Why I Believe In A Pretribulational Rapture
What does the Bible teach regarding the future of the Church?
People are always interested in end-times prophecy. In fact, I came to Christ after I read a book about future events predicted in the Bible. I was in my early years of college when I was given a book to read about the teaching of the Bible regarding things yet to come. The Book introduced me to such things as the wrath of God, Great Tribulation, and the rapture of the Church. I was so impacted that I began to read the Bible for the first time. The result of all of this is that I trusted in Christ. It’s no wonder that I am still interested in biblical prophecy.
So, it was with great interest when, just this past week, I just listened to a prominent Christian personality speak about the rapture. What surprised me was that this man with two PhDs claimed the Bible said nothing about the rapture. He said he used to believe what he had been taught regarding the rapture of the church, but then he studied the issue for himself and found that the Bible was silent on the subject of the rapture. I disagree with him; and thought I would like to share what the Bible does say about the rapture.
What is the rapture of the church?
To fully understand the “rapture of the church” we must first look at John 14:1-3. It says:
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
This passage does not detail the rapture per se, but it does contain the promise of it. In these verses, Jesus promised to return from heaven to collect the Church. Thus, the rapture is the fulfillment of this promise. The Church is the Bride of Christ and the day will come when He will come for the believers for the purpose of taking them to be with Him where He is. Where is He? He is in heaven. Jesus will at some time yet in the future come to claim His Bride and take them back to His Father’s house.
The second major passage that defines the concept of the rapture is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 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. Then we who are alive and remain 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Here Paul is dealing with the issue that the Thessalonians thought they had missed the rapture. These believers understood that there was going to be a time when those who trusted in Christ would be brought to Christ. They did not understand what would happen to those who had already died. Paul comforted these believers by assuring them that both those who died in Christ and those who remained alive until Christ comes for His Bride will benefit from the rapture.
Paul even spells out the seven stages for the rapture. First, the Lord will descend from heaven. At some point in the future, Jesus will come out of Heaven of heavens and descend into the atmospheric heaven (on earth).
Second, there will be a shout. The sense here is that this is a commanding shout like that used by a military leader and issues orders. In this case, Jesus will give the command for the resurrection of dead saints and the translation of those saints who are still alive.
Third, there will be the voice of the archangel. Angels are often used to initiate God’s plans. In this case, it will be Michael the Archangel who users in the rapture.
Fourth, there will be a blast from the trumpet of God. The sound of the trumpet was used to invoke either a battle or worship. Here it serves to begin the rapture process.
The fifth stage of the rapture is the resurrection of the dead. Those who have died in Christ will be the first to partake of the benefits of the rapture. Importantly, the rapture only involves the “dead in Christ.” This resurrection is limited to those who trusted in Christ—they are the saints of Christ.
Sixth, those who are alive at the time of the rapture—those are alive and in Christ, will be “caught up” in the clouds. Every believer will be removed from the earth (caught up) and will be united with Jesus in the clouds. The living believers will be raptured with the dead ones.
The final stage of the rapture event is that those resurrected from the dead and those that are alive and translated into their glorified bodies will meet the Lord in the air and be with Him forever. At this point, those who were resurrected and those who were alive are given their glorified bodies. All believers will live forever more in these glorified bodies.
The other primary passage dealing with the rapture of the Church is 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. This passage informs us that all believers will be changed, “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” This passage informs us that this translation happens very quickly—in the twinkling of an eye. This is the translation of the body of believers into their glorified bodies.
Why is don’t I find the word “rapture” in the Bible?
The term “rapture” comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. The Greek word used in the text is harpazo. It means to be “caught up” or “snatched away.” Interestingly, we see this same concept applied to Philip in Acts 8:39. Here we see that after Philip finished baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch, “the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more.” The occurrence here is that Philip was “caught away” from the scene. This was an instantaneous event where Philip was there and then he was gone. This is the same thing with the rapture of the Church. The body of believers will be here and then they will be gone.
However, modern day translators chose not to use the Latin word for “caught up”; rather, they go from the Greek straight to English. We end up with terms such as “caught up” or “snatched away.” So, if you are looking for the word “rapture” you won’t find it.
What are the commonly held views regarding the rapture of the Church?
As I mentioned earlier, there are people like the one I mentioned previously who do not believe there will be a rapture of the Church. I believe they refuse to take the Bible at its plain and obvious meaning. Of those who understand that Christ will return for His Bride, there are three primary views held concerning the rapture of the Church.
- Pretribulational Rapture: The Church will be taken from the earth by means of the rapture (1Thes 4:13–18) before the events of the tribulation begin. The rapture will result in Christ’s bride being taken into heaven to stand before His judgment seat (2 Cor. 5:10). Following the Tribulation, Christ will come with His saints and to earth to reign for a thousand years. This is done so that a large portion Israel will come to Christ during the Tribulation period. There are three primary supporting arguments for this position.
- Posttribulational Rapture: This position posits the Church will remain on earth throughout the events of the tribulation, and the rapture will occur along with the second advent of Christ. During the tribulation the wrath of God will be experienced by the Church, as well as by Israel and the world. Three primary arguments can be presented in support of a posttribulational rapture.
- Midtribulational Rapture: This position stresses the Biblical distinction between the two halves of the tribulation (three and a half years each). This minority view sees the Church raptured at the midpoint of the tribulation. The midtribulational rapture is supported along three lines of defense.
I don’t have space to provide the details for these three views. I would, however, like to state why I believe in the pretribulational rapture.
First, God has exempted the church from divine wrath. Paul taught that believers should wait for Christ to return for them and that He will deliver them from the wrath to come (1 Thes 1:10). Just after Paul provided instruction regarding the rapture of believers (1 Thes 4:16-17), he discussed that those who trust in Christ will be exempt from the wrath of God (1 Thes 5:9). Daniel considered the entire 70th week as the Day of the Lord, i.e. a day of Godly wrath (Dan 12:1, 7, cf 9:24). The Tribulation will last seven years. The first half will have relative peace and the second half will be the Great Tribulation (Dan 9:27). Paul also discusses the wrath of God in his letter to the Romans (Rom 1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15). The wrath of God will result in revelation of the righteous judgment of God (Rom 2:5) to be exacted upon those who obey unrighteous (Rom 2:8). But Paul tells us that having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him (Rom 5:9). Those who trust in Christ need not fear hell (John 5:24; Rom. 8:1) nor will they be the objects of God’s coming retributive wrath (1 Thes. 1:10; 5:9).
Second, the Church is promised exemption from the time of wrath (Rev 3:10). Christ will keep those who persevere from the hour of trial to come over the whole world. Christ fully intends to keep His Church from enduring the time of the Tribulation. Christ did not intend this to mean the Church would be preserved through a time of trouble. Nor did He mean the Church would be taken out from within the Tribulation. He meant exactly that they would be removed from that hour, i.e. the Church would not be present during the time of the wrath of God. The word hour supports pretribulationism, since the only way to be kept from a section of time, such as an hour, is not to go through any of it. The promise is not merely to keep them from trials but also from the time in which the trials occur. Believers cannot be kept from part of the hour, as with midtribulationism, or none of the hour, as with posttribulationism; the only way to be kept from an hour is not to be in any part of the hour.
Third, there must be time between the rapture of believers and the second coming of Christ. This is true for a couple of logical reasons. First, there must be a distinction between Christ coming for His saints (John 14:2-3) and His coming with His saints (Rev 19:14). Second, there is the need for some saints to come out of the tribulation in nonglorified bodies so that they can populate the Millennial Kingdom. Though evil in the Millennium will be greatly reduced, people will still sin—thus the need for sacrifices (Ezek 43:13-27; Isa 19:21)—and people in nonglorified bodies will be involved in a final revolt against God (Rev 20:7-10).
Forth and finally¸ I believe God is not yet finished with Israel. The Church age is a parenthetical insert into the history of God’s dealing with His people, Israel. One might think that reading in the Old Testament that God has abandoned His people. But we learn something entirely different in Romans 11. Here, the wild olive tree is an image that represents the believing Gentiles (Gentile Christians). The Gentiles are enjoying the spiritual blessings of the Jewish covenants since salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22). They have been grafted into the cultivated olive tree, which represents Israel. Normally, the branch from the cultivated olive tree would be grafted into the wild olive tree (botanically speaking). However, in this case God is grafting the branch from the wild olive tree into Israel, because the holiness of the root is passed on to the graft. This relates to Abraham as the “father of all who believe (Rom 4:11-12, 16-17).” The olive tree represents the place of spiritual blessing and the Gentiles have become partakers with the Jewish believers of Jewish spiritual blessings. The partial blindness of Rom 11:25 refers to the partial hardening of Israel. It is partial because there is still a remnant (i.e. those who come to Christ in faith). It is also temporary until the fullness of the Gentiles is reached. This is a mystery because this is the first time that we learn the hardening of Israel will endure until a set number of Gentiles is reached. Once this set number is reached, then the mystery will be complete. The time of the Gentiles will continue until Christ’s return at the end of the Great Tribulation. However, Christ will not return until Israel as a nation asks Him to return (Matt 23:39). When Paul stated “all Israel,” he meant all Jews living at that time, not all Jews of all time. Paul related Israel’s future national salvation with its present status in Rom 11:26-29. God’s promise to Israel is forever (see Isa 59:20-21; 27:9) therefore, it will come to be. Thus, I believe that at the end of the tribulation, the Jews will, as a nation repent, and there will be national salvation. These truths are important because
- They demonstrate that Israel has a future in God’s plan,
- They demonstrate that the Church cannot serve as a replacement for the Israel in the Old Testament,
- They provide the Gentile believers with assurance that they have been made a part of God’s kingdom plan complete with the blessing of God, and
- They provide believers a word of caution to remain humble before God.
Therefore, the Tribulation is for the Jews. It is there time to take over the evangelism of the world. For that to happen, the Church needs to be gone. Thus, the rapture of the Church must occur before the start of the Tribulation.
You may ask, “So what?”
The reason God provided so much detail to the church was for our encouragement and comfort. When Paul gave instruction to the Thessalonians he said, “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thes 4:18). The same is true of the Revelation. It can be argued that the purpose of The Revelation of Jesus Christ is to comfort and exhort to perseverance the persecuted Christians, by revealing the ultimate judgment of the satanically empowered people of the earth by Christ.
God wants us to know His plan so that we can live in eager expectation of the days to come, but also to live knowing that God is the true Judge and that He has expectations for the way we live. He wants us to share the comfort we have with those who don’t know Christ.
I realize this is a long post and I hope you made it all the way to the end. This is a complex issue, but one I believe God wants us to understand. As Paul said, “…I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning…”
“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8, NKJV)
Are looking for the return of Christ?
Are you ready for the next event in God’s prophetic timeline—the rapture of the Church?