Part 2 – More On Why I Don’t Believe in a Pre-Trib Rapture
(You can read Part 1 here.)
Following the response to my last post I thought it would be worthwhile to share a few more reasons why I don’t believe the rapture will come before the tribulation. In the process we will examine some Scripture from Paul’s letters to see what they have to say on this question.
1) There is no statement anywhere in the Bible that the rapture will take place before the tribulation. Likewise, in biblical descriptions of the end times, there is no mention of a rapture before the tribulation.
Take Matthew 24 (and its parallels in Mark 13, Luke 17:20-37 and Luke 21:5-36), for example. These passages describe the period leading up to the tribulation, the tribulation itself, and the time right after the tribulation. Nowhere in the description of events prior to the tribulation do we see anything resembling a rapture. The only place in Matthew 24 that sounds anything like the kind of in-gathering of Christians we think of as the rapture is at the end of the passage, in verses 30-31 (see also Mark 13:26-27).
In these verses we’re told that after the tribulation “he [that is, Jesus] 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” (Matt 24:31).
Those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture will say these verses are not about Christians because they refer to the “elect.” Pre-tribulationists say the word “elect” here refers to Jews who converted to Christianity after the (pre-trib) rapture. However, this interpretation is a function of their theology and not based on the text itself. Outside of these Gospel passages, every other occurrence of “elect” in the New Testament refers to Christian believers. And so it must in these passages as well, for there is nothing linguistically or contextually that calls for any other interpretation.
Those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture also claim that everything in Matthew 24 takes place after the rapture, but there’s nothing in the context to suggest that. The disciples ask in verse 3 what will be the sign of Jesus’ return and of the end of the age, and the rest of the chapter is his answer. Nowhere does he tell them “but you don’t have to worry about any of this because you will be raptured out.” He is speaking to his disciples, after all. If anybody deserved to be raptured before the tribulation, it was the twelve. If, as the pre-tribulationists argue, modern-day believers should be saved from the tribulation, then how much more did Jesus’ twelve apostles deserve it?
And yet Jesus speaks to them about the events to come as if they will be there. Notice he uses the word “you” throughout the passage. “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars.” “You will be…persecuted and put to death.” “When you see…’the abomination that causes desolation….” “Pray that your flight will not take place in winter.” “…if anyone says to you ‘Look, here is the Christ!’…do not believe it.” Jesus spoke to his disciples as if these events were going to happen to them. (Now this presents another problem with the interpretation of this passage, but I won’t deal with that here. Instead, I’ll save it for a future installment in this series.)
If anyone deserved to be saved from the tribulation, it would be the apostles. If Jesus didn’t tell them they’d be raptured out before then, why should we expect it?
There is simply no statement anywhere in the Bible that the rapture will take place before the tribulation. Not in the New Testament, and not in Old Testament prophecy.
2) “But,” someone will reply,” what about the words of Paul? He described a pre-tribulation rapture didn’t he?” This is a fallacy of the pre-trib interpretation as well. Let’s take a look at a couple passages.
We’ll begin with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.
Those who believe in a pre-trib rapture assume this passage describes the rapture as it will occur before the tribulation. However, I assert that the events described in this passage are the exact same ones we see in Matthew 24:30-31 and Mark 13: 26-27.
Pre-tribulationists make much of the fact that this passage appears to say “the Lord himself” will come back for Christians, while the in-gathering described in Matthew 24:31 is carried out by angels. For this reason they believe these passages describe two separate events. However, this is a mis-reading of the texts. Let’s look at them more closely:
Matthew 24:30-31 says: “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (emphasis added).
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 states: “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. 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.”
Matthew 24:30 describes the Son of Man (Jesus) coming on the clouds of the sky. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 describes the Lord (Jesus) coming from heaven. Sounds mighty similar.
Matthew 24:30-31 describes Jesus coming with his angels and a loud trumpet call. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 describes Jesus coming with an archangel (indicating the presence of angels) and a trumpet call. Again, note the similarities.
Matthew 24:30-31 describes Jesus coming on the clouds and his angels gathering his elect (that is, Christian believers, as we already established above) from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 describes Jesus and an archangel (and presumably other angels) coming, and believers (both those who have died and those who are still alive) being caught up and meeting him in the air.
Matthew 24:31 says Christians will be gathered from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Jesus is there in the sky. Christians are gathered to the heavens, and presumably they are gathered to Jesus. The angels gather believers and bring them to Jesus. This sure sounds a lot like being “caught up together…to meet the Lord in the air,” which is the language we find in 1 Thessalonians 4.
The two passages are describing the exact same event–the rapture–and Matthew 24:30-31 makes it clear this happens after the tribulation.
Even if someone wants to make a big deal about the apparent differences in detail between the two passages, here’s something else to consider: There are many places in the four Gospels where the details of certain events are described slightly differently from one Gospel to the next. (If this comes as a shock to anyone, pick up a Gospel parallel book [or you may even be able to find a parallel on the internet], and you will see what I mean. A Gospel parallel takes all the passages that are similar in each of the four Gospels and places them side by side so you can compare them.)
Likewise, if you compare the stories of the kings of Judah in the Old Testament books of 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles you’ll see some differences in details there, too. (Again, if this comes as a shock to anyone, stay tuned, because I will be doing a blog post on that in the future.)
Since the four Gospels sometimes differ with each other in details, and Kings and Chronicles also differ from one another in places, it shouldn’t surprise us if the Gospels and Paul seem to describe the rapture slightly different, too. Maybe it is true the Gospel writers believed the angels were going to gather Christians, while Paul’s understanding was that Jesus himself would do it. Nevertheless, both accounts speak of believers meeting Jesus in the air. They are still describing the same event, maybe in slightly different ways. I myself don’t see the descriptions as being substantially different.
3) Now let’s look at another passage from Paul’s letters that speaks of the rapture: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 ~
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10 and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
Paul says here he is writing “concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him.” This is clearly language describing the rapture. And notice what Paul says about it: “that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (emphasis added).
Paul states clearly that the rapture will not occur until “the man of lawlessness is revealed” (some versions have “man of sin,” and for simplicity this is the term I will use from here on) From the description given, we know that the “man of sin” is the Antichrist, a prominent leader who will rise up in the last days. Paul says in verses 9-10 “the coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.”
This man will be a prominent leader, probably a world leader, who will impress many people with signs and wonders; but Paul makes it clear these signs and wonders will not be from God, but from Satan. Paul calls them “counterfeit miracles.” This could mean one of two things: Either the miracles will be faked, or else they’ll be real miracles, but “counterfeit” in the sense that they come from Satan and not from God. Either way, many people will be deceived.
So Paul clearly states the rapture will not occur until after the Antichrist has been revealed. To understand the timing of what Paul is saying here, it will help us to look again at Matthew 24.
As we saw in my last post, there’s a definite sequence of events in Matthew 24 that spells out what the world’s final days will be like. A quick summary is as follows:
a) First there is an uptick in wars and natural disasters (verses 4-8).
b) This will be accompanied by an increase in the persecution of Christians and a general increase in lawlessness. Many will fall away, but some will remain faithful and continue proclaiming the gospel to all nations (verses 9-14).
c) Through this entire time, spiritual deception will grow and grow (verses 4-5, 11).
d) It is after this period that Jesus says “the end will come” (verse 14).
e) This is when the “abomination of desolation” will occur (verse15 and following), and Jesus tells us that this time will be a time of “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now” (verse 21; see verses 15-22).
f) During the tribulation deception will be at an all-time high. Jesus tells of many “false Christs and false prophets” during this time who will “perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect — if that were possible” (verses 23-24–and remember, “elect” here refers to Christians, just as it does everywhere else in the New Testament.)
Now, when we compare these events with 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, which part sounds the most like it? I think Matthew 24:15-24 most closely resembles 2 Thessalonians 2.
It stands to reason that the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15) will be carried out by the man of sin or Antichrist, and in fact this may be the very thing that “reveals” him (2 Thess 2:3).
2 Thessalonians 2:3 also says the rapture will not take place before “the rebellion” occurs (the King James version says “falling away” instead of rebellion). The Greek word is apostasia, from which we get the English word “apostasy.” Webster’s dictionary defines “apostasy” as a “renunciation of religious faith” or an “abandonment of a previous loyalty.” Apostasia can be translated either “falling away” or “rebellion,” in the sense of a rebellion against the faith one previously held. So 2 Thessalonians 2:3 refers to a rebellion against or a falling away from Christian faith.
These words “falling away” and “rebellion” call to mind Matthew 24: 10-12, which says “many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (ESV, emphasis added). Lawlessness is pretty much the same as rebellion, so it sounds like the “rebellion” or “falling away” referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 matches the time described in Matthew 24:10-12. This is further supported by the way in which 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8 talks about lawlessness being released when the Antichrist is revealed (see more on these verses below).
To sum up: 2 Thessalonians 2:3 tells us the rapture will not occur until after a falling away occurs and the man of sin is revealed. So following our comparison with Matthew 24, this means the rapture will not occur until at least the events described in Matthew 24:10-12 and 15-24 have occurred.
There are some who believe the rapture will take place mid-way through the tribulation, and it may very well be based on this passage in 2 Thessalonians 2. From a biblical standpoint I find that explanation a lot more accurate than a pre-trib view. However, in light of Matthew 24:29-31 I still believe a post-tribulation rapture fits the biblical evidence the best. Nevertheless, I can accept a mid-trib rapture much more easily than a pre-trib one.
Those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture also focus on some rather vague wording in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8 ~
6 And now you know what is holding him [i.e., the man of sin] back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming (explanatory note added by me).
Notice the phrases “what is holding him back” in verse 6 and “the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way” in verse 7. The “him” in verse 6 refers to the man of sin, and the “it” in verse 7 is lawlessness. Those who espouse a pre-trib rapture believe this refers to the Holy Spirit who resides in believers, and they think the phrase “until he is taken out of the way” is a reference to the rapture. They believe the church will be raptured before the Antichrist appears, and as a result, the Holy Spirit will no longer be in the world. In their mind these verses prove the rapture will happen before the tribulation.
However, there are several big problems with this view. The most obvious one is that Paul himself already contradicted it in verses 1-3. He specifically–and clearly–says: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him…don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed….” (verses 1, 3).
Therefore, whoever or whatever it is that’s referred to as restraining lawlessness and the man of sin in verses 6-8, it can’t be the Holy Spirit, for that would require the rapture to occur before the man of sin is revealed, and Paul has made it clear in verses 1-3 that the rapture won’t take place until after he’s revealed.
Besides, the idea of the Spirit being removed from the world is just bad theology. The Holy Spirit has been working in the world since the creation (see Genesis 1:2 where the Spirit of God hovered over the waters). The Holy Spirit didn’t just enter the world on the day of Pentecost. He entered the church on that day, but not the world, for in some sense the Holy Spirit is always working in the world to bring people to Christ.
Not only that, the pre-tribulationists claim that after the rapture all the Jews are going to repent and turn to Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can lead someone to repentance and faith in Christ. How is this going to happen if the Holy Spirit has already been taken out of the world??
I have more to say about why I don’t believe in a pre-tribulation rapture, but I will save it till my next post.
What do you think about my explanation of these passages and the rapture and tribulation?
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