Apr 27, 2010

Timing of the Rapture

Tony Garland

Dr. Tony Garland

Q. Is there someplace on your site where you've laid out your perception of the end times, including who is involved (the Church, the Jews, etc.) in each piece? And/or biblical support for a pre-tribulation rapture? I have been attempting to study the end times, as I've always been taught that there is a pre-tribulation rapture, but I've never been taught WHY I should believe that is so.

My studies, so far, have not turned up any compelling reasons for believing this particular eschatological view, and have turned up some things which would seem to oppose such a view. However, I do not wish to automatically discard this view; I just can't find anyone who is teaching it with solid scriptural backing! If you are able to provide me with the scriptural basis for this view, it would be a great help.

Rapture Clock

The Pre-Tribulation Rapture

A. Probably the most comprehensive statement of my "perception of the end times" would be found in my Commentary on the Book of Revelation and the companion Course on the Book of Revelation. Other aspects would be covered in my Course on Israel.

The situation you describe: being taught that something is true in Scripture, but not knowing why, is endemic. There are many believers who were raised in a Dispensational, Premillennial, Pretribulational church, but never really given the necessary background to make these views their own convictions based on the teaching of Scripture itself. Thus, some are lured away to alternative views (e.g., Covenant Theology, Postmillennialism, "Pan-millennialism", Post-tribulationalism)—having rejected beliefs which they never really fully understood.

The doctrine of the timing of the Rapture, which we believe occurs before the Tribulation, is based on a number of lines of evidence. I've highlighted a few of these below:

  • The Imminent Return of Christ: The teaching that Jesus Christ can return for His Church "at any moment"—there are no remaining preconditions for His return. If the Rapture is mid-tribulational or post-tribulational, then Jesus cannot return until after the Tribulation has begun. So, anyone who believes in a future Tribulation and that Jesus "could return tonight," but rejects a pre-tribulational Rapture is essentially inconsistent. Either Jesus can come "any moment" or He can't. If He can—and this is clearly what the Scriptures teach—then His arrival cannot be dependent upon the Tribulation having started. We discuss imminency in the Revelation Commentary.

  • Populating the Millennial Kingdom: From many passages in the Old Testament, we understand that sinners will inhabit the millennial kingdom. The kingdom is ushered in at the return of Jesus (Mtt. 19:28; 25:31; Rev. 20:4). The sinners who enter the kingdom are believers who survive the Tribulation and produce offspring who eventually reject the rule of Christ (Rev. 20:7-9). If the Rapture is after the Tribulation, then where do these people in unglorified bodies come from? If all believers are caught up to meet Christ in the air at the Rapture (1 Th. 4:17) and are changed (1 Cor. 15:52) and only believers enter the kingdom (Mtt. 25:34 cf. Mtt. 25:46), whence the people producing children in the millennium (Isa. 65:20)? Clearly, the believers at Christ's return did not participate in the Rapture or they would have glorified bodies and would be incapable of sin or reproduction. If the Rapture occurs at the Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation (some sort of glorified "U-turn in the sky"), then there are no human beings in natural bodies to populate the millennial kingdom.

  • Escaping God's Wrath: Numerous passages indicate that believer's will not be subject to God's wrath (Luke 21:36; Rom. 5:9; 1 Th. 1:10; Rev. 3:10). Yet Scripture also identifies the Tribulation as a special time in history connected with an intense outpouring of God's wrath upon those who dwell on the earth (Rev 6:16,17; 11:18; 14:8,10,19; 15:1,7; 16:1,17,19; 19:15). Although believers have eternal life (past tense) when we believe, we will be saved (future tense) from wrath through Him (Rom. 5:9). This salvation from wrath speaks of a future time of wrath which believers will not experience. It is a time period which we will not be present to witness—we are saved, not just from the wrath, but from the very hour of testing of the earth dwellers during the Tribulation (Rev. 3:10).

  • Waiting for Christ, not Antichrist: Everywhere Scripture maintains that believers are to watch for Christ, not Antichrist. God is a jealous God and our Lord has no intention that we should be distracted trying to identify the man of sin by watching for Antichrist. Instead, we are to watch for our Lord. If the Rapture were not pretribulational, it would occur after the start of the Tribulation, and we should logically be watching for Antichrist because the sooner we identify him, the closer we are to the Rapture. But this is just opposite from what God intends: the Lord can come for His Church at any time and it will be in advance of the revelation of Antichrist (2 Th. 2:1-12).

  • Contrasting Second Coming Passages: When we look at various Second Coming passages, we notice apparent distinctions. In some passages, Christ comes in the air (1 Th. 4:17). In other passages, He comes to the earth (Zec. 14:4; Acts 1:11). In some passages tribulation begins (2 Th. 1:6-9). In others, the millennial kingdom is ushered in (Rev. 20:1-7). In some passages, signs precede His coming (Luke 21:11,15). In other passages, no signs precede His arrival (1 Th. 5:1-3). How do we put all these passages together if they describe one and the same event? It is the same puzzle that the Jews faced attempting to reconcile Old Testament passages which speak of a victorious king (Ps. 2) and a suffering servant (Isa. 53). How do we reconcile these tensions in the Old Testament passages? We understand that they describe different Comings of our Lord: to suffer and die at His First Coming, but to rule supreme at His Second Coming. Similarly, New Testament "Coming" passages with consistent contrasts are describing two different events: the Rapture of the Church—when He comes for His own versus the Second Coming in judgement upon an unbelieving and rejecting world. If we ignore this distinction, nothing but confusion will result.

  • Identity of the Restrainer: If the power that restrains the revealing of the Antichrist is non-other than the Holy Spirit operating through those He indwells (2 Th. 2:7) and those who are indwelt are permanently sealed with the Spirit unto the day of redemption (John 14:16; 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30), then when the Restrainer is removed, so will be the Church. In the same way the Spirit began a new ministry baptizing believers into the body of Christ at Pentecost (John 7:38-39; Acts 2), so the Spirit will complete that ministry and withdraw the Church prior to the revealing of Antichrist and the outpouring of God's wrath.

These are some of the reasons why we believe that the Rapture will occur prior to the Tribulation. For additional background see our discussion of the Rapture in the Revelation Commentary or search our site for the topic "rapture".

Although the Rapture should be our "blessed hope" (Tit. 2:13), it seems that some Christians would prefer to endure the Tribulation and "tough it out"—as if to prove their spiritual muscles. But why should it be such an odd and unpleasant idea that one generation of believers—those living near the time of the Tribulation—will escape this unique time of God's wrath? Especially when one considers that all generations of believers up to this point in history have been "kept from the hour" in that they have not lived during the period where these momentous judgments are initiated.

I have yet to meet a believer who can adequately explain why the Church should undergo God's direct wrath? If we are clothed in the righteousness of His Son, then we have already passed out of His wrath for all time (John 3:36). I say, "Hallelujah!"

Those who want to believe in a post-tribulation Rapture can watch for Antichrist! As for me and my house, we're watching for Christ!.