FBIS News Service, 23 Juni 2009
Updated June 24, 2009 (first published May 2, 2003) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, email@example.com; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) –
The following is enlarged from the Way of Life Advanced Bible Studies Course UNDERSTANDING BIBLE PROPHECY (third edition, March 2009). This thorough and practical course enables the student to understand and enjoy Bible prophecy. It deals with the interpretation of prophecy, dispensationalism, the covenants, the kingdom of God, the nations in prophecy, and Messianic prophecy. A large section is devoted to “a prophetic overview of the future,” detailing the Bible’s prophecies that have not yet been fulfilled. Other sections deal with the prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation. 219 pages, $9.95
The word “rapture” does not appear in the Bible, but it is a term used to describe the catching away of the saints of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. The term “caught up” in 1 Th. 4:17 is also translated “pluck” (Jn. 10:28), “take by force” (Acts 23:10), and “pulling [out of the fire]” (Jude 23). It refers to a forceful seizing and a snatching away. It is used of the Spirit of God snatching away Philip after the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:39). This is exactly what Christ will do to the New Testament believers before the onslaught of the Great Tribulation.
Notes on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
1. The Rapture is (1) a resurrection of the dead in Christ (v. 14-16), (2) a catching up and translation of the living New Testament saints (v. 17).
2. The dead in Christ are with Him in heaven (v. 14).
3. The Rapture is the believer’s hope (v. 13). It is what we are looking forward to.
4. The Rapture is certain. (a) It is as sure as Christ’s resurrection (v. 14). (b) It is the word of the Lord (v. 15).
5. The Rapture is a comfort (v. 18). If this translation did not occur until the end of the torments of the Great Tribulation, it certainly would not produce solace for the Christian standing on this side of the Tribulation.
6. The Rapture is before the day of the Lord’s wrath (5:1-5, 9).
This event is also described in 1 Corinthians 15:51-58.
1. The Rapture is a mystery that was not revealed in the Old Testament (v. 51). The Old Testament prophets taught about the resurrection, but they did not teach that some would be caught up without dying. The translation of the New Testament saints will involve an instantaneous change from morality to immortality. Those believers living at that hour will never see death.
2. The translation of the church-age saints is said to be a source of comfort and encouragement (1 Co. 15:58). Again, if this translation did not occur until the end of the torments of the Great Tribulation, it would not be a comfort.
Among those who believe in a literal Rapture of church-age saints, there are three general positions. All of these pertain to the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Great Tribulation. The three views are (1) Pre-tribulational, meaning the church-age saints will be raptured before the Great Tribulation. (2) Mid-tribulational (also called Pre-wrath Rapture), meaning the church-age saints will go through the first half of the Tribulation. (3) Post-tribulational, meaning the church-age saints will go through the entire Tribulation period.
THE EVIDENCE FOR THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE
For the following reasons we are convinced the Bible teaches a Pre-tribulational Rapture. In the following study, we are using the term “church” in a general, institutional sense:
1. CHURCH-AGE BELIEVERS ARE PROMISED SALVATION FROM WRATH (1 Th. 1:9-10; 5:1-9; Rom. 5:9; Rev. 3:10).
The Great Tribulation is expressly called the day of God’s wrath. Today the Lord is withholding His anger; He is seated upon a throne of grace, but the day approaches when He will take the seat of judgment. Then “the day of his wrath” will be upon all the world (Ps. 110:5; Isa. 13:6-13; Rev. 6:16-17). It is true that in every century, Bible-believing churches have been subjected to persecution, but this is quite different from the Great Tribulation. The general persecutions of the saints are caused by the wrath of wicked men and the devil, whereas the seven-year Tribulation is a period especially pertaining to God’s wrath (Rev. 6:16-17; 14:10). Some feel that the church will not be saved out of the time of wrath, but will be saved through it. This cannot be true, since the Bible clearly reveals that those who are on earth during the Great Tribulation will not be delivered from wrath but will be overcome (Rev. 13:7). The Scriptures that promise church-a ge believers deliverance from wrath must refer to salvation out from the very presence of the wrath. Concerning the Great Tribulation, we are told that “as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth” (Lk. 21:35). Therefore, church-age believers must either be physically removed from the earth, or they will be involved in the day of wrath. God promises removal. “... 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” (Rev. 3:10). This verse does not say that God will keep the church age saints through the temptation but from it.
2. THE HOLY SPIRIT IS TO BE REMOVED BEFORE THE TRIBULATION (2 Th. 2:1-8).
In other passages of the Bible, the Holy Spirit is said to be the restrainer of sin (Ge. 6:3; Is. 59:19). The Holy Spirit came into the world in His present dispensation at Pentecost (Acts 2), when He came to empower the church for the Great Commission (Acts 1:8). He will remove the church-age believers before the time of God’s great wrath. This does not mean the Holy Spirit will not be present in the world at that time. He is God and is omnipresent. It means that He will not be present in the same sense that He is in this age.
3. CHURCH-AGE BELIEVERS ARE PROMISED MANSIONS IN HEAVEN (Jn. 14:1-3).
When the Lord Jesus returns to the earth at the end of the Tribulation, He sets up His Messianic kingdom. If the Rapture occurred at the end of the Tribulation, the promise to church-age believers pertaining to Heaven would not be fulfilled. Church-age believers are a heavenly people with a heavenly hope (Eph. 1; Ph. 3:20; Col. 3:1-3). Some dispensationalists teach that the church-age saints will live in heaven during the millennium. I believe they will live both in heaven and in earth. Jesus promised the apostles that they would reign with Him over Israel (Matt. 19:28).
4. THE TRANSLATION OF CHURCH-AGE SAINTS IS SAID TO BE IMMINENT (it could happen any time) whereas the Second Coming is said to be preceded by specific signs.
Christ taught this (Matthew 24:42, 44; 25:13; Mark 13:33). Paul taught it (Phil. 4:5; Titus 2:12-13). James taught it (Jam. 5:8-9). And Peter taught it (1 Pet. 4:7). The early Christians were living in expectation of Christ’s return (1 Th. 1:9-10). The apostle Paul instructed the church at Thessalonica that they did not need to heed signs and times, because the New Testament believer has been promised redemption from the “day of darkness” that shall overcome the whole world (1 Th. 5:1-9). The church is not waiting for the appearing of the Antichrist, but for the redemption of the Son of God.
5. THE CHURCH IS A MYSTERY UNREVEALED IN THE Old TESTAMENT (Eph. 3:1-11).
The New Testament church has no part in the chronology of events foretold by the Old Testament prophets. They clearly foretold the first coming of Christ, His miraculous birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The same prophets described Christ’s Second Coming in glory, preceded by a time of unprecedented worldwide tribulation, and followed by the establishment of the glorious Messianic kingdom centered in Jerusalem. But these prophets did not see the present church age--“which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5).
Between the first and second coming, there is a time gap that was not seen by the Old Testament prophets. This gap is the church age. The prophets did not see that Israel would be set aside temporarily while God called out from among all nations a special body of people. After He has accomplished this purpose and the fullness of the Gentiles is come in, God will restart Israel’s prophetic clock and will fulfill all Old Testament prophecies in relation to His ancient chosen nation. “... blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25).
The Great Tribulation deals with Israel, not with church-age believers. This present mystery period will end with the removal of the church-age believers from the earth; and the Lord will then take up His plan for the nation Israel as He fulfills the Old Testament prophecies of the time of Jacob’s trouble, the coming of Messiah in glory, the regathering of the remnant, and the establishment of the Messianic kingdom.
6. THERE ARE EVENTS INTERVENING BETWEEN THE TRANSLATION AND RESURRECTION OF THE CHURCH AND THE SECOND ADVENT.
According to 1 Cor. 15:51, EVERY saved person will be translated at the Rapture. Yet Mat. 25:31-46 shows that when Jesus returns to the earth at the Second Advent He will find many true believers in their natural bodies. There must, then, be a period of time between the Rapture of the church-age saints and the Second Coming to allow for these folk to be saved. It is reasonable to believe that this period is the seven years of the Great Tribulation.
7. THE BOOK OF REVELATION SHOWS THAT THE CHURCH IS NOT ON EARTH DURING THE TRIBULATION.
(a) The church is not seen on earth in chapters 4-18.
(b) The witness for God in the earth during the Tribulation is Israel, not the church (Rev. 7).
(c) The prayers of the saints in Revelation 8 are prayers for judgment. Only Israel prayed such prayers. The church-age saints are instructed to pray for her enemies, not against them (Lk. 9:51-56). These prayers of Revelation are those of the Psalms and are based on God’s promise to Abraham to curse those that cursed Israel (Gen. 12:1-3).
(d) The scorpion-like creatures of Revelation 9 are given freedom to hurt all earth-dwellers except those Jews who were sealed by the angel of Revelation 7; if church-age believers were on earth, they would be subject to this horrible judgment of God.
(e) Revelation 10 identifies the events of Revelation 4-18 with those foretold by Old Testament prophets--the days of the Great Tribulation, the “day of the Lord.” The church age was never in the view of these Old Testament prophecies; it was an unrevealed mystery. The church has a different purpose and program than national Israel. It is Israel that is in view in Old Testament prophecy and in Revelation 4-18.
(f) The ministry of the two witnesses of Revelation 11 identifies them with national Israel and with Old Testament prophecies of the “day of the Lord.” The two witnesses minister from Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. The churches have no such capital, her hope being heavenly, not earthly (Col. 3:1-4; Phil. 3:17-21). The two witnesses are clothed in sackcloth, typical of Old Testament Israel, not New Testament believers. Nowhere are the churches seen in sackcloth. They are told, rather, to “rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). The church-age believer’s judgment is forever past, and he is to keep his mind centered in the heavenlies where, in position, he is seated eternally victorious with Christ (Eph. 2:5-10). Revelation 11:4 identifies the two witnesses with Old Testament prophecy. Zech. 4:3, 11, 14 is a prophecy of Israel, not the church. Further, the two witnesses call down judgment upon their enemies in Rev. 10:5 -6. Jesus rebuked his disciples for desiring to do just this and instructed the church-age believer to pray for the well-being of his enemies, not for their destruction (Lk. 9:54-56; Rom. 12:14, 17-21).
(g) The devil persecutes Israel, not the church, during the Tribulation (Rev. 12). There can be no doubt that the woman in this chapter is identified as national Israel. Verse 5 shows the woman bringing forth Christ; it is obvious that Jesus was brought forth by Israel, not by the churches (Isa. 9:6-7; Rom. 9:5). Also, the symbols of Rev. 12:1-2 recall familiar Old Testament typology of Israel. She is referred to as a woman (Isa. 54:5-7). The sun and moon and the 12 stars of verse 2 remind us of Joseph’s dream regarding Israel (Gen. 37:9). The words of Rev. 12:2 are almost an exact quote from Micah 5:3, again referencing Israel’s delivery of the Messiah. These symbols are not used in the New Testament of the churches.
THE ATTACK ON THE PRE-TRIBULATIONAL RAPTURE
The doctrine of the pre-tribulational rapture is under severe attack today. Consider some examples from the emerging church:
Brian McLaren mocks the “fundamentalist expectations” of a literal second coming of Christ with its attendant judgments on the world and assumes that the world will go on like it is for hundreds of thousands of years (A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 305). He calls the literal, imminent return of Christ “pop-Evangelical eschatology” (Generous Orthodoxy, p. 267) and the “eschatology of abandonment” (interview with Planet Preterist, Jan. 30, 2005, http://planetpreterist.com/news-2774.html). McLaren says that the book of Revelation is not a “book about the distant future” but is “a way of talking about the challenges of the immediate present” (The Secret Message of Jesus, 2007, p. 176). He says that phrases such as “the moon will turn to blood” “are no more to be taken literally than phrases we might read in the paper today” (The Secret Message, p. 178).
Jonny Baker of Grace in London, England, rejects dispensationalism as “escapology theology” and “advocates that Christians need to invest themselves in the current culture, not live on hold until time runs out” (Emerging Churches, pp. 78, 79).
Tony Jones says that the emergent church, in contrast to the dispensational viewpoint, is characterized by “an eschatology of hope” (An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, p. 130). He says: “What I mean is that the folks who hang around the emerging church tend to see goodness and light in God’s future, not darkness and gnashing of teeth. While that may seem obvious to some followers of God, pop theology today is facing the other way. ... Those novelists and the theologians who provide them their material take the view that we’re in a downward spiral, and when things ‘down here’ become bad enough, Jesus will return in glory. But those of us represented in this book take the contrary view. God’s promised future is good, and it awaits us, beckoning us forward” (p. 130).
N.T. Wright, who has a great influence on the emerging church, warns that the doctrine of an imminent rapture is dangerous because it interferes with kingdom building and environmental activities. “If there’s going to be an Armageddon, and we’ll all be in heaven already or raptured up just in time, it really doesn’t matter if you have acid rain or greenhouse gases prior to that. Or, for that matter, whether you bombed civilians in Iraq. All that really matters is saving souls for that disembodied heaven” (“Christians Wrong about Heaven, Says Bishop,” Time, Feb. 7, 2008).
Tony Campolo says: “I mean all of this stuff [about the imminent coming of Christ and a literal Tribulation] comes out of not only fundamentalism. It comes out of dispensationalism, which is a weird little form of fundamentalism that started like a hundred fifty years ago. ... I think that we need to challenge the government to do the work of the Kingdom of God, to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord. That whole sense of the rapture, which may occur at any moment, is used as a device to oppose engagement with the principalities, the powers, the political and economic structures of our age” (“Opposition to women preachers evidence of demonic influence,” Baptist Press, June 27, 2003).
Mark Driscoll refers to the pre-tribulational rapture as “pessimistic dispensationalism” (Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches, p. 146). He has said that “eschatology-minded Christians” are not welcome in his church.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PRE-TRIBULATIONAL RAPTURE
The doctrine of the pre-tribulational rapture is not a peripheral one. As we have seen, Christ, Paul, James, and Peter taught that the return of Christ was imminent and was to be expected at any time (Mat. 24:44; Phil. 4:5; Jam. 5:8-9; 1 Pet. 4:7). The early Christians lived in expectation of Christ’s return the literal fulfillment of the prophecies. “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
The doctrine of a pre-tribulational Rapture is a great motivator for purifying one’s personal Christian life.
1. It encourages the believer in trials and persecutions. “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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18).
2. It keeps the church’s focus on the Great Commission (Mat. 28:18-20; Mk 16:15; Lk. 24:44-48; Acts 1:8). It teaches us that preaching the gospel, winning people to Christ, and establishing churches as the pillar and ground of the truth is the most urgent matter. D.L. Moody had it right when he said: “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.’”
3. It motivates us to be busy in the Lord’s work (1 Cor. 15:58).
4. It motivates us to live obedient lives (1 Jn. 3:1-3; 1 Th. 5:4-7).
5. It motivates us to separate from evil (Tit. 2:13-14).
6. It keeps believers on the outlook for heresy and apostasy (2 Timothy 4:3-4; 1 John 2:24-28).