THE RAPTURE: EXPLORING THE TIMING IN RELATION TO THE TRIBULATION


Introduction

            The rapture is a biblical event spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The New American Standard Bible translates it as “caught up,” but the Latin Vulgate uses the word “rapturo.”[1] This is a rendering of the Greek verb “harpazo,” which means “to seize or snatch away.”[2] This is the only verse of the Bible explaining the rapture directly.[3] However, there are other sections of the Bible explaining about the rapture by implication.

We know Jesus will return. If His words about His return are not true, then His character is undermined.[4] An important eschatology topic that should be approached is the timing of the rapture. It is impossible to determine any real understanding of the last things without an understanding of the rapture’s timing.[5] Many Bible teachers teach that Christians need not be concerned with the end times.[6] The Bible seems to indicate otherwise in 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6, where it says, “but you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night or of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.”[7] The knowledge that will prevent us from being “overtake[n]” will only come from an awareness of eschatology.

There are three major views held today.[8] Pretribulationism; where the rapture occurs before the final week of years predicted by Daniel. Posttribulationism; where the rapture occurs at end of the week of years. Finally, even though Midtribulationism has been supplanted by Prewrath rapturism,[9] the Prewrath rapture occurs in the midst of the seven year period, after the Abomination of Desolation occurs in the future Third Temple.[10]

Premillennialism

            According to premillennial theory, the present, church age will continue until the rapture. This rapture will occur in secret; suddenly and unexpectedly.[11] During this period, the signs spoken of in the Bible will occur.[12] There are several events that are spoken of in the Old Testament that can occur only during the millennia, for they occur neither now, nor can they occur during the final state of man.[13] He cites Isaiah 65:20 as an example: “No more babes will die in infancy, no more will an old man die short of his days—he who dies at a hundred will be thought young, and at less than a hundred thought cursed.” Death (as part of the curse) appears to still be present, which will not occur during the eternal state of man.[14]

There are New Testament passages that point to the millennial reign, other than Revelation 20.[15] When speaking to the church at Thyatira, Jesus speaks of the shared reign by force, when speaking of the “rod of iron” and “vessels of the potter.”[16] This is not occurring now, as amillennialists believe, pointing to a future millennia short of the eternal state.

 

Pretribulation Rapture

Pretribulationism explains that the rapture of the Church, both dead and living, will occur at the beginning of Daniel’s final seven year period.[17] Charles Ryrie says, “it is necessary to say ‘before the seven-year Tribulation Period’ because some who hold to a midtribulation rapture state that the rapture is pretribulational, because they understand the Tribulation to only refer to the last three and one-half years of the seven-year period.”[18] John Nelson Darby gave the popularization of this system, seeing the Church as distinct from Israel.[19]

Pretribulation followers use the words to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 to the conclusion that the Saints will be kept from the entire tribulation[20]. The promise in Revelation 3:10 “to keep from the hour of testing” does not refer to a sixty minute period, but the entire Tribulation, God’s wrath and Satan’s three and one-half year dominion over the world.

Pretribulationists use 1 Thessalonians 5:2: “the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.”[21] This points to an imminence of the Lord; meaning that He can return at any moment, even though it will be privy to believers. There will be no days of wrath that mean that Jesus is more likely to return this day or that. Jesus will come unexpectedly. They also use 1 Thessalonians 5:9: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This seems to indicate a saving from the Tribulation, and an absent Church, during it. Millard Erickson seems to believe that it is not those left behind that come to Christ, but elect Jews that will experience the tribulation.[22]

Posttribulation Rapture

             Posttribulationists believe that the Rapture will occur at the close of the Great Tribulation. They believe that the pretribulation rapture was invented by John Nelson Darby, and was not an early idea. The theory was popularized by George Eldon Ladd and Robert Gundry. They avoid the use of the term “rapture,” because it is not biblical and suggests the Church will escape or be delivered from the Tribulation.[23] This “escaping or deliverance” is contrary to posttribulation theory. They use a hermeneutic that is less literal than pretribulationists.[24] For instance, pretribulationists take the Hebrew word shabua’ to mean that the great tribulation will be exactly seven years long, while Posttribulationists believe that it will occur for a substantial period of time.[25]

Believers in the pretribulation rapture also believe that Matthew 24:29-31’s usage of “angels… gather[ing] together His elect” to be the rapture. This occurs after the Tribulation.[26] Posttribbers[27] draw a distinction between the Wrath of God and the tribulation.[28] They use Romans 5:9 (“we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him”) to signify the portion of God’s wrath. Believers will experience tribulation, however.[29] Pretribulationists would refer to the believers delivered to wrath as those who came to belief after the rapture.

Pretribulationists acknowledge that Scripture speaks of deliverance from Wrath.[30] They believe it does not refer to removal from tribulation altogether, but a removal from the center of Wrath.[31] They use the Greek verb “ekpheugo,” which means “to escape out of the midst of.”[32] This means, to them, to mean an escape from the center, rather than a removal, which would require ordinarily need the preposition “apo” (away). Pretribulationists also require a coming of the Lord at the end of the seven year tribulation period, in which He will return visibly to all.[33]

 

 Prewrath Rapture

            The prewrath rapture is the idea that the rapture will occur after the Abomination of Desolation predicted by Daniel, but before the Second Coming. It is an idea popularized by Marvin Rosenthal and Robert Van Kampen. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus warns His disciples of signs of the end of the age.[34] It would have been unnecessary to warn His disciples, rather than a non-believing body, if disciples were not going to see them. Jesus’ responses are to distinguish the Second Temple’s destruction from the eschatological events.[35] The first century events are merely the “beginning of birth pangs.”[36] The Olivet Discourse has a “Jewish character” and it is unlikely that the dispensationalist discontinuity between the Church and Israel should occur.[37] Rather, the Church seems to be the inheritor of Israel’s blessings and to belong to Israel, one must belong to Jesus.[38]

Paul also expects the Church to see the Abomination of Desolation.[39] Alan Hultberg points out that in 2 Thessalonians 2:3[40] the Danielic Antichrist will prove the day of the Lord has not arrived. In fact, Hultberg says:

If Paul had taught that the day of the Lord begins at the beginning of the seventieth week and is preceded by the rapture, it’s hard to conceive of why he points to signs at the second half of the seventieth week as reassurance. In fact, Paul says that the signs must happen “first”, before the day of the Lord.[41]

This seems to work with the pretribulationist’s idea of imminence. In fact, if you place less of a hermeneutic on a literal three and one-half years between the Abomination of Desolation and the rapture, then you ruin the posttribulationist’s idea of non-imminence, because the church at Thessaloniki already knew of the Lord’s return coming like a thief in the night.[42]

Solution

            The prewrath view seems to keep the Church from the “hour of testing” of Revelation 3:10. It does this by means of the rapture, differentiating between God’s Wrath and Satan’s. The Lord will come swiftly and secretly, like a thief in the night. He can come at any moment, but as the disciples were warned to watch of the signs of birth pangs, the Church will witness the beginnings of those birth pangs. The doctrine of imminence holds true, only if it occurs after the Abomination of Desolation, as warned by Paul.

The posttrib idea seems to deny the doctrine of imminence, because it refers to a literal three and one-half years between the Abomination of Desolation in the Third Temple, and the rapture. This destroys any means of imminence, and only makes the rapture predictable. The Church will be removed from the center, and the entire of God’s Wrath, while experiencing tribulation under Satan.

The prewrath rapture is viable due to its harmony with imminence. It keeps Jesus coming swiftly. It also has better harmony between the Church and Israel, due to an explanation using the Olivet Discourse, of the Church being inheritors of the Covenant blessings. Jewish people who come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will take part in the Covenant blessings as well.

Premillenialism points to an actual, literal millennium. It is impossible to systemize the Bible, while discounting the Old Testament ideas of hundred year lives being short. The Church also does not reign now, as amillennialists believe. God has passed his judgment to kings and democracies of the world.[43] Paul has said that humans must submit to those rulers,[44] proving that the Church does not reign on this earth, but will reign during the millennial reign of Jesus, the Messiah.

The presence of believers on the earth during God’s wrath does not necessarily preclude pretrib rapture. It is possible that those suffering the Wrath of God could come to belief. God’s grace abounds, and there are those who will notice the signs of the rapture and come to the Lord. It is also unclear if Israel will all come to earth before the rapture. There are 144,000 Jewish Believers who seems to be pointed to in particular in Revelation. The nature of them is a matter of debate.

It seems that Craig Blaising believes the posttrib and prewrath position are disqualified because of Matthew 24:31: “And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to another.”[45] He says this is like other theophanies in the Bible and is not a unique event. He also believes that the Church being the “inheritor of Israel’s Promise” indicates a supersessionist theology. Alan Hultberg, a prewrath rapturist, finds that Matthew sees the disciples as part of the Messianic kingdom and not to be replacing Israel, except for “in a sense” that is found to be true by the author of Matthew.

Conclusion

            There are distinctions between the rapture and the Second Coming of the Lord.[46] During the rapture, it will be a secret event, while every eye will see the Lord at His Second Coming.[47] In the rapture, Jesus will come for the Church[48], and in the Second Coming, Jesus will come with it.[49] Jesus will not touch the ground at the rapture[50], while He will stand on the Mount of Olives at His Second Coming.[51] Jesus will receive His bride at the rapture, but execute judgment at His Second Coming.[52] The rapture will be in a blink of an eye,[53] while the Second Coming will be drawn out; every eye will see.[54]

Jesus is coming for His Church. However, there will be “tribulation saints” to find God. They may do it in the books, tracts, and Bibles left behind.[55] They may be taught about God by the 144,000 Jewish believers. They may be taught by the two witnesses of Revelation 11 as well.[56] These “earth dwellers” will be amazed to see their Lord at His Second Coming.

In biblical times, an engaged woman eagerly awaited her being taken away by her husband. She will have known him for a period of one year before he comes to take her to his Father’s house. Jesus is that bridegroom, and the believer is to be ready for His arrival.[57] The doctrine of imminence shows that Jesus’ return will come unexpectedly, but it will not come before the signs that were presented to His followers. Jesus did not know the time of His return,[58] and neither will the Church.

Jesus will return, or His character will be defamed: Let that not be so. The ideas that all rapture theories have in common are these:

  • God is Sovereign.
  • God is in charge of eschatological events.
  • There will be a rapture.
  • Christ will come physically, rather than allegorically.
  • The dead will rise again.
  • A future judgment awaits all: believers and non-believers.
  • Believers will live eternally with God.[59]

Biblical prophecy should be a motivating force in life. While the rapture is mystery,[60] it cannot be understood by human study. True knowledge of it requires a revelation from the Lord.[61] That does not exclude studying eschatology, however. The rapture is the blessed hope of man, bringing blessedness to believers. The rapture will occur literally, as believers find Adam and Eve, the Virgin Birth, and other seemingly supernatural ideas to be literal. May it come soon. Maranatha!

 



[1] Alan Hultberg, Introduction,” Three Views on the Rapture: Pretribulation, Prewrath, or Posttribulation, ed. Alan Hultberg (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 11.

 

[2] Ibid., 11.

 

[3] Ibid., 11.

 

[4] Marvin Rosenthal, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990), 37.

 

[5] Richard W.Suchy, The Flow of Endtime Events: Bible Prophecy from a Prewrath Perspective (Lincoln: iUniverse, 2003), xv.

 

[6] Ibid., xi,

 

[7]  The Holy Bible, New American Standard Bible, New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, (La Habra: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6. All Scripture references are taken from this translation unless otherwise stated.

 

[8] Hultberg, 13.

 

[9] Ibid.

 

[10] Ibid., 12.

 

[11] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 1113.

 

[12] Ibid.

 

[13] Ibid., 1126.

 

[14] Revelation 22:3

 

[15] Ibid., 1130.

 

[16] Revelation 2:27

 

[17] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1999), 562.

 

[18] Ibid.

 

[19] Ibid.

 

[20] Ryrie, 562.

 

[21] Ibid., 565.

 

[22] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology: Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 1225.

 

[23] Erickson, 1226.

 

[24] Ibid., 1227.

 

[25] Ibid.

 

[26] Matthew 24:29

 

[27] Posttribbers is a  term to signify believers in Posttribulation rapture. From here on, any usage of Posttribber and Pretribber refers to Posttribulation and Pretribulation, respectedly. Any usage of Posttrib and Pretrib refer to the same, respectedly.

 

[28] Erickson, 1227.

 

[29] Matthew 24:9

 

[30] Luke 21:36

 

[31] Erickson, 1228.

 

[32] Ibid.

 

[33] Craig Blaising, “A Case for the Pretribulation Rapture,” The Rapture: Pretribulation, Prewrath, or Posttribulation, ed. Alan Hultberg (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 26.

 

[34] Matthew 24

 

[35] Alan Hultberg, “A Case for the Prewrath Rapture,” Three Views on the Rapture: Pretribulation, Prewrath, or Posttribulation, ed. Alan Hultberg (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 111.

 

[36] Matthew 24:8

 

[37] Hultberg, “A Case for the Prewrath Rapture,” 112.

 

[38] Hultberg, “A Case for the Prewrath Rapture,” 1123.

 

[39] 2 Thessalonians 2:3

 

[40] Note that there is a typo on pp. 117 in: Hultberg, “A Case for the Prewrath Rapture.” This typo appears to point to 1 Thess. Rather than 2 Thess.

 

[41] Hultberg, “A Case for the Prewrath Rapture,” 122.

 

[42] 1 Thessalonians 5:2

 

[43] Romans 13:1

 

[44] Ibid.

 

[45] Craig Blaising, “A Pretribulation Response,” Three Views on the Rapture: Pretribulation, Prewrath, and Posttribulation ed. Alan Hultberg (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 158-9..

 

[46] Ron Rhodes, Five Views on The Rapture: What You Need to Know, Quick Reference Guide (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2011),  pamphlet.

 

[47] Revelation 1:7

 

[48] John 14: 1-3

 

[49] Jude 14

 

[50] 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17

 

[51] Zechariah 14:4

 

[52] Matthew 25:31-46

 

[53] 1 Corinthians 15:52

 

[54] Revelation 1:7

 

[55] Rhodes, pamphlet.

 

[56] Ibid.

 

[57] Matthew 25:1-13

 

[58] Matthew 24:36

 

[59] Rhodes, pamphlet.

 

[60] 1 Corinthians 15:51055

 

[61] Rhodes, pamphlet.

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