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Second Coming of Jesus Christ
Why I Don't Believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture
By Steve Highlander
2000 Steve Highlander & Crossroads Ministries All rights reserved.
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"But in the days of the voice of the 7th angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared unto his servants the prophets." Rev. 10:7
What does the Bible say will happen in the last days?
This is a question I am hearing with increasing frequency these days. While many theories exist concerning the last days, we must remember that we are not dealing with philosophy, or even science. God's word is truth and there is no room for theories. One bright spot in the "end time" confusion is God's own promise to bring revelation knowledge as the final days approach. In Daniel 12:9-10 the Word of the Lord came to the prophet saying, "...go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed TILL THE TIME OF THE END.... none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand." Other verses in Daniel and several passages in Revelation indicates an outpouring of knowledge concerning the last days. This should give us great hope, for God said in Ephesians 4 that we should all come in the unity of the faith.
Jesus told us that the Holy Spirit would be our teacher, and guide us into ALL truth. He also said that we could know the truth and the truth would set us FREE. Freedom to experience God to the fullest will not come while we are content to believe less than the whole truth. Don't allow yourself to get bogged down in the tangled mess of theories. Turn to the Lord with all of your heart and seek God for His vision of the last days. He doesn't have to guess about things.
Some might say if you don't believe in a pre-trib rapture then you don't believe in a literal second coming of Jesus. This isn't true. Most certainly there will be a literal, bodily return of Jesus Christ, according to Acts chapter 1. Jesus left in a bodily manifestation and the scriptures declare He will return in the same way. That has never, nor will ever be the question. The question of His second coming is simply one of timing... will it be before or after the period known as the great tribulation.
I have written this booklet for two groups of people: 1) Those who have been taught the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine and desire to understand why some people don't believe in it, and 2) Those people who do not believe the a pre-trib rapture, but have never understood just why it didn't seem to fit.
This booklet is one-half of the answer that I give to the above-mentioned question. It is designed to provide a simple, scriptural answer to those people who have questions about what I believe concerning the second coming of Jesus Christ. Usually the people who have the questions don't have the time for immediate answers, since we all understand that the subject is a vast one. This way, a more thorough home study may be done a t an individual pace. I do not mean for this to be a theological discourse on end times, but as a title suggests, the reasons why I personally cannot accept a pre-tribulation rapture of the Church. After several years of prayer and study, I have come to the conclusion that we will never realize God's true plan if we cling to the false hope of a pre-trib rapture.
Having come from a fundamental, independent Baptist background, I was taught the dispensational plan of theology, which has, as a major doctrine, the pre-trib rapture of the Church. After several years of study, I found myself asking some simple, yet painfully necessary questions regarding the rapture. I was confronted with the fact that I could not find one clear scriptural reference to a PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE of the Church. I offer here the results of my studies for you to draw your own conclusions.
MANY ARE UNPREPARED FOR THE LAST DAYS!
I believe that the pre-trib rapture theory is hurting the Church in two ways:
1. Jesus said, "you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." Believing something that is not true will never bring the church into the "liberty of the sons of God." While many people who believe the pre-trib rapture theory are truly serving the Lord today, I believe the time is rapidly approaching when it will be necessary to come to a fuller understanding of God's end-time plan. If we want to be a part of what God is doing in the earth today, we will need to understand and prepare for it.
2. The period know as the "great tribulation" will be a time when God's people will have to come to a place of absolute rest in God's provision. While we will not experience God's wrath, we will experience persecution from the world, which will blame us for all of its problems. Just as every generation of Christians have suffered persecution during the times of great outpouring of God's Spirit, so will the end-time Church.
While the pre-trib theory gives a false sense of hope that is easy to believe in and hold to, it leaves us completely unprepared for coming events. NOW is the time to be building our selves up on our most holy faith. NOW is the time to "get rid of every weight and the sin that so easily besets us." NOW is the time to move into a place of obedience to God's Spirit. God wants a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led body of believers, worldwide to display His power and glory to a sin-bound world. The rapture doctrine certainly doesn't prepare us for that ministry. In fact, in many cases it has produced self-satisfied Christians who are just sitting around waiting for Jesus to come back before things get too bad.
A FALSE END TO A FALSE START
I have had people ask me, "What is dispensational theology anyway?" This plan of theology basically divides time up into seven (or more) dispensations or time frames. Proponents teach that God dealt with, or will deal with, man in different ways during those dispensations. While God does deal with man somewhat differently at various stages of history, the error of dispensationalism appears when they try to chop up the scriptures and apply them to different time frames, thus invalidating them for others. Any scripture that doesn't seem to fit a particular doctrinal view is easily moved to another dispensation, thus removing any difficulty presented by conflicting doctrines. This makes a convenient dumping ground for confusing or contradicting scriptures. When God began dealing with me about HIS plan for the end times it blew so many holes in my theology that I had to take a serious second look at what I had been taught.
The greatest error of dispensational teaching is that Israel, and not the Church, is the fulfillment of God's plan on earth. According to them, the Church that Jesus bled and died for is basically an after-thought in God's plan--a stepchild for God to play with while He was waiting 2000 years to deal with Israel again. According to this theology, God's dealing with the Jews will take place during the last seven years know as the great tribulation. Since God will be dealing with the Jews, there will be no need for the Church to be around. This is where the pre-tribulation rapture comes in. They expect Jesus to come back before the tribulation and remove the Church, thus getting it out of the way during the tribulation.
It has been taught by leading proponents of this doctrine that had the Jews accepted Jesus as their Messiah He would have immediately established His kingdom and there would have been no need for the Church. What a gross misunderstanding of scripture.
Ephesians 3:9-11 plainly tells us that the Church was in the eternal purpose of God from the beginning of the world. God has declared that His manifold wisdom should be declared to principalities and powers (angelic and demonic) through the Church.
How much plainer could God get when He told us that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament and the mediator or the New Testament. The book of Hebrews tells us that God fulfilled the old covenant and gave them a better covenant based on better promises (Heb. 8:1-13.) The law, with all of its sacrifices and ceremonies was only a shadow of that which was to come. The ministry of Jesus Christ is the reality of the Old Testament types and shadows.
You might be saying, "What does all this have to do with the rapture of the church?" Everything! Because the rapture of the Church is built upon the idea that God is not going to continue dealing with the Church on the basis of grace, but go back to dealing with Israel where he left off 2000 years ago. In other words, God is going back to the law to finish this thing up. This is one reason why they claim that the Jews will rebuild the temple on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. If you have a temple you will have Old Testament temple worship, complete with animal sacrifices. Since the church (and the corresponding grace) isnít needed, it will be raptured, or so the theory goes.
Do you really think God will allow the Jews to sacrifice another animal now that Jesus has come? When Jesus died He tore the veil in the temple from top to bottom and 40 years later, in AD 70, the temple was completely destroyed by Titus in fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy that "not one stone shall be left upon another." God gave the Jewish nation a 40 year grace period before He demonstrated the complete end and fulfillment of the Old Testament.
For the dispensationalist, the church is just a detour in Godís plan. I have heard them claim that the church age is a parenthetical period in Godís dealing with the Jews. However, according to the Bible, the law was the parenthetical period, for Paul plainly told us that the "law was added because of transgressions, till the seed (Jesus Christ) should come to whom the promise was made" (Gal. 3:19.) A slow reading of the whole of Galatians chapter 3 will explain to us that the promises made to Abraham (who incidentally is the father of faith) were in reality made to Jesus Christ; and the law was added because of sin. As you can well see, the law and the Jewish dealings were the parenthetical period leading up to the real plan of God for the Church. Any sensible Bible student must ask himself several questions at this point.
When we understand the false starting point of dispensational theology, it is easy to see how they arrive at the need for a pre-trib rapture of the Church. After all, if the Church isnít really important to Godís plan for the end times, why not create an event to remove it so its spirit-filled, spirit-led, born-again believers wonít get in the way. Then God can return to dealing with a nation of people that he called stiff-necked and rebellious. He can use the Jews alone to reach the last generation of people.
However, if the Church is Godís eternal plan (of which Israel can be a part if she repents and believes the gospel) then it is a critical part of Godís plan for the end-times too! It would seem rather silly for God to prepare a Church for 2000 years and remove her just when she was needed the most.
We must decide if the Church of Jesus Christ was intended to be the fulfillment of Godís plan and purpose or the nation of Israel (which was purely preparatory in nature.)
I must take time to note that God is going to deal with the nation of Israel in the last day. Many scriptures point to the fact that Israel will see the glory of God in the last day and be converted to Christ. A great truth that is often overlooked is the combining of Jews and Gentiles into one body. (See Eph. 2:19-11; Gal. 3:24-29.)
In the last days the two great streams of Godís dealings will flow together and unite into one mighty river, flooding the earth with Godís glory, mercy and power. No true child of God should ever despise the Jewish nation, for we will be heirs with them and they with us. Let not the Church fall into the attitude of the older brother of the prodigal son who was angry when the father received the wayward son back without rebuke.
There is no need for the rapture of the Church, because the Church is Godís plan and purpose for eternity. This leads us to another difficulty concerning the rapture
According to the teaching of this doctrine, God is going to remove the Church with the Holy Spirit. This removing is to pave the way for the anti-christ and the tribulation period. They use II Thessalonians 2 as a proof text, claiming the "he" of verse 7 is the Holy Ghost and the phrase "taken out of the way" refers to the rapture. After the rapture, they claim the anti-christ will take over and, despite the terrible persecution that the Church today fears, multitudes will be saved. I think we need to ask ourselves some serious questions at this point.
Assuming that these people really are saved, are they a part of a different Church than the one that was raptured? Does the Lord have two Churches or just one? Will the Lord have two brides to marry or will he just have one wife?
It should be quite obvious that those saved in the time period known as the great tribulation would be partakers of the same salvation you and I enjoy (for there is truly only one salvationÖright?) This leads us the next question:
Truly multitudes will be saved in the period known as the great tribulation. Many shall turn to God because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a mature Church, serving God in the fullness of His power and righteousness. Godís glory will rest upon the Church, so contrasting with the darkness that is in the world that many will see and be converted. Truly the Church shall be a "city set on a hill". The darker the dark, the lighter the light!
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT THE SCRIPTURE
Having looked at some very real difficulties concerning the doctrine itself, letís turn our attention to some scriptural questions. Rather than focus on a one-sided argument that only supports my view while ignoring the scriptures that seem to support the other view, we want to examine the majority of scriptures used to support the pre-rapture theory. If indeed the scriptures teach a pre-trib rapture of the Church, it should be clearly detailed in more than one place.
RAPTURE OR RESURRECTION?
Letís consider a key rapture verse, I Thes. 4:16:
"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the arch- angel and the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the cloudsÖ"
The dead rising, living believers being changed: if this isnít a resurrection, I donít know how you would describe one! Since the event just mentioned is referred to as the "rapture of the Church", it should be of great interest for us to find out just when it is going to happen. Does the Bible have anything to say about the timing of a resurrection? If the Bible gives us a clue as to when this resurrection will take place then we can pinpoint the time of Christís return too!
The Bible does in fact talk about several resurrections, besides that of Jesusí own. One type of resurrection would be a physical resurrection such as the one experienced by Lazarus. But Lazarus died again, so that one wonít do us any good. Another would be the resurrection of the Old Testament saints who came out of their graves and walked around Jerusalem after the Lord rose from the dead 2000 years ago (see Matthew 27:52-52). But that was 200 years ago.
There are three resurrections spoken of in John chapter 5 that should shed some light on our study. Two of the three resurrections are also spoken of in Revelation 20:5. In John 5, Jesus teaches us that there is to be a SPIRITUAL RESURRECTION (verses 24 &25.):
"Verily, verily I say unto you, the hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and they that hear shall live."
This portion of scripture is speaking of being born again. The dead here are those that are spiritually dead. Also, Christ identified the time frame by saying, "the hour now is." Notice He said those that hear shall live. Faith comes by "hearing," (Romans 10:17) and without faith it is impossible to be saved (Heb. 11:6).
He couldnít possibly have been talking about a rapture, because those that heard were dead. There is no possible way you could relate that to born-again, living believers being taken in a rapture, because they are alive both physically and spiritually. Jesus was stating the most fundamental fact in scripture Ė That, until you are saved, you are spiritually dead. The contrast becomes even clearer when we read verse 28:
"Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the GRAVES shall hear His voice and shall come forth, they that have done good unto the resurrection of life: and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation."
See the difference between the spiritual one spoken o f in verse 25 and the physical ones spoken of in verses 28 & 29? The last two resurrections were to come at a later time when ALL THAT WERE IN THE GRAVES would hear and come forth. The passage in verse 25 relates to the spiritual resurrection that is available to all believers now. Paul tells us in the book of Romans, chapter 6 that we are to walk in newness of life now. The resurrections spoken of in Verses 28 & 29 are physical ones that take place at the end of this present age.
We can glean an important fact out of this passage of scriptureÖthere will be two resurrections at the end of the world. One called the RESURRECTION OF LIFE and the other THE RESURRECTION OF DAMNATION. A question presents itself at this point. Does the Bible say WHEN these two resurrections will occur? YES! Revelation 20:5 places the resurrection of life at the end of the tribulation period and calls it the FIRST RESURRECTION.
In verses 4-6 of Revelation 20, the promise is made to those having a part in the first resurrection, that they would rule and reign with Christ for 1000 years, and that the second death would not hurt them. It goes on to say that, "the rest of the dead lived not again until the 1000 years were finished."
God plainly tells us several things about these two resurrections:
Now, to ask an obvious question. How many resurrections will there be before the FIRST one? Obviously none! The passage quoted in I Thessalonians 4:16 and related to a pre-trib rapture of the Church couldnít possible occur seven years prior to the FIRST RESURRECTION. In fact the event described in I Thessalonians 4 is the FIRST RESURRECTION and occurs at the end of the tribulation period as we have already seen.
THE LAST TRUMP
"Behold, I show you a mystery, we shall not all sleep (die), but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the LAST TRUMP, for the trumpet shall sound and the dead in Christ shall be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed." I Cor. 15:51
Again we are dealing with the FIRST RESURRECTION, which we have already see will take place at the revelation of Jesus Christ after the tribulation. The point I want to make reiterates what we already know to be true. How many trumps are going to sound after the LAST one? Yet if this passage refers to a pre-tribulation rapture of the Church, then there would be yet another trumpet to sound seven years later. If this were the case how could it possibly be referred to as the LAST ONE?
WHAT ABOUT THE PLAIN SCRIPTURES THAT SPEAK OF THE RAPTURE?
To be perfectly honest with you, I have yet to find one. Much of the rapture doctrine is supported by inference. If the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church was the blessed hope, then why donít we see clear, concise teaching on it by Jesus, Paul or even John?
WHAT DOES JESUS HAVE TO SAY?
Two great passages of scripture used to substantiate the pre-trib theory are Matthew 24 and Luke 17. Jesus is answering a series of questions concerning the end times. He takes great pains to assure His disciples that when He returns there wonít be any secret about it. Everyone would know. How this contrasts with a secret rapture of the Church! In verse 27, Jesus says His coming will be as the lightening comes out of the east and shines unto the west (lightening doesn't always come from the east, but the sunrise does). Jesus wasnít referring to a bolt of lightening, but rather a sunrise that gets brighter as the day progresses. Isnít the coming of Jesus referred to as "the day of the Lord?" This signifies the power of darkness being broken a( s the whole earth rejoices at His coming. (It might be interesting to note here that the anti-christ is to be destroyed with the "brightness of His coming.")
If Jesus wanted to relate a clear message concerning a pre-tribulation rapture of the Church, he missed His best opportunity. The passages in Matthew 24 and Luke 17 contain Jesusí clearest teachings on the very subjectÖthe end times and the tribulation. Isnít it surprising that He didnít make any clear reference to a pre-trib rapture?
In fact He told them it would be "after the tribulation of those days," that they would see the sign of the Son of Man in the heavens ( Matthew 24:29-30). From this discourse we also find that He will be coming with the clouds of heaven and with great power and glory. Jesus Himself said that his coming with the clouds would be after the tribulation Ė not before!
Notice again Matthew 24:3. An angel with a trumpet collects the saints. How many times will this event occur? Just once!
AS IN THE DAYS OF NOAH
Rather than pointing to a pre-tribulation rapture as He might have done, Jesus relates the end-times to Noahís day in verses 37-42. Jesus said His coming would be as it were in the days of Noah. What happened in Noahís day? The judgment of God was poured out on a sinful world, but God didnít rapture Noah away from judgment. We find God providing for and protecting Noah all the way through the judgment. Letís examine verse 39.
"Öand they knew not until the flood came and TOOK THEM ALL AWAY; so also shall the coming of the Son of Man be."
How much plainer could Jesus get? Noah was divinely protected in the midst of judgment, but first he had to be obedient to God and prepare the ark to the saving of his soul (Heb. 11:7). The judgment of God didnít take Noah away, it took the sinners away and left Noah to inherit a cleansed earth. "So also shall the coming of the Son of Man be."
Luke chapter 17 is a parallel passage to Matthew 24 and adds a little extra insight for us. In verse 28 Luke records another illustration used by Jesus to picture the last days. It seems the Lord pointed to Lot as another example of what was going to happen at the time of His coming. God sent angels to remove lot from Sodom before Godís judgment fell. However, Jesus wasnít teaching a rapture here, else how could Lotís wife be turned into a pillar of salt? Could someone really be saved, ascending in the rapture and then look back to the world and be lost? I doubt it! But that is what Jesus was teaching if we relate this scripture to a pre-trib rapture. It should be noted here that many (not all) people who believe in a pre-trib rapture also teach that a person can not lose hi/her salvation once he/she has been saved. One (or both) of these doctrines is wrong if this verse teaches a pre-trib rapture. There is no possible way to believe both without ignoring part of that verse.
What was Jesus trying to get across to us? Basically three things:
In verse 31, Jesus said if one was in the field or on a housetop, let him "not turn back to get his stuff." This was the problem with Lotís wife, her heart was with her stuff: back in Sodom. Jesus admonishes us to remember Lotís wife! What a sobering thought.
Could this passage really be referring to a pre-trib rapture? How could someone being raptured "in the moment in the twinkling of an eye" go back to get their stuff? Or why would they want to for that matter?
One Shall Be Taken
As Jesus finishes His discourse on His second coming he saysÖ
"I tell you in that night there shall be two men in one bed, one shall be taken and the other left, two women shall be grinding together; one shall be taken and the other left. Two men shall be in the field, the one shall be taken and the other left." Luke 17:34-36
Rapture teachers point to this passage of scripture as evidence of the great separation that is supposed to take place at the rapture. They teach that Christians will be taken ( in the rapture) and the sinners left. We would do well to finish reading that passage of scripture, for verse 37 says:
"And they answered Him and said unto Him, where Lord And He said unto them, wheresoever the body is, thither the eagles be gathered together."
Since we know that flesh and blood bodies will never get to heaven, where were these bodies taken? To a place where the eagles were gathered together to eat them. This corresponds with Rev. 19:17 & 18, which we donít have time or space to deal with in this study. (But read it for the interesting question it raises.)
Suffice to say that it wasnít the righteous who were taken and the wicked who were left. Jesus couldnít have been referring to a pre-trib rapture here. All in all Jesus missed His very best opportunity to present a clear, concise teaching on any pre-tribulation second coming. He was specifically asked what would be the signs of His coming and the end of the age. Jesus didnít teach a pre-trib rapture in Matthew 24 and Luke 17, in fact He taught the opposite.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER END-TIME PARABLES?
In Matthew 13:24-30 Jesus told the parable of the wheat and the tares. He interprets the parable in verse 37-34. The wheat are the children of God, while the tares are the children of the devil. The harvest is the end of the world and the angels are the reapers. Jesus said the wheat and the tares should grow together until the time of the end. The He would say, "Gather ye FIRST the tares, and bind them in bundles to be burned." After that the wheat would be gathered into the barn.
"As the tares are gathered and burned in the fire SO SHALL IT BE IN THE END OF THE WORLD. The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquityÖand then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the KingdomÖ" Matthew 13:40-43
We certainly canít find support for a pre-trib rapture here. Once again the exact opposite is taught. The wicked will be taken FIRST and the righteous left to shine. The same message was illustrated by Noah. Jesus was consistent in His teaching.
WHAT DID PAUL TEACH?
We have already seen the main scriptures used to support the pre-trib rapture doctrine clearly indicate a RESURRECTION, and that the Bible placed the first resurrection at the end of the tribulation period. What about other scriptures used to substantiate the pre-trib theory? As I have already stated, I can find no clear scripture to support a pre-trib teaching. The only way you will find a scripture supporting the rapture is to infer a rapture on the text.
COME UP HITHER
Another scripture used to support the pre-trib teaching is found in Rev. 4:1.
"After this I looked and behold a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice I heard was as a trumpet talking with me which said come up hither and I will show you things which must be hereafter."
Now, notice verse 2, "And immediately I was in the SpiritÖ." John simply received a word from God to come up to the level where he wasÖThe SPIRIT REALM! John may well have had an experience similar to that of the apostle Paul who was caught up to the third heaven and saw things it wasnít lawful to utter (II Cor. 12). You really have to stretch the scriptures to apply this to a worldwide rapture of believers, let alone the resurrection of all dead believers for the past 200 years. It is interesting to note that dispensationalist typically interpret the book of Revelation as literal rather than symbolic or spiritual. It seems strange that they deviate here to spiritualize one short verse. Needless to say, there arenít grounds here to prove a pre-trib rapture.
In addition to Rev. 4:1 the phrase "come up hither" is also used in Rev. 11:12. Does this mean that there will be two raptures, with the second one occurring halfway through the tribulation? It is imperative that we apply our symbolism equally or we run the risk of private interpretation.
THE DAY OF CHRIST
In an effort to support a two-stage coming of Christ, pre-trib teachers make a difference between the DAY OF CHRIST and THE DAY OF THE LORD. Is this scriptural, or are they grasping at straws to support a two-stage return? Letís lookÖ
Do the scriptures speak of six different days (or even two), or do they speak of one day six different ways?
Draw your own conclusions. How would you divide these days into two separate categories? The scriptures speak of one day in which the Lord Jesus Christ will be revealed as King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Praise God!
A THIEF IN THE NIGHT
In I Thes. 5:2 youíll notice it doesnít say that Jesus would come as a thief in the night, but rather that the "day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night." What was Paul was trying to convey to his readers? The same message Jesus tried to get acrossÖjust as it was in the days of Noah and Lot, nobody realized judgment was so close until it came. The simple idea conveyed is that the day of the Lord would come when it was least expectedÖlike a thief.
Verse 3 goes on to say; "sudden destruction would come upon them, as travail upon a women with child." The word ' sudden' here means "non-apparent" or "unexpected". Then Paul compares the tribulation to a woman in labor. Do labor pains come suddenly all at once, or do they start small and infrequent and grow in intensity and frequency? Paul taught that the birth pangs of Godís wrath would grow as we neared the end of the age. This is why the book of Revelation speaks of Godís judgments in a series of bowls, trumpets and vials.
Verse 4 tells us weíre not in darkness that that day should overtake us as a thief. The Church isnít going to get caught sleeping (or at least shouldnít Ė itís time to wake up). Like Noah, who was warned by God of approaching judgment, the Church will obey God, build our ark (in faith and obedience to Jesus) and preach righteousness to a sin-filled generation. Like Noah, the Church will then have to REST (Noahís name means "rest") through the judgment, depending upon Godís protection and supply. Truly the Church has a great job to do before the end of this age.
Are you hearing Godís voice today? Are you obeying it? Are you preaching righteousness and judgment, or are you hoping that Jesus will come back to get us all out of here before things get too bad? Today is the day to prepare your ark. It will be too late when the rain of Godís wrath starts. If we canít trust the Lord now, we will never be able to trust the Lord later. Donít deceive yourself, turn your whole life over to God now and prepare to trust Him through the difficult days that lie ahead.
GOD HAS NOT APPOINTED US UNTO WRATH
I Praise God for that. I greatly appreciate Godís loving protection and provision he has promised in Jesus Christ. But, letís look seriously at this verse. God has not appointed us unto wrath, but the only way you can find a rapture in this scripture is to infer one upon the text. Why is it so hard for people to believe that God can provide for and protect His people through a time of judgment? God has the ability to judge the world and bless His people at the same time! In the great prayer of Jess for His Church, recorded in John 17:15, He asks the Father to protect His disciples here. Letís read it again:
"I pray not that you would take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from evil."
It seems that Jesus would have prayed for a pre-trib rapture here, if there was going to be one. Instead He prayed just the opposite. Every prayer of Jesus will be answered. I believe that this one is no exception! God, according to Jesusí prayer will not take them (us) out of the world, but will keep us from the evil that is coming.
It might help to look at another picture God gave us in His word. In the book of Exodus God delivered His people out of Egypt through a series of judgments (itís beginning to sound a lot like the book of revelation). The Bible plainly tells us that God put a difference between the land of Goshen (where Israel was) and the land of Egypt when He poured out His judgments on the Egyptian gods. (Exo.. 12:12). Isnít God capable of doing the same thing again?
ENOCH AND ELIJAH
Pre-trib teachers have pointed to the Old Testament examples of Enoch and Elijah for support. Since we have been unable to find any New Testament support for a pre-tribulation second coming of Jesus it is doubtful that we will find any Old Testament support, but letís take a look anyway. If these two men do prefigure a rapture of the Church, then their experiences should follow through and picture a tribulation time also. Wouldnít that make sense?
In Gen. 5 we find the lineage of man from Adam to Noah. Verses 19-24 speak of the entire 365 year history of Enoch. Verse 24 tells us "EnochÖwas not for God took him." What does this passage of scripture teach?
If it teaches a pre-tribulation rapture, where is the tribulation? After Enochís translation there was still 1000 years of history before the flood. Rather then picturing a pre-trib rapture, God shows us a picture of the overcoming Church.
The 10 men from Adam to Noah have a story to tell. The literal meaning of their names read almost sentence-like to relate the plan of salvation and history of the Church all the way through to final judgment.
Taken together a statement is made:
Man (created by God) substituted for woeful mortality (and became) the possessor of a fixed dwelling place. (To) the praise of God, (one) descended, dedicated, (a) man of the dart, powerful, (to give) rest.
God clearly pictures the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ and subsequent work in the Church. It is right in the midst of this context that the translation of Enoch becomes apparent. God is showing us a progression in the private and corporate lives of believers. After salvation we begin (or should) to praise God (Mahalaleel). Praise produces humility (Jared) which in turn produces dedication (Enoch). It is important to see here that Enoch or dedication was where a translation was made. True dedication to God is the doorway by which God can move powerfully in a personís life. Dedication brings death to the flesh and life to the spirit faster than anything else. Enoch (dedication) fathered Methuselah whose name meant "man of the dart." As already noted above, his name indicated a full-statured man, who becomes a weapon of attack in Godís hand. This corresponds to Ephesians 4:12-13 where Paul tells us why God sent His five-fold ministry and for how long.
"For the perfecting of the saintsÖtill we all come together in the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the MEASURE OF THE STATURE OF THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST."
Paul says that the Church is coming into a perfect man and the full height of the man Christ Jesus. This perfectly describes Methuselah, whose name means, "Man of full length."
This man (the composite body of Christ which is His Church) that God is currently preparing will be a great weapon in Godís hand He will ultimately use it (us) to destroy the works of iniquity and the anti-Christ. However, it is first necessary for us to get rid of the iniquity (self will) in our own lives, before we could ever hope to combat iniquity in the world. It is important to note that Methuselah lived right up to the time of judgment.
Methuselah fathered Lamech (Powerful). This is what the Church is to be in the last days just prior to Christís second coming. Methuselah, Lamech and Noah all lived during the 100 plus years it took Noah to build the ark. Lamech died five years prior to the flood and Methuselah died the year the flood came. Lamech lived 777 years. Seven is the number of divine completion and perfection. God coded a message into Lamechís life Ė Godís power will come to perfection and completion in the last days. Godís own number, 777, to combat the number of the anti-christ, which is 666, according to the book of revelation.
We would do well to remember that Lamech, Godís powerful Church, fathered Noah (rest), who built the ark through faith and obedience to God. This is exactly what the Church of Jesus Christ will be doing in the last days Ė building an ark, preaching righteousness and preparing to rest in Godís provision and protection during the outpouring of judgment. God didnít take Noah out of the picture, did He? It was Noah who came out the other side of the flood to inherit a cleansed earth. It should be quite obvious that it was the sinners who were taken away by the judgment. This corresponds perfectly to what Jesus taught
ELIJAH AS A PICTURE OF THE RAPTURE?
What about Elijah who was taken to heaven in a whirlwind? While we could learn several lessons from Elijah and Elisha, letís just pick out the most obvious. After Elijah was taken to heaven, his mantle fell on Elisha, who did twice as many miracles as Elijah did. There are two equally acceptable applications here. One being a picture of Jesus ascending to the Father and sending the Holy Spirit (His own mantle) back to waiting Church. Jesus told His disciples such interesting things as: "As my Father has sent Me, so send I you", and "The works that I do ye shall do also and greater works than these shall ye do, because I go unto My Father" (for the purpose of sending the Holy Ghost.) The story of Elijah and Elisha pictures this perfectly.
The other idea is one we have already seen in Enochís example. One ministry can father another. If we allow God to transform our lives, something powerful will happen. No matter which picture you see here, the fact remains the same; a more powerful ministry was left behind after the translation. This doesnít fit at all with what is currently being taught about the rapture and the tribulation! As with the picture of Enoch, there is no tribulation pictured after Elijah is taken up into heaven. Once again, a careful analysis of the passage lends no support for the pre-trib rapture theory.
DOESNíT THE BIBLE TEACH THAT THE RAPTURE MUST
COME BEFORE THE ANTI-CHRIST CAN BE REVEALED?
That is a good question, because many people teach that as the sequence of events. If that is true, and the Church is holding back the revelation of the anti-christ and the tribulation (along with the unrestrained influence of iniquity), then we would have our strongest argument for a pre-trib rapture. In order to understand this subject we will have to take a close look at II Thes. 2, where they get their support for this idea. Speaking of the "day of Christ," Paul sets the stage for verse 3:
"Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day (the day of Christ) shall not come except there be a falling away FIRST and the man of sin be reveled, the son of perdition."
This scripture plainly tells us that two things must happen before the day of Christ can come.
The "falling away" is a departure from the truth as many Christians leave their first love to seek their own self-will (iniquity) under the pressure of the world. They will be like Lotís wife, always turning back to the wickedness and things of this world, even when they know judgment is coming.
Rapture proponents teach II Thes. 2:7-8 proves the rapture.
"For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth (hinders) will let, until he be taken out of the way. Then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall destroy with the Spirit of His mouth."
They claim that the "he" of verse seven is the Holy Spirit who hinders the revelation of the anti-christ until he be taken out of the way in the rapture. (We have already discussed several problems with this line of thinking earlier in the study.) If you subscribe to this point of view a problem arises when you try to reconcile verse 3 with verse 7 & 8. Verse 3 states the day of Christ cannot come until after the man of sin is revealed, while verses 7 & 8 say that wicked (who they also say refers to the anti-christ) canít come until the Holy Spirit is taken out in the rapture. If the pre-trib doctrine is correct, then Paul just contradicted himself within the space of four verses.
THE MYSTERY OF INIQUITY
Truly something is hindering the total revelation of the mystery of iniquity, which Paul says is already working. Before we decide what is hindering it, we probably better take a look at the "mystery of iniquity" itself and figure out what it is.
The word mystery is MUSTERION in the Greek. It doesnít mean "mystery" as we understand the word today. Its literal meaning is "to shut the mouth." The idea of the mystery, as Paul understood it, was something that was known, but kept secret for a time. When the proper time came it would be revealed. Consider Col 1:26.
"Even the mystery which has been hid from ages and generation, but NOW is made manifest to His saintsÖ"
Likewise the mystery of iniquity is something we understand is currently at work (II Thes. 2:7), but will come to complete unrestrained revelation "in his time." God wants us to understand that just as surely as the mystery of God (Rev. 10:7) is going to be finished, so shall the mystery of iniquity be finished.
What is the mystery of iniquity? It might help us to understand the mystery of iniquity if we understood what the mystery of God is. In Rev. 10:7 John tells us when the 7th Angel begins to sound his trumpet the "mystery of God shall be finished." There are several "mysteries" spoken of in the Bible. It is a simple matter to define the mystery of God, as it is spoken of throughout the New Testament (Rom. 16:25; I Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:9; I Tim. 3:16). The most concise teaching available is found in Col. 1:25-29.
"To who God would make knownÖthe glory of this mysteryÖwhich is CHRIST IN YOU the hope of glory."
The mystery of God is CHRIST IN YOU! That is what John tells us will be brought to conclusion when the 7th angel begins to sound. You might note that the 7th angels sounds in the middle of the tribulation period. Can you imagine the glory that will be revealed when Godís people experience the full release of the Christ nature that already resides in us? God will truly have a people sold out to Him. A people who will have overcome sin and iniquity and who walk in the fullness of Godís power. Jesus said that God heard His prayers because He always did what the Father told Him to do. This was the secret of His free-flowing power. The word iniquity means "self-will". God is telling us that in the last days there will be a world-wide body of believers who will manifest the nature and obedience of Christ and receive a tremendous outpouring of Godís Spirit.
This helps us to understand the mystery of iniquity. Just as the worldwide body of Christ will submit to Godís will and come to completion. The lost world will turn themselves over to the inner nature that controls them Ėself will or iniquity. Jesus told us of these days in Matt. 24:12. "Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall grow cold." It is important to note here that the word Ďloveí in this passage is "agape" which is the Greek word for the God kind of love or self-sacrificing love. In other words, it isnít the people of the world who are losing their love, itís the Church folks! This explains the "falling away" (apostacy) in II Thes. 2. Satanís great fall from glory came after he said, "I will."
While there may be many personifications of the "man of sin," we can not afford to overlook the fact that each human being has a "man of sin" residing in him. We know it as the "old man" or the "flesh nature" we all struggle with periodically. There is coming a time on earth when every man, woman and child will have to yield to one nature or the other, because both mysteries are coming to completion at the same time in the last days. The heat of the tribulation will be the catalyst dividing those who are truly sold out to Jesus and those who are still filled with iniquity. Read again the words of Jesus in Matt. 7:22 & 23:
"Many shall say to me in that day, Lord have we notÖin thy name done many wonderful works? And I will profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me ye workers of INIQUITY (self will)."
Although they claimed to have done great things in Jesusí name, the truth was that they were self-willed. It is important to point out that these people acknowledged Jesus and were even laboring in His name.
Taking the second chapter of II Thessalonians as a whole, rather than chopping it up, will yield a consistent thought. Once people fall away (verse 3) from the truth, the man of sin will be revealed. The word used here for "revealed" is the same word used for the REVELATION of Jesus Christ-Apocalypse. It literally means "to take the cover off." Once men reject the truth of Godís word, they become lawless, justifying their own actions and in effect becoming their own God (verse 4). Total darkness sets in and men are blinded so as to believe the lie (verse 11).
I canít think of a better description of the Godless, humanistic, New Age movement that the one related in II Thessalonians chapter 2. This religion is rapidly spreading throughout our nation and the world. They plainly declare that man is his own God and external laws and old-fashioned moral values hinder man from coming to his full potential. As we progress in this passage we will find the principle of lawlessness is already at work (which should be obvious to anyone with any amount of discernment), but will remain hindered from coming to full completion until the time determined by God Himself.
The whole creation is waiting for two events that will begin to occur simultaneously: the revelation of the man of sin and the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom 8:19). Godís people becoming more Godly, while the world gives itself over to the grossest sin nature.
It is this very sin nature that the Lord will "consume with the Spirit of His mouth" and "destroy with the brightness of His coming." The "Spirit of His mouth" corresponds to the "sharp two-edged sword that goes out of is mouth." (Rev. 1:16; 2:16; etc.) We know this to be the Spirit-breathed, word of God! How else would you overcome a lie, but with the truth? The brightness of His coming will also destroy the darkness of sin and rebellion. Everything taken together here, you still canít find support for a pre-tribulation rapture.
WHAT ABOUT A TWO-STAGE COMING?
As we have noted before, dispensationalists teach Christís second coming will actually take place in two stages. The rapture of the Church before the tribulation and the manifestation of Christ, seven years later, after the tribulation. While we have already dealt with the six descriptions of the day of the Lord, it might be helpful to examine the words used to describe His coming to see if indeed two events are indicated. There are three words in the Bible, which refer to the second coming of Jesus Christ.
If any of these words could be shown to have a different meaning, or to have been used in a different time frame, we would have a serious argument for a two-stage coming. Is there reason to believe this?
The rapture doctrine maintains that I Thessalonians 4:15 is speaking of the rapture, or the first stage of Christís coming. "ÖWe which are alive and remain unto the coming (PAROUSIA) of the LordÖ."
But a problem arises when they try to make II Thessalonians 2:8 occur seven years later, when Christ is supposed to come at the end of the tribulation. "Whom the Lord shallÖdestroy with the brightness of His coming (PAROUSIA)." The word and the events are one and couldnít possibly be separated by seven years.
How about the other two words? While Parousia means "coming," Apocalypse means "revelation." Arenít those two different events? NO! A comparison of Matthew 24:27 and Luke 17:26-30 shows that the words are used interchangeably. "As the days of Noah were, so shall be the coming (Parousia) of the son of man be." (Matt. 24:27) However, the parallel passage in Luke 17:26-30 says the same thing i n a different way. "Even thus shall it be when the son of man is revealed (Apocalypse). Are these two different events or just one?
The third word is Epiphaneia, which means "a manifestation." The pre-trib doctrine teaches that the manifestation of Christ comes after tribulation (as it most certainly will). However, the verse they point to in support of a pre-trib rapture actually takes place after the tribulation.
Keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable until the appearing (Epiphaneia) of our Lord Jesus Christ." I Tim. 6:14
II Tim. 4:8 assures us of a crown to be given to "all who love His appearing (Epiphaneia)." If dispensational theology teaches anything, it teaches that the Church will receive her rewards when Christ returns in the rapture, prior to the tribulation. Unfortunately for them, the word used in these scriptures place the event after the tribulation, when Jesus Christ is totally manifest as King of kings and Lord of lords.
There is no basis for a two-stage coming in the words used to describe Jesusí return. The coming, revelation and manifestation of the Lord are all one and the same event.
WHAT ABOUT THE TRIBULATION?
While we have mentioned the tribulation quite a bit, we have never bothered to discuss it. Because of a misunderstanding concerning Godís plan, many people view the tribulation as something to be avoided like a plague (no pun intended). The tribulation will be a time when God will allow the sin nature and the darkness that is presently in the world to come to a head. If man wants sin rather than Godliness, let them have it. Let them have the full measure of sin and the results that accompany it. It was precisely this situation God dealt with in Noahís day.
"And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of his heart was only evil continuallyÖ and the Lord said I will destroy man whom I have createdÖ but Noah found grace in the eyes of the LordÖ and Noah was a just man and PERFECT in his generations and Noah walked with God" Gen. 6:5-8
God had already declared that He was going to bring judgment on mankind, but wasnít Noah a man too? The difference was that Noah was JUST, PERFECT and WALKED WITH God. He was protected and provided for through the judgment and remained after the judgment to re-populate the cleansed earth.
As sin comes to completion, so will Godís judgment and Godís Church. Several passages of scripture testify to the fact that God will use the Church to execute that judgment on the world (Ps. 149:6-9; Jude 14 & 15; etc.).
As the world grows darker and darker because of sin, the Church of Jesus Christ will get brighter and brighter because of the revealed glory of God. "When the Lord shall build up Zion He shall appear in His glory." (Ps. 102:16)
ONE CLEAR OLD-TESTAMENT PICTURE FAILS
TO SUPPORT THE PRE-TRIB DOCTRINE
Are there any clear Old Testament passages that give a clear picture of the tribulation period? The answer is a definite YES! Daniel chapter three gives us a very graphic picture. It should be pointed out that Daniel is a companion book to the book of Revelation, using much of the same imagery. It is vital to understand this fact. Rather than repeat the whole chapter here, I will paraphrase the story.
In Daniel 3:1, King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden image that was 60 cubits high and six cubits wide. Notice the numbers 66 cubits and how they form 2/3 of the number of anti-christ (666) in the book of Revelation. Youíve probably already noticed the fact that the image was to be worshipped, just like in Revelation. If this isnít enough to convince us that God is giving us a true picture of the tribulation period, Daniel 4:33 describes King Nebuchadnezzar as becoming a beast because of his failure to give God the glory. Sounds like weíve been there before.
King Nebuchadnezzar commands everyone in the kingdom to worship the image, however, the Lord had a few faithful servants left, namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These three young men refused to bow to the kingís image, even when threatened with death in the furnace. The king even gave them a second chance. Their reply was that God was able to deliver them from the king and the fiery furnace if He so desired. You already know the rest of the story. They refused to worship the image and the furnace was heated seven times hotter than usual. The number seven once again refers to the completion of Godís judgment in the last days. There are to be seven years of tribulation also. According to the Bible, God did not deliver them from the fiery trial, but was with them all the way through it.
The word of God declares that "one like unto the son of man" was with them the whole time. PRAISE God! They came out of the other side and they were not burned, their hair wasnít singed and they didnít even have the smell of smoke on them. God IS ABLE TO PROTECT HIS CHILDREN THROUGH ANYTHING! There is one other lesson to be learned from this passage. During the last days, each one of us will have to decide if he/she is going to stand for God or bow to the image of iniquity. Standing for God will bring persecution from the world, but God is faithful. "Öin the world you will have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (Read again the words of Jesus in Matthew 24 concerning the coming persecution.)
The book of Daniel teaches what the rest of the Bible does: Jesus is coming back at the end of the age, after the tribulation. The saints of God will be divinely protected even as the world pours out its hatred against God and His people. There is no basis for a pre-trib rapture in the teachings of Daniel.
It is my sincere prayer that the reader look to Jesus Christ and begin preparing his or her heart NOW, before the end comes. That is the heart of this booklet. Not just promoting one doctrine over another, but warning and preparing the hearts of Godís people for the most exciting and glorious time that the Church has yet to experience. Christ is calling his people to stand in faith and obedience as never before, for the stakes are higher now than ever before. We will have to yield to one spirit or the other in these coming days. In Jesusí name, yield your life to Him today.
After years of study, I have not been able to find one clear verse which teaches a pre-tribulation return of Christ for His ChurchÖ that is why I donít believe in it.
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Copyright © 2002 Steve Highlander, all rights reserved. For more free online resources visit www.worldbibleinstitute.org, To contact the author email firstname.lastname@example.org or write Steve Highlander, 727 W. Sycamore, Nevada, MO 64772 USA