What is the scriptural support for putting the rapture before the tribulation and the pre-tribulation view?
In our life group, you mentioned the book by Michael Brown and Craig Keener suggesting a tribulation view. I haven’t read the book yet but I will add it to my reading list. Within the larger framework of the millennium, all of these views are based on when a person believes the Tribulation will happen, commonly held to be seven years of the reign of antichrist.
- Amillennialism – The belief that there is no millennial reign, 1000 years of Christ’s personal reign on this earth.
- Premillennialism – The belief that the second coming of Christ will occur before his millennial reign.
- Postmillennialism – The belief that Christ will return after the millennium. In this view, Jesus initiated the kingdom of God through his teaching and preaching in his incarnation. God’s kingdom has already come.
Within premillennialism, there are at least three views:
- Pre-Tribulation – The belief that Christians will leave the Earth in the rapture before the Tribulation begins.
- Mid-Tribulation – The belief that Christians will leave the Earth and the rapture 3 ½ years into the seven years of the antichrist’s reign.
- Post-Tribulation – The belief that Christians will leave the Earth after the Tribulation, the seven years of the antichrist’s reign.
This question contains within it at least a small college-level class. There are many different views on the subject of the end times. Much of them is based on an overview of Scripture. Each view uses its own set of verses to confirm its position.
Within a pre-tribulation view are several other stances. But I will try to stick with the basics. The further reading at the bottom of the answer will help you if you wish to continue to study the subject within eschatology, or the last things.
Pre-tribbers (those who believe in pre-tribulation) generally believe that the rapture will occur before the Great Tribulation. The rapture is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Paul describes how the church will be “caught up” (rapture is Latin for the Greek “caught up”) to be with Christ in the air.
This means that the church will no longer be on earth before the antichrist seizes control of the world system and begins the Great Tribulation, a period of seven years of his reign on the earth. Pre-tribulation supporters also point out that Paul talks about the “Restrainer” that could mean the church or the Holy Spirit who inhabits the church (2 Thessalonians 2:6-9).
They also point out that the Great Tribulation contains God’s wrathful judgment of sinful humanity described in Revelation as the seals, bowls, and trumpets. They hold to scriptures like Ephesians 2:3-4 that state that Christians are no longer objects or children of God’s wrath.
If Christians are no longer children of God’s wrath, then they don’t suffer through the Tribulation. Pre-tribulation supporters say that the church and Christians must therefore be removed from the time of the Great Tribulation.
Because the antichrist initiates this period of seven years known as the Great Tribulation, Christians must be removed for this time. This is why they support the view that the rapture happens before the Great Tribulation.
Some of them may point out that Paul talks about the rapture before he talks about the man of lawlessness, or the antichrist. In 1 Thessalonians Paul explains to the Thessalonian churches that they have not missed the rapture and Christ has not come back in the clouds. Then he details what the rapture will be like so they know when it comes.
Then in his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul describes more about eschatology when he explains how the man of lawlessness will rise to political and spiritual power over the world (1 Thessalonians 2). Because Paul explains these things in this successive order, they put the rapture before the rise to power of the man of lawlessness.
However, one of the biggest snags to this view is that the rapture is not referred to or talked about within the book of Revelation. Revelation does discuss the dragon (Satan) and the two beasts. The first beast is the antichrist and the second beast is his prophet.
But nowhere in the book is the rapture discussed. It may even seem that the church is there but protected as the sealed people of God (Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-5). There are different views to explain these scriptures as well.
Many pre-tribulation supporters put the rapture right after Revelation 3. But this is a man-made assumption. There is nowhere in the text that would describe when Christ returns for the church. The subject requires much deeper study than a simple answer will give.
I have done my best to try to give the lay of the land for basic pre-tribulation views. But within pre-tribulationism there are several views that you may want to look at. I have offered some further resources if you wish to study further these different views.
I will end all talk about eschatology with a few caveats and personal beliefs. First, I have personally studied these subjects and come to my own views on them. I don’t push my views on anyone else because nobody has experienced the fulfillment of end times prophecy.
We can outline what we see in Scripture and the sequence we notice. But nobody is going to be completely right on the whole sequence of end times events. We will all get it wrong somewhere. Until we experience the fulfillment of prophecy, we will not know exactly how God is going to do every event.
So I choose what I believe best represents how the Bible talks about the end times and then I hold it lightly and listen closely to other views. Realize that you may not get the succession and sequence of every event in the proper place.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t give it our best shot. We want to understand the end times because it is the time when Christ is coming back for us. That is part of expectantly waiting for the hope of our Lord’s return upon which our faith is based. He taught us to distinguish between the times and seasons.
My second caveat is that just because we may not nail down the proper sequence of end times events doesn’t mean we don’t know what is going to happen. When the Bible tells us that an end times event is going to take place, we know that it will happen. We just don’t know in what order. So we cannot deny the events the Bible talks about.
It is my hope that everyone who studies eschatology does not get sidetracked by all of the different views and possibilities. Eschatology is a fun thing to study and it really helps us fine-tune our reading of Scripture and ability to understand what will happen.
As you study eschatology, avoid hard-line stances that close your mind and heart. If it distracts you from following the way of Christ in your daily life, lay it aside for a time. We must not forget all of the other doctrines of the Bible. We must not neglect the other parts of our Christian walk as we study eschatology.