Why the Rapture Before the Tribulation
One of the great classic truths preached by the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches for the last 200 years has been the pre-tribulation Rapture. I do not suggest that there were no exceptions, for there were indeed good people who loved and preached Jesus but did not agree with this particular interpretation; however, the Pentecostal Revival, for 100 of those years, has been especially given to the pre-tribulation view.
There are some that suggest that this is escapism, but the opposite has been true. Christians deeply in love with Jesus and enamored with the hope of His immediate return for the church have been driven with compassion to win souls; whether family, friend, or foe. Our message is a twin concern: get ready for the call to the marriage supper and occupy (be salt and light to hold back the antichrist spirit) until He comes. Both parts of this message are absolutely essential for a balance of Biblical presentation.
The Biblical support for a pre-tribulation rapture is indeed overwhelming. Let me share nine (9) reasons why I believe the Rapture must occur before the seven-year tribulation period can begin.
It Fits Biblical Precedence of God’s Judgment for the Wicked
David was bold in his proclamation, "I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread." (Psalm 37:25) To suggest that God the Father will deny 6000 years of history and judge the church in the same horrible hour as the wicked doesn’t fit His character. The nature of the tribulation period (the final judgment of man’s rebellion) makes that suggestion even less likely.
When the antediluvian world reached its zenith of debauchery and the Father was ready to pour out His wrath, Noah found grace (unmerited favor) in His eyes. Noah’s family was saved while the rest of mankind was completely obliterated. (The law of first mention makes this event a powerful factor.)
Sodom and Gomorrah had descended into the mire of sexual perversion. There is a good possibility that a disease like AIDS was proliferating and God acted to stop the plague. The very geography of the landscape had to be cleansed by fire and destruction. Homosexuality was the prevailing life style. Yet the angel said to Lot, "Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do any thing until thou be come thither." (Genesis 19:22)
When judgment reached Jerusalem in AD 70, a prophetic word had already warned the young Christian church, and they had fled the city. The Lord Jesus had spoken Himself, as recorded in St. Luke 21:20-24, of the signal they were to watch for. This judgment was for Israel who had rejected his own flesh and blood, Jesus Christ; the believing church had been miraculously delivered. Yes, both the church and the world do experience judgment, but always on a clearly different level.
The Church is to be Judged Before the Wicked World is Judged
Rather than positioning the church in the tribulation judgment, the Biblical warning is that judgment begins at the house of God. Privilege is always a factor in determining God’s judgment. He said " . . . For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." (St. Luke 12:48b)
Apostle Peter, clearly distinguishing himself as a New Testament leader, warned, "For the time has come that judgment must begin at the house of God: (Remember, it was the Jewish nation that was first to be judged in the First Testament) and if it first begin at us (the Second Testament believers), what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" (Peter 4:17) There is no excuse for anti-Semitism in the Christian church. Our judgment is of a different nature but clearly precedes that of both the Jewish and the God-denying and blaspheming world.
Also, remember that the bride of Christ will share with her bridegroom (Jesus Christ) in this final judgment of wickedness. After we are judged (multitudes of church members with deficient lives will be spewed into the tribulation, for the church’s judgment will be no easy experience) and receiving His promise of positions of authority, we will join in judging the world. Paul, speaking to the church at Corinth made this fact very clear. "Do you not know that the saints shall judge the smallest matters?" (I Corinthians 6:2) You will find glorified saints sharing in the horrible hour of tribulation as acted out in the book of Revelation. "And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said to me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19:10)
The Bride of Christ is to be Presented Unto Himself in an Exclusive Ceremony Separate from All Other End-Time Events
Redemption is much, much more than fire insurance. The root and foundation of God’s love for the world and sending His only begotten Son is a desire to have a family. The family unit is the closest thing on earth to the heart of God, His very nature. The invitation to salvation is an invitation to a marriage feast and establishes a family relationship. Worship in its truest sense is a celebration of that family relationship with our spiritual priest; we celebrate His love until we can celebrate His presence.
This marriage salvation is a betrothing experience that lives everyday in expectation of the wedding celebration. We are like a young virgin looking at His picture, as we anxiously anticipate His coming for the wedding. Jesus gave a parable that shows this awaiting virgin (St. Matthew 25:11-13). Ten virgins took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom. Five had come under the intoxicating influence of worldliness and had let their lamps go out. Five had brightly glowing lights in their lamps. Those five went to the marriage and the door was shut. (Remember, God also shut the door of the ark in Noah’s day.)
John the Revelator describes this honorable event as it transpires in heaven before Christ and His bride return to establish the millennium on earth. The bride has been judged, numerous individuals out of the tribulation (tribulation saints) have been added as guests of the bride, wickedness is in it final moments of fiery judgment; and now, the bride rejoices with the bridegroom. Listen! "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they, which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God." (Revelation 19:7-9)
His Absolute Promise To Keep His Faithful Bride From The Hour Of Tribulation
The Holy Scripture deals effectively with His assurance that this awful hour is not designed for His chosen. The prophet Isaiah described the final episodes with minute detail: "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead. Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain." (Isaiah 26:19-21) In the first verse of this quote he identified the Resurrection. Next, he calls for the chosen bride to enter with Him into her chambers (an appropriate nuptial place as she prepares for her presentation to the Groom) to be securely hidden away for a short moment until the wrath or rage of God is finished. The third verse of this text pictures the going forth of God’s righteous judgment to finish sin, disclose hidden life styles, and to give an equal response from God’s holiness to man’s evil actions.
The minor prophet Malachi was no less descriptive when he added the thought of a special "book of remembrance" that I believe deserves the label as the "Bride of Christ roll-call". Note the two key verses that describe this future event we call the Rapture. "Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him." (Malachi 3:16-17) As in the Isaiah text, all three components: the Resurrection, the Rapture, and followed by the Judgment, are presented in the same order.
When these two Old (First) Testament texts are harmonized with Revelation 3:10, the picture presented is a strong endorsement for pre-tribulation theology. The message to the Philadelphia church was clear: "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." (Revelation 3:10)
The Pre-Tribulation Rapture is the Only Reasonable Explanation of a Time When Some are Taken and Some Left
No sensible explanation can be given of St. Matthew 24 that excludes the warning of a sudden rapture that catches men unprepared. Jesus warned of the suddenness of that day, that only the Father knows the time and that the day was as Noah’s day, where men were eating, drinking, and giving in marriage. Then He said, "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." (St. Matthew 24:40-41) He concluded the warning by saying: "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come." (St. Matthew 24:42)
To try to rearrange the Lord’s teachings and explain away this great truth borders on arrogance. When we suggest that the one being taken away is the wicked and the believer is left, then where is the wicked taken, and for what is the believer left? Any such explanation will be hard put to fit into the pattern of events.
The word for "coming" as used in this context is the Greek "parousia" not "apokalupsis". When "parousia" is used it means a coming to a specific place at a specific time for a specific meeting. It is personal. When "apokalupsis" is used as in verses 30 and 31 of this same chapter, it means the unveiling of His awesome holiness and glory. It is general rather than personal and relates to His return to fight the battle of Armageddon and to establish His kingdom.
Then He Warns of a Specific Day Coming Unawares of Which Only Those Watching Shall Escape
These verses are so crucial for establishing this great "Hope of the Church" that we must analyze them closely. "And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth? 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." (Luke 21:34-36) Christians are so casual today about what constitutes readiness for the Rapture that they make me tremble. Ask a given Sunday-morning crowd: "How many are ready to go?" And you will find it hard to see the un-lifted hands. Many have not been to church in weeks, maybe never tithe, do not read the Bible more than sporadically; and yet, they feel secure and ready. The only explanation is that we are living in the great apostasy.
Please note Jesus’ warning: " . . . take heed to yourselves." He warned of an overcharged heart, surfeiting (reveling and rioting), drunkenness (giving opportunity to drunkenness), and the cares of this life. He said the day would come as a snare (trap) and catch men unaware. Satan is right now springing his carefully devised trap to keep the bride from her readiness for her Groom. Satan is furious with the thought of you and me in the nuptial chamber with our redeeming Prince.
Jesus is jealous over you, His betrothed. He will not share your love with an uncircumcised world. That is why He said: "Watch . . . that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass." The very language is pregnant with the hope of our rapture before the awful hour of hell soon to come upon our unbelieving world.
The Law of the Farmer Demands That the Harvest be Gathered Before the Winter Begins
No vineyard dresser or tiller of the ground would think of laboring through the spring and summer only to leave the ripened harvest in the field as the winter arrives. A wise proverb of Solomon says, "He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame." (Proverb 10:5) It contradicts everything my Father has provided and promised to suggest that He won’t gather His harvest of the world until the winter of divine retribution is in full swing.
Isaiah is prolific in describing this harvest out of an impending winter of evil. He prophesied, "The righteous perisheth (escapes), and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away (removed), none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come." (Isaiah 57:1) The words taken away literally mean to "collect as in harvest".
The next verse is a perfect picture of this harvest, safely cradled in her haven of rest, as evil spreads itself in defiance of the gathering storm. "He (bride) shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness." (Isaiah 57:2) That storm of evil is clearly described in the next three verses. "But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore. Against whom do ye sport yourselves? Against whom do ye make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue? Are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood, enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clefts of the rocks?" (Isaiah 57:3-5)
The Holy Scripture Affirms Emphatically That the Antichrist Cannot be Revealed Until a Restraining Force is Removed
The church at Thessalonica received this word from Apostle Paul: "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, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." (2 Thessalonians 2:6-8) The word "withholdeth" in verse six and "letteth" in verse seven are identical and mean to restrain or hold back. A picture emerges of this great and overwhelming force of evil that is ever ready to spread across God’s creation but is restrained because of an even greater power. It is like a reservoir of water held in check by a dam. If the dam is suddenly removed, the waters will flood the valley with great destruction.
Whatever the weakness of the church, she is still a mighty force. Socialist Russia has murdered an average of 5,000 persons every day for 70 years (130,000,000), but the underground church still grows and lives in the power of Jesus’ Resurrection. No state power ever represented the Antichrist more than the Soviet state; and yet, the church lives on. Until this masculine man-child from the bosom of the sun-clothed woman is caught up to God and His throne, the antichrist must operate behind this dam of restraining force (Revelation 12).
Don’t ever forget that there is an invisible church within the bosom of the visible church that will not bow to the Antichrist. This sanctified company has no other love but the one King. Any one else cannot purchase her, because she has no price. She has found the pearl of great price and forfeited all other wealth. As long as His chosen are here, the Antichrist cannot be revealed.
Even the New Agers are saying that their "Age of Aquarius" cannot be realized as long as the defective seed (Christians) are filling the world with negative thought patterns (the gospel of Jesus Christ). They have suggested in their literature that we must be removed to a non-physical plane (their words) before the New Age can arrive. That is one message they got right.
Finally: The Lord’s Absolute Promise to Catch Away His Chosen to Meet Him in the Air
"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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18) What a climactic finish to an exciting search of Holy Scripture. The Lord isn’t sending Gabriel or Michael. He is coming Himself.
You hear people say the word "rapture" is not in our Bible. To begin with, the Bible wasn’t written in English, so the only word from the English language in our Bible is the word Hallelujah. (As with many other words, its exact equivalent is, and is included, in the above two verses.)
The two words "caught up" are derived from a Greek word harpazo, which means "snatched up". My Webster dictionary gives the meaning for rapture as "transported or to snatch away". The original Greek goes much further than the simple but powerful meaning "to snatch up". It means "to steal openly with no thought of hiding". It includes a removal by force in expectation of a hindering power. It also expresses the personal warmth of taking for one’s self. The Holy Ghost chose the perfect word to describe the rapture of the church.
Satan is marshalling his forces in heaven (he is the prince of the power of the air) and on earth in his effort to stop the greatest exodus in human history. The exodus from Egypt was a Biblical foreshadow, but it pales in comparison, even as the animal sacrifice fails to rightly compare to Calvary. Jesus actually descends into the atmospheric heaven below the reigning powers of Lucifer. He then leads His resurrected and glorified army back through the evil dominion to the throne of God Himself. The triumph of that event leaves Satan weakened and Michael, with his armies, casting him out and down to earth. He will never leave the earth again until he is judged and cast into the bottomless pit. (Revelation 12)
I believe in honoring all men as commanded by the Word. Those who know and serve Jesus Christ are my brothers and sisters. While we fulfill the above in Christian love, I contend that the Rapture must transpire before the tribulation can begin. The gathering storm has shaken the faith of many. The fire of expectancy, of watching and waiting, of looking for His appearing, has gone out of many lives.
Some are looking to build a kingdom here, while others are looking for great tribulations and planning how not to take the mark. I believe that the bride should look for His appearing, occupy His spiritual and invisible kingdom, and expect to be gone when the great "deceiver" is having one final fling. "Look up and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." (Jesus: St. Luke 21:28b)