Previous title: "Pre-Tribulation Rapture"
Among other things, the Pre-Tribulation Rapture is necessitated by the clearly taught doctrine of the imminency of Christ’s return and by the doctrine of the distinction between the church and Israel and a proper interpretation of Daniel’s 70th Week, as we show in the following study. All of this is based on a consistent normal-literal interpretation of prophecy, which is a fundamental of Bible interpretation, as far as we are concerned.
We agree with the following statement by Charles Ryrie: “If plain or normal interpretation is the only valid hermeneutical principle and if it is consistently applied, it will cause one to be a dispensationalist. As basic as one believes normal interpretation to be, and as consistently as he uses it in interpreting Scripture, to that extent he will of necessity become a dispensationalist” (Dispensationalism, revised 1995, p. 20).
God’s people are to live in expectation of the Lord’s coming for them at every moment. We are taught to look for the coming of Christ, not the Antichrist. Jesus, Paul, James, and Peter taught this (Mt. 24:42, 44; 25:13; Mr. 13:32-37; Ro. 13:12; Php. 3:20; 4:5; 1 Th. 1:9-10; 5:4-9; Tit. 2:12-13; Jas. 5:8-9; 1 Pe. 4:7). The early Christians lived in expectation of Christ’s imminent return and the literal fulfillment of the prophecies (1 Th. 1:9-10).
The imminent Rapture has extreme practical implications. It is a powerful motivator for godly, pilgrim living, and it gives constant urgency to the task of world evangelism.
This is what I have believed for 46 years because this is what I see in the Bible. I have been a devoted student of Bible prophecy and have examined all positions on prophecy, as far as I know, certainly all of the positions on the timing of the Rapture. One of the first courses I published was Understanding Bible Prophecy, in the 1980s. The Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity, first published in 1993, has the equivalent of a course on Bible prophecy. I have also published The Future According to the Bible, Jews in Fighter Jets: Israel Past, Present, and Future, plus verse-by-verse commentaries on all of the prophetic books.
My writings are not inspired by God by any means, and the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know much. I feel like Augur, “Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man” (Pr. 30:2). Augur said that in light of God’s omniscience and the infinity of God’s Word, as we see in the context. See verses 4-5.
I can’t speak for others, but I have never had a ministry relationship with a preacher who denies the Pre-tribulation Rapture, and I have no intention of having such a relationship today.
I don’t consider such preachers unsaved, just because of their views on prophecy, but I consider this a very important doctrine, and if a man does not hold to it, I will not preach at his church, I will not preach together with him in a conference, I will not participate in the ordination of such a man, I will not allow such a man to preach in our church, and I will not recommend that anyone join his church. That has always been my position.
A preacher has the right to test his doctrine by God’s Word and to re-examine what he has held in the past and to change his doctrine if he is convinced that he has been wrong, but other preachers have the right to separate from him if they are convinced that he is wrong.
I am 70 years old, and I more convinced today than ever of the truth and importance of the Pre-tribulation Rapture.
There was a time when the Pre-tribulation Rapture was not clear in the 1800s when the literal interpretation of prophecy was being recovered and emphasized. At first the emphasis was on premillennialism as opposed to post or amillennialism. But soon the issue of the timing of the Rapture came to the fore and was settled in the hearts of the majority of Biblicists, whether non-denominational fundamentalists or fundamental Baptists.
The doctrine of the Pre-tribulation Rapture was the predominant view of the Bible Conference/Prophetic movement of the last half of the 19th century, of the Bible Institute movement, of the Revivalist movement, of the fundamentalist movement of the first half of the 20th century, and of the fundamental Baptist movement of the last half of the 20th century. It has been the predominant view driving the modern world missionary movement. These movements encompass all of the major Biblicist movements of the last century and a half.
The doctrine of the Pre-tribulation Rapture is under attack today from many sides, from theological modernism, from New Evangelicalism, from the emerging church, from Reformed Calvinism, even from a few voices from among non-denominational fundamentalism (Bible churches) and fundamental Baptists.
Steven Anderson, for example, has produced a number of videos denying the imminency of the Rapture, chiefly “After the Tribulation” and “The Book of Revelation.”
He calls the Pre-Tribulation Rapture “a demonic deception,” a “lie,” a “fraud,” a “fairy tale.”
(As we will see, emerging church leaders use similar terminology to demonize the doctrine of an imminent Rapture.)
Anderson says, “The film [After the Tribulation] does two major things—number one, it completely demolishes the fraud that is the Pre-Trib Rapture. You know, this lie that says that Jesus Christ can come back at any moment, and that we're going to be taken out of here before the Antichrist, before the global government. So about half the movie is spent just completely destroying that idea; just a ton of Scripture is used to prove that false. And then the other half of the movie pretty much just explains how all this is going to play out...” (The Alex Jones Nightly News, Feb. 1, 2013).
Anderson’s presentations on prophecy do indeed include “a ton of Scripture,” but a ton of Scripture wrongly interpreted adds up to no Scripture at all.
In “After the Tribulation,” he teaches that the Rapture will occur after the Tribulation, but in part 2 of the video series “The Book of Revelation,” he says that the Rapture will happen 75 days after the “abomination of desolation,” which occurs at the mid-point of the Antichrist’s seven-year covenant with Israel. And in part 15 he says the Rapture will occur after the tribulation but before God’s wrath is poured out.
A DEFENSE OF THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE
The Bible’s Description of the Rapture
The Time of the Rapture
When Was the Pre-Tribulation Rapture First Taught?
The Attack on the Pre-Tribulation Rapture
The Importance of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture
What about 2 Thessalonians 2?
The Bible’s Description of the Rapture
The word “rapture” does not appear in the Bible, but the event is described in detail. It refers to the catching away of church-age saints at the end of the age.
There are two major passages that describe the Rapture: 1 Thessalonians 4:13 -- 5:11 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-58.
The Greek word translated “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is used in Acts 8:39 of the Spirit of God snatching away Philip after the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 -- 5:11
“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. 7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. 8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. 11 Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”
Consider four important lessons from this key passage:
1. The Rapture is an event in which the dead in Christ will be raised (1 Th. 4:14-16) and the living New Testament saints will be changed and glorified (1 Th. 4:17).
2. The dead in Christ are presently with Him in heaven (1 Th. 4:14). Therefore, the dead in Christ do not “sleep in the grave” as some false teachers claim.
3. The Rapture is the believer’s hope and comfort (1 Th. 4:13, 18). This is what we are waiting for. We are looking for Christ, not the Antichrist. This is the believer’s “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).
4. The Rapture occurs before the day of the Lord’s wrath (1 Th. 5:1-10).
Immediately after describing the Rapture, Paul mentions the day of the Lord and says the New Testament believer will not be overtaken by it.
The “day of the Lord” is the time of Tribulation when God will judge the world for its sin and idolatry. In that “day,” God will be exalted and rebellious men will be humbled. It is the time described in great detail in Revelation 6-19.
“Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty. The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day” (Isaiah 2:10-11).
Note the change in pronouns in 1 Thessalonians 5. In verse 3 the pronoun “they” is used, because the day of the Lord will come upon the unsaved world. But in verses 4-5 the pronoun “ye” is used, referring to believers. That day will not overtake us.
The believer is to be watching for the Lord’s return (1 Th. 5:6). We do not know when it will happen. It is imminent.
Believers are not appointed to go through the time of God’s wrath (1 Th. 5:9). Compare 1 Thessalonians 1:10, which says the Lord has delivered New Testament believers from the wrath to come. Church-age saints have been subject to the wrath of men and devils throughout the age, but we are not appointed to go through the wrath of God that will be poured out upon this wicked world. Compare Isaiah 2:9-21.
The place of protection during the days of apostasy before the Rapture is the Bible-believing church.
“And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men” (1 Th. 5:12-14).
In the context of his warning about the coming day of the Lord, Paul mentions the church and its leaders. This is very instructive. Each believer needs to be a faithful member of a scriptural church that is led by godly men who are sound in the New Testament faith. The leaders and the church members work together to accomplish God’s will on earth in preaching the gospel to every nation while they wait for the Lord’s return.
The way to have peace in the churches is for the leaders to teach the Bible faithfully and for the members to show respect to the leaders and to follow them. Church leaders should be honored and obeyed as long as they are following the Bible.
Those who are unruly in the churches should be rebuked, because they hurt the Lord’s work.
1 Corinthians 15:51-58
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
Again, we see four important truths about the Rapture in this passage:
1. The Rapture is a mystery that was not revealed in the Old Testament prophecies. The Old Testament prophets taught about the bodily resurrection, but they did not prophesy that some would be glorified without dying. They prophesied about the resurrection of Jews at the end of the Tribulation (Da. 12:1-2), but they did not see the Rapture of New Testament believers before the Tribulation.
2. The dead in Christ will be raised to incorruption and the believers who are living at that time will be changed from mortal to immortal. “Incorruptible” means that the resurrection body will be incapable of such things as pain and sickness. “Immortal” means incapable of dying.
3. The Rapture of church-age believers is a source of great encouragement and motivation to godly Christian service. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Co. 15:58).
The Rapture is a very important doctrine. It helps to motivate the Lord’s people to stay awake spiritually, and it helps to motivate the churches to stay busy in the work of preaching the gospel to lost souls before it is too late.
4. What about “the last trump”?
The trumpet that will sound at the Rapture of the church-age saints is not the same as the trumpets that will sound in Revelation as judgments on this world or the trumpets that sound in reference to Israel. The church is not a part of these other programs. Her “trump” is a different one. The church’s last trump is when she shall finally be congregated together to the Lord.
“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:17).
“But when the congregation is to be gathered together, ye shall blow, but ye shall not sound an alarm” (Numbers 10:7).
The Time of the Rapture
Among those who believe in a literal Rapture of church-age saints, there are three positions regarding its timing in relation to the Tribulation. The three views are as follows:
Pre-tribulational -- church-age saints will be raptured before the Tribulation
Mid-tribulational (also called Pre-wrath) -- church-age saints will go through the first half of the Tribulation
Post-tribulational -- church-age saints will go through the entire Tribulation period
For the following reasons we are convinced the Bible teaches a pre-tribulational Rapture. In this study, we are using the term “church” in a general, institutional sense.
1. Church-age believers are promised salvation from wrath.
“For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; 10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Th. 1:9-10).
“For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Th. 5:2-4)
“Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Re. 3:10).
The Great Tribulation is expressly called the day of God’s wrath. Today the Lord is withholding the full severity of His anger; He is offering men salvation through the preaching of the gospel, but the day approaches when He will take the seat of judgment. Then “the day of his wrath” will be upon all the world (Ps. 110:5; Isa. 13:6-13; Re. 6:16-17).
It is true that in every century, Bible-believing churches have been subjected to persecution, but this is different from the Great Tribulation. The persecutions of the saints are caused by the wrath of wicked men and the wrath of the devil, whereas the Tribulation is a period especially pertaining to God’s wrath (Re. 6:16-17; 14:10).
Some believe that the church will not be saved out of the time of wrath, but will be saved through it. This cannot be true, since the Bible clearly reveals that those who are on earth during the Great Tribulation will not be delivered from wrath but will be overcome (Re. 13:7). The Scriptures that promise church-age believers deliverance from wrath must refer to salvation out from the very presence of the wrath. Concerning the Great Tribulation, we are told that “as a snare shall it come on ALL them that dwell on the face of the whole earth” (Lu. 21:35). Church-age believers must either be physically removed from the earth, or they will be involved in the day of wrath. God promises removal. “... I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Re. 3:10).
Further, the wrath of God refers to the entire period of Daniel’s 70th Week as described in Revelation 6-18 and not merely to the last half. Already in Revelation 6:17 the inhabitants of the earth will be saying that “the wrath of God is come.”
2. The Holy Spirit will be removed before the Tribulation.
“And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming” (2 Th. 2:6-8).
In other passages of Scripture, the Holy Spirit is said to be the restrainer of sin (Ge. 6:3; Isa. 59:19). He dealt with hearts during the 120 years when Noah was preparing the Ark. In this present dispensation, the Holy Spirit came into the world at Pentecost (Acts 2), when He came to empower the church for the Great Commission (Acts 1:8). He will remove the church-age believers before the time of God’s great wrath. This does not mean the Holy Spirit will not be present in the world then. The Holy Spirit, as God, is omnipresent. It means that He will not be present in the same sense that He is in this age.
3. Church-age believers are promised mansions in heaven.
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye 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 unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3).
When the Lord Jesus returns to earth at the end of the Tribulation, He sets up His Messianic kingdom. If the Rapture occurred at the end of the Tribulation, the promise to church-age believers pertaining to heaven would not be fulfilled. Church-age believers are a heavenly people with a heavenly hope (Ephesians 1; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:1-3). Some dispensationalists teach that the church-age saints will live in heaven during the millennium. I believe they will probably live both in heaven and in earth. Jesus promised the apostles, who are the founders of the churches, that they would reign with Him over Israel (Matthew 19:28).
4. The Rapture of church-age saints is imminent.
The imminency of the Rapture means it can happen any time, whereas the Second Coming is said to be preceded by specific signs.
Christ taught that the Rapture is imminent.
“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:42)
“Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Mt. 24:44).
“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Mt. 25:13).
“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is” (Mark 13:33).
Paul taught that the Rapture is imminent.
“The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light” (Ro. 13:12).
“Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand” (Php. 4:5).
“Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:4-9).
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13).
James taught that the Rapture is imminent.
“Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door” (Jas. 5:8-9).
Peter taught that the Rapture is imminent.
“But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Pe. 4:7).
The early Christians were living in constant expectation of Christ’s return.
“For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye 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, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Th. 1:9-10).
The apostle Paul instructed the church at Thessalonica that they did not need to heed signs and times, because the New Testament believer has been promised redemption from the “day of darkness” that shall overcome the whole world (1 Th. 5:1-9). The New Testament believer is not waiting for the Antichrist, but for Christ Himself.
The expression “at hand,” which is used to describe the coming of Christ ((Ro. 13:12; Php. 4:5; 1 Pe. 4:7), is from eggizo, meaning “near, approaching.” The English phrase “at hand” is a metaphor to indicate something that is close by, at the ready, like your hand. It is used to describe the location of Jesus’ tomb, which was “nigh at hand” to the place of His crucifixion (Joh. 19:42). It is used to describe the nearness of summer (Lu. 21:30). Paul used it to describe his imminent death (2 Ti. 4:6). The coming of Christ for church-age saints is always at hand; it is imminent, impending. It can happen at any time.
The imminency of Christ’s return teaches us that the Rapture precedes Daniel’s 70th Week (Da. 9:27). If it occurred at any time during that seven-year period, it could not be imminent, because the events of that period are laid out clearly in Scripture. It begins with the Antichrist’s seven-year covenant with apostate Israel: “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.” During the first three and a half years, the third temple will be built (Re. 11:1-2), the preliminary judgments will occur as described in Revelation 6 (war and famine that will destroy one-fourth of the earth’s population, a great earthquake, signs in the heavens), the 144,000 Jewish evangelists will preach and produce a great harvest of souls in the midst of terrible persecution (Da. 7), and the two witnesses will prophesy in Jerusalem (Re. 11:3-6). After three and a half years, the Antichrist will break his covenant and set up the abomination of desolation in the temple as described by Daniel, by Jesus, and by Paul. “... and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease” (Da. 9:27). See also Matthew 24:15 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4. The two witnesses will be killed and a great earthquake will destroy one-tenth of the city (Re. 11:7-13). The events of the last half of Daniel’s 70th Week are described in other places in Revelation. These events include the hail and fire that destroy one-third of the trees and grass (Re. 8:7), the third part of the sea turning to blood (Re. 8:8-9), the third part of the waters becoming Wormwood (Re. 8:10-11), the terrible locusts from the bottomless pit (Re. 9:1-11), the 200 million-man army from the east whereby one-third of mankind will be destroyed (Re. 9:13-21), the worldwide worship of the Antichrist and his dictatorial rule (Re. 13), the rivers and fountains turning to blood (Re. 16:4-6), the scorching of men with great heat (Re. 16:8-9), the darkness (Re. 16:10-11), the destruction of the Mystery Babylon religion (Re. 14:8; 17:16-18), the destruction of commercial Babylon (Re. 18:5-24), Armageddon (Re. 16:12-16).
If the Rapture does not precede Daniel’s 70th Week, it could not be “at hand,” because it would be preceded by these events and its time would be known exactly when those events were witnessed. If the Rapture were “mid-tribulation” or “pre-wrath,” then the church-age saints would know that Christ would not return for them until the events pertaining to the rise of the Antichrist (e.g., the covenant with Israel, the building of the third temple, the ministry of the two witnesses), and when they witnessed the beginning of those things, they would know that the Rapture would occur three and a half years later. If the Rapture does not precede Daniel’s 70th Week, it would teach us to look for the Antichrist rather than Christ.
5. The church is a mystery that is not revealed in the Old Testament.
“How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph. 3:3-6).
The New Testament church has no part in the chronology of events foretold by the Old Testament prophets. They clearly foretold the first coming of Christ, His miraculous birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. They also described Christ’s Second Coming in glory, preceded by a time of unprecedented worldwide tribulation and followed by the establishment of the glorious Messianic kingdom centered in Jerusalem.
But these prophets did not see the church age--“which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5).
Between the first and second coming, there is a time gap that is not described in Old Testament prophecy. This gap is the church age. The prophets did not see that Israel would be set aside temporarily while God called out from among all nations a special body of people. After He has accomplished this purpose and the fullness of the Gentiles is come in, God will restart Israel’s prophetic clock with the last seven years of Daniel’s 70th Week and will fulfill all Old Testament prophecies in relation to His ancient chosen nation. “... blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Ro. 11:25).
The Tribulation pertains to God’s dealing with Israel and the Gentile nations, not to the church. This present mystery period will end with the removal of church-age believers from the earth, and the Lord will then pour out His judgments on the Gentile nations and fulfill His covenants with Israel.
The Great Tribulation is called “the time of the heathen” (Eze. 30:3), referring to the Gentile nations, and “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Je. 30:7), referring to Israel.
6. The book of Revelation shows that the church is not on earth during the Tribulation.
The church is not seen on earth in chapters 4-18.
The witness for God in the earth during the Tribulation is Israel, not the church. See Revelation 7, where the Lord seals 144,000 Jews from the 12 tribes and through their preaching a great multitude is saved.
The prayers of the saints in Revelation 8 are prayers for judgment. Only Israel prayed such prayers. Church-age saints are instructed to pray for her enemies, not against them (Lu. 9:51-56). The imprecatory prayers of Revelation are those of the Psalms and are based on God’s promise to Abraham to curse those that cursed Israel (Ge. 12:1-3).
Revelation 10 identifies the events of Revelation 6-18 with those foretold by Old Testament prophets--the days of the Great Tribulation, the “day of the Lord.” The church age was never in the view of these Old Testament prophecies; it was a mystery not yet revealed. The church has a different purpose and program than national Israel. It is Israel that is in view in Old Testament prophecy and in Revelation 6-18.
The ministry of the two witnesses of Revelation 11 identifies them with national Israel and with Old Testament prophecies of the “day of the Lord.” The two witnesses minister from Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. The churches have no such capital, her hope being heavenly, not earthly (Col. 3:1-4; Php. 3:17-21). The two witnesses are clothed in sackcloth, which speaks of Israel, the sackcloth signifying repentance from sin or sorrow because of some calamity (1 Ki. 21:27; 2 Ki. 19:1; Est. 4:1; Isa. 15:3; Jer. 4:8). Nowhere are the churches seen in sackcloth. The churches are told, rather, to “rejoice in the Lord alway” (Php. 4:4). The church-age believer’s judgment is forever past, and he is to keep his mind centered in the heavenlies where, positionally, he is already seated, eternally victorious with Christ (Eph. 2:5-10). Revelation 11:4 identifies the two witnesses with the Old Testament prophecy of Zechariah 4:3, 11, 14. This is a prophecy about Israel, not the church. Further, the two witnesses call down judgment upon their enemies in Revelation 10:5-6. Jesus rebuked his disciples for desiring to do just this and instructed the church-age believer to pray for the well-being of his enemies, not for their destruction (Lu. 9:54-56; Ro. 12:14, 17-21).
The devil persecutes Israel, not the church, during the Tribulation (Re. 12). There can be no doubt that the woman in this chapter signifies Israel. Verse 5 shows the woman bringing forth Christ; it is obvious that Jesus was brought forth by Israel, not by the churches (Isa. 9:6-7; Ro. 9:5). Also, the symbols of Revelation 12:1-2 recall familiar Old Testament typology of Israel. She is referred to as a woman. Compare Isaiah 54:5-7. The sun and moon and the 12 stars of Revelation 12:2 remind us of Joseph’s dream regarding Israel (Ge. 37:9). The words of Revelation 12:2 are almost an exact quote from Micah 5:3. “Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.” Again, this speaks of Israel’s delivery of the Messiah. These symbols are not used in the New Testament of the churches.
When Was the Pre-Trib Rapture First Taught?
Steven Anderson follows Replacement theologians in claiming that John Darby was the first to teach a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, but it isn’t true.
As we have seen, two thousand years ago, all of the churches were looking for an imminent return of Christ. That was a long time before Darby.
In the 4th century, the Pre-Tribulation Rapture was taught by Ephraem the Syrian (c. 303-373). Ephraem is called “the Syrian” because he lived in that region.
Ephraem is venerated as a “saint” by the Catholic and Orthodox churches, but they would not allow him to teach his doctrine of prophecy today.
He was a voluminous writer. Many of his sermons and psalms are included in the 16-volume Post-Nicene Library. (The Council of Nicea was held in AD 325, and historians divide the “fathers” into Ante-Nicene, before 325, and Post-Nicene, after 325).
In the 1990s some of Ephraem’s writings were translated into English for the first time, one of these being On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, A.D. 373.
The translation was done by Professor Cameron Rhoades of Tyndale Theological Seminary at the bequest of Grant R. Jeffrey. It was subsequently published in Jeffrey’s 1995 book Final Warning.
It is obvious that Ephraem believed in a literal fulfillment of prophecy, including a Rapture of New Testament saints prior to the Tribulation.
“For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins” (Ephraem the Syrian, On the Last Times).
Observe that Ephraem taught that the saints will be taken to the Lord so they will not see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world, which is exactly what 1 Thessalonians 5:3-9 says.
Ephraem taught a literal Antichrist who will sit in a literal rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, a literal 3.5 year Tribulation, a literal Two Witnesses or prophets who will preach in Jerusalem, a literal battle of Gog and Magog.
“And when the three and a half years have been completed, the time of the Antichrist, through which he will have seduced the world, after the resurrection of the two prophets, in the hour which the world does not know, and on the day which the enemy or son of perdition does not know, will come the sign of the Son of Man, and coming forward the Lord shall appear with great power and much majesty, with the sign of the word of salvation going before him, and also even with all the powers of the heavens with the whole chorus of the saints. ... Then Christ shall come and the enemy shall be thrown into confusion, and the Lord shall destroy him by the Spirit of his mouth. And he shall be bound and shall be plunged into the abyss of everlasting fire alive with his father Satan; and all people, who do his wishes, shall perish with him forever; but the righteous ones shall inherit everlasting life with the Lord for ever and ever” (Ephraem the Syrian, On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, A.D. 373).
Ephraem believed in the imminency of the return of Christ and urged his fellow Christians to live godly lives in expectation of His return.
Actually, Ephraem the Syrian was not alone in interpreting Bible prophecy literally in his day.
He was living one generation from the era of Augustine (354-430), at which time there was a dramatic change. When Ephraem died in 373, Augustine was 19 years old.
It was in the era of Augustine that allegoricalism widely replaced the previous method of interpretation. Prior to this, it was common among Bible believers to interpret prophecy literally. They believed that Christ would return literally (and imminently), bind Satan, and establish a literal millennial kingdom on earth.
This is acknowledged by church historians.
William Newell said, “The early Church for 300 years looked for the imminent return of our Lord to reign, and they were right” (Newell, Revelation).
Phillip Schaaf said, “... the most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age [prior to AD 325] is the prominent chiliasm, or millennarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment” (History of the Christian Church, 8 vols, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1960, 2:614).
Henry Thiessen said, “It is clear ... that the Fathers held not only the pre-millennial view of Christ’s coming, but also regarded that coming as imminent. The Lord had taught them to expect His return at any moment, and so they looked for Him to come in their day. Not only so, but they also taught His personal return as being immediately, with the exception of the Alexandrian Fathers, who also rejected other fundamental doctrines” (Thiessen, Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 477).
In fact, Augustine, “the father of amillennialism,” once believed in a literal millennium himself. He said, “I myself, too, once held this opinion. ... They who do believe them are called by the spiritual, Chiliasts, which we may literally reproduce by the name Millenarians” (Augustine, City of God, book 20, chapter 7).
The following statement by Irenaeus (c. 120-203) is an example of what was commonly believed among the early “church fathers,” as they looked forward to Christ’s return and the establishment of His kingdom:
“The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead; when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with an abundance of all kinds of food, from the dew of heaven, and from the fertility of the earth. ... In like manner [the Lord declared] that ... all animals feeding [only] on the productions of the earth, should [in those days] become peaceful and harmonious among each other, and be in perfect subjection to man” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, The Ante-Nicene Fathers).
The church at Antioch long interpreted Bible prophecy literally. Antioch was an important church founded by Barnabas and Paul, and it is from this church that the first foreign missionaries were ordained and sent out (Ac. 11:19-26; 13:1-4). It was at Antioch that the disciples of Christ were first called Christians.
Some of the preachers associated with Antioch were Lucian (died 312), Theodore (AD 350-428), Chrysostom (AD 354-407), Theodoret (AD 386-458), and Diodorus of Tarsus. These men interpreted Bible prophecy literally and believed in a literal millennium.
In History of Interpretation, F.W. Farrar observed, “Diodorus of Tarsus’ books were devoted to an exposition of Scripture in its literal sense, and he wrote a treatise, now unhappily lost, ‘on the difference between allegory and spiritual insight’” (Farrar, pp. 213-15).
“The Antioch’s school’s two greatest exegetes, Theodore of Mopsuestia (AD 350-428) and John Chrysostom (AD 354-407), were ‘anti-allegorical’” (Matthew Allen, “Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology,” bible.org).
Some of the early Christians after the apostles taught a form of dispensationalism. Examples can be found in the extant writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Methodius. Justin Martyr (100-165) believed in four phases of history in God’s plan: From Adam to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Christ, and from Christ to the eternal state. Irenaeus (120-202) taught something similar, dividing the dispensations into the creation to the flood, the flood to the law, the law to the gospel, the gospel to the eternal state.
Dr. Larry Crutchfield observes that some of the early church leaders “came very close to making nearly the same divisions modern dispensationalists do” (“Rudiments of Dispensationalism in the Ante-Nicene Period,” Bibliotheca Sacra, Oct. 1987).
The allegorical method of interpretation was invented by false teachers after the apostolic era as the apostasy was growing and spreading toward the formation of the Roman Catholic Church.
A school was established at Alexandria, Egypt, which became the headquarters for the allegorical method of interpretation. Egypt was a place where false teaching proliferated in the first centuries after Christ.
Clement, who headed the school from AD 190 to 202, corrupted the Christian faith by mixing it with the worldly philosophy and allegoricalism of Philo. He taught many false doctrines, including purgatory, and believed that most men would eventually be saved even though Jesus said only a few would be (Mt. 7:14). “Clement saw the literal meaning of Scripture as being a ‘starting point’ for interpretation. Although it was ‘suitable for the mass of Christians,’ God revealed himself to the spiritually advanced through the ‘deeper meaning’ of Scripture. In every passage, a deeper or additional meaning existed beyond the primary or immediate sense” (Matthew Allen, “Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology,” bible.org).
Origen (AD 185-254) was one of the chief fathers of allegoricalism. He led the school at Alexandria from AD 202 to 232. Though he endured persecution and torture for the cause of Christ under the Emperor Decius in 250, Origen was laden down with heresies. Like Clement, he mixed the truth of the Bible with pagan philosophy. He taught that celibacy was a holy state above marriage, contrary to the teaching of the apostles. He taught baptismal regeneration, purgatory, and the pre-existence of the human soul. He taught that all men, even Satan and demons, would eventually be saved. He taught that the Holy Spirit was the first creature made by God, and denied the full Godhead and eternality of Jesus. He did not believe that the Scriptures are wholly inspired by God.
Origen claimed that “the Scriptures have little use to those who understand them literally.” He described the literal meaning of Scripture as “bread” and encouraged the student to go beyond this to the “wine” of allegoricalism, whereby one can become intoxicated and transported to heavenly realms. Origen’s commentaries contained a wealth of fanciful interpretations, abounding in “heretical revisals of Scripture” (Frederick Nolan, Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, p. 367).
Another father of allegoricalism was Augustine (AD 354-430), one of the fathers of the Roman Catholic Church. He was exalted as one of the “doctors” of Rome. Augustine invented the terrible and unbiblical doctrine of the inquisition that was used by the Catholic Church against Bible believers for more than 1,000 years. The German historian Neander observed that Augustine’s teaching “contains the germ of the whole system of spiritual despotism, intolerance, and persecution, even to the court of the Inquisition.” Augustine instigated persecutions against the Donatists who were striving to maintain pure biblical churches. He taught that “the sacraments,” such as baptism, were the means of salvation. He taught that Mary did not commit sin. He taught the heresy of purgatory. He was one of the fathers of infant baptism, claiming that unbaptized infants are lost and calling all who rejected infant baptism “infidels” and “cursed.” He exalted the authority of “the church” over that of Scripture.
“Through Augustine, Origen's allegorical hermeneutic became the backbone of medieval interpretation of the Bible” (Matthew Allen, “Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology,” bible.org).
These heresies grew and became a fundamental part of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
When the Protestant denominations (e.g., Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist) broke away from Rome, one of the errors they brought with them was the allegorical interpretation of prophecy.
The Attack on the Pre-Tribulational Rapture
The doctrine of the pre-tribulational Rapture is under severe attack today. Consider some examples from the emerging church:
Brian McLaren calls the imminent return of Christ the “eschatology of abandonment” (interview with Planet Preterist, Jan. 30, 2005). This is because he believes that Christians should build the kingdom of God on earth today instead of waiting until Christ returns, so he claims that those who believe in a pre-tribulation Rapture are abandoning their alleged duty to save the earth from global warming and to solve the problems of hunger, disease, war, etc.
Jonny Baker of Grace in London, England, rejects dispensationalism as “escapology theology” and “advocates that Christians need to invest themselves in the current culture, not live on hold until time runs out” (Emerging Churches, pp. 78, 79).
N.T. Wright, who has a great influence on the emerging church, says the doctrine of an imminent rapture is dangerous because it interferes with kingdom building and environmental activities. “If there’s going to be an Armageddon, and we’ll all be in heaven already or raptured up just in time, it really doesn’t matter if you have acid rain or greenhouse gases prior to that. Or, for that matter, whether you bombed civilians in Iraq. All that really matters is saving souls for that disembodied heaven” (“Christians Wrong about Heaven, Says Bishop,” Time, Feb. 7, 2008).
Tony Campolo says: “I think that we need to challenge the government to do the work of the Kingdom of God, to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord. That whole sense of the rapture, which may occur at any moment, is used as a device to oppose engagement with the principalities, the powers, the political and economic structures of our age” (“Opposition to women preachers evidence of demonic influence,” Baptist Press, June 27, 2003).
Mark Driscoll refers to the pre-tribulational Rapture as “pessimistic dispensationalism” (Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches, p. 146). He has said that “eschatology-minded Christians” are not welcome in his church.
The Importance of the Pre-Tribulational Rapture
The doctrine of the pre-tribulational Rapture is not a minor one. As we have seen, Jesus, Paul, James, and Peter taught that the return of Christ is imminent and is to be expected at any time (Mt. 24:42, 44; 25:13; Mr. 13:32-37; Ro. 13:12; Php. 3:20; 4:5; 1 Th. 1:9-10; 5:4-9; Tit. 2:12-13; Jas. 5:8-9; 1 Pe. 4:7). The early Christians lived in expectation of Christ’s imminent return and the literal fulfillment of the prophecies (1 Th. 1:9-10).
The doctrine of a pre-tribulational Rapture is a great motivator for purifying one’s personal Christian life.
1. It encourages the believer in trials and persecutions. “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Th. 4:17-18).
2. It keeps the church’s focus on the Lord’s Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk 16:15; Lu. 24:44-48; Ac. 1:8). It teaches us that preaching the gospel, winning people to Christ, and establishing churches as the pillar and ground of the truth is the most urgent matter. D.L. Moody had it right when he said: “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.’”
3. It motivates us to be busy in the Lord’s work. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Co. 15:58).
4. It motivates us to live obedient lives. “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober” (1 Th. 5:6). “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 Jo. 3:3).
5. It motivates us to live holy and separate from evil. “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:13-14).
6. It keeps believers aware of and on the outlook for heresy and apostasy (2 Ti. 4:3-4). A proper view of Bible prophecy instructs God’s people that the church age is characterized by the growth of apostasy. It is a leaven that began in the days of the apostles and increases throughout the age (Mt. 13:33; 2 Ti. 3:13). This refutes the principle of ecumenism that is so pervasive today. Ecumenists do not talk about apostasy. They do not understand it and do not see it. A right view of prophecy and the practical application thereof refutes this mindset.
The imminency of Christ’s return is very practical. It is a major motivator of pilgrim Christianity. It motivates to holy living, and it motivates to zeal in world evangelism. It teaches us that God’s people aren’t on earth today to build Christ’s kingdom through social-justice activities. It refutes the social gospel. Church age believers are on earth to preach the salvation gospel to the ends of the earth through which God is calling out a people for His name from among the nations (Ac. 15:14). God calls through the gospel (2 Th. 2:14), which is to be preached to every nation (Mt. 28:19; Ac. 1:8) and to every individual (Mr. 16:15). Christ is coming, and He can come at any time. We must be living in such a manner that Christ will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:21, 23; Lu. 19:17). We must work while it is day. We must reach unsaved men with the gospel to the ends of the earth while we can.
When the literal interpretation of prophecy was restored in the 19th century after a long period of dormancy, it produced spiritual revival and great light on the times. It produced an emphasis on holy, separated Christian living and a vision for world evangelism. The literal interpretation of prophecy was at the heart of the Bible conference movement of the last quarter of the 19th century, and of the fundamentalist movement of the first half of the 20th century, and it has been one of the hallmarks of the fundamental Baptist movement since the last half of the 20th century. For example, the announcement for the American Bible and Prophecy Conference in New York City in 1878 stated, “The precious doctrine of Christ’s personal appearing has, we are constrained to believe, long lain under such neglect and misapprehension. So vital indeed is this truth represented to be that the denial of it is pointed out as one of the conspicuous signs of the apostasy of the last days. ... after the long sleep of the church, the wise are at long last rising up and trimming their lamps in preparation for the coming of the Bridegroom.” One of the nine fundamentals published by the World Conference on Christian Fundamentals held in Philadelphia in 1919 was “We believe in ‘that blessed hope,’ the personal, premillennial, and imminent return of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Prior to this, most churches and denominations in America (including Northern and Southern Baptists) preached amillennialism or post-millennialism. There was no expectation of an imminent return of Christ. There was no expectation of the return of Israel to the land. Fundamentalist leader William B. Riley said that when he graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1888, there was no premillennial teaching in the school (William Trollinger, God’s Empire). When he arrived in Minneapolis in 1897 to pastor First Baptist Church, there was only one other pastor in the city that held to a premillennial faith (Trollinger, p. 84).
In his history of the downfall of the Conservative Baptists, Richard Clearwaters emphasized the importance of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture several times. He showed that one of the principles of both theological modernism and New Evangelicalism is the denial of the imminency of the return of Christ and a replacement of a concentrated focus on the Great Commission of world evangelism with a kingdom building emphasis. Clearwaters observed that one of the elements of the downgrade was “a more tolerant attitude toward varying views of eschatology.” In 1956, he wrote, “Students have gone from Northwestern [founded by W.B. Riley and Pre-Trib from its inception] and other similar schools to these schools [Fuller Seminary and Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary] with a simple faith in the Word of God about the Rapture of the Church and the Second Coming only to later come to me disturbed, not knowing whether they were now looking for the Christ to rapture His Church or for Anti-Christ; whether the ‘blessed hope’ of the church was half or all of the Tribulation; whether Christ was coming with His Church or for His Church” (The Great Conservative Baptist Compromise, chapter 3, “The Bible, the Unchanging Evangelical,” p. 48).
What about the pre-wrath position that says believers will not be raptured until part way through the Tribulation?
The “pre-wrath” doctrine says that the Rapture occurs in the midst of Daniel’s 70th Week. It is based on the view that the church is to be kept from God’s wrath and the wrath is limited to the last half of the seven-year Tribulation, beginning when the Antichrist sets himself up in the Jewish temple as God.
I believe this position is wrong for three reasons, chiefly.
First, the doctrine of the imminency of the Rapture refutes this view. See Mt. 24:42, 44; 25:13; Mr. 13:32-37; Ro. 13:12; Php. 3:20; 4:5; 1 Th. 1:9-10; 5:4-9; Tit. 2:12-13; Jas. 5:8-9; 1 Pe. 4:7. If the church age believer is not taken away until part way through Daniel’s 70th Week, he would know the time of the Rapture precisely, almost to the day, because he would see the events unfold during the first half of Daniel’s 70th week. He would see the Antichrist come on the scene with his peace program. He would see the “Middle East problem” seeming solved and the building of the Third Temple. He would see the Two Witnesses preaching in Jerusalem. He would see the judgments of Revelation 6, etc.
Second, we do not accept the view that only the last seven judgments are the wrath of God. It’s true that the seven last plagues are called “the wrath of God” (Re. 15:1; 16:1). But the wrath of God is also mentioned in Revelation 6:16-17 at the beginning of the Tribulation. The fact is that the entire period of Daniel’s 70th Week is the wrath of God, each part growing in intensity. The seal judgments affect a fourth of the world (Re. 6:8). The trumpet judgments affect a third of the earth (Re. 8:7-11; 9:15). The vial judgments affect the entire world (Re. 16:2, 3, 4, 8, 10, 14, 20). But all are outpourings of God’s wrath on impenitent men.
Third, the entire period of Daniel’s 70th Week pertains to Israel and not to the church. As we have seen, the church is not seen on earth after Revelation 3. Everything described on earth in Revelation 6-18 pertains to the Gentile nations and Israel. The “pre-wrath” position does not make a proper and consistent distinction between Israel and the church.
(An excellent critique of Marv Rosenthal’s pre-wrath doctrine is “Pre-wrath Confusion” by George Zeller, http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/proph/prewrath.htm.)
What about 2 Thessalonians 2?
Some use this passage as a proof text to support the position that the Rapture of church age saints occurs after the appearance of the Antichrist, but it teaches the opposite.
If Paul is saying in 2 Thessalonians 2 that the Rapture will occur after the revelation of the Antichrist, then he is contradicting what he taught in the first epistle to the Thessalonians.
Paul had taught the Thessalonians a lot about Bible prophecy in general and about the Rapture in particular. Every chapter of 1 Thessalonians mentions the coming of Christ. 1 Thessalonians contains the greatest teaching on the Rapture in the Bible (1 Th. 4:13-18). Paul used this doctrine to comfort the believers (“wherefore comfort one another with these words,” 1 Th. 4:18). The Rapture would not be a comfort if it occurred after the coming of the Antichrist and the judgments described in Revelation. Paul had taught them that the coming of the Lord for them is to be expected at any time; it is imminent (1 Th. 1:10). He taught them that they were waiting on the coming of the Lord Himself, not the Antichrist. He taught them that they would not be overtaken by the destruction and darkness and wrath that will come upon the world at the day of the Lord (1 Th. 5:1-9).
Sometime after they had received the teaching of 1 Thessalonians, the saints at Thessalonica had been shaken by false teaching that the day of Christ was at hand or already present. In 2 Th. 2:2, “at hand” means present. The Greek word, “enistemi,” is usually translated “present” (Ro. 8:38; 1 Co. 3:22; 7:26; Ga. 1:4; He. 9:9).
We believe that the solution to the apparent contradiction between what Paul taught about the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians and about the “day of Christ” in 2 Thessalonians is to understand that the “day of Christ” here refers not to the Rapture, but to “the day of the Lord” that Paul warned about in 1 Th. 5:2-9 and described as destruction and darkness and wrath. If we read 2 Th. 2:3 as follows, there are no contradictions: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day [the day of the Lord] shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”
2 Thessalonians 2 was specifically written so that the believers would not be shaken in mind and troubled by the false teaching that the day of Christ had already happened. In some places, “at hand” means imminent,” but here, it means present. As we have seen, the Greek word here, “enistemi,” is usually translated “present” (Ro. 8:38; 1 Co. 3:22; 7:26; Ga. 1:4; He. 9:9). (On the other hand, in Philippians 4:5; 1 Peter 4:7; and Revelation 1:3, “at hand” is translated from “eggus,” meaning near, imminent.) The comfort is the fact that we will be gathered unto Christ before the wrath and darkness come. This is the believer’s Blessed Hope. We are looking for the coming of Christ, not the coming of the Antichrist. What comfort would there be in teaching that we are waiting for the Antichrist? That would be a strange type of comfort! It would have the effect of doing the very thing that Paul was wanting to correct, that is to trouble and shake the mind. “A crucial question arises in verse 1 concerning the small word which Paul uses: ‘concerning’ (Greek ‘huper’). The problem is whether he is beseeching the saints ‘about’ the coming of our Lord or ‘by’ the coming of our Lord. If the first is the meaning, then the passage seems to teach that the Rapture and the Day of the Lord are one and the same event, since the following verses clearly deal with the Day of the Lord. If the second is the meaning, then Paul is appealing to them on the basis of the prior Rapture, that they should not think they were in the Day of the Lord. The question is debatable. We agree with William Kelly when he adopts the second view: ‘The comfort of the Lord's coming is employed as a motive and means for counteracting the uneasiness created by the false presentation that the day (of the Lord) was there.’ We understand Paul to be saying, ‘I appeal to you on the basis of the Rapture that you should not fear that you are in the Day of the Lord. The Rapture must take place first. You will be taken home to heaven at that time and will thus escape the horrors of the Day of the Lord” (Believer’s Bible Commentary).
The “falling away” is the final apostasy that accompanies the revelation of the Antichrist. It is not merely the widespread apostasy of the end of the church age as described in 2 Timothy 2-3; it is the complete apostasy of the revelation of the religion of Revelation 17 which is associated with the rise of the Antichrist. After the Rapture, there will be no born again churches on earth, only unregenerate Christians in all of the denominations, and they will be swept up in accepting the Antichrist.
There are dozens of ministries that focus almost exclusively on prophecy. They are keen Middle East watchers; they delve into the New Age; they find signs in the heavens; they speculate about the mark of the Beast and keep track of computer technology.
I call this speculative prophecy.
Sometimes they set dates. A prominent example is Harold Camping, founder of Family Radio. He set dates for the Lord’s return in 1988, 1994, and 2011. Finally in 2012, not long before he died, he repented of his dating-setting schemes. But by then he had confused a lot of people!
More often, they are “semi-date setters” in that they come near to setting a date.
For example, in 1999, Jack Van Impe published a video entitled A.D.2000--The End? Note the question mark. Though Van Impe didn’t say for sure that the Lord would return in 2000, he came very close.
In 2015, Tom Horn published Zenith 2016, in which he presents his case that the Antichrist “might” appear in 2016.
This type of thing is unscriptural and wrong, but it tends to sell materials and draw a lot of traffic to blogs.
There are some fundamental biblical reasons why I know that all date setters and semi-date setters are wrong and not worth listening to.
First, Christ said that no man knows the day of His return (Mt. 24:36; Mark 13:32). If it is not possible to know the day of Christ’s return, then it is not possible to know the time of the Antichrist’s appearance, since Christ’s return can be prophetically dated from events in the Antichrist’s ministry.
Second, the Rapture is imminent, meaning that it is always at hand but its exact time cannot be known (Mt. 24:42, 44; 25:13; Mr. 13:32-37; Ro. 13:12; Php. 3:20; 4:5; 1 Th. 1:9-10; 5:4-9; Tit. 2:12-13; Jas. 5:8-9; 1 Pe. 4:7.). The apostle Paul instructed the church at Thessalonica that they did not need to heed signs and times, because the New Testament believer has been promised redemption from the “day of darkness” that shall overcome the whole world (1 Th. 5:1-9). The New Testament believer is not waiting for the Antichrist, but for Christ Himself. The imminency of Christ’s return for the church-age believer means that we will not and cannot know the day, the week, the year, or even the decade. If we could know any of that, Christ’s return would not be imminent.
Third, the Bible says that “he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way” (2 Th. 2:7). The context is the devil’s mystery of iniquity program to put the Antichrist on the throne of the world, and the One who restrains this program is God the Holy Spirit. Paul is saying that the Spirit of God will restrain the forces of evil until He is ready to allow the final events to proceed to fulfillment. The times are always in God’s hands (Da. 2:21).
2 Thessalonians 2:7 has some wonderful implications. For one, regardless of how brightly the prophetic signs glow, we can never know when the church age will end and Daniel’s Seventieth Week will begin. Another implication of 2 Thessalonians 2:7 is that God’s people need never fret about the times (Psalm 37:1-4).
Fourth, Jesus taught His people to focus on the Great Commission, not on speculative prophecy (Acts 1:6-8). Christ’s words here don’t mean that the study of prophecy is without value. In fact, a large part of Scripture consists of prophecy, and it has great value. It is a great light and motivator in the Christian life. But Acts 1:6-8 is a warning that constant speculation about the “times and seasons” is the wrong emphasis, at best.
These biblical truths have helped me immensely through the years. Not only have they enabled me to reject every date setter, even the vaguest, but also to avoid being swept up in various hysterias, such as Y2K.
In October 11, 1998, I published “Y2K Hysteria,” stating,
“There should be no hysteria about this. I have no survivalist plans. I do not plan to pull my money out of the bank or stockpile food and water. I do not believe planes will fall out of the sky or the electric grid will fail or the water system will cease to flow or the banking system will collapse or the military will dissolve into confusion. I would not be afraid to be on a commercial flight at midnight on December 31. ... Many of those who are sounding the Y2K hysteria are the same scaremongers, the same prophetic speculators, the same ‘Chicken Little’ crowd that have been proven wrong many times before.”
I made that statement on the basis of the aforementioned biblical truths.
A right understanding of Bible prophecy and the Pre-tribulation Rapture is why I don’t join the prepper movement and build an armored escape den and store up food and weapons.
The Lord’s Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 is in force until the Rapture. We aren’t looking for the antichrist; he pertains to Israel, not to the church. We aren’t expecting the time of Great Tribulation; that pertains to Israel, not to the church. It is the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7). New Testament saints are sons of Abraham by faith (Ga. 3:7), but they aren’t sons of Jacob (except converted Jews). Until the Rapture, church-age saints are to keep doing what we see the church of Antioch doing in Acts 13-14. This is the pattern until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in and God turns His attention, so to speak, to completing His program with Israel according to Daniel’s 70 Week prophecy (Da. 9:24-27).
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