Why I Believe The Bible Teaches Rapture Before Tribulation
By Thomas Ice
Churches today often neglect the study and preaching of biblical prophecy because they
consider it a controversial and impractical topic. At the same time, many
bemoan the apathy of believers and struggle to encourage people toward holy
living. Churches caught in this trap need to consider that the teaching of the
Rapture, woven throughout the fabric of the New Testament, addresses these
issues and can provide motivation for godliness. No single Bible verse says
precisely when the Rapture will take place in relation to the Tribulation or
the Second Coming in a way that would settle the issue to everyone' s
satisfaction. However, this does not mean that the Scriptures do not teach a
clear position on this matter, for it does. As we shall see later, the Bible
does promise that the church will not enter the time of God' s wrath, which is
another term for the tribulation. Many biblical passages teach the
pretribulational rapture of the church.
Many important biblical doctrines are not derived from a single verse, but come from
a harmonization of several passages into systematic conclusions. Some truths
are directly stated in the Bible, such as the deity of Christ John 1:1; Titus
2:13). Other doctrines, like the Trinity and the incarnate nature of Christ,
are the product of harmonizing the many passages that relate to these matters.
Taking into account all that the Bible says on these issues, orthodox
theologians, over time, concluded that God is a Trinity and that Christ is the
God-Man. Similarly, a systematic, literal interpretation of all New Testament
passages relating to the Rapture will lead to the pretribulational viewpoint:
that, at the Rapture, all living believers will be translated into heaven at
least seven years before Christ' s Second Coming. This is what I believe the
affirmations provide a biblical framework for the Pretribulational Rapture:
They are (1) consistent
literal interpretation, (2) Premillennialism, (3) futurism, and (4) a
distinction between Israel and the church. These are not mere suppositions,
but rather are important biblical doctrines upon which the doctrine of the
Rapture is built.
literal interpretation is essential to properly understanding what God is
saying in the Bible. The dictionary defines literal as " belonging to letters." Further, it says
literal interpretation involves an approach " based on the actual words in their
ordinary meaning . . . not going beyond the facts."
" Literal interpretation of the Bible simply means to explain the original sense
of the Bible according to the normal and customary usage of its language."
How is this done? It can only be accomplished through the grammatical
(according to the rules of grammar), historical (consistent with the historical
setting of the passage), contextual (in accord with its context) method of
interpretation recognizes that a word or phrase can be used either plainly
(denotative) or figuratively (connotative). As in our own conversations today,
the Bible may use plain speech, such as " Grandmother died yesterday"
(denotative). Or the same thing may be said in a more colorful way, " Grandmother
kicked the bucket yesterday" (connotative). An important point to be noted is
that even though we may use a figure of speech to refer to Grandmother' s death,
we are using that figure to refer to an event that literally happened. Some
interpreters are mistaken to think that just because a figure of speech may be
used to describe an event (i.e., Jonah' s experience in the belly of the great
fish in Jonah 2), that the event was not literal and did not happen in history.
Such is not the case. A " Golden Rule of Interpretation" has been developed to
help us discern whether or not a figure of speech was intended by an author.
When the plain
sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take
every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of
the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic
and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.
principle of consistent, literal interpretation of the entire Bible logically
leads one to the pre-trib position. This means that the prophetic portions of
the Bible are interpreted like any other subject matter in Scripture. The
prophetic sections of the Bible use the same conventions of language found
throughout the Bible.
next biblical principle foundational to Pretribulationism is Premillennialism.
Premillennialism teaches that the Second Advent will occur before Christ' s
thousand-year reign upon earth from Jerusalem (Revelation 19:11- 20:6). It is
contrasted with the Postmillennial teaching that Christ will return after He
has reigned spiritually from His throne in heaven for a long period of time
during the current age, through the Church, and the similar Amillennial view
that also advocates a present, but pessimistic, spiritual reign of Christ.
Premillennialism is a necessary foundation for the PreTrib position since it is
impossible for either the Postmillennial or Amillennial view of Scripture to
support a PreTrib understanding of the Rapture.
third contributing principle is Futurism. As if understanding the different
millennial positions are not complicated enough, diversification is compounded
when we consider the four possible views which relate to the timing of when an
interpreter sees prophecy being fulfilled in history. The four views are
simple in the sense that they reflect the only four possibilities in relation
to time- past, present, future, and timeless. The Preterist (past) believes that most, if not all, prophecy
has already been fulfilled, usually in relation to the destruction of Jerusalem
in A.D. 70. The Historicist
(present) sees much of the current Church Age as equal to the Tribulation
Period. Thus, prophecy has been and will be fulfilled during the current Church
Age. Futurists (future)
believe that virtually all prophetic events will not occur in the current
Church Age, but will happen in the future Tribulation, Second Coming, or
Millennium. The Idealist
(timeless) does not believe either that the Bible indicates the timing of
events or that we can know before they happen. Therefore, idealists think that
prophetic passages mainly teach great ideas or truths about God to be applied
regardless of timing.
can only be built upon the futurist understanding of prophetic events. Such a
conclusion is the result of the application of a consistent literal interpretation of prophecy as future
historical events that are yet to occur.
Distinction between Israel and the Church
final principle related to the pre-trib position is the biblical truth that
God' s single program for history includes two peoples, Israel and the Church.
This view has been systematized into what is known as dispensationalism. While
the basis of salvation (God' s grace) is always the same for Jew and Gentile,
God' s prophetic program has two distinct aspects. Presently, God' s plan for
Israel is on hold until He completes His current purpose with the Church and
Raptures His Bride to heaven. Only pretribulationism provides a purpose for
the rapture. That purpose is to remove the Church via the Rapture so God can
complete His unfinished business with Israel during the seven-year Tribulation
period. Therefore, if one does not distinguish between passages which God
intends for Israel from those intended for the church, then there results an
improper confusion of the two programs.
should not be surprising that God' s single plan for history has a
multi-dimensional aspect (Ephesians 3;10) that we know as Israel and the
Church. If human novelists can weave multiple plots throughout their stories,
then how much more can the Great Planner of the universe and history not do the
same kind of thing?
commingling God' s plan for Israel and the church destroy an important basis for
the pre-trib rapture. The Bible clearly teaches that the church and Israel
have in many ways different programs within the single plan of God even though
both are saved on the same basis.
SPECIFIC PRETRIBULATIONAL ARGUMENTS
fact of the Rapture was first revealed by Christ to His disciples in John
14:1-3. It is most clearly presented in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 which
encourages living Christians that, at the Rapture, they will be reunited with
those who have died in Christ before them. In verse 17 the English phrase
" caught up" (nasb) translates the
Greek word harpazï¿½, which
means " to seize upon with force" or " to snatch up." This is the Greek word
from which the English word " harpoon" is derived. The Latin translators of the
Bible used the word rapere,
the root of the English term rapture. A debate swirls around when this takes place relative to the Tribulation. At the Rapture
living believers will be " caught up" in the air, translated into the clouds, in
a moment of time.
interesting tie between the revelation of the rapture by our Lord in John
14:1-3 and Paul' s expansion in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 has been observed by
commentator J. B. Smith. Smith has observed a " thought for thought" parallel
between the two passages:
Let us now compare
two passages of Scripture which, by the words employed, clearly show that they
refer to the same event. . . .
trouble verse 1
believe verse 1
God, me verse 1
told you verse 2
come again verse 3
receive you verse 3
to myself verse 3
be where I am verse 3
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
sorrow verse 13
believe verse 14
Jesus, God verse 14
say to you verse 15
coming of the Lord verse 15
caught up verse 17
to meet the Lord verse 17
ever be with the Lord verse 17
The words or phrases are almost an exact
The follow one
another in both passages in exactly the same order.
Only the righteous are dealt with in each case.
There is not a single irregularity in the
progression of words from first to last.
Either column takes the believer from the
troubles of earth to the glories of heaven.
It is but consistent to interpret each passage as
dealing with the same event- the rapture of the church.
a comparison bodes well for the pretribulational rapture of the church, as we
shall see below.
consistently upon the foundation of these four biblical foundations, we will
survey six specific biblical arguments for Pretribulationism. These are not
all the reasons for a PreTrib Rapture, but are simply a summary of some of the
Contrasts Between Comings
Rapture is characterized in the New Testament as a " translation or resurrection
coming" (1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:15-17) in which the Lord comes for His church, taking her to His Father' s house
(John 14:3). On the other hand, Christ' s Second Advent with His saints (the Church=Rev. 19) descends from
heaven and arrives on earth to stay and set up His Messianic Kingdom (Zech.
14:4-5; Matt. 24:27-31). The differences between these two events are
harmonized naturally by the pre-trib position, while other views are not able
to comfortably account for such differences.
speaks of the Rapture as a " mystery" (1 Cor. 15:51-54), that is, a truth not
revealed until it was disclosed by the apostles (Col. 1:26). Thus the Rapture
is said to be a newly revealed mystery, making it a separate event. The Second
Coming, on the other hand, was predicted in the Old Testament (Dan. 12:1-3;
Zech. 12:10; 14:4).
New Testament teaches about the Rapture of the church and yet also speaks of
the Second Coming of Christ. These two events are different in a number of
ways. Note the following contrasts between the translation at the Rapture and
Christ's Second Coming to establish the kingdom.
Translation of all believers
Translated saints go to heaven
Earth not judged
Imminent, any-moment, signless
Not in the Old Testament
Before the day of wrath
No reference to Satan
Christ comes for His own
He comes in the air
He claims His bride
Only His own see Him
2nd Coming/ Estab. Kingdom
No translation at all
Translated saints return to earth
Earth judged & righteousness established
Follows definite predicted signs including tribulation
Predicted often in Old Testament
Affects all men
Concluding the day of wrath
Christ comes with His own
He comes to the earth
He comes with His bride
Every eye shall see Him
Millennial Kingdom begins
John Walvoord concludes that these " contrasts should make it evident that the
translation of the church is an event quite different in character and time
from the return of the Lord to establish His kingdom, and confirms the
conclusion that the translation takes place before the tribulation."
events mention clouds symbolizing a heavenly role in both, but other
differences demonstrate that these are two distinct events. At the Rapture,
the Lord comes for His saints (1 Thes. 4:16); at the Second Coming the Lord
comes with His saints (1 Thes. 3:13). At the Rapture, the Lord comes only for
believers, but His return to the earth will impact all people. The Rapture is
a translation/resurrection event; the Second Coming is not. At the Rapture,
the Lord takes believers from earth to heaven "to the Father' s house"
(John 14:3); at the Second Coming believers return from heaven to the earth
best harmonization of these two different events supports a pretribulational
Rapture (which is signless and could happen at any moment), while the many events
taking place during the Tribulation are best understood as signs leading up to
the Second Coming.
A Time Interval Needed Between Comings
An interval or gap of
time is needed between the rapture and the second coming in order to facilitate
many events predicted in the Bible in a timely manner. Numerous items in the
New Testament can be harmonized by a pre-trib time gap of at least seven years,
while other views, especially postribulationists, are forced to postulate
scenarios that would not realistically allow for a normal passage of time. The
following events are best temporally harmonized with an interval of time as put
forth by pretribulationism.
Corinthians 5:10 teaches that all believers of this age must appear before the
judgment seat of Christ in heaven. This event, often known as the " Bema
Judgment" from the Greek word bema,
is an event never mentioned in the detailed accounts connected with the second
coming of Christ to the earth. Since such an evaluation would require some
passage of time, the pre-trib gap of seven years nicely accounts for such a
Revelation 19:7-10 pictures the church as a bride who has been made ready for
marriage (illustrated as " fine linen," which represents " the righteous acts of
the saints" ) to her groom (Christ); and the bride has already been clothed in
preparation for her return at the second coming accompanying Christ to the
earth (Rev. 19:11-18), it follows that the church would already have to be
complete and in heaven (because of the pre-trib rapture) in order to have been
prepared in the way that Revelation 19 describes. This requires an interval of
time which pretribulationism handles well.
24 elders of Revelation 4:1- 5:14 are best understood as representatives of the
church. Dr. Charles Ryrie explains:
In the New Testament, elders as the highest
officials in the church do represent the whole church (cf. Acts 15:6; 20:28),
and in the Old Testament, twenty-four elders were appointed by King David to
represent the entire Levitical priesthood (I Chron. 24). When those
twenty-four elders met together in the temple precincts in Jerusalem, the
entire priestly house was represented. Thus it seems more likely that the
elders represent redeemed human beings, . . . the church is included and is
thus in heaven before the tribulation begins.
they refer to the church, then this would necessitate the rapture and reward of
the church before the tribulation and would require a chronological gap for
them to perform their heavenly duties during the seven-year tribulation.
who come to faith in Christ during the tribulation are not translated at
Christ' s second advent but carry on ordinary occupations such as farming and
building houses, and they will bear children (Isa. 65:20-25). This would be
impossible if all saints were translated at the second coming to the earth, as
posttribulationists teach. Because pretribulationists have at least a
seven-year interval between the removal of the church at the rapture and the
return of Christ to the earth, this is not a problem because millions of people
will be saved during the interval and thus be available to populate the
millennium in their natural bodies in order to fulfill Scripture.
would be impossible for the judgment of the Gentiles to take place after the
second coming if the rapture and second coming are not separated by a gap of
time. How would both saved and unsaved, still in their natural bodies, be
separated in judgment, if all living believers are translated at the second coming.
This would be impossible if the translation takes place at the second coming,
but it is solved through a pretribulational gap.
John F. Walvoord points out that if " the translation took place in connection
with the second coming to the earth, there would be no need of separating the
sheep from the goats at a subsequent judgment, but the separation would have
taken place in the very act of the translation of the believers before Christ
actually sets up His throne on earth (Matt. 25:31)." Once
again, such a " problem" is solved by taking a pre-trib position with it' s gap
of at least seven years.
A time interval is needed
so that God' s program for the church, a time when Jew and Gentile are united in
one body (cf. Eph. 2- 3), will not become commingled in any way with His
unfinished and future plan for Israel during the tribulation. Dr. Renald
Showers notes that " [A]ll other views of the Rapture have the church going
through at least part of the 70th week, meaning that all other views mix God' s
70-weeks program for Israel and Jerusalem together with His program for the
church. A gap is needed in order for these two aspects of God' s program to be
harmonized in a non-conflicting manner."
pretribulational rapture of the church fulfills a biblical need to not only see
a distinction between the translation of Church Age saints at the rapture,
before the second coming, but it also handles without difficulty the necessity
of a time-gap which harmonizes a number of future biblical events. This requirement
of a seven-year gap of time adds another plank to the likelihood that
pretribulationism best reflects the biblical viewpoint.
The Imminent Coming of Christ
New Testament speaks of our Lord' s return as imminent, meaning that it could
happen at any moment. Other events may occur before an imminent event, but nothing else must take place
before it happens. Imminency passages instruct believer to look, watch, and wait for His
coming (1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thes. 1:10; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; 1 Peter
1:13; Jude 21). If either the appearance of the Antichrist, the Abomination of
Desolation, or the unfolding of the Tribulation must occur before the Rapture,
then a command to watch for Christ's coming would not be relevant. Only
pretribulationism teaches a truly imminent Rapture since it is the only view
not requiring anything to happen before the Rapture. As required by the above
mentioned passages, the New Testament indicates that the believer' s hope is to
look, watch, and wait for a person and that is Jesus. Only pretribulationism
enables a believer to look for Christ and yet at the same time give full
meaning to Second Coming passages and the signs that lead up to our Lord' s
return to the earth. Imminency is a strong argument for the pre-trib Rapture
and provides the believer with a true "blessed hope."
The Nature of the Tribulation
Bible teaches that the Tribulation (i.e., the seven-year, 70th week of Daniel)
is a time of preparation for Israel's restoration and regeneration (Deut. 4:29-30;
Jer. 30:4-11; Ezek. 20:22-44; 22:13-22). Revelation 3:10 notes that the
Tribulation will not be for the church but for " those who dwell upon the earth"
(Rev. 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10 [twice]; 13:8, 12, 14 [twice]; 17:2, 8), as a
time upon them for their rejection of Christ is His salvation. While the
church will experience tribulation in general during this present age (John
16:33), she is never mentioned as participating in Israel's time of trouble,
which includes the Great Tribulation, the Day of the Lord, and the Wrath of
God. Pretribulationalism gives the best answer to the biblical explanation of
the fact that the church is never mentioned in passages that speak about
tribulational events, while Israel is mentioned consistently throughout these passages.
The Nature of the Church
pretribulationalism is able to give full biblical import to the New Testament
teaching that the church differs significantly from Israel. The church is said
to be a mystery (Eph. 3:1-13) by which Jews and Gentiles are now united into
one body in Christ (Eph. 2:11-22). This explains why the church's translation
to heaven is never mentioned in any Old Testament passage that deals with the
Second Coming after the Tribulation, and why the church is promised deliverance
from the time of God's wrath during the Tribulation (1 Thes. 1:9-10; 5:9; Rev.
3:10). The church alone has the promise that all believers will be taken to
the Father's house in heaven John 14:1-3) at the translation, and not to the
earth as other views would demand.
The Work of the Holy Spirit
Thessalonians 2:1-12 discusses a man of lawlessness being held back until a
later time. Interpreting the restrainer of evil (2:6) as the indwelling
ministry of the Holy Spirit at work through the body of Christ during the
current age, supports the pretribulational interpretation. Since "the
lawless one" (the beast or anti-Christ) cannot be revealed until the
Restrainer (the Holy Spirit) is taken away (2:7-8), the Tribulation cannot
occur until the church is removed.
all aspects of biblical doctrine, teaching on the Rapture has a practical
dimension. Dr. Renald Showers has summarized some of the practical
implications of the pre-trib Rapture.
The fact that the glorified, holy Son of God
could step through the door of heaven at any moment is intended by God to be
the most pressing, incessant motivation for holy living and aggressive ministry
(including missions, evangelism and Bible teaching) and the greatest cure for
lethargy and apathy. It should make a major difference in every Christian' s
values, actions, priorities and goals.
John writes, " Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as
He is pure" (1 John 3:3). Our Rapture hope is said to urge a watchfulness for
Christ Himself (1 Cor. 15:58); to encourage faithfulness in church leaders (2
Tim. 4:1-5); to encourage patient waiting (1 Thes. 1:10); to result in expectation
and looking (Phil. 3:20; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28); to promote godly moderation
(Phil. 4:5); to excite " heavenlymindedness" (Col. 3:1-4); to bring forth
successful labor (1 Thes. 2:19-20); to experience comfort (1 Thes. 4:18); to
urge steadfastness (2 Thes. 2:1-2; 1 Tim. 6:14; 1 Peter 5:4); to infuse diligence
and activity (2 Tim. 4:1-8); to promote mortification of the flesh (Col. 3:4-5;
Titus 2:12-13); to require soberness (1 Thes. 5:6; 1 Peter 1:13); to contribute
to an abiding with Christ (1 John 2:28; 3:2); to support patience under trial
James 5:7-8); and to enforce obedience (2 Tim. 4:1).
pretribulation Rapture is not just wishful " pie-in-the-sky, in the bye-and-bye"
thinking. Rather, it is vitally connected to Christian living in the
"nasty here-and-now." No wonder the early church coined a unique
greeting of "Maranatha!" which reflected the primacy of the Blessed
Hope as a very real presence in their everyday lives. Maranatha literally
means "our Lord come!" (1 Cor. 16:22) The life of the church today
could only be improved if "Maranatha" were to return as a sincere
greeting on the lips of an expectant people.