Does Jesus come to rapture the church before or after the tribulation?

Below are some of the arguments about the rapture timing.

Come up Hither

Revelation 4:1 says “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.”

John is taken to heaven to observe the tribulation. Pre-tribulation advocates interpret the verse that we will also be taken to heaven before the tribulation. But why should John signify the end time church? And if the rapture is a physical bodily experience, then why does it say in the very next verse “And immediately I was in the spirit...”?

If this is meant to signify the rapture, it doesn’t work very well.

We are not appointed unto wrath

1 Thessalonians 5:9 says “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Some people say this verse shows we will not go through the tribulation because God will not pour out wrath on His church. Jesus doesn’t beat up His bride before He marries her! But is the verse really saying that?

First explanation of this verse. The Israelites were still in Egypt under Pharaoh’s power when God poured out His wrath with the Ten Plagues. They weren’t taken away or raptured. Noah was still on the earth when God poured out His wrath on the whole globe. He wasn’t taken off the Earth or raptured. In both these significant examples, God’s people were in the midst of the destruction but were kept safe from God’s wrath. Why should we think any different with the great Tribulation? Couldn’t God keep us from His wrath without rapturing us, just like He did with Moses and Noah?

Second explanation of this verse. During the sixth seal in Revelation, the people of the earth hide under rocks saying “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Revelation 6:16-17) If the wrath of the Lamb “is come”, meaning it just came then, the previous seals of the tribulation are not the wrath of the Lamb. The wrath of God had only just come in the sixth seal.

So if the 1 Thessalonians verse calls for the rapture, we would still go through the first five seals of the tribulation before God started to pour out His wrath and rapture us.

God wouldn’t let us go through the tribulation?

Many people think that God’s nature is so loving that He wouldn’t want us to go through the tribulation. Pre-tribulationists think God would not let us go through such terrible persecution – He’s not that kind of a God.

But why did that righteous man, Job, suffer so incredibly? Why was “man greatly beloved” – Daniel – thrown in to the Lion’s den without cause? Why did God’s chosen people suffer for 400 years while He waited fruitlessly for the Canaanites to repent? Why were so many prophets persecuted? Why did the early church suffer terrible persecution, being thrown to the lions and stoned? Why was the church in the Middle Ages persecuted and burned at the stake? Why are millions of Christians persecuted in China and other anti-Christian countries today?

Maybe James can shed some light on that: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” (James 1:2-3)

Or Jesus: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)

Why do we think God will remove us from tribulation but He didn’t to all these other people? Persecution and suffering in the Bible is a good thing, no matter how hard that is to swallow, because it strengthens your faith. So if we are going to use God’s nature as an argument, we cannot conclude that He will rapture us from the tribulation. Rather, we would go through it.

Only Pre-Tribulation Rapture Maintains the Imminent return of Christ

He could come at any moment. Verses like Matthew 24:36 (“...of that day and hour knoweth no man...”), Matthew 24:42-46 (“...for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come...”), Luke 12:40 (“...the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.”), and Acts 1:7 (“It is not for you [the early church] to know the times or the seasons...”) are used to support this position.

The problem is, these verses do not say Jesus could come right now. They just say we don’t know exactly when He comes (so be ready). And a post-tribulation rapture is totally consistent with that – we really don’t know the hour or day. We only know the general timing according to the prophecies like Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonians 2.

Indeed, throughout the entire history of the Bible, there have been many instances where something had to happen before another thing could. So it is hardly objectionable that post-tribulation advocates expect certain things to happen before the rapture.

Interestingly, could these verses be warning against the pre-tribulation rapture? Jesus Christ will come at a time when the world does not expect him – namely after the tribulation?

I will keep you from the hour of testing

Revelation 3:10 says “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.”

The Greek word for “from” is ek (έκ) which implies out from within; the Greek word for “keep” is tehreo (τηρέω) which means to keep from present danger. In other words, we will be kept safe from danger from within the situation. The only other NT verse where both words are used is John 17:15 (I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.).

Just like God kept Noah from the great flood without taking him off the globe, and just like God kept the Children of Israel from the Ten Plagues without taking them out of Egypt, He may well keep us safe from the tribulation without rapturing us away from it.

John 17

As Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemene, He asks the Father concerning the disciples:

I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. (v.15)

Many pre-tribulationists say God doesn’t want us to go through the tribulation. But this verse is in direct contradition; God wants us to go through the bad times (but kept safe from the evil). It works our patience (James 1:3), faithfulness (Revelation 2:10, 13; 20:4), and generally makes us grow and be more zealous for God.

Matthew 24

In Matthew 24, Jesus’ disciples ask Him “When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”

Jesus answers that the end will not come until many deceivers claim to be Christ (v.5), until there are wars and rumours of wars (v.6), until nations and kingdoms fight each other (v.7), until famines, pestilences, and earthquakes occur in divers places (v.7), until Christians are hated, afflicted, and killed for Christ (v.9), until many people betray one another (v.11), until many deceiving false prophets arise (v.11), until sin abounds everywhere and love ceases (v.12), and finally untill the Gospel is preached to every nation (v.14).

So that’s where the end times start; once all those things have happened. But what about the tribulation? In verses 15-21, Jesus warns that the tribulation will start when we see the Abomination of Desolation – the anti-Christ standing in the Temple claiming to be God (see also Daniel 9:27).

Then later in verse 24, Jesus says many false Christs will arise in this tribulation that could even deceive the very elect. But wait! The “elect” (which is used almost exclusively in the Bible to describe Christians) are present in the tribulation! We must go through the tribulation.

In verse 29, the tribulation has ended and Jesus describes his Second Coming. He gathers together His elect with the sound of a trumpet “from one end of heaven to the other”. This is presumably the rapture. It occurs after the tribulation.

2 Thessolonians 2

In 2 Thessalonians, the Thessalonians were alarmed that the Day of Christ was at hand. So Paul writes saying not to worry if someone says the Day of Christ has come (v.2); the Day of Christ will not come until the apostasy happens and the man of sin (anti-Christ) is revealed (v.3, 4).

Why would Paul bother telling them this if they will be raptured before the tribulation? If the pre-tribulation rapture is true, the Thessalonians would never see the great apostasy and the anti-Christ. So why would Paul refer to those things as if we would see them? All he had to say was Don’t worry; the Day of Christ will happen after we are raptured. But he didn’t.

This fits well with the post-tribulation position, but how would it fit with the pre?

Jeremiah and Amos Warning Against Pre-Trib?

In the prophetic book of Jeremiah, the Bible warns against thinking that we will escape the calamity. I strongly think this describes the end times, but if you are not convinced this chapter talks about the end times, at least God still thinks the same way.

Jeremiah 5 7 How shall I pardon thee for this? thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods: when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots’ houses.
8 They were as fed horses in the morning: every one neighed after his neighbour’s wife.
9 Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: and shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?
10 Go ye up upon her walls, and destroy; but make not a full end: take away her battlements; for they are not the Lord’s.
11 For the house of Israel and the house of Judah have dealt very treacherously against me, saith the Lord.
12 They have belied [lied about] the Lord, and said, It is not he; neither shall evil come upon us; neither shall we see sword nor famine:
13 And the prophets shall become wind, and the word is not in them: thus shall it be done unto them.
14 Wherefore thus saith the Lord God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.

Will Christians miss Christ because they are expecting to be raptured before He comes? Will they be devoured by fire because they say we shall not see any evil, sword, or famine? (incidentally, the sword and famine mentioned in verse 12 are two of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” in Revelation 6)

A similar verse is also found in Amos 9:

9 For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.
10 All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, which say, The evil shall not overtake nor prevent us.
11 In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old:
12 That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the Lord that doeth this.
13 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt.

God’s people who say we shall not see the calamity (“evil”) will be slain by the sword. Sounds similar to the pre-tribulation view that we will not see the tribulation... At least these verses can serve as a warning to carefully inspect our views about the rapture and not read anything into the Biblical text.

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