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The Pretribulational Rapture

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

 

     People all over the world are interested in the future, and asking the question: "What will happen to this world? What is in the future?"

     Christians today have two different answers about the future. Some Christians say that we must first go through the Great Tribulation. Other Christians say that we will suddenly be raptured to meet Christ in the air. Who are correct?

     This issue is very important, because it will affect our hope, joy, and Christian life.

I. What is Great
   Tribulation

     First, let us define what is the Great Tribulation. Jesus said: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matt. 24:21).

     Here Jesus defined the Tribulation as an unprecedented time of suffering and trials on earth.

     Most of the book of Revelation, from chapter 6 to chapter 18, deals with the Great Tribulation. Even starting in chapter 6 (verse 8), one-fourth of the world's population is already killed. And another one-third of world population died in chapter 9 (verse 18). This has never happened in world history.

     Thus, the Tribulation is not normal human sufferings and trials. This will be a technical period of future time (7 years) when God will rain down unprecedented judgments, the Antichrist will sign a false treaty with Israel and then destroy the Temple (Dan. 9:27), all waters on earth turn into dead-men's blood (Rev. 16:3), all cities on earth collapsed (Rev. 16:19), and so on.

II. What is the
    Rapture

     The word "rapture" is taken from I Thess. 4:17 ("caught up"). That whole passage (vs. 13-18) describes the coming of Christ in the air. Two major events occur in that split second: (1) The dead in Christ "rise first," then (2) Those who are alive are "changed" into glorified immortal bodies. Together, all believers meet Christ in the air, in the clouds--and forever will be "with the Lord" in heaven. (Another passage: I Cor. 15:50-52).

     NOTE: Other passages in the Bible describe Christ coming onto the earth together with the saints (Rev. 19), "every eye will see Him" (Rev. 1:7), and He will start the Millennial Kingdom on earth (Rev. 20). This event is called "the Second Advent." It occurs at the end of the Tribulation, and it is different from the Rapture.

III. Which comes
    first--Tribulation
    or Rapture?

     We believe that the Rapture comes first, for the following reasons:

     (1) Revelation 3:10

     "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth."

     True Christians are assured deliverance from the world-wide Tribulation. They will be "kept from the hour" of unprecedented distress.

     (2) II Thess. 2:6-8

     "And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed..."

     Paul explains that "the lawless one" (Antichrist) is coming to earth someday. However, there is another Person who is "holding him back." And when the latter is "taken out of the way" (v. 7), then the Antichrist will be revealed. Obviously, only God the Holy Spirit could hold back the Antichrist, and the only possible occasion for the world-wide withdrawal of the Holy Spirit's "residence" (not "presence") from earth is at the Rapture of the Church.

     Thus, the Rapture must first take place and then the Antichrist will start the Tribulation.

     (3) No Church After
           Revelation 3

     It is amazing that Revelation chapters 1-3 are full of "churches." But after John was called up to heaven (4:1), we do not see any churches mentioned anymore on earth in Revelation. There were "the elect" and "saints" but not "churches." The believers at the Great Tribulation belong to a different dispensation (like the Old Testament saints).

     (4) Daniel's "Seventy
          Week" Prophecy
          (Dan. 9:24-27)

     In this passage, God decreed a time of "Seventy Sevens" for the Jews ("your people and your city," v.24). The angel even gave us its starting point (rebuiding of Jerusalem) and its ending point (coming of Messiah). Simple chronological calculations make it clear that: (a) The first 69-sevens ended when Jesus Christ was crucified in A.D. 32; (b) The last 70th-sevens will start at the future Great Tribulation; (c) The intervening time between Christ's crucifixion and the Great Tribulation is, of course, the Church Age.

     Therefore, since the Bible did not overlap the Church Age (for Christians) with the Tribulation (for the Jews), we should not overlap the two periods.

     (5) The Nature of the
           Tribulation

     As mentioned above, Jesus defined the Great Tribulation as "unprecedented" (Matt. 24:21). It is God's wrath, filled to the brim, falling on the world. A simple reading of tribulational passages describes it as world-wide and utterly unprecedented. No one may hope to escape it. Christians, however, are assured of escaping God's wrath and condemnation (Rom. 8:1; I Thess. 5:9)

     (6) Second Coming Passages
           --3,000 verses

     If we lump the thousands of verses on Christ's coming into one single event, we are faced with many contradictions. Some verses tell of Christ coming in the air, other verses say Christ is coming to the earth. Some verses give us no signs ("like a thief in the night"); other verses give us lots of signs. Some verses say that those "in Christ" will be involved; other verses say that "every eye shall see Him." From some verses, we read of the blessed hope and great comfort; from others, it is judgment time and distress. In order to read Bible prophecy logically, we must see two major events (rapture and second advent)--separated in time.

 

 

 

     (7) Early Church Belief:
           Imminency

     The early church believed that Christ could come at any moment. "Maranatha" was their watchword. They did go through the Roman persecution and terrible tribulations, but that was not the Great Tribulation. Obviously, since the early Christians believed in the imminent return of Christ, they could not have believed on an intervening unprecedented Tribulation.

     (8) Doctrine of the
           Millennium

     The Bible teaches that Christ will come to reign on the earth for one thousand years. This was the unanimous belief of the early church. They even coined the word: "Chiliasm" (thousand). All raptured Christians would return with Christ to reign over the millennial earth. The millennial earth would also be populated by mortal, non-raptured inhabitants, who would live long lives, have children, eat and sleep, etc. These millennial people would be believers who had survived the Great Tribulation, as the Antichrist would lost some control at the tribulation's end (due to supernatural judgments).

     Post-tribulationism considers it a dilemma to have non-resurrected millennial people. They cannot explain the Biblically recorded revolt at the end of the millennium in Rev. 20:7-9. Therefore, post-tribulationists ultimately end up neglecting (or denying) the Millennium and the literal interpretation of it. Lesson: To accept the literal Millennium, one must be pre-tribulational.

     (9) Literal Interpretation
           of Prophecy

     Jesus tells us to "understand" prophecy (Matt. 24:15). In order to clearly understand anything, one must use the literal method of interpretation. When we listen to a speaker, we do not try to second guess him, or assume that he is speaking in symbols and figures. We respect him by taking him at his word; we assume that he means what he says and says what he means. This is called "literal interpretation." Among the various positions on prophecy, the Pretribulational Rapture position is the most consistently literal position. As a result, it makes Bible prophecy clear and understandable to the believers.

     (10) No One Knows Time of
           His Coming

     Jesus tells us that we cannot know when He is coming (Matt. 24:36). And anyone who "set dates" are false prophets. If we believe the church must pass through the Tribulation, then it is possible to set dates for Christ's Second Coming.

     For instance, post- tribulatonists could count 7 years after the Antichrist unites 10 nations of the Revived Roman Empire (Europe) and signs a peace treaty with Israel--and then Christ comes. Or, better still, they could count three-and-one-half years after Antichrist sits in the Jerusalem Temple and stops all sacrifices, and then wait for Christ to come.

     Conversely, pre-tribulatonists say Christ is coming "at any moment" and we must always be ready for His coming.

IV. What are we
     to do?

     First, be sure you have believed on Christ as your personal Saviour.

     There is nothing more futile and hopeless than to defend your past life before God, the Eternal Judge. At the Great White Throne, God's requirement would be pure white. The Bible give us the only way out of eternal condemnation: "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sins" (1 John 1:7).

     Right now, you may receive God's gift of forgiveness and eternal life.

     Jesus Christ purchased your redemption through His blood on the Cross. You need not understand it all to be saved--only understand that God offers you a full pardon for sin in Christ. Right now, in your own way, thank Jesus for dying for your sins and invite Him into your heart.

     As a saved believer, you will not have to go through the Great Tribulation.

     Then, be watching and working for Christ.

     In Matthew 24:45, Christ looks for the "faithful and wise servant" who will be rewarded when He comes. The standard for God's rewards and praise is faithfulness. Watch for the Lord's soon return, and do everything "as unto the Lord" (Col. 3:23,24). Share the good news of salvation with others, have fellowship with fellow believers, and maintain a healthy Christian life. Christ wants to find us busy at work for Him, and not idly waiting for Him.

     "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (I Cor. 15:58).

STATEMENT OF FAITH OF BIBLE COMMUNICATIONS, INC  (<tanbible.com>):

WE BELIEVE in the imminent return of the Lord for His church before the Seven-year Tribulation Period, and in His subsequent glorious and visible return to the earth with His saints to establish His millennial kingdom."

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