Matthew 24:2-34; Mark 13:5-30; and Luke 21:8-28 record Jesus Christ’s description of the traumatic events that will take place during what most biblical scholars believe will be a seven-year period of severe tribulation (generally referred to as the Tribulation), which will occur sometime before Christ’s return to Earth (the Second Advent). These events will include the following:
- False christs and false prophets will appear and will show “great signs and wonders”
- There will be wars and rumors of wars
- There will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes
- Christians, including family members, will betray one another
- There will be lawlessness
- The sun “will be darkened” and the moon ”will not give its light”
- The stars “will fall from heaven”
It would be comforting to Christians to be able to believe confidently that, if they are living on Earth just before the beginning of the Tribulation, they will ascend, or be “caught up,” to meet Christ in the sky (the Rapture) and go with Him to heaven, thus avoiding having to endure the distress and the suffering that will result from the persecution and the terrible disasters that will occur during the Tribulation. However, there are reasons to question the basis for such an expectation.
We will consider three basic questions that relate to this matter:
- What is the relationship between the Rapture and the Second Advent?
- What is the blessed hope for Christians?
- Who are the elect who will have to endure the Tribulation?
What Is the Relationship Between the Rapture and the Second Advent?
One of the primary considerations with regard to whether or not the Rapture and the Second Advent are two closely related events is the biblical description of what will occur prior to, and in conjunction with, each of these events. Those who believe that the Rapture will occur before the Tribulation and that the Second Advent will occur after the Tribulation usually argue that the Rapture will be inconspicuous, whereas the Second Advent will be quite conspicuous.
However, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 indicates that the return of Christ to rapture the Christians who are living on Earth at that time (as well as the bodies of Christians who previous died) will be a conspicuous event, not an inconspicuous event. In this passage, Paul declares,
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep [i.e., dead]. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, unless indicated otherwise. When words in a quoted scripture passage are shown in bold print, the emphasis is our own.]
Matthew 24:27, 29-30, which is generally believed to pertain to the Second Advent, and similar passages in Mark 13:26 and Luke 21:27 make it clear that the Second Advent, like the Rapture, will be a conspicuous event.
In Matthew 24:27, 29-30, Jesus Christ declares,
For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man [i.e., Christ] be.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
On the other hand, 1 Thessalonians 5:2 states that “the day of the Lord . . . comes as a thief in the night.” Second Peter 3:10 makes a similar statement, although it adds, “the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” The events mentioned in the latter scripture infer that “the day of the Lord” alludes to the Second Advent, not to the Rapture.
The problem with this point of view is that it necessitates that before Christians are raptured, they, as well as non-Christians, will experience God’s wrath that is inflicted on the earth during the latter part of the Tribulation, which is a possibility that seems to be contrary to biblical precedents and teachings that we subsequently discuss.
The Old Testament also indicates that “the day of the Lord” refers to the Second Advent. In Joel 2:30-31, God declares, “I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” Zechariah 14:1 says, “the day of the Lord is coming,” and then the rest of the chapter describes events that will occur at that time, including the return of the Lord (Jesus Christ) to Earth.
So, with regard to the Second Advent, how is it possible to reconcile the conspicuousness of Christ’s coming in the clouds with the apparent obscurity of His coming like a thief in the night? Consider Matthew 24:42-44, in which Jesus cautions,
“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him.”
This passage suggests surprise or unexpectedness, rather than obscurity or inconspicuousness. In other words, the timing of Christ’s return will be a surprise, but His return will not be inconspicuous. Therefore, Christ’s coming as a thief and His coming in the clouds for everyone on Earth to see do not necessarily pertain to two completely separate events.
Next, consider Revelation 20:6, which states, “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” This verse of scripture indicates that the Christians who will participate in the first resurrection will be raptured, and then they will reign with Christ during His 1,000-year reign on the earth (the Millennium).
Therefore, it is conceivable that the Rapture could occur as Christ is returning to Earth to establish His 1,000-year reign. The Rapture may serve as a celestial welcome for Christ by those who are being raptured, somewhat like the terrestrial welcome Christ received when He was entering Jerusalem a few days before His death on the cross, which resulted in His victory over sin. If this viewpoint is correct, those who have been raptured may immediately return with Christ to the earth, where they will subsequently reign with Him during the Millennium.
The primary problem with the belief in a post-tribulation rapture is it necessitates that before Christians are raptured, they, as well as non-Christians, will experience God’s wrath that is inflicted on the earth during the latter part of the Tribulation. This is a possibility that seems to be contrary to biblical precedents and teachings that we subsequently discuss.
In any case, if the Rapture will be a prelude immediately prior to the Second Advent, all Christians, including both those who are believers before the Tribulation begins and those who become believers during the Tribulation will not be raptured until sometime after the Tribulation has begun and perhaps not until it ends.
What about Revelation 3:10, in which Jesus Christ tells the church in the ancient city of Philadelphia, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth”?
The key to understanding the meaning of Revelation 3:10 seems to be to correctly interpret the term “the hour of trial.” According to Strong’s Concordance of the Bible, the Greek word hora that is translated as “hour” in this verse denotes any time or period. And Wycliffe Bible Commentary says, “Note carefully that the word is trial here, not tribulation.”
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible indicates that Revelation 3:10 refers to a time of temptation and goes on to say that this verse is “Another instance of favour that Christ promises to this church is persevering grace in the most trying times . . . , and this as the reward of their past fidelity.” In other words, Matthew Henry is saying the reference is specifically to the church at Philadelphia for a period of trials, but there is no indication that this period is The Tribulation.
Furthermore, of the seven churches named in chapters 3 and 4 of Revelation, the promise in Revelation 3:10 is made to only the church in Philadelphia. The verse does not give any indication that all faithful Christians will be kept from the hour of trial. This supports Matthew Henry’s position that the promise pertains to just the church in Philadelphia.
Conversely, the KJV Bible Commentary says with regard to Revelation 3:10, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, the promise is that they will be kept from [not through] the hour of temptation, which is the Tribulation Period . . . that is to come upon all the world of those who have completely settled upon the earth.” The point is that this commentary asserts that the hour of temptation [or trial] does refer to The Tribulation.
Thus, there is disagreement as to whether or not the hour of temptation pertains to the Tribulation. But, if Revelation 3:10 indicates that the Rapture will occur before the Tribulation, it does not seem to be consistent with Matthew 24:21-22, Mark 13:18-20, and a similar passage in Luke 21, all of which indicate that Christians will need to endure a period of great trial.
[Note: For further commentary regarding the relationship between the Rapture and the Second Advent, see the appendix at the end of this article to read excerpts from what we believe is a particularly insightful article by Marvin J. Rosenthal, Executive Director of Zion’s Hope.]
What Is the Blessed Hope for Christians?
Several scripture passages allude to what some people refer to as the “blessed hope” for Christians. For example, Titus 2:13 mentions “the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Two other biblical passages that also may pertain to the “blessed hope” are John 14:3 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
In John 14:3, Jesus Christ says to Thomas, His disciple, “I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” And 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which we cited in reference to the relationship between the Rapture and the Second Advent, indicates that, after Christians are raptured, they “shall always be with the Lord.”
Another scripture passage sometimes associated with the “blessed hope” for Christians is 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, in which the apostle Paul states, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
When Paul made this statement, it is possible that he was referring to the seventh (and last) trumpet that is alluded to in Revelation 11:15, although it was not until two or three decades later that the disciple John wrote the manuscripts that now comprise the book of Revelation. (This possibility should not be casually dismissed. The same Holy Spirit Who guided John in writing the book of Revelation also guided Paul in his writings.)
If Paul did have the last trumpet in mind, there would be strong reason to believe the Rapture will follow the Tribulation, based upon the sequence of events mentioned in Revelation that will occur before the blowing of the last trumpet. However, if the Rapture will follow the Tribulation, it is not imminent (i.e., it will not occur until after certain other events transpire).
With regard to whether the Rapture will occur before, during, or after the Tribulation, Luke 21:28 also needs to be considered. Following the description by Jesus Christ earlier in Luke 21 of the persecution that His followers will have to endure, He tells them in verse 28 that “when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” In other words, Christ’s followers won’t be redeemed until after they have suffered through a period of severe persecution.
Although there is no indication in Luke 21:28 that Christians may need to endure the manifestations of God’s wrath, the previously mentioned passages in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 suggest that Christians may need to endure at least some of the traumatic events resulting from the wrath of God during the Tribulation.
Those who believe that the Rapture will occur before the beginning of the Tribulation (as well as many who believe that the Rapture will occur during the Tribulation but before God inflicts His wrath on the earth) cite scriptures such as 1 Thessalonians 5:9 to support this belief. Paul states in this passage, “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” However, as inferred by the second part of the verse, which mentions “salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,” the first part of the verse may refer to God’s ultimate wrath, which involves eternal death (or separation from God) for those who have not trusted in Christ as their Savior.
Some people interpret Revelation 3:10, which we previously discussed, as a promise by Christ that all faithful Christians who are living on Earth just before the Tribulation begins will be raptured before the inception of the Tribulation. However, as we previously indicated, this verse of scripture doesn’t necessarily pertain at all to the Tribulation.
Another reason that is given for believing that the Rapture will occur before the start of the Tribulation is based upon the precedent established by examples in the Old Testament of God not inflicting His wrath on those who were faithful to Him. God spared Noah and his family from the Great Flood that He sent to cover the Earth. Likewise, God spared Lot and his family from the fire and brimstone that He sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Therefore, it may seem reasonable to conclude that God will spare Christians from His wrath during the Tribulation. Nevertheless, this does not provide sufficient reason to believe that Christians won’t have to endure some portion of the seven-year period of the Tribulation.
On pages 26 and 27 of his book entitled The Sign, Robert Van Kampen asserts,
[A]lthough Christians will be delivered from God’s wrath, Scripture is equally clear that believers are not promised freedom from persecution and tribulation, and that they can in fact expect persecution and tribulation to come for the very reason that they are Christians.
[J]ust as Scripture makes abundantly clear that believers will escape God’s wrath, it makes equally clear that believers are not promised escape from the wrath of the world and of Satan, especially from the persecution of God’s elect during the great tribulation by Antichrist (Rev. 12:12).
Van Kampen also asserts that there is historical precedent for believing that the Church (i.e., Christians) will go through the tribulation of Antichrist. On page 286 of his book, he states,
[T]he position not only of the New Testament church but also of the leading church fathers of the first several centuries (with the exception of Origen and Clement of Alexandria, who allegorized much of Scripture) was that the church would go through the great tribulation by Antichrist. Since this is indeed true, the true church of Christ must be prepared for these terrible days of persecution.
Note the order of events that will occur during the Tribulation according to Matthew 24:2-34, Mark 13:5-30, and Luke 21:8-28, which we discussed above. These passages suggest that the tribulation resulting from celestial chaos will be the result of God’s wrath following various calamities caused by events on the earth, including both man-made and so-called natural disasters. Thus, God may not manifest His wrath until Christians have endured the first half (i.e., the first three and one-half years) of the Tribulation, based upon what other scripture passages indicate (compare Daniel 9:25-27 with Matthew 24:15-21 and Mark 13:14).
Thus, Christians who are alive at that time may have to endure the terrible persecution that will occur during the first three and one-half years of the Tribulation, but if they are raptured before the beginning of the second three and one-half years of the Tribulation, they apparently won’t have to endure God’s wrath, which probably will not occur until the second half of the Tribulation. This scenario would be consistent with the belief that God would not inflict His wrath on Christians, just as he spared from His wrath those who were faithful to Him during Old Testament times.
In support of the viewpoint that Christians will have to endure at least some portion of the seven-year period of the Tribulation, the Apostle John provides the following account in Revelation 7:9, 13-14, which indicates that many Christians will have to endure a period of “great tribulation”:
I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb [i.e., Christ], clothed with white robes. . . .
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’ And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So, he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Assuming that the great multitude of Christians who will need to endure the Tribulation refers to the Christians who be living at that time, the Rapture would not be a truly “blessed hope” if it does not occur until after these Christians have had to endure the terrible events that will occur during the first three and one-half years of the Tribulation, even if they are raptured before God inflicts His wrath on mankind.
On the other hand, if the Rapture occurs before the Tribulation and that the great multitude of Christians who will need to endure the Tribulation are only Christians who become believers during the Tribulation, what “blessed hope” will the Rapture provide them, since the Rapture will have occurred before they became Christians? [Note: The next section of this article deals specifically with the question of which Christians will have to endure the Tribulation.]
Although the Rapture is not likely to provide comfort for all Christians, all Christians can be comforted by the assurance of their eternal salvation, which results from having genuinely trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Therefore, it can be argued that the “blessed hope” for Christians is to eventually spend eternity with Christ.
Who Are the Elect Who Will Need to Endure The Tribulation?
In Matthew 24:9, after describing some of the other events that will occur during the Tribulation, Jesus Christ tells His followers, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.” Later in the same chapter, in verses 21-22, Christ asserts, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.”
Matthew 24:24-29 describes some of the events that will occur during the Tribulation. Then, verse 31 states that Christ “will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Mark 13:19-27 provides an account that is similar to that of Matthew 24:24-31.)
Although it is clear from the preceding scripture passages that “the elect” will need to endure the Tribulation, there is some question as to who are the elect. However, Strong’s Concordance of the Bible reveals that when the same Greek word eklektos that is translated as “the elect” in Matthew 24:22 and Mark 13:20 is used in other New Testament passages in reference to a group of people, it refers to Christians (see Romans 8:33; Colossians 3:12; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Peter 2:9). What is not certain is whether the term “the elect” refers to all true believers who are still living when the Tribulation begins, as well as to people who become Christians during the Tribulation, or just to the latter.
Some Christian scholars believe that “the elect” does not pertain to the Church, which in this instance can be defined as all the Christians who are living on Earth immediately before The Tribulation begins. Those who hold this belief argue that there are no biblical passages which specifically mention that the Church will be present during the Tribulation. However, this is an argument from silence, which most scholars regard as not credible. Just because the Church is not specifically mentioned in passages that deal with the Tribulation is not a valid reason to believe that Christians who are living immediately before the Tribulation begins will be raptured so they won’t have to endure the Tribulation.
Another argument in support of the belief that the Church will not need to go through the Tribulation is based upon the belief that the Holy Spirit will not be present during the Tribulation. The basis for this belief is 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, a vague passage regarding the end times, which says, “[N]ow you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.”
Prior and subsequent verses in 2 Thessalonians 2 reveal that the person who will be restrained is “the lawless one,” whom many, if not most, biblical scholars believe will be the Antichrist. Many people believe the Holy Spirit is the restrainer to whom the passage alludes. Most of those who believe that the restrainer is the Holy Spirit think He would not be removed from the Earth as long as the Church remains on Earth.
If the restrainer is the Holy Spirit, it should be noted that 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 states only that the restrainer will be “taken out of the way.” This does not necessarily mean that the Holy Spirit will leave Earth. If the Holy Spirit did leave Earth, it is highly doubtful that anyone could become a Christian while He is gone, because the Bible infers that it is only through the influence of the Holy Spirit that a person can have the ability to genuinely trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. In other words, the Holy Spirit must be present for a person to be convicted of sin, so he (or she) can realize his (or her) need for eternal salvation. Among the scriptures that support this perspective are John 3:5 and John 16:8.
There are also scripture passages which state clearly that when a person becomes a Christian, he (or she) will receive the Holy Spirit as a deposit, guarantee, or seal, so he (or she) can be assured of their eternal salvation. If the Holy Spirit were not present, Christians would not have this assurance. Among the applicable passages are 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, 2 Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:13, and 1 John 3:24.
Furthermore, the Bible indicates that many people will become Christians (i.e., part of the Church) during the Tribulation. The scripture passage that seems to provide the best support for this belief is Revelation 7:9, 13-15, which states,
After these things I [i.e., the writer of Revelation] looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands. . . . Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.”
Because of the aforementioned considerations and perhaps other considerations that we have not mentioned, the restrainer referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 could be Christ’s Church (i.e., all genuine Christians who are living on Earth during that period of time). If the Rapture does not occur prior to the time alluded to in this passage, there does not seem to be a valid reason why Christ’s Church could not be the restrainer.
A third possibility is that the restrainer is the archangel Michael. On page 199 of his book, Van Kampen says that Michael is “the great restrainer who has been the heavenly protector of God’s people since ancient times (see Dan. 10:21).” However, it is questionable if this verse in Daniel adequately supports Van Kampen’s belief that Michael is the restrainer mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7. Daniel 10:21 simply says, “But I will tell you what is noted in the Scripture of Truth. (No one upholds me against these, except Michael your [i.e., God’s] prince.)”
We think there is relatively strong evidence that the Rapture will occur before God inflicts His wrath on the earth, which probably will be sometime near the middle of the seven-year period referred to as the Tribulation. Although many Christians believe the Rapture will occur before the Tribulation and other Christians think it will occur after the Tribulation, we think the evidence for either of these last two positions is significantly weaker than that pertaining to the pre-wrath position.
Van Kampen provides further explanations pertaining to our point of view. On page 34 of his book, he says,
Simply stated, the prewrath view contends that the church will go through the great tribulation by Antichrist during the end times, but will be raptured before the wrath of God, when Christ cuts short the persecution [by] Antichrist. The great tribulation is the time that occurs after the midpoint of the seventieth week, when Antichrist has complete control of the earth (Matt. 24:15) and seeks to destroy all who will not worship him (Matt. 24:21, 22). This will be a time of putting to a proof those who name the name of Christ, as God permits the persecution by Antichrist to purify genuine but unfaithful believers in order to make them worthy to be the bride of Christ.
And on page 278 of his book, Van Kampen asserts,
Either the church goes through the severe persecution by Antichrist or it doesn’t. This [his book entitled The Sign] has tried to warn the believer that he (or she) must be prepared for this time of unparalleled distress. . . . [The timing of The Rapture] must be a clear teaching of the New Testament, not a position such as pretribulationalism whose defenders admit in writing that it is not “an explicit teaching of the Scriptures” that “the Bible does not, in so many words, state” or whose “proof at times has been logically invalid or at least unconvincing”. . . . [Note: The quotations by pretribulationists are from The Rapture Question, by John F. Walvoord, and The Prophet’s Watchword, the Day of the Lord, an unpublished doctoral dissertation by Richard Mayhue.]
Although we believe the weight of the evidence indicates that the Rapture is most likely to take place before God inflicts His wrath on the world, we don’t want to be dogmatic about our belief.
John F. Walvoord, Th.D., former President of Dallas Theological Seminary and a strong advocate of the pretribulation position, states on page 144 of his book entitled The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation,
In the study of the relative merits of arguments supporting pretribulationism and posttribulationism, it becomes evident that not all the arguments for either conclusion are necessarily decisive. If either the pretribulational or posttribulational rapture was unequivocably [sic] taught in Scripture, it is doubtful whether worthy scholars would divide on the question. The conclusions reached necessarily are based on the total weight of the supporting evidence and the extent to which each view solves its problems.
Furthermore, scholars have disagreed about this matter for hundreds of years. Adult Learner Guide for winter 2008-2009 says on page 62, “Christian Bible students with equal devotion and scholarship have differed for centuries over the interpretation of end-time events. We do well to hold our points of view about end-time details with as much humility as devotion and scholarship.”
Christians may hope that they will be raptured prior to the Tribulation, but everyone who proclaims that Jesus Christ is their Savior and Lord should be prepared for the possibility that they may have to endure at least the period of severe persecution that will occur during the first three and one-half years of the Tribulation.
Van Kampen shares this viewpoint. He says on page 36 of his book,
If, as this volume [i.e., his book entitled The Sign] strongly insists, Christ will not rapture His church until sometime during the great tribulation by Antichrist – rather than before the seventieth week or before the great tribulation by Antichrist begins – the significance for Christians is almost inestimable. It is absolutely true, of course, that a Christian’s view of the end times in no way affects his salvation. But one’s view of the end times will have exceeding importance for believers who must suffer or be in real danger of the worst human oppression of all time. In fact, the whole reason that this book is written is to help prepare those Christians . . . for the cataclysmic days that lie ahead.
Some people may question if it really matters whether the Rapture occurs before, during, or after the Tribulation. We believe it does matter. Like Van Kampen and a number of other Bible scholars, our concern is that Christians who are not prepared to endure a period of severe persecution, because they expect to be raptured before the Tribulation begins, are more apt to lose their faith if they are confronted by the choice of whether or not to endure such persecution. As a result, they may be included among those about whom Jesus Christ said in Matthew 24:10, with regard to the end times, “many will turn away from the faith. . .” (NIV). Therefore, it behooves every Christian to at least allow for the possibility that the Rapture will not occur before the Tribulation begins.
Christians may hope that they will be raptured prior to the Tribulation, but everyone who proclaims that Jesus Christ is their Savior and Lord should be prepared for the possibility that they may have to endure at least the period of severe persecution that will occur during the Tribulation but before God brings His wrath upon the world..
Excerpts from Article Entitled “The Deception That Was Yet To Come”
By Marvin J. Rosenthal, Executive Director of Zion’s Hope
The twin qualities of biblical discernment and godly demeanor are critical to guard against the voices of the false shepherds who have always been present, but whose clamor and persuasiveness will intensify during the “Tribulation” period., with a view toward misleading the sheep for ungodly purposes.
The grave danger has been, in my opinion, unintentionally but effectively neutralized by the teaching, however sincere, which suggests believers will be raptured pretribulationally and, therefore, before false christs and prophets appear on the scene. Such thinking is like administering a placebo (a medication prescribed more for the mental relief than for its actual effect on the disorder). Even worse, it serves as a spiritual anesthetic that dulls one’s perception of the danger of personal involvement in the coming storm.
The warning given by the Lord is a specific warning related to a unique moment of history. If believers think they are exempt from the unique problems of the “Tribulation” period because they will not be present, then warnings of danger for that time frame become irrelevant and lose their urgency.
I ministered more than thirty years as a strong and widely recognized advocate of pretribulational rapturism. I know what the position believes, why it is believed, which Scriptures are appealed to, and the dispensational Church/Israel distinction used to help sustain that position. I do not question . . . the integrity or commitment to Christ of those distinguished Christian leaders who, during the past 100 years, trail-blazed the concept of pretribulational rapturism. But I am equally convinced that viewpoint will not endure the test of time. It is built on inference, innuendo, and a supposedly consistent dispensationalism.
A growing number of voices from within conservative circles are sounding an alarm. They do not wish to be argumentative or divisive, but lovingly corrective. The concept of rapture before the “Tribulation” period has a comforting appeal, but it is a false comfort that is tranquilizing God’s people. The concept of entrance into the “Tribulation” period before rapture is disquieting, but it is a true disquieting that will help people “take heed” as the Lord warned.
To my knowledge there is not a verse in the Bible that teaches a pretribulational rapture of the Church; not Matthew 24, not John 14:1-3, not 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, not 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, not 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, not Revelation 3:10, or any other verse in Scripture. It is not a question of “proof texting” as some critics suggest, but a question of biblical evidence. If the Bible is the final authority, then let the Bible speak – and not a system superimposed upon it. There are many verses that teach the Church will be raptured, but none that teach it will be raptured pretribulationally.
To my knowledge, there is not a verse in the Bible that teaches the entire seventieth week of Daniel . . . is God’s wrath. It is true that the Church is not appointed to endure God’s wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9), but God’s wrath is clearly said to begin following the opening of the sixth seal and in anticipation of the opening of the seventh seal. [See chapters 6-8 in Revelation.]
God’s wrath begins with the opening of the seventh seal. The word “wrath” is used eight times in the Book of Revelation. . . . God’s wrath is said to begin with the opening of the seventh seal, but never is the phrase “God’s wrath” used in the first six seals.
To my knowledge, there is not a verse in the Bible which teaches two second comings of Christ: one for the Church by rapture to the clouds, and then a second coming seven years later – with the Church – back to the earth.
The Lord’s second coming is consistently portrayed as a singular event.
There is clear evidence that there is a second coming of Christ sometime after the middle of the seventieth week of Daniel (see also Matthew 24:3, 15, 27), but there is no evidence of an earlier second coming to rapture the Church.
And not coincidentally, the great creeds and confessions of church history are also silent about it. None mention, let alone support, a pretribulational rapture. It cannot be found in “The Apostles’ Creed,” “The Nicene Creed,” “The Athanasian Creed,” “The Westminster Confession of Faith, “The Baptist Confession of 1689,” or “The Philadelphia Confession of Faith.”
Pretribulational rapturism simply does not naturally emerge from an unbiased study of the Word of God.
To my knowledge, thee is not a verse of Scripture that teaches the concept of imminence – that the Rapture can occur at any moment, is signless, and that no prophesied events will precede it.
The Rapture is not imminent and signless. It is expectant and ablaze with indicators of Christ’s coming for believers who enter the “Tribulation” period. The indicators will not reveal the day or hour of Christ’s return, but they will reveal the general time period. Just as a fig tree indicated to Israel that summer was getting close (Matthew 24:32-33) – the events of Matthew 24:4-29 will indicate to believers living in the “Tribulation” that the Rapture is getting close.
If . . . the Church enters the “Tribulation” period having been convinced she will be raptured pretribulationally, she will be stunned, confused, and caught totally unprepared. Her faith will be shaken, and she will question in what other areas she has strayed. Amidst the confusion, many believers will be prime targets for the false prophets, who will rise and deceive many. It could well be a spiritual catastrophe.