(Biblical and Theological Reasons for Pre-Tribulationalism)
When the writers of the New Testament discussed the Rapture event, it was in the context of godly living. The truth of the Rapture was to bring about changes in the way believers thought and lived. It was to assist believers become more loving, diligent, generous and righteous, and less impacted by sin and the culture of the world. In all of our theological discussions, the end result ought to be a movement towards greater godliness in our personal lives and a greater love for the Savior who is returning. Far from breeding an “escapist” mentality in many believers, the doctrine of a pre-tribulational rapture has fueled a passion to serve Christ Jesus effectively in whatever time is available. With this attitude in view, we present another argument for the Rapture occurring prior to the seven years of tribulation.
In the first two articles in this series, we set forth three arguments that point to a pre-tribulational rapture: (1) the distinction between the church and Israel; (2) the purposes of the tribulation do not include the church; and (3) the lack of evidence for the church being in those last seven years (the tribulation). This articles continues with a fourth line of evidence.
(4) The Church is Excluded from the Coming Wrath of God. Most rapture views agree that God has promised the church of Jesus Christ exemption from the future wrath of God. (For example; the mid-tribulational rapture view sees just the second half of the Tribulation as a time when God’s wrath is present; thus, the church is taken out at the half way point prior to the outpouring of the wrath of God). The Apostle Paul has clearly stated in 1 Thessalonians that the church will not experience the wrath of God.
“…to wait for His Son from heaven, who He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1:10)
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (5:9)
God’s promise of exemption does not mean that the church will avoid all trials, troubles and persecution. In fact, the Scriptures are quite clear that times of tribulation and difficulty await the church (e.g. John 15:18-20; 1 Peter 4:12-16). But this kind of tribulation and persecution is not the future wrath of God that will be poured out on this world.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 the Apostle praises these believers for their confident, patient looking for the coming of Christ. He will deliver believers from the coming wrath. The word “deliver” (rhuomai) carries with it the idea of rescuing from something by a forcible act. The word puts an emphasis on a mighty act which delivers from a great peril of some kind. This powerful rescue by the Lord Jesus at His coming (the rapture) does not include everyone on the planet but only believers in Him. This passage affirms that Jesus Christ will rescue believers “out from” (ek) the coming wrath. We will be rescued out of the time of wrath, not preserved with it. It speaks of a complete removal and rescue from the period of God’s future wrath.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 also points to the removal of the church prior to the time of God’s future wrath. In these verses, the Apostle states that it is God’s sovereign determination to delivers us from wrath. God simply will not bring His wrath on His own people. We look forward to the coming of the Lord Himself, and not to the coming wrath poured out on the world. In this passage, Paul makes a sharp distinction between the fate of the world (“they”) and the different destiny of believers (“us”). It is the Lord Jesus who brings us deliverance and keeps us safe.
We should also observe the Apostle John’s statement in Revelation 3:10 where protection is promised believers to keep them from (ek) the hour of testing (the tribulation period). We are specifically promised that we are kept from “the hour of testing”, and not simply kept from testing. This promise necessitates actual removal from the time period itself and not preservation through it.
If it can be demonstrated the entire seven-year period sees the wrath of God on the earth, then we have very compelling evidence that the church is removed before the seven-year period begins. And there is such evidence.
First, it needs to be noted that Jesus declared that all judgment has been given over to Him by the Father (John 5:22, 27). This declaration establishes an important foundational point when interpreting the Book of Revelation, namely that all divine judgments come from the Son of God.
In the heavenly scene found in Revelation 4 and 5, the Father who sits on the throne has a scroll in His hand; a scroll which is sealed with seven seals. The significance of the seals is that they keep the scroll secure; that is, no one can change the scroll or tamper with it. In this heavenly scene, it becomes clear that no one in all the universe has the authority to take the scroll and open it. But there is one exception—the Lion-Lamb (Jesus Christ). When the Lord Jesus takes the scroll, and begins to break the seals, the judgments of God (His wrath) begin to fall on the earth. The breaking of the first seal by Christ is a divine judgment.
God’s wrath is seen in all the judgments on the scroll, which includes the three series of judgments—the seals, the trumpets and the bowls. God’s wrath includes those judgments that are direct supernatural acts (such as the great disturbances in heaven and the one hundred pound hailstones pounding the earth), as well as those forces, elements and individuals that God uses in an indirect way (such as war, famine, the Antichrist and Satan). It is erroneous to speak of “man’s wrath” and “Satan’s wrath” in some of these judgments. Christ will use a variety of things to judge, but they will all be God’s judgments. In a similar way, the armies of Assyria, Babylon and others were used by God as instruments of His wrath in the Old Testament. These are not to be seen as the wrath of man, but for what it is, God’s wrath on Israel using foreign armies.
It is of supreme importance that we note that God has specifically told us what His wrath “looks like” in many Old Testament passages. In the first seal judgments, which start the seven years of tribulation, there will be famine, disease, the sword and wild beasts of the earth. In Ezekiel 14:21, God speaks of these four things (famine, disease, sword and wild beasts) as His four severe judgments. The context of Ezekiel 14:21 (vss. 12-21) indicates that these four things are the expressions of God’s wrath. This verse is but one of many that identify these four as the wrath of God (note Lev. 26:21-28; Deut.11:17; 28:20-26; 32:22-25; Jer. 15:1-9; 16:4-11; 19:7-9; Ezek. 5:11-17; 6:11-12; 7:3-15; Num.11:33; 16:46; 25:8-11). It is no off-handed comment that the Apostle John makes when he specifically mentions these four entities in Revelation 6. There is a deep and pervasive OT background to these four things; as indicators of God’s wrath.
When King Jesus break the very first seal on the scroll, the wrath of God begins to be poured out on the earth. And the fact that the church has been exempted from God’s wrath and is promised removal from the time of wrath itself, is compelling evidence that the church is removed before the Tribulation period begins.
We will explore additional supports for the pre-tribulational rapture in the next article.