Questions that Confirm the Pretribulation Rapture, Part 2
The purpose of this two-part series on the pretribulation Rapture is to reassure fellow believers that the New Testament indeed places the Lord’s appearing to take us home before the start of the seven-year tribulation.
We live in a day when deception reigns and fear characterizes most people in our world. The media and Big Tech censor truth as never before, which makes it rather difficult to discover the reality behind the fake news that confronts us every day.
That’s why we so desperately need the words of Scripture and the hope they give us. Although I believe the Rapture will happen very soon, I do not know when it will occur or what afflictions we might endure before that time. I am certain, however, that Jesus is coming for us before the beginning of the seven-year tribulation that begins with a peace covenant between the antichrist and the “many,” which surely includes Israel (Dan. 9:27).
If you have not already done so, please read Part 1 (questions 1-6) before continuing. It will provide a needed context for the remaining points that confirm the biblical truth of the pretribulation Rapture.
- Does the “Departure” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 Denote the Rapture?
In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, Paul wrote, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.” The Greek word apostasia, here in the ESV translated “rebellion,” literally means “departure.” The context alone determines whether the word refers to a physical parting, such as the Rapture, or to a future spiritual apostasy of the church, which has long been the understanding of 2 Thessalonians 2:3. [i]
The context of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 strongly supports the idea of a physical departure over that of the church departing from its faith. Both of Paul’s epistles to the Thessalonians repeatedly refer to the Rapture. Besides that, the apostle starts his answer to the panic of the Thessalonians by citing their hope in the Rapture (see 2 Thess. 2:1). They would link the “being gathered together to him” with the event that Paul described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
The definite article in the Greek tells us that the apostle had a specific event in mind, one that the Thessalonians would recognize without a note of explanation. We have no evidence that Paul ever talked to the Thessalonians about a future apostasy of the church. The apostle did not write about this topic until much later in his ministry when he penned 1 and 2 Timothy. The only departure of which his readers would have recognized, apart from an explanation from the apostle, was that of the Rapture.
We also have an example from history of a key church leader referring to the Rapture as a “departure.” Cyprian, a bishop in the city of Carthage during the third century AD, referred to it in this way: “We who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as possible. Do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an early departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent?” [ii]
Cyprian (AD 200-258) used the words “depart” and “early departure” to refer to the Lord’s appearing to take his church away before a time of “shipwrecks and disasters” on the earth. Is it not more than a little significant that we see the Rapture referred to as a “departure” before a time of turmoil on the earth at such an early date? I believe so.
If the departure of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 denotes the Rapture, and the context and word usage strongly suggest that it does, then the Rapture must happen before the start of the tribulation.
- Can the Unveiling of the Antichrist to the World Occur Before the Rapture?
In Paul’s response to the panic of the Thessalonian saints concerning the perceived start to the day of the Lord, he gives them a second reason by which they could know that the day of the Lord had not yet begun. He tells them that this day has not yet begun because the Restrainer continues to hold back the unveiling of the antichrist (2 Thess. 2:3-8).
If the Restrainer is the Holy Spirit, and this interpretation fits the best with these verses, this confirms that the church cannot be on earth when the antichrist steps to the forefront of the world’s stage. According to what Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8, the Restrainer will hold back the “man of lawlessness” until this unique ministry ends with the Rapture.
The identification of the Holy Spirit as the Restrainer signifies that the unveiling of the antichrist to the world cannot occur before the Rapture because He is now restraining his identity.
- Did Jesus Promise the Church at Philadelphia That They Would Miss the Tribulation?
In Revelation 3:10, Jesus made this promise to the church at Philadelphia: “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth” (Rev. 3:10). Did this promise signify that the church at Philadelphia would miss the tribulation? Does this assurance apply to us today? I believe so; let me explain.
The “hour of trial” cannot refer to a time of persecution against believers because it refers to a time of suffering that will impact all the people of the world. It does, however, fit rather well with the judgments that John describes in Revelation 6-18, which we know depict a still future time of wrath upon the earth (a tenet of premillennialism).
Furthermore, John specifies that this “hour of trial” is for “those who dwell on the earth.” John later uses this phrase eight other times in the book of Revelation (6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8 12, 14; 14:6; and 17:8). In each of these other instances, the term either refers to people impacted by the judgments of the tribulation or those refusing to repent of their sins during this time. John identifies those who will experience the “hour of trial” as those who will be alive on earth during the judgments of chapters 6-18.
Jesus’ words that follow verse 10 reveal how He will keep His church out of this time of wrath, “I am coming quickly” (Rev. 3:11). Since neither the “hour of trial” nor Jesus’ appearing has occurred, both must refer to a still future time.
Jesus’ promise to the church at Philadelphia signifies that His followers will miss the still future event that He refers to as “the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world” (Rev. 3:10). The Rapture will deliver all those in Christ from the coming time of wrath that will fall upon “those who dwell on the earth.”
- Where Is the Church at the Beginning of the Tribulation?
Does the book of Revelation reveal that the church is in heaven with Jesus at the start of the tribulation? Yes, it does.
John’s description of the twenty-four elders who appear in heaven seated on thrones in Revelation 4-5 matches many of the characteristics of New Testament saints revealed throughout the New Testament. These “elders” cannot be angels because they do not sit on thrones, nor do they age as the term “elder” implies. Their white garments (4:4) signify the dress of New Testament saints (for example: Rev. 3:5).
If the elders represent the church, and no other identification fits better with John’s description of them and their words of praise for the Lord (Rev. 5:9-10), this places all New Testament Saints in heaven before the seal judgments of Revelation 6 commence.
- Why is There a Need for Witnesses During the Tribulation?
If the church remains on the earth during the tribulation, why is there a need for additional witnesses to the saving message of the Gospel during this time?
In a radio interview with Jan Markell on November 7, 2020, Amir Tsarfati questioned the need for the two witnesses of Revelation 11:1-13 if the church is present on earth at the start of the tribulation. Isn’t it the job of the church to bear witness to the Gospel?
Revelation 14:6-7 reveals that an angel will proclaim the Gospel to people on the earth during the tribulation. Again, why is this necessary if the church remains on earth during this time actively fulfilling the Great Commission during the tribulation?
Amir also brought up the 144,000 Jews that God will seal during the tribulation (Rev. 7:1-8). Many believe they will also act as evangelists during the tribulation. The very act of God sealing these future witnesses to the Gospel tells us that this time period is much different than the current church age.
- Why Did Jesus Allude to Galilean Wedding Traditions When He talked about the Rapture?
In one of his prophecy updates during 2020, J. D. Farag did a wonderful job of describing how the Jewish wedding customs of the first century AD confirm a pretribulation Rapture. Recent archeological findings, as dramatized in the movie Before the Wrath, show how the Galilean wedding traditions picture our “blessed hope” of Jesus’ appearing before the tribulation.
Jesus alluded to Galilean wedding traditions in the Upper Room as a way of communicating the hope of His appearing to His Galilean disciples. They would have recognized that His promise in John 14:2-3 meant that not only was He preparing a place for them in his “Father’s house,” but also that His return meant a departure from earth to that physical place in heaven.
I believe the Galilean wedding customs that Jesus alluded to in the Upper Room help us understand the grief of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4:13-18). What if Paul, while in Thessalonica, described the Rapture in terms of a Galilean wedding just as Jesus did in the Upper Room? We know from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 that the apostle was familiar with Jesus’ words during the “last supper.” It’s entirely possible he used the Galilean wedding customs of the day to describe the joy of the Rapture to his new converts.
If the Thessalonians viewed the Rapture as a groom coming for his bride, carrying her back to the place he had prepared for her and celebrating with a great feast, it would explain their continuing grief over those in their midst who had already died. Only living people celebrate weddings, which would naturally exclude the dead in Christ. They did not doubt the resurrection but grieved that their departed loved ones would miss the joy of the Rapture.
That’s why Paul emphasized the place of the “dead in Christ” in the Rapture in response to their grief. Unlike wedding celebrations on earth, their departed loved ones would not miss out on the thrill and excitement of Jesus’ appearing and the celebration in heaven.
Jesus is coming for us before the start of the day of the Lord just as He promised in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 through the apostle Paul, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
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[i] Andy Woods, The Falling Away – Spiritual Departure or Physical Rapture? (Taos, NM, Dispensational Publishing House, Inc., 2018), p. 19.
[ii] Cyprian, Treatises of Cyprian, Chapter: On the Mortality, section 25.