Rapture? Which Rapture? :: by Jack Kelley

Among Christians who believe there will be a rapture of the Church, the great majority of us are convinced it will precede the end times judgments. This position is commonly called the pre-tribulation rapture.

Those who reject the pre-trib view are either mid-tribulation, post tribulation or pre-wrath rapture advocates.  In this study we’ll review these rapture positions.

Mid Tribulation Rapture
These believers place the rapture at the end of the trumpet judgments, just before the beginning of the Great Tribulation.  Their justification for doing so comes from equating the seventh trumpet of Rev. 11:15 with the last trump from Paul’s description of the rapture in 1 Cor. 15:51-53.  Also the mid-trib view does not agree that the Seal and Trumpet judgments are manifestations of divine wrath, which in their view consists only the Bowl judgments.  For them, that makes the Bowls the time of wrath the Bible says we are not appointed to suffer (1 Thes. 5:9).

The other two positions appear to be similar as far as the rapture is concerned because they both claim to place the rapture of the Church after the Great Tribulation.  But as we’ll see they are actually quite different.

A few weeks ago, I was specifically asked to provide a concise explanation of these two positions. You might ask why such a strong pre-trib believer as I am would be asked to explain positions with which I disagree. The answer, which I’ve recently confirmed for myself, is that many post-trib and pre-wrath articles devote more time to refuting the pre-trib position than they do to explaining their own.

Because of that, people who are just looking for the Biblical support for these positions so they can do their own evaluation have to sift through a lot of anti pre-trib rhetoric to find what they’re looking for.  It’s like having to listen to someone’s opinion on why they don’t like Fords when the question you asked was “Why do people like Chevrolets”.

So what is the essence of these positions?  It boils down to their interpretation of Matt. 24.  Both positions are based on the belief that Jesus was talking about the Church when He mentioned “the elect” in Matt. 24:22, 24 & 31.  And they both agree that Matt. 24:29 marks the end of the Great Tribulation.

The Post Tribuation Rapture
The post trib position takes the view that the trumpet mentioned in Matt. 24: 31 is the “last trump” of 1 Cor. 15:51-53 because it will be the last trumpet sounded before the Lord’s return. With a loud trumpet call the Lord will command His angels to gather His elect, who they believe to be the Church.  At that time the dead will rise and the living will be changed in accordance with 1 Thes. 4:16-17, and together they will meet the Lord in the air to join Him in His return to Earth in power and great glory.

As you can see, the post trib position has the resurrection/rapture and the 2nd Coming happening at the same time.  They justify this by saying the Bible only speaks of a first and second coming.  Therefore, making the rapture/resurrection a separate event would require a third coming.  Post Trib believers also point out that in John 6:39-40 the Lord promised to raise all believers up at the last day, which they interpret to mean the day of His return.

The Pre-Wrath Rapture
The pre-wrath position takes a decidedly different path to arrive at a post tribulation rapture.  They interpret Matt. 24:22 to mean that for the sake of the Church, the Lord will cut the time of the Great Tribulation short.  To them this means the 6th Seal judgment marks the end of the Great Tribulation, with the pre-wrath rapture coming at that time.  To arrive at this conclusion, they say Matt. 24:29, which speaks of the sun being darkened and the moon not giving its light at the end of the Great Tribulation, describes the same event as Rev. 6:12, which has the sun turning black and the moon becoming blood red.  To them, the saints of Rev. 7:9-17, who are shown to be in heaven between the sixth and seventh seals, are the raptured Church.

God’s wrath will then follow in two parts, consisting of the Trumpet judgments, at the end of which which the 2nd Coming will occur, and finally the Bowl judgments, which will take place in the 30 days following the Lord’s return.

There have been several adaptations of the pre-wrath view.  The one I’ve outlined here is the official position as it was originally set forth by those who developed it.

What’s Wrong With That?
First, all these positions assume that because it appears in the New Testament, our Lord’s explanation of the end times in Matt. 24 is meant for the Church.  But its appearance in the New Testament is the only justification for this assumption.  Nothing in the text of Matt. 24 requires a Church centered interpretation and a careful examination shows it to be specifically oriented toward Israel.

In the first place, Jesus had only rarely mentioned the Church and had never said that it would interrupt Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy, leaving one week unfulfilled. As far as the disciples knew they were 483 years into this 490 year prophecy and were only 7 years short of the end of the age. That’s why they were so surprised to hear Him say everything would be torn down without one stone left standing upon another.

And even as He was explaining how the end of the age would unfold, He never mentioned the Church. Had He done so, they wouldn’t have asked Him if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel while they were standing on the Mt. Of Olives following His resurrection (Acts 1:6)  This has led some experts to conclude that all of Matt. 24 deals with Daniel’s 70th week from Israel’s perspective alone.

It’s Israel much more than the Church who has been and will be persecuted, put to death, and hated by all nations (Matt. 24:9). It’s Israel who has to stand firm to the end to be saved (Matt. 24:13). Israel is warned to flee into the mountains of Judea when they see the abomination of desolation (Matt. 24:15-16).  Israel has to pray their flight won’t take place on the Sabbath (Matt. 24:20).  Israel has to be wary of false Messiahs (Matt. 24:23-24).

The Elect
Also, there’s no mention of the Church being “the elect” in the gospels. In the only times the Lord mentioned the Church at all (Matt. 16:18 and Matt. 18:17) He did not use any form of the Greek word for “elect”. The first clear description of the Church as the elect did not happen until Romans 8:33 which Paul wrote over 20 years later. On the other hand, Jesus was called God’s elect in Isaiah 42:1, Israel was called God’s elect in Isaiah 45:4, 65:9, 65:22, and angels were called His elect in 1 Tim. 5:21.

In my opinion, to think that the disciples would have understood the Lord to be referring to the Church in Matt. 24:22, 24, 31 is an unwarranted assumption.

The Time And Duration Of God’s Wrath
A plain sense reading of the Book of Revelation tells us that the time of God’s Wrath begins with the seal judgments (Rev. 6:16-17) and ends with the Bowl judgments (Rev. 15:1).  The fact that mid-trib and pre-wrath believers don’t accept that means they haven’t accepted God’s word as written.

The Seventh Trumpet of Rev. 11:15
This trumpet is never called the last trump in the Bible, as in 1 Cor. 15:51-53, or the trumpet call of God, as in 1 Thes, 4:16-17.  It is simply the final trumpet in the series of Trumpet judgments.  It’s not blown on Earth but in Heaven. Also, there is no connection between the seventh trumpet and the second coming.  Rev. 11:15 tells us in Heaven the seventh trumpet signals that the Lord has taken command of the kingdoms of the world, but His return to Earth doesn’t begin until Rev. 19:11-16.

The Trumpet of Matt. 24:31
This can’t be the last Trump of 1 Cor. 15:51-53 either because it’s the Lord’s signal to His angels to round up the elect in heaven.  At the rapture the trumpet call of God is to alert believers on Earth. Also he’s sending angels, plural, to do this.  In 1 Thes. 4:16-17 only the archangel is mentioned in connection with the trumpet call of God.  And finally, in Matt.24:31 the elect are already in heaven

To be fair, Mark 13:26-27 tells us the angels will gather His elect from both Heaven and Earth, but in Mark’s version no trumpet is mentioned at all.  This means while the trumpet will not be heard on Earth, there will be members of His elect still on Earth. These are people who will have survived the Great Tribulation and became believers in the process.  But it doesn’t mean they are part of the Church.

Third Coming?
The idea that the separation of the rapture/resurrection from the second coming would require a third coming does not stand up under scrutiny for several reasons.  First, at the rapture the Lord doesn’t come to Earth to get us, we go up in the clouds to meet him.

Second, if every time he left heaven to come to earth was a “coming” then his second coming would have taken place on the day He was resurrected. In the morning He told Mary not to cling to Him because he had not yet ascended to His Father (John 20:17).  Hebrews 9:11-12 tells us He was going to sprinkle His blood on the altar in the tabernacle in Heaven. But that afternoon He was back on Earth where He met two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-16).  Who knows how many times He’s been back and forth since then.

Third, the Second coming is a particular event where He publicly descends to Earth in power and great glory to take His position as King of the whole Earth. The number of times He’s been here and back in the mean time is irrelevant.

John 6:39-40
“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

The phrase “last day” appears twice in these verses. The Greek word “last” means to be the last in time or place.  It often refers to the last one in a series of events.  The first resurrection, the resurrection of believers, is such a series.  Jesus was the first fruits.  Then we have the Church (1 Thes. 4:16-17) then the tribulation martyrs (Rev. 20:4) and the Old Testament believers (Daniel 12:2). These are all part of the first Resurrection, which is not a single event, but a single type, those who are resurrected to eternal life. There is no requirement that they all have to happen on the day of the Lord’s Coming. In fact only the tribulation martyrs are specifically indicated to be resurrected on that very day. Jesus could very easily have been referring to Old Testament believers, some of whom were no doubt standing before Him as He spoke. The point is you can’t use John 6:39-40 to prove a post trib rapture of the Church.

Those Days Will Be Shortened
“If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (Matt. 24:22).

John, who heard the Lord speak these words first hand on the Mt. of Olives, also heard the duration of the Great Tribulation described by the Lord as being 42 months long (Rev. 11:2) 1260 days long  (Rev.12:6) and, 3 ½ years long (Rev. 12:14) on the Isle of Patmos. Using 360 day years these are equivalent times.

There are only two possibilities here. Either John made a mistake or the Lord didn’t mean He would shorten the number of days. The Great tribulation is one of the most carefully measured periods of time in the Bible beginning with Daniel 9:27, where it’s half of seven years,  Daniel 12:7 where it’s time, times and a half (3 ½ years) and the three references in Revelation.  They are all the same.

Many scholars have interpreted Matt. 24:22 to mean if the Lord didn’t put a stop to the Great Tribulation at its appointed time but let it run it’s course no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect He will bring it to a close at the appointed time.  This is consistent with the various measurements. Therefore the assumption that the Great Tribulation will be shortened is not a good one to serve as a cornerstone for the pre-wrath position.

Does Matt. 24:29 Equal Rev. 6:12?
“Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Matt. 24:29)

Jesus was quoting Isaiah 13:10 where the context is the effect of the day of the Lord.

I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red,  and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind (Rev. 6:12-13)

John was quoting Joel 2:31 where the context is a sign that the day of the Lord is coming.

The two verses are similar but not the same. Matt. 24:29 shows one of the results of the day of the Lord. Rev. 6:12-13 is a warning that precedes the day of the Lord. Later on in the book of Revelation the sun is so hot it burns people (Rev. 15:8-9) but when it goes out in Matt. 24:29 it will never come back (Rev. 21:23-24).  The two verses do not describe the same thing. Therefore there is no justification for saying Rev. 6:12-13 is describing the end of the Great Tribulation.

Are The Saints of Rev. 7:9-17 The Church?
They are from every nation, tribe, people and language so they are of both Jewish and Gentile origin.   They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, so they’re saved believers.   They will serve God day and night in His Temple, but are not called priests, and they have no other responsibilities so they are not Kings, so they are not the Church.

In Rev. 7:14 one of the elders tells John they have come out of the Great Tribulation, but the English translation is misleading.  The Greek word translated “out” literally means out of both the time and place of the event being referenced, in this case the Great Tribulation. This means they will have been martyred during the Seal judgments.  According to the pre-wrath view the seal judgments are the Great Tribulation.  But the Greek language says they’ll be martyred before the Great Tribulation, which in a chronological reading of the Book of Revelation begins on Earth in Rev. 13.  So for these reasons the martyrs of Rev. 7 cannot be the raptured Church.

The pre-wrath rapture uses terms that do not appear in the Bible (Man’s Wrath, Satan’s Wrath, etc.) re-interprets parts of Matt. 24, and violates the chronological order of the Book of Revelation. Of all the rapture positions it’s the most difficult to justify Biblically.

The Bible is not a book full of multiple choices.  There’s only one Israel, one Church, one Savior, one way to salvation,  and one rapture of the Church.  The only one that’s true to a literal, contextual  interpretation of Scripture is the pre-tribulation rapture, and it’s coming soon.