An Examination of the Rapture: Five Crucial Facts
This a letter that my friend Josh Kirkland sent me. It is a response that he gave a pastor friend who sent him a teaching in support of the pre-trib rapture doctrine. He examines the points in Biblical context, and offers a different contextual view of the Scripture. So often we read the Bible through the spectacles of what we have heard and been taught without examining it for ourselves. As you read this, please, try to remove your feelings and seriously study what is written. Sometimes we need to remove to spectacles of our own understanding to derive a paradigm shift, which will either strengthen our stance, or open our up our eyes to a greater understanding.
“Hey brother, I listened to the Wednesday night teaching you gave me about the rapture. I listened to it twice. He mentions five reasons for what he believes proves the pre-trib rapture. I wanted to share with you some thoughts on why I think all five reasons he shared do not necessitate a pre-trib rapture of the church. I am open to the study of the scriptures pertaining to eschatology and especially the return of Christ. I honestly find little biblical support for a pre-trib rapture based on his following five reasons.
- No one knows the day or hour (mid or post-trib the day and hour is known)
- He comes like a thief in the night (mid or post-trib cannot be possible for this)
- We are told to look for Christ, not antichrist
- Between Revelation 4-19 there is no mention of the church
- The church never is punished for the sins of the world
I want to take each one of these and individually explain why each one does not demand a pre-trib rapture. Although you know my heart, I will still say that none of what I say is to be divisive or taken the wrong way on any level. I am just hungry for truth and would like to share with you what I feel is a biblical refutation of these five statements. Before I get to these five statements, I want to start by saying a few things about the rapture subject in general. The passage of scripture that was referenced in the teaching from Wednesday was 1Thess.4:13-17. There are a few things I would like to expound on in this passage of scripture
13But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Honestly, just reading the scripture for what it says, does it sound like it is describing a secret snatch into heaven or the highly visible and climatic return of the Lord. I want to expound on the three things that are highlighted and how they shed light on the meaning of this passage. Before going any further, the fact that we make reference to the rapture as a separate event from the coming of the Lord creates a problem. Paul himself said that at the coming of the Lord we would be caught up (raptured) to meet the Lord in the air. Rather than debating the timing of the rapture (pre, mid, or post), we need only ask when does Jesus return (Matt.24:3,29-31). The rapture is what happens at the coming of the Lord. You cannot have the coming of the Lord without a rapture and more importantly, you cannot have a rapture without the coming of the Lord. They are biblically inseparable. AT THE COMING OF THE LORD WE WILL BE CAUGHT UP.
I find it interesting that one of the most detailed passages describing the highly visible and climatic second coming of the Lord is reduced to a passage that speaks of a secret and silent “snatch” in which Jesus himself does not even come as Paul declares, but secretly and quietly peeks himself through the clouds and catches us upward and quickly retreats back to heaven. As we will see, the very words used in this passage refute this idea of a “peek a boo” appearance. The first word I want to expound on is the word coming. It is the Greek word Parousia. This is one of the several Greek words used interchangeably to speak of Christ’s return to earth. The very word is used in Matthew 24:3 when the disciples asked Jesus what would be the sign of his coming and the end of the age. It is used in several other passages such as Matt.24:27,37; 1Cor.15:23; 1Thess.2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2Thess.2:1-9; Jas.5:7-8; 2Pet.3:4; 3:12 for examples. The word literally means “presence” in reference to the return of Christ. My question is this. How do you have a catching away (rapture) without a “parousia” if it is at the “parousia” that we are caught up (raptured)? Once again, they are inseparable.
It is at this “parousia” that Jesus will DESCEND FROM HEAVEN TO INVADE EARTH. It is highly important to take note that at this time of invasion from the King, he comes forth with a “cry of command” (ESV translation). Other translations read “a shout”. This Greek word is “keleuma” and literally means “war cry”. Very appropriate word to be used in describing the KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS invading earth and inflicting vengeance on the ungodly while at the same time deliverance for the righteous (2Thess.1:6-10; Rev.19:11-16).
Moving on, the next word is “meet”. This word comes from the Greek “apantesis” and literally means “a meeting”. What is worth taking note is the fact that this word was used in the papyri of a newly arriving magistrate. The special idea of the word was the official welcome a of a newly arrived dignitary which is of course also highly appropriate for us welcoming Christ the King. “Apantesis” is used only three times in scripture. That is in Matt.25:1,6; Acts28:15; and 1Thess.4:17. In all three accounts, it is a meeting and returning with. Having looked at these words thus far, we must understand how they are used together with a biblical understanding. The king would come in his parousia in which citizens would go out to apantesis (that is meet and return with) him. The citizens would meet, greet, and usher back into the village the coming king. That is how scripture itself portrays the use of this word in all three examples.
Scriptural example #1 (Matt.25:1-10)
″Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet (apantesis) the bridegroom… at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet (apantesis) him… the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. (v.1)
Notice the bridegroom didn’t meet the virgins and then turned around and went back from the direction he came with the virgins, but continued in his original direction escorted with the virgins.
Scriptural example #2 (Acts 28:15)
14There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. 15And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet (apantesis)us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. 16And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier that guarded him.
Notice that Paul and companions did not meet the brothers and then turn around and take them to the direction from which they came, but were escorted back by the brothers.
Scriptural example #3 (1Thess.4:16-17)
16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Notice that Jesus the King is on His way to earth in His “parousia” in which we will have an “apantesis” in the air and He will continue in His downward descent to earth with us at His “war cry” and triumphant procession. This is accompanied by the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God.
So we can see here that Paul has in mind the highly climatic and visible return of the Lord in which we will be caught up (raptured) to meet Him in the air. According to pre-trib teaching, the second coming is really the third coming of which scripture gives no support. Only the second coming of the Lord is spoken of.
This is not everything that can be said about 1Thess.4:13-17 but a few things to ponder in light of the study of the catching away.
Now, to expound on the five statements from the Wednesday night’s teaching.
1) No one knows the day or hour (In mid or post-trib the day and hour is known)
I believe that text out of context is only pretext. Context is the key to understand any passage of scripture. On that we should all agree. Having said that, I honestly feel much pre-trib teaching is text out of context resulting in pretext. Statements like this one made is a perfect example. If I were to say “no one knows the day or hour of Jesus’ return” and leave it at that. Than yes, that sounds pre-trib. Although, If I read this passage in context it completely does away with the thought of a pre-trib rapture. Especially since we now know that Paul relates the rapture and the second coming together in one event. In context we read…
29“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 32″From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 36“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.
Concerning what day and hour? The day and hour Jesus returns which a few verses earlier Jesus says is “immediately after the tribulation of those days”. Every reference Jesus made to His coming was his highly visible climatic second coming. Pre-trib teaching says Jesus will come first “secret and silent” for the church and then his “second coming” seven years later. This is lacking strong biblical support. Jesus himself warned against false teaching concerning his coming and even warned against the idea of a secret coming.
24For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25See, I have told you beforehand. 26So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
He is making the point that there will be no mistake, people will know when he comes.
7Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
2) He comes like a thief in the night (mid or post-trib cannot be possible for this)
First off, it is interesting to take note of the fact that Jesus’ first coming was preceded by many prophecies, signs, etc. There were those anticipating the coming Messiah and recognized him when he arrived. On the other hand, there were many religious leaders who not only did not recognize the Messiah that came in fulfillment of prophecies. They completely rejected him altogether not knowing of their day of visitation. If that is true of his first coming, why not his second coming as well. Pre-trib says that if all the “signs” are taking place during the tribulation period, how can he come by surprise like a thief in the night? The answer is as follows… The thief in the night concept applies to the wicked and godless people of this age, not the people of God. That day will never be like a thief in the night for the church but always for the wicked.
2For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief.
We will be here for that day, but not surprised. Paul distinguishes between “people” “them” “they” and “you”. “You” being the church while “people” “them” and “they” refer to the unregenerated people of this age. It is for them that the day of the Lord will come like a thief which speaks of Jesus‘ climatic second coming.
It is also worth taking note how Peter makes reference to the “thief in the night”.
10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.11Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
How do we wait for and hasten the coming day of God if we vanished 7 years earlier?
Here Peter refers to what even pre-trib teaching says is the final second coming of the Lord and says it will come like a thief in the night. The thief in the night concept is not so much a secret or silent event (heavenly bodies burned up and earth exposed) as much as it is quick and sudden destruction. Not so much a secretive burglar as we know today, but a wild bandit that comes through town and takes suddenly and violently unto himself (Lk.21:34-35).
Even in the book of Revelation when speaking of the seven bowls and God’s wrath we read the following from Jesus himself. ”Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” This is clearly after the tribulation has begun. Jesus himself speaking of his coming like a thief.
3) We are told to look for Christ, not Antichrist
If a child is promised dessert, does that mean they automatically skip their meal and just eat the dessert. Of course, a child that is promised dessert will still have to eat their meal. I understand this is not a perfect analogy altogether but the point is made none the less. Although we are to look or wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ does not mean we “skip the meal” so to speak. The child promised dessert may still have to endure the vegetables and full meal before indulging his sweet tooth. In the same way we are told to look for Christ but that does not negate the fact that certain things will still take place prior to our coming King i.e. tribulation. This may even include the revealing of the Antichrist first and then Christ. That is why many will be deceived thinking he is Christ.
1Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction…
Two things precede the coming of the Lord:
- A great rebellion
- The revealing of the Antichrist
These two things take place prior to “the coming of the Lord and our being gathered together to him”. This gathering together is another way of explaining the catching away in his first letter to the Thessalonians. Jesus himself spoke of this gathering as well (Matt.24:29-31). Why are we repeatedly warned in scripture about the Antichrist and told to be alert and on guard? In fact why do we have all that is recorded in the book of Revelation? The answer is very important:
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
The reason for recording Revelation was not for some different group of “tribulation saints” or for “Israel”. It is for the church that will be here until the end that they may be equipped and ready to be overcomers.
I am with you always, to(D) the end of the age.”
4) The church is not mentioned between Revelation 4-19
All through the letters by the apostles we read of the “saints” which are synonymous with the “church”. Just take two of Paul’s opening letters as examples.
2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here we see that where there is the church there are saints and where the saints are, there is the church. Having said that, why do all the references in Revelation 4-19 to “saints” speak of some other group of people who are saved after the church vanishes. One argument for pre-trib teaching is that God would not put the church through the tribulation period. However, would not those who truly come to faith during the tribulation period be regarded as fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. What we know and call the church of God… His people. This is why we read the following verses in Revelation.
Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues…
This passage verifies two important things for us. That is that “His people” are still here, and “His people” can still be here and yet not be affected by His wrath. More of this on statement on Point Number 5 later.
9When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged,and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great,and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,and you have given them blood to drink.It is what they deserve!” And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints,and of all who have been slain on earth.”
10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. 12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
This sounds similar to the exhortation from Jesus himself to his disciples “By your endurance you will gain your lives. ”
You can take a look in a concordance and see all references to the “saints” through Revelation 4-19 and see that the people of God are here. Just because the word “church” is not used does not mean it is not there. With that logic what do we make of all the chapters in other New Testament books were the word “church” is not found? Does that mean that the church is not there anymore? The reason the word “church” is used so much in Revelation 2-3 is simply because John wrote these letters to seven local congregations (churches). He was addressing the 7 churches. After this he deals with the apocalyptic writings which does include the church universally. He calls them “saints”.
On another note. With this pre-trib logic of the absence of the church on earth because the word is not used. The church must be completely annihilated and vanished altogether. This is because we read a lot in Revelation not only about what is happening on earth but also in heaven in which the word “church” is not found. If all the church is in heaven as supposed by pre-trib teaching why no mention of the church nor a record of how or when they got there? There is no record of a “rapture” in Revelation, just the second coming of the Lord as triumphant King.
5) The church is never punished for the sins of the world
This line of thinking is that if the church is here during the tribulation period, God would pour out His wrath on them as well as the wicked of this world. When we look at how God has done things in the past i.e. the plagues in Egypt we see that there are a lot of parallels. We see that indeed he can pour out his wrath on the wicked while keeping his own safe in the midst of it. Not to mention, much of the wrath is pinpointed to the wicked and unrepentant people. Not the “saints”. The following few scriptures are examples.
2So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.
9They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. 10The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish 11and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.
These scriptures are good examples of God pouring out His wrath on the wicked while preserving His own as He did with the plagues in Egypt.
21Or else, if you will not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants and your people, and into your houses. And the houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand. 22But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth. 23Thus I will put a division between my people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall happen.”‘” 24And the LORD did so. There came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh and into his servants’ houses. Throughout all the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the swarms of flies.
He will keep His people safe as He has done in the past. This does not necessitate a pre-trib evaporation of believers.
10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.
Some will say that this demands a pre-trib rapture. However, this is a promise made to a local church and had application to them in their day. Even if we apply this promise to us (which we can). It can simply mean that he will keep (preserve) the church through this time. We need only see where else this phrase is used and how it is used in context. John the author of Revelation uses this same phrase “Keep from” in his Gospel. “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
The same Greek phrase used by Jesus while at the same time praying that they not evacuate the earth. It is also important to understand the difference between God’s wrath and tribulation. The word tribulation as mentioned numerous times in the New Testament is the Greek word thilipsis which speaks of anguish, pressure, persecution and trials (Jn.16:33; Acts 14:22). This same word is used in reference to “the great tribulation” John himself said the following…
9 I, John, your brother and(A) partner in(B) the tribulation and(C) the kingdom and(D) the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos(E) on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
The wrath we are not appointed to is God’s eternal judgment. Not a time of tribulation with the activity of the Antichrist. We see this throughout the pages of the New Testament.
7He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
9For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
This wrath we are delivered from is that which Jesus himself inaugurates at His second coming…that is eternal judgment and condemnation.
15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
The context in all these passages deal with eternal salvation, not eternal damnation. This is different than the tribulation and Antichrist’s work which we see all through Revelation has “saints“ involved in.
1And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Jesus makes it clear when we are delivered. It is the same day of destruction for the wicked. Remember I taught a few Wednesday nights ago on the second coming. Jesus discussed “the day” that he was revealed two things would happen. Deliverance and destruction just as Noah and Lot. The deliverance He provides is not from dispensational teaching of a seven year period of tribulation, but His vengeance when he returns in flaming fire (2Thess.1:7).
26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— 30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed
This does not sound like a secret to me. Jesus is saying that just as judgment (wrath) was brought the same day Noah and Lot were delivered. It will be the same when he returns. We see this clearly in Paul’s teaching on eschatology as well. He is in perfect harmony with Jesus’ teaching on his return. Both speak of a highly visible climatic return.
5This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints (the same saints we read of in Revelation), and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
Both Jesus and Paul speak of “the day” of “affliction” and “relief” when he is “revealed“. No seven year gap is here indicated in any way. It is the same day!!!
This turned out a bit longer than I planned on but hopefully some good food for thought. Just some thoughts to ponder. As I stated earlier, I am open to the Word on this subject, but the more I study the topic, the more evidence I see for a single second coming of the Lord. No secret or silent vanishing. This whole study only pertains to the five statements he made that demand a pre-trib teaching. There is plenty of scripture that is not covered in this study pertaining to eschatology. WoW! There is so much in the Word of God. It truly is an amazing God-breathed book.
To hear our podcast episodes on this specific subject check out the following:
Will there Really Be a Rapture?, click here.
When Is Jesus Coming Back?,