Perhaps even more contentious in the church, than the existence of a rapture, is the question of just when it is going to occur. All scholars of the End Times, believe that the world will face a time called among other things, The Great Tribulation, to occur just preceding Christ’s return to judge the earth. This is a 7-year period where, especially in the last three and one-half years, God’s wrath is visited on unbelieving mankind. The argument centers on, just where in relation to the Tribulation, is the Rapture going to occur.
PART II – “YE KNOW NOT WHEN THE MASTER COMETH”
The Look of the Thing
We have seen what the Rapture will look like to God’s people. But what will it be like here on earth? We have to remember that the rapture will indeed be a sudden event. While there are signs of the Tribulation and signs of Christ’s coming, and we’ll see later that if you are here at the time the Antichrist brings the “abomination of desolation” to a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, that you will be able to calculate the exact time of Jesus’ return in judgment: BUT there are no signs that indicate when the Rapture will take place. Christ could come back for the believers at any moment. Mark 13:32-33 says, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.” In Matthew we are told that mankind will not be expecting a heavenly visit. Life will be going on as usual. “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matthew 24:37-39) One often stressed aspect of the “days of Noah”, is their moral bankruptcy, – and that is true. However, another sometimes-missed characteristic is their utter normalcy. In the days before the rapture it will be; Life as usual! Then bang! That is what is referred to as ‘imminence’.
In his Left Behind series of books and movies, Tim La Haye has crafted perhaps the most graphic images of what will follow the Rapture event here on earth. Others too have applied their minds to paint a picture of the impending chaos. As Paul puts it, “in the twinkling of an eye;” millions of believers will be gone. Planes without pilots and cars without drivers will crash. Children will disappear in front of their parent’s eyes. It is likely that in some places, much of the infrastructure will at least temporarily crash, – leaving millions without power or water. There will be empty houses and riots perhaps. We have seen the aftermath of Katrina. For weeks, headlines and news shows will be dedicated to the disappearance of those millions. Some churches will lose a great part of their membership, – others hardly any at all. A religious hierarchy will remain to try to explain away the event. And those empty churches may be filled in the following weeks with, in the words of End Times scholar and mega-church pastor John Hagee, “…weeping people who have realized, too late, that God’s prophetic doomsday clock has advanced, shearing away another event on the prophetic time line.”[i]
How will the Bible-denying world account for such an event? Space aliens, a New Age ‘leap of consciousness’, are some that are already being put out there as possible explanations. In the early 90’s, David Bay of Cutting Edge Ministries infiltrated one particular new age event, a conference of the American Theosophical Society. He reports that one speaker at the meeting described a rapture type of event when Christians, – those who could never accept the Antichrist, – will ‘leave for another dimension’. New Age writer, Ruth Montgomery confirms this view in her book, Herald of the New Age, writing that “millions that will pass into the spirit.”[ii] The world has its explanation already in place!
The Timing Controversy
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)
This seems to be the central fact of the timing of Christ’s return: We can know “neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matthew 25:13) This is what creates the doctrine of ‘imminence’, – the fact that Christ could return at any time. “For in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” (Matthew 24:44) It is this fact that colors so much of what we can know about the timing of the Rapture. Later we’ll look at just how ‘imminence’ can help point us toward the truth. Still many different beliefs abound on the timing of this signal event. Let’s look at a few of the most widely-held beliefs. There are four major positions for the order of these end times events.
- Preterism – The belief that all end-times Bible prophecy has already been fulfilled.
- Mid-Tribulation Rapture / Pre-Wrath Rapture – The Church will be pulled out three and one-half years into the Tribulation, – after the Antichrist has revealed himself. In Pre-Wrath it is an indeterminate time after the mid-point.
- Post-Tribulation Rapture – Jesus comes for His Church after the world suffers through the entire period of God’s wrath.
- Pre-Tribulation Rapture – Christ will pull believers out before the Tribulation begins.
We’ll examine each of these in a little more detail. Preterism, the belief that Biblical prophecy has been largely fulfilled, is based to a great degree in Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 24:34: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” ‘Which generation?’, is always the question that must be asked. While Preterism holds that so much of prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70, with the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet it is patently obvious that so much of End Times prophecy has not come to pass. This is not to deny that Jesus did not predict the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the scattering of the Jews among the nations: He most certainly did. (see Luke 21:20-24) But then comes “the times of the gentiles” of undetermined length, before the remaining prophecies are fulfilled. The biggest problem they have is that so much in the way of prophecy did not come to pass in those days. Europe was not reunited into a new Rome. Nor have giant hailstones bombarded the earth, nor the sea turned-to-blood, nor have a third of the trees been destroyed,[iii] nor did Damascus “cease from being a city,” as predicted in Isaiah 17:1. Where in history was the Antichrist, the mark of the beast, the army of 200 million from the East, or the Euphrates River gone dry?[iv] Where then is the promised Millennium? Why is there still suffering? Why did not Christ return in glory, seven years after the “abomination of desolation?” In contrast, we can see prophecy being fulfilled within the last century, – and increasingly so in our very lifetimes. The Jews have begun re-gathering back in to the Land. Israel was “born in a day” back in 1948. The alignment of nations that would come against Israel, (especially Russia, Turkey, Iran and the former Soviet Republics), – is forming, – as predicted in Ezekiel. Plans are being made for the re-building of the Temple, as found in Daniel. We are living in days of prophetic fulfillment!
The generation of which Jesus spoke could not have referred to the 1st century one that saw the destruction of Jerusalem. Perhaps there is a clue in Psalm90:10: “The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years.” Still, 70 or 80 years from when? Look at Christ’s words that precede, his admonition that “this generation will not pass.” Jesus is comparing Israel here to the fig tree, a comparison long established in Scripture. “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.” If Israel is indeed the fig tree, and the budding is the reestablishment of the nation in 1948; – or even the retaking of Jerusalem in 1967: Then a 70 to 80 year generation would bring Christ’s return amazingly close at hand.[v] In any case, that generation alive in 70 AD has passed, and we’re still here, and prophecy is still being fulfilled.
The Mid-Trib position advances the theory that the Rapture will occur at the mid-point of the Tribulation, 3.5 years in at the time of the Abomination of desolation. The scripture used is often 2Thessalonians 2:3 which says, “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed.” So, Mid-Trib – (and Post-Trib advocates too,) – believe that the Antichrist must rise before any of this takes place. That too, falls down on the issue of imminence. Jesus Himself says in Mark 13:32-33, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.” Bible scholars agree that the Tribulation will last for 7-years, and will be a specifically delineated time. Daniel 9:27 spells it out. Speaking of the Antichrist it reads: “He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven. In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” The “covenant” likely refers to a peace treaty guaranteed by the Antichrist. Therefore, the start of the 7-year Tribulation is identified with the confirmation of that covenant. If the Mid-Tribbers are right, then they certainly could ‘know’ the day and the hour “in which the Son of man is coming,” by counting forward exactly 1,260days, [three and one half Biblical years] from the signing of the treaty to the middle of the Tribulation, when the Antichrist “exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” (2Thessalonians 3:4) That alone destroys the whole notion of imminence. ) [Now in fairness, an offshoot of the Mid-Trib position is called Pre-Wrath, and allows for some time to pass before the Rapture but prior to when the real-bad-stuff starts flying – and therefore maintains a sense of imminence, in their eyes.]
Now the majority of Christians hold to the belief that the rapture of the Church will occur after the 7-year Tribulation. We’re talking about Catholicism, Orthodox and many mainline Protestant denominations. So they use 2Thessalonians 3, quoted above and Revelation 20:4-5, which refers to the raising of the dead at Christ’s Return. It reads in part, “I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection.” But the Post-Tribulation theory of the Rapture, that Christ will come for His church only after the Tribulation also runs up against this notion of ‘imminence.’ Only the math is different. Those holding this Post Tribulation position only need count 7-years from the confirming of the covenant. In fact, Daniel 12:11 spells it out exactly. “And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, [That’s when the Antichrist goes into the Temple to exalt himself as God] and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days.” There can be no surprise there. Yet Scripture tells us to “watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming.” (Mark 13:35)
So that leaves the Pre-Tribulation position, that is outa-here before the 7-year Tribulation. Here are a few positive arguments before we continue the critique of the Post-Trib position. First, we are NOT APPOINTED TO WRATH. See, Romans 5:9 & 1Thessalonians 5:9. Secondly, according to Revelation 3:10, we are told, “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.” Looking at Strong’s Concordance we see the word translated “from” is ek in the Greek – and it means ‘out of.’ Finally, the Tribulation is a time when God will be dealing with the Jewish People. This is Daniel’s 70th week.[vi] It is also the time of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. In Luke 12:26, Jesus is pictured returning from a wedding. In the Jewish ceremony the supper comes first. When we return with Him, we come as His bride. Now let’s continue with the contrasts.
Another argument against the Post-Trib position can be found in Matthew 25:31-34, 41. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” The picture here painted, of Christ seated “on the throne of His glory,” is not a picture of the Rapture, – but rather one of His Second Coming in Power. The problem is that if Jesus calls his Church “to meet the Lord in the air” (1Thessalonians 4:17), and then they immediately return with Him to earth: Then who are the sheep in the passage above?. As well known Bible teacher John MacArthur puts it: “Where do we get the sheep for the sheep and goat judgment?.” [vii] Following Christ’s judgment, the Earth is to be populated by those who accepted Christ during the Tribulation and survived until Christ’s coming. Referring to Matthew 25, Chuck Missler asks: “Since all believers will be translated at the Rapture and all unbelievers are judged,…then no one would be left to start the population base for the Millenium.” If the Rapture and the Second Coming occur at essentially the same time, as Post-Tribbers believe, then Missler asks, “Where would the believers in mortal bodies come from if they are raptured at the Second Coming? Who would be able to enter into Christ’s kingdom?”[viii]
Those holding to the Post-Tribulation position must also be able to account for passages 1Thessalonians 1:10 which tells us that He has “delivered us from the wrath to come.” Instead, Ephesians 5:6 tells us that God’s wrath is reserved for “the sons of disobedience.” As Chuck Missler points out, there is a “clear distinction between; who will taste of God’s wrath and who will not.” Revelation 13:7 clearly paints a picture of unprecedented persecution. Many Post-Tribbers believe that though the Church will be living through the Tribulation, God will supernaturally protect Christians during that time. But God’s word does not support this.” “And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them.” Yet Matthew 16:8 says of Christ’s Church, that the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” That’s because to Missler and MacArthur, Dr. Jeremiah and other Pre-Tribbers, the Church, having already been raptured, – is no longer on earth. Jeremiah 30:7 reveals that, what that prophet calls, “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” (Jacob being another name for Israel), pertains primarily to the Jews, and only to the rest of the world by extension. Yet through that time of testing, God’s Chosen People Israel will be saved. “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.”[ix]
Finally, there is this. The Christ’s return are to be like the days of Noah and Lot. Luke 17:28-30 describes it. “They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.” It was when Lot “went out” from Sodom that the judgment came. So too with Noah. When he was sealed in the Ark – only then – did the rains start. Genesis 19 speaks of Lot’s escape from Sodom. In Genesis 19:22, we see the angel that was sent to save Lot could not enact the divine judgement he was charged with until Lot’s party was safely ensconced in his ‘sanctuary’ city. “I can do nothing until you arrive there,” he told Lot. Jesus went on beginning in Luke 17:31. ‘”In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.’ And they answered and said to Him, ‘Where, Lord?’ So He said to them, ’Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.’” (Luke 17:31-37) This passage is set at the End of the Age and definitely talks about the coming of God’s Kingdom. The question remains, is this the final return or a Pre-Trib Rapture. One scholar believes implicitly that it refers to the gathering of the Church to Christ in the air – the eagles gathering with the Body of Christ.
[i] John Hagee, From Daniel to Doomsday, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1999
[ii] Notes taken from transcripts of Cutting Edge Radio Show 1093-1094, found on Cutting Edge, author David Bay
[iii] What is the Pretribulation Rapture?, Rapture Ready .Com
[iv] Todd, Preterism: I Can’t Believe It, Rapture Ready .com
[v] Michael Hile, The Last Generation, Rapture Ready .com
[vi] Teresa Garcia, The Case for a Pre-Trib Rapture, Inspiration.org, viewed
[vii] John MacArthur, answering questions on the rapture, Questions & Answers, Grace To You
[viii] Chuck Missler, The Great Snatch, Koinonia House, 1995
[ix] Chuck Missler, Our Blessed Hope, Koinonia House, 2002