And by “may not” I mean “definitely not.” I updated this because I saw a Facebook thread that advanced the pre-tribulation rapture with a lot of bad arguments. I was about to write a new post, then did a search and realized I had already done one! I’m not sure if that is good because the work was already done or bad that I have such a poor memory.
I think it is valuable to understand the different orthodox interpretations of the book of Revelation. But the most important thing is to ensure that you have trusted in Jesus for you salvation. If you get run over by a bus today that will be your own “personal rapture,” in that you’ll be facing Jesus with your eternity already determined, one way or the other.
An agnostic friend used to have a bumper sticker that said, “Come the rapture, can I have your car?” We had few things in common theologically but we both weren’t keen on the likelihood of the pre-tribulation rapture (that is, the teaching that Jesus will bring all believers to him before 7 years of his final return, thus avoiding a period of mayhem and intense persecution). This is a sadly serious issue these days, what with Harold Camping’s claims a while back that brought such embarrassment to the church. Such foolishness is un-biblical and is a distraction and embarrassment to Christianity. Atheists had a field day mocking it, and who can blame them?
While I think we should be charitable about non-essential Christian beliefs, this is a teaching that can be harmful to people. What does it do to someone’s faith when they think they’ll escape worldly persecution via the rapture and then it doesn’t happen?
Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason gives two good reasons why the pre-tribulation rapture is not what the Bible teaches.
The first observation I made was that this doctrine, the disappearance of the church seven years prior to the return of Christ, is not a doctrine that anyone in the history of the church ever held to until about 150 years ago. That was the first red flag. There might be justifiable explanations for that and some people make those explanations. But my question is, if the Bible teaches this, why didn’t anybody see it for almost 2000 years? All of the church fathers expected to see the Antichrist which would leave at least a mid-trib rapture. My suspicion was, the reason the church didn’t see it for 2000 years is because it wasn’t there. The information about the rapture actually came from a prophecy that was external to the Scriptures, the Plymouth Brethren prophecy. With that prophecy in place, people went back to the Scriptures and then began to see what they saw as hints of this doctrine in different passages.
It is technically possible that the church just got it wrong for 1,850 years, but it seems that the burden of proof is on those introducing a new theology.
More importantly, what does the Bible say? Greg explains that 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15, the two most commonly cited passages, give a time frame, and it isn’t pre-tribulation.
Let’s try to pull this together. It is very important for us to start from a foundation of an explicit Biblical teaching on this issue so that we can build from there and take what is really clear and then answer the other objections based on what we know to be true from the clear text. We have two passages that give, by all counts, an explicit description of what has been called the rapture. Both accounts tell when it is going to happen. They say it is going to happen at the coming of the Lord. That is our explicit foundation. Both describe it, both tell when. Now the question becomes, which coming of the Lord does the author here, Paul, have in mind?
Here is my answer. The second coming. Not the third coming, not the one-and-a-half coming. The passages call it the coming of the Lord. Not a coming. They call it the coming of the Lord. I don’t know how it can be made more clear. It is very straight-forward. What some want to do is bring a lot of theology from the outside and twist the plain sense of those words. They say, “Well, he’s coming in the air.” What does that have to do with anything? In both cases, Paul calls it the coming of the Lord. And he says, right after that, then comes the end. That’s the order. The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 9 “In as much as Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin to those who eagerly await him.” My point is that there are only two comings. The coming when Jesus accomplished the work of the cross, and the second coming.
And here is a simple explanation about Matthew 24, often cited by pre-Trib folks as a proof-text.
We read about the second coming in Matthew 24. That is a visible, powerful and conclusive coming. He says everyone will be able to see Him, right? Paul says these events that are called the rapture happen at the coming of the Lord and the coming of the Lord, according to Jesus, is visible and there is only one second coming. This falls together so neatly, I don’t know why it isn’t more obvious to more people.
Read the whole thing.