Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The Rapture: The different views

As so many times before, we are again hearing that the Rapture is about to take place! As such, it is appropriate at this time to reconsider what Biblical scholars mean when they refer to the "Rapture". There are various views regarding the timing of the Rapture within the broader framework of eschatological events, which I discuss. The important question is: Which view, if any, is correct? This the fifth essay in the series on Christian eschatology.

Christians who are interested in eschatology (the study of the last things), usually have strong feelings about their own position. As such, it is not easy to discuss a topic such as the Rapture without some people taking exception. The purpose of this essay is, however, not to belittle other views but to present all the main views on the topic and then critically discuss them. Although some Christians may think that they "do not believe in the Rapture", they may be surprised to find that such an event (albeit without using this word) is indeed mentioned in Scripture. The question is, however, how do we understand such passages?

The word "rapture" is derived from the Latin "rapere", which means "to take away". The most important Biblical passage about the Rapture is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 where we read: "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (King James Translation).

The Rapture refers to an eschatological event when the Church will be taken away from earth to meet the Lord in the air during his Second Coming. The rapture involves three aspects, namely 1) the living saints will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17), 2) these saints will be transformed when they are "clothed" with "incorruption" and "immortality" (1 Cor. 15:52-3) and 3) those saints who have died in Christ and whom he will bring with him during his Coming, will be resurrected with glorious bodies (corresponding with those of the transformed living saints) (1 Thess. 4:16: 1 Cor. 15:35, 42).

Now, if the Rapture is so clearly taught in Scripture, why all the fuzz? The reason is simple: The Rapture is often associated primarily with those who believe that this event can happen at any moment and who make predictions about the date when it will take place. They, however, represent only one group in the greater Christian community who believe in the Rapture. Others who also believe in the Rapture, see things differently. Christians have very different views regarding the meaning of Scriptural passages such as the one quoted above.

There are, very generally speaking, two distinct views regarding the Rapture [1], which concerns the place of this event in the larger picture of future eschatological events. The first group of Christians believe that the Rapture will be a distinct event which will take place sometime before Jesus Christ comes during the great battle of Armageddon (seven years or three-and-a-half years or some days earlier). The second group believes that the Rapture would be part of one single glorious event when Jesus Christ returns. In some way, the first group believes in two Second Comings and the others in only one [2].

Many of the Christians who believe in the Rapture, also believe that there will be a Great Tribulation in the period directly preceding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. That would be the time when the final Antichrist appears, who would persecute the true believers. In this context, the first view is usually called the "Pre-Tribulation" Rapture View and the second the "Post-Tribulation" Rapture View. The first group believes that the Church will be raptured before the Great Tribulation whereas the second group believes that the Church will go through the Great Tribulation.

In this essay, I discuss these two views. I present the textual evidence which is used by the different schools to support their view. Obviously, one cannot present all possible arguments in a short essay such as this but I do discuss the most important ones. I also present some criticism - insofar as applicable - of the way in which the Biblical verses are sometimes understood.

A Pre-Tribulation Rapture?

The proponents of the Pre-Tribulation View present various arguments in support of their view, namely that Scripture teaches that the Rapture will happen when Jesus appears for the Church to take her with Him to heaven for a period before returning with them later during the great battle of Armageddon to establish his Messianic rule on earth. The period between the Rapture and the Second Coming (as these two eschatological events would henceforth be called) is determined by their understanding of a prophecy in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 9) which mentions a final period of seven years which they (and even many who hold to the Post-Tribulation View) take as referring to the final seven years before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. I discuss all the views on this prophecy elsewhere [3].

The relevant prophecy in the Book of Daniel (henceforth, the prophecy of Daniel) is the one about the 70 "weeks" of years (i.e. 70 x 7 = 490 years) in Daniel 9. According to this understanding of the prophecy of Daniel, God had determined a period of 490 years over the people of Israel. This period is divided into two parts, namely one of 483 years (69 "weeks" of years) and one of 7 years (1 "week" of years) [4]. The first part commenced with the royal command to rebuild the city of Jerusalem after Israel had returned from their exile to Babylon and ended when the Messiah revealed himself as King to Israel (on Palm Sunday). This had been remarkably fulfilled [5]. The last part consisting of seven years has, however, not yet been fulfilled and will only be at the end of this era before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ during the battle of Armageddon.

The classical Pre-Tribulation View believes that the Rapture will take place at the beginning of the final seven years. The Second Coming will happen only after that period has passed. In their view, this final period of seven years concerns God's plan with Israel and not the Church. The Church will, therefore, be raptured before the commencement of the final seven years. Another, more recent view, which is sometimes called the Mid-Tribulation View [6], believes that the Rapture will happen in the middle of this final seven years, i.e. 3 1/2 years before the end. Their arguments are also concerned with things mentioned in the prophecy of Daniel as well as their understanding of St. Paul's interpretation of that prophecy (in 2 Thess. 2).

I start the discussion with arguments particular to the classical view and then proceed with other Scriptures which are used more generally by proponents of the Pre-Tribulation View.

1) The final seven years and Israel

The classical Pre-Tribulation View takes the prophecy of Daniel 9 not merely as referring to events concerning Israel in the same sense as so many other such prophecies; they believe that this prophecy has dispensational significance. In the larger context of God's plan, he has established various dispensations of grace in accordance with his progressive revelation throughout the ages. Without going into too much detail, we can distinguish between the Adamic (both before and after the Fall), Noachite, Abramaitic, Mosaic, Church and Millennial dispensations during which God entered (or will enter) into various covenants with his people.

In their view, the gap between the first 69 weeks of years (483 years) and final week of years (7 years) should be understood in terms of the Church era which commenced when Israel rejected Jesus as the Messianic King (in crucifying him) and God, as a result, postponed the Messianic Kingdom to the time after the Second Coming. In this view, Jesus presented himself as the Messianic King to Israel when he entered Jerusalem on the donkey of Palm Sunday. Israel, however, did not accept him as such and the Messianic Kingdom, therefore, did not realize.

God, who in his wisdom had foreseen this outcome, then postponed the Messianic Kingdom and replaced Israel with the Church as his instrument on earth who would henceforth proclaim the Good News of his salvation. In this view, the Church did, however, not inherit the promises made to the people of Israel. The Mosaic Covenant was now replaced with the New Covenant with the Church [7].

If the gap between the first 69 weeks of years and the final seven years coincides with the Church era, then it makes sense that the Church be raptured before the final seven years, which concerns Israel (and not the Church). In that case, the first 69 weeks, as well as the final seven years, belong to the Mosaic dispensation. The final seven years would, therefore, be a return to the Mosaic dispensation (some view the last seven years as a special dispensation).

Although this scheme seems quite neat, it is not. In the first place, the first 69 weeks obviously do not coincide with the Mosaic dispensation which commenced nearly a thousand years before the seventy weeks of years of Daniel. The end of the first 69 weeks also do not coincide with the end of the Mosaic dispensation (with the crucifixion) or the beginning of the Church dispensation on Pentecost - it ended on Palm Sunday [5]. Then there is the question regarding the final seven years: Is it not strange that God would have us return to the Mosaic dispensation in the larger context of his "progressive" revelation? And: Does not such a return to an old dispensation undermine the salvation which became available through the Cross of Jesus Christ?

It seems much better to take the prophecy of Daniel as referring to events concerning Israel without trying to force it into some dispensational framework [8, 9]. And then the whole argument for the Rapture taking place seven years before the Second Coming collapses.

2) The Church in the Apocalypse

The classical Pre-Tribulation View presents a reading of the Book of Revelation in which the Church is in heaven before all the cataclysmic events described in that book begins. In their view, the twenty-four elders who are shown before God's throne in Revelation 4-5, which precedes the seals, trumpets and vials (Rev. 6-18), represent the Church in heaven before the Great Tribulation commences. Although there is no mention in the Book of Revelation that the period of the Great Tribulation would last for seven years, they believe that this would be the period mentioned in the prophecy of Daniel. A period of 3 1/2 years, which may correspond with the second part of the seven years, is mentioned.

When one considers the outline of the Book of Revelation - without trying to present a detailed discussion - one finds that the order in which things are presented in the first part of the book is as follows: 1) Jesus appears to St. John (traditional Christians usually identify the "John" who wrote the book (Rev. 1:1) with St. John, the Apostle), 2) Jesus dictates seven letters to churches in Asia Minor which stood under St. John's pastoral care (Rev. 2-3), 3) St. John is taken in a vision to heaven where he sees God on the throne, the four heavenly beasts, the seven lamps of fire (the seven-fold Spirit of God), the Lamb (Jesus) who opens the sealed scroll and the 24 elders (Rev. 4-5).

In the view of these scholars, the seven letters to the churches should be read as a prophecy which refers to seven eras into which the Church dispensation is divided. The characteristics of the churches to whom these letters were directed are then applied to corresponding eras which belong to the Church dispensation through the ages. St. John's experience in which he had a vision of heaven (after he heard the voice of Jesus which sounded like a trumpet), represents the Rapture. The 24 elders, who are then observed at the throne of God, represent the Church in heaven. All of this happens before the seals, trumpets and vials - which means that the Church will not be on earth during that terrible period.

Again, although this interpretation seems quite neat, it is not. The scholars who belong to this school often assert the importance of a "literal" reading of prophecy but in this case, they employ an allegorical reading (although they call it a "secondary" reading, it stands central to their project). They interpret the seven letters as referring to seven Church eras even though these are merely letters similar to those which, say, St. Paul wrote to various churches.

In fact, the characteristics of all seven letters belonged to the early Church period (!), in the same way that they belonged to the Church throughout the ages as well as our own time (the Church in the West is very different from the Church in China!). Although the word "church" appears only in this part of Revelation due to the structure of the book (except for Rev. 22:16), there is no reason to believe that this signifies the Church dispensation before the Rapture takes place - the appearance of the word "church" in this part of the book merely reflects the content of the letters to the seven churches. The word "church" is never used in Revelation to denote the whole Church!

These scholars interpret Jesus's loud voice (which St. John heard twice; Rev. 1:10; 4:1) as the trumpet of the Rapture and his heavenly vision as the Rapture itself even though this is described in similar terms to those of other Old Testament prophets, such as Isaiah (Is. 6). In actual fact, no trumpet is sounded and the Church is not described as being raptured - it was merely St. John's own experience!

The 24 elders can obviously represent something other than the Church since St. John himself is not included among them (say, believers who partook in the resurrection of Jesus, Matt 27:52-3). As the sealed scroll in the hand of the Lamb clearly contains the prophecies, these things preceding the opening of that scroll and the revelation of its content must be viewed as part of St. John's present and not "the things which shall be hereafter" (Rev. 1:19).

It seems much simpler to take the things mentioned in Revelation 1-5 merely as they are presented in the book, namely as events concerning St. John himself. In that case, the idea of a Rapture before the Great Tribulation again collapses.

3) Differences between the Rapture and the Second Coming

Those who hold to the Pre-Tribulation View believes that the New Testament makes a clear distinction between the Rapture and the Second Coming insofar as these are described very differently. In their view, the major difference is that passages which focus on the Rapture (John 14:3; 1 Cor. 15:51-53; 1 Th. 4:13-17) do not mention the signs which precede the Second Coming whereas passages that focus on the Second Coming usually do (the Prophetic Discours; 2 Thess. 2). According to them, this implies that the Rapture would not be preceded by those signs. Many take this as implying that the Rapture can take place at any moment.

Although this seems to be correct, there is the question regarding the Rapture in the Prophetic Discours. We read in that well-known Scriptural passage which concerns events during the Second Coming that some would be taken away whereas others would be left: "Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch, therefore for you know not at what hour your Lord doth come" (Matt. 24:40-41). Scholars from this school, however, do not take this passage as referring to the Rapture but instead applies it to God's wrath - that those persons would be taken "away" by God's wrath. As such, it is not the Rapture that is spoken of in their opinion.

There is, however, some scholars from this school who find the Rapture in St. Luke's version of the Prophetic Discours. In that case, we read: "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Luk. 21:36). These scholars justify the Rapture in this passage by taking St. Matthew's version of the Prophetic Discours as applying to the Jews in end time context and St. Luke's version as applying to Christians. As such, this passage is merely a general challenge to the Church to be ready at all times since the Rapture can come at any time.

Again, one should be careful not to come to conclusions too fast. The mentioned passages in St. Matthew and St. Luke appear in about the same place in the Prophetic Discours! This means that they most probably refer to the very same things. In fact, it seems much better to accept that since the same discourse which is recounted in St. Matthew and St. Luke was given at the same time to the same people (the disciples), that it applies to the same people, namely the Church living in Jerusalem when these things happen [10].

When one accepts that these two versions refer to the same things insofar as the Second Coming is concerned, then you find that the very same people who will go through the Tribulation according to St. Matthew's version (Matt. 24:21) will also be the ones who escape all that come to pass at the end of days in St. Luke's version, which in this case would refer to the signs concerning sun, moon and stars when God pours out his wrath on earth (Luk. 21:25, 26, 35). In this case, those who are "taken" would be participating in the Rapture which would enable them to escape God's wrath during the battle of Armageddon.

So, it seems that one may find the Rapture in the Prophetic Discours after all. In fact, the similarities between typical Rapture passages and others about the Second Coming is quite substantial: In both cases do we read that the Lord comes in the air, in both cases are angels present, in both cases are a trumpet blown (the "last" trumpet) and in both cases are the elect gathered from the ends of the earth and heaven.The reason why the signs of the Second Coming are not discussed in typical Rapture passages may be merely due to the fact that the theme in those passages is the resurrection and not the signs (Th. 4:13; 1 Cor. 15:12).

Believers who distinguish between the Rapture and the Second Coming often refers to the image of a thief which comes unexpectedly as applying uniquely to the Rapture. They argue that Jesus says that this is how the Rapture would be (Matt. 24:43). The problem for their view is that this warning in the Prophetic Discours appears in the context of the Second Coming during Armageddon! We find the same in the Apocalypse where we read in the middle of the discussion of Armageddon that the Lord would come as a thief:

"For they [the three unclean spirits which look like frogs] are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walks naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon" (Rev. 16:14-16).

Clearly, the image of the thief is applied to Jesus's Coming during Armageddon. As such, one should maybe understand it in the terms mentioned by St. Paul: "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day would overtake you as a thief" (1 Thess. 5:4-5).

Image result for left behind
The 2014 film "Left Behind" depicts a Pre-Tribulation Rapture
4) The Church escapes God's wrath

Those who hold to the Pre-Tribulation View often identifies the Great Tribulation - either the whole period of seven years or that of 3 1/2 years - with the time of God's wrath. As such, they argue that God would not expose the Church to his wrath, which is why she will be raptured before that happens.

It is true that Scripture teaches that the Church would not come in God's wrath: "For God had not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:9). We also find that the examples that Jesus gives in the Prophetic Discours to elucidate the time of his Coming, namely that of Noah and Lot, also involved the physical removal of his people from the place on which God poured out his wrath. The question is, however, when is the time of God's wrath? Does it coincide with the final seven years or with the last 3 1/2 years or does it happen during the battle of Armageddon? If the last is the case, then this argument does not work.

The only place where we find any clue in this regard, is in the Book of Revelation. The problem is, however, that this book is interpreted so differently. Take the seals, trumpets and vials. Do they all concern God's wrath? The breaking of the seals merely concern the revealing of the prophetic part of the book and they include the seven trumpets (under the seventh seal) as well as the seven vials (under the seventh trumpet).

One may take the events described after the first six seals were broken as a broad summary of what is to come (Rev. 6). That includes the four horsemen, the martyrs seen before the throne as well as the destruction of the world when the sun will become black as a sackcloth of hair, the moon will become red as blood, the stars of heaven will fall on the earth and the heavens will be rolled together like a scroll (Rev. 6:12-17). That means that the destruction of heaven and earth in the day of God's wrath would only take place at the end even though it is mentioned already at this early stage in the book.

Furthermore, although the seven trumpets lead to destruction on various levels, one does find that the images used (such as the description of the locusts; Rev. 9) appear elsewhere in Scripture as a symbol associated with invading armies (Joel 2:1-10). Consistent with such a view - that the trumpets describe a war and related events - we do, in fact, read that Jerusalem will be tread under foot during that time for a period of 3 1/2 years. This means that these things refer to God's indirect wrath (i.e. war) which Christians of all ages had been exposed to.

It is only in the context of the seven vials that explicit mention is made of God's wrath. Now, as these seven vials are closely identified with the great battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16), one may propose that they do, in fact, refer to the final events of this era. If the wrath of God is only poured out during the great battle of Armageddon, then there is no reason why the Church should be raptured years (or even days) before that time.

The words "great tribulation" used in St. Matthew's version of the Prophetic Discours (Matt. 24:21), as well as in Revelation (Rev. 7:14), obviously means that millions (?) of Christians would be severely persecuted during that time. It is, after all, the "Great" Tribulation! These martyrs are mentioned throughout Revelation (Rev. 6:9-11; 7:9-17; 15:2-3; 20:4). They are accorded a very special place even though they are not part of the Church, who will be raptured before that time, according to these scholars! In fact, we read that God's wrath is exactly to avenge the death of these Christians (Rev. 19:1-2)! So, it seems that the "great tribulation" concerns Christians and is not part of God's wrath.

Although scholars from this school of thought interprets the passage in the Letter to the Church in Philadelphia that they would be kept from "the hour of temptation" (Rev. 3:10) as applying to the Great Tribulation, it seems more sensible to apply this to the particular circumstances of that church during the Roman persecutions. On the whole, it seems that there is no real Scriptural support for conflating the Great Tribulation with God's wrath.

5) A Mid-Tribulation Rapture?

We can now focus more particularly on the view that the Rapture will occur in the middle of the final seven years. According to this view, the Church will be raptured 3 1/2 years before the end. Of particular importance to this view is that which will happen in the middle of the final seven years, namely an "abomination" which will occur in the temple and which will leave it desolate (see Dan. 9:27). In their view, the Rapture will happen directly after this event. They base their arguments on their interpretation of St. Paul's discussion of this future event in his second epistle to the church of Thessalonica.

According to Jesus, the "abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, (which will) stand in the holy place" (Matt. 24:15) will signal that the end is at hand. The "great tribulation" will follow directly after this event (Matt. 24:21). Then, immediately after the tribulation of those days, shall the sun be darkened, the moon will not give her light and the stars will fall from heaven. Then will the "Son of man" (Jesus) appear in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matt. 24:30-31).

St. Paul also discusses this event in 2 Thessalonians 2. He says that a very wicked person will appear at that time whom he calls the "man of sin" and the "son of perdition". He will oppose God and exalt himself above all gods or forms of worship. As such, he will sit in the temple and present himself as the manifestation of God. Clearly, this refers to the final Antichrist who will appear at the end of days. Obviously, Christians (and Jews) will not worship him in this way, which explains why the Great Tribulation will follow.

How does this relate to the Rapture? St. Paul says that the day of the Coming of the Lord and of our "gathering together unto him" (the Rapture) shall not happen except there come a falling away first (i.e. from the worship of the true God) and this evil person be revealed in the way described above (2 Thess. 2:1-3). This means that the Rapture will only happen after the Antichrist has revealed himself as such through an abomination in the temple.

Although this passage by St. Paul implies that the Rapture will happen after the abomination in the temple (in the middle of the final seven years), it does not necessarily mean that it will happen immediately thereafter. In fact, we read in the same passage that Jesus Christ will destroy the Antichrist with his Coming, which may mean that this is also when the Church will be united with their Lord: "And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and destroy with the brightness of his coming" (2 Thess. 2:8).

There is, however, one more issue regarding this passage to be discussed, namely the reference to one who (and that which) will withhold the Antichrist from revealing himself before the appointed time (2 Thess. 2:6, 7). A lot had been written about this. Few other Biblical passages are so unclear and had been interpreted so divergent. As such, this is not a passage that should take a central place in any eschatological view.

Nonetheless, Pre-Tribulational scholars often interpret the one who will withhold the Antichrist as the Church (or the Holy Spirit) which means that the Antichrist will only be revealed after the Church had been raptured. This, however, does not make sense for the simple reason that St. Paul refers to something as well as someone who withholds the revelation of the Antichrist. The first is referred to as something ("what") which withholds and the second as "one" who withholds the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:6, 7). Neither the Church nor the Holy Spirit is ever referred to in the Bible as something (a "what"). The Church is always "she" and the Holy Spirit "he". This means that St. Paul does not have the Church in mind in this passage!

What did he have in mind? This can obviously not be answered for sure. We do, however, know how the early Church understood this passage. They believed that "the one" who will withhold the revelation of the Antichrist is the Cesar (as he occupies his place) and that "that" which will withhold him is the Roman empire, which will be replaced by the empire of the Antichrist (for a detailed discussion, see [11]).

A Post-Tribulation Rapture?

This brings us to the view that the Rapture will happen during the Second Coming. In this view, there are not two distinct events called the Rapture and the Second Coming which will happen some time apart. Rather, the Rapture happens when the saints will meet the Lord in the air with his Second Coming during the battle of Armageddon. Jesus will take them away from earth before pouring his wrath on the nations gathered against Jerusalem. Their arguments are the following:

1) The Greek words used

Scholars from the Post-Tribulation View mention that there are three Greek words used in the New Testament by St. Paul for the Second Coming, namely "parousia" (coming), "apokalupsis" (revealing) and "epiphaneia" (appearance). If he made a clear distinction between the Rapture and the Second Coming, then one expects that he would have used one term exclusively for the Rapture and another for the Second Coming. This is not the case. What we find, is that all three terms are used for the Rapture as well the Second Coming, which implies that he did not view them as two different events.

Parousia: 1 Thess. 4:15 (Rapture); 2 Thess. 2:8 (during Armageddon)
Apokalupsis: 1 Cor. 1:7 (Rapture); 2 Thess. 1:7, 8 (during Armageddon)
Epiphaneia: 1 Tim. 6:14 (Rapture); 2 Thess. 2:8 (during Armageddon)

We also find in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-6, that well-known passage about the Rapture quoted above, that the word which is used to describe our meeting with the Lord in the air is "apantesis" which denotes a going forth to meet someone and then return from where one came. We also find the word used in Matthew 25:6 and Acts 28:15 (and extra-Biblical papyrus texts) where it has this meaning. In Acts, this word is used to describe the going forth of the brethren from Rome to meet St. Paul after which they returned with him to that city. This meaning of the word implies that the Church will meet the Lord in the air and then return with him (in their glorified bodies) to stand on Mount of Olives during the great battle of Armageddon (see Zechariah 14:3-5).

2) The Rapture in the Book of Revelation

The Post-Tribulation View asserts that there is only one passage in Revelation where the Rapture is clearly depicted. That depiction is similar to the description in the Prophetic Discours, namely that the Son of Man will come with the clouds of heaven and send his angel(s) to gather the elect from all over the earth (Rev. 14:14-16). In Revelation, the image used for the gathering of the elect during the Second Coming is the grain harvest. This is also how Jesus depicts the gathering of the saints in the parable of the tares and wheat (Matt. 13:24-30).

The grain harvest seems to include both the gathering of the living saints (Rapture) and those who had died (resurrection). The reason for thinking so is that the cutting of the first sheaf of barley early on the first day of the week directly following the Passover (and waving it before God in the temple) symbolized the resurrection of Jesus Christ - who was joined with other resurrected saints on that occasion (Matt 27:52-3). In St. Paul's discussion of the order of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he says that this will happen as follows: first Christ as the firstfruits (the first sheaf) and then the general resurrection of the just which will take place at his coming (1 Cor. 15:23).

Now, in Revelation, we read about two harvests which are depicted one after the other, namely the grain harvest and the grape harvest (Rev. 14:14-20). These are depicted towards the end of the book and seems to be a forewarning of things that will happen towards the end. The first is clearly the gathering of the saints. The second refers to events during the battle of Armageddon which is compared to a wine press: "[the angel] gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city [Jerusalem], and the blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs" (Rev. 14:15-16). The same image is repeated in Revelation 19:11-21 where the Second Coming of Jesus Christ during the battle is described in some detail.

It seems that in the Book of Revelation the Rapture is depicted as happening at the time of the great battle of Armageddon.

3) The first resurrection

Throughout Scripture, we read that there will be two general resurrections, namely that of the just and that of the unjust (Dan. 12:2; Joh. 5:29). In the Book of Revelation, these are called the "first resurrection" and the "second death" (Rev. 20:4-6). The first resurrection is so called because there will be no general resurrection before that and the second one is so called since it would be a resurrection unto eternal damnation (called the "second death").

In Revelation, the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6) is described directly after the great battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11-21). We read that the martyrs who have died at the hands of the "beast" during the period of severe persecution which preceded the Second Coming will be among those resurrected during the "first resurrection". They will reign with Jesus Christ after his victory over the "beast" (which seems to refer to the final Antichrist) during the great battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11-21). Clearly, the "first resurrection" cannot happen before the Second Coming as these martyrs are included at that event. This means that the Rapture, during which the first general resurrection is to take place, cannot happen before the Second Coming.

4) The Church in the Great Tribulation

There are two important passages used by Post-Tribulation scholars in support of their view that the Church will indeed be in the Great Tribulation, namely Revelation 14:13 and 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8.

In Revelation 14 we read about various angels who appear to make announcements. The first announces that the "hour of the judgment of God has come" (Rev. 14:7). The second announces that the great Babylon is fallen (Rev. 14:8) (see [12] for a detailed discussion). The third announces God's wrath upon those who worship the "beast" and his image. Then a voice was heard saying: "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth. Yes, sayeth the Spirit: that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them" (Rev. 14:13). This is followed by the depictions of the grain and grape harvest discussed above.

Now, this passage clearly refers to those Christians who will die during that period of severe persecution when the "beast" will kill many. They will receive a special reward or crown for their heroic faith and deeds during the reign of the beast. Now, we read that they die "in the Lord". This is a technical term, first introduced by St. Paul, which is used to refer to those who belong to the Church. They are "in the Lord" in the sense of belonging to his body, the Church. So, here we find an explicit reference to saints belonging to the Church who will be in the Great Tribulation.

In 2 Thessalonians 1:4-8 we read: "So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer; Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble [persecute] you; And to you who are troubled rest [relieve] with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking revenge on them that know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ".

In this passage St. Paul speaks in the expectation that the Second Coming could have taken place during his own lifetime. As such, he viewed the persecution that the Church was suffering at that time as possibly being the last and final one before the Lord returns. This means that he is talking of the Great Tribulation which will precede the Second Coming of Jesus Christ when he will pour his wrath on those who persecuted the Church. Furthermore, he is clearly thinking that the Church will be in that tribulation as they will only be saved from that by the return of the Lord. And since he includes himself among those who will be so saved (clearly through the Rapture) there cannot be any doubt that he thought that the Church will be in the Great Tribulation.

The thrust of this passage is that the Church will get relief from the Great Tribulation by the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Church will, therefore, be in the Great Tribulation.


In this essay, I discuss the main views on the Rapture. Clearly, Christians have very different views regarding the time of the Rapture. What is, however, important, is that one should not defend any particular view merely for the sake of defending it but should rather have an openness to be convinced by the Scriptures. Obviously, we will have only a partial knowledge of these things until the time of the fulfilment of the prophecies.

In my critical analysis of all the main arguments of the various views, I have not found any passage in support of the Pre-Tribulation View. Although one may read some passages in that way, closer scrutiny seems to suggest that such readings are not convincing. In contrast, there are some passages that explicitly place the Church in the Great Tribulation (Rev. 14:13; 2 Thess. 1:6-7). It seems that the outpouring of God's wrath at Armageddon is, in fact, in retribution for the killing and persecution of the saints who suffered so much during the Great Tribulation.

We should take heed of St. Paul's words that persecution renders the Church "worthy" of the kingdom of God. Clearly, the Christian martyrs have a very special place in God's plan. This makes the idea that the Church will escape persecution an unworthy one.

[1] The view which distinguishes between the Rapture and the Second Coming (during Armageddon), includes various schools of thought regarding the length of the period between these events. Some believe that this in-between period will last 7 years, others 3 1/2 years and still others 50 or some other number of days. There are also those who think that the Church as a whole will not be raptured, but only a selected groups of saints. The rest will be "left behind" to face the Great Tribulation on earth.
[2] Those Christians who use the word Rapture, usually believe that the Second Coming during the battle of Armageddon will lead to the Messianic reign of Jesus Christ on earth for one thousand years (called the Millennium). Christians who do not believe in the Millennium usually steer clear of the term "Rapture". Insofar as they, however, believe that the saints will be "caught up" in the clouds to meet Christ in the air during the Second Coming, they do, in fact, believe in this eschatological event. As such, the Rapture is something that all traditional Christians believe in.
[3] The period is actually divided into three parts, namely seven, sixty-two and one, weeks of years. As the first two parts are consecutive, one may treat them together as one period.
[4] The final seven years: The different views
[5] A very remarkable prophecy
[6] The term Mid-Tribulation implies that the Great Tribulation will last for seven years and that the Rapture will happen in the middle thereof. Most of the proponents of this view, however, do not think that the Great Tribulation will last for seven years but only for the last three-and-a-half years. As such, their view is actually Pre-Tribulational. Their version of the Pre-Tribulation View differs from the classical one in that they regard the duration of the Tribulation differently.
[7] The close association of the classical Pre-Tribulation View with Dispensationalism (the theory about the various dispensations) has led some scholars (especially from Covenant Theology circles) to think that this view is, in fact, what Dispensationalism teaches. It is not. It is merely one particular reading of Dispensationalism. A much more streamlined view of Dispensationalism would merely take the current dispensation as continuing until the end of this era with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
[8] In this case, one would reject the idea of a "postponed Messianic Kingdom". You would merely take the replacement of the Mosaic dispensation with the Christian one (in which the Mosaic Covenant is replaced with the New Covenant) as having been God's plan all along.
[9] Insofar as one excepts that God still has a plan for Israel (see Rom. 11:25-32) you cannot adhere to a "replacement theology" which replaces Israel with the Church even within the context of Bible prophecy. Replacement theology sees no further role for Israel in God's plan.
[10] One may view the Prophetic Discours as a multiple prophecy concerning both the events of 70 AD and those happening at the Second Coming. In that case, one may furthermore take St. Matthew's version as primarily concerned with the latter and St. Luke's version as also being concerned with the first.
[11] When can the Second Coming of Jesus Christ be expected?
[12] The final Antichrist: the different views

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)
The author has written a few books on eschatology including Op pad na Armageddon, 31 bepeinsinge oor Openbaring en ander Bybelprofesieë (1995). He has a Masters in Philosophy (University of Cape Town) as well as a PhD in Physics (University of Natal). He writes and lectures on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

If readers find the essay important for current debate, they are welcome to share it or forward it to others.

Read also
Bible prophecy: predicting the distant future?
The rise of the final world empire: the different views
The final seven years: the different views
The final Antichrist: the different views
When can the Second Coming of Jesus be expected?

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