(Biblical and Theological Evidence for Pre-Tribulationalism)
When I speak in churches, I am often surprised by believers who hold to the Pre-tribulational rapture view but who really don’t know why they hold to that position. It is certainly good to hold to a theological position, but it is really important that we have some good reasons for doing so. The purpose for this short series of articles is to inform us, or perhaps simply remind us, of some of those good reasons why the church of Jesus Christ is removed out of this world prior to the start of the coming time of tribulation. In the first article, we dealt with the crucial point that there is a biblical/theological distinction between the church and the nation of Israel. There we showed that if a distinction is seen, then it leads to the conclusion that God has separate dealings with those two groups; and this leads to a pretribulational rapture position. In this article, we want to explore two more reasons why there is validity to the pretribulational rapture view.
(2) The Stated Purposes for the Tribulation Do Not Include the Church. All would agree that God always has purposes in whatever He does. Sometimes He may not choose to explain His purposes to His creation, but sometimes He does, as in the case of the period of tribulation. The first, and most likely the greatest, purpose for the tribulation is to prepare the nation of Israel for the Messiah and His kingdom. The second major purpose, found in the Bible, is to execute judgment on the wicked and in the process, take back the earth from Satan and those who do his will. It should be noted that God does not need seven years or even seven seconds to execute judgment on the wicked. Time is required, however, to bring vast numbers of people to faith in Jesus, and that would suggest the primacy of the first purpose.
The primary purpose of preparing Israel for her Messiah and His kingdom is evidenced in a number of passages. For example, this period is viewed as the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7 KJV). The definite Jewish character of the seven years is seen in many other passages (e.g. Deut. 4:30; Dan. 12:1; Ezek. 20:37; Zech. 13:8-9; Matt. 24:15-20). The important focus of this period is the coming salvation to Israel and, consequently, to the Gentiles as well (e.g. Dan. 9:24; Ezek. 36:25-36; 37:1-14; 39:21-29; Jer. 31:31-34; Mal. 4:4-6; Rom. 11:25-28; Rev. 7:4-14). As a nation, Israel has never come under the New Covenant of salvation, and it is absolutely essential for them to become partakers of this covenant before Jesus can return (Matt. 23:39). And Israel must come into the New Covenant before there can be a final and complete fulfillment of all the covenant promises of God.
Perhaps no passage explains this primary purpose of the tribulation period is such a detailed way as does Daniel 9:24-27. This great prophetic revelation is preceded by Daniel’s powerful prayer in which he prays diligently for his people Israel and for the land of Israel. His prayer is answered by the arrival of the angel Gabriel who informs Daniel of God’s six goals that God will accomplish by the end of the stated period of time. This period of time comes to an end when the last seven years of God’s special dealings with Israel is accomplished. The first three goals were addressed at Christ’s first coming and the second three will find total fulfillment in connection with His Second Coming. What is critical to observe is that the focus of Daniel 9:24-27 is exclusively Jewish. The passage deals only with those matters concerning the Jewish people, and not the church. The covenants are made with Israel; it is the Jewish temple that is to be rebuilt with its accompanying sacrifices. It is the desecration of that temple with the “abomination of desolation”; and it is the repentance and blessing of Israel in their own land that is in view. Daniel 9:24-27 is the definitive revelation on the purposes of God for this final seven years, commonly called “the tribulation.”
The conclusion is that, since the church does not fit into the declared purposes of God for the tribulation, the church will not be part of that time. The church does not need to be saved (it already is) and the church does not need to be punished/judged (our punishment was taken by Jesus at the cross). There is simply no need for the church to be present during a time when God focuses so completely on the nation of Israel. Also, it is Israel that will be God’s witnesses during the tribulation (the 144,000 and the Two Witnesses) bringing the gospel to the world. If there was some need or purpose for the church’s presence in the tribulation, then we would expect that the Word of God would reveal that.
(3) The Lack of Evidence for the Church’s Presence in the Period of Tribulation. This point is related to the one just given. The Scripture passages that deal with the tribulation period contain no specific reference to the church of Jesus Christ. The tribulation passages in both the Old and New Testaments refer to Israel and to the Gentiles and to people who are saved, but they do not refer to the church. The word for “church” (ekklesia) is not used, and specific terms used of the church, such as the “body of Christ” are not found in these passages. Now some would argue that this is nothing more than an argument from silence, which is no argument at all, and, to some degree, they have a point. Nevertheless, it is very possible that the reason for no mention of the church is that it is not there! It is not only possible, but it is likely that this is the case, since many passages speak about the coming period of the tribulation and all of them fail to mention the church specifically.
There are, of course, many saved people in the tribulation. But all saved (or elect) people are not in the church, and to be elect does not automatically make one a part of the church. If no evidence exists that the church is in the time of tribulation, there is a strong probability that it is not there because it has been removed suddenly and supernaturally by the Lord Jesus at the rapture event.
As we discussed above, in the second point, Daniel 9:24-27 explicitly says that the tribulation years involve Daniel’s people and Daniel’s city—Israel and Jerusalem. That was true of all 490 years involved in God’s special dealings with Israel and will true of the final seven years.
Revelation 6-19 gives an amazing amount of detail regarding the tribulation period. In that section Israel is spoken of many times, as are the nations of the earth. And although there are references to the elect and to the saints, the church is not mentioned—either by its usual word “ekkesia” or by phrases such as “the body of Christ” or the “bride of Christ.” Yet, in Revelation the Apostle John does speak of the church more than 20 times in chapters 1-3 and once in the benediction in 22:16. But none of these used the word “ekklesia” or other church designations (such as “the bride” as in chapter 19) which would place the church on the earth during the tribulation. And it must not be overlooked that we are talking about 13 chapters of scripture (not an isolated verse or two) in which there is no reference to the church. If the rapture is before the tribulation, then this is exactly what we would expect to see, and not see.