It has taken me quite a while to return to this subject. Toward the end of our previous discussion of Eschatology, I confessed that I saw no basis for any pre-Tribulation or even mid-Tribulation rapture of the Saints. I grew up in the “Left Behind” generation. I spent several years of my childhood fearful that Christ might have secretly raptured all of my friends and family, leaving me behind because of some unrepentant sin, or that I accidentally might have committed the unpardonable sin. Rough times for me, but eventually I learned to just ignore those fears. But why did I have those fears in the first place? Because I was taught that there would be some pre-tribulation rapture and that teaching was reinforced by the “Left Behind” movie. But is this concept taught in Scripture? Sure people pull together a lot of proof texts, but is the concept plainly taught in Scripture? In our last blog, we took a look at what Jesus had to say when His disciples asked Him about the end times. In that discourse, He made no mention of any rapture; rather, He made it clear that , “he who endures to the end would be saved”. He also says plainly that His return would happen “immediately after the tribulation” (Matt 24:31). No one leaves early except those who die in Christ.
I believe there are a couple of definition problems at play in various eschatologies with regard to proof-texting efforts. The first is “tribulation”. To make the case for pre/mid-tribulation rapture, often times the definition of “tribulation” becomes carelessly intertwined with the definition of “judgement” or the “Wrath of God”. The Judgement of Jesus Christ comes after the tribulation. We who are in Christ will not be recipients of His judgement, for Christ has already paid the price for our sin. Those who remain will be those who have rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ and persecuted the church. Another problem is the definition of “rapture”. It is not a Biblical term, it is one we have invented after the canon was closed, but most point to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 for its definition. Let’s look at that chapter of the Bible.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV) 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 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.
Praise the Lord. So this event, the resurrection of the dead in Christ and then those of us who remain until the coming of the Lord will be caught up together with our Lord in the air. This will happen once. Paul doesn’t leave room for this happening in stages. His encouragement to the Thessalonians continues in the next chapter (remember, Paul didn’t write in chapters and verses… he just wrote a letter)
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (ESV) 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. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
It is tempting to stop reading at verse 3 with an Aha, so it will be a secret event! However, in verse 4, Paul makes it clear that we (brothers and sisters in Christ) should not be surprised by the day (though, clearly, we don’t know what day or hour when it will come). Jesus explained the day of the Son of Man in much the same way in Luke.
Luke 17:22-37 (ESV) 22 And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— 30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. 34 I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” 37 And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
Again, the flood was not a surprise to Noah, who likely spent 60-70 years building the ark. Similarly, the Angels of the Lord made it clear to Abram and Lot that God was going to bring judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah and that they must leave. It was only to the wicked, the lost, those living in darkness that the judgment of God came as a surprise. Another thing I’d like to point out here is that in verse 24, Jesus makes it clear that though the world will be caught completely unaware, it will not be a secret event. He warns his disciples not to be deceived, that His coming will be as unmistakable as lightning flashes and lights up the sky. It will be obvious to everyone, on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
Let’s take a look at how Paul instructed and encouraged the Corinthians regarding the return of Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:42-58 (ESV) 42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 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. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
So here, Paul is instructing the Church of Corinth on the Resurrection. I recommend reading the whole chapter to see how he’s building up the concept of resurrection, culminating in an explanation of what we can expect when Jesus returns. Those who have not “fallen asleep” (euphemism for death used often in Scripture) will still have to be changed on the Day of Christ’s return. That change will happen in a “twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet”. When the trumpet of God sounds… all will hear it.
Whenever Paul points toward our goal, our end-state, he points to the Return of Jesus Christ and to the Resurrection. In the Book of Revelation, there are 2 resurrections mentioned.
Revelation 20:1-6 (ESV) | The Thousand Years
1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit[a] and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
The second resurrection will be for judgement before the White Throne (v11-15). I don’t know how to explain the details provided in v7-11, but notice that there are still saints mentioned, and a deception. Satan will at-last be permanently destroyed and then the final judgement will take place. I encourage each of you to read through the Book of Revelation. Just read it through. There is no “pre tribulation rapture” event described. It is a prophetic book, and as such there is a great deal that simply cannot be understood in advance. We should not add to it, nor take away from it no matter how noble we consider our motives to be.
Revelation 22:18-19 (ESV) 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
I am not going to try to explain all of Revelation at this time, but I would like to point out some key phrases that point me away from any notion that simply being a Christian means that I should expect to be secretly spirited away from the Earth before the tribulation. Again, the driving force behind my rejection of pre-tribulation is how Jesus described the tribulation and His return and how Paul described it. If you’ve never read through Revelation in one sitting, please do so, even if only to try to prove me wrong here. Revelation opens up with letters to the churches, and the first prophetic visions described are of the throne room in Heaven and of a scroll with seven seals. As each seal is opened, events are foretold to take place. Notice this declaration between the fifth and sixth seals:
Revelation 6:9-11 (ESV) 9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
Here we have the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had borne under the altar. They long for God to judge and avenge their blood. They are told to rest a little longer… until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete… killed as they had been. There are still saints on the Earth at this time, still being persecuted, and martyred for the Word of God and for bearing witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Revelation 13:5-10 (ESV) 5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear:
10 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 14:9-13 (ESV) 9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
This takes place in the vision that follows after the 7 seals and the 7 trumpets. Even here, in the second half of the book (theologians divide Revelation into two major sections) we see the saints remaining on the Earth while these events take place. In the closing imagery of Revelation, we see God’s judgment against the Babylon, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations (Rev 17:5). Early in His judgment, we see the following command to the saints:
Revelation 18:4 (ESV)4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues;…
The Book of Revelation closes with a final exhortation:
Revelation 22:6-15 (ESV) | Jesus Is Coming
6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”
7 “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, 9 but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”
10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”
12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
At the end of Revelation, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who paid the price for our sins, so that by His blood, we might wash our robes and gain access to the city by the gates. In closing, I wonder why it is that we’ve held on so tightly to a false hope that our faith in Jesus will allow us to escape tribulation or persecution? That certainly didn’t hold true for the Apostles, the Prophets, nor a great many of the early church, nor of the present day church in nations that are currently openly hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (China, Sudan, Egypt, Syria, etc). We are called to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ… until the end. Until the final Judgement, where Jesus in His Justice and Righteousness will judge the Living and the dead and God’s Wrath will finally be poured out on all who have rejected Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Jesus will also reward us for our deeds, our testimony, and our faithfulness to endure until the end. As Paul and James put it, those of us who have been blessed to share in the persecution and afflictions of Christ.
I’d like to close again, by returning to Jude:
Jude 1:17-25 (ESV) 17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. 24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
May the Lord Bless you and keep you, May He grant you peace and strength to endure until the end, firmly rooted and grounded in Christ Jesus.