The widely popular doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture hinges on four basic doctrines:
- Even though the Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah, they are still God's chosen people. Therefore, God has to fulfill all of the promises that He made to ancient Israel because God always keeps His promises.
- Salvation has occurred in different ways at different times. Therefore, Christians today are saved in a different way than the Jews (and other people) were before the cross. This is called dispensationalism.
- The seventieth week of Daniel 9 points forward to a period of seven years during which the Great Tribulation will occur.
- God will not allow the church to suffer His wrath during the Great Tribulation. He will take it to Heaven.
Advocates of this theory weave these four concepts into a divine conflict which God resolves with a pre-tribulation rapture. Basically, the scenario is this:
Israel's persistent rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah prevents God from fulfilling His promises to them. Therefore, when the time allotted to the Gentiles ends, God will suddenly remove the church from Earth. When the Jews discover that hundreds of millions of Christians are missing from Earth, 144,000 Jews will convert to Christianity and they (12,000 from each of the 12 tribes) will go throughout the world proclaiming the gospel of Jesus during the Great Tribulation. Thus, many unbelievers will receive salvation through the Jews and be saved by Jesus at the Second Coming.
To many people, this scenario makes perfect sense. Everything works out so completely. The church will not be affected by the Great Tribulation, Israel will convert to Christianity after the church is raptured, and God will be able to fulfill all of the glorious promises He originally made to the nation of Israel.
Before we go any further, I need to make four statements.
First, as a follower of Jesus Christ, my prayer for many years has been, "Lord, I don't care what the truth is, I just want to know it. I don't care where the truth takes me or what it costs, I just want to understand your Word and teachings." In other words, I want you to know upfront that, as I approach this subject, I do not have any reason to exalt or diminish the rapture doctrine. I do not represent a religious organization nor do I belong to one, so I do not have a position to assert or defend.
The Bible says that we are to test "all things" (1 Thessalonians 5:21) to determine whether they are fact or fiction and this is a summary of my investigation.
Second, after studying the Bible for 35 years, I have to say that the Bible is not an easy book to study or understand. Biblical themes are huge and intricate, and various elements in each theme are scattered from one end of the Bible to the other. Because the Bible is comprehensive and complex (a library of 66 books), much confusion and antagonistic diversity about its teachings exist among Christians.
The fact that there are more than 220 Christian denominations in the United States today, each claiming to have and teach pure Bible truth, proves this point. So given the breadth and scope of the Bible, I think a good student should go through the whole Bible a few times before taking a strong position on some of its more difficult concepts.
Over the years, I have observed that new converts find it helpful "to be led" through the Bible by those they trust, usually the pastor(s) of the denomination who brought them to Christ. While there is nothing wrong with this process, the problem is few believers continue to search the Scriptures for truths greater than what their denomination offers. (Paul also observed this problem. See Hebrews 5:11-6:3) In other words, many Christians confuse "arriving at the truth" with joining a church.
The end result is that many Christians grow complacent after "getting saved" and they believe learning more about Jesus and His Word is optional. This mindset is unfortunate, but common. When I hear a Christian say, "The only thing that matters is my relationship with Jesus," it translates to me, "I have my ticket to Heaven." More often than not this indicates the Christian has closed his mind to greater truths and has essentially terminated his investigation of God and His Word—a spiritual problem.
Third, everyone (including myself) approaches a study of the Bible with bias and predisposition. For example, bias can be cultural (this means that our basic views about God were absorbed from the people who live around us), bias can come from religious training (this means that we were raised by parents who belonged to a particular faith, so we are more likely to adapt religious ideas that align with the views of our parents), and bias can be as simple as arrogance and ego (this means that anyone who does not understand the Bible as we do is hopelessly stupid).
The problem with bias is that most of us do not recognize it. Consequently, many people approach the Bible to prove their views instead of permitting the Bible to teach them things that they do not want to believe. Furthermore, many people do not have the courage to stand alone in their beliefs and suffer the social consequences that comes from being religiously different. The end result is that most people tend to stay within the religious ideas into which they were born. This too is unfortunate but understandable.
Last, truth is proven by the harmony that comes from the sum of its parts. This statement is an unimpeachable verity within all sciences including theology, but the problem in all sciences, and the Bible in particular, is the presence of apparent contradictions. For example, at first glance some passages in the Bible suggest that people will burn in hell "forever," and other passages indicate the wicked will be burned up and the saints will walk upon their ashes!
Many Christians fall into the trap of exalting the passages they like and diminishing the passages they dislike. This is foolish. There is a divine purpose for apparent conflicts. God wants us to dig deep into His Word to find the truth.
Digging takes time and a lot of work, but mining for truth is rewarding; and searching for harmonious answers endears the Bible to us in a way that would otherwise be impossible. The deeper we dig, the more we discover! Often the subject becomes larger and more comprehensive than we first thought, then finally, perfect harmony rises from the sum of all the parts. Of course, God is not in conflict with Himself nor His Word, but there are apparent conflicts in the Bible which make perfect sense once the whole truth is known.
If the Bible student understands from the beginning there are apparent conflicts in the Bible, he is more likely to give every passage equal weight when trying to resolve his questions. In short, I have found that the Bible will only yield its intended meaning when the sum of all of the parts becomes harmonious.
Why am I elaborating on these four matters? In a nutshell, I believe the four underlying doctrines that support the rapture theory are flawed. There are passages of Scripture that stand in opposition to the fundamentals on which these four doctrines are built. I am convinced the rapture doctrine, as wonderful as it sounds, is "a fragile house of cards" simply because it is not harmonious with the sum of all that the Bible has to say about these matters.
Putting theology aside for a moment, many Christians have begun to question whether there will be a pre-tribulation rapture. They are wondering if a pre-tribulation rapture is too good to be true. Why should the final generation escape the Great Tribulation when all other generations of Christians have suffered in the extreme for their faith? History says that nine of the twelve disciples became martyrs, Romans slaughtered tens of thousands of early Christians, and millions of Protestants suffered persecution and death during the Dark Ages.
Even more compelling is that today, everyone sees tribulation escalating in the world around us.
On the morning of December 26, 2004, approximately 275,000 people suddenly perished in southern Asia. A great earthquake under the Indian Ocean caused a huge tsunami to form a 40 foot wall of water, drowning a quarter million people. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated 90,000 square miles along the U.S. Gulf coast and more than a thousand people perished. A few weeks later, Hurricane Rita ripped up the coasts of eastern Texas and western Louisiana.
Then, near the end of October, Hurricane Wilma, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded, devastated the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico before pounding Florida and putting six million people in the dark. On October 8, 2005, a great earthquake occurred in the region of Kashmir where the boundaries of India and Pakistan meet. This earthquake affected the lives of five million people, and approximately 80,000 died, 60,000 were seriously injured, and 800,000 people had no shelter from winter weather.
If this is not enough, people continue to be concerned about a possible outbreak of viral bird flu because epidemiologists are very concerned that the whole world could be on the edge of a great pandemic of influenza. Scientists say that if the H5N1 avian virus mutates and becomes communicable between people, influenza could kill 100 million people within a mere twenty-one days! In 1915-1918, there was a global outbreak of influenza that killed approximately 40 million people worldwide and there are several factors indicating that Earth is primed for another devastating outbreak.
The intensity and frequency of natural disasters are making some pre-tribulation believers nervous because growing numbers of people are suffering hardship and tribulation now. Many rapture believing preachers say that recent hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes are judgments from God, but the problem with these horrible events is that the victims are both Christians and non-Christians alike. This is unsettling.
If Christians are supposed to escape God's wrath with a pre-tribulation rapture, the question begs to be asked, "Why aren't Christians escaping God's wrath now?" If we are honest, we must admit that Christians have been persecuted for the past 2,000 years. Will there really be a pre-tribulation rapture for the last generation of saints? In a word, the answer is "no." The Bible repeatedly indicates there will be one gathering of the saints which occurs at the Second Coming. Notice Paul's words:
"According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we [the believers] who are still alive, who are left [on Earth] till the [second] coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those [we will not go to Heaven before those] who have fallen asleep [temporarily died]. 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 [on Earth] will be caught up together with them [that is, the living will join the righteous who were resurrected from their graves] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we [the dead in Christ and the believers who were living on Earth at the time of the Second Coming] will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words." (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, insertions mine)
Points to Ponder
I can only begin to address the flaws with the four doctrines upon which a pre-tribulation rapture is based in this short article. My few comments on each of the four doctrines will give you a starting point from which to begin your own study. If you care to investigate my findings more closely, please look up the references provided.
Doctrine #1: Even though the Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah, they are still God's chosen people. Therefore, God has to fulfill all of the promises that He made to ancient Israel because God always keeps His promises.
LW: The Bible teaches that God changed the definition of Israel by creating a new covenant. Galatians 3:29: "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed [sperm], and heirs according to the promise." Ephesians 2:19: "Consequently, you [Gentiles] are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household." These two verses indicate that yes, the Jews are still God's chosen people, but the "Jews" are no longer a race of people, but instead a group of people who have accepted Christ!
All that God promised to Abraham will be given to those who believe in Jesus. For more information on this topic, please see: Chapter 11, A Study on the Seven Seals and the 144,000.
Doctrine #2: Salvation has occurred in different ways at different times (the doctrine of dispensationalism); therefore, Christians are saved today in a different way than Jews and other people were before the cross.
LW: The Bible teaches that salvation has always come through faith. There are no dispensations with respect to salvation. According to Hebrews 11, the first man to die (Abel) was saved by faith! Paul clearly says that salvation did not come to the Jews through the slaughter of animals "for it is impossible for the blood of animals to take away the guilt of sin." (Hebrews 10:4) For more information on this topic, please see: Chapters 7 and 8 of my book Jesus: The Alpha and The Omega. here: Chapter 7: What Was Nailed to the Cross? and Chapter 8: God's Covenants
Doctrine #3: The seventieth week of Daniel 9 points forward to a period of seven years during which the Great Tribulation will take place.
LW: The Bible teaches that the seventieth week immediately followed the sixty-ninth week. The seventieth week began in A.D. 27 and ended in A.D. 33. As predicted, Jesus died on time, in the middle of the seventieth week (A.D. 30). Furthermore, the Bible teaches the Great Tribulation will last 1,335 days (3 ½ years, not 7 years). (Daniel 12:12) For more information on this topic, please see: Chapter 6, Daniel, Unlocked for the Final Generation.
Doctrine #4: God will not allow the church to be on Earth when His wrath against unbelievers is poured out.
LW: The Bible teaches that believers in Jesus will not suffer the penalty for sin (the wrath of the law) which is eternal death. The Bible also teaches that the disciples of Jesus will be persecuted and many will be martyrs. Jesus said, "They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God." (John 16:2) Millions have died for Jesus in ages past, and millions of Christians will soon die for Him! "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained." (Revelation 6:9) For more information on this topic, please see: Chapter 10, pages 111-114, A Study on the Seven Seals and the 144,000 (Search for "Three types of Wrath") and Chapter 14, Jesus: The Alpha and The Omega.
There are three more items that need to be addressed in this examination of a pre-tribulation rapture:
Item #1: The Bible teaches that God will judge the living during the Great Tribulation. (Revelation 3:10; 14:7) A pre-tribulation rapture presupposes a pre-tribulation judgment of the living to determine who will be raptured. Once God's judgment of the living is conducted, there will be no second chance for salvation. For more information on this topic, please see: Chapter 13, Jesus: The Alpha and The Omega.
Item #2: Apocalyptic prophecy lays out a very concise sequence of coming events. There is no mention or description of a pre-tribulation rapture in Revelation. Claiming that John's trip to Heaven in Revelation 4 symbolizes the rapture is a distortion of Scripture. Paul was also taken to Heaven to see marvelous things! (2 Corinthians 12:4) We cannot overlook the fact that Revelation clearly predicts that the saints will be persecuted during the Great Tribulation. "He [the beast] was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation." (Revelation 13:7) "I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished." (Revelation 17:6) For more information on this topic, please see: Chapter 9, A Study on the Seven Seals and The 144,000.
Item #3: Earlier, we read from 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18. The Bible teaches that Jesus will resurrect the righteous dead at the Second Coming and after they are called up into the air to meet Jesus, the living will then follow. In other words, there is one gathering of the saints, both dead and living, and this occurs at the Second Coming. At that time, all of the wicked who are alive on Earth will be slain. (Revelation 19:19-21) For more information on this topic, please see: Chapter 14, Jesus: The Alpha and The Omega.
Item #4: After reading this article, many people call the office with questions on topics related to the pre-tribulation rapture and the state of man after death. The story of the rich man and Lazarus is often used as support to prove that man is conscious after death. If this parable is of interest to you, please see: The Rich Man and Lazarus.
When these issues are harmoniously synthesized, there is only one conclusion possible for me: I am convinced the doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture is fiction. Of course, time will tell.