This article focuses on the Church of Jesus Christ being distinct from the nation of Israel. This is, in fact, the cornerstone theological truth for a pre-trib rapture.
The rapture event is personally important to every believer because every believer will be personally involved in this grand event. All believers who have some knowledge of the Scriptures know that there is such an event that is commonly called “the rapture.” The great debate revolves around the timing of the rapture. There are a variety of viewpoints as to when this departure of the saints will take place, and none is without some problems. However, it does seem that pretribulationalism best handles the combined theological, exegetical and hermeneutical considerations. This article and several to follow will set forth seven main lines of argument for the pretribulational rapture.
As we discuss the timing of the rapture, we must not forget that the doctrine of the rapture was not given to stimulate a combative spirit among the saints but, rather, a worshipful attitude towards the Lord Jesus. This doctrine is to bring comfort and encouragement, not animosity. For those who “love His appearing” (which really is the litmus test of where our heart is), it remains “the blessed hope.” And while believers will likely continue to discuss “when” it will occur, there ought to be a level of introspection where we discover whether there is anything more important to us than seeing our Savior. “Do I love His appearing” is a question that needs to be asked and answered regularly.
Obviously, it is unwise to hold to a view that is nothing more than wishful thinking. Sometimes it is suggested that those holding to a pretribulational rapture view do so because they want to avoid the coming tribulation. Well, given the nature of the coming tribulation time, any sane person would want to avoid it. However, that is hardly a sound reason for holding to a position. There are sound reasons for holding to a pretribulational view and these will now be discussed.
(1) The Scriptural Distinction Between the Church of Jesus Christ and the Nation of Israel. The position of pretribulationalism depends to a large degree on maintaining a clear distinction between the church and Israel. (This subject was dealt with in a five part series in this Scofield Prophecy Study, from July thru November, 2015). Pretribulationalism does not deny that some similarities exist among the saints of God of all ages, but it asserts that the church is not identical with Israel. The clearer the distinction made between Israel and the church, the clearer the necessity of a pretribulational rapture of the church. The truth is that God is dealing with two distinct programs for two distinct groups (Israel and church). This makes it highly unlikely that they will be dealt with simultaneously.
The church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and is made up of believing Jews and believing gentiles; to them God has given great and precious promises. On the other hand, the nation of Israel was given many promises by God in the eternal, unconditional covenants of the Old Testament. (See my book, “Understanding End Times Prophecy”, pages 35-78). These covenant promises were made and ratified with Israel and must be fulfilled to Israel. The church did not take over the covenant promises made to Israel. So, with the beginning of the tribulation period, God’s focus returns to national Israel and the fulfilling of these covenant promises. The covenants find their ultimate and final fulfillment in the millennial (messianic) kingdom, and the tribulation period is a necessary period of preparation to get Israel ready for Messiah’s coming. Remember that Jesus said (in Matthew 23:39) that He would not return until Israel becomes a believing nation, which happens to be the great purpose of the tribulation. It would seem most logical, and biblical, that God will first complete His program with the church, remove the church at the rapture, and then resume His covenant dealings with Israel. As we will observe in a future article, the purposes of the coming tribulation focus on Israel and on unbelieving nations and the church is simply not part of the purposes for this period.
According to Romans 11:25-27, the spiritual blindness that presently characterizes national Israel will be removed, and salvation will come to this people sometime in the future. This spiritual blindness was a special judicial act of God because of the nation’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah. Paul points out that the spiritual blindness was “partial” (meaning it was not universal, thus allowing some Jews to be saved in the church age). He goes on to say that this blindness will not go on forever. It will last “until” the fullness of the gentiles is completed (11:25). This “fullness of the gentiles” refers to gentile blessing and opportunity in this age, which came about because of the failure and unbelief of Israel. This unique opportunity given to the gentiles began at Pentecost (Acts 2) and will continue until the rapture. At the time of the rapture, the fullness of the gentiles is completed and the spiritual blindness of Israel is removed. The removal of Israel’s blindness does not mean that Israelites will all turn to the Lord immediately. But it does mean that they will then be in a position to respond favorable to the truth about Jesus. This process of believing will go on throughout the tribulation period and culminate at the Second Coming. As Israel nationally comes to faith in Jesus Messiah, they also finally become lights to the gentiles. They (not the Body of Christ, the church) will be God’s evangelists during the tribulation, resulting in millions upon millions of gentiles being saved.
Paul’s teachings in Romans 11 clearly points to a wonderful future for national Israel. In his discussion, he refers to the unconditional covenants of the Old Testament, which are part of God’s program for Israel. The clear contrasts made between Israel and the church make it most logical that during the tribulation period God will be dealing with just one of those groups, namely Israel. And this points to the church being absent from the earth.
A clear distinction between the church and national Israel is really the foundation of the pretribulational view. In the upcoming articles, we will look at six other evidences for the position that the church is removed out of the world prior to the tribulation period.