A couple of weeks ago, we began looking at the event called the Rapture of the Church. Today we continue our study of this event that will impact us all, whether you are a Christian or not. To help set the stage for our continued study, let me ask you several questions, which will serve as a review of what we have already discussed.
WHAT ARE THE THREE MAJOR MILLENNIAL VIEWS HELD BY CHRISTIANS.
WHAT IS IT THAT DISTINGUISHES THESE VIEWS.
There are actually two distinctions.
1. Whether there will be an actual, literal, 1000 years, called the Millennium.
2. The timing of Christ returns with regard to this period of time.
WHAT DO A-MILLENNIALISTS BELIEVE WITH REGARD TO THE MILLENNIUM?
They Claim there is no literal 1,000-year reign of Christ.
WHAT POSITION DO POST-MILLENNIALISTS TAKE?
Christ comes only after the Church has established the Kingdom on earth for 1000 years.
Most of evangelical Christianity today holds the view of Pre-millennialism. They believe that Jesus is physically coming back, as He promised, prior to the establishment of a literal 1000-year reign of Christ on earth.
HOW DO EACH OF THESE THREE POSITIONS VIEW THE TRIBULATION?
LITERAL - OR NON-LITERAL?
We have, in earlier lessons, already addressed A-millennialism and Post-millennialism. We won't continue any further discussion of them today.
Today we are going to look more fully at the beliefs of those who call themselves Pre-millennial. I happen to be included in that group of people. As seen on our chart, this view is the only one that accepts a more literal interpretation of Bible Prophecy.
As you have heard me say before, I believe the Scriptures should be interpreted literally, unless the context dictates otherwise. Just because all Pre-millennialists take a more literal interpretation of Bible prophecy, does not mean that we all agree on all the details. The fact of the matter is, there are 5 major factions within the Pre-millennial camp.
WHAT ARE THESE FACTIONS LABELED?
1. Pre-Tribulation Rapture
2. Mid-Tribulation Rapture
3. Post-Tribulation Rapture
5. Pre-Wrath Rapture
WHAT IS IT THAT DISTINGUISHES THESE VIEWS?
The one major distinctions is this: What is the timing of the Rapture of the Church with regard to the 7-year Tribulation.
Let's look at these five major views held by Christians as to when the Rapture will occur.
WHAT DO POST-TRIBULATION RAPTURISTS BELIEVE?
1. The Church will remain on earth and endure, or go through, the entire 7-year Tribulation.
WHAT OTHER THINGS DO THE POST-TRIB. PEOPLE BELIEVE WHICH BECOMES A FACTOR IN THEIR SPECIFIC PRE-MILLENNIAL VIEW?
2. There is no clear distinction between the timing of the Rapture and the Revelation of Christ. For them, each is a facet of the same event. The church will rise to meet Christ and then return with Him in one continuous action.
3. The Church and Israel are considered synonymous.
4. The Rapture is NOT imminent. That means that the church must expect certain prophesied events prior to the Rapture. I will say more about this later (Probably in our next lesson).
5. The Post-Tribulationist must take the 7 Seal, 7 Trumpets, and 7 Bowls as concurrent rather than sequential or staggered, but ending simultaneously.
6. Of the five pre-millennial positions, this one is the least literal in its interpretive methodology. The must interpret many prophetic passages in a somewhat figurative manner. I have already mentioned taking the promises given to Israel, and applying them to the Church.
Later in our lesson, when I give my reasons for holding a Pre-Tribulation Rapture position, I will, at the same time, answer why I believe some of these positions are on shaky Scriptural ground. By that, I don't mean they are teaching heresy, because they are not.
WHAT ARE THE VIEWS OF THOSE HOLDING THIS POSITION?
1. This group holds that the Church will be on earth through the first 3½ years of the Tribulation. After meeting Jesus in the air, we all go to heaven.
2. For them, the first 3½ years is called the Tribulation. The last 3½ years is called "The Wrath of God." They were the original "Pre-wrath" people, but that name has now been usurped by a more recently held position. They do not believe the Church will go through any part of God's wrath and judgments.
3. Some hold the 7th Trumpet of Rev. 11:15-19 to be synonymous with the "Last Trumpet" mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:51-52.
4. For most of them, the Rapture occurs at Revelation 11:11-12. This is the scriptural passage telling about the Rapture of the two witnesses. The mid-tribulationist hold that the two witnesses are not two literal persons, but symbolically represent the Church.
Why two witnesses? They represent the two groups of Christians in the Rapture:
1. The Dead in Christ which will rise first.
2. Those still alive when the Rapture occurs.
They hold that the rapture of the two witnesses occurs at the mid-point of the Tribulation. Therefore, since they represent the church, that's when the Rapture occurs. Personally, I believe these two witnesses are two literal people in human bodies. But I don't think they represent the Church. At the end of the Tribulation, Christ and his army of saints come from heaven to earth.
WHAT DO THOSE HOLDING THIS POSITION BELIEVE?
1. Those holding this view take their cue from Hebrews 9:28, which reads: "To those who eagerly wait for Him, He will appear a 2nd time apart from sin, for salvation."
2. This view does not focus so much on the timing of the Rapture in relationship to the Tribulation, but focuses of the people who will be raptured.
3. Like the Pre-tribulation position, they believe a Rapture will occur before the Tribulation. Those taken meet Christ in the air and are subsequently taken to heaven.
4. Not all believers will be raptured. Only those who are "watching" and "waiting" for the Lord's return will be found worthy to escape the terror of the Tribulation. Worthy conduct is the key.
5. There will also be several subsequent raptures - as groups of people have shown themselves worthy since the previous rapture. It appears to me that we have here the introduction of a new Protestant Purgatory - The Tribulation - where believers are purged of anything that causes them to be unworthy or unprepared. Like all other views, Christ returns as King of Kings at the end of the Tribulation.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT A PRE-WRATH RAPTURIST BELIEVES?
1. Unlike the Post-tribulationist, this group holds that the church will not experience the Wrath of God. They believe most of the Tribulation does not involve the Wrath of God. It is the wrath of man or the devil.
2. This is a more recent version of the Mid-Tribulation Rapture position, but hold a different timing as to when the Wrath of God does begin.
3. They hold that the Wrath of God begins 21 months before the end of the Tribulation. That is exactly at the ¾ mark of the 7-years.
4. They make no distinction between the Jews and the Church.
5. The first 5-years, 3-month of the 7-year tribulation is called "the beginning of sorrows."
6. This group vigorously tries to destroy the idea that Christ coming in the air for His church will occur without warning at any moment. At the end of the Tribulation, Jesus and His saints descend to the earth. Although I stated a moment ago that this position is a variation of the Mid-Tribulationist position, those who started teaching this position in 1990, originally held the Pre-Tribulationist view.
WHAT DO PRE-TRIBULATIONISTS BELIEVE ABOUT THE RAPTURE?
1. The rapture occurs prior to the 7-year tribulation. That means, the Church will not go through any of the Tribulation. Once we meet Christ in the air, we are taken to heaven.
2. The Church and Israel are distinct from each other. God has a separate and distinct prophetic future from each of them. This is the only position that makes that distinction.
3. The Church is also distinct from the Tribulation saints. That is, people will become Christians during the Tribulation, but they will not be part of the Church - the Bride of Christ.
4. Both halves of the Tribulation experience the Wrath of God.
5. This view, and only this view, holds the Rapture to be imminent -- that it could happen at any moment.
6. Believers of the Church Age are judged in heaven following the Rapture, but the Nations & Israel will be judged at the Second Coming of Christ to the earth.
7. This position takes the most literal interpretation of prophetic scriptures.
At The end of the Tribulation, Christ returns with His saints to earth.
Having mentioned the major positions at to when the Rapture will occur, I need to hasten to add another thought. It should be remembered that although there are differing views among Pre-millennialists, there is also a wide range of agreement.
In a few minutes, I am going to tell you some of the people holding each of these views. Most of you will recognize many of them. Actually, to my knowledge, each hold to an orthodox, evangelical view of the important central doctrines. Doctrines like:
o The Person and work of Jesus Christ
o Justification by grace through faith
o The Divine inspiration of the Bible
And even when it comes to the issues of End Time Prophecy, these people are more alike that they are different. They all hold to:
o A literal 7-year Tribulation.
o Jesus will return visibly, bodily and personally at the end of the Tribulation.
o Jesus will set up a literal 1000-year earthly kingdom.
o Mortals will repopulate the earth during the Millennium.
o All resurrected & raptured saints will reign with Christ on earth.
o There will be a final judgment at the "Great White Throne."
o All unbelievers will be condemned.
o Time ends and eternity begins after all this.
All the principal scholars of these various position are born-again, love the Lord, believe the Bible is the Word of God, desire to teach the truth, and as far as I know live Godly lives.
Norman B. Harrison
J. Sidlow Baxter
Robert Van Kampen
J. Dwight Pentecost
Jack Van Impe
If you do any amount of serious Bible study, you will recognize many of these writers. Many of them, from each view, are very scholarly in their approach to studying Bible prophecy. As I mentioned earlier, as far as I know, most of these nearly two dozen writers are orthodox evangelicals.
I have a number of friends that hold a different positions than mine. I can say to them, "Don't worry, we are all going at the same time, and it will be according to God's schedule, not his or mine." I think some of them secretly hope we are right, because no one in their right mind would want to go through the traumas of the Tribulation.
Now that we have learned a little about each of the Rapture positions, let's begin discussing some other important aspects of the Rapture. Part of what remains for us to discuss about the Rapture is why I believe the Bible teaches a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. But, most likely, we won't get to most of them until the next lesson.
One thing that distinguishes the pre-millennialist from all other millennial views is: - ALL premillennialists - whether they hold to the Post-, Mid-, or Pre-, or any other - hold the position that the 2nd Coming of Christ occurs in stages. And all but the Partial Rapturist believe there are two and only two stages. Those two stages are called:
o Rapture - where the Church rises to meet Christ in the air,
o Revelation - where Jesus come all the way to earth.
Before we look at what the Bible says with regard to the timing of the Rapture, I want to take a little time discussing these two events. In our very first lesson of this series, I showed you a chart that distinguished the difference in timing of these two events. Let me show it once more. On the chart, you see that I have depicted the Rapture as occurring prior to the period of time called The Tribulation." In all five positions held by pre-millennialists, all believe that the "revelation," that is, the actually return of Christ to this earth, occurs at the end of the Tribulation. That event brings this horrendous period to a close. We all agree on this point. It is the timing of the Rapture where the differences will be found.
BESIDES THE TIMING, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MAJOR DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE RAPTURE AND THE REVELATION?
1. Christ comes FOR His Church in the Rapture (John 14:3, 1 Thess 4:16-17)
1. Christ comes WITH His Church at the Revelation. (Jude 14-15, Rev. 19:14, Col 3:4)
2. Christ comes unannounced as a thief in the Rapture (1 Thess 5:2, 2 Pet. 3:10, Rev. 3:3, 16:15)
2. Christ comes openly - every eye shall see Him in the Revelation. (Rev. 1:7, Matt. 24:30)
3. Christ comes to reward the saints at the Rapture (1 Cor. 3:14, 2 Cor. 5:10)
3. He comes to judge the nations at the Revelation. (Matt. 25:31-46, Rev. 19:15)
4. We rise to meet him in the air in the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:17)
4 He stands upon the Mount of Olives at the Revelation. (Zech 14:4, Rev. 19:11-21)
5. Christ comes as a Bridegroom at the Rapture (Matthew 25:6)
5. He comes as a King at the Revelation. (Rev. 19:16)
6. His appearing is the hope of the Church at the Rapture (Titus 2:13)
6. His appearing is the hope of Israel at the Revelation (Joel 3:16)
7. His coming will be a "day of rejoicing" at the Rapture (1 Thess. 2:9)
7. His coming is a "day of wrath" and "a day of distress, darkness & gloom" at the Revelation (Zephaniah 1:15, Rev. 6:17)
8. A resurrection occurs in the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18, 1 Cor. 15:51-54)
8. No resurrection mentioned in Rev. 19:11-21 at His coming to earth.
9. No angels are sent to gather the people at the Rapture. Resurrected people do not need angels to help them.
9. Angels are sent forth to gather people together for judgment at the Revelation. (Matt. 13:39, 41, 49, 24:31, 2 Thess. 1:7-10)
10. MARRIAGE: marriage of the Lamb in heaven after the Rapture.
10. WAR: Marriage is followed by war on earth at 2nd coming.
Each of these two events involve separate participants, as well as different times, purposes, and locations. The purpose of the Rapture is entirely different from that of the Second Coming. When He come to earth, Jesus will come back to judge and reign over the earth. In the Rapture He will come to take his own Bride out of the world and take them to his Father's house. These two events have nothing in common except that both are referred to as a "coming."
I believe that most of these differences we just enumerated, argue against the Post-Tribulation Rapture position, who believe that the Rapture and Revelation are two parts of the same continuous event. I think many of these 10 differences require some period of time to occur between the Rapture and the Revelation. The purpose of each event and the participants don't lend themselves to happening at essentially the same time, as proposed by the Post-Tribulationist.
Let me add some more information as to why I believe these two activities cannot be two parts of the same event. Let's look at just the first five points.
Point #1 on the chart
His coming "WITH" ten thousands of his saints to execute judgment upon all the ungodly (Jude 14-15) could hardly be the same as coming FOR His church, when "the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (1 Cor. 15:52)
The Rapture is an event in which Christ takes the Church, His Bride, from earth to His Father's home in heaven. The Revelation is an event in which He brings the Church from heaven to earth. His visible coming in power and great glory like lightning streaking across the sky (Matthew 24:27)….when "every eye shall see Him" (Rev. 1:7) hardly seems to be describing the same thing as "I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also." These two events are so totally different in their purposes, it is really not possible to put them together, as the Posttribulationists do.
Point #2 on the chart
We know that Christ must return to accomplish two purposes:
1. To come unannounced to catch the church up to meet Him in the air and take her home to His Father's house of "many mansions" (John 14:3, cf. 1 Thess 4:16-17), and...
2. To come visibly to earth itself in power and glory to destroy the Antichrist, stop the destruction at Armageddon, rescue Israel's surviving remnant, and set up the millennial kingdom. (Matthew 24:30, Revelation 1:7 "He cometh with clouds and every eye shall see Him.") These two accomplishments are so diverse that logically they would not fit into one single event.
Point #3 on the chart
Surely Christ's coming in power and glory to earth to judge and punish the ungodly is not the same event as His gathering Christians in the air to take them home to receive their rewards. One is the visible display of His power and glory in judgment upon the world, while the other is the catching away of His bride to a heavenly wedding and honeymoon in a rapture whose timing is purposely hidden from all unbelievers.
Point #4 on the chart
Christ's coming to earth to "stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives" (Zech. 14:4) is hardly compatible with the promise that we will "meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thess. 4:17)
Point #5 on the chart
The purpose of the Rapture is to take the Church, His bride, out of the world and bring them to the Father's house. The purpose of the Second Coming is to establish the millennial kingdom, where Jesus will be King of Kings. According to Rev. 19:14, Christ brings with Him to Armageddon the "armies which were in heaven…..clothed in fine linen, white and clean." Since we know that the heavenly marriage occurs earlier in Chapter 19, we are told that it is the Bride of Christ that is "arrayed in fine linen, clean and white." (vs. 8).
And since we also know that once the bride is gathered to be with Christ she will never again be separated from Him, then it is the Bride that makes up the armies coming with Christ at His revelation at Armageddon. How could this possibly happen if the bride had not been gathered previously. For the bride to come with Christ when He sets up His kingdom, requires that we be gathered unto Him some time previous to that -- with enough time between the two events to allow for the marriage to be consummated and the marriage supper (feast or banquet) to occur.
At a later time, I will mention more reasons that require a length of some time between them, one of which is, several other events must occur between the Rapture and the Revelation. And if there are, in fact, events between them, it makes it impossible for the two events to nearly coincide.
I know that insisting on a time interval of some length between the Rapture and the Revelation doesn't prove the Pre-Tribulation Rapture position, but it speaks very strongly, I believe, against the Post-Tribulational view. I will give other reasons why the Pre-Tribulation Rapture position is the most logical view.
I need to emphasize one more issue before moving on. There are no special events, given in Scripture, that must precede The Rapture. That means there will be absolutely no signs to tell us when it will occur, because the Church is to expect Christ at any moment. For the Church, the Rapture is the next event on their prophetic timetable.
I believe that Christ wanted His bride to understand that He could come for her at any moment. That is, Christ's coming should be considered "Imminent," and without warning. We will develop the subject of Christ's imminent return in our next lesson, because the Pre-Trib. position is the only one that allows for Christ's imminent return. All other views require certain events prior to the Rapture. You cannot hold any other view and believe Christ could return at any moment. Rather, you would be looking for other events to occur first.
Any signs given to us in the Bible to show that we are close to the coming of Christ are all given with the Revelation in view. There are a number of signs given to us with regard to Christ coming to set up his kingdom. Christ gave some of the many signs of His coming in Matthew 24 -- things like "wars & rumors of war, earthquakes, famines, etc."
Some additional signs of the coming of Christ, found in the rest of the Bible, are:
o Rebirth of the nation of Israel (Isaiah 43:1-7; Jer. 16:15, 31:10, Amos 9:14-15).
o The alignment of the nations around Israel. (Russia, Chine, Europe, Arabs.)
o Rise in occultic practices (1 Tim. 4:1-2)
o Increased travel and knowledge (Daniel 12:4).
o Rise in Anti-Semitism (Zechariah 12:3).
o Automobiles [fast chariots with lanterns to light the way] (Nahum 2:4)
o Airplanes [men flying as birds] (Isaiah 31:5).
o The dessert of Israel blossoming like a rose (Isaiah 35:1)
All of these signs are related to the Revelation, not the Rapture.
Of course, as the signs for the Revelation accumulate, as they are doing today, eventually the Rapture must take place, for it occurs prior to Christ's coming to the earth. If we think the signs in the world today point to a soon return of Christ to this earth, then it means that the Rapture of the Church must be even that much closer.
The reason I am taking the time to emphasize not only the differences between the Rapture and the Revelation, and the necessity of a time interval between them, is that this is where I believe most Post-tribulationists go astray.
If a biblical passage speaks of the coming of Christ and it ties that event to other events on earth, then it is talking about the Revelation, not the Rapture. Let me give you an example.
Matt 24:29-31 NKJV
29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, 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 His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
The Post-Tribulationist takes this event to be the Rapture, and since it clearly states that this event follows "immediately after the Tribulation," then here is proof of the Post-Tribulation Rapture position.
Nowhere in the full context of this Passage do we find things that we know a Rapture must include. In all the great amount of detail that Matthew presents, nowhere is a resurrection from the dead mentioned at all.
Additionally, we don't see anything like a Rapture occurring, where saints are taken to heaven, or even just caught up to meet Christ in the air. And this portion of Scripture, along with Revelation 19, are the most detailed accounts given with regard to the Second Coming of Christ.
I would suggest that this Passage is speaking of the Revelation, where Christ comes to earth to set up His millennial kingdom. That event more closely is represented by the phrase in verse 30, where we are told that his coming is with "power and great glory."
His power is seen as He leads the armies of heaven, and makes a quick end to the Battle of Armageddon, after which the Antichrist and the False Prophet are cast into the Lake of Fire, and Satan is bound in chains and cast into the bottomless pit.
Also, this is when His glory will be displayed, as He quickly establishes Himself as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords on earth, where He in all His glory will reign with justice and equality for 1,000 years.
I think a good rule to use is this. If a passage speaks of the coming of Christ, and ties that event with any other event on earth, then it is talking about the Coming of Christ to earth at the end of the Tribulation and is not talking about the Rapture.
None of the Passages we have read about the Rapture in our lessons so far, have been tied to any other event.
For instance, consider John 14:1-3, 1 Cor. 15:20-57, and 1 Thess. 4:13-18, which collectively provide an enormous amount of information about the Rapture and never once links it to another event.
I truly believe that Christ wanted us to think He could come at any moment, and that can only happen if it is NOT linked to any other event, which we might use as a sign of the rapture. I also believe that by not linking the Rapture to any other event, then every generation since Christ left, could say, "He just may come in my lifetime."