Chapter Four: Five Views of the Rapture of the Church

 

The Scriptures predict a period of tribulation which would come between the present age and the age to come. This period of intense sorrow will end with the second coming of Christ to the earth. But will it begin with His coming into the air and the rapture of the saved, or will it begin before He comes, and will the church pass through the tribulation?

It is the purpose of this chapter to examine the underlying reasons and assumptions of each view in order to give you a better basis for deciding which view you will take.

This chapter is divided into seven major divisions, they are:

  1. definition and description of the rapture;

  2. a brief history of principal views of the rapture;

  3. a survey of partial rapture;

  4. a survey of midtribulational rapture;

  5. a survey of prewrath rapture; and

  6. a survey of posttribulational rapture; and

  7. a survey of pretribulational rapture.

 

1. DEFINITION AND DESCRIPTION OF THE RAPTURE

1.1 Definition of the Word "Rapture"

The word "rapture" does not itself occur in the Bible. It comes  from the Latin translation (rapio) of the Greek for "caught up" or "snatch" in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. It means "a catching away" (compare John 10:28 - "pluck"; Jude 23 - "pulling"). The details are supplied in 1 Thessalonian passage 4:16-18. See also 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 and Philippians 3:20, 21. It usually refers both to the translation of living believers from earthly mortality to heavenly immortality and to the resurrection of the corrupted bodies of believers to heavenly incorruption. Christians will be caught up, "snatched" away from the earth scene, to meet their adorable Saviour - the Lord Jesus Christ.

1.2 Various Views of the Rapture

In the nineteenth century, teaching concerning the rapture of the church began to be widely disseminated. This raised such questions as follows:

  1. whether the second coming of Christ involves several stages;

  2. the relation of those stages to the seven-year tribulation period; and

  3. the distinctiveness of the church from Israel in God's program.

In the twentieth century one of the most debated questions in eschatology concerns the time of the rapture. Both amillennialists and postmillennialists regard the coming of Christ as a single event to be followed by the general resurrection and judgment (i.e. there is no rapture of the church). To that question premillennialists have given five different answers. See below chart for illustration:

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Some say that the church will pass through the tribulation and that the catching up of the redeemed will be immediately followed by their return with Christ. Other say that the church will pass through the first half of the period and that the rapture will take place in the middle of it. The partial-rapturists teach that the unspiritual part of the church will pass through the tribulation, but the mature and Spirit-filled will be caught up before tribulation. And some say that Jesus will come for the church before tribulation. Partial rapture concerns the extent of the rapture, while the other four views focus on the time of the rapture.

In summary, there are five major views of the rapture:

  1. partial;

  2. midtribulational;

  3. prewrath;

  4. posttribulational; and

  5. pretribulational.

The various views of the rapture are illustrated in below charts:

(Sources: Basic Theology, Section XIII, Chapter 85, p. 479, ChariotVictor Publishing, 1999 Edition, by Charles C. Ryrie)

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2. A BRIEF HISTORY OF PRINCIPAL VIEWS OF THE RAPTURE

As noted in chapter three, the early church expected the premillennial coming of Christ. Was its teaching also pretribulational? In the testimony of the early church fathers, there is almost complete silence on the subject of the tribulation. They often speak of going through tribulations, but very seldom of a future period known as the great tribulation. This is probably because during the first centuries of the church, the church was passing through many persecutions and it did not concern itself with the future tribulation period.

2.1 Some Writings From the Early Church Fathers Support Pretribulational Rapture

However, there are two intimations of a belief in the pretribulational return of Christ:

  1. Hermas' writings; and

  2. Irenaeus' writings.

2.1.1 Hermas' writings (late 1st to early 2nd century)

There is an interesting paragraph in the Shepherd of Hermas that gives some information on the subject. Hermas writes that:

"He passed by a wild beast on the way, and that thereafter a maiden met him and saluted him, saying, 'Hail, O Man!' He returned her salutation, and said, 'Lady, hail!' Then she asked him, 'Has nothing crossed your path?' To this, Hermas replied, 'I was met by a beast of such a size that it could destroy peoples, but through the power of the Lord and His great mercy I escaped from it.' Then the maiden said, 'Well did you escape from it, because that you can be saved by no other than His great and glorious name ... You have escaped from great tribulation on account of your faith, and because you did not doubt in the presence of such a beast. Go, therefore, and tell the elect of the Lord His mighty deeds, and say to them this beast is a type of the great tribulation that is coming. If then ye prepare yourselves, and repent with all your heart, and turn to the Lord, it will be possible for you to escape it, if your heart be free and spotless, and ye spend the rest of your days in serving the Lord blamelessly'" (Hermas, Shepherd of Hermas, Book I, Vision IV, Chapter ii).

This seems to show that there was teaching that the church would escape the future great tribulation period.

2.1.2 Irenaeus' writings (late 2nd century)

Irenaeus also seems to hold that the church will be caught up during the tribulation, for he says:

"And therefore, when in the end the church shall be suddenly caught up from this, it is said, "There shall be tribulation such as has not been since the beginning, neither shall be. For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which, when they overcome, they are crowned with incorruption" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter xxix).

But, in another place, he also teaches that the church is present during the days of the Antichrist (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter xxvi, xxx). Thus, while the belief among the fathers concerning the tribulation is not clear, and there seems to be some confusion, there is at least intimation of it.

2.2 Early Church Fathers Believe in the Imminence of the Lord Jesus Christ's Return

It is clear that the early church fathers regarded the Lord Jesus Christ's coming as imminent. The Lord Jesus had taught the church to expect His return at any moment, and the church looked for Him to come in their day and taught His personal return as being imminent. The exception to this was the Alexandrian Fathers, who also rejected other fundamental doctrines.

The early church lived in the constant expectation of their Lord, and hence was not concerned with the possibility of a tribulation period in the future (see Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, I, 11). This may be the reason for the silence concerning the tribulation in the fathers.

2.3 St. Augustine (A.D. 354 - 430) to the Middle Ages

With the rise of Constantine and the state church and the influence of St. Augustine's eschatological position, the church turned to an allegorizing of the Scriptures concerning the Lord's return. And with the denial of a literal millennium, the tribulation was allegorized or ignored.

2.4 The Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, as we have seen, the eschatological interpretation gradually adopted was the so-called historical view, which places eschatological events within the history of the church. The leaders in the Middle Ages are silent concerning the pretribulational rapture.

2.5 The Reformation Period

The Reformers returned to the doctrine of the second coming, but their emphasis was on the doctrine of Salvation rather than the development of the details of eschatology. Protestants tended to identify the Antichrist with papal Rome. The tribulation was already occurring, or would occur within the customary span of history. In this framework there was certainly no expectation of an imminent coming of Christ. Even Protestants who were premillennial tended to follow the historical mode of interpretation.

Some segments of the Reformation were premillennial in orientation, and they were all of the posttribulational variety. Some of these sects experienced real opposition and even persecution -  much of it religious in source and nature - so it is not surprising that these sects expected the church to remain on earth during the great tribulation.

2.6 The Popularity And Predominance of Posttribulational Rapture in the Eighteenth Centuries

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a large number of significant Bible scholars in Great Britain and America were premillennialists, among them Isaac Newton, Charles Wesley and J.H. Raven. With the exception of the dispensationalist Plymouth Brethren, almost all were posttribulationists.

2.7 The Rise of Pretribulational Rapture in 1830

In 1830, a new school arose within the fold of premillennialism, pretribulational rapture was developed by John Nelson Darby (1800 - 1882), a leader of the Plymouth Brethren movement, as an important doctrine in eschatology. Darby taught that Christ will come to rapture the church before the tribulation and before He comes in glory to establish the millennial kingdom. Darbyism constituted the recovery of the Biblical doctrine of the glorious second coming of Christ.

2.8 The Rise of Partial Rapture in 1853

The partial rapture view originated with Robert Govett in 1853 in his book Entrance into the Kingdom: The Apocalypse Expounded by Scripture. It was also taught by J.A. Seiss in his book The Apocalypse, New York: Cook, 1865 and G.H. Lang The Revelation of Jesus Christ, London: Paternoster, 1948. They taught that only those believers who are "watching" and "waiting" for the Lord's return will be found worthy to escape the terrors of the seven-year tribulation period by being taken in the rapture. However, this view is rarely accepted by Christians today.

2.9 The Revival of Pretribulational Rapture: 1878 - 1909

Interest in prophetic teaching and preaching was a major factor in the rise of the Bible Conference movement, in which ministers and laymen who accepted a set of commonly accepted beliefs gathered for fellowship. The best known conference was the Niagara Conference during the period 1878 to 1909. After it was discontinued, a new conference was established at Seacliff, Long Island, in 1901. It was at Seacliff that C.I. Scofield (1843 - 1921) conceived the idea of a reference Bible. The Scofield Reference Bible was widely distributed in conservative circles as it was the only Bible study aid possessed by many laymen. It was particularly effective in spreading dispensationalism and pretribulationism.

2.10 The Popularity And Predominance of Pretribulational Rapture: 1909 - 1952

Also effective in promoting pretribulationism was the Bible institute movement. As more and more seminaries of the major denominations turned toward a liberal theology, conservative churches increasingly looked to the Bible institutes for pastors, and these institutes were almost exclusively pretribulational. As a result this viewpoint was adopted by most conservative independent and Baptist churches, as well as by many other "free churches."

With the influence of dispensationalism spreading in conservative and fundamentalist circles, a virtual polarization occurred following World War 1: one must be either amillennial or pretribulational. To be a premillennialist - a real premillennialist - was to be pretribulational as well, in the minds of many dispensationalists.

While pretribulationism gained a broader base of popular support, it also received exegetical and theological development after 1930 from a new generation of scholars. They were trained in recently-established seminaries doctrinally committed to dispensationalism. For examples, Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Charles L. Feinberg, John F. Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost and Lewis Sperry Chafer.

2.11 The Rise of Midtribulational Rapture in 1941

A different view on the time of the rapture emerged in 1941 when Norman B. Harrison published the book, The End: Rethinking the Revelation. He believed the rapture of the church would occur midway through the seven-year period known as Daniel's seventieth week. As a result, the church will not be on earth when God pours out His wrath during the three and one-half years before Christ returns to earth. However, this view is rarely accepted by Christians today.

2.12 The Revival of Posttribulational Rapture in 1952

Immediately following World War II, however, a movement arose popularly known as new evangelicalism, challenging many features of the dispensationalist-fundamentalist alliance. In 1952 such men as Edward I. Carnell and George E. Ladd developed and expounded a posttribulational premillennialism. Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God by Ladd in 1952 attempted to promote the posttribulational rapture view. 

2.13 The Hot Debate Between the Posttribulationists and Pretribulationists: 1953 - 1976

The Basis of the Premillennial Faith by Charles Caldwell Ryrie in 1953 provided a pretribulational rapture counterpoint to Ladd's posttribulational rapture view. Through an inductive study of the terms Israel and church, Ryrie concluded that "the Church in its entirety is never designated Israel in Scripture." Also he believed that both natural Israel and spiritual Israel were contrasted with the church in the New Testament. This basic distinction substantiated dispensationalism and the pretribulational rapture view as the most consistent expressions of premillennialism.

In 1956 Ladd published his book, The Blessed Hope, in order to once again promote the posttribulational rapture view and also to challenge the pretribulational rapture view. In 1979 John F. Walvoord, president of Dallas Theological Seminary, published a revised edition of his book (Note: 1st Edition was published in 1957), The Rapture Question, in order to reply Ladd's arguments.

A survey in 1958 showed that 88% of pastors and teachers believed in the two-phase return of Christ. Recall that this would embrace the midtribulation view as well as pretribulational position.

In Dispensationalism Today (1965), Charles Caldwell Ryrie updated the debate about the rapture by highlighting the main features of dispensational premillennialism. He pointed to consistent literal interpretation, the literal fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, a clear distinction between Israel and the church, the pretribulational rapture, and the millennial kingdom as integral parts of the system.

In 1973 Robert H. Gundry, Professor of Religious Studies at Westmont College (California), published his book, The Church and the Tribulation. He argued that posttribulationism had a direct exegetical base of Scriptural statements on the return of Christ and the resurrection. On the other hand, he considered that pretribulationism rested on "insufficient evidence and faulty exegesis.

An early response to Gundry's challenge came from John A. Sproule, Chairman of the Department of New Testament and Greek at Grace Theological Seminary (Indiana). Sproule located Gundry's basic error in the premise that most of Christ's teaching, especially the Olivet Discourse, applied directly to the church. Gundry's posttribulational view resulted from his approach to the Olivet Discourse. There Sproule critiqued Gundry's presuppositions, exegesis and logic. Sproule argued that God's wrath embraces the entire seven-year tribulation period and the true church has been promised exemption from that wrath, therefore pretribulationism must be the correct view.

In his book, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation (1976), John F. Walvoord criticized that posttribulationists tend to spiritualize prophecy and make "improper use of the inductive method of logic" in exegesis and theology. Comparing it with pretribulationism, he pointed to unresolved posttribulational problems, such as: the silence of Scripture in areas critical to posttribulationism, contrasting details between the rapture and the second coming of Christ to earth, and inherent contradictions in interpretation. He summarized the advantages of pretribulationism as consistency in logic, in literal interpretation, and in looking moment-by-moment for the Lord's return.

2.14 The Rise of Pre-Wrath Rapture in 1990

In 1990 Marvin J. Rosenthal published his book The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church. He placed the rapture of the church at the "Day of the Lord" which occurs after the man of lawlessness is revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:3) and after the tribulation of those days is interrupted and cut short by that "Day of the Lord" return of Jesus (Matthew 24:29).

Since the prewrath rapture view is newly announced in recent years, it is rarely accepted by Christians at the present moment.

2.15 Recent Development

Nowadays, most of the reputable Bible scholars are either posttribulationists or pretribulationists. The leading pretribulationists are as follows:

  1. J. Dwight Pentecost;

  2. John F. Walvoord;

  3. Charles L. Feinberg;

  4. Charles Caldwell Ryrie;

  5. Paul D. Feinberg;

  6. Robert L. Thomas;

  7. R.E. Harlow;

  8. John Phillips;

  9. William MacDonald; and

  10. William H. Baker.

The leading posttribulationists are as follows:

  1. George E. Ladd;

  2. Dave MacPherson;

  3. Robert H. Gundry;

  4. Douglas J. Moo; and

  5. Millard J. Erickson.

In addition, some of the world famous Bible Institutes support the dispensational pretribulational rapture view, for examples:

  1. Dallas Theological Seminary;

  2. Emmaus Bible College; and

  3. Moody Bible Institute.

Due to the leadership and influence of the aboved mentioned Bible scholars, at the present time, the two leading positions are:

  1. posttribulational rapture; and

  2. pretribulational rapture.

 

3. A SURVEY OF PARTIAL RAPTURE

The survey of partial rapture view is divided into the following six sections:

  1. definition of partial rapture;

  2. history of partial rapture;

  3. doctrinal characteristics of partial rapture;

  4. Biblical support cited for partial rapture;

  5. arguments for and against partial rapture; and

  6. evaluation of partial rapture.

3.1 Definition of Partial Rapture

Partial Rapturists teach that:

  1. Only those believers who are "watching" and ''waiting'' for the Lord's return will be found worthy to escape the terrors of the Tribulation by being taken in the rapture.

  2. Only those who are faithful in the church will be raptured and the rest will either be raptured sometime during the Tribulation or at its end.

  3. The basis of rapture is reward instead of grace. Frequent exhortations in the Scriptures to watch, to be faithful, to be ready for Christ's coming, to live Spirit-filled lives, all suggest that rapture is a reward for faithfulness.

See below diagram for illustration: 

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3.2 History of Partial Rapture

The modern theory of partial rapture seems to have originated in the writings of Robert Govett, who published the book Entrance into the Kingdom: The Apocalypse Expounded by Scripture setting forth the theory as early as 1853. In this work he expounded his view that participation in the kingdom is conditional and depends on worthy conduct. It was also taught by J.A. Seiss in his book The Apocalypse, New York: Cook, 1865. The most able exponent of the theory in the twentieth century is C.H. Lang and his book The Revelation of Jesus Christ, London: Paternoster, 1948. Others have made a significant contribution to the propagation of the theory. D.M. Panton, as editor of The Dawn (London), uses his publication to promote this teaching. Such writers as Ira E. David, Sarah Foulkes Moore, William Leask and C.G.A. Gibson-Smith have contributed to The Dawn articles in support of this theory. For the most part, however, the view is limited to a few adherents who are generally treated as not orthodox by other pretribulationists.

3.3 Doctrinal Characteristics of Partial Rapture

3.3.1 Outline of this view

Partial rapturists teach that there will be several times for the rapture and resurrection of overcomers:

Before. Just before the beginning of the Tribulation mature living saints will be translated and mature dead saints will be raised.

During. Then during the seven years of Tribulation other Church Age saints who were unprepared for the initial rapture will be raptured at various intervals. These are seen in Revelation 7:9, 14; 11:2; 12:5 (the man child includes believers); 16:15 (a rapture to deliver watching believers from the war of Armageddon); and a final rapture at the end.

After. At the close of the Millennium there will be a resurrection of believers who missed these earlier resurrections of rewards along with the resurrection of unbelievers. The believers will enter the everlasting kingdom, though they will have missed the millennial kingdom.

3.3.2 Theological framework of this view

Salvation. Advocates bold to salvation by grace and eternal security of all true believers, but they think that the believer who fails is not perdition but millennial disinheritance. Every believer has the right to inherit the kingdom, but this can be forfeited through disobedience.

Sanctification. Often partial rapturists give strong emphasis to sanctification and holiness. They may teach that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is connected with power for witnessing and that the filling and indwelling of the Spirit are for some believers only, rather than for all. This emphasis carries over into their view of the rapture; namely, that only spiritual believers will be raptured to escape the Tribulation.

Suffering. Many passages teach that believers must endure suffering before they can reign with Christ. Therefore, believers must either suffer now or in the Tribulation period (Luke 22:18-30; Acts 14:22; Romans 8:16-17; Colossians 3:24; 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5). Some identify the fire in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 as the Tribulation. Revelation 3:5, it is said, may refer to a temporary blotting out of the Book of Life for carnal believers during the period of rewards which overcomers will enjoy.

Birthright. A believer, it is said, may lose his birthright and thus forfeit his chance to be raptured before the Tribulation (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Hebrews 12:14).

Baptism of the Spirit. Since the baptism of the Spirit is seen as empowerment for witnessing, all believers are not in the body of Christ and therefore not necessarily raptured.

Reward. The rapture is viewed as a reward which not all believers will attain (Matthew 24:40-41; 25:1-13; 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Timothy 4:8; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:24-28; Revelation 3:10).

First resurrection. The first resurrection is viewed as a resurrection for reward for spiritual believers, rather than for all. This means not all believers will gain it, only overcomers (Matthew 19:28-29; Luke 9:62; 20:35; Philippians 3:11-14; Revelation 2:11; 3:5). Believers who are not overcomers will be raised after the Millennium. Therefore, that second resurrection (usually seen as involving only unbelievers) will include both believers and unbelievers.

3.4 Biblical Support Cited For the Partial Rapture

Most of the Scriptural basis for the partial rapture theory is found by its adherents in exhortations to watch or look for the coming of the Lord coupled with the teaching that some who fail to watch will not be ready when He comes. Passages commonly used include:

  1. Matthew 24:40-41;

  2. Matthew 24:42-51;

  3. Matthew 25:13;

  4. Luke 21:36;

  5. Philippians 3:10-12;

  6. 1 Thessalonians 5:6;

  7. Hebrews 9:24-28;

  8. Revelation 3:3;

  9. Revelation 3:10; and

  10. Revelation 12:1-6.

In citing these passages, little distinction is observed between references to Israel and references to the church, and passages referring to the second coming of Christ to establish the millennial kingdom are freely applied to the rapture. In fact, many of the points of view of the partial rapture adherents are also held by posttribulationists. A study of these passages as interpreted by the partial rapturists will show the confusion of interpretation.

3.4.1 Matthew 24:40-51

3.4.1.1 Partial rapturists' explanations

Partial rapturists usually seize on Matthew 24:40-41 as substantiation of their position:

"Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left" (Matthew 24:40-41).

It is argued that the one taken is the one raptured. Robert Govett stated that the Greek word for "take" (paralambano) means "to take as a companion" - "ordinarily the result of friendship." He offered confirmation in that paralambano is used in John 14:3 of the rapture, "Take you to be with me." The one left, according to Govett, is left to go through the Tribulation.

3.4.1.2 Comments

A careful study of the usage here, however, does not sustain this exegesis. The Greek word paralambano is not specifically one describing a friendly relation. It is also used in John 19:16-17: "So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying His own cross, He went out to the Place of the Skull." This act of taking Jesus was certainly not a friendly association and compares to a taking in wrath.

The act of taking away in Matthew 24:41 is best interpreted as the same as in Matthew 24:38-39:

"As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day of Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man" (Matthew 24:38-39).

Failure to see the parallel between the "days of Noah" which describe a judgment and the days of the coming of the Son of Man leads to misidentifying this passage as the rapture. During the days of Noah, those "taken" were taken in the judgment waters of the flood, while those "left" were left on earth through the safety of the ark to enjoy the new earth. Likewise, the one man in the field who has "taken" was taken by judgment described later in Matthew 25 and cast into eternal fire, while the one "left" was allowed to enter the kingdom. The same parallel exists concerning the two women grinding at the mill.

3.4.2 Matthew 24:42-51

3.4.2.1 Partial rapturists' explanations

This passage is essentially an exhortation to watch. The theme is stated, "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come" (v. 42). A further command is given, "So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him" (v. 44). The one not watching is described as one to be cut "to pieces" and assigned "a place with the hypocrites" (v. 51).

3.4.2.2 Comments

This passage should be interpreted as belonging to the Second Coming of Christ to establish the millennial kingdom rather than to the church. The people in view are the Israelite nation. Of these, some are watching and are faithful, taking care of the household of God. They are contrasted to those who beat their fellow servants, and "eat and drink with drunkards" (v. 49). It is obvious that something more than mere carelessness is in view. The faithfulness of those watching is evidence of true faith in Christ, whereas the unfaithfulness of those who are drunken is indicative of failure to believe in the saving of the soul. While works are in view, they are indicative of vital faith or its lack. In any case, there is nothing whatever said about the rapture of the faithful. It is doubtful whether there is any specific reference at all to the rapture in the entire context of Matthew 24-25.

3.4.3 Matthew 25:1-13

3.4.3.1 Partial rapturists' explanations

The parable of the ten virgins is variously interpreted by pretribulationists, some taking it as referring to the tribulation Saints and others to the church. Partial rapturists, assuming that it refers to the church, find in the passage the concept of a selective rapture - the foolish virgins being left behind because unprepared, the wise virgins being raptured because ready.

3.4.3.2 Comments

The answer given to the partial rapturists depends on the interpretation of the passage as a whole. Lewis Sperry Chafer think that the passage deals with the Tribulation rather than the church due to the following reasons:

  1. The church is ordinarily the bride, and in a figure of a wedding feast it would be incongruous to conceive of the church as represented by maidens attending the feast.

  2. The bridegroom comes to the place where the virgins are waiting in an earthly scene and remains in that earthly scene as far as the figure is concerned.

  3. The passage itself uses none of the characteristic terms relating to the church, such as bride, body, or the expression in Christ.

  4. There is no reference whatever to rapture or resurrection.

If Lewis Sperry Chafer is correct then the passage has no relation to the partial rapture doctrine.

However, even if the virgins represent the church in the present age, where is the proof that this is the true church, the company of those who are saved? As commonly interpreted by such writers as H.A. Ironside, the virgins represent the professing church. True believers are identified as having oil in their lamps, typical of the Holy Spirit. Mere professors have the appearance but no oil, that is, are not genuinely regenerated and indwelt by the Spirit. If watchfulness is necessary for worthiness, as partial rapturists characteristically argue, then none of the ten virgins qualify for "they all became drowsy and fell asleep." The command to "watch" in verse 13 has, then, the specific meaning of being prepared with oil - being genuinely regenerated and indwelt by the Spirit rather than having unusual spirituality. The clear teaching is that "watching" is not enough. This passage will serve to refute the partial rapturists instead of sustaining their viewpoint. Only by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit can one be qualified for entrance into the wedding feast, but all the wise virgins enter the feast.

3.4.4 Luke 21:36

3.4.4.1 Partial rapturists' explanations

This passage is cited by Lang as one of the conclusive proofs for the partial rapture theory. The exhortation it presents is another command to watch:

"Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36).

Lang summarized his argument in these words:

  1. Those who are to escape will be taken to where He, the Son of Man, will then be, that is, at the throne of the Father in the heavens. They will stand before Him there.

  2. There is a danger of disciples becoming worldly in heart and so being enmeshed in that last period.

  3. That hence it is needful to watch, and to pray ceaselessly, that so we may prevail over all dangers and thus escape that era.

3.4.4.2 Comments

All pretribulationists will agree that escape from the coming time of trial is provided for believers in Christ. All also agree that those who believe in Christ during the Tribulation itself, while not kept out of the period, may have deliverance from it at the coming of the Lord Jesus to establish His kingdom. The point of dispute lies entirely in the conclusion that some true believers will be left to go through the Tribulation while others are raptured before it comes to pass.

A careful study of the context provides a clue for its interpretation. The context has to do with signs preceding the Second Coming of Christ. A possible interpretation based on "all those who live on the face of the whole earth" in verse 35 would be that the exhortation is addressed to the people who is still living on earth during the Tribulation. The exhortations largely concern them rather than the church of the present age. Therefore, it is best to identify verse 36 as directed to those in the Tribulation who anticipate the coming of the Lord Jesus to establish His kingdom. They indeed will "watch," for His coming is their only hope. They certainly will pray, for only by divine help will they survive the Tribulation period.

It should be observed that here, as in other passages often used by the partial rapturists, the rapture is not specifically mentioned; indeed, it is not indicated at all. Lang inserted in the text what it does not say when he stated that to stand before the Son of Man must necessarily mean in heaven. All men will stand before Christ on earth at the Second Coming (cf. Matthew 25:32). To press the idea of escaping judgment as indicated in this passage to prove a partial rapture requires invention of the principal components of the doctrine.

3.4.5 Philippians 3:10-12

3.4.5.1 Partial rapturists' explanations

In this passage Paul spoke of his desire to know Christ,

"... and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:11).

It is the contention of partial rapturists that Paul had in mind the necessity of faithfulness in the hope of meriting resurrection at the time of the first resurrection, i.e. before the Millennium, instead of waiting until later. Govett translated Philippians 3:10-11 as follows:

"... if by any means I might attain to the select resurrection from among the dead."

Govett wrote: "It is evident at a glance, that the resurrection which the apostle so earnestly sought, was not the general resurrection. Paul then could not express any doubts of his attaining to that, or speak of it as an object of hope. It remains then, that it be a peculiar resurrection: the resurrection of reward, obtained by the just, while the wicked remain in their graves. The partial rapture view of this passage brings out in bold belief that their position not only involves a partial rapture but a partial resurrection of believers.

3.4.5.2 Comments

It is commonly accepted by pretribulationists that the resurrection to which Paul referred was indeed a "select resurrection," but it is clear that the passage refers to a resurrection of the "dead in Christ" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The resurrection of which Paul spoke is not of reward as Govett argued. In refutation of this error, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 is plain: the resurrection will include all the dead in Christ, all who by grace through faith have trusted Christ and have even now been given this new position in Christ in place of their old estate in Adam. There is no justification for building on Paul's hope a resurrection of reward to be attained only by a small portion of the church of Christ born of the Spirit and washed in the blood of the Lamb. Resurrection is a part of the gift of God, never a reward for human works; however, it may justify faithfulness and even martyrdom on the part of the believer. Paul's point of view is that if the resurrection is sure, what does it matter if the road before him is one of suffering and death. The means, however difficult, are justified by the end.

While all saints may not be raised at the same time, the principle of the stages of resurrection - some at the rapture of the church, some after the Tribulation - is based on the sovereign program of God for the church and for the Old Testament saints, not on a works principle or evaluation of faithfulness among the saints. Rewards there shall be, but resurrection is promised all believers.

3.4.6 1 Thessalonians 5:6

3.4.6.1 Partial rapturists' explanations

This passage is another exhortation to watch:

"So then, let us not be like others who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled" (1 Thessalonians 5:6).

3.4.6.2 Comments

The contrast here again is not between some believers who watch and other believers who do not. Rather, believers are exhorted to do that which is in keeping with their expectation - watch for the coming of the Lord. Those who sleep are obviously the unsaved as described in 1 Thessalonians 5:7: "For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night." By contrast, those who are "sons of the day," i.e. those who are true believers (1 Thessalonians 5:8), should have lives in keeping with their faith. This passage does not teach any more than the others considered that there will be a partial rapture of some believers. The distinction is between those saved and those unsaved.

3.4.7 Hebrews 9:24 -28

3.4.7.1 Partial rapturists' explanations

The theme of this portion of Scripture is:

"... The entrance of Christ into heaven ... when He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him" (Hebrews 9:24-28).

Partial rapturists seize on the phrase "to those who are waiting for him" as indicating that only such believers as are actively waiting for Christ will be raptured.

3.4.7.2 Comments

The answer is that those who are here described are Christians pictured in characteristic attitude of waiting or anticipating the completion of the salvation of which they now have the first fruits. All Christians worthy of the name anticipate the future completion of God's program of salvation for them. The phrase that partial rapturists put so much emphasis on is more of an aside than the main revelation of the passage. The main point is that Christ is going to return and complete at His second coming the salvation that He provided in His death at His first coming. The figure is that of the priest who, having sacrificed, goes into the holy of holies and then appears the second time to those on whose behalf he has been ministering. In the sense used in this passage all true Christians are waiting for Christ in His second coming.

3.4.8 Revelation 3:3

3.4.8.1 Partial rapturists' explanations

This passage, addressed to the church at Sardis, is another command to watch:

"Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you" (Revelation 3:3).

3.4.8.2 Comments

This passage is addressed to a local church at Sardis in which, no doubt, there were both true Christians and merely professing ones. The church had at one time a live testimony but had slipped from this (Revelation 3:1-2). The challenge now is to correct this fundamental spiritual fault lest Christ come in judgment when they are not ready for Him. The judgment that will fall on the church at Sardis will obviously deal with those who are unsaved. Those who do not heed the message of Christ and ignore the warning are by so much demonstrating their fundamental lack of faith and salvation.

3.4.9 Revelation 3:10

3.4.9.1 Partial rapturists' explanations

This favorite text of partial rapturists is a promise to the church at Philadelphia:

"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" (Revelation 3:10).

Since the Lord Jesus uses the word "kept," He bases rapture solely on fidelity instead of grace. This passage brings out clearly that the partial rapture theory depends on a works principle - the Rapture being not a fruit of salvation but a reward for good works.

3.4.9.2 Comments

The problems of the partial rapturists' explanations are:

  1. Salvation is often traced to faith alone - as in Romans 4 - and in other passages the evidence of salvation, good works, is pointed to as necessary to salvation (James 2:21-26). The promise of Revelation 3:10 falls into the same category as James 2. The evidence of faith, keeping the Word of God, is the ground for the promise. Here as elsewhere, however, the distinction is not between believers with works and believers without works. The main thought of the passage is that those without works are not true believers.

  2. To accept the principle of rapture on the basis of works upsets the whole doctrine of justification and absence of all condemnation for the believer. It destroys all the promises given to the church as a whole relative to both resurrection and rapture. The prominence of works as evidence of faith can never be proof of the negation of faith as the sole ground of the grace of God.

  3. The works principle immediately breaks down when the question is asked: How much works? Evidently no Christian lives perfectly and the Philadelphian church is no exception. To make the one doctrine of the Lord's return one and the same as to "endure patiently" is entirely unjustified. Many commentators identify this phrase as being simply a reference to the steadfastness of the Philadelphians under trial. The reason for praising the Philadelphian Christians is their loyal patience under persecution, as well as the loyal confession of Christ (Revelation 3:8) which had possibly brought on that persecution.

The interpretation of the partial rapture is, then, an arbitrary identification of an expression that seems clearly to have a broader meaning than the hope of the Lord's return. The basic area of disagreement, however, is whether a Christian saved by grace can be denied rapture or resurrection at the same time as those to whom he is joined in the one body of Christ.

3.4.10 Revelation 12:1-6

3.4.10.1 Partial rapturists' explanations

This final passage to be considered will suffice to show the main scriptural background for their theory. This revelation of the woman describes her as:

"clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head ... a male child, who will rule all nations with a rod of iron ... her child was snatched up to God and to His throne" (Revelation 12:1-6).

G.H. Lang contend that the woman is the church and the man child represents the faithful ones who are raptured before the Tribulation. Upon the rapture of the faithful ones, the beast is pictured as making war with "the rest of her offspring" (Revelation 12:17).

3.4.10.2 Comments

The apparent difficulty with the partial rapturist interpretation is that their point of view is by no means necessary. If the woman is obviously Israel and the child is obviously Christ, why attempt to make them anything else? The description of Christ in Revelation 12:5 is so clear that there should be no argument about it (i.e. only Christ is qualified to rule all nations with a rod of iron). Israel, of course, has a physical seed (i.e. the rest of her offspring), represented in Revelation 12:17. There is no justification whatever for dragging in the church as individuals composed largely of Gentiles in racial origin.

It is true that the church is positionally in Christ, and some pretribulationists have argued that the church in Christ is also caught up and that the rapture is prefigured in Revelation 12:5. H.A. Ironside said, "The man-child symbolizes both Head and body - the complete Christ." Even if this teaching be allowed, it is clear that all, not part, of the man child is caught up. The "rest of her offspring" are neither Christ nor the church but the physical seed of Israel unsaved at the time of the rapture and thereby thrust into the tribulation period of which this passage speaks. The context gives no ground whatever for the conclusion that the man child represents the spiritual element of the church raptured while the unspiritual element is left behind. The most obvious interpretation is that the woman is Israel and the child is Christ.

3.5 Arguments For And Against Partial Rapture

The arguments for and against the Partial Rapture view are illustrated in below table:

(Reference: Charts of Christian Theology & Doctrine, p. 130, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1992 Edition, by H. Wayne House)

Partial Rapture
Statement of View This position states that only believers who are watching and waiting for the Lord will be raptured at various times before and during the seven-year Tribulation. Those who are raptured are spiritually mature saints, both dead and living (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Churches This view is not widely held by Christian churches. Proponents Joseph Seiss, G.H. Lang, Robert Govett, Witness Lee, G.H. Pember, Ira E. David, D.H. Panton
Arguments for Arguments Against
New Testament often views the resurrection as a reward to be strived for (Matthew 24:40-51; 25:1-13; Luke 20:34-36; 21:36; Philippians 3:10-12; Hebrews 9:24-28; Revelation 3:3, 10; 12:1-6). Therefore, not all believers will gain the first resurrection, only those who are worthy. Rapture is part of the culmination of salvation. God starts salvation by grace and will finish it by His grace, not by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Other Scriptures indicate partial rapture of believers, or an idea similar to this (Matthew 24:40-51). There is confusion between verses that apply to Israel and verses that apply to the church in the Gospel passages. This is not the Rapture, but a taking away to judgment as in the example of the Flood in Matthew 24:39. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 says all believers will be raptured.
There is an emphasis on watching, waiting, working, and the hope of rewards (Matthew 24:41-42; 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; Hebrews 9:28). The emphasis is on working for rewards (crowns, 2 Timothy 4:8) not for participation in the rapture.
There are verses that emphasize the need to suffer in order to reign (Romans 8:16-17; Luke 22:28-30; Acts 14:22; Colossians 3:24; 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5). Therefore, believers must suffer now or during the Tribulation before they can reign with Christ. Believers suffer in every age, and all believers will reign with Christ. The suffering and reigning of Christians is never linked to any supposed order of the rapture.
A believer, through sinning, can lose his right to enjoy the first resurrection and the kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Galatians 5:19-21; Hebrews 12:14). These passages speak of the unsaved not entering the kingdom. They do not apply to believers.
Worthy, watching believers will be rewarded by being raptured before the Tribulation (Revelation 3:10). There is the division in the church, the body of Christ. It seems that those worthy of being translated will be raptured, while those not worthy will be left behind. Passages like John 14:1; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 obviously include all believers.
Since the baptism of the Spirit empowers to witness (Acts 1:8) and not all believers witness, not all believers are in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13) and not all are raptured. The baptism of the Spirit places all believers in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).

3.6 Evaluation of Partial Rapture

Having seen something of the history of, doctrinal characteristics, Biblical support cited for and arguments for partial rapture theory, we must now evaluate it. What are its strengths and its weaknesses?

3.6.1 Positive aspects

The positive aspects of partial rapture theory are as follows:

  1. It gives strong emphasis to hard works, sanctification and holiness.

  2. The spiritual conditions of nowadays Christians are lukewarm, unfaithful and not watching for the return of Christ. It gives a strong incentive to all Christians to review their own spiritual conditions.

3.6.2 Negative aspects

Opposition to the partial rapture view is based on seven reasons:

  1. The passages in Scripture dealing with the rapture and resurrection of the church do not teach a partial rapture. Those for whom Christ is coming, according to John 14:3, are those who are identified as believers in John 14:1. Those translated (raptured) and those resurrected at the last trump of 1 Corinthians 15:52 are described as "we ... all will be changed" in 1 Corinthians 15:51 not "some will be changed." According to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, those resurrected are described as "the dead in Christ" (v. 16) and the "we" who are caught up are identified as those who "believe that Jesus died and rose again" (v. 14). The explicit teaching of Scripture points to the conclusion that the translation (i.e. rapture) includes all living saints and the resurrection includes all the ''dead in Christ.'' Other Scriptures confirm that translation is not dependent on expectancy or watchfulness (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 5:4-11).

  2. It divides the body of Christ. The opposition to the partial rapture view is also related to ecclesiology (i.e. the doctrine of the church). Most evangelicals distinguish the true church from the merely professing element. It is granted that outward conformity and organizational membership do not guarantee any blessing in the prophetic program. Pretribulationists, as well as posttribulationists, distinguish divine dealing with those genuinely saved and those who only profess salvation. Partial rapturists, however, are quite different in point of view from that commonly held. For them there are two classes of genuinely saved - those worthy of rapture and those not worthy. The Scriptures portray differences in God's dealing with saints of the Old Testament as compared with saints of the present age and also a difference between the church and the tribulation saints. There is, however, no Scriptural justification for dividing the divine unity of the body of Christ. By contrast, the Scriptures teach that the body of Christ, composed of all true believers, is a unit and is given promises as such. A division such as partial rapturists teach is unthinkable in view of the doctrine of the one body.

  3. It is based on a works principle in opposition to Scriptural teaching on grace. The believer in Christ is justified by faith and receives the many benefits of salvation quite apart from merit or worthiness on his part. This is normally carried over into the doctrine of rapture and resurrection. The rapture and resurrection of the church is a part of its salvation provided by grace and is a reward only in the sense that it is a fruit of faith in Christ. To accept a works principle for this important aspect of salvation is to undermine the whole concept of justification by faith through grace, the presence of the Holy Spirit as the seal of God "for the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30), and the entire tremendous undertaking of God on behalf of those who trust Him. It is inconceivable if the church is formed by grace that it should be divided by works.

  4. No Christian lives perfectly. The works principle immediately breaks down when the question is asked: How much works? Evidently no Christian lives perfectly and the Philadelphian church is no exception.

  5. The rapture is not a reward for godly living. Rather, godly living will be rewarded with crowns, not rapture (2 Timothy 4:8, and other passages on crowns). The issue of reward is properly settled at the judgment seat of Christ instead of resulting in the infliction of the Tribulation on other believers.

  6. The Tribulation period is never spoken of as a time of chastening for the church or part of the church. The coming Tribulation is a righteous penalty from God upon apostate Israel and unbelievers (read Isaiah 17:4-11; Jeremiah 30:3-7; Daniel 12:1; Matthew 23:36; Mark 13:19, 20; Revelation 3:10, 11). The unbelieving Jews and Gentiles will be the participants of the tribulation period. The bride of Christ (i.e. the true Church) is not the object of God's wrath, but of His unchanging grace, therefore she will not experience one drop of that "day of grief and desperate sorrow." "For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him" (1 Thessalonians 5:9, 10).

  7. The baptism of the Spirit does place all believers in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), thus all will experience the promise of the rapture.

3.6.3 Conclusion

The Biblical support cited for the partial rapture view is completely dissolved on closer examination of the cited Bible passages. I conclude that the partial rapture view is unreliable. The partial rapture view has been embraced by only a small fragment of evangelical Christians and has not been recognized by any evangelical Protestant group. It is an interpretation limited to a few and cannot be regarded as within the bounds of normal Biblical premillennialism.

 

4. A SURVEY OF MIDTRIBULATIONAL RAPTURE

The survey of midtribulational rapture view is divided into the following six sections:

  1. definition of midtribulational rapture;

  2. history of midtribulational rapture;

  3. doctrinal characteristics of midtribulational rapture;

  4. Biblical support cited for midtribulational rapture;

  5. arguments for and against midtribulational rapture; and

  6. evaluation of midtribulational rapture.

4.1 Definition of Midtribulational Rapture

The midtribulational rapture view holds that the rapture of the church will occur at the midpoint of the seven years of Tribulation; that is, after three and one half years have elapsed. In this view, only the last half of Daniel's seventieth week is Tribulation.

Accepting some of the basic premises of pretribulationism, such as the future character of the seventieth week of Daniel (Daniel 9:27), midtribulationism places the rapture of the church at the middle of this week instead of at its beginning as do the pretribulationists. In contrast to the posttribulationists, it holds that the rapture takes place before the time of God's wrath and great tribulation instead of after it. Midtribulationism is, therefore, a mediate view between posttribulationism and pretribulationism. As such has commended itself to some who for one reason or another are dissatisfied with both pretribulationism and posttribulationism. It has also provided a place for certain prophecies to be fulfilled before the rapture of the church instead of afterward, and at the same time it is able to claim the promises of comfort and blessing which seem to be denied by the posttribulationists who take the church through the entire period.

Midtribulationists usually do not use the term of themselves and prefer to classify themselves as pretribulationists - pretributational in the sense that Christ is coming to rapture His saints before the "Great Tribulation" that characterizes the last half of Daniel's seventieth week. As a result, the church will not be on earth when God pours out His wrath to the unbelievers during the "Great Tribulation." See below chart for illustration:

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4.2 History of Midtribulational Rapture

Midtribulationism is a comparatively new interpretation of Scripture relating to the rapture of the church. Two leading exponents of this position are Norman B. Harrison (1874 - 1960) and James Oliver Buswell, Jr. (1895 - 1976). Norman B. Harrison taught the midtribulation view in his book The End: Rethinking the Revelation published in 1941. James Oliver Buswell, Jr. mentioned this view in his book A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963, 2:450, 462). Gleason L. Archer also holds this view in the book Three Views On The Rapture - Pre, Mid, Or Post-Tribulational? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983, pp. 115-45. However, this view is rarely accepted by Christian churches today.

4.3 Doctrinal Characteristics of Midtribulational Rapture

A study of the arguments used by midtribulationists to support their view reveals that they use many of the same arguments of the posttribulationists. Although midtribulationists prefer to classify themselves as pretribulationists, they differ radically from normal pretribulationists in the following ways:

  1. The church was promised tribulation and, therefore, can expect to experience the first half of the tribulation period.

  2. They see a distinction between tribulation and wrath. The church is present during the tribulation (i.e. first half of the seventieth week of Daniel) but is removed prior to the outpouring of God's wrath (i.e. the Great Tribulation).

  3. They believe that the programs for Israel and the church may overlap, for the church will still be present in the first half of the seventieth week of Daniel.

  4. They deny the doctrine of imminence of the return of Christ (i.e. Christ may rapture the church at any moment), for all the signs of the first half of the seventieth week of Daniel apply to the church.

  5. They deny the dispensational interpretation of the Scriptures.

4.3.1 The promise of tribulation

The church was promised tribulation and, therefore, can expect to experience the first half of the tribulation period (i.e. first half of the seventieth week of Daniel). As Paul warned his new converts, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22; see also Matthew 24:9-11; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 23:27-31; John 15:18-19; 16:1-2, 33; Acts 8:1-3; 11:19; 14:22; Romans 12:12).

This argument can be answered in the following ways:

  1. Some Bible verses which promise tribulation to Israel cannot be made to teach that the church is to experience the Tribulation period.

  2. The term "tribulation" may be used in either a technical sense, referring to the seven years of Daniel's prophecy, or in a non-technical sense, referring to any time of trial. The tribulation promised to the church is of this non-technical kind.

4.3.2 A distinction between tribulation and wrath

A major tenet of this view is a distinction between tribulation and wrath. The church is present during the tribulation (i.e. first half of the seventieth week of Daniel) but is removed prior to the out pouring of God's wrath (i.e. the Great Tribulation). God never exempts His children from the normal and natural difficulties of a sinful unregenerate world. The difficulties (or tribulation) of the first half of the seventieth week of Daniel are the result of the emergence of the Antichrist and the rebellion of unregenerate men against God. From those events the church is not exempt. She will be exempted, however, and raptured before God's wrath commences with the seventh trumpet (Revelation 10:7; 11:15). The seventh trumpet marks the beginning of the Great Tribulation.

This argument can be answered in the following ways:

  1. The church can be delivered from the wrath of God by pretribulation rapture or by protection from wrath (posttribulationist's opinion).

  2. If the church goes into the first three and a half years of the tribulation, the 144,000 would be saved into the church, since the church is still on the earth. Yet these are seen to be Jewish witnesses during the entire period (Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-3). If they were saved while God is still adding to the body of Christ, and if, when the rapture took place, they were left behind, the body would be dismembered and incomplete. The necessity of terminating the mystery program of church before undertaking the covenant program shows us that the tribulation cannot be confined to just half of the week.

  3. If the tribulation period is to be dated from the midpoint of the tribulation period (Daniel 9:27), then the church would know the time of the rapture. While signs were given to Israel preceding the advent of the Messiah, no such signs were given to the church. The time of His coming for the church is a divine secret and men will not be able to determine the time by any such sign.

  4. Revelation 7:14 seems to give final evidence. In the parenthesis between the sixth and seventh seal, those saved in that time are said to have come out of "great tribulation." This seems to indicate clearly that the time covered by the seals is considered a part of the wrath of God.

4.3.3 The programs for Israel and the church overlap

Pretribulationists believe that the church program in this present age is a mystery and the church program must be brought to termination before God can and will deal with Israel to complete the covenant program. However, midtribulationists believe that the programs for Israel and the church may overlap. Harrison argues:

"Speaking of the two ages, Church and Jewish: at its inception, 30 A.D., the Church parallelled for 40 years the Jewish age, till the latter closed with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. This argues for a similar overlapping at the close of the Church Age. If, for the moment, we think of the Church continuing up to the Tribulation, the time from which our Lord has promised to keep her, realizing that Israel will have been restored as a nation for three and one half years prior to the Tribulation's setting in we again have the same overlapping" (The End, p. 50).

This argument can be answered in the following ways:

  1. According to Scripture the dispensation of the law ended at the Cross (Colossians 2:14). Most students of the seventy weeks of Daniel who believe the seventieth week is future also believe that the sixty-ninth week was fulfilled prior to the crucifixion of Christ. Israel's program is therefore at a standstill and the continued existence of the temple in 70 A.D. had no relevance. Israel as a people and nation have continued throughout the present age, but their predicted program has made no specific progress since Pentecost.

  2. Although God was extending an invitation to the "Jew first" after the Day of Pentecost, even until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD., it was an invitation which, when received, brought the believer into the body of Christ, the church. God was not carrying on two programs, but one. There was no overlapping of the covenant program with the mystery church program. When the program with the church began that with Israel had already been interrupted.

4.3.4 The denial of imminence of the return of Christ

Midtribulationists deny the doctrine of imminence of the return of Christ, for all the signs of the first half of the week apply to the church. The teaching that Christ could come for His church at any moment is a doctrine of pretribulationism often singled out for attack by midtribulationists and posttribulationists. Obviously, if the church must go through the Tribulation, the imminent rapture is a vain hope. Their denial of imminence is a major aspect of their argument against pretribulationism.

Their arguments are as follows:

  1. None of the words in the Bible used to indicate the nearness of Christ's return and the believer's attitude requires an any-moment imminency. 

  2. For the Apostles was a far-flung program contained in the Great Commission to carry the gospel "into all the world" (Mark 16: 15; Matthew 24:14; 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Therefore, Christ could not have returned before the missionary program is completed.

  3. For Peter there was no possibility of such an experience, our Lord Jesus having told him that he would live to old age and die a martyr's death (John 21:18-19). Therefore, Christ could not have returned in the lifetime of Peter.

  4. For Paul his Lord's commission (Acts 22:21; 23:11; 27:24) left him facing a long preaching career that precluded, for much of his lifetime, any momentary return of Christ.

  5. John will have additional public ministry beyond writing the book of the Revelation (Revelation 10:8-11). This is a personal promise to John that he will prophesy "again" which suggests a ministry beyond the scope of the present vision he is seeing. Accordingly, the Lord's return could not be imminent to John, nor would the Holy Spirit teach imminency through him.

  6. Paul warned that a specific departure from the faith and the revealing of the man of Lawlessness must precede the return of Jesus (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Timothy 3:1). Since the man of lawlessness is revealed as the beast of the Revelation, at the midpoint of Daniel's seventieth week, it should be clear that such a revealing will precede the coming of the Lord.

  7. There are various parables that teach a long interval between the time the Lord Jesus leaves and the time He returns (Matthew 24:45; 25:5, 19; Luke 19:11-27).

  8. The prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Luke 21:8-24) and the completion of the times of the Gentiles with the return of the city of Jerusalem to Jewish control in 1967 must be fulfilled before the return of Christ.

  9. Daniel predicted that the Antichrist would make a covenant of peace with the nation of Israel that allows her to engage in her ancient sacrifices and tabernacle worship (Daniel 9:27). It would have been impossible for the Antichrist to sign a covenant of protection with a non-existent nation. An any-moment Rapture, therefore, was not possible before the modern State of Israel was resurrected out of the ashes of the Second World War.

  10. The predicted progress of historical trends which must take place, as the "beginning" of birthpains, mitigates against the idea of imminency.

  11. For the Early Church, our Lord Jesus from heaven revealed a seven-fold historical development of the Church (Revelation 2 and 3) evidently requiring an extended period of time.

  12. Nineteen hundred years have elapsed, indicating that it was, after all, the purpose of God to have an extensive period before the coming of the Lord Jesus.

This argument can be answered in the following ways:

  1. It should be noted that the word "imminency" is a theological word rather than a Biblical word. This simply means that there is no Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word translated "imminent." ''Imminent'' is a word that theologians use to express the teaching of Scripture about the believer's expectation concerning the nearness of Christ's coming. This does not mean that the word is a bad one. Theologians use words that do not appear in the text of Scripture such as "inerrant" or "trinity." The justification for using a theological term, then, will be its adequacy in expressing the Biblical data.

  2. We are now ready to return to the predictions that raised problems for the doctrine of imminency. What about preaching the gospel to the end of the earth, and the death of Peter as an old man? At the outset it must be observed that most of the hindrances to the coming of the Lord Jesus at any moment in the first century no longer exist. A long period has elapsed; Peter and Paul have gone home to the Lord; only the specific signs of Matthew 24-25 remain to be fulfilled. Most of the difficulties to an imminent return have been resolved. The question is whether the first-century Christians believed and taught the imminent return of Christ in the sense that it could occur at any moment. Most of the difficulties raised by posttribulationists dissolve upon examination. Peter was middle-aged at the time the prophecy of John 21:18-19 was given. By the time the teaching of the imminent rapture of the church was fully preached and received in the church, he was already well past middle life.

  3. The difficulties cease to exist when one realizes that the doctrine of imminency rests not on the teachings of Jesus, but on the Epistles. The Epistles began to be written in the late 40s and early 50s. By that time the preaching of the gospel throughout the then-known world was imminent, as was Peter's death. The doctrine of an any-moment return of Christ began to be taught somewhere during the apostolic period of the church's history. The problems for an any-moment rapture only arise if one makes Jesus' teachings the bases of the doctrine. However, what sense can be made of an imminent rapture of the church before it is even formed? The point being made is extremely important, but should not surprise us.

  4. The one item which is more definite in nature concerns Peter's growing old and dying. Jesus' words to Peter were, "When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go" (John 21:18). The text adds that Jesus was thereby signifying by what death Peter should glorify God. This means, true enough, that Christ could not come until after Peter had died. Note however, that this only proves a definite end to Peter's life, and not a definite length of time; and it is the latter which is necessary for the argument of mid- and post-tribulationists. For who knew how long Peter would live? Jesus did speak of Peter's growing old, but Peter was no longer young when Jesus spoke. In fact, Jesus used the phrase regarding Peter, "when you were younger," implying that he was no longer young at the time. This means no one could say, within a very few years following Jesus' statement, that Christ could not come at any time. Peter's death soon became imminent, and Christ's coming became correspondingly imminent.

  5. In a number of places Paul writes as though he and his readers might participate in the rapture. In 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 he uses the first person plural pronoun as he relates a mystery. He says that we shall not all sleep, but some shall be translated at the coming of Christ. Not only will the dead be raised but those who are alive shall be given their glorified bodies in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. A similar use of the first person can be found in 1 Thessalonians when Paul talks of Christ's return. In 1 Thessalonians 1 Paul is characterizing the exemplary conduct of this church. They were an expectant church waiting "for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath" (1:10). If the wrath spoken of is not simply eternal damnation, then Paul seems to raise the possibility that Christ might come and take them from the world, saving them from the approaching wrath of the Day of the LORD. In another central rapture passage, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, Paul not only teaches the resurrection of those who have died, but says, "We who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord ... shall be caught up to be with the Lord" (vv. 15-17). The use of the first person plural pronouns may simply be Paul's way of identifying with the church as a whole, but one cannot escape the impression that Paul thought that he and the Thessalonians might be participants in the rapture.

  6. While the midtribulationists and posttribulationists are seeking to disprove the doctrine of imminence by the Scripture quotations they cite, it is evident that the New Testament writers themselves believed in an imminent return. For examples: For the Apostles was a far-flung program to carry the gospel "into all the world" (Mark 16:15). And yet, whenever any of these apostles wrote to the believers of their day, they failed not to exhort them concerning their Lord's return. For Peter there was no possibility of such an experience, our Lord Jesus having told him that he would die a martyr's death (John 21:18-19). And yet, Peter exhorts believers of his day; "Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:13). For Paul his Lord's commission (Acts 22:21; 23:11; 27:24) left him facing a long preaching career. And yet, Paul constantly envisions the coming of Christ as an incentive to holy living for the Christians of his day (Titus 2:11-13; 1 Corinthians 15:51; Philippians 3:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:17). For the early Church, our Lord Jesus from heaven revealed a seven-fold historical development of the Church (Revelation 2 and 3). Any yet, to that early Church were given the reiterated words of assurance, "Behold I come quickly" (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20).

  7. Some passages dealing with the Second Coming of Christ do have a mention of signs (Matthew 24:32-25:13; Luke 21:28). Under the pretribulational interpretation, time is allowed for events to be fulfilled after the rapture of the church. This shows that signs are not inconsistent with watching for Christ, as Tribulation saints are exhorted to look for Him through signs. Those passages that teach that signs precede Christ's coming deal with the return of Christ at the end of the Tribulation; they do not refer to the rapture of the church.

  8. The prophecies of the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 and the end of the times of the Gentiles in 1967 have nothing to do with the question of imminency. While these events are predicted in Scripture as occurring, no date is given for their occurrence. Moreover, they are events that are related to the nation of Israel, not the church. Let us assume that the rapture had occurred in A.D. 40. The temple could have fallen in AD. 40 or 41, and the times of the Gentiles would have been completed in A.D. 47 or 48 without any prophecy being falsified.

  9. Midtribulationists and posttribulationists criticize pretribulationists for their belief in an any-moment rapture because the rapture could not have happened until 1967. One wonders how such an argument is compatible with any understanding of imminence (even a view that holds that Christ can come at any time though some events need to transpire first). If one wants to hold to imminency in any meaningful sense, one cannot hold that events that occurred a hundred or even a thousand years after the time of Christ, required fulfillment before He could return. If one does, then these predictions become a problem for imminency in a midtribulational or posttribulational eschatology as well. Having made the point that not all the predictions are problematic, or if they are, they are problems for other positions as well.

  10. There is an absence of signs or intervening events in any undisputed rapture passage. In each of the central Second Advent texts, Zechariah 14:1-5; Matthew 24:29-31; and Revelation 19:11-21, the return of Christ is preceded by great upheaval, distress, and signs that alert one to its occurrence. Neither the trial nor the signs are to be found in the rapture texts, John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. I am comparing two groups of texts. In one group there are signs and an Advent that occurs in the context of Tribulation; in the other group neither signs nor distress are found.

  11. There are a number of texts that teach that Christ's coming is at hand. Passages that make up this line of evidence may be further divided. There are those verses that state explicitly that Christ's return is at hand. Romans 13:12 says that "the night is nearly over; the day is almost here." James teaches that the "Lord's coming is near" (5:8-9). John agrees as he writes, "This is the last hour" (1 John 2:18) and "The time is near" (Revelation 22:18). Moreover, as we come to the last chapter of the Bible, three times there is the promise, "I am coming soon" (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). Further, there is a group of passages that exhort the believer in New Testament times to wait eagerly for or look for Christ's return (1 Corinthians 1:7-8; Philippians 3:20; Titus 2:13; 1 John 2:28; 3:2). Finally, the nearness of the rapture is implied by the nearness of events that are to occur after the church is gone. The end of all things is near (1 Peter 4:7), and judgment is about to begin (1 Peter 4:5, 17).

  12. The Scripture abounds with exhortation to be looking for the return of the Lord Jesus (1 Peter 1:13; Titus 2:11-13; 1 Corinthians 15:51; Philippians 3:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). These commands, which are meaningful largely as related to imminency, are evidence far outweighing the difficulties raised against the doctrine. The return of the Lord if imminent justifies such descriptive words as "blessed," "comfort," "purifying," and the like. If the posttribulationists are right, the hope of the Lord's return is reduced to the hope of resurrection, as few of the saints who would enter the Tribulation would escape martyrdom.

  13. There is a distinction between the soon coming of Christ and the imminent coming. Scripture nowhere taught that the coming would be soon, but it consistently taught that the coming could be expected at any time. The prophecy concerning the natural course of history, which would come to pass unless interrupted by the termination of history by the coming of Christ, did not rob the writers of an imminent hope.

4.3.5 The denial of the dispensational interpretation of the Scriptures

Midtribulationists deny the dispensational interpretation of the Scriptures. First, they deny the strict distinctions between Israel and the church. This is observed in that this position places the church in the first half of the last seven years of the period determined upon Daniel's people and city. Second, they depend on the spiritualizing method of interpretation. This is particularly evident in the explanation of the portions of Scripture dealing with the first half of the tribulation period. 

4.4 Biblical Support Cited for Midtribulational Rapture

Passages commonly cited by the midtribulationists are as follows:

  1. The seventh trumpet of Revelation mark the beginning of the wrath of God (Revelation 10:7; 11:15).

  2. The rapture of the church is in Revelation 11:12.

  3. The seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 corresponds to the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 for the church.

  4. The forty-two months preceding the Second Coming of Christ is an indication of a midtribulational rapture (Daniel 7:25; 9:27; 12:7; Revelation 11:2; 12:6, 14; 13:5).

  5. The "elect" in the Olivet discourse are church saints instead of Jewish tribulation saints (Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20).

  6. The church was promised tribulation (Matthew 24:9-11; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 23:27-31; John 15:18-19; 16:1-2, 33; Acts 8:1-3; 11:19; 14:22; Romans 12:12).

4.4.1 Does the seventh trumpet of Revelation begin the wrath of God? (Revelation 10:7; 11:15)

4.4.1.1 Midtribulationists' explanations

One of the crucial issues in the midtribulational theory is the question of whether the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11 begins the wrath of God (i.e. Great Tribulation). The midtribulational view requires the interpretation that the first half of the book of Revelation is not the wrath of God (i.e. Great Tribulation). In general, the theme song of its adherents is that the church will go through the "beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:8), or "beginning of birth pains," but not through "great distress" (Matthew 24:21). It is Harrison's position that the events of the seven seals, as well as the judgments of the first six trumpets, are related to the first three and one-half years of Daniel's seventieth week and therefore are not descriptive of the Great Tribulation.

Harrison stated: "Wrath is a word reserved for the Great Tribulation - see 'wrath of God' in Revelation 14:10, 19; 15:7; 16:1, etc." He implied that there is no wrath of God mentioned during the period of the seven seals and the first six trumpets. The statement "your wrath has come" (Revelation 11:18) is interpreted, on the basis of the King James translation, "thy wrath is come," as "has only now come" (11:18). Harrison interpreted as: "The Day of God's Wrath has only now come. This means that nothing that precedes in the Seals and Trumpets can rightfully be regarded as "wrath."

4.4.1.2 Comments

Harrison overlooked that the tense of the Greek words "your wrath has come" (Revelation 11:18) emphasizes the fact but not the time of the action. It could just as well refer to the whole course of the wrath of God in the seals and preceding trumpets.

Where Harrison gave a list of references to "wrath" in Revelation, he, with evident purpose, omitted Revelation 6:16-17 and Revelation 7:14. The former passage refers to wrath in connection with the sixth seal, and the latter is the only reference to the "great tribulation" by that title in the entire book of Revelation. Both of these passages fall in the section of Revelation that deals with the period preceding the trumpets.

Even a casual reading of the seals and first six trumpets will make clear that the punishment of God (i.e. the wrath of God) begins with the early seals, not with the seventh trumpet, for examples:

  1. famine - death for one-fourth of the world's population (Revelation 6:5-8);

  2. earthquakes, stars falling from heaven, the moon becoming like blood, and every mountain and island being moved from their places (Revelation 6:12-14) portray indeed "the great day of their wrath" - the "wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:16-17);

  3. the first six trumpets with their bloodshed, destruction on the earth and the sea, and poisoning of the rivers with the result that "many people died" (Revelation 8:11); and

  4. the sixth trumpet, one-third of the remaining earth's population will be killed (Revelation 9:13-18). If language means anything, this is the predicted time of unprecedented trouble.

In the light of these references to wrath and Great Tribulation in a context as frightfully graphic as the events of the seals and first six trumpets, it is obvious that the very foundation of the midtribulational theory is built on sand.

The efforts to evade these graphic Scriptures force midtribulationists to spiritualize and thereby nullify the force of these judgments. Harrison attempted to find fulfillment of the trumpet judgments in the events of World War II. He stated in reference to the second trumpet, "The great mountain burning with fire seems a clear reference to Germany, suddenly cast into the sea of nations." In the same paragraph he then suddenly made the sea a literal sea in which literal ships are sunk: "The further reference to sea and ships (Revelation 8:9) must be taken literally." It should be obvious that this interpretation also calls for a chronology in which the seventh trumpet will sound within a few years thereafter, involving a date-setting for the rapture that subsequent history has proven in error.

The evident fallacy of the whole midtribulational interpretation of Revelation 1-11 is that this view forces a spiritualization of the entire passage to find contemporary rather than future fulfillment. Because of this, midtribulationists achieve an exegesis of the passages that is strained because it is subjective and arbitrary. Even a simple reading of this section will give an impression of vivid divine judgment upon a sinful world that transcends anything history has recorded. If the passage is intended to be taken with any serious literalness, its fulfillment is yet future.

The wrath of God (i.e. Tribulation) actually begins in Revelation 6, not in Revelation 11. The seventh trumpet marks a point near its end, not its beginning. Posttribulationists make the seventh trumpet the end of the Tribulation. This is accomplished by ignoring the fact that the seven bowls of judgment follow the seventh trumpet. It is curious, however, that both these opponents of pretribulationism adopt such opposite views of the seventh trumpet, and, in effect, cancel out each other.

4.4.2 Is the rapture of the church in Revelation 11:12?

4.4.2.1 Midtribulationists' explanations

Harrison said that the two witnesses (Revelation 11:3-12) represent the witness of the saints of the Old and New Covenants. By this, he meant that the two witnesses are the living church and the resurrected saints at the time of the rapture.

This interpretation is supplemented by further identification of the "cloud" in Revelation 11:12 as symbolic of the rapture. Harrison said that the "cloud" is a definite reference to the Second Coming of Christ (compare Matthew 24:30 with Revelation 11:12).

Harrison said that the opening of the "temple" in the heaven (Revelation 11:19) is a further reference to the "rapture" because the "temple" is a reference to the "church." In order to support his argument, he quoted: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?" (compare 1 Corinthians 6:19 with Revelation 11:19).

Just how the church can be "opened in heaven" he did not explain. The concluding identification is that the "seventh Trumpet sounds for the pouring of the Bowls of wrath. While it brings glory to the church, it brings Woe (the third) to the world." The church goes through two woes that are not to be identified with the Great Tribulation but not through a third woe that is so identified.

4.4.2.2 Comments

Similarities do not prove identity. The character of the two witnesses seems to indicate that they are actual individuals, not representatives of all the church saints living and dead due to the following reasons:

  1. The saints as a whole do not perform the miracles nor the witness designated of them (Revelation 11:5-6).

  2. Not all the saints, especially the resurrected saints, are killed by the beast.

  3. If all the saints are killed, then none would be living to be raptured.

  4. If the witnesses are only symbols, how can symbols be literally killed and lie in literal streets?

  5. Do the saints as a whole have men look on their "bodies" for "three and a half days," refusing them burial in a tomb (Revelation 11:9)?

One of the major difficulties that the midtribulationists ignore is the chronology of the passage. The seventh trumpet sounds after the events portrayed in Revelation 11:3-14. Properly, they should hold that the rapture occurs with the sixth trumpet rather than the seventh, but this would upset their identification of the trumpet in Revelation 11 as the "last trumpet." According to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the chronology is first the trumpet, then resurrection and translation. Actually, there is no rapture of church saints at all in Revelation 11. The nearest approach is the resurrection of the two witnesses who are best identified as actual personalities who will live and die as martyrs at that time.

The other identifications such as the "cloud" and the "temple" are just as strained and unsustained by the text. It should be clear to anyone who is not a midtribulationist that the identifications depend on incidental similarities, not on express parallels.

4.4.3 Is the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 for the church?

4.4.3.1 Midtribulationists' explanations

The most important point in the entire midtribulational argument is the identification of the "last trumpet" of 1 Corinthians 15:52 with the "seventh trumpet" of Revelation 11:15. (Note: The seventh trumpet is the last trumpet judgment of the book of Revelation. That's the reason why the midtribulationists think that the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 corresponds to the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15.) If this is true, then the rapture (described in 1 Corinthians 15:52) will occur at the midpoint of the Tribulation (the time when the seventh trumpet sounds).

Both midtribulationists and posttribulationists believe that the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 is the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15. They differ only as to the time of the seventh trumpet, the midtribulationists placing it in the middle of Daniel's week, posttribulationists placing it at the end.

Harrison made the bold assertion that to deny identification of the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 with the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11 is to deny the infallibility of Scripture:

"To place the rapture at Revelation 4:1 is to disprove the unity of Scripture. St. Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, definitely places the resurrection and the rapture of the saints through the coming of Christ at the last trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). This is a specific locating of the event. Unquestionably the Holy Spirit revealed the fact and inspired the recording of it. How dare any one locate it otherwise?"

What is meant by the last trumpet? "Last" can only mean but one of two things: last in point of time, or last in point of sequence. Harrison went on to reject "last in point of time" as posttribulationist, leaving the only tenable position that of the midtribulationist.

4.4.3.2 Comments

It has already been pointed out in the above Section 4.4.2 that all the events that they connect with the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11 actually are related to the sixth trumpet instead of the seventh, and this error at the start makes the whole position untenable.

In addition, this is a somewhat simplistic argument which assumes that all blowing of trumpets must indicate the same kind of event. This is not true. The Scriptures are full of references to trumpets as any Bible concordance will illustrate. In the Scriptures, trumpets signaled a variety of great eschatological events, including judgments, the gathering of the elect and resurrection.

To pick out of all these references two unrelated trumpets and demand their identification because of the word "last" is certainly arbitrary. The seventh trumpet of Revelation 11 is a trumpet of divine judgment on sin and unbelief, while the trumpet in 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians 4 is a call to the elect, an act of grace, a command to the dead to rise. That they indicate the same event is an unreasonable assumption.

The most damaging fact in the whole argument, however, is that the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11 is not the last trumpet of Scripture. According to Matthew 24:31, the elect will be gathered at the coming of Christ to establish His earthly kingdom "with a loud trumpet call." While posttribulationists hold that this is identical with the seventh trumpet, midtribulationists cannot do so. In fact, it is not too much to say that this one reference alone spells the doom of midtribulationism.

The use of "last" in reference to the trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15 is easily explained without resorting to the extremities of midtribulationism. H.A. Ironside interpreted it as a familiar military expression:

"When a Roman camp was about to be broken up, whether in the middle of the night or in the day, a trumpet was sounded. The first blast meant, 'Strike tents and prepare to depart.' The second meant, 'Fall into line,' and when what was called 'the last trump' sounded it meant, 'March away'" (H.A. Ironside, Addresses on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 529).

The last trump of God for the church, following the gospel call and call to preparation, will be the call to go to be with the Lord Jesus. Whether or not this explanation be accepted, it illustrates that there is no necessity of relating a trump for the church with trumpets of judgment on the unsaved. Each trumpet must be related to its own order. Any child in school knows that the last bell for one hour may be followed by a first bell for the next hour. "Last" must be understood then to relate to the time order indicated by the context.

4.4.4 Is the emphasis on the forty-two months preceding the return of Christ an indication of a midtribulational rapture? (Daniel 7:25; 9:27; 12:7; Revelation 11:2; 12:6, 14; 13:5)

4.4.4.1 Midtribulationists' explanations

A recent addition to the arguments in favor of midtribulationism has been offered by Gleason Archer. He called attention to the fact that in both the Old and New Testaments, the last three and one-half years of the seventieth week of Daniel are emphasized. He stated that Daniel 7:25; 9:27; 12:7 as well as Revelation 11:2; 12:6, 14; 13:5 attach importance to 3 years (or forty-two months) as the time when some great events will mark the midpoint of the final seven years of pre-Kingdom history. It is reasonable to suppose that this event will be the rapture of the church. Put these two concepts together (intense judgments in the last half of the seven years and some important events occurring at the midpoint of the seven years) and you must conclude a midtribulation rapture of the church.

4.4.4.2 Comments

The prophetic passages do distinguish the two halves of the seven years of Tribulation but this does not mean that the intense judgments will only occur during the last half (see Section 4.4.1.2).

Some of these passages do mention great events which will happen at the midpoint but nowhere state that the rapture is one of those great events. Revelation 12:6 and 14 relate how Israel will flee to a wilderness place of refuge at the midpoint. However, no rapture is indicated, for the believing remnant will flee to a place on this earth, and will not be taken to heaven as will occur at the rapture.

It is clear that the emphasis on the middle of the Tribulation is due to the breaking of the covenant with Israel (Daniel 9:27), not because of the rapture.

4.4.5 Whether the "elect" in the Olivet discourse are church saints or Jewish tribulation saints? (Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20)

4.4.5.1 Midtribulationists' explanations

One of the distinctive conceptions of the pretribulationists, and particularly of dispensationalists, that "the elect" of the Olivet discourse (Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20) are Jewish tribulation saints rather than the church saints. It is generally held by the pretribulationists that the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and Mark 13 refers only to the second coming of Christ and has nothing to say about the rapture. By this interpretation the various references to signs that portend the Second Advent have no bearing upon the time or circumstances of the Lord's earlier return for His church. The rapture, then, is to be heralded by no warning indications whatever. It may come at any moment, totally unexpected, like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). But once the rapture has taken place, then all of the signs predicted in the Olivet Discourse and similar passages (such as 2 Thessalonians 2:1ff.) will start to appear. Such interpretation is known as the doctrine of imminence of the return of Christ and is commonly held by the pretribulationists.

In order to sustain that the Olivet Discourse contains no reference whatever to the rapture it is absolutely essential to demonstrate that the disciples to whom Jesus revealed this prophecy were not addressed as members of the New Testament Christian church, but only as representatives of the converted Israel (i.e. Jewish tribulation saints) of the last days. As such they could be encouraged to look for the fulfillment of the signs predicted by our Lord Jesus in Matthew 24 and Mark 13.

Of course, midtribulationists must deny the doctrine of imminence of the return of Christ, for all the signs of the first half of the week apply to the church. Midtribulationists find support for their view in the Olivet Discourse. The argument goes like this. Matthew 24:27 indicates the rapture because the words "coming of the Son of Man" (Greek transliteration for "coming" is parousia) used there is also used of the rapture (coming of the Lord) in 1 Thessalonians 4:15. Also Matthew 24:30 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1ff. use words from the same root word "coming" (Greek, episynago). They believe that 2 Thessalonians 2:1ff. clearly specifies preceding signs to the rapture.

Gleason Archer objects to the pretribulation understanding of the Olivet Discourse due to the following reasons (Three Views of the Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, Or Post-Tribulational?, pp. 122-123):

  1. If the apostles and disciples who constituted the Christian church at the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost were not true members or representatives of the Christian church, then who ever could be?

  2. Apart from the two books composed by Luke, the entire New Testament was composed by Jewish believers. For the first five years of the existence of the Christian church, during which several thousands of believers were added to its ranks, there was scarcely a non-Jew to be found in the entire company.

  3. All of the other admonitions and warnings addressed to the Twelve were unquestionably intended for them personally and found fulfillment or application in their later careers. How could it be that the Olivet Discourse, and that alone, was an exception to this principle?

  4. How can we possibly imagine that when Christ said to His disciples, "These are the signs you are to look for," He really meant, "You will never see these signs at all, but 1900 years from now some distant descendants of yours are to look for these signs"? The problem is this. Jesus spoke of signs. However, if these signs applied to a distant future Jewish age, then the disciples would not be alive. Thus, Jesus is saying something like this, look for these signs, but you will will never see them. This kind of interpretation adds up to a serious violation of the perspicuity of Scripture (i.e. means expressing things clear). We are bound to believe that when Jesus gave a prediction or a command, it was to be believed in and obeyed just as He expressed it, rather than in some secret fashion discoverable only to those who were initiated into some specialized mode of interpretation not derivable from the text itself.

  5. If, then, we are to follow the normal usage of language and take the wording of the Olivet Discourse in its ordinary and obvious meaning, we have no choice but to understand it as addressed to representatives of the Christian church, namely the apostles themselves. And if the Christian church is to look for the signs of Christ's coming, then we can scarcely speak of an any-moment rapture as a teaching of Christ or His apostles.

James Oliver Buswell, a leading midtribulationist, opined that the "elect" spoken of by Jesus in the Olivet discourse are not Jews; they are saints of the church. He argued for this on the following grounds (James Oliver Buswell Jr., A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, 2:393-94):

  1. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark were written some time after Paul's epistles had been written and circulated. Paul's vocabulary and the meaning he gave to words would thus have been familiar to believers of that day. It is reasonable to expect that if the Lord Jesus had meant by "the elect" something different from what Paul had meant by the expression in such passages as Romans 8:33, then Matthew and Mark would have given some indication of that, thereby avoiding confusion. But no indication of this is present in the Gospels.

  2. It is apparent that Christ, here answering questions put to Him by the apostles, was speaking not to them only, but to the entire church throughout the present age. He was in the habit of coupling together references to the apostles and the entire church, as in the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and the high-priestly prayer (John 17:20).

  3. Jesus' warning regarding the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15) is definitely parallel to Paul's warning to the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 2:4). But the Thessalonian believers were not primarily Jewish but Gentile.

  4. Buswell was not impressed by the argument that Jesus must have been referring to Israel because the fig tree in the parable (Matthew 24:32-35) is a "type" of Israel. There is no sufficient ground for limiting the fig tree to Israel. Indeed, this parable is introduced in Luke with the words "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees" (Luke 21:29), proving that on this occasion Jesus did not have this narrow application in mind.

4.4.5.2 Comments

Archer objects to the pretribulation understanding of the Olivet Discourse because it violates an important hermeneutical principle, the perspicuity of Scripture. Such is a serious charge. Archer's criticisms were answered by Paul D. Feinberg in the following points (Three Views of the Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, Or Post-Tribulational?, pp. 150-151):

  1. I think that these are not signs that will characterize the whole age, whether it be Jewish or Christian, but that precede the coming of Christ. If these eight signs are true of the whole 1,900 plus years that have elapsed since Christ revealed them, it is difficult for me to see how they are signs in the Biblical sense of the term.

  2. If the sign character of these events is in the fact that they will increase in number as we near the coining of the Lord, then only the final generation will see all the signs spoken of in the text. If this is so, then whatever interpretation one takes, the generation that will see the signs is not the generation that hears Jesus' discourse. Thus, the problem is the same for any interpretation of the Olivet Discourse, including midtribulational and posttribulational rapture theories.

  3. There is at least one sign that no one there saw on any interpretation. In Matthew 24:15 our Lord spoke of the abomination of desolation. This was a reference to Daniel (9:27 and 12:11). While the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 may have been a prefiguring of what would come, this passage finds its fulfillment in eschatological times. No one saw its fulfillment, yet Christ predicted it to them.

  4. Let me put the matter in this way. The New Testament commands the believer to look for Christ's coming. For these many years saints have watched, but He has not returned. Only one generation will look and see Him. Does this call into question the perspicuity of Scripture? I do not think so. The problem arises if we are told to look because we will see Him come, and He does not. Neither in the case of the Second Coming nor in the case of the Olivet Discourse do I see a promise that the events spoken of will transpire in the lifetime of the hearers.

  5. Midtribulationists think that the Olivet Discourse is addressed to the church. They think that the disciples in most contexts in the Gospels stand for Christians of all ages or we would not take the teachings of Jesus as our instruction. However, in the Olivet Discourse, the disciples may represent the believing remnant in the nation of Israel, and the teaching of Jesus may still have application to the Christian church. If this is the case, the church would not be in the Tribulation, and yet the truth of Jesus' teaching would have application to Christians today. (Note: Why do we study the Old Testament? Would Moses' teaching still have application to Christians today? The answer is of course, "Yes." Although Christians do not need to keep Mosaic Law, some of the spiritual lessons are still applicable to us.)

  6. Is there any indication that the disciples represent the believing remnant in Israel? I think there is. The topic under discussion is Jewish eschatological expectations. Jesus and the disciples are discussing the destruction of the temple, the abomination of desolation (clearly related to the nation of Israel in Daniel 9 and 11) and Sabbath restrictions. {Note: Further indication is that "let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains" (Matthew 24:16). The place "Judea" is only relevant to the believing remnant in Israel.} 

  7. The argument from the New Testament usage of "elect" is misguided. If something happened that was unique on the Day of Pentecost, then the Gospels may bear a closer resemblance to the Old Testament than to the rest of the New Testament. Midtribulationists' position fails to take account of progress in Salvation history. At any rate, those to whom the Olivet Discourse was given would have understood the term "elect" in the context of the Old Testament, not the New Testament, which had not yet been given. 

Personally, I would like to reply the rest of the arguments raised by Archer and Buswell in the following points:

  1. There are many Bible prophecies recorded in the Old Testament and New Testament. Is it reasonable to expect that all the prophets, apostles and believers (i.e. hearers) must see the complete fulfillment of all the prophecies before they can die? How about the hearers of Isaiah, Daniel, Jesus, Paul, John, etc? Do you expect them to see the fulfillment of all the mentioned prophecies in their lifetime? 

  2. The Christian church was not existed at the time of the Olivet Discourse. The church was not established until the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. At the time of the Olivet Discourse, the disciples were still not fully understood the concept of Christian church because Jesus had not fully revealed the mystery of the church to them (read Ephesians 3:5-6). Please note that both Peter and most of the apostles were still not fully understood the concept of the Christian church until Peter had met Cornelius and he had reported the incident to them in Jerusalem (Acts 10:1-11:18). Jewish concepts (such as restoration of Israel) were still full of the disciples' mind at that time. For example, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). None of the hearers were Gentile believers at the time of the Olivet Discourse. It is correct to say that, at the time of the Olivet Discourse, the disciples were actually representatives of the Jewish remnants instead of the Christian church which would consist of both Jewish and Gentile believers. As a great teacher, Jesus would not tell the audiences something which was totally irrelevant to their personal identities. If the Lord Jesus' prophetic message at the Olivet Discourse were applicable to the future Christian church, then He not only taught something which was incomprehensible to His hearers, but also irrelevant to them.

  3. When we interpret the Bible, we need to pay attention to the historical time frame of the Bible passage before we can reach a reasonable conclusion of the meaning of a particular verse. Since the Christian church was not existed at the time of the Olivet Discourse, it is unreasonable to assume that the disciples were representatives of the Christian church at that moment.

  4. Although the majority of the New Testament was composed by Jewish believers, it doesn't necessarily mean that all the teachings recorded in the New Testament must be applicable to the Christian church. We must rightly dividing the Word of Truth. We must bear in our minds that the New Testament contains some prophecies and teachings relating to the present church era, the future seven years tribulation period, the future Millennium and the Eternal State. The scope of the New Testament is wider than (or not limited to) the present church age. When we study the Bible, we should be careful to find out which teachings are applicable to the church era. The Olivet Discouse is applicable to the future seven years tribulation period and it is for the benefits of the future tribulation saints who cannot participate in the rapture of the church.  

  5. Although the Gospels of Matthew and Mark were written some time after Paul's epistles had been written and circulated, it is unreasonable to assume that the writers of Matthew and Mark must follow Paul's vocabulary and the meaning he gave to words "the elect." Please note that the Gospels of Matthew and Mark are concentrating on the life of Christ while Paul's epistles are more relating to church matters. There is no evidence to prove that Paul, Matthew and Mark had already reached an agreement on all the definitions or usage of theological terms before writing their Gospels and Epistles. In the Bible, a word may have different meanings when it is used in different circumstances. The word "elect" means God's chosen people, it may refer to Israel (God's earthly chosen people) or to church (God's heavenly chosen people) or to tribulation saints (God's chosen people during the tribulation people).

  6. Although Jesus' warning regarding the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15) is definitely parallel to Paul's warning to the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 2:4), it doesn't necessarily mean that the readers of the Epistle to 2 Thessalonians must be limited to the 1st century Christian church saints. It is possible that some of the prophetic messages may be read and understood by the Jewish and Gentile tribulation saints after the rapture of the church.

  7. I agree that the parable of the fig tree in Luke is not limited to Israel. "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees" (Luke 21:29). I think that the "fig tree" is applicable to Israel while "all the trees" is applicable to Gentile nations. It is possible that Jesus had both Israel and Gentile nations in His mind. After the rapture of the church, some Jews and Gentiles may read the prophetic messages of the Bible (such as the Olivet Discourse) and observe the signs of the second coming of the Lord Jesus. Some of them may accept the Lord Jesus as their Saviour, they are known as the Jewish tribulation saints (Revelation 7:1-8) and Gentile tribulation saints (Revelation 7:9-17). 

  8. What about the use of some of the same words for the rapture and the second coming? (for examples, Matthew 24:27 is similar to 1 Thessalonians 4:15; Matthew 24:30 is similar to 2 Thessalonians 2:1ff.) Does this indicate that they are the same event? Once again, I would like to point out that a word may have different meanings when it is used in different circumstances. When we examine Matthew 24:27 and 24:30 carefully, we observe that no rapture of the church is mentioned in the text. In my opinion, Matthew 24:27 and 24:30 are actually relating to Matthew 25:31-46 when the Lord Jesus comes in His glory and sits on His throne to judge the nations at the end of the Great Tribulation period. In addition, 2 Thessalonians 2:1ff. refers to the two events preceding the Day of the Lord, not the rapture of the church.

  9. If rapture and the second coming are the same event (i.e. Matthew 24:27 corresponds to 1 Thessalonians 4:15), or at least, that they occur at the same time (i.e. the end of the Great Tribulation period), then it seems to support the posttribulational rapture view instead of the midtribulational.

4.4.6 Was the church promised tribulation? (Matthew 24:9-11; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 23:27-31; John 15:18-19; 16:1-2, 33; Acts 8:1-3; 11:19; 14:22; Romans 12:12)

4.4.6.1 Midtribulationists' explanations

Midtribulationists believe that the church was promised tribulation and, therefore, can expect to experience the first half of the tribulation period. Passages such as Matthew 24:9-11; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 23:27-31, which are addressed to Israel and promise them tribulation, are used to prove that the church will go through the tribulation period. In addition, passages such as John 15:18-19; and John 16:1-2, 33, which are addressed to the church, are also so used.

Their argument is that in the light of such specific promises it is impossible to say that the church will be raptured prior to the midpoint of the tribulation period. Their argument is substantiated by citing the persecutions recorded in Acts into which the church came (Acts 8:1-3; 11:19; 14:22; Romans 12:12) as being a partial fulfillment of those warnings.

4.4.6.2 Comments

This argument can be rebuked in the following ways:

  1. Scripture abounds in promises that Israel will be brought into a time of purging to prepare them as a nation for the Millennium to follow the advent of Messiah. However, since Israel is to be distinguished from the church in the economy of God, those Scriptures which promise tribulation to Israel cannot be made to teach that the church is to experience the Tribulation period. Israel and the church are two distinct entities in the plan of God and must be so regarded.

  2. The term "tribulation" is used in several different ways in Scripture. It is used in a non-technical, non-eschatological sense in reference to any time of suffering or testing into which one goes. It is so used in Matthew 13:21; Mark 4:17; John 16:33; Romans 5:3; 12:12; 2 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; Revelation 1:9. It is used in its technical or eschatological sense in reference to the whole period of the seven years of Tribulation, as in Revelation 2:22 or Matthew 24:29. It is also used in reference to the last half of this seven year period, as in Matthew 24:21.When the word "tribulation" is used in reference to the church, as in John 16:33, it is used in a non-technical sense, in which the church is promised an age-long opposition from Satan and evil men, but it is not teaching that the church will be brought into the period technically known as the Tribulation period. Otherwise one would have to teach that the Tribulation period has already existed for over 1,900 years.

4.5 Arguments For And Against Midtribulational Rapture

The arguments for and against the Midtribulational Rapture view are illustrated in below table:

(Reference: Charts of Christian Theology & Doctrine, p. 131, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1992 Edition, by H. Wayne House)

Midtribulational Rapture
Statement of View This position sees that the church, believers in Christ, are raptured in the middle of the tribulation period, prior to the Great Tribulation. This is a mediate view between the pretribulation and posttribulation positions.
Churches This view is rarely held by Christian churches. Proponents Norman Harrison, James Oliver Buswell, Gleason L. Archer,   Merrill C. Tenney, G.H. Lang
Arguments for Arguments Against
This position offers fewer problems than either the pre- or posttribulational views, it avoids the problems of the two extremes. There is a loss of imminency in this position (as also in posttribulation). No longer are we called upon to wait and watch, but to look for preparatory signs, as given in the book of Revelation and in Matthew 24:1-14. The midtribulational view has some problems which are not found in the pretribulational and posttribulational views.
There is a great emphasis on the 3 1/2 years (42 months, 1,260 days) in the Scripture to divide the 7 years of Tribulation (Daniel 7:25; 9:27; 12:7; Revelation 11:2; 12:6, 14; 13:5). The emphasis on the middle of the Tribulation is due to the breaking of the covenant with Israel (Daniel 9:27), not because of the Rapture.
The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25) talks of the coming, appearing, and return of Christ. It coincides with the Rapture passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:15. The only concrete link is the use of parousia in both passages. Many other differences in the contexts make this a weak link. If they are the same event, then it seems to support posttribulational view instead of midtribulational.
2 Thessalonians 2:1ff. clearly specifies preceding signs to the Rapture. 2 Thessalonians 2:1ff. refers to the two events preceding the Day of the Lord, not the rapture of the church.
Revelation 11:15 mentions the seventh trumpet, which is identical to the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52. All the events that connect with the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 actually are related to the sixth trumpet instead of the seventh. The seventh trumpet of Revelation 11 is not the last trumpet of Scripture. Does the Rapture truly occur in Revelation 11:15 just because there is a trumpet sound? The argument is weak and has no Biblical basis.
This position keeps the distinction between the Rapture and revelation, thus two stages in the coming of Christ. Pretribulation also maintains temporal distinction. Posttribulation maintains a distinction as well, though it is a difference in essence rather than time.
The church is delivered from the wrath of God but not from trials and testing, since the Rapture occurs in the middle of the Tribulation, just prior to the great outpouring of God's wrath. Those who hold this view must devise a new concept of wrath in the book of Revelation. There is forced spiritualization of chapters 1-11 for contemporary purposes and not future fulfillment. The church can be delivered from wrath either by pretribulation rapture or by protection from wrath.
Just as there is overlapping in the book of Acts in terms of the program of God for the church and Israel, so there is overlapping in the program of God in the book of Revelation. The church has both Jews and Gentiles in it. This does not necessitate, however, an overlapping of God's program for the church and for national Israel.
This view allows for the nonglorified saints at the end of the Tribulation to enter the millennial kingdom to repopulate the world. Pretribulation also allows for repopulation. Also, it is possible that some unbelievers will enter the Millennium since the conversion of Israel will not take place until the Second Advent.

4.6 Evaluation of Midtribulational Rapture

Having seen something of the history of, doctrinal characteristics, Biblical support cited for and arguments for midtribulational rapture theory, we must now evaluate it. What are its strengths and its weaknesses?

4.6.1 Positive aspects

The positive aspects of the midtribulational rapture view are as follows:

  1. It is a mediate view between posttribulationism and pretribulationism. As such has commended itself to some who for one reason or another are dissatisfied with both pretribulationism and posttribulationism.

  2. It is able to claim the promises of comfort and blessing which seem to be denied by the posttribulationists who take the church through the entire period.

4.6.2 Negative aspects

The midtribulational rapture view is rarely held by Christian churches because of the following five major reasons:

  1. it has two fundamental mistakes in its view;

  2. many of its essential bases are actually copied from the posttribulational rapture view;

  3. one argument raised by the midtribulationists seems to be a better argument for the posttribulational rapture view;

  4. it loses some of the important features of dispensational interpretation of the Scripture; and

  5. it is not welcome by both historic and dispensational premillennialists.

4.6.2.1 The two fundamental mistakes

Midtribulationists have made three fundamental mistakes in their interpretation of future events:

  1. They teach that the Great Tribulation (i.e. the wrath of God) does not begin until the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15. However, even a casual reading of the seals and first six trumpets will make clear that the wrath of God begins with the early seals, not with the seventh trumpet (Revelation 6:5-8, 16-17). They, with evident purpose, omitted Revelation 6:16-17 and Revelation 7:14. The former passage refers to wrath in connection with the sixth seal, and the latter is the only reference to the "great tribulation" by that title in the entire book of Revelation. It appears that midtribulational rapturism has based its doctrine on very carefully selected Scripture passages.

  2. They identify the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 with the last trump of 1 Corinthians 15:52. However, all the events that connect with the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 actually are related to the sixth trumpet instead of the seventh. In addition, the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11 is not the last trumpet of Scripture. Does the rapture truly occur in Revelation 11:15 just because there is a trumpet sound?

The above fundamental mistakes show that the midtribulational rapture view is built up on wrong interpretation of Scriptures.

4.6.2.2 Many essential bases are copied from the posttribulational rapture view

The midtribulational rapture view is not welcome by Bible students because many of its essential bases are actually copied from the posttribulational rapture view, for examples:

  1. the denial of imminence;

  2. the promise of tribulation;

  3. the interpretation of the Olivet Discourse; and

  4. the identification of the seventh trumpet with the last trump of 1 Corinthians 15:52.

We may have the impression that the midtribulational rapture view is merely a variation of (with minor modifications) the posttribulational rapture view. It also shares some of the weaknesses of the posttribulational rapture view.

4.6.2.3 One argument raised by the midtribulationists seems to be a better argument for the posttribulational rapture view

One argument raised by the midtribulationists seems to be a better argument for the posttribulational rapture view. Midtribulationists believe that the prophecy of the second coming of Christ in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25) coincides with the rapture passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:15. If the second coming of Christ and the rapture are the same event (i.e. Matthew 24:27 corresponds to 1 Thessalonians 4:15), or at least, that they occur at the same time (i.e. the end of the Great Tribulation period), then it seems to support the posttribulational rapture view instead of the midtribulational.

4.6.2.4 It loses the important features of dispensational interpretation of the Scripture

Most dispensationalists do not support the midtribulational rapture view because it loses some of the important features of dispensational interpretation of the Scriptures, such as:

  1. Midtribulationists believe that there is overlapping in the program of God for the church and Israel, therefore the sharp contrasts between Israel and the Church is denied.

  2. Midtribulationists spiritualize the meaning of Revelation 1-11 for contemporary purposes and not future fulfillment, therefore the principle of literal interpretation of the Scripture is repudiated. 

4.6.2.5 It is not welcome by both historic and dispensational premillennialists

Most historic premillennialists are posttribulationists while most dispensational premillennialists are pretribulationists. Since the midtribulational view is a compromise between the pretribulational and posttribulational views, it is not welcome by both the historic and dispensational premillennialists.

For the pretribulationists, the church can be delivered from the wrath of God by pretribulation rapture. For the posttribulationists, the church can be delivered from the wrath of God by divine protection from wrath. Therefore, both of them do not see any merits in the midtribulational rapture view. 

Due to the above reasons, the great majority of expositors will continue to divide between the posttribulational and pretribulational positions, with the midtribulational and partial rapture viewpoints held only by a small minority.

4.6.3 Conclusion

Examination of the midtribulation rapture position has shown us that the essential arguments of the view will not stand the examination of true interpretation of Scripture and must be rejected as false.

 

5. A SURVEY OF PREWRATH RAPTURE

The survey of prewrath rapture view is divided into the following six sections:

  1. definition of prewrath rapture;

  2. history of prewrath rapture;

  3. doctrinal characteristics of prewrath rapture;

  4. Biblical support cited for prewrath rapture;

  5. arguments for and against prewrath rapture; and

  6. evaluation of prewrath rapture.

5.1 Definition of Prewrath Rapture

The prewrath view of the rapture departs from the customary two-fold division of the seventieth week of Daniel 9:27 and suggests that a threefold division is more valid. They would be:

  1. the first division, the "Beginning of Birth Pangs" (Matthew 24:4-8) or first seal (Revelation 6:1-2) which cover the first half of the seventieth week;

  2. the second division, the "Great Tribulation" (Matthew 24:21) or second to fifth seals (Revelation 6:3-11) which will begin in the middle of the seventieth week and end sometime between the middle and end. The sixth seal warns believers about the coming of the "Day of the LORD" (Revelation 6:12-17), and at this point the rapture will occur; and

  3. the third division, will consist of the "Day of the LORD" which begins with the breaking of the seventh seal (Revelation 8:1) and continues until the end of the seventieth week.

The prewrath rapture position places the rapture of the church at the "Day of the LORD" which occurs after the man of lawlessness is revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:3) and after the tribulation of those days is interrupted and cut short by that "Day of the Lord" return of Jesus (Matthew 24:29). See below chart for illustration:

4.HTM7.gif (11052 ????)

5.2 History of Prewrath Rapture

In the 1980s, Robert Van Kampen, a Christian businessman, developed a new view of the timing of the rapture. After eliminating pretribulationalism and then posttribulationalism, he concluded that Christians will be raptured about three-quarters of the way through the seven-year tribulation period. Van Kampen recruited Marvin Rosenthal, and they entitled their new view "the prewrath rapture position." Their new view was introduced to the public in 1990 through Marvin J. Rosenthal's book, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, followed in 1992 by Van Kampen's The Sign, Wheaton, IL.: Crossway Books. They argued that:

  1. the tribulation period is man's wrath and Satan's wrath poured out on the world instead of God's wrath;

  2. God's wrath is poured out after the "Day of the LORD" arrives;

  3. God promise to deliver the church from the wrath of God instead of the wrath of man and Satan;

  4. the prewrath rapture position was indeed the view of the early church fathers who believed in a "posttribulation" rapture of the church;

  5. the early church fathers believed that the church would experience part of the "Great Tribulation";

  6. a deliverance of the church would follow the persecutions from the Antichrist against the church;

  7. what has been missed throughout history, is the precise definition of that "Tribulation Period" and the "Day of the LORD"; and

  8. it is that precision that the prewrath position seeks to restore.

The prewrath rapture view is rarely accepted by Christians at the present moment.

5.3 Doctrinal Characteristics of Prewrath Rapture

5.3.1 Essentials of prewrath rapture

The essentials of prewrath rapture could be summarized as follows:

  1. The church will be raptured before the time of God's wrath.

  2. The time of God's wrath is limited to the day of the LORD.

  3. The day of the LORD does not consist of the entire seven years of the seventieth week of Daniel, but only the final quarter (approx. 21 months).

5.3.2 Differences between prewrath rapture and pretribulational rapture

The prewrath rapture view differs from the pretribulational view at key points. Pretribulationists agree with prewrath rapturists that the church will escape the time of God's wrath. However, pretribulationalism begins the time of God's wrath and the day of the LORD with the beginning of the seven years of the seventieth week of Daniel.

5.3.3 Similarities between prewrath rapture and midtribulational rapture

The doctrinal characteristics of the prewrath rapture view is very similar to the midtribulational rapture view. Their similarities are as follows:

  1. the denial of imminence return of Christ;

  2. the promise of tribulation to the Church;

  3. a distinction between tribulation and wrath;

  4. the programs for Israel and the Church overlap; and

  5. the identity of the "elect" of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:22) is church age saints.

We may have the impression that the prewrath rapture view is merely a variation of the midtribulational view. My comments to above doctrinal characteristics have already been given in the previous Section 4 of this Chapter.

5.3.4 Differences between prewrath rapture and midtribulational rapture

The major difference between prewrath rapture and midtribulational rapture positions is the definition of several important eschatological terms. Marvin J. Rosenthal redefined several important eschatological terms in his book The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church. The adjustments in terminology are summarized as follows:

  1. The tribulation is never defined in Scripture as being 7 years long. Jesus defines it at Matthew 24:9-29 as a period of time, beginning at the mid-point of Daniel's 70th week, when man will oppress man. He further indicates that the time period will be cut short at some unknown day and hour before the end of the 70th week by His return in the clouds.

  2. The tribulation is man's wrath and Satan's wrath poured out on the world. It is not God's wrath. God's wrath is poured out after the Day of the LORD arrives.

  3. The seals are chronological except that numbers 3, 4 and 5 are concurrent during the oppression from the man of lawlessness.

  4. The first seal corresponds with the little horn of Daniel 7:24, when he conguers the 10 nation European (Roman) confederacy by taking control of 3 of them.

  5. The 7 year covenant of Daniel 9:27 will take place shortly after that and officially begin the 70th week of Daniel.

  6. The second seal corresponds with the revelation of the man of lawlessness as he breaks the covenant and takes the peace from the earth. This begins the tribulation of Matthew 24:9-29.

  7. The third, fourth and fifth seals are concurrent during the great tribulation and are the results of man`s oppression on man.

  8. The sixth seal is the return of Jesus at the Day of the LORD and parallels Matthew 24:29-31 and Joel 2:30-31. It is the announcement of God's wrath which will come upon the world and is represented by the 7th seal from where come both the trumpets and bowls.

  9. Revelation 7:9-17 sees the raptured church in heaven having been taken out of the great tribulation just as Jesus taught would happen at Matthew 24:22, 29-31.

  10. The seventh trumpet occurs 3 1/2 days after the end of the 70th week of Daniel and announces the final outpouring of God's wrath via the seven bowls (Revelation 11:1-19).

  11. The seven bowls of God's final wrath will take place during the 30 days after the end of the 70th week culminating with the final battle at Armageddon, i.e. 1,290 - 1,260 = 30 (compare Daniel 12:11-12 with Revelation 11 & 16).

  12. There will then be 45 days of preparation for the Messiah to begin His formal 1,000 year reign upon the earth, i.e. 1,335 - 1,290 = 45 (Daniel 12:12).

See below chart for illustration:

(Source: Marvin J. Rosenthal, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, Thomas Nelson, 1990 Edition)

wpe54463.gif (37354 ????)

Their similarities and differences are shown in below table:

Doctrinal Characteristics Prewrath Rapture Midtribulational Rapture
The Imminence Return of Christ Deny Deny
The Promise of Tribulation Affirm Affirm
Distinction Between Tribulation and Wrath Affirm Affirm
The Programs for Israel and the Church Overlap Affirm Affirm
Identity of the "Elect" of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:22) Church saints Church saints
Division of the Seventieth Week of Daniel 9:27 A threefold division: 1. Beginning of Birth Pangs; 2. Great Tribulation; 3. Day of the Lord A twofold division: 1. Beginning of Birth Pangs; 2. Great Tribulation
The Timing of the Mid-point of the Seventieth Week of Daniel 9:27 The second seal of Revelation 6:3-4 The seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15
The Timing of the Rapture After the mid-point but before the end of the seventieth week, i.e. at the sixth seal of Revelation 6:12-17 At the mid-point of the seventieth week, i.e. at the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15
The Timing and Duration of the "Wrath of God" Begin at the seventh seal of Revelation 8:1 until the end of the seventieth week of Daniel + extra 30 days for the seven bowls and final battle at Armageddon (Revelation 16:17-31). Therefore, the duration of the "Wrath of God" is 1,260 + 30 = 1,290 days (see Daniel 12:11-12). Begin at the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 until the end of the seventieth week of Daniel. The seventieth week of Daniel includes the seven bowls and final battle at Armageddon (Revelation 16:17-31). Therefore, the duration of the "Wrath of God" is 1,260 days.
The Timing of the Seventh Trumpet of Revelation 11:15 It occurs 3 and 1/2 days after the end of the seventieth week of Daniel. It occurs at the mid-point of the seventieth week of Daniel.
Will the Church Experience the "Great Tribulation"? The church will experience both the "Beginning of Birth Pangs" and "Great Tribulation" but it will be cut short by the "Day of the Lord" and she will be raptured before the "Wrath of God" is poured out on earth. The church will experience the "Beginning of Birth Pangs" but she will not participate in the "Great Tribulation."

5.4 Biblical Support Cited for Prewrath Rapture

Passages commonly cited by the midtribulationists are as follows:

  1. The wrath of God is not the entire seven-year tribulation period (Zephaniah 1:14-18).

  2. The first five seals are the wrath of men and Satan instead of God (Revelation 6:1-17).

  3. Jesus defines the tribulation begins at the mid-point of Daniel's 70th week (Matthew 24:9-29).

  4. The second seal of Revelation 6:3-4 begins at the mid-point of the seventieth week of Daniel 9:27.

  5. The seals are chronological except that numbers 3, 4, and 5 are concurrent (Revelation 6:5-11).

  6. The sixth seal of Revelation 6:12-17 is the return of Jesus at the Day of the LORD and parallels Matthew 24:29-31 and Joel 2:30-31.

  7. The wrath of God begins at the seventh seal (Revelation 6:1-17; 8:1-16:21).

  8. The raptured church is seen in heaven having been taken out of the great tribulation (compare Revelation 7:9-17 with  Matthew 24:22, 29-31).

  9. The Day of the Lord will not occur until "the apostacy" takes place (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).

5.4.1 The wrath of God is not the entire seven-year tribulation period (Zephaniah 1:14-18)

5.4.1.1 Prewrath rapturists' explanations

Prewrath rapturists believe that pretribulationists err in their understanding that "the entire seven-year tribulation period is the wrath of God." This provides a major basis for disagreement between prewrath rapturism and pretribulationalism.

Prewrath rapturists chop the seven years of Daniel's seventieth week into a sequence of unwarranted compartments. They divide the seven years into the following parts:

  1. The first half is labeled the beginning of sorrows.

  2. The first half of the second half is called the Great Tribulation.

  3. The final approx. 21 months are tagged the day of the LORD.

For the prewrath rapturists only the final period - the day of the LORD - is a time of God's wrath. They see the first three-quarters as the wrath of man and Satan. But does the Bible make such distinctions?

5.4.1.2 Comments

Zephaniah 1:14-18 heaps together a number of terms that characterize the future day of the LORD. Verse 14 labels this time as "the great day of the LORD" and "the day of the LORD." Then verses 15-18 describe this time with the following description:

"That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm ... I will bring distress upon men ... the day of the Lord's wrath" (Zephaniah 1:14-18).

The context supports the conclusion that all these descriptives apply to the day of the LORD. Such Biblical usage does not allow an interpreter to chop the day of the LORD into compartmental segments as the prewrath rapturists insist. The text plainly says that the day of the LORD is a time of both tribulation and God's wrath. All of the many descriptives in this passage provide a characterization of the day of the LORD that applies to the entire period. The Zephaniah passage clearly contradicts the basis upon which the prewrath rapturists attempt to build their recently developed theory. Therefore, this is a fundamental mistake made by the prewrath rapturists.

5.4.2 The first five seals are the wrath of men and Satan instead of God (Revelation 6:1-17)

5.4.2.1 Prewrath rapturists' explanations

Van Kampen / Rosenthal attempt to demonstrate that the events of the seal judgments are not really "God's" wrath, but the wrath of man. Rosenthal declares, "The word wrath occurs eight times in the book of Revelation. All eight occurrences follow the opening of the sixth seal. The word wrath is never used in connection with the first five seals.

5.4.2.2 Comments

It might seem, at first glance, that the fifth seal (which reveals the martyred souls in heaven) is clearly a case of man's or Satan's wrath. The issue here, however, is not how the martyrs died, but rather that their death will be avenged by the wrath of the Lamb - the topic of the whole chapter.

Rosenthal neglects to tell his readers that Revelation 6:16-17 is a summary statement of all the previous seal judgments. I believe that Revelation 6:16-17 relates to all six seal judgments. There is no basis for saying that the events of the seal judgments are somehow disconnected from Scripture's characterization as God's wrath. The following observations about the seal judgments support such a connection:

  1. The Lamb is the individual who breaks, and thus initiates, all six of the seals (Revelation 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12) clearly indicating that He (God) is the source of the events or wrath. These are explicit references to the wrath of God, not the wrath of man or Satan as taught by the prewrath rapturists.

  2. One-quarter of the earth's population is killed by famine (Revelation 6:5-8).

  3. At the end of the six seal judgments an assessment is given as follows: "... hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; For the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?" (Revelation 6:16-17). "Him who sits on the throne" is God the Father as indicated in chapter 4, thus it is clearly God's wrath. It is also the Lamb's wrath (Christ). The passage clearly says "the great day of His wrath has come," meaning that all six of the seal judgments are classified as God's wrath.

  4. The controlling verb in verse 17, "has come" (elthen), is aorist indicative, referring to a previous arrival of the wrath (i.e. perfect tense), not something that is about to take place. If a future look was intended by the verb then John most likely would have used the future tense.

  5. Revelation 6:15-17 is a report of the human response to God's judgment. A similar evaluation is recorded after the trumpet judgments in Revelation 9:20-21. In both cases, humanity does not repent so God continues prosecution of the war. This argues in favor of associating this report with the preceding seal judgments.

  6. Revelation 5 narrates a heavenly scene of Christ pictured as a slain, but victorious Lamb. The Lamb is pictured as worthy to open the seals on a scroll, which result in judgment - the judgment described in the succeeding chapter as the seal judgments. In chapter 6, each one of the seal judgments commences as a result of the Lamb's breaking of each seal (Revelation 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12). Because all six seal judgments begin the same way, with the breaking of the seal by the Lamb, one should not be at all surprised that Revelation 6:16-17 summarize all six judgments as "the wrath of the Lamb," and "the great day of His wrath."

This information provides ample Biblical proof that all six seal judgments are the wrath of God (the Lamb). Prewrath rapturists teach, as do pretribulationists, that the first seal judgment (the rise of Antichrist) begins in the first part of the seventieth week of Daniel, right after the seven-year period commences. Because all six seal judgments are designated in Scripture as God's wrath it means that the entire seventieth week of Daniel is called the wrath of God in Revelation 6. Because the church is promised deliverance from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9; Revelation 3:10), it is clear in light of Revelation 6 that the church will be raptured before the seventieth week of Daniel. Therefore, this passage does not support the prewrath rapturists' interpretation. Again, this is a fundamental mistake made by the prewrath rapturists.

5.4.3 Jesus defines the tribulation begins at the mid-point of Daniel's 70th week (Matthew 24:9-29)

5.4.3.1 Prewrath rapturists' explanations

Prewrath rapturists believe that Jesus defines the tribulation begins at the mid-point of Daniel's 70th week (Matthew 24:9-29).

5.4.3.2 Comments

However, if you read Matthew 24:9-29 carefully, you cannot find any word which indicates that the tribulation must begin at the mid-point of Daniel 70th week. What Jesus really told us? He told us the signs of His coming and of the end of the age (Matthew 24:3). But He hasn't told us when the tribulation will begin (Matthew 24:36). Prewrath rapturists assume it without any valid Biblical support.

5.4.4 The second seal of Revelation 6:3-4 begins at the mid-point of the seventieth week of Daniel 9:27

5.4.4.1 Prewrath rapturists' explanations

Prewrath rapturists believe that the second seal of Revelation 6:3-4 begins at the mid-point of the seventieth week of Daniel 9:27.

5.4.4.2 Comments

However, if you read Revelation 6:1-2 carefully, you can see that the duration of the first seal is not mentioned in the text. Again, prewrath rapturists assume it without any valid Biblical support.

5.4.5 The seals are chronological except that numbers 3, 4, and 5 are concurrent (Revelation 6:5-11)

5.4.5.1 Prewrath rapturists' explanations

Prewrath rapturists believe that the seals are chronological except that numbers 3, 4, and 5 are concurrent (Revelation 6:5-11).

5.4.5.2 Comments

However, if you read Revelation 6:5-11 carefully, you can see that Jesus broke all the seven seals one by one (i.e. chronologically) instead of simultaneously. If the Prewrath rapturists believe that the seals are chronological, then there is no valid reason for them to believe that numbers 3, 4 and 5 are concurrent (i.e. exception). There is no exception here. Again, prewrath rapturists assume it without any valid Biblical support.

5.4.6 The sixth seal of Revelation 6:12-17 is the return of Jesus at the Day of the LORD and parallels Matthew 24:29-31 and Joel 2:30-31

5.4.6.1 Prewrath rapturists' explanations

Prewrath rapturists believe that the sixth seal of Revelation 6:12-17 is the return of Jesus at the Day of the LORD and parallels Matthew 24:29-31 and Joel 2:30-31.

5.4.6.2 Comments

However, if you read Revelation 6:12-17 carefully, you cannot find any word which indicates the return of Christ at that time period. The return of Christ is actually mentioned in Revelation 19:11-16 (compare with Matthew 24:29-31) instead of Revelation 6:12-17.

If the day of the LORD commences with the judgments at the end of the tribulation, then how can it begin with a time of peace and safety (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3)? Even a superficial knowledge of the tribulation does not give the impression that there will be any time of peace and safety, except perhaps at the very beginning; certainly not at the end. Once again, this is a fundamental mistake made by the prewrath rapturists.

5.4.7 The wrath of God begins at the seventh seal (Revelation 6:1-17; 8:1-16:21)

5.4.7.1 Prewrath rapturists' explanations

Prewrath rapturists believe that the wrath of God begins at the seventh seal. They often cite Revelation 6:15-17 to support their argument,

"And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains ... hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?" (Revelation 6:15-17)

5.4.7.2 Comments

However, if you read Revelation 6:1-17 carefully, you can see that the context shows us that the wrath of God begins at the first six seals instead of the seventh. The description of "the kings of the earth ... free man try to hid themselves in the caves ... for the great day of their wrath has come" clearly shows us that the wrath of God "has already come" (i.e. in perfect tense) at the first six seals instead of "will come" at the seventh seal (i.e. in future tense). It is clear that the kings and other men has been suffering from the wrath of God since the first seal. If the wrath of God begins at the seventh seal, then the description of "the kings of the earth ... free man try to hid themselves in the caves ... for the great day of their wrath has come" should appear in Revelation 8:2 where the Lamb broke the seventh seal. Therefore, this is a fundamental mistake made by the prewrath rapturists.

Even a casual reading of the first six seals will make clear that the wrath of God begins with the early seals, not with the seventh seal, for examples:

  1. famine - death for one-fourth of the world's population (Revelation 6:5-8); and

  2. earthquakes, stars falling from heaven, the moon becoming like blood, and every mountain and island being moved from their places (Revelation 6:12-14) portray indeed "the great day of their wrath" - the "wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:16-17).

I admit that men can destroy the earth by nuclear weapons but neither men nor Satan can have the supernatural power to cause the famine which is able to kill one-fourth of the world's population, stars falling from heaven and the moon becoming like blood. Once again, this is a fundamental mistake made by the prewrath rapturists.

5.4.8 The raptured church is seen in heaven having been taken out of the great tribulation (compare Revelation 7:9-17 with  Matthew 24:22, 29-31)

5.4.8.1 Prewrath rapturists' explanations

Prewrath rapturists believe that the raptured church is seen in heaven (Revelation 7:9-17) having been taken out of the great tribulation just as Jesus taught would happen at Matthew 24:22, 29-31.

"These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come? ... These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation ... " (Revelation 7:13-14)

5.4.8.2 Comments

This argument is wrong due to the following reasons:

  1. If you read Revelation 7:9-17 carefully, you cannot find any word which indicates that the great multitude is the raptured church. None of the technical words which symbolize the church, such as believer, body of Christ, bride, church, elect, etc, can be found in the text.

  2. If you read Revelation 7:9-17 carefully, you cannot find any word which indicates the return of Christ is happened at that time period. The return of Christ is actually mentioned in Revelation 19:11-16 (compare with Matthew 24:29-31).

  3. If the great multitude is the raptured church, then why the apostle John could not identify them as the church? John should have recognized at least one of the eleven apostles.

  4. The description of "... who come out of the great tribulation ... " clearly shows us that the great multitude is tribulation saints, who come out of the great tribulation, instead of the raptured church.

Once again, prewrath rapturists assume it without any valid Biblical support.

5.4.9 The Day of the LORD will not occur until "the apostacy" takes place (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4)

5.4.9.1 Prewrath rapturists' explanations

Prewrath rapturists believe that the rapture of the church must take place after the mid-point of the week. Their arguments are as follows:

  1. At 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul equates the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him (v. 1) with the Day of the LORD (v. 2). He then indicates that the Day of the LORD will not occur until "the apostacy" takes place and "the man of lawlessness" is revealed (v. 3).

  2. Joel 2:30-31, says that the Day of the LORD will be preceded by the same celestial signs as mentioned in Revelation 6:12 and at Matthew 24:29.

5.4.9.2 Comments

Dr. William H. Baker provides us an excellent treatment in this issue (Pauline Epistles III, Lesson 7, pp. 77-78, Moody Bible Institute, 1995). He opined that 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 provides some clues that favor both the pretribulational and midtribulational rapture positions. His opinion is summarized in the following paragraphs.

These "clues" involve the way in which Paul argues that the Day of the LORD had not begun (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) and what had "unsettled or alarmed" the Thessalonian believers (2 Thessalonians 2:2). What makes the best sense of the passage? Which view stated above did Paul teach? Given any one of them, which serves to make the best sense out of what he is saying in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4? Assuming Paul taught that the church would be removed before the Great Tribulation, what he says in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 makes the best sense. This would favor both the pretribulational and midtribulational rapture positions.

Paul's line of reasoning in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4. It is important to understand the "line of reasoning" or process of thought which lies behind what Paul says about the Day of the LORD. Paul is explaining why the Day of the LORD had not already come (2 Thessalonians 2:1). What he says is related to the coming of the LORD and what he calls the "gathering together," an unmistakable reference to the event (i.e. rapture) described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

What is important to notice is that whatever is meant by the Thessalonians' being "unsettled" and "alarmed," this condition was related to that "gathering together." In other words, whatever Paul had taught them about the rapture was in some way being contradicted by the teaching that the Day of the LORD had already come. Paul's purpose, therefore, is to show that what they had learned about the "gathering together" was just as true as it ever was, because the Day of the LORD had not come.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Paul had taught that the rapture would occur at the end of the Great Tribulation, a view known as "posttribulational." If this is the case, why would they be "unsettled or alarmed"? The arrival of the Day of the LORD would fit in with what they were taught to expect. They might be apprehensive about the suffering of the near future, but they would not be confused about the "gathering together." Their confusion was in connection with the "gathering together" not anything else.

The most logical interpretation of this passage, then, is that Paul had taught that the Day of the LORD would not occur until the "gathering together," or rapture, had first taken place. Thus he had to establish that the Day of the LORD had not occurred in order to prove that the rapture had not yet occurred either. The Thessalonians had been taught by someone (2 Thessalonians 2:2) that this Day of the LORD had "already come," creating a contradiction with Paul's teaching of the rapture as occurring before that time. This had left them "unsettled and alarmed."

One possible sequence of events (the pretribulational raptue position), which is still able to harmonize with all the quoted Scriptures (i.e. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3; Joel 2:30-31; Matthew 24:29; and Revelation 6:12), is given below:

  1. the church is raptured before the Tribulation period, i.e. "our gathering together to Him" before the Tribulation period (2 Thessalonians 2:1c)

  2. the commencement of the Tribulation period, i.e. the apostacy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:3b)

  3. the occurrence of some celestial signs (Joel 2:30-31; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6:12)

  4. the commencement of the "Day of the LORD" is preceded by "the apostacy," the man of lawlessness" and "the celestial signs" (2 Thessalonians 2:3)

  5. the second coming of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:1b)

In addition to the valuable comments made by Dr. William H. Baker, I would like to examine whether or not the argument made by the prewrath rapturists is valid. Prewrath rapturists claim that Paul equates the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him (v. 1) with the Day of the LORD (v. 2). If the "coming of Christ," "our gathering together to Him" and "the Day of the LORD" were the same event, then it would definitely support the prewrath rapture position. Let's examine 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 carefully:

"... brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him ... to the effect that the day of the LORD has come" (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).

When I examine 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 carefully, I think that there is no valid evidence to prove that the prewrath rapture position is the only viable position. My reasons are given in the following paragraphs.

There is no dispute that the event "our gathering together to Him" is the "rapture of the church." It is clear from the text that "the coming of Christ" and "our gathering together to Him" are not the same event. If they were the same event, then Paul would not use the conjunction "and" to connect them. He should use the conjunction, for examples "or," "that is," to indicate that "the coming of Christ" and "our gathering together to Him" are the same event.

If the "the coming of Christ" and "our gathering together to Him" are not the same event, then we have three possibilities:

  1. all of them are separate events; or

  2. "the second coming of Christ" and "the Day of the LORD" are the same event; or

  3. "our gathering together to Him" and "the Day of the LORD" are the same event.

The first option would reject the prewrath rapture position which requires the "the Day of the LORD" and the rapture of the church (i.e. our gathering together to Him) commence at the same time.

The second option would also reject the prewrath rapture position. If "the second coming of Christ" and "the Day of the LORD" are the same event, then the prewrath rapture would happen at "the coming of Christ" (i.e. if the coming of Christ = the Day of the LORD, substitues the term "the coming of Christ" for "the Day of the LORD"). It would favor the posttribulatonal rapture position instead of the prewrath position.

The third option would favor both the midtribulational and the prewrath rapture positions. I agree that "the Day of the LORD" would not occur until "the apostacy" takes place and "the man of lawlessness" is revealed and it will be preceded by the same celestial signs (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3; Joel 2:30-31; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6:12). It is possible that "the apostacy," "the man of lawlessness" and "the celestial signs" may happen at the first half of the seventieth week of Daniel, therefore the midtribulational rapture position is also a viable position. Hence, the prewrath rapture position is not the only viable option.

Once again, prewrath rapturists assume it without any valid Biblical support.

5.5 Arguments For And Against Prewrath Rapture

The arguments for and against the Prewrath Rapture view are illustrated in below table:

Prewrath Rapture
Statement of View The prewrath view of the rapture departs from the customary two-fold division of the seventieth week of Daniel 9:27 and suggests that a threefold division is more valid. They would be:
  1. the first division, the "Beginning of Birth Pangs" (Matthew 24:4-8) or first seal (Revelation 6:1-2) which cover the first half of the seventieth week;

  2. the second division, the "Great Tribulation" (Matthew 24:21) or second to fifth seals (Revelation 6:3-11) which will begin in the middle of the seventieth week and end sometime between the middle and end. The sixth seal warns believers about the coming of the "Day of the LORD" (Revelation 6:12-17), and at this point the rapture will occur; and

  3. the third division, will consist of the "Day of the LORD" which begins with the breaking of the seventh seal (Revelation 8:1) and continues until the end of the seventieth week.

The prewrath rapture position places the rapture of the church at the "Day of the LORD" which occurs after the man of lawlessness is revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:3) and after the tribulation of those days is interrupted and cut short by that "Day of the LORD" return of Jesus (Matthew 24:29).

Churches This view is rarely held by Christian churches. Proponent Robert Van Kampen, Marvin J. Rosenthal
Arguments for Arguments Against
The wrath of God is not the entire seven-year tribulation period. The seven years are divided into the following parts:
  1. The first half is labeled the beginning of sorrows.
  2. The first half of the second half is called the Great Tribulation.
  3. The final approx. 21 months are the day of the LORD.

The first three-quarters as the wrath of man and Satan. Only the final period is a time of God's wrath.

Zephaniah 1:14-18 heaps together a number of terms that characterize the future day of the LORD. The context of Zephaniah 1:14-18 supports the conclusion that all these descriptives apply to the day of the LORD. Such Biblical usage does not allow an interpreter to chop the day of the LORD into compartmental segments as the prewrath rapturists insist. The text plainly says that the day of the LORD is a time of both tribulation and God's wrath.
The first five seals are the wrath of men and Satan instead of God (Revelation 6:1-17). The Lamb is the individual who breaks, and thus initiates, all six of the seals (Revelation 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12) clearly indicating that He (God) is the source of the events or wrath. Revelation 6:16-17 is a summary statement of all the previous seal judgments.
Jesus defines the tribulation begins at the mid-point of Daniel's 70th week (Matthew 24:9-29). Jesus hasn't told us when the tribulation will begin (Matthew 24:36).
The second seal of Revelation 6:3-4 begins at the mid-point of the seventieth week of Daniel 9:27. The duration of the first seal is not mentioned in Revelation 6:1-2.
The seals are chronological except that numbers 3, 4, and 5 are concurrent (Revelation 6:5-11). Jesus broke all the seven seals one by one instead of simultaneously. If the Prewrath rapturists believe that the seals are chronological, then there is no valid reason for them to believe that numbers 3, 4 and 5 are concurrent (i.e. exception).
The sixth seal of Revelation 6:12-17 is the return of Jesus at the Day of the LORD and parallels Matthew 24:29-31 and Joel 2:30-31. You cannot find any word in Revelation 6:12-17 which indicates the return of Christ at that time period. The return of Christ is actually mentioned in Revelation 19:11-16. If the day of the LORD commences with the judgments at the end of the tribulation, then how can it begin with a time of peace and safety (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3)?
The wrath of God begins at the seventh seal (Revelation 6:15-17). The context shows us that the wrath of God begins at the first six seals instead of the seventh. The description of "the great day of their wrath has come" clearly shows us that the wrath of God "has already come" (i.e. in perfect tense) at the first six seals instead of "will come" at the seventh seal (i.e. in future tense).

The raptured church is seen in heaven (Revelation 7:9-17) having been taken out of the great tribulation just as Jesus taught would happen at Matthew 24:22, 29-31.

You cannot find any word in Revelation 7:9-17 which indicates that the great multitude is the raptured church and the return of Christ is happened at that time period. The return of Christ is actually mentioned in Revelation 19:11-16 (compare with Matthew 24:29-31).

If the great multitude is the raptured church, then why the apostle John could not identify them as the church?

The description of "... who come out of the great tribulation ... " clearly shows us that the great multitude is tribulation saints, who come out of the great tribulation.

The rapture of the church must take place after the mid-point of the week. At 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul equates the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him (v. 1) with the Day of the LORD (v. 2). He then indicates that the Day of the LORD will not occur until "the apostacy" takes place and "the man of lawlessness" is revealed (v. 3).

Paul had taught that the Day of the LORD would not occur until the "gathering together," or rapture, had first taken place. Thus he had to establish that the Day of the LORD had not occurred in order to prove that the rapture had not yet occurred either. The Thessalonians had been taught by someone (2 Thessalonians 2:2) that this Day of the LORD had "already come," creating a contradiction with Paul's teaching of the rapture as occurring before that time. This had left them "unsettled and alarmed."

This would favor both the pretribulational and midtribulational rapture positions instead of the prewrath position. 

5.6 Evaluation of Prewrath Rapture

Having seen something of the history of, doctrinal characteristics, Biblical support cited for and arguments for prewrath rapture theory, we must now evaluate it. What are its strengths and its weaknesses?

5.6.1 Positive aspects

The positive aspects of the prewrath rapture view are as follows:

  1. It is a mediate view among posttribulationism, midtribulationism and pretribulationism. As such has commended itself to some who for one reason or another are dissatisfied with both posttribulationism, midtribulationism and pretribulationism.

  2. It is able to claim the promises of comfort and blessing which seem to be denied by the posttribulationists who take the church through the entire period.

  3. It avoids one fundamental problem of the midtribulational rapture position which identifies the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 with the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52.

5.6.2 Negative aspects

The prewrath rapture view is rarely held by Christian churches because of the following four major reasons:

  1. it has four fundamental mistakes in its view;

  2. it has too many unwarranted assumptions; and

  3. one argument raised by the prewrath rapturists seems to be a better argument for the midtribulational and pretribulational rapture views;

  4. many of its essential bases are actually copied from the midtribulational and posttribulational rapture views.

5.6.2.1 The four fundamental mistakes

Prewrath rapturists have made four fundamental mistakes in their interpretation of future events:

  1. They believe that the wrath of God is not the entire seven-year tribulation period and they divide the tribulation period into three parts. They stress that only the final period (i.e. the day of the LORD) is a time of God's wrath. However, Zephaniah 1:14-18 proves that day of the LORD is a time of both tribulation and God's wrath and it does not allow an interpreter to chop the day of the LORD into compartmental segments.

  2. They believe that the first five seals are the wrath of men and Satan instead of God (Revelation 6:1-17). However, the Lamb is the individual who breaks, and thus initiates, all six of the seals (Revelation 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12) clearly indicating that He (God) is the source of the events or wrath. Therefore, Revelation 6:16-17 is a summary statement of all the previous seal judgments.

  3. They believe that the sixth seal of Revelation 6:12-17 is the return of Jesus at the Day of the LORD. However, you cannot find any word in Revelation 6:12-17 which indicates the return of Christ at that time period. The return of Christ is actually mentioned in Revelation 19:11-16. In addition, if the day of the LORD commences with the judgments at the end of the tribulation, then how can it begin with a time of peace and safety (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3)?

  4. They believe that the wrath of God begins at the seventh seal (Revelation 6:15-17). However, the context shows us that the wrath of God begins at the first six seals instead of the seventh. The description of "the great day of their wrath has come" clearly shows us that the wrath of God "has already come" (i.e. in perfect tense) at the first six seals instead of "will come" at the seventh seal (i.e. in future tense).

The above fundamental mistakes show that the prewrath rapture view is built up on wrong interpretation of Scriptures.

The brand new innovation of the three-quarters rapture view of Van Kampen / Rosenthal is a recent demonstration of just how important it is to build one's view of Bible prophecy upon an accurate Biblical analysis of foundational items such as the nature and scope of the Tribulation period. As Van Kampen / Rosenthal demonstrate in their writings, if one errs at this crucial point then it paves the way for faulty conclusions. It should be clear that Van Kampen / Rosenthal must resort to strained characterizations of things like the day of the LORD, the Tribulation, and the scope of God's wrath in order to first avoid pretribulationalism and second to support their new three-quarters rapture view.

5.6.2.2 It has too many unwarranted assumptions

The prewrath rapture position has too many unwarranted assumptions, including:

  1. Jesus defines the tribulation begins at the mid-point of Daniel's 70th week (Matthew 24:9-29).

  2. The second seal of Revelation 6:3-4 begins at the mid-point of the seventieth week of Daniel 9:27.

  3. The seals are chronological except that numbers 3, 4, and 5 are concurrent (Revelation 6:5-11).

  4. The raptured church is seen in heaven (Revelation 7:9-17) having been taken out of the great tribulation.

  5. The rapture of the church must take place after the mid-point of the week (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).

Since the prewrath rapture position is built up on too many unwarranted assumptions, then its validity is highly questionable.

5.6.2.3 One argument raised by the prewrath rapturists seems to be a better argument for the midtribulational and pretribulational rapture views

One argument raised by the prewrath rapturists seems to be a better argument for the midtribulational and pretribulational rapture views. Prewrath rapturists stress that the rapture of the church must take place after the mid-point of the week. They believe that  Paul equates the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him with the Day of the LORD. He then indicates that the Day of the LORD will not occur until "the apostacy" takes place and "the man of lawlessness" is revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3). However, when the context of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 is examined carefully, the passage actually favors both the midtribulational and pretribulational rapture positions instead of the prewrath position. 

5.6.2.4 Many essential bases are copied from the midtribulational and posttribulational rapture views

The prewrath rapture view is not welcome by Bible students because many of its essential bases are actually copied from the midtribulational and posttribulational rapture views, for examples:

  1. the denial of imminence return of Christ;

  2. the promise of tribulation to the Church;

  3. a distinction between tribulation and wrath;

  4. the programs for Israel and the Church overlap; and

  5. the identity of the "elect" of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:22) is church age saints.

We may have the impression that the prewrath rapture view is merely a variation of (with minor modifications) the midtribulational and posttribulational rapture views. It also shares some of the weaknesses of both the midtribulational and posttribulational rapture views.

5.6.3 Conclusion

I conclude that the prewrath rapture position is a poor eschatological system and therefore it must be rejected as false. Since it is a new and poor system announced in recent years, it is rarely accepted by Christians at the present moment.

 

6. A SURVEY OF POSTTRIBULATIONAL RAPTURE

The survey of posttribulational rapture view is divided into the following nine sections:

  1. definition of posttribulational rapture;

  2. history of posttribulational rapture;

  3. varieties of posttribulational rapture;

  4. doctrinal characteristics of posttribulational rapture;

  5. Biblical support cited for posttribulational rapture;

  6. unresolved problems of posttribulational rapture;

  7. posttribulation arguments in which posttribulationists themselves disagree substantially;

  8. arguments for and against posttribulational rapture; and

  9. evaluation of posttribulational rapture.

6.1 Definition of Posttribulational Rapture

Posttribulationism teaches that the rapture and the second coming of Christ are facets of a single event which will occur at the end of the seven-year Tribulation of Daniel's seventieth week. The church will go through the Tribulation, enduring it by the grace and strength of God. When Christ comes, the saints who have died in Christ will be resurrected. They, together with the saints who are alive, will be caught up into the clouds to meet the Lord who has come into the air on His way from heaven to earth, and then return to earth to reign with Him in the millennial kingdom. See below chart for illustration:

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6.2 History of Posttribulational Rapture

6.2.1 From 1st to 3rd centuries

Some early church fathers who deal with the subject expect the Church to suffer at the hands of Antichrist. God would purify the Church through suffering, and Christ would save her by His return at the end of the Tribulation when He would destroy Antichrist, deliver His Church, and bring the world to an end and inaugurate His millennial kingdom. The prevailing view is a posttribulation premillennialism. Some examples of the early church fathers are as follows:

  1. Justin Martyr (A.D. 100 - 165), one of the earliest fathers who was clearly premillennial, envisioned believers suffering great persecution and torment prior to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. His reference to Antichrist, though brief, is sufficient to indicate that Justin believed that those upon whom this evil one would inflict his cruelty included the church. Justin believed that the sufferings Antichrist would inflict upon believers would not be much more severe than what Christians were already suffering for their faith. In a sense, then, the great tribulation would be only an extension and intensification of what was already present. Justin himself became a martyr for his commitment to Christ.

  2. Tertullian (A.D. 160 - 220) was a premillennialist, clearly anticipating the establishment of a kingdom of Christ upon the earth. He did not believe that the end could come at any time; it would be preceded and announced by signs of warning. He urged his readers to pray for deliverance from the things to come. Tertullian's hope and prayers were not for the Lord to come and remove him from the tribulation, but for him to stand before the Son of man after a series of cosmic signs have appeared and "all of these things have taken place."

  3. Lactantius (A.D. 250 - 320) discussed the last times in some detail. Lactantius followed the historical interpretation, seeing human history as spanning six thousand years and being followed by an other thousand years, the millennium. He believed that of the six thousand years, all but two hundred fifty had transpired. During the remaining years, some major changes would have to take place. The Roman Empire must fall and government return to Asia, for the East must again rule the entire world. He vividly described the horrible conditions that will prevail in the last times. So severe will the tribulation be that it will destroy nine-tenths of the human race. The church as well as the world will suffer these evils of the end times. Antichrist will come and persecute the righteous during the last 3 years. A special sign will herald the coming of Christ: "There shall suddenly fall from heaven a sword, that the righteous may know that the leader of the sacred warfare is about to descend." All of these considerations point to Lactantius being a posttribulationist.

  4. Hippolytus (A.D. 170 - 236), bishop of Rome in the first part of the third century, wrote a treatise on the Antichrist. He interpreted Revelation 12 as teaching that the adversary will persecute the church. He definitely identified the "saints" in Revelation 12 as the church. Jesus Christ will come from heaven only after the abomination of desolation is set up and all of the accompanying events transpire.

6.2.2 From Middle Ages to Reformation

St. Augustine's eschatological position became increasingly dominant during the Middle Ages and premillennialism went into virtual eclipse. Some segments of the Reformation were premillennial in orientation, and most of them were of the posttribulational variety. Some of these sects experienced real opposition and even persecution - much of it religious in source and nature - so it is not surprising that these sects expected the church to remain on earth during the great tribulation.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a large number of significant Bible scholars in Great Britain and America were premillennialists, among them Isaac Newton, Charles Wesley, Augustus Toplady, Richard C. Trench, Edward Bickersteth, Horatius Bonar, H.G. Guinness, C.J. Ellicott, Henry Alford, Joseph A. Seiss, and J.H. Raven. With the exception of the dispensationalist Plymouth Brethren, almost all were posttribulationists.

6.2.3 From 19th century to now

With the influence of dispensationalism spreading in conservative and fundamentalist circles, a virtual polarization occurred following World War I: one must be either amillennial or pretribulational. To be a premillennialist - a real premillennialist - was to be pretribulational as well, in the minds of many dispensationalists. Immediately following World War II, however, a movement arose popularly known as new evangelicalism, challenging many features of the dispensationalist-fundamentalist alliance.

Though a number of writers have held and do hold this view throughout church history, I mention four works which have been especially influential, they are as follows:

  1. The Approaching Advent of Christ, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1975) by Alexander Reese;

  2. The Church and the Tribulation, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973) by Robert H. Gundry;

  3. The Imminent Appearing of Christ, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962) by J. Barton Payne; and

  4. The Blessed Hope, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956) by George E. Ladd.

Posttribulationism is the ordinary view of the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic and it is followed by some Protestant conservatives as well as modern liberals. Posttribulationism, as far as the church as a whole is concerned, is the majority view.

6.3 Varieties of Posttribulational Rapture

While posttribulationism in itself is a simple concept, so many variations are found within the general teaching that it is difficult to affirm a norm. At least four differing schools of thought prevail among posttribulationists in regard to their interpretation of the Tribulation. These have been called:

  1. classic posttribulationism;

  2. semiclassic posttribulationism;

  3. futuristic posttribulationism; and

  4. dispensational posttribulationism.

Classic and semiclassic posttribulationism tend to spiritualize the Tribulation. Classic posttribulationism affirms that the Tribulation has already passed. Semiclassic posttribulationism holds that the Tribulation is only partially fulfilled. In futuristic posttributationism and dispensational posttribulationism, however, a more specific view of the Tribulation is advanced, and at least a seven-year period intervenes between the present and the fulfillment of the rapture and the second coming of Christ.

All forms of posttribulationism, however, unite in holding that the rapture occurs at the end of the Tribulation. This is, however, partially contradicted by the view of some futuristic and some dispensational posttribulationists that certain judgments follow the rapture but actually precede the formal inauguration of the millennial kingdom. Because posttribulationists disagree among themselves on the nature of the fulfillment of the Tribulation, confusion reigns in their interpretation of how the rapture fits into the prophetic program. Almost all degrees of spiritualization, as opposed to literal interpretation, prevail in posttribulationism today. Illustrations are not hard to find.

On one point all posttribulationists agree. If there is a future time of trouble just prior to the Second Advent, the church will need to pass through the period before the second advent of Christ brings deliverance. Pretribulationists, on the other hand, affirm that the church will be translated before that final time of trial.

As stated earlier, posttribulationism is divided into four major viewpoints. The similarities and differences among them are summarized in below table:

Doctrinal Characteristics Classic Posttribulationism Semi-classic Posttribulationism Futuristic Posttribulationism Dispensational Posttribulationism
Interpretation Generally nonliteral interpretation of prophecies. Generally nonliteral interpretation of prophecies. Selective nonliteral interpretation of prophecies. Selective nonliteral interpretation of prophecies.
Distinction Between Israel and Church No distinction between Israel and the Church. The Church is new / spiritual Israel. No distinction between Israel and the Church. The Church is new / spiritual Israel. No distinction between Israel and the Church. The Church is new / spiritual Israel. Distinctions between Israel and the Church.
Nature of the Great Tribulation The prophecies of the Tribulation have already been fulfilled or are in process of being fulfilled, therefore the duration of the Tribulation is uncertain. Different views:
  1. The prophecies of the Tribulation are in process of being fulfilled, therefore the duration of the Tribulation is uncertain.
  2. A specific future seven-year period of Tribulation.
A specific future seven-year period of Tribulation. A specific future seven-year period of Tribulation.
Imminence Return of Christ The rapture is imminent and it can occur at any time. There are unfulfilled prophecies that precede the second coming of Christ, therefore the rapture cannot be imminent. There are unfulfilled prophecies that precede the second coming of Christ, therefore the rapture cannot be imminent. There are unfulfilled prophecies that precede the second coming of Christ, therefore the rapture cannot be imminent.
Rapture of the Church Rapture is an event occurring at the end of Armageddon. Rapture is an event occurring at the end of Armageddon. Rapture is an event occurring at the end of Armageddon. Rapture is an event occurring just before Armageddon.
Second Coming of Christ Rapture and Second Coming are a single event. Rapture and Second Coming are a single event. Rapture and Second Coming are a single event. Rapture occurs before Armageddon while the Second Coming occurs at the end of Armageddon.
Day of the LORD The timing and duration of the Day of the LORD are uncertain. The timing and duration of the Day of the LORD are uncertain. The timing and duration of the Day of the LORD are uncertain. The Day of the LORD will begin at Armageddon at the end of the Great Tribulation.
Millennium There will be a literal Millennium. The duration of the Millennium is uncertain. The duration of the Millennium is uncertain. The duration of the Millennium is uncertain.
Judgment of Living Gentiles The judgment of living Gentiles follows the rapture but actually precede the formal inauguration of the millennial kingdom. The judgment of living Gentiles follows the rapture but actually precede the formal inauguration of the millennial kingdom. The judgment of living Gentiles follows the rapture but actually precede the formal inauguration of the millennial kingdom. The judgment of living Gentiles follows the millennial kingdom.
Great White Throne Judgment Great White Throne judgment happens at the end of the Millennium. Great White Throne judgment happens at the end of the Millennium. Great White Throne judgment happens at the end of the Millennium. The judgments of living Gentiles and Great White Throne are the same single event occurring at the end of the Millennium.
Proponent J. Barton Payne Alexander Reese George E. Ladd Robert H. Gundry

6.4 Doctrinal Characteristics of Posttribulational Rapture

6.4.1 Similarities among posttribulational, midtribulational and prewrath rapture views

The posttribulational rapture view is very similar to the midtribulational and prewrath rapture views in the following aspects:

  1. the denial of imminence return of Christ;

  2. the promise of tribulation to the Church;

  3. a distinction between tribulation and wrath; and

  4. the identity of the "elect" of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:22) is church age saints.

My comments to above doctrinal characteristics have already been given in the previous Section 4 of this Chapter.

6.4.2 Differences among posttribulational, midtribulational and prewrath rapture views

On the other hand, the posttribulational view is quite different from the midtribulational and prewrath views in the following aspects:

  1. the rapture will occur at the end of the Tribulation period instead of middle or the final quarter (approx. 21 months);

  2. the Church will be preserved through the whole Tribulation period;

  3. the rapture and second coming of Christ are a single event instead of two separate events;

  4. the principle of interpretation is mainly nonliteral instead of literal; and

  5. the Church is new / spiritual Israel instead of a sharp distinction between the Church and Israel.

6.4.2.1 The rapture will occur at the end of the Tribulation period

The posttribulationist frequently distinguishes between the Tribulation and the wrath of God. The seven years Tribulation period, which is in part inflicted by non-Christians and the Devil, will be experienced by all who are alive and on earth at the time.

6.4.2.2 The Church will be preserved through the whole Tribulation period

The major contention of posttribulationism is that the church will be present in the Tribulation. Tribulation is not God's wrath against the sinners, but the wrath of Satan, Antichrist and the wicked against the saints. The wrath of God is concentrated toward the end of the Tribulation period and at the Battle of Armageddon. The church will be spared from the wrath of God but not from the Tribulation. The wrath of God will overlap with the Tribulation, but it is intended only for the wicked; the saints of God will be spared from it. Therefore, the Church will be preserved through the whole period, enduring it by the grace and strength of God.

6.4.2.3 The rapture and second coming of Christ are a single event

At the end of the Tribulation, Christ will come the second time. Implicit in this belief is the concept that the return of the Lord Jesus will be a unitary event. It will not have two phases - a coming for and a coming with the Church. All passages that refer to a coming of the Lord refer to this single event. This coming will conclude the period of Great Tribulation, establish the kingdom of God on earth, and usher in the millennial period. When Christ comes, the saints who have died will be resurrected. They, together with the saints who are alive, will be caught up to meet the Lord and then return to earth to reign with Him.

For the posttribulationist, then, there are only two resurrections: one of all the righteous dead at the beginning of the millennium, and one of all the rest (the unrighteous) at the end of the millennium. Because there is no interlude between the coming for the Church and the coming with the Church, no saints die during the interlude and there is no need for another resurrection of the righteous.

6.4.2.4 The principle of interpretation is mainly nonliteral

The posttribulationist is generally less literal in his approach to the last things than is the pretribulationist. This shows itself in several ways. The posttribulationist is not sure that the Tribulation will be precisely seven calendar years. The reference in Daniel is to seventy "sevens," which have been understood by many to be weeks, and weeks of years, rather than days. Passages that describe the tribulation itself do not specify its length. The posttribulationist is also unsure about the length of the millennium. What the posttribulationist is certain about is that for an extended period of time the Lord will personally rule upon the earth.

Further, the posttribulationist does not find in Scripture quite the detailed picture of the millennium that the pretribulationist does. The latter sees many Old Testament prophetic passages being fulfilled in the millennium; the posttribulationist does not see the millennium as a great repository of prophetic fulfillment.

The ethos of posttribulationism is therefore quite different from that of pretribulationism, being in many ways more like that of amilennialism. The millennium, in other words, plays a much less crucial role in their theology.

6.4.2.5 The Church is new / spiritual Israel

The references to the elect who are present in the midst of the Tribulation are, the posttribulationist believes, the Church, not elect Jews. This points up another feature of the theology of most posttribulationists: there is no sharp distinction between Israel and the Church. While Israel will probably have a special place in the last times, it will be not because God reverts to dealing with Israel as in older times, but because He will incorporate an unusually large number of Jews into the Church. For example, the 144,000 of Revelation 7:1-8 is referring not to literal Israel but to spiritual Israel (i.e. the Church).

The church has replaced national Israel as God's covenant people, according to posttribulationism Paul stated in Galatians 3 that those who have the faith of Abraham, rather than the blood of Abraham, are the true sons of Abraham. Rather than being totally unforeseen in Old Testament prophecies, as some pretribulationists claim, the Church fulfills many of those prophecies and promises. Some posttribulationists understand the Church to include all believers at all times and places. To restrict "the elect" in the Tribulation to certain literal or national Jews is therefore inconceivable.

6.5 Biblical Support Cited for Posttribulational Rapture

Passages commonly cited by both the posttribulationists and midtribulationists are as follows:

  1. The seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 corresponds to the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 for the church.

  2. The "elect" in the Olivet discourse are church saints instead of Jewish tribulation saints (Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:20).

  3. The church was promised tribulation (Matthew 24:9-11; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 23:27-31; John 15:18-19; 16:1-2, 33; Acts 8:1-3; 11:19; 14:22; Romans 12:12).

  4. The wrath of God is not the entire seven-year tribulation period.

My comments to the above passages have already been given in the above Section 4 of this Chapter. In this Section 6.5, I will deal with the following unique arguments for the posttribulational rapture position:

  1. The vocabulary for the Second Coming of Christ.

  2. The Church is not said to be in heaven but on earth during the Tribulation according to Revelation 4-18.

  3. Second Thessalonians 1:6-10 is best interpreted as teaching posttribulationism.

  4. The church will be preserved through the whole Tribulation period (Revelation 3:10).

  5. The day of the LORD does not begin until Armageddon.

  6. The rapture and second coming of Christ are a single event instead of two separate events (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 19:11-20:4).

6.5.1 The vocabulary for the Second Coming of Christ

6.5.1.1 Posttribulationists' explanations

Briefly stated the argument is this. Since New Testament writers use several words, for examples: parousia, apokalupsis epiphaneia, to describe the Second Coming of Christ, if the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ are different events separated by seven years, why did they not reserve one word for the Rapture and another for the Second Coming instead of seeming to use them interchangeably?

For example, parousia (Greek transliteration), meaning "coming," "arrival," or "presence," is used in relation to the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:15. It also describes the Second Coming of Christ in Matthew 24:27. Two different conclusions are possible from this evidence:

  1. Parousia describes the same, single event, meaning that the rapture and the Second Coming are a single event at the end of the Tribulation. Or

  2. Parousia describes two separate events, both characterized by the presence of the Lord Jesus, but events that will not happen at the same time.

Either conclusion is valid. Posttribulationists conclude that the rapture and the Second Coming of Christ are the same single event.

6.5.1.2 Comments

Consider an illustration. Suppose proud grandparents should say to their friends. ''We are looking torward to enjoying the presence (parousia) of our grandchildren next week"; then later in the conversation add, "Yes, we expect our grandchildren to be present at our golden wedding celebration.'' If you heard those statements you could draw one of two conclusions:

  1. The grandchildren are coming next week for the golden wedding anniversary. In other words, the grandparents were speaking of the coming and the anniversary as a single event, occurring at the same time. Or

  2. The grandchildren will be making two trips to see their grandparents - one next week (perhaps as part of their vacation) and another later to help celebrate the golden wedding anniversary.

Likewise, since the Lord's presence (parousia) will characterize both the rapture and the Second Coming, the word itself does not indicate whether these are a single event or separate events. In other words, the vocabulary used does not necessarily prove either post- or pre-tribulationism.

A second word used for the Lord's coming is apokalupsis (Greek transliteration), meaning "revelation." It occurs in rapture passages like 1 Corinthians 1:7 and 1 Peter 1:7; 4:13, because when Christ comes for the church He will reveal Himself to her. At His coming we shall see Him as He is. The word also appears in passages that describe His coming to the earth at the close of the Tribulation (2 Thessalonians 1:7), because that event also will reveal Christ to the world.

Two conclusions are possible:

  1. The rapture and the Second Coming are the same single event. Since both are called a revelation of Christ, they must occur at the same time and be part of the same event at the end of the Tribulation. or

  2. Both the rapture and the Second Coming will reveal Christ, but not at the same time or under the same circumstances. Therefore, the rapture and the Second Coming can be separated as pretribulationism teaches.

Notice that the first conclusion used the word revelation as a cataloging word; that is, it catalogs whatever event is referred to in all the passages where the word is used as the same, single event. The second conclusion sees the word revelation as a characterizing word; that is, it is used to characterize different events in the same way, as a revelation.

The third principal word for the Second Coming is epiphaneia (Greek transliteration), meaning "manifestation." At the Second Coming, Christ will destroy Antichrist by the sheer manifestation of His coming (2 Thessalonians 2:8). The word is also used in reference to the hope of the believer when he will see the Lord (2 Timothy 4:8; Titus 2:13). Are we to conclude that the word is cataloging those references to refer them to the same single event? Or can we conclude that it is characterizing two different events as both involving a manifestation of Christ but not occurring at the same time? The answer is either (but not both!).

Clearly, then, the vocabulary does not prove either a pre- or post-tribulational rapture of the church.

Why, then, does this argument continue to be used? Simply because posttribulationists continue to believe that it is a valid support for their view, even claiming that it "substantiates" their view (Ladd, The Blessed Hope, p. 70). But the posttribulationist's underlying assumption in continuing to use this argument is that these words catalog rather than characterize. To be sure, vocabulary might do that; but to be equally sure, it might not.

Take the word "motor." My automobile has a motor. My wife's washing machine has a motor. Our furnace fan has a motor. My camera has a motor that automatically advances the film. Is the term ''motor'' a characterizing feature of these rather diverse machines? Or is it a means of cataloging them that would force us to conclude that everything that has a motor is the same thing? The answer is obvious.

Do presence, revelation, and manifestation characterize different events, or catalog the same event? The pretribulationists say the former; the posttribulationists conclude the latter.

It is obvious that the vocabulary used in the New Testament does not seem to prove either pre- or post-tribulationism.

6.5.2 The Church is not said to be in heaven but on earth during the Tribulation according to Revelation 4-18

6.5.2.1 Posttribulationists' explanations

Pretribulationists point out that though the word ''church'' occurs nineteen times in Revelation 1-3 and once in chapter 22, it does not appear even once in chapters 4-18 which describe the Tribulation period. Therefore, they conclude, the church is not on earth during the Tribulation hut in heaven.

In response, posttribulationists say the church (that is, the last generation of the church) will be on earth during the Tribulation according to Revelation 4-18 for these reasons:

  1. Nowhere in these chapters is the church said to be in heaven, something we would expect the text to say if it were true.

  2. The occurrence of the word "saints" in Revelation 13:7, 10; 16:6; 17:6; and 18:24 shows that the church is in fact on the earth during the Tribulation.

  3. Other descriptions of believers in the Tribulation, for examples: "die in the Lord" (Revelation 14:13); "who keep the commandments of God" (Revelation 12:17; 14:12; cf. 1:9); "elect" (Matthew 24:22, 24, and 31), aptly apply to Church Age believers indicating that Tribulation believers will be the last generation of Church Age believers and that they will go through the Tribulation.

6.5.2.2 Comments

Let's examine and critique each of these arguments in more detail.

Is the church in heaven during the Tribulation? To this question pretribulationists reply along the following two lines:

  1. Most identify the twenty-four elders as representing the church, and since they are seen in heaven in Revelation 4:4 and 5:8-10, the church is mentioned as in heaven. The literal interpretation of the Greek word presbyterous (English, elders) is more easily applied to men. Elders are a representative group in local churches (Acts 14:23; 15:6; 20:17; 21:18). They are seen to be resurrected, in heaven, judged, rewarded, enthroned before the 7-years tribulation period. Of all groups of the redeemed, including the Gentiles and Jews during the tribulation period, only the church is promised by the Lord Jesus Christ to have co-enthronement (Revelation 3:21). The crown was made of gold, indicating that the elders had been rewarded for victory accomplished. According to this reason, it eliminates the possibility of identifying the twenty four elders as angels, as at this point angels have not been judged and rewarded since their judgment seems to come later (Revelation 20:7-10).

  2. The background of Hebrew marriage customs argues for the church's already being in heaven before the coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation. Jewish marriage included a number of steps: first, betrothal (which involved the prospective groom traveling from his father's house to the home of the prospective bride, paying the purchase price, and thus establishing the marriage covenant); second, the groom returning to his father's house and remaining separate from his bride for twelve months during which time he prepared the living accommodations for his wife in his father's house; third, the groom's coming for his bride at a time not known exactly to her; fourth, his return with her to the groom's father's house to consummate the marriage and to celebrate the wedding feast for the next seven days (during which the bride remained closeted in her bridal chamber). In Revelation 19:7-9 the wedding feast is announced, which, if the analogy of the Hebrew marriage customs means anything, assumes that the wedding has previously taken place in the father's house. Today the church is described as a virgin waiting for her bridegroom's coming (2 Corinthians 11:2); in Revelation 21 she is designated as the wife of the Lamb, indicating that previously she has been taken to the groom's father's house. Pretribulationists say that this requires an interval of time between the rapture and the Second Coming. Granted, it does not say seven years' time, but it certainly argues against posttribulationism, which has no time between the rapture and Second Coming.

Does the word "saints" refer to Church Age saints?

The question is: Are the saints of this Church Age distinct from saints of the Tribulation period (pretribulationism) or not (posttribulationism)? Actually the appearance of the word "saints" in chapters 4-18 does not prove anything until you know what saints they are. For examples:

  1. There were saints (godly ones) in the Old Testament (Psalm 85:8).

  2. There are saints today (1 Corinthians 1:2).

  3. There will be saints in the Tribulation years (Revelation 13:7).

It is obvious that the uses of the word "saints" will not answer the question.

Do other phrases identify Tribulation believers with Church Age saints to indicate the church will go through the Tribulation?

Such phrases include "die in the Lord" (Revelation 14:13; cf. "dead in Christ" of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18), "who keep the commandments of God" (Revelation 12:17; 14:12; cf. 1:9). To use these similarities to prove that the church will he present in the Tribulation requires that similarity means sameness (a major assumption). On the other hand, one would expect distinct groups of saints (i.e., church saints and Tribulation saints) to be described in similar ways since they are all saints.

The same holds true for the use of the word "elect" or "chosen." Some have concluded that since the elect are mentioned as being in the Tribulation in Matthew 24:22, 24, and 31, the church will go through the Tribulation. But what elect people are meant?

  1. The heathen king Cyrus was called God's anointed (Isaiah 45:1).

  2. Israel was called God's chosen one (Isaiah 45:4) even though the nation was a mixture of redeemed and unredeemed people.

  3. Christ is also God's chosen One (Psalm 2:2; Isaiah 42:1).

  4. So are some angels (1 Timothy 5:21).

  5. So is the church (Colossians 3:12).

All elect are not the same, and the chosen ones of the Tribulation days do not have to be the same as the elect of the church simply because the same term is used of both groups.

6.5.3 Second Thessalonians 1:6-10 is best interpreted as teaching posttribulationism

6.5.3.1 Posttribulationists' explanations

"For after all it is only just for God to repay with afflication those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribulation to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed - for our testimony to you was believed" (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

Posttribulationists understand this passage to say that "Paul places the release of Christians from persecution at the posttribulational return of Christ to judge unbelievers" (Robert Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation, p. 113). In other words, since release comes at the Second Coming and release is connected with the rapture, the rapture must be at the same time as the Second Coming of Christ.

6.5.3.2 Comments

Let us examine the posttribulationist's answers to three questions about this passage:

  1. What is the subject of Paul's discussion in these verses? Release for Christians from persecution.

  2. When will this release occur? At the posttribulational return of Christ.

  3. What group of people will experience this release? Those Christians who survive the Tribulation and are alive at the posttribulational rapture.

First of all, observe the posttribulational answer to question 3. The passage only addresses the release of Christians living at the conclusion of the Tribulation. If that is true, why does Paul seemingly ignore that Thessalonians, who had suffered persecution and who had already died? Death was the means of release for them. Indeed, why does he not mention that avenue of release, which some of those to whom he was writing might yet experience? To be sure, the rapture of the living will bring release from persecution, but only a relatively small percentage of believers will ever experience that means of release, since most will have died prior to the rapture. If release is Paul's chief concern here, and if that release will come at the posttribulational rapture, then Paul is offering that hope of release to a very small group of believers.

Viewing this passage from a posttribulational slant, one must conclude that the release for Christians is connected with flaming judgment on unbelievers. It is not described in terms of meeting the Lord Jesus and forever being with Him, nor in terms of a resurrection for those who have died, as other rapture passages describe it. Obviously if one's enemies are punished, then there will be release from their persecution. But the point is this: where is the rapture described in this passage at all? The judgmental aspect of the Second Coming is given the prominence, and though, according to posttribulationism, the rapture is the initial part of the Second Coming, that initial part is entirely absent from this discussion.

If Paul so clearly believed in a posttribulational rapture, then why did he not at least mention that rapture in passing since it is the moment of rapture that brings release, not the following judgment on the enemies of God. Christians who live through the Tribulation (if posttribulationism be correct) will be released from persecution the instant they are raptured, whether or not Christ judges their enemies at that same time.

Notice some of the words in this passage that emphasize God's judging of His enemies:

  1. just (v. 6);

  2. repay (v. 6);

  3. affliction (v. 6);

  4. flaming fire (v. 7); and

  5. retribution (v. 8).

This vocabulary is strangely absent from the rapture passages of John 14:1-3, 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Actually the rapture can be found in this passage only if one's eschatological scheme superimposes it there. Exegesis does not produce the rapture from this passage.

Why is the posttribulationists' use of this passage so confused? Simply because they have answered the first question wrongly. That question was, What is the subject of Paul's discussion here? And the answer is not, as posttribulationists say, the release of Christians from persecution.

The subject of the passage is not release but vindication. Paul does not focus on when or how the persecuted Thessalonians will be relieved of persecution; rather, he assures them that God will judge His enemies and thereby vindicate those who have suffered.

One of the most spectacular displays of God's judging will occur at the second coming of Christ when the armies of the world arrayed at Armageddon are defeated by Him and when all living people will have to appear before Him (Ezekiel 20:33-44; Matthew 25:31-46). It is on those people living at that time that vengeance will fall. Dead rejectors of Christ will not be judged until after the Millennium at the Great White Throne. Looking back, we know for a fact that none of the unsaved who actually persecuted the Thessalonians will he judged at the Second Coming but at the Great White Throne.

Since vindication is the subject, that explains why Paul did not mention that rapture in this passage, for the rapture is not a time of vindication of God's righteousness by judging the world. It is a time of release, of hope, of meeting the Lord. Some Thessalonians had found release through death even before Paul wrote. Eventually all of them found it that way. Since the first century, many persecuted Christians have found the same release through death. Some will find it at the pretribulational rapture. But only those believers living at the end of the Tribulation will find it then, not because a rapture takes place then, but because they sucessfully pass the judgments and see their enemies condemned.

But if vindication at the Second Coming falls on a relatively small group of Christ's enemies (think, by comparison, of the many who have opposed Him through the centuries), why should this particular time of vindication be given such prominence? Simply because the end of the Tribulation brings to a climax the long rebellion of mankind, a rebellion that will be halted by the personal intervention of the Lord. Not all of the Lord's enemies will be judged then but those who will be are the epitome of rebellion. Awful as the persecution of the Thessalonians may have been, horrible as subsequent persecutions of believers have been and are, those in the past or present do not compare with that which will transpire during the Tribulation period.

Think of an analogy. Antichrists were present in the first century (1 John 2:18). Antichrists have come and gone throughout the centuries. But one great Antichrist is yet to appear on the scene of history, and he will be the epitome of opposition to God. Other antichrists are now in hades awaiting the judgment at the end of the Millennium that will cast them into the lake of fire forever. But the coming great Antichrist will be judged at the Second Coming, and when he is, God will be vindicated over all antichrists, though their particular judgment will occur much later.

All persecutors of believers will be judged later, as well. The judgment of those living at the Second Coming will vindicate God's righteousness with respect to them and to all persecutors who died before them.

If death or the rapture brings release from personal persecution, why should believers be concerned with this future vindication? Because the case against persecutors cannot be closed until Christ is vindicated and righteousness prevails. Persecution may cease when death occurs, but the case against the persecutors is not closed until they are judged. And believers are concerned not only about relief but about vindication.

Notice a Biblical example of that principle. Hear the Tribulation martyrs in heaven, before the end of the Tribulation, crying out to God for vindication (Revelation 6:9-11). "When will You settle the score against those who killed us?" they ask. Of course, they have already obtained release through physical death and are in heaven; yet they are concerned about vindication. And the Lord replies that they will have to wait a little longer for that vindication until others are also martyred on earth.

In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9 Paul extended the hope and assurance of escape from wrath by means of a pretribularional rapture. In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 he assured his readers that the enemies of the Lord will be judged.

In summary, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 does not teach that release from persecution will necessarily occur at the same time as the Second Coming of Christ. It does not picture the rapture at all but focuses on the judgment on the wicked and the vindication of Christ that will occur at the Second Coming. That vindication gives assurance to saints of all ages that righteousness will prevail.

6.5.4 The church will be preserved through the whole Tribulation period (Revelation 3:10)

A passage that has been the object of a great deal of controversy is Revelation 3:10:

"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" (Revelation 3:10).

The promise is based on keeping the word of His patience, a reference to all believers (see similar Johannine designations in John 8:51; 14:23-24; and 1 John 2:3). It was made to all the churches, not just the one in Philadelphia in the first century (note Revelation 3:13 and the similar close to each of the letters to these representative churches). It relates to the coming hour of testing on the earth; that is, to the tribulations prophesied later on in the Revelation. It states that believers will be kept from that hour (tereso ek tes horas).

Both posttribulationists and pretribulationists agree that it promises protection to the church. The question that divides us has to do with the nature of that protection. The church will be in the Tribulation but protected either:

  1. through physical removal from this time (i.e. rapture); or

  2. through divine safekeeping (i.e. internal preservation) during the period of distress.

6.5.4.1 Posttribulationists' explanations

Posttribulationists believe that the promised protection is through divine preservation within the Tribulation period due to the following reasons:

  1. The word "from," which is a translation of the Greek preposition ek, means "out from within" instead of simply "from" in the other New Testament passage, e.g. John 17:15. Posttribulationists understand the phrase to mean "I will guard" or "I will preserve"; that is, believers will be guarded or preserved throughout the seven-year Tribulation period and then emerge from it at the second coming of Christ.

  2. God makes a distinction between unbelievers and believers. His wrath falls on the unbeliever. Sustaining grace through hardships and trials is always available even today for the believer who practices the means of grace.

  3. The analogy to the Genesis flood may suggest that just as Noah was saved by being preserved through the flood, so believers at the Tribulation period will be preserved through it (Genesis 7:1-8:19).

6.5.4.2 Disagreement among posttribulationists on the interpretation of Revelation 3:10

Posttribulationists disagree among themselves on the interpretation of Revelation 3:10. They teach unclearly the meaning of the promise of Revelation 3:10:

  1. Some seem to say that it means protection (for some believers who escape martyrdom throughout the Tribulation) and then Rapture at the end.

  2. Some seem to say that it means protection from the last crisis (which includes Armageddon and the ''lull'' of peace and safety that supposedly precedes it) by Rapture just before that last crisis.

  3. Some seem to say that it means the church will live through Armageddon, be guarded during that time, and emerge (all believers unhurt?) in the Rapture-Second Coming. One thing is clear to posttribulationists: it cannot mean deliverance before the Tribulation begins.

6.5.4.3 Comments

Let's examine and critique each of these arguments in more detail.

  1. The issue is whether the church is kept through the tribulation or kept from this period. The fact is that most recognized translations such as the King James Version, the New American Standard, the Williams translation, the Revised Standard Version, the New English Bible and the New International Version all translate ek by the word "from." The reason for this is obvious. The preposition is joined to a verb tereo meaning "to protect" or "to keep." While the preposition ek may mean "out from within" in certain contexts, when coupled with the word "keep," it has the meaning of "from" rather than "out from within" as illustrated in all the English translations. In John 17:15, Where Christ prayed, "My prayer is not that you take (airo) them out of (ek) the world but that you protect (tereo) from (ek) the evil one." When used with the word "take" airo, the preposition ek means "out from within," but when used with the word "protect" or "keep" (tereo), the preposition ek is rightly translated "from." The alternatives before John as he wrote Revelation 3:10 are obvious. If he wanted to say that the church was kept through the Tribulation, he could have used the preposition dia. If he mean that the church was taken through the Tribulation, he could have used the same word for "take" (airo) that is found in John 17:15. The fact that he did not use the verb for "take" and did not use the preposition dia (through) demonstrates that the intended meaning was "to keep from completely."

  2. No doubt, there will be special judgments that will fall only on the unsaved (see Revelation 9). On the other hand, many of the judgments by their very nature cannot distinguish saved from unsaved. The judgments of famine and the sword, or earthquake and stars falling from heaven, war and pestilence, are not by their nature suitable for discriminatory judgment. They would fall on just and unjust alike. A careful evaluation of the nature of the catastrophes that occur in Tribulation period indicate they could not all be brought about by Satan himself. Revelation 6:8 indicates that a fourth part of the earth perishes. These people do not die because of Satan but because of divine judgments in the form of war, pestilence and famine. If the church is going through the Great Tribulation, it will go through the time of wrath designed not to purge the church but to deal with the Christ-rejecting world. The problem is that the catastrophes, as indicated in the second and third seals of Revelation 6, do not single out unsaved people only. The prospect of a church's going triumphantly through the Great Tribulation relatively untouched is not supported in the prophecies of the book of Revelation, as indicated by the martyrs in Revelation 6:9-11, 7:9-17 and 13:7-11. The only way one could escape all that is about to happen would be to escape the period in which they occurred by being in a different place. 

  3. What most posttribulationists do not take into consideration is that the Bible expressly reveals that saints in the Great Tribulation will not be protected (see the martyred death in Revelation 6:9-11; 7:9-17; 13:7-11), except the 144,000 Jews (Revelation 7:1-8), and that the only way they can be kept "from the hour of trial" of the Great Tribulation is by being removed. The content of Revelation 7:9-17 is a plain indication of the extent of the saints' martyrdom in the Tribulation. These passages clearly give a picture of heaven, not of the millennial earth (compare Revelation 7:11 with Revelation 5:8). Saints are no longer in their natural bodies as those who have survived the Tribulation but rather are presented as those who have died in the Tribulation and who "have come out of the great tribulation." In Revelation 7 the contrast is between the 144,000 of Israel, who are sealed and protected through the Great Tribulation, and the multitude of the saved (which no man can number), who do not survive the Tribulation and who are not sealed. It is most significant that the word "church" is not used at all, and the saints are described simply as those who have been saved by the blood of the Lamb and who have come out of great trials.

  4. The major contention of posttribulationism is that Tribulation is not God's wrath against the sinners, but the wrath of Satan, Antichrist and the wicked against the saints. The wrath of God is concentrated toward the end of the Tribulation period. The church will be spared from the wrath of God but not from the Tribulation. Therefore, the Church will be preserved through the whole period. However, posttribulationists was arguing against themselves, because if the Tribulation is a period of satanic wrath instead of God's wrath and the church is its object, then one cannot conclude that the church is delivered from Tribulation while passing through it. In other words, since posttribulationists allege that the Tribulation is the wrath of Satan and the Church will not be spared from the wrath of Satan, God permit Satan to persecute the Church and He will not protect or preserve the Church through the Tribulation period (see the martyrs in Revelation 6:9-11, 7:9-17 and 13:7-11).

  5. There is no objection that the analogy to the Genesis flood may suggest that just as Noah was saved by being preserved through the flood, so believers at the Tribulation period will be preserved through it (Genesis 7:1-8:19). However, it is more accurate to say that the family of Noah represents the 144,000 sealed Jewish Tribulation saints who can survive the (Genesis flood) Tribulation period and enter the (purged earth) millennial kingdom. It is clear that the story of Noah is nothing relating to the Church.

  6. Posttribulationists are not agreed among themselves how to interpret the promise of Revelation 3:10, (three contradictory explanations are given), I have the impression that they actually don't know how to interpret Revelation 3:10.

The interpretation of Revelation 3:10 will be further discussed in Section 7.5.1 of this Chapter.

6.5.5 The day of the LORD does not begin until Armageddon

6.5.5.1 Posttribulationists' explanations

Robert Gundary believe that the day of the LORD does not begin until Armageddon. Although Armageddon is clearly the last hour preceding the second coming of Christ, Gundry would have us believe that none of the judgments preceding Armageddon are judgments of the day of the LORD. Gundry states, "Certain celestial portents will both precede the day of the LORD (Joel 2:30-31) and follow immediately upon the Tribulation (Matthew 24:29). Clearly, the day of the LORD will not begin with the Tribulation or any part of it, for otherwise the heavenly portents after the Tribulation could not be said to precede that day."

6.5.5.2 Comments

It is clear that the book of Revelation teaches that God's judgments fall upon the earth beginning at chapter 6 and culminating in chapter 19. In Revelation 6, there are a series of "celestial portents" and that they occur throughout the whole period, as well as in the climax that marks its close. The book of Revelation teaches that God will pour out His judgments on the earth over a period of years preceding Armageddon and that all of these judgments are properly a description of what the Bible describes as the day of the LORD. It is clear that judgments of the day of the LORD occur long before Armageddon; with this comes the evidence that the day of the LORD itself is under way. For most readers Gundry's view will not make sense.

6.5.6 The rapture and second coming of Christ are a single event (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 19:11-20:4)

6.5.6.1 Posttribulationists' explanations

The rapture is pictured as the church's meeting the Lord Jesus in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17), this must be inserted before Christ actually reaches the earth. As the heavenly hosts proceed from heaven to earth, the Church, according to the posttribulationists, rises from earth and meets the Lord in the air; as the procession proceeds to the earth, the Church joins with the coming King in extending His kingdom over the earth.

6.5.6.2 Comments

If the rapture and second coming of Christ are a single event, then the order of events at the second coming of Christ are as follows:

  1. the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16);

  2. who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17); and

  3. as the procession proceeds to the earth, the Church joins with the coming King in extending His kingdom over the earth.

A most important fact all posttribulationists ignore is that the resurrection at the second coming is after the descent to the earth, not during the event, as Revelation 19:11-20:4 makes clear. This contradicts the posttribulational order of events.

6.6 Unresolved Problems of Posttribulational Rapture

There are 10 major unresolved problems of posttribulationism, they are:

  1. the historical argument;

  2. the argument from silence;

  3. the parable of wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30; 47-50);

  4. the necessity of a posttribulational rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18);

  5. the timing of the Day of the LORD (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12);

  6. the marriage of the Lamb (Revelation 19:1-10);

  7. the posttribulational resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6);

  8. the silence of Scripture on facts crucial to posttribulational rapture;

  9. the contrasting details of the rapture and the second coming of Christ; and

  10. how to populate the millennial kingdom.

6.6.1 The problem of the historical argument

6.6.1.1 Posttribulationists' explanations

Posttribulationists charge that pretribulationism is a recent theory which surfaced in the writings of John Nelson Darby about 150 years ago. Accordingly they argue that posttribulationism is the standard doctrine of the early church, and they raise the question why pretribulationism was not advanced earlier if it is actually the teaching of Scripture.

6.6.1.2 Comments

In offering this argument, posttribulationists generally ignore the fact that most modern forms of posttribulationism differ greatly from that of the early church or of the Protestant Reformers and are actually just as new or perhaps newer than pretribulationism.

6.6.2 The problem of the argument from silence

6.6.2.1 Posttribulationists' explanations

Posttribulationists appeal to the fact that the New Testament does not state in so many words a pretribulational rapture. Here they frequently refer to the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25), which does not mention the rapture in its list of endtime events. They also argue that in the rapture passages there is no clear statement of the Great Tribulation following the event. Writers like Robert Gundry repeat over and over this argument from silence as one of the most convincing arguments for posttribulationism. Almost invariably omitted, however, is the confession that the Bible is also silent on a posttribulational rapture and never mentions the Great Tribulation as preceding the rapture. It is a curious note that posttribulationists consistently deny pretribulationists the right to use the argument from silence while using the same argument to support their own viewpoints.

6.6.2.2 Comments

The silence about a rapture in major passages minutely describing the endtime is much more damaging to posttribulationism than the apparent similar silence in regard to a pretribulational rapture. The point is that if the rapture is imminent, it does not demand any further explanation, but if the rapture follows the great tribulation, it necessarily would require a warning to those facing this time that this would be what they could expect.

6.6.3 The problem of the parable of wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30; 47-50)

6.6.3.1 Posttribulationists' explanations

Posttribulationists believe that the parable of the wheat and the tares is an evidence for a posttribulational rapture. As Matthew 13:30 states clearly, at the time of the harvest the tares are gathered first, and then the wheat is gathered into the barn. Posttribulationists makes much of the fact that the wheat (i.e. saved) is gathered after the tares (i.e. wicked) corresponds to the second coming of Christ to set up His kingdom. This contradicts the order of the pretribulational rapture, in which believers are gathered out first.

6.6.3.2 Comments

However, posttribulationists ignore the parable of the dragnet in Matthew 13:47-50 in which the exact opposite order is indicated. There, according to verse 48, the good fish representing believers are gathered into vessels, and then the bad fish are thrown away. It should be obvious under these circumstances that these parables are not trying to set up a precise order, but rather the fact of separation as brought our so clearly in Matthew 13:49-50. At the second coming of Christ to establish His kingdom, it may well be that the wicked are judged first, and then the righteous are gathered into His earthly millennial kingdom. 

According to posttribulational rapture, the rapture and second coming of Christ are a single event, then the order of events at the second coming of Christ are as follows:

  1. the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16);

  2. who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17);

  3. as the procession proceeds to the earth, the Church joins with the coming King in extending His kingdom over the earth; and

  4. the judgment of the wicked (i.e. the tares in Matthew 13:30).

The point is that if a rapture takes place in the sequence of the second coming of Christ, it would be the first event and would automatically separate all the saved (i.e. the wheat) from the wicked (i.e. the tares) before Christ's feet ever touch the Mount of Olives and before His kingdom was instituted. If a posttribulational rapture is assumed, however, they have a real problem with this event related to the second coming, as obviously Christ comes to earth first and then the wicked are judged.

If the posttribulationists desire to press this order, it becomes a problem to posttribulationism, but not to pretribulationism. For pretribulationists do not claim that these parables describe the rapture. There is a constant tendency among posttribulatianists to be selective in the facts chosen from eschatological passages.

6.6.4 The problem of the necessity of a posttribulational rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

A crucial point in the revelation of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is the truth that the saints at the time of the rapture will meet the Lord Jesus in the air. As this is the express statement of Scripture, both posttribulationists and pretribulationists must accept this revelation as valid. The question remains, however, why the saints meet the Lord in the air, and what will happen after this event.

6.6.4.1 Posttribulationists' explanations

Robert Gundry explained this as a delegation of citizens who would go out to meet a king and would return with him on his journey. However, the problem is that the text says nothing about it, and it is pure implication. Most posttribulationists are silent on why the Church rises from earth at all.

6.6.4.2 Comments

Pretribulationists have an easy answer, because for them it is the fulfillment of:

  1. Christ promised to keep the Church from the whole Tribulation period by a pretribulational rapture (Revelation 3:10).

  2. Christ promised to come for His own and take them to the Father's house, i.e. the heaven (John 14:1-3).

Posttribulationists have a twofold problem:

  1. to explain why it is necessary for the Church to leave the earth to meet the Lord in the air if the Church has been preserved through the whole Tribulation period successfully; and

  2. to prove that the saints, having met the Lord in the air, change direction (i.e. from ascension to descension) and proceed to the earth.

Why would it not be better for the saints to remain on earth when Christ returns and allow Him to separate them from unsaved? This is what pretribulationists believe occurs at the second coming of Christ to the earth, when the living Israelites are separated from other nations and gathered for judgment (Ezekiel 20:34-38), and the sheep and the goats are gathered on earth to be separated (Matthew 25:31-46). Indeed, at the second coming of Christ, He will proceed directly to the earth without any interruption at all (see Revelation 19). His coming for the rapture, however, has a different purpose, namely, to take the Church out of the earth. From the pretribulational standpoint, therefore, it is plausible that the Church should meet Him in the air. From the posttribulational standpoint, it is an unnecessary and an unlikely event. If the purpose of Christ is to take the Church out of the earth to heaven, meeting Christ in the air would be natural. If the purpose of Christ is to come to the earth, it is not really necessary for the Church to rise from earth into the air.

6.6.5 The problem of the timing of the Day of the LORD (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12)

6.6.5.1 Posttribulationists' explanations

Posttribulationists believe that the rapture of the church must take place at the end of the Tribulation. They quote 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 in which Paul equates the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him (v. 1) with the Day of the LORD (v. 2). He then indicates that the Day of the LORD will not occur until "the apostacy" takes place and "the man of lawlessness" is revealed (v. 3). Therefore, they conclude that the rise in apostasy is a sign that will precede the secong coming of Christ (v. 8).

6.6.5.2 Comments

Posttribulationists have a real problem here. If the Thessalonians had been taught posttribulationism, the beginning of the Day of the LORD would have been to them evidence that the rapture was drawing near and should have caused rejoicing. Instead of this, the beginning of the Day of the LORD apparently created a panic in their midst (2 Thessalonians 2:2). The Thessalonians feared they had been left behind in the Tribulation - makes sense only if the Thessalonians had been taught pretribulationism. If they were posttribulationists, there was no reason for concern.

6.6.6 The problem of the marriage of the Lamb (Revelation 19:1-10)

Immediately preceding the second coming of Christ (Revelation 19:11-21) is the announcement of the marriage feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:1-10). If posttribulationism is correct, then the second coming of Christ should precede the announcement of the marriage feast of the Lamb.Why? If Christ has not come to rapture the Church (i.e. the bride of Christ), then how can He announce the marriage feast?  

6.6.6.1 Posttribulationists' explanations

Robert Gundry replied, "We should not expect to find rigid consistency in the Biblical use of metaphors."

6.6.6.2 Comments

It was the custom in a wedding to observe three stages:

  1. The first was the legal marriage where the parents of the bride and the bridegroom agreed on the marriage.

  2. The second followed immediately or sometime later when the bridegroom came to claim his bride.

  3. The third stage of the wedding was the wedding feast, which chronologically followed stage one and two.

If the stage in developments has reached the wedding-feast stage at the time of the second coming of Christ, it implies an ealier coming of the bridegroom for the bride in keeping with the pretribulational view. If the passage has any bearing at all on the eschatological order of events, it is evidence against the posttribulational view.

6.6.7 The problem of the posttribulational resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6)

6.6.7.1 Posttribulationists' explanations

Most posttribulationists call attention to the expression "first resurrection" in Revelation 20:4-6. They argue, how could a resurrection (to be occurred at the end of the Tribulation period) be "first" if a rapture had actually taken place before the Tribulation? 

6.6.7.2 Comments

The problems of the posttribulational rapture view are as follows:

  1. Posttribulationists overlook that Christ was raised from the dead first.

  2. The actual meaning of the word first is to designate the resurrection which is before the resurrection of the Great White Throne, not in the sense of the first resurrection to take place in history.

  3. As pointed out earlier, the resurrection of Revelation 20:4-6 actually occurs after the second coming of Christ and therefore contradicts the idea that the rapture in the posttribulational view is a part of the second coming of Christ from heaven to earth. Even a posttribulationist would have to recognize that in his order of events, the resurrection of Revelation 20:4-6 is not "first."

6.6.8 The problem of the silence of Scripture on facts crucial to posttribulational rapture

Posttribulationists usually make much of the charge that pretribulationism is based only on inference. They cover up the fact that posttribulationism is also based on inference, for examples:

  1. Posttribulationists have never been able to prove that the Church as the body of Christ is actually in the period of Tribulation, especially the one designated in Scripture as the "Great Tribulation." All agree that in the Great Tribulation there are people, referred to as "saints," who are saved Israelites or saved Gentiles. None of the usual terms is used such as the word church or synonyms which include both Jew and Gentile as the distinctive body of saints in the present age. They cannot cite a single passage that incontrovertibly places the Church the body of Christ in the Great Tribulation. It is strange that in the description of the Great Tribulation as found in Revelation 4-18, there is not a single reference to the Church as being in the period. While posttribulationists have worked hard to place the Church in the Olivet Discourse and have otherwise attempted to counter the force of this argument, the fact remains that they have never satisfactorily explained this.

  2. Posttribulationists have never satisfactorily explained why the Thessalonian Christians were not warned of the coming Great Tribulation when the hope of the rapture was extended to them as a comfort. Writers like James Montgomery Boice, for instance, find the argument of 1 Thessalonians 4 sufficiently convincing to settle the question of pretribulationism and posttribulationism. Boice says, "the view of a posttribulational rapture is impossible for the simple reason that it makes meaningless the very argument that Paul was presenting in the Thessalonian letters. Paul was arguing for the imminence of Christ's return. This is to be the major source of comfort for suffering believers. If Christ will not come until after the Great Tribulation (i.e. a special period of unusual and intense suffering still in the future), then the return of the Lord is not imminent and tribulation rather than deliverance is what we must anticipate" (James Montgomery Boice, The Last and Future World, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974). The attempts of posttribulationists to make this the comfort of resurrection ring hollow if, in fact, the Thessalonians had to go through the Great Tribulation before they could experience either resurrection or translation. Posttribulationists have not solved their problem in 1 Thessalonians 4.

  3. Posttribulationists have not resolved the problem that the apostle Paul, in teaching the doctrine of the rapture to the Corinthians, obviously exhorted them on the basis of the imminency of the Lord's return without any warning whatever of an impending Great Tribulation (1 Corinthians 15:51-58). While the posttribulational problem of 1 Corinthians 15 is not so acute as the problem of 1 Thessalonians 4, it is equally pertinent to ask why the doctrine of the Great Tribulation is not taught when the context would seem to require it. Every passage that clearly relates to the rapture has this unusual feature of exhortation which is based on the imminency of the rapture and the absence of any warning of an intervening Great Tribulation.

  4. Posttribulationists have never established the crucial fact that a translation of living saints and the specific resurrection of the church occur at the time when Jesus Christ comes back to establish His kingdom. Here again various evasive tactics are followed, such as trying to equate the Church with the martyred saints of Revelation 20:4. The argument is all in favor of the pretribulational view because, if the resurrection included all the Church, it would not be necessary to specify the resurrection of the martyred dead of the last generation who were killed by the beast.

  5. In like manner in the graphic and complete description of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in Revelation 19, there is no indication whatever that the procession will be met by the raptured church rising from earth to meet the Lord in the air. There is no indication of either resurrection or translation occurring in the process of Christ's descent to the earth. The implication clearly is that the Tribulation saints will be raised after Christ has come and started to establish His kingdom on earth, not while He is descending from heaven to the earth. Posttribulationists are left with no text whatever to support placing the rapture in this sequence of events.

If the Scriptures are silent on placing the Church the body of Christ in the Tribulation, and if the rapture truth is presented in such a way that it requires imminency to make sense out of the exhortation, and if the scriptural accounts in all passages where Christ is clearly coming from heaven to earth in His second coming omit any reference either to the resurrection of the Church or to the rapture of the living - all this leaves posttribulationists open to the charge that they have not proved these central doctrines crucial to their position.

6.6.9 The problem of the contrasting details of the rapture and the second coming of Christ

Posttribulationists tend to ignore the obvious fact that the rapture is presented as an event entirely different from the second coming of Christ to set up His kingdom. Although they can properly point to the fact that much the same terminology is used, since both refer to a "coming" and a "revelation" of Jesus Christ, the details supplied in passages relating to the rapture and the second coming of Christ contrast sharply. There are a number of contrasts (note: 17 contrasts here) to be drawn between the rapture and the second coming of Christ which will show that they are not viewed as synonymous in Scripture. These contrasts are listed in below table:

No.

Rapture

Second Coming of Christ

1 removal of all believers appearing of the Son of God
2 saints are caught up into the air Christ returns to the earth
3 Christ comes to claim a bride Christ returns with the bride
4 removal of the church and the inception of the tribulation period establishment of the millennial kingdom
5 imminent preceded by a multitude of signs
6 a message of comfort a message of judgment
7 related to the program for the church related to the program for Israel and the unbelieving world
8 a mystery predicted in both Old and New Testaments
9 believers are judged and rewarded Gentiles and Israel are judged and punished
10 leaves creation unchanged the change in creation
11 Gentiles are unaffected Gentiles are judged
12 Israel's covenants are unfulfilled Israel's covenants are fulfilled
13 no relation to the judgment of evils evil is judged
14 take place before the day of wrath follows the day of wrath
15 for believers only has its effect on all men
16 expectation is "Lord at hand" expectation is "the kingdom is at hand"
17 expectation is "to be taken into the Lord's presence" expectation is "to be taken into the kingdom"

To be sure, passages describing the same event do not each have to contain all the same details, but the rapture and the second coming of Christ seem to be entirely dissimilar in their details. Although the problems of contrast are not all equally important, their total weight is such that it leaves posttribulationism without an adequate explanation. Posttribulationism has not given a satisfactory answer to these crucial contrasts.

6.6.10 The problem of how to populate the millennial kingdom

When the Millennium begins, some people have to be alive in unresurrected bodies, who can beget children and populate that kingdom. All premillennialists agree with this. The Millennium not only involves the reign of Christ with His people, who will then have resurrected bodies, but also the reign of Christ over people on this earth who will not have resurrected bodies. If there were only resurrected saints in the kingdom, then there would be no death, no increase in population, and no differences in the ages of millennial citizens (all of which are indicated as characterizing the kingdom - Isaiah 65:20; Zechariah 8:5; Revelation 20:12). Since resurrected people do not propagate, there would be no way to populate the kingdom unless some unresurrected people enter the Millennium. Thus all premillennialists see the need to have some adults who survive the Tribulation who are not taken to heaven at the end of the Tribulation but who enter the Millennium in unresurrected bodies to become the first parents of the millennial population.

6.6.10.1 Pretribulationists' explanations

The pretribulational understanding of future events satisfies this need easily. The rapture will occur before the Tribulation, removing all the redeemed who are living on the earth at that time. But many people will be saved during the Tribulation (Revelation 7:9, 14) including a specific group of 144,000 Jewish people (Revelation 7:4). Of those saved during that horrible time, many will be martyred (Revelation 6:11; 13:15), but some will survive to enter the Millennium (Matthew 25:34; Zechariah 14:11). The initial group who will enter the Millennium will not only enter with natural bodies but will also be redeemed people who willingly submit to the rule of the King. In due time, babies will be born and grow up. Some will receive Christ into their hearts; others will not. But all will have to give allegiance to the King's government or suffer the consequences. By the end of the Millennium there will be innumerable rebels who will have given outward obedience to the King, but who, when given the opportunity by Satan after his release, will join his revolution against Christ (Revelation 20:7-9).

Thus in the pretribulational understanding of these future events, the original parents of the millennial kingdom will come from the redeemed (but unresurrected) survivors of the Tribulation, the "sheep" of Matthew 25:34 and the faithful Jewish survivors of Ezekiel 20:38.

6.6.10.2 Posttribulationists' explanations

In contrast stands the posttribulational picture. The church, of course, will live through the Tribulation. Though some will be martyred, many will be protected and survive. The 144,000 Jews and the great multitude of Revelation 7 are included in the church. At the end of the Tribulation all living believers will be raptured, given resurrection bodies, and return immediately to earth in the single event of the Rapture and Second Coming. This would seem to eliminate all redeemed unresurrected people from the earth at that point in time so that there will be no one left to begin to populate the kingdom. If the wicked survivors are either killed or consigned to Hades at the end of the Tribulation, then there will be no one left in an unresurrected body to enter the Millennium.

So, either the posttribulationist must:

  1. find some people who will not be saved when the rapture begins but will be saved by the time that single, instantaneous event of the Rapture-Second Coming ends (how much time is there?), or

  2. must allow the initial parents of the Millennium to be unsaved people who somehow are not killed or judged at or after Armageddon.

We need to be reminded of another detail at this point. The millennial population includes both Jewish and Gentile people (Isaiah 19:24-25). So the first generation must be made up of both races. But a posttribulational rapture will remove all the candidates for redeemed millennial parents of every race. And the judgments of the Second Coming will remove all the candidates for unredeemed millennial parents of every race. Where will those parents come from?

Most posttribulationists do not attempt to give an answer to this question. This may be because posttrihulationists do not usually put the details of their system together in an orderly way. Their picture of the future is painted with broad strokes, not fine detail. Some posttribulationists may never have seen this question as a question, simply because they have not spelled out systematically and in detail their outline of future events. But whatever the reason, most do not address this question.

Robert Gundry is an exception (The Church and the Tribulation, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973, pp. 81-3, 134-9, 163-71). His answer is twofold:

  1. The Jewish progenitors of the millennial population will come from the 144,000 who will not be saved at any time during the Tribulation but only at the end (p. 83). The Gentile parents will come from the wicked who will somehow escape death and/or judgment at the end of the Tribulation (p. 137). Those wicked are the ones left in Matthew 24:40-41 (in contrast to the ones taken in the posttribulational rapture). He says, a partial destruction would leave the remaining unsaved to populate the millennial earth" (p. 137).

  2. Furthermore, an adjustment has to be made in the time of the judgment of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46 if the posttribulational picture be correct. The reason is simple: if the rapture is after the Tribulation, then all the sheep (redeemed) will have been removed from the earth, and there would be no sheep to be part of that judgment if it occurs at the Second Coming, which is a single event with the rapture. There is no way the rapture can remove the sheep and yet have sheep present on the earth to be judged immediately following the rapture. So either the rapture cannot be posttribulational or the judgment of the sheep and goats must be after the Second Coming (Gundry places it after the Millennium).

6.6.10.3 Comments

We need to examine three things that are necessary to the posttribulational answer:

  1. the conversion of the 144,000;

  2. the identification of the groups in Matthew 24:40-41; and

  3. the time of the judgment of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46.

6.6.10.3.1 The 144,000 Jews

Some posttribulationists consider the 144,000 Jews to be "spiritual Israel" i.e. "the Church" (George E. Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971, p. 114). If so, then their sealing is at the beginning of the Tribulation and relates to their spiritual salvation as well as physical protection. Gundry acknowledges that the 144,000 might belong to the church (and therefore be saved at the beginning); he prefers to regard them as unsaved throughout the Tribulation and identical with the group that will look on Christ when He returns and believe (Zechariah 12:10) and with the Israel who will be saved at the Second Coming (Romans 11:26-27). The reason for his preference is logical. If the 144,000 were saved any time during the Tribulation period, they would be raptured in the posttribulational rapture, given resurrection bodies at that time, then return at the same time to reign with Christ in the kingdom. But having been given resurrection bodies would preclude their being the parents of anybody in the kingdom. On the other hand, if they were not saved until the very end of the Second Coming, they would "escape" the rapture, yet be converted, but remain in unresurrected bodies and thus be able to become parents of millennial children.

Actually, pretribulationists understand that there will be a group of Jewish people converted at the end of the Tribulation who will become the parents of the Jewish portion of the millennial population. They will come from among the Jewish people who survive the Tribulation even though they were unsaved throughout it. When the Lord returns they will be gathered and judged, the rebels (possibly two thirds, Zechariah 13:8) to be excluded from the kingdom, and those who turn in faith when they see Him to enter the kingdom (Ezekiel 20:33-44). Those believing survivors constitute the "all" of all Israel that will be saved at the Second Coming (Romans 11:26). But they will not be given resurrection bodies at that time; rather they will enter the kingdom in material bodies with the ability to propagate.

Why cannot the posttribulationist also let this group be the millennial parents? Because that group will believe when they see the Lord coming, which would be at the posttribulational rapture. So they also would be raptured, taken to heaven, given resurrection bodies, and eliminated from parenting. The rapture, whenever it occurs, will be the greatest separation of believers from unbelievers imaginable so if there is to be a group of Jewish people who will believe when they see the Lord coming, and if that coming is the posttribulational Rapture-Second Coming, then they will be raptured because at that moment they will become believers. So the posttribulationist needs to have a group that is sealed in an unsaved state long enough to miss the rapture but not long enough to miss entering the Millennium in material bodies. Thus, as one would expect, Gundry says of Ezekiel 20 that "that passage may not portray a formal judgment at all" (p. 168). Actually, it cannot in the posttribulational system.

Can the 144,000 be considered unconverted throughout the Tribulation years? Is it reasonable to interpret that way? What does the text of Revelation 7:1-8 say?

It states two very significant facts:

  1. the 144,000 "have the seal of the living God" (Revelation 7:2); and

  2. they are "the servants of our God" (Revelation 7:3).

The 144,000 serve God, not Antichrist. Are we to imagine here a group of 144,000 unsaved people designated as God's servants? Posttribulationists weakly explain that the designation is anticipatory of their millennial service when they will have been converted. Any explanation is possible, but is it the most likely meaning of the text? Certainly not.

But even granting that their designation as God's servants does not apply to the 144,000 in the Tribulation period but only in the Millennium, the statement in verse 2 is very difficult to harmonize with the posttribulational system. The group is said to be sealed before the judgments of the Tribulation begin (v. 3). Try to fit this into posttribulationism. Here would be a distinct group of unconverted Jewish people on whose foreheads God has placed His seal. As unsaved people, they (or surely some of them) will follow Antichrist, who also will place his mark on their foreheads or hands. And the destiny of Antichrist's followers has already been predetermined: they will be tormented forever with fire and brimstone (Revelation 14:9-11). None of his followers will be saved.

To sum up: posttribulationism needs to have an unconverted group of Jews who will survive the Tribulation, but who, because they are unconverted, will not be raptured at the end, but will be converted by the time the Millennium begins so they can enter the Millennium in their unresurrected bodies and beget children. The only group that can qualify is the 144,000, assuming they can be described as unconverted servants of God who have on their foreheads God's seal before the Tribulation begins and who do not follow Antichrist so they will not have his mark. Is all this possible?

6.6.10.3.2 Matthew 24:40-41

Not only must the 144,000 be identified in a particular way, but the groups distinguished in Matthew 24:40-41 must also be identified in a certain way to come up with the posttribulational picture.

According to the posttribulational understanding, at the posttribulational Rapture-Second Coming, there shall be two men in the field; one (saved, representing the church) will be taken (in the posttribulational rapture), and one (unsaved, representing the wicked) will be left (for judgment, though not all will be judged, so some will be left to be parents of the Gentile population of the Millennium). And the same for Matthew 24:41 - the one taken is raptured, and the one left is judged.

By contrast, the pretribulationist sees the verses as a general statement of the results of the specific judgments on surviving Jews and Gentiles at the Second Coming. Those who are taken are taken into the judgments and condemned, and those who are left successfully pass the judgments and are left for blessing in the millennial kingdom.

Notice that the posttribulationist must add the stipulation that not all who are left are judged and condemned so that there will be some left to populate the earth. But therein lies an inconsistency: the rapture will take all the redeemed, but the judgment will not include all the unredeemed. Only part of the wicked will be judged.

Pretribulationists support their view by pointing out that according to Matthew 24:39 the Flood took the people of Noah's day into judgment; therefore, those taken at the Second Coming will also be taken into judgment.

Posttribulationists observe that a different word is used in verse 39 for "took away" than in verses 40-41, indicating two different kinds of taking away - verse 39 into judgment but verses 40-41 into heaven at the rapture. They reinforce this argument by pointing out that the word in verses 40-41 is the same word used to describe the rapture in John 14:3, "receive you to Myself."

The two interpretations look like this:

  Pretribulational Interpretation Posttribulational Interpretation
Taken Into judgment Into heaven in the posttribulational rapture
Left For blessing in the kingdom (in unresurrected bodies to propagate) For judgment (but only a part will be judged so the rest can enter the kingdom in unresurrected bodies)

Pretribulationists note that in John 19:16 the same word used in Matthew 24:40-41 (supposedly of the rapture according to posttribulationists) is used of taking the Lord into judgment, so obviously it could mean judgment in verses 40-41, as pretribulationism teaches. Back and forth the discussion of the words goes. What can we conclude? Simply that the words themselves are inconclusive.

But the debate is not without resolution. It can easily be settled by looking at the parallel passage in Luke 17:34-37, where the same warning about one being taken and one left is given by the Lord. However, Luke adds a question that the disciples asked: "Where, Lord?" They asked Him where those taken would be taken. They did not inquire where those left would be left. If the Lord intended us to understand that those taken would be taken in the rapture (as posttribulationism teaches), He would have answered the question by saving heaven, or the Father's house, or some similar expression. But His answer conveyed that they would be taken somewhere quite opposite to a blissful heaven. His answer was, "Where the body is, there will also the vultures be gathered." Christ's answer is a proverb about vultures appearing out of nowhere when an animal dies. Where will they be taken? Where there is death and corruption, not life and immortality. The reference is not to heaven, but to judgment. Thus the pretribulationist's understanding of the indentity of the one taken and the one left is the correct one according to Luke 17:37. A posttribulational rapture is nowhere indicated in these verses.

6.6.10.3.3 The time of the sheep and the goats judgment

This judgment of the sheep and goats, placed at the Second Coming by pretribulationists, has to be moved to a later time if posttribulationism be consistent. The reason is that if the rapture occurs at the end of the Tribulation, that is, at the Second Coming and if all the sheep are taken to heaven in that rapture, how will there be any left to be assembled before Christ when He comes? They will already have gone.

Moving this judgment also provides for unsaved survivors of the Tribulation and Second Coming to enter the Millennium in unresurrected bodies. Gundry admits, "We are therefore forced to put the judgment of the nations after the Millennium" (p. 166). Forced? Why? Because the condemnation of the goats cannot be of only a part of them, since the text says "all" will be judged. In his interpretation of those left in Matthew 24:40-41, Gundry says that represented only "a partial destruction" of the unsaved and it is not the time of the sheep and goats judgment (p. 137), but here all are specifically said to be involved in the judgment of nations (Matthew 25:32).

No text requires that there be unsaved entering the Millennium. After a few years have passed there will be people, born during the early days of the Millennium, who will grow to adulthood rejecting the Savior-King in their hearts (though outwardly obeying Him). But no text requires that there be unsaved people among the survivors of the Tribulation who enter the Millennium. Zechariah 14:16 (sometimes used to support this idea) refers to the first generation of millennial citizens who came through the judgments as redeemed, not rebels, and who will voluntarily go to Jerusalem to worship the King. But verses 17-21 move on to describe conditions throughout the Millennium, not just at the beginning. As time goes on, some will not obey the King and will have to be punished (Revelation 20:7-10).

Perhaps the more compelling reason for the posttribulationists' moving this judgment to the end of the Millennium is: if the judgment occurs at the Second Coming, and if the rapture has just occurred as part of the Second Coming, and if the rapture has removed the sheep, then where will the sheep come from to be present in the sheep and goats judgment?

If, however, the judgment can be moved to the close of the Millennium, then, of course, there will be both righteous and wicked people living at the end of the Millennium to be present. But how, then, does one reconcile the rather diverse characteristics of Matthew 25:31-46 with those that describe what would supposedly be the same judgment at the Great White Throne in Revelation 20:11-15? Notice some of the contrasts between the judgment of the sheep and goats and the judgment at the Great White Throne.

Gundry calls the judgment of the sheep and goats a "pattern for the general judgment at the end of time" (p. 167). If it is a pattern, it is rather inexact. To be sure, passages describing the same event do not each have to contain all the same details, but these two passages seem to be entirely dissimilar in their details. See below table for illustration.

Sheep And Goats Judgment   (Matthew 25:31-46) Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15)
No resurrection (though Old Testament saints may be raised at the Second Coming, they will not be a part of the judgment) Resurrection of the dead
No books opened Books opened
The word "nations" used (and the word is never used of the dead) The word "dead" used
Sheep present Righteous not mentioned as present
Three groups mentioned: sheep, goats, brethren Only one group mentioned: the dead
Reward is the kingdom and eternal life No mention of reward, only condemnation
Occurs at the place Christ comes to (i.e. the earth) Earth has fled away

If the judgment of the sheep and goats is to be moved to the end of the Millennium then of course, Matthew 25:31 must be understood as referring to the Second Coming and verse 32 to the end of the Millennium, 1,000 years later. In other words, the gap of the 1,000-year Millennium must come between verses 31 and 32. But is it the likely interpretation?

Matthew 25:35-40 gives the answer. Do these verses describe millennial conditions? They have to if this judgment will occur after the end of the Millennium. If they do, then the Millennium will have to be a time when Christ and His followers are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and in prison. Those who disobey the King during the Millennium may be imprisoned, but the text says that during the period preceding the judgment Christ's followers will be in prison. As certainly as this will not be true during the Millennium, it will be true during the Tribulation. Christ's followers will be hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned during the Tribulation years, but not during the Millennium when Christ will be ruling in righteousness.

Clearly then, Matthew 25:35-40 preclude inserting a gap of 1,000 years between verses 31 and 32. The judgment will immediately follow the coming of Christ and will test people on the basis of their heart reactions to conditions that will exist during the Tribulation - conditions that will not be present during the Millennium for Christ's followers.

6.6.10.4 Conclusion

Where has our discussion led? To the conclusion that posttribulationism cannot provide an answer to the question, Who will be the parents of the millennial population? To be sure, posttribulationism offers some wishful thinking on the subject. They wish the 144,000 would be the Jewish parents, but in order to qualify they will have to remain unconverted throughout the Tribulation as well as through the Rapture-Second Coming, and then be converted. They wish that some of the ones left in the separation of Matthew 24:40-41 would be the Gentile parents (others will be condemned to hell). But this twists the meaning of "taken" and "left," making the taking to heaven in the rapture contrary to the clear meaning of "taken" in Luke 17:36. And to make these suggestions consistent, the judgment of the sheep and goats must be placed at the end of the Millennium, and Matthew 25:35-40 must describe millennial conditions.

How much simpler not to have to place the rapture at the end of the Tribulation. That allows for people to accept or reject Christ during the Tribulation, some of whom will survive that time (none of whom will be raptured, because the rapture will already have occurred) to be judged at the Second Coming (both living Jews and Gentiles), and those who pass those judgments successfully as redeemed people to go into the kingdom in earthly bodies to be the first generation of the millennial population and the parents of the next generation.

6.7 Posttribulation Arguments in which Posttribulationists Themselves Disagree Substantially

Because posttribulationism exists in at least four different schools of thought, it is natural that their arguments against pretribulationism should differ in keeping with their points of view. It is important to note that these differences are not minor, but major, in which to some extent posttribulationists refute each other. They have the following nine disagreements:

  1. the nature of the Great Tribulation;

  2. the doctrine of imminency;

  3. the nature of the suffering of the saints in the Great Tribulation;

  4. the interpretation of the book of Revelation;

  5. the nature of the Church;

  6. a second chance for unbelievers at the Second Coming of Christ;

  7. a specific order of events at the time of the Second Coming of Christ;

  8. the nature of the judgments at the Second Coming of Christ; and

  9. on the interpretation of the Millennium.

6.7.1 Disagreement on the nature of the Great Tribulation

Posttribulationists like J. Barton Payne following the lead of some of the early church fathers and the Protestant Reformers, completely spiritualize the Great Tribulation, making it a contemporary or past event. Thus, under this view, posttribulationists affirm the imminency of Christ's return in keeping with the viewpoint of the various rapture passages. Payne's viewpoint is probably the predominant view of church history until the last two centuries; recent posttribulationists like Ladd and Gundry argue for a future Tribulation. While the principles of interpretation adopted by Ladd and Gundry are far superior to that of Payne, because they deal with prophecy as subject to literal fulfillment, as posttribulationists they also must face a series of problems which a literal, future Great Tribulation introduces.

6.7.2 Disagreement on the doctrine of imminency

Posttribulationists are disagreed as to the nature of the imminency of the Lord's return. Payne holds that Christ could return at any moment and therefore that the rapture and the second coming are imminent. Most contemporary posttribulationists, however, see specific prophecies as still unfulfilled, including the emergence of the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, and Armageddon. They are confronted with the problem that the rapture passages seem to indicate an imminent rapture in contrast with these specific events which must precede Christ's second coming to the earth.

6.7.3 Disagreement on the nature of the suffering of the saints in the Great Tribulation

Posttribulationists who accept a literal Great Tribulation are confronted with the problem of harmonizing this with promises of comfort in 1 Thessalonians 4 and a blessed expectation of the Lord's return in Titus 2:13. While Payne solves this problem by spiritualizing the Great Tribulation, those who take it literally must find some other explanation. Generally they tend to minimize the sufferings and to insulate the saints from the sufferings of the Great Tribulation.

6.7.4 Disagreement on the interpretation of the book of Revelation

One of the major problems of posttribulationists is that they have no uniform interpretation of the book of Revelation. Many posttribulationists spiritualize the great judgments described in Revelation 6-19, while others attempt to take them somewhat literally. Most posttribulationists spiritualize the 144,000 of Israel as representing saints in general and tend to make Israel and the Church the same spiritual entity. Gundry offers a unique interpretation, differing from other posttribulationists in portraying the 144,000 as orthodox Jews who are unsaved until the moment of the rapture. Because of the wide variety of viewpoints among the posttribulationists on the book of Revelation, their arguments are conflicting and contradictory.

6.7.5 Disagreement on the nature of the Church

Most posttribulationists tend to spiritualize the Church as including saints of all ages. They argue that saints are in the Great Tribulation and therefore the Church must go through it. Gundry is the exception to this in that he attempts to distinguish between the Church and Israel in most instances. Most posttribulationists recognize that a major ground for pretribulationism is the distinction between the Church and Israel; posttribulationists like Gundry, however, take an opposite view. The result is further confusion in the posttribulational argument.

6.7.6 Disagreement on a second chance for unbelievers at the Second Coming of Christ

Gundry and a few others attempt to resolve the problem of saints in the Millennium still in their natural bodies - in contrast with the saints raptured after the Tribulation - by teaching a second chance to be saved after the rapture. While pretribulationists can point to an extended number of years during which people could come to Christ and qualify to enter the Millennium in their natural bodies, posttribulationists do not generally postulate a second chance for those who are unbelievers at the time of the rapture. Gundry is one of the few who advance this position, which is unsupported in Scripture.

6.7.7 Disagreement as to a specific order of events at the time of the Second Coming of Christ

Posttribulationists rarely offer a specific sequence of events in connection with the second coming of Christ. Although obligated to include the rapture in the descent of Christ from heaven to the earth, most of them do not defend it or explain it. The reason for this is that the single event of Rapture-Second Coming of Christ introduces problems in the various Scriptures dealing with divine judgments. For instance, the resurrection of the Tribulation saints is placed after Christ returns to earth, not in the process of His descent.

6.7.8 Disagreement on the nature of the judgments at the Second Coming of Christ

While posttribulationists agree that there are judgments at the second coming of Christ, they disagree as to their time and order. Gundry places the judgment of the nations and the judgment seat of Christ at the end of the Millennium. Posttribulationists usually lump the various judgments at the second coming and if premillennial, place them before the Millennium. There is no uniform teaching among posttribulationists on the final judgments.

6.7.9 Disagreement on the interpretation of the Millennium

Posttribulationists are not agreed as to whether premillennialism, postmillennialism, or amillennialism is the correct view. Accordingly posttribulationism does not lend itself to a single system of eschatological interpretation and varies widely in its concept of the fulfillment of prophecy. It is difficult to find two posttribulationists who agree completely on the order of endtime events.

6.8 Arguments For And Against Posttribulational Rapture

The arguments for and against the Posttribulational Rapture view are illustrated in below table:

(Reference: Charts of Christian Theology & Doctrine, p. 132, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1992 Edition, by H. Wayne House)

Posttribulational Rapture
Statement of View This position asserts that the living believers are to be raptured at the second coming of Christ, which will occur at the end of the Tribulation. Within this camp, there are four views as categorized by John F. Walvoord: (a) classic, (b) semiclassic, (c) futurist, (d) dispensational. The spectrum is broad, encompassing a period of time from the early church fathers to the present century.
Churches Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, some Protestant churches, modern liberals Proponents Classic: J. Barton Payne
Semiclassic: Alexander Reese, Norman MacPherson, George L. Rose, George H. Fromow
Futurist: George Ladd, Dave MacPherson
Dispensational: Robert H. Gundry, Douglas J. Moo
Others: Harold Ockenga, J. Sidlow Baxter
Arguments for Arguments Against
The New Testament words on the return of Christ make no distinction of stages: epiphany and parousia. The vocabulary used does not necessarily prove either post- or pre-tribulationism.

The church is on earth during the Tribulation according to Revelation 4-18 because nowhere in these chapters is the church said to be in heaven. The occurrence of the word "saints" in Revelation 13:7, 10; 16:6; 17:6; and 18:24 shows that the church is in fact on the earth during the Tribulation.

The Church is in heaven during the Tribulation because the twenty-four elders represent the Church and the background of Hebrew marriage customs argues for the Church's already being in heaven before the coming of Christ. The "saints" of the Tribulation days do not have to be the same as the "saints" of the church simply because the same term is used of both groups.
Second Thessalonians 1:6-10 is best interpreted as teaching posttribulationism. Since release comes at the Second Coming and release is connected with the rapture, the rapture must be at the same time as the Second Coming of Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 does not teach that release from persecution will necessarily occur at the same time as the Second Coming of Christ. It does not picture the rapture at all but focuses on the judgment on the wicked and the vindication of Christ that will occur at the Second Coming.
The church will be in the Tribulation and the promised protection is through divine preservation within the Tribulation period (Revelation 3:10). The word "from," which is a translation of the Greek preposition ek, means "out from within" instead of simply "from" in the other New Testament passage, e.g. John 17:15. God makes a distinction between unbelievers and believers. His wrath falls on the unbeliever. Most recognized translations all translate ek by the word "from." The judgments of famine, earthquake and stars falling from heaven are not by their nature suitable for discriminatory judgment. The only way one could escape all would be a pretribulational rapture. The saints in the Tribulation will not be protected (e.g. the martyred death in Revelation 6:9-11; 7:9-17; 13:7-11). If the Tribulation is the wrath of Satan and the Church will not be spared from the wrath of Satan, then God will not protect the Church through the Tribulation.
The day of the LORD does not begin until Armageddon. Certain celestial portents will both precede the day of the LORD (Joel 2:30-31) and follow immediately upon the Tribulation (Matthew 24:29). Clearly, the day of the LORD will not begin with the Tribulation or any part of it, for otherwise the heavenly portents after the Tribulation could not be said to precede that day.

The book of Revelation teaches that God's judgments fall upon the earth beginning at chapter 6 and culminating in chapter 19. In Revelation 6, there are a series of "celestial portents" and that they occur throughout the whole period. It is clear that judgments of the day of the LORD occur long before Armageddon; with this comes the evidence that the day of the LORD itself is under way.

The rapture and second coming of Christ are a single event (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 19:11-20:4). As the heavenly hosts proceed from heaven to earth, the Church rises from earth and meets the Lord in the air; as the procession proceeds to the earth, the Church joins with the coming King in extending His kingdom over the earth. A most important fact all posttribulationists ignore is that the resurrection at the second coming of Christ is after the descent to the earth, not during the event, as Revelation 19:11-20:4 makes clear. This contradicts the posttribulational order of events.

Pretribulationism is a recent theory which surfaced in the writings of John Nelson Darby about 150 years ago. Posttribulationism is the standard doctrine of the early Church, and they raise the question why pretribulationism was not advanced earlier if it is actually the teaching of Scripture.

Posttribulationists ignore the fact that most modern forms of posttribulationism differ greatly from that of the early church or of the Protestant Reformers and are actually just as new or perhaps newer than pretribulationism.

The New Testament does not state in so many words a pretribulational rapture. The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25) does not mention the rapture in its list of endtime events. In the rapture passages there is no clear statement of the Great Tribulation following the event.

The Bible is also silent on a posttribulational rapture and never mentions the Great Tribulation as preceding the rapture. The silence about a rapture in passages describing the endtime is much more damaging to posttribulationism than the  pretribulational rapture. If the rapture follows the Great Tribulation, it would require a warning to those facing this time that this would be what they could expect.

The parable of the wheat and the tares is an evidence for a posttribulational rapture. As Matthew 13:30 states clearly, at the time of the harvest the tares are gathered first, and then the wheat is gathered into the barn. The fact that the wheat (i.e. saved) is gathered after the tares (i.e. wicked) corresponds to the second coming of Christ to set up His kingdom. This contradicts the order of the pretribulational rapture, in which believers are gathered out first.

If a rapture takes place in the sequence of the second coming of Christ, it would be the first event and would automatically separate all the saved (i.e. the wheat) from the wicked (i.e. the tares) before Christ's feet ever touch the Mount of Olives and before His kingdom was instituted. If a posttribulational rapture is assumed, they have a real problem with this event related to the second coming, as obviously Christ comes to earth first and then the wicked are judged.

This as a delegation of citizens who would go out to meet a king and would return with him on his journey. 

According to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, the saints at the time of the rapture will meet the Lord Jesus in the air. Posttribulationists cannot explain why it is necessary for the Church to meet the Lord in the air if the Church has been preserved through the Tribulation period successfully and why would it not be better for the saints to remain on earth when Christ returns and allow Him to separate them from unsaved.

The rapture of the church must take place at the end of the Tribulation. In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, Paul equates the coming of our Lord Jesus and our gathering together to Him (v. 1) with the Day of the LORD (v. 2). He then indicates that the Day of the LORD will not occur until "the apostacy" takes place and "the man of lawlessness" is revealed (v. 3). Therefore, the logical conclusion is that the rise in apostasy is a sign that will precede the return of Christ (v. 8).

If the Thessalonians had been taught posttribulationism, the beginning of the Day of the LORD would have been to them evidence that the rapture was drawing near and should have caused rejoicing. Instead of this, the beginning of the Day of the LORD apparently created a panic in their midst (v. 2). The Thessalonians feared they had been left behind in the Tribulation - makes sense only if the Thessalonians had been taught pretribulationism.
Posttribulationists call attention to the expression "first resurrection" in Revelation 20:4-6. How could a resurrection (to be occurred at the end of the Tribulation period) be "first" if a rapture had actually taken place before the Tribulation? The resurrection of Revelation 20:4-6 actually occurs after the second coming of Christ and therefore contradicts the idea that the rapture in the posttribulational view is a part of the second coming of Christ from heaven to earth. Therefore, the resurrection of Revelation 20:4-6 is also not "first" in the posttribulational order of events.

Pretribulationism is based only on inference.

Posttribulationism is also based on inference. They cannot cite a single passage that places the Church in the Great Tribulation. In Revelation 4-18, there is not a single reference to the Church as being in the Tribulation period. In the description of the second coming of Christ in Revelation 19, there is no indication whatever that the procession will be met by the raptured church rising from earth to meet the Lord in the air. 
Passages describing the same event do not each have to contain all the same details. The problems of contrast are not all equally important. There are a number of sharp contrasts to be drawn between the rapture and the second advent which will show that they are not viewed as synonymous in Scripture.

The Jewish progenitors of the millennial population will come from the 144,000 who will not be saved at any time during the Tribulation but only at the end. The Gentile parents will come from the wicked who will somehow escape death and/or judgment at the end of the Tribulation. The judgment of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:35-40) can be placed after the Millennium.

It raises problems about the repopulation of the millennial kingdom by flesh and blood believers if they are all raptured and glorified at the end of the Tribulation. Are we to imagine a group of 144,000 (Revelation 7:1-8) unsaved people designated as God's servants (v. 3)? As unsaved people, they will follow Antichrist. If the judgment of the sheep and goats is to be moved to the end of the Millennium, then the Millennium will have to be a time when Christ's followers are hungry, naked, sick and in prison. This will not be true during the Millennium when Christ will be ruling in righteousness.

6.9 Evaluation of Posttribulational Rapture

Having seen something of the history, doctrinal characteristics, Biblical support cited for, unresolved problems of, disagreement among posttribulationists and arguments for posttribulational rapture theory, we must now evaluate it. What are its strengths and its weaknesses?

6.9.1 Positive aspects

The positive aspects of the posttribulational rapture view are as follows:

  1. It offers no escape from hardship. It paints a very realistic picture of the demands and costs and pain of the Christian life, while reminding believers of the resources of power upon which they can draw when living in the midst of hardship.

  2. It offers a basis for Christian anticipation. It does not claim to have worked out all the details of the last things or to have explained fully all the symbols involved in Biblical eschatology, and it has generally exercised real restraint and care in setting dates.

6.9.2 Negative aspects

However, there are certain negative features in posttribulationism, including:

  1. lack of valid Biblical support;

  2. their theological inductions are not based on all the facts;

  3. numerous serious unresolved problems;

  4. arguments which posttribulationists themselves disagree substantially;

  5. lack of concrete detail concerning the endtime events; and

  6. lack of positive affirmation.

6.9.2.1 Lack of valid Biblical support

The whole argument for posttribulationism is based on the following invalid assumptions:

  1. Confusing the Great Tribulation still future with the common trial of the saints throughout the age but the posttribulationists cannot cite a single passage where this confusion is justified.

  2. Identifying the Church with Tribulation saints, a conclusion which is without substantiation in Scripture. While posttribulationists have worked hard to place the Church in the Olivet Discourse, the fact remains that they have never satisfactorily explained this.

  3. Posttribulationists do not have a single Scripture passage where the Church as the body of Christ is found in the events of the Tribulation time preceding the Second Coming of Christ. 

Actually the Church is never found in any portion of Scripture dealing with the time of the Tribulation and the rapture of the Church is never mentioned in any passage picturing the return of Christ to set up His millennial kingdom. Because of the comprehensive nature of Scriptural revelation in both the Old and New Testaments on endtime events, for there to be a complete omission of the rapture in connection with the second coming of Christ becomes a most difficult problem.

6.9.2.2 Their theological inductions are not based on all the facts

The basic problem of posttribulationists is that their theological inductions are not based on all the facts and that they tend to be selective in their supporting evidence, ignoring the problems and leaves their conclusions in question. The fact that posttribulationists avoid their major problems is in itself a confession that in crucial areas they have not supported their conclusions.

6.9.2.3 Numerous serious unresolved problems

Posttribulationists are hard put to explain how the Church can go through a day of wrath and yet have comfort with the thought of rapture at its end. Posttribulationists disagree among themselves as to how to solve this problem. Some of them spiritualize the Great Tribulation others try to evade the problem by declaring that while the world is the object of divine wrath, the Church is not.

Posttribulationists fail to explain why it is necessary for the Church to leave the earth to meet the Lord in the air at the end of the Great Tribulation (i.e. posttribulational rapture) if the Church has been preserved through the whole Tribulation period successfully. Why would it not be better for the saints to remain on earth when Christ returns and allow Him to separate them from unsaved? If the purpose of Christ is to take the Church out of the earth to heaven, meeting Christ in the air would be natural. If the purpose of Christ is to come to the earth, it is not really necessary for the Church to rise from earth into the air.

Posttribulationists tend to ignore the obvious fact that the rapture is presented as an event entirely different from the second coming of Christ to set up His kingdom. There are a number of contrasts to be drawn between the rapture and the second coming of Christ which will show that they are not viewed as synonymous in Scripture. Posttribulatianism has not given a satisfactory answer to these crucial contrasts.

Posttribulationists have not solved the problem of transition from the Tribulation to the Millennium. According to Scripture, survivors of the Tribulation - both Jews and Gentiles who are saved - enter the Millennium in their natural bodies. They are described as having normal functions as people living in the flesh on earth. If so, posttribulationists have a major problem in explaining how these could be raptured and still have natural bodies. Most posttribulationists choose to ignore this. Gundry, as we have seen, attempts to solve the problem by a complicated explanation unique in the history of interpretation, but he actually never resolves the difficulty.

6.9.2.4 Posttribulation arguments in which posttribulationists themselves disagree substantially

Posttribulationists are not agreed among themselves as to how to resolve same of their contradictions. While they have made an earnest effort to resolve their problems - often by redefining the terms to their own point of view and being selective in what they choose to note in central passages - it remains that posttribulationism has inherent contradictions, especially if the premillennial viewpoint be adopted.

6.9.2.5 Lack of concrete detail concerning the endtime events

Because posttribulationism considers fine nuances of meaning and precise definitions in eschatology to be less important than does pretribulationism, it has not stressed the intensive study of eschatology that pretribulationism has.

One is the relative vagueness of much of it. Whereas pretribulationists speak of the Millennium as precisely one thousand years and the Tribulation as exactly seven years, the posttribulationist frequently is unsure of the length of each. He simply knows that there will be such periods. This makes the Millennium rather colorless. The relative lack of concrete detail concerning the Millennium results in relatively little logical basis for a Millennium.

Similarly the relative absence of unequivocal meanings for eschatological symbols in Scripture gives to posttribulationism less persuasive than pretribulationism generally has. In some respects and on some issues, posttribulationism is virtually indistinguishable from amillennialism.

Posttribulationists are content to attack other points of view rather than setting forth their own arguments. Hence, it fails to emphasize sufficiently the great central eschatological facts, such as the glorious, bodily, second coming of Christ. In a time of broad, resurgent interest in eschatology, this must surely be considered a demerit.

6.9.2.6 Lack of positive affirmation

There is also often a lack of positive affirmation on the part of posttribulationism. In part this is due to its having in recent years been largely expressed in reaction and contrast to pretribulationism, and therefore being identified as the view that the Church will not be raptured prior to the Great Tribulation. In part, this results from the fact that its major doctrine is an unpleasant one, namely, believers will have to undergo severe tribulation.

Further, many posttribulationists simply have not been eager to express their position. In those environments in which pretribulationism has been widely accepted as the orthodox view, some posttribulationist pastors have refused to be dogmatic about their position and thus have appeared to lack conviction or even understanding.

6.9.3 Conclusion

According to the above reasons most thorough-going premillenarians have abandoned the posttribulation position as not being the hope for the rapture of the church taught in the Scriptures. Actually, there is not a single verse in the entire Bible that teaches a posttribulational rapture. I conclude that the posttribulational rapture view is unreliable and therefore must be rejected as false.

 

7. A SURVEY OF PRETRIBULATIONAL RAPTURE

The survey of pretribulational rapture view is divided into the following eight sections:

  1. definition of pretribulational rapture;
  2. history of pretribulational rapture;
  3. doctrinal characteristics of pretribulational rapture;
  4. differences between posttribulationism and pretribulationism;
  5. Biblical support cited for pretribulational rapture;
  6. reasons for holding the pretribulational rapture view;
  7. arguments for and against pretribulational rapture; and
  8. evaluation of pretribulational rapture.

7.1 Definition of Pretribulational Rapture

The most widely held viewpoint of Bible expositors who specialize in premillennial eschatology is the pretribulational rapture position. This point of view holds that the rapture of the entire church (both resurrection of the dead in Christ and translation of living saints) occurs before the entire seven-year Tribulation period of Daniel's seventieth week and can be expected at any moment of any day, and therefore emphasizes the imminency of the Lord's return. At the end of this seven-year period, Christ will return with the church in triumph. It will be accompanied by a resurrection of believers who have died during the Tribulation. They then share in the millennial reign with Christ and the other believers. See below chart for illustration:

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7.2 History of Pretribulational Rapture

7.2.1 The early church fathers believe the imminent return of Christ but unclear about the rapture position

Pretribulationists generally concede that there is no complete statement of pretribulationism in the writings of the early fathers. But, as John F. Walvoord said, neither is there in their writings a detailed and established exposition of any other feature of premillennialism. Indeed, he noted, most important doctrines were developed over a period of several centuries. For example, the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer was not established until the Protestant Reformation.

The central feature of pretribulationism, the doctrine of imminency, is, a prominent feature of the doctrine of the early church. The early church lived in constant expectation of the coming of the Lord for His church. It is true that the early church fathers were not always consistent, as on the one hand they held that the Lord could come at any moment and then perhaps in the next paragraph would intimate that something had to happen first. The fact is, however, in the early church fathers there was no clear agreement that a specific seven-year period as is indicated in Daniel 9:27 had to occur before the Lord could return. Generally speaking, the early church fathers, as well as the Protestant Reformers, tended to identify contemporary events with the events of the Great Tribulation and because of this could look for the imminent return of Christ. There is also indication, however, that at least a few had the concept of being exempt from Tribulation.

According to Moffat, it was the widespread Jewish belief that some would be exempt from the Tribulation (cf. Expositor's Greek Testament; cf. Henry C. Thiessen, Bibliotheca Sacra, 92 April-June 1935: 187-96).

Clement of Rome (first century) wrote, "Of a truth, soon and suddenly shall His will be accomplished, as the Scriptures also bear witness, saying, 'Speedily will He come, and will not tarry;' and, 'The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Holy One, for whom ye look'" (First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, chapter 23).

The Didache (A.D. 120) contains the exhortation, "Watch for your life's sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ye ready, for ye know not thehour in which our Lord cometh." (Ante-Nicene Fathers, 7:382). It would seem from this quotation that the coming of the Lord is considered as possible in any hour, indicating belief in the imminency of the Lord's return.

A similar reference is found in the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (Book VII, Sec. ii, xxxi): "Observe all things that are commanded you by the Lord. Be watchful for your life. 'Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning, and ye like unto men who wait for their Lord, when He will come, at even, or in the morning, or at cock-crowing, or at midnight. For what hour they think not, the Lord will come; and if they open to Him, blessed are those servants, because they were found watching." Here again the doctrine of imminency is implied.

The expectancy of the Lord's coming was clouded, however, by the belief that the events of the Tribulation were impending and that Christ's coming to establish His kingdom was posttribulational. Frequently the same writers who seemed to imply imminency later detailed events that must precede the rapture and the second coming of Christ. At best, the situation is confused. The general impression one receives from reading the early church fathers is that they followed a posttribulational interpretation similar to the false teachers whom Paul rebuked in 2 Thessalonians 2, who had taught the Thessalonians that they were already in the day of the Lord.

Typical of the problem of imminency in the early church is the Didache, quoted earlier, with its exhortation to watch for the Lord's coming at any hour. In the same passage, however, the writer went on to predict the coming of "the Deceiver," or the Antichrist, and made this statement: "Then humankind will undergo the fiery test." Following this, according to the Didache, will come the "sounding of the trumpet" and "the resurrection of the dead." Posttribulationists like Ladd usually insist that this is proof of explicit posttribulationism. The Didache does not state, however, that "the church" will, go through the Tribulation but rather "humankind." Even pretribulationists grant that there will be tribulation for "humankind," including trial of those who believe in Christ in that period. Pretribulationists also find a sounding of the trumpet (Matthew 24:31) and a resurrection of the dead after the Tribulation (Revelation 20:4). In other words, the statement of the Didache could be harmonized with pretribulationism as it is taught today. To claim that the Didache is explicitly pretribulational, however, is hardly justified. his rather the case that the viewpoint of the early church was not detailed and mature.

7.2.2 From Middle Ages to Reformation

During the Middle Ages, as we have seen, the eschatological interpretation gradually adopted was the so-called historical view, which places eschatological events within the history of the church. In the Reformation, Protestants tended to identify the Antichrist with papal Rome. The tribulation was already occurring, or would occur within the customary span of history. In this framework there was certainly no expectation of an imminent coming. Even Protestants who were premillennial tended to follow the historical mode of interpretation.

7.2.3 From 19th century to now

In the early nineteenth century clear-cut pretribulationism arose in the views of John Nelson Darby (A.D. 1800 - 1882), a member of the Plymouth Brethren movement. This movement began in Dublin in 1825 as a group of men concerned about the spiritual condition of the Protestant church in Ireland. Darby and other leaders of the movement became involved in prophetic conferences carried on at Powerseourt House.

John Nelson Darby (A.D. 1800 - 1882) gave the greatest initial impetus to the systematizing of pretribulationism. This is because he saw the church as a special work of God, distinct from His program for Israel. This, integrated into his premillennialism, led him to the position that the church would be raptured before the Tribulation period when God would again deal specially with Israel. Darby believe that Christ will come to rapture the church before the seven-year Tribulation period and then He will come in glory to establish the millennial kingdom at the end of the Tribulation. Darby visited the United States no fewer than six times between 1859 and 1874 and expounded his views of eschatology. To many Americans Darbyism constituted the recovery of the Biblical doctrine of the glorious second coming of Christ.

Interest in prophetic teaching and preaching was a major factor in the rise of the Bible Conference movement, in which ministers and laymen who accepted a set of commonly accepted beliefs gathered for fellowship. The best known conference was the Niagara Conference. After it was discontinued, a new conference was established at Seacliff, Long Island, in 1901. It was at Seacliff that C.I. Scofield (A.D. 1843 - 1921) conceived the idea of a reference Bible. The Scofield Reference Bible was particularly effective in spreading pretribulationism. Widely distributed in conservative circles, it was the only Bible study aid possessed by many laymen.

Also effective in promoting pretribulationism was the Bible institute movement. As more and more seminaries of the major denominations turned toward a liberal theology, conservative churches increasingly looked to the Bible institutes for pastors, and these institutes were almost exclusively pretribulational. As a result this viewpoint was adopted by most conservative independent and Baptist churches, as well as by many other "free churches."

In the twentieth century the pretribulational view has been expounded and defended through the following writings:

  1. Is the Rapture Next? (Grand Rapids: . Zondervan, 1956) by Leon Wood;

  2. Things to Come, (Findlay, Ohio: Dunham, 1958) by J. Dwight Pentecost;

  3. A Revelation of Jesus Christ, (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1961) by J.B. Smith

  4. The Rapture Question, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970) by John F. Walvoord; and

  5. What You Should Know about the Rapture, (Chicago: Moody, 1981) by Charles C. Ryrie.

The older school of pretribulationism emphasized the issue of "imminency." However, in recent days the crux of this position centers more around the aspect of God's wrath and whether the church is called to experience any or all of it during the Tribulation.

Pretribulationism is very popular today in the more conservative Baptist movements and is almost universally accepted as the orthodox view among conservative, evangelical, fundamental and independant Protestant churches. Pretribulationism is the majority view among conservative Protestant churches at the present moment (note: The Roman Catholic Church and modern liberals do not believe in pretribulationism.).

7.3 Doctrinal Characteristics of Pretribulational Rapture

The doctrinal characteristics of pretribulationism are summarized as follows:

  1. the literal interpretation of prophecy;

  2. the sharp distinction between the Church and Israel;

  3. the return of Christ for the Church may occur at any time;

  4. a literal future Great Tribulation period;

  5. the Day of the LORD begins with the Tribulation;

  6. Christ will come for His Church prior to the Great Tribulation;

  7. the second coming of Christ has two stages;

  8. the Old Testament saints and Tribulation martyrs will be resurrected at the close of the Great Tribulation;

  9. Christ will judge the living nations at the end of the Great Tribulation; and

  10. parents of Millennial population come from survivors of judgments on living Jews and Gentiles.

7.3.1 The literal interpretation of prophecy

Among posttribulationists there is a wide divergence on the issue of the basic principles of Biblical interpretation, especially as related to prophecy. Even conservative interpreters spiritualize prophecies when they seem to contradict posttribulationism. Lack of consistency among posttribulationists in principles of interpretation have undoubtedly contributed to their tack of agreement among themselves and confusion on important points in posttribulationism.

Pretribulationists do not need to spiritualize prophecy in order to support the pretribulational rapture and are more consistent in their application of the principle of literal interpretation of prophecy. Our doctrine of the premillennial return of Christ to institute a literal kingdom is the outcome of the literal method of interpretation of the Old Testament promises and prophecies. It is only natural, therefore, that the same basic method of interpretation must be employed in our interpretation of the rapture question. The literal method of interpretation, consistently employed, can lead to no other conclusion than that the church will be raptured before the seventieth week.

7.3.2 The sharp distinction between the Church and Israel

Most posttribulationists fail to distinguish the Scriptural program for the church, the body of Christ, and the program of God for Israel. The confusion of Israel and the church is one of the major reasons for confusion in prophecy as a whole, as illustrated in both amillennialism and posttribulationism.

Only in pretribulationism is the distinct program for the church clearly defined. Dispensational pretribulationism, with its sharp distinction between Israel and the church, sees the Tribulation as marking the transition between God's temporary dealing with the church and the resumption of His primary dealing with national Israel. The "blessed hope" of the believer, then, is deliverance from this Great Tribulation.

7.3.3 The return of Christ for the Church may occur at any time

The second importance feature of pretribulationism is the doctrine of imminence, according to which the return of Christ for the Church (the rapture) may occur at any time. No further events must occur, no additional prophecies must be fulfilled, before the rapture. If the second coming of Christ were a unified event, it could not occur at any moment; the Great Tribulation would have to take place first. But in fact Christ can come at any time. Pretribulationists see this belief in imminency as a great incentive to urgency in Christian service. Because we do not know when our opportunity for labor will be over, we are more intent to use the present time well.

7.3.4 A literal future Great Tribulation period

Posttribulationists are quite at odds among themselves as to the nature of the Tribulation, some holding that it is a literal future period, and others that it is already past. One of the principal causes for confusion among the posttribulationists is their lack of consistency on the subject of the future Tribulation.

Pretribulationism holds with clarity to a future Great Tribulation and to a literal fulfillment of the events and situations which will characterize this period. Pretribulationists believe that there will be a Great Tribulation quite unequalled in all of history. While some other eschatologists emphasize that the church has always experienced persecution and hence tribulation, pretribulationists see this Great Tribulation as so intense as not to be easily confused with tribulation in general. Numerous Biblical passages speak of a future period of unprecedented tribulation which will involve three classes of people:

  1. the nation of Israel;

  2. the Gentile world; and

  3. the saints who will live in that time of trouble. 

This Great Tribulation has a definite, twofold purpose:

  1. to conclude "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24); and

  2. to prepare for the restoration and regathering of Israel in the Millennial reign of Christ following the second advent.

The Great Tribulation thus serves as a transition period in the plan of God. The primary purpose of the Great Tribulation is not to purge the church or to discipline believers.

7.3.5 The Day of the LORD begins with the Tribulation

The question of the beginning of the Day of the LORD is a watershed between pre- and posttribulationism. Pretribulationism sees the Day of the LORD beginning at the start of the Tribulation for the following reasons:

  1. The very first judgments (by whatever chronology one uses) include war, famine, and the death of one fourth of the population of the earth.

  2. The one time the Scriptures mention peace and safety during the Tribulation period is at its very beginning. This time will be followed immediately by war, destruction, and upheavals that will continue unabated until Christ comes. Thus the Day of the LORD must begin at the beginning of the Tribulation, and the Rapture must be before.

  3. The revelation of the man of sin will occur at the beginning of the Tribulation when he makes a pact with the Jewish people.

  4. The much more normal understanding of the verb in Revelation 6:17 conveys the idea that the wrath has already come and continues.

  5. Paul's use of peri de, not simply de, in 1 Thessalonians 5:1 indicates contrasting subjects.

  6. The removal of peace from the earth just after the Tribulation begins fits only pretribulationism.

7.3.6 Christ will come for His Church prior to the Great Tribulation

The most important feature of pretribulationism is the idea that Jesus will come for His church prior to the Great Tribulation to "rapture" it out of the world. This coming of Christ for the church will involve believers being caught up from the earth and meeting Christ in the air. Christ will not descend all the way to the earth, as He will in the Second Coming (the coming with the church) when He descends to the Mount of Olives. Thus, His coming will not be observed by the unbelieving world, although its effects (i.e., the absence of a substantial number of persons) will be readily discernible.

7.3.7 The second coming of Christ has two stages

The effect of the rapture is to remove the church from the scene of world history for the seven-year Tribulation. At the rapture two things will happen:

  1. believers who have died in Christ will be resurrected and translated in heaven first (1 Thessalonians 4:13-16); and

  2. saints who are alive will be translated to join the resurrected believers in heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

At this time all Christians will be judged (2 Corinthians 5:10). They will appear before the judgment seat of Christ and be judged according to their works. This judgment will not extend to all persons who have ever lived, or even to all who will ultimately be saved. It relates only to "we all," which is believers in Christ during the present age (i.e., the church). This judgment will not separate the saved from the unsaved; it will reward the good works of the persons being judged.

At the end of this seven-year period during which the church, having received its reward, is with Christ in heaven and non-Christians are experiencing Great Tribulation on earth, Jesus will return with the church in triumph. This great event will be visible to all. It will be accompanied by a second resurrection: a resurrection of believers who have died during the Tribulation. They then share in the Millennial reign with Christ and the other believers.

The second coming, then, has two stages or phases. In the first phase Christ comes for the church, to remove it from the world. In the second phase He comes with the church, to set up the earthly kingdom, establish His rule, and initiate the Millennium.

In the posttribulational view, as we have mentioned in Section 6, these are two aspects of a single event. Posttribulationism discerns only two resurrections, while pretributationism sees three (the resurrection of the righteous dead at the rapture just prior to the Tribulation, the resurrection just after the Tribulation of saints who have died during the Tribulation, and the resurrection of unbelievers at the end of the Millennium). Because posttribulationism does not divide the coming of Christ into two stages, it does not distinguish between the first two of these resurrections.

7.3.8 The Old Testament saints and Tribulation martyrs will be resurrected at the close of the Great Tribulation

Jewish believers from Old Testament times (Daniel 12:2) and the tribulation martyrs are to be raised at the close of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 20:4). The unbelieving dead will remain in the graves for another 1000 years (Revelation 20:5). Their resurrection and judgment at the end of the Millennium is described in Revelation 20:7-15, and noted in the last phrase of Daniel 12:2.

7.3.9 Christ will judge the living nations at the end of the Great Tribulation

Christ will judge the living nations at the end of the Great Tribulation (Matthew 25:31-46). Gentiles who have shown their faith in God by helping His people, the faithful Jewish remnant, will be admitted to Christ’s kingdom. Others will be led away to eternal punishment. When all evil elements have been purged, Christ will set up His earthly kingdom. The boundaries of the nation of Israel, "from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates" (Genesis 15:18), will have to be defined. In addition, appointments of glorified saints to their respective positions of rule will be made.

7.3.10 Parents of Millennial population come from survivors of judgments on living Jews and Gentiles

In the pretribulational understanding of these future events, the original parents of the Millennial kingdom will come from the redeemed (but unresurrected) survivors of the Tribulation, the "sheep" of Matthew 25:34 and the faithful Jewish survivors of Ezekiel 20:38.

The rapture will occur before the Tribulation, removing all the church age believers who are living on the earth at that time. But many people will be saved during the Tribulation (Revelation 7:9, 14) including a specific group of 144,000 Jewish people (Revelation 7:4). Of those saved during that horrible time, many will be martyred (Revelation 6:11; 13:15), but some will survive to enter the Millennium (Matthew 25:34; Zechariah 14:11). The initial group who will enter the Millennium will not only enter with natural bodies but will also be redeemed people who willingly submit to the rule of the King. In due time, babies will be born and grow up. Some will receive Christ into their hearts; others will not. By the end of the Millennium there will be innumerable rebels who will have given outward obedience to the King, but who, when given the opportunity by Satan after his release, will join his revolution against Christ (Revelation 20:7-9).

7.4 Differences Between Posttribulationism and Pretribulationism

Since pretribulationism and posttribulationism are the two rapture views most debated today, let me contrast their principal differences.

Doctrinal Characteristics Posttribulationism Pretribulationism
The Relationship Between the Church and the Tribulation Church experiences Revelation 3:10 at end of Tribulation. Church experiences Revelation 3:10 before the Tribulation.
The Timing of the Day of the LORD The Day of the LORD begins at close of Tribulation. The Day of the LORD begins with the Tribulation.
The Timing of the Rapture 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 occurs near end of Tribulation. 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 occurs at beginning of Tribulation.
The Timing of the Sealing of the 144,000 Jewish Believers 144,000 redeemed at conclusion of Tribulation. 144,000 redeemed at start of Tribulation.
The Relationship Between the Rapture and the Second Coming Rapture and Second Coming are a single event. Rapture and Second Coming separated by seven years.
The Timing of the Judgment of Living Israelites No such judgment. Living Israelites judged at Second Coming.
The Timing of the Judgment of Living Gentiles Living Gentiles judged after Millennium. Living Gentiles judged at Second Coming.
The Parents of Millennial Population Parents of Millennial population come from 144,000 Jews. Parents of Millennial population come from survivors of judgments on living Jews and Gentiles.
The Timing of the Judgment of Church Age Believers Believers of Church Age judged after Second Coming or at conclusion of Millennium. Believers of Church Age judged in heaven between Rapture and Second Coming.

7.5 Biblical Support Cited for Pretribulational Rapture

7.5.1 Revelation 3:10

7.5.1.1 Pretribulationists' explanations

The pretribulationist's understanding of ek is supported by a number of verses that have nothing to do with the Rapture and therefore do not beg the question. For examples:

  1. "He who guards his mouth and his tongue guards his soul from troubles" (Proverbs 21:23). Guarding your mouth and tongue is not the means of protecting yourself in the time of trouble; rather, it is the means of escaping trouble you are not presently in. In the Septuagint ek indicates an external, not internal, preservation.

  2. Ek also is used in the same way of external protection in Joshua 2:13 and in Psalms 33:19; 56:13.

  3. Likewise in the New Testament, ek clearly has the same meaning. In Acts 15:29 Gentile believers were asked to keep themselves from certain practices that were offensive to Jewish believers. The only way they could do that would be by abstaining entirely from the practices. They must withdraw, not somehow protect themselves while practicing those things.

  4. In James 5:20 we are told that if a sinning Christian can be turned away from his backslidden state he will be saved from physical death. There is no way ek could mean he will be protected in the midst of physical death and then emerge from it in some kind of resurrection. He will escape a premature death by being exempt from it. (For an excellent discussion of these and other points related to Revelation 3:10, see Jeffrey L. Townsend, The Rapture in Revelation 3:10, Bibliotheca Sacra, July 1980, pp. 252-66.)

7.5.1.2 Objection raised by the posttribulationists

Posttribulationists point out that this promise is fulfilled not by removing believers from the world but by protecting them from Satan while they live on the earth.

However, the promise of Revelation 3:10 not only guarantees being kept from the trials of the Tribulation period but being kept from the time period of the Tribulation. The promise is not, "I will keep you from the trials." It is, "1 will keep you from the hour of the trials." Posttribulationists have to resort to finding means to undercut stress on the term 'hour' by insisting that 'hour' means the experiences of a time period but not the time itself. In other words, the church will live through the time but not experience some of the events. But if the events of the Tribulation are worldwide and directly and indirectly affect everybody, how can the church be on the earth and escape the experiences?

But how clear and plain the promise is, "I ... will keep you from the hour of testing." Not from just any persecution, but the coming time that will affect the whole earth. The only way to escape worldwide trouble is not to be on the earth. And the only way to escape the time when events take place is not to be in a place where time ticks on. The only place that meets those qualifications is Heaven.

Granted, it is possible to live through a time and miss some of the events (like being present at a social function but missing some of the activities), but it is not possible to miss the time without also missing the events.

7.5.1.3 A simple illustration

Perhaps an illustration will help keep the promise in its clear, uncomplicated form. As a teacher I frequently have to give examinations. Let us suppose that I announce to a class that I am going to give an examination on such-and-such a day at the regular classtime. Then suppose I say, "I want to make a promise to students whose grade average for the semester so far is 'A'. The promise is: I will keep you from the examination." If I said nothing more by way of explanation, I expect that the 'A' students would puzzle over that promise. "Does it mean we have to take the examination or not?" they would ask. And just to be safe, I would expect, they would show up at the appointed time because they would not have understood clearly what I meant.

Now I could keep my promise to those 'A' students this way: I could pass out the exam to everyone, and give to the 'A' students a sheet containing the answers. They would take the examination and yet in reality be kept from the examination. They would live through the time but not suffer the trial. This is posttribulationism. Protection while enduring.

But if I said to the class, "I am giving an examination next week. I want to make a promise to all the 'A' students. I will keep you from the hour of the examination. I very seriously doubt if the 'A' students in that class would spend any time debating what I meant or whether or not they had to show up at the time of the examination. They would understand clearly that to be kept from the hour of the test exempts them from being present during that hour. This is pretribulationism, and this is the meaning of the promise of Revelation 3:10. And the promise came from the risen Savior who Himself is the Deliverer from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

7.5.1.4 Comments

After considering the explanations from both sides, I think that the pretribulationists' explanations are more convincing than posttribulationists'.

7.5.2 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul tried to allay the fears of some who thought that deceased believers might not share in the kingdom. His explanation in that paragraph was something about which they were uninformed. But, in contrast, they were well informed about the beginning of the Day of the LORD as he explains in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.

7.5.2.1 Pretribulationists' explanations

The beginning of that day will come unexpectedly in a time of peace and safety (5:2), with pain (5:3) and wrath (5:9). In the meantime, believers are to live with alertness and sobriety. The exhortations of verses 6, 8, 10 are not to watch for signs during the Tribulation in preparation for the Day of the LORD at the end of the Tribulation, but to live godly lives in view of the coming Tribulation which believers will escape. Of this teaching Paul said they were fully aware (5:2). How? Partly from Paul's own teaching to them, but also from their knowledge of the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament, the Day of the LORD is referred to by that phrase about 20 times, often with eschatological implications. In addition, a parallel term, ''the last days,'' occurs 14 times, always eschatological. Further the phrase ''in that day'' occurs over 100 times and is generally eschatological. In Isaiah 2:2, 11-12, the three phrases appear, referring to the same eschatological time. So there was ample reason for Paul to say that his readers knew about the Day of the LORD from the Old Testament itself.

But concerning the rapture there is no Old Testament revelation. This omission from over a hundred passages seems hard to understand if the rapture is the first event of the Day of the LORD, as posttribulationism teaches. But if the rapture is a mystery, unrevealed in the Old Testament, and if it precedes the actual beginning of the Day of the LORD, as pretribulationism teaches, then it is not strange that Paul had to inform them about the rapture but needed only to remind them what they already knew about the Day of the LORD.

7.5.2.2 Posttribulationists' explanations

Posttribulationists want to make a very close connection between 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 5:1-11, whereas pretribulationists are better served by seeing a contrast of subjects between the two paragraphs.

Thus the posttribulational scenario runs like this: Paul moves with ease from his discussion of the rapture in 4:13-18 to the discussion of the second coming of Christ in 5:1-11 because he is talking about events that occur at the same time and not events separated by seven years. Paul's choice of de (the first Greek word in 5:1), a simple connective with only a slight contrastive sense, indicates this close connection. And since the Day of the LORD will not begin until the Second Coming, the rapture will occur then also.

7.5.2.3 Comments

The contrast between the subjects of the two chapters is sharpened by the fact that Paul did not simply use a de to begin verse 1 but a phrase, peri de. This is very significant, because elsewhere in his writings Paul uses peri de to denote a new and contrasting subject. Notice 1 Corinthians 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12; and 1 Thessalonians 4:9 and 5:1. Granted, the posttribulationists' contention that the same subject is being discussed in 4:13-18 and 5:1-11 might be supported by the use of de alone, but it is completely nullified by the use of peri de. So the pretribulationists' use of the passage is strongly supported exegetically. The rapture is not a part of the Day of the LORD and therefore cannot be posttribulational.

7.6 Reasons for Holding the Pretribulational Rapture View

It is worthwhile to examine the reasons for holding the pretribulational rapture view. 24 major reasons are given here:

  1. the literal method of interpretation;

  2. the nature of the seventieth week;

  3. the scope of the seventieth week;

  4. the purpose of the seventieth week;

  5. the unity of the seventieth week;

  6. the nature of the church;

  7. the concept of the church as a mystery;

  8. the distinctions between Israel and the church;

  9. the doctrine of imminence;

  10. the work of the restrainer (i.e. Holy Spirit) in 2 Thessalonians 2;

  11. the necessity of an interval;

  12. distinction between the rapture and the second advent;

  13. the twenty-four elders;

  14. the problem behind 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18;

  15. the announcement of peace and safety;

  16. the relation of the church to governments;

  17. the destiny of the church;

  18. the message to Laodicea;

  19. the waiting remnant at the second advent;

  20. the sealed 144,000 from Israel;

  21. the great object of satanic attack;

  22. the apostasy of the period;

  23. the promises to the true church; and

  24. the agreement of typology.

Reason 1: The literal method of interpretation

The doctrine of the premillennial return of Christ to institute a literal kingdom is the outcome of the literal method interpretation of the Old Testament of promises and prophecies. The posttribulationist must either interpret the book of Revelation historically, which is basically a spiritualizing method which spiritualize away the literalness of the events in an attempt to harmonize these events with other Scriptures such the Old Testament prophecies regarding the future Millennial reign of the Messiah.

Reason 2: The nature of the seventieth week

There are a number of words used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe the seventieth week period, which give us the essential nature of this period:

  1. wrath (Revelation 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 5:9; Zephaniah 1:15, 18);

  2. punishment (Isaiah 24:20-21);

  3. hour of trouble (Jeremiah 30:7);

  4. destruction (Joel 1:15); and

  5. darkness (Joel 2:2; Zephaniah 1:14-18; Amos 5:18).

Let us understand the nature of the Tribulation is divine wrath. We know that our Lord Jesus Christ bore for us the wrath of God, therefore we who are in Him shall not come into judgment. "For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).

Reason 3: The scope of the seventieth week

This period relates to the unbelieving Gentile nations and particularly to Israel. Jeremiah 30:7 calls this period "the time of Jacob's trouble." God says to Daniel "seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city" (Daniel 9:24). This whole period has special reference to Daniel's people, Israel, and Daniel's holy city, Jerusalem. Inasmuch as many passages in the New Testament such as Ephesians 3:1-6; Colossians 1:25-27 make it clear that the church is a mystery and its nature as a body composed of Jew and Gentile alike was unrevealed in the Old Testament. Since the church did not have its existence until after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2), the church could not have been in the first sixty-nine weeks of Daniel's prophecy. Since it had no part in the first sixty-nine weeks, which are related only to Israel, it can have no part in the seventieth week, which is again related to God's program for Israel after the mystery program for the church has been concluded.

Reason 4: The purpose of the seventieth week

There are two major purposes to be accomplished in the seventieth week. The first purpose is stated in Revelation 3:10, "I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." First of all we see that this period has in view "them that dwell on the earth" and not the church. The true church does not need to be tested to see if her faith is genuine. The second major purpose of the seventieth week is in relation to Israel. The God will send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the day of the Lord in order to prepare a remnant in Israel for the advent of the Lord (Malachi 4:5-6). It is evident that no such ministry is needed by the church since she by nature is without spot, but is holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Reason 5: The unity of the seventieth week

The entire seventieth week is in view when it is described and predicted in Bible prophecy. It becomes impossible to adopt the position that the church although exempt from a portion of the seventieth week, may be in the first half of it, for the nature of the entire seventieth week is the same throughout.

Reason 6: The nature of the church

It should be observed that the professing church is composed of those who make a profession of faith in Christ. To some this profession is based on reality and to some on no reality at all. This latter group will go into the tribulation period, for Revelation 2:22 indicates clearly that the unsaved professing church will experience this visitation of wrath. Only the true church will be raptured.

Membership in the group called national Israel is based on a physical birth, and all in this group who are not saved and removed by rapture and who are alive at the time of the rapture will, with the professing church, be subjected to the wrath of the tribulation.

There is a distinction between the true church and true or spiritual Israel. Prior to Pentecost there were saved individuals, but there was no church, and they were a part of spiritual Israel, not the church. After the day of Pentecost and until the rapture we find the church which is Christ's body, but no spiritual Israel because all faithful men will become a church member. After the rapture we find no church, but a true or spiritual Israel again. These distinctions must be kept clearly in mind as they would help us to understand the nature of the true church.

Since the church is the object of Christ's love (Ephesians 5:25) and has been perfected and delivered from all judgment (Romans 8:1; John 5:24; 1 John 4:17), if she is subjected to wrath and judgment again the promises of God would be of none effect and the death of Christ would be ineffectual.

Again, all who are in the seventieth week are brought into subjection to the powers of the Beasts and Satan (Revelation 13:7). If the church were in this period she would be subjected to Satan, and Christ would Himself, because of His union with the church, would be likewise subjected to Satan's authority. Such a thing is impossible.

Reason 7: The concept of the church as a mystery

The fact that God was going to form Jews and Gentiles alike into one body was never revealed in the Old Testament and forms the mystery of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:1-7; Romans 16:25-27; Colossians 1:26-29. This whole mystery program was not revealed until after the rejection of Christ by Israel. It was after the rejection of Matthew 12:23-24 that the Lord first makes a prophecy of the coming church in Matthew 16:18. It is after the rejection of the Cross that the church had its inception in Acts 2. It was after the final rejection by Israel that God called out Paul to be the Apostle of the Gentiles through whom this mystery of the nature of the church is revealed. The church is manifestly an interruption of God's program for Israel, which was not brought into being until Israel's rejection of the offer of the Kingdom. This mystery program must itself be brought to a conclusion before God can resume His dealing with the nation Israel. This concept of the church makes a pre-tribulation rapture a necessity.

Reason 8: The distinctions between Israel and the church

Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, IV, pp. 47-53, has set forth twenty-four contrasts between Israel and the church which show us conclusively that these two groups cannot be united into one, but that they must be distinguised as two separate entities with whom God is dealing in a special program. I add four more contrasts between Israel and the church, therefore there are twenty-eight contrasts now. More information and also the relevant Bible references can be found in the book written by Dr. C.I. Scofield, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth.

These twenty-eight contrasts are listed in below table:

No.

Contrasts

Israel

Church

1 The extent of Biblical revelation nearly four-fifths of the Bible about one-fifth
2 The Divine purpose the earthly promises in the covenants the heavenly promises in the gospel
3 The seed of Abraham the physical seed, of whom some become a spiritual seed a spiritual seed
4 Birth physical birth that produces a relationship spiritual birth that brings relationship
5 Headship Abraham Christ
6 Covenants Abrahamic and all the following covenants indirectly related to the Abrahamic and new covenants
7 Nationality one nation from all nations
8 Divine dealing national and individual individual only
9 Dispensations seen in all ages from Abraham seen only in this present age
10 Ministry no missionary activity and no gospel to preach a commission to fulfill
11 The death of Christ guilty nationally, to be saved by it perfectly saved by it now
12 The Father by a peculiar relationship God was Father to the nation we related individually to God as Father
13 Christ Messiah, Immanuel, King Saviour, Lord, Bridegroom, Head
14 The Holy Spirit came upon some temporarily indwells all
15 Governing principle Mosaic Law system grace system
16 God's dwelling place Jewish Temple indwells to all believers
17 Place of worshipping the God Jewish Temple at the Temple Mountain of Jerusalem every places
18 Time of Assembly Last day of a week, Sabbath First day of a week, Sunday
19 Treatment of human enemies all enemies must be resisted or killed love your enemies, pray for them, forgive them
20 Divine enablement none the indwelling Holy Spirit
21 Two farewell discourses Olivet discourse upper room discourse
22 The promise of Christ's return in power and glory for judgment to receive us to Himself
23 Position a servant members of the family
24 Christ's earthly reign subjects co-reigners
25 Priesthood had a priesthood which is restricted to a special class all believers are priests
26 Marriage unfaithful wife bride
27 Judgments must face judgment delivered from all judgments
28 Positions in eternity spirits of just men made perfect in the new earth church of the firstborn in the new heavens

These clear contrasts, make it impossible to identify the two in one program, which it necessary to do if the church goes through the seventieth week.

Reason 9: The doctrine of imminence

Many signs were given to the nation Israel, which would precede the second advent, so that the nation might be living in expectancy when the time of His coming should draw nigh. To the church no such signs were ever given. The church was told to live in the light of the imminent coming of the Lord to translate them in His presence (John 14:2-3; Acts 1:11; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Timothy 6:14; 1 Peter 3:3-4). All believers to be watching for the Lord Himself, not for signs that would precede His coming. The fact that no signs are given to the church, but she, rather, is commanded to watch for Christ, precludes her participation in the seventieth week.

Reason 10: The work of the restrainer (i.e. Holy Spirit) in 2 Thessalonians 2

As long as the Holy Spirit is resident within the church (i.e. all believers), which is His temple, this restraining work will continue and the man of sin cannot be revealed. It is only when the church, the temple, is removed that this restraining ministry ceases and lawlessness can produce the lawless one. This ministry of the Holy Spirit must cease before the lawless one can be revealed, requires the pre-tribulation rapture of the church, for Daniel 9:27 reveals that that lawless one will be manifested at the beginning of the week.

It should be noted that the Holy Spirit does not cease His ministries with the removal of the church, nor does He cease to be omnipresent, with her removal, but the restraining ministry does cease.

Reason 11: The necessity of an interval

Passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:9; 1 Corinthians 3:11-16; Revelation 4:4; 19:8, 14 show that the church has been examined as to her stewardship and has received her reward at the time of the second advent of Christ. It is impossible to conceive of this event as taking place without the expiration of some period of time. The church is to be presented as a gift from the Father to the Son (Ephesians 5:25-27; Jude 24). In Revelation 19:7-9 it is revealed that the consummation of the union between Christ and the church precedes the second advent. In many passages, such as Matthew 25:1-13; 22:1-14; and Luke 12:35-41, the King is seen in the role of Bridegroom at His coming, indicating that the marriage has taken place. This event requires the expiration of a period of time and makes the view that the rapture and revelation are simultaneous events impossible. In this connection, an interval between the rapture and the revelation is required.

Reason 12: Distinction between the rapture and the second advent

There are a number of contrasts (note: 17 contrasts here) to be drawn between the rapture and the second advent which will show that they are not viewed as synonymous in Scripture. These contrasts are listed in below table:

No.

Rapture

Second Advent

1 removal of all believers appearing of the Son of God
2 saints are caught up into the air Christ returns to the earth
3 Christ comes to claim a bride Christ returns with the bride
4 removal of the church and the inception of the tribulation period establishment of the millennial kingdom
5 imminent preceded by a multitude of signs
6 a message of comfort a message of judgment
7 related to the program for the church related to the program for Israel and the unbelieving world
8 a mystery predicted in both Old and New Testaments
9 believers are judged and rewarded Gentiles and Israel are judged and punished
10 leaves creation unchanged the change in creation
11 Gentiles are unaffected Gentiles are judged
12 Israel's covenants are unfulfilled Israel's covenants are fulfilled
13 no relation to the judgment of evils evil is judged
14 take place before the day of wrath follows the day of wrath
15 for believers only has its effect on all men
16 expectation is "Lord at hand" expectation is "the kingdom is at hand"
17 expectation is "to be taken into the Lord's presence" expectation is "to be taken into the kingdom"

Reason 13: The twenty-four elders

In Revelation 4:4 John is given a vision of twenty-four elders who are seated on thrones, clothed in white raiment, crowned with golden crowns, and in heaven in the presence of God. The twenty-four elders could not be angelic beings, for angels are not crowned with victors' crowns received as rewards, nor are they seated on thrones, which throne speaks of royal dignity and prerogative, nor are angels robed in white as a result of judgment. The impossibility of this view argues for the second view which sees them as resurrected redeemed men, who are clothed, crowned and seated on thrones in connection with royality in Heaven.

Since, according to Revelation 5:8, these twenty-four are associated in a priestly act, which is never said of angels, they must be believer-priests associated with the Great High Priest. Inasmuch as Israel is not resurrected until the end of the seventieth week, nor judged nor rewarded until the coming of the Lord according to Isaiah 26:19-21 and Daniel 12:1-2, these must be representatives of the saints of this present age.

Since they are seen to be resurrected in heaven at the beginning of the seventieth week, it is concluded that the church must have been raptured before the seventieth week begins. If the church is not resurrected and translated here, how could the church be in Heaven in Revelation 19:7-11?

For further discussions of the identity of the twenty-four elders, please read Section 4 of the Chapter 5 of the course, Revelation (In-depth Study).

Reason 14: The problem behind 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

The Thessalonian Christians had misunderstood the relation between the resurrection and the saints who were asleep in Christ to the rapture. Paul wrote that at the rapture the living would not have an advantage over the dead in Christ.

If the Thessalonians had believed that the church would be going through the seventieth week they would have rejoiced that some of their brethren had missed this period of suffering and were with the Lord in the Heaven without experiencing the outpouring of wrath on the earth. If the church were going through the tribulation it would be better to be with the Lord in the Heaven than to have to await the events of the seventieth week. They would be praising the Lord that their brethren were spared these events instead of feeling that those had missed some of the Lord's blessings (i.e. rapture).

These Christians evidently believed that the church would not go through the seventieth week and in their anticipation of the return of Christ mourned for their brothers, whom they thought had missed the blessing of this event (i.e. rapture).

Reason 15: The announcement of peace and safety

In 1 Thessalonians 5:3 Paul tells the Thessalonian church that the Day of the LORD will come after the announcement of "peace and safety." This false security will lull many into a state of lethargy in relation to the Day of the LORD so that that day comes as a thief. This announcement that has produced this lethargy precedes the Day of the LORD.

If the church were in the seventieth week there would be no possibility that, during the period when believers are being persecuted by the beast to an unprecedented degree, such a message could be preached and find acceptation so that men would be lulled into complacency. All the signs would point to the fact that they were not in a time of "peace and safety." The fact that the visitation of wrath, judgment and darkness is preceded by the announcement of such a message indicates that the church must be raptured before that period can begin.

Reason 16: The relation of the church to governments

The church is instructed to be in subjection to human governments (1 Peter 2:13-16; Titus 3:1; Romans 13:1-7). According to Revelation 13:4 the government during the seventieth week is controlled by Satan and is carrying out his will. Because of the relationship of the church to governments in this age and because of the Satanic control of government in the seventieth week, the church must be delivered before this Satanic government manifests itself. The church could not subject herself to such a government.

Reason 17: The destiny of the church

The destiny of the church is a heavenly destiny. When we study the destiny of the saved in the seventieth week we find that their expectation and promise is earthly (Matthew 25:34). If the church is on earth during the seventieth week all who are saved during that period would be saved to a place in the body of Christ. If the rapture did not take place till the end of the seventieth week, and part of the saved went into an earthly blessing and part into a heavenly destiny, the body of Christ would be dismembered and the unity destroyed. Such dismemberment is impossible. This can only indicate that those saved during this seventieth week to go into the Millennium must have been saved after the termination of the program for the church.

Reason 18: The message to Laodicea

In Revelation 3:14-22 John gives a message to the church in Laodicea. This church represents the final form of the professing church, which is rejected by the Lord and vomited out of His mouth because of the unreality of its profession. If the church goes into the seventieth week in its entirety and not just the professing portion of it, it would have to be concluded that this Laodicean church is the picture of the true church.

The true church could not go through the persecutions of the seventieth week and still be lukewarm to her Lord. The persecution would either fan the fire and turn the lukewarmness into an intense heat, or else it would extinguish the fire altogether. The other alternative is to see that the true church terminates with the Philadelphia church, which is removed from the earth according to the promise of Revelation 3:10 before the tribulation begins, and the false professing church, from which the true has been separated by rapture, is left behind, rejected by the Lord, and vomited out into the seventieth week to reveal the true nature of her profession so that such may be rejected justly by the Lord.

Reason 19: The waiting remnant at the second advent

Passage such as Malachi 3:16; Ezekiel 20:33-38; 37:11-28; Zechariah 13:8-9; Revelation 7:1-8, indicate clearly that when the Lord returns to earth there will be a believing remnant in Israel awaiting His return. Along with these are passages such as Matthew 25:31-40 and such parables as Matthew 22:1-13 and Luke 14:16-24 that show that there will be a multitude of believers among the Gentiles who will believe and await His return.

There must also be group of believing Gentiles who can receive, through faith, the benefits of the covenants in His reign. These groups go into the Millennium in their natural bodies, saved, but not having experienced death and resurrection (Matthew 25:31-40; Revelation 7:9-17).

If the church were on earth until the time of the second advent, these saved individuals would have been saved to a position in the church, would have been raptured at that time, and consequently there would not be one saved person left on the earth. These considerations make necessary the pretribulation rapture of the church, so that God may call out and preserve a remnant during the Tribulation in and through whom the promises may be fulfilled.

Reason 20: The sealed 144,000 from Israel

As long as the church is on the earth there are none saved to a special Jewish relationship. All who are saved are saved to a position in the body of Christ (i.e. church) as indicated in Colossians 1:26-29; 3:11; Ephesians 2:14-22; 3:1-7. During the seventieth week the church must be absent, for out of the saved remnant in Israel God seals 144,000 Jews, 12,000 from each tribe (Revelation 7:14). The fact that God is again dealing with Israel on this national relationship, setting them apart to national identities, and sending them as special representatives to the nations in place of the witness of the church, indicates that the church must no longer be on earth.

Reason 21: The great object of satanic attack

According to Revelation 12, the object of satanic attack during the tribulation period is "the woman" who produced the child. Since this child is born "to rule all nations with a rod of iron" (Revelation 12:5), it can only refer to Christ, the one whose right it is to rule. The Psalmist confirms this interpretation in Psalm 2:9, which is admittedly Messianic. The one from whom Christ came can only be Israel.

At the time Satan is cast out of Heaven (Revelation 12:9) he goes forth with "great wrath because he knoweth that he hath but a short time" (Revelation 12:12). The church must not be here, for, since it is the "body of Christ," it would be the object of satanic attack then as it has been all through the age (Ephesians 6:12) if it were present. The reason Satan turns against Israel can only be explained by the absence of the church from that scene.

Reason 22: The apostasy of the period

The complete apostasy of the period on the part of the professing church prevents the church from being in the world. The only organized church ever mentioned in the tribulation period is the Jezebel system (Revelation 2:22) and the harlot system (Revelation 17 and 18). If the true church were on earth, since it is not mentioned as separate from the apostate system, it must be a part of that apostasy. Such a conclusion is impossible. The believing witnesses, converted during the period, are specifically said to have kept themselves from defilement by this apostate system (Revelation 14:4). Since the church is not mentioned as also having kept herself from this system it must be concluded that the church is not there.

Reason 23: The promises to the true church

There are certain passages of Scripture which definitely promise the church a removal before the seventieth week.

  1. "I will keep you from the hour of trial" (Revelation 3:10). John is promising a complete removal from the sphere of testing, not a preservation through it.

  2. "God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:9). The contrast in this passage is between wrath and salvation from that wrath. 1 Thessalonians 5:2 indicates that this wrath and darkness is that of the Day of the LORD. A comparison of this passage with Joel 2:2; Zephaniah 1:14-18; Amos 5:18 will describe the darkness mentioned here as the darkness of the seventieth week. A comparison with Revelation 6:17; 11:18; 14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19 will describe the wrath of the Day of the LORD.

  3. Paul clearly teaches that our expectation is not wrath, but the revelation of "His Son from Heaven." This could not be unless the Son were revealed before the wrath of the seventieth week falls on the earth (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

Reason 24: The agreement of typology

If a teaching is contrary to all typology it cannot be a true interpretation. Scripture abounds in types which teach that those who walked by faith were delivered from the visitations of judgment which overtook the unbelieving. Such types are seen in the experience of Noah (Genesis 6:13-9:19) and Rahab (Joshua 2:1-24; 6:1-17), but perhaps the clearest illustration is that of Lot (Genesis 18:20-19:25). In 2 Peter 2:6-9, Lot is called a righteous man. This divine commentary will shed light on Genesis 19:22, where the angel sought to hasten the departure of Lot with the words "Hurry, escape there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there." If the presence of one righteous man prevented the outpouring of deserved judgment on the city of Sodom, how much more will the presence of the church on earth prevent the outpouring of divine wrath until after her removal.

A number of reasons for belief in the pretribulation rapture position have been presented. The pretribulation doctrine is not based on these arguments singly, but rather they are considered as cumulative evidence that the church will be delivered by rapture before the inception of Daniel's seventieth week.

7.7 Arguments For And Against Pretribulational Rapture

The arguments for and against the Pretribulational Rapture view are illustrated in below table:

(Reference: Charts of Christian Theology & Doctrine, p. 129, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1992 Edition, by H. Wayne House)

Pretribulational Rapture
Statement of View Christ will come for His church-age saints; afterward He will come with His saints. The first stage of Christ's coming is called the rapture; the second is called the revelation. The older school emphasized the issue of "imminency." However, in recent days the crux of this position centers more around the aspect of God's wrath and whether the church is called to experience any or all of it during the Tribulation.
Churches Baptist, Brethren, conservative, evangelical,    fundamentalist, independant Protestant churches Proponents J.N. Darby, C.I. Scofield, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Herman Hoyt, Harry Ironside, Alva McClain, Eric Sauer, William MacDonald, R.E. Harlow, John F. Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, John Feinberg, Paul Feinberg, Charles Ryrie, Rene Pache, Henry C. Thiessen, Leon Wood, Hal Lindsey, Alva Meclain, John A. Sprout, Richard Mayhue 
Arguments for Arguments Against
The Bible says that Christians (the church) are exempt from divine wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10). This exemption does not mean that the church does not experience trials, persecution, or suffering. Christians are exempt from God's wrath, but the majority of passages dealing with tribulation refer to the tribulation that believers suffer. Exemption from wrath does not mean exemption from tribulation. Also, if Christians are exempt from wrath of the Tribulation, those who believe during the Tribulation would need to be raptured at conversion.
The believers are also exempt from the time of wrath recorded in Revelation 3:10. This is supported by the way the Greek preposition ek is used in this passage.  Normative meaning of ek is "out from the midst of" and does not require a snatching from trial. It can mean kept form tribulation without being taken from trial.
All positions of Tribulation rapture predict a Millennial kingdom. The pretribulation position calls for living, nonglorified believers to enter the kingdom, thus to repopulate the kingdom (Zechariah 12:10-131; Romans 11:26).   144,000 of Revelation can populate the Earth during the time of the Millennium.  
This position offers a clear distinction between the rapture and the revelation, an interval of time. This is consistent with various Scriptures that discuss both these events. For the rapture: John 14:1-14; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; for the revelation, or the second coming of Christ: Zechariah 14; Matthew 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-27; Revelation 19.   The "blessed hope" and "glorious appearing" are the same events (rapture and revelation). The New Testament speaks of one second coming, not of two comings or of a coming in two stages. The distinction may be in the nature of events not in time differences. 
This position stresses imminency. Christ can return at any time; therefore believers have an attitude of expectancy (Titus 2:13). There are no preparatory warnings of an impending tribulation for the church-age believers (Acts 20:29-30; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1-3). Imminency for the apostles and the early church during this time revolved around the second coming of Christ. Thus, the two events are coterminous, not separate (Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; James 5:7-8; 1 John 2:28). Also, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10 may list events to be expected before the rapture.
This position sees a literal Tribulation as given in Revelation 6-19. These is no mentioned of the church in Revelation 4-18. Much language in Revelation 6-19 is figurative, the Tribulation may be as well.
The Restrainer mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 is the Holy Spirit indwelling the church. He must remove her (the church) before the Tribulation begins.   Holy Spirit's indwelling ministry is not equivalent to His restraining work. Also, passage does not clearly equate the restrainer with the Holy Spirit, or the removal of the restraint with a rapture of the church.  

7.8 Evaluation of Pretribulational Rapture

7.8.1 Positive aspects

The positive aspects of the posttribulational rapture view are as follows:

  1. Pretribulationism is a logical eschatological system. While all writers in all schools of Biblical interpretation can be found who are guilty of illogical reasoning, careful observers of posttribulationism will find that so often their conclusions are based upon illogical reasoning. In some cases, their arguments hang upon dogmatic assumptions which they do not prove. In other cases, they draw conclusions from Scripture passages under consideration which the passages actually do not teach. The fact that an interpreter is a great scholar does not necessarily make him a logician; unfortunately, ability to do research and skill in linguistics do not necessarily lead to formation of logical conclusions. I believe that a major problem in other rapture positions is logical inconsistency. By contrast, pretribulationism moves logically from its premises and principles of interpretation to its conclusion.

  2. Pretribulationism is exegetical sound and consistent. In contrast with posttribulational treatment of major passages on the rapture which differs widely in interpretation, pretribulationists follow a consistent pattern of literal interpretation. This allows the interpreter to explain the passage in its normal meaning - which in many cases is its literal meaning - without resorting to flagrant spiritualization. Some educational institutions that have approached the Bible creedally tend to make Scriptures conform to their previously accepted creed with the result that most of them are liberals or, if conservative, tend to be amillennial. Pretribulationism has continued to appeal to thousands of lay interpreters because it makes sense out of the passages that deal with the rapture of the church. While the majority of Biblical scholars may disagree with pretribulational interpretation, it is also significant that they disagree radically among themselves as well; often abandonment of pretribulational interpretation results in abandonment of serious study in the area of prophecy.

  3. Pretribulationism, through its concept of any-moment imminency, imparts a sense of expectancy to the Christian faith. The early church looked forward to the coming of the Lord as a reality by which they could govern their lives. This became a purifying hope. If the time we have in which to do the work of Christ is limited, and if the end to this period of opportunity can come at any moment, it is imperative to do the work as quickly as possible. An aggressive approach to the mission of the church is the logical consequence. For the pretribulationist, the coming of the Lord is an imminent hope. For the great majority of others, there is only the somewhat blurred expectation of how the coming of the Lord really fits in to the pattern of future events.

  4. Pretribulationists have kept the discussion of eschatology alive at times when others have not. In recent years we have seen a tremendous revival of interest in eschatology. Pretribulationists have anticipated this revival of interest within the broader theological landscape.

  5. Pretribulationists have been alert to the eschatological dimensions of the whole of Scripture. They have called the attention of others to the eschatological significance of passages that would have been overlooked. In particular, some secondary emphases and applications have been overlooked by those who have considered only the primary or most obvious meaning.

  6. Unlike the other rapture positions, the pretribulation view is not based on a few carefully selected Biblical passages. We have seen that only pretribulationism fits harmoniously with all the Scriptural evidences and answers those questions satisfactorily.

7.8.2 Negative aspects

The pretribulational scheme is strongly objected by some people. Their objections can be classified into two categories:

  1. Biblical arguments; and

  2. non-Biblical arguments.

I have already discussed their Biblical arguments in the above Sections 3 to 6. Their non-Biblical arguments would be carefully examined and answered in the following paragraphs. Their major objections are as follows:

  1. personal attack; and

  2. pretribulationism is a new doctrine.

7.8.2.1 Personal attack

One of the unfortune features of the argument for posttribulationism is the general tendency toward the ad hominem type of debate in which attacks on the persons who hold the pretribulation position are substituted for solid argument from the Scriptures. In the attempt to discredit pretribulationism, numerous assertions have been made that John Nelson Darby did not get his view from his own studies, but rather from several erratic individuals. Posttribulationists have attacked pretribulationism as originating in heretical and Pentecostal teachings and especially from Margaret MacDonald, who is said to have had a vision while under the influence of a demon. Other posttribulationists claimed that the idea of a secret coming of Christ to rapture the church originated in an utterance at the church of Edward Irving. Darby took this as the voice of the Holy Spirit and accepted it as doctrine.

Margaret MacDonald left behind no clear record that she ever held to a pretribulational rapture. It is possible from some of her statements to arrive at the conclusion that she was garbled in her view of prophecy and could possibly be identified with the partial rapture view. None of her statements, however, placed the Rapture before the Tribulation begins. What Irving actually believed was that the Rapture would occur at the end of the Tribulation (Edward Irving, The Morning Watch, December 1831). Obviously, if they were not pretribulationists, how could Darby get his views from them?

Darby was an extensive writer and a most effective Bible teacher and evangelist, leading hundreds of people to Christ. In his many works, any careful student of Darby soon discovers that he achieved his eschatological views from the study of the Bible itself and from his conclusion that the church is the body of Christ rather than having derived it from some human source.

7.8.2.2 Pretribulationism is a new doctrine

One of the strongest arguments of the posttribulational view is the claim that pretribulationism is a new doctrine originated from Darby in 1830. Since pretribulationism is a new doctrine, it must be rejected as false.

The early church believed in a coming time of trouble, in the imminent coming of the Lord, and the Millennium to follow. How the coming of the Lord could be a daily expectation as is indicated by the early church fathers and at the same time have a lengthy series of events preceding the Second Advent of Christ was apparently not resolved in the early church. Some were undoubtedly posttribulational, but others are not clear. If major doctrines like the Trinity and the procession of the Holy Spirit took centuries to find acceptable statement, it is hardly to be expected that the problems of eschatology would be all settled in the early centuries.

The early church was far from settled on details of eschatology, though definitely premillennial. It was actually impossible for the tribulation question even to be discussed intelligently until the Protestant Reformation had restored a theological foundation that would support it. Unfortunately the Reformers went back to Augustine for their eschatology instead of the early chiliastic fathers; and until premillennialism was again established in the post-Reformation period, the advance of the interpretation of prophecy had to wait.

It may be concluded that while the early church did not teach twentieth-century pretribulationism, neither did it clearly teach modern posttribulationism. The futuristic position of Ladd that Revelation 8-18 must occur before the second coming of Christ and the recent view of Robert H. Gundry similar to this but distinguishing Israel and the church are largely twentieth-century developments. If posttribulationists are free to innovate to the extent Gundry does and still hold that they are teaching the truth, why do writers like Ladd and Gundry continue to assert that pretribulationism is wrong because it is less than two centuries old?

The truth or error of pretribulationism must be settled on the exegesis of the Scriptures rather than by polling the early church fathers or attempting to discredit the doctrine as originating from questionable characters.

7.8.3 Conclusion

A number of reasons for belief in the pretribulation rapture position have been presented in the above Section 7.6. It is clear that the pretribulational rapture position is not based on these arguments singly, but rather they are considered as cumulative evidence that the church will be delivered by rapture before the inception of Daniel's seventieth week. As demonstrated in the above Sections 3 to 7, only pretribulationism fits harmoniously with all the Scriptural evidences and answers those questions satisfactorily. I conclude that the pretribulational rapture position is the only viable option.

 

8. REFERENCES AND RECOMMENDATION FOR FURTHER STUDY

  1. A Basic Guide to Eschatology - Making Sense of the Millennium, Part 3, Chapters 6 to 9, Baker Books, Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1998 Edition, by Millard J. Erickson.

  2. Basic Theology, Section XIII, Chapters 85 to 89, ChariotVictor Publishing, 1999 Edition, by Charles C. Ryrie.

  3. Charts of Christian Theology & Doctrine, pp. 129-132, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1992 Edition, by H. Wayne House.

  4. Countdown to Armageddon, Chapter 6, pp. 81-91, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon 97402, 1999, by Thomas D. Ice.

  5. Lectures in Systematic Theology, Chapter XLIII, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1992 Edition, by Henry C. Thiessen.

  6. Three Views of the Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, Or Post-Tribulational?, Chapters 1 to 4, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1996 Edition, by Gleason L. Archer Jr., Paul D. Feinberg, Douglas J. Moo, Richard R. Reiter.

  7. Things to Come, Sections X to XIII, pp. 156-218, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co., 1996 reprint, by J. Dwight Pentecost.

  8. The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation - A Historical and Biblical Study of Posttribulationism, Chapters 1 to 13, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1976 Edition, by John F. Walvoord.

  9. The Millennial Kingdom - A Basic Text in Premillennial Theology, Chapter XXI, pp. 248-255, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1959 Edition, 1999 Reprint, by John F. Walvoord.

  10. The Rapture Question, Chapters 4 to 20, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids: Michigan, 1999 Revised and Enlarged Edition, by John F. Walvoord.

  11. The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, Thomas Nelson, 1990 Edition, by Marvin J. Rosenthal.

 

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