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Surviving The Rapture Maze
For years I have avoided serious teaching on the question of the rapture because I was determined to stay out of the divisiveness and polarization accompanying debate on the subject. It seemed to me that if believers pursued an intimate relationship with Jesus that they would be led to His heart on the matter. I still believe that it should not distract us from pursuing Him no matter how we believe. In recent years, however, I have noticed that the pretribulationist view is often accompanied by the notion that the church will be a non-factor in the last days. Most dispensational teachers see the church remaining in a passive, just hold on to the end, posture before the big rescue of the rapture comes.
In other words, the pretribulational approach has spawned an attitude that de-emphasizes the preparation of the church for the end times. It misleads seeking Christians into concluding that pursuing God’s will for His church is a waste of time. This attitude is extremely dangerous and divisive and promotes a subjective approach to the study of scripture using proof texts and human logic over accepted methods of hermeneutic (approaches to interpretation).
Many who teach this doctrine strike out at church leaders who take another approach even to the point of calling them false teachers. Students preparing for ministry in certain institutions are required to adopt the approach or face censor. Pastors or professors who reject the pretribulation doctrine after years of faithful ministry are asked to resign their positions.
In many cases this view that I consider to be unbiblical from the start is pushed as the only acceptable view of the end times and other are rejected as virtual heresy. It fosters subjective doctrinalizing instead of objective, sincere, open study of God’s word. There is no place given for the market place of ideas that should be allowed in a genuine search for truth.
I have become increasingly disturbed by the escapism mentality that I have witnessed in many who believe that Christ is coming in a secret rapture to rescue the church before the start of the Great Tribulation. I have also witnessed a gradual rejection of the biblical certainty that Christians will indeed suffer tribulation for their faith. The end time tribulation will culminate this age and God’s people must prepare themselves to be able to endure to the end what the enemy will unleash on them. We will not suffer God’s final wrath, which is reserved for sinners, but Jesus promises that we will face great tribulation (Matt. 24:9, 10; Mark 13:11-20; Luke. 21:12; 2 Tim. 3:12). I have decided it is time to speak out in hope that many of my readers will return to the simple scriptural understanding of the coming of Christ that prevailed before the pretribulation doctrine was popularized in the middle of the 19th century.
Many Christians confess that a study of eschatology can be very confusing. It is my contention that what the Bible says about the end times is only made confusing when people try to insert into it a secret, pretribulation rapture. This creates a rapture maze that must be negotiated by believers. The confusion is caused by a spurious doctrine that requires abandonment of a straightforward, face value study of the word. If we simply interpret the end time passages with an open, objective mind, without doctrinal gymnastics, we find them to be quite clear and easy to understand. Then we do not have to use scriptural manipulation to make the rest of the Bible line up. The end result of such a study is the conclusion that there is only one return of Christ at the end of the Tribulation and the rapture takes place at that time.
My approach is a “face value” approach to God’s word. We must approach scripture with the attitude of accepting what we read on face value instead of trying to read into scripture what we want it to say. I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness and I came to Christ when I stopped using a proof text method of Bible study and began to read the words of the Bible and interpret them in a straight forward manner. As a Jehovah's Witness I could "prove" any of our doctrines using a proof text method of study that assumed a conclusion from the start. This is a dangerous habit. We must approach the Bible with a child-like mind that seeks to see and know truth as God presents it in His word. He does not hide a doctrine over many passages forcing us to search out the verses. He is straight forward in telling it the way it is so we should reciprocate by approaching His word with that mindset.
The Clear Testimony of Scripture
It is my belief that the doctrine of a secret pre-tribulation rapture is not based on a simple, objective reading of scripture. To the contrary, it is based primarily on rational arguments built on preconceived assumptions. It depends on deductive reasoning instead of inductive reasoning. It involves a complicated juggling of connecting details that leaves most Christians swooning in confusion. This teaching approaches scripture with an agenda and tries to prove the doctrine of that agenda from God’s word.
For this reason I will present a scripture by scripture analysis of the events surrounding the second coming of the Lord. We will take a “face value” approach by simply looking at passages and seeking God’s guidance about what they say.
Matthew chapter 24 is good place to start. In verse three the disciples asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” Simple enough. The disciples asked two questions—one about when the destruction of Jerusalem will take place and the other about the sign of His coming at the end of the age. In the words of Matthew 24, and 25 Jesus answers their two questions.
The chapter is too lengthy to quote but here is a summary of the signs Jesus said would mark the end of the age.
- The danger of being led astray (24:4)
- False Christs (v. 5)
- Wars and rumors of wars (v. 6)
- Famines and earthquakes (v. 7)
- All of the above are the beginnings of birth pains (v. 8)
- Tribulation and death (v. 9)
- Hatred for followers of Christ (v. 9)
- A great falling away (apostasy), v. 10)
- False prophets leading many astray (v. 11)
- Lawlessness (v. 12)
- Love of many will grow cold (v. 12)
- Those who endure to the end will be saved (v. 13)
- The Gospel will be preached throughout the world (v. 14)
- Daniel’s Abomination of Desolation will stand in the holy place (v. 15)
- Great Tribulation (vv. 16-21)
- False Christs and prophets will lead many astray (vv. 22-24)
- Special signs in the sun, moon and stars. The heavens will be shaken. (v. 29)
- The second coming. Christ will appear visibly (v. 30)
- At the sound of a great trumpet the elect of God will be gathered together. This is the rapture of the saints of God accompanied by the resurrection of the deceased (v. 31)
The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the scattering of the Jews was the fulfillment of the first question of the disciples. That came in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed the city and the temple in fulfillment of the first part of Jesus' prophecy. This marks the beginning of the age of the Gentiles. When that period is complete, the end will come and all of Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:25, 26). But Jesus also addresses the signs that will precede and accompany His second coming. He addresses the Jewish nation and its imminent judgment and goes on to speak of the continuing development of the age until He returns to receive His church. Obviously, He is speaking to Jews but also includes the coming Gentile church since Jerusalem was to be destroyed and God would turn to the other ethnic groups of the world.
In verse 21 Jesus said, "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be." Many who believe in a rapture before the tribulation say that this is tribulation but not "The Great Tribulation." That can't be true since Jesus says that this would be tribulation like the world had never seen and would never see again. This can only be what we refer to as the great tribulation. Interestingly, Jesus is telling His disciples that they, if they lived, would see this tribulation along with all living Christians. This is strong evidence that believers will go through this end time Satan's wrath.
In Revelation 7:14 one of the heavenly elders identified the great multitude with these words: "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." If both Mathew 24:21 and Revelation 7:14 are referring to the same event, as I believe, it is quite clear that believers will face the tribulation.
Throughout the age these signs grow in intensity and culminate with the signs in the sun, moon, and stars and immediately the Son of Man comes and gathers His saints to Himself. This age-ending event is preceded by the coming of the Abomination of Desolation, also known as the Antichrist, who will stand in the holy place. He will usher in a great time of tribulation in which there is need for Christ’s followers to endure to the end. As a result of this tribulation and death there would be a great falling away, lawlessness and love growing cold.
There is no mention of a secret rapture seven years before His second coming. There is a series of tumultuous events leading up to the great climax of the age—the visible, victorious return of Christ resulting in the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the rapture (v. 31). Some try to say this passage speaks only to the Jews and does not refer to the church. This is an assumption made about the passage because it is so devastating to the pretribulation position. Looking at the passage with an open mind it seems clear that Jesus was simply answering their two questions with a straightforward explanation some of which applied immediately to Israel and the rest applying to the church of the church age to come.
Notice that Jesus says here that the heavenly signs will appear “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29), whereas Joel says that the same signs will appear before the day of the Lord comes (Joel 2:31). The day of the Lord, the day of Christ’s return for His saints, will take place after the tribulation but just before He returns. The only way to get around this is to do some scriptural juggling with God’s word by coming up with an alternate view of the day of the Lord. Isaiah 13:9-10 also speaks of this age-ending event. My conclusion is that a clear, straightforward reading of this passage shows that the rapture and Christ’s appearing occur at the end of the tribulation.
Another point to be made from this passage is that the “gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (v. 14). If the church is absent from this time of tribulation, who is proclaiming the gospel up until the end comes?
Some say that the Jewish remnant proclaims of the gospel during this time but there is no specific evidence of that theory. This is simply an assumption made to fit this passage into a preconceived belief in a secret rapture. Also, the words of the Great Commission are applicable for the entire church age: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt. 28: 19, 20). God is not going to leave the final years of proclamation to Israel. It will be a joint work of the end time church made up of redeemed Jews and Gentiles, the one new man spoken of by Paul (Eph. 2:15). Our commission from Christ is to the end of the age and, according to all scriptures that refer to that time, it extends to the coming of Christ for His church after the tribulation.
The final conclusion is clear: the rapture comes at the end of the Great Tribulation at the same time Christ returns.
Mark 13:4-27 & Luke 21:7-28
These passages repeat the things Jesus told His disciples on the Mount of Olives. They ask their question about the end times and Jesus goes through the intensifying signs that culminate with His coming. In Mark 13:24, 25 Jesus speaks of the three heavenly signs that precede His coming. Then Jesus said,
And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
The story is the same in Mark. The signs intensify during the church age until the tribulation under the Antichrist. Then the world sees the three heavenly signs and then He comes in power and glory. Then we see the angels gathering the elect. This is the coming of Christ accompanied by the rapture of the elect of God.
Luke reads the same way. The three signs take place in verse 25, the Son of Man comes in verse 27 and then Jesus said, “...straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (v. 28). The redemption of the saints comes in conjunction with the coming of Christ.
The final conclusion is clear in both Mark and Luke: the rapture comes at the end of the Great Tribulation at the same time Christ returns. Pretribulationists try to make the point in regard to Matthew 24 that Christ is addressing only Jews and so His remarks do not apply to the church but only apply to Israel during the Great Tribulation. Scholars agree that Mark and Luke were specifically addressing Gentiles in their Gospels and Luke was a Gentile. Even so, they relate the Olivet Discourse with the same clarity as Matthew. Is this Jewish audience view based on a face value interpretation or is it an assumption based on a preconceived idea? Judge for yourself.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.
This passage concerns the coming of the Lord and our “being gathered together to Him,” (the rapture). Notice how Paul says that these two events happen together. Pretribulationists want us to believe that there are two comings of Christ—one before and one after the tribulation. Not a single scripture reference supports that view. When the Lord comes He will gather together His saints. That day will not come until the Antichrist (man of lawlessness) is revealed. Paul was no doubt alluding to the words passed down to them from Jesus in Matthew 24 concerning the “abomination of desolation.” Daniel also spoke of the coming of this man (11:31). Paul is telling Christians in Thessalonica that they should not be concerned about rumors that the day of the Lord has come because it cannot come until the rebellion (the great falling away) and lawless one is revealed. Jesus spoke of the great falling away that would take place when the tribulation begins (Matt. 24:10).
Why would Paul speak to them of these two events if believers were not to face them in the tribulation at the end of the age? In fact he proves to them that the day of the Lord has not occurred because these two events have not taken place. If they had taken place they would have been in the midst of the Tribulation. It is clear that Paul believed that the saints of God would indeed see the Tribulation, the great falling away, and the coming of the antichrist. There is no mention here of a secret rapture before these events take place. If Paul believes in a secret pretribulation rapture he would have simply told them, “Of course the Day of the Lord has not come because we’re still here aren’t we?” Paul didn’t say that because Paul did not believe in a rapture before the Tribulation.
The final conclusion is the same in this passage: the rapture comes at the end of the Great Tribulation at the same time Christ returns.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-17
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, 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.
Paul comforts the Thessalonians with the knowledge that those who have died will be resurrected first followed by those who are still alive. These two groups will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” This is the rapture and it occurs at the coming of the Lord which we see in other places comes at the end of the period of tribulation following the heavenly signs.
The trumpet of God will announce this amazing event (4:16). This is the same trumpet mentioned many times in scripture as coming at the second coming of Christ (Matt. 24:31; Rev. 10:7; 11:15; 1 Cor. 15:52; Isa 27:13). It is the same trumpet the prophets knew of and Jesus said would sound when He would gather His elect (Matt. 24:31). Paul says that at this trumpet “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52). In other words, the trumpet will announce the resurrection and the rapture that come simultaneously at the end of the tribulation.
The final conclusion is clear: the rapture comes at the end of the Great Tribulation at the same time Christ returns.
I Corinthians 15:51-52
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
The words “we shall be changed” speak of the rapture. This takes place at “the last trumpet.” When the trumpet sounds the dead will be raised and those living will be changed. This is the rapture and it takes place at the last trumpet. Do you see any evidence that this “last trumpet” is anything other than the last trumpet spoken of by Jesus when he gathers His elect from the four winds? There it announces the coming of Christ and the rapture at the end of the tribulation. Here the tribulation is not mentioned but when we couple this passage with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 we see that this happens in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet when the rapture and the resurrection occur at the end of the age. Again, there is no mention of a secret rapture at the beginning of the tribulation.
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?” He said to them, “An enemy has done this.” So the servants said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he said, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
This is a simple parable told by Jesus to His disciples. A man sowed seeds in his field and an enemy came at night and sowed weeds. The servants asked if they should pick the weeds and the farmer said to wait until the harvest so the wheat would not be damaged. The harvest comes and the weeds are gathered and burned and the wheat is harvested and put into the barn.
Again we see the age of the church represented by the growing season and the coming of Christ represented by the harvest. At that time Christ will come at the very end and harvest the wicked, who will be destroyed, and harvest the righteous who will be protected. The parable gives no hint of any other harvest except the one at the very end of the age.
`The Book of Revelation
If there is to be a rapture prior to the Great Tribulation surely the Book of Revelation, the primary book in the New Testament on the end times, should present a clear case for it. Since they believe that the Tribulation begins after chapter 3, pretribulationists must find the rapture at the beginning of or before chapter four. It is almost comical watching commentators trying to find the rapture in Revelation with their pretribulation mindset.
The most common explanation is that the rapture is found at 4:1 where John is called to heaven as the revelations begin:
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”
This may be one of the most obvious examples of deductive interpretation of scripture I have seen. In this verse, the apostle is called to heaven where he was immediately “in the spirit” (v. 2) and sees the vision of the throne of God. To say this is the rapture is a gigantic step of presumption. No responsible Bible teacher would think of being this loose with the interpretation of a passage unless he approached it with a preconceived agenda. No! There is no rapture in this verse. Something as important as the rapture of the saints would not be veiled in such a way but would be clearly presented.
The frustrating thing to pretribulation teachers is that there simply is no reference to the rapture early in Revelation. Those who want to force a rapture into the early part of Revelation look quite silly in the process. To be frank, there is no passage anywhere in scripture that speaks of the rapture of the church before the Tribulation. The passages that do speak of the rapture all have it occurring at the end of the Tribulation.
But pretribulationists try to prove that the saints are in heaven in Revelation chapter 4 by identifying the twenty-four elders seen by John as the church. There are many arguments that can be raised against this view, but let me explain one. In Revelation when a symbol is used to depict something else the passage explains the symbolism. For example in 1:20 Jesus says, “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.” John had seen a vision of the Son of Man holding in His hand seven stars. This is a symbol and it is explained in 1:20. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches. In chapter four the seven torches of fire are identified: “seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God” (4:5). In 17:9 the seven heads on the beast are identified with the words, “the seven heads are seven mountains.” In chapter 11 the two witnessses are identified as the “two olive trees and the two lampstands” of Zechariah 4.
When a remote symbol is used it is identified. Daniel also does this in 7:17, 23, and 24. If a symbol is well known to the readers it is left to be interpreted. This would be so, for example of the woman symbol in 12:1 or the red dragon in 12:3. These twenty-four elders are really 24 elders, heavenly beings, just as the four living creatures in the same vision are actual heavenly beings (v. 6). Since the earthly Sanhedrin was composed of 24 members, this could be a reference to a heavenly Sanhedrin or a body of glorified elders serving in heaven. Regardless, the group is not a symbol of the raptured saints.
When we get to 6:11 we see that the number of the saints in heaven has not been completed yet. Those who had been martyred were asking when God was going to “avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth.” We have martyrs in heaven and saints on earth who would be killed in the future. Why weren’t they raptured? We know that Israel is sealed by God (7:3) for protection, so these cannot be Jews. Pretribulationists will say, I guess, that they are the ones saved by the preaching of Israel. But the word says nothing about this and beside that the Jewish remnant is not mentioned until chapter 7. It is another assumption that must be made because of the assumption the saints have been raptured. These are simply God’s people still living on earth during the Tribulation because the rapture comes later.
Those who assume a pretribulation rapture must explain the church out of the Book of Revelation. They do so by saying that the word church is not mentioned after chapter 3. They try to make the case that the word "saint" used thereafter refers to the Jewish believers since the church has been raptured. The problem with this view is that the word saint as it is used in the New Testament always refers to born again followers of Christ: Acts 9:14; Rom.1:7;1 Cor. 1:2; 14:33; 2 Cor. 13 13; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1 to name a few. The word is used 61 times in the New Testament each time referring to Christians. The word "church" is not used in First and Second Peter, Second Timothy, First and Second John and Jude. Absence is a weak argument. Another big assumption being made here is that there will be a remnant of 144,000 Jewish evangelists preaching the gospel resulting in the multitude of people saved during the tribulation. This is merely an assumption and cannot be demonstrated using the words of the Revelation. If there is a powerful presence of the Gospel it will come through the "one new man" the body of Christ made up of redeemed Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 3:6; 4:24, 25).
Comparing the Olivet Discourse and Revelation
The book of Revelation clearly follows the information given by Christ to His disciples in the Olivet Discourse. It is not complicated at all when we keep this in mind. The first three chapters are an introduction, chapter four is a vision of heaven and chapter five contains the revelation of the Lamb who is to open the sealed scroll containing the events of the end times.
When the first seal is opened John writes, “And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon had a bow; and there was given unto him a crown: and he came forth conquering, and to conquer” (Rev. 6:1, 2). This one going forth to conquer is the Antichrist spoken of by Christ in Matthew 24:15. The coming forth of this incarnation of Satan marks the beginning of end time tribulation.
The second seal is opened in Revelation 6:3, 4: “And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.” This seal represents the wars and rumors of wars spoken of by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:6).
The third seal is an obvious reference to the famines predicted by Christ:
When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!” (Rev. 6:5, 6).
The references to scales measuring food speaks clearly of a growing economic collapse with inflation leading to famine. Jesus spoke of famines as being part of the “beginnings of sorrows” (Matt. 24:7, 8).
In the fourth seal we see the beginning of Satan’s wrath upon the people of God:
When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth (Rev. 6:7, 8).
Comparing this with the Olivet Discourse we see this to be the time when Jesus said,
When they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another (Matt. 24:9, 10).
Death and Hades are unleashed on the church but Jesus had promised that “...the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
In the fifth seal we see the deathly results of the intensifying of the tribulation upon the people of God:
And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a great voice, saying, “How long, O Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” And there was given them to each one a white robe; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little time, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, who should be killed even as they were, should have fulfilled their course (Rev. 6:9-11;ASV).
The martyrs cry out to God asking how long they would have to wait for God’s judgment on Satan and his system. They are clothed in white and told to wait a little while longer.
The sixth seal brings the sign of the Day of the Lord spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24:29 where He speaks of the sign in the sun, moon and stars:
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev. 6:12-17).
Jesus spoke of the sign in the sun, moon and stars being the sign announcing the immediate appearance of the Son of Man in heaven coming in all of His power and glory (Matt. 24:30). At that time He said the angels would “gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” This is the second coming of Christ for His saints at the rapture.
After the coming of the Lord and the rapture of His people the next thing we expect to see is the pouring out of the wrath of God. Sure enough, in Revelation 6:17 John writes, “...for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” This begins God’s judgment. Up to this point we have seen the wrath of Satan through the Antichrist but at this point we will begin to see on earth the wrath of God poured out.
But God’s people are protected from the wrath of God so the next thing we read in chapter 7 is the sealing of the remnant people of Israel for their protection (7:1-8). In verse one the winds of judgment are being held back until the servants of God are sealed. They are marked for protection from the wrath of God.
Then in verses 9, and 10 we see “...a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
These are identified as “...the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This description does not have to be all encompassing but includes all of the saints who are gathered together at the rapture. These raptured ones are described as being from “all tribes and peoples and languages.” This is the same terminology used in Revelation 5:9 when the four living creatures and the heavenly elders describe the redeemed of the Lord. The same terminology is used also in 14:6 to describe those on the earth just before the earth is harvested. These are obviously the raptured saints of God from all the peoples of the earth.
This group is greeted by the Father (v. 11), the Lamb (v. 9), all the angels (v. 11), the twenty-four elders (v. 11), and the four living creatures (v. 11). But noticeably absent from the greeting party are the raptured saints and resurrected elect of God from past ages, if the rapture had already occured. This is because this multitude is the entire company of the elect of God both coming out of the Great Tribulation and from history past.
From chapter 8 on we have the progression of God’s wrath being poured out upon the inhabitants of earth. There are several verses that indicate that the wrath of God continues (6:17; 11:18; 14:19; 16:19; 19:15). The wrath of God continues to be poured out but in the midst of the description there are several interludes. Chapter ten is the account of John eating the little book and being commanded to “prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings” (10:11). Chapter 11 is the account of the two witnesses who testify for three and one half days. Chapter 19 summarizes the wedding feast of the Lamb and His bride and the triumphant coming forth of Christ and His saints in the final battle.
Revelation 14:14-20 gives a possible presentation of the rapture of the saints:
Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, "Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe." So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse's bridle, for 1,600 stadia.
This passage speaks of two harvests—one is the harvest of the righteous and the other is the reaping of the wicked for the “great winepress of the wrath of God.” Throughout this study we have seen that God’s wrath follows the rapture because His wrath is against Satan, the wicked, and the world system that has rejected Him.
Revelation 19:11-16 has another rendition of these same events. In chapter 18 we have the destruction of the Great Harlot Babylon bringing about the beginning of the end for earth. Then in chapter 19 a great celebration breaks out declaring,
Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants (19:1, 2)
The celebration continues and then comes the resounding announcement
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure"-- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
Babylon falls, then the announcement is made that “the Almighty reigns.” Then we see the announcement of the marriage of the Lamb, because the Bride had made herself ready. Here is Christ coming forth reigning in victory and He is with His completed, prepared Bride and the marriage supper of the Lamb is announced: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God” (19:9).
So, the judgment of Babylon is complete, Christ begins to reign, the Bride has made herself ready, and an invitation is sent out to those who are blessed to be invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb and His wife. Now that Christ is with His bride, what do you suppose we see next? Here it is:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, "Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great." And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh (Rev. 19:11-21).
Christ comes forth to make war against the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies. John says “the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.” These armies are the people of God, and perhaps the angels as well, who were raptured in the harvest of earth mentioned in Revelation 14:14-16 just before the harvest of God’s wrath.
It is quite possible that John had in mind the prophecy of Joel that speaks of a similar harvest:
Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel. (Joel 3:12-16).
Joel even includes the three heavenly signs in the sun moon and stars spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24. The signs in the sun, moon and stars are the primary signs that announce the coming of the Lord. In Matthew they are followed by the immediate appearance of the Son of Man. In Joel the Lord roars from heaven immediately following the sign. So, it is quite clear that Joel’s passage is speaking of the coming of the Lord as well.
In chapter twenty we see the overcomers of God seated in their thrones and the resurrection of the martyrs of the Tribulation:
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. (Rev. 20:4, 5).
This is the first use of the word “resurrection” but not necessarily the first account of the resurrection. Revelation 14:14-20 is a clear reference to the end time harvest of the saints. The account in chapter 7 of the great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language is a fairly clear picture of the saints in heaven following their rapture. There are questions one could ask but these passages present a more obvious possibility of the rapture than 4:1. Clearly there is no resurrection specifically mentioned in Revelation until 20:5: “This is the first resurrection.”
Chapter 20 starts with the word “then” in the ESV but in the original it is the word “and”. In other words there is no change of time here but a continuation of the account of the resurrection and victorious victory of chapter 19. The ESV has “then” starting verse 4 as well, but again this the word for “and.” There is a continuation of the account not a change of time.
After the victory of chapter 19 John continues his description. That description continues to verse 4 where he sees thrones and people seated on them and the souls of those who had been beheaded. John is flashing back to the fifth seal in 6:9-11 where he had previously seen the souls of the martyrs under the altar. These martyrs are now included in this scene where he says, “and they came to life.” In the Greek it would be “and they lived” as many translations have it. In other words they had been already resurrected and were continuing to live after their resurrection.
Those seated on the thrones, I believe, are the members of the corporate bride, the overcomers, those who endured to the end and given authority over the nations (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:26). We just witnessed the marriage of the Lamb in chapter 19 and now we see victorious ones reigning with their Bridegroom.
The resurrection is the reuniting of the souls with their bodies. They were previously alive spiritually but at the resurrection they came to life corporeally or in their bodies. In these glorified bodies they reign with Christ during the Millennium. After the Millennium the rest of the dead would be resurrected for judgment (Rev. 20:5; 12).
Revelation 20:3 speaks of the “the nations” that live during the Millennium. At the battle of Armageddon described in chapter 19 the kings and armies are destroyed but many people of the nations themselves remain (19:19-21). This is where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats as described in Matthew 25:31f. There all the nations are gathered before Him and He separates those who will enter the kingdom and those who will not (Matt. 25:32). Zechariah 14 also has an account of the great battle and the ensuing kingdom in which the nations “everyone who survives” ( 14:16) will come to Jerusalem to worship the King.
There are many other passages indicating that many from Israel and the Gentiles are saved after the wrath of God at Armageddon: Zech. 13:1-6, 8, 9; 12:10; 14:4, 5, 16-18; Isa. 22:2-5; Zech. 12:10-14. Many from Israel will turn to the Lord at His appearing and be saved and enter the Millennium.
These are the “guests” of 19:9 who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. These people are saved but not glorified in their bodies. They enter the kingdom along with the saved of Israel as indicated by the remnant of Israel in Revelation 7. The saved of Israel and the nations of the saved enter the kingdom in fulfillment of the kingdom passages such as Isaiah 11, 60, 61 and others. The earth will be restored and come under the rule of Messiah who will reign with His overcoming bride. The people who inhabit earth will continue to have offspring and the population of earth will increase. At the end of the Millennium age Satan will be released again and will deceive many who have lived under the reign of Christ but have not submitted to Him as King. They will join Satan in His eternal destination (Rev. 20:7-15).
Revelation 21, 22 describe the eternal condition of planet earth with God ruling supreme from the New Jerusalem. All sin is eradicated and God’s life and power permeate everything. Heaven comes to earth and the ages of eternity begin.
In summary, Revelation contains a fairly chronological account of the events recorded in the Olivet Discourse with the wrath of God coming at the end and the sign of the coming of Christ in the heavens followed by the coming of Christ and the rapture. When we put these passages next to all others dealing with the coming of Christ and the rapture we have a compelling picture of how it will all play out. Christ will come for and with His saints after the Great Tribulation that ends the age and He will set up His earthly kingdom.
Other Points to Consider
The pretribulation doctrine is not the historical position of the church. Following are several examples of teachers who believed and taught that Christians would face Antichrist and the Tribulation.
1. The Bible
We find no direct statement in scripture showing a rapture before the tribulation.
2. The Didache (50-120 A.D.)
This early Christian commentary clearly teaches that the church will face the Antichrist. These writings were contemporary with or immediately following the New Testament writers.
3. Epistle of Barnabas (80-100)
This early epistle encouraged believers to remain faithful in the present so that they will be able to withstand the Antichrist if he should come.
4. Shepherd of Hermas (95-150)
[Blessed are] you who endure the great tribulation that is coming on, and [blessed are] they who shall not deny their own life. (Vision 2:2)
5. Justin Martyr (110-165)
In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin Martyr warns that the Antichrist will do “unlawful things against us Christians.”
6. Irenaeus (120-202)
Irenaeus, in Against Heresies, speaks of the destruction of Babylon and the arise of the Beast who will “put the church to flight.”
7. Tertullian (145-220)
Tertullian taught that Antichrist will persecute the church with cruel attacks
8. Hyppolytus (185-235)
In his treatise on Daniel he stated, “When the times are fulfilled, and the ten horns spring from the beast in the last (times), then Antichrist will appear among them. When he makes war against the saints, and persecutes them, then may we expect the manifestation of the Lord from heaven.” Hyppolytus made several other statements supporting the church going through the tribulation.
9. Cyprian (200-258)
In an epistle he wrote this clear statement about the church facing the Antichrist: “Nor let any one of you, beloved brethren, be so terrified by the fear of future persecution, or the coming of the threatening Antichrist, as not to be found armed for all things by the evangelical exhortations and precepts, and by the heavenly warnings.”
10. Victorinus (300-400)
In his Commentary on Apocalypse he writes, “The little season signifies three years and six months, in which with all his power the devil will avenge himself trader Antichrist against the Church.”
11. Rufinus (307-309)
In his Commentary on the Apostles Creed he warns Christians not to mistake Antichrist for the coming of Christ.
12. Cyril (archbishop of Jerusalem, 326)
In Lecture 15 and several other writings he warns Christians to stand firm against Antichrist.
13. Athanasius (338)
In Festal Letters, letter 10: “For how shall patience be looked for, if there be not previously labors and sorrows? Or how can fortitude be tested with no assault from enemies? Or how shall magnanimity be exhibited, unless after contumely and injustice? Or how can long-suffering be proved, unless there has first been the calumny of Antichrist? And, finally, how can a man behold virtue with his eyes, unless the iniquity of the very wicked has previously appeared?” This is clear evidence of the firm belief that Christians will face suffering and Antichrist.
It is clear then that the pretribulational position was not the end time position of the early church through the fourth century.
Presumption is a primary tactic of argument
A person arguing for a pretribulational rapture will argue from assumptions. For example Matthew 24 is assumed to be for only Israel because it is devastating to the pretribulational view. It is assumed that the church is in heaven after Revelation 4 even though there is no specific reference to a rapture. It is assumed that the remnant of Israel preaches the Gospel so that many are saved even though scripture does not directly say so. Of course there are times when assumptions are necessary based on the context but they should not be used to skirt around the face value meaning of a passage.
The proof text method is common
The pretribulation position is a patchwork of passages pasted together, mingled with logical arguments without scriptural support, in an attempt to show a rapture before the tribulation. This is done because there is no passage which directly teaches a rapture preceding the tribulation period. All of the passages dealing with the coming of Christ clearly show or imply a rapture at the end. Some of the passages used are as follows:
Revelation 3:10: Because you have kept the Word of My patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation which will come upon all the habitable world, to try those who dwell upon the earth.
First of all the letter was specifically written to a church in Philadelphia over 2000 years ago, so it seems silly to interpret the verse as applying to the church of the end times. Secondly, there are two words that could have been used here for the word translated “from”. One is apo and the other is ek, the word used here. If the meaning was that the church was to be kept “from entering” the tribulation, apo would have been used. If it means to keep you out of the midst to danger, the word ek would be used. With that in mind the verse carries the same meaning of such verses as 1 Peter 4:7, 12, 13 and 2 Peter 2:9 which clearly show that believers are kept or guarded in the midst of the testing, not rescued from it.
1 Thessalonians 1:10: “...and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
Pretribulationists take the whole seven years of the Tribulation as the outpouring of God’s wrath and quote this verse to show that Christians will be delivered from that wrath. The wrath of God comes somewhere after the midpoint of the Great Tribulation (see Rev. 6:17; 11:18; 14:19; 16:19; 19:15). Much of the Tribulation is the wrath of Satan coming against God’s people. At a certain point indicated by the previous verses, God’s wrath will be unleashed on Satan and his followers at which time the church will be raptured.
The Bible teaches that Christians will suffer persecution and must endure to the end.
2 Tim. 3:13: Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
James 1:2-12: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:2-12).
Matthew 24:9: Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake.
John 16:33: I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
Romans 8:35: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
Revelation 1:9: I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
Israel in Prophecy
How we view the future of Israel according to God’s word influences our attitude about the end times. Dispensational, pretribulationists see the tribulation as dealing with the nation of Israel alone and most view the church as a nonfactor in the last days. Many pretribulationists believe that the church will experience spiritual decline until the rapture at which time the rapture will take place and then God will begin to deal with Israel. For this reason, passages like Matthew 24 that clearly show the coming of Christ after the rapture are relegated to the Jews only. When they read Romans 11 they see the church grafted into the olive tree as a wild olive shoot but eventually Israel re-grafted into the tree in a tribulation revival and where the church a nonfactor.
This interpretation misses the point that the church is never seen as broken away from the olive tree. They remain on the tree, which must represent God’s life, along with Israel. Paul says that Israel will be grafted back into the tree and that all Israel will be saved (Rom. 12:24-26). Any salvation occurring in the last days will result in people coming to their Messiah, Jesus. This makes them members of the olive tree of God’s life along with Gentiles. At the very end of the age at the Battle of Armageddon many in Israel will be saved when Christ comes in battle. They will repent and enter the Millennium along with many Gentiles.
God has reconciled both Jews and Gentiles into one body through the cross (Eph. 2:16) and is building a holy temple, a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (2:19-22). The Tribulation will cause many in Israel to come into Christ as the church rises up in victory in Christ and all of Israel will be saved and enter the Millennium at the coming of the Lord (Zech. 13:8-12; 12:10; 14:16-17; Isa. 22:2-5).
This is not meant to be an exhaustive study of all the arguments that show a return of Christ and a rapture of His church at the end of the Tribulation. It is brief look at various passages using a face value approach. I do not claim to have perfect understanding on this issue and remain open to correction and adjustment in my thinking as the Lord directs. We need to stay open to God and let Him continue to guide us according to His will.
One thing is growing increasingly clear. There is virtually no direct evidence of a pretribulation rapture. Instead of approaching these passages in a straightforward manner pretribulationists, using human logic and proof texts, try to make their case. The rapture comes at the end of the tribulation. You will have to do your own study to find the details. There are many books written on the subject and many websites that support our position. One thing is for sure, the pretribulation position is waning in support because people are picking up their Bibles and finding out for themselves.
Let your quest for truth be sincere and straightforward. Don’t let assumptions and preconceived notions rule the day. Approach the word with a face value attitude and see where it leads you.
Websites of interest: