Feb 23, 2012

George Peters and the Partial Rapture View

Tony GarlandBy Dr. Tony Garland

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Q. I've been listening to your Revelation commentary (It's extraordinary!). Near the end, you've recommended George Peters' The Theocratic Kingdom. I haven't waded through this mammoth work yet, but I did notice occasional mentions on the Internet that Peters taught a partial pre-trib rapture, which I take to mean that only some Christians will be raptured while others are left to endure the tribulation. Do you know if Peters did indeed teach this? Thank you so much for your ministry and your time!

A. I'm blessed to know that the materials on Revelation have been a blessing to you.

In regard to your question concerning the views of George Peters, we find numerous statements under "Proposition 130: This Kingdom Is Preceded by a Translation of Living Saints," [1] which seem to teach a partial rapture view. I've emphasized the phrases which seem to indicate Peters believed that not all believers would be taken at the Rapture.

In the following quote Peter's states that those who are “devoted to Him” and “deemed worthy” are taken. The qualification for who is taken is said to be based on performance rather than position:

The Second Advent inaugurates a series of most tremendous judgments, both upon the Church and the world—so terrific that they are constantly pointed out as the culmination of God’s wrath—and it is reasonable to suppose, judging from God’s past dealings, that He again will grant special deliverance to those who are devoted to Him. At this time also, the removal being designed not only to save out of tribulation, but to prepare the saints, deemed worthy of it, for promised rulership then to be instituted, and for joint participation in the administration of judgments upon the nations, a translation accompanied by the same transforming change, glorification, which the resurrected saints experience, is precisely that which we ought to anticipate. [2]

In the next quote, Peters explicitly mentions there are “those who believe in God’s word and are left behind.” Unless he is making a subjective differentiation between “faith” and “belief in God's word”—and I don't think he is—then he is saying that some believers will be left:

The effect that this translation will have upon the Church is remarkably corroborative of our position. If we turn to Revelation 14 it is stated that immediately after the removal of “the first-fruits” there will be a most powerful renewed “preaching of the Word of God,” deriving its force from a proclamation of the now certain coming judgments of God and tribulation under the Antichrist. What causes such a change in the style of the preaching, which will result in the conversion, as parallel passages show, of very many, preparing them to pass through the great tribulation, and to suffer death rather than to worship the Beast and his image? Nothing less than this astonishing removal of certain chosen ones, accounted worthy, owing to their distinctive faith in God’s promises, to escape. Let this event occur just as it is described; let here one and there one of the believing and watching be taken, and surely those who believe in God’s Word and are left behind will be most wonderfully affected by the event. [3]

Peters infers that it is impossible to know as a believer whether or not you will wind up in the company of those who are taken. It all depends upon whether you merit special honor in the eyes of God:

The question may be asked, Why such a distinction? The reply is, because such is God’s pleasure in the matter. It is not for us to assert with any degree of positiveness who shall thus be favored with a translation, and escape the great tribulation. We can only point out the general affirmation (as e.g. “them that honor me, I will honor,” etc.) upon the subject, and leave each one draw his own conclusions. There is a difference between mere salvation and the special honor, station, dignity, etc., that God in addition may be pleased to bestow upon certain ones. [4]

Peters is in agreement with Seiss who believes that only a relatively few will be taken—those who continually watch and pray:

It is not simply those who “watch” that shall “escape,” but those, Luke 21:36, who “watch and pray always,” avoiding the corrupting influences around them. The number of translated ones may not be very large (for the number of translated ones given as (so Baumgarten, etc.) types in comparison with the number of those not translated, and with that of the resurrected saints is small), so that Dr. Seiss, with whom many concur, is undoubtedly correct in saying: “I have no idea that a very large portion of mankind, or even of the professing Church, will be thus taken. The first translation, if I may so speak, will embrace only the select few who watch and pray always,” etc. [5]

In the following citation, Peters most definitely states his belief that some believers will be left behind:

If such an event is to occur it is most reasonable to anticipate that believers in the Word, just previous to its occurrence, will proclaim it, so that when it has taken place others may recognize it at once as a part of God’s own divine and gracious ordering. This, then, will alleviate the grief of believers when a beloved one is thus suddenly taken away, because they will rejoice in their having been thus favored, and will strive to prepare themselves and others for the coming struggle, that they too may be accounted worthy of a glorious reunion with resurrected and translated ones. [6]

In conclusion, Peters is teaching that only some believers will merit the Rapture while others will not and will be left behind.

Dr. John F. Walvoord, in his book, The Rapture Question, mentions these writers:

The modern theory of partial rapture seems to have originated in the writings of Robert Govett who published a book setting forth the theory as early as 1853 (Entrance Into the Kingdom). In this book he expounds his view that participation in the kingdom is conditional and depends upon worthy conduct.

The most able exponent of this split rapture teaching in the twentieth century is G.H. Lang (The Revelation of Jesus Christ; Firstborn Sons: Their Rights and Risks). Another was D.M. Panton, editor of The Dawn (London) magazine (pp. 105, 106).

Many others have succumbed to the partial rapture error, including G.H. Pember, A. Edwin Wilson, J.A. Seiss, Edward Irving, T. Austin-Sparks, and Watchman Nee. [7]

While I have great regard for Peters and his classic work, The Millennial Kingdom, I do not share his view concerning the partial nature of the Rapture. More than that, I believe that Peters is mistaken in confounding various thief passages with the coming of the Lord for the church (e.g., Mat. 24:37-44a, Luke 17:26-37). Where these passages speak of “one taken . . . another left”, Peters falls into the common mistake of misinterpreting Second Coming judgment passages as Rapture passages. The beginning of the tribulation, the Day of the Lord (or Christ), is what catches a sleeping world off-guard as a thief in the night (1 Th. 5:1-11). Paul is quite explicit that Jesus does not come upon the Church as a thief (1 Th. 5:4). There is also the question as to whether Scripture intends the Church, as His expectant bride, to be awaiting His coming as a thief? I think not!

This is one of the forks in the road among teachers concerning their understanding of passages which exhort and warn people to be ready and faithful in their service of the Lord in order to avoid punishment when the Lord returns. Although there are diverse views on this, they generally sort themselves out in either of two camps: 1) some true believers will become so slothful or distracted by the world that they are caught off-guard, miss the rapture, and undergo punishment or tribulation—possibly even being barred from the Millennial Kingdom to follow; 2) those who are slothful and caught off guard never were true believers and their failure to watch confirms this fact. I fall into the latter camp.

You will see this distinction in how various performance-related texts are taught—whether dealing with watching for the Rapture or a subsequent group of believers watching for the Second Coming. This often shows up in different views concerning who is said to be the “overcomer” in the promises made to the Seven Churches in the Book of Revelation. Some teach that overcomers are a class of zealous “super-Christians” who out-perform other believers such that the under-performing believers do not overcome while the others do.

I believe otherwise: that one becomes an overcomer by being united through faith to The Overcomer (John 16:33; 1 Jn. 4:4; 5:4-5). It is by identification, rather than performance, that we qualify as overcomers. I think strong evidence is found for this view, not only from paying attention to what John has to say about overcoming, but also by examining two of the promises to the overcomer:

  • The overcomer at Smyrna will not be hurt by the Second Death (Rev. 2:11). The Second Death involves consignment to the Lake of Fire (Rev. 21:8). The clear inference is that those who do not overcome are destined for the Lake of Fire. How then could these non-overcomers be believers who are elsewhere said to have eternal life (John 3:15; 10:28; 17:2)? Such a view cannot uphold the security of the believer and must posit that believers who fail to overcome lose their salvation.
  • The overcomer at Sardis will be clothed in white garments (see below) and will not be blotted out of the Book of Life (Rev. 3:15). The clear inference is that those who do not overcome will be blotted out of the Book of Life. Again, if believers are among this company of non-overcomers, then they must lose their salvation and there is no such thing as the security of the believer.

The strong teaching elsewhere in Scripture concerning the security of the believer stands as a witness against the idea that true believers are to be found among the company of those who fail to overcome. If we consider various passages where people fail to watch or perform, we find that some very serious consequences result:

  • Left as dead for birds of prey (Mat. 24:28,37-43; Luke 17:37).
  • Being cut in two with the hypocrites, weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mat. 24:51).
  • Being shut out from the wedding feast with the Master proclaiming, I do not know you (Mat. 25:12 cf. Mat. 7:23).
  • Being cast into outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mat. 25:30).

Although some teach that “outer darkness” is a place where under-performing believers may suffer during the Millennial Kingdom, this seems most unlikely. Jesus clearly states that those Jews who did not believe in Him—the faithless “sons of the Kingdom”—were bound for outer darkness (Mark 8:12). These are unbelievers. More than that, people who lack a wedding garment at the return of Christ are also destined for “outer darkness” with the implication that they were never chosen (Mat. 22:13-14). The wedding garment almost certainly represents the righteousness of Christ which is imputed to believers only. Notice the promise to the overcomer in Sardis: the same ones who will not be blotted out of the Book of Life are also said to walk with Christ in white [garments] (Rev. 3:4-5). Thus no true believer will lack a wedding garment. Otherwise we have the contradiction of those who are in the book of Life but somehow don't warrant the white clothes—the very covering of Christ which redeems us (cf. Gen. 3:21).

Adam's accepting the animal skin covering from God (Ge 3:21) . . . finds full explanation in the Gospel of Matthew [Mt 22:1-14] viz., no one will be admitted to the marriage feast for the King's son without first accepting a free gift, the covering furnished by the King himself. In accepting this garment the recipient so does with full knowledge that the purpose for his entrance to the feast is that the Son is to be therein honored and that he is to wholeheartedly participate in the praise and homage to the Son. . . . refusal declares the intention of entering on one's own terms rather than those imposed by the King, a condition which is altogether intolerable. [8]

While not focusing specifically on Rapture-related warning passages here, I hope you can see that the way in which a person interprets various readiness warning passages—whether they can have in view believers who are securely saved—will have a lot to do with whether a teacher believes that the body of Christ will be sliced into two companies, either at the Rapture or at the entry to the Millennial Kingdom to follow. Peters, while having much to offer concerning the coming Kingdom and eschatology in general, appears to be comfortable with the idea that it is our performance rather than identity that determines our destiny in relation to the Rapture. I take the opposite view: that those who are in Christ are joined to Christ in a way which cannot (and will not) be broken.

To believe in a partial rapture one must either embrace the notion that salvation is insecure and can be lost or that unity with Christ is not the determining factor in whether we miss the rapture or even the kingdom to follow. But what does Paul say about who is taken in the Rapture (1 Th. 4:15-18)?

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. [9]

Notice that it is the dead, in Christ that rise first. If all of the dead in Christ are taken at the Rapture, how can it be consistent to conclude that some of the living who are also in Christ are left behind? If this were to be true, we would have the rather strange situation where the living saints would be better off dead prior to the Rapture in order to be sure they were among those taken!

In my reading of Scripture, the Rapture is not about taking certain “super-Christians” and leaving others behind. No, it bears upon the question of the very nature of the Body of Christ—the Church. I do not believe Scripture to teach that when the Rapture occurs God will choose to rend the Body of Christ in two leaving part of it behind! No, those who are not taken will be those who are not truly part of Christ's body—they are not “in Christ” and never were. The Rapture will mark the end of the Church Age just as clearly as Pentecost marked its beginning (John 7:39; Acts 1:5; 11:15) and those saints who come to faith immediately thereafter will not be part of the Church—the Body of Christ.

[For additional discussion concerning the partial rapture teaching, see pages 158-163 of Things to Come by Dwight Pentecost.]


[1] George H. N. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, [1884], 1978), 2:314.

[2] Ibid., 2:316.

[3] Ibid., 2:327.

[4] Ibid., 2:332.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 2:334.

[7] Miles Stanford, Critique of “THE REIGN OF THE SERVANT KINGS: A Study on Eternal Security and the Final Significance of Man” by Joseph Dillow (http://withchrist.org/mjs/reign.htm).

[8] Floyd Nolen Jones, Chronology of the Old Testament (Woodlands, TX: KingsWord Press, 1999), p. 60n2.

[9] NKJV, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18