Why Do Some Teach that the Church will Endure the Tribulation?
From TRIUMPHANT RETURN
by Grant R. Jeffrey
Several incorrect premises have caused some to reject the pretribulation Rapture and accept the position called the “postribulation Rapture.” The first premise is an emotional contention that it would be unfair for the modern Church to escape to heaven scot free to escape the martyrdom that other believers have experienced. While it is easy to understand such an emotion, it would be wrong to deny the doctrine of the pretribulation Rapture on this basis alone. The reality is that while many Christians have endured tremendous persecutions and tribulations, untold millions of believers have lived out their lives in times of peace. Furthermore, all of those Christians who died in either peace or persecution throughout history have already escaped the Great Tribulation.
An underlying attitude of many critics is their inorrect and unscriptural belief that the Church will somehow be purified by enduring the wrath of the Antichrist. However, the Scriptures declare that we are purified solely by the completed work of Christ on the Cross. If the Lord delays His return much longer, the rising tide of persecution of Christians affect the Church across the world. However, this will not constitute the Tribulation period which will be characterized by the wrath of God poured out from heaven on the unrepentant sinners during the final seven years of this age. Some critics have claimed that those who teach the hope of the pretribulation rapture are leaving Christians unprepared for the possibility of the coming persecution of the Tribulation period. However, in thirty-five years of teaching Bible prophecy, I have not witnessed pretribulation Rapture teachers instructing Christians that they are immune from end-time persecution. The prophecy teachers, myself included, who believe God promises that Christians will escape “wrath of God” in the Tribulation often warn believers that persecution is coming, even in North America, if the Lord tarries much longer. However, the postribulation Rapture position can rob the Church of her blessed hope. Jesus promised, “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 second and more important reason why some are teaching that the Church will be present during this terrible time is the failure to distinguish between God’s plan for Israel and His plan for the Church, especially in the prophecy revealed by Christ in Matthew 24. They often acknowledge that there is strong biblical evidence for a pretribulation Rapture; however, they inevitably come back to their interpretation of Matthew 24, which seems to indicate that the Rapture follows the events of the Great Tribulation.
In the passage in Matthew 24, Christ is on the Temple Mount explaining to His Jewish disciples the events that will occur in Israel and in other nations that will lead to the return of Christ as their Jewish Messiah. The disciples’ question that Jesus was answering concerned the coming of Israel’s long-promised Kingdom, not the coming of Christ for His Church (which they did not even know about). It is easy to forget that, at this point, before the crucifixion of our Lord and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, there was no such thing as a Christian Church. If you had told one of the disciples during the week before Christ’s crucifixion that someday there would be an organization based on Christ’s teachings, called the Church, and that 99 percent of its members would be uncircumcised Gentiles who would follow neither Jewish law nor offer Temple sacrifices, he would probably have fallen off his chair in shock and disbelief. One of the classic mistakes in interpretation is to take this conversation between Christ and His Jewish disciples concerning the messianic kingdom and read back into it the reality of the Christian Church which did not come into existence until the Jews rejected Christ and God breathed life into His Body of believers.
Since Christ does not mention the Church to His disciples in this conversation, the plain interpretation is that Israel is the primary focus of the Prophecy of Matthew 24. Matthew 24 speaks of the Great Tribulation, and beginning at verse 15, Christ states that the Antichrist will set up the “abomination of desolation” (a supernatural statue of the Antichrist) to be worshiped in the Temple. In verses 40 and 41, Jesus says, “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.” A vital question for students of the Bible is the identity of these people who “shall be taken.” Does this prophecy refer to the Church or does it reveal God’s plans for the Tribulation saint who become believers after the Rapture?
This chapter tells us that at the end of the Great Tribulation, God will send His angels and “they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (verse 31). These “elect” are the people who become believers during the Great Tribulation of three and one-half years. This gathering together is not the Rapture. This gathering of Tribulation believers takes place at the end of the Tribulation, whereas the Rapture of the Church occurs sometime prior to the beginning of the Great Tribulation when Antichrist sets himself up as “God” in the Temple. Notice that the angels “gather the elect” (verse 31), whereas, at the time of the Rapture, “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” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). This gathering of the “elect” Tribulation saints will occur at the conclusion of three and one-half years — a period of time for which there are the most detailed prophecies found in the Bible.
The Bible describes many Tribulation events that must occur prior to the “gathering” of the Tribulation saints and thus, it cannot be correctly described as “imminent.” These facts have caused many scholars to believe that this “gathering” is, therefore, a different event than the “Rapture” of the Church. However, when we turn our attention to the coming of Christ for His Church, we find that there are no warnings or signals given to indicate the time of the Rapture. The Rapture can literally occur at any time.
The third reason postribulationist writers have attacked the pretribulation Rapture doctrine by claiming that it cannot be true because no Church writer or Reformer ever taught this doctrine until approximately 170 years ago until it was introduced by John Darby, a Plymouth Brethren. Their argument that no one ever saw this “truth” throughout eighteen hundred years of Church history has been very effective, causing many Christians to abandon their belief in the pretribulation Rapture. The only problem is that their assertion that no one in the early Church taught the pretribulation Rapture has been found to be incorrect.
Obviously the truth about the time of the Rapture can be found only in Scripture. The Protestant Reformation was based essentially on this return to the authority of the Bible. The Latin phrase sola Scriptura, meaning “Scripture alone” became the rallying cry of the Reformers who ignored centuries of tradition and church councils in their insistence that truth could only be discovered in the Word of God. While the resolution of this issue must be based on our interpretation of Scripture, it is important to answer the errors of our opponents, who disparage “the blessed hope” of the Rapture with misinformation about the modern rediscovery of the truth about the pretribulation Rapture.
A Discovery that the Pretribulation Rapture Was Taught in the Early Church
During the summer of 1994, after more than a decade of searching, I discovered several fascinating manuscripts that contain clear evidence of the teaching of the pre-tribulation rapture in the early church.
Ephraem’s Teaching on the Pretribulation Rapture
For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins. (On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, by Ephraem the Syrian, A.D. 373)
The early Christian writer and poet, Ephraem the Syrian, (A.D. 306 – 373) was a major theologian of the early Byzantine Eastern Church. He was born near Nisbis, in the Roman province of Syria, near present-day Edessa, Turkey. Ephraem’s fascinating teaching on the Antichrist has never been published in English until I wrote FINAL WARNING in 1995. Some scholars suggested that this manuscript was written several centuries later (5th or 6th century) but definitely before the birth of Islam in 622. However William Bousset, one of the greatest scholars on ancient eschatology, concluded in his book The Antichrist Legend that it was written by Ephraem the Syrian before A.D. 373.1 Andrew R. Anderson wrote in his book Alexander’s Gate that he accepted the early date as being valid.2
This critically important prophecy manuscript from the fourth century of the Church era reveals a very clear statement about the pretribulational return of Christ to take His elect saints home to heaven to escape the coming Tribulation. For additional details read the article Examining an ancient Pre-tribulation Rapture statement on this web site.
1. William Bousset, The Antichrist Legend, trans. A. H. Keane (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1896)
2. Andrew R. Anderson, Alexander’s Gate: Gog and Magog and the Enclosed Nations. Monographs of the Mediaeval Academy of America, no. 5. (Cambridge, MA.: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1932)