Why Most Christians Believe in a Post-Tribulation Rapture
Copyright 2016 by C. W. Steinle
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|Why Most Christians Believe in a Post-Tribulation Rapture|
A complete and definitive discussion of the hottest topic among American Protestants.Does the Bible promise a Great Escape from the Great Tribulation? The majority of today's Christians, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican,and Reformed, and 99% of the Christians who have lived over past 2,000 years have believed in a post-tribulation rapture.Examine the verses and arguments commonly used by pre-trib proponents to find their true and obvious meanings.Learn why most Christians place the rapture at Christ's Second Coming.
Paul's Chronology of Christ's Return
Introduction to The Last Enemy of Christ
The Resurrection of the Dead
The Delineation of Daniel
The Last Enemy
Eschatology of the Thessalonian Epistles
Comforting the Thessalonians
Cautioning the Thessalonians
Honoring Christ's Heavenly Reign
All Israel Will Be Saved
Predestined for Salvation?
Dual Covenant - A Tale of Two Gospels
The Way, the Truth, and the Life
Can THIS Be Israel in the Last Days?
Has the Time of the Gentiles Been Fulfilled?
WHO Is the Israel that Will Be Saved?
Must Jewish "Elect" Endure God's Wrath?
Will Christians Experience God's Wrath?
Is a Pre-Trib Rapture the Blessed Hope?
Will Jesus Come Like a Thief?
When WILL the Rapture Occur?
After These Things
Thousands of loving and well-meaning Protestant ministers have adopted the pre-trib rapture view. So why has a pre-tribulation rapture been rejected for nearly 2,000 years? And why do most Christians around the world (Catholic, Orthodox, Traditional European, and Reformed Protestants) continue to believe that the rapture occurs at Christ's second coming?
First of all, there WILL be a Rapture!
As the Apostle Paul states in 1st Corinthians 15; "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." - 1st Cor 15:51,52. Furthermore, these events are described in detail in 1st Thessalonians Chapter Four.
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” 1st Thess 4:13-18. This verse is proof of the rapture. But the details of these verses have, unfortunately, been overlooked by the pre-tribulation theorists, authors, and movie-makers.
In accordance with basic Bible interpretation guidelines, the very first step in determining the meaning of this passage is to establish its single main theme. In other words, if these verses were to be bound as a stand-alone book, what would it be called? What was Paul’s motive in conveying these thoughts?
The first and last verses are focused on giving comfort to those who have lost their loved ones. The first verse also implies that the bereaved would be less grieved and more hopeful if they were more informed about the things that Paul is about to share with them. Paul doesn’t want those who have lost their loved ones to think that those who have died are going to miss out on anything that those still living will experience; and particularly, that the dead would be deprived of participating in the Lord’s return. But the overall objective of comfort through education calls for a title along the lines of: “Paul’s Words of Comfort to the Bereaved.”
Verse 14, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.”
This verse takes the form of an “if – then” statement. “If” we believe that Jesus died and rose again; then (even so), or (and thus) – “God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” The conditional statement is that one believes in the death and resurrection of Jesus. If we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus, even so we must also believe what Jesus has promised to His followers that “because I live, you will live also.” John 5:25 says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” The dead are going to hear the voice of Jesus and rise. 1st Thessalonians 4:14 ties these two resurrections together. We believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus; and even so, we believe that God is going to raise those who have fallen asleep.
Verse 15, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.”
Verse 14 is presented with the full confidence of an oath; “by the word of the Lord.” Paul is furthermore crediting the Lord Himself as the source for the sequencing of these events. According to Paul and the Lord; it’s the resurrection of the dead first, and the rapture of the living second. (See “The Last Enemy of Christ” contained within this book for an in depth study of the timing of end-times events.) “By no means” is formed by two Greek words, two words for “not.” It might say, “They will ‘not, not’ precede those who are asleep.” In the Greek it has the meaning, “It absolutely won’t happen. No way, no how.” This terminology, stated in the Greek’s most emphatic negative expression, is that the living cannot possibly precede those who have died.
“Until the coming of the Lord.” Notice that it does not say, “Until a calling from the Lord,” God’s Word says, “the coming of the Lord.” This distinction will be amplified further in the next verse.
Verse 16, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”
This verse contains so many important elements that we must examine its individual phrases to properly appreciate its ramifications. The first phrase identifies three different arguments which would persuade the Thessalonians that Paul is describing the second coming of Christ.
“For the Lord Himself”
On occasion the Greek language will insert a pronoun in addition to the noun being referenced in order to magnify the importance its subject. Here the Greek - autos (he) reiterates the identity of the one being referred to. There is also another Greek word in the original texts, including the Textus Receptus, upon which the King James Bible is based. The Greek word - hoti (that) appears before “Himself.” In a true word-for-word translation the verse would read, “For that He Lord.” The Online Interlinear translation of this verse captures the true meaning of this phrase as, “For that same Lord.” Another good translation would be, “For that self-same Lord.” By using these words, anyone familiar with the Book of Acts would tend to associate them with “that same Jesus” from Luke’s record of the ascension in Acts 1:9-11.
“Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”
Because Paul has just mentioned “the coming of the Lord,” it would appear that Paul is deliberately calling to mind the mental image of the Lord’s bodily return. Although this may not provide conclusive evidence that this “coming” is the bodily second coming of Christ; please consider the next two phrases as further supporting evidence.
The Lord – that same Lord will descend - katabesetai (will descend). This exact word is used in Romans 10:7 asking the question, “Who will descend into the abyss?” - katabas (having descended is the past tense of this word. Please click on this word (or look it up) to observe its usage. It is usually translated “come down” as in the Gospel of John where Jesus referred to Himself as the one who “comes down from heaven,” and, “the bread that came down from heaven.” Paul first referred to this event as “the coming of the Lord” in verse 15. Now verse 16 furthers his description. Jesus is "coming," and He's "coming down – descending."
Here the operative word is “from.” This is a common word in the Greek pronounced “apa.” The point in examining this word is to differentiate what this preposition is not saying. It does not mean “in,” or “near,” or “around.” The Greek has other words that mean those things. Apa (from), conveys a separation between two positions. Just like its use in English, “from” generally implies departure and distance. An object was there, and now is here; the object came from its former position.
This study seems mundane except that it is necessary in order to express the precision of the original Greek text. “From heaven” means that Jesus has distanced Himself from heaven. He was in heaven, and now he has separated Himself from heaven. He’s not merely coming in heaven, or descending in heaven. He’s going to descend from heaven. He’s not going to get up from His throne and walk a few steps - and call to the church. No. He is, once again, going to depart from His place in heaven and descend.
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven.” What Paul has written means that the same Jesus who has ascended will also come down from heaven – “in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” “In like manner” means that the same processes will reoccur; except that they will occur in a reverse manner. When Jesus was taken up to heaven he ascended from the earth. When Jesus returns from heaven, he will descend to earth. When Jesus ascended into heaven he disappeared from sight. When Jesus descends He will reappear; and this is the blessed hope. “Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”-Titus 2:13
Let’s put this all together now. From verse 15: “the coming of the Lord.” From verse 16: “the self-same Lord,” “will come down,” “from heaven.” Let's take a closer look at these observations about the Lord Jesus:
- He is coming / will come down.
- He is the same Lord. (Himself, or self-same)
- He is descending.
He is coming. He is no longer seated in heaven - He is not merely calling or commanding the saints to rise and join Him in heaven. He is coming.
For the Lord Himself. Paul is not being redundant. Jesus is, "the self-same Lord." Once again this points to a physical second coming, as foretold by the angels in the Book of Acts. As He ascended, He will descend. In what manner? In bodily form.
He is Descending. Jesus cannot be sitting and descending at the same time. He is either sitting at the Father's right hand or He is descending. The Bible says, He is descending.
“With a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.” The Bible describes a truly glorious appearing at Christ’s return - that every eye will witness. This celebration, once again, lends itself to the conclusion that Paul is describing the bodily return of Jesus.
“And the dead in Christ will rise first.” Once Paul has painted this mental picture of Christ’s descent, he returns to his original focus; the comfort provided by the knowledge that the resurrection of the dead will precede the rapture of the living.
Verse 17, “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words.”
Paul begins with the word “then,” inferring for the third time the priority of the resurrection. "Then" When? After the dead have risen. He continues to bring this chronology to the forefront. Then, and only then, will the living be raptured. Why is Paul driving this point home with such repetition? May I suggest three reasons why the resurrection of dead could provide so great a comfort to those left among the living.
First let me offer the most obvious reason. The very fanfare which Paul has just described will be the grandest entry in history. The bereaved would be grieved to think that they would be privileged to see this glorious appearing; while at the same time, contemplating that their deceased would miss experiencing this event with their own senses. They would surely desire to share the exhilaration of His appearing with their beloved.
The second likely reason for finding comfort in the resurrection of the dead is similar. That is; the hope of Job.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!”- Job 19:25-27
This is the comfort that Paul is getting across; “Don’t worry. The dead are going to burst forth from their graves. They’re going to be standing beside you; and they’re going to share in the privilege of seeing the Lord descending with their own eyes - just like you. They’re not going to miss out on a thing.” This is the comfort that’s being given. “And then you will continue to share the moment together.”
A third reason for comfort is simply the joy of sharing in Christian fellowship. Paul was holding out the promise to the Thessalonians that their loved ones would be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Koinonia is the comfort! Paul was painting the picture of the dead being raised and standing at their side. So as to say, “You will be able to behold the Lord’s appearing together.” And then the resurrected saints and the living saints will rise to meet the Lord in the air – together again, forever more. “And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
The mention of the rapture of the living in 1st Thessalonians Four is incidental to the Paul's message of comfort to the bereaved. Furthermore, nothing in those verses indicates that Jesus is going to immediately ascend again after "His coming." On the contrary. . .
“To meet the Lord in the air”
To further support the resolve that Jesus is coming and not merely planning a fly-by, we need only study the word “meet.” Apantesin (meet). This exact word is used three times in the New Testament; Matthew 25:6, Acts 28:15, and here in 1st Thessalonians. In every instance it is used to describe a greeting party, not a departure. Let’s look at its usage in Matthew because of the striking similarity between Paul’s usage and its usage by our Lord Jesus.
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.' And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”- Matthew 25:1-13
Paul told the Thessalonians in verse 15 that his statements concerning these end-times events were “by the word of the Lord,” so it is reasonable to assume that Paul was recalling these very words of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel as he addressed the concerns of the Thessalonians. And because the Greek in which these words were originally circulated among the churches is so precise, we can also reasonably assume that Paul would have handled these words consistently because they were “the word of the Lord.”
So in verses 1 and 6 of Matthew Chapter 25, were the ten virgins going out to be taken away by the Lord? Or, were they going out meet Him with the intention of escorting Him back to the bride? The answer is obvious. Their lanterns were lighted specifically for the purpose of leading Him back to where they had come from.
Once again this word for “meet” is clarified in Acts 28:15. “And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.”
These believers from Italy were not going out to meet Paul with any thought of returning with him to Malta. Their meeting was nothing more than a greeting. Apantesin is also used several times in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament. The reader who is thorough enough to investigate these Old Testament passages will only find further proof that apantesin is a meeting and not a one-way departure.
Consider a simple example. If someone is coming from heaven, (or they’re coming from
Chicago, or they’re flying in from Europe,) we would go to airport to meet them. That wouldn’t mean that we were going back
with them. There is nothing in the
passage that says Jesus is doing a yo-yo thing where He’s descending, and then
He’s going to bob back up with those who have gone to meet him. This is a greeting party. We’re going to meet the Lord in the
air. The meeting is the purpose. The “catching up” will be like a father
lifting his children up when they run to meet him after an absence. The father is not going to jump back in his
car and drive the kids back to his workplace.
The father has “come” “from” work. He came home for a purpose.
Jesus is descending. Paul has given a sufficient description of His descent as the bodily second coming of Christ. Nothing in Thessalonians Four that says He’s returning back up into heaven at the time of this meeting. Furthermore there is no indication whatsoever that Jesus will be deviating from His earthbound course of direction. It is the greeting party which will turn and accompany the Lord back to the earth.
“Therefore, comfort one another with these words.”
It’s all about comforting the bereaved. It starts out with that. It wraps up with that. These verses are all about God's counsel to the living regarding their dead. They’re going to burst forth from their graves. They’re not going to miss out on anything. So you don’t have to sorrow as those who have no hope. Isn’t it interesting that verse 17 (the part about the rapture) is ripped out and presented in books and movies without the context of the comfort, or a depiction of the resurrection of the dead? The movies depict the saints as though they were ascending straight into heaven.
No voices. No trumpets. No appearing. No descending. And No coming!
And certainly no thought about the resurrection of the dead. Is that how an honest filmmaker would portray 1st Thessalonians Four? Is that any way to treat the very Word of God? The authors and screenwriters have studied these verses. They know exactly what they're doing. But they don’t want the audience to think about the fact that the resurrection of the dead occurs first - even though that’s pointed out in this text three times.
This concealment is most certainly made because the Bible places the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age, after the time of great tribulation. People who are trying to force the idea of the pre-tribulation rapture of the church either can’t use this verse (which is the only verse in the Bible that actually refers to this meeting in the air as the rapture); or, they must strip it of its context and only portray the rapture scene by itself. Because if they present the rapture verse in its context, it becomes obvious that it is not a pre-tribulation rapture at all. It’s a rapture after the resurrection of the dead.
Pre-Trib Violates the Rules
The pre-tribulation theologians violate the most basic principle of Bible interpretation when they attach a figurative interpretation to the coming/descending of Christ, and at the same time, convey a literal meaning to the resurrection and the rapture. Either Jesus is coming in His glorified body, and the dead are rising in their glorified bodies; or else, Jesus is only returning in a figurative sense, and the saints are meeting Jesus in some figurative sense. Fundamental Bible interpretation precludes mixing the literal and spiritual meanings within the same passage.
If the main purpose of 1st Thessalonians Four isn't to assure the Church that it will not go through the tribulation, what is the comfort of this chapter? To answer that question it is important to understand that Paul's discussion of end-times events in First and Second Thessalonians are closely related, and are based on a common timeline. The end point of the timeline in both of the Thessalonian letters is the Day of the Lord. The fact that "that Day" will not come before the resurrection of the dead in 1st Thessalonians, and "that Day" will not come until the man of sin is revealed, helps to identify the location of these events on Paul's timeline. Furthermore, both events are tied to the resolution that Christ's enemies will be made "a footstool" before His time at the Father's right hand is concluded.
Psalm 110 states the duration of Jesus' residence at the Father's right hand; that is, until His enemies have been subdued.
"The Lord said to my Lord,
"Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."
In 1st Corinthians Chapter 15, Paul adds, "The last enemy that will be destroyed is death." Jesus overcame death at His own resurrection. The "death" - which is the last enemy - is that victory over death by all those who have died in faith, and who will rise at the call of Christ.
"Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." - John 5:24-29
Stated, likewise, in John 11:21-27: "Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."
The last enemy to be overcome is death, which Paul refers to as "the resurrection of the dead", the rising of "the dead in Christ," and as, "those who sleep in Christ."
Paul relates the resurrection of the dead in 1st Corinthians 15 as "the last enemy that will be overcome." Not Christ's death, but the general resurrection of the dead. The resurrection of the dead will signal that all of Jesus enemies have been made His footstool, and Jesus will sit at the Father's right hand until all of His enemies have been put under His feet. Therefore, Jesus will not return until after the resurrection of the dead has occurred.
Paul's assurance to the bereaved takes the form of this simple syllogism:
- The final victory over death will be evidenced by the resurrection of the dead.
- Jesus will reside in heaven until His last enemy (death) is overcome.
- Therefore, Jesus' coming/descending from the right hand of the Father cannot precede the resurrection of those who have fallen asleep.
Understanding Paul's end-times timeline is so crucial in understanding the intent of the numerous eschatological references in his epistles. Therefore, I have included an in-depth study of Paul's timeline of end-time events in the next section of this book. - end sample.