Another reason that the restrainer cannot be the Holy Spirit is because there is a great multitude without number who get saved during the great tribulation from every tribe, tongue, and language (Revelation 7:9). If the church has not seen this kind of spiritual fruit with the Holy Spirit, it is utterly ridiculous to think that such a great number of people would get saved without the presence of the church or the Holy Spirit (the two vehicles God uses for redemption and presentation of the Gospel).

Not only this, but if the Holy Spirit is removed, these converts would not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (which is impossible according to Romans 8:9). This is also impossible because saints are described as speaking by the Holy Spirit during the great tribulation (Mark 13:11).

It is easier to discern what the restrainer isn’t, than to discern what it is because Paul shrouds the identity in mystery and doesn’t directly say what it is. One possible identity of the restrainer that Paul referred to is the power of the state (as appointed by God to restrain evil) and the Caesar. In this case he would shroud its identity in mystery so as to not get the church in big trouble, should the letter be intercepted (Paul had already been charged with treason for preaching another Caesar (Jesus) in that very city).[19]

4.5          TRIBULATION SAINTS

As mentioned previously, the reason why dispensationalists believe that the church cannot go through the tribulation is because we are not appointed to wrath, or that Jesus took the father’s wrath for us so that we don’t have to. This is a critical part of the Christian doctrine of propitiation. However, if being saved from wrath demands a pre-tribulation rapture, then saints who get saved during the tribulation must be immediately raptured, or they are not part of the “church” and do not receive all the benefits of the cross, and propitiation would no longer be a part of the gospel. The Bible, however, says that the gospel was once for all delivered to all the saints (Jude 3) and that anyone who introduces a different gospel is accursed (Gal. 1:8-9).

Many dispensational scholars, when pressed, will admit that the “tribulation saints” cannot be a part of the church; otherwise the church would necessarily go through the tribulation. Based on these premises one may conclude that deliverance from the wrath of God is dependent on inclusion in the church. The Bible, however bases propitiation upon one’s relationship to Jesus, and His atoning work on the cross (Rom. 3:25, 5:9, Heb. 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:10).

Not only are all these claims about tribulation saints as a separate group of believers completely absent from the Bible, but it contradicts the teachings of the apostles; that we are all one body, both Jew and gentile (1 Cor. 12:13, Eph. 2:14), and that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is promised to all who believe (Rom. 8:9). If one wishes to teach that there will be tribulation saints that are not a part of the church, one must provide substantial biblical to prove that claim; however, none exists.

Although all who subscribe to the pre-tribulation rapture theory believe tribulation saints to be a separate body of believers from the church, some believe God will protect them from His wrath during the tribulation. If this is so, God can protect the church in the midst of the tribulation as well.

The only possible scenario is that the whole church, all believers present, will be protected from the wrath of God as they go through the tribulation.

4.6          SUMMARY OF REASONS WHY PRE TRIBULATION THEOLGY IS NOT TRUSTWORTHY

Believing in a pre-tribulation rapture would force one to neglect face value interpretation, honest exegesis, and consistent hermeneutic, while giving greater loyalty to a theological construct that is new and was absent in the thinking of the early church. These are a few of the theological quandaries and contradictions in pre-tribulation thought that are too great to ignore:

1. There will be a great multitude of new converts all across the earth while the church and the Holy
Spirit are absent.
2. The New Testament and propitiatory work of Jesus does not apply to tribulation saints. This separate
group of believers does not receive the same gospel, nor are they indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
3. There is a secret rapture of the church before the Second Coming without any biblical evidence.
4. There are two second comings, two last trumpets, two first resurrections of the saints, two end of the
ages, and two gospels while the Bible only teaches one.
5. There is a sudden bypass of process in the leadership of God, yet God has always transformed His
people through process and acted redemptively in intimate partnership with His people.
6. Paul warned of a deception that would propose that the church could be raptured before the great
falling away from the faith and abomination of desolation, clearly making that scenario impossible
(2 Thess. 2:1-4). Jesus said that these happen during the tribulation (Matt. 24:3-28) after which the
rapture and second coming of Christ will occur (Matt. 24:29-31).
7. The entire theology is based upon arguments from silence, inferences, and eisegetical interpretation,
rather than based on the plain meaning of scripture.

5. CONCLUSION

Although many sincere, highly respectable Christians subscribe to this doctrine, it is a false doctrine, and therefore dangerous. This is especially true for those who live until the time when the tribulation takes place, and if they are not prepared, or if they are fixated on escaping, they may become offended at Jesus, give in to moral compromise, forsake sound doctrine or fold under the pressures of persecution. This may cause many to deny their faith and apostatise as we have been warned of repeatedly. Nearly every time the Bible teaches about the end times, the exhortation is given, “watch and pray”, and the warning is given “Do not let anyone deceive you by any means.” Let us press on in wholehearted love for Jesus that is free from compromise and built on unshakable foundations.



[1] Apostolic Constitutions “Canon 85” (approved at the Orthodox Synod of Trullo in 692); Rufinus, Commentary on Apostles Creed 37 (as Deuterocanonical) c. 380; John of Damascus Exact Exposition of Orthodox Faith 4.17; and the 81-book canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church

[2] Draper, JA (2006), The Apostolic Fathers: the Didache, Expository Times, Vol.117, No.5, p.178

[3] Kirkby, Peter (2001), Didache: the teaching of the twelve apostles. Retrieved Feb. 14, 2010 from http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-lake.html

[4] Kirkby, Peter (2001), Irenaeus of Lyons: Book V. Retrieved Feb. 14, 2010 from http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/irenaeus-book5.html

[5] Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to come: a study in Biblical eschatology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1958.  p. 177.

[6] All quotations of scripture in this section are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible

[7] Sliker, Dave. Biblical Foundations of Eschatology. Kansas City, Missouri: Forerunner Books, 2008. p. 4.

[8] While I have great thanksgiving, honour, and respect for the many great men of God who believe this eschatology, I strongly disagree with them. I am exposing a theological position, not attacking Christian brothers.

[9] Bray, John L. (1992). The origin of the pre-tribulation rapture teaching. Lakeland, FL: John L. Bray Ministry, Inc.. p. 24-25

[10] Blaising, Craig A.; Darrell L. Bock (1993). Progressive Dispensationalism. Wheaton, IL: BridgePoint. ISBN 156476138X. page 11

[11] Parallel approaches to the views considered warrant inclusion of this section; however there is not one verse that says that there is a rapture before the tribulation. The entire position is built upon inferences and arguments from silence (which will be admitted my many dispensationalists). Such things as inferences and arguments from silence may warrant a hypothesis or opinions if the Bible does not contradict them, however, building a doctrine from them is entirely unwarranted by anyone who values an honest and consistent hermeneutic.

[12] Pawson, David (2003). When Jesus Returns. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton. p. 195

[13] Ladd, George Eldon (1972). A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. p. 22

[14] Grudem, Wayne (1994). Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. P. 1101

[15] I often get reactions of people taken aback when I tell them Jesus did not say no one can know the day or hour. Although I don’t believe anyone can know the day or hour at this point it is important to recognise that there will be a time when we will know the day, whether that be seven years before, at the time the Antichrist confirms a covenant with many, three and a half years before, when the abomination of desolation is set up, or whether it be the day that Jesus splits the sky, there will be a time when everyone will know the day (see Daniel 9:27)

[16] Hood, Allen. Excellencies of Christ: An Exploration into the Endless Fascination of the God-Man. Kansas City, Missouri: Forerunner Books, 2006. p. 323.

[17] Hood, Allen. Excellencies of Christ: An Exploration into the Endless Fascination of the God-Man. Kansas City, Missouri: Forerunner Books, 2006. p. 318.

[18] A term used to describe escaping from different conditions of captivity and confinement, however, I see it appropriate in describing the mindset of those with an eschatology fixated on escaping rather than overcoming.

[19] The current restraint of law is holding back lawlessness (people in their sinful natures are being kept in check by law) and when that law is removed, people will freely express the darkness of sin that is in their hearts. If law is removed it is because the emperor and the empire will be removed.
I think this will ultimately take place during the years of counterfeit peace and safety, and religious syncretism without any moral absolutes just prior to the great tribulation. This will be suddenly stopped by the Antichrist when he causes everyone to worship him (the abomination of desolation). The lawless one will institute the strictest, cruelest dictatorial laws ever, but antichrist worship would not be accepted by the world at large, if he had not allowed a preliminary season of apostasy and men casting off all restraint without the hindrance of law.

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Whew! That was a long one. Sorry about that, but it had to be done. – JL