A Theme Of Great Significance
Without question, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will be the climactic event of human history. For a world torn by hatred and violence, with nations desperately seeking peace where there is no peace, with multitudes living in frustration and sin, nothing will ever surpass the return of the Son of God in power and glory to subdue the nations and reign for ever as King of Kings.
While the second coming of Christ is the primary event in the unfolding drama of the last days, it does not stand in isolation. Closely associated are many clearly predicted end-time events, some of which are pivotal in their importance. These include the “blessed hope” of the rapture of the Church, with the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the translation to heaven of the living. The time of trouble and outpoured wrath known as the Tribulation, overshadowed by the dominating presence of Satan’s “man of sin,” the Antichrist. The splendor and majesty of Christ’s return to earth, who will subdue Satan and restore peace and righteousness to a rebellious planet. The conversion of Israel, when “they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced.” The judgment of the Gentile nations, separating the righteous from the wicked “as a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats.” And of course, the establishment of Christ’s millennial Kingdom over all the earth, leading ultimately to the glory of His eternal Kingdom.
Such majestic themes have long captured the interest of God’s people, and in recent years have become a major centerpieces of Christian discussion and literature. We are all anxious to learn our future from the sure promises of the Word of God.
Many evangelical Christians consider the Rapture of the Church to be the very next event upon the prophetic timetable of God, but the Great Tribulation of which the Bible so often speaks is also coming. What is the relationship between the rapture and this predicted time of sorrow and judgment? Will the rapture take place first, or will Christians be required to enter and endure any part of that fearful period?
While there are four main views concerning the time of the Rapture, it is the thesis and conclusion of this volume that the Rapture will be “Pretribulational.” That is, under no circumstance will the true Church of Jesus Christ go through any portion of the coming Tribulation period. The following pages will review the evidence for that conclusion as well as investigate the alternate positions.
What is the reason for the present revival of interest in our Lord’s return? Perhaps it is because so many are convinced that the world is moving toward some ultimate and climatic catastrophe. Perhaps unwittingly the nations are preparing themselves for Armageddon.
With the rise and fall of dictators, many nations are in upheaval. In spite of constant diplomacy, wars and rumors of wars continue, while in the background there exist weapons of sufficient capacity to destroy life from off the face of the earth. Even more, violence rocks our cities and turmoil stirs our homes. These are the chaotic world conditions of the present hour, causing many to wonder if the Tribulation is indeed near at hand. And if so, will the Church pass through any portion of that predicted “time of trouble”?
When this day of grace has run its course, when God deals in wrath and judgment falls upon a world that has little use for the Christ of Calvary, when eternity’s clock has struck and earth’s worst hour is ushered in, will the people of God remain below, or will they by glorious Rapture experience be ushered into the presence of their Saviour? Within the household of faith, this is one of the most significant and disputed questions of our day.
To find the Scriptural answers to such questions this volume has been written. May this investigation help to put at rest the minds of many of the Lord’s people, giving them assurance that
before that dark day of judgment breaks Christians shall stand in the light of His countenance!
Earth, what sorrows lie before thee,
Unlike it in the shadows past;
The sharpest throes that ever tore thee,
Though the briefest and the last!
I see the shadows of the sunset;
I see the dread avenger’s form;
I see the Armageddon onset,
But I shall be above the storm.
There comes the mourning and the sighing,
There comes the heart tear’s heavy fall,
The thousand agonies of dying–
But I shall be above them all!
I. On the Importance of Prophecy
To some minds, every investigation of prophetic subjects is unscholarly and unwise. Since eschatology (the doctrine of future things) is not the most vital division of Christian theology, and since minor variations in the understanding of God’s prophetic program do not constitute a breach of the faith, some question the problems involved. Particularly is this true regarding issues over which genuine and spiritually-minded Bible scholars have been divided. It is always regrettable when controversy and antagonism have been allowed to replace Christian love and understanding and when men forget that, in spite of their differences, they are brethren in Christ. Unfortunately, there are still those who make the order of prophetic events the basis of Christian fellowship rather than the more fundamental issues, such as the glorious Person and the finished work of Christ. The purpose of all investigations on disputed points should be to produce light upon the subject. There will be little added light if most of the effort involved goes into the generation of heat!
Nevertheless, the investigation of prophetical subjects is of vast importance and it is desirable that evangelical leaders should attain a more united stand, at least on the main outlines of God’s future program. The literal fulfillment of Bible prophecy is a striking demonstration to the world of the power and wisdom of God. In the days of Isaiah the prophet, it was the inability of the pagan gods to prophesy which actually became one of the chief ways of exposing the fraud of heathen deities (Isa. 41:21-23). The fulfillment of prophecy proves the claim that God knows all things from the beginning. It confirms the claim that the Bible is His Word. It demonstrates the important fact that God has been pleased to reveal something of His future program. Prophecy abounds throughout the Scriptures, and the study of these predictive portions constitutes a fascinating and vital means of gaining insight into the larger purposes of God.
There are additional reasons why all true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should be interested in prophecy. John 16:13 makes the significant statement that “when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth … and he will show you things to come.” While there are some who may consider future things unimportant, Spirit-taught believers place great interest on the correct interpretation of prophecy. Then, too, the book of Revelation, which deals almost entirely with future events, is the only book of the Bible to which is attached a special promise of blessing for him who reads and keeps its sayings.
Even more important is the fact that God does have a future plan: “Yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it” (Isa. 46:11). He has been pleased to reveal this plan; it is evident that what He has revealed, He also means to be understood. It is important to note just how much of the Word of God is predictive in its nature. Feinberg writes:
From a cursory examination of the entire Word of God it will be found that there are seventeen books strictly prophetic, besides the many portions of eschatological import in other books. Further study rightfully includes all that was predictive at the time of its utterance. With such a large place given to eschatology in the Word by the Spirit, it not only deserves, but commands our faithful and prayerful study. It certainly was never in the purpose of God that such a large portion of His Word should be neglected or slighted.
Because there has been a tremendous revival in the study of prophecy over the course of the past one hundred years, the present interest in the subject can in no wise be attributed to “a passing fancy.” A writer from the year 1888 graphically illustrates the vital interest of men of his day when he commences an article with the comment: “The great and increasing interest in eschatology is one of the most conspicuous features of the religious life of our times.”
It is this interest in prophecy which has been largely responsible for restoring the doctrine of the second coming of Christ to the Church, and it should not be thought strange that along with this restoration have come differences of opinion as to the time and the order of events. While recognizing the differences, it is still of prime importance that believers should rally around the fundamentals, in order to ward off the advances of liberalism within the church and to counteract effectively the godless forces from without which constantly endeavor to still her testimony. Prophecy should help cement evangelical unity, and must not be allowed to degenerate into a sort of theological football to be tossed to and fro largely for the plaudits of the crowd. In the words of E. Schuyler English: “The study of prophecy is valueless, it is of the flesh, it is but wood, hay, and stubble, unless it is motivated by the holy desire for the consummation of all that will redound to the glory of the Lord, and unless it issues in faithful witness and holy living.”
Thus we affirm that Bible prophecy is of tremendous value to the Church, but only as its interpreters endeavor to maintain the unity of the Spirit and cause their findings to be used for the glory of Christ and the ultimate good of His people.
II. The Problem Before Us
One of the most interesting and important problems of eschatology is that of determining the time of the coming of Christ for His Church in relation to the period most generally known as the Tribulation. It is a vital and determining issue inasmuch as it involves the present comfort and the future hope of the entire Church of Jesus Christ and because it involves one of the leading motives for Christian service and godly living. It deals with the time at which the Church will meet her Lord, and obviously enough, for the generation which is alive at the coming of Christ no question could be more critical, for it determines whether or not they will pass through the horrors of the Tribulation.
This is a problem found within the boundaries of Premillennialism. The truth that there will be on earth a literal, visible reign of Christ is so clearly written across the pages of Scripture and has been so adequately defended and substantiated by other writers that it is herein presumed. The time of the rapture of the Church will be of little interest to those who deny any future coming of Christ. It will hardly arouse much concern among post-millenarians, who view the second coming to be in the far distant future. It may possibly interest the amillenarian, who generally takes the Tribulation to be an allegorical picture of the persecution which has ever been the lot of the people of God, but chiefly because a premillennial coming is contrary to his whole system. However, for the believer who accepts the premillennial interpretation of Scripture and who believes that the coming of the Lord draws nigh, it immediately becomes of vital interest and importance to determine the time of the rapture of the Church in its relationship to other clearly predicted events. Will the true Church, or any portion of it, go through any part of the coming Tribulation? At this point, there is a sharp cleavage of opinion among premillennialists, although it must never be forgotten that the differences involved are slight indeed in comparison with that body of truth which is held in common.
There are four major positions among premillennialists as to the time of the rapture of the Church. In brief, these are as follows:
(1) The rapture will precede the Tribulation and no member of the true Church will enter into any part of it. That is, the rapture will be pretribulational.
(2) Some members of the Church will be raptured before the Tribulation, but believers who are not spiritually mature, or who are not “ready,” or “watching” will be forced to endure all or part of its purifying fires in order that their lives may be purged of all dross. That is, there will be a partial rapture.
(3) The Church will be raptured at a point midway through the Tribulation period, generally associated with the resurrection of the two witnesses and the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11, before “wrath” and “great tribulation” are poured out upon the earth. That is, the rapture will be midtribulational.
(4) The Church will go through the entire Tribulation period, the rapture and the revelation of Christ to earth being one simultaneous event at the end of the seven year period. That is, the rapture will be posttribulational.
Good and godly men have long been divided over this issue. Much has been written on each point of view, and the problem is still an exceedingly live theme discussion across the country and in many other parts of the world. It is to be expected if indeed the end of the age is approaching that interest in the coming of the Lord should be on the increase, “and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). The question, Will the Church pass through the Tribulation? is no mere detail of eschatology, to be labeled as “controversial” and lightly set to one side. There is hardly a doctrine of Christianity which as not in some circles, been so classified. We agree with C. H. Mackintosh when he writes:
The entire truth of the Church’s position and prospect is involved in this question, and this is our reason for urging it so upon the prayerful attention of our readers.
The great object of the enemy is to drag down the Church of God to an earthly level – to set Christians entirely astray as to their divinely appointed hope – to lead them to confound things which God has made to differ, to occupy them with earthly things – to cause them so to mix up the coming of Christ for His people, with His appearing in judgment upon the world, that they may not be able to cultivate those bridal affections and heavenly aspirations which become them as members of the body of Christ. He would fain have them looking out for various earthly events to come between them and their own proper hope, in order that they may not be – as God would have them – ever on the very tip-toe of expectation, looking out, with ardent desire, for the appearing of “the bright and Morning Star.”
Satan is always striving to turn the attention of men from Jesus Christ. Even a doctrine of the Bible or an ordinance of the Church can be used to keep Christians occupied with things rather than with their wonderful Lord. During Tribulation days, Satan will instigate his arch deception in the person of the Man of Sin, a counterfeit Messiah ruled by the Devil, and will largely succeed in causing men to worship him rather than turn to God. Can it be that as that day approaches, he would use to turn the eyes of believers from Christ to Antichrist those prophetic schemes which interpose the Tribulation and all of its dread judgment between the Christian and the coming of the Lord? Let us not underestimate the wiles of the Devil. These are difficult days and the outlook is dark, but the uplook is always good. The primary reason for this present investigation is not to raise old and controversial issues, but to re-examine the positive Biblical teachings concerning the time of the coming of the Lord and to point men to Him. It is sincerely hoped that this examination will help, strengthen, and encourage the life and testimony of all who are redeemed by His precious blood, and enable Christians everywhere to lift up their eyes, and to look through the fog of our times to see the Man Christ Jesus, whom we love and for whose coming we anxiously wait.
III. Words For Christ’s Coming
During the course of any discussion relative to the second coming of our Lord from heaven, it is unavoidable that certain terms and phrases will constantly recur. Without desiring to burden the reader with all of the technicalities which have their bearing upon the subject, it is still advisable at this early point in the discussion to clarify some of the terms that will be used. Part of the problem of arriving at a conclusion as to the time of the coming of Christ for His satins has been that some authors have used ill-defined terms, or have confused issues by treating dissimilar terms as interchangeable. For example, writers often completely blur over any distinction between “the day of the Lord,” “the day of Christ,” “the last day,” and similar designations, all the while insisting that other terms have a highly technical meaning. For the sake of clarity, the following distinctions are made in this present examination.
The term rapture will be used for the coming of Christ for His Church, including the reunion of living saints and their joyful meeting in the air with those who are the “dead in Christ.” Unless so designated, rapture will signify the pretribulational appearing of Christ. It is recognized, however, that the same term is used by those of midtribulational or posttribulational persuasion at the times which their systems demand.
The term revelation will be used to designate the coming of Christ back to the earth to judge His enemies and to set up His millennial kingdom. Posttribulationists merge rapture and revelation into one event, but for all others the two are related but separated by a period of some years.
The term second coming used by some to designate either the rapture or the revelation, will be used here for the return of Christ in general, when the above distinctions need not be made. It is believed that the rapture and the revelation, together with the intervening events, are merely different phases of the one second coming of Christ. Pretribulationists do not believe that there are two second comings, as Allis and others like to imply, but that there is one coming incorporating two separate movements, and certainly only one second coming back to the earth.
The term Tribulation will be used to designate the coming seven year period of intense trouble described in the Olivet discourse of Christ, the Revelation of John, and elsewhere in Scripture. The expression great tribulation, often used as a popular designation for the entire Tribulation period, may better be reserved as a description of the suffering of that period, particularly during the last three and one half years following the clear manifestation of Antichrist. In fact, the attempt will be made to distinguish between the Tribulation as a period and the tribulation (suffering, persecution) the saints are called upon to bear in any age, by the simple expedient of capitalizing the former usage. Similarly, the last book of the Bible, the Revelation, while bearing the same name as the coming of Christ to the earth, will not be difficult to distinguish from the revelation of the Son of God.
There are in the Greek New Testament three distinct words used for Christ’s return. Since they have been the object of considerable confusion, they merit at least brief consideration.
(1) The word most frequently used in Scripture to describe the return of Christ is παρσυσία (parousia). Its etymology indicates its meaning, to be near or alongside, from παρα and ειμί. Robertson, citing Deissmann on the usage of the word in classical Greek writings, states: “The word parousia was the technical word ‘for the arrival or visit of the king or emperor’ and can be traced from the Ptolemaic period into the second century A.D.” The Biblical usage of the word, however, is not so confined. It is used of the “coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus,” Paul’s friends (I Cor. 16:17), also of “the coming of Titus” (II Cor. 7:6, 7), the coming of Paul (Phil. 1:26), the coming of the lawless one (II Thess. 2:9), and the coming of the day of God (II Pet. 3:12).
The primary meaning seems to be presence, rather than mere coming, as is further illustrated by II Corinthians 10:10: “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence [parousia] is weak, and his speech contemptible.” The eschatological use of the word seems to add the thought of arrival, or advent, and is not restricted to either phase of the second coming. Some verses using parousia clearly refer to the rapture: “they that are Christ’s at his coming” (I Cor. 15:23); “Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (I Thess. 2:19); “we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord” (I Thess. 4:15).
Other verses which apparently belong to this same group are I Thessalonians 5:23, II Thessalonians 2:1, James 5:7, 8, and I John 2:28.
Still other verses with parousia seem to be a clear reference to the revelation of Christ: Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39; I Thessalonians 3:13; II Thessalonians 2:8; and II Peter 1:16. There may be some difference of opinion on these verses, but the important thing to note is that parousia stresses the coming bodily presence of Christ with His people. The varied usage of the word indicates that it is not a technical word used to denote either phase of Christ’s coming, nor is it in the least necessary that it should so be used. The term stresses Christ’s presence at His coming as against His absence now in heaven. It is the opposite of apousia, both Greek words appearing in Philippians 2:12, “. . . not in my presence [parousia] only, but now much more in my absence [apousia].”
(2) The second word for Christ’s coming is άποκάλυψις (apokalupsis), occurring frequently in the New Testament, eighteen times in the noun form, and twenty-six times as a verb. It is made up of άπό and καλύπτω, and means a laying bare, making naked, or in a broader sense, to uncover, to unveil, and hence reveal. The title of the last book of the Bible, as indicated in Revelation 1:1, is this very word. Like parousia, it is used for the coming of Christ in the air (I Cor. 1:7; Col 3:4; and I Pet. 1:7, 13), and for the turn of Christ to earth (Luke 17:30; II Thess. 1:7; and I Pet. 4:13). The importance of apokalupsis is that it speaks of the future manifestation of the glory of Christ, when at the rapture the Church will see Him as He is (I John 3:2), and when at the revelation the world will behold His power and His majesty.
(3) The third word used to describe the coming of Christ is έπιφάυεια (epiphaneia), from έπί and φαυής to bring forth into the light, to cause to shine, to show, hence an appearing. Polybius, a Greek historian, used epiphaneia to express daybreak or dawn. Other Greek writers used the word for the appearances of deities to those who worshiped. In the New Testament, it is found six times, and each time from the writings of Paul: II Thessalonians 2:8; I Timothy 6:14; II Timothy 1:10; 4:1; 4:8 and Titus 2:13. The verb form is found in Acts 27:20, where it is used of the reappearing of stars that have been hidden by a storm, and in Luke 1:79, where it is used of Christ’s incarnation. Of the Pauline passages, I Timothy 6:14 and II Timothy 4:8, at least, refer to the rapture. It has been suggested that Titus 2:13 seems to bring into contrast two expectations of Christ, “the ‘blessed hope’ of Christ’s return for them, and the ‘glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ,’ which will change the ‘present world’ of Titus 2:12 to millennial conditions.” The importance of the word is not in any supposed technical usage, but in the fact that Christ’s coming will be a positive manifestation and a visible reality.
As touching the usage of these three Greek words, some Pretribulationists have enthusiastically used parousia as a technical word for the rapture, and apokalupsis and epiphaneia as technical words for the revelation, while at the other extreme, posttribulationists have complained that because Paul did not use the words in a technical sense, this indicates that rapture and revelation cannot be separated. Neither of these positions is true, nor is it necessary to attempt to settle the time of the rapture on this issue.
The revelation of Scripture is rather to the point that for the Church, the blessed hope is the coming presence of Christ, the unveiling of His glory, and His manifestation as a visible reality. At His second coming, there will be a corresponding revelation. The presence of the Lord will transform the scenes of judgment upon sin into the peace and righteousness of the kingdom upon earth. Christ will be unveiled before the world in His glory, and He will be manifested in such a way that “every eye shall see him.”
Before passing to more important matters, one more term should be mentioned, over which posttribulationists have generated considerable heat, that is, the secret rapture. Reese, and others, have poured scorn on the whole idea:
The Secret Coming is so very secret, that John passes it over in silence…. The suggestion of Darby, backed by the vigorous efforts of Kelly and others, to prove from this most magnificent passage in I Thessalonians 4 that a secret coming, a secret resurrection, and a secret rapture are portrayed, followed by the rise and reign of Antichrist, is among the sorriest in the whole history of freak exegesis.
Much of the argument revolves around the verse which all agree speaks of the rapture of the Church: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (I Thess. 4:16). All of which led someone to remark that rather than being secret, he thought this was the noisiest chapter in the Bible! This, however, is not exactly the sense in which the word secret has been used by its exponents, for secret also means unexpected or unapparent to the world, and does not necessarily mean silent. Even the glorious manifestation of Christ to the world when He comes with ten thousand of His saints is likened to the coming of a thief: “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame” (Rev. 16:15), “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them” (I Thess. 5:3).
There are those who think the world will be unaware of the rapture of the Church; she will slip silently away, and the world will hardly know she is gone. Others think that the rapture will not be unknown and “secret,” but that the sound of the trump and the voice of the archangel will be heard by all. Possibly, a more intermediate position will prove to be nearer the truth. The world shall hear the shout of His coming, much as those who traveled with Saul on the road to Damascus, who heard the sound of a voice, but evidently did not hear articulate words, and who saw no man (Acts 9:7; 22:9, cf. John 12:28, 29; I Cor. 2:14).
The Bible does not say if the graves will be rent asunder and the gravestones overturned by the departure of the “dead in Christ,” but silent or noisy, the world will not fail to know of the departure of God’s living saints. The important point is that the rapture will be sudden, unexpected, an event which will take the world by surprise, and is not whether it will or will not be secret. Pretribulationalism does not need this term, and many do not use it. Some of the opposing brethren, however, seem to think that having dealt with the terminology of Darby and Kelly on the idea of “secrecy,” they have met and destroyed the fact of the rapture. That Pretribulationalism rests on more solid foundations will be demonstrated again and again in the following chapters.
 Charles L. Feinberg, Premillennialism or Amillennialism (1st edition), p. 19.
 S. H. Kellogg, “Premillennialism: Its Relation to Doctrine and Practice,” Bibliotheca Sacra, VI (April, 1888), 234.
 E. Schuyler English, “Re-Thinking the Rapture,” Our Hope, LVI (November, 1949), 295.
 Chapter VII, however, will demonstrate that the strength of Premillennialism and the basic weakness of Amillennialism lie in the realm of interpretive methods. See also Section II: “Literal Interpretation, Figurative Language and Prophecy.”
 The importance of pretribulationism is admitted by its opponents. Oswald T. Allis (Prophecy and the Church, pp. 206-17) is a recent writer who defends the amillennial viewpoint. While attacking pretribulationism, he nevertheless implies that consistent premillennialists are pretribulational.
 Posttribulational literature is especially plentiful and intolerant. Pretribulationalism also has a wide literature but it is much more scattered, the defense of this position [as of 1956] being largely in pamphlet and periodical form.
 C. H. Mackintosh, Papers on the Lord’s Coming, pp. 31, 32.
 The primary discussion of these two phases of the return of Christ, together with their distinguishing characteristics, is reserved for Chapter Eleven.
 Allis, op. cit., pp. 180, 181.
 A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, IV, 191, citing Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, p. 368.
 John F. Walvoord, “New Testament Words for the Lord’s Coming” Bibliotheca Sacra, CI (July-September, 1944), 288.
 Ibid., p. 289.
 Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, pp. 89, 146. This work by Reese is no doubt the most voluminous and important posttribulational work to date. During the course of this investigation, the opinions of Mr. Reese will often come to the fore, as the leading spokesman for the posttribulational cause.