Defending The Pre-Trib Rapture (Again)
Some body asked me a great question the other day. "Does Scripture actually promise a
Pre-Tribulation Rapture, or is it just an opinion passed along from teacher to
student?" Then he challenged me to
cite even one Bible verse that would lead a person to believe the Pre-Trib position if they hadn't already heard about it from
some Bible teacher. He said that in all
his studies he's not been able to find one.
Let's see if he's right.
First, Some General Points
The Rapture is not another name for the Second Coming. As 1 Thes.
4:15-17 and John 14:1-3 explain, the Rapture is an unscheduled
secret event where Jesus comes part way to Earth to meet His Church in the air
and take us to be with Him where He now is.
I say unscheduled and secret because its specific timing will remain
unknown until it actually happens.
On the other hand, The Second Coming is a scheduled public
event where Jesus comes all the way to Earth with His Church to establish a
Kingdom here. I say scheduled and public because the general time of His coming
will be known on Earth over 3 ˝ years in advance, and public because everyone
on Earth will be able to witness His arrival. Matt. 24:29-30 says it
will happen immediately after the Great Tribulation and all
the nations will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds in the sky.
Membership in the Church and therefore participation in the
Rapture is contingent upon having personally accepted the Lord's death as
payment in full for your sins. While His death actually purchased full pardons
for everyone, we each have to personally ask to have ours activated. Everyone who asks for salvation receives an
unconditional, irrevocable "Yes!" (Matt. 7:7-8, John 3:16, Ephes. 1:13-14) For
no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. (2
It's Greek To Me
And finally, although
cynics can truthfully say that the word Rapture doesn't appear in any passage
of Scripture, the statement is not correct in its intent. Rapture is a word of Latin origin, not Hebrew
or Greek, the languages of the Bible. (The earliest translation of the Bible
was into Latin, and the word rapture comes from there.) Its Greek equivalent is harpazo,
which is found in the Greek text of 1 Thes. 4:17.
When they're translated
into English, both words mean "to be caught up, or snatched away." Harpazo, the word Paul actually used, comes from roots that
mean, "to raise from the ground" and" take for oneself" and
hints that the Lord's eagerly claiming us for Himself. So while the Latin word doesn't appear in our
Bibles, the event it describes certainly does. There's a similar situation with
the word Lucifer, also of Latin origin.
It doesn't appear in any of the original texts either, but no one would
be naive enough to deny the existence of Satan on such a flimsy basis.
With that introduction, let's go first to the best known of
the Rapture passages.
According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still
alive, who are left till 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. (1 Thes. 4:15-17)
Most of us are very familiar with these verses. But notice they don't tell
you when the rapture happens, only that it does. Notice also that the Lord
doesn't come all the way to Earth. We
meet Him in the clouds and go back with Him where He came from. If this was the 2nd coming, He
would be coming here to be where we are, not coming to take us there to be
where He is.
Paul described the same event in 1 Cor 15:51-52. In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye the
dead in Christ will rise and the living will be transformed. There he said that he was disclosing a
secret, but the resurrection of the dead was not a secret. It can be found
through out the Old Testament. The
secret was that some would not die, but be taken alive into the Lord's presence
following an instantaneous transformation. The rapture happens fast. In one instant we're walking on Earth and in
the very next, we're in the Kingdom.
Don't try to use the trumpet reference in verse 52 to pin the timing
down. There are several "Last
Trumpets" in the Bible and in Jewish tradition. This verse just means it's the last trumpet
we'll hear before we're changed. Since
both the Corinthian passage and the one from Thessalonians describe the same
things, it's safe to assume that this trumpet is the same one mentioned in 1
Thes. 4:16 and is not pointing us toward any
So these two references both say that one generation of humans won't die but
will be suddenly changed from our earthly form to our heavenly one. And since
both Matt. 24:31 (they'll gather His elect from one end of the
heavens to the other) and Rev. 17:14 (with Him will be His
called, chosen, and faithful followers) say that we'll be with the
Lord when He returns, this has to happen sometime before the 2nd
Coming. And it can't be just the
resurrected believers coming back with Him because the Rapture passages above
say that we'll be changed at the same time as the dead are raised.
So When Does This Happen?
In the New Testament, the clearest indication we get in the
timing department is found in 1 Thes. 1:9-10. They
tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to
wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues
us from the coming wrath. The Greek word translated "from" in
this passage is "apo." Taken literally, it means we're to be rescued
from the time, the place, or any relation to God's wrath. It denotes both departure and
separation. This is supported by 1 Thes. 5:9 that declares, "God did not appoint
us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Some folks are fond of pointing out that you can't use God's wrath
interchangeably with the Great Tribulation. They're not the same, they
say. And they're right,
the two terms are not synonymous. The
Great Tribulation is 3 ˝ years long and begins in Rev. 11-13. God's wrath is much longer, beginning in Rev.
6, as verse 17 explains. Post-trib. and pre-wrath rapture advocates try to deny this but
the Scripture is clear. The time of God's wrath begins with the Seal
Judgments. The Bowl Judgments that come
later don't begin the time of His wrath, they end it. (Rev. 15:1) Being rescued from the time, the place and
any relation to God's Wrath means the Church has to disappear before Rev. 6,
and that's why we believe the Rapture takes place in Rev. 4 and the
Church is the group of believers in view in heaven in Rev.5.
You Be The Judge
Now let's apply my questioner's litmus test. Could a believer, sitting alone on the
proverbial desert isle with nothing but a Bible and with no pre-conceived
ideas, conclude that there's a pre-trib Rapture just
from reading about it, or could he only be led into this position by first
hearing someone teach him about it?
Well, From Isaiah 13:9-13 and Amos 5:18, he would have learned
that God is going to judge the Earth for it's sins in a terrible time
called the Day of the Lord when He'll pour out His wrath on mankind. Reading Matt.
24 would have told him that this time of judgment would be so bad that if
the Lord didn't put a stop to it no one would survive. But the Lord will put a stop to it by
returning in power and glory. Since he would know that the Lord hasn't returned
yet, he would know that God's wrath is still in the future.
When he got to 1 Thes.
1:9-10 he would see a pretty clear statement. Jesus rescues us from the coming wrath. In the "who, what, where, when, and
why" methodology of the investigative reporter he would have the Who,
(Jesus) the what, (rescues us) and the when (the time of the coming
wrath). Reading on he would come to 1 Thes. 4:15:17 and get the where (from Earth to the
clouds) and in 1 Thes. 5:9 the why (because we're not appointed to wrath).
From there he would logically conclude that since we'll be rescued around
the time of the coming wrath and since we're not appointed to wrath, our rescue
has to precede it. He could also answer another of the investigative reporter's
questions in 1 Thes. 4:15:17 and that's how it
would happen. The Lord himself will come
down from Heaven into our atmosphere and suddenly snatch us away from Earth to
join Him there. In chapter 5 he would
learn that he would never know the exact timing of this event but only that it
would precede the coming wrath.
Of course there are many more passages I could reference but I think I've
made my point and answered the question.
In fact I'll go one step further.
I believe that since our hypothetical reader has no one to persuade him
differently, he would assume that what he's reading is to be taken
literally. And if that's the case, then
the pre-trib position is the only conclusion he could
logically come to, because every other position requires a moderate to massive
re-interpretation of Scripture.
I contend that left alone to work this out with only the Holy Spirit as his
guide he would expect to be raptured before the wrath
of God begins in Rev. 6. You see, God didn't write the Bible to confuse
us, but to inform us. It's mankind
that's gotten everything all mixed up.
If you give the Holy Spirit a clear minded student, uncontaminated by
man's opinions and prejudices, He would bring that person to the understanding
of the rapture that's most consistent with a literal interpretation of
Scripture. And that requires a pre-trib rapture.
But Wait, There's More
While we're on the topic, there's another issue that points
to a pre-trib Rapture and it comes to us in the form
of a clue in 1 Thes. 4:15, right at the
beginning of the Rapture passage. Verse
15 opens with the phrase "According to the Lord's own word." There simply is no place in the New Testament
where Jesus speaks of some being resurrected and some others being transformed
to meet the Lord in the air. He never
said anything like that, nor does he even imply such a thing.
Those who believe they see it in Matt. 24:40-41 first have to ignore
the fact that Jesus was explaining events on Earth on the actual day of His
return, which would place the Rapture after the 2nd Coming,
something no one believes. They also
have to ignore the fact that in Matt. 24:40-41 both believers and
non-believers are sent somewhere, believers being received unto Him, while
non-believers are sent away. You have to
research the Greek words translated "taken" (paralambano)
and "left" (alphiemi) to realize
this, but when you do you'll see that the English is misleading. No Rapture view includes the disposition of
non-believers, nor does it even mention them.
By the way, this is a great example of why the literal, historical,
grammatical interpretation is so important.
Our Bible was mostly written in Hebrew and Greek. Every translation relies on the movement of
words from one language to another. This
process doesn't always produce a perfect fit, and so learned men have to make
allowances for this and exercise their own judgment from time to time. But men are not perfect. We all have our
biases. When it's an important issue
where you want an exact meaning it's always a good idea to double-check their
Fortunately we have an incredible
tool in the Strong's Concordance. It contains every Hebrew and Greek word in
the Bible with their primary and secondary meanings, how often each word
appears in the Bible and what meanings are used in each appearance. You can
compare these with the meaning the translators used and see if you agree with
their treatment of the passage. By doing this with Matt.
24:40-41, you'll find that the primary meaning of paralambano
is to receive and the primary meaning of alphiemi
is to send away.
People with a post-trib disposition read 1 Thes.
4:15, and then turned to Matt. 24:40-41 where they saw one
group being "taken" and another group being "left" after
the end of the Great Tribulation. Assuming that these were the Lord's own words
Paul was referring to, they stopped there.
They had seen what they wanted to see.
In actuality Matt. 24:40-41 is most likely a preview of the Sheep and
Goat judgment of Tribulation survivors. The word taken (received) refers to
believers going live into the Kingdom, and the word left (sent away) applies to
non-believers who are sent to the place prepared for the Devil and his angels.
Of course none of this pertains to our desert island reader above. The verses I used there are clear enough that
they don't require any research into the original language. So he wouldn't need
a Strong's Concordance, just his Bible.
What's Your Point?
So if Jesus never taught about the Rapture, to which of the
"Lord's own words" was Paul referring? Some dismiss the phrase,
saying that Paul was speaking of a conversation he had with the Lord that
doesn't appear in Scripture. But I think
we deserve a better answer than that.
Remember, 1st Thessalonians was probably Paul's first written
communication, undertaken in 51AD.
Depending on whose opinion you accept, Matthew's Gospel was either just
being written or was still nearly 10 years away. Those who give it an early date say it was
written to the Jews in Jerusalem
and may even have been written in Hebrew.
In any case neither it nor any other Gospel was yet in wide
distribution. (Mark's Gospel, the other
candidate for earliest one written, doesn't contain an equivalent to Matt
24:40-41.) So if Paul was referring
to Scripture, as I believe he was, it had to be the
Yes, like everything else
in God's plan, you'll find hints of the Rapture even in the Old Testament. Look at this passage from Isaiah 26:19-21.
But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You
who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of
the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. Go, my people,
enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves
for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See, the LORD is coming out
of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. (Emphasis mine.)
Notice how the pronouns
change from second person when God speaks of His people to third person when He
speaks of the people of the Earth. It means the two groups are different. Those called "my people" are told
to "enter your rooms" (the rooms of John 14:1-3?) because the
others, called "the people of Earth" are going to be punished for
their sins in a period of time called His Wrath. Sound familiar? (Note: the Hebrew word translated
"go" in the phrase "Go my people" is translated "come"
in some translations, recalling the command to John in Revelation 4,
"Come up here!" But the word has another primary meaning and it's my
favorite. It means vanish. "Vanish,
my people!" Yes we will.)
Not by any stretch of the
imagination has this passage been literally fulfilled. It's an End Times prophecy that promises a
resurrection of the dead and hiding of God's people while God's Wrath is
unleashed on the people of Earth for their sins. And it was written 2750 years ago. The hiding of the Jews in the desert on Earth
at the beginning of the Great Tribulation (Rev. 12:14) cannot be
considered as a fulfillment of this passage because no resurrection accompanies
it. The resurrection of Old Testament believers takes place at the end of the
Great Tribulation. (Daniel 12:2)
Of course, no one knows
for sure that this is the passage Paul referred to, but as evidence of its
influence on him, let's compare it with what Paul
wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4-5.
: But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your
dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.
Paul: The dead in
Christ will rise first.
Isaiah : Go, my
people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a
little while until his wrath has passed by.
Paul: 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.
Isaiah : See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling
to punish the people of the earth for their sins.
Paul: While people
are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as
labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
The wording is a little
different, but is sure looks to me like they're describing the same event.
And Still More
There are other sound
theological reasons why the Church will be raptured
before the End Times judgments begin.
One is that the Lord seems to keep Israel
and the Church separate, never dealing with both at the same time (Acts 15:
13-18) If the primary purpose of Daniel's 70th week is to finish
fulfilling the six promises to Israel
in Daniel 9:24, then the Church has to disappear.
Another is that the
Church was purified at the cross at which time all the punishment due us was
born by the Lord Himself. From that time
forward the Church is considered by God to be as righteous as He is (2 Cor 5:17 & 21) The idea that the Church needs to
undergo some discipline to become worthy to dwell with God is unscriptural and
denies the Lord's completed work on the cross.
And third, the stated purpose
of the Great Tribulation is twofold, to purify Israel and completely destroy the
unbelieving nations. (Jeremiah 30:1-11) The Church isn't destined for
either of these outcomes.
There are also several
subtle clues that on their own can't be used to support the pre-trib position, but which underscore the validity of the
clear passages I've just cited. Take for instance the fact that Enoch, who
bears a great similarity to the Church, disappeared before the Great Flood,
that the angels couldn't destroy Sodom and Gomorrah until Lot and his family
were clear, and that Daniel was missing from the story of the fiery furnace, a
model of the Great Tribulation.
When the Lord described
His coming in Luke 17:26-29 He said that it would be both like the days
of Noah (some will be preserved through the accompanying judgments) and the
days of Lot (some will taken away before
them). And what about the promise He
made to the Church in Philadelphia that he would keep us out of the
"hour" of trial coming on the whole world. (Rev. 3:10) Is that
the same as the "hour" of Babylon's
destruction in Rev. 18?
But being asked to cite
verses that didn't require any prior knowledge I picked two that are clearest
to me, 1 Thes. 1:9-10 and Isaiah 26: 19-21.
And so by the testimony of two witnesses, one in the Old Testament and one in
the New, we see the physical separation of believers from non-believers preceding the time of Judgment. And by the testimony of two witnesses a thing
shall be established. (Deut. 19:15)
Of course some won't be
convinced until we show them a verse that says the rapture will precede the
Great Tribulation in those exact words.
Obviously, such a verse doesn't exist.
I guess we'll just have to wait and explain it to them on the way