There are many views within the body of Christ when it comes to Bible prophecy and end times events. My goal in this article is not to put down other points of view, but just present my case for the pre-tribulation rapture.
Types of Tribulation
The Tribulation that comes upon the Church
There is no doubt that the Church has in its history, and will continue to, experience tribulation and trials. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) This, however, is different than the Tribulation that will come upon the earth.
The Tribulation that comes upon the Earth
The Tribulation period is a specific 7-year period where God deals with the Nation of Israel and pours out His wrath on the whole world (Daniel 9:24-27). Speaking about that time, Jesus said, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” (Matt 24:21-22)
There are those that believe we will go through the Tribulation period, and often their criticism of the Pre-trib view is that “Pre-tribbers are escapists!” I believe that this is only partially true. Are we to be escapists?… Yes and No! Yes, we want to escape the wrath of God, but no, we do not want to escape trials and tribulation out of fear. Paul the apostle said that Christians that live godly will suffer persecution (2 Tim 3:10-12).
The key to remember is: the tribulation that the Church experiences comes from a different source than the Great Tribulation! The tribulation and persecution that comes upon the Church originates with Satan and fallen man (i.e. the wrath of Satan), whereas the Great Tribulation that comes upon the earth comes from God (i.e. the wrath of God – Rev. 6:16-17)
Evidences for the Pre-Tribulation Rapture
A. The Nature of the Church
I believe that one main reason people do not understand the timing of the rapture is because they do not understand the nature of the church. It is not just a matter of eschatology, but ecclesiology.
The 1st time the word “church” is used in the New Testament is in Matthew 16:18, where Jesus said, “I will build My church.” The word “will” shows that it was still future from the moment Jesus said it. The Greek word for “church” is ekklēsia, which comes from two Greek words, ek meaning “out from”, and kaleo, which means “to call,” thus the word church literally means “the called out ones.” We are the ones called out of this world to Jesus Christ.
In the N.T., we see that the Church is UNIVERSAL. The Church can be defined as: every genuine believer in Jesus Christ all over the world, regardless of denomination, race, or gender, from Pentecost (Acts 2) until the Rapture, whether in heaven or on earth. Notice that this includes those already in heaven! Thus, those that believe the Church will go through the tribulation don’t have a problem with Eschatology, but Ecclesiology – most of the Church is already in heaven! I would assume then that they just don’t understand what the nature of the Church is. The Church is not just those on the earth right now, but includes those believers that have died since Pentecost.
1. The Church is distinct from Israel and Gentiles.
The Church is referred to as the Body of Christ (Col. 1:18) composed of both Jews and Gentiles, of which there is no difference (Gal. 3:27-28), forming “one new man” (Eph. 2:11-16). The Church is a whole new thing! Paul the apostle wrote to the church in Corinth, “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.” (1 Cor. 10:32) The Church is distinct from Israel and Gentiles, yet is made up of both.
Until Jesus died, there were only 2 entities: Israel (Jews) and the Gentiles, but now there is a 3rd entity – the Church! From Adam to Abraham there were only Gentiles (Gen. 1-11). From Abraham to Jesus there were both Jews and Gentiles. From Jesus to the Rapture, there are Jews, Gentiles, and the Church. From the Rapture through Tribulation there will be only Jews and Gentiles again, and from the 2nd Coming, when the Church comes back with Jesus, through the Millennial Kingdom, there will be Jews, Gentiles, and the Church again here on the earth.
2. The Church is not appointed to Wrath.
Paul, in writing to the Romans, said, “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” (Rom 5:9) Also, he wrote to the Thessalonians, “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come,” (1 Thess 1:10) and “for God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess 5:9) On the cross of Jesus Christ, He took the wrath of God that we deserved upon Himself in our place, thus we will never have to face God’s wrath again! We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ! (Rom. 5:1)
In Jesus’ letter to the church of Philadelphia, He said, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from (literally ‘out of’) the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” (Rev 3:10)
B. The Nature of the Tribulation.
1. It is the “Time of Jacob’s Trouble.”
The prophet Jeremiah refers to this time period as the “time of Jacob’s trouble.” (Jer. 30:1-11) This is the “70th Week” that the prophet Daniel refers to in Daniel 9:24-27, where God deals with Israel as a nation.
2. It is the Wrath of God.
The Book of Revelation makes it clear that this period in history is the wrath of God. (Rev 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 19:15) The Tribulation is also called “The Day of the LORD” throughout the prophets in the Old Testament, which refers to the whole 7 year period of God’s wrath and judgment.
3. It is the wrath of God upon all people.
In speaking of this time period, Isaiah wrote, “Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible,” (Isaiah 13:9-11) and “For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.” (Isa 26:21)
The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “For, lo, I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my name, and should ye be utterly unpunished? Ye shall not be unpunished: for I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith the LORD of hosts. Therefore prophesy thou against them all these words, and say unto them, The LORD shall roar from on high, and utter his voice from his holy habitation; he shall mightily roar upon his habitation; he shall give a shout, as they that tread the grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth. A noise shall come even to the ends of the earth; for the LORD hath a controversy with the nations, he will plead with all flesh; he will give them that are wicked to the sword, saith the LORD.” (Jer 25:29-31)
Jesus promised that the Church in Philedelphia would keep them “out of the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” (Rev 3:10), and the it clear in the New Testament that the Church will not experience the wrath of God! (Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess 1:10; 5:9).
4. The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail Against the Church.
At Cesarea Philippi, Jesus told Peter, “That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18) The prophet Daniel wrote about the AntiChrist and said, “I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them.” (Dan. 7:21) Also, the apostle John wrote, “And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.” (Rev. 13:7) Thus, these saints cannot be the Church.
5. Believers that survive the Tribulation will repopulate the earth.
Cf. Isaiah 11:6-8; 65:20; Matthew 25:31-46. For those that hold a Post-trib view, they have a problem here. Who will repopulate the earth in the Millennium if only believers go into the Millennium and they are all translated at the Rapture (1 Cor. 15:51-58; Matt. 22:30)? Those believers cannot be the Church.
C. The Nature of God.
1. God won’t judge the righteous with the wicked.
Cf. 2 Peter 2:9; Genesis 18:22-25; 19:15, 22. In Christ, we are completely righteous! (Rom 4:5; 5:1-2; Eph 2:1-9)
2. Judgment is God’s strange work.
Cf. Isaiah 28:21.
D. The Old Testament Model.
1. Enoch was taken before the Flood. (Genesis 5:24)
2. Lot was delivered before the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 18:22-25; 19:15, 22)
3. Daniel was not present during the worship of the golden image. (Daniel 3)
E. The Testimony of Paul.
1. Paul expected to be alive at the Rapture.
1 Thessalonians 4:15 – “…we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord”
2. Paul taught that the Rapture would precede the Tribulation.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-9. Verse 3 says, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;” The Greek word for “falling away” is apostasia, which means “departure.” It is used twice in its noun form (Acts 21:21; 2 Thess. 2:3), 15 times in its verb form, and of all those it is just translated “depart” 11 times. Our modern English word apostasy has the idea of “departing from the faith,” but the Greek word apostasia does not. It just means a general “departure.” This same Greek word is used in 1 Timothy 4:1 as a departure from the faith, but it adds those words “from the faith” to describe exactly what kind of “departure” it is. There is nothing like this is in the text of 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
The AntiChrist will not be revealed until there is a “departure” first, so then we need to figure out what kind of departure Paul is talking about in its context. In verse 3, there is a definite article used with the word which implies a specific departure, which Paul just mentioned in verse 1 where he says, “by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him.” He also mentioned that departure in his 1st letter to the church in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Thus, the Antichrist will not be known (cf. Rev. 6:1; Dan. 9:27) until after the “departure” or the Rapture of the Church.
3. Paul referred to the Rapture as the Church’s “Blessed Hope.”
Titus 2:11-14; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 4:18.
4. Paul loved the appearing of Jesus Christ.
2 Timothy 4:6-10.
F. The Testimony of the Book of Revelation.
1. The Church is not mentioned on Earth from Rev. 4:1 – 19:14.
2. The Identity of the 24 Elders.
Revelation 4:4, which says, “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads,” and verse 10, “the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:” When you look at the identity of the 24 Elders in the Book of Revelation, it’s pretty obvious that they represent the Church. The description of the 24 Elders follow the exact promises that Jesus gave to the 7 churches in Rev. 2-3.
a) They sit on thrones. (Cf. Revelation 1:6; 3:21)
b) They are clothed in white raiment. (Cf. Revelation 3:5)
c) They have crowns of gold on their heads. (Cf. Revelation 2:10; 3:11)
d) They sing a song only the Church can sing. (Revelation 5:5-11, 14)
Revelation 5:9 says, “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;”. This group is made up of Jews and Gentiles from all over the world. Verse 10 say, “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” This is a phrase John used in Revelation 1:4-7 referring to the 7 churches!
d) They cannot be Angels. (Revelation 7:11)
f) They cannot be Tribulation believers. (Revelation 7:13-14)
g) They cannot be the 144,000 Jewish believers on earth. (Revelation 11:16; 14:1-3)
h) They cannot be the complete Nation of Israel. (Revelation 7 & 12)
i) They are only mentioned in Rev. 4-19, and they are always in heaven! (Revelation 19:4)
j) There are 24 of these Elders.
Some say that they represent 12 from Israel (O.T.) and 12 from Church (N.T.). However, the text says 24 and there is no justification for separating them. The number 24 indicates a representative group and a completed body, as in 1 Chron. 24 & 25 where there were priest singers in 24 “courses” or “divisions”. The 24 courses represented the whole Tribe of Levi. In the N.T., “elders” are the representatives of the Church, thus it would seem that these 24 Elders would represent the entire Church.
G. The Doctrine of Imminency.
1. The Church is to be watching and waiting for Jesus to come.
Cf. Matthew 24:36 – 25:13; Mark 13:32-37; Luke 21:28-36; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6.
2. The Church is to be looking for Jesus Christ, not the AntiChrist.
Philippians 3:20 – “For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:”
Titus 2:13 – “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;”
Hebrews 9:28 – “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”
1 Thessalonians 1:10 – “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, [even] Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”
James 5:7-8 – “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.”
Revelation 22:20 – “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
H. Jesus Promised to Remove His “Last Generation” Disciples from the Tribulation Period.
Jesus said, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” (Luke 21:36) He also promised the church of Philadelphia, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” (Rev 3:10)
How does this Doctrine affect us?
A. Promotes Holiness.
1 John 3:2-3 says, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
B. Promotes Evangelism.
Believing that Jesus can come at any time gives us an urgency to reach our generation with the Gospel. (Matt. 3:2, 7; 4:17; Colossians 1:28)
C. Promotes World Missions.
If we have an urgency to get the gospel out, this impels us to develop a worldwide missionary vision of reaching the lost. Dr. Timothy Weber, a church historian, has noted that belief in the rapture has been a great incentive for missions in the last 150 years: “By the 1920s premillennialists were claiming that they made up ‘an overwhelming majority’ of the [missions] movement. Others estimated that believers in the imminent second coming made up from 75 to 85 percent of the missionary force worldwide… American premillennialists were better represented on the mission fields than in the home churches… Instead of cutting missionary involvement, premillennialism increased it.” (Thomas Ice, The Truth About the Rapture, pg. 45)
D. Gives Comfort to the Believer.
Writing about the rapture of the Church, the apostle Paul told the Thessalonians to “comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thess 4:18)
E. Awakens the Believer!
Paul, in writing to the Romans, said, “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (Romans 13:11-14)