THEORIES ON THE TIMING OF THE RAPTURE
The Pre-millennialists believe in a literal rapture of the Church, however, there is some dispute within the ranks of Pre-millennialism as to when the rapture takes place. The different views are as follows:
The partial rapture
This view holds that the rapture will be for only those who are completely committed in service to the Lord. The half-hearted or backslidden believer will be tried in the fire of the Tribulation. In answer to this view of the rapture, one would point out that the Lord tests all of His children with “fiery trials.” (KJV 1 Pet. 4:12). So, how just and fair would it be if a person, who happens to be at a low ebb in his walk with the Lord because of hardship and trials, is left behind when the rapture occurs? There is no coincidence in the fact that Paul mentions the rapture in his letter to the carnal Christians of Corinth. Paul includes no warning to these carnal Christians that if they do not shape up they will be left behind. On the contrary Paul clearly says “we will all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51 [emphasis added]). Paul also assures us that all saints who have died will participate in the rapture when he writes, “we believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him” (1 Thess. 4:14). Paul clearly states that all departed saints will return with Christ at the rapture; he makes no distinction of personal holiness, clearly indicating that no believer in Jesus as Lord and saviour will be excluded from the rapture.
The mid-Tribulation rapture
The followers of this view believe that Christians will remain on the earth for the first three and a half years of the seven years of Tribulation. The reasoning is that as the first three and a half years is a time of a false peace and that the judgements, or wrath of God, only take place during the last three and a half years (referred to as the Great Tribulation); the rapture will only take place just prior to the Great Tribulation, mid-way through the Tribulation period. The Church will, therefore, see the rise of the Antichrist but will be raptured at the time he proclaims himself to be god and sets up a statue of himself in the Temple.
The weakness of this theory is that it does not recognise that the Tribulation period is a time when God is dealing with the Jews and, because of this, the Church is removed. Also, it fails to recognise that the appearance on the scene of the Antichrist as a peacemaker at the start of the Tribulation, is in itself a judgement of God. The first three and a half years of the Tribulation will be a time of great spiritual deception, with lying signs and wonders produced by the Antichrist and the false prophet. Those who take a stand against this will come under attack. God is requiring the world to choose whom they serve – Jesus or the Antichrist. As the Church has already chosen Jesus, they are not part of the judgement.
The Pre-Wrath rapture
A growing belief among evangelical Christians is that the rapture will take place just prior to the Trumpet Judgements, which are recorded in chapters 8 and 9 of the book of Revelation. Just like the post-Tribulationists, they believe that the Church will not escape the oppressive rule of the Antichrist, which includes persecution and martyrdom. They do, however, believe that the Church will be spared the direct wrath of God on mankind, which will be expressed through the Trumpet and Bowl Judgements; hence the term Pre-Wrath has been adopted for their theory. The rapture then, according to the Pre-Wrath advocates, will only occur at some stage in the middle of the Great Tribulation, just prior to the outpouring of the Trumpet Judgements.
As the Pre-Wrath doctrine has been growing in popularity since the publication of Marvin Rosenthal’s book The Pre-wrath Rapture of the Church, time will be taken to analyse this theory at the end of this study series on the rapture (Part 10).
The post-Tribulation rapture
This view believes that God will require the Church to be present during the seven years of Tribulation and suffer persecution and martyrdom. There will be no escape from the trials, and as the Church has suffered persecution over the last 2 000 years so must the End-Times Church endure for the sake of Christ. The belief is that the primary role for the Church during this period will be to bring lost souls to salvation, with special focus on the Jews. The Church, they believe, will draw alongside the Jews in this time of hardship and suffering, and with support and love lead them to a saving knowledge of their Messiah, Yeshua. The flaws in the post-Tribulation theory are dealt with in Part 9 of this study.
The pre-Tribulation rapture
The final group believes that the Church will be raptured prior to the start of the seven years of Tribulation. They hold that the Tribulation period is a time of judgement on the earth and, because God does not judge the innocent with the guilty, the Church will be removed from the earth prior to the commencement of the Tribulation. They also believe that as the Tribulation is referred to in scripture as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7), God is dealing with the Jews during this time and not the Church, so the Church is removed from the earth.
The dominant views within the Church at the moment are the last three groups discussed. This series on the rapture defends the view of the pre-Tribulation rapture as the correct interpretation and debates the evidence put forward by the post-Tribulation and Pre-Wrath theorists and in doing so provides sufficient evidence to dispute the validity of both the partial and mid-Tribulation rapture theories.
THE IMPORTANCE OF WITNESSING
The vital importance of Christians believing in a pre-Tribulation rapture is that they will speak to relatives, friends, work colleagues, etcetera about their future translation to heaven. When the rapture occurs, there will be an amazing realisation by those left behind of what has happened and the truth of the warning they had received. A Messianic Jewish friend of mine expresses the concern of many Christians regarding the rapture when she says “May it be soon, but not yet”. She is looking forward to the return of the Lord, but she is concerned about loved ones who are not saved. If she spoke to them about a pre-Tribulation rapture and the prophetic events to come, she could have the peace of mind that she had provided them with the knowledge they would need for salvation during the Tribulation. Salvation for the Church has been through the grace of God, through faith. Faith is described by the author of Hebrews as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). Those living during the Tribulation will see prophecy fulfilled before their eyes. At no other time in history will so much prophecy be fulfilled in one short time period, and the rapture will announce the start of it all. People during the time of Tribulation will be coming to salvation through knowledge, not faith. There will be a measure of faith in their decision, as “by grace you are saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). However, it will not be the faith defined in Hebrews 11:1, “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,” which is required for the Church.
In the 1990s I taught Bible Education to students for eight years. The students heard the testimony of Jesus as Lord during their time in my Bible Education classes, but the majority of them did not take the message of salvation to heart, for the reasons Jesus speaks of in the Parable of the Sower and the Seed in Matthew 13. During the time I taught Bible Education I included End Times prophecy in the syllabus. At the end of the eight years I would have taught more than 1 000 students about a pre-Tribulation rapture. My firm belief is that when the rapture occurs, those students who are left behind will have the knowledge of what has happened and will make a commitment to Christ, and even convince others to do so. The knowledge they received in their Bible Education classes will save them, and the people who they witness to, from an eternity in hell.
One also needs to consider the effect the rapture will have on the work of missionaries who have established relationships with people groups from all four corners of the earth. What will happen when they are raptured and the people they are ministering to do not know of the rapture? Large numbers of people from multiple people groups around the world will be left thinking they have been abandoned by the missionaries who served their community. The various projects the missionaries have started – spiritual, educational, agricultural, medical, social, etcetera – will collapse without their presence, leadership and guidance, leaving a confused and embittered people. Missionaries need to explain that Jesus is returning soon for his Church. An understanding of the rapture by those being ministered to will explain the sudden disappearance of the missionaries and those saved members of the community. The knowledge of the rapture will empower the community to carry on with the Christian ministries started by the missionaries.
The people living during the Tribulation period will be given a last opportunity to make a decision to accept Jesus. That decision will be a decision based on the knowledge of the vast fulfilment of prophecy occurring around them. However, their choice to accept the Lord will require them to face the persecution of the Antichrist, and will require a full commitment to the Lord by them.
The timing of when the rapture will occur is explained by Paul in Romans 11:25b. In this scripture Paul reveals a mystery to the Roman church, that Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. The full number of the Gentiles is the number God has set for the Church. When that number is reached, the rapture will occur and the Tribulation will begin. When this will occur, only the Lord knows and he wants the Church to behave as a bride expectantly waiting for the return of her bridegroom for the wedding. Jesus deeply loves us and longs for the time He will be with his Bride. So, too, must the Church love the Lord and desire His return for us. Until then, we are to joyfully do the work the Lord requires of us, for it will soon be dark when no man can work (John 9:4-5). We must remember there is a reward for works and these rewards, just as with an Oriental bride, will be displayed on the “wedding garment” we are given in heaven. This will be a true display of our love for the Lord, that we were obedient to His calling. The teaching of a pre-Tribulation rapture should be seen as a motivation to the believers to find their calling, and to give all in their service to Jesus, so they can be adorned with the rewards of faithful service at the wedding ceremony, symbolic of their love and commitment to their Bridegroom.