Prof. Tom Eckman
CONTEXT: As we study prophecy and the end times, we’ve seen that even if we take a literal-historical approach to interpretation, there are still points which are difficult to determine. While we may agree that there is a literal, future tribulation of 7 years and a literal millennium following it (Christ on the throne of David, in Jerusalem, reigning for 1000 years), there is still much disagreement concerning the church’s relationship to the 7-year tribulation. There are 4 major views:
- The Pre-Tribulation rapture view – the church is taken (raptured) before the tribulation begins.
- The Mid-Tribulation rapture view – the church is raptured at the time the anti-christ breaks his treaty with Israel
- The Post-Tribulation rapture view – the church is raptured immediately prior to Christ’s 2nd coming, at the very end of the tribulation
- The Pre-Wrath rapture view – the church is raptured sometime during the Great Tribulation, but before the “worst” outpouring of God’s wrath
Because of the discussions that have taken place around this, some of my professors would say they were “Pan-Tribulationists.” They would say, “It’ll all pan out in the end!” I, however, would like to offer several reasons why I believe that the rapture will occur before the tribulation, the Pre-Tribulation view.
FIRST REASON: THE TRIBULATION IS ABOUT ISRAEL, NOT THE CHURCH
Notice that when we read passages in the Old Testament concerning the tribulation, the purpose is not only to destroy Israel’s enemies, it is also a time where God is dealing with Israel. Jeremiah calls the tribulation “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7). Jacob, of course, was renamed ISRAEL. Daniel, as we studied in the last lesson, went into great detail about the “70th week” (the tribulation) and we saw that it was about his city (Jerusalem) and his people (Israel). Remember what we saw in Daniel 9: 24
“Seventy weeks are determined For your people and for your holy city, To finish the transgression, To make an end of sins, To make reconciliation for iniquity, To bring in everlasting righteousness, To seal up vision and prophecy, And to anoint the Most Holy. 27 Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, Even until the consummation, which is determined, Is poured out on the desolate.”
The fact that the anti-christ brings an end to sacrifice and offering points to a rebuilt temple, in Jerusalem, where Israel is regathered and practicing sacrifices and offerings. And Daniel repeats those same ideas in chapter 12 (verses 1, 7 and 11).
This is important, because it shows one of the differences between Israel and the Church:
- Israel = national, physical in nature, related by bloodline (think “lineage of David, 12 tribes, etc.)
- Church = personal, spiritual in nature, independent of bloodline (related by spiritual birth…)
In terms of God’s plan for eternity, these two are like two train tracks that are separate but lead the same direction and end up at the same destination. When we move to Revelation, what we find is that the tribulation, Daniel’s “70th week” for the people of Israel, begins in chapter 4 (“after these things”). If the tribulation is about Israel (in the absence of the church) as the Pre-Tribulation view argues, then we shouldn’t see “church” in Revelation 4-19 (the tribulation) and we should see Israel. What do we see?
- In chapters 1-3, the word “church” is used 19 times, primarily in the letters to the churches. The word does not occur again until chapter 22 (after it’s “all over”), and then as a reminder.
- In chapter 4, the 1st picture we are given of “the One who sits on the throne” includes the stones jasper and sardius. Jasper was the stone of the 1st tribe of Israel (Reuben) and sardius represented the last tribe of Israel (Benjamin). The 12 tribes of Israel were pointed to by means of “the first and the last.”
- In chapter 5, the elder speaks to John concerning Jesus and His opening of the scroll. He says, “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals” (verse 5). This description of Jesus points to His physical lineage.
- In chapter 7, the 144,000 “of all the tribes of the children of Israel” are counted and sealed.
- In chapter 11, the temple “and those who worship there” are measured. This takes place in Jerusalem in a physical temple, in Israel. At the end of chapter 11, the heavenly “temple of God” is seen, along with the ark of the covenant.
- In chapter 12, the 1st (and main) character involved in the Great Tribulation is introduced as “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars” (verse 1). The word picture points to Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37 concerning his parents and siblings… Joseph’s father was Israel, and the twelve stars here represent the twelve tribes of Israel.
- In chapter 14, “a Lamb” (Jesus) is seen standing on Mount Zion (in Israel) with the 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.
- In chapters 17 and 18, Israel’s great (physical) enemy, Babylon, is utterly destroyed.
From these few examples, it becomes evident that, just as Daniel and Jeremiah foretold, the tribulation is about God’s future dealings with national Israel. John could easily have used the term “church” somewhere in chapters 4-19 (he sure used the term enough in chapters 1-3!). I believe he chose not to because (1) the tribulation is about Israel, and (2) the church won’t be there.
SECOND REASON: THE CHURCH IS PROMISED AN EXEMPTION FROM DIVINE WRATH
Another reason I believe the Pre-Tribulation view is correct is that several times in the New Testament, the church is promised to be excluded from divine wrath. Take, for example, 1 Thessalonians 1:10: “…and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” The tribulation is clearly an expression of God’s wrath, and not only during the Great Tribulation (the last 3.5 years). Let’s look at how the book of Revelation talks about God’s wrath:
- Revelation 6:15-17 – “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Notice that this statement comes just after the seals are open, early in the tribulation, and yet His wrath “has come.” In other words, it already arrived before this statement was made!
- Revelation 11:18 – “The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, And those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth.” While most would agree that this statement is made at the mid-point of the tribulation and points to the Great Tribulation, notice that His wrath “has come,” again pointing to the fact that the tribulation as a whole is a time of God’s wrath.
- Revelation 14:18-20 – “And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.” So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.”
- Revelation 15:1 – “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.”
- Revelation 16:19 – “Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.”
Now contrast those statements in Revelation with statements that are made to the church:
- 1 Thessalonians 1:10 – “…and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” While the Thessalonians and other believers were certainly not delivered from man’s wrath, here Paul states that we will all be delivered from a future wrath.
- Romans 5:9 – “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” While one might argue that the “wrath” here is eternity in hell, that would be inconsistent with the way wrath is used throughout the rest of the New Testament (where earthly punishment is in view).
- Revelation 3:10 – “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” While this was spoken to the church in Philadelphia, it was also part of the larger exhortation for all the churches to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Notice as well that this is promise is made just before the tribulation begins in chapter 4. Beyond that, the promise uses the Greek preposition ek (“out of”), and this preposition in Greek is normally used to indicate being completely outside of something (like “out of the house,” “out of the country,” etc.).
Beyond those passages, notice how Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 contrasts “the Day of the Lord” (which begins with the tribulation) and the church’s relationship to it: “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” While this passage doesn’t specifically say that the church will be raptured, it does make a HUGE distinction between what happens to THEM and what happens to US. Beyond that, notice that Paul says these words are reasons for us to “comfort each other,” which wouldn’t make great sense if we might be here and experience what will occur during the tribulation!
Paul uses very similar wording when he speaks to the Thessalonians about our future meeting with Christ “in the air.” While some see 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 as a reference to a later rapture, Paul’s conclusion from the discussion (where the Latin rapturo occurs, by the way, translated “caught up”) is that the events give us a reason to comfort each other (4:18). To my mind, that makes much more sense if the rapture occurs prior to the outpouring of the wrath of God.
THIRD REASON: THE CHURCH IS THE BRIDE OF CHRIST
The final reason that I believe the rapture occurs before the tribulation is because the church is considered “the bride of Christ.” Twice the Apostle Paul compares the church to a bride. In 2 Corinthians 11:2, for example, Paul says, “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” Here he pictures the Jewish marriage ceremony and calls the Corinthian Christians “betrothed.” In Ephesians 5:25-32, Paul expands this word picture, again pointing to the Jewish marriage ceremony: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” The fact that he tells you that his analogy is about Christ and the church is important (and we will see later that Christ made the same analogy), although most Christians today have no knowledge about what a Jewish marriage ceremony would have looked like. It is from this analogy that I will make my final argument for a pre-tribulation rapture, so let’s take a look at the traditions surrounding the Jewish marriage ceremony and its “steps.” Just as Christians often point to a Seder, or Passover Dinner, to make analogies concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we will see that the Jewish marriage ceremony is rich with analogies to our relationship with Jesus and His return! Traditionally, the Jewish marriage consisted of two parts. First came the betrothal (called Erusin or Kidushin), and then usually one or two years later the second part took place, the wedding ceremony (called Nisuin or Huppah). Let’s look further at both parts:
The Betrothal: The betrothal in ancient Jewish custom is much like our “getting engaged” and “being engaged,” except that in their case, the betrothal was considered binding (you were considered married and would need a divorce to end it). Here were the steps involved in the betrothal:
- The Groom’s Father generally chose the bride, not the Son. He would send a friend to come to terms with the parents of the prospective bride. Notice how this lines up with God’s choice of believers (in Christ) and how the Holy Spirit (God’s envoy) calls us into a union with His Son.
- The price was secured for the bride, and it was usually something of great value. In our case, Jesus Himself paid the ultimate price for His bride by giving His life…
- The Betrothal Ritual was like an engagement party. The promise of marriage was made and the betrothal was sealed when the groom lifted a cup of wine in his right hand, gave it to the bride and she (willingly) drank from it. Can anyone besides me see the Last Supper here?! This is also a picture of Christ’s offer to us of eternal life (based on His blood), and our free and willing reception of that offer. Once we accept Christ’s offer, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit.
- The marriage contract was written up, and in the contract the Groom promises to provide and care for His bride in every way. The contract was always signed before two witnesses, then given to the bride. God’s Word testifies to us of Christ’s love and care for His Body, the church.
- At this point, the bride and the Groom shared a cup of wine to signify their unity, called the Shared Cup of the Brit. The two were now considered “fully married.” Gifts were then given to the bride and her family. For us, this signifies not only our unity with Christ, but also His blessings upon us with the gift of the Holy Spirit and His spiritual gifts, etc.
- The bride would then have a ritual immersion, or mikvah (baptism), signifying that she was leaving her life as a single woman behind and entering her new life with her Husband. It also symbolized her desire to live for husband and to remain “pure” until His return. In our case, baptism should testify to others that we have left our old life without Christ behind, and have entered into the new relationship with Him that will last forever.
- Shortly after this, the Groom would leave and go back to His Father’s house to prepare a place for the wedding ceremony and His new bride. A pledge was made by the Groom before His departure, declaring to His bride that He will indeed return for her. Take a look at John 14:1-3: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” Isn’t that just the coolest thing you’ve ever read?! Much more powerful once you hear it with more understanding, eh? *Notice that up until this point, the marriage has not been “consummated.” While the couple was considered “fully married,” the couple would not be together until after the Groom’s return.*
- Then came the time of waiting, when the bride would be busy preparing to be the best wife. She, however, didn’t know the exact time of the Groom’s arrival to take her. That time was only known by the Father of the Groom. When the Father saw that His Son had made all the arrangements for His bride, only then would He allow His Son to bring the bride home. In our study of prophecy, we’ve seen the “blessed hope” that we have as we wait for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and that only God the Father knows exactly when He will come. Think of the passages that you know about Christ desiring to see His people, the church, without “spot or blemish (like Ephesians 5:23-32).”
The Wedding Ceremony: Just like the betrothal and its events, the wedding ceremony had a set of events, one after the other:
- When the Groom came to take His bride, it was something like a “voluntary kidnapping.” The Groom and His friends would sneak up on the bride unexpectedly, but would announce their arrival for her with a blast of the shophar (trumpet). He would then take her away to the place He had prepared for her. Remember 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17?: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” I don’t know about you, but if I follow the analogy so far, this can only be a picture of the rapture of the church; but keep reading! This gets better…
- When they arrived at their new home together, 7 blessings were said over the couple, and they then shared a cup of wine together. Go back and read through Jesus’ Last Supper, and see what He said about when He would drink the cup again…
- The couple would then enter the “wedding room,” or Huppah, where they would start their “honeymoon.” This was when the marriage would be consummated and the two would become “one flesh.” This was a time for them to be together alone, away from all others, to know each other fully (see 1 Cor. 13:12). And guess how long the Huppah lasted? You guessed it: 7 days. If the analogy holds, this “7-day honeymoon” attended only by the bride and Groom has to mean that we (the church) are in heaven enjoying the presence of Jesus…and notice that it happens AFTER we are taken away by our Groom.
- Right after the 7 days of Huppah, the couple would come out of the room and join their invited guests. The guests were called B’nai Huppah, “children of the bridal chamber.” These invited guests would join the bride and the Groom in a marriage feast. The bride and Groom would celebrate with their guests just after being alone for 7 days. While we haven’t gotten to our discussion of Revelation 19 yet, what we will see is that the “marriage feast of the Lamb” occurs just after the tribulation, Daniel’s 70th week (7 days). If the rest of the analogy holds true, then this must as well; we are on honeymoon with our Groom, away from our old home, until the time of the marriage feast “7 days” later!
Take another look at John 14:1-3 which, interestingly enough, does not occur in the other 3 Gospels: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
The church belongs to Jesus Christ. He is our Groom. We are waiting for Him to take us home to our 7- day honeymoon and our marriage for eternity. That’s why I believe in a pre-tribulation rapture.