The Rapture–Amillennialism, Post-millennialism, or Pre-millennialism?

Question from a Site Viewer
Which position (regarding the rapture) fits best with Scripture? Amillennialism, post-millennialism, or pre-millennialism?

Tim’s Answer
The rapture is one of those ideas that seems to be in vogue in many Christian intellectual circles to dismiss as wishful thinking and bad theology. But, in studying the alternatives, they always seem to leave certain passages unexplained.

There are some who are amillennialists who do not believe in a Christ who will set up rule on this earth. For them, Christ simply comes, judges, and establishes the new heaven and earth. For them there is no rapture. Catholics and some Protestants are amillennialists.

Then there are the post-millennialists who believe that the world, through the preaching and teaching of the church, will become more godly, peaceful, and prosperous and that the new age will be essentially like the present with the church ruling for a period of time. At the end Christ returns and judges the world. The post-millennialists also have no place for a rapture. Presbyterians and some Baptists are traditionally post-millennialists.

Finally, there are pre-millennialists. This was the view of the earliest church, as we know from Justin Martyr and Papias, and other early writers. It is also the view of many evangelicals, including many Baptists and most people in the Holiness tradition.

Among the pre-millennialists, there are four basic views of the rapture. There are the pre-tribulation rapture proponents. There are mid-tribulation rapture proponents. There are post-tribulation rapture proponents. And there are some who call themselves pre-wrath rapture proponents.

In sorting through these various possible positions using Scripture, I reject amillennialists because they do not have a place for God to honor His promises to Israel in their eschatology. Passages such as Ezekiel 40-48, Isaiah’s many passages on a future blissful time on this earth, and the book of Revelation are treated allegorically and not literally. The problem with treating them allegorically is two-fold:

  • their interpretation is not available to common people, but must be taught by the church (a real problem to me since I believe Scripture was written for the common person), and
  • 2) God has a fairly consistent history of fulfilling His prophecy literally, and so I would not want to bet against this history with the prophecy yet to be fulfilled.

I reject post-millennialism for the same reasons and for an additional reason. Scripture seems fairly clear that the church is not going to usher in a blissful age. Things are not going to get better and better. Paul tells Timothy that in the last days perilous times will come. Jesus asks the question in Luke 18 whether there will even be faith on the earth when He returns. I think post-millennialism is very weak from a Scriptural support position.

I accept pre-millennialism, not only because it is what the early church held, including those who knew the the apostles personally, but also it seems to be the best fit with Scripture, providing a place for the promises of God to be fulfilled and allowing a more straightforward reading of Scripture, including Revelation 19-20.

Among the pre-millennialists, I find the post-tribulation rapture to be the weakest. First, the yo-yo theory (as I call it) makes no sense. For Christ to promise to take us to be with Him forever (which is what John 14:1-3 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13 and following state), when He is actually coming to be on earth for 1,000 years seems illogical. Why would we be caught up to heaven when Jesus is coming to earth? I think the major support is from the Olivet Discourse, which as I have explained before I think is not supportive of a post-tribulation view.

The mid-pointers have very little support in Scripture. The way they pick and choose passages and read into them the rapture is without a sound hermeneutic. I have never found their arguments even mildly convincing.

The pre-wrath proponents, in my mind, are simply mid-tribulationists who want a different name. They argue that the rapture will take place before God pours out His wrath, but they see this point as coming significantly after the beginning of the tribulation. They accept the teaching of Scripture that we are not appointed to wrath. They simply fail to see that the entire tribulation is a time of God’s wrath. If they could just read Revelation 6 as the opening of the tribulation, and it is Christ who is opening the seals and causing the trouble on the earth, they might see that the wrath of God begins with the first seal.

I think the pre-tribulation rapture position is both most consistent with the character of God and most true to all of the texts of Scripture addressing the issue. It provides the best explanation for all of the texts.

The more I have studied the matter, the stronger I have become in my view that the pre-tribulation view is the view of the biblical writers. There are repeated promises that we will be saved from the hour of trial, from the period of wrath, from all the things that are going to try the earth, from the tribulation, etc. What do these promises mean? And how can the return of Christ be our blessed hope if we were destined to go through the tribulation? Frankly, I would rather die before His return, if that were the situation. At least then, I could avoid the suffering and I would be with Christ. But because I believe in a pre-tribulation rapture, I am much looking forward to the return of Christ.

A fellow servant and sojourner,

tim

Related Articles:
The Rapture, Part I
The Rapture, Part II
The Rapture, Part III
Pre-Tribulation Rapture

2 thoughts on “The Rapture–Amillennialism, Post-millennialism, or Pre-millennialism?

  1. mike

    Hi Tim, great answer. I was wondering if you knew of any other specific early church fathers besides Justin Martyr and Papias that showed belief in premillennialism. Also did they hold a pretrib position or just premillennial?

    Reply
    1. truthsaves Post author

      The other great early church father who addresses the subject is Irenaeus, who grew up under Polycarp in the church of Smyrna and then was sent to the mission at Lyons, France. He not only is strongly pre-millennial but also speaks about the tribulation, the three and a half year rule of the Antichrist, and many other matters about the end times. He also quotes Papias. See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, chapters 25-36.

      As far as the rapture in the early church fathers, strong statements are made both by those who reject the idea of a rapture and by those who believe in a rapture concerning what the early church taught. In my reading of the early church fathers, I have not come across a passage that explicitly supports a pre-tribulation rapture view. Irenaeus speaks of the following: “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.’” Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Ch. 29. Whether this shows a pre-tribulation rapture or a post-tribulation rapture is debated. The earliest clear statement on the pre-tribulation rapture is probably found in the Latin version of a work called Pseudo Ephraim, which is dated anywhere from the 4th to the 8th century. There we find the statement in Section 2: “For all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins.”

      Several church fathers speak of the church suffering in the time of tribulation. Those who do not believe in a rapture point to these passages as proving that the early church did not believe in a rapture. However, the issue may be one of nomenclature. Scripture speaks of saints being in the tribulation period and it does not appear that the early church fathers differentiated between saints and the church. God’s people were the ecclesia and God’s people would suffer. Using the term “church” to describe such people does not mean necessarily that the church fathers held some particular view on the timing of 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

      Reply

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