I concluded my previous blog post by asking the question, “is the notion of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture really taught in Scripture?” The doctrine of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture is an assumption based on the belief in a 7-year tribulation which some have interpreted as Daniel’s 70th week. Pre-Trib Rapture proponents argue that God will remove the Church before the beginning of the great tribulation mentioned in the Book of Revelation. However, in the Book of Revelation, the Pre-Trib Rapture is conspicuous in its absence—it just isn’t taught! The doctrine was, in fact, created by John Nelson Darby in 1830.1
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of John Nelson Darby until I started doing research for this writing. I guess proponents of this fabrication aren’t that anxious to divulge its origins especially if it didn’t originate in 1611. So, while it’s not really known how Darby came up with this doctrine, I have my own theory. I believe Darby knew that the Pre-Trib Rapture was easier for congregations to swallow than the alternative actually taught in the Bible. As can be seen clearly in the Church today, the doctrine hasn’t lost even an ounce of its appeal.
In order to optimize the structure of my arguments, I’ve decided to partition my discussion of the Rapture in two separate posts. This blog post contains my analysis of the popular arguments that have been used to defend Darby’s Pre-Trib Rapture doctrine and in my next blog post, I’ll present my own arguments for a Post-Trib Rapture.
Multidimensional Second Coming
Noted author Hal Lindsey describes Jesus’ second coming in two phases, where the first phase is His secret unexpected return in the air and the second phase is His return where every eye will see Him.2 When Jesus described the signs of His second coming to His disciples, He said that it would be just like the days of Noah and like the days of Lot; where everyone was going about their normal business. (Luke 17:26-29 NASB) On the surface this seems to support the surprise return of the Lord before the start of the 7-year tribulation period. However, in the very next verse, Jesus makes clear that it will be the time of His visible return, “It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.” (Luke 17:30, emphasis mine) So, without taking any of the verses I’ve just mentioned out of context, the Scripture clearly teaches Jesus’ second coming will be a visible, not a secret event. Nowhere does Jesus even hint at His second coming being multidimensional.
The Tribulation is Not for Believers
There are many instances in Scripture to substantiate the fact that believers will experience tribulation in this life. The most well-known verse on this subject is given by Jesus in John 16:33 where He says, “’these things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.’” The Apostle Paul clearly teaches that believers will experience tribulation as he wrote in Romans 5:3, 8:35, and 12:12. So, in order for Pre-Trib proponents to say that God is somehow obligated to deliver believers from tribulation in unscriptural.
Punishing the Just with the Unjust
Another popular defense of a Pre-Trib Rapture is that God doesn’t punish the just along with the wicked. They always use the example of Lot being delivered from the destruction God brought upon Sodom. They will even go so far as to point out that God preserved Noah and his family when He brought about a flood to destroy all living things on the earth. However, an example they will never point out is when Moses brought numerous plagues upon the land of Egypt. At that time, God demonstrated that He was able to preserve Israel in the midst of the plagues that were being brought upon the Egyptians. As was spoken by God through Moses:
But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people are living, so that no swarms of flies will be there, in order that you may know that I, the LORD, am in the midst of the land.
‘I will put a division between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign will occur.’ (Exod. 8:22-23)
I believe that God is able to protect His elect from any or all of the judgements that will be brought upon the earth during the Tribulation period. Not only do I believe that He can preserve His elect, but I believe that is exactly what He will do.
The Timing of Paul’s Snatching Away
The favorite verse that Pre-Trib Rapture proponents use to defend their position is 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:16-17)
As far as Pre-Trib proofs go, there are none more pervasive than 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. As far as importance is concerned, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is to the Pre-Trib Rapture as John 3:16 is to salvation. But is the Apostle Paul really trying to teach a Pre-Tribulation Rapture? The only reference to the timing of the event is that it will occur along with the trumpet of God. Compare the language used in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 with the language used by Jesus when He describes His second coming as recorded by Matthew:
And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.
And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (Matt. 24:30-31)
Notice that in Matthew 24:30, Jesus’ return is visible, not in secret as is taught by Hal Lindsey and other Pre-Trib proponents. It’s interesting to note that Jesus also refers to a trumpet which seems to coincide with Paul’s statement in 1 Thessalonians 4:16. The only reasonable conclusion we can arrive at is that the verses in 1 Thessalonians 4 and Matthew 24 are describing the same event.
A particularly troubling aspect of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is the “alive and remain” phrase. Wouldn’t saying just “alive” be enough to get the point across? But by saying “alive and remain” gives the reader the impression that it implies a special condition for those believers to be in at that time; and It would be special for those who have survived the Tribulation.
Clearly, the verses we’re considering in 1 Thessalonians and Matthew 24 strongly corroborate a Post-Tribulation Rapture position.
Seven-Year Tribulation Theory
As I’ve mentioned in the previous post in my End-Times series, there are two schools of thought on how to interpret Daniel’s 70 weeks. One school of thought says that there is a gap between Daniel’s 69th and 70th week and that it will be fulfilled by the Antichrist (or more accurately, the beast) during the 7-year Tribulation. The second school of thought says that Daniel’s 70th week has already been fulfilled by Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion; and had ended when the Jews stoned Stephen to death as recorded in the Book of Acts.
I don’t recall ever hearing any sermons or reading any books that taught Daniel’s 70 weeks have already been fulfilled. What I have heard were fantastic theories such as the Israelis secretly building a temple under the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and are waiting for the Antichrist to come and give them permission to raise it up!
Thief in the Night
There are many verses in Scripture that teach that Jesus’ second coming will be “like a thief in the night,” such as: Matt. 24:43, Luke 12:39, 1 Thess. 5:2, 2 Pet. 3:10, Rev. 3:3, and Rev. 16:15. This saying tends to give credence to the Pre-Trib Rapture theory since it appears to suggest that the second coming will be in secret. The problem with all this is that Jesus never taught that His return will be in secret or that it will be in two different stages. Every time Jesus talked about His second coming it was always in reference to the time when He will be revealed. Jesus’ analogy of His return being like a thief in the night was given as a warning to His hearers that His return will find many unprepared and that it will be when they least expect it. Since Jesus was talking only with His disciples (Mark 13:3) and not with the general public, we have to assume that His warnings about His second coming were intended for believers and not for the world at large.
Even though Jesus gave us a lot of information about His second coming, we still struggle to understand all that is written in the Scriptures concerning this important event. As a matter of fact, He even said that He told us “everything in advance.” (Mark 13:23) Many books have been written by authors who have attempted to lay out a clear timeline of the end-time events. I believe the assertions made in many of these books are based on presumptions that are not entirely scriptural. That being said, the approach I plan to take in my defense of a Post-Trib Rapture is to start with things that we already know for sure and use these as a key to understanding other more obscure scriptures. I’ve gleaned from Scripture what I believe to be three things which we know for sure:
- Jesus’ second coming will be visible and unmistakable
- His second coming will take many by surprise, as a thief in the night
- At the time of His second coming, people will be going about their normal business as they always have done, e.g., as in the days of Noah and Lot.
I’ve used this same approach in previous posts to defend my proposition that salvation is by election. I think it worked well. Stay tuned…
“John Nelson Darby and The Pre-Trib Rapture,” Thomas Ice, Pre-Trib Research Center, accessed April, 28, 2015, http://pre-trib.org/articles/view/john-nelson-darby-and-the-pre-trib-rapture. ↩
Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming: A Prophetic Odyssey, (Santa Ana, Vision House Publishers, 1973), 77-78. ↩