Spurgeon once observed (I cannot recall the specific sermon, though somewhere during his first five years or so) that, given the choice between being among the dead who will be resurrected, or being alive and caught up, at Christ’s Second Advent, he would choose the former. His reasoning was in identification with Christ’s sufferings and the common experience of all men through the thousands of years, as contrasted with those still alive at Christ’s return – that they would not have had that same experience and identification with previous generations of believers who did experience corruption of this body and the disembodied state prior to the resurrection.
Yet a study through 2 Corinthians 5 (S. Lewis Johnson’s series) reveals something more basic, that most of us can surely relate to. Here the apostle Paul describes the intermediate state, and, consistent with his words elsewhere (1 Thessalonians 4, and 1 Corinthians 15), Paul understood the two alternatives available: to die and experience the intermediate state (unclothed), or the instant, in the twinkling of an eye experience of those who are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Here Paul expresses his own personal desire, that if the Lord wills, he would prefer to meet the Lord at His Coming:
The apostle is a person who is afflicted with what someone has called world strangeness. And so he lives here, but he’s not really happy here ultimately. To him, to live is Christ, but to die is gain. But he wants to die in a certain way. He doesn’t want to be naked, as he says in the following verse, inasmuch as we having put it on shall not be found naked…. He wants to avoid the disembodied state. He doesn’t want to be a spirit or soul without a body. The intermediate state is just such a state. Those who have died as Christians and have gone on from our presence now are with the Lord, but they don’t have their bodies yet.
. . . modern theologians and our contemporary New Testament scholars like to say Paul has changed his views of his life expectancy. That’s possible. He may have become convinced that the experiences are such and he’s growing old…. so far as his theological doctrine, there is no evidence at all that he changed his eschatology. Those two alternatives were always before the apostle. He always set them forth. And all he does here is simply reveal his preference; his preference is the rapture, being caught up in the presence of the Lord, and not his physical death. Paul’s preference is mine as well. And I imagine it’s the preference of every believing person.
Recently an online posting has been circulating around, listing a number of well-known Christians throughout history who supposedly believed in a pre-tribulational rapture. This posting does not include any actual source quotes from the people claimed to have believed in a pre-trib rapture, but asserts a “pre-trib” view for many of the early church fathers including Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Victorinus, as well as post-Reformation pre-19th century teachers including John Gill and Morgan Edwards.
I had already seen several quotes from the specific early church fathers, statements that show they understood that the saints (same group as the church), would experience the future time of antichrist. Here are a few such statements, showing also their futurist (and premillennial) understanding of the events in Revelation:
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, XXV, 4
And then he points out the time that his tyranny shall last, during which the saints shall be put to flight, they who offer a pure sacrifice unto God: ‘And in the midst of the week,’ he says, ‘the sacrifice and the libation shall be taken away, and the abomination of desolation [shall be brought] into the temple: even unto the consummation of the time shall the desolation be complete.’ Now three years and six months constitute the half-week.
Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 47
For this is meant by the little horn that grows up. He, being now elated in heart, begins to exalt himself, and to glorify himself as God, persecuting the saints and blaspheming Christ, even as Daniel says, ‘I considered the horn, and, behold, in the horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things; and he opened his mouth to blaspheme God. And that horn made war against the saints, and prevailed against them until the beast was slain, and perished, and his body was given to be burned.’
Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 61
That refers to the one thousand two hundred and threescore days (the half of the week) during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church, which flees from city to city, and seeks concealment in the wilderness among the mountains,…
Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, 20:1
The little season signifies three years and six months, in which with all his power the devil will avenge himself trader Antichrist against the Church.
As to the many current-day claims of pre-trib belief before the mid-19th century, it is interesting to note here that previous generations of dispensationalists — Darby himself, also Scofield and later John Walvoord – all recognized and admitted that the pre-trib teaching was in fact a recent development. This agrees with S. Lewis Johnson’s observation in 1989 during his series through Revelation, that those who held to pre-trib acknowledged that it was a recent teaching. The claims of pre-trib belief prior to the mid-19th century, are themselves a revision introduced by more recent pre-trib and prophecy teachers.
The idea that historicist Christians, including Morgan Edwards and John Gill, believed in a type of “pre-tribulational rapture,” comes from a twisting of their “pre-conflagration” statements, such as the following from John Gill: He’ll stay in the air, and His saints shall meet Him there, and whom He’ll take up with Him into the third heaven, till the general conflagration and burning of the world is over, and to preserve them from it…. I note here, first, that these statements still show an idea of one First Resurrection and not a two-stage coming with one group before the Great Tribulation followed by another resurrection/rapture after that event – really a type of “pre-wrath” rapture of believers taken out before God’s wrath.
A further point of distinction must also be noted here: the difference between historicist and futurist ideas of the book of Revelation. The historicists were generally premillennial (John Gill, and at least a few others), but they understood the Great Tribulation in a non-literal way, as occurring throughout church history, with the events in Revelation describing longer periods of time, symbolic descriptions of various wars with the Turks or other enemies throughout the church age. According to the historicist view, the Great Tribulation is already occurring, we are already experiencing it: an idea obviously incompatible with the very notion of a pre-Tribulational rapture of one group of believers. If the whole church age is the Tribulation, a “pre-trib rapture” could only occur before the church age began, which becomes speculative nonsense.
Thus, the present-day claims of a pre-1830 belief in a pretribulational rapture of the church, “found” in the statements of 18th century historicist pre-conflagrationists, is really deceptive handling of true Christian doctrine (what these men actually believed) and church history. Here I also can appreciate the honesty of the earlier dispensationalists, such as Walvoord, who at least recognized the correct time period for the origin of the pre-trib rapture idea.
A recent conversation briefly addressed the question of how, from the post-trib premillennial perspective, the millennial kingdom will be populated with living saints. The answer includes what the scriptures say related to the Second Advent; many people (having experienced the Great Tribulation and seeing His return at the end), during the time interval between Christ’s return and the establishment of the kingdom, will repent and turn to the Lord. We see this mentioned in the scriptures in reference to the people of Israel, as for instance Zechariah 12:7-10, that they will see Him and “mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child” plus other indications regarding the Gentiles alive at the Second Coming.
One person considering this answer, responded “how can such people have faith?” when they can see Christ in His glory and vengeance — surely that would be similar to the people at the Great White Throne judgment seeing Christ in His judgment and their own condemnation.
But consider the following in the details: one obvious difference is that the people at the Great White Throne have already died, their eternal condition made permanent, and then resurrected — while the people who see Christ at His Return (before the millennial period) are still living. We can also consider other scriptures, though, regarding the question of people who came to belief after seeing the risen Christ, and here we see several such examples.
“Doubting” Thomas did not believe until he saw the resurrected Christ. The same was true of all the apostles; the others had seen the Lord the week before, but even they were rebuked by Christ for their hardness in unbelief and refusing to believe what other witnesses had told them. The account of Christ with Thomas includes a special blessing for the rest of us: “you believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” Jesus’ human brothers (later children of Joseph and Mary) likewise did not believe until after they saw the resurrected Christ.
The Apostle Paul is an even clearer case: one who was actively working against the Lord and persecuting His saints, who yet believed on the Lord Jesus when he saw Him on the Damascus Road.
The point here is that saving faith is not restricted to only those people who believe without having seen (though that is how most people, including every believer since the generation that experience the First Coming, has experienced it). The early Old Testament believers (those who saw the ‘Angel of the Lord’ the pre-incarnate Christ) in Old Testament times, as well as those who saw the Risen, Glorified Christ before they believed, did come to believe at a point in their lives, with the added experience of actually seeing Him. We have an extra blessing given to us, as those who have not seen and yet believe. But God has also brought into the one people of God some who did see and believe – and He will again do so at His Second Coming.
I’ve recently been studying the pre-wrath rapture view, a more recently developed variation on the post-tribulation rapture. (The early proponents, Robert Van Kampen and Marv Rosenthal, published their books in the late 1980s. Other proponents include Alan Kurschner and Pastor Ryan Habbena of Signet Ring Ministries. As noted in this article, Steve Anderson’s pre-wrath view is considered ‘off’ and not part of the standard teaching.) This view attempts a compromise between the original post-trib rapture timing and the later developed pre-trib view. As with post-trib, the pre-wrath view places the rapture immediately before the Day of the Lord (the wrath that we’re not appointed to). Like the pre-trib view, pre-wrath (at least some of its proponents) understands Revelation 3:10 as complete removal — but recognizing that Revelation 3:10 does not mean removal from the full 7 year period. Also similar to pre-trib, pre-wrath has a (shorter) interval of time during which the raptured and resurrected saints first go to heaven and have the Bema Seat judgment, while the world is experiencing the trumpet and bowl judgments.
The pre-wrath view also takes a similar approach to pre-trib, in its interpretation of the “unknown day” and the “thief in the night.” While recognizing (as with post-trib) that the rapture is not truly an “any moment” event and that certain things must happen first, yet pre-wrath switches to pre-trib in terms of the “thief in the night” reference, reasoning that since we can know when the 70th week starts and when the 3 1/2 months starts and could count the days until the end of them, the rapture couldn’t take us by surprise in a “thief in the night” way — and therefore the rapture must be at some unknown time during the 42 months. The standard post-tribulation view (as I understand so far) is that believers may not know the exact day/time when the 70th week starts; the 42 months (the midpoint) will probably be known to a fairly close time period. However, the texts that speak of the “thief in the night” and other similar references are talking about unbelievers being taken by surprise. Yet the context of these passages show that believers, those who believe and understand God’s word, will not be taken by surprise but will be prepared and eagerly anticipating Christ’s Coming while recognizing that it does mean experiencing persecution before that happens.
On the positive side, the pre-wrath view emphasizes the literal hermeneutic common to all futurist premillennialists, paying close attention to the details given us in the prophetic texts. They especially focus on the sequence of events in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21), trying to correlate the sequence with the seals in Revelation 6, and also try to account for the 1260 days (the 42 months of the Great Tribulation, the second half of Daniel’s 70th week) plus the later time periods mentioned by Daniel: the 1290 days and the 1335 days. According to pre-wrath, the rapture occurs in connection with the sixth seal, at some time near the end of the 42 months, and the trumpets and bowl judgments occur next, in sequence, and are the “Day of the Lord” wrath.
This view also puts forth another explanation of the two groups in Revelation 7. Whereas a common pre-trib idea is that the 144,000 are Jewish evangelists who go forth throughout the world during the Great Tribulation, proclaiming the gospel – and the next scene of the vast multitude is the result of their evangelistic work, those who come to faith during the Great Tribulation and are subsequently martyred and seen in heaven, pre-wrath says (correctly) that the 144,000 are sealed so as to give them divine protection from the judgments about to come upon the world. According to pre-wrath, the rapture occurs here, and the scene of the vast multitude in heaven, before the throne of God, is showing the resurrected and raptured saints. They especially connect the scene here back to the fifth seal, which showed the souls of the martyrs still waiting for God to take action, and that they are given white robes (but not yet wearing the robes); thus in Revelation 7, when they are wearing their robes, indicates that the rapture and resurrection has occurred and they have their resurrection bodies and thus now wearing the white robes. That may indeed be the correct interpretation of the vast multitude in Revelation 7, as the follow-up from the fifth seal; it certainly seems to make more sense (per the literal, grammatical historical hermeneutic) than saying the 144,000 are evangelists and the second group their converts, when the emphasis in the text is on the 144,000 being sealed for their protection.
Where pre-wrath does not work, though, is in the details, including the placement of the rapture. As this blog article point outs, the pre-wrath view is inconsistent in its handling of the 42 months: Israel and the unsaved experience the full 42 months of the Great Tribulation, the time which starts with the antiChrist setting himself up in the temple (the Abomination of Desolation; what Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians 2) and the time of his rule and persecution; but the church believers are raptured out at some unknown point shortly before the end of that 3 1/2 years. Revelation 13:5-7 establishes that the beast is allowed to exercise authority for 42 months and to “make war on the saints and to conquer them” during that time. It clearly is all or nothing: either the saints (believers) are present OR absent from the 42 months period; but trying to end it before the 42 months for one group and not for the other is inconsistent.
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.
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 Tribulation: The 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:
- From Benjamin Wills Newton: The Second Advent of Our Lord Not Secret But in Manifested Glory (30 page tract)
- From Providence Baptist Ministries: The Post Tribulation Rapture, and Post-Tribulational Questions (Travis Bennett): Part 1 and Part 2