The Argument for a Pre-Tribulation Rapture

by Barry and Helen Setterfield
October, 2017

Note: although we have responded to other questions about the Rapture in years past, as the time draws closer, the discussions are getting very heated about whether or not there is such a thing as a Rapture in the Bible and, if so, when it will occur. So in response to a number of email questions, we present the following:

1 Corinthians 15:51-54 -- Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall 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 incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."

1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 -- For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who sleep in Jesus. 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 by no means precede those who are asleep. 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 will 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

In order to understand something often referred to as the Rapture, or the sudden gathering of the church away from the earth to be with Jesus in heaven, it is necessary to look at a general timeline as the Bible presents it.  This time now is considered the church age. What will follow on earth is called the Tribulation, a seven year period when evil reigns and during which God’s anger is poured out on the world.  This closes with a massive battle (the Battle of Armageddon) in which Christ personally appears to fight His enemies – whom He defeats.  This ushers in the Millennium, as described in Revelation, which is a thousand years in which Christ reigns upon the earth, with Jerusalem as His capital.  One final rebellion closes this time, after which the heaven and earth of this creation are utterly destroyed and a new heaven and new earth are created.  There is no sin in this new creation, and the Bible tells us the dwelling of God will be with man.

A quick look at the Tribulation:  It begins with the ratification, or signing, of a seven-year Covenant between the Antichrist (the false Messiah) and “the many” (the parliamentary majority in Israel - Daniel 9:27). This Covenant allows the Jews to rebuild their Temple. However, after three and a half years, Antichrist causes the sacrifices to cease and sets himself up in the Temple to be worshipped as God (Daniel 9:27 and 2 Thessalonians 2:4). Daniel calls this event the Abomination of Desolation (Daniel 8:13; 9:27; 11:31). Around 33 AD, Yeshua (Jesus the Messiah) said that this event was still future (Matthew 24:15) and so it is not a reference to the Temple desecration of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes).  The seven years of Tribulation is marked by natural and supernatural disasters.

There are four main views concerning something called the Rapture, or the sudden gathering of all true believers out of this world to be with Christ.

  1.  There is no such thing.
  2. It will happen immediately prior to the Tribulation
  3. It will happen about the middle of the Tribulation
  4. It will not happen until the end of the Tribulation

Our position in this paper is that it is not only a real event that will take place, but that it must happen prior to the Tribulation.  The following reasons are why.

Jesus Words
Relevant Parables and Teachings
The Apostles’  Comments

Jesus Words:

1. -- In Luke 21:35-36, Jesus says that the Tribulation will come as a snare upon the whole earth. He then concludes by saying “Watch therefore and pray always that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things which will come to pass and stand before the Son of Man.”  He urges us to be worthy to escape all these things, meaning the Tribulation, not to have the strength to go through them.  The implication is that the Rapture takes the Church out before the Tribulation.

2. -- In Matthew 24:36-51, Jesus treats the Rapture as a separate subject to the general discussion of end-times.  Jesus reiterates that no-one knows the day or hour of that event, only the Father (v.36).  Verses 42 & 44 say that Jesus is coming for the Rapture when no-one expects Him. If the Rapture is mid-Trib or post-Trib, the actual date of Jesus coming will be fixed by the date of the signing of the 7 year Covenant according to the times given in Daniel and Revelation. So once that signing takes place, the day would be known, contrary to Jesus statement.

3. -- In that Matthew 24 passage, Jesus further states that the same old social round will be going on with business as usual when the Rapture happens. He likens it to what happened with Noah and the Flood in verses 38 &39 – everything was going on unchanged when it happened. However the Tribulation years are a time of incredible upheaval and disaster.  So this is another indication that the Rapture of the Church must take place before that time of turmoil and chaos.

4. -- In Revelation 3:10, Jesus has a specific message to the group of faithful believers. “Because you have kept my commands…I will keep you from the hour of trial which will come upon the whole world to try those that dwell on the earth.” That “hour of trial” is a synonym for the Tribulation. Jesus promised to keep His faithful ones “from the hour”. In Greek it is EX tes horas (FROM the hour), not EN tes horas (IN the hour). There is a distinct difference between the two words, EX meaning “out away from the hour” and EN or being “kept in the hour”.  In the Old Testament, Lot and his daughters were kept FROM the hour of judgement, while Noah and his family were kept IN the hour. All this suggests the Rapture occurs before the Tribulation and the Church is kept out from the time of judgement.

5. -- In the book of Revelation, Jesus addresses the Church in chapters 1-3.   The Church is not mentioned again until 19:7-9. Everything in between involves the Tribulation and all those who come to the Lord from around the earth at that time. It is important not to confuse the Church with the Tribulation saints. They are three different classes of people and the Lord has a different program for each. Remember the Church is a distinct entity in God’s program, separate from Israel.

Relevant Parables and Teachings

1. -- Several times in the New Testament, references are made by Jesus to a harvest.  Paul also makes references to this picture.  That gives us an interesting timeline.  The first fruits are exactly that – the earliest part of the harvest before the main harvest is ready.  Not everything ripens at the same time.  Then, a bit later, comes the main part of the harvest.  Since not everything ripens at the same time, there are those parts left for the poor or which simply ripened a bit later.  These are the gleanings.

We know Christ Himself is the firstfruits (1 Corinthians 15:20).  Included with him are the ‘train of captives,’ or those he took from Paradise to be with Him in heaven (Ephesians 4:8).  Interestingly, Jeremiah 2:3 lists Israel as the firstfruits of the harvest of the Lord.  So, it might be argued that Jesus, leading the Old Testament believers from Paradise to heaven at His ascension constitutes the firstfruits.  Then, when the Jewish leaders rejected Christ, as did most Jews, the church age began.  This harvest has been ongoing, as indicated in passages such as Matthew 9:37-38, 21:34, and other places. 

What about the ‘gleanings’?  The seventieth week of Daniel, the Tribulation, would certainly qualify.  Those who come to Christ late.  But, if these are the gleanings, then that means the main harvest is finished, and that again indicates a pre-Tribulation rapture.

The question about the tares being harvested before the wheat comes up is often raised, but if you look at it in context, it is applying to the Millennium when Christ rules on earth.  The parable can be found in Matthew 13:24-30.  The servants ask the owner of the field if they should pull up the tares.  The owner says no.  There is no time now when we are told to root out evildoers.  Instead we are warned that they will proliferate and everything will get worse.  But in the Millennium there will be those saints who rule with Christ and therefore they would have the capability of destroying the evil people.  But they are told not to. At the end of the Millennium there is one final battle when the evil people join forces with the unchained demons and are finally and forever defeated by Christ.  This is when the tares are finally uprooted and burned.  The field then is harvested for the final crop.  At that point the field is made new:  ploughed up for the next year’s crop – or, in the case of biblical history, for the new heaven and the new earth.  Jesus explains all this a few verses later in Matthew 13:37-43.  The lovely thing about the new creation is that there will be no more rebellion; no more sin.

2. -- Another picture that is relevant is that of the Jewish marriage tradition.  First the engagement, far from being what it is in the modern Western culture, is a legally binding agreement between two families.  The groom gives the bride an engagement gift, or a Gift of Promise.  He then leaves to prepare a place for her, while she prepares herself for him.  At a ‘secret’ time, he appears to claim his bride, the wedding ceremony takes place, and then he takes her with him to the place he has prepared for her.  They then spend seven days quietly together, consummating the marriage.  It is only after that seven day period the marriage feast, which could last up to a week, commenced.  We checked a number of videos about the ancient customs in Israel and the best we could find was presented by a young lady regarding the betrothal process itself.  We encourage you to watch this, as there will be some references to it as we go.

During the marriage feast, the bride is seated with the groom at a place of honor.  Revelation 3:21 may be a reference to this

But we can go a little further. I know of no prospective husband who, after the engagement ceremony says to his prospective wife, “Oh, by the way, just before the Wedding, I am going to punish you and all your family and friends severely because of all the bad things you have done in the past. But be of good cheer; look forward to the Wedding!” The Tribulation occurs because of the reason given in Isaiah 13:10-11 “The stars of heaven will not give their light…and I will punish the world for its evil.” 

We read in 2 Peter that God is not willing that one should perish.  On the cross, Jesus paid the bride-price for everyone who has ever lived.  All sins from all time were atoned for.  That is not the same as forgiveness, which is a personal thing.  It was, instead the legal payment for sin, to buy back, or redeem, the Bride.  As the video linked above mentions at the end, the chosen woman has the option at any time up until the actual wedding ceremony, to back out.  She can refuse to answer the door in the beginning; she can refuse any of the sips of wine; she can refuse to light her lamp when the groom is due (these may possibly be pictured in the parable of the sower of seeds and what happens to the various seeds). 

But the woman who accepts the Groom is now forgiven by him for any past misdeeds.  That personal forgiveness is available to all who accept Jesus Christ.  And it is this forgiveness which is a guarantee that the Bride – the body of true believers – will be taken out of the world before God’s wrath is poured out on it in the Tribulation. 

So would the Rapture be possible at mid-tribulation?  Not if the picture of the Jewish ceremony is correct.  The bride and groom have seven days together before the feast.  Those seven days would be the seven years of the Tribulation for the world, when Jesus is with His bride and not in the world. Thus the concept of the Rapture occurring in either the middle or end of the Tribulation does violence to the character of God and Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.

3. -- The Old Testament calls the Tribulation “the Day of the Lord,” “the Wrath of God,”” the Indignation,” and specifically “The time of Jacob’s trouble”. This is the time when God takes up His dealings with the Jewish nation once again after the interlude of the Church in His program.  This is Daniel’s seventieth week. This is necessary since the leaders of Israel committed the offense of delivering Messiah for Crucifixion. Then, after having had their error pointed out to them around the Roman Empire (as in the book of Acts) they generally continued to reject Yeshua as their Messiah. This was outlined in Hosea 5:15 where the Lord says “I will go and return to My place (Messiah’s ascension to Heaven) until they (the Jews) acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face, for in their Affliction (the Tribulation) they will seek Me earnestly.” God has to get them to acknowledge their offense and for 2000 years they have not done so as a nation. So the Tribulation is specifically the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, not the time of the Church’s (or Ecclesia’s) trouble. But for those people around the world who acknowledge Messiah, which group the OT calls “the meek of the earth,” there is the promise that they will be hidden (in Heaven) during the Tribulation. Zephaniah 2:1-3 says that, after the regathering of Israel, and before the Tribulation comes “Seek the Lord all you meek of the earth (that is not only Jews, but the Gentiles around the world). It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s wrath.”

4. -- The story of Lot in the Old Testament presents us with another picture.  First, there is the view that the Church will go through the Tribulation or the first half of it. But Revelation tells us that by mid-Tribulation most, or all, Christians have been killed by the antichrist. This is emphasized by Christ himself in Luke 18:8 when he effectively states that when He comes to rule at the close of the Tribulation, he will not find “the Faith” on the earth. Essentially no believers are left at that stage – all have been destroyed. It is therefore legitimate to ask if the Lord has destroyed the righteous with the wicked. This comes down to an issue of God’s character, which is something Abraham recognized. In Genesis 18, when the Lord revealed that He was about to destroy Sodom for its wickedness, Abraham stood before Him and asked this same question: “Would you destroy the righteous with the wicked? … Far be it from you to do such a thing!” (Genesis 18:23, 25). Abraham knew God’s character well enough to know this was not like Him. We know the outcome; Lot and his daughters were saved away from the inferno – they were taken out before the judgement was poured out. Indeed, this was the very example that Messiah used in speaking of the Rapture in Luke 17:28-36 and in so doing emphasized that there was life going on as usual when the Rapture event was to occur. Life will not be normal during the Tribulation, neither is its God’s character to punish the righteous with the wicked when it is His specific judgement involved. Therefore, this Old Testament example strongly suggests that the Rapture occurs before the Tribulation, but that the Tribulation does start either immediately or very soon after the Rapture.

The Apostles’ Comments

1. -- The Apostles appear to have held to the doctrine of the Immanence of Christ’s coming, the Rapture, even in their own time, and this is reflected in their teachings. The Apostle Paul mentions this in Titus 2:13 where he told us to be continually “looking for the Blessed Hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” If the Antichrist and the Tribulation were to come first, such an exhortation would be not only unnecessary and spurious, but also misleading. There would be no Hope in His Coming, but rather a dread looking for the Tribulation. In contrast to that black backdrop, Jesus said to lift up your heads as you see world events moving in that direction, while the book of Hebrews says to rejoice as you see the day approaching (Luke 21:28; Hebrews 10:25). You cannot rejoice in the prospect of heading into disaster, death and devastation. So, Jesus’ words, and those of the writer to the Hebrews, imply that the Rapture comes first.

2. -- However, Paul explains further in his letters. In 1 Thessalonians 1:10, Paul reaffirms that we are “to wait for God’s Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the Wrath to come [the Tribulation].” Paul is using the specific Old Testament designation of God’s wrath or indignation as the Tribulation period. This can be seen in a number of prophets, Isaiah 13:9, 13; 60:10; Jeremiah 10:10; Ezekiel 7:19; 22:31 Zephaniah 1:15, 18; 2:3 and so on as well as in several Psalms. It is a specific period when God pours out His judgement on the whole earth; it is not just a general displeasure with sinners. In Genesis 15, God tells Abraham that his family may not yet inherit the land to be given them “because the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached full measure.”  At the time of Sodom, if even ten righteous men were in the town, it would not be destroyed.  So, in line with God’s character, we may know that at the time of the Tribulation, all that are left on earth will be fully steeped in evil and delusion of their own choosing.  In that special period, iniquity has come to a full throughout the whole earth and God pours out His wrath in judgement against it.

Paul reiterates this message in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 where he specifically states “For God has not appointed us to the wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That word “salvation” is not just today’s commonly used euphemism “I’m saved”, but rather it is referring to the salvation of our physical bodies at the Rapture as Paul was talking about this event in the preceding verses. In the same way, “the wrath” is not just a general term for God’s displeasure at sinners, but a specific event designated as such in the Old Testament.

3. -- In addition, 1 Thessalonians 5:2 reiterates the fact that things will be going on as normal and everyone will be discussing “peace and safety” or “peace and security”. This is the situation today with every pronouncement from the Middle East emphasizing that all the political maneuvering is to bring in this “peace and security”. Paul says that “When they say ‘peace and safety’ then sudden destruction [the Tribulation] comes upon them as labor pains with a pregnant woman. And they (the world) will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness that that day will overtake you like a thief…but let us who are of the day be sober … and put on as a helmet the hope of [the ultimate] salvation. For God has not appointed us to the wrath but to obtain salvation….” Here, then is the difference between us (salvation of our bodies at the Rapture) and them (the judgement of the Tribulation).

4. -- In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 Paul makes a surprising comment. He says: “it is a righteous thing with God to repay with Tribulation those who trouble you, and give you who are troubled, rest, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven … taking vengeance on those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So, the import of this passage is that the Tribulation is not for the harassed believers, who will be given rest, but rather for the unbelievers who deny and ignore God. This is in full accord with Abraham’s comment that God will not destroy the righteous with the wicked; it is not in His character. Rather the righteous will be given rest in Heaven as a reward, while the unbelievers will have the judgement of the Tribulation on earth.

5. -- The second chapter of 2 Thessalonians is recognized by most Christians as a key section regarding the timing of the end events.  Verse 1 is extremely important: “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him…”      This is clearly a reference to the Rapture.  The verses which follow must be viewed in that lightThe very next thing Paul says, before the first sentence is even completed, is to reassure the Thessalonian Church that this event has not yet occurred, despite some kind of false letter they evidently received indicating they had been left behind.  Paul says “the day of the Lord”  has not yet come.  The “Day of the Lord” was a specific designation of the Tribulation as, for example, in Zechariah 14:1 and Malachi 4:5.  So the problem these Christians had was that someone had told them they were already in the Tribulation. Since Nero had ascended the throne in Rome, that possibility certainly loomed as real for them. 

Paul writes to counteract that error. He says “let no one deceive you by any means for that Day will not come unless the ‘apostasia’ comes first”. So the Tribulation cannot come until the apostasia happened, and it was apparent to all Paul’s readers that this had not occurred, whatever the ‘apostasia’ was. It is interesting that the definite article “the” is in front of apostasia so it is something quite specific, a unique event.

It is that word, “apostosia” which causes some problems.  Today in our modern English we use the word “apostacy” to describe a religious departure from the faith. Our word apostacy is a late derivative of that same Greek word, and so it has become fashionable to translate it as “the apostacy” or “the departure from the faith” or “the religious departure.” First of all, there have been many departures from the faith historically.  We can see this in any number of sects and cults.  Second, the translation which indicates a departure from the faith came about as a result of the Reformation doctrine which saw the Pope as the Antichrist and the Roman Catholic Church as having departed from the true faith. The Reformers and those who produced the King James Version therefore favored “the apostacy” as it hinted at their problems with Rome and the language was now making it a possible translation.

 Interestingly, the 7 English translations before the KJV did not use the word “apostacy” or its equivalent of “falling away.” They simply used the word “Departure”, because that is what the root word actually means in Greek – physically going away. In the Greek language there is a root word from which the noun apostasia is derived and from which the verb aphistemi is also derived.  All told this root is used 15 times in the New Testament. In most cases it is the verb which has been used and is almost always translated as “departure,” since it really does mean a physical departure as in Luke 2:37 and 4:13. It is only the noun form which has been translated on two occasions as “falling away” or a religious departure due to the influence of the Reformers. The conclusion is that a strict rather than colloquial translation would read as follows: “Let no one deceive you by any means for that Day (the Tribulation) will not come unless THE DEPARTURE comes first.” In the context of verse 1 of our gathering together to Christ, “The Departure” must be referring to the Rapture, and that must happen before the Tribulation. So, when rightly understood, this passage positively affirms a pre-Trib Rapture.

6. -- That passage has another gem, namely 2 Thessalonians 2:6 – 8. Here, Paul states that “the mystery of iniquity or lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will continue to do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed.” The pronoun used is “he” not “she” so it cannot be the Church, the bride of Christ as some claim. However, there is one Individual who has been restraining evil from coming to full fruition over the last 2000 years, and that is the Holy Spirit. Paul is saying here that, when the Holy Spirit is removed, the Antichrist will be revealed (by signing, or confirming, the 7-year Covenant). The Holy Spirit came in a special way at Pentecost to start the Church age. When He leaves, the Church age ends.  So what becomes of us?  Jesus said He would not leave us as orphans, without the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18).  Therefore when He is taken out, we also will leave.  This again indicates the Rapture will be before the Tribulation starts.

One final note: There are always those seeking to capitalize on religion. For this reason, there are some who find it useful to hold to a mid-Trib or post-Trib position simply so they can sell a lot of survival material and use world events and prophecy to generate increasing interest in obtaining this material. We have seen websites geared to this market. Having trusted in Christ to protect, guide and provide in every circumstance for many years, we strongly reject that emphasis which seeks to prey upon believers for financial gain.