Well, this is my first blog since my father passed away, so I would like to write this one in honour of him. I’ve been thinking a lot about the coming of the Lord for His church these days. A big part of the reason for that is the hope that at the coming of the Lord, I will see my dad again! You see, at the coming of the Lord, those who have died believing in Christ will be resurrected in new glorified bodies, while those who are alive when He comes will be “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air and have their weak, mortal bodies transformed into glorified resurrected bodies. I encourage you to read the scriptural accounts of this event – particularly 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 18 and 1 Corinthians 15:35 – 57. For the sake of space, I won’t quote them here, but please do read them!
This event – the coming of the Lord for His church (all of those who personally believe in Jesus Christ) – is commonly called The Rapture. The word “Rapture” is not in the Bible. However, the concept clearly is. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 uses the phrase “caught up” with respect to what will happen to Christian believers who are alive at the time of the Lord’s return. The Greek word from which this phrase in our English Bibles is derived is the word harpazo, which, according to Strong’s Concordance means to seize, take (by force), or catch (away, up). The picture here is that at the time of Christ’s return for the church, those who have died believing in Christ will be raised from the dead (as Christ was raised from the dead), while those believers who are still living will be “seized”, taken by force (blessed force), and caught up to meet the Lord in the air. In the 4th Century, the scholar Jerome translated the New Testament into Latin and translated the Greek word harpazo into the Latin word raeptius, which means to snatch, seize, or seize away. This Latin word is where we get the English word rapture. Thus, though the word “rapture” is not in the Bible, the concept clearly is. Similarly, the word “Trinity” cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, though the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity clearly is.
While it is explicitly clear that there will be a Rapture of the church, what may not be as obvious is when the Rapture will take place. There are four main schools of thought regarding this. 1. There are those who maintain that the Rapture will take place in conjunction with Christ’s Second Coming after the 7-year time of Tribulation that precedes His Second Coming. Those who affirm this view believe in a post-tribulation Rapture. 2. There are those who believe that the Rapture will occur in the middle of the coming 7-year Tribulation period. This is known as the mid-tribulation Rapture position; 3. There are also those who believe that the church will endure a good portion of the Tribulation period, but not the entire thing. This is known as the pre-wrath Rapture position. Those who hold this position limit the wrath of the God to only the latter part of the Tribulation. 4. Finally, there are those who believe that the Rapture of the church will take place before the 7-Year Tribulation begins. This position is known as the pre-tribulation Rapture position. This last position – the pre-tribulation Rapture – is the view held by this writer, and the view that will be defended in this blog.
It should be noted that according to Mark Hitchcock, all four positions regarding the Rapture have both strengths and weaknesses (Mark Hitchcock, The End, 145). The task is to find the position that best harmonizes the whole of Scripture. Esteemed writer Dr. Mark Hitchcock, whose book The End provides a good comparison of all four views, believes that the pre-tribulation Rapture position has the fewest drawbacks and the best Scriptural support (Hitchcock, 145) of all the different views.
We will now take a look at some of the key arguments in favour of a pre-tribulation Rapture. There are, of course, more than just five arguments in favour of this position. However, in a short blog such as this, it is better go deep with a few, than to only touch the surface of several. For a larger treatment of this subject, I recommend Mark Hitchcock’s The End, Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost’s Things of Come, or Dr. John F. Walvoord’s The Rapture Question.
Something should be said briefly about the tribulation itself, as this is the period of time that the Rapture question is related to. Immediately before Jesus returns to this earth to set up His kingdom, a 7-year period of time will transpire on earth that will be characterized by several divine judgments which represent the wrath of God poured out on those who have rejected Him. During this time, the Antichrist will arise and will persecute those who resist him and remain faithful to God. The Book of Revelation details what will take place on the earth during these trying days. The pre-tribulation Rapture position maintains that before this 7-year period begins, the church will be removed from the earth by the Lord – an event described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 18. What are some of the reasons to believe in a pre-tribulation Rapture as opposed to one of the other three views?
1. Christ’s Explicit Promise in Revelation 3:10-11
In Revelation 3:10-11, Jesus tells the church at Philadelphia: “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. I am coming quickly…” Clearly, the “hour of testing” in view here is the tribulation period, which is unfolded in much of what follows in the Book of Revelation. Yet Christ promises the Philadelphia Christians that He will keep them from that hour of testing. It is important to note that the original Greek words for keep…from (as in, “will keep you from the hour of testing…”) are tereo ek. If the Lord meant that believers would be kept through the tribulation (rather than from the tribulation), the Greek preposition dia would have been used rather than ek (Hitchcock, 158). Furthermore, the promise is to be kept from the hour of testing, not simply the testing itself. The only way one could be kept from a world-wide time of trial is to be removed from the sphere of that trial – the earth. Dr. Charles Ryrie notes that the promise here in Revelation 3:10 is that believers in Christ will be delivered from the period of tribulation that will come upon the whole earth (Ryrie Study Bible, 1576). Note as well that Christ also says “I am coming quickly”. These Philadelphia believers were promised to be kept from the hour of trial, and were also told that Christ was coming quickly. If they are kept from the hour of trial, yet were to expect Christ to come quickly, then it stands to reason that it is the coming of Christ Himself that would keep them from the hour of trial. This is precisely the teaching of the pre-tribulation Rapture position. Though this promise was given to a particular historical church (the church at Philadelphia in Asia minor in the first century), it stands to reason that the promise applies to all true believers, since true believers will certainly still be found just prior to the tribulation. Had the tribulation begun in the days of the Philadelphia Christians, they – and all true believers everywhere – would have been kept from the hour of trial that would have come upon the entire world.
2. 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 5:9, and Romans 5:9
The above cited Scriptures are as follows: “…wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). “For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us…” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). “…having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” (Romans 5:9). The explicit teaching of these passages is that believers in Jesus Christ are not appointed to divine wrath. Christ took our place on the cross before the just wrath of God. Thus, all who accept Christ are delivered from divine wrath. For those who reject Christ, the wrath of God abides on them (John 3:36). Yet, it is also clear that the tribulation period is a time of divine wrath (Rev. 6:6; 6:17; 14:19; 15:1; 15:7; 16:1). Here is an example of how the pre-tribulation position does a wonderful job of harmonizing Scripture. The tribulation is clearly at time of divine wrath. It is not mere persecution of the righteous, nor is it a mere “difficult time.” It is a unique period – the “hour of testing,” consisting of the wrath of God. How then is this reconciled with the fact that the church, while not exempt from persecution or divine discipline, is exempt from divine wrath? If the church is on earth during the tribulation, we have a problem. If, however, the church is removed from the earth prior to the tribulation, the problem is solved. And isn’t this precisely in keeping with what we saw above in Revelation 3:10? Notice as well that the context of the two Thessalonian passages above are with respect to the end-time: 1 Thessalonians 1:10 speaks of the coming of the Lord and deliverance from “the wrath to come”, while 1 Thessalonians 5 speaks of the “day of the Lord” (verse 2). And isn’t this what God did with Noah, and Lot – delivered the righteous from His wrath? The church is promised deliverance from wrath, and if the tribulation is a time of wrath, then the church must be delivered from the tribulation. This is precisely the teaching of the pre-tribulation Rapture.
3. The Absence of the Church on Earth in Revelation 4 – 18
This is an argument articulated quite well by Dr. Mark Hitchcock. He notes that if the church were to experience any part, or all of the Tribulation, then it would be expected that Revelation 4 – 18 – a detailed description of the tribulation – would speak to the church’s role in the tribulation. It does not! (Hitchcock, 146). The Greek word for church is the word ekklesia. This word is used twenty times in Revelation, nineteen of which are found in chapter 1 – 3. As of Revelation 4, following Christ’s messages to the seven churches, the word disappears, and does not appear again until Revelation 22:16 (Hitchcock, 146), after both the tribulation, and the Second Coming of Christ has been detailed. One must not confuse the references to “saints,” and to those who are faithful to God in the passages that detail the tribulation, as well as other passages of Scripture (such as the “elect” in Matthew 24:31) as necessarily referring to the church. One must remember that just as there were pre-church age saints (the Old Testament saints), so too there will be saints that follow the church age (tribulation saints). Many will come to faith during the tribulation, but these will not constitute the church. It is interesting to note that we see 144,000 Jewish servants of God specifically mentioned in Revelation as having a place during the tribulation (Rev. 7:1 – 8). There is also a multitude of believers from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue (Rev. 7:9 – 17). Yet none of these groups are designated as the “church.” It is interesting however that in Revelation 4:1, after Christ’s address to the seven churches, John the writer is summoned heavenward by a voice that sounds like trumpet. His perspective shifts from earth to heaven. This event concerning John in Revelation 4 is curiously similar to what will occur at the Rapture: the voice of an archangel, the trumpet of God, and the ascension of believers (1 Thess. 4:16-17). According to the pre-tribulation position, believers will be taken to heaven at the Rapture, seemingly paralleling John’s heaven-ward call in Rev. 4. Though Revelation 4:1 is not a conclusive picture of the Rapture, it does appear to parallel the Rapture in an intriguing way!
4. Different Events Connected with the Returning Christ Suggest that the Rapture and the Second Coming Do not Occur at the Same Time
Dr. Mark Hitchcock in his work The End highlights several differences between the Rapture and the Second Coming (which takes place at the end of the Tribulation), some of which will be highlighted here. These differences suggest that the Rapture and the Second Coming do not occur at the same time, but are two distinct phases of the return of Christ. This is not completely dissimilar from how Old Testament prophecy views the coming of Christ (His coming as a suffering servant, as Isaiah 53 depicts, and His reign as a King, as Zechariah 9:9 – 10 depicts). In fact, Zechariah 9:9 – 10 depicts both the first and Second Coming of Christ in two verses, though a reader of Zechariah 9:9 – 10 prior to Christ’s coming would not have been able to tell from that passage that almost 2,000 years thus far have intervened between verses 9 and 10 – between Christ’s riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, and His reign as King (compare also Zechariah 9:9 – 10 with Matthew 21:1 – 10). As such, we should not be too quick dismiss the idea of the Rapture and the Second Coming being separated by seven years – though there is no explicit statement of such. What is important is what Scripture teaches as a whole. Consider the following possible differences noted by Hitchcock between the Rapture and the Second Coming which may suggest two distinct events: 1. At the Rapture Christ comes in the air (1 Thess. 4:16 – 17), while at the Second Coming Christ comes to the earth (Zechariah 14:4); 2. At the Rapture Christ comes for His people (1 Thess. 4:16 – 17), at the Second Coming Christ comes with His people (1 Thess. 3:13, Jude 1:14); 3. At the Rapture, believers are taken from the earth (1 Thess. 4:16 – 17), while at the Second Coming, unbelievers are taken away (Matthew 24:37 – 41); 4. The Rapture is not in the Old Testament (1 Cor. 15:51), while the Second Coming is predicted often in the Old Testament.
5. The Distinction Between Israel and the Church
This is by far the most technical argument for a pre-tribulation Rapture, but it is also one of the most critical to grasp. Israel is not the church, and the church is not Israel (Romans 9 – 11). The two groups represent two distinct divine programs. While the Apostle Paul clearly teaches that there is no distinction between “Greek and Jew” (Col. 3:11), his reference is to the position of Jews and Gentiles within the church. There is equality between Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ. However, as it pertains to Israel as a chosen nation, and the church as a called out people, the two groups stand distinct (though closely related). This should be obvious by simply considering Israel’s history and prophetic future: Israel is one particular nation, they have been promised a particular land, a particular monarchy, and are to be the people through whom the Messianic kingdom is established when Christ returns. The church on the other hand is made up of people from every nation, has no guarantee of a particular land on earth, has no monarchy to reign over them, and will reign with Christ in glorified bodies in the Messianic kingdom.
The 7-year tribulation period represents the final seven years of what are known as the 70 Weeks of Daniel (Daniel 9:24 – 27). 70 Weeks refers not to 70 weeks of days (a regular week as we would know it), but rather 70 weeks of years (or 490 years – with each year being 360 days). The 490 years are to end with the redemption of Israel in the Messianic age (Daniel 9:24) – something that clearly has not happened yet. These 490 years pertain specifically to Daniel’s people (the Jews) and Daniel’s city (Jerusalem) – Daniel 9:24 makes this clear. The 490 years began in 445 B.C. with the command of Artaxerxes Longimanus to rebuild Jerusalem. Simple math will demonstrate that had the 490 years run its course uninterrupted from 445 B.C., the full 490 years should have expired shortly after the time of Christ. While Christ’s first coming accomplishes the redemption that Israel needs, Israel’s rejection of Jesus – which is what occurred at His first coming – means that Israel’s redemption as a nation has been postponed, and will not occur until the time of the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of the tribulation. It is revealed in Daniel 9:25 – 26 that the Messiah would be “cut off” (a prophetic picture of Christ’s crucifixion) 69 weeks (or 483 years) after the start of the 70 weeks. Indeed, various writers and scholars have shown that when we take 483 biblical years and add them to 445 B.C., we arrive in and around 30 – 33 A.D. – precisely when Jesus was crucified! However, that only accounts for 69 of the 70 weeks. What of the final 7 years?
Here is a critical point to understand with respect to the pre-tribulation Rapture. In rejecting their Messiah, God’s prophetic program for Israel halted at 69 weeks. The final 7 years (or final week) was suspended – and has been suspended now for almost 2,000 years. In between week 69 and week 70 is where we are today, and it is what we call the church age – the present time where God is calling people out from every nation to form the church. During this church age, there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, as Paul clearly teaches. This means that Jews have no advantage over Gentiles in the body of Christ, and vice versa. All are one in Christ with no distinction made. However, (and this is a big “however”), in the tribulation period, we once again see a distinction between Jew and Gentile, reminiscent of how it was in Old Testament times. In Revelation 7:1 – 8, only Jews (144,000 of them) are specifically mentioned as being sealed prior to the judgments that are to follow. Not a Gentile among them! Also, this group of redeemed Jews appears to be distinct from the multitude from the nations in Rev. 7:9 – 17. Furthermore, the 144,000 Jews are described in Revelation 14:4 as being “purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.” But wait a minute, Revelation 5:9 – 10 mentions that God has purchased men from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” How can the 144,000 be a unique class of Jews purchased as “first fruits”, when Paul teaches that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, and Revelation 5 teaches that a multitude from every nation has been purchased from the earth?
Once again, the pre-tribulation Rapture position harmonizes this apparent difficulty! Since the 7-year tribulation represents the final 7 years (the final week) of the 490 years allotted to Daniel’s people (the Jews) and Daniel’s city (Jerusalem), the church has no part in this final 7 years. Remember, the church had no part in the first 69 weeks of this “Israelite program,” (the church did not even exist in the first 69 weeks of this prophecy but began after the 69 weeks) and likewise will have no part in the final week – the 7-year tribulation period to come. This is why during the tribulation we see a renewal of the distinction between Jew and Gentile. The church age has ended, and Daniel’s 70th week – the final week that has been suspended for almost 2,000 years – begins to run its course. This illustrates the distinction between Israel and the church – between God’s program for Israel, and His program for the church. A helpful diagram of Daniel’s 70 weeks can be viewed here.
What is the event that marks the end of the church age, and sets the stage for Daniel’s 70th week to begin? It is the Rapture of the church. Once the church is removed, God will commence His dealings with His ancient people Israel, and the final outstanding week of Daniel’s 70 week prophecy will commence. Since this final week is unique to Israel, the church age – which features Jews and Gentiles united in one body – must end before the final 7 years begins. This final week relates to the 7-year tribulation period. Since this 70 week program pertains to God’s program with Israel and not the church, the church must be removed from the scene prior to its commencement. This argues for the church not participating in any part of the tribulation. Once the church is gone, God will begin dealing with Israel and the nations in a similar way He did in the Old Testament. Twelve tribes of Israel will each provide 12,000 Jews to form a faithful group of 144,000 Jews who will be faithful to their God in the tribulation, and will be sealed on their foreheads as servants of God (Rev. 7:1 – 8).
How close is the Rapture? We do not know! But since the signs around us – as we shall see in future blogs – seem to indicate that the tribulation is near (e.g. Israel’s rebirth as a nation, the reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, and the reunification of Europe), the Rapture of the church must be all the more closer! Even so, come Lord Jesus!