The posttrib rapture

Like many other evangelical Christians, I grew up in churches that taught a pretrib rapture. Some of us were vaguely aware there were other views, but everyone I knew held to and taught that the rapture would take place before the tribulation. The myriad books and tape sets about the end times all taught a pretrib rapture. After a few years of spiritual wandering I returned to my faith in Christ and to life in the church—a pretrib church. My initial ministry training was in this kind of setting, and so were my earliest teaching experiences. I confidently taught the pretrib rapture as the correct, biblical view.

But then I began to notice two troubling developments. The first was in my difficulty with teaching certain passages from a pretrib perspective. I felt more and more as if I was trying to force a square peg into a round hole. Too often I was taught to limit particular biblical instructions as being for the Jews only, when the text didn’t seem to indicate this at all. I felt the pressure to somehow explain why passages that didn’t seem to be speaking of the rapture really were, and passages that seemed to be speaking of the final return of Christ really weren’t. I wanted to trust all the pretrib books and tape sets, but I was having trouble seeing their claims clearly taught in Scripture.

About this time I was learning to access more advanced biblical commentaries, and I made an interesting observation. It was difficult to find current, scholarly commentaries from a pretrib point of view—and I’m talking about conservative, evangelical commentaries. There were plenty of amillennial commentaries and works from scholars who held a historic premillennial view (i.e. posttrib), but up-to-date pretrib commentaries had somehow become scarce. I discovered that most of my favorite scholars held a posttrib view of the rapture, and historic premillennialism appeared to be the standard view among premil scholars now, not the pretrib view.

How had this happened? Unbeknownst to most ordinary Christians who were reading the latest pretrib bestseller, a quiet exodus from the pretrib viewpoint was taking place. Beginning with highly-respected, New Testament theologian George E. Ladd in the 1950s, more and more premil scholars moved from a pretrib to a posttrib understanding of the return of Christ. And as the seminary and Bible college profs have gone, so have gone the pastors. Pretrib pastors are in the minority in evangelical churches now, and the minority is continuing to shrink. I was part of a denomination that insisted on the pretrib rapture, so I was shocked to discover how many well-respected pastors and leaders no longer held a pretrib view.

Thus began a time of intensive and exhaustive analysis of the differing views and the relevant biblical texts. It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been reading this blog series that I, too, became convinced that the posttrib view was the more biblically sound one. Why?

The Scriptures never describe the rapture and the final return of Christ to earth as separate events taking place at different times.
We’ve looked at this already in our examination of the pretrib rapture, but this is an incredibly significant insight. One begins to suspect that if a Christian didn’t have any of the many pretrib books, tape sets or prophecy experts—but just relied on the clear teaching of Scripture—they would never come up with a separate rapture event seven years (or three-and-a-half years) before the return of Christ. And history confirms this because no one taught such a view throughout the history of the church until the 19th century. The burden of proof was shifting over to the pretrib view. If I was going to be teaching it, I needed to know why.

The foundational principles I was told supported a pretrib rapture weren’t actually supported by Scripture.
We’ve spent three weeks examining these principles (see the links below), and they are simply not borne out by a careful study of the biblical passages. This left me with no substantive reason for holding onto a pretrib view. And the scriptural patterns I did see, such as God’s protection of his people through the flood and through the plagues of Egypt, tended to support a posttrib understanding more than the pretrib view.

The posttrib view made much better sense of all the scriptural passages.
When I went back through all the prophecies regarding Christ’s second coming—now looking at them from a posttrib perspective—I had a dramatically different result. Scriptures that before were awkward and problematic now flowed together effortlessly. It was as if they had suddenly come into focus. I was fitting square pegs into square holes. Everything fit. I saw that the posttrib view is the natural reading of these biblical passages.

For instance, Matthew 24 is a familiar chapter describing events leading up to the return of Christ. It speaks of wars and rumors of wars; famines and earthquakes that are the beginnings of birth pains; great persecution, great apostasy, and also great evangelism; the abomination of desolation; false messiahs and false prophets performing great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even God’s own people. After seeing how this will all take place, we read this (beginning in verse 29, from the HCSB):

Immediately after the tribulation of those days:

The sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not shed its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the celestial powers will be shaken.

Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

When teaching this chapter from a pretrib understanding, one struggles with the fact that the text certainly seems to be describing the rapture occurring after the tribulation. Pretrib teachers routinely have to explain why this passage doesn’t mean what it seems to mean. But if we set aside a pretrib presupposition, we can simply allow the text to speak for itself. (It’s also revealing that, in a private conversation with his disciples [v. 3], Jesus describes the abomination of desolation that takes place in the middle of the tribulation, and expects that it will be seen by his followers [“when you see . . .” v. 15].)

Here’s another passage that comes into much more clear focus when we take off our pretrib glasses:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him: We ask you, brothers, not to be easily upset in mind or troubled, either by a spirit or by a message or by a letter as if from us, alleging that the Day of the Lord has come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits in God’s sanctuary, publicizing that he himself is God.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-4

This passage is talking about the ‘Day of the Lord.’ The Thessalonians were apparently worried this day had already taken place. Paul is encouraging them this day won’t occur until after a great apostasy or rebellion takes place, and not until after the Antichrist shows his true colors. And what happens on this Day of the Lord? “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him.” Notice the passage never distinguishes these as happening at different times, but combines them as part of the same event. This is the natural reading of the text, and any other understanding has to be imposed on it.

Even the most familiar rapture passage makes more sense when read from a posttrib perspective:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, encourage one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

This is quite a description. The Lord is descending with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God. This doesn’t exactly sound subtle! It doesn’t sound like merely a secret return for his people and then a quick return to heaven. It sounds like the final, cataclysmic return of Christ to earth. If we weren’t forcing this square peg into a round, pretrib hole, that’s the natural reading of the passage. And notice that we’re meeting him, he’s not meeting us. The nuance of the wording implies that he is continuing in his descent, that we are meeting him and accompanying him to earth, he’s not meeting us and accompanying us to heaven. And as we discovered previously, they were accustomed at that time to just such a welcome for returning, victorious kings. They would go out and meet the king, and then accompany him into the city.

With passage after passage, the posttrib understanding is like a square peg fitting naturally into a square hole, and the pretrib perspective is something that has to be forced into the text. Because there is nothing in Scripture that would cause us to distinguish the rapture from the return of Christ, the posttrib view takes the natural reading of the Bible and accepts the rapture as part of the same event.

What does it matter?
Some don’t hold to any particular view on the timing of the rapture. They have a pan-trib (or pan-mil) view: it will all pan out in the end. That’s probably better than being overly dogmatic and fighting over our rapture positions. But I do have a pastoral concern for believers who just assume the pretrib view.

If a Christian believes in a posttrib rapture and God actually raptures his people before the tribulation, this saint is just in for a great surprise. But if believers are expecting to be raptured out of here before the tribulation . . . and they’re not . . . this could be devastating to their faith. This is especially true if they’re not familiar with the historic premillennial (i.e. posttrib) view.

So if you’re reading this series, you believe in a pretrib rapture, and you’re not persuaded by these posts that the posttrib view is the more biblical one—that’s fine. Just please be aware there is another view that many pastors and scholars feel is more faithful to the scriptural witness. And if you start to see some of these end times prophecies being fulfilled and you’re still here(!), realize it doesn’t mean the Bible was wrong. It just means the pretrib teachers were wrong. If that’s the case, and these things are beginning to happen around you, just do what Jesus told us to do:

. . . stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near!

Luke 21:28

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

The posttrib rapture [see above]

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

15 thoughts on “The posttrib rapture

  1. A terrific explanation, Curt! My own journey in this area has been much like yours, but I’ve never explained it so well.

  2. Hi Marte, this video is almost an hour-and-a-half long, and I want to consider it carefully. As soon as I can give it proper attention, I’ll let you know any thoughts I have about it.

    Blessings,
    Curt

  3. While I agree that the rapture is not pre-trib, the way you say that we do a U-turn and don’t go on to accompany our king to the heavenly city (New Jerusalem) but go to earthly Jerusalem does not seem to fit the Scriptures. If we believe Paul, we are raptured at the last trumpet, and in Rev. 11:15-18 that is exactly what is described. The last trumpet (7th) is blown to announce that the kingdoms of the world have become Christ’s (He is coronated King of Kings as antichrist’s and Satan’s reign has finally ended), God’s wrath on the nations (the vial judgments which run from day 1260-1290 according to Daniel and Rev.) has finally come (which can’t start until antichrist’s reign has ended on day 1260) the dead and saints are judged and rewarded (the rapture and Bema seat judgment which need some time to take place before the wedding which occurs at the time of Armaggedon when we return with Christ on white horses from New Jerusalem (which must be outside the earth in orbit)) and the nations are punished. We are not appointed to wrath and these vials are God’s wrath. We are then in chapter 12-13 given the history of Israel and the beast, to bring us up to speed on that, before God continues the narrative from that point on. Chapter 14 seems to pick up where 11 left off, showing us the rapture (Chps. 14 & 15) before the vials are poured out in chapter 16. I believe that those on the sea of glass which come out of the tribulation (by death) in chapter 7 are the multitude of martyrs whom the 5th seal martyrs are told to wait for, before God can get vengeance, and that those in chapter 15 on the sea of glass are those that managed to survive (Philadelphians) to the rapture, as they were counted worthy to escape it all. Very few are promised the Philadelphian promise. Most everyone overcomes by not giving in and dying the martyrs’ death. Rev. 12:11 “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” Both in Daniel and Rev. we are told that the beast will overcome the saints, that they are given into his hands. Multitudes will die. That’s why this is the worst holocaust in the history of the world. They overcome him by their deaths, not by being hidden. All of the overcomers in the letters to the churches overcome by death except for the Philadelphians. They are the only ones worthy of escaping it. That is one church out of seven or one person out of seven, if you want to use the ratio, although personally I think the ratio of survivors will be much smaller than that. You may not agree, but if you take the Scriptures at face value, that is what it says.

  4. Hi, Connie. Thanks for your comment. It’s obvious you’ve put a lot of thought and study into this. I think we’re arriving at different conclusions because of a couple of key ways we’re seeing Revelation differently:

    — It seems that you’re interpreting Revelation as being generally in chronological order. But most scholars believe that such series in Revelation as the seven seals, trumpets and bowls are actually covering essentially the same time span, with each succeeding series zooming in a little more to the final period. The scholars call this “recapitulation,” and we see it all through the OT, starting with the three accounts of the same creation (Genesis 1:1, the rest of chapter 1, and chapter 2, each one zooming in closer to God’s creation of humanity). I discuss this in greater depth in my post Revelation: The story comes full circle.

    — It also seems you’re interpreting Revelation fairly literally. I too want to take the Scriptures at face value, but this means interpreting them as they were written, in their original context, according to the author’s intent. If something is written to be poetic (such as the Psalms), then we have to interpret it as poetry and not straight teaching. If a passage is giving an historical account, we don’t assume that it’s directly teaching us to do everything the person in the story did. Revelation was written as apocalyptic writing. It’s intended to be symbolic, and we need to understand that. That’s why it immediately starts talking about lampstands, stars and two-edged swords that aren’t literal lampstands, stars and two-edged swords. The descriptions in Revelation symbolize things that are very real, but if we confuse the symbols with the reality that they symbolize, it will lead us to inaccurate and confusing interpretations of Scripture. I think this has happened with some of your conclusions. (I also address this characteristic of Revelation in the post linked to above.)

    I hope you check out this other post and that you find it helpful.

    Blessings,
    Curt

  5. Hello, I have also had a similar journey from pretrib to posttribulationism. However, I want to find some good books supporting posttribulationalism to give to my pretrib friends that will be fair to the pretrib position (not using a straw man or misunderstanding their arguments). I was wondering if you know of any. The only book so far I have found is Blessed Hope by Ladd, but I found as I was reading it that even though it sets out to do what I wanted it to, I feel that a pretribulationist may not feel like he was being fair in every argument he made. Do you know of any other good books that support the post trib position?

  6. I’m sorry for the extremely late response to this. One place to start is with books that describe all the different views. Millard Erickson does a wonderful job with his Basic Guide to Eschatology (but I would recommend that most readers skip the introductory chapters). You can’t tell by his writing which view he holds until he reveals it at the end. Another good book is Three Views on the Rapture with Doug Moo defending the posttrib view. These books are helpful because they present strengths and weaknesses of all the views. IMO it becomes clear after awhile that the pretrib view is not really tenable.

    The best writing I’ve found on the subject has actually come from biblical commentaries. Of course, it’s difficult to share this kind of writing with friends. There are a few books on the posttrib view, but none that I would recommend for your purpose. It’s not that these are bad books, I just haven’t yet found the clear, concise, well-written posttrib book I’ve been looking for. Unfortunately, out of the vast number of scholars and pastors who hold to a posttrib view, very few have written about it in ways accessible to everyday Christians. Maybe this is because, historically, the posttrib view was the default view of the church. Or maybe it’s because the pretrib camp includes some whose zeal can become obsessive, and potential writers may be hesitant to jump into that kind of ongoing debate. I don’t know. But I too would love to find a good posttrib book to hand out to those who are interested.

    Blessings,
    Curt

  7. Thanks. I agree about not finding just the right book. Maybe most postrib scholars see pretrib position as so obviously false that they feel no need to dispute it. But the problem I’ve seen is that many churches that teach that view use fear tactics and straw men to dissuade people (and themselves) from other views with the result that they get stuck in a confirmation bias that blinds them and keeps them from ever considering they may be wrong

  8. Yes, I’ve seen this as well. (Although there are many wonderful pretrib pastors and teachers.) The main reason I’ve written about this topic is because of pastoral concern. Some people view the pretrib view as almost a test of orthodoxy. Others are blissfully unaware there’s another (potentially more biblical) alternative to the seemingly ubiquitous pretrib view. I just don’t want them to still be here after the expected rapture hasn’t occurred—and then assume, since what they were taught about the rapture wasn’t true, that everything else they’ve been taught must be a lie too.

  9. For those looking for a clear understanding of the post trib position see S.P. Tregelles LL.D Book The Hope of Christ’s Second Coming How it is taught in scripture? and why? This book was first written in 1864. It was out of print for decades but is again available from The Soverign Grace Advent Testimony 1 Donald Way, Chelmsford CM2 9JB. This is a small book of 104 pages but well worth reading.

    Thanks Curt for your insights and may the lord bless you for having the courage to share them. Art

  10. Hi, Art. Thanks so much for your encouragement, and thank you also for sharing this resource. I’m familiar with Tregelles’ work with the Greek text, but didn’t know he had written on this subject. It definitely seems worth checking out!

  11. / Thanks, Curt: Spotted this little composition on the net – well stated. Lord bless. /

    Pretrib Rapture – how WHAT becomes WHEN

    Certain rapture verses in the Bible are a WHATers paradise!

    WHATers can dazzle their audience with a lot of WHAT WHAT WHAT between Gen. 1:1 and Rev. 22:21 and, while you’re not noticing, quickly sneak in their own WHEN of the rapture and ignore the Bible’s WHEN!

    WHATers read all of the WHAT details in I Thess. 4:13-18, emphasize the “comfort one another” at the end, and say something like “What a comforting thought that the rapture can happen at any moment BEFORE the tribulation!”

    They often add: “It wouldn’t be comforting if we had to face the Antichrist.” (Maybe they believe a lighthouse wouldn’t be comforting to sailors on a dark, stormy night but only when the sun is shining!)

    WHATers avoid the next chapter (I Thess. 5) which says that the rapture’s “times and seasons” happen WHEN “sudden destruction” (the “destruction” part of the “day of the Lord”) happens.

    (How can the wicked be destroyed before, or during, the time of their tribulational “reign”? Even their leader, the Antichrist, isn’t destroyed until the trib’s end!)

    Now look at I Cor. 15:51-54. WHATers have a blast with the first half. They dwell on “mystery,” read “in a moment” as if it really means “AT ANY MOMENT,” spend an inordinate amount of time explaining how fast the “twinkling of an eye” is, and try to prove that “last” (in “the last trump”) doesn’t really mean “last”!

    Seldom do WHATers dare to reveal WHEN we are changed into immortal bodies – but verse 54 dares to when it says our rapturous change occurs WHEN WHEN WHEN “Death is swallowed up” (same as “ended”).

    Obviously the trib’s time of death can’t be ended before, or even during, the trib!

    And WHATers don’t want you to realize that the “Death” quote is a paraphrase of Isa. 25:8 which even Scofield etc. agree is in a posttrib setting!

    II Thess. 1:6-10 is further proof that our rapture (“rest” in vs. 7) happens WHEN the wicked are destroyed – and not several years ahead of time!

    And Acts 2:34-35 and Acts 3:21 declare that Christ must stay in heaven UNTIL He comes down to earth to destroy the wicked (make them His “footstool”) and restore “all things” – so how can He leave heaven ahead of time for a pretrib rapture?

    II Tim. 3:14 says we should “vet” our teachers (“knowing of whom thou hast learned them”). You can do this if you Google or Yahoo “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” and “Left Behind or Led Astray?” (on You Tube).

    What I’m wondering is this: WHEN will everyone wake up and realize that a lot of WHAT will never take the place of WHEN?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s