Building upon the article “The Rapture & The Second Coming: An Important Distinction” in our previous issue of Pre-Trib Perspectives, we now will see that a gap of time is needed between the rapture and the second coming in order to facilitate certain events spoken of in the Bible. Such a needed time interval provides strong support for pretribulationism.
A PRE-TRIB INTERVAL
Numerous items in the New Testament can easily be harmonized by a pre-trib time gap of at least seven years, while other views, especially postribulationists, are forced to postulate scenarios that would not realistically allow for normal passage of time. The following events are best temporally harmonized with an interval of time as put forth by pretribulationism.1
THE BEMA JUDGMENT
2 Corinthians 5:10 teaches that all believers of this age must appear before the judgment seat of Christ in heaven. This event, often known as the “bema judgment” (see also Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:10-15; 4:2-5) from the Greek word bema, is an event never mentioned in the detailed accounts connected with the second coming of Christ to the earth. Instead, the second coming brings with it God’s judgment of unbelievers, usually expressed by some form of the Greek word krinô. Thus, it can be established from the biblical text that the bema-judgment applies only to church age believers, while the krinô-judgment is for unbelievers.
The Bible indicates that each individual within the Body of Christ will appear before the bema in association with Christ’s return for the church (i.e., at the pretrib rapture). Dr. Robert Gromacki notes:
the judgment will occur immediately after the coming of Christ for believers. . . . Earlier, Paul wrote: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come . . . (I Cor. 4:5). Thus, this is not an ongoing judgment that each Christian experiences on earth or right after death. It is a once-for-all event that occurs right after the appearing of Christ (I Thess. 4:13-18).2
Since the normal transaction of such an evaluation would require some passage of time, the pre-trib gap of seven years nicely accounts for such a requirement.
CHRIST’S BRIDE IN HEAVEN
In conjunction with the bema judgment, Revelation 19:7-10 pictures the church as a bride who has been made ready for marriage (with “fine linen,” which represents “the righteous acts of the saints”) to her groom (Christ). The bride has already been clothed in preparation for her return at the second coming with Christ to the earth (Rev. 19:11-18). It follows that the church would already have to be complete and in heaven (because of the pre-trib rapture) in order to have been prepared in the way that Revelation 19 describes. This requires an interval of time which pretribulationism handles well.
Apparently the bride’s preparation and the bema judgment are different illustrations of the same event. The bema focuses on the process of judgment, while the bride pictures the results. Dr. Ed Hindson explains:
Whatever view one holds in regard to our Lord’s return, one thing is clear in prophetic Scripture, the marriage occurs in heaven (Rev. 19:7-9) before the triumphal return of Christ with His redeemed church at His side (Rev. 19:11-16).
Non-pretribulationists are at a virtual loss to explain how the church got to heaven prior to returning with Christ at the battle of Armageddon. At best, some suggest they are “caught up” after the Tribulation only to return immediately with the Lord. This arrangement, however, leaves little or no time for the wedding!3
THE 24 ELDERS IN HEAVEN
The 24 elders of Revelation 4:1-5:14 are best understood as representative of the church. Dr. Charles Ryrie explains:
In the New Testament, elders as the highest officials in the church do represent the whole church (cf. Acts 15:6; 20:28), and in the Old Testament, twenty-four elders were appointed by King David to represent the entire Levitical priesthood (I Chron. 24). When those twenty-four elders met together in the temple precincts in Jerusalem, the entire priestly house was represented. Thus it seems more likely that the elders represent redeemed human beings, . . . the church is included and is thus in heaven before the tribulation begins.4
If these elders refer to the church, then it would mean at least two things: 1) It would necessitate the rapture and reward of the church before the tribulation and would require a chronological gap for them to perform their heavenly duties during the seven-year tribulation. 2) It would also show that the completed church was already in heaven before events of the tribulation begin.
THE JUDGMENT OF GENTILES
It would be impossible for the judgment of the Gentiles to take place after the second coming if the rapture and second coming are not separated by a gap of time. How would both saved and unsaved, still in their natural bodies, be separated in judgment if all living believers are translated at the second coming? This would be impossible if the translation takes place at the second coming, but it is solved through a pretribulational gap.
Dr. John F. Walvoord points out that if “the translation took place in connection with the second coming to the earth, there would be no need of separating the sheep from the goats at a subsequent judgment, but the separation would have taken place in the very act of the translation of the believers before Christ actually sets up His throne on earth (Matt. 25:31).”5 Once again, such a “problem” is solved by taking a pretrib position with its gap of at least seven years.
POPULATING THE MILLENNIUM
At the second coming, non-martyred Believers who come to faith in Christ during the tribulation are not translated, but carry on ordinary occupations such as farming, building houses, and the bearing of children (Isa. 65:20-25) during the subsequent millennium. This would be impossible if all saints were translated at the second coming to the earth, as posttribulationists teach. Because pretribulationists have at least a seven-year interval between the removal of the church at the rapture and the return of Christ to the earth, this is not a problem because millions of people will be saved during the interval and thus be available to populate the millennium in their natural bodies in order to fulfill Scripture.
Dr. Steven McAvoy concludes:
The fact that the judgment of the nations occurs before the millennium and thus provides for the population of the millennial earth, constitutes a strong argument for pretribulationism. For a posttribulational rapture would leave no sheep for this judgment. If pretribulationalists are correct in placing this judgment before the millennium then posttribulationalism suffers a serious blow.6
A time interval is needed so that God’s program for the church, a time when Jew and Gentile are united in one body (cf. Eph. 2-3), will not become commingled in any way with His unfinished and future plan for Israel during the tribulation. Dr. Renald Showers notes:
All other views of the Rapture have the church going through at least part of the 70th week, meaning that all other views mix God’s 70-weeks program for Israel and Jerusalem together with His program for the church.7
A gap of time is needed after God completes His program with the church, so that He may conclude His plans for Israel. Only with an interval of seven years, as postulated by pretribulationists, can God’s program be harmonized in a non-conflicting manner.
The pretribulational rapture of the church not only fulfills a biblical need to see a distinction between the translation of church-age saints at the rapture, before the second coming, but it also handles without difficulty the necessity of a time-gap, which harmonizes a number of future biblical events. This requirement of a seven-year gap of time adds support to the likelihood that pretribulationism best reflects the biblical point of view.
1 Many of the points in this article are taken from John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question: Revised and Enlarged Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), pp. 274-75.
2 Robert G. Gromacki, Stand Firm in the Faith: An Exposition of II Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978),pp. 84-85.
3 Edward E. Hindson, “The Rapture and the Return: Two Aspects of Christ’s Coming” in Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, eds, When the Trumpet Sounds(Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1995), p. 156.
4 Charles C. Ryrie, Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968), pp. 35-36.
5 Walvoord, The Rapture Question, p. 274.
6 Steven L. McAvoy, “A Critique of Robert Gundry’s Posttribulationalism” (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1986), p. 203.
7 Renald Showers, Maranatha Our Lord, Come! A Definitive Study of the Rapture of the Church (Bellmawr, N.J.: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., 1995), p. 243. ?