Did Jesus ever teach His disciples that He would come and remove them from the earth before the Great Tribulation happens? If you listen to many ministers and evangelists, as well as watch such movie series as Thief in the Night or Left Behind, you would think that this teaching is all through the New Testament. However, the problem is that Jesus never taught this doctrine; in fact, He taught the exact opposite.
WHAT IS THE “PRE-TRIB RAPTURE”?
According to Christian teaching, there’s coming a 7-year time period known as “the Tribulation,” in which Anti-Christ shall rule over the world, Christians shall be tortured and killed for their faith, the wrath of God shall be poured out upon the earth, culminating with Armeggedon, a thermonuclear World War III, and the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. The “Pre-Trib (short for Pre-Tribulation) Rapture” doctrine is that there are two comings of Jesus Christ, a secret coming for only His true believers BEFORE this seven-year tribulation period, and His second coming which will occur at the end of the tribulation period.
MY BACKGROUND & DILEMMA
I grew up in the Pentecostal movement and I was taught and believed this doctrine that the “true church” would not go through the tribulation most of my life. I remember as a teenager going from church-to-church just so I could see another movie of the Thief in the Night series. It was widely discussed and talked about in churches, so much so, that my fiance’ and I at the time (she’s now my wife) wondered if we would even have time to get married or to start a family.
However, both my wife and I were also taught that we should take the Bible literally for what it says unless it’s obvious that what it’s teaching should not be taken literally. For example, when Jesus says “I am the Door,” He obviously is not a door, so His statement is not meant to be taken literally, but figuratively. And here lies my dilemma. After many years of study and research in the Scriptures and the early writings of the Church, I’ve had to come to the conclusion that a literal interpretation of the Bible does not support the teaching of a Pre-Trib Rapture.
AM I SAYING THERE IS NO RAPTURE?
No, I am NOT saying that. I absolutely DO believe in the rapture. As the Scriptures teach, I do believe that there will be a literal resurrection of believers who have died and that those of us who are alive at the time of Christ’s return will meet the Lord with them in the clouds.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught 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. (I Thessalonians 4:17-18)
My problem is that I cannot find textual evidence in the New testament for a “Pre-Trib or even a Mid-Trib Rapture.” Now I’ve heard many ministers argue that when Paul writes “comfort one another with these words,” he’s telling us to comfort people with the knowledge that they will not be here for the Tribulation. However, there’s a problem with their interpretation.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE PRE-TRIB INTERPRETATION
The problem with the mainstream interpretation of this verse is that it takes this passage completely out of context. The context of this passage is found in verses 13-14 of this same chapter.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
In Thessalonica, there was a persecution going on at the time, and many of the believers were concerned that those who were killed as martyrs for Christ would miss out on experiencing Christ’s coming Kingdom reign. The “comfort” Paul is encouraging them to give is that those who have died as martyrs for the faith will not miss out on the Kingdom, but will be resurrected at the time of His return, to join those who are still alive, to experience and enjoy God’s Kingdom on earth together.
Consequently, the “comfort” we are to give is the exact opposite of what’s being taught by many churches. The “comfort” is NOT that we will avoid the tribulation, but that even though we may go through persecution, or tribulation, and even die as martyrs for the faith, we will not miss out on Jesus’ future Kingdom reign here on earth. This is just one example of many passages that are taken out of context to support the Pre-Trib Rapture position.
WHAT JESUS TAUGHT IN HIS PARABLES
If we examine Jesus’ teachings concerning the Kingdom of God in His parables, there’s no indication at all of a Pre-Trib Rapture.
The Wheat and Tares
For example, in His parable of “The wheat and Tares,” where “the wheat” represents the believers (or “the sons of the kingdom”) and “the tares” represent the unbelievers (or “the sons of the evil one”) (Matthew 13:37), the question is asked in the parable, “Do you want us, then, to go and gather them [the tares] up?” Jesus responds,
No; lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn. (Matthew 13:29-30)
If we look at this parable, we learn:
- The wheat and the tares will grow up together until the time of the harvest;
- It will be the tares – not the wheat – that will be gathered up first; and
- Then the wheat will be gathered up and put into the barn.
In other words, those who are in His Kingdom and those who are not will grow up together until the time of the “harvest” (i.e., Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead), and then the unbelievers will be gathered up and separated from the believers by the angels, and then they “will cast them [the unbelievers] into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42).
Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father; He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:43)
In the Pre-Trib doctrine, it is the righteous that are removed first from the earth, and then seven years later, the unbelievers are gathered up, but in this parable told by Jesus, the unrighteous is removed first shortly before (on the same day) the righteous are gathered up and brought into God’s Kingdom. Obviously, the Pre-Trib Rapture doctrine and Jesus are not in agreement with one another.
A Large Net
Let me give you another example. In the parable of the “Large Net,” Jesus tells us this parable also about His coming:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from the among the just. And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:47-50)
Again, in this parable, we see the same basic pattern of events:
- All the fish were gathered together in the same net;
- All the fish were drawn to shore at the same time; and
- the “good fish” and the “bad fish” are separated at that time.
- the “bad fish” are “cast away”
So again, Jesus is telling us,
- Everyone, righteous and unrighteous, will be gathered together at the time of the harvest (“the same net”);
- It will be at this time that everyone will be brought to judgment (or drawn to shore at the same time”};
- At this time, the righteous (“the good fish”) and the unrighteous (“the bad fish”) will be separated; and
- The unrighteous (“the bad fish”) will be “cast into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
So in neither one of these parables is there any indication of two separate “harvests,” but only one. In fact, there’s no indication at all of any other return than the one where He comes to finish setting up and establishing His Kingdom here on earth. In fact, in speaking about His return Jesus says,
For just as the lightning come from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matthew 4:27)
The Ten Virgins
In the “Parable of the Ten Virgins” (Matthew 25:1-13), all ten of them are waiting for the coming of the Bridegroom. Obviously, this cannot include the unbelievers since they are not looking for His coming. Instead, all ten of them are people who claim to be His followers. But five of them were wise and came prepared with extra oil; however, there were five who were foolish and did not come prepared. Now all ten of them fell asleep. But then, Jesus tells us,
But at midnight there was a shout, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” Then all those virgins rose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise virgins answered, saying, “No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and but for yourselves.” (Matthew 25:6-9)
Notice, all ten virgins fell asleep, but it was those who prepared beforehand who were ready when the Bridegroom, Christ, came. Those who did not prepare beforehand were not ready for Him, and had to leave to try and get what they needed at the last moment. He then says,
And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and THOSE WHO WERE READY WENT IN WITH HIM to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. And later the other virgins came, saying, “Lord, Lord, open up for us.” But he answered and said, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” BE ON THE ALERT THEN, FOR YOU DO NOT KNOW THE DAY NOR THE HOUR.” (Matthew 25:10-13)
Notice that it will be those who have taken the time to PREPARE IN ADVANCE that will go in with Him when He arrives. Those who do not take the time to prepare by studying the Scriptures and developing their relationship with Him will be left out. They will miss it and will not be allowed to enter. And here too, there is no second chance, even though these five foolish virgins were those who were looking for His coming before they fell asleep.
THE TIMING OF HIS COMING
We may not “know the day nor the hour,” but this does not mean we will not recognize the season. The signs of the season we are in are all around us. But we need to be ready, for His coming will be quick and sudden, and as we’ve seen in His parables, there’s absolutely no indication that He’s planning on coming twice. In fact, He gives some things to look for as signs of when He is coming:
But IMMEDIATELY AFTER the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (Matthew 24:29)
First of all, Jesus said that His coming will happen “IMMEDIATELY AFTER the tribulation of those days,” NOT before it. Again, the teaching that Jesus is coming BEFORE THE TRIBULATION for Christians is in direct opposition to what Jesus actually teaches. Although Jesus doesn’t know the “day nor the hour,” He most certainly would know if He would be coming once or twice. Also, there will be signs in the heavens that will happen right before His coming: (1) “the sun will be darkened;” (2) “the moon will not give its light;” (3) “the stars will fall from the sky,” and (4) “the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Such a series of events would hardly make His coming a “secret one.”
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus describes this “TRIBULATION” that will be in those days:
For those days will be a time of TRIBULATION such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created, until now, and never shall. And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect whom He chose, He shortened the days. (Mark 13:19-20)
Jesus tells us that this TRIBULATION will be the worst ever experienced in human history. That means that it will be worse than the days of persecution by the Apostles and the early church under Nero and Domitian, and even the death camps of the Holocaust. Are we seriously listening to the warnings given to us by Jesus, or we ignoring His warnings, in favor of listening to the false promises of the Pre-Trib Rapture preachers and teachers?
After warning us of what those days will be like, Jesus then teaches us,
And THEN the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then ALL the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30)
It will be AFTER these signs happen in the sky that Jesus will come, breaking through the heavens into the sight of all the world. His coming will not be “in secret,” but He will come for all to see.
A COMPARATIVE STUDY
In fact, if we compare the next verse with what Paul teaches in I Thessalonians, the order of events are in complete agreement:
I THESSALONIANS 4:16-17
|And then the sign of the Son of Man shall appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.||For the LORD Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the TRUMPET of God; and the DEAD IN CHRIST shall rise first.|
|And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and they will GATHER TOGETHER HIS ELECT from the four winds, from one end of the sky to another. [Emphasis Mine]||THEN WE WHO ARE ALIVE AND REMAIN shall 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. [Emphasis Mine]|
Jesus and Paul here are describing the same event. However, Paul is adding to our information about it, but these are NOT two different comings, but the same one. In both descriptions, Jesus appears in the sky, a great trumpet is blown, and then “His elect” are gathered together: first those who were dead, and then those of us who remain.
We see these same series of events in Jesus’ teaching in both Mark and Luke:
|MARK 13:24-27||LUKE 21:25-27|
|But in those days, AFTER THAT TRIBULATION, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in heaven will be shaken, and then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.||And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.|
|And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth, to the farthest end of heaven.||And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.|
What I find interesting here is that although Mark provides us with the same details as Matthew, Luke summarizes it all. Like Matthew, Mark tells us that these events will come AFTER the tribulation, but then describes the phenomenon in the heavens which will precede the Lord’s coming. Luke summarizes this phenomenon and also says that the Lord’s coming will happen after this occurs.
THE ONLY THREE RESURRECTIONS IN REVELATION
Even in the book of Revelation, written in 100 A.D., by the Apostle John, there are only three resurrections mentioned. There’s the resurrection of the two witnesses during the seven-year tribulation (Revelation 11:3-12), and then there’s the resurrection for the believers at the end of the Tribulation for the Millennium (Revelation 20:4-6), and then a resurrection for the unbelievers after the millennium for the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:12-15).
THE DIDACHE‘S VIEW OF THE LAST DAYS
The early church did NOT believe in two comings, one in “secret” and one in public, even 100 years after the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We can see this in one of the oldest Christian writings outside of the New Testament, called the Didache (pron. “Did-uh-kay“), also called “The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles,” dated to have been written from between 75 – 150 A.D. These were teachings were given and taught among the Gentile Christians of the time, and it ends by describing the events of the last days and the coming of Christ. I am not trying to say that this writing was “divinely inspired,” but it does tell us how believers who lived during and after the time of the Apostles understood their teachings regarding these same events. But in this writing, there’s a warning prior to the discussion of the actual events.
“Watch” over your life: “do not let your lamps go out, and do not be unprepared, but be ready, for you do not know the hour when our Lord is coming.” Gather together frequently, seeking the things that benefit your souls, for all the time you have believed will be of no use to you if you are not found perfect in the last time. (qtd. in Trans. Lightfoot and Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., 157-158)
However, when looking at this, what comes to mind for me is how completely different the attitude and beliefs this gives than what many Christians believe today. For example, many Christians believe in “eternal salvation,” or “once you’re saved, you’re always saved;” however, these believers did not believe that. They believed that we needed to “watch” or guard our lives, so that “our lamps did not go out.” This implies, of course, a belief that they could, in fact, “go out,” leaving one in darkness. Also, instead of meeting together more frequently as we see the day of His return “drawing near,” as is taught here and in Hebrew 10:25, we are meeting less frequently, the exact opposite.
This passage then continues by describing what the last days will be like:
For in the last days the false prophets and corrupters will abound, and the sheep will be turned into wolves, and love will be turned into hate. For as lawlessness increases, they will hate and persecute and betray one another. And then the deceiver of the world will appear as a son of God and “will perform signs and wonders,” and the earth will be delivered into his hands, and he will commit abominations the likes of which have never happened before. (158)
I definitely believe that we are here in the last days when “the false prophets and corrupters will abound.” They are everywhere we look, both inside and outside of our churches. In fact, I have seen a multiplication of Scriptural errors and deceptions being taught among Christians than when I was a child. And as a result, many people who were once “sheep” [true believers] have been “turned into wolves” [false believers], and have left the true faith “once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3).
In addition, “lawlessness,” or iniquity, “continues to increase,” and how many times have we seen Christians “hate and persecute and betray one another”? Yes, we are here. And what’s next? The coming of the Anti-Christ, “the deceiver of the world,” who will “appear as a son of God” and will (1) “perform signs and wonders;” (2) will have “the earth… delivered into his hands;” and (3) “will commit abominations the likes of which have never happened before.”
Yes, as these very early believers understood, we will be here for the days of the Anti-Christ and his deceptive lies. Are we preparing? Are we getting into the Word so that we will be able to discern the “truth of God” from the lies of the enemy? According to statistics, the answer to that question is “No, we are not. Instead, again, we are doing the exact opposite. The biblical illiteracy rate within the church is at a “crisis level,” making them prime candidates for the lies of the Enemy when he comes. And then it describes the final last days:
Then all humankind will come to the fiery test, and “many will fall away” and perish; but “those who endure” in their faith “will be saved” by the accursed one himself [a reference to Christ]. And “then there will appear the signs” of the truth: first the sign of an opening in heaven, then the sign of the sound of a trumpet, and third, the resurrection of the dead – but not all; rather, as it has been said, “The Lord will come, and all his saints with him.” Then the world “will see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.” (qtd. in Trans. Lightfoot and Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., 158)
As we can see, these mid-first century to mid-second century believers did not understand Jesus or His Apostles to teach that there was going to be two comings, but only ONE, and that they would be here to suffer persecution, “the fiery test,” of the great tribulation, but that only “those who endure” in their faith “will be saved.” How very different is this view from many of those who preach and teach today.
LIKE THE DAYS OF NOAH
In addition, Jesus taught that His coming would be “like the days of Noah,”
For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark. And they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:38-39)
Just prior to the flood, life went on just as it always had. Besides the preaching of Noah, there was no indication that the lives of all the people on the planet were in jeopardy. Instead, they continued their jobs, getting married, having children, raising their crops, going to the store and paying bills. It wasn’t until the flood came, that they realized they were about to die. But at the same time, there was no second chances for these people. The flood came once, and that was it. If they were not in the Ark, their lives were lost.
LIKE IN THE DAYS OF LOT
In Luke’s Gospel, Luke records a second example of this same point, not included in Matthew’s Gospel.
It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. (Luke 17:28-30)
Again, we see the same point being made. There’s absolutely no indication in the lives of these people that there was anything different on that day than they had lived any other day. On the same day that Lot and his family was removed from the city, all of the people of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Again, there was no warning to the people that they were about to be destroyed, and they had no second chance.
A QUESTION OF IMMINENCE
Jesus tells us that “of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” So although no one but the Father knows when Jesus will return, Jesus teaches that we are to “keep on the alert” (Mark 13:33). Jesus couldn’t tell us when to expect Him, because He didn’t know, so all He could tell us is that we needed to be ready and on the alert.
Therefore, be on the alert – for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, at cock-crowing, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: “Be on the alert!” (Mark 13:35-37)
Now just because Jesus warned us to be on the alert, does that mean He could come anytime? Actually, no. The Father has an appointed time for His Son’s return, and it won’t happen before that day, nor will it happen after that day. But since we do not know what day, month, and year the Father has chosen, we are to remain ready and always be on the alert.
Therefore, the deception of the Pre-Trib Rapture is that it gives people the false belief that if they don’t make the rapture, they still have a second chance to get their lives right before the Lord comes back seven years later. But please understand that this completely violates the comparison that Jesus makes here with Noah and with Lot, not to mention Jesus’ other teachings regarding His return. Jesus says that people will NOT have a second chance, and that many of those who will not be prepared for His coming will be destroyed; whereas, those who preach a “Pre-Trib Rapture” claim, in contrast to this, that people will have “a second chance.”
Christians need to be preparing themselves for the coming of the Anti-Christ and the coming persecution. We need to be reading and studying our Bibles and memorizing as much Scripture as possible, so that when our Bibles will be taken away, we will be able to endure. If we don’t prepare, what will we have to draw upon during those dark days ahead? How can the Holy Spirit remind us of Scriptures that we have not even studied? In consideration of the evidence, I think the question you really need to stop and consider is the following: “Who am I going to believe, Jesus or the Pre-Trib teachers?”