Is the Pretribulation Rapture Biblical? Brian Schwertley One of the most popular teachings today in Evangelical and Charismatic churches is the doctrine of the pretribulation rapture. The pretribulation rapture teaching is that there are two separate comings of Christ. The first coming is secret and occurs before the future seven year tribulation. At this coming Jesus comes for the saints (i.e., all genuine believers) both living and dead. These saints meet the Lord in the air and then are taken to heaven to escape the horrible judgments that take place during the seven year tribulation. At the end of the great tribulation Jesus returns to the earth with the saints. This coming is not secret but is observed by all. At this coming Christ crushes His opposition; judges mankind; and sets up a one thousand year reign of saints upon the earth (the millennium). Some pretribulation advocates speak of two separate comings while others prefer to speak of one coming in two separate stages or phases (phase one is the secret rapture and phase two is the visible coming in judgment). Hal Lindsey likes to refer to the rapture as “the great snatch.” He writes, “The word for ‘caught up’ actually means to ‘snatch up,’ and that’s why I like to call this marvelous coming event ‘The Great Snatch’! It’s usually referred to as the ‘Rapture,’ from the Latin word rapere, which means to ‘take away’ or ‘snatch out.’”1 Although the pretribulation rapture doctrine is very popular and is even considered so crucial to Christianity that it is made a test of a person’s orthodoxy in some denominations, Bible colleges and seminaries, the exegetical and theological arguments used by its advocates are all classic cases of forcing one’s theological presuppositions onto particular texts (eisegesis). The purpose of this brief study is to show that the pretribulation rapture theory is not plainly taught or directly stated in any place in Scripture, cannot be deduced from biblical teaching, contradicts the general teaching of the Bible regarding Christ’s second coming and was never taught in any branch of the church prior to 1830. The Origin of the Pretribulation Rapture Teaching Whenever a Christian encounters a doctrine that has not been taught by anyone in any branch of Christ’s church for over eighteen centuries, one should be very suspect of that teaching. This fact in and of itself does not prove that the new teaching is false. But, it should definitely raise one’s suspicions, for if something is taught in Scripture, it is not unreasonable to expect at least a few theologians and exegetes to have discovered it before. The teaching of a secret pretribulation rapture is a doctrine that never existed before 1830. Did the pretribulation rapture come into existence by a careful exegesis of Scripture? No. The first person to teach the 1 Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming (New York. NY: Bantam, 1975 ), p. 60. .
doctrine was a young woman named Margaret Macdonald. Margaret was not a theologian or Bible expositor but was a prophetess in the Irvingite sect (the Catholic Apostolic Church). Christian journalist Dave MacPherson has written a book on the subject of the origin of the pre- tribulation rapture. He writes, “We have seen that a young Scottish lassie named Margaret Macdonald had a private revelation in Port Glasgow, Scotland, in the early part of 1830 that a select group of Christians would be caught up to meet Christ in the air before the days of Antichrist. An eye-and-ear witness, Robert Norton M.D., preserved her handwritten account of her pre-trib rapture revelation in two of his books, and said it was the first time anyone ever split the second coming into two distinct parts or stages. His writings, along with much other Catholic Apostolic Church literature, have been hidden many decades from the mainstream of Evangelical thought and only recently surfaced. Margaret’s views were well-known to those who visited her home, among them John Darby of the Brethren. Within a few months her distinctive prophetic outlook was mirrored in the September, 1830 issue of The Morning Watch and the early Brethren assembly at Plymouth, England. Early disciples of the pre-trib interpretation often called it a new doctrine.”2 John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), who was the leader of the Brethren movement and the “father of modern dispensationalism,” took Margaret Macdonald’s new teaching on the rapture, made some changes (she taught a partial rapture of believers while he taught that all believers will be raptured) and incorporated it into his dispensational understanding of Scripture and prophecy. Darby would spend the rest of his life speaking, writing and traveling, spreading the new rapture theory. The Plymouth Brethren openly admitted and were even proud of the fact that among their teachings were totally new ones which had never been taught by the church fathers, medieval scholastics, Protestant Reformers or the many commentators. The person most responsible for the rather widespread acceptance of pretribulationalism and dispensationalism among Evangelicals is Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921). C. I. Scofield published his Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. This Bible, which espoused the doctrines of Darby in its notes, became very popular in Fundamentalist circles. In the minds of many a Bible teacher, fundamentalist pastor and multitudes of professing Christians, Scofield’s notes were practically equated with the word of God itself. If a person did not adhere to the dispensational, pretribulational scheme he or she would almost automatically be labeled a modernist. Today there is a whole plethora of books advocating the pretribulation rapture theory and the dispensational understanding of the end times. Given the fact that among professing Christians the pre-trib rapture is still wildly popular, a comparison of this theory with scriptural 2 Dave MacPherson, The Incredible Cover-Up: The True Story of the Pre-Trib Rapture (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1975), p. 93. The following scholars are cited by MacPherson who agree with MacPherson’s contention that pre-tribulationism is a fairly modern doctrine that originated in or around 1830: Samuel P. Tregelles, Alexander Reese, Floyd E. Hamilton, Oswald T. Allis, D. H. Kromminga, George E. Ladd and J. Barton Payne. MacPherson also cites several dispensational, pre-trib scholars who admit that the pre-trib theory is in fact a new doctrine: W. E. Blackstone, H. A. Ironside, Charles C. Ryrie, Gerald B. Stanton and John F. Walvoord. .
teaching is warranted. We will see that the typical arguments offered in favor of this theory are in conflict with the Bible. Revelation 3:10 A passage of Scripture that is considered crucial for a defense of the pretribulation rapture position is Revelation 3:10. “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” It is argued that this passage refers to the great tribulation (“the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world”) and that the church is promised a physical removal from the world for protection. The “from the hour of trial” (ek tes horas tou peirasmou) is interpreted in a spatial sense. The preposition ek, translated from, is interpreted as a preposition of motion. The saints will be taken out from within the earth to heaven. Thus, they are kept or preserved from the hour of trial. The pretribulation interpretation of Revelation 3:10 is totally off the mark for a number of reasons. First, standard biblical methods of interpretation must be completely ignored to apply this passage to a future tribulation two thousand years in the future. The letter is addressed to a specific church (Philadelphia) in Asia Minor in the first century. The specific promise that is made by Jesus is given to the Philadelphian Christians and cannot be applied directly to all the churches of Asia Minor or the universal church. For example, the church of Smyrna is told that they “will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful unto death” (Rev. 2:10). They are to take comfort in the fact that they cannot be hurt by the second death (2:11). They are not promised protection from the coming time of tribulation. Further, the promise to the Philadelphian Christians is based on their past behavior: “Because you have kept [eteresas—aorist active indicative].I also will keep.” “The aorist ‘didst keep’ states the historical fact. The church held fully and completely to the Word as was stated in v. 8: ‘and didst keep my Word.’”3 Because the promise is based on the behavior of a particular church in Asia Minor it cannot be universalized to include all Christians in the distant future. To do so is to render the commendation to the Philadelphians meaningless. Second, the time indicators within the passage render impossible the idea that the promise was not to take place for two thousand years. The passage says that the hour of trial is about to happen. “I also will keep thee from the hour of trial that is about to come upon all the world” (Rev. 3:10, Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible). When the verb mello is joined to the present infinitive which is what is found in Revelation 3:10 (tes mellouses erchesthai), it always expresses imminence. When Jesus says that the hour of trial is about to come, He means it will happen soon.4 To place the promise thousands of years away is a denial of the plain meaning of the Greek language. Chilton writes, “Does it make sense that Christ would promise the church in 3 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing, 1943), p. 143. 4 For a scholarly defense of this assertion see Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (Tyler TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), pp. 141-142. .
Philadelphia protection from something that would happen thousands of years later? ‘Be of good cheer, you faithful, suffering Christians of first century Asia Minor: I won’t let those Soviet missiles and killer bees of the 20th century get you!’ When the Philadelphian Christians were worried about more practical, immediate concerns—official persecution, religious discrimination, social ostracism, and economic boycotts—what did they care about Hal Lindsey’s lucrative horror stories?”5 Third, the pretribulationist’s idea that ek (from) in verse 10 is used in a spatial sense and thus refers to the saints being moved outside of the earth away from tribulation is not supported by the immediate or broader context of the book of Revelation. This novel interpretation cannot be found in any theological work or commentary prior to 1830 when the pre-tribulation theory was first espoused by Margaret Macdonald in western Scotland. Also, it is a historical fact that the church of Philadelphia was not taken to heaven during the tumult and persecution that took place soon after the Philadelphian Christians received this prophecy. The idea that Revelation 3:10 refers to the rapture is a classic case of reading one’s own preconceived opinions into a text. The most logical understanding of ek (from) in Revelation 3:10 is that Christ will protect the Philadelphian Christians from the soon-to-come trials. This understanding is exactly how the identical Greek phrase is used in John 17:15: “keep them from the evil one.” Jesus’ prayer does not refer to a spatial separation but to protection from the wiles of Satan. The church of Philadelphia is not going to be beamed out of the Roman Empire but it will be protected and preserved through the coming trials.6 Further, according to the dispensational understanding of the great tribulation, all genuine Christians must be raptured at the beginning of the tribulation while the Jews must stay on earth and go through the tribulation. The problem with this view is that it involves both an abandonment of the literal principle of interpretation and an arbitrary interpretation of the word “from” (ek). In other words when ek is used of Christians it means they will be raptured to safety in heaven, but when it is used of Jews it means they will remain on earth but receive protection. Oswald T. Allis writes, “Jer. xxx. 7 declares, ‘but he shall be saved out of it’ (literally, ‘from it’). Dan. xii. 1 says only, ‘thy people shall be delivered.’ In Rev. iii. 10 we read, ‘I also will keep thee from (ek) the hour of trial.’ In chap. vii. 14 we are told of those ‘who have come out of (ek) the great tribulation.’ Matt. xxiv. 22 by speaking of the shortening of the days of the tribulation clearly implies that the elect will pass through it. John xvii. 15 illustrates the ambiguity of the 5 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion, 1987), p. 129. 6 After spending a number of pages analyzing the pretribulation approach to the word ek in Rev. 3:10 Douglas J. Moo writes: “1) The evidence that ek can mean ‘outside position’ in a spatial sense is nonexistent in biblical Greek; 2) The combination tareo or diatareo ek denotes protection from, or guarding against a real and threatening danger. 4) The phrases qualifying ‘the hour of trial’ imply nothing at all about the presence or removal of the church. The lexical and contextual evidence strongly favors the interpretation according to which Christ in Revelation 3:10 promises His church protection from the real and present danger of affliction when the ‘hour of trial’ comes. Thus, we reject four different meanings commonly attached to the phrase tareo ek: ‘removal from’ (Pentecost); ‘keeping outside of’ (Townsend, Feinberg); ‘removal from the midst of’; and ‘Protection issuing in emergence’ (Gundry)” (“Response to the Pretribulational View” in The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational [Grand Rapids, MI: Academic Books, 1984], p. 97). .
preposition ‘from’ (ek in the same sense of ‘out of,’ ‘away from’) the world, ‘but that thou shouldest keep them from (ek) the evil.’ the purpose of the sealing of the servants of God before the pouring out of the plagues (vii. 3) favors the view that they are to pass unscathed through them. Why should not the same apply to Rev. iii. 10? It seems rather inconsistent to insist that ‘from’ in Jer. xxx. 7 must mean that Israel will pass through the tribulation, but that ‘from’ in Rev. iii. 10 must mean that the church of Philadelphia, and by implication the entire church then on earth, will not pass through it but be delivered from it by rapture.”7 Dispensationalists, who are the chief advocates of the pretribulation rapture, claim that they are the champions of a literal approach to biblical interpretation. They say that a literal approach to prophecy logically leads to the pretribulation view. Yet there are a number of important passages such as Revelation 3:10 where dispensationalists take a very non-literal approach while their theological opponents take a very literal approach. It has already been noted how the literal view of Revelation 3:10 has been totally ignored in order to posit a tribulation and rapture thousands of years in the future. This contradiction to the literal method of interpretation is also found in their overall view of the letters to the seven churches. According to C. I. Scofield and the vast majority of dispensational authors, the seven churches of Revelation chapters 2 and 3 represent seven consecutive chronological periods of church history. According to the general outline of this scheme the church of Philadelphia represents a period of church revival and great missionary activity (A.D. 1750-1925) while Laodicea (the seventh century) represents the final period of church history, which is one of compromise and apostasy. This interpretation raises a number of questions. 1.) If the seven churches are seven consecutive periods of church history, why is the rapture passage in the sixth period, the time of revival and not the seventh and last period, the time of apostasy? If dispensationalists were to be consistent they could not claim Revelation 3:10 as a proof text for the rapture. The dispensational view of Revelation contains serious internal contradictions. 2.) There is not one thing within the text or context of this passage that indicates that the seven letters are somehow prophetic of seven long periods of church history. Although such an interpretation may be popular, one is not obligated to hold to a view that has no exegetical basis. 3.) The interpretation that claims the seven churches are seven long periods of church history is a very non-literal approach to biblical interpretation. Dispensational scholars are fond of accusing amillennial and postmillennial expositors of spiritualizing various Scripture passages. Yet the idea that the seven letters are long periods of church history is itself a blatant example of spiritualizing Scripture. The dispensational slogan of “literal whenever possible” is a claim that obviously is not a reality. Revelation 4:1 Another proof text for the pretribulation rapture theory is Revelation 4:1, “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, ‘Come up here, and I will show you things which 7 Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1945, 47), pp. 213-214. .
must take place after this.’” Pretribulationists cite this verse and then remark that the church is not observed on earth again until Revelation 19 when believers return to earth for the millennial reign of Christ. Pretribulationists reason that since the church is not mentioned as being on earth during the great tribulation after Revelation 4:1, then John’s removal to heaven must be equated with the rapture. Hal Lindsey gives us an example of the typical pretribulationist understanding of this verse. He writes, “It’s important to note that the Church has been the main theme of Revelation until Chapter 4. Starting with this chapter, the Church isn’t seen on earth again until Chapter 19, where we suddenly find it returning to earth with Christ as He comes to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. Although Revelation 4:1 does not specifically refer to Christ’s reappearance at the Rapture, I believe that the Apostle John’s departure for heaven after the church era closes in Chapter 3 and before the tribulation chronicle begins in Chapter 6 strongly suggests a similar catching away for the Church.”8 Does Revelation 4:1 and the fact that the word church (ekklesia) is not mentioned in chapters 4 through 18 prove or support the pretribulation rapture theory? There are a number of reasons why this argument in favor of pretribulationism should be rejected. First, this argument is an argument from silence in which the idea of the pretribulation rapture is presupposed and then imposed upon this section of Scripture. In the immediate context (Revelation 4:2) it says that John the apostle is transported to the throne room of heaven. Not one word is uttered that suggests that John represents the church or that the people of God as a whole are taken to heaven. Also, there is not any mention or any indication whatsoever of a descent by Christ or a resurrection of the saints. In Revelation 4:1 there is mention of a trumpet but this is not the trumpet blast announcing the rapture. It is a voice that has a sound of a trumpet just like the voice of authority that John heard in Revelation 1:10, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet.” What occurred in Revelation 4:1 with John was no different than the transportation and throne room scenes experienced by other prophets (e.g., Ezek. 1:1, 22-28; 8:3-4 [Ezekiel is apparently below the crystal sea looking up to the throne room]; Isa. 6:1 ff.; 2 Cor. 12:1-4). Second, the argument from silence is arbitrarily applied to Revelation and could be used to prove many heretical doctrines if applied to other theological topics. The argument from silence consistently applied would not prove the rapture of the saints but the annihilation of the saints, for not only is the word church (ekklesia) not used of the saints on earth in chapters 4 through 18, it also is never used of the saints in heaven. Does this mean that all the saints have vacated heaven and moved to Limbo or some other place during these chapters? No. Of course not! This argument, if consistently applied, leads to an incredibly absurd conclusion. The word church (ekklesia) does not even occur in the book of Revelation until Revelation 22:16. Does this mean the church is not involved in the second coming, the resurrection or white throne judgment? No. Obviously not! An argument that proves too much is worthless. Further, the reasoning that pretribulationists use to make Revelation 4:1 a proof text for the rapture could also be used to prove many dangerous and heretical doctrines. In the book of 8 Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming, pp. 59, 61. .
Esther the words for God and Jehovah do not occur even once. Does this fact mean that God does not exist, or that God is a deistic absentee landlord of the universe? No. It certainly does not. It should be clear to everyone from this example that arguments from silence are useless. Third, a careful examination of Revelation 4 through 19 proves conclusively that the church is on earth during this period. John does not use the word church (ekklesia) in these chapters but given the nature of apocalyptic literature where allusions to the Old Testament are constantly used to dramatically portray coming events, the non-use of the word church in the highly symbolic prophetic section of the book is not surprising. In chapter 6 after the opening of the fifth seal the martyred saints ask God to avenge their deaths on the persecutors “who dwell on the earth” (v. 10). These martyred Christians are told wait “until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed” (v. 11). The phrase fellow servants and brethren is used in Revelation to describe Christians in Revelation 6:11, 19:10 and 22:9. Paul uses the same terminology in Colossians 1:7; 4:7. There is not a shred of evidence to support the idea that those martyred during the tribulation are a Jewish remnant. These are Christians of every nation (cf. Rev. 7:9, 14) who die because the church of Christ is persecuted on earth. In Revelation 7 there are the 144,000 saints of God. Dispensationalists argue that this large group refers to literal Israel and not the New Testament church which has been raptured. This view is based on a literal understanding of verse 4: “One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” Although the idea of “literal whenever possible” is good, Revelation 7:4 ff. is obviously not meant to be interpreted literally. In Revelation chapter 7 God uses the imagery of the old covenant Israel’s military camp divisions (1 Chron. 4-7) to symbolize the new covenant church of God as an overcoming conquering army of Jehovah. This is evident for the following reasons. First, the book of Revelation often employs descriptions of Old Testament Israel directly to the new covenant church. The church is called a kingdom of priests (textus receptus—kings and priests) which is an allusion to the Old Testament identification of Israel in Exodus 19:6 (found in Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). The church of Jesus Christ is identified as the New Jerusalem—the gates of which bear the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The foundation of the city bears the names of the twelve apostles. Second, we are specifically told in Revelation itself that the 144,000 are those redeemed by Jesus Christ from among men. “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4). Third, the literal interpretation of Revelation 7:4ff ignores the fact that ten of the twelve tribes had disappeared in Assyria. Virtually all the ten tribes had inter-married with pagans and had long ago lost their ethnic identity. Further, “if Israel according to the flesh were meant, why should Ephraim and Dan be omitted? Surely not all the people in the tribe of Dan were lost. Not Reuben but Judah is mentioned first. Remember that our Lord Jesus Christ was of the tribe of Judah (Gn. 49:10).”9 Fourth, the teaching of the New Testament is that the church which is composed of 9 William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1982 ), p. 111. .
both Jews and Gentiles is the true Israel of God (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6; Gal. 6:16; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:9- 10). James, writing to Christians, even calls them “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (Jas. 1:1). Paul taught that all who believe in Christ are the true sons of Abraham (Rom. 4:11-17; Gal. 3:7); that the middle wall of partition has been removed by Christ; the believing Jews and Gentiles are one body (Eph. 2:14ff.). The church of Christ is one building (Eph. 2:20-22) and one bride (Eph. 5: Rev 21:9ff.). Fifth, that the 144,000 refers to all believers is proved from Revelation 9:4 where the demonic scorpions are told they can only harm those who do not have God’s seal on their forehead. Are we to believe that Jewish believers are protected while their Gentile brothers are left to perish? Of course not! The church of Jesus is definitely still on earth during the great tribulation. 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 Another argument for the pretribulation rapture is based on 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, “And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way” (ASV). The standard dispensationalist understanding of this passage is that the restrainer spoken of is the Holy Spirit. Pretribulationists argue that since the Holy Spirit dwells and works to restrain evil by means of the church, a removal of the Spirit entails a removal of the church. Once the church is raptured the Antichrist will be revealed. Although this passage is a difficult one that has resulted in many different interpretations, the idea that this passage teaches the removal of the Holy Spirit is theologically impossible and totally contradicts the dispensationalist’s own interpretation of the events that are supposed to take place during the tribulation. After the rapture a Jewish remnant of 144,000 is converted to Christ. These Jews will be the greatest evangelists the world has ever seen, who bring multitudes to Christ from every nation. What is wrong with this understanding of Scripture? It places the dispensationalist in the position of either denying his own interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 or of denying the biblical teaching regarding the Holy Spirit’s role in converting sinners. The Bible teaches that no one can be converted without the regenerating and drawing power of the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:25-26; Jn 1:13; 3:5-8; Ac. 5:31; 11:18; 16:13-14; 1 Cor. 2:12-14; 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:11; Tit. 3:5). Yet, pretribulationists teach that the 144,000 Jews are converted after the departure of the Holy Spirit. They also teach that the preaching of these converted Jews will be a hundred times more fruitful without the Holy Spirit than the preaching of the church with the Holy Spirit throughout the so-called church age. Multitudes are said to be converted to Christ from every nation during the absence of the Holy Spirit in only 1260 days! The truth is that if the Holy Spirit is removed, there would be no converts during the tribulation—not even one. Realizing the obviously unbiblical nature of the standard view, many modern dispensationalists argue that the Holy Spirit is not taken away, “but ‘taken out of the way;’ thus the Holy Spirit will continue a divine activity to the end-time, though not as a restrainer of evil .
through the church.”10 In other words the Holy Spirit doesn’t go away to heaven, He merely gets out of the way so that the anti-Christ can have sway over the masses. This interpretation avoids the absurdity of mass conversions without the Holy Spirit. However, it also removes 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 as a proof text for the pretribulation rapture. If the Holy Spirit doesn’t leave the scene but merely ceases to restrain the forces of evil as He had before, there is no longer any reason to suppose that this passage indicates the rapture of the church. The idea that the Holy Spirit is dependent on the church to restrain evil is not supported by Scripture. Further, even if the restraining power of the Holy Spirit came by means of the church, would not the massive revival throughout the earth caused by the preaching of the converted Jewish remnant also be a restraining of evil by Christ’s disciples (His church)? Dispensationalists cannot have it both ways. Therefore, this passage has nothing to do with the rapture. Another reason that this passage should not be considered a proof text for the rapture is Paul’s teaching in the immediate context. The Thessalonians were troubled because of false teaching regarding the day of Christ. Many within the church believed that the day of the Lord had already taken place. Paul wants to remove any misconceptions regarding this coming day by pointing out that certain events must take place before this coming. Paul says there must first be a falling away or rebellion and the man of sin must be revealed. Then he gives certain details regarding the man of sin and when these things will occur. What is particularly interesting regarding this section of Scripture is that it proves that the Thessalonians who had previously received instructions by Paul did not know anything about a pretribulation rapture. If they had been taught such a doctrine then they would have known that the day of the Lord could not have taken place, for the rapture had not yet occurred. Furthermore, it proves that Paul did not believe in a pretribulation rapture (or that he was negligent in his instructions), for Paul says nothing about a rapture that is to occur seven years before the day of the Lord. If Paul believed in pretribulation rapture one would expect him to say: “Don’t be deceived that the day of the Christ has already come, brethren. It can only come after you have been raptured to heaven. The fact that you are still on earth is proof positive that it had not yet occurred.” Paul does not tell the Thessalonian brothers to look for the rapture but to look for an apostasy (or rebellion) and the man of sin. If the pretribulation rapture theory were true, why would Paul instruct these Christians to look for events that are supposed to happen during the tribulation, when the church is not supposed to be around? It is obvious that Paul presupposes that the church will indeed be present on earth during the great tribulation. 1 Thessalonians 5:9 One of the most popular arguments for the pretribulation rapture is based on 1 Thessalonians 5:9, “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is argued that the great tribulation is an unprecedented time of God’s wrath 10 E. Schuyler English, chairman of the editorial revision committee, The New Scofield Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1967 ), p, 1460, footnote 1. .
falling upon the whole world. Since believers are specifically told that they are not appointed to wrath, it is only logical to conclude that the church will be removed from the earth before God’s wrath is poured out. This removal is the rapture of the saints. This argument for the rapture is fallacious for a number of reasons. First, it assumes that the wrath spoken of in verse 9 is the wrath poured out during the tribulation. The context of chapter 5 however makes it abundantly clear that the wrath spoken of in verse 5 is not the wrath of the tribulation but the wrath that occurs at the second coming of Christ—the day of the Lord (cf. 1 Th. 5:1-3). Second, it assumes that the only method at God’s disposal for protecting the church from His wrath is a total removal from the earth. An examination of the wrath of God in both testaments reveals that the pretribulationist assumption is totally unwarranted. When God poured out His wrath upon Egypt, He spared the people of Israel (cf. Ex. 8:22-23; 9:4-6, 11, 26; 10:23; 11:7; 12:23; 14:28-29) without first removing them out of the land. The prophet Isaiah says explicitly that God can judge the earth without harming His own covenant people who remain on earth. “Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation is past. For behold, the LORD comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; the earth will also disclose her blood, and will no more cover her slain” (Isa. 26:20-21). The nail in the coffin to the pretribulationist use of 1 Thessalonians 5:9 comes from the book of Revelation which shows that God’s people are protected from His wrath during the tribulation. In Revelation 6:16 it is the heathen that ask the mountains and rocks to protect them from the wrath of the lamb. A wrath that falls as a response to the prayers of persecuted and martyred saints (Rev. 6:9-11). After the fifth trumpet is sounded, the locusts of destruction are ordered by God only to harm “those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (Rev. 9:4). God’s saints are specifically protected from harm. In Revelation 9:20-21 we are told that these plagues were directed to wicked men. Revelation 14:9-10 says that those who are to experience God’s wrath and undiluted indignation are those who receive the mark of the beast; who worship the beast and his image. This obviously excluded Christians. Revelation 16:1-2 says that God’s wrath (the first bowl) is only to be poured out on the worshipers of the beast, who have his mark. Once again believers are excluded. In 16:9 and 11 those who receive God’s plagues are identified as blasphemers who refuse to repent. A careful reading of Revelation demonstrates that although God’s people experience persecution, death and harm at the hands of wicked men they are carefully and lovingly excluded from every act of God’s wrath. God’s wrath only falls upon those who are the enemies of Christ and His church. The wrath that falls on the wicked is God’s loving response to the prayers of His saints. Does the church need to be completely removed from the earth to be spared from God’s wrath, as pretribulationists assert? The Scriptures answer that question with an emphatic “no!” .