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Partial Rapture Theory

by Dr. Paul Lee Tan (1/10/00)


     The Partial Rapture Theory, a minority view among pretribulationists, affirms that the rapture-resurrection of believers is for those only who are "watching and waiting" for Christ's return.  Not all believers will be raptured; only those who have some degree of spiritual attainment which makes them worthy of the rapture.  Thus, the SUBJECTS, not the TIMING, of the rapture is at issue.  And genuine, not merely professing, Christians are its subjects.  The rapture is viewed as a reward, not a privilege.

      After the initial rapture of all "prepared" believers at Christ's return in the air, several groups will be raptured during the tribulation--as they are spiritually prepared.  The tribulation will "purge" the leftover believers from their sin and carnality (based on Rev. 7:9-14; 12:5; 16:15).  However, if such believers did not change at all during the tribulation, they would even miss the second coming and the millennium--to be resurrected at the end of the millennium (Rev. 20:5).

     One major purpose of the tribulation is the testing of lukewarm, shallow, Laodicean Christians, going through the tribulation.  Like the foolish virgins, they were left behind, because they were not watchful.

     This restrictive view of the rapture was first articulated in the mid-19th century by a small group of pretribulationists in England.  Their main publication was The Dawn.  The first proponent of the modern theory of partial rapture was Robert Govett (1853), but its ablest proponent was G. H. Lang.  Leaders, such as D. M. Panton (editor of The Dawn), R. Govett, D.M.Panton, G.H.Pember, J.A.Seiss, Austin Sparks, and a few others, sincerely taught and wrote.  But they were mostly considered heterodox by their fellow pretribulationists.

     Some "proof texts" of the partial rapturists are: (1) Matt. 24:41-42 "Two women shall be grinding...one shall be taken"; (2) Luke 21:36 "Watch...that ye may be accounted worthy to escape..."; (3) I Cor. 15:23 "Every man in his own order," showing a division in the ranks of believers; (4) Phil. 3:11, where even Paul was in doubt about his own resurrection; (5) 2 Tim. 4:8 "Unto all that love his appearing"; (6) Heb. 9:28 "Unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time..."; (7) Rev. 3:10 "Because thou hast kept the word...I also will keep from the hour...") 


     Most evangelicals reject the Partial Rapture Theory for the following reasons:

     (1) Most of the above "proof texts" are wrongly interpreted to deal with the Rapture (instead of the Second Coming); other texts simply described the positional sanctification of every believer; and the Philippians passage describes Paul's desire to excel (not just to be present) at the rapture.

     (2) The partial rapture theory, based on a works principle,  adversely affects the doctrine of soteriology.  Evangelical usually carries over to the rapture experience the strong belief of "salvation by grace alone." 

     (3) The Scripture pictures the Body of Christ as one unit.  And if division is indicated, it is usually between true or professing (false) believer.  But partial rapturists further divided the former into worthy and unworthy believers.  This splits the Body of Christ.

     (4) The Rapture passages pictures an all-inclusive coverage: 1 Cor. 15:51 ("we...all"); 1 Thess. 4:14 ("if we believe Jesus died and rose again": a cardinal belief); verse 16 ("dead in Christ"); 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 2:19; 5:4-11)

     (5) 1 Thess. 5:9-10 ("Whether we wake or sleep") could be contextually translated as "whether we watch or are unwatchful."

     (6) If unprepared living believers must go through the tribulation, then logically unprepared dead believers must also be in some sort of "purgatory."  And nowhere does the Bible teach a purgatory.


     G. H. Pember, The Great Prophecies (London: R. F. Fleming H. Revell Co., 1912);

     R. Govett, Entrance into the Kingdom (London: Charles J. Thynne, 1923);

     G.H. Lang, Firstborn Sons Their Rights and Risks (London: Oliphants Ltd., 1943);

     D. M. Panton, The Letters to the Seven Churches (London: R. F. Hunger Printer, 1912);

     D. M. Panton, The Dawn (magazine);

     George L. Rose, Tribulation Till Translation (Glendale, CA: Rose Pub., Co., 1943);

     Charles H. Welch,The Testimony of the Lord's Prisoner (London: Fred P. Brininger, n.d.).



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