The Shout Heard Around the World Overview of the Rapture
by Thomas Ice
Some opponents of pretribulationism have insisted that it has human rather
than biblical origins. Some say that if pretrib is taught in the Bible, then it is a view that should also be found throughout the history of the church. In the
past few years more voices from the Church's past testifying either to some
form of pretribulationism, some form of a two-stage advent of Christ, or to
statements containing various pretrib elements have been discovered.
I believe that pretribulationism is our "blessed hope" spoken of in the New
Testament. Regardless of when a significant group of believers began to
realize that the Bible teaches pretribulationism, that teaching has been part of
God's Word all along. Many Christians throughout the church's history have
believed many important elements that compose the pretrib doctrine without
necessarily understanding it to the extent that others have come to
understand it in the last 200 years. Nevertheless, hosts of believers down
through the centuries have understood many key pretrib elements: that Christ
could return at any moment without signs preceding;
that Christians will not go through the time of wrath known as the
tribulation; that there are two stages involved in Christ's return. In the last
few years, a number of discoveries have been brought to light and presented
to the Christian public. But what guidelines should we follow in finding
examples of a pretrib rapture and pretrib elements from historical documents?
Criteria for Finding Pretribulationism
Pretrib rapture critic William Bell has formulated three criteria for establishing the validity of a historical citation regarding the rapture. If any of his three criteria are met, then he acknowledges it is "of crucial importance, if found,
whether by direct statement or clear inference." I believe that at least two of
Bell's standards have been met by some of the examples I will supply below.
The standards are as follows: 1) "Any mention that Christ's second coming
was to consist of more than one phase, separated by an interval of years,"
and 2) "any mention that Christ was to remove the church from the earth
before the tribulation period."'
The Early And Medieval Church
The early church was clearly premillennial in its view of prophecy, with only
a few dissenters. Irenaeus (circa A.D. 202) stated in the strongest possible
terms that premillennialism was traditional orthodoxy (Against Heresies
5.32.1).' Pretribulationism is not clearly represented within the extant writings of these early fathers. However, before one draws the conclusion that it is totally absent, it is possible that a few ancient statements do represent
elements of a fuzzy form of pretribulationism.
The early church was often subjected to persecution for its faith, and as a
result, tended to confuse Church Age trials and tribulation with the
specialized tribulation of the seventieth week of Daniel. At the same time,
they often spoke of a belief in an "any moment" return of the Lord.
Expressions of imminency abound in the Apostolic Fathers. Clement of
Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, The Didache, The Epistle of Barnabas, and The
Shepherd of Hermas all speak of imminency.' Furthermore, The Shepherd of
Hermas speaks of the pretribulational concept of escaping the tribulation:
You have escaped from great tribulation on account of your faith, and
because you did not doubt in the presence of such a beast. Go, therefore,
and tell the elect of the Lord His mighty deeds, and say to them that this
beast is a type of the great tribulation that is coming. If then ye prepare
yourselves, and repent with all your heart, and turn to the Lord, it will be
possible for you to escape it, if your heart be pure and spotless, and ye
spend the rest of the days of your life in serving the Lord blamelessly.'
Early church historian, Larry Crutchfield, notes, "This belief in the imminent
return of Christ within the context of ongoing persecution has prompted us
to broadly label the views of the earliest fathers, 'imminent
intratribulationism."" Crutchfield notes concerning Irenaeus (ca. A.D. 120--ca.
He seems to have believed that there would be an interval between the
rapture of the saints and the final venting of the Antichrist's wrath upon
earth. His reference to the church being "suddenly caught up" and to the
Antichrist's "sudden coming" provide at least some... sense of imminency
(Against Heresies 5.29.1-2). While the evidence is not conclusive, it
suggests at least the possibility that Irenaeus held to, a remote/imminent,
intratribulational rapture of the church.'
There appear, scattered throughout the church fathers of the first three
centuries, statements that are not only strongly premillennial but which also
reflect a possible undeveloped belief in pretribulationism or a two-stage
coming. For example, Frank Marotta has noted the following statement from
the Apocalypse of Elijah, an extra-biblical writing (A.D. 150-275):
Now those upon whose forehead the name of Christ is written and upon
whose hand is the seal, both small and the great, will be taken up upon their
[angels'] wings and lifted up before his wrath.'
Marotta adds, "Even the editor of this work (almost certainly a liberal) heads
verses two through six with 'the removal of the righteous' and verses seven
through fourteen with 'Natural disasters which follow the removal of the
Victorinus (died A.D. 304), Bishop of Petau, who wrote an early commentary on
the book of Revelation, gives an explanation of Revelation 6:14 which
includes his belief that "the Church shall be taken away" sometime in the
future when the passage is fulfilled. Again, regarding Revelation 15:1, he
says, "these shall be in the last time, when the Church shall have gone out of
the midst." Here he speaks of something that will have happened previously,
apparently looking back to his statement in Revelation 6:14. This could reflect
elements of pretribulationism. It seems even more likely in light of the fact
that Victorinus was said by the anti-Chiliast Jerome to have been a known
premillennialist; yet his commentary was clearly amended in the passage
regarding Revelation 20 to read as if he were Augustinian (i.e., amillennial).
An American editor of Victorinus has concluded:
This confirms the corruption of the manuscripts. Indeed, if the Victorinus
mentioned by Jerome be the same as our author, the mention of Genseric
proves the subsequent interpolation of his works .... It is evident that the
fragment which is here preserved .... is full of the corrections of some pious
disciple of St. Augustine who lived much later.'
After Augustine (died A.D. 430), there were clear efforts to redact
premillennialism out of earlier church writings on the part of some copyists-
Victorinus being an established example of such attempts-in a sincere but
misguided attempt to bring these writings in line with what they thought
should be the orthodoxy of the day. There can be no doubt that some during
the Middle Ages either destroyed texts or changed them from their original
Another example is seen in the fact that during the Middle Ages, the last five
chapters of Irenaeus' Against Heresies were lost. It just so happens that
those were the ones that contained the heart of his eschatological thought.
Wilber Wallis explains:
The premillennial scheme seems to have disappeared completely after it was
condemned as heretical at the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431. This
disappearance was probably aided by the suppression of the last five
chapters of Irenaeus' Against Heresies after the rejection of premillennialism
and the loss of the Greek original. The reappearance of the full text of this
ancient presentation of premillennialism in 1571 (later reconstructed from the Armenian and Syriac manuscripts) may have had something to do with the reemergence of premillennialism in the seventeenth century."'
In light of such revision and suppression, it is entirely within the realm of
possibility that the early church could have had clearer and more numerous
pretribulational statements in their writings. Such a supposition is
strengthened in light of the recent rediscovery by North American
Evangelicals of Pseudo-Ephraem (fourth through seventh century) and his
sermon known as On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the
World or Sermon on the End of the World. Latin copies of these texts were
compiled and edited by C. P. Caspari" and have more recently received
attention from the late Cal Berkeley Professor, Paul J. Alexander."
PseudoEphraem's sermon contains a clear statement about the church's
removal before the tribulation as part of a two-stage coming."
Why therefore do we not reject every care of earthly actions and prepare
ourselves for the meeting of the Lord Christ, so that he may draw us from the
confusion, which overwhelms all the world? ... For all the saints and elect of
God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the
Lord in order lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world
because of our sins."
Pseudo-Ephraem demonstrates that a belief in the rapture was understood
very early in the history of the church, assuring us that others had a similar
understanding, since the sermon had to have had some circulation to have
been preserved to our day, and that some of the previously vague
statements could also have been expressions of an early and undeveloped
pretribulationism that was under attack and censorship. The tribulation for
Pseudo-Ephraem was three and a half years instead of seven, but in spite of
this, it should be viewed as pretrib because the sermon viewed the entire
tribulation as 42 months, three and a half years, and 1,260 days. This is a
gathering (rapture) to the Lord that is said to occur "prior to the tribulation"
(Section 2), while the sermon proceeds in a chronological manner so that the
final paragraph (Section 10) speaks of the second coming at the end of the
tribulation. "And when the three and a half years have been completed,... will
come the sign of the Son of Man, and coming forward the Lord shall appear with
great power and majesty .... and also even with all the
powers of the heavens with the whole chorus of the saints
Further, in the previous paragraph (Section 9) the sermon reads as follows when commenting on the two witnesses who "are the servants
for the heralding of the second coming of Christ." Here we have a
clear reference, as demanded by William Bell's pretrib rapture criterion, of the promise of removal of all believers before the tribulation (the rapture), which is then clearly separated by an interval of time (three and a half years), followed by the second coming at the end of the sermon.
Once premillennialism began to be revived in the early seventeenth century
within various Reformed traditions, there was a corresponding increase of
statements that some believe reflect pretribulational views, in spite of the fact
that historicism was the near-unanimous approach to prophecy. As many
Reformed scholars adopted premillennialism, some began to see the rapture
as a distinct event from the return of Christ to the earth.
It has been claimed that some separated the rapture from the second coming
as early as Joseph Mede in his seminal work Clavis Apocalyptica (1627), who is
considered the father of English premillennialism. Scholar Paul Boyer says
that Increase Mather proved "that the saints would 'be caught up into the Air'
beforehand, thereby escaping the final conflagration-an early formulation of
the Rapture doctrine more fully elaborated in the nineteenth century.""
Whatever these men were saying, it is clear that the application of a more
literal hermeneutic was leading to a distinction between the rapture and the
second coming as separate events. Suffering under the disadvantage of a
historicist prophetic framework, they appear to be struggling with how to
coordinate these different events into a prophetic scheme. About 200 years
ago, a clearer understanding of a pretrib rapture came about by casting off
historicism and adopting futurism. When that occurred, blended with a
revived premillennialism, a belief and understanding of pretribulationism
exploded across Christian circles.
However, even before the 1800s, others began to speak of the rapture. Paul
Benware provides the following summary:
Peter Jurieu in his book Approaching Deliverance of the Church (1687) taught
that Christ would come in the air to rapture the saints and return to heaven
before the battle of Armageddon. Philip Doddridge's commentary on the New
Testament (1738) and John Gill's commentary on the New Testament (1748)
both use the term rapture and speak of it as imminent. It is clear that these men believed that this coming will precede Christ's descent to the earth and the
time of judgment. The purpose was to preserve believers from the time of
judgment. James Macknight (1763) and Thomas Scott (1792) taught that the
righteous will be carried to heaven, where they will be secure until the time of
judgment is over."
Frank Marotta believes that Thomas Collier in 1674 makes reference to a two-
stage coming, but rejects the view, thus revealing his awareness that such a
view was in circulation hundreds of years ago. Marotta writes of Collier:
Because he raised the question of the saints being raised at Christ's "first
appearing in the clouds of heaven," instead of later on "at the entrance of the
thousand years," it is apparent that Collier certainly considered the idea of a
It would not be long after Collier's day that pretribulationism would become
much more well-known.
Morgan Edwards, an important early American Baptist scholar, clearly taught
some form of pretribulationism. Edwards founded the first Baptist college in
the Colonies, Rhode Island College, which we know today as Brown
University of the Ivy League. It was during his student days at Bristol Baptist
Seminary in England (1742-44), that Edwards wrote an essay for eschatology
class on his views of Bible prophecy. This essay was later published in
Philadelphia (1788) under the following title: Two Academical Exercises on
Subjects Bearing the following Titles; Millennium, Last-Novelties." Upon reading the
56-page work, it is evident that Edwards published it with only minor changes
from his student days, thus, we can date Edwards' pretribulationism as
originating in the early 1740s. The pretribulationism of Morgan Edwards can be seen in the following statement from his book:
The distance between the first and second resurrection will be somewhat more than a thousand years.
I say, somewhat more because the dead saints will be raised, and the living
changed at Christ's "appearing in the air" (1 Thessalonians 4:17); and this will
be about three years and a half before the millennium, as we shall see hereafter:
but will he and they abide in the air all that time? No: they will ascend to
paradise, or to some one of those many "mansions in the father's house"
(John 14:2), and so disappear during the foresaid period of time. The design of
this retreat and disappearing will be to judge the risen and changed saints;
for "now the time is come that judgment must begin," and that will be "at the
house of God" (1 Peter 4:17)... " [p. 7; emphasis added; the spelling of all
Edwards' quotes have been modernized.]
What has Edwards said? Note the following:
He believes that at least 1,003.5 years will transpire between resurrections.
He associates the first resurrection with the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:17,
occurring at least 3.5 years before the start of the millennium (i.e., at least 3.5
years before the second coming of Christ at the start of the millennium).
He associates the meeting of believers with Christ in the air and returning to
the Father's house with John 14:2, as do modern pretribulationists.
He sees believers disappearing during the time of the tribulation, which he
goes on to describe in the rest of the section from which the rapture
statement is taken.
He, like modern pretribulationists, links the time in heaven, during the
tribulation, with the "bema" judgment of believers.
The only difference, at least in light of the above statements, between
current pretribulationism and Edwards is the time interval of 3.5 years instead
Edwards says in his introduction that his views are not those normally held
in his day and because he was approaching eschatology with a literal
hermeneutic. Such an approach is said by modern pretribulationists to be the
primary determinate factor leading to pretribulationism. Edwards explains:
I will do my possible: and in the attempt will work by a rule you have often
recommended, viz. "to take the scriptures in a literal sense, except when that
leads to contradiction or absurdity." Very able men have already handled the
subject in a mystical, or allegorical, or spiritual way.
It is clear from the above comment that Edwards was taught literal
interpretation by his teachers, but they did not apply it consistently
throughout the whole Bible. Edwards was determined to apply in practice
what he had been taught in theory, even though it contradicted the common
practices of his day in the area of the study of Bible prophecy.
Edwards expands on and repeats his earlier rapture statement later when he
says, Another event previous to the millennium will be the appearing of the son of man in the clouds, coming to raise the dead saints and change the living, and
to catch them up to himself, and then withdraw with them, as observed
before [p. 7]. This event will come to pass when Antichrist be arrived at
Jerusalem in his conquest of the world; and about three years and a half
before his killing the witnesses and assumption of godhead....
Edwards clearly separates the rapture and the second coming, as is evident
from the following statements:
The last event, and the event that will usher in the millennium, will be, the
coming of Christ from paradise to earth, with all the saints he had taken up
thither (about three years and a half before)... [p. 241 millions and millions of
saints will have been on earth from the days of the first Adam, to the coming
of the second Adam. All these will Christ bring with him. The place where they will alight is the "Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east." Zechariah 14:4.
Of interest is the fact that Edwards wrote 42 volumes of sermons, about 12
sermons per volume, that were never published. Other than his historical
writings and ecclesiastical helps, his essay on Bible prophecy was his only
other published work. It is significant that this essay, from his youth, was
published and not something else. This indicates that there was some
interest in his views on this subject. Such an interest would have surely risen
out of his bringing it to the attention of those to whom he ministered. Yet, on
the other hand, the book only went through one printing, showing that it
could not have been a widely held view. It could also reflect the fact that
Baptists were not a large denomination at this time in America. Nevertheless,
Edwards' work on Bible prophecy did have some circulation, and it exposed
early Americans to many of the ideas that would come to dominate
Evangelicalism a century later.
J. N. Darby and the Rapture
In spite of earlier developments of pretribulationism, there can be no doubt
that Brethren scholar John Nelson Darby is the fountainhead of the modern
formulation. However, the last few decades have seen several attempts by
anti-pretribulationists to say that Darby clandestinely pilfered at least part of his pretrib ideas from questionable sources. These claims cannot be
The Lacunza Theory
Baptist evangelist John Bray of Florida contends that Darby got his idea of a
two-staged coming from the Jesuit priest Emmanuel Lacunza, who wrote The
Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty in 1790. Lacunza's book was first
published in Spanish in 1812 and then translated into English and published
around the middle of 1827. Supposedly, Darby read this book and then
thought up pretribulationism. There are a few problems with such
speculation. As will be noted below, the idea of a pretrib rapture first came to
Darby in December 1826. Edward Irving says he wrote the foreword to his
English translation of Lacunza on Christmas Day, 1826, before it was released
in printed form later in 1827. Neither Bray nor other Lacunza theorists have
been able to show any historical
evidence that Darby was influenced by this source. Finally, if Lacunza's view
of a 45-day interval between some events relating to the second coming
constitutes a two-stage coming and thus an element of pretribulationism,
then why not make the case that amillennialists such as Jerome (A.D. 342-420)
or The Venerable Bede (A.D. 673-735) of England were also pretrib sources,
since they held a similar view on the 45-day interval from Daniel 12:12?
The Irvingite Influence Theory
Anti-pretribulationist Dave MacPherson has developed and disseminated
the false notion that Darby was involved in a plot in which he secretly got
his idea of the rapture from the Irvingites and more specifically from the
prophecy of a 15-year-old girl named Margaret Macdonald." Dr. John
Walvoord has noted concerning MacPherson's attempt at historical
The whole controversy as aroused by Dave MacPherson's claims has so
little supporting evidence, despite his careful research, that one wonders
how he can write his book with a straight face. Pretribulationalists should be
indebted to Dave MacPherson for exposing the facts, namely, that there is
no proof that MacDonald or Irving originated the pretribulation rapture
There are at least four major reasons why MacPherson's speculations are not
true: First, it is doubtful that Margaret Macdonald's "prophecy" contains
any elements related to the pre-trib rapture." Second, no one has ever
demonstrated from actual facts of history that Darby was influenced by
Macdonald's "prophecy" even if it had (which it did not) contained pre-trib
elements." Third, Darby clearly held to an early form of the pretrib rapture by
December 1826 or January 1827, as will be shown below. These are a full
three years before MacPherson's claim of 1830. Fourth, there is no evidence
that Irving or any of the early Irvingites ever held to pretrib views. This has
been noted recently by Columba G. Flegg, who has produced one of the
most extensive critical analysis ever on Irvingite doctrine. He declares that
Irvingites were still primarily historicist, while Darby and the Brethren had
become futurist. Further, Flegg notes that the Brethren teaching on the
rapture and the present invisible and spiritual nature of the church
were in sharp contrast to Catholic Apostolic teaching... There were thus
very significant differences between the two eschatologies, and attempts to
see any direct influence of one upon the other seem unlikely to succeedthey
had a number of common roots, but are much more notable for their points
of disagreement. Several writers [referring specifically to MacPherson] have
attempted to trace Darby's secret rapture theory to a prophetic statement
associated with Irving, but their arguments do not stand up to serious
The Development of Darby's Views
Brethren writer Roy A. Huebner claims and documents his belief that J.N.
Darby first began to believe in the pretrib rapture and develop his
dispensational thinking while convalescing from a riding accident during
December 1826 and January 1827. If this is true, then all of the origin-of-the-
rapture conspiracy theories fall to the ground in a heap of speculative
rubble. Darby would have at least a three-year jump on any who would have
supposedly influenced his thought, making it impossible for all the
"influence" theories to have any credibility.
Huebner provides clarification and evidence that Darby was not influenced
by Margaret Macdonald, Lacunza, Edward Irving, or the Irvingites. These
are all said by the detractors of Darby and the pretrib rapture to have been
bridges which led to Darby's thought. Instead, he demonstrates that Darby's
understanding of pretribulationism was the product of the development of
his personal interactive thought with the text of Scripture as he, his friends,
and dispensationalists have long contended.
Darby's pretrib and dispensational thoughts, says Huebner, were developed
from the following factors:
1. "he saw from Isaiah 32 that there was a different dispensation coming ...
that Israel and the Church were distinct. 1121
2. "During his convalescence JND learned that he ought daily to expect his
Lord's return. 1121
3. "In 1827 JND understood 'the ruin of the Church.' 1128
4. Darby also was beginning to see a gap of time between the 21
rapture and the second coming by 1827.
5. Darby, himself, said in 1857 that he first started understanding things
relating to the pre-trib Rapture "thirty years ago." "With that fixed point of
reference, January 31, 1827," declares Huebner, we can see that Darby "had
already understood those truths upon which the pre-tribulation rapture
German author Max S. Weremchuk has produced a major new biography on
Darby entitled John Nelson Darby: A Biography. He agrees with Huebner's
conclusions concerning the matter. "Having read MacPherson's book..."
says Weremchuk, "I find it impossible to make a just comparison between
what Miss MacDonald 'prophesied' and what Darby taught. It appears that
the wish was the father of the idea. 1131
When reading Darby's earliest published essay on biblical prophecy (1829), it
is clear that while it still has elements of historicism, it also reflects the fact
that for Darby, the rapture was to be the church's focus and hope Even in
this earliest of essays, Darby expounds upon the rapture as the church's
F. F. Bruce, who was part of the Brethren movement his entire life, but one
who did not agree with the pre-trib rapture, commented on the validity of
Where did he [Darby] get it? The reviewer's answer would be that it was in
the air in the 1820s and 1830s among eager students of unfulfilled prophecy
... direct dependence by Darby on Margaret Macdonald is unlikely.
John Walvoord's assessment is likely close to the truth:
any careful student of Darby soon discovers that he did not get his
eschatological views from men, but rather from his doctrine of the church as
the body of Christ, a concept no one claims was revealed supernaturally to
Irving or Macdonald. Darby's views undoubtedly were gradually formed,
but they were theologically and biblically based rather than derived from
Irving's pre-Pentecostal group.
Detractors of pretribulationism often want to say or imply that our view
cannot be found in the pages of the Bible and must have
come from a deviant source. Of course, we strongly object to such a notion,
and have taken great pains over the years to show that the New Testament
not only teaches pretribulationism, but holds it forth as our "blessed hope,"
a central focus of faith. It is also clear to me that when the church recognizes
the four biblical foundations supporting pretribulationism (consistent literal
interpretation, premillennialism, futurism, and a distinction between Israel
and the church), that the biblical view of pretribulationism is recognized.
As believers in the imminent return of Christ, we need to let this precious
truth and hope impact our daily lives as we anticipate our Lord's return. We,
like those who have gone before us, need to realize that such a blessed hope
should teach us that we should live chaste lives, giving ourselves to
evangelism and world missions until the bride hears her groom shout, "come
up here!" Church historian Kurt Aland characterizes the impact that belief in
an imminent coming of our Lord (a key element of pretribulationism) had in
the life of the early church:
Up until the middle of the second century, and even later, Christians did not
live in and for the present, but they lived in and for the future; and this was
in such a way that the future flowed into the present, that future and present
became one-a future which obviously stood under the sign of the Lord's
presence. It was the confident expectation of the first generations that the
end of the world was not only near, but that it had really already come. It was
the definite conviction not only of Paul, but of all Christians of that time, that they themselves would experience the return of the Lord."
Aland then contrasts it with the condition of the church in our own day and
at another time when she is not motivated by the imminent return of Christ:
At first, people looked at it as only a brief postponement, as the Shepherd of
Hermas clearly expresses. But soon, as the end of the world did not occur, it
was conceived of as a longer and longer period, until finally-this is today's
situation-nothing but the thought of a postponement exists in people's
consciousness. Hardly any longer is there the thought of the possibility of
Parousia. Today we live with the presumption - I would almost say from the
presumption-that this world is going to continue; it dominates our
consciousness. Practically, we no longer speak about a postponement, but
only seldom does the idea of the end of the world and the Lord's return for
judgment even occur to us; rather, it is pushed aside as annoying and
disturbing-in contrast to the times when faith was alive. It is very
characteristic that in ages when the church flourishes, the expectation of the
end revives-we think of Luther; we think of Pietism. If we judge our present
time by its expectation of the future, our judgment can only be a very
... Only when the imminent expectation of the Parousia diminishes, only
when life is no longer lived in constant reference to the Last Day and no
longer takes its direction from the Last Day was an organization of the
church as an institution even possible or necessary. This took place in the
second half of the second century."
While Brethren theologian J.N. Darby may have restored the pretribulational
rapture doctrine into the life of the church, he did not originate it.
Pretribulationism is found first in the New Testament and at times
throughout the history of the church. Oh that we would recapture for the
church in our day this "blessed hope" which would help stir her to life with
the mighty implications of such a truth. This cannot be accomplished when
there are those who are disturbing the faith of some by the misuse of the
history of the rapture. Maranatha!