The last few weeks we’ve been examining the three main arguments used to teach a pretrib rapture, and we’ve found them to be unsupported by Scripture. But there are other claims one frequently hears in defense of a pretrib rapture. These ideas aren’t as foundational as the three we’ve already looked at but, since they’re so common, it’s good for us to examine them as well. Here are some of the additional claims I’ve heard the most:
“The church isn’t mentioned in most of the book of Revelation.”
In Revelation 1, we read John’s introduction to this book and his description of his initial vision and encounter of the resurrected Lord. In chapters 2 and 3, we have the letters to the 7 churches. But after this—Revelation chapters 4-22—we find no place where the word “church” is used. We often hear it claimed this is because the church is already gone. John doesn’t refer to the church because the church isn’t here. Is this a good interpretation of Scripture?
We do find many references in these chapters to God’s servants (who have his seal placed on them), the saints or God’s holy people, those who maintain their testimony of Jesus, “my people,” those who share in the first resurrection, etc. But we’re told that these all refer to either the people of Israel or to people who place their faith in Christ during the tribulation—not to “the church.” This seems like special pleading to me. It’s a convenient “fact” that can be used to protect this claim, but I’ve never heard any solid reason why these terms don’t refer to the church. We’re just supposed to accept that whoever these servants/saints/followers of Jesus are, they’re not part of the church.
But there are bigger problems for this argument. It actually claims too much. The section of Revelation from chapter 4 to chapter 22 includes visions of what will take place on the earth and what will take place in heaven. If—just because the word ‘church’ isn’t used—the church is absent from the earth, then it must be absent from heaven too! Not only that, but the last few chapters tell of the return of Christ, the resurrection, the millennium, and the new heaven and new earth—all with no mention of “the church.” Apparently the church is absent for all of this. Or maybe we’re relying too much on one single word used to describe God’s people when the Bible uses many. (We also should be aware that whenever John uses the word church in his other writings, he’s always referring to local congregations, not the universal body of all believers.)
This argument doesn’t prove to be very effective, but it does open up the pretrib view to a critique:
What about the “tribulation saints”? Why aren’t they protected from God’s wrath?
According to 1 Thessalonians 5:9, the wrath of God is not intended for those who are in Christ. This protection from God’s wrath is specifically tied to our salvation (also in Romans 3:25 and 5:9). Pretrib teachers agree that some will place their faith in Christ during the tribulation. So why aren’t they saved from God’s wrath? I see only three possibilities:
- These people experience a different salvation from all other believers in Christ. (I don’t know anyone who wants to accept this option.)
- These people are raptured as soon as they place their faith in Christ. (But then who are the martyrs who give their lives for Christ during the tribulation?)
- God passes over them during the tribulation, protecting and preserving them from his wrath. (Revelation actually bears this out. Of course, if this is how God faithfully protects them, why can’t he protect us through the tribulation in the same way?)
“The tribulation is called the ‘time of Jacob’s trouble’ indicating its focus on Israel.”
Jeremiah 30:7, from the traditional King James Version, reads:
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.
There are many other passages, in the Old and New Testaments, that stress what this period of time will mean for the people of Israel. It will be a time of unprecedented distress for them, but it will result in their salvation. But remember we’ve already shown that God works in the life of Israel and the church during the same periods of time. Most posttrib believers don’t have any problem with the idea that the tribulation has special significance for the people of Israel, only with the claim that this period of time is intended exclusively for them. Actually, even pretrib teachers accept that the tribulation will be a time of trouble that comes upon the whole earth and a time of unprecedented evangelism throughout the earth. If this is so, then it has meaning for more than just Israel.
“No one will know the day or the hour when Christ returns. If the rapture occurs at the end of the tribulation, we’ll know when to expect it.”
According to what most premillennial Christians believe, there will be a seven year period preceding Jesus’ return to earth. At the midpoint of these seven years, the Antichrist will enter the temple of God and declare himself to be God. (If this is all new to you, don’t worry. We’ll explore these ideas in a future study.) So the claim here is that if we know this happens 3-1/2 years into the tribulation, then all we’d have to do is count off another 3-1/2 years and . . . the rapture!
Of course, it’s not quite so easy. Are we to use a modern calendar or a Jewish calendar in counting off these 3-1/2 years? Scholars disagree. The posttrib view isn’t that the rapture happens at the end of the tribulation, but after the tribulation. How much after? We can’t be sure. Most importantly, Jesus himself told us:
In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.
If this time of trouble is shortened, then there’s no way to know the day or the hour of his return. And don’t forget what we studied last week. The followers of Christ who are alive at that time are supposed to see the signs of his return (Matthew 24:32-33), and we won’t be surprised by his coming even though he’s coming like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:4).
“The posttrib rapture idea is the ‘yo-yo theory.’ We go up and then turn around and come right back down!”
Since I was a kid, I’ve heard the posttrib view denigrated this way. But posttrib Christians don’t believe we’ll just ‘go up and then turn around and come right back down’ anymore than they believe the bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13 went out and then just turned around and came back inside. No, in both cases the idea is that we’re going to meet him. As Jesus descends, we join him and accompany him in his triumphal return to earth. (Of course, one could accuse the pretrib theory of making Jesus the yo-yo. He comes down, turns around and goes right back.)
“How can a posttrib rapture be a blessed hope?”
The term “blessed hope” has become a common one in discussions of the end times. It comes from the traditional reading of Titus 2:13 (quoted here from the NASB):
. . . as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ . . .
The idea here is that a rapture that only occurs after a seven-year period of tribulation is hardly a ‘blessed hope.’ But this is a particularly modern and Western way of looking at tribulation. We conveniently forget that much of the New Testament was written to people who were already experiencing tribulation. And we forget that much of the church today is experiencing persecution and tribulation.
Do we really want to tell fellow believers who are suffering that the long-awaited end of their suffering is not a blessed hope? Doesn’t suffering only make them long all the more for Jesus to appear and put everything right? And do we really think we’re somehow better than these other Christians? too good to suffer for our faith? If not, wouldn’t our suffering cause this hope to be even more blessed to us?
Notice, in the scriptural passage, it’s not the rapture that’s our blessed hope, it’s the appearance of Christ. And Jesus himself told his followers:
So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!
Next week we’ll take a closer look at the posttrib rapture view.
The return of Christ series:
Examining the pretrib rapture: Assorted claims [see above]