A Challenge to the Pre-Trib Rapture? (Part 1)
I have received the following objection to the Pre-Trib Rapture from a brother named Jerry Parks. Jerry is a good man who blogs here. He states his argument thus (I have brought together his main assertions from several comments etc.):
Paul makes clear in his discussion of the resurrection in 1 Cor. 15 that it is being in Christ that is the only means to the resurrection of which Paul is speaking. Specifically he says: “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (KJV).
Paul plainly states that no one will see a resurrection to life eternal without being in Christ, and that anyone who has died in Christ must be raised or resurrected before there will be a Rapture.
How are we to interpret the apostle’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1:22 that “in Christ all shall be made alive”? I don’t think it is difficult. Paul is writing to the Church, so he is speaking about the Church.
This then seems to be the bricks and mortar of Jerry’s objection. Let me break it down as I understand it:
- One has to be in Christ in order to be resurrected
- The dead in Christ rise first and then we get the rapture
- “Anyone who has died in Christ must be raised or resurrected before there will be a Rapture.”
- “We further know that there are many who will die ‘in Christ’ as saved individuals during the Great Tribulation; therefore the Rapture must await their resurrection”
- Ergo, a post-trib rapture.
The first thing to note is that according to this objection a person must be in Christ to be resurrected. But what does it mean to be in Christ? Does it mean in Christ’s Body, the Church? The objection states that the rapture only occurs after every saint (presumably from all ages) has been resurrected. At that time they are all “snatched out” of the world. And so we arrive at a post-tribulation rapture.
This objection separates the resurrection from the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4. It precludes any pre-trib rapture since this view posits Church saints being glorified and brought up to heaven after meeting Christ in the air, but it allows for many to be saved in the seven-year tribulation, many of whom will be martyred but resurrected in the Millennial Kingdom. That is to say, pretribulationists do not have a problem with saints in the Church being resurrected seven years before the resurrection of martyred saints at Christ’s return. But does Jerry’s argument have purchase?
A key assumption at work here seems to be that the Church has always existed, since according to Paul to be “in Christ” equates to being in the Church which is His Body (Col. 1:24; Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:12-13). If every saint from every age is in Christ it follows that they are in the Church.
I find a number of problems with this view. Firstly, the Church is espoused to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27, 32), and will be married to Him (Rev. 21:9-10). Israel, on the other hand, is said to be married to Yahweh (Isa. 54:5; Jer. 3:14; Hos. 2:14-20), even though Israel played the harlot. The Church is not a harlot. So what needs to be done before this first assertion is accepted is to prove that the Church (i.e. those said to be “in Christ”) is in the OT. If this cannot be proven then the assertion is in trouble at the starting gate.
But adding to the problem of equating those “In Christ” with the Church of all ages is the fact that the NT very definitely teaches that the Christian Ekklesia (Church) is a post-resurrection phenomenon. It did not exist before the resurrection of Jesus. We can verify this in at least two ways; A. The Church is said to be “new,” a “mystery,” and future from the perspective of Christ’s ministry. B. Those “in Christ” are connected to His resurrection life. Let me explain:
A. After stating that Gentile believers have been “brought near” by Christ’s blood (Eph. 2:13), Paul asserts that “the middle wall of separation” between Jews and Gentiles has been “broken down” at the cross so that Christ has created “in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” (see Eph. 2:14-15). The context is unavoidable. The Body of Christ a “post-resurrectional,” and therefore the “new man,” the Church, cannot be in existence prior to the cross and resurrection. But also, although there might be some wiggle-room in Paul’s language about the Church as a “mystery” not before revealed in Ephesians 3:3-6, there is no ambiguity at all in Colossians 1:26, unless one wishes to dispute the fact that “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27) does not require us to be “in Christ,” which would in any case defang Jerry’s argument, but would fly in the fact of and its mention of “His body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24). When one includes alongside these substantial reasons the fact that Christ referred to the Church as future in Matthew 16:18 argument looks in real trouble. If being “in Christ” refers to being in Christ’s resurrected body, which is the Church, then there is no such thing as the Church in the OT and therefore not every saint is in the Church. QED.
B. Perhaps even more destructive to Jerry’s thesis is that fact, so often ignored, that the Church is connected through the Spirit to Christ’s resurrection life. This is Paul’s point in Romans 6:4-11. It is augmented in Ephesians 1:15-23 and 2:4-6, 10. OT saints are not said to be linked to the resurrection of Christ in this way.
Before looking at 1 Thessalonians 4 I want to zoom in on the fourth premise of Jerry’s argument as I have constructed it. He says, “We further know that there are many who will die ‘in Christ’ as saved individuals during the Great Tribulation.”
What needs to be fleshed out here? Obviously, the claim to “know” that Tribulation saints will be “in Christ” in Paul’s sense. My response is that Jerry does not “know” this, he assumes it. In fact, he is guilty of begging the question here since pre-tribulationists deny this very thing. Hence, what needs to be done is to provide clear proof for the statement. This ought to include reasons why Revelation does not mention the Church in its central (Tribulational) section, as well as the difficulty of finding the Church in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25; Mk. 13; Lk. 21).
Reposted from Dr. Reluctant.
Paul Henebury Bio
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.
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I want to apologize for the lack of attention I gave to this article. I should have proof-read better. I usually have little time to write these pieces.
Dr. Paul Henebury
I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.