Rightly Dividing the Rapture
Vol: 71 Issue: 22 Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Every time I publish a column on the pre-Trib Rapture of the Church, I invite arguments and challenges from those who are just as convinced that the Rapture occurs at a later time, or even that we are already in the early part of the Tribulation.
I decided years ago against entering into debates about the timing of the Rapture for two obvious reasons. (Obvious, at least, to me.)
The first is because I don’t want to encourage people to put their faith in their salvation on their understanding of the Rapture Doctrine.
I’ve heard from people who accuse me of not being saved because I don’t share their interpretation. Salvation comes by faith in the shed Blood of Christ as full payment for the sins of the believer who trusts Him.
Pre-trib, Mid-trip, Pre-wrath, Post-trib, no-trib, these are doctrinal interpretations — the ‘strong meat’ of doctrine. But the writer of Hebrews cautions;
“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” (Hebrews 5:12)
The ‘principles of the oracles of God’ are that man is a sinner, that by God’s grace He has made a way of salvation, and the way of salvation is by faith through trust in Jesus Christ. These are eternal principles.
The second reason is because it is an unprovable argument. Until it happens, nobody will know who is right. After it happens, nobody will care. So why argue about it at all?
On the other hand, it is my calling to teach the truth of Scripture as God has given me to understand it. And I believe the pre-Trib Rapture is key to understanding the unfolding outline of Bible prophecy for the last days. I don’t teach it to convince anybody otherwise. It simply forms the basis of my understanding of unfolding events.
The issue of when Jesus Christ will return for His Church, relative to the Tribulation Period, is a topic of great interest to this generation, because it is this generation that will either participate in the event or be left behind whenever it happens.
But I believe the other arguments misplace their focus when it comes to the issue of the Rapture — they see the event, but miss how it fits together in the overall plan of God. It gets magnified all out of proportion to its actual role — it becomes a ‘Great Escape’ for Christians instead of a necessary included element in a larger plan.
Once separated from its context, the Rapture can be viewed as an event in and of itself. And once viewed from this perspective, it doesn’t make much theological difference where on the last days’ timeline one puts it.
On the other hand, taken in the context of the overall outline of prophecy for the last days, placing it anywhere within the timeline of the seven year Tribulation Period throws everything else on the timeline out of context.
There is a distinct difference between the Church and the Kingdom. The Church is compared to a house, a body, but never to a kingdom. Christ is the Head of the Church, but never referred to as its King.
He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but His spiritual relationship to the Church is that of Bridegroom. The Church’s spiritual relationship to Him is that we are, corporately, the Body of Christ.
The Church is the Body of Christ, made up of living members, an organism, rather than an organization. In the same way our human body manifests our personality, the Church is for the purpose of manifesting His Personality. The only way the world can see Christ is through the Church.
The Kingdom of Heaven was what Jesus came to set up on earth at His First Advent. Until He was rejected by the Jews, His ministry was focused exclusively on the Jews and the Kingdom of Heaven. When Jesus sent out the Apostles, two by two, it was to the Jews:
“Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the ‘lost sheep’ of the HOUSE OF ISRAEL, and as ye go, preach, saying– ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is AT HAND.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils (demons).” (Matthew 10:5-8).
Note that the works they were to perform were “Kingdom SIGNS,” but had no reference to the salvation of the soul. They did not preach the “Gospel of Salvation,” but the “Gospel of the Kingdom.”
The “Gospel of Salvation” is for the whole world, but the Disciples were forbidden to go to any but the “House of Israel,” thus showing that what they preached was exclusively for Israel.
The Kingdom Age is in two parts. It is both a past and future Dispensation, referring to both Israel under the Judges in the past, and looking forward to the Millennial Kingdom to come.
The Kingdom is an outward, visible and political organization to be set up by Christ during the Millennial Dispensation. The Church is a spiritual organization.
In between the two is the Dispensation of the Church.
The First Advent of Christ took place in two stages. In the first stage, Jesus took on the form of a man via His Virgin Birth at Bethlehem. The second stage was when He ascended into Heaven.
At His ascension, two angels were standing nearby, “Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
The Bible predicts His Second Advent will also take place in two stages. In Stage One, Jesus will return precisely as the angels told the Apostles He would;
“For the Lord Himself shall descend with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds. . .” (1st Thessalonians 4:17)
In Stage Two, Jude 14 tells us, “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His Saints. . .” Notice that Jude doesn’t say He comes FOR His Saints, but WITH them.
So, at the First Stage, He comes secretly in the air. At the Second Stage, He comes publicly, “where every eye can see Him” and stand again on the Mount of Olives from which He ascended, as foretold by the Prophet Zechariah (Zecaraiah 14:1-4).
Stage One is to fulfill His Promises to the Church. “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21)
I teach a pre-Trib Rapture because, as a pre-Trib event, it has a place in the plan of God. If it isn’t a pre-Trib event, then it serves no discernible purpose. Follow along with me, here.
The pre-Tribulational purpose for the Rapture is NOT a “Great Escape” for the Church, but a necessary included element of the Tribulation Period. How so, you ask? The Tribulation Period is a time set aside to two Biblically defined purposes. The first is to bring judgment upon a Christ-rejecting world.
“Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.” (Revelation 18:23)
The second reason for the Tribulation is to bring about the national redemption of the Jews. While the Church is being judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ in the air, the Jews will be judged under Antichrist on the earth.
God’s promises to the Jews are earthly; they are the inheritors of the earth, it logically follows that their judgment must be of an earthly character.
The Church was judged at the Cross. It is neither wicked nor Christ rejecting. It has no logical role to play during the Tribulation.
The Tribulation “saints” are those who are led to Christ by the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (Revelation 7) and they cannot be the Church, since Revelation 13:7 says that the antichrist is able to “overcome” them.
During the Dispensation of the Church Age, “whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (1st John 5:4)
“Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1st John 5:5)
It is not possible for the world to overcome Church Age saints. It is possible for the world to overcome the Tribulation saints.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit must be withdrawn from the earth in order for the antichrist’s evil to proceed unrestrained.
“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work, only He who now restrains will continue to restrain, until He be taken out of the way.” (2nd Thessalonians 2:7) There is only one “He” that restrains evil, and that is the Holy Spirit.
Since the Holy Spirit indwells me, and the Scriptures say the antichrist cannot be revealed as long as He does, it then logically follows that either He leaves me spiritually alone to face the greatest spiritual crisis in human history, or when the Restrainer is removed, the vessels that He indwells will be removed with Him.
It is NOT a “Great Escape” for one generation of Christians, somewhere in time. It is a fulfillment of a promise made by Jesus Christ to ALL Christians in ALL generations: “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16)
Those who see the Rapture as a “Great Escape” are seeing only a tiny piece of the Big Picture. The Rapture isn’t an escape for Christians, it is a necessary part of the judgment against those who rejected Him.
By any possible understanding of the mechanism of salvation, those who are saved are, by virtue of the shed Blood of Christ, deemed to be judicially innocent. Everybody clear on that part?
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1) This is either an eternal truth, or it is not.
If the Church is in the Tribulation, then God is bringing judgment against the innocent. I found at least 21 references to the phrase “innocent blood” in Scripture. Here is a representative example:
“Thus saith the LORD; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:2)
Judgment is ordered against the guilty, but the innocent are spared.
I am either innocent of my sins by the grace of God by virtue of the shed Blood of Christ, and therefore redeemed and eligible for heaven, or I am guilty of my sins and deserve to be judged for them.
I cannot be judged as both innocent and guilty. That makes no sense.
The Tribulation Period is a time of judgment for sin. There are twenty-one separate judgments pronounced against those who dwell upon the earth during the Tribulation.
Either that judgment falls on the guilty and the innocent, or it falls on the guilty alone. Logic and deductive reasoning both demand that, assuming the revealed nature of God and the imputed righteousness of Christ, judgment falls on the guilty alone.
God has no reason to bring judgment on the innocent. And everything we know about regeneration demands accepting the premise that those covered by the Blood of Christ are innocent as babes in the eyes of God — or heaven would remain empty, since no sin or sinner can exist there.
Logic and deductive reasoning, coupled with chapter and verse of Scripture, reveal that God does not have a double-standard regarding our innocence; ie; we are guilty here and innocent in the hereafter.
If that were true, we could not expect Him to hear our prayers in the here and now, since the only prayer God hears from the lost is the prayer for salvation.
If we are innocent of sin by virtue of our redemption right now, so that we can go boldly before the Throne of God and present Him with our petitions, then we are not, at this moment, under the judgment of sin. And the Tribulation is exclusively dedicated to the judgment of sin.
I said earlier that, if the Rapture isn’t a pre-Trib event, it serves no discernible purpose. A pre-Trib Rapture as part of the evacuation of the ministry of the Holy Spirit serves the purpose of accomplishing that evacuation. It prepares the earth for judgment by leaving only the guilty for it to fall on.
It allows for the Judgment Seat of Christ, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, explains the heavenly perspective of Revelation 4:1 and forward, and requires no Scriptural gymnastics to make it all fit.
I can think of no discernible purpose for a mid-Trib or post-Trib Rapture other than some kind of Great Escape for Christians Only.
There is a reason why I believe, and teach — but don’t argue over — a pre-Trib Rapture. Bible prophecy is unfolding like a jigsaw puzzle — each piece fitting together with another piece, gradually revealing a greater part of the Big Picture.
I use the jigsaw analogy because each element of Bible prophecy is dependent on all the others for the Big Picture to emerge — a Bible discipline called systematic theology.
Each individual event is part of flow; Israel had to be reborn for Europe, Russia, the Middle East, etc., to align according to Bible prophecy. Until Israel took its place in history, none of the other prophesied events could move forward.
The Rapture has its natural place in the flow of events leading to the visible 2nd Coming of Christ. Move it around, and other events, like the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, Believer’s judgment, etc., get crowded forward into the Millennial Kingdom.
The flow is interrupted and compensation has to be made by allegorizing or spiritualizing heavenly events to make it all fit.
Move the Rapture and God must change His nature and judge the innocent with the guilty. The Promise of Christ that the Holy Spirit would indwell me forever must be re-interpreted.
Put the Church in the Tribulation and the purpose of the Tribulation must be reinterpreted to somehow include those who are neither Christ-rejecting or unredeemed.
Put the Church in the Tribulation and the Bible contradicts itself, and those who can’t be overcome now suddenly can, then.
If the Church is in the Tribulation, Daniel’s prophecy about the seventieth week being for the redemption of Jews, AND Paul’s description of the Tribulation as a time of judgment against unbelievers are diluted.
The whole outline changes. Judgment is no longer THE reason for the Tribulation, since it falls on the innocent and the guilty alike, like a tornado.
The entire unfolding Plan of God is changed, and events can be moved around like chess pieces to make it all fit all kinds of theories. Do you see it?
What you end up with is hundreds of competing theories about the last days, all of which can be supported by Scriptures, but all of them different. It is what we have now.
THAT is why I teach a pre-Trib Rapture as being key to understanding unfolding Bible prophecy. If there is not a clear distinction between the Dispensation of the Church and the Final Dispensation of Daniel’s 70th Week, anything becomes possible.
If one is open to the idea that there is more than one possibility, then the result is more than one version of doctrinal truth.
The Apostle Paul taught a pre-Trib Rapture. The overall flow of Scripture for the last days requires a pre-Trib Rapture for there to be a systematic blueprint against which to overlay Bible prophecy.
One doesn’t have to agree with a pre-Trib Rapture to be saved. So I don’t debate it. But I can’t teach from any other perspective
And I am unlikely to shift my view to any other unless each and every objection outlined above can be answered without torturing Scripture. And it can’t. I’ve tried.
There is a test that I apply to determine the rightly divided Word of God. It is the same test used for a mathematical equation. If you are dividing it right, you can’t come up with alternative answers.
You get the same one every time.