In the week prior to the crucifixion Matthew records the Olivet Discourse of the Lord Jesus regarding the end time (Mt 24.1-25.46). He refers to "great tribulation" (24.21), great beyond anything either before or after. Within the same address He clearly indicates that this was foretold in the seventy weeks prophecy of Daniel 9. This details 490 years of events, 483 of which have been fulfilled, culminating in the "cutting off" of the Messiah (Dan 9.26). The final "week" of seven years, the Tribulation, still awaits fulfilment. Daniel splits the 7 years into two equal periods with the second period seemingly equating to the "great tribulation" spoken of by the Lord. During the period as a whole wickedness will abound, and Gods people of that day will face terrible persecution. Then, particularly in the second half, God Himself will pour out great judgment on the ungodly, which will see their rebellion and their persecution of His people increase.
While there are numerous references within the prophets to this period of tribulation, and brief accounts in the New Testament epistles, especially 2 Thessalonians and 2 Peter, the detail is found extensively in Revelation (chs.6-19).
But Paul also gives the main detail of another event when Gods people, including the church at Thessalonica, can expect to be "snatched away" (caught up) from this earth (1 Thess 4.13ff). This event is commonly known as the "Rapture". The Rapture is also clearly referred to by the Lord in Johns Gospel (14.3; 17.24; 21.23). Further details are found in 1 Corinthians 15.50-58, this last passage specifying "the last trump" as the time when the Rapture will take place.
The timing of the Rapture
Now while the above passages indicate that the Rapture is an event which is designed to comfort and encourage Gods people, it has become, sadly, a subject of debate and even division. The main areas of disagreement centre on when the event takes place and who will be taken. The "pre-tribulationist" position which this article supports is that the Rapture will be before the Tribulation and is primarily an event for the Church. Others believe it will take place after or post-tribulation, while yet others believe that it will occur in the middle of the Tribulation. These latter two views generally equate the "last trump" (1 Cor 15.52) with the 7th trumpet in Revelation (11.15). While this on the surface seems plausible it has several problems.
First, if they are the same the inspired Scripture could easily have used the term "seventh trumpet" instead of "last trump" to remove all doubt.
Second, there is further reference to "trumpeters" in Revelation (18.22), so the 7th trumpet sounded by an angel is not the "last" even in that book.
Third, the "trump" of 1 Corinthians 15 is not sounded by angels or men, as with those referred to in Revelation, but is the "trump of God" (1 Thess 4.16). For those who hear it, just as many have had played for them what we call "The Last Post", it is indeed "the last trump", the time of rapture for them, seen figuratively in Revelation 4.1.
Further confirmation of a pre-tribulation Rapture
This, however, is only one reason for holding on to the view that the Rapture is an imminent event removing "the church" and ensuring they do not go through the Tribulation. There are others.
The purpose of the Rapture is that believers may be with the Lord, where He is, to behold His glory, and be delivered "from the wrath to come" (Jn 14.3; 17.24; 1 Thess 1.10). Only a pre-tribulation Rapture fully meets these requirements. The Rapture is when saints are taken to heaven and peace, rather than Christ coming to earth in judgment. If it occurs before the events of Revelation chs.4-5, as the writer believes, it will enable us, like John, to witness the glory of His investiture which is found in these chapters and also precedes Revelation 6-19 where "wrath" is poured upon earth, and there is no mention of the Church.
The main objection to stating that the church will not go through the time of "wrath" is that Gods people have experienced, and still do experience, terrible persecution and forms of "tribulation" as the Lord warned (Jn 16.33). But these are at the hands of men. In the Tribulation we are considering here it is the "wrath of God" and of "the Lamb" that is poured out upon men and surely not on His church. All this is confirmed in 2 Thessalonians where the young converts at Thessalonica are concerned that the Day of the Lord has come in their time (2.2). Paul reminds them of previous teaching, and in v.6 instructs them about "what" (v.6) withholds and about "he" (v.7) who restrains the day of judgment. This "what" and "he" refer to the Church and the Holy Spirit who indwells it. In other words, the revealing of the man of sin, the mighty godless ruler who rises up after the Rapture, and the coming judgment cannot begin until the Church is removed.
There are of course many Biblical precedents for Gods people being removed before judgment. Consider Noah and his family being in the Ark safe from the judgment of the flood. Lot, too, was removed before the demise of Sodom. This is a strong argument against a partial rapture of only faithful believers as Lot, although he was a believer, was not living a godly life. Notice also the manner of the removal of Enoch and Elijah.
In addition to these precedents there are some interesting pictures foreshadowing the Lords coming for His people. Take for example Genesis 24 where Rebekah, accompanied by an unnamed servant, is brought on her journey across the wilderness towards her betrothed, but as yet unseen, bridegroom, who then comes to meet her and accompanies her to private consummation. Surely this is a picture of the Church, sealed and betrothed by the Holy Spirit, brought to private union with Christ before public revealing.
Notice, further, Johns Gospel, which never presents Christ coming to earth but rather presents Him removing His people to heaven. This Gospel views the disciples as the embryo of a New Testament Church rather than a remnant of a failed Jewish nation. In ch.5 the Lord introduces the idea of an imminent and selective resurrection which "now is" (v.25), in addition to the two all inclusive resurrections of the just and unjust (v.29).
In ch.11, the pinnacle of the Gospel, the Lord "comes" to a company of His own divided by death. He informs Martha of something more than the "resurrection at the last day" when He as "the resurrection and the life" will not only raise the dead like Lazarus, but he that "believeth in me shall never die". The Lord then demonstrates this with an immediate out-resurrection from among the dead of one who "hears" His voice. Please observe that this event not only pictures the Rapture but also outlines its position. It is followed by a supper (12.1-9) before a triumphant entry to Jerusalem, surely a picture of Rapture, Marriage Supper, and Return in Glory in that order. The pictures and position are perhaps completed by the same author when he hears the trumpet and is immediately in heaven (Rev 4.1-2). In that chapter this disciple, who recorded the first mentions of the Rapture and is linked with the possibility of being alive for it (Jn 21.22), is caught up to heaven. He is instantly with the Lord, beholds His glory (Rev chs.4-5), and observes from heaven the tribulation events on earth (chs.6-19). Interestingly, he alone of the apostolic band seemed to live beyond Peters death and Jerusalems destruction, events concerning which the Lord prophesied, which therefore need to take place prior to His return.
The prophetic clock
We, too, live in a day long after these events happened. We are not looking for signs or prophetic fulfilments, but perhaps we are seeing future events casting their shadow. Opposition to God and His people is rising. Wars, economic chaos, and moral decline are everywhere. Man-made and natural disasters are prevalent, and mens hearts fail them with fear and uncertainty. In the midst of this the child of God should, as intended by the Lord Jesus, avoid distress, take comfort, and be united in evangelism in the light of an imminent and certain return of the Lord Jesus for His people. This will then recommence the prophetic clock for the awful events of the Tribulation within the Day of the Lord, which will herald the end of this world after a Millennium of Christs rule with His people.
To be continued.