You have probably heard the story of the elderly lady who wanted to be buried with a table fork in her hand. Throughout her life at special meals after finishing the main course, she had always heard, “Hold your fork, the best is yet to come.” (Meaning the dessert that was next on the menu, in her case, would be heaven!)
The Pre-Tribulation Rapture?
Those who believe this doctrine come under fire by their opponents as having created the doctrine from a vision a deranged teenager named Margaret MacDonald experienced in the 1830s and picked up by John Darby as biblical truth. They claim there is no evidence of this doctrine among the believers of the early church, yet the late Grant Jeffrey and others have discovered that is not so.
Perhaps they, the opposition, forget that the earliest church fathers were those who recorded the Scriptures, so moved by the Spirit of God, according to those who developed the canon of the New Testament. What, then, does the Word of God say about it?
Two events in the end-time having to do with Jesus “returning” are quite often confused as to which is which. The one that is called the Day of the Lord is the one identified as Jesus coming “as a thief in the night,” suddenly without notice. In this likeness, He would come, take what He came after, and return to His former place.
The outside world would not see Him. They would experience the results of His coming. This is the description of His coming at the Rapture of believers, and as identified with the phrase, “Day of the Lord,” it opens up that period called the Tribulation.
When the Scriptures describe the social atmosphere at that time as an ongoing, everyday type of scenario—buying and selling, marrying and giving in marriage, building and planting—as it was in the days of Noah and of Lot before the flood and before the destruction of Sodom, it is referring to the time of the Rapture. Such are the descriptions in Matthew 24: 36-44 and Luke 17:26-36.
The Second Coming is detailed in Revelation 19, after the account of the marriage supper of the Bride and the Bridegroom, incidentally, when the appearance of Jesus Christ is pictured as the arrival of a Sovereign Conqueror, seen by the whole world. He has all the saints with Him and immediately begins to execute judgment upon the evil hordes led by the Antichrist and the false prophet. He comes to stay, and He establishes Himself on the throne of David in Zion—Jerusalem—in the land of Israel. There really is no reason to confuse these two events of His “returns.” More evidence supporting this Pre-Tribulation Rapture will come out as the other concepts are discussed.
Having discussed in some detail in a recent article, “Comparing Rapture with Second Coming,” the comparisons Jesus made of the times of Noah and of Lot with the coming of the Son of Man in Luke 17, I cannot escape the vivid picture of Lot being removed, bodily, from the city of Sodom by those two angels so that they could destroy the city.
God considered Lot to be righteous, and no righteous person would be subjected to His judgment. This is the illustration Jesus gave, along with Noah’s refuge from judgment of the flood, that their removal from that judgment before it began is the way it will be when the Rapture occurs—before the Tribulation begins.
Paul writes quite extensively to the Thessalonians in two letters about the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Tribulation. In the first letter he details the pattern of the Rapture, step-by-step, from 4:16 through 5:3. Verses 2-3 says, “For you yourselves know perfectly that the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, for when they shall say, ‘Peace and safety,’ then sudden destruction shall come upon them as a pregnant women in pains of childbirth.”
This corresponds to the account in Luke 17, where sudden destruction comes immediately after the “thief” takes away his bounty. There is a likeness, too, of the extended painfulness of the childbirth process to the time of Tribulation, beginning with the sudden destruction (breaking of the water bag) and ending with the “birth” of the Son of Man in His Second Coming.
Then in the second letter, 2 Thessalonians 2, he tells us the chronological order of events up to, through the Rapture event, and beyond. This passage is so clear in its detail, it must be quoted here:
“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not comeunless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
“Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-8).
If the Greek for “the falling away” in the early part of the passage means either “falling away” or “taking away,” the effect of the subsequent statement that when the “restrainer” is taken out of the way and the lawless one immediately shows up is not negated. It is quite apparent that a “falling away” from the faith is taking place, as Paul wrote that it would be so in the latter days:
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
If this describes how it is before the Restrainer is removed, think how it will be after His departure! And that should open a window to the identity and characteristics of that Restrainer. That would be the Holy Spirit of God indwelling the born-again believer in Christ. That restraining ability is identified in this simple verse of victory over the evil one:
“You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
The actual mission of the Holy Spirit in the world is described in John 16:8-11, as follows:
“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.“
If those duties do not identify the Holy Spirit as the Restrainer, then one of the two are not needed for the hob.
Any attempt to protect a false doctrine on the timing of the Rapture by trying to identify the restrainer as the angel Micah, or any other entity than the Holy Spirit indwelling the Christian believers should have a difficult case for success. The facts do not support any other conclusion, not only on His authority, characteristics and mission, but also in the fact that in the absence of that body of believers, the lawless one will suddenly have massive freedom to promote his evil delusions.
That the Restrainer is the Christ-indwelt body of believers is further established by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, in the believer. The born-again experience is, essentially, the joining together of that Spirit with the new believer’s spirit as one, just as spoken of in 1 Corinthians 6:17. Then begins the process of developing in the believer the fruit of the Spirit, as outlined in Galatians 5:22-23. And, the spin-out of that development finds its expression to the world as a flavoring aroma, as Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16:
“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place, for we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?”
No, the Restrainer is not some remote entity, heavenly or earthly, who is entangling with the devil and “restraining” him from his incessant evilness. The restraining against evil actually begins right within the individual believer’s own life, the restraining resistance of the new nature within against the old man of the flesh. As we say “yes” to the Spirit of God within us, the old nature does not get to fulfill its desires that are influenced by the devil.
Where there is no presence of the Spirit of God in the life of the individual, or He is suppressed by disobedience in the believer, the starting place for evil is like an open door. Apply that individual scenario to the whole population, and again, after the Restrainer is removed, and you will have a picture of what plays out in that account in 2 Thessalonians 2:5-8a:
“Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed….”
(The latter part of that verse 8 jumps ahead to describe the final end of this man of sin, when he is cast into the lake of fire, along with the false prophet (Revelation 19:19-20.)
Therefore, to summarize and pinpoint these pre-tribulation rapture events, the Scriptures point to a pattern like this:
• The ongoing peace negotiations will come to agreement, perhaps after a military encounter in which Israel’s staunch intentions are established, forcing the parties to the table.
• The “prince of the people who destroyed the city” will join with many, likely the United Nations, to confirm a covenant which allows Israel to rebuild its temple and provide for their safety for a period of seven years (Daniel 9:26-27).
• At the moment the signing is completed, a cry of “Peace and safety” will burst forth.
• At that moment, then, the true believers around the world hear a shout from heaven and the Rapture will occur, as described in 1Thessalonians 4:16 through 5:3.
• As well, at that moment, sudden destruction will come upon the whole world of people left behind, a majority of which will be caused by the sudden removal of the tens of thousands of believers.
• Then enters that man of sin, as a man of peace, riding on a white horse, carrying a bow yet no arrows to be used for aggression, but with the intent to conquer and control (Revelation 6:1-2).
• This individual is the same one who just signed the covenant with many, so he is one who is in the front line of world leadership, one who is looked to for solutions of the world’s problems, one who fits the 1954 quote attributed to a United Nations spokesman: “What we want is a man of sufficient stature to hold the alliances of all people and to lift us out of the economic morass into which we are sinking. Send us such a man, and be he god or devil, we will receive him.”
• It is apparent he will not be some obscure person, unknown to the leaders of the nations, but one who has been prepared for this role, one who is readily recognized by those left behind because of his involvement in world affairs prior to that “sudden destruction” they have just experienced.
These Scriptures we have looked at do not tell us of any kind of delay between the Rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation. When the peace agreement begins to come together, take heed for what Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6:
“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”
Well, as the old country boy would say, “We’ve chased this raccoon all the way up its tree,” and the chances of it being a lynx-cat instead are extremely remote, given the evidences brought out in the Scriptures. Our God is not a god of confusion, but of truth and integrity.