(Read the entire series.)
As I bring this series to a close, I want to provide some summaries of the various rapture positions, along with a few pros and cons. Of course, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, and I understand that much more could be said in support of each position. Still, my main goal has been to come at the doctrine from a slightly different angle and to present the theological issues which arise.
The posttrib position is that the church goes through the Tribulation. Proponents of this view rightly call attention to what they see as a natural correspondence between the Second Coming of Jesus and the rapture of the Church. Christ only comes once, they say, and it makes no sense to seek out any other event slotted into God’s calendar seven years before that great event.
Passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, and John 14:1-3 do not refer explicitly to the timing of the rapture, and it is understandable that posttribulationists think that the burden of proof would be on those who want to separate the rapture and the Second Coming. Also, while I hesitate to call Matthew 24:40-41 a rapture passage, I have said that (accepting it as an end-trib passage), in light of Revelation 14, it has something going for it.
For me, the strongest verses for postribulationism are those in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10. These words are spoken to the church, and yet they imply that the saints are awaiting the revealing (apokalypsis) of the Lord in terms very reminiscent of advent passages like Isaiah 63 (cf. Rev. 14:19-20), Malachi 3:2 and 4:1. I admit that of all the texts appealed to by posttribulationists, 2 Thessalonians 1 gives me the most trouble.
Using the Rules of Affinity we might display it like this:
- Proposition: The church remains on earth until the Second Coming (viz. post-trib rapture).
- Text: “and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels”—2 Thess. 1:7
On the face of it this looks like at least a C2 (an inevitable conclusion). But the “Rules” only function properly when the context is verified. And the context does not mention the rapture at all. This means that the rapture view must still be studied via other pertinent verses. The “Rules” would have to be brought in there and the conclusions may effect the “inevitability” of the result above.
The way I interpret it is that the comforting of the saints happens before the Second Advent on whichever view is taken, so these verses are not standalone verses which settle the wider argument. What this means is that, like it or not, posttrib advocates must cast their nets wider to draw in specific rapture texts and fit them into their scenario. While I am happy to admit that beginning with this passage the preponderance of evidence is with the post-tribulational position, I think it begins to weaken when other texts come fully into view.
Some problems for posttribulationism are, firstly, (and circumstantially) that one might expect the three main verses (1 Thess.4; 1 Cor. 15, and Jn. 14) to make reference to the Tribulation, but none of them do, which seems unusual, especially since this period of time does receive emphasis at various points within Scripture.
Second, as noted in Part 2, the ignorance of the rapture doctrine in 1 Thessalonians 4 compared to the knowledge of the Day of the Lord (1 Thess.5) indicates that they are not the same thing. All one can say is that the one comes before the other, but more data is needed to try to understand when.
Another problem is what has been seen as the “yo-yo” effect of the church being caught up and coming right back down. This looks pointless and appears to flatly contradict John 14:3. One might get from under this by claiming that the “coming again” (erchomai) of which the Lord speaks is His coming to a saint at death, but I cannot accept that as an explanation.
Fourthly, the fact that the church appears to be absent from the chapters in the Book of Revelation which refer to the Tribulation (i.e. Rev. 6-18), which appears to coincide with Daniel’s Seventieth Week (See Parts 4, 5, and 6) throws suspicion upon a posttrib scenario, especially when it is accepted that this period has national Israel squarely in mind.
In the fifth place, this position conflates national Israel with the Church and thus violates OT covenants with Israel, and has to do interpretive gymnastics with several crucial NT texts (e.g. Acts 1:3, 6-7; Rom. 11:24-27).
When we come to the interpretation of Daniel 9:24 things become even more suspect. The transgression (of Israel in the context) is certainly not finished, and and an end of sins has not occurred. Everlasting righteousness has not in any way arrived, and “the Holy Place” (not Messiah) has not been anointed. Even if one spiritualizes the other prophecies in the verse, and ignores the introductory clause, it won’t work. How could the stoning of Stephen or the armies of Titus be interpreted as a fulfillment of any of the six prophecies in this verse?
Finally, the teaching on imminency must be faced (Part 8), along with the problem that all alternatives to pretribulationism must deal with, and that is the fact that once in the Tribulation and its troubles, however they are allocated according to mid, prewrath, or posttrib perspectives, people will know the year when Christ is coming back. That surely goes against Matthew 24:36. But the Church is instructed to watch for Christ (e.g. 1 Thess. 1:9-10), which would be an exercise in futility if the rapture were not imminent, since signs and events do precede the Second Advent.
Still, posttribulationism does have enough data to pull together a hypothesis which can claim some scriptural support and is thus a C3.
This position is not held to by many nowadays, but it has had its able defenders. While undoubtedly getting traction from the restriction of “the Great Tribulation” to three and a half years. This is mainly where it gets its data. I think Paul Feinberg put his finger on a major problem for this position when he said that rather than the saints getting raptured, they start getting persecuted. A similar criticism of the use of the “two witnesses” in Revelation 11 to symbolize the Church, since the Antichrist kills the witnesses. Their revivification then, isn’t much of a snatching out. Besides, it really looks as though they are two real prophets.
This position also faces two difficulties which afflict non-pretribulational approaches generally: the fact that one would know when the rapture was (assuming the initial three and a half years of the Tribulation were pronounced), and so also when the Second Coming was to occur. The other difficulty is of course the problem of the Church ever being in the Seventieth Week.
And so my opinion of this teaching is that although it has some backing, it just doesn’t have enough scriptural weight behind it.
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.