Question from a Site Viewer
I was wondering about where in the Bible the rapture is discussed. Is it post-tribulation or pre-tribulation?
Thanks for your question. Many Christians have held various views with respect to the rapture. Some deny that any such thing will ever occur. Some believe that it is only an analogy to some spiritual truth. Some believe that it is a literal event that will happen, but they differ as to its timing. Within this group, there are those who believe the rapture will happen before Daniel’s 70th week (See Daniel 7:27). There are those who believe that the rapture will happen at the middle of the tribulation. There are those who believe that the rapture will happen at the end of the tribulation. And there are some who believe in a modified mid-tribulation view called the “pre-wrath rapture,” with different views as to when God’s wrath begins to be poured out on the earth. Good Christians can be found in each of the camps. However, not everyone can be right. And, ultimately, our only authority must come back to the word of God.
I do not take strong issue with those who believe differently. However, I believe the view that best harmonizes the data Scripture gives to us is the pre-tribulation rapture position. Let me explain why I take this view.
The word rapture comes from a Latin word and is not found in our English Bibles. But it has the idea of a catching away. Perhaps, the most extensive text on this subject is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, where Scriptures tells us that we will be caught away together to be with Christ. But this idea that Jesus would return to take us out of this world did not originate with John. Back in Isaiah 26:20-21, immediately after a verse talking about how the earth will cast out the dead, the prophet has God saying:
Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself, as it were for a little moment, until the indignation is past. For behold, the LORD comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; the earth will also disclose her blood, and will no more cover her slain.
In the very next verse, Isaiah describes how the Lord will punish Leviathan, a reference I believe to Satan. In Zephaniah 2:3, there is expressed the possibility that the righteous may be hidden in the day of the LORD’s anger. In John 14:1-3, Jesus promises to return and takes us to be with Himself. In 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, we are told that the dead will rise and we will be changed in a moment at the last trumpet. There is plenty of biblical support for the fact that we will be taken away. And, the indication from the Isaiah and Zephaniah passage is that this exodus will happen before the day of wrath occurs. I note that the 1 Thessalonians event is followed immediately by a discussion on the Day of the Lord, a day seen as a day of wrath on the earth.
Here, then, are the reasons why I believe that the catching away of the saints will occur before the tribulation period. These are not in any particular order.
- The Tribulation is a time of God’s dealing with Israel, not with the church (Jeremiah 30:4-9; Daniel 9:24-27; Zechariah 13:7-9; Malachi 3:1-3; Revelation 7:1-8; 12:1-17). I see a clear distinction in Scripture between Israel and the church (Romans 9-11; 1 Corinthians 10:32).
- The Tribulation is a time of God’s wrath (Isaiah 13:9, 13; Joel 2:1-2, 11; Zephaniah 1:7, 14-18; Romans 2:5; Revelation 6:16-17; 14:19); the church is not destined for His wrath and in fact has been delivered from the wrath to come (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 5:1-11).
- God, in the past, except for Israel, has delivered the godly from His judgments. Enoch was taken before the flood (Genesis 5:24); Noah was shut into the ark before the waters came (Genesis 7:1, 7-10, 16); Lot was removed from Sodom before judgment fell (2 Peter 2:4-9).
- Christ gave us hope that we may escape the Tribulation period (Luke 21:36; Revelation 3:10).
- John was taken up to heaven in the Spirit after the seven letters to the church were given and prior to any of the Tribulation events on the earth (Revelation 4:1).
- Although the focus of the early chapters of Revelation, during the description of the Tribulation in Revelation the church is never seen on earth (Revelation 4-19), but it is seen in heaven (Revelation 19:7-9; 22:16-17).
- The writers of Scripture looked for the imminent return of Christ, which was an impossibility if part of the Tribulation had to occur first (Romans 13:11-12; 1 Corinthians 1:7-8; Philippians 3:20-21; 4:5; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 10:35-37; James 5:7-9; 1 John 2:28). If any part of the Tribulation had to happen first, then it could not be said that Jesus’ return could happen at any moment. Yet, it seems clear to me that the Scripture writers saw no event as needing to happen before Jesus returned.
- The One who restrains evil, which I believe is a reference to the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11) is taken from the world before the Tribulation begins (2 Thessalonians 2:1-8). If this is a reference to the Holy Spirit, the church must go with Him because He is inseparable from the church by the promise of Christ (John 14:16).
- At the rapture, the church goes to heaven with Christ (John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18); at the end of the Tribulation, the church comes from heaven with Christ (1 Thessalonians 3:13; Jude 14).
- The Blessed Hope is the return of Christ (Titus 2:13; see also 1 Thessalonians 4:18). The return would not be the blessed hope if in fact it means we must endure part or all of this tribulation period. During the Tribulation period, the Antichrist is going to persecute and kill many of the saints (Revelation 13:7). Frankly, if I had to go through any of the Tribulation, my blessed hope would be my departure to be with Christ through death. I would not want to endure any of the Tribulation period. And neither do I think that the Scripture writers would have wanted to endure that period. But they looked forward to the blessed hope of the imminent return of Christ. And so do I.
- There are no warning signs with the rapture (Matthew 24:36-39, 43, 45-51; 25:13). If the rapture occurs at any point after the beginning of the Tribulation, the earth will have lots of warning signs, as Jesus points out so vividly in Matthew 24 and John details out in the book of Revelation.
Many will object to these reasons. I want to answer some of these objections. Some will say that the pre-tribulation rapture is only bad theology that believes God will save us from all suffering if we live rightly. I do not believe that it is the intent of Christ to deliver His people from bad things. All who live godly will suffer persecution. This we know from Scripture. His church has been and continues to be persecuted severely around the world. We, in the West, understand this because we ache with the hurt experienced by Christians in other countries, and we pray to God for them. However, I believe Scripture is consistent that it is the intent of God to deliver His church from His wrath that He will pour out on this earth.
Second, some will object and say that some of the Scriptures stated above are ambiguous. I will allow that argument. Yet, I believe that my use of the Scriptures is consistent with a sound interpretation within their respective contexts.
Third, some will take great issue with my use of the Matthew 24 passages. They will say that the rapture is never in view in those passages. I understand this argument. But I respectfully disagree. There are, in my mind, two definite returns of Christ in view in Matthew 24. There is the announced, visible, and dated return of Christ at the end of the Tribulation. This return, Jesus tells us, will happen immediately after the Great Tribulation, which Jesus fixes as the last 3 and 1/2 years of Daniel’s 70th week. At the end of the Tribulation, the skies will be darkened, the sign of Jesus return will be given, and then He will come. This is a well announced coming. There also, in Matthew 24, is the unannounced, stealthy, and undated return of Christ for His people. He warns us to be watchful. He likens it to the days of Noah. Noah, most interestingly, was taken into the ark seven days before the judgment fell. Jesus makes a point that the people of Noah’s day were partying until the “day that Noah entered the ark” and they did not know until seven days later when the flood came (Matthew 24:37-39). The return of Christ at the end of the Tribulation cannot be the return about which we cannot know the day or the hour.
Some will argue that the pre-tribulation rapture argument was a 19th century invention and that the church has never believed this in the past. I am not one to throw prior church teachings to the wind. However, I will simply make the following point. The earliest church believed in a pre-millennial return of Christ (see Papias and Justin Martyr who are the earliest expressions of the church on the subject and who both lived and wrote in the second century, within about 100 years of Jesus and about 40-70 years of Peter and Paul, and about 20 to 50 years of John, the apostle). By the fourth century, the church had switched almost exclusively to a belief that the millennium was only a spiritual truth. Without a literal millennium, there is no place for the rapture. Thus, for 1500 years of church history, there was little focus on the rapture because of the prevailing view of the millennium. Only in the 19th century, when there was a return among some to the earliest view of the church, that of a pre-millennial return of Christ, did the issue of the rapture become an issue again. The absence of the subject for most of the church history therefore is understandable, and does nothing to lead me to think that the idea is contrary to what the earliest church believed, or what the apostles taught. And, because the ultimate authority is Scripture, not church history, I look to Scripture and the view I find most consistent with Scripture is the pre-Tribulation view.
In closing, I have given you a long explanation for your short question. I will not allow the issue of when Christ will come to be a divisive issue between me and another believer. I highly respect some who believe differently. And I do not wish to imply that they have bad motives or are somehow wrongly treating the Scriptures. Nevertheless, we must all seek the mind of the Spirit in all matters relating to the Scriptures. Personally, I am less satisfied with the way the other views treat all of the Scriptural data than I am with the pre-Tribulation rapture view.
May the Lord Jesus guide you, comfort you, and motivate you to live a godly life in view of the fact that He may return any day. As He says, may we be found watching when He comes.
A fellow servant and sojourner,