As I said in the last installment: And — worse yet! — the centerpiece of this theory, the Pre-tribulational Rapture is nowhere explicitly taught in the Bible itself.
Detailed support for the above affirmation follows.
1. THE OLIVET DISCOURSE. (Mark 13, Matthew 24 & 25, Luke 21.) Jesus is giving instruction to his disciples here about the coming crisis in Jerusalem and about the end of time. Nowhere in this passage does he in any way hint of a “pre-trib rapture.” Quite the contrary! Rather than giving them assurance that they will be exempted from any tribulations that lie ahead, he is giving them warning about tribulations and seductions they will have to endure in the times to come. For example, notice this:
“Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now — and never to be equaled again. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect — if that were possible. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.” (Mark 13:18-23 NIV).
The expectation here is that Christ’s followers will endure tribulation. Jesus tells them: “…[the one] who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:13 NIV). If exemption from the tribulations of the last days were the expectation (as it is among Christians in our day) this would have been a great place for Jesus to say so.
He says the opposite.
It appears from the Olivet Discourse that the time when Jesus will gather his followers to himself will also be the time of judgement upon the world.
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31 NIV).
It appears from this passage that the time of judgement upon the world will be the same as the time of the gathering the elect. In fact the Judgement aspect of Jesus coming (“all the nations of the earth will mourn”) is mentioned first. If the so-called Rapture and the time of Judgement were two different things, again, this would be a great place to say so. Again, it says the opposite. There is nothing here that teaches, implies, or even hints at a silent, secret Rapture of the Saints.
2. THE THESSALONIAN LETTERS. (1 & 2 Thessalonians)
The passage generally cited for a “pre-trib rapture” is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NIV).
This might seem to accord with the Dispensational view, but upon closer examination it doesn’t. Notice the very next sentences:
“Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4 NIV).
So, Paul’s teaching here is similar in structure to Jesus’ teaching. The time of being caught up together with the Lord is the same as the time of Judgement upon the world. Jesus return is spoken of as being like a “Thief in the Night” not because it is silent or secret, but because it is unexpected.
The same phenomenon can be noticed in 2 Thessalonians. The time when Christ is going to come for his people is spoken of as being the same when Judgement comes upon the world:
“All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 NIV).
Then notice this a little way further:
“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for [that day will not come] until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 NIV).
This passage says explicitly that “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “our being gathered to him” cannot occur until “the rebellion” (often identified with the “great tribulation” spoken of in the Synoptic Gospels) occurs first, and the “man of lawlessness” (often identified with the Antichrist spoken of in the letters of John) is revealed. This passage actually seems to disallow the possibility of a pre-trib Rapture (though I will acknowledge the great and imaginative efforts of Dispensational interpreters down through the years to make this somehow conform).
3. THE BOOK OF REVELATION. Nothing in the Book of Revelation itself necessitates the Pre-trib view. It is nowhere taught, though it has been read into some passages.
“After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (Revelation 4:1 NIV).
This is simply a transition in John’s visions. it is an experience that happened to John. I suppose it could be a pre-trib Rapture, but there is no reason to think that it is. The doctrine is being read into the passage.
There are numerous places in the Book of Revelation where the people of God are spoken of as enduring the tribulations of the Last Days. The oft-repeated maxim of the NT is “[the one} who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” All the angels were standing round the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying: ‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!’ Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes — who are they, and where did they come from?’ I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:9-14, NIV.)
Notice that the great multitude “from every nation, tribe, people and language” came out of “the great tribulation” — that is to say, they endured it (okay, or at least, part of it).
“He [the beast from the sea] was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.” (Revelation 13:7 NIV)
“If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” (Revelation 13:10 NIV.)
“This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.” (Revelation 14:12 NIV.)
“I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished.” (Revelation 17:6 NIV.)
- the Bible does not generally separate the “gathering together” and “judgement” aspects of Jesus’ Return
- the NT does not clearly promise that the “saints” or the “elect” will have any exemption from the tribulations of the last days,
- many passages in the NT are given to prepare the followers of Christ for times of tribulation,
- the pre-trib Rapture doctrine is an implication of the Dispensational theory of biblical interpretation (the current crop of believers must leave the earth at the next major Dispensational shift, so that God can return to working with Israel again) and has no basis in the Bible without it.
While, with great effort the relevant passages can be made to conform to the Dispensational view, they need not be read that way. In certain cases, the Dispensational view seems to run directly counter to the more natural sense of the passages in question.
Or, to put it more succinctly: The Pre-Tribulational Rapture is not a biblical doctrine.
But, the burning question for our day is: how do we recover the NT concept of Hope? How can we teach a credible doctrine of Hope for our generation?