Mark of the
The Pre-Tribulation Rapture
We wrestle not against flesh and blood. Therefore any comprehensive position on Christian "RESISTANCE" to spiritual tyranny, evil, and wickedness, past, present, and future must include that culminating summit of spiritual and cultural warfare manifested in the Kingdom of the Beast. However, before all the implications of the "mark of the beast" can be studied, an even more basic issue must be dealt with. That is, will the Christians have to contend with the Beast of AntiChrist? Will they be confronted with the actual "mark of the beast"? Are the biblical warnings to be heeded, or is all this merely an interesting and intellectual exercise in academic hair-splitting on an issue that really does not pertain to the Church of Jesus Christ? It is to the resolution of those important questions that this issue of the Pilgrim is directed.
The biblical teachings concerning the future have been reduced to a set of terms that must be scripturally defined and placed in chronological order. A brief overview of these terms is necessary so that we can understand the tremendous issues now facing the Lord's people. First, the Bible prophesies that at the end of the age there will be a "GREAT APOSTASY" (Matt. 24:12; I I Thess. 2:3), an apostasy characterized today not only by the "gay church" and the liberal churches heavily penetrated by Marxism but also by the so-called fundamental churches that have forsaken the historic Christian faith of the Great Protestant Reformation! This apostasy will then produce a worid politic- leader known as "The ANTI-CHRIST" (Matt. 24:15; I I Thess. 2:3-4), who will usher in a period of severe persecution of the church known as "THE GREAT TRIBULATION" (Matt. 24:21, Rev. 13:7). The Bible also speaks clearly of the second coming of Jesus Christ to inaugurate the MILLENNIUM, a thousand-year period of Christ's earthly reign (Rev. 19 and 20). The scriptures also teach that there shall be a RAPTURE (Matt. 24: 31, 40-41, I Thess. 4:15-17), that those saints that survive to the second coming of Jesus Christ shall not see death but shall be directly caught up in the air to be with the Lord. All of this may seem simple, straight-forward and clear enough, for the biblical testimony is sure: God is not the author of confusion but Satan is, and over the past century false teachers in the church have so muddled these issues that the truth has been obscured by mountains of sheer fabrication and vast veils of utter deception. However, the issue before us is one of TIMING! The timing of Christ's return, and more particularly the TIMING OF THE RAPTURE, is the key point at stake.
The timing of the rapture is crucial in any system of eschatology. Is it before or after the GREAT TRIBULATION? That is the real issue and obviously of genuine practical significance. It decides whether Christians will have to face the beast of Antichrist and contend with his mark. It determines whether the church will have to militantly oppose him and his image as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego defied Nebuchadnezzar and his image. It determines whether the Lord's people will need the same faith as Daniel and his three friends that saw them through the trials of the fiery furnace and the lion's den. It decrees whether the church must prepare for battle and warfare or for a "honeymoon." If the pre-tribulationist view is wrong, here are just three important issues inherent in such a heresy.
Faith is the victory, and without faith it is impossible to please God. Indeed the just shall live by faith. If ever the Lord's people shall have to be girded and sustained by faith, it will be through that darkest hour of church history, the GREAT TRIBULATION. If ever they shall need to walk by faith, it will be when they will undergo the martyring persecution of that day. However, if they have trusted in the delusion of a pre-tribulation rapture, then where will their faith be? It will be utterly shattered. After all, all the churches and pastors, all the Sunday School teachers and commentaries all taught them that the would be raptured e'er this hour ever came to pass. Indeed their very faith in the scriptures from which they were taught such a view will be shaken. If the Lord's people in that hour have their faith shattered and are racked by doubt and confusion, just how much opposition will they exercise in resisting the kingdom of the beast? The sad truth will be that at that moment in history when they will be called on to be the strongest, they will actually be at their weakest.
The timing of the rapture is also a major factor in the attitude of the church. The difference will I be as night and day. Christians, if practical, will not likely overly concern themselves with things that they will have neither to face nor deal with. Paul, while in Nero's prison cell, could declare, "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. l have fought a good fight, l have finished my course, l have kept the faith." Paul, faced with the practical realities of an anti-Christ such as Nero, was eminently prepared to endure to the end and keep the faith. Had Paul thought that the Bible promised exemption from martyrdom, his attitude could have ranged from an unrealistic assurance of imminent deliverance to the despondency of a shipwrecked hope. The complacency inherent in such a crutch as the pre-tribulationist view of the rapture could remove the church far from the attitude of militant martyrdom that characterized the last days of the Apostle. Such a view could leave the church weak, unprepared and neutralized. This is escapism, and such a church will think in terms of escaping rather than facing the problem. Like the Laodicean Church they will be poor, wretched, blind, and naked in the face of the greatest onslaught of anti-Christianity that history will ever record.
Those who hold to the pre-tribulationist view believe that Christ will come for his saints before the appearance of AntiChrist. Those who believe the post-tribulationist viewpoint believe that Christ will come after the tribulation and thus after his church has faced the Anti-Christ. Again, the difference is absolute. Which Christ is next??? It is a question of paramount importance, and confusion on this point could be disastrous. Is the next Christ to appear in history the genuine or the counterfeit one? Is the next Christ to be believed or rejected? Christians must know and be forewarned and prepared. The scriptures speak of Anti-Christ as coming with "all power and signs and lying wonders. " Like Peter, he will verily walk on water, and his deceptive miracles and marvellous signs will mesmerize and convince an entire generation that he is very god. To a shallow and worldly church, already removed from the foundations of scriptures, penetrated with false teachers, reeking with Marxism,the theology of Anti-Christ, and PROGRAMMED TO ACCEPT THE NEXT CHRIST AS GENUINE, the deception will be complete. As the true Christ himself warned, "If it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. "
The origins of the pre-tribulationist viewpoint can be traced back to the origins of dispensationalism. What is the connection? Dispensationalism is a school of theology that chops the Bible up into seven dispensations. In each, God revealed himself in a different manner and salvation was by a different set of rules. The dispensations are not related but there is each time a radical and complete break, a total discontinuity, and a completely new beginning. In this view the church age is held to be an accident of history. When Christ was rejected of the Jews, we are told, he changed his plans for a Jewish Messianic Kingdom and established the Church instead as a temporary substitute. Thus in a future age the church will have to be done away with to pave the way for a new dispensation. In that dispensation Christ will fulfill all the Old Testament promises to a restored Israel with a rebuilt Temple and a complete restoration of the Mosaic economy. However, such a view is a far cry from the historic Christian faith. Hebrews teaches that Christ completely fulfilled all the Mosaic types and that the Levitical priesthood and all the ceremonial law are forever abolished. Galatians (especially 3:29) teaches that the church, the elect, are the spiritual seed of Abraham and heirs of all the promises. However, such a view NECESSITATES a total removal of the church at the end of the dispensation. Such a view REQUIRES something in the order of a pre-tribulationist rapture to remove the church so God can again deal dispensationally with Israel before the end of history. In his excellent book, The Church And The Tribulation, in which he defends the post-tribulationist view of the rapture, Robert H. Gundry declares in the chapter, "Historical Confirmation" that "until Augustine in the fourth century, the early church generally held to the premillenarian understanding of Biblical eschatology…And it was posttribulational…the possibility of a pretribulational rapture seems never to have occurred to anyone in the early church" (p. 173).
Gundry then goes on to quote such early works as the Epistle of Barnabas, The Pastor of Hermas, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, and The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, as well as such early and renowned church fathers as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Cypr tan, and Clement of Rome, ALL IN FAVOR OF THE POST-TRIBULATIONIST VIEW OF THE RAPTURE! Gundry adds, "The only significant eschatological matter of which the early fathers were incognizant appears to be a pretribulational rapture!" Similarly, Dr. Boettner states, "Historic Premillennialism holds that there is to be but one return of Christ, that is, but one 'second coming,' and that this occurs immediately before the establishment of the millennial Kingdom. It differs from Dispensationalism in that it holds that the Church is to go through the Tribulation…It holds that the return of Christ will be heralded by certain signs…This was standard premillennial doctrine until the rise of the Plymouth Brethren movement…under…Darby" (The Millennium, pp. 160-161).
If the early church fathers and the reformers of the great reformation knew nothing of a pre-tribulational rapture, then what is the origin of this view? Actually, it took over eighteen centuries of church history before the pre-tribulational view was ever heard of, and then it emerged in a rather remarkable manner. In his book, The Unbelievable Pre- Trib Origin, Dave MacPherson traces the view's origin to a "revealtion" uttered in the Spring of 1830 by a Margaret Macdonald, a sick woman of Port Glasgow, Scotland, given to visions and utterances of the Spirit and later to speaking in tongues, gifts of healing, and other charismatic manifestations. This may be the same woman that C. S. Lovett refers to when he says, "And suppose the woman who stood up in Edward Irving's church in London in 1831, claiming by special revelation that the church would be removed before the tribulation, was wrong. And that Irving was also wrong in spreading these teachings at Powers Courthouse in Ireland where he influenced J. N. Darby, a leading figure in forming the Plymouth Brethren movement, as well as C. H. McIntosh and others. We all know of their influence upon C. 1. Scofield. It was his Bible that popularized this Irvingite view of the imminent return of Christ. Until 140 years ago the bulk of God's people believed Jesus would remain at the right hand of God UNTI L His enemies became His footstool. It is practically impossible to find any teaching of a secret, any-moment, pre-tribulational rapture before that time" (Personal Christianity, April 1971 ).
Irving was cast out of the Church of Scotland as a heretic, and his subsequent ministry was characterized by wild and disorderly services with rampant tongues speaking, wild tales of miraculous healings and miracles, public revelations and visions, and so forth. It was in such a cauldron of heresy and such a crucible of disorderly excesses that this view had its genesis.
The new view was not, however, without opposition and nearly caused a split in the Plymouth Brethren movement. "There was plainly a problem in this interpretation, and it was around this problem that the differences between Darby and Newton crystallized. If the Church were to be removed before the persecutions of AntiChrist started, who then would be the faithful ones who would suffer at his hands? Newton's objection was a forcible one: if they were not of the Church, it was necessary to postulate another people of God, apart from the Church. Since by his definition, the Church included all who were redeemed by Christ, this remnant must therefore be the fruits of a redemptive act of God other than the redemption through Christ. Thus, in Newton's view, the idea struck at the very heart of the orthodox doctrine of salvation, and was perilously near to postulating another gospel and incurring the condemnation pronounced in Paul's letter to the Galatians" (The Incredible PreTrib Origin, p. 31).
Neither is most of the above being contested, and even such leading pre-tribulationists as Walvoord and Hal Lindsey date the origin of their view at that time and trace it as Gundry does through Scofield back to Darby and Irivng. Thus the pre-tribulationists have little to appeal to from history, and neither can they appeal any longer to an apparently solid phalanx of evangelical scholarship with such opposition as Gundry, MacPherson, and Lovett, and with Oswald Smith declaring, "Now after years of study and prayer, I am absolutely convinced there will be no rapture before the tribulation, but that the church will be called upon to face the anti-christ, and the Christ will come at the close of that awful period and not at the beginning." Thus the only appeal that is left to them is the final court of appeal, the infallible scriptures. What do the scriptures teach?
Both sides claim to honor scripture, but are such claims honest? When confronted with a Matthew 24 or all of the book of Revelation after chapter 3, the dispensationalist relegates it to another dispensation, conveniently evading the direct thrust of such scriptures. Similarly, the pre-tribulationists speak of two second comings or at least of two phases of the second coming, before and after the tribulation. Thus, although there is no scripture to sustain such violence to the testimony of the Lord's return, it evades all the irrefutable biblical testimony of the post-tribulational return of Christ by passing those scriptures off as referring to the second phase. Even so it leaves them with the burden of proof for justifying such a two-phase return with a pre-tribulational advent. The pre-tribulationists also like to quote rapture scriptures, as if that proved their point, which is dishonest, as it certainly does not! No one is denying the rapture but only challenging their TIMING of it.
A SECRET RAPTURE?
The pre-tribulationists postulate a SECRET RAPTURE, when all the Christians will be suddenly, silently, and simultaneously whisked away in a special airlift at the pre-tribulational return of Jesus Christ. However, is such a "secretive" return of Christ really scriptural? In I Thessalonians 4:16, where Paul is actually speaking of the rapture, he describes Christ's advent as characterized "with a SHOUT, with the VOICE OF THE ARCHANGEL, and with the TRUMP OF GOD,- hardly a secret affair. In I I Thessalonians 1:7-8 the apostle again refers to the second coming. He is speaking to the troubled saints of Thessalonica concerning he next return of Jesus Christ which would effect them. He declares that Christ "shall be REVEALED (nothidden or secret) from heaven with his mighty angels, IN FLAMING FIRE TAKING VENGEANCE on them that know not God." Again, it hardly will be a private affair. The Apostle John, speaking to the churches, testifies of Christ's return, "Behold, he cometh with clouds; AND EVERY EYE SHAL L SEE HIM, and they also which pierced him: and ALL KINDREDS OF THE EARTH" (Rev. 1:7). From the testimony of Zechariah 14 to that of Revelation 6 every description of Christ's return is in terms of mighty signs in the heavens and great and cataclysmic events on earth. There is no secret return of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The imminency of Christ's return is an integral part of the pre-tribulationist viewpoint. In fact, they argue that imminency demands a pre-tribulational return where as a post-tribulational advent could be predicted and possibly timed from tribulation events. Which view is scriptural? Does the Bible teach imminency? Paul dealt with this issue in the Thessalonian Church. When they were troubled concerning the imminency of the Lord's
return, Paul exhorts them, "Let no roan deceive you by any means: FOR THAT DAY SHALL NOT COME, except there comea falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son ofperdition." Paul did not teach imminency but rather that certain events must take place first and significantly including THE APPEARANCE OF ANTI-CHRIST!!! Similarly, when Christ taught his apostles concerning the events surrounding his return, he declared, "Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors." Christ instructed his disciples to WATCH FOR THE SIGNS of his return and to BE PREPARED. Christ and Paul, discarding imminency, declared, "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief."
There is no reason to ever deny the plain, direct and logical thrust of scripture. Twice the scriptures give us a direct, chronological, sequencial, blow-by-blow account of the events surrounding our Lord's return. These accounts are in scripture and were given to the church, and there is no reason to relegate them to other dispensations or to a mystical group of tribulation saints. The first account is in Matthew 24. The sequence is clearly as follows: (1) the apostasy (vv. 10-12); (2) The appearance of Anti-Christ (v. 15); (3) The Tribulation (v. 21); 4(4) The post-tribulational return of Christ (Immediately AFTER the tribulation of those days . . . v. 29); (5) The Rapture (vv. 31, 40-41).
The pre-tribulationists often speak of the rapture as the "marriage supper of the Lamb," that is, the marriage of Christ and his church. I n Revelation 13 we have the rise of Anti-Christ. There is nothing prior to that in the Revelation to support a pre-tribulational return. I n Revelation 19 we find, first, the marriage of the Lamb, second, the post-tribulational return of Jesus Christ, third, the battle of Armageddon, and fourth, the destruction of the Anti-Christ, all in close sequence. The scriptures are clear enough, but are our hearts willing enough to accept it?
The scriptures are not vague and the rapture can be explicitly placed in the right chronological position. In I Thessalonians 4:13-18 (see also I Cor. 15:51-53) Paul gives the teaching of the rapture. Paul combines this doctrine of the rapture with a word of comfort concerning loved ones who have died in the Lord. Thus he extends the hope of Christ's return to both the living who remain and the dead. However, he declares that those who 'are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (precede) them which are asleep… AND THE DEAD IN CHRIST SHALL RISE FIRST. "Clearly, Paul taught that the resurrection of the saints immediately precedes the rapture. However, in Revelation 20:4-5 we find the first resurrection, the resurrection of the just, and it is synonymous with the events surrounding the POST-TRIBULATIONAL RETURN of Jesus Christ. The first resurrection, the rapture, and the return of Jesus Christ are practically simultaneous and mark the END, not the beginning, of the GREAT TRIBULATION!!!
APPOINTED UNTO WRATH?
For lack of better scriptures some pre-tribulationists have anchored their argument in the comforting phrase of I Thessalonians 5:9, "For God hath not appointed us to wrath. " However, what does the text really mean, and can it really be construed to justify the church's absence during the tribulation? For instance, it could refer to deliverance from the wrath of God as manifested in hell, especially since the remainder of the verse contrasts that wrath with eternal salvation. However, the whole scope of this argument can be met with the issue, does Christ's love for his church demand total deliverance out of the tribulation or only deliverance through the tribulation? The vials of wrath of the Revelation may call to mind the plagues that God rained down upon Egypt. The biblical record is clear that God DID NOT RAPTURE the Israelites but rather marvellously preserved them in the midst of such judgments and exempted the land of Goshen from the plagues (Ex. 8:22-23). Similarly, Noah was not raptured at the time of the flood but rather miraculously preserved throughout the flood in the ark. Neither was Elijah raptured in a time of judgment and famine in Israel but rather was miraculously sustained in the midst of the famine both at the brook and at the widow of Zarephath. So can God preserve his saints during the tribulation even as Revelation 16:2 declares that the wrath will fall on those that have accepted the mark of the beast, like the plagues fell on the Egyptians. God's love for the church and his promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it do not necessitate a pre-tribulational rapture.
Speaking of the Anti-Christ conspiracy in II Thessalonians 2:7, Paul states, "For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth (i.e., hindereth or preventeth) will let (i.e., hinder or prevent), until he be taken out of the way." What is it that the Apostle is teaching will restrain the appearance of Anti-Christ in the culmination of the conspiracy? Some, in defense of the pre-tribulationist position, have maintained that this is the church which will be removed before the appearance of Anti-Christ. Others have postulated that this refers to the Holy Ghost and thus necessitates the pre-tribulationist rapture, as the Church without the Holy Spirit is inconceivable. However, in verse 6 it refers to "what withholdeth," the neuter gender, and verse 7 refers to "he," the masculine gender. Now the church is always referred to in the feminine gender as the bride of Christ, and never does the Bible refer to the Holy Spirit as an object in the neuter gender. Rather, the answer is the civil government, ordained of God and given the sword to maintain God's Mw and social order and to be a terror to evildoers. When the governments of this earth are all taken over by the Anti-Christ conspiracy, then there will no longer be any resistance to the appearance of Anti-Christ.
THE TRIBULATION SAINTS
What of those tribulation saints whom the Anti-Christ persecutes in Revelation 13, Revelation 7:14, Matthew 24:22, and Daniel 7:21? If the church is raptured, where do these come from? If faith cometh by hearing the word, how shall these be converted if their is no church to witness to the truth? If the road-block is either the church or the Holy Spirit, can we have Christians who are neither part of the church nor filled with the Holy Spirit? As Norton perceived, if there are (and no one denies it) tribulation saints, then the pre-tribulationist rapture becomes either a logical impossibility or it necessitates another gospel. The Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 is followed by the parable of the Ten Virgins. They represent a faithful and a faithless church awaiting the return of the bridegroom, Christ, and the marriage supper which is commonly identified with the rapture. Verse 10 declares that after Christ's coming and after those who were ready went to the marriage feast, THEN THE DOOR WAS SHUT!!! Christ's parables are not misleading, and the lesson clearly was that after his return it was too late and the time for salvation had forever passed away. If this door is shut at the pre-tribulational rapture, then tribulation saints are a scriptural impossibility. However, since tribulation saints undeniably will exist, then the pre-tribulational rapture BECOMES AN IMPOSSIBILITY!!!
ENDURE TO THE END
The escapism of the pre-tribulationists blunts the biblical exhortations concerning the end times and suggests that Christians need not personally heed these warnings. However, John, addressing the Revelation to the "seven churches," exhorts that blessed is he that KEEPS the words of this prophecy. In Revelation 2:10 Christ exhorts the church in Smyrna, "be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life, "and in verse 26, 'And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations. "Similarly, in Matthew 24:13 Christ warns that only "he that shall endure UNTO THE END, the same shall be saved. " I n all this there is hardly a note of relaxation and relief, much less outright escapism, but rather earnest and zealous warnings of steadfastly persevering and enduring through all the bitter and severe trials right unto the final and ultimate end. To subvert these exhortations is diabolical; it is to neutralize the church, rob her of her militancy and cause her to shipwreck in the hour of her greatest peril.
There is no issue concerning which the biblical warnings against deception are more persistant than the issue of Christ's return. The Olivet Discourse begins, "Take heed that no man deceive you" and continues in verses 5, 11, and 24 to emphatically state as fact that false prophets "SHALL DECEIVE MANY" and "SHALL SHEWGREATSIGNSANDWONDERS, insomuch that, if it were possible, THEY SHALL DECEIVE THE VERY ELECT." Similarly, the Apostle Paul warns in I I Thessalonians 2:2-3, "Let no man deceive you by any means" because ALL MEANS WILL BE USED. Paul lists several. First, by "spirit" or demon, second, by word or false teaching, or third, "by letter as from us" or a forged letter purporting to teach with apostolic authority. Paul and Christ realized the extent of Satanic deception and fraud and warned the saints accordingly. However, have we listened? How many churches today think in terms of false teachers and Satanic deceptions, much less arming themselves against such deception? The biblical warnings HAVE BEEN FULFILLED. The Church HAS BEEN DECEIVED ON THIS ISSUE. False teachers have done their deceptive task and the church today is totally unprepared to endure to the real coming of the real Christ.
The question is not whether the above are pleasant thoughts, for they will drive concern, though not despair, into the heart of every believer, but are they true. When the society of the beast overwhelmed them, the Christians of Russia, China, and Cuba were not raptured. Neither were the Christians of South Vietnam and Cambodia, who are even now facing the martyring presence of the beast of communism. For them, at least, ANY RAPTURE IS TOO LATE.
Though the reformers mistakenly considered the Pope as the Anti-Christ, they did not wait to be raptured but rather, when faced with apostasy and severe persecution, they battled till they overcame and laid the foundations for Christian civilization. Let us, too, rather than succumbing to the neutralism of false teachers, prepare to do battle, to overcome, and to occupy till Jesus truly comes. AMEN.