A Brief Forward
Tribulation is happening even now to Christians on the earth, no one is debating that. But we have not fully started what Paul described as a falling away from the faith (1Tim 4:1) and the love of people growing cold (Matt 24:12.) As tribulation increases and ‘birthpangs’ (matt 24:8) continue (they have started), the issue of why God allows tribulation to happen becomes important and the church has got to have an answer of why God is allowing this (that was not done well at 9-11).
God’s judgment is not against the saints. The book of Revelation is not about the judgment of God on the saints. Yes, there is a sub theme in the book of Revelation, which is the Antichrist’s rage against the church, but that is not the primary theme of the book of Revelation. Like in the book of Acts, there clearly is a sub theme of the persecution of the church. As far as we know, all the apostles were martyred. That is what history tells us. There is a record of the persecution of the saints in the book of Acts, but the book of Acts is not mostly a book about persecution, nor do people think of it that way. It is the acts of the Holy Spirit through the apostles.
The book of the Revelation is the acts of the Holy Spirit through the end-time apostles, and the end-time church. Yes, there is a sub theme of persecution, but God has not appointed the church of God for wrath. The wrath of God does not come on the church, but the church will release the wrath of God through believing prayer under Jesus’ leadership. The Praying Church releases the seals and trumpets as Judgment on the antichrist empire just like Moses released the plauges on the OT type of the antichrist, Pharoah.
In the End-times it will be important to have a past history of relationship of God that we could stand strong in times of tribulation. The End-Times will be the most glorious hour of the church, and our preparation time is now. We will stand strong in the face of the enemy, the harlot, and the antichrist. We need a decade or two of really seeking God on His 150 + chapters of the bible about the end-times, to have His really open our eyes and see His heart and vision here, that we could articulate it with absolute CLARITY and BOLDNESS to our brothers and sisters in a time Paul and Jesus say will be FULL of deception. Not just that, we need to go deep in God now because the end-times will be the premier hour for the church, to manefest healings, miracles, signs, prophectic words with power etc. Joel 2 says “In the Last Days I will pour out my Spirit.” The Lord is going to bring in the harvest with this tribulation! Matt 13:39 says that from heavens perspective there are few that have labored to the point that they qualify to be sent from heaven with true authority to reap the coming harvest.
WHEN DOES THE RAPTURE HAPPEN?
The best place for us to begin to answer the question “when does the rapture occur?” is by identifying what we know to be true about the Second Coming and the rapture. The five truths I am going to present directly contrast three of the four rapture views.
Truth #1: The Second Coming is a Singular Event Occuring After the Tribulation
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” – Mt. 24:29-31
- Jesus describes His Second Coming as a singular event occurring after the tribulation. At no point in His teaching ministry does he ever reference another timeframe for His return.
- After His resurrection Jesus spent forty days with His disciples. When He finally ascended into heaven two angels appeared to the disciples and informed them: “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) The angels described a singular event in which Jesus would come back from heaven to the earth.
- Some point to 1 Thes. 4:15-18 to validate a view that Jesus Christ returns momentarily in the sky to rapture the church seven years before His Second Coming. However, there is no doubt that Paul’s views were formed by Christ’s teachings. If he was introducing a new view concerning a subject as important as an entirely separate Second Coming event, I imagine he would have said so.
- Consider the parallels in the two passages:
- The noun used for the word “come” (parousia) in the NT means arrival or presence. The verb tense of this word implies continuous and progressive action. When Jesus returns, He is coming to establish His manifest presence and initiate an indefinite mission upon the earth.
- Conclusion – Any position subscribing to a view that necessitates two Second Coming events is rooted in theory not Scripture. This is an important distinction to make. Nowhere does the Bible delineate between two separate Second Coming events. However the Bible does emphatically describe one event, which occurs after the Tribulation, not at any point before it.
VI. Truth #2: The Rapture Occurs After the Tribulation
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather (episynago) together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” – Mt. 24:29-31
- Jesus describes the rapture as an event that is synonymous with His Second Coming.
- The apostle Paul also describes the Second Coming and the rapture as one synonymous event.“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering (episynago) together to Him…” – 2 Thes. 2:1
- Both Jesus and Paul use the same word for “gather,” episynago.
- The only explicit time frame given to understand the return of Christ and rapture of the saints is “after the tribulation.”
- If the rapture occurs after the tribulation what does that mean? It means the Church is here during the tribulation. Jesus, in fact, prefigures the presence of believers during the tribulation.
“Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation’… And pray that your flight may not be in the winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, since has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be… Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it… Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out… For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Mt. 24:15,20-21, 23, 26-27)
- The clear emphasis of Jesus’ teaching prefigured the presence of believers on earth during the Great Tribulation. Dispensationalists would speculate that Jesus was speaking to Jews here, and so it is the Jews who will be present during the tribulation, while the Church has been raptured. If one is consistent with their logic then they must at least acknowledge it is “believing” Jews who Jesus is speaking to. So are we now meant to understand that though the church has been raptured, Jewish believers are left behind because of their ethnicity? Are they then not members of the Church? This train of logic is a theological train wreck. I do not have space in this blog to develop how preposterous this scenario is. The fact is that Jesus is preparing the leaders of His Church with important information pertaining to their survival during the great tribulation.
- Believers are also pictured as present during the Great Tribulation throughout the book of Revelation. Once again dispensationalists would redefine this truth by pointing out that though the term “saints” is used, the word “ecclesia” or Church is not used in Rev. 4-19. Their conclusion then is that the Church must not be here and that the saints that are written about are a new group of believers who were saved during the Tribulation but are not members of the Church.
- The idea that the Church is here during the Tribulation has been cause for opposition by the pretrib camp on another front as well. They present the “doctrine of comfort” as reassurance that the saints will not endure the Tribulation because it is a time of God’s wrath. I will give a summary response to this because I do not have time in this message to belabor the technical implications involving ecclesiology verses soteriology, which are massive.
…In the world you will have tribulation… – Jn. 16:33
…They will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. – Mt. 24:9
Yes and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. – 2 Tim. 3:12
…No one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. – 1 Thes. 3:3-4
And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” – Acts 14:22
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you. – 1 Pet. 4:12
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” – Jn. 16:33
3. Third – In regards to the subject of God’s wrath – Foundational to the pretribulation rapture view is the belief that the Church must be raptured before the Tribulation begins because Christians are not appointed unto wrath. The pretribulation view holds that the present age is characterized by grace and that the Tribulation is characterized by wrath, therefore the Church cannot be here during the Tribulation. Walvoord clarified this position: “The only way one could be kept from that day of wrath would be to be delivered beforehand.” There are several points in this view that require discussion.
First of all, Romans 1 reveals that God’s wrath is already being revealed. The difference between the wrath manifested now and the great tribulation is one of degree not kind. It is a fabrication of Scripture to suggest that we are currently in an age of grace and yet the Tribulation is one of wrath. Evidences of God’s grace and His wrath permeate history and will continue to all the way through the Great Tribulation at which time the largest harvest of souls in history will take place.
Does this mean that Christians are appointed to wrath? Absolutely not.
For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ… – 1 Thes. 5:9
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. – Rom. 5:9
The bible teaches the wrath of God is directed toward the wicked, not the righteous. (Rev. 14:9-11; Eph. 5:6)
…Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience. – Eph. 5:6
The difference in the two views concerns God’s method of deliverance from wrath. The biblical precedence for the deliverance of God’s people from His wrath is always through protection or redirection – never by being raptured.
Protection – In the book of Revelation we are given insight into God’s method of deliverance for the righteous. In 7:3-4 144,000 are sealed, and consequently protected from the wrath of God. This is consistent with God’s means of protection for His people throughout the OT, for example: the people of God in Egypt during the plagues, Rahab in the midst of the downfall of Jericho, Noah and his family in the ark during the midst of the flood, Daniel in the lions’ den, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace.
Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation is past. For behold, the Lord comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; the earth will also disclose her blood… – Isa. 26:20-21
Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads. – Rev. 7:2-3
And in that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there, in order that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the land. I will make a difference between My people and your people… – Ex. 8:22-23
Now the city shall be doomed by the Lord to destruction, it and all who are in it. Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house…. – Josh. 6:17
Redirection – God directs His people away from coming judgment (Rev. 12; 18:4).
When the morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to hurry, saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.” And while he lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. – Gen 19:15-16
And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. – Rev. 18:4
Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days… But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. – Rev. 12:6, 14
There are several examples from the OT that pretribulationists use as illustrations to prove that the Church must be raptured before the tribulation begins. These examples include: Lot at Sodom, Rahab at Jericho, Moses from Egypt, Noah from the flood, and Daniel from the fiery furnace. The one thing that all of these examples have in common is that the saints were never removed from the earth to protect them from God’s wrath – they were protected or redirected.
F. Some point to Revelation 3:10 as a proof-text for the theory that Christians will be delivered from the Tribulation.
Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. – Rev. 3:10
Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep (tereo) you from (ek) the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test (peirasmos) those who dwell on the earth. – Rev. 3:10
The Greek word for “keep” is tereo, which means “to guard, watch over, or keep.” Tereo carries the idea of protecting someone while he is within a sphere of danger, not that of keeping him away from the danger altogether. Only those who are within a specific sphere of danger need to be watched over or guarded.
“From” is transliterated from a Greek preposition, ek, which means to “come out of the midst of something.” The Greek preposition apo means “to be kept out of or away from.” In Revelation 3:10, had the writer meant that those who follow the teaching of Christ concerning perseverance would be kept outside of the hour of testing, the Greek preposition apo would have been used. Tereo ek, used in conjunction, can only refer to guarding or protecting those who persevere while they are within the sphere of danger, and then bringing them safely out from the midst of that danger. Thus, the meaning of the text is clear. Tereo ek should be translated, “a watchful protection within the sphere of danger, with a safe deliverance out from the midst of it.” This perfectly describes a posttribulation rapture scenario.
Consider how ek is used in an end-times context. John is told that the great multitude standing before the throne of God “are the ones who come out of (ek) the great tribulation” (Rev. 7:14b). This great multitude of believers is not spared the tribulation, but is delivered “out from the midst of” it, once again picturing exactly what the Greek text intended in Rev. 3:10 (having the same context, the same Greek preposition, exactly the same meaning).
The same combination of tereo and ek is used in John 17:15. “I do not ask thee to take them out of the world, but “to keep them from (tereo and ek) the evil one.”
The Greek word translated “testing” is peirasmos, which comes from the root, peira. The Greek word for tempted in James 1:13 is peirazo, which also comes from the root peira.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted (peirazo) by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. – James 1:13
Also consider the use of peirazo in 1 Thes. 3:5; 1 Cor. 7:5; and Mt. 4:1. Each one of these verses have the same thing in common – peirazo is never used to describe the wrath of God. In each case peirazo describes the “testing” that comes from Satan.
For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted (peirazo) you, and our labors might be in vain. – 1 Thess. 3:5
Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt (peirazo) you because of your lack of self-control. – 1 Cor. 7:5
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted (peirazo) by the devil. – Mt. 4:1
Jesus told Peter that Satan had asked to sift him like wheat. Then Jesus said that He prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail. I believe Revelation 3:10 presents a similar context. The church of Philadelphia was going to experience a time of “testing.” Jesus encouraged them that if they remained faithful he would “keep” them through the midst of the testing, and then deliver them out of it. This was a historically accurate scenario concerning the church of Philadelphia’s preservation during the imperial Roman persecutions.
The time of testing that will come upon “the whole earth” during the Tribulation will certainly present a test to every believer. Jesus soberly warned His disciples not to be “deceived” in Matthew 24. This is the critical issue at the end of the age. Not whether or not we will experience attack from Satan – we know that we will. He is granted to “make war with the saints and to overcome them” (Rev. 13:7). The real issue is having a persevering faith – this is what I believe Jesus intended to communicate to the church of Philadelphia, hence the “command to persevere.”
In addition to the near identical descriptions that Paul and Jesus gave about the Second Coming and rapture, Paul uses a word that I believe gives us some insight into the nature of the rapture event.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain [perileipomenoi] until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain [perileipomenoi] shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. – 1 Thes. 4:15-18.
“Immediately after the tribulation …the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” – Mt. 24:29-31
Paul’s final exhortation to “comfort one another with these words” are of significant value to those who have endured persecution throughout history, but they will have pronounced meaning to those who will endure through the Great Tribulation, knowing that their redemption is drawing near (Lk. 21:28).
VII. Truth #3: The Resurrection Occurs After the Tribulation
A. Both Daniel 12 and Revelation 20 reveal that the resurrection of the saints occurs after the Tribulation. The apostle John calls this the first resurrection (Rev. 20:6). It is not tenable that this post-tribulation resurrection could be called the “first resurrection” if another one just occurred seven years earlier.
VIII. Truth #4: The Last Trumpet Occurs in Context to the Second Coming
A. Again, the two parallel passages of Mt. 24:29-30 and 1 Thes. 4:15-18 indicate that a trumpet is sounded at the return of Christ signaling the simultaneous resurrection and rapture of the saints. 1 Cor. 15:51-52 refers to this as the “last” trumpet.
“Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed (given our resurrected bodies) – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” – 1 Cor. 15:51-52
B. The last trumpet recorded in Scripture is the seventh trumpet in the book of Revelation. At that time we know that the nations come under Jesus manifest leadership, the earth is judged, the saint are rewarded, and the mystery of God is completed (Rev. 10:7; 11:15-18).
“…in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished…” – Rev. 10:7
We know that at least part of the “mystery of God” is the resurrection and consequent translation of the saints according to 1 Cor. 15.
IX. Truth #5: Jesus, the Apostles, and All the Early Church Fathers Had a Post-Tribulation View of the Rapture
The Didache – Is one of the earliest pieces of Christian literature after the New Testament, dating from the first quarter of the Second Century. The author warns the Church against the perils of the Antichrist and the tribulation; “[There] shall appear the deceiver of the world as a Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders and the earth shall be given over into his hands and he shall commit iniquities which have never been done since the world began. Then shall the creation of mankind come to the fiery trial and many shall be offended and be lost, but they who endure in their faith… And then shall appear the sign of the truth. First the sign spread out in Heaven, then the sign of the trumpet, and thirdly the resurrection of the dead: but not all of the dead, but as it was said, The Lord shall come and all his saints with him. Then shall the world see the Lord coming on the clouds of Heaven.” The purpose of the Didachist in writing this exhortation was to prepare the Church for the Great Tribulation, and to urge steadfastness.
The Shepherd of Hermas (circa 150 A.D.) – Hermas sought to prepare the Church for the persecutions of the Great Tribulation; “Therefore do not cease to speak to the ears of the saints. You have also the type of the great persecution to come.”
Justin Martyr (circa 150 A.D.) – “He shall com from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us Christians, who, having learned the true worship of God from the law, and the word which went forth from Jerusalem by means of the Apostles of Jesus, have fled for safety to the God of Jacob and the God of Israel.”
Irenaeus (Disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John) – “In a still clearer light has John, in the Apocalypse, indicated to the Lord’s disciples what shall happen in the last times, and concerning the ten kings who shall then arise, among whom the empire which now rules shall be partitioned. He teaches us what the ten horns shall be which were seen by Daniel, telling us that thus it had been said to him. It is manifest, therefore, that of these [potentates], he who is to come shall slay three, and subject the remainder to his power, and that he shall be himself the eighth among them. And they shall lay Babylon waste, and burn her with fire, and shall give their kingdom to the beast, and put the church to flight. After that they shall be destroyed by the coming of our Lord.”
“But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man [Antichrist] and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous [the Church] the times of the kingdom…For all those, and other words, were unquestionably spoken in reference to the resurrection of the just, which takes place after the coming of the Antichrist, and the destruction of all nations under his rule; in (the times of) which (resurrection) the righteous shall reign on the earth, waxing stronger by the sight of the Lord…and who have suffered tribulation.”
Hippolytus, a Bishop of Rome in the early third century interprets Revelation 12 as: “the tribulation of the persecution which is to fall upon the Church from the adversary.” The time and times and half a time refer “to the one thousand two hundred and three score days during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church, which flees from city to city, and seeks concealment in the wilderness among the mountains.”
A. The clear teaching of Jesus concerning a singular, and yet future return is set in context to the period of time “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (Great Tribulation), thus inaugurating an indefinite mission on earth, entailing “continuous progressive action.” This understanding is reinforced by the entire body of NT teaching concerning this subject, including a single “first resurrection” occurring after the Great Tribulation (not before), and a single “last trumpet” occurring at Christ’s Second Coming (not third, fourth, or fifth). This Second Coming is taught as a cataclysmic event including signs in the heavens, and drawing the attention of “every eye.” These points were understood by the entire body of early church Fathers, who were handed down an account of what was taught by the apostles.
B. We Must Prepare – The clear purpose of the book of Revelation is to prepare the Church for what is to come. There is no other logical reason that details concerning the Great Tribulation would be given if the Church is not going to be here. The inclusion of chapters 6-18 would be a complete mystery.