The world is in a time of unsettling events. There’s a controversial virus, an economy in serious decline, and intense social unrest. As these things unfold and escalate, I hear increased talk about the rapture.
The word rapture means to be carried away. Although the term rapture does not appear in the Bible the concept is certainly there. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says, “the Lord himself will come down from heaven” and those “who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Scripture states clearly, that following in Enoch’s and Elijah’s footsteps 1, there will be a people at the end of the age who will not die but will be caught up to be with the Lord.
While scripture clearly establishes the rapture, there are very different opinions on when this event takes place. Some Christians believe that the rapture precedes the great tribulation spoken of in the book of Revelation, and that the church will not be on the earth during this time. This view is commonly referred to as a pre-tribulation rapture. For conciseness, I will simply refer to it as pre-trib.
Pre-trib teaching presents this sequence of events:
- There is an invisible coming of Jesus. At this time, the dead are raised to life, and believers that are alive on earth are caught up (raptured) to be with the Lord.
- The great tribulation, revealed in the book of Revelation, takes place after the church has been taken from the earth.
- At the end of the great tribulation, Jesus returns to earth in a visible, glorious coming to execute God’s judgment.
Many Christians have set their hope on a pre-trib rapture as a means to escape the tribulations that are increasing on the earth. However, an objective study of the scriptures reveals pre-trib doctrine to be inconsistent with the overall Biblical message about end-time events. The fundamental problem with the pre-trib view is that it treats the rapture and the second coming of Christ as two separate events, taking place at two separate times. It places the rapture several years before the second coming of Christ. They believe in two comings of Jesus, an invisible coming to remove his church, and a glorious coming to bring judgment on the ungodly. But when scripture is looked at carefully and in its full context, the idea of two different comings of Jesus, and the rapture taking place separate from the time of judgment, just doesn’t hold up. Scripture consistently links these two events together.
The Bible connects all the following events with Jesus’ second coming. These events take place at one time, or at least in quick succession.
When Jesus returns:
- The dead will be raised.
- The people of God who remain on the earth will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
- Jesus will execute God’s wrath on his enemies and carry out divine judgment.
- The earth will be cleansed by fire and become the dwelling place of the righteous 2
This places the rapture as post-tribulation, meaning it does not happen until after the great tribulation in the book of Revelation. It happens at the end of the age, at the second coming of Christ when God’s purposes on the earth are brought to completion.
Just Like The Days Of Noah
The verses that pre-trib teachers use to place the rapture prior to the great tribulation and the glorious coming of Christ, say that “two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.” (Matt 24:40-41). Pre-trib doctrine interprets this to mean that those who are “taken” are Christians, and those who are “left” are unbelievers. They believe that around the world Christians will suddenly disappear when Jesus takes them up to heaven, and unbelievers will be left to face a time of great tribulation. Pre-trib proponents have elaborated in great detail on these two verses, speculating, with no Biblical support, what it will look like when all these people suddenly disappear and everyone else is left behind. There have been several highly successful books and movies based on this theme. However, their interpretation and application of these verses are taken totally out of context. These two verses must be interpreted within the context of the preceding verses.
For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 “Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 “Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. (Matthew 24:37-41 NASB)
Jesus says his coming will be “just like the days of Noah”. This provides an excellent opportunity to understand what takes place at His coming. To help us understand this future event, Jesus references an event that has already taken place and is recorded with much detail in the Bible. By taking what Jesus said in the verses above and combining it with what the book of Genesis tells us about the events in Noah’s time, we get an accurate picture of what will happen when Jesus comes again.
In the days of Noah:
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5,7 ESV)
With the flood, God destroyed wicked mankind from the face of the earth.
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. 9 …Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. (Genesis 6:8-9 ESV)
Noah was righteous and was instructed by God how to escape the flood 3.
He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. (Genesis 7:23 ESV)
Notice that Jesus said the ungodly “did not understand until the flood came and took them all away”. And Genesis tells us that after the flood destroyed the ungodly “only Noah was left”. This sets a clear precedent for interpreting who Jesus was talking about when He said, “one will be taken and one left”.
The coming of the Lord, as declared in Mathew 24:37-41, will be a day of judgment to destroy the ungodly and cleanse the earth of wickedness, just like the days of Noah. Believers and unbelievers will both be on the earth right up to this time of judgment. The ungodly will be taken away, and the righteous will be left to inhabit a cleansed earth, just like the days of Noah.
So, the verses that say “one will be taken, and one will be left” are not even talking about the rapture. The pre-trib concept of people suddenly disappearing, while others are left behind to continue living on earth, is a misinterpretation of these verses, and there are no other verses in the Bible that support this concept. Pre-trib doctrine is built on one misinterpreted phrase. A friend noted that it’s like playing a game of Jhenga, and there’s one block at the bottom of the tower that everything is resting on; pull out that block, and the whole structure comes tumbling down.
Truth is an integrated whole that is contained in all that the Bible has to say. It’s rather easy to misinterpret a passage of scripture if it’s isolated from other scripture, but eventually, it becomes evident that the misinterpreted verses aren’t in harmony with everything else the Bible has to say on that subject.
Because pre-trib doctrine is in error, it has to manipulate other scriptures to accommodate pre-trib doctrine. For example, the phrase “the coming of the Son of Man” occurs several times in the Bible. Pre-trib teaching selectively interprets one verse to be talking about His invisible coming and another verse to be talking about his glorious coming. They jump back and forth between two comings of Jesus although there is nothing in the text to indicate this is anything other than the second coming of Jesus. They do this to accommodate their predetermined doctrine. It’s a case of interpreting scripture to support what you believe, rather than letting scripture determine what you believe.
Let’s examine some of the passages that are manipulated by pre-trib doctrine.
The Rapture And God’s Judgment On The World
As stated earlier, pre-trib teaching places the rapture at an earlier time than when Jesus comes to execute judgment on the world. They see these as two separate events. They like to offer 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18 as an example of scripture that talks about the rapture but does not mention God’s judgment on the world. Again, these verses must be considered within the full context of the surrounding verses. As you read the following passage keep in mind that the Bible wasn’t originally organized into verses and chapters. The theme that is started at the end of chapter 4 continues into chapter 5.
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. 5:1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 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. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-5:5 ESV)
In this passage, Paul says believers who are alive until the coming of the Lord will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. He goes on to speak of the ungodly, saying, “sudden destruction will come upon them… and they will not escape” (vs 3). Notice it’s the unbelievers who are surprised when the Lord comes “like a thief in the night”. Believers are also present at this time and Paul encourages us that this day “should not surprise you like a thief” because “you are not in darkness”.
When read in its entirety, this passage places the rapture as taking place at the same time Jesus comes to execute judgment on the world.
The Importance Of Trumpets
In scripture, trumpets are frequently associated with the second coming of Jesus. Comparing verses that mention trumpets helps to establish when the rapture takes place.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV)
This verse establishes that the rapture takes place at “the sound of the trumpet of God”.
Behold! I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV)
Again, these verses connect the rapture with the sounding of a trumpet. They also give valuable information for understanding the timing of this event, by declaring the trumpet that takes place at the rapture, to be “the last trumpet”. Simply put, all other trumpets must precede the last trumpet, otherwise, it would not be the last trumpet. Seven major events of the great tribulation are described in Revelation chapters 8-11, and each one is announced with a trumpet. Since scripture says the rapture takes place at the last trumpet, then these trumpets have already sounded and the events they announce have taken place. This means the rapture takes place after the great tribulation.
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:30-31 ESV)
This passage reveals the glorious coming of Jesus. It declares that all people on earth will see Jesus coming in “great glory”. They will mourn because they know their judgment has come. It also says that at this time he will gather his elect “with a loud trumpet call”. If the rapture takes place at the last trumpet how could it have taken place before the sounding of this trumpet? In fact, this “loud trumpet call” and “the last trumpet” are one and the same. And the gathering of the elect is the rapture. This places the rapture at the time of the glorious coming of the Lord, not at a previous, invisible coming.
The Importance Of Clouds
Again, there are verses that have keywords in common. Comparing verses that mention clouds helps to establish that these verses are talking about the same event.
Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ESV)
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Revelation 1:7 ESV)
The first verse is talking about the rapture. The second verse is talking about Jesus coming in judgment. The way clouds are mentioned in both verses suggests that these are different takes on the same event.
Preservation In The Midst Of Wrath
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, (1 Thessalonians 5:9 ESV)
Proponents of a pre-trib rapture, reason that this scripture is evidence that the church can’t be on the earth during the great tribulation because it’s a time when God is pouring out His wrath. That God’s people are not destined for wrath is a fundamental truth that we can confidently trust in. And while it’s wise to hold fast to God’s promises, it’s unwise to limit God’s method of fulfilling those promises 4.
Once again, we have the opportunity to gain insight into future events by looking back at events that have already happened in the Bible. What we need for the future, God has already done in the past. We can move forward with confidence because we can look back and see that God has already demonstrated His ability to bring judgment and deliverance at the same time.
Israel in Egypt:
When God delivered his people from bondage in Egypt, He struck that country with devastating plagues. Interestingly, several of these same plagues reoccur in the book of Revelation. God’s people were right there in Egypt even as God was carrying out these plagues.
But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth. 23 Thus I will put a division between my people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall happen. (Exodus 8:22-23 ESV)
All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died. (Exodus 9:6 ESV)
Only in the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel were, was there no hail. (Exodus 9:26 ESV)
and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. 6 There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. 7 But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.’ (Exodus 11:5-7 ESV)
What a great declaration from the Lord! The Lord makes a distinction between His people and the ungodly.
Noah and the flood:
The flood during Noah’s time is the most severe outpouring of God’s wrath and judgment that has ever taken place. God destroyed all mankind as well as every other living thing on the face of the earth. Yet Noah and his family were right here during this amazing outpouring of God’s wrath. They were preserved because Noah walked with the Lord and obeyed His instructions.
In the Bible, God has demonstrated His ability to carry out judgment and destruction on the ungodly while protecting and preserving His people even though they are right in the middle of what’s taking place. He has done it before; He certainly can do it again.
You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. (Psalms 91:5-8 ESV)
Stand fast in God’s promises. Trust Him to work out the details.
Delivered From Wrath – Called To Tribulation
While the Bible assures us that we are delivered from God’s wrath, it treats tribulation and persecution as an expected part of the Christian life. Scripture is clear that God utilizes tribulation for His glory and our good.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13 ESV)
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV)
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. (John 15:18-21 ESV)
It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matthew 10:25 ESV)
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. (Matthew 24:9 ESV)
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (Hebrews 13:12-13 ESV)
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. (Matthew 10:34-36 ESV)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 ESV)
and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:17 ESV)
and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. (Acts 5:40-41 ESV)
The Bible presents suffering and persecution as a basic part of the Christian life. It also presents suffering as something we should value and rejoice in because it strengthens our faith and changes us to be more like Christ. Gladly accepting suffering goes against our natural inclinations. It will only make sense if our greatest desire in this life is to glorify the Lord and to be molded to be more like Jesus. Suffering for the name of Jesus also carries eternal rewards. If we willingly accept suffering for Him, it reflects that we value what is spiritual and eternal over what is natural and immediate.
We willingly go through persecution because of our love for God. And we go through it in the strength of His love for us.
The Dangers Of Pre-Trib Doctrine
The doctrine of a pre-trib rapture isn’t just theoretically wrong, it is dangerously wrong. The Bible reveals that catastrophic events will be occurring as we move towards the return of the Lord. Jesus talked about the “distress of nations in perplexity”, and “men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth” 5. As these things begin to unfold it’s imperative that believers correctly assess the challenge and are grounded in sound Biblical hope. Pre-trib doctrine is not Biblically sound and is therefore a false hope that will fail people in their time of need.
While expounding on the events that would precede His return, Jesus said “the one who endures to the end will be saved” 6. Twice the book of Revelation makes “a call for the endurance of the saints” 7. Revelation 12:11 declares there will be a people who conquer the devil, “for they love not their lives even unto death”. While the Bible is calling for endurance and perseverance, pre-trib teaching offers escape. While the Bible is calling for unconditional surrender and sacrifice, pre-trib teaching indulges an attitude of self-preservation 8. As end-time events begin to unfold, some people will dig deep, strengthen their relationship with the Lord, and live out their trust and faith in a way that honors God and serves His purposes. On the other hand, some people will be unprepared for the difficulties they will face because they were expecting to be taken away.
The greatest danger of pre-trib teaching is that it undermines our participation in God’s ultimate plan and purpose for His church. The Bible presents an amazing, God-sized vision of the church.
that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:26-27 NKJV)
Jesus is sanctifying and cleansing His church with His word. This is an ongoing process to set her apart for Himself, to make her a suitable bride that is glorious and holy.
until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (Ephesians 4:13-15 ESV)
This is an amazing declaration of God’s ultimate destination for His people. God’s work will not be finished until we attain maturity (complete, perfect) and “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”.
- the measure of the stature – Jesus is the standard by which we are measured
- the fullness of Christ – this encompasses all that Jesus is
God also declares that the body (the church 9) will “grow up in every way” into Christ, who is the head.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 ESV)
Jesus promised to build His church, and He will not stop until it is all that He desires it to be. The phrase “the gates of hell shall not prevail” does not mean that the church will simply survive, it means the church will overcome the kingdom of the devil. Ancient cities were surrounded by walls for protection. Gates were necessary to go in and out of the city. The gates were the weakest part of the wall and attacking armies would often focus their efforts on the gates. Gates are defensive in nature, not offensive. So, when Jesus said, “the gates of hell shall not prevail”, He is saying that the defenses of the devil’s kingdom will not survive the power of the church 10.
It’s right that we love God’s church right now. But it’s hard to imagine that anyone could reasonably think that Jesus is done building His church: that the church today is everything He wants it to be; that it is a glorious church, holy and blameless; that it is a suitable bride ready to be presented to Jesus the bridegroom; that it has grown up in every way into Jesus the Head; that it is a victorious church that is overcoming the devil and his kingdom; that we have attained to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. If these promises have not been attained, how could Jesus be ready to take away His church from the earth?
One of the fundamental components of pre-trib teaching is the imminent return of the Lord; meaning that Jesus can return (His invisible return to rapture his church) at any time. They teach that there is nothing that would keep this from happening. There is nothing left to be fulfilled that would delay this happening. Literally, Jesus can take up his church any minute now.
The idea that Jesus can take away His church at any moment implies there is nothing left to do in her, and there is nothing left to do through her. He would be done with the church. But if there is still more that Jesus is committed to accomplishing in the church and through the church, then he will continue building His church. He will not come for His church until all His plans and purposes for the church are brought to fulfillment.
Pre-trib doctrine is one of the most effective tactics the devil has ever used against the church. It undermines Biblical vision and expectation of a glorious church that is all that Jesus desires it to be. It’s unrealistic to think someone can be waiting for Jesus to take away the church at any moment, and still be fully engaged in pursuing God’s ultimate plan and purpose for His church. These contrasting views are incompatible.
Moving Through Uncertain Times
As we navigate challenging times and consider the possibility of even more difficult things to come, it’s important that our heart is in the right place and our focus is on the right thing.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:35 ESV)
Self-preservation is never in our best interest. Putting God first, seeking His glory, and embracing His will, is life itself and positions us firmly within His infinite care and grace.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)
Although the challenges may be new, the answers are still the same; draw near to God, seek God, and choose to please Him by entrusting yourself to His unfailing love and unchanging promises. Whatever the challenge, faith in God is the answer. It always has been, and it always will be.
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- “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.” (Hebrews 11:5 ESV)
“And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” (2 Kings 2:11 ESV)
- “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13 ESV)
- “And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood.” (Genesis 7:7 ESV)
- “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,” (Ephesians 3:20 NKJV)
- “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25-26 NKJV)
- “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13 ESV)
- “If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” (Revelation 13:10 ESV)
“Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” (Revelation 14:12 ESV)
- “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35 ESV)
- “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23 ESV)
- “but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” (Revelation 12:8 ESV)
“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Revelation 12:11 ESV)
“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies,” (Genesis 22:17 ESV)