Reasons Why the Church
Will Not Be in the Tribulation Period
After chapter 3 of the book of Revelation, the church is not mentioned by the apostle John until Revelation 19:7-11. It is important to understand the underlying reason for this. The most reliable reason is that the church will be raptured to the Heaven before the opening of the "Seven Seals" in Revelation 6. That is to say, the church will not undergo the 7 years Tribulation Period. In this connection, it is worthwhile to examine the reasons why the church will not undergo the tribulation period before proceeding to chapter 4 of the book of Revelation.
For more information in this topic, please read Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, A Study in Biblical Eschatology, Zondervan.
1. The Meaning of the Word "Rapture"
The word "Rapture" (rapio in Latin, "snatch") does not itself occur in the Bible, its use in describing what takes place when the Lord Jesus returns is most appropriate. It means "a catching away"; this is clearly indicated in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (compare John 10:28 - "pluck"; Jude 23 - "pulling"). The details are supplied in 1 Thessalonians passage 4:16-18. See also 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 and Philippians 3:20, 21. Christians will be caught up, "snatched" away from the earth scene, to meet their adorable Savior -- the Lord Jesus Christ. It will be a miraculous catching away of all living believers together with the resurrected righteous dead. So, when will be the rapture happen?
2. The Pre-Tribulation Rapture Theory
The prevalent interpretation of the question of the time of the rapture in relation to the tribulation period is the pre-tribulation interpretation, which holds that the church, in its entirety, will, by resurrection and translation, be removed from the earth before any part of the seventieth week of Daniel begins (i.e. the beginning of the 7 years tribulation period). This theory is widely accepted by traditional orthodox Christian churches and Theological Seminaries. The reasons in supporting the pre-tribulation rapture theory are as follows:
2.1 The literal method of interpretation
The doctrine of the pre-millennial return of Christ to institute a literal kingdom is the outcome of the literal method of interpretation of the Old Testament promises and prophecies. The post-tribulationist must either interpret the book of Revelation historically, which is basically a spiritualizing method which spiritualize away the literalness of the events in an attempt to harmonize these events with other Scriptures such the Old Testament prophecies regarding the future Millennial reign of the Messiah.
2.2 The nature of the seventieth week
There are a number of words used in
both the Old and New Testaments to describe the seventieth week period,
which give us the essential nature of this period: wrath (Revelation 6:16-17; 11:18;
14:19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 5:9; Zephaniah
1:15, 18); punishment (Isaiah 24:20-21); hour of trouble (Jeremiah 30:7); destruction (Joel 1:15); and darkness (Joel 2:2; Zephaniah 1:14-18;
wrath (Revelation 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 5:9; Zephaniah 1:15, 18);
punishment (Isaiah 24:20-21);
hour of trouble (Jeremiah 30:7);
destruction (Joel 1:15); and
darkness (Joel 2:2; Zephaniah 1:14-18; Amos 5:18).
Let us understand the nature of the Tribulation is divine wrath. We know that our Lord Jesus Christ bore for us the wrath of God, therefore we who are in Him shall not come into judgment. "For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).
2.3 The scope of the seventieth week
This period relates to the unbelieving Gentile nations and particularly to Israel. Jeremiah 30:7 calls this period "the time of Jacob's trouble." God says to Daniel "seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city" (Daniel 9:24). This whole period has special reference to Daniel's people, Israel, and Daniel's holy city, Jerusalem.
Inasmuch as many passages in the New Testament such as Ephesians 3:1-6; Colossians 1:25-27 make it clear that the church is a mystery and its nature as a body composed of Jew and Gentile alike was unrevealed in the Old Testament. Since the church did not have its existence until after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2), the church could not have been in the first sixty-nine weeks of Daniel's prophecy. Since it had no part in the first sixty-nine weeks, which are related only to Israel, it can have no part in the seventieth week, which is again related to God's program for Israel after the mystery program for the church has been concluded.
2.4 The purpose of the seventieth week
There are two major purposes to be accomplished in the seventieth week.
The first purpose is stated in Revelation 3:10, "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." First of all we see that this period has in view "them that dwell on the earth" and not the church. The true church does not need to be tested to see if her faith is genuine.
The second major purpose of the seventieth week is in relation to Israel. The God will send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the day of the Lord in order to prepare a remnant in Israel for the advent of the Lord (Malachi 4:5-6). It is evident that no such ministry is needed by the church since she by nature is without spot, but is holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).
2.5 The unity of the seventieth week
The entire seventieth week is in view when it is described and predicted in Bible prophecy. It becomes impossible to adopt the position that the church although exempt from a portion of the seventieth week, may be in the first half of it, for the nature of the entire seventieth week is the same throughout.
2.6 The nature of the church
It should be observed that the professing church is composed of those who make a profession of faith in Christ. To some this profession is based on reality and to some on no reality at all. This latter group will go into the tribulation period, for Revelation 2:22 indicates clearly that the unsaved professing church will experience this visitation of wrath. Only the true church will be raptured.
Membership in the group called national Israel is based on a physical birth, and all in this group who are not saved and removed by rapture and who are alive at the time of the rapture will, with the professing church, be subjected to the wrath of the tribulation.
There is a distinction between the true church and true or spiritual Israel. Prior to Pentecost there were saved individuals, but there was no church, and they were a part of spiritual Israel, not the church. After the day of Pentecost and until the rapture we find the church which is Christ's body, but no spiritual Israel because all faithful men will become a church member. After the rapture we find no church, but a true or spiritual Israel again. These distinctions must be kept clearly in mind as they would help us to understand the nature of the true church.
Since the church is the object of Christ's love (Ephesians 5:25) and has been perfected and delivered from all judgment (Romans 8:1; John 5:24; 1 John 4:17), if she is subjected to wrath and judgment again the promises of God would be of none effect and the death of Christ would be ineffectual.
Again, all who are in the seventieth week are brought into subjection to the powers of the Beasts and Satan (Revelation 13:7). If the church were in this period she would be subjected to Satan, and Christ would Himself, because of His union with the church, would be likewise subjected to Satan's authority. Such a thing is impossible.
2.7 The concept of the church as a mystery
The fact that God was going to form Jews and Gentiles alike into one body was never revealed in the Old Testament and forms the mystery of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:1-7; Romans 16:25-27; Colossians 1:26-29. This whole mystery program was not revealed until after the rejection of Christ by Israel. It was after the rejection of Matthew 12:23-24 that the Lord first makes a prophecy of the coming church in Matthew 16:18. It is after the rejection of the Cross that the church had its inception in Acts 2. It was after the final rejection by Israel that God called out Paul to be the Apostle of the Gentiles through whom this mystery of the nature of the church is revealed. The church is manifestly an interruption of God's program for Israel, which was not brought into being until Israel's rejection of the offer of the Kingdom. This mystery program must itself be brought to a conclusion before God can resume His dealing with the nation Israel. This concept of the church makes a pre-tribulation rapture a necessity.
2.8 The distinctions between Israel and the church
Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, IV, pp. 47-53, has set forth twenty-four contrasts between Israel and the church which show us conclusively that these two groups cannot be united into one, but that they must be distinguished as two separate entities with whom God is dealing in a special program. I add four more contrasts between Israel and the church, therefore there are twenty-eight contrasts now. More information and also the relevant Bible references can be found in the book written by Dr. C.I. Scofield, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth. Diligent students should find out all the relevant Bible references for these contrasts.
These twenty-five contrasts are listed in below table:
These clear contrasts, make it impossible to identify the two in one program, which it necessary to do if the church goes through the seventieth week.
2.9 The doctrine of imminence
Many signs were given to the nation of Israel which would precede the second advent, so that the nation might be living in expectancy when the time of His coming should draw nigh. To the Church no such signs were ever given. The Church was told to live in the light of the imminent coming of the Lord to translate them in His presence (John 14:2-3; Acts 1:11; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Timothy 6:14; 1 Peter 3:3-4). All believers are to be watching for the Lord Himself, not for signs that would precede His coming. The fact that no signs are given to the Church, but she, rather, is commanded to watch for Christ, precludes her participation in the seventieth week.
2.10 The work of the restrainer (i.e. Holy Spirit) in 2 Thessalonians 2
As long as the Holy Spirit is resident within the Church (i.e. all believers), which is His temple, this restraining work will continue and the man of sin cannot be revealed. It is only when the Church, the temple, is removed that this restraining ministry ceases and lawlessness can produce the lawless one. This ministry of the Holy Spirit must cease before the lawless one can be revealed, requires the pre-tribulation rapture of the church, for Daniel 9:27 reveals that that lawless one will be manifested at the beginning of the week.
It should be noted that the Holy Spirit does not cease His ministries with the removal of the Church, nor does He cease to be omnipresent, with her removal, but the restraining ministry does cease.
2.11 The necessity of an interval
Passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:9; 1 Corinthians 3:11-16; Revelation 4:4; 19:8, 14 show that the Church has been examined as to her stewardship and has received her reward at the time of the second advent of Christ. It is impossible to conceive of this event as taking place without the expiration of some period of time. The Church is to be presented as a gift from the Father to the Son (Ephesians 5:25-27; Jude 24). In Revelation 19:7-9 it is revealed that the consummation of the union between Christ and the Church precedes the second advent. In many passages, such as Matthew 25:1-13; 22:1-14; and Luke 12:35-41, the King is seen in the role of Bridegroom at His coming, indicating that the marriage has taken place. This event requires the expiration of a period of time and makes the view that the rapture and revelation are simultaneous events impossible. In this connection, an interval between the rapture and the revelation is required.
2.12 Distinction between the rapture and the second advent
There are a number of contrasts (note: 17 contrasts here) to be drawn between the rapture and the second advent which will show that they are not viewed as synonymous in Scripture. Diligent students should find out all the relevant Bible references for these contrasts and e-mail a copy to me for correction. These contrasts are listed in below table:
2.13 The twenty-four elders
In Revelation 4:4 John is given a vision of twenty-four elders who are seated on thrones, clothed in white raiment, crowned with golden crowns, and in heaven in the presence of God. The twenty-four elders could not be angelic beings, for angels are not crowned with victors' crowns received as rewards, nor are they seated on thrones, which throne speaks of royal dignity and prerogative, nor are angels robed in white as a result of judgment. The impossibility of this view argues for the second view which sees them as resurrected redeemed men, who are clothed, crowned and seated on thrones in connection with royalty in Heaven.
Since, according to Revelation 5:8, these twenty-four are associated in a priestly act, which is never said of angels, they must be believer-priests associated with the Great High Priest. Inasmuch as Israel is not resurrected until the end of the seventieth week, nor judged nor rewarded until the coming of the Lord according to Isaiah 26:19-21 and Daniel 12:1-2, these must be representatives of the saints of this present age.
Since they are seen to be resurrected in heaven at the beginning of the seventieth week, it is concluded that the Church must have been raptured before the seventieth week begins. If the Church is not resurrected and translated here, how could the Church be in Heaven in Revelation 19:7-11?
For further discussions of the identity of the twenty-four elders, please read Section 4 of the Chapter 5 of this course.
2.14 The problem behind 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The Thessalonian Christians had misunderstood the relation between the resurrection and the saints who were asleep in Christ to the rapture. Paul wrote that at the rapture the living would not have an advantage over the dead in Christ.
If the Thessalonians had believed that the Church would be going through the seventieth week they would have rejoiced that some of their brethren had missed this period of suffering and were with the Lord in the Heaven without experiencing the outpouring of wrath on the earth. If the Church were going through the tribulation it would be better to be with the Lord in the Heaven than to have to await the events of the seventieth week. They would be praising the Lord that their brethren were spared these events instead of feeling that those had missed some of the Lord's blessings (i.e. rapture).
These Christians evidently believed that the Church would not go through the seventieth week and in their anticipation of the return of Christ mourned for their brethren, whom they thought had missed the blessing of this event (i.e. rapture).
2.15 The announcement of peace and safety
In 1 Thessalonians 5:3 Paul tells the Thessalonian church that the Day of the Lord will come after the announcement of "peace and safety." This false security will lull many into a state of lethargy in relation to the Day of the Lord so that that day comes as a thief. This announcement that has produced this lethargy precedes the Day of the Lord.
If the Church were in the seventieth week there would be no possibility that, during the period when believers are being persecuted by the beast to an unprecedented degree, such a message could be preached and find acceptation so that men would be lulled into complacency. All the signs would point to the fact that they were not in a time of "peace and safety." The fact that the visitation of wrath, judgment and darkness is preceded by the announcement of such a message indicates that the Church must be raptured before that period can begin.
2.16 The relation of the Church to governments
The Church is instructed to be in subjection to human governments (1 Peter 2:13-16; Titus 3:1; Romans 13:1-7). According to Revelation 13:4 the government during the seventieth week is controlled by Satan and is carrying out his will. Because of the relationship of the Church to governments in this age and because of the Satanic control of government in the seventieth week, the Church must be delivered before this Satanic government manifests itself. The Church could not subject herself to such a government.
2.17 The destiny of the Church
The destiny of the Church is a heavenly destiny. When we study the destiny of the saved in the seventieth week we find that their expectation and promise is earthly (Matthew 25:34). If the Church is on earth during the seventieth week all who are saved during that period would be saved to a place in the body of Christ. If the rapture did not take place till the end of the seventieth week, and part of the saved went into an earthly blessing and part into a heavenly destiny, the body of Christ would be dismembered and the unity destroyed. Such dismemberment is impossible. This can only indicate that those saved during this seventieth week to go into the Millennium must have been saved after the termination of the program for the Church.
2.18 The message to Laodicea
In Revelation 3:14-22 John gives a message to the church in Laodicea. This church represents the final form of the professing church, which is rejected by the Lord and vomited out of His mouth because of the unreality of its profession. If the Church goes into the seventieth week in its entirety and not just the professing portion of it, it would have to be concluded that this Laodicean church is the picture of the true Church.
The true Church could not go through the persecutions of the seventieth week and still be lukewarm to her Lord. The persecution would either fan the fire and turn the lukewarmness into an intense heat, or else it would extinguish the fire altogether. The other alternative is to see that the true Church terminates with the Philadelphia church, which is removed from the earth according to the promise of Revelation 3:10 before the tribulation begins, and the false professing church, from which the true has been separated by rapture, is left behind, rejected by the Lord, and vomited out into the seventieth week to reveal the true nature of her profession so that such may be rejected justly by the Lord.
2.19 The waiting remnant at the second advent
Passage such as Malachi 3:16; Ezekiel 20:33-38; 37:11-28; Zechariah 13:8-9; Revelation 7:1-8, indicate clearly that when the Lord returns to earth there will be a believing remnant in Israel awaiting His return. Along with these are passages such as Matthew 25:31-40 and such parables as Matthew 22:1-13 and Luke 14:16-24 that show that there will be a multitude of believers among the Gentiles who will believe and await His return.
There must also be group of believing Gentiles who can receive, through faith, the benefits of the covenants in His reign. These groups go into the Millennium in their natural bodies, saved, but not having experienced death and resurrection (Matthew 25:31-40; Revelation 7:9-17).
If the Church were on earth until the time of the second advent, these saved individuals would have been saved to a position in the Church, would have been raptured at that time, and consequently there would not be one saved person left on the earth. These considerations make necessary the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church, so that God may call out and preserve a remnant during the tribulation in and through whom the promises may be fulfilled.
2.20 The sealed 144,000 from Israel
As long as the Church is on the earth there are none saved to a special Jewish relationship. All who are saved are saved to a position in the body of Christ (i.e. the Church) as indicated in Colossians 1:26-29; 3:11; Ephesians 2:14-22; 3:1-7. During the seventieth week the Church must be absent, for out of the saved remnant in Israel God seals 144,000 Jews, 12,000 from each tribe (Revelation 7:14). The fact that God is again dealing with Israel on this national relationship, setting them apart to national identities, and sending them as special representatives to the nations in place of the witness of the Church, indicates that the Church must no longer be on earth.
2.21 The great object of satanic attack
According to Revelation 12, the object of satanic attack during the tribulation period is "the woman" who produced the child. Since this child is born "to rule all nations with a rod of iron" (Revelation 12:5), it can only refer to Christ, the one whose right it is to rule. The Psalmist confirms this interpretation in Psalm 2:9, which is admittedly Messianic. The one from whom Christ came can only be Israel.
At the time Satan is cast out of Heaven (Revelation 12:9) he goes forth with "great wrath because he knoweth that he hath but a short time" (Revelation 12:12). The Church must not be here, for, since it is the "body of Christ," it would be the object of satanic attack then as it has been all through the age (Ephesians 6:12) if it were present. The reason Satan turns against Israel can only be explained by the absence of the Church from that scene.
2.22 The apostasy of the period
The complete apostasy of the period on the part of the professing church prevents the Church from being in the world. The only organized church ever mentioned in the tribulation period is the Jezebel system (Revelation 2:22) and the harlot system (Revelation 17 and 18). If the true Church were on earth, since it is not mentioned as separate from the apostate system, it must be a part of that apostasy. Such a conclusion is impossible. The believing witnesses, converted during the period, are specifically said to have kept themselves from defilement by this apostate system (Revelation 14:4). Since the Church is not mentioned as also having kept herself from this system it must be concluded that the Church is not there.
2.23 The promises to the true Church
There are certain passages of Scripture
which definitely promise the Church a removal before the seventieth
week. "I will keep thee from the
hour of temptation" (Revelation 3:10). John is promising a
complete removal from the sphere of testing, not a preservation
through it. "God hath not appointed us
to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ"
(1 Thessalonians 5:9). The contrast in this passage is between wrath
and salvation from that wrath. 1 Thessalonians 5:2 indicates that
this wrath and darkness is that of the Day of the Lord. A comparison
of this passage with Joel 2:2; Zephaniah 1:14-18; Amos 5:18 will
describe the darkness mentioned here as the darkness of the seventieth
week. A comparison with Revelation 6:17; 11:18; 14:10, 19; 15:1,
7; 16:1, 19 will describe the wrath of the Day of the Lord. Paul clearly teaches that our expectation
is not wrath, but the revelation of "His Son from Heaven."
This could not be unless the Son were revealed before the wrath
of the seventieth week falls on the earth (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
"I will keep thee from the hour of temptation" (Revelation 3:10). John is promising a complete removal from the sphere of testing, not a preservation through it.
"God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:9). The contrast in this passage is between wrath and salvation from that wrath. 1 Thessalonians 5:2 indicates that this wrath and darkness is that of the Day of the Lord. A comparison of this passage with Joel 2:2; Zephaniah 1:14-18; Amos 5:18 will describe the darkness mentioned here as the darkness of the seventieth week. A comparison with Revelation 6:17; 11:18; 14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19 will describe the wrath of the Day of the Lord.
Paul clearly teaches that our expectation is not wrath, but the revelation of "His Son from Heaven." This could not be unless the Son were revealed before the wrath of the seventieth week falls on the earth (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
2.24 The agreement of typology
If a teaching is contrary to all typology it cannot be a true interpretation. Scripture abounds in types which teach that those who walked by faith were delivered from the visitations of judgment which overtook the unbelieving. Such types are seen in the experience of Noah (Genesis 6:13-9:19) and Rahab (Joshua 2:1-24; 6:1-17), but perhaps the clearest illustration is that of Lot (Genesis 18:20-19:25). In 2 Peter 2:6-9, Lot is called a righteous man. This divine commentary will shed light on Genesis 19:22, where the angel sought to hasten the departure of Lot with the words "Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do anything till thou be come thither." If the presence of one righteous man prevented the outpouring of deserved judgment on the city of Sodom, how much more will the presence of the Church on earth prevent the outpouring of divine wrath until after her removal.
A number of reasons for belief in the pre-tribulation rapture position have been presented. Some of them are particularly applicable to the mid-tribulation rapture position and others applicable to the post-tribulation rapture position. It should be borne in mind that it is not claimed that all the arguments have the same weight. The pre-tribulation doctrine is not based on these arguments singly, but rather they are considered as cumulative evidence that the Church will be delivered by rapture before the inception of Daniel's seventieth week.
BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR FURTHER STUDY J. Dwight Pentecost. Things to
Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co. 1961). Charles J. Woodbridge. Bible Prophecy
(Moody Bible Institute). R.E. Harlow. Revelation, the Coming
King (Everyday Publications 1984). C. Ernest Tatham. Bible Prophecy
(Emmaus Bible College). Sir Robert Anderson. The Coming
Prince (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications). Theodore H. Epp. compiler. Brief
Outlines of Things to Come (Moody Press 1952). Robert L. Thomas. Revelation, An
Exegetical Commentary (Moody Press 1992). John F. Walvoord. The Revelation
of Jesus Christ (Moody Press 1966).
J. Dwight Pentecost. Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co. 1961).
Charles J. Woodbridge. Bible Prophecy (Moody Bible Institute).
R.E. Harlow. Revelation, the Coming King (Everyday Publications 1984).
C. Ernest Tatham. Bible Prophecy (Emmaus Bible College).
Sir Robert Anderson. The Coming Prince (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications).
Theodore H. Epp. compiler. Brief Outlines of Things to Come (Moody Press 1952).
Robert L. Thomas. Revelation, An Exegetical Commentary (Moody Press 1992).
John F. Walvoord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Moody Press 1966).
Views of the Rapture in Relation to the So-called "Great Tribulation"
Reasons Why the Church Will Not Be in the Tribulation Period |
Reasons Why the Church Will Not Go Through the Great Tribulation |
Defending the Pre-Tribulation Rapture