Examining the pretrib rapture: Assorted claims

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:

  1. These people experience a different salvation from all other believers in Christ. (I don’t know anyone who wants to accept this option.)
  2. 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?)
  3. 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.

Matthew 24:22

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!

Luke 21:28

Next week we’ll take a closer look at the posttrib rapture view.

The return of Christ series:

The return of Christ: Keeping the main thing the main thing

Millennial match-up

More on the millennium

Rapture 101

Examining the pretrib rapture: Israel and the church

Examining the pretrib rapture: Removed or protected?

Examining the pretrib rapture: Is the rapture imminent?

Examining the pretrib rapture: Assorted claims [see above]

The posttrib rapture

Locusts and dragons and beasts, oh my! (Or the great tribulation)

“Pleased to meet you . . .” (Introducing the Antichrist)

The return of Christ: Odds and ends

6 thoughts on “Examining the pretrib rapture: Assorted claims

  1. [Thanks, Exploring the Faith. Great blog. Saw this little snippet on the net. Enjoy.]

    ******* [Quote deleted by Admin.] *******

  2. Hi Jenny,

    Thanks for the encouraging feedback, and for the additional information. Feel free to post other perspectives and even challenges to any of my posts, but please either comment yourself, add a brief quote :), or provide a link to a relevant article. Thanks!

    Blessings,
    Curt

  3. I appreciate your ideas about the rapture and especially how you were able to change your view when you found that it did not fit the Bible. I also believe that the rapture is post-tribulational. I was into the pre-wrath point of view for many years, but one thing caused me to adjust my view a couple years ago. That was Luke 17:31. That verse is speaking of the coming of Christ, and yet it is very similar to the actions commanded when the Great Tribulation starts from Matthew 24:17-20. That was a piece that did not fit into my view. I was thinking that when Jesus came back, the rapture would happen immediately, that the gathering of the elect (Matthew 24:31) was the rapture. I Thessalonians 4:16 SEEMS to give that idea, but it does not explicitly state that the rapture will be at the moment of Christ’s coming. Luke 17 shouts that it, in fact, will not be. When Christ is revealed, there is to be a response of obedience to go somewhere, to leave everything behind. That cannot be the rapture. Rather, it must be a gathering of the elect from the four winds, at the opening of the sixth seal (when Christ is revealed). This will give the saints rest, and they are to be gathered at certain places (Just like eagles find a body, Christians who are alive at the time will know where to go.). After that, there will be the trumpet warnings in which there will be great plagues over a limited part of the earth. (That is why the Christians are to run to certain locations.) As the Christians are gathered, and the seventh trumpet blows, the dead in Christ will rise and with the living will be caught up to be with the Lord (Who was there since the sixth seal.), just in time to escape the bowls of wrath. Immediately, the ten kings will be on the march to destroy Babylon and to come to Armageddon. Then Jesus will come with his armies (Christians? I guess so, since we will always be with the Lord.). This was the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place for me, so, although I certainly do not know many details, the whole scheme fits into place now about the end time events. If you could find some verse that does not fit perfectly with this, I would be thankful to know about it. By the way, I believe that the marriage supper of the Lamb will take place during the milennial reign of Christ, perhaps lasting the whole 1000 years ??

  4. Hi, Thomas. Thank you for your thought-provoking comment. Luke 17:31 is definitely an intriguing verse. Before I comment on it specifically, I’d like to ask about the theory you present here. Do you have any scriptural references that clearly describe a final gathering of believers on the day of Christ’s return but prior to the rapture?

    We need to be careful. Just because we come up with a speculative theory that isn’t directly contradicted by Scripture doesn’t make it a biblical teaching. Two of the big problems with the pretrib theory is that (1) no place in Scripture do we find the rapture described as a separate event from the return of Christ, and (2) the pretrib rapture just does not fit well in most passages concerning the return of Christ. I think you have the same two problems with your theory.

    Let’s look again at Luke 17:26-35. What observations can we make?

    1. This is clearly describing the return of Christ.

    2. Jesus compares the time preceding his return to the times preceding the flood and the destruction of Sodom.

    3. The specific point is that, in both examples, life seemed to be going on as usual. This will also be the setting right before Christ’s return.

    4. In this passage, end-time believers would be compared with Noah and Lot. They were taken to safety immediately before a final destruction was poured out, and this will be true of the surviving Christians at the time of Jesus’ return.

    5. We are warned to not be like Lot’s wife, who—while in the process of being taken to safety—turned back to Sodom because she was clinging to her old “going on as usual” life there.

    We need to interpret verse 31 in light of this context. Believers are warned not to go down into the house in order to take their goods, and not to turn back. This is specifically compared to Lot’s wife turning back, and so must be taking place at the very time of our removal and delivery (i.e. the rapture). What does this mean for our understanding of the rapture?

    Part of the problem is that we have preconceived ideas of what the rapture will be like, and tend to evaluate everything based on our preconceptions. When we’re told in 1 Corinthians 15:50-57 that our bodies will be transformed “in the twinkling of an eye,” we assume this means the rapture. This transformation very likely happens at some point during our being gathered to Christ (or immediately afterward) but, apparently, the rapture itself is not accomplished “in the twinkling of an eye.” From what we see here in Luke 17, the believers being raptured will know what’s going on, and will even somehow be able to resist and cling to their old lives. That’s a sobering thought, but our relationship with God is predicated on faith. Up until the very end, we can cling to our lives and lose them, or relinquish our lives and save them.

    So the rapture doesn’t seem to be the “twinkling of an eye” event that many of us have assumed. We could guess as to how long a process this will be, but that would merely be speculation. And I don’t see any scriptural basis for believing that Christians will be gathered somewhere on the day of Christ’s return prior to the rapture.

  5. First of all, Curt, I never assumed that the rapture will be in a twinkling of an eye. One reason that I believe that Luke 17:31 cannot be the rapture is that when we are being caught up to meet the Lord in the air, our legs would not longer be touching the ground, and commands not to go back to our houses would be pointless. Luke 17:31 is not a command not to cling in our hearts, it is a command not to go back, which of course could be a precursor to the rapture of that individual, but it cannot happen at his rapture itself.

    Next, I already gave you a scriptural reference that tells of a gathering of the elect by angels from one end of heaven to the other. The assumption I had always made was that was the rapture, but now I am returning to call it a gathering, as it states.

    If we look at I Corinthians 15:52, it puts the the resurrection of the dead, which happens just prior to the rapture, at the last trumpet. The coming of Christ commences when the sign of the Son of Man appears in the sky, when the tribes of the earth mourn (Matt 24:31 and Revelation 6:16). Then the gathering of the elect occurs with the sound of a trumpet, as Christ SENDS HIS ANGELS, but it doesn’t say it is the last trumpet. The rapture, as described in I Thess. 4:16, says that the Lord Himself WILL DESCEND with the sound of a trumpet, which I Cor. says IS at the last trumpet. Revelation tells us that there are 7 trumpets, during which 144,000 Israelites must be sealed, who will receive protection (Rev 9:4). The members of the body of Christ must be out of the way at that time, and if the rapture happens at the last trumpet and not the first, they must be gathered to some safe place. We are told that the trumpet plagues do not affect all of the earth. This confirms the impression I got from Luke 17:31 and Matthew 24:31, about a gathering by the angels of believers to a safe place on earth, prior to the rapture.

    You are right that the pre-trib position has the problem with the rapture being at a separate time from the Lord’s Coming, but what I am suggesting has no such problem. The Coming of the Lord commences at the sixth seal and continues through the 7 trumpets, the 7th of which announces the transfer the kingdoms of the world to Christ. It is all one coming, and does happen quickly, but lasts from the appearance of the sign of the Son of Man unto the resurrection of the dead. I did say that it was not at the moment of Christ’s Coming, and I misspoke. I should have said not at the moment of Christ’s first appearing. The pre-trib rapture has a large number of problems fitting with Bible passages, but I don’t see any problems in my study or in your suggestions. On the other hand, if someone believes the resurrection and the rapture happen at the gathering of the elect of Matt 24:31, then they either have to move the seventh trumpet to that point of the sixth seal, as Marvin Rosenthal did in his Pre-Wrath exposition, or get the sixth seal moved to the end of the seven trumpets, as the common Post-trib position does. Those positions have a lot of hemming and hawing associated with them, and that is the basis of the common pre-trib statement that their position has less problems than the alternatives. It becomes a silly argument about whose position has less scriptural problems.

    At first you seemed to belittle the idea that my “speculative” idea would have no direct contradictions by scripture, but then you put forth the idea that it “does not fit well in most passages concerning the return of Christ”. Actually, any schedule of end time events that has no problem scriptures is truly noteworthy and should never be belittled. I did engage in a little human logic there when talking about how many inches off the ground my feet could be and still walk, but the source of intellectual stimulation, be it human analogies, or logic, or water tight scriptural proofs, should not overshadow the main issue of whether it fits with scripture or not. I hope that I have clearly demonstrated that the concepts actually do come from scripture, and while perhaps not being exegetically water tight at every point, so as to force a hearer to immediately capitulate to this understanding, they are reasonable interpretations of the scriptures at each stage and the final result has the confirmation of all scripture with the contradiction of none.

    The concept of two or three witnesses is extremely important. One witness does not confirm a matter, neither does the second witness alone, nor the third witness alone. Together, they do. In the same way, one passage is not a “water tight” argument” alone, neither is another or another. But when the testimony of one passage points in a direction and a couple others confirm that direction without contradiction, then we are to accept that direction as true. I think that God is waiting for us to put aside Greek philosophy with its syllogism method of finding truth and follow His own prescribed method. Then these questions of end times will be finally settled.

  6. Thomas, with all due respect, I find your exegesis questionable and your theory highly speculative with no clear scriptural basis. More importantly, if you’re somehow coming up with biblical teachings that no one else has managed to notice for over 1,900 years, that’s probably an indication that you need to rethink your interpretation of Scripture.

    Grace and peace,
    Curt

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