THE EVIDENCE POINTING TO A PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE IN SCRIPTURE (Part 9)
In Part 2, THEORIES ON THE TIMING OF THE RAPTURE, the fact that post-Tribulation supporters are adamant that it is the responsibility of the Church to endure the Tribulation period, and that they find the idea that the Church escapes the hardships of the Tribulation abhorrent, was mentioned. An example of the attitude of post-Tribulationists to the idea that the rapture will occur before the Tribulation is given by a Pastor Doug: “It’s a very convenient doctrine; it’s a dangerous doctrine, because some people are not preparing their faith – they’re not fortifying themselves for the trial ahead” (1). Once again there is the implication that pre-Tribulationists are weak Christians who will not be strong enough in faith to deal with the hardships of the Tribulation. The truly dangerous doctrine is the one that silences the warning of God’s prophecies. The rapture is the major indicator that God’s judgement on mankind has begun. This knowledge will not only allow many to come to salvation during the Tribulation, but strengthen their faith in a sovereign God who has an unfolding plan and a purpose for mankind.
The perilous doctrine is, therefore, the post-Tribulation theory and a study to reveal the flaws in the evidence put forward by the post-Tribulationists is required.
(1) Does the Bible support a pre-Tribulation or post-Tribulation rapture … by Pastor Doug: http://www.amazingfacts.org/…/does-the-bible-support-a-preTribulation-or-post.
The strongest evidence put forward by the post-Tribulation belief is that Jesus did not promise the Church they would escape the Tribulation. They point to John 17:15, the prayer of Jesus to the Father, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” They will tell you that the “them” in this scripture refers to believers at that time, and all believers in the future. This is poor exegesis, where the scripture is taken out of context because it is convenient to do so. The scripture needs to be interpreted by: 1. Who is Jesus praying for? 2. What is the context behind the prayer?
- The answer to the first question is that in John 17:6-19 Jesus is praying for His disciples only. If Jesus meant this prayer for all believers he would have included it in the second part of His prayer, in verses 20–26.
- The second answer is that “the world” in Jesus’ prayer is to be understood as the world system or people, not the earth. This can clearly be seen in verse one, where the disciples are depicted as being given by God to Jesus “out of the world,” in other words out of all the people.
The context of the prayer is that Jesus is about to be arrested, His disciples will be left without His leadership and guidance. They will be persecuted by the Romans and the Jewish authorities of that time. So, Jesus’ prayer is that God will protect the disciples from Satan’s attempts to destroy them and their witness to “the world.” Jesus is not rejecting the idea of a pre-Tribulation rapture, He is praying for the 11 disciples at a very difficult time in their lives. We only need to look at what happened to Peter that very night when, in fear for his life, he denied knowing Jesus three times. It was for this reason Jesus prayed to the Father that He protect the disciples from the evil one.
In their interpretation of John 17:15 post-Tribulationists place themselves in a very difficult situation. By stating that in this scripture Jesus is praying for the protection of the Church from the wrath of Satan during the Tribulation, they must then believe that the Lord’s request is denied by God. Revelation 13 is the Chapter where details of the Antichrist and the false prophet are recorded, and in Revelation 13:7 John writes that “[The Antichrist] was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them”. This authority over believers can only come from God. Evidence that Revelation 13:7 is fulfilled is recorded in Revelation 6:9-11 and 7:14, where confirmation of the mass martyrdom of saints during the Tribulation is recorded.
Another scripture that post-Tribulationists think strongly supports their belief is Revelation 7:14, where an angel explains that the great multitude dressed in white robes are those who have “come out of the Great Tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the lamb.” For the post-Tribulationist this is proof positive of the existence of the Church in the Tribulation. Their argument is that, as these believers are washed in “the blood of the lamb,” they must be part of the body of Christ (the Church). According to the post-Tribulationist’s reasoning, to suggest that these believers are not the Church contradicts the doctrine of salvation. This reasoning discounts the fact that Old Testament saints – who were not part of the Church – were beneficiaries of the sacrificial death of Jesus by their faith that the sacrifices they offered to God were an atonement for sin. The covenant of salvation through the grace of God has stood through all generations of man. The only way an individual can attain salvation is through Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross, He died for all mankind, from Adam to all those living at the time of His return. Atonement encompasses all mankind, but salvation is determined by a choice to accept God’s provision. No one can get to heaven without being washed in the blood of Jesus. So, to categorise the Tribulation saints as “the Church” because they are washed in the blood of Jesus is to categorise all who have called “on the name of the Lord” (Joel 2:3; Rom. 10:13) from the time of Adam as “the Church.”
The Sickle and the Winepress
Both Revelation 14:14-20 and Joel 3:12-13 depict the use of a sickle and a winepress at the time of Armageddon. Joel clearly explains that the sickle is used in Judgement: “Swing the sickle for the harvest is ripe. Come trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow – so great is their wickedness.” A close look at Revelation 14:14-20 reveals that the same message is depicted in this scripture. Jesus carries a sickle for “the time to reap has come,” and the wine press of God’s wrath is also trodden (Rev. 14:20). Clearly the symbolism of the sickle harvesting and the treading of the winepress are depicting judgement. Yet the post-Tribulation rapture has Jesus using the sickle to reap the righteous at the rapture. Clearly this is a manipulation of scripture to fit an ideology.
Is the Church on Earth or in Heaven?
The post-Tribulation view has the Church joining Jesus in the air and then returning to earth with Him as part of His army. Jesus then sets up His Millennial Kingdom on earth after the battle of Armageddon and the Church, therefore, will remain on earth with Jesus. The problems with the interpretation of Jesus harvesting the Church at the end of the Tribulation are:
- The return of Jesus to battle with the forces of Armageddon is hardly an appropriate time for a union with His Bride.
- In John 14:2 Jesus tells His disciples that His “Father’s house has many rooms… I am going to prepare a place for you… I will come back and take you to be with me”. After the rapture, Jesus takes His Bride to heaven for the marriage supper of the Lamb.
- A post-Tribulation rapture has no explanation for when the Bema Judgement and the marriage supper will take place, both of which are celebrated in heaven.
- In the last study, OTHER COMPELLING EVIDENCE OF A PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE (part 7), the rapture of believers was contrasted to the return of Jesus at the end of the age, revealing 16 differences between the two returns of Jesus.
Church or Jews?
Proponents of a post-Tribulation rapture point to Matthew 24 as evidence that the Church is still on the earth during the Tribulation. They see this scripture as being addressed to the disciples who, according to them, are the representatives of the Church. The post-Tribulationists, therefore, believe that the warning given in Matthew 24:15-20 of the adversity and suffering that will occur after the Antichrist places a statue of Himself in the Temple, must then apply to the Church. Therefore, this indicates that the Church is still on the earth at the start of the Tribulation and so there cannot be a pre-Tribulation rapture. Once again, this is poor exegesis. Matthew 24 must be taken in context with Mark 13:1-30 and Luke 21:5-37. The three Gospels are reporting on the same story for three different people groups, and therefore view the story from three different aspects. Two sieges of Jerusalem are discussed in the Olivet Discourse. Luke gives more emphasis to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (Luke 21:20-24), while Matthew gives more emphasis to the Antichrist and his persecution of the Jews in Jerusalem (Matt. 24:15-20). Both, however, are aimed at the Jews, for it is they who will experience the effects of both “sieges” in Jerusalem.
As stated earlier, the gospel accounts were written with different groups of people in mind. The Gospel of Matthew was written to the Jews. Therefore, the focus of Matthew’s message is to the Jews. When Jesus says “let those in Judea flee to the mountains (Matt. 24:16),” He is talking to the Jews who will be living in Jerusalem and the Judean communities, towns and cities. Also, as previously stated, if the warning in Matthew is to the Church, why does Jesus say “pray that your flight will not take place… on the Sabbath day (Matt. 24:20).” Why would the Church not be able to flee on the Sabbath day? The Church is not constrained by the laws pertaining to a Sabbath day’s journey. Therefore, the warning must be aimed at the Jews, and not the Church, so this allows for the Church to be in heaven in the presence of the Lord at this time.
The return of Jesus equated with the rapture
Any time a scripture speaks of the return of Jesus, post-Tribulation followers take it as the rapture, as they see the return of Jesus to earth as being coincident with the rapture. This totally discounts a pre-Tribulation belief that the Lord comes from heaven to meet His Bride in the air (1 Thess. 4:17) and seven years later He returns to earth with His Bride to set up his Kingdom (Matt. 24:30; Rev. 19:11-16). Matthew 24:30, which describes Jesus “in the sky,” is used as an example of a post-Tribulation rapture – but it must be taken in context with Matthew 24:29. The signs of the sun and moon being darkened, stars falling and heavenly bodies being shaken are not signs linked with the rapture. They are, however, linked with Jesus’ return from heaven with His Bride (Rev. 19:11-21).
Matthew 24:31 is also used as evidence by post-Tribulationists, as on the return of Jesus as King, a trumpet sounds and angels are sent to gather the elect. To them, this is a clear description of a post-Tribulation rapture. There are two problems with this interpretation. Firstly, if we are resurrected at this time, why are angels required to gather us? The Church is resurrected in perfect bodies; they will be able to do this on their own. Jesus, in His resurrected body, showed this with His various appearances to His disciples. Believers will not need angels to gather them. The Church at the rapture will have heavenly bodies, so they will be able to travel to Jesus on their own. On the return of Jesus to the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4) there will be a judgement of the nations (Matt. 25:32), and angels will have to gather both the elect and those who will face the judgement of the sheep and the goats of Matthew 25:31-46, where all nations (Gentiles) will be judged for their treatment of the Jews during the Tribulation. The sheep will live on to populate the Millennial Kingdom and the goats will be required to go before the White Throne of Judgement, which will occur at the end of the Millennium. There also needs to be an understanding that just because a scripture records that a trumpet is blown, it does not necessarily mean it is the rapture. Trumpets were blown for many different ceremonial occasions in the Old Testament – at weddings, on feast days, to announce the arrival of a King, when the King went into battle, etc.
The last trump
To continue the theme of trumpet blasts, post-Tribulation supporters will point to the seventh and final trumpet blast recorded in Revelation 11:15-19 as being “the last trumpet (1 Cor. 15:52)” call of the rapture. Once again they are guilty of isolating scripture to manipulate it for their own benefit. The scripture in Revelation 11, according to post-Tribulationists, holds conclusive evidence of the rapture at the end of the Tribulation. The chapter records the last of the seven trumpet blasts (vs. 15), the Temple in heaven being opened (vs.19), the kingdoms of the world becoming the kingdom of Jesus (vs.15) and the dead being judged (vs.18). These are all convincing evidence for the post-Tribulation belief, when used out of context of the flow of the book of Revelation.
To interpret this passage of scripture correctly we must study it in context. The seventh trumpet sounding in Revelation 11:15 announces the start of the seven bowls of wrath. So, the seventh trumpet is not one specific judgement, but it announces the final judgements that will bring in the Kingdom and the return of Jesus. The result of the seven bowls of wrath brought on by the signal of the seventh trumpet is described in Revelation 11:15b, “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ”. On analysis of the description of the seven bowl judgements in Revelation 15 we see that, at the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the Temple in heaven is opened to allow the seven angels carrying their seven bowl plagues to come forth from the Temple. These are the most severe of all the judgements and come from the very seat of judgement within the Temple in heaven. Revelation 15:1 describes them as “the seven last plagues – last because with them God’s wrath is complete (emphasis added).” The seventh trumpet, therefore, cannot be a post-Tribulation rapture along with the return of Jesus to earth, simply because the trumpet announces the start of the last plagues, not the return of Jesus to set up His kingdom.
There will be a falling away
The post-Tribulationists try to refute that Paul is writing in his letters to the Thessalonians about a pre-Tribulation rapture. They contend that the scripture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, “for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction,” shows that the Tribulation comes first before “that day,” the return of Jesus. The scripture is referring to the mystery of lawlessness under the restraining hand of God, which had begun at the time of the apostles, and has been expanding up until now. Rebellion on earth must grow for the world to reach a stage when the Antichrist may be revealed. A quick look at 1 Timothy 4:1-3, 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and Matthew 24:12, which describe the desperate state of mankind before the start of the Tribulation period, will leave you in no doubt that there will be a falling away from God, a rebellion by man against God’s divine authority, before a pre-Tribulation rapture.
The Day of the Lord
Confusion on the meaning of “that day” can cause problems for post-Tribulation supporters. An example is a You Tube video entitled Post-Tribulation rapture – Disproving Pretrib in 3 steps! (1). The only problem is they base their whole argument on their definition of the “Day of the Lord” (1 Thess. 5:2), which Paul refers to in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as “that day.” For them, the Day of the Lord is the rapture, which they then link to scriptures such as Isaiah 13:9-10 and Joel 2:31 which relate to the judgements of the Great Tribulation. Thus, they then believe they have given conclusive proof of a post-Tribulation rapture.
To clear up the confusion a distinction needs to be made between the Day of Jesus Christ and the Day of the Lord:
- The Day of Jesus Christ is to be identified with the return of our Lord Jesus Christ for the Church at the rapture (1 Cor. 1:8; 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:10; 2:16).
- The Day of the Lord is a time when God becomes actively involved with the affairs of men; it is a time of judgement and the wrath of God being poured out on the wicked. Although the Day of the Lord is depicted in prophecy as a time of darkness and the world reaping the fury of God, the Day of the Lord does include certain times of blessing for Israel and believers. The Day of the Lord commences immediately after the Day of Jesus Christ (the rapture) and involves the Tribulation (Rev. 6:1-19:21), Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 20:1-6) and the Great White Throne Judgement (Rev. 20:11-15). A Jewish day commences at 18:00 with darkness, and ends at 18:00 the next day after a period of light.
By not distinguishing between the Day of Jesus Christ and the Day of the Lord the video Disproving Pretrib in 3 steps! erroneously comes to the conclusion that The Day of the Lord is the rapture. This allows them to use the scripture in Joel 2:31 as conclusive evidence of a post-Tribulation rapture, “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful Day of the Lord” (emphasis added). In this scripture Joel is referring to the return of Jesus at the end of the Great Tribulation, which is a major part of the Day of the Lord. The rapture as part of the Day of the Lord was hidden from the Old Testament saints (1 Cor. 15:51), so mention by an Old Testament prophet of the Day of the Lord points to the time just prior to, and including, the Lord’s return to earth. Joel is warning of the terrible judgement on mankind that will take place at Armageddon. That is why, in the next verse, Joel makes the glorious announcement that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32). Salvation is the only way man can be saved from the destruction at the battle of Armageddon and the judgement that will follow.
- Post-Tribulation rapture – Disproving Pretrib in 3 steps! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofLLykErtp4
It is the duty of the Church to evangelise the Jews.
Many post-Tribulation protagonists state that it is the duty of the Church during the Tribulation to evangelise the Jews. This view can be seen in the book The Controversy of Zion in the Time of Jacob’s Trouble by Dalton Lifsey. There is no evidence in scripture that a specific duty of the Church is the responsibility for the salvation of the Jews during the Tribulation. This does not stop the post-Tribulationists, who become very creative with scripture, from making their point. For example, Lifsey states:
“God will mature the Church at the end of the Age by requiring us to serve hardened and blinded Israel in such an authentic and Pauline (Rom. 9:1-5) and Christ-like way so as to ‘provoke them to jealousy (Rom. 11:11).’ This is what is implied by the phrase in Rev. 12:6 concerning Israel being ‘nourished in the wilderness for 1 260 days.’ Israel will be nourished by the prophetic Church who will meet her in the ‘wilderness’ of her great ‘final (Ezek. 35:5-6)’ hour of ‘trouble (Jer. 30:7).’ This prophetic Church of this great Christ-like stature (Eph. 4:11-13) will be nourished herself by the revelation of Israel’s belovedness for the sake of the fathers.”
Lifsey bases his statement around his interpretation of nourished (Rev. 12:6), which is that the Church will evangelise and care for the Jews in the “wilderness.” The Greek word used for nourished is trepho, which means to feed, as used by Jesus in Luke when He urges the disciples not to worry, saying that “life is more than food… Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no store room or barn; yet God feeds (trepho) them.” The NIV interprets trepho as God providing the needs of the Jews in the desert, by saying “The woman (Israel) fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be cared for 1 260 days”. The simple, straightforward interpretation of this scripture is that the Dragon (Satan) who enters the body of the Antichrist will begin persecuting those who do not worship the statue of the Antichrist erected in the Temple by the False Prophet. This is the time Jesus warned the Jews about in Matthew 24:15-22, so those Jews who refuse to worship the idol of the Antichrist are forced to flee to the desert where God will provide for them, probably in a very similar way to the time of Moses. There is simply no implication whatsoever that the Church is involved with Israel in this desert experience.
Another example of the creative use of scripture that Lifsey uses to elucidate his point, is Isaiah 28:11: “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people” (KJV). Lifsey implies that Christian Gentiles of all different languages will witness to the Jews that remain in the land of Israel, “The land will receive prophetic direction in light of the coming crisis from the lips of Gentiles (a ‘foreign tongue’).” Again, the point is made by Lifsey that the Church is required to be present in the Tribulation to give guidance to the Jews. The problem is the scriptural evidence used by Lifsey to support his argument is actually a prophetic pointer to Pentecost in Acts 2:4, where the Holy Spirit came down on the members of the early Church, “and [they] began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Here you see the true fulfilment of Isaiah 28:11, as God uses “stammering lips and another tongue” to bring 3 000 Jews from all over the world to salvation. The scripture in Isaiah 28:11 can in no way be evidence of the presence of the Church in the Tribulation.
There is value in Lifsey’s book, in that he emphasises the importance of the support of Israel by the Church now. Unfortunately, his belief that this will continue into the Tribulation is erroneous.
The Archangel Michael
The post-Tribulation supporters use the archangel Michael as proof of a post-Tribulation rapture. The evidence they give is:
- that Michael is the only archangel named in the Bible (Jude 1:9), so he therefore must be the archangel who gives the shout at the rapture.
- in Daniel 12:1 Michael is named as the protector of Israel.
- In Jude 1:9 it is Michael who is “disputing with the devil” over the body of Moses, which is further evidence that he is the defender of Israel.
- in Revelation 12:7 there is war in heaven and “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon (devil),” with the result that Satan is cast out of heaven. Now, because verse 7 comes after the nation of Israel fled into the wilderness, the connection is made by the post-Tribulationist that the war in heaven is in regard to the nation of Israel having to flee the attack of the Devil and once again Michael is in battle for the defence of Israel. The logical progression, therefore, is that there must be a post-Tribulation rapture with the “shout of the archangel” at the rapture (1 Thess. 4:16) being Michael, the defender of Israel, returning with Jesus to battle the enemies of Israel.
The evidence that Michael is the defender of Israel and gives the shout announcing the rapture at the end of the Tribulation seems quiet compelling, until you analyse the facts:
- For the post-Tribulationists to claim that Michael is the archangel who announces the rapture, just because he is the only archangel to be named in scripture, is not sound logic. There is no evidence that there is only one archangel! In naming Michael, Jude is making a point that even archangels do not use slanderous accusations to make their case, but rather refer to the authority of the Lord. Jude needs to name the angel and give his rank to bring weight to his point.
- If we look at Revelation 12:4, Satan draws a third of the angels of heaven with him in his rebellion against God. The Bible names three angels: Lucifer (Satan), Gabriel and Michael. Could it not be possible that there were three archangels? This would explain why Satan is able to draw a third of the angels with him in his rebellion against God. Each archangel has authority over a third of God’s angels. So, if Gabriel is also an archangel and he was the angel who announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah, would it not be more appropriate that Gabriel is the angel who makes the announcement to the Bride that she must arise and come forth to meet her Bridegroom, rather than the archangel of war and conflict, Michael?
- Michael is clearly the warrior archangel, but just because Daniel names Michael as the protector of Israel and Michael disputes with the devil over the body of Moses, it does not necessarily make Michael the defender of Israel only. Michael would have been disputing with Satan long before the time of Abraham and will have clashed with Satan over matters relating to the Church as well. The duty of Michael, it seems, is to lead angels in times of conflict against Satan, which would have occurred continually during the history of mankind, not just with regards to Israel.
- The continual battle Michael has with Satan is clearly seen in Revelation 12:7. There is war in heaven, and Satan is cast out. The most obvious reason for Satan’s banishment is that as he is the accuser of the brethren (his very name, Satan, means slanderer) and he would not be an appropriate guest at the marriage supper of the Lamb. The fact that when Satan arrives on earth he takes his anger out on Israel (Rev. 12:13) does not give credibility to Michael being the defender of Israel only. With the Church in heaven at the start of the Tribulation, the Jews are the only ones Satan can target to effect his revenge.
Clearly, to use the archangel Michael as evidence of a post-Tribulation rapture does not stand up to scrutiny.
The Pre-tribulation rapture – new!!
Many critiques (which includes both post-Tribulationist and pre-wrath theorists) of a pre-Tribulation rapture, say that the doctrine was something dreamed up in the 1830s by a Scottish girl called Margret MacDonald and popularised by Nelson Darby in the 1880s. They say no sources of a pre-Tribulation rapture can be found before then. The reality is that this is far from the truth:
- The Didache (a Church manual from approximately AD 110) warns Christians to be prepared for “the hour in which your Lord cometh,” and follows this statement by saying “then, the world-deceiver shall appear.” The order suggested by the Didache is a pre-Tribulation rapture, which is followed by the appearance on the world stage of the “world-deceiver,” the Antichrist.
- Justin Martyr (AD 110-16) supported a pre-Tribulation rapture and accused people who rejected the idea as being heretical (1).
- There is evidence that Clement (AD ?-215) supported a pre-Tribulation rapture (2).
- There is also even evidence that the pre-Tribulation rapture was taught in the early Middle Ages. Ephraem (AD 306-373) of Nisibis in Syria, who is considered to be the greatest Christian writer and theologian in Syrian church history, wrote “For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the Tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins (3).”
- Increase Mather (1639-1723), the Puritan leader, stated “that the saints would be caught up into the air” and would therefore escape the world’s final configuration (4).
- Morgan Edwards, a well-known Baptist pastor from Wales, taught the pre-tribulation rapture in the 1700s. Edwards was an outstanding scholar who had an exceptional grasp of eschatology, making a detailed study of Paul’s end-times doctrines, Daniel and Revelation. Edwards believed that the Ottoman Empire would come to an end and the Jews would be restored to the land of Israel. He held the idea that the Church would be caught away before an individual called the Antichrist would arise through the Roman Catholic Church. Edwards then wrote that after the reign of the Antichrist, “The risen and changed saints shall reign with Christ on earth a thousand years (5).”
The idea of a pre-Tribulation rapture can be traced back through history to the early church fathers, so to assert that a pre-Tribulation rapture is a relatively new idea which was not supported by the early Church is erroneous and is a weak attempt by critiques to besmirch the idea of a rapture prior to the Tribulation.
(1) Schaff, Phillip (1819 – 1893). The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1885.
(2) Lindsey, Hal. The Road to Holocaust. Banatam, 1989, p77.
(3) English translation of the Latin text [Christiania, 1890, pp. 208-20] provided by Cameron Rhoades, Latin Instructor at Tyndale Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, TX.
(4) Boyer, Paul. When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief In Modern American Culture. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1992, p75.
(5) Rev. Morgan Edwards Taught a Pre-Tribulation Rapture in the 1740s! By Gary Stearman: http://prophecy.landmarkbiblebaptist.net/Edwards-Rapture.html (22/11/2013).