The Premillennial Rapture Timing


I recently finished S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 Corinthians series, and his passing remarks in one of the last messages (early 1995) prompted my own further study, in reference to the “rapture of believers” (not “rapture of the church”).

I briefly looked at the issue of SLJ’s later rapture timing view in this previous post, but now for a closer look at the scriptural arguments for dispensational premillennialism:  both pre-tribulational and post-tribulational rapture.  In the following four messages (from two series), SLJ set forth the scriptural reasons given for both the post-trib and pre-trib rapture timing positions.

The Divine Purpose, #16                                             Revelation Series, #9

The Divine Purpose, #17                                             Revelation Series, #10

So for future reference, here is a summary of SLJ’s presentations on this topic.   Please note that the following is not intended to be an exhaustive consideration of the topic and is not intended to list every reason in favor of a view (by either proponents of the post-trib or pre-trib views) but only a look at the reasons set forth in these four lectures. Since SLJ in his messages presented the post-trib view first, I will take the same sequence in this post.

Arguments for a Post-Trib Rapture:

The Nature of the TribulationThe Old Testament’s clear and specific references to the tribulation indicate that there will be believers upon the earth at that time.  They (post-trib view) will acknowledge that there is no instance of the wrath of God afflicting the saints.  In fact, there are indications that the saints are exempted from the wrath of God, during that period of time.  But there is much evidence that the saints will suffer persecution and affliction during that period of time.  So from the nature of the tribulation itself, they argue the nature of the tribulation does not demand that one be exempt from presence on the earth during that time.

Biblical Imminence:  The 1st Century View (Not a ‘pre-trib’ any moment rapture)

Jesus’ Parables:  He stated certain things were going to come to pass before He came again.  He said, for example, ‘There was to be a sowing of the seed,’ and then He said at the end of the age, certain things would transpire.  So, it’s obvious that the premises of His coming must be broad enough to include an interval.  They cannot be any moment.

Acts 1:8-9:  The first century apostles did not believe in a pre-trib “any moment” type of rapture.  Acts 1:8-9 indicates a time period must occur, for the accomplishment of this evangelistic movement that will reach to the ends of the earth.

John 21:18: Related to Acts 1:8-9, Peter understood that he would live to become an old man and was told what would happen to him when he was old.

Specific New Testament passages and associated Old Testament references:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 – Generally agreed, the rapture of the church takes place here.  Yet in verse 54, the apostle cites texts from Isaiah 25 and Hosea 14, applying to the Lord’s Second Coming.  Paul links these texts to what happens in verses 50-51.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:  the term “to meet” and references to the same things that are associated with the Olivette Discourse: angels, clouds, trumpet, gathering of the people of God.

Therefore, by these rather numerous parallels, since it’s evident from the Olivette Discourse that Jesus is talking about the coming of our Lord to the earth, it would be natural to assume that the apostle, using the same language, would be speaking about the same event.  And, furthermore, even the term “to meet” is a term that generally means to go out to meet someone and to come back to the same place from which you have come.  And so that would suggest that the saints meet the Lord and come to the earth, rather than are with the Lord in heaven for the period of approximately seven years.

  • 2 Thessalonians 1:7 – the rest that the saints will get from their trials, will occur at the time of Christ’s returning in judgment upon His enemies.  Well, according to the view that the church is caught up before the tribulation begins, they should have been given rest long before then.  But Paul links the rest with the revelation of our Lord. 
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 8 – the same term parousia (the appearance of His coming) is used in both verses, and verse 8 is clearly speaking of the Second Coming

The same term parousia that is found in verse 1, in behalf of the coming of our Lord is said in verse 8, to be the time of the Second Advent.  So, again, that text would seem to suggest that the time of the coming and the time of the gathering together is the time when our Lord comes to the earth.

Argument from the Apocalypse

  • Revelation 3:10:  Post tribulationalists believe that both of those promises are promises, really, not of a complete separation from the threatening evil, but of God’s undertaking to preserve believers through those particular evils.  In other words, post tribulationists say, ‘We will be upon the earth during the time of the judgments, perhaps, but God promises that we will be kept from the wrath of God poured out upon us which is going to be poured out upon others around us.’  So, it’s a promise of keeping through the judgments that are to fall upon the earth.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:  the rapture is the time of the resurrection of the body.  It’s very plain that in chapter 20, verse 4 the first resurrection is post tribulational.  Now if the first resurrection is post tribulational, and if the rapture occurs at the time of the resurrection of the body, then of course you must have a post tribulational rapture.

Arguments for a Pre-Trib Rapture:

Exemption from Wrath

He (pre-trib view) will generally say this, ‘If you will read the Book of Revelation, from chapter 4 through chapter 19, and see those great and massive worldwide judgments that will be poured out from heaven, in which, literally, millions of people will be destroyed, and hardly anyone could help from being affected in some way.’  He will say, ‘It’s inconceivable that a person could go through the tribulation and be kept from the wrath of God.’  And one must admit that it does seem a very difficult thing for a person to go through all of those judgments and not be touched by them.

Response:  (post-trib view):  God will deliver the saints from the wrath of God, but they’ll not be delivered from the persecution that will be part of that tribulational period.  So the statement that we are not appointed unto wrath, in the one case, by the post-tribulationalists, mean they are not appointed to the wrath of God, but they are appointed to suffer because of their testimony and through persecution during that period of time.

The Term “Church” in the Book of Revelation

Well known by pre-tribulationalists, the term ‘church’ occurs very frequently in the first three chapters of Revelation. Then the word ‘church’ is not found in chapters 4 through 21, and then again in Revelation 22:16: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches.”

Robert Gundry’s reply to this argument: “It’s true, the term church is not found in the descriptions of the things that are happening on the earth.  But for my friends, the church is not mentioned as being in heaven, either.”   Dr. Johnson further notes here, those chapters are not intended to describe what’s happening in heaven.  Those chapters are intended to describe what happens on earth.

Argument from Apocalypse – Rev. 3:10

In John 17, “to keep from an evil one” is an absolute or complete separation from a threatening evil, and the threatening evil incidentally is not the persecution of the world about them, but the threatening evil is apostasy as the text says.  They should be kept from the evil one,  So the text there means a complete separation from an impending or threatening evil, apostasy.  In the Book of Revelation, it is not something spiritual, but something physical.  And here, “to be kept from the hour of testing,” is the hour of testing that shall come upon the whole inhabited world or earth to try those that dwell upon the earth.

The Necessity of An Interval Between the Rapture and The Advent

If the millennium is to be peopled by some saints in nonglorified bodies, if the millennium is to be peopled by individuals who go into it not having been resurrected, that is not having been caught up at the Rapture and not having been raised from the dead and given a new body at that time, then one asks the question: where shall they come from if the Rapture and the Advent coincide?  In other words, if all believers are caught up to meet the Lord in the air and are given new bodies and our Lord comes right to the earth, and if the Scriptures do teach that there are people who enter the millennium in nonglorified bodies (reference Isaiah chapter 65:20, and even Revelation 7 through 10), then where do they come from?

S. Lewis Johnson briefly mentioned one post-trib answer, to where the nonglorified people of Israel come from in a post-trib scenario.  From thinking about it more, I can now see the possibility of having Gentiles in nonglorified bodies in the post-trib scenario and how it could work, including the people groups in the Matthew 25 Sheep and Goats account.

Additional online sources:

Pre-Tribulational View:

Post-Tribulation View (links updated, 2017, from previous links now gone):

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  1. August 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Good post with provocative points and excellent sources! Thank you for your fine work in pulling this together.

    I did a paper on Rev. 3:10 while in seminary, and Paul Feinberg, Gerald Stanton and others have done similar treatments. I still “camp” there as, taken together with the other points raised above from the larger context, only the pretribulational rapture meets the demands of the language in this verse. Of course, you have to steer clear of aberrant views of the “seven churches”!

    Also, a close Christian brother who is not committed to the pretribulational rapture position stated to me years ago that if he was going to argue for it he would base it on the Scriptural depictions of the Middle Eastern marriage practices. I find this fascinating.

    • August 26, 2013 at 6:09 pm

      Thanks, John. At the moment I’m leaning post-trib as I think over especially 1 Cor. 15:51-58 and 2 Thess. 1:7. At any rate, I’m now familiar enough with SLJ’s approach to scriptures to have a fairly good idea of his conclusion, based on these passages he mentioned. But he clearly understood it as a secondary issue and never publicly stated what he believed, even one time when he shared a story of presenting these views to a group of seminary students and immediately afterward the first question was “what do you believe?” and noting “that’s what we’re really interested in” (and then still did not answer that question).

      A few years ago in an online discussion about the marriage practices, someone linked an article that basically pointed out that the marriage custom was an ideal not always actually done as common practice of at least most marriages. An interesting idea but of course not conclusive enough to the rapture-timing question.

  2. Neil Schoch
    August 26, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    Thanks for so many good posts.
    Even staunch premillenialists are becoming preoccupied with the idea of believers of all ages dwelling on the earth.
    In John 14:1-6 it is clear that the “ascended into Heaven” Lord will bring all believers in this day of grace to be “where I am, there you may be also,” which can only be Heaven itself.

    2 Corinthians 5:1-10 speaking of our earthly bodies, which will soon be changed, states categorically that we will have a building, not made with hands “ETERNAL in the Heavens.” Eternal means eternal and Heaven means Heaven.

    In 1Thessalonians 4:13-19 we are told, “thus shall we be always with the Lord.” He comes from – and returns to the place He comes from ie Heaven.
    If, and I stress “if” we are to somehow go through the Tribulation then that would mean the Lord would have to be on earth too, which is simply not true.
    The promise that we will be “always with the Lord” does of course mean we will return with Him for the thousand year reign of Christ on earth – Millennium – Kingdom Age.

    Because we are promised a building “ETERNAL in the Heavens” our eternal abode must surely be the New Heaven and not the earth as is so commonly stated these days.
    I look forward to reading the material that you provided. God bless!

    • August 26, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks, Neil. Good thoughts and points concerning those verses, and the reality of believers both dwelling on the earth and in Heaven — the New Heaven and the New Earth.

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