October 9, 2013

Why I believe in the pre-trib rapture

by Jesse Johnson

end is near
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:

  1. 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?

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • wmsgil

    As a “recovering dispensationalist”, the reasons on which you base your belief in the “pre-trib rapture are pretty much the same reasons I am no longer such. But I appreciate you Pastor Johnson.

    • Paul Abeyta

      Is there a 7 step program for “recovering dispensationalists”? 🙂

      • Dan Phillips

        1. Repent of the cuteness
        2. Get back in the Word
        3. Bang! you’re a dispensationalist again, and better for it.

        • Paul Abeyta

          Hmmm. Only 3? Sounds like somebody is on their way to Covenant Theology!

          • Dan Phillips

            Found out!

    • elainebitt

      “Recovering dispensationalist”. You speak as if dispensationalism were a disease or an addiction.

      Such condescending remarks are not helpful. But.. I appreciate you, whoever you are. 😉

  • Josh

    Jesse, how do you answer when others say, “kept from” in Revelation 3:10 can also be translated “preserved through”?

    • one of four ways:
      1. “fine; look instead at the other three verses under that point, and the other four points.”
      2. “Every single English translation does “kept from” including the KJV. Even the Geneva Bible (hardly a bastion of dispensationalism, I might add, says: “I will deliver thee from…”
      3. “The word is ek, not dia.” That verse could be translated, “And Santa Claus will rescue you” based on the structure of the clause written by Saint John, but it isn’t.
      4. The analogy with Lot is the best corollary, and he most certainly was not “preserved through” Sodom’s storm.
      5. The whole “the church is absent through the rest of Revelation as that period of tribulation is described” thing, and that doesn’t mesh well with “persevered through the trial.”
      6. When you have to re-translate a verse to get it to jive with your view, maybe call a time out and start over.

      Was that more than four? 🙂

      As I said, there are arguments against the pre-trib view, and there are arguments for the post-trib view. But this verse I think has to be reckoned as one of the stronger on the pre-trib side, and as one of the weak points of the post-trib view.

  • Brad

    In the post-tribulation view, is the “Rapture” the same event as “The Second Coming of Christ”?

  • Heather

    A friend of mine says he is a “pan-trib”

    “Whatever pans out”

    hee hee 😉

  • Brad

    Is the “Day of the Lord” the same event as the “Tribulation”?

  • Frank Martens

    I like bucking against the grain a bit. Sooo… I think the modified and updated discussion on the “Prewrath” view is the best. Because it answers all the problem passages quite well. IMO.

  • 4Commencefiring4

    I always find it puzzling that Rev 3:10 (“Because you have kept the word of my patience, I will also keep you from the hour of testing…”) is often cited as support for the view that the church is exempt from the tribulation.

    Who is Christ addressing here? Answer: The church at Philadelphia, a church that existed 2,000 years ago. Does it make any sense that He was advising this congregation they would not go through a tribulation period that wouldn’t come about for at least 2,000 years? Of course it doesn’t. The bones of those believers lie in the earth today; they weren’t about to go through the tribulation, obedient or not.

    So what is it saying? The “hour of testing” is not “tribulation”, it’s “testing or trial.” What trial? The trial that is “coming upon the whole world to test those who dwell upon the earth.” What “trial” would that be? Can you say “Judgment Day”? That “tests” all who dwell upon the earth. Tribulation is not a test/trial. It is a period of calamity, of trouble, of hardship. Not testing, as in judgment, to determine worth or value of works.

    Rev 3:10, like all the messages to the several churches in Revelation, was addressed to the intended audience first, then–if applicable generally–to believers of all ages. But any interpretation has to at least make sense as applied to the original audience. And Christ had no reason to address matters of the tribulation period to anyone in the 1st century.

    • I find two flaws in your argument here.

      The first is the assumption that since the church at Philadelphia wouldn’t go through the tribulation for at least 2,000 years, therefore Jesus “of course” could not have been warning them about it. I think this fails to take into consideration the doctrine of imminence of the Second Coming that we see all throughout the NT, from Jesus’ warnings in the Gospels (e.g., Matt 24:42; 25:13), to Paul’s exhortations in the epistles (e.g., 1 and 2 Thessalonians), and even to Jesus’ very next statement in Revelation 3:11, that He is coming quickly (cf. Rev 1:1, “things that must soon take place;” and esp. 2 Pet 3:8).

      Secondly, after arguing that Jesus could not be referring to the Second Coming because it is so distant in time, you then argue that He’s referring to “Judgment Day,” which, no matter when it is, certainly comes after the Second Coming. There’s an inconsistency there. If it can’t refer to the “Great Tribulation” because that’s so far away, how can it refer to “Judgment Day” when that’s even farther away?

      • 4Commencefiring4

        Fair questions. Let me try again:

        The Second Coming is–and was–only “imminent” (i.e., about to happen in the short term) in the mind of man, not in God’s. Christ certainly knew, when He spoke with John on Patmos, that a lot of human history lay ahead. This was, after all, merely decades after His First Advent; that He was not coming back “imminently” was something I have no doubt He knew well. He may not have known the “day and the hour”, as He stated; but that it was a distant event was without question. God still wanted us to be perpetually ready, but not because He really was returning in just a few years.

        As for “I am coming quickly” and that these events “must quickly take place”, I would say that these statements were not meant to convey that they would take place in the immediate future (because it certainly was not the case, as we know now), but that WHENEVER they begin, they will unfold rapidly. I have no doubt they will; but just when is an open question.

        Yes, Judgment Day is further away than the Tribulation, but I believe the former was in view, and not the Tribulation, because the latter is only something that a future generation would ever see; Judgment Day is something ahead for all generations, living or dead. The church at Philly was faithful, and for that faithfulness He promised they would be “kept from the hour of trial.” That is to say, they will not be subject to Judgment. Why? Because Christ has been judged for them as faithful believers already and were being told, in essence, their trial had been held, the verdict rendered, and the punishment meeted out on Christ, their sin bearer.

        I think it makes perfect sense, and agrees with other passages, to understand His statement to them as being: Because you have been faithful to Me, you will NOT come into judgment, but have passed out of death into life. But to instead understand Him to be saying that, because of their faithfulness, they will not experience a very distant future earthly calamity makes no sense to me at all. Even the most wicked people of that day escaped the Tribulation, didn’t they? Faithfulness or unfaithfulness had nothing to do with it; their deaths made sure of that. But the unfaithful and unbelieving are subject to judgment, no matter how far in the future it may take place.

        • I hear what you’re saying. I just really don’t think it makes the best sense of the biblical data.

          For one thing, I think your understanding of imminence and the timing of God is quite strange. You speak about it almost sounding like those in 2 Peter 3 who mockingly ask, “Where is the promise of His coming?” Certainly the Lord can speak about His coming as imminent, not just because He knows that the people He’s speaking to aren’t omniscient and actually don’t know that it’ll be 2000+ years, but because with the Lord a thousand years is like a day and a day like a thousand years. He’s not slow as some count slowness. So His warnings of imminence do not lose their “cash value” simply because 2000+ years were to intervene.

          Regarding your point about being kept from “Judgment Day,” it seems like you’re saying conflicting things. On the one hand, “all generations, living or dead” are to face judgment. Yet on the other hand, you say that Rev 3:10 speaks of faithful Christians not being subject to judgment. I understand this confusion, because I believe the Bible teaches believers will undergo a judgment at the seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10), but will be excepted from the Great White Throne judgment (Rev 20:13), as they will have already undergone the resurrection unto life (Rev 20:6). But if you try to sandwich everything into a single resurrection, against the clear teaching of Rev 20:6, you wind up having to make seemingly contradictory statements about the universality of judgment while Christians are being excepted.

          Like Jesse has said, no one’s saying that the timing of the rapture is the clearest doctrine taught in Scripture, or that there is one side that has sufficiently answered all possible objections. But as I said above, I think the position you’re arguing doesn’t satisfy the totality of the biblical data as well as the pre-trib position. I appreciate you reading and taking the time to interact, though.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            I have a tough time believing Christ would offer to protect someone from that which could never have threatened them in the first place, much like if I promised to protect your family from a zombie attack. Would Jesus have told the apostles, for instance, that following Him would mean lifelong immunity from smallpox?

            No church in the first century–or any other one, if pre-trib is right–was ever going to face the Tribulation, whether it was faithful or rebellious. But if your interpretation is correct, then that’s exactly what you’d have to say He did. 🙂

          • So how do you avoid saying that the Olivet Discourse wasn’t either entirely superfluous or entirely disingenuous? By your reasoning, the Lord Jesus, knowing that His return wouldn’t be for thousands of years, wasn’t speaking about His Second Coming in Matthew 24 and 25. We could say, “I have a tough time believing Christ would warn someone about the dangers of something which could never have threatened them in the first place. … No Jew in the first century was ever going to experience the Second Coming or Day of the Lord judgments while still on the earth, so Jesus must have been talking about…” what, exactly?

          • 4Commencefiring4

            The Olivet Discourse is a mixed bag of near-term events (70AD, which many of those in His hearing would live to see) and distant end-time events meant to be heeded by generations to come. In different gospels, His recorded words seem more descriptive of one or the other, as you know, and it’s not clear which is which in several instances.

            Some have even decided that the famous “abomination of desolation” is not future at all, but past–an event associated with 70AD–because He added warnings in conjunction with that about those in Judea fleeing to the mountains, or praying that their flight would not be on a Sabboth day. Those seem more relevant to the Roman invasion that happened a few decades later. But admittedly, it’s rather confusing.

            When Christ was on trial and asked if He was the Christ, He answered in the affirmative and added, “…and YOU will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with power…” Certainly no one there on the scene was going to see that in their lifetime (perhaps He was saying they would see it from their afterlife perch in a place of torment? Don’t know), but yet He spoke of it as though they would. So yes, there are instances where it doesn’t seem sensible to warn of an event the audience won’t see. I grant you that.

            But what I see as the particular distinction between those passages and Rev 3:10 is that the latter is one of a series of remarks aimed at particular churches which, if we take the same view for all of them (that they are meant for all churches in the future, as this one is), we must also expect a whole range of things for ourselves that no one is claiming: He says to Smyrna that they will be “…cast into prison and have tribulation ten days.” I don’t know what that means particularly, but I don’t take from it that churches today are headed for prison or that we’ll have a “week and a half” of trouble at some point. I don’t think “the teaching of the Nicolaitans” has particular relevance to us–I don’t even know what it is. But it meant something to one of the churches apparently.

            All this to say I cannot see in 3:10 a statement of promise to us in the 21st century. I think it was meant for the church at Philadelphia. If it was meant for us, we’re in for hundreds of promises no one has yet laid claim to.

  • AJ

    #3 is strongest for me. What prevents the “day of The Lord” in #s 1, 2, and 4 from referring to the time when he returns to earth and judges he world. Believers are spared and accepted into the kingdom. Unbelievers are judged and receive condemnation.

  • Jonwards

    [Howdy, Jesse. Saw the following article on the web. Any reaction to it? Lord bless.]


    Many evangelicals believe that
    Christ will “rapture” them to heaven years before the second coming and
    (most importantly) well BEFORE Antichrist and his “tribulation.” But
    Acts 2:34, 35 reveal that Jesus is at the Father’s right hand in heaven
    until He leaves to destroy His earthly foes at the second coming. And
    Acts 3:21 says that Jesus
    “must” stay in heaven with the Father “until the
    times of restitution of all things” which includes, says Scofield, “the
    restoration of the theocracy under David’s Son” which obviously can’t
    begin before or during Antichrist’s reign. (“The Rapture Question,” by
    the long time No. 1 pretrib authority John Walvoord, didn’t dare to even
    list, in its scripture index, the above verses! They were also too hot
    for John Darby – the so-called “father of dispensationalism” – to list
    in the scripture index in his “Letters”!)
    Paul explains
    the “times and the seasons” (I
    Thess. 5:1) of the catching up (I Thess. 4:17) as the “day of the Lord”
    (5:2) which FOLLOWS the posttrib sun/moon darkening (Matt. 24:29;
    Acts 2:20) WHEN “sudden destruction” (5:3) of the wicked occurs! The
    “rest” for “all them that believe” is also tied to such destruction in
    II Thess. 1:6-10! (If
    the wicked are destroyed before or during the trib, who’d be left
    alive to serve the Antichrist?) Paul also ties the
    change-into-immortality “rapture” (I Cor. 15:52) to the end of
    trib “death” (15:54). (Will death be ended before or during the trib? Of
    course not! And vs. 54 is also tied to Isa. 25:8 which Scofield views
    as Israel’s posttrib resurrection!) It’s amazing that the Olivet
    Discourse contains the “great commission” for the church but not even a
    hint of a pretrib rapture for the church!
    Many don’t know that before
    1830 all Christians had always viewed I Thess. 4’s “catching up” as an
    integral part of the final second coming to earth. In 1830 this “rapture” was
    stretched forward and turned into an idolized separate coming of Christ. To
    further strengthen their novel view, which evangelical
    scholars overwhelmingly rejected throughout the 1800s, pretrib teachers in the early
    1900s began to stretch forward the “day of the Lord” (what Darby and
    Scofield never dared to do) and hook it up with their
    already-stretched-forward “rapture.” Many leading evangelical scholars
    still weren’t convinced of pretrib, so pretrib teachers then began
    teaching that the “falling away” of II Thess. 2:3 is really a pretrib
    rapture (the same as saying that the “rapture” in 2:3 must happen
    before the “rapture” [“gathering”] in 2:1 can happen – the height of
    desperation!). Google “Walvoord Melts Ice” for more on this, and also Google “Pretrib Rapture Pride.”

    Other Google articles on the 183-year-old pretrib rapture view include
    “X-Raying Margaret,” “Margaret Macdonald’s Rapture Chart,” “Pretrib
    Rapture’s Missing Lines,” “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “The Unoriginal
    John Darby,” “Catholics Did NOT Invent the Rapture,” “The Real Manuel
    Lacunza,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Wily Jeffrey,” “The Rapture Index
    (Mad Theology),” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Roots of
    (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “Scholars Weigh My Research,” “Pretrib
    Hypocrisy,” “Appendix F: Thou Shalt Not Steal,” “Pretrib Rapture
    Secrecy,” “Deceiving and Being
    Deceived,” “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty,” “Famous Rapture Watchers,” and
    “Morgan Edwards’ Rapture View” – most by the author of the bestselling
    book “The Rapture
    Plot” (the most accurate and documented book on pretrib rapture history
    which is obtainable by calling 800.643.4645).
    PS – For some final shocks Google “The Background Obama Can’t Cover Up.”

    • 4Commencefiring4

      What? No mention of The Illuminati? How’d they miss that?

      Too much is made of the rapture; it’s not something given a lot of ink in Scripture, although many see it under every future-looking rock. It makes for good debate, and I’ve played with it here a lot myself. But it’s not a cardinal doctrine…no more so than whether Jesus had a home of His own, or what exactly the sign over the cross said. Yet some consider it a test of orthodoxy. Might be a bit too much sugar in the diet.

      Now, Obama’s background…now THAT’S an interesting subject! 🙂

  • Yikes. I stepped away from this comment thread for a few days, and a lot happened. Sorry, I’ll try to catch up soon.

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