Are you crazy!? I realize some of you might think so after reading my title. How can I be so sure of something so hotly debated within the church? Most Christians either say we cannot know anything for sure about the Lord’s return or they dismiss the rapture altogether.
In spite of all the growing dissension today within the church on this matter, I know Jesus is coming for all His saints, for us, before the start of the tribulation.
This is not something I would have said with such confidence ten years ago or perhaps even five years ago. But as my studying of the rapture over the past five decades has turned into a fulltime writing ministry (along with much continued study and reading), I am more than ever convinced of the solid biblical foundation for the pretribulation rapture.
I do not desire to start an argument though I know many will disagree with me; my purpose is simply to share what I see as an unshakable biblical foundation for the pretribulation rapture.
The pretribulation rapture is a biblical necessity because:
1. PREMILLENNIALISM IS A BIBLICAL CERTAINTY
Premillennialism is absolutely foundational to a belief in the pretribulation rapture. Those who deny the reality of a literal millennium along with a restored Israel, the amillennialists, relegate the tribulation to allegory. If there is no literal tribulation, then determining the placement of the rapture becomes a moot point. That’s why I place premillennialism first; it’s an essential biblical doctrine. We can know beyond a doubt that Jesus’ return to earth happens after a literal tribulation and he will reign in Jerusalem.
The biblical case for premillennialism is exceedingly strong as I demonstrated in my previous post, 7 Reasons Why Premillennialism is a Biblical Necessity. Premillennialism alone retains the original intent of the biblical prophets who wrote about the tribulation, the millennium, and a glorious future for Israel.
If you reject the tenets of premillennialism, you are welcome to keep reading. But please know I base my arguments on a literal tribulation and thousand year reign of Jesus in Jerusalem.
2. THE RAPTURE CANNOT HAPPEN AT THE SAME TIME AS THE SECOND COMING
The descriptions of the rapture and second coming in Scripture contain many significant differences that cannot be reconciled into one event. They cannot happen at the same time.
For example, the resurrection of those who have died in Christ happens first in the event Paul described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-54. With the second coming, however, the resurrection does not occur until after a lengthy sequence of events (Rev. 19:11-20:4), perhaps not even the same day. A vast difference exists in the timing of the resurrection with the two events!
A comparison of rapture passages with those describing the second coming reveals several other substantial differences such as the place Jesus gathers His saints, the destination of the saints after Jesus’ return, as well as the purpose for each. Furthermore, only the rapture includes the glorification of living believers. In the texts associated with the second coming, we find no indication whatsoever that Jesus transforms the bodies of those who survive the tribulation.
The Bible reveals the rapture as a unique event; its many differences with the second coming tell us it cannot happen at the same time. There must be a separation of time between the two.
3. ONLY THE RAPTURE FITS WITH THE NEW TESTAMENT SENSE OF IMMINENCY
The sense of imminency in the New Testament regarding the appearing of Jesus further also distinguishes the rapture from the second coming. Because many events of the tribulation must occur before the second coming, it’s impossible to regard it as imminent.
On the other hand, we see that the New Testament saints eagerly awaited the Lord’s appearing as though it could happen at any moment. Philippians 3:20-21 and 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10 are just two examples of several biblical texts portraying believers excitedly anticipating Jesus’ appearing as though it could occur at any time.
This sense of imminency pushes the rapture to a time before the prophetic events of the tribulation. The second coming cannot be an imminent event because, for example, we know the antichrist will defile the temple three and a half years before Jesus’ return to earth and the temple has not been rebuilt. Only the rapture fits as the imminent event of Jesus’ appearing that we see throughout the New Testament.
4. THE RAPTURE MUST HAPPEN BEFORE THE DAY OF THE LORD STARTS
In 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3, Paul tells his readers that the start of the day of the Lord will surprise people on the earth “like a thief in the night” with its sudden destruction from which “they will not escape.”
At this point you might object saying that these verses refer to the onset of the day of the Lord, not the rapture and you would be correct. However, the sudden and shocking start to the day of the Lord tells us the rapture must occur before it begins.
Notice also Paul’s promise in verse 9, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 9). Through the apostle, the Lord promises that those of us in Christ and alive at the start of this day will not experience the wrath of the day of the Lord. Jesus will catch us up to paradise before the wrath, which in this context refers to the day of the Lord.
If this time of God’s wrath were to begin at any time after the seal judgments of Revelation 6 commence, it would not catch anyone on earth by surprise. People will not be saying, “There is peace and security” (v. 3) after the widespread pestilence, famines, and wars of the seal judgments that will kill one-fourth of the earth’s population.
For the day of the Lord to start in such a startling and unexpected manner, it must begin before the seal judgments that will claim the lives of well over a billion people. Those on the earth will not be saying “peace and security” once the seal judgments start, which will be make COVID-19 seem like a mild case of hay fever by comparison.
Since 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 confirms that believers will miss the wrath of this day, the rapture must occur sometime before the judgments recorded in Revelation 6 begin since they represent the day of the Lord wrath.
5. THE RAPTURE MUST HAPPEN BEFORE THE UNVEILING OF THE ANTICHRIST TO THE WORLD
In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, the apostle Paul tells the panicked Thessalonian saints they could know the day of the Lord had not yet started because they were still on the earth. Why do I make such a startling statement?
The identity of the Restrainer tells us the church cannot be on earth when the antichrist steps to the forefront among the world’s leaders. In his response to their fright caused by a message stating that the day of the Lord had already begun, Paul tells them this time of wrath cannot start until God removes the Restrainer who is holding back the unveiling of the antichrist (compare verse 3 with verses 6-8).
The Restrainer Paul writes about in these verse is the Holy Spirit. Since Satan will empower this lawless one, the Restrainer must possess divine power to prevent his appearing. While Bible commentators have suggested many other ideas in seeking to identify the Restrainer of 2 Thessalonians 2, the consensus opinion among premillennial scholars is that it must the Holy Spirit whose unique presence through the saints departs the earth with the rapture.
This necessitates that the rapture must occur before the tribulation, which begins with the antichrist’s covenant with Israel (Dan. 9:27), since by that time believers would know his identity if still earthbound.
6. JESUS’ PROMISE TO THE CHURCH AT PHILADELPHIA
Jesus made this promise to the church in Philadelphia, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth” (Rev. 3:10).
Let’s look more closely at the promise. The phrase “keep you from” conveys the sense of keeping someone out of something. Jesus says He will keep this church out of the coming “hour of trial” that will impact the entire world.
What is the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world?
First, it’s something that will impact all those who dwell on the earth. This signifies something different persecution against believers since this trial includes everyone on earth, not just people of faith.
Second, nothing like this happened during the life of the church at Philadelphia or for that matter at any time since then. This must likely refers to the tribulation that John describes in Revelation 6-16.
Third, this is a time of testing specifically for “those who dwell on the earth.” John uses the phrase referring to earth dwellers eight times later in the book of Revelation (6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8 12, 14; 14:6; and 17:8). In each of these instances, the phrase refers to either people impacted by the tribulation or those refusing to repent of their sins during this time of great tribulation on the earth.
On the other hand, John never refers to the church as being on the earth during the tribulation.
The Lord’s promise to the church at Philadelphia signifies that the church will miss “the trial” that will impact “those who dwell on the earth.” The rapture must thus take place before the tribulation begins.
7. THE PRESENCE OF THE CHURCH IN HEAVEN IN REVELATION 4-5
The next piece of evidence pointing to a pretribulation rapture is the presence of the church in heaven before the start of the seal judgments recorded in Revelation 6. The 24 elders in chapters 4-5 represent the church, which reveals that the church will be in heaven before seal judgments commence.
“Is there a definitive case for identifying the 24 elders as the church?” you ask. Yes!
First, the 24 thrones upon which the elders sit signifies rule and authority (Rev. 4:4) Scripture never portrays angels as sitting on thrones or as ruling with Christ.
Second, in Scripture the word “elder” only applies to men, never of angels. The term implies an aging process that negates its identification with angels.
Third, the “white garments” (4:4) must refer to the dress of believers. John MacArthur in his commentary on Revelation 1-11 says, “Christ promised the believers at Sardis that they would ‘be clothed in white garments’ (3:5) . . . . White garments symbolize Christ’s righteousness imputed to believers at salvation.” The elders represent the church after the rapture!
Fourth, the words of the elders in Revelation 5:9 tell us they belong to the New Testament church. Notice the King James Version translation of this verse: “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (emphasis mine).
Why is this different from modern translations that make it less obvious the elders are referring to themselves as the redeemed? It’s a matter of which Greek manuscript the translators follow.
Despite the fact that there is only one Greek manuscript of the book of Revelation that omits the word “us” from verse 9, modern translations read “you have ransomed people for God” rather than “Thou . . . hast redeemed us to God.” They claim including the word “us” makes the grammar awkward in the verse despite the superior Greek manuscripts support for the King James translation.[i]
Furthermore, this goes against what I learned in seminary; my teacher said that the most awkward reading should be preferred since a scribe would be more likely to correct a difficult reading than change it to something less grammatically sound.
Who are the 24 elders of Revelation 4-5? They are those “redeemed” by the Savior’s blood who later say “God has made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10).
Who else can this be but the church in heaven with Jesus? And for this to be true, the rapture must happen before the judgments of Revelation 6; it must happen before the rapture.
I do not intend my above points to be exhaustive; I could have brought up other passages of Scripture and provided more arguments in support of a pretribulation rapture. The book I am seeking to get published goes into much more detail on these points; it adds much more biblical support for premillennialism and a pretribulation rapture than I can put into this short article.
I recently watched a movie, Before the Wrath, which shows how the Galilean wedding customs picture the rapture. This comparison alone makes an over-the-top compelling case for placing the rapture before the tribulation. I highly recommend this movie; you will not be disappointed!
I realize many will still disagree with me; however, I believe those of us who look for rapture before the tribulation rest our case on a solid biblical foundation of which my preceding points are just the start.
Jesus is coming for His church before the start of the day of the Lord; that is the promise of 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10. New Testament saints will not be on earth to witness the onset of this time of wrath upon the earth. This is Jesus’ promise to us.