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Will the Whole Church Be Raptured Before the Seven Years of the Great Tribulation?

Julian Kinkaid


"The most important element in interpreting eschatological scriptures is to arrive at a correct method of interpretation"[1]

Owing to the existence of two basic principles of interpreting prophetic scriptures - those relating to eschatological events in particular - namely the literal method and the allegorical method, there have been various models proposed for their outworking. With regard to the 'rapture' of the Church there are three major views that are often cited: Pre-tribulationism - which essentially rests upon the premise that the literal method is employed; Post-tribulationism - which tends towards an allegorical method of interpretation, specifically in connection with Revelation,[2] and Mid-tribulationism, which finds a half-way house between the two, applying the allegorical method for the first half of the week and the literal method for the second. Although each of these models has something pertinent to offer in the general understanding of the end-time events, none is complete and self-contained. Perhaps it might be said that the Post and Mid-trib. positions only stand because of the nature of the interpretation method adopted, since it allows them a flexibility that would otherwise be their undoing (cf. Matt. 24:42; 1 Thess.5:2). Or as Pentecost categorically states: "the literal method of interpretation, consistently employed, can lead to no other conclusion", in fact, "demands a Pretribulation rapture of the Church".[3] Here Pentecost sees the church as the true Church, as distinct from the professing church. However, it is worth mentioning here a fourth view, known as the Partial Rapture theory, which proposes that not all believers are raptured at one time; although there is very little Scriptural support for this view (if any!).

Now let us consider the 70th week of Daniel, otherwise known as the Great Tribulation or Tribulation Period (Dan. 9:24-27). Several of the arguments often put forward by Pretribulationists revolve around the nature of these seven years, to the effect that God always removes believers before pouring out His wrath on the wicked; the Church, as the bride of Christ, is to be exempt from God's wrath anyway (1 Thess.1:10; 5:9). Furthermore, if the Church is to experience the wrath of God, Christ's return would not be seen as a 'blessed hope' (Titus 2:12-13) and certainly not a prospect we would "comfort one another with"! (1 Thess.4:13-18). Now although all of these arguments are valid in their own right, they hold as their premise a fundamental error! Nowhere in the scriptures are the Great Tribulation, the Day of the Lord, and the 70th week of Daniel seen as synonymous and therefore interchangeable terms.

There are only five NT passages that "can be clearly identified as using the word 'tribulation' (Gk. thlipsis).[5] If we turn our attention to the Day of the Lord we see that it will be a time of judgement (Joel 1:15; cf. Isa. 13:9-10), divine wrath and destruction (Isa.13:7 & 13; Zeph.1:15; 2:2) when God will reveal His vengeance (Isa.34:8) and direct His fury and indignation against the nations (Isa. 34:1f.; Zeph. 1:14-2:3; Zech. 14:3 & Obad. 15) to punish the world for its sin (Isa.13:11). This day is the 'great day of wrath' (Rev. 6:17), which men flee to the mountain caves in order to escape (cf. Isa.2:19-21) and which follows the opening of the sixth seal, characterised by a cosmic disturbance (Matt. 24:29; cf. Luke 21:26). Therefore, rather than being corresponding terms the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord are sequential events that both occur within the seven years of Daniel's final week. Consequently, the believer can be comforted by the thought that he will escape the trumpets and bowls of God's wrath, since the Church will be removed before the Day of the Lord. Furthermore, the blessed hope is not negated by the fact that the Church not only enters the 70th week, but also has to endure a period of tribulation, for "the greater the suffering, the more glorious and enhanced the deliverance".[6] What is more, this makes perfect sense in the light of Scripture, for we are told that tribulation produces character (Rom.5:2-4), and that Christ is coming back for a bride that is spotless and without blemish (Eph.5:27; cf. Dan.11:35). So let us turn our attention to the facts as they are outlined in the Scriptures.

In a time noted for its peace and tranquillity (cf. 1 Thess. 5:3) A 'contemptible person' will seize the throne by means of intrigue and he will make a covenant with Israel through the true heir (Dan. 11:21-23), which will signify the beginning of Daniel's 70th week (9:26b-27a). This ruler is the beast of the sea, who leads the whole world astray during the period of his reign, which lasts for 42 months: half of Daniel's 'week' He also has authority to make war with the Believers and the power to overcome them, such that all but the true Believers will turn and worship him (Rev. 13:1-10). The first half of this week is called the beginning of sorrows, during which Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, begins to open the seven seals. The first brings about deception and false teaching by antichrists (Matt. 24:5 / Rev. 6:1-2; cf. Dan. 11:23). The second seal causes nations to rise up against one another and wage war (Matt.24:6-7a / Rev.6:3-4; cf. Dan. 11:24-26). With the opening of the third and fourth seals there is widespread famine and natural disasters such that one quarter of the earth perish. As a consequence of warfare, famine, pestilence and wild animals (Matt. 24:7b-8 / Rev. 6:5-8). At this point in time the ruler (the beast of the sea) will suffer defeat, become disheartened and become enraged with the covenant he has made. Therefore, he will break the covenant and desecrate the Temple, abolishing the sacrificial system (Dan. 11:29-31) and the abomination of desolation will be set up, thus signifying that we have reached the middle of Daniel's 70th week (Dan. 9:27).

At this point in time the ruler revealed in his true colours, as the Antichrist or man of lawlessness, but in order for this to occur the one who is restraining lawlessness must step aside (2 Thess.2:3-8). This 'restrainer' is not the Holy Spirit, as some have suggested, but the archangel Michael. Having completed his work as the guardian of Israel (cf. Dan.10:12-13) and won the war against Satan (Rev.12:7-8). Michael steps aside and therefore allows Satan to have his way, so to speak (Dan. 12:1).[7] The consequence of Satan's downfall is that he seeks to persecute, firstly the woman who has a place prepared for her by God in the wilderness, for 1 260 days (Rev.12:13-16 & v..6) and then the believers (Rev.12:17), which we might see in terms of the Great Tribulation!

The appearance of the abomination of desolation in the Temple not only reveals the Antichrist, but heralds the start of the Great Tribulation (Matt.24:15-21) at which point those in Judea are warned to flee (Matt.24:15 & 20; cf. Rev.12:6 & 14). It also indicates that the fifth seal must have been broken, at which point the believers are handed over to tribulation, hated and killed, an account of Jesus' name (Matt.24:9; cf. Rev.12:17; See also Dan.11:32-34). Meanwhile, the scene in heaven is that of martyrs under God's throne crying out for the judgement and vengeance of God, which cannot occur until all those who are to be martyred have been (Rev.6:9-11; Isa.34:8). Also at this time we have the emergence of the second beast, from out of the earth (Rev.13:11-18) and the beginning of the ministry of the two witnesses (Rev.11:1-13). With regard to the beast of the earth or false prophet, he will perform great signs and wonders, deceiving the inhabitants of the earth and having set up and image of the first beast (Dan.11:31) and he will require everyone to worship it on pain of death (Rev.13:13-15). Concerning the two witnesses, they are given authority to prophesy for 120 day, i.e. half of Daniel's 'week', and power to control the elements and inflict plagues (Rev.11:3-6). Many equate these two witnesses with Moses and Elijah, who together - as the great lawgiver and the premier prophet - represent the whole of the Law and the Prophets. Added to this is the fact that they were both present at the unveiling of Jesus' glory (Matt.17:3) and that not only did Elijah not die, but an element of mystery also surrounds the death of Moses (cf. Deut.34:6; Jude 9). In favour of Elijah being one of the witnesses us the prophecy of Malachi, that Elijah would be sent before His Day of the Lord came (Mal.4:5-6).

During the Great Tribulation there will be many who will fall away from the faith and be misled by false prophets (Matt. 24:10-11; cf. 2 Thess. 2:1-4) and therefore, for the sake of the believers, the Great Tribulation will not extend to the end of the week (Matt. 24:22). But immediately after that period there will be a cosmic disturbance, signifying that the sixth seal has been opened (Matt. 24:29 / Rev. 6:12-14). The sun and moon are darkened and the stars fall from the sky, a great earthquake shakes the earth to its core and the sky is split apart like a scroll (Isa. 13:9-10; Ezek. 32:7-8; Joel 2:30-31 & Luke 21:25-26). This cosmic upheaval also signals the arrival of the Day of the Lord, however, before God pours out His wrath on the ungodly two events must happen. The sealing of God's bond-servants to preserve them from His wrath (Rev.7:3; cf. Rev.9:4) who will total 144 000 in number (Rev. 7:4-8) and the rapture of the church.

Christ will descend from heaven with a shout, on the clouds of the sky and the trumpet of God will sound (Matt.24:29-31; 1 Cor.15:51-53 & 1 Thess.4:16-17). The trumpet in Israel had two functions, firstly to call an assembly of God's people in His presence (Lev.23:24f.; Num.10:2-3), and secondly to sound an alarm for war and judgement (Num.10:9 & Jer.4:19). At the Rapture both functions are applicable. The church is 'caught up' to meet Christ in the air and the warning is sounded before God's wrath is poured out. Significantly, at this time, a great multitude appears in heaven - far too numerous for anyone to count - which implies well in excess of 144 000, and representing every nation and language group (Rev.7:9-10). These are starkly contrasted with the souls of the martyrs pleading with God to avenge their blood, in that they stand, clothed in robes, evidently with bodies, worshipping God. Furthermore, although John recognised the others as martyrs, he fails to recognise these are is therefore told that "these are the ones who come out of the great tribulation" and have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb (Rev.7:14). Following the Rapture, the seventh seal is opened and after a period of silence in heaven the seven trumpets are distributed (Rev.8:1-2). This is the beginning of the Day of the Lord, which comes suddenly, like a thief in the night, or like a woman going into labour (1 Thess.5:1-4; cf. Isa. 13:6-8).

Finally, in the light of this exposition, I want to come against the doctrine of imminence, which basically proposes that Christ can come at any moment. This is strongly supported by pre-tribulationalists because it "forbids the participation of the Church in any part of the 70th week."[8] However, I have demonstrated that there are many prophesied events that must occur before the Rapture, even if it is only to reiterate the words of Paul, that the coming of Christ and our gathering to him and the Day of the Lord cannot come "unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed" (2 Thess.2:1-3).

In conclusion then, the three major theories regarding the timing of the Rapture have previously fallen short in their arguments, either by the method of interpretation they adopted, which enabled them to stretch the fabric of Scripture over the rigid models they presented or by starting from the wrong premises in assuming that various terms like the Day of Wrath and the Great Tribulation were synonymous. I have attempted to show that by using a literal method of interpretation and by redefining some of the terms, the Scriptures slot neatly into an organised scheme. My conclusion being that the whole church will be raptured before the Day of the Lord and after the Great Tribulation, at some time within the second half of Daniel's 70th week, i.e. between three and a half and seven years.

Julian Kinkaid


References

[1] Colin Hurt, Eschatology Lecture Notes. Mattersey: Mattersey Hall Bible College, 1989, p.8.

[2] M.J. Erickson, Contemporary Options in Eschatology. Chicago: Baker, 1987, p.161: "the relative absense of unequivocal symbols in Scripture gives to posttribulationism less rhetorical persuasiveness than pretribulationism."

[3] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964, p.194.

[4] Marvin Rosenthal, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990.

[5] W.R. Kimball, The Rapture a Question of Timing. Missouri: College Press, 1985, p.73.

[6] Rosenthal, p.247.

[7] Dan.12:1 - 'stand-up' here literally means 'stand still' or 'be inactive' (cf. Job 32:16 & Neh. 8:5).

[8] Pentecost, 204.

Note: This article was written as part of an undergraduate course in theology. It should therefore not be cited as a source in other essays.


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