The appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ for His own Church is one of the most attested to revelations in all of Paul’s writings. Paul intended for this to be a purifying expectation and a comfort to those who are suffering. However, in recent years this blessed hope has been attacked from all sides as either a misunderstanding emanating from the dispensationalists or as a misguided illusion that has gained an audience among those who refuse to consider church history and tradition.
It has been well said that the pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church to heaven was the last truth recovered from the Bible by teachers who championed dispensational truth, and now, after a period of popularity, it is becoming the first recovered truth that is losing support among believers. Whether it is currently popular or supported by church history is immaterial in the end. The issue is this: Is it correct according to the Scriptures rightly divided? In Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church this short article we will review in a concise form some of the most convincing Scriptural reasons why we believe that the Rapture of the Church will happen before the coming Tribulation.
The Rapture of the Church is a Distinctive Pauline Truth
We do not read of the Rapture of the Church outside of Paul’s epistles. Paul taught by revelation that the Church, the Body of Christ, is a mystery (or secret) unknown to men of previous ages (Eph. 3:1-6; Col. 1:25-27). The Rapture is the blessed hope of this Church and the final act of God for our dispensation. Therefore, it cannot be a part of Israel’s program of prophecy outlined by the Old Testament prophets. Since those prophets foretold of the Tribulation (Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21), the Body of Christ cannot be there without violating its distinctive character as a new creation separate and distinct from Israel (Eph. 2:14-17). Anyone who puts the Church through any part of the Tribulation must deal with the incongruity of a secret church participating in a prophesied era. Some pre-tribulationists have unwittingly weakened their position by claiming the Rapture was revealed by Christ in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25), which is most assuredly an integral part of Israel’s prophetic program. MidActs dispensationalism greatly strengthens the pre-Tribulation position. Where you begin the Church determines where you end it! It began with God’s revelation to Paul after Israel’s fall in unbelief and will end before God resumes His dealings with them as a nation.
Paul tells us that the Church has been delivered from the wrath to come (1 Thes. 1:10; 5:9; Rom. 5:9). The wrath of God covers the beginning, middle, and end of the Tribulation, as well as the Second Coming of Christ (Rev. 1:10; 6:16-17; 19:11-21; 2 Thes. 1:7-10; Isa. 63:1-6).
The dispensation of grace ends before the Tribulation begins. It is impossible to execute a program of grace and a program of judgment at the same time. They are mutually exclusive.
- There are different gospels proclaimed. Grace (Acts 20:24; Rom. 3:24) and Kingdom (Matt. 24:14). If the Church were in the Tribulation, we could not obey Paul’s command to fight against evil principalities and powers in heavenly places since they will have been cast down to earth (Rev. 12:7-9; Eph.6:12).
- There are different programs involved. Under grace, God is working a program of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-21). He is withholding judgment to administer His grace (Rom. 5:20-21). Compare Psalm 2 with Acts 7.
Daniel’s Seventieth Week Pertains to Israel, Not the Body of Christ
“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.
“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 threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.
“And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: 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.
“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” (Dan. 9:24-27).
“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).
This should be a weighty argument for dispensationalists who make a stark distinction between Israel and the Church. The great object of Satanic attack during the last half of the Tribulation is the remnant of Israel, not the Body of Christ (Rev. 12:9-12). The two witnesses and the 144,000 will be the chief actors for God during this time. These are all Jewish (Rev. 7:1-8; 11:3-12).
Finally, it is the remnant of Israel who will be waiting for Christ’s return after the Tribulation, not the Church (Mal. 3:16-18; Ezek. 20:33-38; 37:11-28; Zech. 13:8-9; 12:10-14). The Gentiles who are saved during the Tribulation come to a knowledge of Christ through Israel’s testimony, not the Body of Christ.
Paul spoke as though the Rapture was imminent: That is, as far as we know, it could happen at any time. Paul himself expected to be raptured but knew the Tribulation had not begun (1 Thes. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:51).
Members of the Body of Christ are never warned or prepared to go through the Tribulation. This omission is especially telling considering that Christ, in His ministry to the Jews, both warns and prepares them to go through it (see Matthew chapters 10, 24, 25; Mark 13; Luke 21).
None of the Second Coming passages mention the Rapture of believers being caught up in the clouds of the air. We can check out the Old Testament and see many prophecies of Christ’s Second Coming to Israel and the nations to bring in the Davidic Kingdom on earth, but none of them refer to the revelation of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18. This is also true of the Gospels, the Circumcision Epistles, and the Book of Revelation.
The last days of Israel’s prophetic program and the last days of the Body of Christ do not match: Jesus warned the Jews of His day to look for signs that would herald His coming (Luke 21:20-27). “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28). They were not to began looking for the coming of the Lord until these signs begin to appear. In contrast, Paul gives no signs, only spiritual and moral trends that could be descriptive of any place in church history (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:1-9; 4:3-4). As Pastor J.C. O’Hair used to say, “We are not looking for the signs of the times because this is not the time for the signs.”
The relation of church and government: Members of the Body of Christ are told to be subject to governmental authorities and to pray for them (Rom. 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Tim. 2:1-4). This will be out of place in the Tribulation as the government will be under the control of Satan and the Beast (Rev. 13:4).
The necessity of an interval: After the Rapture, the Judgment Seat of Christ must take place before believers enter the Kingdom (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 4:5). This “meeting in the air” is not to determine salvation or damnation but reward or loss of reward for the believers. The interval of at least seven years between the Rapture and the Second Coming seems adequate to accommodate the many millions of saints for the “Bema Seat.” This would require a pre-Tribulation Rapture.
The argument of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: The Thessalonians were well schooled in God’s prophetic program (1 Thes. 5:1-3). If they believed, or if it was Paul’s intent to teach, that the living members of the Body of Christ would go through the tribulation before being “caught up,” they should have rejoiced for their “dead in Christ” rather than mourned. After all, they were with the Lord and had missed the persecution of the Man of Sin and the wrath of Satan. Instead, they were confused about the details of the Rapture (not the day of the Lord) and received instruction to comfort one another that they would all participate in the Rapture together and so miss this terrible time of trouble.
This passage presents three prophetic phrases:
- The times and seasons (Acts 1:7).
- The Day of the Lord (Zeph. 1:14-18).
- A thief in the night (Matt. 24:43; Rev. 3:3).
These three have to do exclusively with Israel’s prophetic program, not the Mystery of the Body of Christ or the dispensation of grace. These are set off from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 by the word “But” (v. 1), which shows the dis-relationship between these three and the Rapture. Paul taught by contrast.
According to the passage, the announcement of “Peace and safety” happens before the day of the Lord. If the day of the Lord refers only to the Second Coming of Christ after the Tribulation (as post-tribulationists say it does), then it will have them saying “Peace and safety” at the end of the Tribulation while in the midst of the Battle of Armageddon. Something is awry here!
Since the Tribulation gets worse in judgment (with the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven vials of God’s wrath), no one will be able to say peace and safety then. Therefore, the Rapture must come before the Tribulation.
The argument of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-7: Paul pleaded with the believers not to be “shaken” or “troubled” by false reports that they were in “the day of the Lord.” Such pleading he made in virtue of “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him” (v. 1). Again, Paul’s purpose was one of comfort and encouragement. They would not be subject to the day of God’s wrath because of the expectation of Christ’s coming. At this point, most post-tribulationists again make a sharp distinction between the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. The Tribulation (they say) is the wrath of men, the wrath of the Antichrist, and the wrath of Satan, while the Day of the Lord comes afterward and is the wrath of God.
The trouble with the Thessalonians was that while they were bravely enduring persecutions and tribulations (2 Thes. 1:4), the enemy had confused them with these false reports that they had actually entered the time of the Lord’s vengeance upon the world. Now if the distinction between the time of Tribulation and the Day of the Lord was as stark as post-tribulationists insist that it is, there would have been no better opportunity to clarify the issue than right here.
Here are the facts:
- The Thessalonian Christians knew they were being persecuted by the unbelievers.
- They thought this could be the Day of the Lord.
- This was contrary to what Paul had taught them previously.
- Paul had not changed his teaching on this.
- He made no attempt to correct the error by instructing them that they could not be in the Day of the Lord’s wrath since they were being persecuted by men (the wrath of men).
- Instead, he referred them to his original teaching while among them.
Before the Day of the Lord, there must be:
- A falling away (KJV): Greek hee apostasia, literally “the departure.” Not just from Bible doctrine but the departure of the Church to heaven via the Rapture (2 Thes. 2:1; 1 Thes. 4:15-18).
- Man of Sin revealed: This revelation will occur when “the prince that shall come” shall make a covenant with Israel for one week of years (Dan. 9:26-27). Since the wise will be able to identify the Antichrist at the beginning of Daniel’s Seventieth Week, it necessitates a pre-Tribulation Rapture.
- The removal of the Restrainer: The expression “what withholdeth” is neuter, but its masculine equivalent is in verse 7, “until he be taken out of the way.” This is undoubtedly the Holy Spirit in the Church at the Rapture.
We have seen that the preTribulation Rapture of the church is well supported by Paul’s teaching in a variety of different ways. This truth is more than just academic or one in which we have been armed to win arguments. It should also make an impact on our faith and life as Christians. If it is really true that Christ could appear for us at any moment, how does that affect your attitude toward the work of Christ in your particular ministry? Does that give you a desire to be about the Master’s business seeing that the time could be short? Do you hold to the teaching of the pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church? Wonderful! Now does that truth hold you?
“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:15-17).