One of the great controversies of the Christian faith—especially at the time of human history we find ourselves in, has to do with the “rapture” or snatching away. I find that there are three basic views on this subject, as well as a few variations. Without being exhaustive in the explanations, I will looks into some of the differences. Also, in order to be true to myself and hopefully an encouragement to someone, I’ll give my reasons for believing in the “Pre-Tribulation” theory. I hate to use the word “theory” at all when it comes to a Biblical belief, but will, for lack of a better term coming to mind.
I should also mention that in limiting this series of articles to the Rapture, I am ignoring several other beliefs that are connected to the end times which have an effect on how everything plays out. These other beliefs will need to be covered at another time.
One contention that I should probably put to rest first has to do with the loud and rather vehement argument saying that no one before recent times even spoke of a “pre-tribulation” rapture. One of the most vocal of these is Dave MacPherson. I’ve read quite a bit of what he has written and one of his quotes says this: “during the first 18 centuries of the Christian era, believers were never ‘Rapture separaters’, they never separated the minor Rapture aspect of the Second Coming of Christ from the Second Coming itself…”
Another fairly well known critic is a man named John Bray. He said, “…this teaching is not a RECOVERY of truth once taught and then neglected. No, it never was taught—1800 years nearly no one knew anything about such a scheme. Then of course there are others critics, but I won’t go into their statements at this time.
Just a handful of years ago at best, an ancient manuscript was found written by a rather well known Syrian pastor. His name was Ephraem. The date of this manuscript has been estimated by the experts at somewhere between 373 AD to 565 AD or so. Without going into all the detail of the find and all the history surrounding this man, the sermon itself is a 1500 word sermon which has been divided into ten sections and preserved in four Latin manuscripts.
Something rather significant is that the sermon was popular enough to be translated into several languages fairly soon after its composition. The reason it is significant today to us is that it represents a prophetic view of a “pre-trib rapture within the orthodox circles of its day.
The sermon was built around the three themes of the title, “On the Last Times, The Antichrist, and the End of the World”, and proceeds chronologically. Here is one of the statements made in this sermon in section 2: “We ought to understand thoroughly therefore, my brothers, what is imminent or overhanging. All the saints and elect of God are gathered together before the tribulation, which is to come, and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins.”
If you take this statement alone, without even going into the rest of the sermon, and take each phrase apart to see what it is really saying, the only conclusion that can be come to is that this is speaking of the “pre-tribulation rapture” which critics are now saying was invented by weak minds in the 1830’s. I would suggest that in stead of the belief coming from weak minds, the Scripture makes it a point that we know about this promise of God so that we can not only look forward to it, but also encourage one another with the good news as the Apostle Paul said in the last verse of 1 Thessalonians chapter 4.
The three camps that most people belong to are:
- Pre-Tribulation Rapture
- Mid-Tribulation Rapture
- Post-Tribulation Rapture
Probably the most conflict is between the first and the last, and so I will start the discussion with this one. The “Post-Tribulation Rapture” theory says that there is only one event that has to do with the return of our Messiah KING. It is called the Second Coming of Christ. This view does not believe that Jesus’ return is split into two events. The way it is taught, when Jesus returns in Revelation 19, Jesus comes on His great white horse, sets foot on the earth and comes into immediate conflict with the massive armies of the world that are gathered in the valley of Megiddo. He defeats them decisively and sets up His 1,000 year reign.
There are a number of scriptures that are used to back this particular view of Jesus’ return and how His followers are gathered, but probably the one most used is found in Matthew 24: 29-31. This Scripture reads like this:
- “Immediately after the distress of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a loud with a loud trumpet call and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
So, according to the “post-trib rapture” understanding, instead of Jesus removing the saints before the beginning of the Great Tribulation and then bringing them back with Him at His Second Coming to set up His millennial Kingdom, everyone is sorted out at the very end. The ungodly are removed from this earth and sent to hell, while the godly will be blessed with their rewards right then and there.
There are other scriptures used to support this position as well but let me show you why this is already difficult for me to reconcile with what I find the Bible to say. The apostle Paul wrote quite a lot about the return of the LORD. Not many people know it but after Paul had had his encounter with the living God on the road to Damascus where he was blinded and then subsequently healed by Ananias’ prayer, he went up to spend two or three years alone with God. The place he went was Mount Sinai. He must have gotten very near the place Moses was when he spent all those weeks alone with God up on the mountain when he got the ten commandments.
What is particularly interesting about this is that the very first book Paul wrote was the first book to the Thessalonians. Every chapter refers to the return of the LORD. Do you think he might have gotten some insight on this while on the mountain? I suspect so!! Paul came back with a hot message and turned his whole world upside down! I would like us to catch part of the message given to the Thessalonian church. Lets take a look at 1 Thessalonians 4: 16-17.
- “For the LORD Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the LORD in the air. And so we will be with the LORD forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”
Now we know that both of these Scriptures have to do with the return of Jesus Christ. So, after reading them both and comparing them, there are some things that we need to see. Both scriptures speak of a trumpet call, but is it really the same trumpet in both? It is not. It says then that God comes to gather the elect. If one believes that there is no pre-tribulation rapture then everyone is on the earth until the bitter end—providing they happen to survive, right? Are the elect the saints? Are they the Church, or are they Jews? We’ll come back to this below.
We know from the scripture above in 1 Thessalonians that there is a gathering, but is it the same gathering of the same people? It makes no sense if it is. This is a common problem when people interpret Scriptures. Unless a person takes the time to track down what the Word of God is saying by looking for cross references, a wrong assumption might be made. A good example of this has to do with the different “beasts” spoken of in the Book of Revelation. I have heard some of the weirdest explanations. This is not to say it is all that easy of course. We will always find that Scripture explains Scripture.
Now would be a good time to stop and go back up to re-read both the Scriptures above, the one in Matthew 24 as well as the one in 1 Thessalonians 4…
Do you notice that in the Matthew 24 passage Jesus comes down from the heavens? If you go to the passage of scripture in Revelation 19, it gives more details of this event. This is where Jesus comes down with an entourage who is dressed in white linen, sparkling clean. Who is described like this in other places? The followers of Christ who have been forgiven and cleansed are always described this way. Going on…in other Scriptures describing this event, the moment that Jesus foot touches the top of the mountain, there is a massive earthquake which changes the whole topography of the land. He then meets the combined massive armies of the world led by the devil’s henchman head-on in the valley of Megiddo, utterly wiping them out so that the blood and gore is as deep as the chest of a horse over the entire 200 mile long valley. Pretty grim scene!
Now, compare this with what is said in the 1 Thessalonians passage we have already read twice. It says that Jesus will come down with a loud command and the dead in Christ will be raised up first and then we who remain (who are serving Him) will be gathered together with them in the air.
In the Matthew passage Jesus sets foot on the earth, the angels who gather the remnant of the elect from the four corners of the earth are on the earth, and of course the ones being gathered are on the earth…and they stay on the earth.
In the 1 Thessalonians passage, Jesus never sets foot. The purpose is for the dead in Christ to be raised up at this time and those walking with God lifted up to meet them in the air! This is because there are special events already planned for these raptured ones to attend!
These events both are part of the return of Jesus, KING of Kings and LORD of Lords. Each is distinct from the other. They also happen at different times. As I hope to prove to you in this series of articles, they are at least seven years apart.
Now here is another indisputable fact that needs to be recognized. The passage in Matthew 24 speaks of Jesus coming on the clouds of the sky and sending His angels with a loud trumpet call to gather his elect from the four winds (or directions); from one end of heaven to the other. But when you read the passage in 1 Thessalonians 4, it says that the LORD Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and will the trumpet call of God. Let’s take a good look at this for what it is really saying.
First, it mentions the voice of the archangel. Biblically, there is really only one angel that is ever called an archangel, and that is the archangel Michael. He is called this in the book of Jude, having to do with the body of Moses who God buried Himself.
Second, it says the Trump of God. Scripture is very exact and there is nothing that has been given to us by accident. This is the only place in the whole New Testament where this particular term is used. It is not the same as the trump used by the 7th angel during the apocalypse, nor is it the same as the trumpet call at the time of gathering of God’s elect. It is here used to raise the dead in Christ. After the raising of the dead in Christ, those true believers on the earth are lifted off of the earth in a split second to join the others. It’s a great mistake to confuse the trumpets.
Third, where is it that the dead in Christ and the living Christians go? The passage says they are taken up to meet the LORD in the air. Once again, in Matthew 24, Jesus is literally on the earth, the angels are also on the earth, and so are the elect that are being gathered.
Fourth, if a person does not believe that the LORD gathers any of His own until the end of the Great Tribulation, then the believers are apparently lifted into the clouds and then make a quick U-turn and come right back down again. This leaves no time at all for the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, the Bema judgment, and the rest of the events that are to happen during the 7 year time of God’s wrath being poured out on the earth.
At this time we should probably settle who “the elect” of Matthew 24 are. Post-trib rapture folk believe that they are the “elect” or “remnant” that is gathered from the four corners of the earth. Here is why I don’t believe this is true. First of all, Gentile believers are called “elect” or “chosen” because Jesus died for both Jew and Gentile alike. But, that being said, Jesus was answering a question in Matthew 24 of Jews, and was giving them the scenario that, although including all of the people of the world, was specifically painting a picture that specifically affects the Jewish people and their nation in the time between His explanation and when He was to return. This is why Jesus told them not to go back to their own homes to get their things when they see Jerusalem surrounded by the world’s armies. This has already happened once after Jesus spoke these words. When Titus the Roman general came into Jerusalem to destroy it, there was a large group of Christians that remembered what Jesus had said and followed His instructions. They immediately went east into what is now modern day Jordan. Because of this they escaped the horrible massacre. Somewhere around a million to a million and a half Jews were slaughtered at this time.
Jesus told the disciples that if GOD didn’t shorten the time during the horror of this seven years, no flesh would be saved. It says, “But for the sake of the elect, those days shall be shortened.” How GOD will do this remains to be seen. But the point is, God’s concern was for the remnant of the Jews that would still be alive at this time. The Bible says that only about 1/3 of the Jews worldwide will survive. For that matter, at least 2/3 of the world’s population is wiped out as well. God’s concern though at this time will be for His people, THE JEWS. The Gentiles will be sorted out, but their judgment will be based on what they have done with the Jews. There is abundant evidence that the “elect” being gathered at the end of the Tribulation are called this because they are Jews. It has nothing to do with Gentiles. This is because the Church was removed before the Great Tribulation began.
Rather than going into any more fact-finding on the identity of the “elect”, I would like to share something with you that is really fascinating. I mentioned that the Old Testament shows the Rapture in the observances of the Jewish people. The word “rapture” of course is not in the English Bible. But, the “catching up” that is so vividly described is described by the Greek word “harpazo”.
The Old and New Testaments are not separate books. The story that starts in Genesis 1 finishes in the 22nd chapter of Revelation. The more a person studies the Bible the more one sees the continuity of the story. One thing that is particularly interesting is how God has woven history, past and future, into Jewish tradition. Everything that was done by the Jewish people, whether it was by their feasts and holy days, or traditions like their courtship, betrothal, and marriage traditions; everything was a picture of how the future was going to unfold.
Everything told a story, was not just a story—it foretold the future. Many people read the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25 as just a parable, but it was much more than that. I will refer to this parable later in this series.
This article is already long but I want to leave you with something that I find fascinating, and very encouraging. The Old Testament has much in it that many people find cumbersome and too often, the least favorite passages in the Bible to read. The feasts and holy days that God had set aside for the people of Israel to observe, along with all the details God gave, are usually skipped over in favor of more interesting reading. I had done this myself when younger. It is however full of information. It’s a little like eating blueberries off of a bush. Most people go around the bush and eat the berries that are easily seen and available for easy picking. Eventually though, you have to reach a little deeper into the bush by reaching in between the branches and get the berries that are further inside and not as obvious. The Bible is like that. Most Christian people spend most of their Bible reading time in the easy areas that take very little effort to understand. God has however put so much in this wonderful book that it is virtually impossible to ever know everything there is to know.
I re-read much of the book of Leviticus again while putting this article together, specifically spending time with the feasts that the Israelites were to observe. There were seven feasts that God commanded the Israelites to observe. Three of them were required of every man in the land to take part in every single year. These include Passover, which is the first feast; Pentecost, which is the fourth feast; Tabernacles, which is the seventh and last feast. It is important to see that there was a particular harvest associated with each of these three feasts. Each of these not only had to do with Jewish tradition and religious observance, but also pointed to what God had written into the script for the future. We in this generation just happen to be the generation that not only can look back and see thousands of years of history that has unfolded, but are also the generation that will see the culmination of the things that Jesus foretold in Matthew 24 and 25.
Due to the length of this article, I am going to make this as short as possible and save the deeper details for another time. It is important to see the basics though because it has so much to do with the subject of the Rapture.
The three harvests that each of these required feasts were identified with are these:
- Passover- barely
- Pentecost- wheat
- Tabernacles- fruit
The first thing that was done by the Israelites when they harvested was that they would go out and mark the first fruits. The next morning after Passover they were cut down and presented to the priest at the temple, and then it was presented to God. This was done first before any of the rest of the field was harvested. Then, the rest of the field was allowed to ripen.
The second step in the harvest was to go out and harvest the rest of the field but it was a strict command for the Israelites not to harvest the outer edges or corners of the field. This ordinance was followed whether the harvest was a field or tree.
The third step in the harvest had to do with the gleaning. The unharvested portion, whether barley, wheat, fruit, or anything else was left for the poor or the stranger. This included those that were just passing through.
The barley harvest was in March and April and was linked to unleavened bread (no yeast used). Seven days were observed with nothing but unleavened bread. Unleavened bread signified “sinless”. The barley harvest was a fairly easy harvest to do. The process was called “winnowing” where the barley was taken and thrown up in the air. The chaff was easily separated from the grain by the wind and blown away, leaving the true, pure barley grain.
The wheat harvest which came in May and June was a bit different. The process of getting the wheat separated from the husk took grinding. The wheat was taken and put on top of a big flat rock. A special flat board big enough to stand on was used. A person would stand on the board and roll it back and forth until the hard shell was broken and the grain released. It’s hardly a cooincidence to find that this board in Latin was called a “tribulum”, which is the root word for tribulation.
At the feast of Pentecost, there was some leaven used. Leaven (yeast) was used in two loaves, one for Jews and the other for Gentiles. Why not leaven at Passover yet it has a presence at Pentecost? This points to the work which was going to be done by the Lamb of God that would reach out to both God’s chosen people, the Jews, and also to the multitudes coming from the Gentile nations. This is spoken of in detail in Romans 9-11.
The leaven and unleavened together is also significant of the 144,000 special Jews that God uses to evangelize the world during part of the Great Tribulation. We find them on the earth in Revelation 12 and then in the Presence of the Lord in Heaven in Revelation 14. They are specially protected for the time of work on earth during horrible times and then when they are finished are lifted off of the earth and brought into the Presence of the Lord. They represent the unleavened bread and the world that they are in but not part of, is representative of leaven (sin).
Something else to keep in mind is what is written in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of the book of Revelation. It points out specific things that have to do with the “leaven” or sin that needs to be set aside in order to gain the promises associated with them. All of the blessings mentioned except for one are heavenly blessings. They are experienced on the other side. But here is what should be an eye-catcher. Revelation 3:10 says, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” This is a scripture to keep in the back of our minds as we continue looking at the Rapture—or “harpazo”.
The Feast of Tabernacles is associated with the fruit harvest. There are seven fruits mentioned but the emphasis is on the grape harvest which comes in August and September. The grape harvest is in the Book of Revelation again and is called the “winepress” of the wrath of God, angels taking grapes and throwing them into the winepress at the end of the Tribulation. This is where we get the term “grapes of wrath”.
Now, to tie this all together. The barley harvest is representative of the overcomers who have no leaven, have given their lives into the hands of the LORD. They are raptured. The only way anyone can be without leaven, or be considered sinless is because Jesus became our righteousness. 1 Corinthians calls us a new creation, but we are not perfect. Jesus is our perfection, and that leaves us blameless according to God’s Word. Thank God! Otherwise none of us would qualify.
The wheat harvest represents those that missed the rapture due to their “poor connection” as is said in the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins that Jesus told. They find themselves on the earth during the worst time this world has ever seen, or will ever see again. The 144,000 Jewish evangelists are very effective due to the power of the Holy Spirit working through them, and they reach a huge mass of people. The majority of these that represent the wheat harvest however lose their lives due to the power of antichrist at this time.
Then there is the grape harvest. The Jewish people also go through horrible times during the Tribulation. They are the ones that God the Father is after the most during this time. Most of the Jewish people still do not recognize that they missed the Messiah the first time around. They are still looking for Him today. There is a mass of Jewish people that will end up recognizing the mistake they have made and will mourn for the One that was crucified. They will then accept Him for who He really is. But, it is through very desperate times! The whole world turns on the Jews and they find themselves with not a friend anywhere. They are surrounded by the massed armies of the world, that must number near ½ billion, including 200,000,000 from the eastern nations alone. There is a reason why this time is called “The Time of Jacob’s Trouble”. It is referring to the second half of the tribulation, which is the worst 42 months.
There is quite a bit of scripture that seems to indicate that the first 42 months of the Tribulation is the time of the “Wrath of the Lamb”. The second 42 months is named the wrath of Almighty God, the Father.
There is enough scripture to make the case that the Bride of Christ is definitely the Church, which includes mostly Gentiles but also some Messianic Jews (those Jews who have accepted the Messiah Jesus). There are scriptures though that describe the Jewish nation as a wife that has been unfaithful to her husband the “Father”. This brings a lot of sense to many passages in the Old Testament, particularly the books of God’s prophets.
At the end of the Tribulation, the angels are commanded to gather those that are true believers from every direction. This is what was shown by the command to the Israelites to leave the outside edges and corners of the harvests alone. It was to be put into practice during the Jewish harvest but was also pointing to the future.
Here are eight things to keep in mind:
- The Great Tribulation is called “Jacob’s trouble and is not for the Church. Shown by Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 weeks (to be explained in this series)
- The Tribulation is the time to judge the nations for sin—not the Church Revelation 11:18
- The Tribulation is to destroy sinners off of the earth, not Christians Isaiah 13:9
- The Tribulation is to bring forth the remnant tried through the fire. The remnant is the same as the “elect”, which in Jesus explanation in Matthew 24 were the Jewish people.
- God has not appointed the Church to wrath 1 Thessalonians 5:9
- God instructed us to pray to escape these things (the tribulation) Luke 21:36
- God has promised to keep the Church from the hour of trial coming to test the whole world Revelation 3:10
- God promises that the Church will enter His rest. The root word for rest is Sabbath. Hebrews 4:9
I’ll add this to the mix. If one is going to be part of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, they will have to be off of this earth and in the Lord’s Presence. This happens during the time that the Great Tribulation is going on here on planet earth.
One thing we know is that God is going to get His harvest. There is plenty in Scripture about this. It does not come at just one time though. There are several harvests, just like there were several important harvests in the normal Jewish year. The Bible says that God has no pleasure in the destruction of sinners. He does not want to condemn anyone. He is however God, and has set standards that are the key to life. We are not the ones to decide for God how He does things. He is sovereign and nothing is ever going to change that. We are the ones that need to accept the terms offered to us. Mankind in his fallen state would like to negotiate, or maybe even think that he can decide the rules for himself. Wrong! God is a loving God, but He is not a fool. We need to realize who it is that we are dealing with. He is our Creator, and truly is All-powerful. Yet, He loved us enough to provide a way of escape. TAKE IT!! It will prove of eternal worth. The retirement benefits never end…
To be continued in Part 2