The event described in passages such as 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, John chapter 14 and 1 Corinthians chapter 15, often referred to as ‘the rapture’, is mentioned to reassure, comfort and encourage God’s people. Sadly, it is now often the subject of debate and even division among Christians, especially in relation to when it will take place and whether it is a distinct event from the Lord’s appearing on earth to reign. The ‘pre-tribulationist’ position, which this article supports, is that the rapture is a distinct event taking place before the tribulation described in Revelation chapters 6-19, and is primarily an event for the church. Others believe it is synonymous with the Lord’s appearing and that it will take place after or post-tribulation. However, some believe it will take place at the mid-point of the tribulation.
The events of the tribulation are referred to in numerous passages in both testaments and are part of what is generally referred to as the ‘day of the Lord’. The timing of this has always been a question of interest and concern to God’s people. This can be seen in many of the prophets such as Daniel, Zechariah, Joel, and Isaiah, but also among the Lord’s disciples, for example, in Matthew chapter 24 verse 3. Indeed, it is in answer to them that the Lord delivers His detailed discourse of chapters 24 and 25, describing the ‘day of the Lord’ and confirming the ‘Great Tribulation’, previously de-scribed in Daniel chapter 9. Parts of this discourse, and other references to the Lord’s second coming to earth in judgement, are also found in Mark and Luke’s Gospels but are conspicuously absent from John’s. In John chapter 16 verse 33, the Lord does warn the disciples that they will experience ‘tribulation’, as indeed they and countless saints have since, but He does not mention ‘The Tribulation’. In fact, in contrast to the other Gospels, John alone directly refers to the Lord’s own being received into His ‘Father’s house’ and beholding His glory, ‘where I am’, John 14. 3; 17. 24, revealing to them their removal to heaven rather than His return to earth.
Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians are particularly taken up with the coming of the Lord, which is mentioned in every chapter of the first letter. In chapter 1 verse 10, he reminds them that the coming One will deliver us ‘from the wrath to come’. In chapter 4, he deals with the saints’ concern that their brothers and sisters who had died will somehow miss out on this event and reassures them that we will be ‘caught up together with them … to meet the Lord in the air’, once again indicating our removal from earth rather than Christ’s return to earth. In the second letter, their concern seems to be that persecution or ‘tribulation’ is so great that they fear that they are already in the ‘day of the Lord’, 2. 2 NASB, NKJV. Paul explains that this is not possible as certain things must take place, including the revealing of the ‘man of sin’, and goes on to refer to ‘what restrains’ in verse 6 and ‘He who restrains … until He is taken out of the way’, v. 7 NASB. While some have sought to find a very complicated and obscure meaning for these verses, the straightforward explanation, from reading the passage without external influence, is that the ‘what’ is the church and the ‘He’ is the Holy Spirit who indwells the church. This complete removal of the divine person and His people before the ‘day of the Lord’ would explain why evil is then completely unrestrained and there needs to be a fresh ‘pouring out’ of His Spirit in that day, Joel 2. 28.
Piecing these passages together, I suggest that only a pre-tribulation removal of God’s people, ‘the church’, satisfies all the requirements outlined. In summary, it removes us to heaven, enables us to see His glory there, and preserves us from the coming wrath. Indeed, a simple panorama of the book of Revelation, with the rapture pictured by John at the beginning of chapter 4, would find us in heaven observing the Lord in all the glory of chapters 4 and 5 before the tribulation of chapters 6-19, followed by our marriage to and return with the Lord to reign with Him, chapter 20. This is further supported by the complete absence of any mention of the church or churches in all of chapters 6-19, despite numerous mentions before and after.
An article of this length cannot deal with all the objections to the above proposition but we will consider a couple of major ones. Many who believe in a post- or mid-tribulation position seek to equate the ‘last trump’ of 1 Corinthians chapter 15 with the seventh trumpet of Revelation chapter 11 verse 15. While this seems plausible on the surface, it has several problems. Firstly, the inspired scripture could easily have used the term, ‘seventh trumpet’ instead of ‘last trump’ to remove all doubt, if they are the same. Secondly, the ‘trump’ of 1 Corinthians chapter 15 is not sounded by angels or men, as with those referred to in Revelation, but is the ‘trump of God’, 1 Thess. 4. 16. For those who hear it, just as many have had played for them what we call ‘the last post’, it is indeed ‘the last trump’ for them. Perhaps, as we have suggested, this is pictured in Revelation chapter 4 verse 1 when John hears the ‘voice of a trumpet’, depicting the final call home of the church. Interestingly, the Lord had indicated the possibility of John remaining ‘till I come’ in John chapter 21 verse 22. Finally, there is further reference to ‘trumpeters’ in Revelation chapter 18 verse 22, so the seventh trumpet sounded by an angel in chapter 11 is not even the ‘last’ in the Book of Revelation.
The main objection to the pre-tribulation rapture tends to be the contention that it is simply a way to ‘avoid’ going through the tribulation. God’s people, including many today in Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist countries, have always experienced great tribulation. Indeed, most, if not all, of the writers of the New Testament scriptures were martyred. It may even be the case that the virulent rise of secularism and atheism in Western lands will soon result in terrible persecution for God’s people here. However, all of these trials and tribulations have been at the hands of wicked men not at the hand of a sovereign God! The events of Matthew chapters 24 and 25, as well as Revelation chapters 6-19, while containing man’s rage against God’s people, are all in fact orchestrated by God Himself, building up to His awesome judgement on mankind. 2 Peter chapter 2 verse 9 reminds us, ‘The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished’.
There are, of course, many biblical precedents for God’s people being removed before judgement. Consider Noah and his family being in the ark and above the judgement of the flood, and Lot being removed before the destruction of Sodom. These are a strong argument against a partial rapture of only the faithful, as Lot, though a believer, was not living a godly life. Notice also the removal of Enoch and Elijah before moments of great judgement. In addition to these precedents, there are some other interesting pictures or foreshadowings of the Lord coming for His people. Take, for example, Genesis chapter 24 where Rebekah, accompanied by an unnamed servant, is brought on her journey across the wilderness towards her betrothed, but as yet unseen, bridegroom, who then comes to meet her and accompanies her to private consummation. Surely, this is a picture of the church, sealed and betrothed by the Holy Spirit, brought to private union with Christ before public revealing? Notice further John’s Gospel views the disciples as the embryo of a New Testament church rather than a remnant of a failed Jewish nation. In chapter 5 verse 25 the Lord introduces the idea of an imminent and selective resurrection which ‘now is’, in addition to the two all-inclusive resurrections of the just and unjust in verse 29. In chapter 11, the pinnacle of the Gospel, the Lord ‘comes’ to a company of His own divided by death. He informs Martha of something more than the ‘resurrection of the last day’ when He, as ‘the resurrection and the life’, will not only raise the dead, like Lazarus, but he who ‘liveth and believeth in me shall never die’. The Lord then demonstrates this with an immediate out-resurrection from among the dead of one who ‘hears’ His voice. Observe that this event not only pictures the rapture but outlines its position. It is followed by a supper in chapter 12 where He is in the company of Simon a leper who has been changed, Mark 14. 3, and Lazarus, who was raised from sleep and changed from a decaying body, picturing 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 51. This supper precedes His coming to Jerusalem for both glory and judgement, surely a picture of the rapture, the marriage supper and return in glory in that order. It should be noted that this supper is probably the only event recorded in John’s Gospel out of chronological sequence, perhaps to preserve the typical order of future events.
In conclusion, does it matter whether the rapture is pre-, mid- or post-tribulation? Well, yes it does. Firstly, God does not want us to be ignorant and, as friends, the Lord Jesus wishes to share His plans with His ‘friends’, John 15. 15. Secondly, if this event is imminent it should have a practical import. We cannot assume there are still at least seven years (or half this for mid-point) to evangelize, engage in greater service for the Lord, or resolve issues with fellow believers. If Christ really could return today all these things take on greater urgency. We are not looking for prophetic signs or fulfilments, only Peter’s death and Jerusalem’s destruction were required and have long since happened. We may be seeing future events casting their shadow on today. Opposition to God and His people is rising. Wars, economic chaos and moral decline are everywhere. Man-made and natural disasters are prevalent and men’s hearts fail them with fear and uncertainty. In the midst of this the child of God should, as intended by the Lord Jesus, avoid distress, take comfort, and be united in evangelism in the light of an imminent and certain return of the Lord Jesus for His people. May this imminent event motivate us to live in the light of it now!
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