by Edgar Meneses
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:15-17).
The above New Testament quotation describes the Rapture of the Church. The blessed hope of the Christian is Christ taking him to Himself forever, as He promises in John 14:2,3, “In my father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” The question is: WHEN?
“Rapture” is taken from the Latin word raptus, translated “caught up” from the verb rapere, which means “to transport from one place to another.” The Greek original is harpazo, which denotes a violent SNATCHING AWAY.
The Rapture is the time when faithful Christians are suddenly snatched away from the earth to be with the Lord Jesus Christ. A split second ahead of the translation of living Christians is the resurrection of “the dead in Christ.” In heaven, or in earth’s atmosphere, or in space, they will be judged before the Judgment Seat of Christ for rewards (2 Cor. 5:10 ; 1 Cor. 3:10-15) while on earth, for seven years, those left behind will be undergoing the test of their lives under the most terrible period of time known as “the Tribulation” (Matt. 24:29).
I used to ignore the topic “Rapture of the Church” whenever I encountered it in my readings. After all, I had been taught that the only Second Coming of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be visible, with power and great glory; that there will be no secret Rapture. Some writers I've read virtually ridiculed the “rapture theory.” I gave my silent assent as a matter of course.
Lately, however, I got myself interested in the subject and, to my surprise, I found out that a Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church has more scriptural bases than Post-Tribulationists will care to admit. At the outset let me point out that Post-Tribulationists – those who hold that the Rapture will happen after the Great Tribulation – have no great doctrinal variance with Pre-Tribulationists, those who believe that the Rapture will occur shortly before the Tribulation Period starts. They are both premillennialists. The bone of contention, therefore, is the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Tribulation Period.
First of all, let’s make sure what period of time we are referring to. We’ve all heard about “the great tribulation,” at least those of us who are Bible readers. Even then there are different beliefs about this subject. Some say it all had happened in AD 70 when the Roman General Titus burned Jerusalem and the temple. Others believe that the great tribulation has been going on since the first century. Let’s see what the Bible says.
The Olivet Discourse recorded in Matthew 24 and 25 gives us the certainty we are looking for. The disciples asked Jesus, “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” Here it is clear that it is about the end of the age that the disciples were asking about. The Tribulation, then, is that short period of time – seven years – that immediately precedes the “end of the world,” or age.
The Lord gave the general course of events in the world from His time to the end of this age. He enumerated a series of prophesied occurrences which have characterized the world. False teachers, wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes spoken of in Matt. 24:4-7 have been happening since our Savior uttered those words, only with increased intensities in the last century.
Persecutions described in verses 9-13, as applied to Christians, began almost immediately after the establishment of the Church on Pentecost. The fulfillment of this part of the Olivet Prophecy is well documented (I have my copy of Fox’s Book of Martyrs), and will no doubt continue with increased severity in the near future.
Matthew 24:14 has a double reference. In line with the great commission in 28:19,20 this prophecy refers first to the Church preaching the gospel of salvation to the world, beginning in Jerusalem (Acts 1:8). Secondly, it refers to the powerful preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom during the Tribulation Period to be carried out by the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (Rev. 7:3,4) and by the Two Witnesses (Rev. 11:3). The end will come, Christ says, only after the gospel of the Kingdom has been preached in all the world. The exact fulfillment of this particular prophecy will come only during the Tribulation, when, once again, the focus of God will be on the Jews’ part in proclaiming the promised Kingdom of God to be established literally on earth.
Some contend that there will be no literal Kingdom of God, also known as the Millennium (Rev.20:1-6), but they are mistaken. Acts 1:6 says, “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” We should remember that Jesus had been with His disciples for forty days after His resurrection, “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). The fact that they asked the Lord about “the kingdom” points to Him having taught them about it. Notice that He did not censure the disciples’ query. He did not say, “who says there’s going to be a literal Kingdom of God on earth?” Instead, He answered, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” (verse 7). But I have digressed… our concern for the moment is to pin down the Tribulation. Then we will determine, from the word of God, when the Rapture is going to happen in relation to the Tribulation.
A UNIQUE PERIOD OF TIME
Matthew 24:15-28 deals with the Great Tribulation. Notice in particular verses 21 and 22. “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” The Tribulation will be a unique period of time in world history. Nothing that has gone before is like it. This proves that the preterists’ belief that the prophecies of Matthew 24 had all been fulfilled in AD 70 is wrong. Hitler’s Holocaust was greater than AD 70 in the number of Jews killed. And Christ foretold that the Tribulation will be greater than the Holocaust! Not only for the Jews, but this time the whole world will be affected by the coming judgment from God.
I don’t want to sound like a doomsday prophet, but, if we are going to be realistic about it, we can’t help but conclude this world is not facing the best of times. Somehow we can feel that something ominous is going to descend upon us all. Recently, I watched a news item on television about Russia testing her 1991 missiles “for future use.” The Middle East continues to be volatile like a tinder box ready to explode anytime; violence there has not stopped. Iran is very vocal about her intentions. But global war is not the only threat to world stability. The weather pattern worldwide has gone awry, with more than the normal number of strong typhoons, tornadoes, hurricanes. Depletion of ozone gas layer continues unabated, with impending dire consequences to all life on the planet. Earthquakes, as prophesied by the Lord, are occurring “in divers places.” The December 26, 2004 earthquake-generated tsunami that hit south Asia and part of east Africa is a specific fulfillment of His prophecy – “…upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth…” (Luke 21:25,26). I have always believed that this prophecy will come to pass inside the Tribulation Period. Now I have to adjust a little bit. No doubt the full fury of tsunamis are yet to come, but the December 26 catastrophe serves to warn the world of the soon-coming judgment of God, and at the same time to awaken a sleeping Church, asleep to prophecy (Luke 18:8 ; Matt. 25:5).
For clarity and for specific signification we will call the last seven years of this world the Tribulation, and the second half of that period – the last three and a half years – the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21). This brings us to the book of Daniel. We will return to the Olivet Discourse later.
DANIEL’S 70 -WEEK PROPHECY
Here is the explanation why the Tribulation will last seven years, after which Christ will come in power and great glory. It is in Daniel 9:24-27.
The prophet Daniel was given by God a prophecy on the nation Israel and its capital city Jerusalem about 530 BC. The prophet had been confessing Israel’s sins and his own when the angel Gabriel delivered to him probably the most amazing prophecy in the Bible, the prophecy of the “Seventy Weeks.”
“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy” (Dan. 9:24). Seventy weeks of years is meant here, or 490 Biblical years of 360 days a year. We know that the first half of the verse was fulfilled by Christ at His first coming almost two thousand years ago – “to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity.” The other half He will fulfill at His Second Coming.
“Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and three score and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after three score and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself” (verses 25, 26a). Nehemiah testified (Nehemiah 2:1-8) that the proclamation by Persian King Artaxerxes Longimanus to rebuild Jerusalem came out on Nisan 1, 445 BC, calculated by the Royal Observatory, Greenwich to be March 14, 445 BC. Sixty nine weeks, or 483 years (i.e., 173,880 days) from March 14, 445 BC would bring us to April 6, AD 32, the exact day when Jesus Christ was presented to the Jews as their Messiah (Luke 19:36-44). (This is based on the computations made by Sir Robert Anderson in his Christological interpretation of the 70-Week Prophecy.) The exact timing of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem is a proof of His Messiahship. Had he entered Jerusalem sooner or later, it would mean He was not the “Messiah the Prince.” Here we have an example of how exact and reliable Bible prophecies are. We can therefore be sure that the specific prophecies that refer to our time will come to pass precisely as written in the Holy Scriptures (1 Pet. 1:19-21).
Just as the angel Gabriel predicted, the Messiah was “cut off,” that is, slain – crucified – after the 69 weeks of years had expired, not for Himself but for the sins of the whole world (John 3:16). It happened within five days. Then what? “and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined” (Dan. 9:26b). This was fulfilled in AD 70 when the Romans under Titus burned Jerusalem and the temple. Thirty seven years had passed since AD 32 before verse 26b was fulfilled, therefore it is obvious that the last week of the Seventy-Week-Prophecy – or the last seven years – cannot have been fulfilled at that time. God’s time clock for Israel must have stopped at the close of the 69 weeks in AD 32. Yet the prophecy must fulfill all of the 70 weeks.
The 70th Week: “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate” (verse 27). Who is “he” that shall confirm a covenant with many for one week? Here is an error in interpretation made by some. It is supposed that “he” is the Messiah accomplishing His ministry for seven years but was killed “in the midst of the week.” It is believed that God’s time clock for the Seventy Weeks stopped at the Crucifixion and will restart at the Second Coming, and the Messiah will preach again for another three and a half years. That there is a Prophetic Gap of about 2000 years after the 69 weeks is seen correctly. But the interpretation is wrong. For one thing, and this is important, the antecedent of “he” is misplaced. And the “covenant” is misunderstood. The whole seventieth week is wrongly interpreted to be the Messiah’s preaching ministry to the Jews.
Who, then, is “he” and what is the “covenant”? The “he” in Daniel 9:27 is none other than “the prince that shall come” mentioned in verse 26. Bible expositors agree that he is the end-time Antichrist. He is the Beast from the sea (Rev. 13) and the “little horn” of Daniel 7:8. He is referred to by Christ in John 5:43, “…if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.” This coming personal Antichrist will be accepted by the Jews as their messiah. When this powerful man appears on the world scene he will make a “covenant” – or a treaty – with many for seven years. The “many” refers to the nation of Israel and other nations. Since Jerusalem, in the last days, will become “a cup of trembling… a burdensome stone for all people” (Zech. 12:2,3), the covenant spoken of in Daniel 9:27 must be a peace settlement for Jerusalem and the whole Middle East. The man who will be able to bring about peace in the region will be looked up to by the whole world as a hero, in fact more than a hero – he will be worshipped (Rev. 13:3,4,8). But after three and a half years from the signing of the treaty – “in the midst of the week”- his true colors will come out. He will break the formal agreement with the Jews and will enter the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, causing the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and proclaim that he is God (2 Thess. 2:4)! Why? He is also “that man of sin… the son of perdition” (verse 3).
We have seen that the 70th Week of Daniel 9:24-27 is yet to come. God’s prophetic time clock for His plan for the Jews and for the establishment of the Kingdom stopped on April 6, AD 32, when the Messiah was formally rejected by the Jews (John 1:11). Within two months the Church was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost (John 1:12.13 ; Acts 2). We are right now in the closing days of the Prophetic Gap between the 69 Weeks and the 70th Week. The last seven years to complete the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 are being held in abeyance by the presence of the Church of God on earth (2 Thess. 2:6-8). The Church, because it will no longer have role on the earth during that time (Rom. 11:25), will be raptured to heaven shortly before the 70th Week sets in.
We are now ready, in this article, to appreciate the scriptural proofs for a Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church. But before that, let me get back to the Tribulation which corresponds to the 70th Week.
THE TRIBULATION DESCRIBED
The following scriptures give other names for the impending Tribulation that will engulf this unsuspecting world:
“Howl ye; for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty… Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it… Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger” (Isaiah 13:6,9,13).
“Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it” (Jer. 30:7).
“And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end” (Dan.12:9).
“For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Rev.6:17)
“…Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come; and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Rev. 14:7).
“As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of the world” (Matt. 13:40).
“Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thy self as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast… For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies…” (Isaiah 26:20 ; 34:2).
“And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time…” (Dan. 12:1).
1. “AS THE DAYS OF NOE WERE. . .”
Proof number one for a Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church is in the Olivet Discourse itself. I never realized it before but it is now clear to me. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:29,30). This is the glorious Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It is plain that He will come after the Tribulation. Verse 31, at first glance, is the strongest proof for a Post-Tribulation Rapture: “And he shall send his angels with a great shout of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
Now, where is the Pre-Trib Rapture there, you might say. It’s so plain that Christ, as He descends from heaven, uses His angels to rapture the Church at His Second Coming. How could you explain that away in order to push a Pre-Trib Rapture?
Before further explanation, let me go forward in Matthew 24. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (vv. 36,37). Two facts can be gathered here: 1) The day or the hour of Christ’s coming cannot be known by any man, and 2) His coming is compared to the days of Noah. We don’t have to guess what the days of Noah were like, for the next verses say, the Lord speaking, “For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; SO SHALL THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN BE” (vv. 38,39).
“The coming of the Son of man” in verses 37 and 39 refers to the first stage of the Second Advent, that is, Christ coming to rapture the Church to heaven before the Tribulation begins, as promised in John 14:2,3.
A) Our Lord enumerated the signs that would precede His Second Coming, including cataclysmic occurrences such as international conflicts, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. And He gave the specific sign of the “abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet.” When people see these signs happening they should be sure the Second Coming is near, in fact, only three and a half years away from the Abomination of Desolation. “So likewise ye, when ye shall see these things, know that it is near, even at the doors” (v. 33).
But Jesus also says, “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (v. 44). How can these His seemingly contradictory statements be reconciled? Surely, Christ will not contradict Himself! In one verse He says watch for signs of His coming; a few verses later He warns us to be ready, for there is no specific sign of His coming.
We are therefore forced to conclude that our Savior must be talking about two distinct and separate events. There must be two future Comings. The first one requires no specific sign to watch before it occurs; the other will be preceded by so many signs. In other words, first He comes to rapture His Church. Then seven years later (refer back to the 70-Week Prophecy) He comes to end the Great Tribulation (v. 22) and rescue the Jews at Armageddon (Rev.19).
B) The Rapture cannot be Post-Tribulational because just like in days of Noah it will be “business as usual” in the world just before “the coming of the Son of man” (v. 39) – “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” That is hardly the situation during the Great Tribulation, when hundreds of millions will die from wars, famines, etc. If we go by the book of Revelation BILLIONS will have already died by the end of the Great Tribulation; the days of Noah were not like that before he and his family were taken into the ark. If Jesus is coming at a time similar to the days of Noah when the world is relatively peaceful this coming must occur before the Tribulation. Therefore, He is coming for the Church at that time – the first phase of His “parousia.”
C) The Second Coming in glory can be pinpointed to the day by believers who will be alive during the Tribulation. How? By simply counting days from the setting up of the Abomination of Desolation and referring to Daniel 12:11,12. But the Coming discussed in Matthew 24:36-44 will be sudden and unexpected. This “coming of the Son of man” cannot be the one that is referred to in verse 30, where it is stated that all the tribes of the earth will finally see the Son of man after a series of signs have happened.
D) “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left” (vv. 40,41). These verses immediately follow the Noahic comparison. People are “taken” – raptured – before the time of global cataclysm suddenly comes on the whole world. This is a Pre-Tribulation taking-away of Christians to heaven (John 14:2,3).
Now concerning the gathering of “the elect” Matthew 24:30, 31 does not substantiate a Post-Tribulation Rapture of the Church, contrary to what many believe. When the Second Coming occurs Jesus Christ comes down to earth with His saints from heaven; the saints will have been in heaven for seven years by that time (Zech. 14:5 ; Jude 14 ; Col. 3:4 ; 1 Thess. 3:13 ; 4:14 ; Rev. 19:14). The Church, the Bride of the Lamb, is already in heaven when the Lord returns to earth in glory (Rev. 19:7-9). Wherever the Husband goes there goes His Wife.
Who, then, are the “elect” whom the angels will gather from the four winds? Mark 13:27 makes it clearer; “And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.” The Bible does not leave us in the dark as to who God’s “elect’’ are. In Isaiah 45:4 God is quoted as saying, “For Jacob my servant’s sake and ISRAEL mine elect. . . .” Therefore, it is the remnant of Israel in the last days who are the “elect” that will be gathered from around the globe when Christ begins to establish His Kingdom in the Millennium. It is thus prophesied by God in Isaiah, “And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains; and mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there” (65:9). Ezekiel sheds more light: “As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you” (Ezek. 20:33). The language strongly indicates that the fulfillment of this prophecy is shortly after the Tribulation.
Matthew 24:31 and Mark 13:27 are enlarged upon by the following verses from Ezekiel: “And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face. Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord GOD. And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant: And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (vv. 34-38).
The gathering of the elect at the Second Coming will also include the resurrection of Old Testament saints, as strongly indicated in Daniel 12:1,2. The first resurrection and the translation of living Christians at the Rapture will include only the Bride of Christ, that is, the Church. Notice 1 Thessalonians 4:16 – “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven…and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” But the gathering of the elect ISRAELITES, including the dead Old Testament saints, will happen at the Second Coming of Christ after the Tribulation; they will be gathered together “from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven,” the remnant from every corner of the earth, and the dead Israelite saints from heaven where their spirits will be brought from.
2. A RAPTURE LESSON FROM THE THESSALONIANS
The apostle Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians were his earliest. He is said to have spent only four weeks in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. Within one month he had taught a number of important doctrines to the Thessalonians, including the Rapture. The Rapture is mentioned in every chapter of the first letter (1 Thess. 1:10 ; 2:19,20 : 3:12,13 ; 4:13-18 ; 5:1-11). But our concern under this heading is the Rapture lesson contained in Second Thessalonians.
It is unfortunate that many Christians today do not believe that Christ will return for the Church before the Tribulation. In fact, many are not anymore waiting for Christ’s return; they say we are now in the Millennium, that it may take thousands of years from now before the Judgment Day comes. They are called amillennialists. I’ve heard of their “Kingdom Now” theology. I just wonder how they can locate the Kingdom in this present evil world. I guess Augustine of Hippo is the original culprit. As for the Post-Trib premillennialists, however, it seems to me that they would rather have Jesus return for them after the Tribulation. Are they too curious about Tribulation events and therefore they want to see them with their own eyes? Maybe they just don’t see the light yet. What amazes me more is that some, seeing the scriptural proofs for a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, still have a hard time accepting it. A case of “doctrinal inertia,” I suppose, if not a display of unbelief. But I check myself – 1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “…judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts….”
Choices of various beliefs regarding the Rapture were simply not available during apostolic times. The early Church held only the Pre-Tribulation Rapture preparatory to premillennial Second Coming, as taught by the apostle Paul. Only in the fourth century did the churches begin to abandon the belief when prophecy began to be interpreted allegorically, and Amillennialism gained acceptance through the influential teachings of Augustine.
The converts in Thessalonica believed in a Pre-Trib Rapture. Second Thessalonians was occasioned by their being “shaken in mind…troubled… that the day of the Lord is now present” (2:2, correct translation). Paul wrote in order to assure them that the rumor that the Day of the Lord had begun was just that, a rumor. Chapter 2:1,2 presents the theme of the letter: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of the Lord is now present.” Probably a forged letter was circulating, stating that they were now inside the Tribulation; and that the persecutions they were experiencing at the hand of their enemies were part of the fulfillment of the prophecies. But the persecutions and hardships were not the cause of their being “shaken” and “troubled.” They were greatly agitated and disturbed because they thought they were LEFT BEHIND! They knew that if they were now inside the Tribulation – the 70th Week – the Rapture must have already occurred. And what were they doing on earth? They were therefore very afraid – frightened – maybe they were left behind because of some sin on their part, and now they were about to face the Antichrist and endure the Tribulation.
Think about it. If Paul had taught the Thessalonians a Post-Trib Rapture why would they be shaken in mind to find themselves in the Tribulation? Instead of being troubled they would rejoice in the realization that the Rapture was now only seven years away; what they had to do now was to prepare some civil defense and wait for the Second Coming. But that was not the case. The Thessalonian converts were fearful because they were taught by the apostle that before the Tribulation would begin the Rapture must come first to deliver them “from the wrath to come” (1Thess. 1:10). But here they were, supposedly caught in the middle of the Tribulation, and their feet literally still on the ground; they had not been “caught up.” That’s why they were confounded.
As hinted above, the confusion about the timing of the Rapture in the Second Thessalonians has resulted from a mistranslation – “that the day of Christ is at hand” (2:2). Paul would not caution them against the day of Christ being at hand. Why, he believed so. He taught an imminent coming of Christ for the Church (1 Cor. 15:51,52). He was saying in effect to the faithful Thessalonians, “Don’t you worry, don’t believe the detractors, we are not yet in the Tribulation Period. Didn’t I tell you that the Rapture must come first? At the Rapture we shall ALL be included. If all the immature Corinthians will be raptured, you can be sure you will be. Some things must first occur in the world before the day of the Lord can begin. And you will not be present on earth to witness the full manifestation of those things. As I taught you before, RAPTURE FIRST.”
The apostle Paul was reassuring the brethren that the Rapture was still future though imminent. Why, he himself was still there. He who was one of the two apostles to whom the mystery of the Rapture was revealed (along with John). The fact that Paul was not yet raptured was proof enough to the Thessalonians that the “snatching away” had not yet occurred. But he went on to unveil something more:
3. THE RESTRAINER TAKEN AWAY MEANS THE CHURCH IS RAPTURED
Second Thessalonians 2:3 : “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day” - the Day of the Lord, verse 2 - “shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” The apostasy in the churches was already underway even during Paul’s time, “for the mystery of iniquity doth already work” (v. 8a). It was to intensify until the whole world would have totally abandoned God’s truth (Matt. 24:11 ; 2 Tim. 4:3). Right now “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19), but just before the start of the Tribulation and about the time of the Rapture the world and professing Christendom will have committed the Great Apostasy, having “believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:12b). Side by side with the Great Apostasy is the rise of the Antichrist.
But the other event to occur before the Day of the Lord (the Tribulation being the first short part of the Day of the Lord) is the RAPTURE ITSELF. The Antichrist will not be revealed unless his Restrainer is finished with the work of restraining. “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth” – or restrains – “will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed” (2 Thess. 2:7, 8a). The restrainer of the Antichrist is the Holy Spirit. Nothing and nobody in the world can do the job of restraining Satan, who is the force behind the Antichrist. The Holy Spirit has been doing the work of a restrainer since the days of the apostle Paul. Only an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Being can do that. When the Holy Spirit, in His capacity as the Restrainer, is “taken out of the way,” then the Antichrist will be free to reveal himself, for God will now allow it. Now, the “taking out of the way” of the Restrainer from the world scene is the same as saying that the Church is raptured – taken away from the earth – because the Holy Spirit works primarily through the Church in controlling the outbreak of apostasy in the professing Christendom and in the world.
When the Church is taken away, then the Great Apostasy will be complete and the Antichrist will reign supreme over the whole world.
4. THE RAPTURE IS “THAT BLESSED HOPE”
“… denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12,13). It is assumed by many that this passage is referring only to the glorious Second Coming. I’ve read the book, “The Blessed Hope,” written by Post-Tribulationist George Ladd. He put forth Titus 2:13 as a proof text for a Post-Trib Rapture. But the syntax contradicts that position. Look at that. “Looking for that blessed hope,” – one event, that is, the Rapture, - “and the glorious appearing of … Jesus Christ,’ another event. They are two distinct events, separated by seven years of Tribulation.
Why is the Rapture called the “blessed hope” of the Christian? The answer is in 1 John 3:2,3, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” The first and primary purpose of the Rapture is to change us completely. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body…” (Phil. 3:20,21 New King James Version). The Rapture is the time when the living and dead Christians are finally given their spiritual bodies (1 Cor. 15:51-54). No wonder it is called the Blessed Hope.
But there is a secondary reason why the Rapture is “that blessed hope.”
5. THE RAPTURE DELIVERS US FROM THE TRIBULATION
The Rapture of the Church can hardly be called a “hope” – or at least its being a hope is tarnished – if it comes after the Tribulation. Imagine it. If the Rapture is Post-Trib, how can one be hopeful when he knows he is to undergo the difficulties of the Tribulation? In all likelihood he may even face martyrdom. The Antichrist will have open opportunity of killing the saints, as revealed by Jesus, Daniel, John, and others. The Rapture is somewhat “spoiled” if it is Post-Tribulational. Happily, that is not the case. God promises to deliver His children prior to the Tribulation by transporting them to heaven. Consider the following:
A) “… to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1Thess. 1:10). “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:9). The wrath to come is the Tribulation, exhaustively described in Revelation 6 – 18. By the time the First Horseman rides (Rev.6:1) the Church (Rev. 2 & 3) will have been transported to heaven (Rev. 4:1).
B) Christ to the Church: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which will come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Rev. 3:10). This is a promise from Jesus to the faithful in Philadelphia. We know that Philadelphia is an end-time Church, the sixth of the seven Churches. The Philadelphian Era of God’s Church covers the period from about 1750 to Rapture. God’s promise is clear-cut – “I… will keep thee from the hour of temptation,” – or the time of trial – “which shall come upon all the world.” “The hour” refers to the short period of seven years when God’s righteous judgments will be poured out on sinning mankind. How can anyone mistake the meaning of that scripture? God will deliver the Church from the Tribulation. And the means is by transporting her to heaven: “Come up hither…” (Revelation 4:1).
C) In 2 Peter 2:4-10 the apostle spoke of “judgment” on the world of the ungodly during the days of Noah and Lot, wherein God saved the just from the outpouring of judgment, for “the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (v. 9). The conclusion that we can derive here is that God will deliver His own – the godly – before He allows the global “day of judgment” – the Tribulation – to begin, just as He did to Noah and Lot. We are therefore assured that the Church will not go through the coming Tribulation. God’s promise will never fail. We are expected to believe that; can we do otherwise?
However, some argue that if God will keep us from the troubles ahead it would not be fair to the countless thousands who died from martyrdom throughout the centuries, and they presume that there’s no reason why we should escape the same fate. Sort of a sado-macho thinking, not scriptural. Who are we to question God? “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25) God is just, no question about that. We ought to be thankful that we have the additional blessing of protection from the Wrath to Come by divine “summons” to heaven at the Rapture.
6. THE DOCTRINE OF IMMINENCE
The noted Bible scholar William Barclay commented that the apostle Paul was wrong when he proclaimed, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51,52). Barclay stated positively that Paul made a mistake in believing that Christ could come in his day. “The wise are not always right” – pointing to Barclay, not to the apostle. But, was Paul wrong in believing that the Lord’s coming for the Church was imminent? Of course not. Christ could have come in the first century. Remember, there was no specific sign given the Church to signal the approach of the Rapture. Christ simply promised, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). Time and again the Lord warned the disciples to be ever ready, for He could come anytime (Luke 12:34-40 ; 21:34-36 ; Mark 13:32-37 : Matt. 24:36-44).
Against the Doctrine of Imminence the argument is advanced that Christ could not come unless world condition has deteriorated to the point when it is possible for mankind to obliterate himself from off the face of the earth, as prophesied by Jesus Himself in Matthew 24:21, 22, and that that time came only after almost two thousand years. I believe this argument does not destroy imminency of Christ’s coming for the Church. Remember the Tower of Babel. God Himself does not underestimate man. “And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (Gen. 11:6). As we have seen, only the Restrainer has been hindering the Antichrist from becoming active on the world scene. Had God decided to take away the Restrainer any time from apostolic times, world condition could have come to where it is right now by the “genius” of man; nothing could have hindered him from rapidly developing ways and means of destroying himself within a seven-year period. Once the 70th Week had begun, all the prophecies that pertain to the period must come to pass, regardless of when within the last twenty centuries it began. Right now we are exactly in that situation; therefore the Rapture is more imminent now than ever.
This is a strong proof for the correctness of the “rapture theory.” The Doctrine of Imminence can only be applied to the Pre-Trib Rapture, which will happen unexpectedly like an operation of a thief in the night. A thief does not give signs to his potential victims. The Rapture, being imminent, requires no signs. It will come at an hour when people of the world – including many Christians – least expect it. Imminency cannot refer to the glorious Second Coming because this coming of Jesus Christ will be preceded by specific signs for which He told His disciples to watch.
Of the two stages of the Second Advent only the first – the Rapture of the Church - is imminent. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John talked imminence. Therefore, the doctrine of an Imminent Rapture is true. Otherwise, Jesus and His apostles were liars.
7. THE BOOK OF REVELATION PORTRAYS IT
Although I think that the foregoing logical, scriptural proofs of the Pre-Trib Rapture are unassailable enough, I offer here, last, the most concrete evidence – the book of Revelation.
The book of Revelation is not as mysterious as is commonly supposed. “Apocalupsis” is an unveiling. It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ (1:1), meaning, it is a book about the person of Jesus - His Deity – His testimony, and about His Second Coming and the events thereafter. The future events leading to the setting up of the Kingdom are set forth in the book in explicit details.
Of all the books of the Bible only the Revelation has a special blessing for its readers: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand” (1:3). There, again, is imminency. The blessing is reiterated near the end of the book, “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book” (22:7).
Revelation was written by the apostle John about the year AD 96. This fact alone should dispose of the claims of preterists that the events mentioned in the book up to chapter 19 refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. I follow the futuristic interpretation of the book, as well as the literal. Literal interpretation allows for allegorical or symbolic interpretation when the text and contexts dictate it. But otherwise we take the primary, commonsense, ordinary, and literal meaning of the words used by John, and the other biblical writers for that matter.
From the fourth century Augustine has dominated the theological thinking of the churches. His teachings have continued to be the basis of the amillennial approach to prophecy only because of the allegorical method of interpretation. We cannot begin to realize the damage this has inflicted to professing Christendom and to the world in general. (Anti-Semitism, for example, can be traced to it.) Spiritualizing the Revelation caused uncounted souls to disbelieve in the coming millennial Kingdom of God. They also spiritualized away God’s judgmental warning in 22:18,19 - “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Actually, I cannot conceive how anyone can interpret that in any way except literally. Of course, the phrase “take away from the words of the book of this prophecy” does not mean to literally print our own copy of Revelation in which words have been edited out, or to cut off parts of the last pages of our Bibles. The plain meaning of “take away” must be disbelieving what the words are saying in plain language. For instance: Amillennialists would say that the Millennium is mentioned only in Revelation 20:1-7, therefore it is not true that there will be a Millennium. That is taking away from the words of the book of Revelation. We had better take warning. There is no doubt that the “God, that cannot lie” (Titus 1:2) means what He says and says what He means. It is a fearful thing to knowingly reject Revelation.
If we will follow the flow of events described in Revelation we can see clearly that the Rapture of the Church is Pre-Tribulational. The outline of the book is presented in chapter 1 verse 19: “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.” Thus the book is divided into three parts – 1) the things which thou hast seen, 2) the things which are, and 3) the things which shall be hereafter. “Hereafter” is meta tauta in Greek. This is significant for locating the timing of the Rapture in the book of Revelation. We’ll see later why. This little lesson in Greek I owe to Chuck Smith.
A) THE RAPTURE ENDS THE CHURCH AGE, USHERS IN THE TRIBULATION HOUR
The term “Tribulation Hour” is taken from Revelation 3:10: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” Another lesson from Greek here is that the preposition “from” – “from the hour of temptation” – is ek, which means out of. The Philadelphian faithful, as well as all the faithful remnant from Thyatira down to Laodicea, are promised escape out of the time of the Tribulation, not through it. In other words, they will be evacuated from the earth just before the Tribulation begins.
“The things which thou hast seen” refers to John’s vision of Christ (1:8-20). “The things which are” are the messages to the seven Churches (chapters 2 and 3), which corresponds to the whole Church Age. “And the things which shall be hereafter” refers to the Tribulation Hour and thereafter (chapters 4 to 22).
Revelation 2 and 3 spans the Church Age from Pentecost to Rapture. Revelation 4:1 is the point in the panorama of events when the Church is raptured. Notice: “AFTER THIS…” After what? Of course, after the Church Age described in chapters 2 and 3. It’s the same meta tauta in 1:19. “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter.” Here is a double meta tauta, so that the readers of Revelation will not mistake that from here on they will be reading of events future from the Rapture, that is, “after these Church things.”
In vision John is taken up to heaven. He is the representative of the Church being raptured to heaven at the close of the Church Age and prior to the start of the Tribulation. The language of Revelation 4:1 is very much similar to the Rapture text of 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17. People who contend that the Thessalonian scripture refers to Christ’s Coming in glory are simply mistaken. Notice that the event described is a meeting “in the air.” We do not right then and there descend on the Mount of Olives. Instead we go up to heaven – “Come up hither,” Christ says. We return to earth with the Lord of Lords and King of kings seven years later (Rev. 19), after the Tribulation Hour described in chapters 6 through 18 is finished (The book was written chronologically, with some flashbacks or interludes, or parentheses).
The command "come up hither," as can be seen in context, means coming into heaven. We know that the Two Witnesses will be raptured to heaven: "And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them" (11:12). Likewise, the Church, when the time comes, will be commanded, "Come up hither"! (4:1)
B) THE CHURCH IS IN HEAVEN WHILE ON EARTH TRIBULATION RAGES ON
Chapters 4 and 5 portrays to us what will happen when we get to heaven at the Rapture. Don’t we look forward to that? I understand that some sincere and godly people are repulsed by the idea of going to heaven. For so many years we have been bombarded by the unorthodox and “iconoclastic” teaching, “Nobody will go to heaven!” What a tragedy; we were virtually taught not to believe the Bible, because the Bible does teach people can go to heaven. It was Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, who once said that when a lie is constantly repeated long enough people will tend to believe it. Something similar has happened to our view of heaven. Partly because of not taking the words of the Bible literally we have been misled into believing that humans do not go to heaven. And, perhaps, out of a desire to be different from apostate Christianity, we were only too willing to believe that no one is going to heaven.
Let me cite right now just one scripture that proves humans, indeed, go to heaven, right from within the Rapture Text: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God BRING WITH HIM” (1 Thess. 4:14). Whether that means God will bring the dead Christians with Jesus to heaven or from heaven is not important just now. The point is, people do enter heaven because Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9-11).
What’s more, the Revelation pictures the Church in heaven praising God after the Rapture in 4:1. John saw in vision the glory of God. “And round about the throne were four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment,; and they had on their heads crowns of gold” (v. 4). I believe these twenty-four elders are humans, not angels, for angels are never crowned. The Judgment for rewards must have been finished at this point in time because they have already been rewarded with crowns (cf. James 1:12 ; 1 Pet. 5:4). “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (5:9,10). The redeemed, who are raptured to heaven by this time, are looking forward to Christ’s return to earth when they, with Him, will begin to reign. How clear!
While the Church is in heaven worshipping God, down on earth the Tribulation rages on. It is graphically described in chapters 6 to 18.
C) AFTER THE TRIBULATON CHRIST RETURNS WITH HIS CHURCH
“After these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God” (19:1). The Marriage of the Lamb with His Wife, the Church, is made in heaven (vv. 7,8), after which they will return to earth. But first the Bridegroom and the Bride have to destroy their enemies: “And I saw heaven opened…” Twice in Revelation the door of heaven is opened. First, in 4:1, to receive the Church at the Rapture. Second, to let Christ and His Church – now His Wife – return to earth. “…and behold, a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war…” (At the Rapture the Lord will not be riding a white horse, Acts 1:9-11.) “And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (19:11, 14-16). This is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in power and great glory. He comes with His Wife the Church. No wonder Jude says, “…Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all…” (Jude 14,15).
After the Judgment of the Nations (Matt. 25:31-46) the Millennial Reign will begin. The Lord will not be alone ruling the world, for “we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). “And so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).
D) MORE RAPTURE PROOFS FROM THE REVELATION
For those who can’t see the Rapture in chapter 4 verse 1, I challenge them to look for the Church on earth during the Tribulation. Remember, the Tribulation period corresponds to chapters 6 through 18. I know that Post-Tribulationists will be quick to point to the “woman” of Revelation 12. Let’s look at that. “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” (12:1).
Just because the great false religious system of the Tribulation is called a “woman” and a “whore” in Revelation 17 many are quick to conclude the woman in chapter 12 is the true Church. But they are mistaken. As we have already seen by so many scriptural proofs the Church will not go through the Tribulation. The obvious truth is that the woman in Revelation 12 is not the Church. She is ISRAEL. Proof? In Genesis the patriarch Joseph dreamed the exact “wonder” pictured in Revelation 12:1. “And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more, and behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me” (37:9). This proves that the woman in Revelation 12 is the nation Israel. “And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered” (Rev. 12:2), referring to the Messiah being born from Israel, “a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron, and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne” (v.5), that is, Christ ascended to heaven. The “Place of Safety” for this woman is referred to in verses 6 and 14; this is taken to mean by Post-Tribulationists that the Church is on earth during the Tribulation. “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days…And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.”
It is indisputable that a remnant of Israel will be protected from the wrath of Satan for a period of three and a half years. The question is, are these believing remnant literal descendants of the Jews or the Church? The answer is given by the Lord Jesus Himself in Matthew 24. Speaking of the beginning of the Great Tribulation, His instruction is for the JEWS: “Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But PRAY YE THAT YOUR FLIGHT BE NOT IN THE WINTER, NEITHER ON THE SABBATH DAY” (vv. 16-20). This is the same flight spoken of in Revelation 12:14. It is the Jews, not the Church, who are to flee to the mountains where there is a special place prepared for them (probably Petra). Notice that Christ is concerned about their flight happening on a Sabbath day. The Jews keep the Sabbath law; the Church does not. While the believing remnant of Israel are in their place of refuge (Isaiah 26:20), the Church is up in heaven preparing for her return to earth to rule with Christ a thousand years.
Can we find the Church on earth during the seven-year Tribulation? If so, we ought to find her mentioned in Revelation 6 through 18. I tried but I didn’t find her in those thirteen chapters.
In Revelation 1 to 3 “church” and “churches” are mentioned nineteen times. The Church is mentioned again only in 22:16, and that only in retrospect. In Revelation 19 the Church, being in heaven, is called the Bride and Wife of the Lamb. (The Church is never called a “woman” in the Bible; another point concerning Revelation 12.)
In the letters to the seven Churches there is the formula, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches,” to admonish the leaders and members of the Church. But in chapter 13 the admonition-formula is “edited” to conform to the new subject and new situation – “If any man have an ear, let him hear” (v.9). The Church is no more, and the Spirit is gone with her. The Tribulation saints – Jews and Gentiles alike – are being addressed here. Notice the gloomy warning: “He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: and he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and faith of the saints” (v.10). The Tribulation saints are advised to endure with patience and faith. It’s far better to be a believer now and be raptured to heaven when the time comes than to believe later and endure the Tribulation. At that time, the evaluation of a voice in heaven will be, “ Therefore, rejoice, ye heavens, and YE THAT DWELL IN THEM” – the Church, because God spared her the Tribulation - but “Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea!” – those left behind – “for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time” (12:12). Where would you rather be at that time?
One more scriptural proof that the Church will not be present on earth during the Tribulation is in Revelation 7. “After this” – after John has seen the 144,000 Jewish servants of God sealed – “I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb” (vv.9,10). These are new arrivals in heaven. John does not know who they are. One of the elders in heaven asks him, “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? And whence came they?” (v.13). Notice John’s answer: “Sir, thou knowest” (v.14). If these people were part of the Church John would know. The elder goes on to enlighten John, “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v.14). These people are Tribulation converts. They will pay the price of martyrdom for their belated faith. I can imagine that they will include people who will believe because of the witness of Church members who used to “pester” them with the gospel or with the “rapture theory.” For them, “to see is to believe” will be amended to to see not is to believe. In other words, when their Christian relatives, regular acquaintances, and friends – and enemies, for that matter – are gone, nowhere to be found on earth, then they will believe. “Those people, after all, told the truth,” they will finally realize
Salvation will still be available during the Tribulation. Only it will be a terrible time for believers. I’d rather be a believer NOW.
IS IT IMPORTANT TO KNOW THE TIMING OF THE RAPTURE?
Now that we have seen that the Rapture will occur immediately before the Tribulation, does it make any difference? In this regard I have received some not-so-positive responses from people with whom I have tried to share this “discovery.” One commented that to know when the Rapture will occur in relation to the Tribulation is not important at all. Whether it is Pre-Trib or Post-Trib, he said it should not make any difference; what's important is “to do the work” (in a sense, that is true). A friend said that trying to know where in the chronology of endtime events the Rapture will happen is “merely an intellectual exercise.” “It is not of urgent importance,” insisted a local church elder. They have their reasons for such indifferent responses to the Rapture question, but one thing I can infer from their comments: they do not believe that Christ may come any moment now; if they did they would not say those words.
How is it, then? Is it important to know the timing of the Rapture? Does it make any difference in a Christian’s life to know that the Rapture is Pre-Tribulational and imminent?
First of all, we Christians are expected to be interested in the Lord’s Second Coming. One who is not is suspect. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1,2). We have the original disciples for an example, who were very much interested to know the timing of the Second Coming, when they asked the Lord, “Tell us, when shall these things be...?” (Matt. 24:3).
The establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth is a foundational doctrine of the Bible. If we are obeying the injunction to pray “Thy Kingdom come,” out of a sincere heart, then we will be interested to know all things that have to do with that Kingdom, so far as God reveals them, including the Biblical teaching as to when the Rapture will occur in the series of prophesied events.
Not of urgent importance? Christ’s loving warning has a sense of urgency (Matt. 24:36-44 ; Mark 13:32-37 ; Luke 12:34-40 ;21:34-36). It is very important to know and understand that we should be eagerly looking for Him to take us to Himself (1 Cor. 1:7). If we are so careless as to believe that that the Lord will come for us at the end of the Tribulation, then, truly, there is no sense of urgency in us, because we “know” Jesus will not come for at least seven more years ahead of us. That is the doctrine of “My lord delayeth his coming” (Matt. 24:48), which would put us in danger of carelessness in regard to preparing for the Lord’s unexpected coming. On the other hand, when one knows that the Lord may come this very day (the doctrine of imminence), he makes sure he is ready for it anytime, “for every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). The realization that Christ may come at any moment is the greatest motivating factor for any Christian to live a holy life. It is interesting to note that a “crown of righteousness” is reserved for those who love the doctrine of the Rapture (2 Tim. 4:8).
HOW CLOSE ARE WE?
There have been many a “Disappointment” since the day of William Miller. Are we in a different situation now? Are we really approaching the close of the age? Remember, the disciples asked Jesus the question “WHEN?” And the Lord answered. He gave signs pointing to His Second Coming in glory. And we know the Rapture will come not less than seven years earlier.
There was one incident recorded in the gospels when the Jews were asking for a sign from heaven. The Lord said to them, “When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” (Matt. 16:2,3) Those religious leaders could not discern the signs of the times because they refused to believe Jesus and the scriptures. Today, we, in like manner, are confronted with a similar situation. Will we also close our eyes to the truth? Do we not see that the stage has been set for the endtime prophecies to be fulfilled? Granted, we cannot know for sure exactly when the 70th Week - the Tribulation - will begin. But we are promised that we can know the general time. Notice, “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). When God is about to do something with regard to Israel He sends prophets to warn the people. At this stage, no prophet is on the scene (there will be once the Tribulation starts), so we have to go to the writings of the prophets.
But the greatest Prophet of all - the Lord Jesus Christ - gives another sign which is nothing less miraculous. It is the sign of the modern nation of ISRAEL. “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh ; So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matt. 24:32-34). The fig tree is a symbol of Israel (Hosea 9:10). The parable therefore seems to reveal that when Israel is back on her original land - and she must be if the prophecies are to be fulfilled (Isaiah 66:8) - then the generation which saw the rebirth of the nation (1948) will not pass till the Messiah returns. At any rate, the fact that Israel is back in the Middle East is a sure sign that the prophecies concerning the Kingdom as well as God’s judgment on the nations can now be fulfilled.
Moreover, in the book of Luke, the Lord gave a statement the meaning of which is to me as clear as the day: “...upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring... And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:25b, 28). The December 26, 2004 tsunami is a clear sign of the nearness of “redemption.” Redemption for the Israelites when they will at last recognize their Messiah, and they will be delivered (Jer. 30:7 ; Dan. 12:1); and redemption for us Christians when we will be raptured to heaven (Rev. 4:1 ; 1 Thess. 4:15-17 ; Rev. 5:8-10 ; Rom. 8:23). I’m reminded of an old song which has the line, “We’re almost there”! That’s how close we are to the Rapture and to the Glorious Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Our Lord says, “I am... the bright and morning star” (Rev. 22:16b). Although the world is about to enter its darkest hour - “the hour of trial” (Rev. 3:10) - we look eagerly to the breaking of the “light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day star arise...” (2 Pet. 1:19b). The Rapture is the event when the dawn’s bright “morning star” - our Redeemer - will appear in the sky to take us to Himself (John 14:3) when it is still dark in the world (the seven-year Tribulation) before sunrise. Then the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2) - the “DAY STAR” - shall arise at His Glorious Second Coming.
It is said that the word “rapture” is not in the Bible. Literally, yes. But the revelation of the doctrine is in there. This article, though, is not intended to be exhaustive.
IT’S TIME TO REPLACE REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY
Before I close, I would like to say a few words on Replacement Theology. I understand it to mean that because the Jews rejected Christ, God’s promises to them have all been abrogated and transferred to the Church. Hence, whenever the word “Israel” is mentioned in the Bible, having to do with God’s promises, we have only to change it to “Church” to get the “correct” meaning; and “Jerusalem” is taken to mean “heaven.” I’ve heard that about 3,600 times in the Bible this “magic” is advanced. This gross mishandling of the Word of God is a big reason why so many are not able to see the truth of the Rapture of the Church.
If we understand that God’s program for Israel is distinct from His program for the Church, then it would be clear to us that the Church will have to be raptured before the 70-Week prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27 can be continued to its conclusion. The Church will have to be evacuated from the earth so that God’s prophecies for Israel will be fulfilled during the last seven years, the “time of Jacob’s trouble”.
When the Bible says “Israel” it means Israel, not the Church. Old Testament prophets did not know about the coming of the Church. Although they had some hint of a timespan we call the Church Age, as in Psalm 110:1, the Church itself was a mystery – “hid” in God (Col. 1:26) – to them.
To say that the Church Age is the GREAT PARENTHESIS in the plan of God for Israel is not to minimize the importance of the Church. It is all explained in Romans 9, 10, 11. On the other hand, Replacement Theology does away with God’s promises to Israel, which is a wrong interpretation of the message of the Bible. The plain truth is, the Church is the Bride of Christ and Israel will surely receive all the promises made to them, from the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant down to Davidic Covenant and the “Marian Covenant.” Let’s look at the last one: “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).
It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the Kingdom of God. I am only making this last point to underscore the fact that the prophecies for the endtime will be fulfilled literally, just as the prophecies concerning Christ’s first coming were fulfilled literally. Only by taking the prophecies of the Bible literally will we understand that Christ’s Second Coming will be in two stages – first, the imminent Rapture of the Church, afterwards the Glorious Revelation seven years later. I hope the above seven proofs thereof are complete enough for anyone who heretofore has entertained some honest doubts.
For readers who have not yet accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, the following scripture references are listed for them to read, study and take to heart. Salvation is not a complicated matter.
1. Romans 3:23
2. Romans 6:23
3. Romans 5:8-10
4. Acts 3:19
5. Ephesians 2:8
6. Romans 10:9,10,13
7. Acts 2:38
SEE YOU AT THE RAPTURE!!! (Take that literally.)