Basic Battle Training
Chapter 22: The Rapture Question
The intention of this chapter is to present the various opinions on this subject and their impact on the Church. With this done the reader will have a better understanding of the viewpoints, their history and origin.
Though not readily apparent, we also see this subject adversely effecting the production of the Church. The second coming of Jesus Christ is, and always has been, the hope of the saints engaged in active battle for the Kingdom of God. Today it has evolved to more of a debate and an expression of an “intellectual” position than the salve one would garner from the persecutions of a normal Christian life. The grave danger that this doctrine presents is that it lulls the body of Christ to sleep. Those who expect no calamity will certainly not prepare for it, physically or spiritually. The subtlety of the serpent continues in our day to disarm the army of God.
This subject is often conflicted, difficult to understand and a hard study. For this reason we exhort a “keep it simple” approach hallmarked by the Lord’s instruction and warning to “be sure to be at work when He comes!” (Matthew 24:44)
And Jesus IS coming!
Bible prophecy clearly tells us that when Christ returns the world will be found with the following conditions:
A one-world government under a dictator (Rev. 13:3,7).
A one-world religion with all true believers persecuted (Rev. 13:4-15)
A one-world monetary system (Rev. 13:16-18).
Revelation further describes a period of:
- Contaminated water supplies
- Christians being unable to buy or sell,
If The Lord does not remove us before the Tribulation, would you be ready to weather the life that will be before you for 42 months? We need to know for certain if the Rapture of the believers found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is to occur before or after the scenario described in Revelation chapters 6 through 18. Failing this, we need to be prepared for either scenario.
With these things in mind let us examine:
The case for the Post Tribulation Rapture
Christ taught it: The Lord’s main pronouncement on prophecy is found in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). As we read His words on the Last Days, and try to find a place where 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 would most likely fit, we come up with this very obvious observation: there is no mention of anything like a pre-tribulation rapture anywhere in the passage!
We do find however, a post-Tribulation scenario where Paul’s thesis to the Thessalonians fits perfectly. Take Mark 13:24-27 and its parallel, Matthew 24:29-31, in one hand and 1 Thes. 4:13-18 in the other and we find several similarities:
Both mention Christ descending from heaven;
Both mention angels;
Both mention a trumpet;
Both mention a gathering of the elect—both living and dead—to meet the Lord.
The words of Christ in these Gospel passages make it indisputably clear that this event happens “immediately after The Tribulation” (Matt. 24:29).
Paul taught it: Perhaps the clearest post-Tribulation passage is in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him (i.e., The Rapture), that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come until there come a falling away first and that man of sin be revealed: the son of perdition.”
John taught it: Nowhere is a pre-Tribulation Rapture mentioned in the whole book of Revelation. Chapter 6 on through chapter 18 finds the world deep in tribulation with no mention of a "snatching away" of the saints. Revelation 4:1 is not a reference to a Rapture, but seen clearly, is merely the calling up of John to heaven to witness the visions he records in the rest of the book.
Revelation’s first mention of Christ's coming is in Revelation 19:11-14, after the Tribulation, where He is followed by the armies of heaven. There is no previous mention of these armies being in heaven before the marriage of the Lamb and His bride (all believers) in 19:7-9 (the Rapture).
Having heard from these men we would now like to take a brief look at the arguments for the current thought.
The pre-Tribulation Rapture
As we begin our study of the doctrine of the pre-Tribulation Rapture it is interesting to note that it is a fairly recent belief. As with the charismatic beliefs of our time (1900: Topeka, Ks./1906: Azusa St. revival) the belief in a pre-Tribulation Rapture had it’s beginning in the year of 1827. According to a history verified through Dallas Theological Seminary the doctrine can be traced to the “Plymouth Brethren” and a man named J.N. Darby. That these beliefs were not brought to the Churches’ attention for most of it’s history gives one pause and on reflection one might ask: what God was doing in keeping this to himself?
The following represent the best references to promote pre-Tribulationism (with our comments):
Verses indicating a pre-Tribulation Rapture?
- Romans 5:9 “Being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”
- 1 Thes. 1:10 “And to wait for his Son from heaven...even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”
- 1 Thes. 5:9 “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation....”
The above passages each mention that believers are saved from wrath (or the wrath to come) by Jesus Christ. Besides pointing out that the pre-Tribulation folks obviously have no clear verses teaching a Rapture before the Tribulation (these vague verses are the best they have), let us respond first by pointing out the ambiguity of these passages.
“Wrath” does not necessarily refer to the specific period of time called The Tribulation, but could refer to many other things (like Hell, for instance?).
Being “saved” (or “delivered”) from that “wrath” does not necessarily mean to be snatched off the planet.
Revelation does speak of God's wrath being specifically poured out on those who receive the mark of the beast (Rev. 9:4; 14:9-10; 16:2) but not on those who are on earth and sealed by God (Rev.7:3).
Revelation repeatedly mentions believers on earth during the Tribulation, but this is contrary to pre-Tribulation claims that “the Church” is not mentioned in Rev. 6-18 (see also: Rev. 6:11; 7:1-14; 9:4; 11:3; 12:17; 13:7; 14:12-13; 16:6; 17:6; 18:4,24).
God obviously can deliver us from His wrath (although not necessarily from His promised plan of persecution) without removing us from the Earth. He did so for the Israelites in Egypt during the plagues, (Exodus 6-12) Lot in Sodom, (Gen. 19), and Noah in the flood (Gen. 6-8). These believers were all warned ahead of time, and were expected to prepare for the coming calamities!
The Wrath to Come This is a Biblical term for a specific event that takes place when Christ returns. The Bible speaks clearly of this, with Christ coming with an army of His saints (us). At this time we will be going across the surface of the earth burning up everything and everyone in our path (see 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Joel 2:1-11; see also Deut. 32:22; Job 21:30; Psalm 11:6; 21:9; 59:13; 79:6; 97:3; Isaiah 10:17-19; 30:27,30,33; 33:12,14; 34:2-10; 47:14; 66:15-16; Ezekiel 20:47; 21:31,32; 22:20-21, 31; 28:18; 38:22; Obadiah 18; Micah 1:1-7; Zeph. 1:15,18; Mal. 4:1; Matt. 3:10-12 with v. 7; Isaiah 9:19; 13:9).
This “Operation Scorched Earth” by the Jesus and His saints is often referred to as ‘Wrath’ (Psalm 21:9; Ezekiel 21:31; 22:20, 31) or ‘The wrath to come’ (Matthew 3:7 with vv. 10-12). We will be saved from this “wrath” because we will be the ones doing it, executing His wrath, torching the ungodly. (Don’t worry if this makes you squeamish now; by then you will either have denied the faith within the coming apostasy (see Luke 18:8; 2 Thes. 2:3; Matt. 24:12; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:3, etc.,) or you will be so disgusted with the Antichrist and his followers that you will be rejoicing, like God, in their destruction (Rev. 6:9-10; 19:1-2; Psalm 58:10; 149:5-7, etc.).
2 Thessalonians 2:7- 8 These passages speaks of “what withholdeth” and “he who now letteth (restrains) will let until he be taken out of the way.” The pre-Tribulation position insists that the “restrainer” is either “the Church” or the Holy Spirit who is taken out of the way when all believers (in whose hearts he resides) are snatched from the planet.
The ambiguity here again is obvious. Since the passage itself does not define who the restrainer is, this leaves many possibilities. For one example the restrainer could be an angel. We do see angels holding back God's wrath for a time (see Rev. 7:1-3). Or this could be a reference to Rev. 12:12-13 where the Devil brings on the Antichrist (beast) after he is cast from heaven, “knowing that he hath but a short time.”
Revelation 3:10 “I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world”. This verse, always used in the pre-Tribulation position, is obviously taken out of context and is within a specific letter written by John to a specific church: the one in Philadelphia. (To think otherwise, the “Churches” of Rev. 2 and 3 must only be viewed as “periods of church history”).
Beyond this, the “Keep thee” reference does not have to mean “Rapture:” but can easily refer to the Revelation protections for the saints in the Tribulation from God's wrath, or can be similar to God’s promise to Josiah in 2 Kings 22:18-20 that his coming judgment (on Jerusalem) would not come in his lifetime.
Besides these passages used to argue a pre-Tribulation Rapture, the pre-Tribulation position also use the following arguments to show that Biblical information does not seem to fit a post-Tribulation scenario.
Reason and rational for a pre-Tribulation Rapture?
Who are the 24 elders?
The argument here is that Revelation 4 and 5 mentions 24 elders before the throne of God before the Tribulation starts in Chapter 6. Many teach today that the elders are representatives of “the Church,” and the only reason they can be in Heaven before the Tribulation is because they got raptured. There are at least 3 glaring errors with his position.
- The 24 elders are not “the Church,” but are 24 courses of priests (they are called “priests” in Rev. 5:10) from the Old Testament Temple (see 1 Chron. 14:1-19; compare Luke 1:5). Notice also that there is a Temple in heaven in the book of Revelation (11:19).
- Even if the 24 elders were Christians and not Jews, their presence in heaven does not mean that they were Raptured there. Several references in Revelation to believers in heaven indicate that they are dead (absent from the body, present with the Lord, 2 Cor. 5:8; see Rev. 6:9; 7:9, 14:1-5)
- This vision of the throne is not part of a prophetic timeline of things yet to happen, but is John’s view of the throne of God before he is shown the future (the 7 seals are not open yet). Compare Ezekiel and Isaiah's accounts of seeing the throne of God (Ezek. 1, Isa. 6). God is in Heaven on a throne now (and in Isaiah’s time, and in Ezekiel’s time), along with the 4 beasts (see Ezekiel 1, 10; 3:23; 43:3), before the Tribulation has started!
The Rapture: When?
When is the marriage supper of the Lamb and The Judgment Seat of Christ? The pre-Tribulation position describes the scene of a long table in heaven with all the saints of all the ages (except the poor tribulation saints) spread for a big banquet. In Revelation 19 however, it mentions this “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9) before the Second Coming (19:11). To this the pre-Tribulation folks argue that there is no time for the marriage supper of the Lamb or the Judgment Seat of Christ unless we get all the believers in heaven during the 7 years of the Tribulation. The problem with this is that (as usual) they are desperately reading too much into the passage.
The “marriage” of the Lamb and His bride occurs when He starts His descent from Heaven (Rev. 19:11; Mark 13:26; 1 Thes. 4:13-18) and all the believers will be Raptured to “meet the Lord in the air.” Nowhere in Revelation 19 does it say the bride is “in Heaven” before Rev. 19:11. There is no “supper” before the Second Coming either. The supper is found in Rev. 19:17-18 (see also Prov. 30:17; Jer. 7:33; 16:4; Ezek. 39:17-18), when the fowls of heaven eat the flesh of kings and captains and mighty men!
Who will populate the Millennium? The pre-Tribulation position holds that 2 kinds of Christians will go into the Millennium: those Raptured before the Tribulation, and those un-Raptured (or Tribulation saints who got saved after the Tribulation started).
This latter group will continue to populate through the 1000 year Millennium with some of their offspring forming the armies of Satan at the end of the Millennium (Gog and Magog: see Rev. 20:7-10). These then will attack the “camp of the saints” until fire from heaven foils their devious plot. Also notice that Gog and Magog occur after the Millennium...this is not an impending pre- Rapture Russian invasion of Israel! (See: Ezekiel 38,39).
To this the pre-Tribulation folks falsely argue that the post-Tribulation position has nothing but the Raptured redeemed going into the thousand-year reign. But since their resurrection bodies are incapable of pro-creation (see Matt. 22:30), that would leave no one to come up with future generations to be deceived by the devil (at the end of the Millennium). In addition, this teaching is based on the groundless assumption that resurrection bodies are sexless (Jesus said we will be “as the angels,” and Genesis 6 tells us that the angels are perfectly capable of co-habiting even with mortals!).
With this we have the additional dilemma that the pre-Tribulation position has the same problem. Current thought argues here that all Gentile tribulation believers will be killed during the Tribulation (that leaves the 144,000 Jewish believers, but in Rev. 14 we find them “before the throne,” i.e., in heaven before the Tribulation is over. Since Rev. 7:9, 13-17 mention Gentile believers “before the throne” these verses are used to argue that they are all dead, it then follows that the 144,000 in Rev. 14 are all dead during the Tribulation). Charles Taylor (pre-Tribulation) also states in his writings that all Tribulation saints will be killed. So then the pre-Tribulation position has the same problem: no believers with natural (non-resurrection) bodies going into the Millennium to populate the planet.
How will the sheep and goats get separated? In Matthew 25 31-46 Christ describes a scene at His second coming in which all nations are gathered before Him and He “separates them, the one from the other, as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats,” with the sheep on the right and the goats on the left.
The pre-Tribulation position argues that if the Rapture is after the Tribulation then Christ just separated them when He Raptured the redeemed during His descent, making it unnecessary to divide the populace upon His landing.
The problem with this “problem” is that they are about 1000 years off on the timing of this event. The separation of the sheep and the goats is post-Millennial (Compare Matthew 25:31-46 with Revelation 19, 20 and 21). In Revelation the Judgment Day (“Great White Throne”) is after the Millennium.
The scene in Matthew 25 is clearly The Judgment Day. Believers in a pre-Tribulation Rapture really spin out when they read about The Judgment Day in 2 separate places and are forced to conclude that there are 2 different Judgment days. With this same thinking they come up with 2 “Second Comings:” one before the Tribulation (‘when He comes for His saints’) and one after (‘with His saints’). In doing this they actually have three Judgment Days:
“The Judgment Seat of Christ” (during the Tribulation).
“The Judgment of the Nations” (after the Tribulation).
“The Great White Throne Judgment” (post-Millennial).
All this “manipulation” is because the Judgment Day is mentioned 3 different times by 3 different names. But these are all the same Judgment Day, not three separate ones…this must be understood! Reading Matthew 25 in one hand and Revelation in the other we find they parallel each other exactly:
Matthew 25:31: “when the Son of man shall come in his glory and all the holy angels with him” (Rev. 19:11-14)
Matthew 25:31b: “And then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory” (Rev. 20:4-6)
Matthew 25:32-46: “And before him shall be gathered all nations....” (Rev. 20:11-15)
This is the only Judgment Day! Notice He says to the sheep: “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34); this is clearly a reference to "The New Jerusalem" of Rev. 21:1-2, not the Millennial Kingdom (which is on earth before the “new heavens and new earth,” Rev. 20:11-21:1).
Imminence / Inability to “Know the Day”
This last argument of the pre-Tribulation position is their best, and as far as we could tell in our study of this subject, is formidable. In Matthew 24:36-51 (see also Mark 13:32-37) Jesus Christ said two very earth shaking things:
That no man knows the day and hour, and
That we are to watch and be ready; “for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”
The impression of this passage is that Christ could return at any time, that it will catch many unawares, and is described as “such a time as ye think not,” etc. These statements are indeed a major problem for the post-Tribulation position because if the Rapture is after the Tribulation then we do in fact know the actual day: it would be 1260 days after the “abomination of desolation,” or after Israel is persecuted into the wilderness (see Rev. 12).
In possible response it could be said that Matthew 24 is in a post-Tribulation context: there is no pre-Tribulation Rapture in the whole chapter.
To this the pre-Tribulation position argues that Matthew 24 is to the Jews, not the church, therefore the Rapture is not mentioned. An obvious rebuttal to this is: then why does He throw in a pre-Tribulation warning to “watch”?) Read Matthew 24 verse by verse, keeping in mind that Christ is talking to His disciples, and follow the “yours” and “ye's" throughout the chapter: vs. 4, 6, 9, 15, 20, 23, 25, 26, 33, 42 and 44...all indicating that His disciples could expect to see the persecutions, wars, abomination of desolation, false christs, etc.
THE OLIVET DISCOURSE GIVES THE DISTINCT IMPRESSION THAT THE BELIEVERS ALIVE BEFORE THE TRIBULATION WILL GO RIGHT ON THROUGH THE WHOLE THING UNTIL THE POST-TRIB. RETURN OF CHRIST.
There is not a hint that there is any “break in the verses” between believers alive before, during or after the Tribulation.
In this context He warns them to “watch” and “be ready, for you know not what hour your Lord doth come.” He particularly warns of those who will believe the Lord will delay His coming, and begin to eat and drink with the drunken. Is He warning that those who are unbelievers or backsliders will not know the day of His coming? But He gives the warning to His disciples so apparently even the faithful are to be ready for a sudden sighting of His coming
So, after finding all these post-Tribulation verses and understanding (apparently so clear) we suddenly run into this brick wall: the doctrine of the imminence of Christ’s return, mixed with the clear statement that “no man knows the day of His coming” (not even the Son! Mark 13:32). So what are we to do?
The missing dimension in Bible prophecy
As we have studied prophecies throughout the Bible over the years we have noticed a pattern that seems to be ignored in contemporary Christianity. All the prophecy “experts” and “scholars” seem to miss it as well. The pattern is this:
The prophecies in the Bible are not statements of what is going to happen, written in cement, with no possibility of change. The truth is that Bible prophecy always shows two options: there is always a plan “A”, and a plan “B.” One or the other will occur, depending on the response of the people.
Notice Deuteronomy 28 (and Lev. 26) and its list of blessings and cursings. God promises one or the other, depending on which one the people deserve.
When Jonah preached to Nineveh he made only one prophetic statement: “yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” That is the only prophecy in the book of Jonah...and it never was fulfilled. Read the 3rd chapter of Jonah and see how the repentance of the sinners caused God to repent “of the evil that he said he would do unto them.” (The idea of God "repenting" is mentioned over 20 times in Scripture). It is not uncommon for the Almighty to change His plan when sinners change their ways.
Read Jeremiah 18:7-10 where God clearly states that after He has pronounced blessing (or judgment) on a nation He will alter and not fulfill His Word if that nation turns from its righteousness (or wickedness).
So Bible prophecy is always a presentation of a plan "A," followed by a plan "B," if those prophesied to change their ways.
The Jews understand this. The Talmud recognizes 2 types of Messianic prophecies: some predict a suffering Messiah and some a reigning Messiah. The Talmud rectifies this by saying that the Messiah will do one or the other depending on whether the people are worthy when He comes!
Therefore we see in the New Testament some contexts clearly teaching a post-Tribulation Rapture, while at the same time other passages with exhortations to be ready for an imminent return.
What do we do? Be ready for both! Live your life just as if Christ could come today (He could. He’s God...He can do whatever He wants!). But also realize that you may have to go through the Tribulation, and like Joseph in Egypt you should prepare and plan ahead for all contingencies.
What then are we trying to accomplish here? First and foremost we want you and yours to have right access to the truth of all things; and this is not always easy to see!
In the history of the Jews we find a man named John the Baptist. This man was the herald of Christ’s coming as prophesied in Isa. 40:1-3 and Mal. 4:5-6, but he denied being that man who was prophesied! God's truth is for an exclusive group of people who have "eyes to see and ears to hear" and its reception wholly dependent on the Spiritual condition of the hearer.
We are all in different levels of that Spiritual condition and so all have some limitation on what they know and understand of God and His Kingdom. With this fact in mind it behooves us to err on the side of caution.
What this practically means is that, when it comes to prophecy, we should hope for the best and plan for the worst! The most important ingredient, the one that must have our complete attention, is strength in the Lord and attention to the work of His Kingdom!
It is our hope that you and yours indeed prepare well in this area! We readily admit that we do not know how exactly all this will play out but we do know the future and our inheritance from a life well lived before him. So it is our ultimate intent within this Chapter to build up and cement that truth to your soul.
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