The Rapture Question

Chapter 1

As a practical matter, the relevance of prophecy to Christians in these days rests on their view of the rapture.  Whether consciously or not, a person who believes they will rapture before the Tribulation, will probably not be that concerned with prophecy or events that are going to take place during the Tribulation.  I don’t mean to paint with a broad brush and say that ALL Christians will feel this way, but certainly most will.  The fact that a fourth to a half of the Bible deals with end times prophecy doesn’t seem to mean much in churches today where it is highly unlikely you will hear a message on the subject.  Action follows belief and vice versa.  If you strongly believe you will be gone, you are not likely to be concerned or do anything about it.

The teaching of the pre-tribulation rapture has the Lord coming for the church in a “secret” rapture prior to the tribulation and then coming with the saints at the end of the tribulation where they meet up with new saints that have been saved and martyred.  The arguments for this position are not based on the clear teaching of the Word but supposition or what the scripture calls “private interpretation”.  I’m not going to go into great detail.  There are many excellent works on the subject by authors such as Dave MacPherson, Marvin Rosenthal, Robert Van Kampen and others that deal with all of the arguments pro and con for those who want to study the issue in detail.

We need to see the clear teaching of the Bible on this issue.  There is no justification for two raptures.  The plain reading of the Bible can only bring one to a single conclusion.  There is the final trumpet, the Lord returns in the clouds and the church meets Him in the air.  The main argument for the pre-trib position is that the church is “not appointed to wrath.” (I Thess. 5:9)  They are absolutely correct.  The problem is that they don’t understand the timing of events in Revelation.  They also don’t understand that the church is always the object of wrath of the world and the “enemy” – although, we agree, never the recipient of God’s wrath. 

Their failure to understand this distinction has led them into systematized error.  One seemingly small false assumption has led to a fallacious theology.  If you look on Google or go to your local “Christian Bookstore”, you will see hundreds of books on the pre-trib rapture.  What began as a little seed has grown to a huge tree with hundreds of oblique explanations for this false doctrine.  The fact that proponents say there are people saved called “tribulation saints” after the church is raptured, begs the question.  If God removed the church originally because He couldn’t allow Christians to suffer, why is God allowing these new saints to suffer?  What is different between them and me other than timing?  By the mid point of the Tribulation, Tim LaHaye has a billion new saints on earth in his “Left Behind” series.  If you understand the nature of the Christian life, it is that transformation is a process of many years as the Lord transforms our minds and renews us.  The idea that baby Christians could quickly become “super-Christians” over night is not realistic.

Why is it important to be clear on the timing?  If the typical evangelical Christian does not think he will be here during the Tribulation, he will fail to prepare.  He may also become a part of the problem, temporarily aligned with the antichrist and against other Christians, thinking he is doing God a favor.  The Bible is clear that Christians turn against their brothers and sisters and betrays them.  Even well intentioned Christians fail to grasp the purpose for the church in the tribulation. 

The Timing of Events from the Gospels

A straight forward reading of the three gospels shows us in clear detail the chronology of events.  It is interesting to read the accounts side by side to see the slightly different emphasis in each.

Matthew 24:3-31

Mark 13:3-27

Luke 23:8-28

3Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"

3Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, 4"Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?"

 

4And Jesus answered and said to them: "Take heed that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in My name, saying, "I am the Christ,' and will deceive many.

5And Jesus, answering them, began to say: "Take heed that no one deceives you. 6For many will come in My name, saying, "I am He,' and will deceive many.

8And He said: "Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, "I am He,' and, "The time has drawn near.' Therefore[a] do not go after them.

6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all[a] these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

7But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet.

9But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately."

7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences,[b] and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of sorrows.

8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles.[a] These are the beginnings of sorrows.

   10Then He said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.

9"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. 10And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 14And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.

9"But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought[b] before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. 10And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate[c] what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 13And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.

12But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake. 13But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. 14Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; 15for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.

The Great Tribulation

(B) 15"Therefore when you see the "abomination of desolation,'[c] spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), 16"then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 19But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened.

The Great Tribulation

(B) 14"So when you see the "abomination of desolation,'[d] spoken of by Daniel the prophet,[e] standing where it ought not" (let the reader understand), "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house. 16And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 17But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 18And pray that your flight may not be in winter. 19For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be. 20And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.

The Destruction of Jerusalem

(A) 20"But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. 21Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. 22For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. 24And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

   

 

The Coming of the Son of Man

(C) 29"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

The Coming of the Son of Man

(C) 24"But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 27And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.

   

 

The Coming of the Son of Man (B) 25"And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."

   

 

All three accounts are similar beginning with false Christs and deception, followed by war, pestilence and earthquakes.  Then we have the beginning of sorrows where brother is turning against brother and delivering up one another to the religious leaders.   When it says, “You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them,” aren’t these Christians?  Aren’t we the testimony?  Aren’t we the ones who “will be hated by all for My name's sake.”  Unless you twist the Scriptures beyond recognition, this can only refer to Christians persecuting Christians!  The next group of verses refers to the period know as the Great Tribulation, the last three and a half year period marked by the Abomination of Desolations.  Again, during this period we see that the “elect” are present – and even the “elect can be deceived.”   Again, this clearly refers to Christians. 

The only Christians looking for a pre-tribulation rapture are “Western Laodicean” lukewarm Christians.  “Judgment begins at the household of God”.  (I Peter 4:17)  Only the fires of hell (not of heaven) will separate the wheat from the chaff.  God’s righteousness demands that the church be purified into a glorious “witness” (again the same root word for “martyr”) before He passes judgment on Satan and the world.

The final passage above describes the coming of the Son of Man and the rapture simultaneously as we see in Revelation 11 with the same heavenly signs.  “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 27And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds.” (Mark 13:26-27)

There is one major difference in the Revelation 11 account.  Instead of the elect or the saints, He is coming for the “two witnesses”!

“And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. 3And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth."

    4These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God[b] of the earth. 5And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. 6These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.

7When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. 8And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our[c] Lord was crucified. 9Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow[d] their dead bodies to be put into graves. 10And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

    11Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. 12And they[e] heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here." And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.

Please notice there is the same timing.  We see throughout prophetic scriptures, the last seven year period is referred to as a week, seven days, seven years, two periods of 1260 days, two periods of 42 months, etc.  We see two witnesses giving their testimony with tremendous power.  The beast ascends out of the bottomless pit (the abomination of desolations) and makes war against these two witnesses.  At the end of the second three and a half year period, we see another picture of the rapture.

The Two Witnesses

Now, the question is who are these “two witnesses” referred to as the two olive trees and the two lamp stands.  But before we answer that question, why two witnesses?  What is so important about that?  What is the whole book of Revelation about?  The trial and judgment of the earth, right?  Under Old Testament law, no one could be convicted of a crime unless there was the testimony of “two witnesses.”  So God has two witnesses.  Who are they?  Some say Moses and Elijah.  But in verse seven above, it says that the beast comes out of the pit and makes war against them.  The word “makes war” means “a military campaign”.  It is hardly necessary to mount a military campaign against to long dead people!  There must be something more to it than that.

Why does the passage call them “two olive trees” and “two lamp stands”?  There is a perfect parallel between Revelation 11 and Zechariah 4.  In typology, Israel is referred to as the “olive tree” (Romans 11:17, Jeremiah 11:16, etc.) and the church is clearly referred to as the lamp stands (Revelation 2 & 3 – the letters to the seven churches/lamp stands.  Few see the importance of this point.  The testimony (witness) is found in two corporate peoples – the Jews and the Christians.  He has made eternal covenants with both.  Each body of people is a testimony of the faithfulness and mercy of God – one of the earth and the other of the heavens.  One represents his earthly promise and kingdom and the other his heavenly promise and kingdom.  In any court of law, you need witnesses.  God’s two witnesses are his two peoples.

The fact that the beast makes war against them speaks to their importance.  If they were two individuals such as Moses and Elijah, a bullet to the head would suffice.  But the word used here for “war” indicates a world wide conflagration – not just a little skirmish!   This is a world war on God’s two peoples.  God has an earthly and a heavenly testimony.  He has a covenant with two peoples – Jews and Christians and He still honors both!

We are witnessing courtroom drama.  If God is going to try Satan and the world as if in a court of law, God must have two witnesses before he can convict and pass judgment.  (e.g. Numbers 35:30)  Meanwhile, just as Satan accused God before the throne and God had one on the earth named Job – Satan challenged God and said he would curse him if he took his family, wealth and health but God said “Go for it!”  And Job was tried, having lost everything and came through the test.  Satan and his forces will also test the two witnesses to see if they are real and the more he turns up the heat, the more prevailing their testimony will be.  This is the kind of tribulation the Saints have suffered through the years and been willing to pay the ultimate price.

So as we come back to the issue of tribulation and wrath, we see that in all of history, there has been a difference between the two.  In the world we will have tribulation.  We will be persecuted for His name’s sake.  The church has never been spared the wrath of Satan or the wrath of the world, so it will certainly be no different in the end when Satan knows his time is short.  Church history is clear.  Saints have never been spared suffering but it has been considered the ultimate privilege to die for their Lord.  So why is it so important to the pre-tribbers?

There is a gigantic failure of the church to see the importance of having both corporate witnesses.  The heresy of the pre-tribulation rapture removes the church so premillenialists  assume that the “church dispensation” is over so God can turn His attention back to the Jews (except for the knotty problem of more saints coming to the Lord during the tribulation).  So where is His heavenly testimony?  Does it go to those who get last minute salvation but have little time or no opportunity to get to know their Savior?  Does it go to Jews alone left holding the bag, so to speak, and the remnant who get saved?

At the other extreme, there are Christians who write off the Jews as having lost their birth right, just as the church has done historically (the Roman Catholic and state churches of Europe), and say that the Jews have missed out and the church has inherited ALL the promises of God.  There is a “new breed” of dominionists who believe the church has to take control of the earth and usher in the kingdom, presenting it to the Lord so He can come back.  There are also the “preterists” who believe all prophecy has been fulfilled and we have been in the last days for the past 2,000 years.  Both of these positions, including the dispensationalists (pre-tribbers) negate the need for one of the two witnesses.  How can God judge the world based on the testimony of only one witness?  He can’t.

Here is one final caveat before leaving this subject.  The dispensationalists tend to be so pro-Israel that they may end up unwittingly supporting political Israel and the antichrist as they make their covenant (Daniel 9:27).  The deception swings both ways.  Neither side will see it.  The only protection from this delusion is to see that God needs both witnesses to stand and testify.  How this works when it comes to the Jews is something I don’t comprehend, but I know it can be done.

The Two Aspects of the Savior—Lion and Lamb

Revelation 5:4-5, 11 shows the two aspects of our Savior in terms of the two witnesses.  He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Lamb of God, his earthly people, and his heavenly people.

"Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose[b] its seven seals."

    6And I looked, and behold,[c] in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain… worthy is the Lamb who was slain

He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Lamb – the two witnesses, Israel and the Church. 

Two Groups of 144,000 – the Two Witnesses

Few people realize that there are two groups of 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 7 and 14:  the first group Jews and the second, Christians. 

Revelation 7 describes the first group of 144,000 –

4And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed:
       5of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed;[a]
       of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand were sealed;
       of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed;
       6of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed;
       of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed;
       of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed;
       7of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed;
       of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed;
       of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed;
       8of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed;
       of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed;
       of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.

    We come to the second group of 144,000, we read:

1 Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father's name written on their foreheads. 2And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. 3They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. 4These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being first fruits to God and to the Lamb. 5And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.” (Revelation 14:1-5)

So here we have the two witnesses – the 144,000 from Israel and the 144,000 from the Church, His earthly tribes and His heavenly people who are washed by the blood of the Lamb.  These are not literal numbers but they represent the number of completion.  Both are essential to God’s eternal plan and purpose.  If you have just one, there is only half a witness.  God’s justice demands two witnesses.

If you look at the chronology in Revelation you see that both are present and are giving their testimony during the tribulation.  Revelation 11 is a pivotal chapter.

7When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. 8And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. 9Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. 10And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

    11Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. 12And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here." And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them. 13In the same hour there was a great earth quake, and a tenth of the city fell. In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.” (Revelation 11:7-13)

We clearly see the two witnesses finishing their testimony, Satan making war against them and killing many.  By the way the root for the word “testimony” and “witness” is “marturia” in Greek or “martyr”.  At the end of the Great Tribulation, simultaneous cosmic events and the rapture hail the Second Coming of Jesus. 

And just in case you aren’t convinced that “Saints” are involved (and if “saints” aren’t Christians, I don’t know what they are), the Bible says “It was granted to him (Satan) to make war with the saints and to overcome them.  And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue and nation.” (Revelation 13:7)  But fear not, for “they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony and they did not love their lives to the death.” (Revelation 12:11)  The witnesses overcome by their testimony – their willingness to give up everything, including their own lives!

I will cover more timelines in the next chapter, but let me repeat.  There are two things going on here – one is the Tribulation of the saints at the hands of the enemy.  The other is the wrath of God poured out on the world.  THESE ARE TWO SEPARATE ISSUES!  At the risk of being redundant – these are two separate issues!!!!!!!  There is a difference between persecution and tribulation, and wrath and judgment!  They are not the same thing.  One is directed by Satan and the world and the other by God Himself.  Our inability or unwillingness to understand this point has led us into grave error by incorrectly believing that if Christians are in the tribulation, they are suffering the wrath of God.  As we shall see in the next chapter the church is gone at the seventh and final trumpet out of which comes the bowls of the wrath of God.

In fact, there are numerous verses that clearly show Christians are present during the tribulation.  One is a verse used by pre-tribbers to justify their position.  Revelation 3:10 says, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth.” The pre-tribulation position is that Christians are raptured and kept from the trial.  The fallaciousness of this argument should be evident.  First, Revelation 3:10 only applies to one (Philadelphia) of the seven churches.  Second, it doesn’t say they will be taken out but kept while in the midst of the hour of trial.

In other verses such as Revelation 9:4, we note that the plague can’t harm God’s people, but “only those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.”  God has the ability to protect His people or He brings them home where they find themselves immediately in His presence.  Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.  Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’  ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors and their works follow them.” (Revelation 13:12-13.

Then we come to Revelation 14:14-20 with another picture of the rapture and the return of the Lord, followed by the grapes of wrath.  We see the simultaneous reaping of the two witnesses from the earth and the beginning of the judgment.

14Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. 15And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, "Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You[i] to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe." 16So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.

 17Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.   18And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, "Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe." 19So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses' bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs. (Revelation 14:14-20)

We then see the reaping of the harvest followed by the wrath of God poured out in verses 19 and 20.  Revelation 15 follows with the bowls of wrath in Chapter 16 which culminates in the final three part judgment of religious, commercial and political Babylon in Chapters 17, 18 and 19.  For those who hold the fallacious idea that Revelation 18:4 is a severe judgment by God on the Christians in Babylon, we would point out that from all of the above Scriptures, the church is long gone by then.  In fact, the call to “come up and out of her” is just another picture of God preserving His Church from His wrath.  In the next section, we will discuss the timing of the seven seals, the seven trumpets and the seven bowls of wrath.

 

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