The Biblical Case for the Pretribulation Rapture
By Jonathan C. Brentner
While I could expound on other biblical texts and provide additional validation of the pretribulation rapture, I believe the previous signposts suffice to bring us to our destination, that of establishing a solid biblical case for the pretribulation rapture.
Jesus is coming for His saints, for us, before the start of this awful period in human history.
In the points below, I review the previous signposts that have led to our destination. I believe that combined they provide a solid scriptural foundation for placing the rapture before the start of the day of the Lord.
Signpost #1: Premillennialism
Premillennialism is absolutely foundational to a belief in the pretribulation rapture. Those who deny the reality of a literal millennium, the amillennialists, also relegate the tribulation to allegory or past history. If there is no literal tribulation, then determining the placement of the rapture becomes a moot point. That’s why premillennialism appears on our first signpost.
The case for premillennialism is exceedingly strong as I have shown in several previous articles on my blog. For further reference, please see my articles entitled 5 Perils of Denying Jesus’ Future Reign and The Biblical Necessity of Jesus’ Reign.
Signpost #2: Unique
In order to place the rapture before the tribulation, we must first determine if it’s a distinct event from the second coming. Is the rapture unique?
Yes, it is. Consider the following significant difference: The resurrection of those who have died in Christ happens first in the event described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-54 while with the second coming, the resurrection of tribulation saints occurs much later after a lengthy sequence of events (Rev. 19:11-20:4). During the rapture, the resurrection of the dead in Christ happens immediately; during the second coming, the resurrection of saints happens much later, perhaps not even the same day as Jesus’ return to earth.
This was just one of seven significant differences we highlighted between the rapture and second coming. They are not the same event; the rapture is unique.
Signpost #3: Imminency
The sense of imminency in the New Testament regarding the appearing of Jesus further distinguishes the rapture from the second coming. Because many events in the tribulation must occur before the second coming, it’s not possible to regard it as truly imminent event.
As we found at this signpost the New Testament saints eagerly awaited the Lord’s appearing as though it could happen at any moment. Philippians 3:20-21 and 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10 are just two examples of many biblical texts that portray believers eagerly watching for Jesus’ appearing as though it could occur at any time and certainly in their lifetime.
The sense of imminency not only separates the rapture from the second coming as a distinct event; it pushes it to a time before the tribulation. The expectations of the New Testament saints further confirm this eager anticipation of the Lord’s soon appearing.
Signpost #4: Expectations
When some in the church at Thessalonica died shortly after Paul left the city, the believers there mourned as those “who have no hope” (1 Thess. 3:13). What caused their unnecessary grieving?
Paul’s response in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16 tells us the issue was not that of failing to believe in the future resurrection of their loved ones, but of thinking they had missed out on the rapture. In these verses, the apostle emphasizes that “the dead in Christ will rise first” during the rapture (v. 16). They would be the first to participate in the rapture. Why would the apostle stress this aspect of the Lord’s appearing if it was not the issue causing the unnecessary distress in the church?
If the problem had been a failing to believe in the resurrection of the dead, the apostle’s response would have been similar to 1 Corinthians 15:1-19. He would have assured them that Jesus was indeed the “resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) and they had nothing to fear regarded their loved ones. Instead, Paul emphasized the participation of the dead in Christ in the rapture.
Signpost #5: Surprise
Now if the rapture is such an event that can happen at any moment, we would expect a sense of surprise to wrapped into it. And, this is exactly what we see in Scripture.
One such place is in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 where Paul tells his readers that the day of the Lord would surprise people “like a thief in the night” with its sudden destruction from which the world will not escape.
At this point you might object saying these verses refer to the onset of the day of the Lord, not the rapture and you would be correct. However, as we saw with this signpost, the sudden and shocking start to the day of the Lord tells us the rapture must occur before it begins and surprise many as well.
Notice Paul’s promise in verse 9, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 9). Through the apostle, the Lord promises that those of us in Christ will not experience the wrath of the day of the Lord. Jesus will catch us up to paradise before this time starts.
If the wrath of the day of the Lord began at any time after the seal judgments of Revelation 6 commence, it would not catch anyone by surprise nor would people be saying, “There is peace and security” (v. 3). For this day to start in such a startling and unexpected manner, it must begin before the misery and huge loss of life that occurs under the seal judgments.
Although those of us watching for the Lord’s return see the signs of the approaching tribulation everywhere we look in this world, the Lord’s sudden appearing will be a surprising and welcome intrusion into our daily routines.
Signpost #6: Panic
How would the Thessalonians saints respond if someone told them the day of the Lord had already begun? What if they thought they were in the midst of the tribulation?
We know the answer to these questions. The errant message caused so much panic among them that they literally shook with fear (2 Thess. 2:2).
I believe this happened for two reasons. First, the message of the false teachers contradicted Paul’s earlier promise they would miss the day of the Lord, what we call the tribulation today. Second, they understood that those alive during this time would experience horrific suffering and death such as we see in the Apostle John’s description of the tribulation in Revelation 6-16.
To alleviate the panic, Paul quickly wrote a second letter telling the Thessalonians that this day had not yet begun and again assured them they would not experience God’s wrath that will characterize the beginning of the day of the Lord and continue until the second coming.
Signpost #7: Restrainer
In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, the apostle tells the Thessalonians they could know the day of the Lord had not yet started because they were still on the earth. Why do I say that?
The key to my startling statement is found in the identity of the Restrainer. In his response to their panic, Paul tells his readers that this time of wrath cannot start until God removes the Restrainer, which allows the unveiling of the antichrist (compare verse 3 with verses 6-8).
As we saw in signpost 7, the Restrainer is the Holy Spirit.
If the “rebellion” or more accurately the “departure” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is the rapture (and the context suggests it is), this ties the whole passage together. When Jesus comes for His church, He removes the unique presence of the Spirit within the saints, which allows the antichrist’s work to become public.
The rapture must thus occur before the tribulation that starts with the antichrist’s covenant with Israel (Dan. 9:27) because we will know his identity at that point.
Signpost #8: Absence
If the pretribulation rapture is true, we would expect to find the church in heaven rather than on the earth during the tribulation. And, that is what we find in the book of Revelation.
The apostle John highlights the church’s absence on the earth during this time in two ways. As we saw in this signpost, the elders of Revelation 4-5 represent the church and they are already in heaven with Jesus before the start of the seal judgments of chapter 6.
Second, we see this in the church’s absence during the tribulation. In Revelation 3:20-21a, John identifies two groups: those who will miss the time of testing to come upon the world and the earth-dwellers, who the apostle repeatedly refers to in chapters 6-16.
While the apostle keeps referring to the earth-dwellers, he never mentions the church as being on the earth during the judgments of the tribulation. We so see the presence of those who come to Christ during the tribulation as the martyred saints standing before the Lord in heaven (Rev. 6:9-11).
Signpost #9: Church History
Those who claim no one in the church believe in a pretribulation rapture until 150 years ago make two critical errors. First, they base their denials of the rapture on church history rather than on the words of Scripture. Second, the claim that a belief in pretribulation rapture originated with John Darby in the 1800’s is demonstrably false.
To be clear, the Bible must be our only source for faith and practice. However, in order to encourage believers who often hear this false and deceptive claim regarding church history, with this signpost I provide much evidence from the early centuries of the church demonstrating an early belief in the pretribulation rapture.
The witness of church history is not the basis for our belief, but it does completely nullify the claim that no one believed in a pretribulation rapture before the time of John Darby. The quotes I provide in this signpost prove its existence at an early time in the church as well as a century before the time of Darby.
I do not intend my above points to be exhaustive; I could have brought up other passages of Scripture and provided other arguments in support of a pretribulation rapture. These are the most convincing arguments for me.
All the evidence points to Paul’s assurance in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”
Jesus will take all those who truly know Him out of this world before the wrath of the day of the Lord begins. Is this not an unmistakable promise that we will be in paradise with our Savior with the tribulation begins on the earth? I believe it is; we cannot separate any of judgments in Revelation 6-16 from this wrath.
While many may not agree with those of us who anticipate such a pretribulation rapture, we do have a firm biblical foundation for believing that Jesus will come for His church before the start of the tribulation.
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