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The Truth About the Rapture

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The following is an excerpt from Gary DeMar’s, The Truth About the Rapture: A Biblical Study.

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Dr. Mark Hitchcock has written a free eBook for Dallas Theological Seminary with the title The Truth and Timing of the Rapture that has been promoted on Facebook. When Hitchcock writes about the “rapture,” he is referring to a pre-tribulation “rapture of the Church” prior to the start of the long-postponed 70th week of Daniel’s “70 weeks of years” prophecy found in Daniel 9:24–27. He writes:

The first view of the rapture is the pre-tribulational view, which teaches that believers are going to be caught up before the Tribulation, or the seventieth week of Daniel 9. [1]

The pre-tribulation rapture position depends on the 70th week of the “70 weeks of years” prophecy to be separated from the other 69 weeks. If the Bible does not teach such a separation, then the pre-tribulation rapture is a false doctrine. Read the passage for yourself and see if there is any mention of anyone being “raptured”— taken to heaven—for any reason. You will not find the doctrine.

Hitchcock describes four rapture interpretations but is an advocate for the pre-tribulation view. According to the pre-tribulation rapture position, we are presently living in the “Church Age,” a period of time that is said to have been instituted by God when Israel refused to accept Jesus as its long-promised Messiah.

What many Christians do not know is that the pre-tribulation rapture view is dependent on separating the 70th week (consisting of 7 years) from the other 69 weeks (483 years) and inserting a timeless parenthesis (now nearly 2000 years long) between the 69th and 70th weeks. I suspect that most Christians who hold to the pre-tribulation rapture position could not explain its details or defend it biblically. All they’ve heard is how they will be “raptured” before a period of tribulation takes place that will bring untold hardship of billions of people, but they’re not real sure how this doctrine was created. They’ve heard about the “rapture” for so long that they believe it is a fundamental doctrine of the Church. It isn’t. The fact that there are five different rapture views with no single verse supporting any one of them should make anyone who holds the position to take the time to study the topic before claiming it’s “in the Bible.”

Tim LaHaye, co-author of the fictional Left Behind [2] series and other books on prophecy subjects, who shares Hitchcock’s pre-tribulation view, had this to say about the timing of the “rapture” and biblical support for the various rapture positions:

One objection to the pre-Tribulation Rapture is that not one passage of Scripture teaches the two aspects of His Second Coming separated by the Tribulation. This is true. But then, no one passage teaches a post-trib or mid-trib Rapture, either. [3]

Later, in the same book, LaHaye repeats his comment about there not being one Scripture passage that supports any of the rapture positions.

No single verse specifically states, “Christ will come before the Tribulation.” On the other hand, no single passage teaches He will not come before the Tribulation, or that He will come in the middle or at the end of the Tribulation. Any such explicit declaration would end the debate immediately. [4]

What needs to be found in the New Testament is a verse or a series of verses that says the Church will be taken to heaven any time just before or any time during the 70th week of Daniel’s “70 weeks of years” prophecy. As LaHaye is honest enough to admit, there isn’t one, and this includes 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 and 1 Corinthians 15:51–52. Read the passages for yourself. There is no mention of a tribulation period, a discussion of the prophecy found in Daniel 9:24–27, any reference to God dealing separately with the nation of Israel (a crucial element of the pre-tribulation view), the Antichrist making and breaking a covenant with the Jews, rebuilding the temple, or Jesus returning “with His church” to set up His earthly millennial kingdom after the seven years.

Traditionally, 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 has been interpreted to refer to the General Resurrection, Jesus’ Second Coming, [5] not a separate event where Jesus comes “for His saints” in a “rapture” and then again “with His saints” at the end of the seven-year period and then one more time after Jesus reigns on the earth for a thousand years (of which the Bible says nothing). N. T. Wright explains:

Paul’s description of Jesus’ reappearance in 1 Thessalonians 4 is a brightly colored version of what he says in two other passages, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 and Philippians 3:20-21: At Jesus’ “coming” or “appearing,” those who are still alive will be “changed” or “transformed” so that their mortal bodies will become incorruptible, deathless. This is all that Paul intends to say in Thessalonians, but here he borrows imagery—from biblical and political sources—to enhance his message. Little did he know how his rich metaphors would be misunderstood two millennia later. [6]

The chart below shows the general time-line of the pre-tribulation rapture position. [7]

Pre-tribulation Rapture Chart

“THE CHURCH AGE” is the manufactured addition to God’s redemptive plan that artificially separates the 70th week from the other previous 69 weeks (483 years). The 70th week is pushed into the future and a gap in time of undetermined length is placed between Revelation 3:22 and 4:1. There is no biblical support for doing this. The first 3.5 years of the 70th week take place before the cross and the second 3.5 years take place after the cross. The “70th weeks of years” prophecy is consecutive with no postponement or gaps. Biblical scholar Ernst Hengstenberg asked, since “exactly 70 weeks in all are to elapse,… how can anyone imagine that there is an interval between the 69 and the 1, when these together make up the 70?” [8] Exactly!

The pre-tribulation rapture interpretation was developed in the early part of the nineteenth century and made popular by the 1909 and revised 1917 Scofield Reference Bible. [9] The newness of the position does not mean it’s wrong, but it does call it into question.

Relevant Questions to Ask

  1. Did God stop the prophetic clock regarding Israel, thereby postponing the 70th week and inserting a nearly 2000-year gap called the “Church Age,” and will He restart the prophecy clock with the beginning of the 70th week once the Church is taken off the earth in the pre-tribulation rapture?
  2. Does Daniel’s “70 weeks of years” prophecy indicate a gap in time (parenthesis) between the end of the 69 weeks (483 years) and the 70th week (7 years)? If there is no gap (now supposedly nearly 2000 years long), can there be a pre-tribulation rapture?
  3. Does the Bible teach a distinction between Israel and the Church where the Church is a new redemptive body of believers because Israel rejected Jesus as its promised Messiah?
  4. What is the fate of Israel in the pre-tribulational rapture interpretive position, and why would God wait nearly 2000 years to deal with Israel again and then lead the chosen nation into another holocaust?
  5. Does the Bible say that Jesus could come at “any moment” or that His coming was “near,” “soon” to take place before that first-century generation passed away?
  6. Is the “wrath” that God’s people will escape an escape from this world in a “rapture”?

For answers to these questions and more on this topic, please see Gary DeMar’s, The Truth About the Rapture: A Biblical Studyavailable as an eBook.

  1. Hitchcock mentions five views of the rapture in The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, Pub., 2012), chap. 10 and Could the Rapture Happen Today? (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2005), chap. 5[]
  2. For a critique of the Left Behind thesis, see Gary DeMar, Left Behind: Separating Fact From Fiction (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2009).[]
  3. Tim LaHaye, No Fear of the Storm: Why Christians Will Escape All the Tribulation (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1992), 69. This book was later republished as Rapture Under Attack.[]
  4. LaHaye, No Fear of the Storm, 188. It’s common among advocates for the pre-tribulation rapture position to admit that “Nowhere in the Bible does it directly say that the Church will be raptured before the Tribulation.” Like Tim LaHaye, Todd Strandberg and Terry James, authors of Are You Rapture Ready?, offer a similar answer: “Pre-Trib opponents should have thought this one through because any pre-Tribulationist has the same right to say, ‘Nowhere in the Bible does it directly say the Church will go through the Tribulation’” (55). There is another answer: Since there are no direct biblical references to the “rapture” of the Church either before, sometime in the middle, or after a Tribulation period, maybe the problem is with the doctrine itself.[]
  5. A minority position argues that the imagery of the passage is explaining how Old Covenant believers were in a temporary holding place (Matt. 17:1–8; Luke 16:19–31; Matt. 27:51-53). Those “who are asleep” (1 Thess. 4:13), those who died before the first coming of Jesus (e.g., Elijah and Moses: Matt. 17:3; also, Luke 16:19–31), “would be resurrected before those who are/were alive at the time Paul was writing. The next thing we are told, in verse 16, is that some trumpet will sound at Jesus’ command and at the time that those who are dead will be resurrected. Then verse 17 tells us that after the dead are resurrected, those who are alive, will from that time forward get to … be with Jesus and the resurrected forever. Is it possible this means that those who die in Christ, after the resurrection of the dead occurs, will from that time forward never have to go to a holding place but will go straight to heaven to be with God?”[]
  6. N.T. Wright, “Farewell to the Rapture,” Bible Review (August 2001).[]
  7. Taken from Todd Strandberg and Terry James, Are You Rapture Ready?: Signs, Prophecies, Warnings, Threats, and Suspicions that the Endtime is Now (New York: Penguin/Dutton, 2003), 51.[]
  8. E. W. Hengstenberg, The Christology of the Old Testament, and a Commentary on the Predictions of the Messiah by the Prophets, 4 vols. (Washington, D.C.: William M. Morrison, 1839), 3:143.[]
  9. Hitchcock offers some debatable historical evidence for his claim that elements of the pre-tribulation rapture view has a longer history. He appeals to a Brother Dolcino who died in 1307. I was surprised by Hitchcock’s use of Dolcino since he believed the following: “‘Once Antichrist is truly dead, Dolcino himself, who would then be the holy Pope, and his preserved followers will descend to earth, and they will preach the correct faith of Christ to all, and they will convert those, who will be alive then, to the true faith of Jesus Christ.’” This is quite different from the view held by Hitchcock because he believes that once the antichrist is vanquished Jesus would rule on the earth, not “Dolcino himself, who would then be the holy Pope” who would convert the people to the Roman Catholic faith. Hitchcock, Could the Rapture Happen Today?, 135. e Dolcino reference is found in Francis X. Gumerlock, “A Rapture Citation in the Fourteenth Century,” Bibliotheca Sacra 159 (July-September 2002), 354-355.[]

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