Part 3 – Final Thoughts on Why I Don’t Believe in a Pre-Trib Rapture
In the first two parts of this series I’ve explained in detail from Scripture why I don’t believe the rapture will occur before the tribulation. There’s so much material to cover I’ve had to break it up into three posts. Even so they’re long posts.
Today I want to conclude my thoughts on the rapture and then in future installments I’ll move on to consider other aspects and views of the end times.
Slim Support From Scripture
There’s only one verse of Scripture I’ve ever heard quoted specifically to support the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture. There may be others, but I’m not aware of them, and would be happy for someone to bring them to my attention. The only verse I’ve ever heard used to buttress to the idea is Revelation 3:10 ~
Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
Pre-tribulationists interpret the words “the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth” as referring to the great tribulation, and they see this verse as a promise that the modern church will be kept from having to endure it. However, when we look at the context of this verse, we find several problems with interpreting it as support for a pre-tribulation rapture. Let’s consider that context.
Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation contain letters Jesus instructs John to write to seven churches in the region of Asia Minor, as pictured at left (this is modern Turkey). Revelation 3:10 is part of a letter to the church at Philadelphia (not to be confused with the American city by that name ). The entire passage pertaining to this letter reads as follows (with verse 10 highlighted):
“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. – Revelation 3:7-13
As I said above, Jesus told John to write letters to seven churches. In most of these letters Jesus has a word of commendation as well as a warning word of rebuke. The letter to the church at Laodicea contains no commendation. The letter to Philadelphia is the only one without a rebuke.
Note that the promise in Revelation 3:10 is only for the church at Philadelphia, and not for any of the other seven churches. Jesus is promising to keep that one church from the hour of trial. He doesn’t make this promise to any of the others.
Do you see where I’m going with this? If the promise in Revelation 3:10 was only given to one of seven churches, then logically, that promise would only apply to one seventh of Christians today. So at best this would mean only a small portion of today’s church would be raptured out, not the church as a whole. Those who believe in a pre-trib rapture have taken Jesus’s words to one church in the ancient world and have applied them to the entire church in the modern world.
Revelation 3:10 says Jesus gave this promise to the church at Philadelphia because they endured patiently. We might do well to ask what they endured? Most likely persecution and trial. So even the promise doesn’t mean they won’t suffer. It sounds as if Jesus gave it to them because he felt they had suffered enough already.
The fact that Jesus had a rebuke for each of the other six churches implies they had not endured to the same extent as the church at Philadelphia. To these other churches Jesus basically says “You better shape up or else you’re going to come under judgment.”
So it is with the modern church. If there was a pre-trib rapture, Jesus words to the modern-day church would no doubt be the same: Unless you repent, you will face the tribulation.
Another question to consider about Rev. 3:10 is exactly what Jesus means when he says “I will also keep you from the hour of trial.” Does keeping them from the hour of trial automatically equate to a rapture? If that were the case we might expect to see the word “deliver” instead of “keep”–”I will deliver you from the hour of trial.” But instead he says “keep.” This could mean “preserve” or “protect” rather than deliver. Some today believe that rather than taking Christians out of the tribulation, God will protect and preserve them in the midst of it. This is very likely what Jesus means for the Philadelphians in Revelation 3:10.
Another Passage of Scripture
Now let’s consider a second passage of Scripture. In response to my first post in this series someone quoted 1 Corinthians 15:51-56 as if it were proof of a pre-trib rapture. The passage does mention the rapture, but once more there’s nothing in it that says the rapture will happen before the tribulation:
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The key verses pertaining to the rapture are 51-52: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
This language is reminiscent of that in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, which we looked at in my last post:
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
Both passages describe a trumpet blowing followed by the raising of the dead. They appear to be describing the same event, and they are.
Now, there’s nothing in either of these passages to signify exactly when they will occur, except we can presume at the end of the age because they refer to the resurrection. Yet as I noted in my last post, this event is the same one as described in Matthew 24:30-31, which we know it occurs after the tribulation.
So those who interpret 1 Corinthians 15:51-56 as referring to a pre-trib rapture are viewing it out of their pre-trib grid. There is nothing in the passage itself that calls for a pre-trib rapture. They are reading the passage through the lens of their theology.
Jesus Returns Twice??
The pre-tribulation view of the rapture requires Jesus to come back twice: first, secretly, before the tribulation to rapture out the Christians, and then again openly at the end of the tribulation to establish his millennial kingdom on earth. This idea of Jesus coming back twice is not based on sound biblical interpretation. It wrongly assumes that 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and Matthew 24:30-31 are separate events, with no scriptural basis for separating the two.
Pre-Tribulation Rapture Theology is a Recent Invention
The pre-trib view of the end times is a relatively recent development in church history. While there is some evidence that this view may have had a few adherents in the early church, it was not generally accepted. In fact, it didn’t come to prominence until the 19th century. John Nelson Darby, a leader in the Plymouth Brethren movement, is considered the father of Dispensational theology and also the idea of the pre-tribulation rapture, which he began to teach around 1830. This view became very popular both in Great Britain and also in America and was disseminated widely in the succeeding decades. It contributed greatly to British Zionism which was very influential in the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Dispensationalists in particular believe Israel becoming a nation again is significant in hastening the last days and the return of Christ.
The pre-tribulation view of the end times was very popular among a lot of evangelical and pentecostal groups back in the 1970s and ’80s but seems to be giving way to some other views nowadays. In future posts we’ll look at some of these other views that are growing in popularity.
In my next post, however, we’ll examine a question that’s important for understanding God’s purposes in the last days: Is the world coming to and end, or will it be renewed? Stay tuned.
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