Read Part 1.
If we take a look at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 we can try and track what the apostle is teaching:
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. (1 Thess. 4:13)
Paul’s concern is that the embattled believers at Thessalonica are not unaware of a certain doctrine concerning those saints who have passed since it will give them hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. (1 Thess. 4:14)
Those who are said to “sleep” are of course those believers who have died. They are with Jesus even though their bodies lie in the dust. These people (their souls) will accompany Jesus when He comes.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. (1 Thess. 4:15)
When this event occurs there will not be any two or three stage rendezvous with Christ, but all who have died and all who are alive at that time will be included in what happens when the Lord returns.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thess. 4:16)
The Lord will come from heaven in great acclamation and those who have died in Christ (i.e., those Christians who are “asleep”) will rise. That is to say, their bodies will rise so that all the saints will be embodied souls together.
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:17)
Those who have not died but who are “alive” will be snatched up (harpazo) at the same time as those whose bodies have been raised. All will “meet the Lord in the air” not upon earth. This meeting brings the Lord and His saints together from thereon in.
Notice that nowhere in these verses are we told when this snatching up will occur. Will it happen at the second coming of Christ to the earth as depicted in Matthew 24:29-31 and Revelation 19:11-16? That is possible from this context. If so this “rapture” will be at the end of the Tribulation. Might it happen before the Tribulation? Again, that is possible. Clearly we need more information. Does the wider context helps us?
Pretribulationists have pointed to what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:1:
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you.
Paul then refers to the Day of the Lord and its decidedly unpleasant effects on those who endure it (1 Thess. 5:1-2). He then admonishes the saints to look expectantly, hoping for the day of final salvation (1 Thess. 5:4-8).
For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. (1 Thess. 5:9-10)
It is important to pay attention to comparisons and contrasts here. As far as comparisons go we see the same emphases on hope and togetherness for the living and the dead as we saw in chapter 4. But we see something different too. Look at these two sentences:
- But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. (1 Thess. 4:13)
- But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. (1 Thess. 5:1)
Who cannot see the difference? In ‘A’ the Apostle was informing them of something they did not know, but in ‘B’ he was reminding them of something they already knew! This means that the two sentences could not be referring to the same thing!
Again, no time-indicator is present, but clearly our antenor’s need to be up. This is where 1 Thess. 5:9-10 come in:
- For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. (1 Thess. 5:9-10)
Please note the “togetherness” language, which combined with the reference to waking and sleeping calls us back to 4:17. So, either Paul was using these terms (e.g., “together”, “asleep”) to refer to different matters, or he was using them univocally to speak about the same thing, and that thing would have to be the new information in 4:13-17 as opposed to the old information in 5:1ff.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 tells us that “God has not appointed us to wrath” and that wrath is equated with “the Day of the Lord” in 5:2-4. I and pre-tribulationists generally attribute this “Day” to be the coming Tribulation. We may interpret this then as asserting that we are not appointed to the Day of the Lord. to me at least, this is an indicator of the strong possibility of a pre-tribulational rapture.
Now Jerry’s view is as follows (in his words):
So it is Christ and specifically our being in Him that makes us worthy, and one being worthy to be resurrected was Jesus’ requirement this age of which He spoke. So when Paul states in 1Thess. 4 that the dead “in Christ” will rise first and then the Rapture is taught to occur; is it not that proclamation, which if heard would end the discussion on the Rapture’s timing?
I have told Jerry that he is not easy to understand. But in my dissection of his main points in Part One I included two quotations from Jerry as points 3 and 4 of his argument. Here they are again:
- “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”
Reviewing these quotes one can see that Jerry assumes that those in the Tribulation are “in Christ” (along with every saint in both Testaments). But this cannot be substantiated from the Scriptures. The phrase “in Christ” always refers to Christians in the Church. Consider these two passages.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor. 5:17)
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:10)
In the first we see that to be “in Christ” involves the new birth. Without at all questioning the salvation of OT saints no one can show that their salvation resulted in this change. In the second passage we see that those “in Christ” will do good works (doubtless because they have been changed). Again, Jerry’s attempt to freight OT saints into the Body of Christ post-mortem cannot work with this verse. If being “in Christ” is to be applied to believers before the inception of the Church then it has to be an assumption not an exegetical conclusion. And the same is true for Tribulation saints, IF the Church is removed before the “Day of the Lord”.
To sum up, Jerry assumes that every believer from every age is “in Christ” even though the phrase is always used for Christians in the NT Church. As it is used in connection with the Church, it is an extrapolation on Jerry’s part to try to wrap it around OT saints. But OT saints knew they would be resurrected though they were never “in Christ” (e.g., Job 19:25-26). The contrasts between 1 Thess. 4:13-17 and 5:1-10 lead me to conclude that Paul is talking about separate things, with the former being a reference to the rapture (or catching out) of Christians prior to the Tribulation.
Can I absolutely prove a pre-trib rapture? No, but I don’t need to. Jerry seems quite adamant that he has a solid argument for a post-trib rapture and I believe I have demonstrated that his contention also falls short of a clear proof. In my opinion a pre-trib rapture is the best interpretation of the biblical data. I may be wrong of course, but Jerry’s objection fails to move me any closer to abandoning my hope.
I want to thank Jerry for his civil way of disagreeing with me.
Reposted from Dr. Reluctant.
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.