No One Can Cancel Our “Blessed Hope” By Jonathan C. Brentner The distortion of biblical…
Questions that Confirm the Pretribulation Rapture – Part 1
By Jonathan C. Brentner
You may wonder why I am again writing in defense of the pretribulation Rapture, the belief that Jesus will come for His church before the start of the seven-year tribulation. I am doing so because we live in a time when many inside and outside the church ridicule our hope in Jesus’ imminent appearing. How do we answer those who mock the hope we hold so dear?
Additionally, because of the day in which we live, those of us who eagerly wait for our “blessed hope” need reassurance of our excited expectation. It requires a dedicated walk of faith to keep looking up while living in a world riddled with fear, deception, and wickedness that continues to grow exponentially.
Despite my solid convictions on this matter, I sometimes find myself reviewing passages that speak to a pretribulation rapture as a way of restoring my soul as I watch the coming Marxist New World Order rapidly take shape. I suspect that you, like me, need reassurance of the solid biblical foundation that undergirds our sure hope in Jesus’ imminent appearing.
In this two-part series, I will answer twelve questions that together confirm our belief that the New Testament indeed teaches a pretribulation Rapture.
1. Is Premillennialism Biblical?
In any quest to establish the biblical soundness of the pretribulation Rapture, one absolutely must start with this question: is premillennialism biblical?
If one denies the reality of a seven-year tribulation as do the amillennialists, then it makes no difference where one places the Rapture since there is no future wrath of the Lord for us to avoid. What’s the point of one saying he or she believes in a posttribulation Rapture if they reject the biblical teaching of the literal seven-year tribulation? It seems meaningless to me.
Furthermore, those who tell us there is no real and tangible future time of tribulation as well as no distinct thousand-year reign of Jesus interpret biblical prophecy through the use of allegory. The arguments that support a pretribulation Rapture find their basis in what the writer of Scripture intended to communicate at the time he wrote; they find their basis in the words of the Bible.
Those who deny the tenets of premillennialism base their beliefs on allegorical interpretations rather than the plain sense of the passage.
So yes, we will begin with the assumption that Scripture prophesies a future time of wrath during a seven-year period of time after which Jesus returns to earth, destroys the kingdom of the antichrist, and reigns over the nations of the earth for one thousand years seated on the throne of David in Jerusalem.
For further reading on why premillennialism is biblical, I present my case for this in Israel’s Future Restoration Vindicates God’s Holiness and in 7 Reasons Why Premillennialism is a Biblical Necessity. If you reject premillennialism, you are welcome to keep reading with the understanding that all the points that follow assume a literal seven-year tribulation and thousand-year reign of Jesus.
2. Are Rapture and the Second Coming the Same Event?
Proceeding on the basis that premillennialism is a biblical necessity, we come to the next question in our quest: are the Rapture and Second Coming the same event? If such is the case, this would place the Lord’s appearing for us at the end of the seven years of tribulation and thus end our journey (as do some premillennialists).
However, the biblical descriptions of the Rapture and Second Coming differ significantly in many ways that render it impossible to reconcile the two into one event. They cannot occur at the same time.
The timing of the resurrection of those who have died in Christ confirms the distinction between these two events. The resurrection of the dead happens first in the order of events that Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 and in 1 Corinthians 15:50-54. With the Second Coming, the resurrection of tribulation saints does not happen until after a lengthy sequence of many other events (see Rev. 19:11-20:4); it may not even occur until several days after Jesus’ begins His return to earth.
Please also note that the resurrection of the dead in Revelation 20:4 includes only a subset of believers, the tribulation saints, while the passages referring to the Rapture teach the Jesus raises all the dead in Christ. This not only distinguishes the two events, but necessitates a significant time lapse between them for people to come to Christ and experience martyrdom.
These are just two of several key differences that exist in the passages describing the Rapture versus those referring to the Second Coming. If the words of Scripture matter, and they do, then we cannot combine these two events into one occurrence.
3. What Is the New Testament Expectation of Jesus’ Appearing?
Now that we have established that the Rapture and Second Coming cannot be the same event, the next task is to explore the separation of time that must exist between the two. We begin this quest by asking: Does the New Testament speak of Jesus’ appearing as imminent or one that happens after or during the events of the tribulation?
The New Testament saints watched for the Rapture as though it could occur at any moment. The apostles repeatedly described their readers as eagerly anticipating Jesus’ return for them (1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Thess. 1:8-10; Titus 2:11-13; James 5:8; 1 Peter 1:13). They regarded Jesus’ future appearing as imminent, one that could happen in their lifetime.
In Philippians 3:20-21 Paul wrote, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself.” The Greek word for “await” in verse 20 points to an “intense anticipation” or an “excited expectation” of a future event. This is the word usage we would expect if the Rapture could occur at any moment.
As for the Second Coming, Jesus told us that at least two major events would happen before it. In Matthew 24:15-29, He says that the defilement of the temple by the antichrist and the “great tribulation” that follows it will happen before He returns to earth. According to the Lord’s own words, significant events that have not yet happened must occur before the Second Coming. It cannot be an imminent event such as the apostles portray the Rapture.
The sense of imminency not only confirms that a significant of time passes between the Rapture and Second Coming, but also places it ahead of the events that the Bible says will occur during the tribulation.
4. Is There an Example of Such an imminent Expectation in the New Testament?
Having examined the excited anticipation of Jesus’ imminent appearing that Paul wrote about in Philippians 3:20-21, we come to our next question: does the New Testament provide an example of such an expectation?
Yes, it does. A close look at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 reveals the recipients of Paul’s letter not only believed that the rapture could happen in their lifetime, but mistakenly assumed that it would happen before they died. We see this in the way that Paul addresses the unnecessary grieving of the new converts in Thessalonica over the deaths of some in their midst.
If their sorrow had stemmed from a lack of belief in the future resurrection of their loved ones, Paul would have responded in the same way that he addressed this issue with those in Corinth (1 Cor. 15), but he does not do that. Instead, he attributes their grief to a lack of information rather than a lack of faith. In response, the apostle gives them further revelation regarding the rapture (4:13-16).
Paul’s emphasis in these verses reveals the source of the problem: the Thessalonians mistakenly thought that the dead in Christ would miss out on the joy of the Rapture. So, in response to their grief, the apostle stresses the prominent role of the dead in Christ during Jesus’ appearing (4:13-16). Why would he reply in such a way if this were not the cause of their unnecessary mourning?
Why would the Thessalonians have thought this way apart from believing that Jesus would appear in their lifetime to take them home to heaven? In Paul’s early letters, he expressed the belief the Rapture might occur in his lifetime (see 1 Cor. 15:51; 1 Thess. 4:17). It’s easy to see how his new converts in Thessalonica would mimic his anticipation of the rapture and assume it would occur before they died.
5. Does the Imminency of Jesus’ appearing Signify that We Will Miss all of the Tribulation?
For me, the answers to the previous questions confirm that the Rapture will happen before the seven-year tribulation, but this is not the case with many pastors and believers. I remember hearing a sermon once during which the preacher combined the Rapture and Second Coming. Then at the end of it he proclaimed that the Lord could return that very afternoon.
Such misunderstandings necessitate that we dig deeper in order to establish that our imminent anticipation of the Rapture truly signifies that we will miss all of the tribulation.
We will begin by examining 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 where Paul tells his readers that the start of the day of the Lord will surprise people on the earth “like a thief in the night” with its “sudden destruction” from which “they will not escape.” The day of Lord, a primarily Old Testament term, refers to an extended time of the Lord’s wrath on the earth leading up to and including Jesus’ return to the earth. The phrase also includes His millennial reign on the earth.
Because John wrote the book of Revelation forty years later, the apostle did not have it as a reference point, but we do. We can compare what Paul wrote about the day of the Lord, based on his Old Testament understanding of it, to the judgments in Revelation. Doing so assures us that we will miss all of this still future time of wrath.
If this coming time of wrath arrives as a surprise to people on the earth and occurs at a time when people are saying “There is peace and safety” (1 Thess. 5:3), we must ask, “When might this surprise occur in this list of future judgments that John writes about in Revelation 6-18?”
If the day of the Lord were to begin at any time after the seal judgments of Revelation 6 commence, this day could not possibly catch anyone by surprise. No one will be saying “peace and security” (v. 3) during and after the pestilences, famines, pandemics, and wars of the seal judgments kill one-fourth of the earth’s population at that time, over two billion people. Nor will further judgments surprise anyone as they will at the beginning of this time of God’s wrath.
We know as those in Christ we will miss the wrath that surprises the world as a “thief in the night” because Paul tells the Thessalonians that the Lord will deliver them before the “day of the Lord” wrath begins. In 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 we read, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us that whether we are awake of asleep we might live with him.” Based on the context, this wrath is that of the day of the Lord, not hell. Our deliverance from this time is that of the Rapture that Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
6. Did the Thessalonians Believe They Would Miss the Tribulation?
Thanks to some troublemakers that told the saints in Thessalonica that the day of the Lord had already begun, we know these new converts expected the Rapture to happen before the start of the day of the Lord wrath on the earth. Paul’s response to the errant message confirms that the Thessalonians believed it would occur before the start of this day, which includes all of the tribulation.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:2, Paul tells his readers “not 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.” The words in this verse imply that the Thessalonians literally trembled with fear because of the report that this day had already begun.
The response of these new converts to this news tells us several things:
First, why would they panic at hearing such news if they expected to be on earth during the day of the Lord or even for a part of it? Their frightened response to the false report tells us they regarded Paul’s promise in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 as one of deliverance from God’s wrath from the very beginning of the day of the Lord, which includes all of the tribulation. If not, they would have expected such news and regarded it as a sign that Jesus’ appearing was close at hand.
Second, if the Thessalonians had misunderstood Paul’s promise regarding the wrath of the day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, this was his chance to set the record straight by telling them that although this day had not yet started, they could expect to see a part or even all of its judgments. But the apostle does not do that!
Instead, the apostle assures the Thessalonians that they will not be on earth during the start of the day of the Lord, which for us signifies that we will miss all the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgment of Revelation 6-18.
“How does he do that?” you might ask. The answer to first question in Part 2 of this series answers this question. In 2 Thessalonians 2;3, Paul assures his readers that they will not be earthbound at the time that the day of the Lord begins.
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