Why I Believe in a Pre-Tributional Rapture

rapture.gifFor those whom I have just lost because of the title of this article, I would ask you to hang on. I'll do my best to define terms and make this user-friendly! The Bible, which Christians believe to be the Word of God, speaks to many areas of life. The Bible tells us about the history of the world, shows us the true nature of man, wonderfully presents Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, teaches us how we ought to live, and also contains truth about the future. We call this last subject, eschatology, the study of the last times.

With regard to the future, the Bible teaches that a "Day of the Lord" is coming, a terrible time of judgment. It is described in passages such as Isaiah 2:12; 13:6, 9; Jeremiah 46:10; Joel 1:15; 2:11, 31; Amos 5:18, 20; Malachi 4:5; Zephaniah 1:14-15; Acts 2:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10; and Revelation 4-18. It is a time when God will judge the earth and wicked men for their sin. There will be incomprehensible devastation and death.

The Bible also speaks to an event called the Rapture.  This event is a miraculous, sudden taking up to Heaven of those who are trusting in Christ so they do not have to bear the judgment of the "Day of the Lord," or as we also call it, the Tribulation.  A vision that God gave to the prophet Daniel explains that the Tribulation is a seven-year period of time, in which the judgment of God will rain on the earth.  It is a terrible and horrific era.  God, in His grace has promised to keep His Church safe from that "wrath to come." (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9; Revelations 3:10)  The rapture is primarily described in John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8; and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

With regard to the rapture, there are five different views as to when the rapture will occur.  They are:

  1. Pretribulationism: the rapture occurs before the tribulation begins.
  2. Midtribulationism: the rapture occurs in the middle of the tribulation (after 3.5 years).
  3. Pre-wrath Rapture: the rapture occurs approximately three-fourths of the way through the tribulation.
  4. Posttribulationism: the rapture occurs after the tribulation.
  5. Partial Rapure: only Christians who are "watching" for the Lord's return will be raptured before the tribulation.  The rest are raptured later at different points through the tribulation.

Before proceeding with my defense of pretribulationism, I want to state something very clearly: I will not separate over a person's position on the rapture.  It will never be a test of fellowship for me.  However, that is not to say I do not believe one's position is unimportant.  It is important to me for at least two reasons: (1) I believe it is a correct interpretation of Scripture and (2) one's understanding of the rapture affects the Christian's "hope and expectation." (Titus 2:13) So, why do I believe in a pretribulational rapture of the church?  There are ten points I want to put forward.

  1. As mentioned previously, the Bible states that the church will be saved from the "wrath to come."  According to 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, this deliverance takes place at the very beginning of the "day of the Lord."  The surprise of verse 2 coupled with the word overtake in verse 4 provide a strong argument for pretribulational rapture.  
    The next three points discuss the opening of the seals of judgment in Revelation 6.  Some have maintained that these early judgments are not divine judgment but rather judgments of man and Satan.  That is how some hold to a Midtribulation or Pre-wrath Rapture approach.  They would say that the church will be raptured but only before the divine judgments begin.  
  2. Jesus Himself opens the seal judgments, indicating that they are divinely appointed.  
  3. The seal judgments are consistent with divine wrath.  The first four seal judgments (sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts) are commonly used in Scripture as divine judgment.  One example where all four are used together can be found in Ezekiel 14:21.  
  4. Unbelievers state that God's wrath "has come" before the midpoint of the Tribulation.  In Revelation 6:16-17, these unbelievers declare "For the great day of his wrath is come."  The Greek verb translated "is come" in the King James Version is actually in the aorist indicative tense.  Breathe.  That means that the action has already taken place.  It does not mean that the action is about to take place.  These men are recognizing that the judgments they have just come through are judgments of God.  
  5. The Bible passages that speak of the rapture are different from the passages that speak of the return of Jesus to earth, indicating that the two are separate events.  I plan on writing about this in a future article.  The return of Jesus to the earth to setup a 1,000 year earthly kingdom is different than His return "in the air" to take the Church to the place He has prepared for them, namely in Heaven.  Passages that speak to the actual Second Coming of Christ to the earth would include Zechariah 14:1- 21; Matthew 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-27 and Revelation 19.  There is much more to say about this point, but I will reserve it for the next article.  
  6. The rapture is spoken of as a "mystery" by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.  A mystery was a truth that had not been revealed prior to the Apostles.  While the rapture was a new concept, the second coming of Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament.  Again, these are two separate events.  
  7. The Church is not mentioned in Revelations 4-18.  This passage is the chief text that describes the Tribulation period, and the Church is simply not there.  While an argument from silence is not the strongest argument to use in apologetics, it should be considered along with the other evidence.  
  8. The presence of Christians with non-glorified bodies who go into the 1,000 year kingdom is evidence for pretribulationism.  This point takes a bit of explaining so bear with me.  At the end of the Tribulation, all are agreed that the unsaved who are still alive are removed from the earth and sent to Hell pending final judgment.  However, people will be born who can sin during the 1,000 year kingdom (Isaiah 65:20; Revelation 20:7-10).  If the unsaved are sent to Hell and the saved are raptured at the end of the Tribulation, whom does that leave to enter the 1,000 year kingdom?  A pretribulational rapture allows for people to be saved during the Tribulation.  Many of them will be killed, but some will survive and enter the 1,000 year kingdom.  Some will even be saved at the second coming of Christ (Zechariah 12:10).  These people will not have glorified bodies.  What do we mean by that?  The Bible teaches that when we see Jesus we will be made like Him.  It says that our earthly bodies will be changed into eternal, sinless forms (2 Corinthians 5:1-4; 1 John 3:2).  In fact, by the end of the 1,000 years, enough people will have been born for Satan to deceive and raise a huge army to take on Christ yet again.  
  9. The imminence of the rapture supports pretribulationism.  The Scriptures pictures the Christian as eager awaiting the Lord's return at any moment (1 Corinthians 1:7; Titus 2:13 and Philippians 3:20).  If the rapture was to occur at the end of the tribulation, Christians, it would seem, would be looking more for signs of the Tribulation as the Bible describes in great detail.  This would seem to contradict the teaching of Scripture that we are to live in light of His imminent return (Rom. 13:11-14; James 5:7-8; 1 John 3:1-3).  
  10. The emotional state of the Thessalonian church is evidence for Pretribulationism.  Paul refers to the believers at Thessalonica as being "shaken" and "troubled" because they thought that the "day of the Lord" was near (2 Thessalonians 2:2-3).  If Paul had taught the Thessalonian church that the rapture came at the end of the tribulation, they shouldn't have been alarmed but rather excited at the soon return of Christ.  The fact that they were troubled points rather to confusion that they would even be experiencing the "day of the Lord," especially in light of Paul's teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff.

The study of eschatology is a difficult task.  There is much we do not know about the future.  I am convinced, however, based on the teachings of the Word of God as given above, that Jesus will rapture His church prior to the "day of the Lord."  It is great to live with the hope that Christ could return even today to take us to the place He has prepared for us.  I am also indebted to the many great men who have contributed to my understanding of this issue through their writing and speaking, men like Dwight Pentecost, Charles Ryrie, Darrell Bock, Craig Blaising, Mike Vlach, John Walvoord, John Feinberg, Paul Feinberg, and many other teachers and pastors.


25 responses to this post.

  1. Brian said:

    I will not separate over a person’s position on the rapture. It will never be a test of fellowship for me.

    So if your pastor took an amil, covenant, or post-trib position, you would remain where you are?

    Just wanting to understand what you mean by test of fellowship.


  2. Sure! He probably wouldn’t want me to speak on the topic, but I don’t think that holding different dispensational positions necessitates separation between brothers in Christ. I break fellowship only in situations of unrepentant sin or false teaching. I don’t believe that holding a pre-wrath or midtrib or even posttrib position rises to the level of false teaching, although I disagree with each of those systems.


  3. Interesting. So would you see a church who had a pre-mil pre-trib position in their doctrinal statement and required assent to said statement for membership guilty of sinful schism?


  4. Hey Brian,
    I know you probably poured your heart out writing a substantive post about rapture positions, but I have to confess that I just love the cheesy, Ruckmanesqe rapture picture. I had no idea our resurrection bodies will look like Casper the ghost. How about the jet plane crashing into that one building in a pre-911 way?



  5. Greg,

    I guess I would have to say “yes” to your question if I am to be honest. I do think this is an example of Romans 14 “opinion.” The Bible doesn’t explicitly teach or rebut a pretribulational rapture. I hold to the position because I believe it to be the best harmonization of Scripture, holding to a grammatical-historical hermeneutic. On the other hand, there are good men who come to different conclusions using some of the same Scripture.


    I LOVE that picture. I remember seeing it several times as I grew up in different places. I had to search to find it in a graphic format. Isn’t it awesome!


  6. Brian,

    So, essentially, you are indicating that you believe in an “all or nothing” form of separation? It would seem you see no room for denominational distinctives, differences in modes of baptism, polity, and other similar issues at the local church level under this type of reasoning and application.

    It does seem curious to me that you would apply things this far.


  7. You’ve hit the nail on the head! As I said, I don’t see a need for separation except for unrepentant sin and false teaching.

    I used to bristle at this concept myself. My wife attended a large Greenville, SC church where they actually accepted people into membership if they had been sprinkled, poured, or immersed. The mode was not a test of fellowship. So, although I think a pastor can choose to only immerse, I don’t know that I would refuse fellowship from someone who was sprinkled or poured FOLLOWING salvation. Same with elder rule vs. congregational rule, etc…

    I think we need a greater unity among the Body of Christ and that separation over non-essentials is wrong. Defining non-essentials is the key. Where Scripture has spoken clearly, we must be firm. Where there is room for varying application, we need to allow that room.


  8. So how can you call yourself a Baptist?


  9. If you’ll hold onto that thought, that would make an excellent article to write. I’ll post it on Monday.


  10. Greg said, "So how can you call yourself a Baptist?"


    If Brian is not a Baptist due to the fact that he believes that pre-trib, mode of baptism, and church polity issues are not issues of separation, then are you saying that we should separate over those issues?

    You seem to be implying that being a Baptist requires that you separate over those issues.

    We also can’t forget about Brian’s articles on music and fundamentalism. So maybe you’re right. My question for him wouldn’t be, “How can you call yourself a Baptist?”, but rather, “Why would you call yourself a Baptist?”


  11. Rick,

    I am saying that Brian seems to indicate, for example, that for my Baptist church to exist in this town and to have an Orthodox Presbyterian church across the river exist, too, is an example of sinful schism because our differences exist mainly due to modes of baptism, eschatology, and church polity.

    I would not draw that conclusion- even though the OPC pastor and I are meeting for coffee on Tuesday. To say you would NEVER make it a test of fellowship seems a bit of an overstatement, to say the least. Even the men who congregated at T4G didn’t go that far.


  12. I’m not saying that the two shouldn’t exist, but rather that the two should be able to fellowship. Now, I’m assuming that the only differences are mode of baptism and the like. If it’s infant baptism we’re talking about or extreme calvinism, that’s a different story.


  13. True- the two should be able to enjoy some mode of fellowship. But to state one would NEVER make it a test of (any kind of) fellowship- and for someone to do so is sinfully schismatic- seems inconsistent with serving as a pastor of a Baptist church. Church mmbership is a form of separation. By being a part of a Baptist fellowship (and one, I assume for the moment, that holds a pre-trib position in its doctrinal statement), you have effectively separated on an practical level from those who are not in fellowship with your church.


  14. Interestingly enough, Mark Dever church does seem to make matters such as eschatology, baptism, and polity a test of fellowship in the context of church membership.


  15. Greg, you said “Church membership is a form of separation. By being a part of a Baptist fellowship…you have effectively separated on a practical level from those who are not in fellowship with your church.”

    My understanding of separation is that it has a distinct purpose. We separate from false teachers so we will not be associated with their error. We separate from Christian brothers/sisters so they will be rebuked b/c of their sin and be restored to fellowship.

    First, do you understand biblical separation to mean something different? Second, if so, do you have biblical support? Third, what is the purpose of separation in regards to church members and non members? Isn’t it true that church membership is solely practiced for organizational purpose, i.e., voting privileges, etc.?

    Again, I want to reiterate that I will not separate over non-essentials. I WILL separate over the essentials of the faith. I do not regard the timing of the rapture as essential or explicit in Scripture, though I believe that a pre-trib position is the clearest position to the texts.


  16. Regarding Mark Dever (my fundamentalist brother), it does appear that his statement of faith contains baptism by immersion. That’s fine. I also believe the Bible teaches immersion, though there are good brothers who disagree. I think it’s still an implicit teaching of Scripture and not explicit. Notice that Mark does NOT have a position on the rapture defined in his statement.


  17. No- in fact, his statement seems to be explicitly missing a dispensational perspective of any sort.

    Could one be a committed Pre-trib dispensationalist and still be a memeber of CHBC?



  18. In short, I would not see separation as an all or nothing proposition. There are issues of separation that are purely practical (distance, language, time) that prohibit fellowship. There are issues of unity and commitment to be considered, not just discipline (separation unto God).

    I practice separation from other women, for example- not because I desire to correct or restore, but because my wife and I enjoy a committed relationship- a covenant of companionship.

    As a member of Faith Baptist Church- I have entered into covenant with them. We practice accountability, edification, the ordinances, and so on. While I enjoy some fellowship with other believers, my primary accountability and fellowship comes within that body. My authority as a pastor is over that body, not Christians in general.

    Therefore, a covenanted relationship requires areas of doctrinal agreement and fidelity- for the interest of Biblical unity. Attempting to achieve practical unity with a covenant theologian in the context of church membership or church leadership would be disastrous- because our hermeneutics would contradict one another and lead to confusion and a diminishing of the significance and administration of the ordinances and other vital areas of local church fellowship.


  19. Well, this is the problem, isn’t it? We have trouble defining separation as a movement. It seems as if I’m hearing more language recently about this “practical” separation. Frankly, I’m not sure what to think of it. I have never been taught about a practical separation, in classroom or congregation. I have learned about personal separation, ecclesiastical separation and even the dreaded secondary separation. But now, it seems as though practical separation is expressed as though it were an extension of biblical separation.

    My gut tells me that this practical separation is actually an obstacle to biblical unity, rather than fostering it.

    Of course, I try to use wisdom in not spending time alone with women beside my wife. I certainly believe that unity in something to work hard toward, both in the local church and the universal.

    Separation, as fundamentalism has understood and practiced it, is a biblical process of discipline. I wouldn’t try to expand on its definition.

    I agree with your statement that “a covenanted relationship requires areas of doctrinal agreement and fidelity.” What I’m proposing is no different. There can be no compromise in essentials. There should be no forced unanimity over non-essentials.

    In a sense, I think you are also calling for an “all or nothing” approach to separation. If you stand in the pulpit and preach that a pre-trib rapture is “thus saith the Lord,” then I think you are being dishonest and pointing people to separate over a non-essential. I think it far better to say, “This is what the Scriptures say and I believe it can best be explained this way, although other good men would differ.”

    Sure, the covenant theologian may have some severe differences that make fellowship impossible. If he does not believe in a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ, he is in error. If he doesn’t believe in the rapture of the church, he is in error. Those are explicitly taught in Scripture. They are indisputably true. A proper hermeutic is very important and worth separating over. The Bible teaches us explicitly how to interpret itself.


  20. Why drag “the movement” into this?

    I am not calling for all or nothing- but I do recognize various levels of fellowship and interaction. I don’t demand the level of agreement for a discussion board, for example, as I would for a church I would want to covenant with as a member. The level of cooperation determines the level of agreement necessary on issues.

    So- you say that a pre-trib position would never be a test of fellowship. Okay. Let’s say your church gets a new pastor- he holds to a mid-trib view. He asks you to refrain from teaching your pre-trib position so as to present a unified front. Do you comply?

    Is it unbiblical and sinfully schismatic to recommend a college that holds to your eschatological position over one that does not?

    Should all pastors essentially adopt a “Four Views on Eschatology” position as they teach prophecy in order to be “biblically honest?”


  21. Sorry, I’ll leave the movement out.

    You said, “The level of cooperation determines the level of agreement necessary on issues.” It seems that the very fact that we are brothers in a family demands the highest level of cooperation and unity, does it not?

    If our church got a new pastor who was mid-trib, of course I would try to persuade him to my side. At the same time, I would not publicly go against his position. I’m sure he wouldn’t ask me to teach on it.

    Recommending a college isn’t a problem, unless at the same time you’re denouncing other ones for their position. It’s the separating (judging) aspect that is a violation of Romans 14.

    I wouldn’t say pastors need to “adopt” a Four Views position, but they should “present” all four when teaching on the rapture, just as I did in simplified form in the article. I didn’t go into great detail but I acknowledged the presence of other positions while explaining my own in greater detail.


  22. So, if I understand you correctly, in your mind, separation=censure in every case?

    That perhaps clears some things up.

    However, you didn’t say that it wouldn’t be an issue of “separation”- you said it would not be an issue of “fellowship.” It does seem evident that there will be times when prudence will dictate closer fellowship with those whom we share closer agreement. While fellowship along some lines might be possible (and indeed, desirable) with someone who held a non-pre-trib view, I would have a real problem participating in the church “stock the bunker” canned food drive at my local post trib church (:D).

    Modes of baptism would also create similar issues- do you immerse on the third Sunday of the month and sprinkle on the first? Pick and choose? As David Nettleton states, the issue becomes one of a limited message or a limited fellowship.

    I, for one, have no problem confidently stating that my study of the Word of God has led me to a pre-trib position, and while I may present other positions, I will also take the time to demonstrate why I believe the Bible teaches they are Biblically inconsistent. I also have no problem in telling a person fully convinced that a pre-trib position was unbiblical and in error that they would not likely find a place where they could exercise their abilities to the fullest degree in our assembly.


  23. Yes, that’s my understanding.

    {thinking to myself: I knew I shouldn’t have bolded that sentence in my article!)


  24. […] But, this article by “Bowing Down” is well-written, easy to understand and follow.  Revelation:  Check it Out.  I plan to print it out and use it as a study aid.  Lots of good scripture there to sharpen the […]


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