(Revelation 3: 10) “Because you have kept My command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.”
Whenever we study any Biblical doctrine there are four fundamental principles of interpreting Biblical truth. Firstly, we always begin with what is plainly taught in the Biblical texts we are studying, not what may be or may not be inferred or implied. Secondly, we need to look at why was the book written and to whom? Thirdly, we need to ask ourselves what it meant for the people that it was written to and what does it mean for us today as the Body of Messiah. Fourthly, we always look at the context of any passage of scripture in light of its co-texts.
Since the middle of the 19th Century the doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture of the Body of Messiah before a seven year period of trial and testing that will engulf the whole world was imposed on the Body of Messiah in the western democracies primarily by the teaching of John Nelson Darby introducing his Dispensational system of eschatology which made a radical separation between Israel and the Church which scripture does not make. However, because of the persecution that is coming to the Body of Messiah in the western democracies the matter that needs to be addressed yet again is the doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture of the Body of Messiah before the man of sin arrives on the world’s stage and the tribulation commences. But does the Bible teach a pre-tribulation rapture?
Those in the pre-tribulation camp will go to great lengths seeking to prove that the early Church fathers taught such a doctrine. They will look at statements made by some early Church fathers emphasising “immanency” interpreting it as a sudden snatching away of the Body of Messiah before a seven year tribulation period, an inference by them to bolster their view of a pre-tribulation rapture. The idea of “immanency” does not imply a sudden secret snatching away of the Body of Messiah to heaven before the revealing of the man of sin and the time of Tribulation.
The emphasis in the New Testament is on the unexpectedness of the Second Coming of Messiah (Matthew 24:43-44). He will come when He is least expected and His Coming will be as the lightning flashes from east to west, and every eye will see Him (Matthew 24:27) (Revelation 1:7). If you or I die tonight as a born again believer in the Lord Jesus then the Lord has come for us. The immanency in this is that we will be absent from the body but present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
The New Testament is clear that the Lord Jesus cannot come back until certain things happen on earth which we will look at in this article. However, while statements exist related to the catching away of the saints by some of the earlier Church Fathers there is no clear reference from any of them explicitly stating a doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture before the middle of the 19th Century when the doctrine was made ‘popular’ by the teaching of John Nelson Darby and reinforced by the Scofield Reference Bible with its dispensational eschatology enunciated in the foot notes on the prophetic passages of the Bible. In fact there are numerous references by some of the early Church fathers about the saints being persecuted by the Antichrist at the end of this age and even those who taught he would be Islamic.
In all of this disputing over the timing of the rapture, which has caused much confusion and division within the wider Body of Messiah since the time of Darby and Co, we need to go back to the Word of God to see what it actually teaches on this matter. In this study we will look briefly at several of the main passages of scripture used by those in the pre-tribulation camp to bolster their pre-tribulation rapture position to see what these verses really teach in their context and in light of their co-texts. While we cannot cover these passages of scripture and others related to it at length in this article as it would be too long to read, we will deal briefly with a few of the main ones. Let’s now look at this…
1. Kept from of Kept through?
(Revelation 3: 10) “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.”
The Lord Jesus spoke clearly about being kept from the hour of testing but the Greek word used can also be translated “kept through” and not from. The only other time this word is used is where the Lord Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17:11, 15 and asked His Father not to take them out of the world but to keep them from the evil one in the world. The word “keep” in this context applies to keeping them in the world not taking them out of it.
The Greek word is “tēreō” a verb describing an action which means “to attend to carefully”, “to take care of, to guard” and a metaphor used for “to keep, one in the state in which he is” and “ to reserve: to undergo something.” It does not mean to be taken out of this world but to be kept from the influence and clutches of the evil one while remaining in the world. In the Book of Revelation John writes concerning the need for the saints to persevere in tribulation and there is not reference to them avoiding it (Revelation 1:9; 2:2; 2:19; 13:9-10; 14:12).
2. Who will be taken and who will be left?
(Matthew 24:40-41) “Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.”
This verse must be taken in its context. Who is actually taken? The context is clear that the ones taken are the wicked swept away in the judgement. The flood in Noah’s time came and the wicked were swept or taken away and this is how it will be at the Second Coming of Messiah (Matthew 24:39-40). Added to this the Lord Jesus also said that His followers would need to stay alert and watchful because He would come when He is least expected by the unsaved world (Matthew 24:42).
The idea of the wicked as the ones who are taken or swept away in judgement is affirmed by other passages of scripture (Proverbs 10:25) (Psalm 28:3) (Zephaniah 1:2-3) (Proverbs 21:7) (Psalm 73: 19) (Psalm 58:9) (Psalm 90:5) (1 Samuel 12:25). Those who are not taken away in judgement will be those who will enter the millennial kingdom who are saved as the Ark that protected Noah and his family members is a type of the salvation that is in our Lord Jesus the Messiah. Matthew 24:36-42 in its Biblical context and in light of its Biblical co-texts is not speaking about a secret rapture of the saints. This is an inference that is just not in the text!
3. Taken before or after the Tribulation?
(Matthew 24:29-31) “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”
In these verses we notice several things. It is immediately after the tribulation of those days that the rapture and resurrection occur. In these verses we see at the very end of the time of great tribulation the constellations being shaken as the sign of the Lord Jesus coming back (See also Revelation 6: 12-17) (Isaiah 13:9-13) (Isaiah Chapter 24; 34:2-4) (Joel 2:30-31). The faithful Body of Messiah goes into the time of Great Tribulation but is rescued out of it just before the wrath of God is poured out (Revelation 7:14). We are destined for tribulation (Greek- thlipsis) in this world (1 Thessalonians 3:3). We are not destined for wrath (Greek- orge/thumos) (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9).
In the original New Testament Greek we see that the word “tribulation” is a different word used than the world “wrath.” Tribulation (thlipsis) is the standard New Testament word for “trials, troubles, afflictions, testings, oppression, persecution, and a sense of being pressed down or under pressure.” It can also imply judgement because judgement is sent by God to bring about repentance and spiritual restoration.
In the original New Testament Greek we see the word “wrath” which is a different word meaning a wrath brought to boiling point and then being poured out, it is a wrath from which there is no reprieve such as we see in the flood in the time of Noah. We see this revealed in the seven bowls of the wrath (thumos) of God in the Book of Revelation.
Dispensational eschatology confuses these two words denoting that the time of tribulation in the Book of Revelation is the same as the wrath of God. Right through the entire book of Revelation it is tribulation (Greek-thlipsis) for Israel, for the Body of Messiah and for the whole world. Only at the very end of the Book of Revelation does it become wrath when the bowls of God’s wrath (Greek- thumos) that are poured out. The Body of Messiah will not experience this wrath but will be caught up as the wrath descends and after that return with the Messiah our Lord Jesus to earth after being gathered around Him to meet Him in the air and then to accompany Him back to earth (Jude 1:14) (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
The idea of “to meet” the Lord in the air conveys the meaning that when an important dignitary is approaching a city that the people of the city come out to meet him and gather around him and then accompany him back into the city. This is what will happen at the rapture and resurrection of all the Old Testament and New Testament saints who have been born again and redeemed by the blood of Messiah. The Messiah our Lord Jesus has only one bride.
Notice also the “elect” that are gathered by the angels in Matthew Chapter 24:31 clearly puts the rapture and resurrection immediately after the time of Great Tribulation (vs.29). Dispensational adherents say that those gathered by the angels are only Jews in the Great Tribulation, but this again is based on their system of eschatology which makes a radical separation between Israel and the Church which the scriptures do not make. The word “elect’ is the standard Greek word used in the New Testament for the Body of Messiah corporately (Romans 11:7) (2 Timothy 2:10) (Titus 1:1) (1 Peter 1:1).
Then we also notice that there is the trumpet blast accompanying the rapture and resurrection occurring immediately after the tribulation of those days. We also see the trumpet mentioned in other New Testament references to the rapture and resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:16) (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). The seventh and last trumpet, which will see the rapture and resurrection occur at the Second Coming, also announces the arrival of the Messianic kingdom on earth and loud voices in heaven shout “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign forever and ever,” (Revelation 11:15). These references to the rapture and resurrection collectively all refer to the one and the same event, namely the rapture and resurrection of the Body of Messiah.
Finally we also notice that the elect are gathered “from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” These are the spirits of those believers who have already died physically and are returning with the Messiah to receive their resurrected immortal bodies. Mark mentions this gathering of the elect also from the four winds but also mentions they are also gathered “from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens” (Mark 13:27). These are believers still on earth at the time of the Messiah’s Second Coming. The fact that they are gathered from the ends of the hearth to the ends of the heavens clearly reveals a universal or global rapture and resurrection and cannot be restricted to Jews living in Israel. The rapture and resurrection are the one and the same event (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
4. What must occur before the rapture and resurrection?
(2 Thessalonians 2:1-12) (Turn to this passage of scripture)
There are several things to note. Firstly we are told that the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus is directly connected to our being gathered to Him (Vs.1) This is the same event as we see in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The believers at Thessalonica were worried because of severe persecution and because of those teaching a false eschatology, thought that the day of the Lord, which included the Second Coming and the rapture and resurrection, had already come and they had been left behind (Vs.2). However, Paul clearly states that this was not the case and adds that the day of the Lord, which includes the rapture and resurrection and the final outpouring of God’s wrath, cannot occur until three things happen first.
The first thing Paul mentions is the apostasy (Vs.3), which will see the majority of professing believers globally fall away from the faith because of the increase of wickedness as the Lord Jesus prophesied would happen at the end of this present age (See also Matthew 24:12-13).
The Second thing Paul mentions is the revealing of the man of sin doomed to destruction that will be the Antichrist who will sit in God’s Temple to proclaim himself to be God and demand the worship of everyone in his empire of global proportions (Vs. 3-4). (See also Revelation 13: 8). Why would Paul have mentioned this if the Body of Messiah was no longer on earth? It is clear that the faithful Body of Messiah will recognise this man of sin before the rapture and the resurrection occur in (vs.1).
The third thing Paul mentions is that the coming of the lawless one, the man of sin also known as the Antichrist, will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders and in every sort of evil and that it will end when the Messiah will overthrow and destroy the man of sin and his empire by the breath of His mouth and by the splendour of His Second Coming to earth (Vs.8-9).
Before the Lord Jesus comes back to destroy the man of sin and all opposition, to rapture and resurrect the saints and to rescue Israel, the man of sin will persecute faithful New Covenant believers during the last three and a half years of this present age (Daniel 7:21, 25; 8:24-25; 12:7) (Revelation 12:17; 13:5-8). This time of the Big Trouble will be the time of Great Tribulation which will affect the whole world. The religious world will be completely shaken, the domestic world will be completely shaken and the business world will be completely shaken and all of the unsaved and apostate inhabitants of the world will be completely shaken as well (Isaiah 24:1-3).
Since the first century the faithful Body of Messiah has been experiencing tribulation and only in the last three and a half years of this present age will it greatly increase in frequency and intensity and become global. In every nation faithful New Covenant believers will be persecuted because they identify with and confess the Lord Jesus as saviour and Lord and the coming King (Matthew 24:9). Those who by the power of the Holy Spirit, having the oil of the Spirit in the spiritually regenerated lamp of their inner spirit man, will be able to persevere in this time of Great Tribulation that is coming upon the Body of Messiah in every nation on earth. This is why fellowship in the Holy Spirit around the Word of God and the Lord’s Table with other New Covenant believers is essential to our spiritual survival in these days of tribulation that will come.
At present for the most part the Body of Messiah in the Islamic world and in countries like China and North Korea, Pakistan and India are already experiencing terrible persecution as is being reported in the Voice of the Martyrs online publication (VOM). For the western democracies in Europe, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand the Body of Messiah is not yet experiencing this severe physical persecution in the west.
However, things are changing in the western democracies. Government legislation is being passed that already has as its real purpose to restrict Christians at every level including Christian educational institutions. While physical persecution for the most part is not happening now it will come to the western Body of Messiah when laws are mandated that go against the Bible. Ultimately it will become a physical persecution. Some of us will be imprisoned, some of us will be martyred and some of us will escape as God always has His places of refuge for his beleaguered, weary and tried saints.
In light of the coming persecution and the fiery ordeal by the Antichrist within the realm of his empire of global proportions, the Spirit of Glory and of God will rest mightily upon His saints being persecuted for standing up for, and openly confessing, the name of Jesus before men. (1 Peter 4:12-19). The blessed Holy Spirit Himself will give us words which will not be able to be refuted by our accusers (Luke 21:12-19).
The doctrine of a pre-tribulation secret rapture of the Church before the coming of the Antichrist and the time of tribulation sits rather well in our rather cosy and comfortable churches and in our rather affluent western lifestyles. Physical persecution is not on the radar of most of the evangelical, Charismatic churches in the western democracies and the whole idea of an escape from it is predominantly popular in the west and more so since the Left Behind franchise of books and movies were unloaded upon the Body of Messiah.
It was Corrie Ten Boom who wrote in a letter back in 1974 related to the persecution of the Body of Messiah in the very last days. In this letter there are things she said which are a wake-up call to those of us in the Body of Messiah now living in these last of the last days.
These are some extracts from that letter…
“There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days. Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution.
In China, the Christians were told, “Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.” Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly, “We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution, rather than telling them Jesus would come first. Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes, – to stand and not faint.
I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in training for the tribulation, but more than sixty percent of the Body of Christ across the world has already entered into the tribulation. There is no way to escape it. We are next…
… In America, the churches sing, “Let the congregation escape tribulation”, but in China and Africa the tribulation has already arrived. This last year alone more than two hundred thousand Christians were martyred in Africa. Now things like that never get into the newspapers because they cause bad political relations. But I know. I have been there. We need to think about that when we sit down in our nice houses with our nice clothes to eat our steak dinners. Many, many members of the Body of Christ are being tortured to death at this very moment, yet we continue right on as though we are all going to escape the tribulation.
Several years ago I was in Africa in a nation where a new government had come into power. The first night I was there some of the Christians were commanded to come to the police station to register. When they arrived they were arrested and that same night they were executed. The next day the same thing happened with other Christians. The third day it was the same. All the Christians in the district were being systematically murdered.
The fourth day I was to speak in a little church. The people came, but they were filled with fear and tension. All during the service they were looking at each other, their eyes asking, “Will this one I am sitting beside be the next one killed? Will I be the next one?” The room was hot and stuffy with insects that came through the screenless windows and swirled around the naked bulbs over the bare wooden benches. I told them a story out of my childhood.
“When I was a little girl,” I said, “I went to my father and said, “Daddy, I am afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.” “Tell me,” said Father, “When you take a train trip to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?” “No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.” “That is right,” my father said, “and so it is with God’s strength.
Our Father in Heaven knows when you will need the strength to be a martyr for Jesus Christ. He will supply all you need – just in time…” My African friends were nodding and smiling. Suddenly a spirit of joy descended upon that church and the people began singing, “In the sweet, by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.” Later that week, half the congregation of that church was executed. I heard later that the other half was killed some months ago.
But I must tell you something. I was so happy that the Lord used me to encourage these people, for unlike many of their leaders, I had the word of God. I had been to the Bible and discovered that Jesus said He had not only overcome the world, but to all those who remained faithful to the end, He would give a crown of life.
How can we get ready for the persecution?
First we need to feed on the Word of God, digest it, make it a part of our being. This will mean disciplined Bible study each day as we not only memorize long passages of scripture, but put the principles to work in our lives.
Next we need to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Not just the Jesus of yesterday, the Jesus of History, but the life-changing Jesus of today who is still alive and sitting at the right hand of God.
We must be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is no optional command of the Bible, it is absolutely necessary. Those earthly disciples could never have stood up under the persecution of the Jews and Romans had they not waited for Pentecost. Each of us needs our own personal Pentecost, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We will never be able to stand in the tribulation without it.
In the coming persecution we must be ready to help each other and encourage each other. But we must not wait until the tribulation comes before starting. The fruit of the Spirit should be the dominant force of every Christian’s life. Many are fearful of the coming tribulation, they want to run. I, too, am a little bit afraid when I think that after all my eighty years, including the horrible Nazi concentration camp, that I might have to go through the tribulation also. But then I read the Bible and I am glad.
When I am weak, then I shall be strong, the Bible says. Betsy (her sister) and I were prisoners for the Lord, we were so weak, but we got power because the Holy Spirit was on us. That mighty inner strengthening of the Holy Spirit helped us through. No, you will not be strong in yourself when the tribulation comes. Rather, you will be strong in the power of Him who will not forsake you. For seventy-six years I have known the Lord Jesus and not once has He ever left me, or let me down. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”, (Job 13:15) for I know that to all who overcome, He shall give the crown of life. Hallelujah!” – Corrie Ten Boom – 1974.
Brothers and sisters the rescue will come when that last trumpet is sounded and we will all be changed! (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). Until this happens we who are still alive on earth when the man of sin is revealed will have to face him and the totalitarian despotic pagan nature of his empire which will be one of global proportions. However the Lord Jesus has promised to be with us in that fiery furnace of affliction, not to remove us from this time of great testing but to keep us through it and out of the hands of the evil one.
It is not natural to seek persecution and if we can avoid it we can. Did not the Lord Jesus Himself say; “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23).
Persecution is never to be sought or endured for its own sake; nor should we intentionally bring it on ourselves, supposedly for Messiah’s sake. We have no right to provoke animosity or ridicule. And Messiah Jesus here urges escaping persecution when doing so is expedient and possible. We are not obligated to stay in a place of opposition and danger until we are killed, or even imprisoned. Whenever they persecute you in this city, Jesus says, flee to the next.
That is the pattern Paul followed throughout his ministry (See also Acts 12–14, 17). When persecution became so severe in one place that he could no longer minister effectively, he left and went to another. He was not afraid of persecution, and many times he was severely beaten before he left a city. At least once he was stoned and left for dead. But he did not try to test the limits of the opposition. He endured whatever ridicule, reviling, beatings, and imprisonment were necessary while he ministered. But he left a place when his effectiveness there ceased. This is the pattern that every faithful New Covenant believer is to follow until the Son of Man comes. It is a Call to persevere until the Lord comes back. When the rescue comes, and it will, the saints will inherit the Messianic Kingdom! (Daniel 7:18, 21-22, 26-27).
Ultimately the apostle Paul was martyred but not before he had completed the task God had assigned to him and this was not only true for him but for you and me as New Covenant believers who desire to complete the task God has assigned to us in this world and Satan and his demonic henchmen from hell will not be able to kill us. Besides if we are destined to die for our faith in the Lord Jesus we will be immediately absent from the body and present with Him (2 Corinthians 5:8).
We will have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect (Hebrews 12:21-23). While we know this to be true in the present by faith we will know it fully when we actually arrive there if we die before the rapture and resurrection. Either way this is our eternal destiny! (Revelation 21:1-4).
The apostle Paul knew when his assigned task had been completed and at that time he was ready to go home to his eternal reward. He wrote; “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).