FOUR VIEWS ON THE RAPTURE OF GOD’S CHURCH
When we study Biblical eschatology, we should remember that many believers in Messiah Yeshua concur on three major Scriptural revelations. First, there is coming a time of great apocalyptic tribulation worldwide. Second, after the Tribulation, Messiah Yeshua will return to establish His kingdom on planet Earth in Jerusalem Israel. And third, there will be a Rapture event, when believers are supernaturally translated from mortality to immortality (John 14:13; 1 Corinthians 15:5152; 1 Thessalonians 4:1617). However, prophecy teachers disagree about when the rapture of the Church will occur in relation to the Tribulation and the Second Coming of Messiah Yeshua.
Through the years four main theories have emerged concerning the timing of the Rapture. The first rapture theory is MID-TRIBULATION RAPTURE view. This theory teaches the rapture of the Church will occur either during or shortly after the midpoint of the Tribulation. The second rapture theory is PRE-WRATH RAPTURE view. This theory teaches the rapture of the Church happens sometime before the Seven Vials of Wrath are released upon the world. The third rapture theory is POST-TRIBULATION RAPTURE view. This theory teaches the rapture of the Church will occur at the end of the Seven Year Tribulation. And the fourth rapture theory is PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE view. This theory teaches the rapture of the Church will occur before the Seven Year Tribulation begins. In other words, the rapture of the Church will occur sometime before all 21 Judgments begin on planet Earth.
MID-TRIBULATION RAPTURE THEORY
The mid-tribulation rapture theory teaches that the rapture occurs at the midpoint of the tribulation. During this period, the seventh trumpet sounds (Revelation 11:15), the Church will meet Messiah Yeshua in the air, and then the bowl judgments are poured upon the earth (Revelation 15 to 16) in a time known as the great tribulation. In other words, the rapture and Messiah’s Second Coming are separated by a period of three and a half years. According to this view, the Church goes through the first half of the tribulation but is spared the worst of the tribulation in the last three and a half years.
Believers in the mid-tribulation rapture theory point to the chronology given in 2 Thessalonians 2:1–3. The order of events is as follows: 1) apostasy, 2) the revelation of the Anti-Messiah, and 3) the day of Messiah. The mid-tribulation theory teaches that the Anti-Messiah will not be decisively revealed until “the abomination that causes desolation” (Matthew 24:15), which occurs at the midpoint of the tribulation (Daniel 9:27). Believers in the Mid-tribulation theory use Daniel 7:25, which says the Anti-Messiah will have power over the “saints” for three and a half years, to bolster their point—they assume this is the first half of the tribulation and that the saints spoken of are the church. Also, they interpret “the day of Messiah” as the rapture. Therefore, the Church will not be caught up to heaven until after the Anti-Messiah is revealed.
Another foundational teaching of mid-tribulation rapture theory is that the trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 is the same trumpet mentioned in Revelation 11:15. The trumpet of Revelation 11 is the final in a series of trumpets. Therefore, it makes sense that it would be “the last trumpet” of 1 Corinthians 15. This logic fails, however, in view of the trumpets’ objectives. The trumpet that sounds at the rapture is “the trumpet call of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16), but the one in Revelation 11 is a harbinger of judgment. One trumpet is a call of grace to God’s elect, but the other is a pronouncement of doom on the wicked.
First Thessalonians 5:9 says that the church has not been appointed “to suffer wrath but to receive salvation.” This would seem to indicate that believers will not experience the tribulation. However, believers in the mid-tribulation theory interprets “wrath” as only referring to the second half of the tribulation—specifically, the bowl judgments. Limiting the word in such a way seems unwarranted, however. Surely the terrible judgments contained in the seals and trumpets—including famine, poisoned rivers, a darkened moon, bloodshed, earthquakes, and torment—could also be considered the wrath of God.
The mid-tribulation rapture theory places the rapture in Revelation 11, prior to the start of the great tribulation. There are two problems with this placement in the chronology of Revelation. First, the only occurrence of the term “great tribulation” in the entire book of Revelation is in 7:14, before the opening of the seventh seal. Second, the only reference to a “great day of wrath” is in Revelation 6:17, during the events of the sixth seal. Both of these references come too early for a mid-tribulation rapture event, which is timed according to the seventh trumpet.
PRE-WRATH RAPTURE THEORY
The pre-wrath rapture theory says that the rapture occurs before the “great day of wrath” (Revelation 6:17). According to the pre-wrath view, believers go through most of the tribulation but not the time of God’s wrath just before the end of the tribulation (Matthew 24:21). The church will endure Satan’s fury and man’s persecution, but will be spared God’s wrath. Before God pours out His final judgment on the world, the church will be caught up to heaven. Here is a brief summary of the pre-wrath rapture position. The pre-wrath rapture theory views the trumpet and the bowl judgments (Revelation 7–16) as the wrath of God, from which the church is exempted (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
However, the first six seal judgments (Revelation 6) are not considered the wrath of God; rather, they are viewed as “the wrath of Satan” or “the wrath of the anti-Messiah.” This is because there is no direct mention of God’s wrath until after the sixth seal is broken (Revelation 6:17). According to the pre-wrath rapture theory, the church will be present to experience the first six seals. Comparing Revelation 6 with Matthew 24, the pre-wrath rapture theorists identify the first seal judgments with Yeshua’ description of the end times in Matthew 24:47.
Yeshua then refers to these events as “the beginning of birth pains” (verse 8). In verses 29 and 30, “the sign of the Son of Man” appears in the sky, and it is at this time, according to the pre-wrath rapture theory, that the rapture of the church occurs. One weakness of the pre-wrath rapture position is its presumption that the “elect” mentioned in Matthew 24:22, 31 are church age saints. These saints could just as easily be individuals saved during the seven year tribulation and in fact, Yeshua tells those who flee the anti-Messiah’s persecution to pray that their flight does not occur “on the Sabbath” (verse 20). Since the church is not under the Mosaic law and does not keep the Sabbath, Yeshua’ words cannot be directed to the church. Another flaw in the pre-wrath rapture theory is its teaching that the first seal judgments are not the wrath of God. Scripture shows that it is the Lamb who opens the seals (Revelation 5:5; 6:1). No other man is found worthy to open them (5:34). It would seem, then, these are not man’s judgments, but God’s. The tribulation begins when Yeshua opens the first seal, and from that point on, the wrath of God is meted out on a sinful world.
POST-TRIBULATION RAPTURE THEORY
The post-tribulation rapture theory teaches that the Rapture occurs at the end, or near the end, of the Tribulation. When this time arrives, the church will meet Messiah in the air and then return to earth for the commencement of Messiah’s Kingdom on earth. In other words, the Rapture and Messiah’s Second Coming happen almost simultaneously. According to this view, the church goes through the entire seven year Tribulation. Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, and many Protestant denominations espouse a Post-tribulation rapture view of the Rapture. One strength of post-tribulation rapture theory is that Yeshua, in His extended discourse on the end times, says He will return after a “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21, 29). Also, the book of Revelation, with all its various prophecies, mentions only one coming of the Lord—and that occurs after the Tribulation (Revelation 19:20).
Passages such as Revelation 13:7 and 20:9 also lend support to post-tribulation rapture theory in that there will obviously be saints in the Tribulation. Also, the resurrection of the dead in Revelation 20:5 is called “the first resurrection.” Post-tribulation rapture believers assert that, since this “first” resurrection takes place after the Tribulation, the resurrection associated with the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 cannot occur until then. Post-tribulation rapture believers also point out that, historically, God’s people have experienced times of intense persecution and trial. Therefore, they say, it should not be surprising that the church also experiences the Great Tribulation of the end times. In relation to this, the post-tribulation rapture view distinguishes “Satan’s wrath” from “God’s wrath” in the book of Revelation. Satan’s wrath is directed against the saints, and God allows it as a means of purifying His faithful. On the other hand, God’s wrath is poured out on the Anti-Messiah and his godless kingdom, and God will protect His people from that punishment.
One weakness of post-tribulation theory is the clear teaching of Scripture that those who are in Messiah are not under condemnation and will never experience the wrath of God (Romans 8:1). While some judgments during the Tribulation specifically target the unsaved, many other judgments, such as the earthquakes, falling stars, and famines, will affect the saved and unsaved equally. Thus, if believers go through the Tribulation, they will experience the wrath of God, in contradiction of Romans 8:1. Post-tribulation rapture believers also face a difficulty in explaining the absence of the word church in all biblical passages related to the Tribulation. Even in Revelation 4–21, the lengthiest description of the Tribulation in all of Scripture, the word church never appears. Post-tribulation rapture believers must assume that the word saints in Revelation 4–21 means the church, although a different Greek word is used.
PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE THEORY
The pre-tribulation rapture theory teaches that the Rapture occurs before the Seven Year Tribulation begins. During this time, the Church will meet Messiah Yeshua in the air, and then sometime after that supernatural rapture event, the Anti-Messiah is revealed and the Tribulation begins. In other words, the Rapture and Messiah’s Second Coming are separated by at least seven years. Therefore, based on this perspective, the church does not experience God’s 21 Judgments during the Tribulation
For many Biblical eschatology experts, the pre-tribulation rapture perspective is more consistent with God’s Word and His merciful nature than all other competing rapture theories. For example, the church is not appointed to wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:910, 5:9), and believers will not be overtaken by the Day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The church of Philadelphia was promised to be kept from “the hour of trial that will to come upon the whole world” (Revelation 3:10). Notice that the promise is not preservation through the trial, but deliverance from the hour, that is, from the time period of the trial.
Pre-tribulation rapture theory finds support in what is not found in Scripture. The word “church” appears 19 times in the first three chapters of Revelation, but, significantly, the word is not used again until chapter 22. In other words, in the entire lengthy description of the Tribulation in Revelation, the word church is noticeably absent. In fact, the Bible never uses the word “church” in a passage relating to the Tribulation. Pre-tribulation rapture is the only theory which clearly maintains the distinction between Israel and the church and God’s separate plans for each. The seventy “sevens” of Daniel 9:24 are decreed upon Daniel’s people (THE JEWISH COMMUNITY LIVING IN ISRAEL) and Daniel’s holy city (JERUSALEM). This prophecy makes it plain that the seventieth week (SEVEN YEAR TRIBULATION) is a time when God returns to dealing and restoring the nation of Israel and Jerusalem, but not for the believers in Messiah Yeshua’s Church.
SUMMARY OF RAPTURE THEORIES
The primary weakness for all the competing rapture theories is the Holy Bible does not give an explicit time line concerning future events. The Holy Scriptures does not expressly teach one view over another, and that is why we have diversity of opinion concerning the end times and some variety on how the related prophecies should be harmonized.
Nevertheless, as we come closer to the final days of human history, many believers and non-believers will attack the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine for various reasons. Skeptics will say the pre-tribulation rapture theory is escapism, but Messiah Yeshua said “watch and pray always that you are counted worthy to escape all these things” (Luke 21:36). Skeptic will say the pre-tribulation rapture theory only offers psychological comfort. However, St. Paul says comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
As we near Messiah Yeshua’s return, Christians will experience persecution in North America because the Church is not promised complete protection from Satan’s wrath and mankind’s attacks. Today, many Arab and African Christians are dying at the hands of Islamic militants, while Western Christians wonder how God will bless them tomorrow. When Christianity began in the First Century AD, it was more dangerous to be Christian in Rome, than in North Africa or the Middles East. Western Christians must understand that within the next few years, there will probably remain no real Christians living in the Muslim nations decorating the Middle East because the Church is living in the era of Satan’s wrath and not God’s wrath.
A growing number of believers think they will survive the tribulation days by stock piling food and military supplies. They do this because they fail to understand that all 21 judgments (the 7 Seals, 7 Trumpets, and 7 Bowels) are all part of the wrath of the Most High God. Persecution should never be something a bel
Bible Mysteries; Donald P. Ryan, PhD; 2000. The Complete Guide to Bible Prophecy; Stephen M. Miller; 2010. The Last Days; Richard H. Perry; 2006. The Book of Revelation; Larry R. Helyer, PhD and Richard Wagner; 2008. Article by Dr. Thomas Ice. Bible Prophecy Revealed by Dr. Grant Jeffrey. Article by Dr. David Reagan. Learn the by in 24 Hours by Dr. Chuck Missler. Comments by Dr. Gary Stearman. Got Questions? Org.