After the 6th Dispensation, Jesus will return to claim his Bride (the Church) as He promised.
At His return, all members of the Church, dead and alive, will be instantly transported to Heaven. This event is called the Rapture.
Despite its rather fantastical premise, we saw in the last post that the Rapture is sound Biblical doctrine.
But the biggest controversy BY FAR among Christians is not the existence of the Rapture, but rather its timing – specifically as it relates to the 7 year apocalyptic period known as the Tribulation* (which we will begin to examine in the next post)
*[NOTE – Yes, I’m fully aware that there is technically no such thing as a “7 year Tribulation” in the Bible, and that the “Great Tribulation” Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24 is actually 3 ½ years. However when I use the term “Tribulation” in this blog, I am referring to the entire 7year period known as the “70th Week of Daniel”, the last half of which is the aforementioned Great Tribulation. Why? Because I don’t feel like typing out “the 70th Week of Daniel” over and over.]
Christians who embrace the Rapture generally fall into one of three categories:
- Pre-Tribulation (Pre-Trib) – Those who believe that the Church will be raptured BEFORE the Tribulation begins.
- Mid-Tribulation (Mid-Trib) – Those who believe the Rapture happens at the 3 ½ year mid-point of the Tribulation (i.e., right before the Great Tribulation).
- Post-Tribulation (Post-Trib) – Those who believe that Christians will have to endure the Tribulation, and those who survive will be raptured at the end of the7 years.
While the differing positions on the timing of the Rapture may seem a bit trivial to Christians who don’t spend much time studying eschatology, they are taken VERY seriously by adherents.
If you ever want to see disturbingly blatant examples of Christian in-fighting, just Google any web site that takes a pre, mid, or post-trib position and read the comment sections. You will find extraordinarily long argument threads filled with people literally assaulting each other with scripture verses and doctrinal extrapolation.
Let’s take a look at each position, the proof points, and the counter arguments
The Pre-Tribulation Theory
The pre-trib position is that the Church will to avoid the entire Tribulation period. They believe that the judgments of Tribulation are not meant for the Church and there is no point in Jesus leaving His Bride on earth during that time. Some of their proof points include:
- The faithful church of Philadelphia is specifically promised to be kept from the time of the Tribulation.
- Paul writes that the “Antichrist” (who is the catalyst for the Tribulation) can’t show up until the “Restrainer” (the Holy Spirit) is removed from the earth. And since the Holy Spirit indwells the Church, It must be removed too.
- They see the Rapture occurring in Revelation Chapter 4, when the scene shifts from the Churches on earth, to Heaven.
- In Revelation 1, Jesus clearly refers to the Lampstands as the Churches He is writing to on the earth. However when He finishes His message to the churches, the Lampstands are then seen in Heaven BEFORE the Tribulation begins.
- In the same scene as the Lampstands are the 24 Elders. They sing a song claiming that they have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. This is something ONLY believers can claim, therefore the 24 Elders represent the Church in Heaven. Again, this happens before the Tribulation begins in the next chapter.
- After Jesus’ letters to the Churches in Revelation 2-3, the Church is not mentioned again until the end of the book – AFTER the vivid descriptions of the Tribulation.
- Pre-tribbers believe in the “Doctrine of Imminence”, citing the many places where the Church is told to “be ready” and “be watchful” for the coming of Jesus. Meaning the next event on the prophetic calendar for the Church is the Rapture
Mid and post-tribbers counter by denying that there is no clear Doctrine of Imminence in the Bible, and that the warnings to be watchful are about general faithfulness, not the Rapture.
They also believe that pre-tribbers misinterpret Paul and that the verse they cite clearly states that the Church will see the advent of the Antichrist. Mid-tribbers also see no scriptural reason to believe that the Church must be raptured before the Great Tribulation and associate the verses pre-tribbers use with a the mid-point rapture.
Furthermore, post-tribbers condemn pre-tribbers for being “escapists” who do not have the fortitude to suffer for the sake of Christ and invented their position to take the easy way out.
As we saw in the last post, they also cling to the “Darby invented the Rapture” fallacy. They also tend to reject the idea that the 7 letters to 7 Churches are an outline of Church history.
The Mid-Tribulation Theory
The mid-trib position is similar to pre-trib in that they don’t believe the Church is meant to endure God’s wrath, but they see the wrath beginning at the mid-point (last 3 ½ years), known as the Great Tribulation. Mid-tribbers are also known as “Pre-Wrath”. Some of their proof points include:
- The Church is promised tribulation
- The Church is NOT promised wrath
- The Church will see the advent of the Antichrist
- According to Paul, the Rapture occurs at the sounding of the “last trumpet”. They see this as the 7th Trumpet in Revelation 11 when the earth is reclaimed by Jesus, thus He can come claim His Bride
The main counter argument of the pre-tribbers is that the mid-trib position denies imminence and ruins the wedding model of the Rapture in that Jesus’ coming for His Bride is no longer a “surprise”. You can know exactly when He’s going to show up. Just wait for the Antichrist to initiate the Tribulation, and start counting down 1260 days.
So technically, mid-tribbers aren’t directly watching for Jesus, they’re watching for the Antichrist!
Pre-tribbers also see the promise of church tribulation to be general (ie, historic persecutions of the Church), not a specific reference to the first 3 ½ years. Lastly they don’t see Paul’s “last trump” as synonymous with the 7th trumpet in Revelation because Revelation was written over 30 years after Paul died.
Post-tribbers use most of the same counter arguments they use against pre-tribbers.
The Post-Tribulation Theory
The post-trib position is that the Rapture of the Church is synonymous with the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation. They see the idea of a “secret rapture” occurring before or during the Tribulation as unbiblical conjecture and believe that the verses and doctrines used to justify those positions are specious at best. Some of their proof points include:
- In Matthew 24, Jesus clearly says that he will Rapture His “elect” AFTER the Tribulation.
- Jesus says that only those who endure to the end will be saved.
- The Bible says that the Antichrist will “overcome” the saints, meaning they will endure his wrath until the end of the Tribulation.
- There is only one Biblical scene of Jesus returning after His resurrection and its at the end of the Tribulation.
Pre and mid-tribbers share some of the same counter arguments.
At the Second Coming, Jesus is depicted as coming WITH believers, not FOR them. They don’t think it makes much sense for the Church to be Raptured to the air, then immediately turn around and come back to earth with Jesus.
They don’t see all “saints” as synonymous. The “saints” who will be saved during the Tribulation (and overcome by the Antichrist) are distinct from the Church, just as are the Old Testament saints. The same can be said of the word “elect” (which usually refers to Israel anyway).
Pre-tribbers also see Mathew 24 as pertaining strictly to Jews, NOT the Church, since His discourse in that chapter was a response to a Jewish-focused question (about the Temple and the Kingdom) asked by three Jewish disciples (and also because the Church didn’t exist yet).
Finally, they see no reason why Jesus would spend 7 years beating the hell out of His Bride before taking her up to Heaven.
Which theory is right and which ones are wrong?
ALL OF THEM!! Each side is correct in what they affirm, but they are all incorrect in what they deny.
How is this possible? Because Rapture adherents are all making the same mistake as the Pharisees did about Jesus’ first advent!
Following in the footsteps of the Pharisees
As we saw in an earlier post, the Pharisees read prophetic scriptures about Jesus that depicted conflicting/contradicting descriptions of the Messiah’s advent. So they made the comparative decision to accept the ones they liked (the conquering King) and reject the ones they didn’t like (the suffering servant), and because of this, they didn’t recognize their Messiah when He arrived, and conspired to kill Him!
IF they had been willing to think contrastively, they would have understood that if there are two contradictory descriptions of the Messiah’s advent (and contradictions can’t exist) then there MUST be two distinct advents.
If you don’t learn from history, you’re bound to repeat it
The problem is that the Rapture adherents didn’t learn from the Pharisees’ mistake. They see distinct and contradictory descriptions of the timing of the Rapture and comparatively pick the one they like best (pre, mid, or post-trib), while rejecting the others! They are actually victims of religious brain damage!
What’s my proof? Just look at the Rapture websites I mentioned before. Visiting these sites and perusing the readers’ comments is truly distressing. You will be astounded as you see Christians who are SUPPOSED to be in fellowship and brotherhood – who Jesus COMMANDED to love one another, launch into vicious and visceral attacks on each other using the most insulting, demeaning, and condescending language you can imagine.
The situation is exacerbated because the scriptures that each side use in their arguments are true. Therefore they feel justified in their comparative position, thinking “I MUST be right because I can cite scripture that clearly supports my position.”
But because they are in pride, they also feel justified in disregarding any position (and demeaning any person) that conflicts with them.
Jesus said that you would be able to identify His followers by the love that showed for one another. It would be difficult to prove that any of the commenters on these sites are Christians based on what they write.
Adherents to a single Rapture position become brain damaged by their unwillingness to think contrastively to the point that they are no longer recognizable as Christians!
So WHAT is the correct position?
As I’ve reiterated time and again on this blog, the only way to resolve conflicts and be right is to think contrastively – instead of trying to prove your opposition wrong, try to prove YOURSELF wrong and prove your adversary right as Jesus commanded.
If they did this, they would discover an amazing resolution to the conflict:
If there is more than one distinct scriptural depiction of the Rapture – THEN THERE MUST BE MORE THAN ONE RAPTURE!!
How would this work?
I believe that Jesus is coming for a Bride who is expecting Him. The wedding model shows that the Bride should be in a constant state of expectation.
The Church is consistently commanded to be in a state of readiness and to watch for Him. Those who are expecting to be taken pre-trib, WILL be raptured before the Tribulation. Those who don’t will be left until the next one.
Those who believe in a mid-trib Rapture WILL be taken at the end of the first 3 ½ years (right before the Great Tribulation) along with others who become believers after the Tribulation starts (and post-tribbers who change their position after witnessing the first Rapture).
Anyone who becomes saved during the Great Tribulation, including the Jewish remnant (we’ll discuss them in the next post) will be Raptured at the end of the Tribulation – along with anyone who still sticks to their original post-trib position (you have to admire their fortitude).
I no longer argue with anyone about the timing of the Rapture. If someone says the Church will be Raptured before the Tribulation, I say “you’re right, we will be”. If they say believers will have to endure the first half but will be taken before the Great Tribulation, I say “you’re right, you will be”. If they think believers will have to endure the entire 7 years, I say, “you’re right. You will”.
The question is not WHEN the Rapture will occur, but rather when do you WANT to be raptured? Personally, I want to go before the Tribulation starts.
For those post-tribbers who want to call me an escapist, that’s fine. I’ll wave to you from the mezzanine.
We’ve talked around the Tribulation extensively in this post and it’s been mentioned quite a bit in earlier posts as the apocalyptic period of God’s judgment of the evil in the world that we all know it so richly deserves. But what exactly is it? Who is involved? And why does it need to happen before the next dispensation? We’ll begin to explore those questions next time…
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