The Church Raptured Before the Tribulation
Pretribulationism is clearly supported in the Word of God. Traditional premillennialism has always contended the church will be raptured before the prophetic period called the Tribulation (described in such passages as Matthew 24, and Revelation 6-18). Several books have been written in recent days challenging this position, suggesting the church will be left on earth to endure the Tribulation, and will be raptured at the end of that time.
Below are some points of argument providing a biblical defense of a pretribulation rapture. For a further development of these and other arguments, you are encouraged to consult larger works, such as those listed at the end of this article. In The Rapture Question, for example, Walvoord offers fifty proofs of his pretribulation position.
1. The nature of the Tribulation as a time of wrath and judgment
Christ bore the full penalty for our sins on the cross. We have been delivered fully and finally from sin's condemnation (Jn. 5:24; Rom. 8:1). That separates us from one distinctive purpose of the Tribulation. In addition to chastening Israel and leading her to repentance, it will involve God's temporal judgment on the nations. It is a time when the Lord's indignation and wrath will be poured out on this godless world (Isa. 26:20-21; 34:1-3; Rev. 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; I Thess. 1:9-10; 5:9). It is repeatedly described as a time of judgment and punishment (Isa. 24:20- 21; Rev. 14:7; 15:4; 16:5-7; 19:2).
2. The Tribulation's unparalleled destruction and suffering
Without doubt, many Christians have, and will yet, suffer during the Church Age (II Tim. 3:12). From time to time, believers in a particular area do go through terrible trials. However, the Bible specifically teaches that the horrors of the Tribulation will be unique and world-wide in scope (Rev. 3:10; Isa. 34:2; 24:1, 4-5, 16-17, 13-21; Jer. 30:7; Matt. 24:21). When one reads of a quarter of the world's population being wiped out (Rev. 6:8), or of every creature in the sea dying (16:3), it becomes evident that this is no localized trial. Men will seek some way to die, but will find they are unable to (9:6). That will make this period utterly unique.
3. The certainty of Christ's promise that Christians will be kept from the Tribulation
If Church Age Christians are to be among the Tribulation martyrs of Revelation 7:14, then Christ did not keep His promise, given in Revelation 3:10, to preserve them from that world-wide trial. God promises to preserve us from the wrath to come (I Thess. 1:10; 5:9). In the context, the latter reference is dealing not with eternal damnation but with the earthly Day of the Lord, and God's judgment (5:2-3).
4. A clear distinction between Israel and the church
In the Tribulation, God once more takes up His program with Israel. The period is referred to as "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer. 30:7). It is the seventieth week of Daniel's prophecy concerning "your people and your holy city" (Dan. 9:24). Jesus' instructions regarding the Tribulation indicate that He has a Jewish audience in mind (Matt. 24:20). In his Systematic Theology (Vol. IV, pp. 47-53), Chafer lists twenty-four contrasts between Israel and the church. God's plan and program for each must be kept distinct. Only a pretribulation rapture allows adequately for this.
5. The contrast between the rapture and the second coming
The first relates specifically to the saints of the Church Age (Christians); the second relates to the fulfilment of Jehovah God's covenants with Israel. A study of Bible passages describing these events indicates that they are quite distinct in purpose, character and result. Christ will come in the air, secretly, to snatch away the church (I Thess. 4:13-18). Then He will return seven years later, visibly and in glory, to the earth to reign as Messiah-king over Israel and the world (Matt. 24:27, 30-31; 25:31-32). The two events must not be confused.
6. The church not mentioned in Revelation 6-18
That passage contains the most extensive description of the Tribulation in the New Testament. The church is discussed in the opening chapters of John's book, and it appears again in Chapter 19, but it is completely missing from the earth in the tribulation section. On the other hand, John's entry into heaven (4:1) seems to prefigure the rapture, and the twenty-four elders around the throne in heaven (4:4, and elsewhere) are taken by some commentators to represent the glorified church, in God's presence while judgment is poured out upon the earth. (E.g. Dwight Pentecost lists many reasons why he is convinced this is so in Things to Come, pp. 207-209.)
7. The rapture as a major event
Several passages of Scripture describe the rapture of the church, and the subsequent events--the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:11-15; II Cor. 5:10), and the Marriage of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). Posttribulationism does not give adequate time for these events, or place proper importance on the rapture, since Christians seem to meet Christ on His way down to the earth and instantly return to earth with Him.
8. The imminence of the rapture
The return of Christ for His church is seen in the New Testament as an at-any-moment event that Paul seems to have looked for in his own lifetime (I Thess. 4:17; cf. 1:10). That could not be if seven years of unparalleled suffering and world-wide destruction must precede it. The second coming is different. As described in God's Word, it is preceded by a specified series of signs and events (related to the seven years, e.g. Matt. 24:4-28). The church is looking forward to the coming of the Lord, not for the coming of the Antichrist.
9. The silence of Scripture regarding a posttribulation rapture
Passages such as Matthew 24 and Revelation 6-19 do not describe a rapture at the end of the Tribulation. Nor do other rapture passages such as John 14, I Corinthians 15 and I Thessalonians 4. While an argument from silence is not conclusive, it does seem strange that Christians are not told about it, or what to do, if they must endure the seven years first. The lack of instruction to Christians on how to cope with the Tribulation makes sense only if we won't be there!
10. Exhortations regarding the rapture harmonize with pretribulationism
Exhortations such as "Let not your heart be troubled" (Jn. 14:1), and "Comfort one another with these words" (I Thess. 4:18) do not suit a scenario in which Christians will face unparalleled suffering and in which most of them will be martyred or die of terrible plagues. What comfort is there in that? But, on the other hand, the atmosphere of I Corinthians 15:51-58, in dealing with the rapture is one of joy and victory--because it will come first.
11. An explanation for the worry of believers in I Thessalonians 4
If posttribulation were true, Christians in the Thessalonian church would be rejoicing that their friends and family members who had died were going to miss the terrible Tribulation. Instead, they were grieving in fear that their loved ones had missed the rapture and its unique blessings, and may now face the terrors of the tribulation (II Thess. 2:2).
12. The saints who will populate the Millennial Kingdom
If the rapture is to take place at the end of the Tribulation, no one willbe left to enter the earthly Kingdom. Scripture teaches that it is mortal believers (i.e. in bodies subject to death) who have come out of the Great Tribulation and who will then enter the Millennium. They will marry and bear children, and, though longer-lived, they will be subject to death (Isa. 4:1-3; 65:20- 23; Jer. 23:3-6; 30:19-20). This is not true of resurrected, glorified saints. If they are all raptured, and given resurrection bodies, they will not be able to do this (Matt. 22:30).
13. The importance of consistent literal interpretation
A literal interpretation of the Word of God gives each word its plain, normal sense. Even Amillennialists admit that if one is consistent in that approach, the result will be a premillennial interpretation--and one in which the rapture precedes the Tribulation. For instance, the posttribulationist must either explain Revelation 6-18 as being already fulfilled (somehow!) in history, or he must water down and spiritualize those things described, rather than taking them as a description of real events. John Walvoord has pointed out that, of the many interdenominational Bible colleges founded in this century, most are premillennial (and pretribulational), because they have been founded on consistent literal interpretation.
14. An ordered chronology of events
There is basic agreement among pretribulationists regarding end time events--with minor differences on the details. On the other hand, posttribulationism offers a wide diversity of opinions on various points. The reason is their lack of consistency with regard to the method of interpretation. Prophetic conferences are common among those who adhere to pretribulationism, but they are virtually unknown (and impossible) for posttribulationists. The reason is that the literal interpretation of the former provides a clear and logical calendar of end-time events. However, posttribulationists debate endlessly about what to spiritualize and what to take literally. As a result, it is difficult to find any two who agree on end-time details.
There are several books which deal with the defence of a pretribulation rapture in greater detail. Here is a short list.
Tim LaHaye, No Fear of the Storm (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Press, 1992. LaHaye discusses "why Christians will escape all the tribulation."
Hal Lindsey, The Rapture: Truth or Consequences (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1983). Lindsey's is an excellent popular defence of the doctrine.
Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Findlay, Ohio: Dunham Publishing Company, 1958). Pentecost spends nearly two-hundred pages on the tribulation and various views concerning it-- pp. 156-339.
Gerald B. Stanton, Kept From the Hour (Miami Springs, Florida: Schoettle Publishing Company Incorporated, 1991. A significant book, well-documented. Recommended.
John F. Walvoord, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Corporation, 1976). "A historical and biblical study refuting posttribulationism."
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