Premillennialism is the belief that Jesus will physically return to earth before the future 1,000 year kingdom. The tribulation is final seven-year period of wrath inflicted on the planet before the kingdom begins. Meanwhile, the term rapture refers to the event that occurs before Jesus establishes his kingdom in a literal and physical sense, when he will descend from the heaven, and Christians who are still alive will be caught up together with Jesus in the clouds. At the rapture, will meet him in the air and then we will always be with the Lord.
There are essentially three possibilities about when this rapture will happen in relationship to the tribulation. Either the rapture will happen before the tribulation (the pre-trib view), during the tribulation (the mid-trib/pre-wrath view), or after the tribulation (the post-trib view).
Before I explain why I believe in the pre-tribulational rapture, a few disclaimers: First, this is a debate that is only among those who are pre-millennial. If you are amillennial or post-millennial, it doesn’t really make any sense. While I assume that it is logically possible for a post-millennialist to believe in a literal 7-year tribulation at the end of the kingdom, I’ve never encountered one who does. Instead, remember that all of the debate about the timing of the rapture is within the premillennial camp.
Second, I want you to know what kind of pre-tribber I am. I’m not the dogmatic kind. I don’t hold this to be a cardinal doctrine of the faith. I think that the rapture will occur is a cardinal doctrine—but the timing of it is less so. I understand that there are problem verses with all three rapture views (and last week I explained why that is). But with that said, I am much more comfortable with the problem verses of pretribulationalism than I am with the problem verses of the other rapture views.
Here are the five reasons I believe that scripture describes a pre-tribulational rapture:
- Scripture describes the Day of the Lord as a day that ushers in both judgment and rescue.
Throughout the Old Testament, the Day of the Lord indicates a time of terrible judgment from God, when his wrath is poured out. That understanding continues in the New Testament. For example, Paul writes:
For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape (1 Thess 5:2).
Yet the New Testament also describes the Day of the Lord as a time of hope for believers. In fact, it is a joyous occasion involving rewards from the Lord. Here is one of many examples: “On the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you” (2 Cor 1:14). Or:
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Tim 4:8).
And there are several others. How can the day of the Lord be a terrifying event for the world, but a joyous event where we see the Lord, brag to the Lord about each other, and receive rewards from the Lord for how we lived our life? Well, Peter describes the tension this way: “The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). In other words, the Lord knows how to rescue his people from the destruction that is coming in the days of judgment. This rescue makes the most sense with a pre-tribulational rapture.
2. The New Testament has two conflicting attitudes about the future: one of hope, and one of dread.
These two attitudes make sense in light of the two different ways the Day of the Lord is described. On the one hand, Christians are filled with hope and eager expectation for the return of the Lord. We rejoice, and we pray to God that he would come quickly (Tit 2:13; Rev 22:20). We long to see him, and we “eagerly await” his appearing (1 Cor 1:7; Phil 3:20; Heb 9:28).
But on the other hand, we are also told that some should dread his coming. Jesus says that you better pray it doesn’t happen when you are pregnant, or away from your home (Matt 24:20). He is coming like a thief to startle the home owners, and it is hard to imagine a more negative analogy for the Lord’s return (Luke 12:39).
So one attitude is that of fear, and thanking the Lord for delaying his coming. The other attitude is the excitement of seeing the Lord. Those two conflicting attitudes make sense if the rapture is pre-tribulational. The terror of the Olivet Discourse meshes with the joy of John 14:1-3, but only if the rapture happens first. If the rapture is pre-tribulational, these two attitudes are a problem of perspective only. But if the rapture is post-tribulational, these two attitudes are contradictory and irreconcilable.
3. The rapture is described as Jesus coming to take us with him.
The major passages in the NT that describe the rapture all picture it as Jesus coming to get his church and take her with him. This language fits best with the pretribulational rapture. In the pre-trib rapture, Jesus is right now preparing a place for us in heaven. At the rapture he will come and take us to himself, and then take us to glory, where we will be with him. When he then returns to establish his kingdom on earth, we will return with him.
That makes the most sense of the way Jesus says in John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” If the rapture were post-tribulational, that language would (at the very least) be misleading. This is the same concept used in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, where Paul says at the rapture “we will forever be with the Lord.” It seems to be describing the Lord taking us to the place that he is preparing for us, which fits best in the pre-trib view.
4. The scripture describes some as being “destined for wrath” while others will be “rescued from wrath.”
I mentioned 2 Peter 2:9 earlier, but it is worth referring to again: “The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.” The context of that passage points to Peter using the term trials as a reference to the eschatological wrath of the tribulation. And the point Peter makes is that it is exactly this wrath that believers will be kept from, just as Lot was kept from Sodom’s destruction.
Paul makes this point in 1 Thessalonians 1. While unbelievers will experience God’s wrath in the tribulation, believers are to “wait for His Son from heaven… who rescues us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess 1:10). This is reiterated in Revelation 3:10 where Jesus declares that there is a time of trials that will come upon the whole world (cf. 2 Peter 2:9). But Jesus immediately says to those who have faith that he will “keep you from that time” (Rev 3:10).
The fact that Scripture speaks of wrath that will overtake the whole world, but that believers will be “rescued from” it, or “kept from it” points to a pre-tribulational rapture.
Note: I’m not claiming that the rapture is pre-tribulational because God does not want Christians experiencing persecution. Obviously God has willed that persecution be the chief means of purifying his church and advancing his gospel. Yet when scripture speaks of the specific wrath of the tribulation and the Day of the Lord, it says that believers will be kept from it, and this is the same dual attitudes seen in points 1 and 2 above as well. Persecution and suffering is real, and part of God’s plan for his church. Nevertheless, scripture says that believers are not appointed for the wrath revealed in the great tribulation.
5. Daniel’s 70 weeks
In Daniel 9, God gives Daniel a time line for “your people and your holy city” (Dan 9:24). Without getting bogged down in the details of the 70 weeks, this passage is foundational to our understanding of the tribulation. Jesus quotes it (and cites it!) when he describes the tribulation, and Paul alludes to it as well. It is this passage that describes it as a seven-year period.
But this passage also describes it as a period given for the purposes related to Daniel’s “people” and Daniel’s “holy city.” While some amillennialists may disagree, premillennialists agree that the church age exists between the 69th and 70th of Daniel’s weeks. The church started in dramatic fashion at Pentecost, but there remains a period of seven years given to the whole earth with a purpose of afflicting Israel and specifically Jerusalem. Simply put, the church was not present for the first of Daniel’s 69 weeks, and so it seems very strange to see them in the 70th week. Given the reality of the rapture and the removal of the church from the earth, combined with the promises to rescue Christians from the period of global tribulation that is to come, then this is a strong indicator that the rapture is pre-tribulational.
There are other reasons as well, but these five are the ones that are most convincing to me.
Are there reason’s I’ve missed? What would you add?