A Pre-Tribulation Rapture?
Since the early part of the 19th century the doctrine of a secret pretribulation rapture of the Church has been widespread within Biblical evangelicalism. Prior to the 19th century this doctrine was never believed or taught in Church history. Those who say that it was taught before then claim that a sermon with a mention of a pretribulation rapture originated in the fourth century AD. It was delivered by the church father Ephraem of Nisibis, but was published soon after in the name of Pseudo-Ephraem. However, the fact that the Apocalypse of Ephraem of Nisibis was replicated centuries later by Pseudo-Ephraem has led to confusion about identities of the two persons and the dating of the manuscript. As in all matters of Biblical doctrine we need to see what the Bible clearly says and this is our final authority in all doctrinal matters. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The ‘doctrine’ of the pretribulation rapture originated in the nineteenth century by the Plymouth Brethren theologian John Nelson Darby and spread widely through evangelical circles and is still held by the majority of evangelical Christians today. The Church fathers going all the way back to the apostles never taught such a doctrine. It was not to be found in the creeds of the Church.
Always begin with what is clearly taught
Now there are no specific clear texts that teach this doctrine in the Bible. Whenever we approach any doctrine in the Bible we always begin with what is clear and plainly taught before we look at what may or may not be applied. Those who teach a pre-tribulation rapture use certain Biblical texts to support their view but the texts themselves do not clearly teach it. The Bible itself does not use the word “rapture.”
The word used for the believers being taken to meet the Lord Jesus in the air at His Second coming is the Greek word “Harpazo.” The word means “to catch up” or “to seize” or “to carry off by force” or “to seize upon” or “to “eagerly claim someone for one’s self” or to “snatch out of the way.” As we will see from clear Biblical texts that the Harpazo and the bodily resurrection of all faithful believers is simultaneous being the one and the same event and that they happen at the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus to earth and not before.
Two Comings Only
The Bible teaches only two comings of the Messiah, His First Coming and His Second Coming. Now let’s briefly look at the clear and plain texts that teach us about the rapture and resurrection of the faithful Church. One thing we will notice is that there is a trumpet blast involved in three of the texts we will look at linking them all together in describing the one and the same event. The rapture and resurrection that occur at the Second Coming of the Messiah are specifically mentioned four times in the New Testament.
Now let’s look at them.
1. (Matthew 24:29-31) “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 heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (See also Mark 13:24-27)
Notice we are told in the text “immediately after the tribulation of those days.” Notice we are told that this gathering of the elect saints happens immediately after the constellations are shaken. It is right at the end of this time of tribulation that the saints are gathered by the angels.
Also notice that the unsaved are seeing the Lord Jesus in the heavens as the sky opens up and He descends on the clouds of heaven. (Luke 21:27) (Mark 14:62) There will be nothing ‘secret’ about His Second Coming but one that will be clearly seen by the inhabitants on earth. (Matthew 24:27) (Revelation 1:7; 6:12-17)
Notice also there is a trumpet blast mentioned which is mentioned in all of the other three texts we will look at.
Notice also in Matthew 24:29-31 that the elect are gathered from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. Mark puts it this way in his gospel when he writes “And he will send His angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” (Mark 13:27) The elect saints we are told are gathered “from the ends of the earth” as well as from “the ends of the heavens.”
Those gathered from the four winds are the saints who have physically died while those gathered from the ends of the earth are the saints still living in their physical bodies. It is a global rapture and resurrection of all the saints happening simultaneously as we will see clearly written in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and so the saints are still on earth right at the end of the tribulation. They are saved out of it but not from it.
2. (1 Thessalonians 4: 15-17) “According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until 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.”
Those saints who have physically died and whose spirits have gone to be with the Lord will accompany the Lord Jesus when He comes back. They will receive their glorified, resurrected bodies at that time. Simultaneously, those saints who are still alive on earth in their physical bodies will also at the same time receive their glorified resurrected bodies. So we see clearly that the rapture (Harpazo) and the bodily resurrection are the one and the same event.
Notice also that there is a shout or a loud command and the blast of the trumpet. Of course in Matthew 24:29-31 the rapture and resurrection are also announced by a trumpet blast. As we will see this event is accompanied by the last and the seventh trumpet blast. At the sound of the trumpet blast the rapture and resurrection of all the saints occurs. The rest of the unsaved will not be raised until after the 1,000 of the Messianic Kingdom on earth has finished. The unsaved will be physically resurrected to be sentenced to the Lake of Fire forever. (Revelation 20:11-15)
Also notice the phrase “to meet the Lord.” This has the idea of an important dignitary coming towards a city and the people of the city come out to meet him and gather around him and then immediately accompany him back into the city. This is what will happen when the Lord Jesus comes back. The idea of the saints being in heaven for seven years while the tribulation is on earth cannot be read into this text or supported by clear scripture. The text in Thessalonians Chapter 1 is clear in itself.
3. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-3) “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting 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.”
This text clearly reveals that the faithful Body of the Messiah will still be here on earth during the time of great tribulation. Notice that the coming of the Lord is linked to our being gathered to Him at the Harpazo and the same as the Day of the Lord. The believers at Thessalonica were suffering severe persecution and were in tribulation (thlipsis) and had been unsettled by some who had sent then letters supposedly from Paul and others saying that the Day of the Lord, which included the gathering together of His saints, had already occurred and they had been left behind. Because of the severe persecution they thought that they were experiencing the Day of the Lord’s wrath. Clearly Paul addressed this deceptive doctrine that had caused the believers at Thessalonica to think they had missed out the rapture (Harpazo).
Clearly Paul taught no such doctrine as a pretribulation secret snatching away of believers before the time of great Tribulation occurred which will last for three and a half years at the end of this age. (Daniel 12:1, 7) (Matthew 24:21-22) (Revelation 12:6; 13:5-6) Why? Well the text itself tells us why.
Before the day of the Lord occurs, when the Lord Jesus will come back and the saints gathered to meet Him in the air, three things must happen first. They are specifically mentioned in 2 Thessalonians chapter two.
a. The apostasy or falling away must happen (Vs.3). The apostasy described is not just a falling away but a deliberate choice to turn away from the truth and to step out of a secure position and to totally leave it behind. It also implies not only to turn ones back on the truth but to teach others to do the same thing. “The apostasy” was kick-started when Constantine and the Church fathers paganised Christianity and removed it from its Jewish roots. Today the apostasy is in full-swing! One example is the spread of Ecumenism and interfaith associations blossoming within wider Christendom and much confusion concerning the ministry and the gifts or manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
b. The revealing of the man of sin. (The Antichrist) (Vs.3-4) He will ride in on the flood-tide of the apostasy. If the faithful Church was no longer to be on earth when the man of sin is revealed then why would Paul have even mentioned his coming? Clearly Paul had no “left-behind” doctrine being perpetrated today by those teaching this deceptive doctrine of a pretribulation rapture. In fact we are told specifically in both testaments that the Antichrist will persecute the saints before the Lord Jesus comes back. (Daniel 7:21, 25; 8:25; 12:7) (Revelation 12:17; 13:5-7)
c. The manifestation of all kinds of counterfeit spiritually deceptive miracles signs and wonders. (Vs.9) Today we see this happening across the globe within wider Christendom with the hyper charismatic movement with its dreams, visions, prophecies, financial greed and its emphasis on miracles signs and wonders and various manifestations of one sort or another. Added to this we have kingdom now, kingdom dominion theology along with the hyper faith prosperity money preachers. Added also to this we see within Christendom a rejection of Israel in relation to God’s prophetic purposes for them as His ancient people. Much more could be said about these false miracles signs and wonders but this is not the subject of this study. So until faithful believers see the apostasy, the revealing of the man of sin and the false miracles signs and wonders the Lord Jesus cannot come back.
4. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52) “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
The Bible describes the physical death of a believer as “sleeping” because they will be physically raised to life again when He returns to the earth. They will receive resurrected and glorified immortal bodies that will not age, get sick or die but be eternal and without sin or defect of any kind. They will have the same type of glorified body that the Lord Jesus Himself has. (Philippians 3:21) (1 John 3:2) the change will be instantaneous as quick as the blink of an eye. Notice also that the trumpet sounded is the last trumpet corresponding to the seventh trumpet in the Book of Revelation that announces the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus to inaugurate His Messianic Kingdom on earth. (Revelation 11:15) Now let’s briefly look at the seventh angel blowing the seventh trumpet being also the last Trumpet.
(Revelation 11:15) “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and He will reign for ever and ever.”
Notice when the seventh trumpet is sounded that there is a shout of voices and we are clearly told that this is the time when the Lord Jesus has returned and that the kingdoms of this world will now be under His rule. This is the seventh and last trumpet. It is the same one sounded in Matthew 24:29-31; 1 Thessalonians 15:4; and in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. When it is sounded and there is a great shout from the heavens the rapture (Harpazo) and bodily resurrection will occur and not before.
In the Book of Revelation we see seven trumpets that are connected to the seven bowls of the wrath of God. The trumpet announces the bowl and when the trumpet sounds the contents of the bowl of God’s wrath is poured out. We are told that at the blast of the last trumpet God’s kingdom is established on earth. I would like to suggest that these seven trumpets correspond to the seven trumpets we see sounded at the siege of Jericho by Joshua and the armies of Israel.
We are told that the armies of Israel marched around the city of Jericho once a day for six days with the seven priests holding the trumpets but not blowing them. These six days can correspond to the six seals in Revelation where we see God’s judgements starting to come upon the earth in earnest. At the seventh seal we see seven trumpets which announce the final judgement on the world not being tribulation (thlipsis) but God’s wrath (thumos).
Prophetically Jericho can represent the world at the end of this age. Joshua can represent the Lord Jesus and the armies of Israel the armies of heaven. The six days in which the Israelites marched around the city once each day can represent the six seals which sees the judgements of God starting to fall on the unbelieving world that has shut God out as we also see represented by Jericho being totally shut up as a city. The walls of the city were undoubtedly impossible to breach humanly speaking. It would take a supernatural act of God to accomplish this.
So then after marching around the city once a day for six days on the seventh day the Israelites were to march around Jericho seven times with the seven priests blowing their trumpets announcing the devastation to come. When the last trumpet blast was sounded it was to a prolonged blast accompanied by a shout from the Israelites and the walls of the city collapsed. Immediately Joshua and the armies of Israel took possession of the city for the Lord.
Now where were Rahab and her family members when the armies of God were marching around the city? They were still there but protected by the red cord tied to the bar of her window. While the rest of the city saw their doom approaching she and her family had “the blessed hope” that God would rescue all of them out of the city. (Joshua 2:8-11) When the walls started to crumble under the wrath of God upon the city she and her family members were kept safe. Once the city had collapsed Rahab and her family were taken out of it before the wicked and ungodly inhabitants were put to the sword at the hands of the Israelites. She and her family were in the city in the tribulation but out of it when God’s wrath upon the city brought it to its ultimate destruction. (Joshua 20-25)
Rahab and her family represent faithful believers in tribulation sheltering under the blood of the Lord Jesus. The judgements of God are falling on the world and the believers are still in it but divinely protected. The faithful saints of God will enter the time of great tribulation but be saved out of right at the end when the tribulation becomes wrath. Believers sheltering under the blood of the Messiah by faith will not experience this wrath of God just the same as Rahab and her family did not experience the final act of God’s wrath on Jericho but were saved from it and out of it at the end.
In the prophet Zephaniah we read these words which have a prophetic application in reference to the day of the Lord being the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus and the events leading up to it. “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered (hidden) on the day of the LORD’s anger.” (Zephaniah 2:3) We are told that those who remain faithful will be sheltered from or hidden from the day of the Lord’s anger.
If you or I die tonight as a believer in the Lord Jesus then He has come for us. We will be absent from the body and present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8) However, His Second Coming and the rapture and resurrection of the faithful Church cannot happen until we know who the man of sin is.
According to the pretribulation rapture proponents the Church will not even be here to see the man of sin sitting in God’s Temple. As for a seven year tribulation period you cannot prove it from scripture. You can only prove a three and a half year period of Great Tribulation which becomes the wrath of God right at the end of it.
In this world we are destined for tribulation (Greek-thlipsis)* and by much tribulation (Greek-thlipsis)* we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22) (1 Thessalonians 3:3) While we are destined for tribulation we are not destined for God’s wrath (Greek- “orge/thumos)* If we are saved and sheltering by faith under the blood of the Messiah it will save and protect us from the coming wrath of God (Exodus 12:13) (Romans 5:9) Rahab and her family members sheltered by faith under the red cord.
Our blessed hope as believers is the return of our Lord Jesus the Messiah and this of course includes the Harpazo or the snatching up of his faithful followers to meet Him in the air at His Second Coming. The Bible itself clearly reveals that the blessed hope of the faithful Body of the Messiah centred in second coming of the Lord Jesus to bring the rescue, destroy all of God’s enemies and to inaugurate and establish His Messianic Kingdom on earthy for a thousand years.
*N.B. we need to understand the difference between tribulation and wrath in the New Testament. Tribulation is not wrath. Getting the two words mixed up does cause confusion for many. The New Testament teaches that we are destined for tribulation (thlipsis) (John 16:33 KJV) (Acts 14:22 KJV) but not for wrath (orge) (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9) and by extension (thumos) (Revelation 16:1) In the Greek text of the New Testament the word for tribulation is “thlipsis” It is used in a comprehensive way. It can mean tribulation, trouble, affliction, oppression, persecution and a sense of being pressed down. It needs to be seen in light of the context in which it is used. In the eschatological passages of Matthew Chapter 24 Luke 21 and Mark 13.
In the Book of Revelation it is used to describe the suffering and persecution and the affliction of the saints and not for the wrath of God. The word “tribulation” also appears in the other epistles. Tribulation can also include the judgements of God but there is a difference between the judgement and the wrath of God. Judgement is sent by God to bring about correction and repentance whereas with wrath there is no reprieve.
Two different words are used for “wrath” Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians that as believers “we are not destined or appointed for wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus the Messiah…who rescues us from the coming wrath.” The word used for wrath here in the Greek word “orge” and is anger but also has the idea of a magistrate passing sentence on a felon or one who has broken the law.
It is a righteous and just anger that is being expressed. It also implies wrath in the sense as believers we are not destined for this judicial judgement because our sins were judged at the cross, and because we have accepted this and met the conditions for salvation, we will not be judged along with the rest of the unsaved world that have rejected salvation. Believers appear before the Judgement Seat of the Messiah but not before the Great White Throne judgement.
Having said this there is a third word used for wrath and it is in the context of the bowls of the wrath of God. The Greek word is “thumos” and this describes an anger brought to boiling point that overflows without restraint. With this kind of anger there is no reprieve. It was this kind of anger that brought the flood and the fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah. This is not tribulation but wrath. Sadly multitudes of well-meaning saints and Bible teachers do not distinguish between tribulation and wrath. Believers in this world are destined for tribulation but not for wrath.