The Rapture Debate
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 26 May 2011; Revised 11 September 2018
Scripture: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Quotations marked with the initials "BR" indicate the translation of the author.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the article. Works by early church fathers are available online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library and Early Christian Writings.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Hebraic and Jewish nature of Scripture and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Torah (Law), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
Grammar: Unless otherwise indicated the meaning of Greek words is from W. Bauer, W.F. Arndt and F.W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1957).
Perhaps the most discussed issue in eschatology, or the doctrine of last things, is the timing of the Second Coming. Of the three millenarian positions, the premillenarians perhaps engage in the most discussion regarding the Second Coming as it relates to its major two elements, the rapture of God's people and the revelation of Yeshua in His glory. The rapture refers to the event in which Yeshua (Jesus) gathers and resurrects his followers from heaven and earth. The revelation of Yeshua refers to His coming on the clouds as King to punish the wicked and establish His reign on the earth. Premillenarians do not agree about the timing of the rapture and on this issue four distinct positions have developed.
Down through history church theologians did not view the rapture of believers and the revelation of Yeshua as being separate nor did they expect these blessed events to precede the coming of the Anti-Messiah. (See my web article The Coming Anti-Messiah.) In the early centuries following the apostolic era Christians were repeatedly warned by the church fathers that the Anti-Messiah would come first to rule the world and initiate the great tribulation, which was interpreted as the Anti-Messiah's war against God's people, not God's wrath on the world (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, 16; The Epistle of Barnabas, 4, 15; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, 25-30; Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 14).
Christians were exhorted to be faithful in the face of temptation and trials lest they lose their inheritance in the Kingdom of the Lord. Irenaeus specifically warned that the beast would "put the Church to flight" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.26.1. Cf. Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 60f.). The writers of this period offered no panacea of being secretly rescued from tribulation, but encouraged the disciples to persevere. Once Yeshua returned the wicked Anti-Messiah will be destroyed and Yeshua will establish His reign of peace and righteousness.
In modern times the term "posttribulationism" has been applied to the historic view, largely because of the advent of other interpretations that arose to provide assurance that Christians would not experience God's wrath. The differences, then, between various positions turn on how the terms "great tribulation," "Day of the Lord," and "God's wrath" are defined.
Beginning in the late 1820s various ministers began to speak of a divided Second Coming separated by a great tribulation, now known as pretribulationism. See Gundry for a summary of the likely candidates for authoring the theory (54f). While there is some dispute as to who was the first person to teach the new interpretation, John Darby (1800-1881), an English minister who began the Plymouth Brethren movement, incorporated the belief into his dispensational theology (Gregg 42). Through Darby's preaching and popular writing pretribulationism and dispensational theology took firm root and today the beliefs are widely held in Evangelical churches. Scholarly advocates of pretribulationism include A.C. Gabelein, R.A. Torrey, H.A. Ironside, and John Walvoord. Popular writers of this viewpoint include John Hagee, Jack Van Impe, Harold Lindsay, Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye (Metz 179).
Beginning with Darby and refined by later pretribulationists Daniel's prophecy of the seventieth week (Dan 9:27) has served as the framework for developing a chronology of end time events and justifying the two-stage view of the Second Coming. Pretribulationists dubbed Daniel's seventieth week as the "tribulation period," during which the Anti-Messiah reigns on the earth, and determined that this period equals seven years. Pretribulationists believe that the first stage of the Second Coming, or Rapture, will occur before the "tribulation period" and the followers of Yeshua will not have to suffer those terrible days. The Rapture is a secret event based on Matthew 24:36-44. The tribulation includes all the events described in the seals, trumpets and bowls of Revelation, which is tantamount to identifying those events as part of God's wrath, so "after the tribulation" in Matthew 24:29 would refer to the "ordinary" tribulation that all Christians have faced down through history. During those seven years the church enjoys the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven while the earth suffers its ordeal and the nation of Israel miraculously experiences a spiritual rebirth to accept its Messiah. The second stage is the Revelation of Yeshua when He will come publicly with His Church, punish the wicked and establish His millennial reign on the earth.
In 1941 the midtribulationist interpretation was introduced by Norman B. Harrison in his book The End: Rethinking the Revelation (Metz 183). Harrison offered a mediating position, distinguishing between the afflictions of the Anti-Messiah occurring in the first half of the seven-year tribulation period and the wrath of God occurring in the second half of the tribulation period. Thus, he taught that the Church will be present for the first half of the Anti-Messiah reign and then be raptured at the mid-point to be spared the outpouring of God's wrath described in the trumpets and bowls of Revelation. Harrison viewed the resurrection of the two witnesses in Revelation 11 as corresponding to the general resurrection.
In 1990 a modification to the midtribulationist interpretation called "pre-wrath rapture" was proposed by Marvin Rosenthal. In his book The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church Rosenthal declared that the fifth seal of Revelation represents the raptured church and the sixth seal begins the wrath of God (185). The pre-wrath approach describes the first half of the "tribulation period" or Daniel's seventieth week as the "beginning of sorrows" and corresponding to the first four seals of Revelation. The second half of the "tribulation period" commences with the abomination of desolation and includes the "Great Tribulation" and the "Day of the Lord." The Rapture occurs after the great tribulation but before the day of God's wrath, thus the term "pre-wrath." Similar to the pretribulation interpretation, the midtribulation and pre-wrath interpretations essentially posit a two-stage Second Coming, but they have shrunk the time interval between the two stages.
This writer believes that the biblical evidence best supports the view that the Second Coming of Yeshua occurs in one event rather than two stages with secret and public elements. It is at this single Second Coming that the rapture and resurrection of all God's people occur and there is no passage anywhere in the Besekh that proves conclusively otherwise. The first step in understanding the apostolic teaching on the Second Coming is to first determine the meaning of "Rapture."
"Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord." (1Th 4:17)
The concept of "Rapture" is derived from 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The Greek verb harpazō translated as "caught up," means to seize, to carry off by force or to snatch up. The verse is one of only a few passages that provides information about the actual miracle to overrule gravity and snatch living people off the surface of the earth. Paul wanted to reassure Thessalonian believers that they would be reunited with those who had already died in the faith and that the Day of the Lord was still yet to occur. The congregation could look forward then to that day when by the great power of God they would be literally snatched off their feet and into the air to meet the Lord. With regard to Paul's description, harpazō does not itself mean anything secretive nor does it indicate anything related to timing. As for why the living should be snatched up to the clouds there may be more to the Lord's intention than just having a reunion. The snatching may be a rescue (as the same word is used in Jude 23) in order to protect the living from the destruction of the beast's army and his other followers.
The English word "rapture" was coined in 1629, being derived from a Latin word meaning "to carry off by force," and means a state of being carried away by intense emotion, a manifestation of ecstasy, or a mystical experience in which the spirit is exalted to the knowledge of divine things (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary). It was probably the elements of being carried away by an irresistible force and the heavenly exaltation of the spirit that made the word an appealing choice for the dispensationalist interpretation that the disciples are secretly carried off to heaven before the Anti-Messiah appears. The definition of "rapture" in common theological parlance is so associated with the dispensational doctrine that it's better to speak simply of the gathering of the God's people (cf. Matt 3:12; 13:41; 24:31).
The following notes on eschatological passages in the apostolic writings are offered to demonstrate that the gathering and resurrection of God's people and the punishment of the wicked are accomplished in one Second Coming of Yeshua on the same day at the end of the age. The passages are taken in order beginning with the apostolic narratives.
"He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
A significant argument in favor of the posttribulation view may be found in the "gathering" parables involving field, fish and flock employed by John the Immerser and Yeshua. John the Immerser by divine revelation was given a vision of the future and used the first gathering parable to describe the beginning and the end of the last days.
John uses the imagery of the wheat harvest to symbolize the coming of the Messiah to destroy the wicked, restore the glory of Israel and establish His reign over the whole earth. When used as a metaphor in Scripture wheat represents the righteous (Gen 37:5-8; Matt 13:23, 38; John 12:24) and chaff refers to the unrighteous (Ex 15:7; Ps 1:4; 35:5; 83:13; Isa 17:13; 29:5; 41:2; Hos 13:3; Mal 4:1). John's imagery of the threshing floor may be specifically drawn from Hosea in which the idolatrous will be "like chaff which is blown away from the threshing floor" (Hos 3:13) and Malachi, "For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze" (Mal 4:1). Also, in John's parable the One mightier than he would use a winnowing fork, parallel to the use of the sickle in Revelation 14:14-16. As in real life John's report of the Messiah's harvesting and winnowing are accomplished in the same event.
Matthew 13:24-25, 30
"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. … Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
Yeshua told two gathering parables that have the same elements as found in John's parable. In the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt 13:24-30), Yeshua substituted tares for the chaff and reversed the order of the gathering description. However, Yeshua adds the detail of using reapers, i.e. the angels, to do the actual gathering (cf. Mark 13:27). In His explanation of the parable that follows in Matthew 13:36-43, Yeshua says that the field is the world, the tares are the sons of the devil, or the stumbling blocks in His earthly kingdom and the wheat is the righteous. Both sons of the devil and the righteous are gathered, judged and sorted at the same time.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away. So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Yeshua follows the identical pattern as the parable of the wheat and tares in the parable of the dragnet of fish. Good and bad fish are hauled onto the shore at the same time in one large net. The fish are then separated with a similar outcome as in the parable of the wheat and tares. Yeshua emphasizes that the righteous and unrighteous are gathered together in the same time event and then the wicked are separated from the righteous.
The gathering of God's people is an important element of the whole story of the Second Coming. Yeshua prophesied in the Olivet Discourse,
"Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven." (Mark 13:26f)
The angels will assemble together all of God's people. The extremities of heaven and earth indicate that no saint, alive or dead, is excluded.
Matthew 24:21, 29-31
"For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now; nor ever will. … But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other."
In the Olivet Discourse Yeshua answered the disciples' question about the end of the age by providing a list of events that would occur before He returned. In His lengthy answer Yeshua mentions only one Second Coming, which will be a very public event with trumpets blaring. Yeshua even warns His disciples against any report of a secret coming (vv. 23-26). Of importance in Matthew 24 is that one particular event is used to establish the chronology of the Second Coming – the great tribulation. In the apostolic writings tribulation is primarily persecution of God's people and the great tribulation is a lot of persecution, so much that it is far worse than any previous period of persecution in history. There is no passage that connects all the seals, bowls and trumpets of Revelation with the great tribulation, although this event may be implied in the fifth seal. When Yeshua spoke of the great tribulation as being the worst in history He could not have been thinking of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple that would come in A.D. 70 by the Romans. The Roman siege did not cause any more casualties than the Babylonian conquest several centuries earlier. So far the worst persecution of Christians and Jews has been in the 20th century, yet even those horrors were not worldwide.
Yeshua says very specifically that "after" this terrible time in history is when people should expect His glorious return in the clouds. At His return all believers, living and dead, will be gathered together. Mark's parallel account makes the scene even more explicit, "And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven" (Mark 13:27). Mark's account makes no sense if all the believers are gathered before the great tribulation even starts. Indeed, there is no passage that describes an intermediate period between two Second Comings during which people are saved. Another point to note from this passage is that it does not identify the destination of the gathering. No passage depicts believers being taken to heaven in the Rapture as commonly assumed. The parable of the sheep and goats (Matt 25:31-46) may offer the answer. (See comment on this passage below.)
"Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short."
Many who do not accept the posttribulation interpretation assume that the word "elect" (Grk. eklektos, "chosen," "selected") mentioned in Matthew 24:22 must have a different functional meaning than other words used for members of the Body of Messiah and is used in the narrow sense of referring to the nation of Israel or a remnant of Messianic Jews. The term "elect" or "chosen" is used consistently in the Tanakh to refer to Israel. The Jews are God's chosen people (Deut. 7:6), so it is natural to assume that the "elect" who live at the time of the great tribulation might be a different group than the believers who are resurrected in 1 Thessalonians 4:15ff.
What does Scripture say about the elect? In Matthew 22:14 the elect are those in the parable of the marriage feast who accepted the invitation of the King to the banquet. In Matthew 24:22 (also Mark 13:20) the great tribulation is cut short for the sake of the elect, which means they must experience it. The length of the great tribulation would make no difference to the elect if they were "raptured" before it even started. In v. 24 (also Mark 13:22), the elect are the objects of deception by false Messiahs and false prophets and in v. 31 the elect will be gathered from the four winds by His angels and a great trumpet. Mark 13:27 further clarifies the gathering as being from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven. Thus, Yeshua's coming will be a grand reunion of the elect; therefore, the gathering of the elect must be equated with the resurrection.
In usage outside the apostolic narratives, the word "elect" included Gentile believers. The apostle Paul established the important theological truth that the designation of "elect" was not the exclusive property of ethnic Jews, because "they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel" (Rom 9:6). The elect are all whom the Father has called to salvation and who have responded in trusting faithfulness (Rom 9:24-25; 10:11). Thus, Gentiles who had not previously enjoyed the "chosen" status could now attain it by virtue of being grafted into the Jewish root (Rom 11:17). In addition, the apostles used the term "elect" as a standard greeting in letters to the churches, all of which were mixed congregations of Jews and Gentiles (Rom 8:33; Col 3:12; 2Tim 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1Pet 1:1; 2:9; 2Jn 1:1).
A synonym of "elect" is Grk. hagioi, "holy ones," "sacred ones," or "separated ones"), which is used over 50 times in the apostolic writings to refer to the local congregations or groups of believers. In Paul's epistles he consistently referred to his readers as "holy ones" as well as "elect," demonstrating their interchangeability (Rom 1:7; 1Cor 1:2; 2Cor 1:1; Eph 1:1; Php 1:1; Col 1:2). The word "hagioi" places the emphasis on individuals, whereas "elect" places the emphasis on the total Body of Messiah as a corporate unit selected by God to share in an everlasting covenant. The use of the word "elect" in the context of great tribulation passages serves to depict how special are God's people who will be called upon to endure the war of the beast against them.
"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left."
NOTE: Cf. Luke 17:34-36, which adds two men in a bed with the "taking" occurring at night. The fact that the event occurs for some in the daytime and for some in the night is not a contradiction but a reference to the rotation of the earth.
Many use this passage to assert that the rapture is a secret event that can occur any time before the Anti-Messiah appears. However, Yeshua does not clearly state the destination of the ones "taken," where the ones "left" are left or who is doing the taking and leaving. A basic rule of interpreting Scripture is that when confronted with an unclear passage it should be understood in the light of what is clear elsewhere. The only way, then, to make any sense of these verses is to consider the meaning of "taken" and "left," the immediate context of the taking and the wider context of the Olivet Discourse.
The Greek word paralambanō, translated "taken" in verses 40 and 41, means to "take to oneself, take with or along," but it can also mean to take over or to receive. The Greek word aphiēmi, translated "left," has a broad range of meaning, including let go, send away, cancel, remit, pardon, leave, give up, abandon, let, let go, and tolerate. Only the context can determine the appropriate meaning. The obvious significance of "left" is its contrast to "taken." There are no clarifying comments describing any of the individuals as anticipating the event, as do the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13, nor meeting the anticipated Son or being transformed by resurrection. It may be easier to affirm what Yeshua did not say. Yeshua did not say that half of all the people on the earth will be saved, when He had already said in His sermon on the mount that "few" would be saved (Matt 7:14). Yeshua did not say that the ones "taken" are taken to heaven or that the ones "left" are left to be at the mercy of the Anti-Messiah.
The immediate context explains the mysterious "taking" and "leaving." The transitional word "then" that begins verse 40 extends the thought of verses 36-39 in which Yeshua uses the example of Noah to help His disciples understand the character of the last days and His coming in which He will be revealed in power and glory (Luke 17:24, 30). The analogy draws the reader's attention to the social conditions of the time in order to drive home His point. Noah must have appeared to be an eccentric, because for years, perhaps as many as 120 years (cf. Gen 6:3), he preached about God's intention to destroy the world with water and worked to build a boat (actually a barge), but life was too good to pay serious attention to a crazy preacher. The reference to the activities of that time is not a prophecy that the same conditions will exist when Yeshua comes to rescue His people, but to stress the unexpected nature of God's judgment.
The antediluvian world was a time of prosperity and peace. People carried on with their normal activities of married life and feasting and had no inkling that they would perish suddenly. Thus, the people of Noah's day were spiritually unprepared to meet their Creator. Yeshua succinctly recounts that the flood came and "took them all away" (Matt 24:39), meaning that the earth's population, except for Noah's family, perished in the flood waters. The obvious fact that has a direct bearing on the Second Coming is that on the same day that everyone else in the world drowned only Noah and his family were left alive (Gen 6:11, 13; Matt 24:38). So, the meaning and force of the word "taken" in verses 40-41 is probably the same as "took them all away" in verse 39.
The brief vignette of people being taken and left connected with the story of Noah is remarkably parallel to the harvest or gathering parables found in Matthew 3:12 and 13:24-50. All of the stories start with a group that is then divided, with one part of the group being removed from the rest of the group. It seems reasonable that the pattern established in the harvest parables would hold true in the Olivet Discourse, including the timing of the event. The context of the Olivet Discourse clearly places the "taking" and "leaving" after the great tribulation. If the "taking" refers to rapturing followers of Yeshua, then it must be a restatement of the gathering described in Matthew 24:31 (cf. Mark 13:27).
Matthew 24:42; 25:13
"Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. … Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour."
This challenge from Yeshua for His disciples to be on the alert ("ready" in Luke 12:40) brackets and punctuates the two versions of the parable of the absent landowner and the parable of the virgins (Matt 24:43-51; 25:1-30; para. Mark 13:33-37; Luke 12:35-48). Many interpreters suggest that the "unexpected hour" means that Yeshua may come at any moment, even without regard to unfulfilled prophecies. In the two parables of the absent landowner readiness is not defined in the sense of having a relationship with the landowner, but being ready to give an accounting of stewardship to the landowner. The parables teach that the landowner will be gone for a period of time and caution against thinking, "If He is delayed I can act any way I want." In the first parable the bad slave wastes the owner's property in riotous living and mistreats fellow slaves. In the second parable the bad slave fails to act with prudence in managing the owner's property. The description of the landowner's actions upon his return is critical to understanding the meaning of the unexpected hour. When the landowner arrives he does not secretly gather the good slaves and leave for the country where he had been doing business in order to have a party while the bad slaves are left to continue mismanaging his property. What happens? The landowner rewards the good slaves and punishes the bad slaves.
The fact that the landowner is delayed means that the unexpected hour cannot be taken in any literalistic sense or the message would become an absurdity. Yeshua had already given the disciples a chronology of last days' events immediately preceding in this chapter, so "any moment" could not have applied to any time before A.D. 70. Yeshua would not mock His disciples by implying He might return any moment when He knew for a fact that it wouldn't occur in their lifetimes. He warned His disciples before the Ascension that there are times and seasons in God's planning that still lay in the future (Acts 1:7), so there was no need to sit around with their eyes on the horizon. However, the disciples needed the message to be ready at all times for accountability, because they (and we) could die at any time. Death is an appointment we shall all keep (Heb 9:27) and based on history a far greater certainty than being alive when He returns. Yeshua never said He might come at any time, only that He will come at a time when He isn't expected (Matt 24:36).
See the rest of my commentary on Matthew 24.
"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats and He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left."
At the beginning of the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:31-46) the nations are apparently mixed just as in the harvest parables. However, in this parable Yeshua provides a summary transcript of the trial or judgment that results in separation, reward and punishment of the flock. It should be noted that the gathering of the nations takes place when Yeshua comes in His glory with His angels, which according to His earlier explanation in Matthew 24:29-31 occurs after the great tribulation. Since it is difficult to visualize the "goats" in heaven, then this judgment must take place on earth.
The scene would be thus: "these brothers of mine" (v. 40) are in the background or to the side of the throne. In front of Yeshua are the "nations," which in normal Jewish parlance refers to Gentiles. Yeshua said that the nations are separated "as" sheep from goats, a Hebrew metaphor referring to the house of Israel (Ezek 34:17). He does not say that the "sheep" are His sheep in the sense of John 10:4, although they might be the "other sheep" of John 10:16, but in any event they are considered "righteous" (v. 37). In the context of the judgment the sheep and goats are distinguished by virtue of how they treated "his brothers" (vs. 40). For some inexplicable reason the sheep do not appear to understand the concept of the unity of the Body of the Messiah and the identification of the Lord with His disciples (Acts 9:4f; 1Cor 12:27; Eph 1:22f) and they do not "see" Yeshua in their acts of charity (Matt 25:37, 44). But, by caring for His poverty-stricken, homeless and imprisoned brothers, the "sheep" of the nations identify with the Shepherd and receive His commendation, as in the cases of Roman centurions who performed charitable acts for Jews (Matt 8:4-10; Luke 7:1-5; Acts 10:1-2; cf. Matt 10:40ff; Rom 8:29). Conversely, the "goats" of the nations aided and abetted the persecution and thus deny the Lord.
The identification of "these brothers of mine" has four meanings in the apostolic writings: (1) The blood siblings of Yeshua (Mark 3:22; Acts 1:14; 1Cor 9:5); (2) ethnic Jews and Israelites (Matt 5:47; 28:10; Acts 2:37; 3:22; 7:2; Rom 9:3); (3) Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Matt 28:10; John 20:17; Acts 1:15; 11:1; Rom 7:4); and (4) spiritual kinship with Yeshua based on faithfulness to God with or without specification of ethnic background (Matt 12:50; Acts 15:23; Rom 16:14; 2Cor 8:23). Since the context of the parable is the Second Coming and related events covered in the Olivet Discourse and the first resurrection only includes the God's people, then the goats must be the "inhabitants of the world" that survive the Revelation plagues. The beast has already been thrown into hell and his army totally destroyed at Armageddon. The trial particularly depicts God doing justice for the great tribulation martyrs (cf. Rev 6:9-11; 7:14-17; 17:6; 18:4-6, 20; 19:15, 20; 20:4). During the great tribulation there will likely be many sympathetic to the plight of Christians and Jews and do whatever possible to provide aid in the face of the beast's persecution. Those who ignore, accept or support the beast's injustice will be treated as accessories to the crime.
Of course, a reasonable Midrash on the words of Yeshua is that Christians should consider carefully how they treat Jews. Down through history in every country the blood descendants of Jacob have been despised, discriminated against, cruelly persecuted and subjected to all the privations listed in the parable of the sheep and goats, often by people purporting to represent Yeshua (cf. Gen 12:3). The judgment of the nations will reveal the depth of the Messiah's grief and wrath over the mistreatment of His brethren.
See the rest of my commentary on Matthew 25.
John 6:39-40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48
"This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. … 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. … 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:39-40, 44, 54)
"Martha said to Him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.'" (John 11:24)
"He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day." (John 12:48)
In His discourse on the bread of life Yeshua says four times that He will raise up (resurrect) those who believe in Him on the "last day" (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54). Martha affirmed her belief in the resurrection on the last day (John 11:24). Yeshua also asserted that judgment would occur on the last day (John 12:48), which pretribulationists don't normally associate with the resurrection. The simultaneous action of judgment and resurrection is also asserted in John 5:28-29.
Four times, as recorded in the book of John, Yeshua declares that He will accomplish the resurrection of those who have trusted in Him for salvation on the "last day." (Cf. Dan 12:13 where Daniel is promised resurrection "at the end of the age.") Martha concurs that this was her belief, as well. Yeshua also spoke of a judgment occurring on the last day. Three important facts about these verses should be considered. First, what does the word last mean? It means that nothing comes after it or it wouldn't be called last. The last day is always the last in a series of days, such as referring to the last day of a prescribed festival (Neh 8:18; John 7:37). Second, the word day is singular. Yeshua does not merely say that He will raise the dead in the last days, but on a specific day, the last day.
In the resurrection passages the series of days that the last day concludes is the present age. In Hebrew thought historical time was divided into ages, most likely coinciding with the great covenants that God made with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David (Eccl 1:10; Rom 16:25; 1Cor 2:7; 10:11; Eph 3:9; Col 1:26; Titus 1:2; Heb 9:26). Yeshua and the apostles speak of two specific ages – the present age (Matt 28:20; Mark 10:30; Titus 2:12) and the age to come (Matt 12:32; Mark 10:30; Heb 6:5). When Yeshua spoke of the last day, He meant the last day of the present age. The resurrection occurs on the last day of this present age because the next day will be the first day of the age to come. The last day wouldn't be last if there were three and a half or seven years of the tribulation following it.
The third significant fact is that a judgment occurs on the last day. Since four times "last day" means the last day of the present age, then the fifth time the phrase occurs must of necessity refer to the same "last day," especially in view of the fact that the Lord offers no other explanation. Therefore, the last day being the day on which the righteous are resurrected cannot be the day of the white throne judgment that occurs at the end of the millennium (Rev 20). The only other judgment mentioned in connection with end time events is the judgment of the sheep and goats that takes place when Yeshua returns (Matt 25). So, the last day of the present age will be a momentous day.
"Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 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."
Yeshua told His disciples in the upper room that He would be going to prepare a place for them, presumptively "heaven," that He would return to receive them to Himself and that where He would be they would be also (John 14:1-3). True to His word, the disciples certainly went to heaven when they died, as do all believers who die in the Lord (2Cor 5:8; Php 1:23). However, there are two strong reasons why this passage does not support a secret rapture of God's people.
First, in Revelation 21:2 the place of many rooms, or New Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven to the earth. Similarly, the parable of the ten virgins demonstrates that the Lord comes to where the virgins are located and remains with them (Matt 25:10). Messiah's millennial kingdom is on the earth, so no purpose is served by going back to heaven. When Yeshua comes, He intends to stay.
Second, Yeshua's words likely have nothing to do with eschatology. In context, Yeshua spoke of going somewhere, namely the cross (John 12:27-34; 13:3, 33, 36-38). Nowhere in any of the Last Supper narratives does Yeshua speak of going to heaven or preparing places in heaven, although John 13:3 says that he knew he was "going back to God."
The reference to "My Father's house" can be taken two ways. (1) "Father's house" is a euphemism in the Tanakh that referred to all the members of a family descending from a specific person. In this case since Yeshua's true father is in heaven, then his family consists of all those who acknowledge the Father's spiritual paternity. (2) In both Luke 2:49 and John 2:16 Yeshua referred to the Jerusalem Temple as "my father's house." Just as the temple had apartments for the priests when they came to perform their annual duty, so in the spiritual house there is plenty of room for new priests to be added (cf. 1Pet 2:5).
Therefore, Yeshua is saying that he was going to the cross in order to prepare a place for his disciples in the kingdom and prepare the way for the Holy Spirit to come, which he details in the latter part of John 14. His promise to "come again" may only be intended in the immediate sense of his post-resurrection appearances.
1 Corinthians 15:50-51
"Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed."
The important word in this text related to timing is the word "last." Paul says that the resurrection will take place at the "last trumpet" in the twinkling of an eye. If there is a last trumpet, then there must be more than one trumpet and if it is the last trumpet, then no more trumpets sound after it. On the assumption that God's inspiration of Scripture would ensure consistency in eschatological teaching, then the seven trumpets of Revelation that signal key events in the end time drama must correspond to the trumpet Paul mentions. Revelation 11:15 recounts the sounding of the seventh, or last, trumpet that signals the beginning of the Lord's reign and in verse 18, God's wrath and the reward of God's people are viewed as coincidental events, both of which occur after or at the sounding of the last trumpet.
The creation scientist Tom Willis observed that if it took God millions of years to create, there is reason to doubt whether He can keep the promise of resurrection ("Creation: Good Tidings for Mankind," CSA News, Vol. 18(1), 2001). The good news is that "in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth" (Ex 20:11), which means that He is quite competent to transform millions in the blink of an eye.
"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the believing dead will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord."
There are four important points in Paul's instruction to understand the Second Coming – the meaning of "coming," "first," "caught up," and "with the Lord." The principal Greek word used in the apostolic writings for the Second "Coming" is parousia, (pronounced 'pah-roo-see-ah') which means presence, coming or advent. In this context the parousia has these elements: (1) the believing dead are resurrected before the living, (2) Yeshua will descend from heaven with a shout, (3) Yeshua will descend with the voice of the archangel and (4) the living will be caught up to meet Yeshua and those resurrected in the clouds.
Other passages on the parousia add these elements. The parousia of the Son of Man will be as the lightning flashes from east to west (Matt 24:27). The parousia of the Son of Man will take place after the great tribulation (Matt 24:29f). At the parousia the elect will be gathered from the four winds and from one end of the heavens to the other (Matt 24:29ff). The objects of God's wrath in the parousia will be like Noah's generation who did not understand until the flood took them all away (Matt 24:37, 39). The parousia is followed by Yeshua delivering the kingdom to His Father and all human rule and authority is abolished (1Cor 15:24). God will establish our hearts unblameable in holiness with all His people at the parousia (1Th 3:13). The parousia and the Day of the Lord are viewed as one and the same event, both of which occur after the Anti-Messiah reign (2Th 2:1ff). Yeshua will slay the lawless one with the breath of His mouth at His parousia (2Th 2:8). Peter likewise links the parousia and the Day of the Lord (2Pet 3:4, 10). Coincidental with the parousia the heavens will be destroyed by burning and the elements will melt with intense heat (2Pet 3:12).
When all these passages are taken together it is clear that the parousia includes the rapture and resurrection of God's people, the glorious coming of Yeshua in the clouds and the punishment of the wicked. Yet, there is only one parousia. No passage in the New Testament depicts the different aspects of the parousia being divided in time or into two major events with either seven or three and a half years between the two events. If God can create the universe in six days He can accomplish all these things in one day, specifically on the Day of the Lord.
The next important word is "first." What does the word "first" mean? It means that nothing comes before it or it wouldn't be called "first." The first President was George Washington. There was no President before him; that's why he is called the first President. Let's consider two significant uses of "first." Paul says that the dead in the Messiah will rise or be raptured first before the living. That is, there will be no rapture and transforming resurrection of the living until the dead are resurrected. Revelation 20:5 speaks of the first resurrection and the verse just before it identifies those who participate in it. The first persons resurrected include those beheaded for their testimony and those who had refused to worship the beast or receive the mark of the beast. It's difficult to comprehend how people raptured before the tribulation and enjoying heaven could be beheaded by the beast. To interpret the resurrection as taking place in stages separated by several years effectively empties "first" of its meaning. Given the time of the resurrection it cannot be a separate event from the gathering and reunion of God's people. In fact, the gathering and the resurrection are such interrelated events that the discussion of one in the apostolic writings implies the occurrence of the other at the same time.
For "caught up" see the definition section above. The phrase "with the Lord" extends the thought of "caught up" and means only that those who meet Yeshua are where He is, namely in the clouds. The phrase does not say that Yeshua brings the disembodied souls and spirits to be reunited with their bodies on earth and then takes them and those alive back to heaven.
"And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way."
Many Christians have been taught that when Yeshua raptures the Church He will remove the Holy Spirit in order for the Anti-Messiah to appear, citing the passage above as justification (DSB, ad. loc; Scofield, note on 2Thessalonians 2:3). Scofield attempts to distinguish between the "Holy Spirit in the church" and the "Holy Spirit in the world." However, if the Holy Spirit only performs His role through the church and the church is not present, then by his interpretation there can be no active presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the world during the "tribulation period." Henry Morris (author of the DSB notes), also a dispensationalist, offers a moderating view in that he asserts the sealing activity of the Holy Spirit is performed on the converts who accept Yeshua during the period of the church's absence. John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), reputed father of dispensationalism, plainly declared in his commentary on 2Thessalonians Chapter Two that after the Rapture the "Holy Ghost as the Comforter is no longer dwelling here below."
It seems very strange to this writer that the presence of the Holy Spirit has not prevented previous world dictators from appearing in history nor the persecution of God's people by those same despots, so why should the Holy Spirit be suddenly removed so this last despot can make his appearance? Actually, Paul makes no explicit reference to the Holy Spirit in these verses. Paul only refers to the Holy Spirit once in 2Thessalonians (2:13), in which he speaks of the sanctifying work of the Spirit. While the Holy Spirit may depart individuals (cf. Num 14:42f; Josh 7:12; Jdg 16:20; 1Sam 16:14), the whole notion that any part of God's universe could ever be void of His Spirit, which is His presence, is utterly impossible. There simply is no Scriptural evidence that God's Spirit ever has or ever shall literally depart in any partial or complete sense from any part of His universe, especially the earth (cf. Ps 139:7-12). And wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, God's grace and mercy are available.
The concept of removing the Holy Spirit is devastating to the good news, which asserts the indispensable role of the Holy Spirit in conviction of sin, justification, regeneration, sanctification and other spiritual graces (John 3:5, 6, 8; 6:63; 14:17, 26; 15:26; 16:13; Rom 8:2, 5, 9, 15; 15:16; 1Cor 2:14; 6:11; 12:3; 2Cor 3:6; Gal 4:6, 29; 5:18, 22; 2Th 2:13; Titus 3:5; and 1Pet 1:2; 1Jn 3:24; 4:13). The report of apostolic ministry detailed in Acts also demonstrates that successful ministry depends utterly on the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8; 2:4; 4:8, 31; 5:32; 6:3, 5; 7:55; 8:17, 29, 39; 9:17; 10:38, 44f; 11:12, 16, 17, 24; 13:2ff, 9, 52; 15:8, 28; 16:6f; 19:21; 20:22f; 21:4, 11). Without the Holy Spirit how could the Father expect anyone to be convicted of sin when the angel proclaims the "eternal good news" for the last time (Rev 14:6f)? Without the Holy Spirit what is left is "another good news" which would rely on legalistic works to achieve salvation.
The prophecy in 2Thessalonians 2:3-12 is not about the leaving of the Holy Spirit, but the coming of the Anti-Messiah, and 2Thessalonians 2:7 confirms the prophecy of Revelation 11:7 that the beast will come from the abyss. The original Greek of 2Thessalonians 2:7 says, "to gar mustērion ēdē energeitai tēs anomias monon o katechōn arti heōs ek mesou genētai," which Marshall's interlinear translates literally as "only the restraining (or the restraining one) just now until out of the midst it comes." Marshall's translation is also confirmed by J.P. Green's Literal Translation of the Bible (1987). Considering the grammar and word definitions are critical to a correct understanding of this verse. The verb normally translated in standard versions as "taken out of" is genētai, the aorist middle subjunctive of the verb ginomai, which means to come to be, to become or to originate. (The aorist tense normally corresponds to the English past tense, but in prophecy is used to emphasize the certainty of the event. The middle voice indicates that the subject participates in the results of the action.) When the English word "taken" is used to translate ginomai in the rest of the apostolic writings it is normally in the sense of an event taking place. If the apostle wanted to convey the notion of taking "away" the Greek word airō, which does include that meaning, would be more appropriate.
The word translated as "way" in standard versions is mesou, the genitive form of mesos, which means midst, middle, or center. The only other translation of mesos as "way" in the apostolic writings is Colossians 2:14 where it is used in the sense of taking out of everyone's sight or out of the midst of everyone (and there airō is used instead of ginomai). If Paul wanted to convey taken out of "the earth" then he would have used one of two words for earth, gē or oikoumenē, but he would not have used mesos for that purpose. While the literal rendering of the Greek sentence may sound strange, it must mean that the spirit of the Anti-Messiah is being restrained in the abyss, or bottomless pit (at the center of the earth), and one day the evil spirit will be released to possess the future man of sin (cf. Rev 13:11; 17:8). Commentaries on 2Thessalonians I have surveyed offer no cogent explanation based on Greek grammar why heōs ek mesou genētai should be translated "taken out of the way." It is also difficult to believe that the rabbinic trained apostle Paul would speak of this theoretical leaving in such a clumsy manner as translated by standard English versions. In reality it is the spirit of the Anti-Messiah that is being restrained (2Th 2:6) and someday that restraint will be removed so that the demonic spirit can ascend from the abyss and possess the Man of Sin.
"But the day of the Lord will come as a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a rushing sound, and the elements burning with heat will be destroyed, and the earth and the works in it will be exposed. 11 So, all these things are being destroyed, what kind of people ought you to be in holy conduct and piety, 12 expecting, even eagerly awaiting, the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens being set on fire will be destroyed, and the elements burning with great heat will be melted! 13 But we are awaiting new heavens and a new earth according to His promise." (BR)
One of the puzzles in the study of the Second Coming and related events is the relation of the prophecy of Peter to the chronology of Revelation. Peter views the Second Coming and the Day of the Lord as coincidental events and provides a number of details that need explanation.
Verse 10: The "coming as a thief" metaphor (cf. Matt 24:43) is often associated with the secret rapture. However, Peter connects the thief metaphor with the Day of the Lord when the heavens will pass away with a roar. The thief metaphor cannot incorporate secrecy, then, since that would be like saying you can have a quiet explosion. The fact that the thief metaphor is used in connection with the Day of the Lord means that it does not occur at a different time than the rapture. The account of the destruction of the heavens and the earth in this passage need not refer to an obliteration of the earth's existence. For example, the verb "will pass away" (Grk. parerchomai) literally means to pass by, to come to an end or to disappear, and is also used in Matthew 5:18 and 24:35 (also the parallel sayings in Mark 13:31 and Luke 21:33) to refer to the heaven and earth passing away.
Revelation twice describes the old earth and heavens as "passing away," just as Peter, except that it occurs after the millennium (Rev 20:11; 21:1). Peter says nothing about the millennial reign of Yeshua. The prophecies in Revelation depict horrendous devastation on the earth from the trumpet and bowl plagues, but the destruction of the old earth and heavens are described in tame language compared to Peter: "fled away" in Revelation 20:11 and "passed away" in 21:1. In actuality, the problem may lie with our English translations and reading too much into Peter's descriptions. To associate Peter's prophecy with the heaven and earth "fleeing away" in Revelation 20:11, or "passing away" in Revelation 21:1, creates a serious complication in the meaning of the term "Day of the Lord." All biblical prophecies treat the Day of the Lord as a singular event. In the same way there cannot be a Second Coming and a thousand years later a "second" Second Coming.
Peter goes on to emphasize that on the Day of the Lord the "elements" will be destroyed by burning (cf. Isa 51:6). The noun "elements" (Grk. stoicheion) had four basic uses in apostolic times. It referred to (1) the elements of learning, such as the alphabet, or fundamental principles; (2) elemental substances from which everything is made and of which it is composed, i.e. the four elements of earth's processes (earth, air, fire and water); (3) the elementary forms of religion or syncretistic religious tendencies; and (4) the heavenly bodies. Rienecker also suggests that stoicheion may refer to the atomic particles that are the basic structure of matter (2:435). While Greek philosophers speculated on the hidden structure of matter, it is hardly likely that Peter intended such a meaning. The common usage of "elements" in the first century stressed the design of created things that function in some kind of order.
The participle "burning with heat" (Grk. kausoō) means to be consumed by heat or to burn up. Rienecker notes that it may be intended to denote a blaze arising from internal heat, such as a volcano (2:436f). The verb "destroyed" (Grk. luō) literally means "to loose" and has many applications in the apostolic writings. In its strongest usages luō can mean to destroy, abolish, bring to an end or do away with, meaning that the component parts come apart. The verb "exposed" (translated as "burned up" in many versions) is applied to the "earth and its works." Some late manuscripts have katakaiō ("burned up, burned down or consumed by fire"), which was incorporated into the Textus Receptus and the KJV. The oldest reading of the verb in Greek manuscripts is heuriskō ("to be found, to be discovered, recognized, or detected") and translated by modern versions as "disclosed," "exposed" or "laid bare." The earth, of course, has no works, so the phrase is a euphemism for humanity and all that man has built in recorded history (cf. 1Cor 3:13ff; 2Pet 3:4).
Verse 11: The knowledge of what will happen at the end of the age should motivate disciples to devote their lives fully to God, not to anxiety or speculation about the future.
Verse 12: Peter exhorts disciples to manifest two other important characteristics, given in the form of participles. A participle is a verbal noun, so it not only describes action but something about the person performing the action. About half the Bible versions translate the second participle speudontas as "hastening," which may give the impression that Peter believes disciples can cause to Yeshua to arrive earlier than the Father planned. However, this translation presents a logical fallacy and pits Peter against other biblical prophecy. According to lexicons the Greek verb speudō does mean to hasten or hurry, but it can also mean to "earnestly desire." Peter uses the verb to express the attitude of the expectant one, not control over the schedule of the Lord, which is reflected in a number of versions (ASV, HCSB, JUB, KJV, Lamsa, Mace, MEV, MW, NCV, NIV, REV, RV, WEB, Weymouth, YLT).
The timing of the Second Coming is sealed in the secret counsels of God. No one knows the day or hour (Matt 24:36), so it cannot be predicted or influenced by man. There is no hint in the apostolic writings that the Second Advent can be advanced, much less delayed or rescheduled. By the same token, the Second Coming will only happen after all biblical prophecies have been fulfilled. The Day of God is not an isolated event but part of a chain of events (cf. Matt 13:49; 17:10-11; 24:14, 29; 2Th 2:3; Rev 20:4-5). To grant God's people the power to delay one part would of necessity affect the whole of what God revealed to Israel's prophets and the apostles. Peter's desire is that disciples will be eager to see their Lord and not dread that Day (cf. Rev 22:20).
Peter then repeats the prophecy of verse 10 in a more emphatic manner. The verb "melted" (Grk. tēkō) means basically to make into a liquid and can easily allude to flowing magma. By understanding the alternate meanings of the Greek words then it is reasonable to assume that Peter's description of the Day of the Lord coincides with the vision given to John of the desolation that God brings on the earth in the seventh bowl of wrath, using the tectonic and volcanic forces of the earth to destroy and then to reshape its land surface into a plain as alluded to in Revelation 20:9. The earth as we know it will come to an end by fire at the Second Coming of Yeshua, just as the earth as Noah knew it for most of his life came to an end by means of water.
Verse 13: Peter than reminds his readers of God's promise of new heavens and a new earth (Isa 65:17; 66:22). Yet, in Revelation the new heaven and new earth appear a thousand years after the Second Coming of Yeshua. Finally, Peter does not associate the expectation of new heavens and a new earth with the Day of the Lord, so the separation of these events in Revelation by a thousand years is consistent with Peter's teaching.
Revelation 7:9-10, 13-14
"After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. ... And one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come? And I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
When John the apostle was taken to heaven he was made privy to future history contained in a scroll with seven seals. While there he witnessed a mighty multitude, which he said could not be counted, at least by him. Besides the vast numbers John noted that the people came from every nation and people-group on the face of the earth. John, of course, was confused since the numbers of disciples at the time could not have possibly equaled the number he saw. He asked his angelic guide to explain. For some strange reason many commentators are reluctant to take the angel's answer literally. The great multitude is just a symbolic representation of the Church gathered before God at the end of the age. When dealing with Revelation it is better to restrict symbolic representation to those instances in which such an explanation is actually provided by Yeshua or the angelic guide.
The angel reports simply that this great multitude came out of the great tribulation. Of interest is that the verb "come" is actually present tense, indicating an ongoing arrival. The fact that the members of this group come out of the great tribulation means they are either martyrs or they died as a result of the general suffering caused by the great enemy of God, the Lawless One or Anti-Messiah. The numbers buried in mass graves around the world will be so many that no government official will be able to keep accurate records of the total. So, the millions standing before the throne are not the accumulation of people who have died in all of history, but those who have died during that specific period of time.
The terminology of a great tribulation occurs only a few times in Scripture, and all refer to an event of historic proportions. The Hebrew prophets are unanimous in asserting that at the end of the present age there will occur a terrible time of affliction. The prophets spoke of a great time of distress after Israel was restored to its own land ("Jacob's Distress," Jer 30:7). A hostile persecutor will rise up to subdue the whole world and seek to destroy the people of God and all who oppose him (Dan 7:23-25; 12:1, 7-12; cf. Zech 14:2; Rev 11:2; 12:13-17; 13:1-18; 16:13-16; 19:19). Daniel described the time affliction as "such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time" (Dan 12:1). Yeshua echoed Daniel's prophecy in the Olivet Discourse and pointed to a tribulation of the elect, "such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will" (Matt 24:21). When the angel identified the origin of the multitude he would not have used a different definition of "great tribulation" than Yeshua had already established. There is only one "great tribulation" connected with the time of the Anti-Messiah.
When Daniel was told by divine messenger about the "time of distress" (Dan 12:1) that would come upon his people after the abomination of desolation, he naturally wanted to know how long it would last. In sworn testimony the angel stated his answer twice and in two forms, thus confirming its divine decree: "that it would be for a time, times, and half a time" (Dan 12:7) and "from the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days" (Dan 12:11). Therefore, the great tribulation lasts about 3½ years (cf. Rev 13:5). However, those days will be "cut short" (Matt 24:22), so no one can be certain how long the great tribulation will actually last. Of importance is that no biblical text clocks the great tribulation at seven years as commonly supposed.
See my complete verse-by-verse commentary on Revelation 7.
I hope this brief analysis of some of the key issues and Scripture passages related to the Rapture debate illustrates that cogent arguments can be made to support the posttribulation viewpoint. Many Christians believe that posttribulationists cannot be any more certain of their position than the pretribulationists and that all interpretations have merit. This laissez faire attitude generally stems from a lack of any serious study of eschatological passages. When I was a youth I accepted pretribulationism, because that was what I was taught. When I studied the Word for myself, I discovered the truth. Scripture is not neutral and presents unequivocal statements about the resurrection and the Second Coming of Yeshua. Only one interpretation can be correct and pretribulationism is definitely not it.
Consideration needs to be given to the nature of God who does not change (Mal 3:6; Heb 13:8). God did not rapture Noah and his family to heaven in the midst of wrath. When the nation of Israel was overwhelmed by the Babylonians the innocent were not rescued, but taken into captivity. The three Hebrew men were not rescued out of the fire, but preserved in the fire. In his high priestly prayer Yeshua prayed to the Father, "I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15). Paul instructed Timothy to expect tribulation and persecution (2Tim 3:12). And since then millions of martyrs have been welcomed into Paradise. Now all of a sudden God's way of dealing with His people is going to change?
Those who hold to the secret rapture should carefully evaluate how they would feel and respond to the reality of suffering the great tribulation. Posttribulationists and pre-wrath advocates would be ecstatic if the Rapture occurred as predicted by the pretribulationists. The same probably couldn't be said of many pretribulationists who have made a strong spiritual investment in a secret rapture. Some pretribulationists might actually abandon the faith, having assumed it to be a key article in their total belief system. Since pretribulationism isn't true, then what about the rest of Christian doctrine, even the good news itself. And, if there are those, weak in faith, that do fall away because of having to face the wrath of the Anti-Messiah, then what accountability would the teachers of pretribulationism bear before the judgment bar of God? I shudder to think.
But, accepting the posttribulation view need not disturb anyone's faith or joy, because when the evil day comes the disciple of Yeshua can stand firm with the armor of God (Eph 6:13) and the assurance of the Lord's comforting presence until the end of the age (Matt 28:20). Hallelujah!
Brickner: David Brickner, Future Hope. Purple Pomegranate Productions, 1999.
DSB: Henry Morris, Defenders Study Bible. World Publishing Co., 1995.
Gregg: Steve Gregg, ed., Revelation, Four Views: A Parallel Commentary. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997.
Gundry: Bob Gundry, First the Antichrist. Baker Books, 1997.
Marshall: Alfred Marshall, NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Zondervan Pub. House, 1986.
Metz: Donald S. Metz, Revelation. Wesleyan Heritage Press, 1999.
Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. 2 Vols. The Zondervan Corporation, 1980.
Rosenthal: Marvin Rosenthal, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990.
Scofield: Scofield's Reference Notes on the King James Bible (1917 edition).
© 2011-2018 Richard Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.